I Was Thirsty and Ye Gave Me Drink
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain; And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. Isaiah 40:1-5
The fortieth chapter of Isaiah is one of the towering spiritual mountain peaks in all the Word of God. In language, in theme, in pure grandeur, it is unsurpassed.
To this chapter Handel came for inspiration as he penned his incomparable oratorio, “Messiah.” He began with the divine pronouncement, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God” (Isa. 40:1). Handel evidently equated the prophetic proclamation, “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed . . “ (Isa. 40:5) with the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. This was a logical conclusion, in light of the fact that Jesus is the image (visibility) of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), and “… in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily’ (Col. 2:9).
To this chapter the redeemed have come through the centuries to be awed and overwhelmed by the omnipotent power, infinite wisdom and eternal majesty of their God. In demonstrating something of His wisdom and power in a self-disclosure, the Lord rhetorically inquired, “Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and measured out heaven with the span, and measured the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?” (Isa. 40:12).
To this chapter the weak, discouraged and defeated have come to find strength, comfort and the assurance of ultimate victory; for to what spring can a man come and drink to receive an unending flow of refreshment and strength greater than this: “’He giveth power to the faint; and to those who have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isa. 40:29-31)?
To this chapter this author will come, as God gives strength and insight, to present a series of articles in upcoming issues of ISRAEL MY GLORY.
The fortieth chapter of Isaiah is prophetic — it moves one hundred and fifty years beyond the prophets own day to the return of a remnant of Jews from the Babylonian captivity in the latter half of the sixth century, B.C From there it spans millennia to reach out to the end of the age to announce the ultimate restoration of Israel and return of the Lord in fulfillment of God’s unchanging promises.
I. THE PROPHETIC PROMISE PROCLAIMED (VV. 1-2)
Here is tension — it is tension at its strongest. Here is contrast — it is contrast at its starkest. Here is hope — it is hope at its brightest. The first thirty-nine chapters of Isaiah present a tragic and dismal message of sin, judgment and darkness — of inward personal corruption and outward national defeat. Only on rare occasions is the cloud drawn back to reveal fleeting glimpses of messianic glory: a righteous King who will be virgin-born (7:14); the fact that the government will be upon His shoulder (9:6); and a description of His glorious reign (11:1-12). But commencing with chapter forty, the scene changes from a history of Israel’s failure (Isa, 1-39) to a prophetic glimpse of God’s victory (Isa, 40-66), from present dismal darkness to future resplendent glory.
A. A Message of Comfort (v. 1)
“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God” (v. 1). Here is a divine command concerning Israel. The word “comfort” conveys the idea, “cause to breathe again,” and is repeated, “Comfort ye, comfort ye,”’ to give emphasis and underscore its importance. The force of these words can only be comprehended from the perspective of Israel’s long, lonely, tortuous exile. It includes the defeat of the nation, the sacking of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, the termination of the priesthood, the end of her sacrificial system and the withdrawal of the glory of God. It encompasses the Babylonian captivity, the Roman persecution, the Spanish Inquisition, the Russian pogroms, the Nazi Holocaust, the endless conflicts of this century, and the still-future catastrophic “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7).
See Israel helpless and hopeless, with none to care or pity — see her sons and daughters hunted and hounded, see Jerusalem cut off, surrounded by the nations of the world — for one last time. And then hear the words of the Lord: “For I was hungry, and ye gave me food; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; Naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me” (Mt. 25:35-36). In that day the righteous will inquire of the Lord when they did these things, and He will respond, “. .. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren [the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob], ye have done it unto me” (Mt. 25:40). This will be a direct fulfillment of the divine command, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people . . . .”
In spite of all that Israel has done — her sin, transgression and iniquity — God still calls her “my people” (cf. 2 Chr. 7:14). His glory may be withdrawn, His blessings may be withheld, His rod of chastening may be used — but His word will not be broken. His covenant will not be annulled. God has not forgotten His promises. He is not impotent. He is not slack as men count slackness. And His love for wayward Israel has not been diminished (Jer. 31:3; Ps. 137:5-6; Zech. 2:8). And so, the command is given, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God” (v. 1).
B. A Message of Consummation (v. 2a)
The command continues, “Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem . . .” (v. 2). The Hebrew word translated comfortably literally means “tenderly.” The idea is to speak to the heart of Jerusalem — the emphasis is on the emotion rather than the intellect. Israel, as a nation, has never consciously and carefully examined the claims of Christ and rejected them. Her rejection of her Messiah has always been a matter of the heart — emotional rather than of the mind — intellectual. In part, it is the reaction of the historically uneven accusation that she alone killed Christ and, in part, the persecution she endured for more than nineteen hundred years, often by those who brought reproach on the name of Christ by calling themselves “Christian.”
