Comfort you, comfort you my people, said your God.
He is to unfold a theme of consolation, which runs through the whole of the book, introduced by this chapter. He speaks to the prophets: "Ye prophets, prophesy consolation concerning my people" (Targum of Jonathan); or, "O priests, speak to the heart of Jerusalem," according to the LXX. The former is probably correct. The prophets were numerous both in Isaiah's time (Isaiah 3:1; Isaiah 29:10, 20) and during the Babylonian exile (Jeremiah 29:1). Jehovah is now reconciled to his erring people, and calls them no longer by names expressive of rejection or contempt (as in Hosea 1:9; Isaiah 6:9), but as my people. "Israel, my people, and I their God," is the great word on which both Judaism and Christianity rest. Now the prophets are to "speak to the heart of Jerusalem." It is to be in a voice clear and distinct and penetrating. "Heart," in Hebrew use, is a comprehensive word; it stands for" intelligence, conscience, feeling," in one (cf. Genesis 34:3; Genesis 50:21, where the Hebrew is, "to their hearts"). Perhaps chiefly the latter here. The vocation of the prophet is now especially to comfort and encourage. And so ever with the preacher. We may compare with these words the scene in the synagogue at Nazareth. Christ announces himself as the Bearer of consolation to the heart of his people, to the heart of mankind, especially to the poor and the distressed and dejected. And surely the burden of every ministry may well be the "Christ of consolation."
I. THE MESSAGE TO JERUSALEM.
1. "Her warfare is fulfilled." "Warfare" standing for "enforced hardships." The metaphor "very suggestive of the peculiar troubles of military service in ancient times:" "Hath not man a warfare [hard service] on the earth?" (Job 7:1). The idea of an appointed time of service enters into the word - the discharge of a duty for which a man has been enlisted, or solemnly engaged, as that of the Levites in the tabernacle (Numbers 4:23; Numbers 8:24, 25). Life as a period of enforced service. It means for most of us, perhaps for all of us, toil, danger, suffering. From this enlistment the only discharge is by death (Job 14:14; Daniel 10:1). Our times are in the hand of God. A period is fixed to all suffering and trial. It may calm the apprehension of calamity in the most susceptible heart to see how quick a bound has been set to the utmost infliction of malice. We rapidly approach a brink over which no enemy can follow us. "Let them rave; thou art quiet in thy grave."
2. "Her guilt is paid off." For punishment is viewed as the payment of a debt, and so as the satisfaction of the demands of Divine justice. In the Law, the sword and dispersion among the heathen are threatened against the disobedient and the unreformed; but never does Jehovah forget the covenant between him and the people; he is ever ready to suspend punishment when they suspend sin. Here the people are represented "as having suffered what God had appointed them - endured the natural punishment he saw to be necessary. They had served out the long term he had appointed. Now he is satisfied, has pleasure in releasing them and restoring them to their own land." Happy that moment in the personal life when the soul can be assured that suffering has done its work, and that it may be self-forgiven, because God-forgiven.
"At the last, do as the heavens have done:
Forget your evil; with them, forgive yourself."
3. "' She hath received double for all her sins.' The expression seems to denote what is amply sufficient (cf. Jeremiah 17:18; Revelation 18:6)" (Cheyne); "As much as God judged to be sufficient" (Grotius); "Double to be received for large and abundant" (Calvin). The great law of compensation running through life, we must believe, is exact in its operation. God makes no mistakes in his reckonings. Suffering may continue long after sin has been forgiven. If the memory of guilt be still poignant, if the consequences of sin seem still "ever before us," it is as if God were saying, "Not enough hast thou suffered yet to know how precious is the peace of forgiveness." And when that blessed sense of forgiveness steals into the soul, it is the symptom that the hand of God is removed, that the cup of sorrow has been drained, that the medicine has done its work. The justice of our God will exact sufficient from us in the way of suffering; his clemency and mercy will never add a superfluous stroke from the scourge; rather he will stop short of the full exaction - thirty-nine rather than the full forty stripes.
II. THE MYSTERIOUS CALL. From what is to be believed of Jehovah, we pass to what is to be done for Jehovah. So ever does faith push on to practice. The internal act of the mind realizes itself and is made perfect in the external act of the life.
