“Save Money, Live Better.”
“It’s Finger-Lickin’ Good.”
Chances are, you can identify what companies I’m referring to without a mention of their name. That’s the value of a good slogan.
But, when we hear these lines over and over, they lose their meaning. It’s “yeah, yeah, Subway,” and we’re on to the next thing. The slogan becomes a soundbite, not a message.
Something similar can happen with familiar Bible passages. Isaiah 40:3 certainly falls in that category —it’s quoted in each Gospel, and it might be easy to read, say “yeah, yeah, John the Baptist,” and move on.
That clear interpretation is certainly true. Each Gospel author identifies John as this voice crying out in the wilderness, and John the Gospel writer even quotes John the Baptist using this section of Isaiah to identify himself (John 1:23).
But is there more for us here than just a quick acknowledgement of how God fulfilled this prophecy?
Isaiah’s ministry spanned the reigns of four different kings of Judah, the ‘Southern Kingdom’, after Israel’s schism. Three of these are said to have done “what is right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 15:3, 15:34, 18:3), but the messages of Isaiah and contemporary prophets reveal that idolatry still flourished, as did widespread wickedness, oppression, and an approach to God that paid him lip service but wasn’t reflected in godly action. The nation had been flirting with judgment for ages.
Meanwhile Israel, Judah’s northern counterpart, was on the brink. That nation had strayed from God more severely, and during Isaiah’s active ministry God’s judgment arrived in the form of the conquering Assyrians. The Assyrian threat even reached the doorstep of Jerusalem, Judah’s capital, though the Lord’s miraculous intervention delayed its fall for about 100 years.
Hypocrisy among the people of God. Denial of him or outright idolatry throughout society. Corruption and uncertainty, and threats looming just beyond the border. These descriptors could easily characterize our day as much as Isaiah’s.
In the midst of this, and against the backdrop of a coming exile that might threaten to shake the Jews’ confidence in God completely, come these words. When things appeared hopeless, as though God was abandoning his people, he pronounces hope. His glory will be revealed, and a deliverance greater than any other is coming.
We live on the opposite side of that deliverance — the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus, and all it purchased for us. But our circumstances can still tempt us to lose hope. How long will injustice prevail? Will the Church survive the turbulence within and without? Does God care?
Again, we are to take comfort and hope. God never fails to fulfill his promises. A New Testament restatement of this prophetic announcement might be Hebrews 12:1-2: “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”
Lord, thank you for keeping your promises. In spite of what external circumstances might say, you are with your people, you will never forsake us, and you will complete your rescue when Jesus returns. Help me ‘prepare the way’ for him by casting aside distraction and sin, persevering through hardship, and fixing my eyes on him, watchful for his grace and presence in my life. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Throughout This Day: What is one thing that tempts you to doubt God’s goodness and presence with you, or his control and care over your life and this world? Acknowledge your struggle to trust him, ask for perseverance and faith, and look for clues that reveal his work even in that situation. You might be surprised to see him where you least expect.
Photo Credit: Dave Hoefler on Unsplash