But to speak to the heart does not mean to speak quietly, timidly or passively. And so there comes the admonition, “ .. . and cry unto her …” (v. 2). That is, speak publicly and emphatically. The message is too important — its implications too crucial — it must be proclaimed in power and without compromise or apology. No thought of a silent witness will be permitted by this text. Show love to Israel, to be sure, but speak also to her about her Messiah.
And what is to be the message spoken to the heart of Israel m that day? Is it not this — “… cry unto her,  that her warfare is accomplished, and  that her iniquity is pardoned..” (v. 2b) ? How utterly amazing!
The phrase, “her warfare is accomplished,”’ or better, her appointed time of hardship, misery and servitude is ended, is an awesome statement It takes the reader far beyond the immediate context of Israel’s return from a localized captivity entailing hardship and misery, to speak of her
worldwide restoration and release from bondage. It spans the centuries of Hosea’s prophetic pronouncement that, “.. . the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim [i.e., without the messianic offices of prophet, priest and king]; Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord, their God, and David, their king, and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days” (Has. 3:4—5). It is the consummation of the angelic announcement to Daniel that God had determined that seventy weeks of years must run their course to bring God’s program for Israel — involving (1) the final judgment of her sin, (2) the ushering in of a righteous age, and (3) the return of the glory of God to the Temple — to fruition (Dan. 9:24).
Now, finally, the appointed time of Israel’s hardship, misery and servitude is ended — the insufferable affliction is at last over.
The phrase, “her iniquity is pardoned,” expresses the idea in the Hebrew that her iniquity is so expiated that God now delights in restoring her. She has paid off the debt of sin by enduring the punishment of sin.
This does not mean that personal sin can be atoned for by suffering. The reference is to Israel’s national restoration to a covenantal relationship with Jehovah such as she enjoyed in the Old Testament before God’s glory departed from her midst.
The message of comfort to be publicly and emphatically proclaimed to Israel m that future day is that her appointed time of misery, hardship and servitude is ended and her iniquity is pardoned. What a wondrous message that will be to a people who have lost all hope. But what is the basis for such a glorious word?
C. A Message of Compensation (v. 2b)
Concerning Israel in that day, Isaiah writes, “she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isa. 40:2). Does this mean that Israel’s punishment is twice as severe as her crime? If that were the case, then God is an unjust Judge requiring more than righteousness demands. Rather, the idea is that she has received ample payment for her sin. The word “double” is employed in the same sense as it is when we speak of identical twins — they look exactly alike they can “double” for one another, Israel received double for all her sins. That is, her punishment down through the centuries equals her offense.
But restoration of covenantal relationship with the nation does not guarantee personal salvation.
More is required.
II. THE WAY PREPARED (vv. 3-4)
The Lord Jesus Christ is going to return to Israel when Israel is ready to return to Him. At His first coming the Jewish leadership rejected His messianic claims. As a result, He told the nation that they would not see Him again until they were ready to say, “ . . . Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Mt 23:39). In advance of that return, there must be the voice of a prophet to announce to the people that the King is on His way.
A. A Voice in the Wilderness (v. 3a)
John the Baptist was an ascetic. His environment was the wilderness, his clothing was camel’s hair, his food was locusts and wild honey (Mt. 3:4). His word to Israel was clear, concise and uncluttered. His message was, “Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 3:2).
John was a voice in the wilderness because the voices of the established religious leaders in Jerusalem had long before substituted the traditions of men for the truth of God. He was to the first coming of Christ what Elijah the prophet will be at the second coming of Christ.
In the last chapter and the next to the last verse of the last book of the Old Testament God promises that He will send Elijah to the earth, “. .. before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord” (Mal. 4:5); that is, during the first half of the Tribulation period, just prior to “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7) [the second half of the Tribulation period]. Moses, the lawgiver, is closely associated with Elijah in that ministry (Mal. 4:4). On the Mount of Transfiguration it was Moses and Elijah who appeared with the glorified Lord (Mt. 17:3). It was God himself who buried Moses “in a valley in the land of Moab” (Dt. 34:6) . And there is the strange incident of Michael, the archangel, fighting with Satan for the body of Moses (Jude 9). In the case of Elijah, he never experienced death — at least not in the normal sense. He was caught up to Heaven in a whirlwind (2 Ki. 2:11).
It is these two men, Moses and Elijah, who will reappear on the earth to become the two witnesses of God in the Tribulation period. And, according to the Book of Revelation, their ministry will last for three and one-half years (Rev. 11:3). Moses will rekindle in the heart of the Jewish people a desire to reinstitute the Law. And Elijah will set them aflame with the hope of the King’s imminent return. Moses will be representative of the Law (Gen. to Dt.) and Elijah of the prophets (Isa. to Mal.), The miracles these two men perform at the end of the age are strongly reminiscent of the miracles they performed in the Old Testament (cp. Ex. 7:20; 8:1-12:29; 1 Ki. 17:1; 18:41-45; 2 Ki. 1:10-12 with Rev. 11:5-6).
