International Sunday School Lesson
For Week Ending December 5, 2010
Purpose: To explore the meaning and nature of the hope that God provides
Scripture Text: Isaiah 40:1-5, 25-26, 29-31 (NRSV)
(1)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.
(3)A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (4)Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. (5)Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Isaiah 40: 25-26
(25)To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. (26)Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.
Isaiah 40: 29-31
(29)He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. (30)Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; (31) but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
My Thoughts by Burgess Walter
For the past three months we have been studying “The Inescapable God,” for the next three months we will be looking at “Amazing Hope.”
Our first lesson on “Hope” comes from the Book of Isaiah. And we will look at the meaning and nature of hope that God provided through the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah was a prophet that lived in Jerusalem, and was an adviser to four different kings of Judah, roughly from 740/742 BC till at least 701 BC. Primarily the first 39 chapters of Isaiah pertain to Isaiah’s lifetime. Chapters 40-55 are Isaiah's message of hope to the people that had been exiled to Babylon. While chapters 56-66 point to the time of the restoration back in Jerusalem.
Our text applies to those that have been in captivity for about 40 years, and most would remain in captivity until the 70 years prophesied was fulfilled. Imagine the frustration and doubt of a people that could no longer offer sacrifices in the temple, because there was no temple. Many of this generation could not even recall their days in Jerusalem, indeed a whole new generation had been born in captivity, with no connection except for stories told by elders. Furthermore, it was not their sins that put them in this position, but rather the “sins of the fathers.” You can imagine the discouragement and doubt.
Even the “good news” that Isaiah prophesied was not readily received, or understood. Today we read it and understand that Isaiah is offering redemption, “The penalty is paid.” Some scholars believe that the penalty was assessed as “a year for every year that Judah did not recognize the sabbatic rest that was to take place every 7 years for the land. The beginning of the reign of Israel as a nation in 1096 BC till the time of captivity in 606 BC represented 490 years or 70 sabbatic years of rest for the land, now they were paying the price for the disobedience by the leaders to follow the law as laid out in Lev. 25:4; 26:33; II Kings 25:21. This is spelled out in Jeremiah's prophesy.
The way into captivity had been a rough and rugged march, but the return to Jerusalem and Judah was going to be a breeze by comparison, God was offering a way that would seem easy, compared to the previous restrictions and rules that they were called to follow. We recognize this prophesy as meaning God will make Himself available to all, through “the glory of the LORD.”
The good news to the captives was there is hope coming, and the creator God will know us by name, and those that would faint, will now be carried by, “wings like eagles,” and we be able to accomplish whatever task we are called to perform without becoming weary.
Forgiveness is always about the future not the past. Forgiveness is about what will be; it is not about what has been. Forgiveness is the very root of reconciliation, redemption, and renewal.
Israel had paid the price, now God was offering them a new opportunity, forgiveness and grace are provided by a God that knows and loves us.