“Comfort, O comfort my people,” says your God.
The opening verse of Isaiah 40 marks an abrupt shift in this prophetic book, our first clue that the pages which follow are from the pen of a different author than chapters 1-39. We have now entered what Biblical scholars commonly refer to as Second Isaiah.
Based on additional clues contained within our reading today, most scholars place the composition of Second Isaiah near the end of Israel’s time in exile, some 150-200 years after First Isaiah. The change in circumstances during this timeframe helps explain the sudden change in tone. Previously, Isaiah warned Israel that they would face judgment for their disobedience. Now they are living in the consequences of that disobedience–exile. With Second Isaiah, however, comes the news that their time in Babylon will soon be coming to an end, thanks to God’s hand guiding King Cyrus of Persia. You’ll remember that we were first introduced to Cyrus back in the closing sentences of 2 Chronicles, an account matched by our reading today in Isaiah 45.
The chapters of Second Isaiah (40-55) are also another important source of passages that took on significant meaning for the early Christian community (see Day 52). Although the author was speaking about an imminent time of deliverance for the people of Israel, Christians later began to appropriate the message in light of Christ. All four gospels use Isaiah 40:3 as a way to inaugurate Jesus’ ministry, interpreting the voice in the wilderness as John the Baptist, the one who prepares the way for Jesus. As you complete the readings in Second Isaiah today and tomorrow, ask yourself: “What other examples do I see that remind me of Jesus?”