Even to this very hour of history, there is an integral part of the Jewish Passover service which bears on this subject. At one point during the Passover dinner, the door will be opened with the hopeful expectation that Elijah will enter the home to announce the coming of the Messiah. Truly, Elijah is “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness” to which Isaiah refers (Isa. 40:3). But what will the prophet proclaim in that day?
B. A Way in the Desert (vv. 3b-4)
It was customary in the East for a king to have a herald. The herald’s important responsibility was to be the king’s advance man ~- to go before and prepare the way; to announce to the people that the king was coming; to make sure they eliminated all obstacles and obstructions in the way. Mountains and hills were to be lowered; valleys were to be raised; crooked places were to be made straight; and rough places smooth for the coming of the king.
That was precisely the message of John the Baptist at Christ’s first coming (Mt. 3:3), and that will be precisely the message of Elijah at His second coming: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain” (Isa. 40:4).
Human monarchs concern themselves with physical obstacles — mountains and valleys, crooked and rough places. But Jesus is not a human monarch. He is the divine King of kings and Lord of lords, and the obstacles to His entrance into man’s presence are not physical but spiritual — not of the body but of the soul. The mountains of sin, the valleys of unbelief, the crooked places of rebellion, the rough places of human traditions — these were the obstacles which Israel refused to remove at Christ’s first coming. He would have gathered them together as a hen gathereth her chicks (lovingly, tenderly, intimately, protectively), but they would not have Him — the obstacles were not removed. So the King withdrew (Mt. 23:37-39).
It is the catastrophic calamity of “the time of Jacob’s trouble” which will be the catalyst that stirs Israel to remove all obstacles at His second coming. Then what will occur?
III. THE GLORY REVEALED (V. 5)
God’s glory is the sum and substance of His perfections. It is the manifestation of any possession, quality or action of God which causes Him to impress and influence His creatures. It is that which demands man’s recognition of God — it is that which declares His uniqueness and distinguishes Him as the self-existent, infinite, eternal God. Since God has always been — His glory has always been. Since God is infinite — His glory is inexhaustible. Since God is eternal — His glory will never end.
The manifestation of God’s glory — His holiness, justice, truth, love, grace, goodness, long-suffering, mercy, and so very much more — is that which the heart of man unknowingly longs for. Man was created in the image of God and can only know ultimate fulfillment as his heart and mind are unrestrictedly exposed to the glory of God.
A. A Divine Glory
Here is the truth of such solemnity that it is almost beyond the utterance of man. “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed …” (Isa. 40:5a) — not housed in a Tabernacle, not fettered dwelling within the carnall Church, not even veiled within the flesh of the Lord Jesus Christ. When the glory of the Lord is revealed in all of its fullness, it will be like unsheathing the sword of omnipotent truth, it will pierce the wicked and protect the righteous. It will be like the noonday sun, whose rays can melt the wax or harden the clay. The manifestation of the glory of God will forever separate the righteous from the unrighteous.
B. A Universal Glory
When Jesus returns in all of His resplendent glory, it will not be done in secret. Once again give attention to the precise words of the prophet, “. . . and all flesh shall see it together . . “ (Isa. 40:5b).
There will be a universal display of His glory. All men will see it together — not on television via man’s puny satellites, but written, as it were, on the parchment of Heaven itself. First, God will darken the universe by snapping off the light of the sun, moon and stars; then He will dispel the darkness with the appearing of the Son of righteousness who comes with healing in His wings. But allow the Lord to describe that event Himself.
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give its light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Mt. 24:29-30).
When Jesus came the first time, it was a manifestation of God’s glory in humility — He came as a lamb to die. And the glory which was seen through His life and teachings was viewed primarily by Israel. When Jesus comes the second time, it will be a manifestation of God’s glory in power — He will come as a lion to rule. And the glory will be seen universally, by people from every kindred, tongue and tribe. Truly, all men will behold Him. In that day the curse of sin will be lifted and righteousness and justice will become a reality in the earth (Heb. 9:28).
C. A Certain Glory
Men may choose to mock, ridicule and ignore the promise of Christ’s coming and the manifestation of His glory. It will change nothing. Concerning the certainty of that truly incomparable event, Isaiah wrote, “.. . for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (Isa. 40:5c).
Life is not a dead end street — it is not a long journey to nowhere. There is a rhyme, reason, purpose and hope in life. Those who are willing to partake through faith in Christ’s humiliation shall also partake in His exaltation and endless glory.
And they that be wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars forever and ever (Dan, 12:3).