Finding Comfort in Exile (Far From Home #4)

Finding Comfort in Exile (Far From Home #4)

Our 3rd instalment from the Far From Home series comes from the book of Isaiah and specifically ch.40-55. In chapter 39 the prophet Isaiah prophesied to Hezekiah about the impending exile (v5-7), but ch.40-55 appears to jump forward way beyond his lifetime into the period of exile in Babylon.

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord Almighty: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my lifetime.”

Isaiah 39:5-7

Most think that either this latter part of Isaiah was written by someone else, or that it was written prophetically about a period way beyond his own experience. I am going to work on the basis of the latter, but in any case, I am not sure it will have major impact to what I share here. However, what we can be clear on, is that these chapters are incredibly encouraging and would have brought much comfort for those who would one day be faced with living in exile in Babylon. In this blog, I hope to provide something of a taster for this comfort though sadly, we will not have time to cover any of this in any detail. As per previous entries, we must also keep in mind that we too share in a sense of exile, because we too live as citizens of another place – this is not our true home. There are aspects of the experience of exile which are therefore common to us also.

Photo by Sz Katarzyna at

1. Comfort for my People (Isaiah 40-45):

These chapters begin with the words: “Comfort, comfort my people” (40:1) which are written for God’s people in exile. The focus here is primarily about their hope of returning to the land of Israel as described in v2 which says: Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

At times we all need words of comfort or like the photo above, those that we can draw close to. In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul describes God as the “Father of Compassion and the God of all comfort” (v3). For those taken into captivity, God’s words here must have been a huge blessing to them. To hear these words that spoke of a time when their service had been completed and their sin had been paid for must have been very motivating and encouraging. God’s people in exile longed for such a day and it would have been a massive comfort to know that such a day would surely come.

The verses that follow in v3-5 speak of one that would prepare the way for the LORD. Isaiah speaks of valleys being raised up and mountains made low – this messenger would make straight the way for the coming of the LORD. In exile they were waiting for God to act and bring deliverance, but there is fulfilment in the New Testament as well. We know these verses well from the Gospel accounts, because they are applied to John the Baptist’s ministry of preparing the way for Jesus.

A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah 40:3-5

Next we hear a voice crying out that people are like the grass that withers, but in contrast the Word of God endures for ever. It is God that Isaiah then invites us to behold:

9 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 40:9-11

Isaiah foresees the Sovereign Lord coming in power and ruling with a mighty arm. But he also foresees God as tending his flock like a shepherd and carrying them close to His heart. Again, this is a picture of the comfort that the God of all comfort brings to those who are in exile.

There is so much more to say in this section, but we only have time for a few brief highlights of chapters 41-45. In Isaiah 41:10 God says: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” In Isaiah 43:18-19 God tells them not to dwell on the past, because He was doing a new thing. He was going to provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland (43:20). He was going to send His spirit upon their descendants, and His blessing on their offspring (44:3).

Their return to the land is pictured in vivid images (41:16-17) and there are frequent references to the Exodus (43:2) and even to Eden (51:3). There are also striking references to King Cyrus (44:24-45:13) who was the one who finally authorised their return as recorded at the book of Ezra. We are told that God moved his heart to make a proclamation. King Cyrus provided them with the authority and also commissioned the provision of resources so that God’s people could return to the land and rebuild the temple!

Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

2. The Servant Songs (42:1–9; 49:1–7; 50:4–11, 52:13–53:12):

The second thing I want to pick up on are what is known as the servant songs. There are four of them recorded in the passages above and they refer to the Servant of the LORD. These songs are explicitly linked with Jesus in the New Testament. We don’t have time to look at the songs in detail, but below are some brief comments:

Song 1 (Isaiah 42): The first song speaks of how God delights in His servant. He will put His spirit on Him and He will bring justice to the nations. He will establish justice on the earth. The first 4 verses are quoted in Matthew 12:16-21 in which it is claimed that these verses were fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus. In v6-7 we read of how God had made Jesus a light for the gentiles to heal the blind, free captives and release people from darkness.

6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

Isaiah 42:6-7

Song 2 (Isaiah 49): The second song is written from the servants perspective and speaks of God’s call on Him to lead both His people and the nations. God had told Him, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendour” and yet in the words of the servant it appears that he had laboured in vain. In the verses that follow God calls Him to be a light for the Gentiles which is also quoted in Luke 2:32:

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Isaiah 49:6

Song 4 (Isaiah 52-53): Skipping on to the fourth song we now find a vivid depiction of Him as a suffering servant. Many would be appalled at Him and He would be disfigured beyond that of any human being (52:14). He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him (53:2) and He would be despised and rejected by mankind (53:3). He takes up our pain and bears our suffering (53:4). He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (53:5). The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (53:6).

If we were to continue we could examine many aspects of how Jesus is our suffering servant. The New Testament often quotes from these chapters: e.g., Matt 8:14–17; Luke 22:35–38; John 12:37–41; Acts 8:26–35; Rom 10:11–21 and 1 Pet 2:19–25.

God’s people would indeed return from exile, but it was this further fulfilment in the life and ministry of the Messiah that offered true hope. Their return to the land would be an encouragement, but as we have seen previously it was never quite home. This anticipated the fact that only in Christ would the glorious fulfilment of all God’s promises be fully realised in and through the coming of the Kingdom of God. This is a Kingdom that will one day share in the blessings of the New Creation.

3. Blessing, Peace & Prosperity for the exiles (Isaiah 54:2-3, 55:1-5):

To finish, I want to pick up on the themes of blessing, peace and prosperity for the exiles. These themes are seen particularly in chapters 54-55 at the chose of our section. The first three verses of chapter 54 speak of how His people are like a barren woman who would now have many children. He would enlarge the place of their tents and multiply them:

1 “Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labour; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord. “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.

Isaiah 54:1-3

The LORD is pictured in the verses that follow as Israel’s husband. In v6 we read that “The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit.” The the LORD says “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back.” What a huge comfort and encouragement this would be for God’s people in all the distress they faced in exile. Then in chapter 55 we have an incredible invitation to the thirsty to come and eat and come and drink.

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a ruler and commander of the peoples. Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendour.”

Isaiah 55:1-5

God promises to make an everlasting with them (v3) and says that they will summon nations they know not and they will come running. God says that His word will accomplish its intended purpose for which He sent it (v11) and they will go out with joy and be led forth in peace (v12). This He says “will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever” (v13).What incredible words which again would have been such an encouragement.

They have meaning for us too because Paul says that “no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20). All of these amazing promises are still in some sense being fulfilled in our days, because the Kingdom of God is still advancing. We too, are called to come to the waters and drink. We too, get to see and experience the Word of God accomplishing the purpose for which God gave it. Perhaps we too will be involved in summoning nations we know not!

To close, let me remind you of what we have said previously. We too experience a sense of living in exile, because we too are citizens of another place – this is not our true home. It is not easy living in exile because we too experience hostility against the good news of the gospel. Many of the narratives of our time are opposed to Jesus and all that He stands for.

In this context we can be encouraged by the comfort that our Saviour brings to us. We too can be encouraged by the songs written about the Servant King who came to suffer and die in our place. We too can be motivated by the incredible promises of God which continue to be worked out in and through us. God brings comfort exiles and He continues to do so today.

See other posts in this series: Far From Home

  1. Living in Exile
  2. Refusing to Compromise
  3. Making a Home for ourselves
  4. Comfort for the Exiles
  5. Restoring a Broken World
  6. Where is God in Exile?

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