Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.
Hezekiah was a good king. In a time of crisis, he listened to Isaiah and obeyed the LORD, so his kingdom survived. He was also a human being, so when Isaiah warned him of the catastrophe that would follow his reign, he responded “‘The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.’ For he thought, ‘There will be peace and security in my days.'” (Isaiah 39:8)
Scholars believe that chapters 39 and 40 of Isaiah were written at different times for different audiences, but I think they fit together in surprising ways. Isaiah 39 ends with Hezekiah’s disregard for the future welfare of his people, and Isaiah 40 begins with a command to comfort the people of God in their suffering. This reads as a rebuke to the Hezekiahs of the world, who feel that they have done all that they can, and cannot be troubled to worry about the next generation. God’s heart is too big for such limitations, and God commands us to bring comfort to those in need. Even to those who are suffering for their own sins, Isaiah tells us “… cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:2)
As Christians in Advent, we read this as a messianic prophecy. Christ will comfort God’s people. Christ will pay the penalty for their sins. We are called to be Christ followers, but sometimes we are Hezekiah followers. We are faithful when times are difficult, but once the crisis passes we choose to follow the comfortable path and disengage from challenges that don’t directly impact us. We pray that this Advent we can obey Isaiah’s prophetic words to comfort as we have been comforted, to forgive as we have been forgiven, and to speak tenderly the good news even as it has been spoken to us.
Contributed by Phil Harrington