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Isaiah promises comfort and redemption to Judah and Israel: Isaiah 40–44:5

Why are these chapters of Isaiah here, towards the end of the Babylonian exile?

Even with all the calamity for Judah, Isaiah could see God’s plan for Israel’s redemption in the long term, alluding to John the Baptist and Jesus:

Isaiah 40:1-11 ‘Comfort, comfort my people’, says your God.
‘Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned.
Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over for all her sins.’

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
‘Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God!
Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills.
Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places.
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
The Lord has spoken!’

A voice said, ‘Shout!’
I asked, “What should I shout?”
‘Shout that people are like the grass.
Their beauty fades as quickly as the flowers in a field.
The grass withers and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the Lord.
And so it is with people.
The grass withers and the flowers fade,
but the word of our God stands forever.”

O Zion, messenger of good news, shout from the mountaintops!
Shout it louder, O Jerusalem.
Shout, and do not be afraid.
Tell the towns of Judah, ‘Your God is coming!’
Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
He will rule with a powerful arm.
See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart.
He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.’

Why are these chapters of Isaiah here, at the end of the Babylonian exile?

There are two ways of looking at Isaiah’s prophecies from about chapter 40 onwards

  • prophecy only as foretelling the future:  the man called Isaiah saw the coming of Cyrus long before Cyrus was even born
  • prophecy as God speaking to us: a later prophet in the ‘school’ of Isaiah saw how a rising king called Cyrus would be used by God to overthrow the Babylonians and restore Israel.

Both give glory to God’s word and His capacity to speak to his people ahead of time and on time. For the sake of the overall narrative, I’ve gone with the second view. Even if it was written earlier, by Isaiah himself, it would have been only after the ascension of Cyrus that the prophecies became relevant. The text is also more consistent with what God was saying through other prophets towards the end of the Babylonian exile.