1. Mysteriously a voice bids the listening heart prepare for Jehovah. It is a "non-Divine, yet supernatural voice." The poetic effect is heightened by the mystery (cf. Isaiah 51:9; Isaiah 52:1; Isaiah 57:14; Isaiah 62:10). Similar voices are spoken of in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 1:10, 12; Revelation 4:1; Revelation 10:4, 8). There are times when the breath of coming change is felt stirring, and voices are heard calling to men to welcome it in and to help it on. Whence come they? Who knows? A spiritual world is all about us. It has music, and words; but while "this muddy vesture of decay doth grossly close us in, we cannot hear." But at times they pierce through our sensuality and break up our lethargic indolence. "Clear ye Jehovah's way in the desert." The Divine monarch is about to make a progress. Let the heart of the nation be as a highway for their God (Psalm 84:5). So the Gospels understand the cry (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4). From another point of view, the way of Jehovah through the desert is symbolic of his people's destinies. Babylon, as the scene of captivity, reminds us of the scene of captivity of yore in Egypt. When the temple was destroyed and Israel went forth, it was as if Jehovah had departed - perhaps to his sacred seat in the north, where Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:4) sees the cherubic chariot. His coming back is the people's coming back under his leadership. The imagery of clearing the way may be illustrated from the practice of Oriental princes. Diodorus tells of Semiramis that, in her march to Ecbatana, she had precipices digged down, and hollows filled up, so as to leave an everlasting memorial of herself - the "road of Semiramis' (cf. Baruch 5:7). Then the glory of Jehovah, eclipsed or hidden through his people's suffering and exile, will shine forth in its splendour, and all mankind shall look on.
2. Again the voice is heard saying, "Call!" And the prophet answers, "What shall I call?" The burden of the cry is the frailty of man, and the eternity of the truth. Homer compares the race of man to the successive generations of the leaves of the wood; the prophet to the grass and the flowers (cf. Psalm 90:5, 6). Israel and Assyria are both politically extinct, and Babylon is hurrying to its end. The thought is suggested, though not expressed, that if Israel is to rise again from its ashes, it can only be by abstaining from all attempts at secular aggrandizement. The new Israel will be, in all the circumstances of its growth, supernatural. And what is true of one people is true of all. Princes, nobles, and monarchs, armies and magistrates, are feeble like grass and will soon pass away. On the one hand, they would not be able to accomplish what was needed for the deliverance of the people; on the other, their oppressors had no power to continue their bondage, since they were like grass and must pass away. But Jehovah had all power, and was ever-enduring, and able to fulfil all his promises, especially those concerning Israel (Isaiah 44:26; Isaiah 45:19; Isaiah 52:6; Isaiah 63:1; Jeremiah 44:28, 29). And the healing results are to be known by all mankind.
III. THE INSPIRING VISION - The prophet is carried away in spirit to Palestine, and sees the fulfilment of the promise drawing near. He personifies Zion and Jerusalem, and calls upon them to lift up their voices and announce to the cities of Judah the approach of God. Perhaps he idealizes the city, or is thinking of the city out of sight - the spiritual commonwealth of which the earthly and visible one was the type. Lo! he comes! the God and Leader of the people returning to the city, the temple, the land. He will come in his might; the arm is the very symbol of his almightiness; and it rules "for him," i.e. for the peculiar people, the people of his possession. He comes to recompense his friends and to execute vengeance on his foes. The ruler of a people is fitly imaged as a shepherd, and they as his flock. And now he has sought and found his sheep again, and will once more lead them to green pastures (Jeremiah 31:10; Jeremiah 50:19; Ezekiel 34:11-16), and, as a good shepherd, will not overdrive the suckling ewes (Genesis 33:13). In the Syrian plains the frequent removal to fresh pastures is very destructive to the young, and shepherds may now be seen in the Orient carrying, on such occasions, the lambs in their bosoms. We need, by any means in our power, travel, and observation, to realize strongly the grave responsibility, the constant anxiety, the patient and unwearied tendance, connected with the shepherd's life in the East. Compare such a life with that of the hunter, who, from watching, pursuing, outwitting wild beasts, comes to partake of their fierce and cunning nature. The life of the shepherd draws upon the fund of love and tenderness in his heart; it is a humanizing life, full of a fine education; elevating by means of condescension. Then how rich a symbol is the pastoral character of the nature of the redeeming God! And how do the numerous passages in the New Testament, in which Jesus is so described, start into life and beauty, when these things are considered (John 10.; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; 1 Peter 5:4)! There is an ineffable union of might with tenderness in the character of the Redeemer-God, which should in some sort be reflected in the pastoral character of Christ's servants (John 16:15-17). - J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.