Sabbath School Lesson for February 13-19, 2021

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Overview of Lesson 8 (Isaiah 40)

This week’s study will show us in Isaiah, chapter 40, these things about God’s comforting presence:

  • Sunday–Punishment does have an end. There is liberty and rest for the faithful. (Isaiah 40:1, 2)
  • Monday–Repentance is the “roadwork” (preparation) that leads to the restoration of God’s covenant relationship with His people. (Isaiah 40:3-8)
  • Tuesday–The Messiah will minister to us as a gentle shepherd cares for his flock. (Isaiah 40:9-11)
  • Wednesday–Both God’s comforting mercy and powerful justice are part of who He is. (Isaiah 40:12-31)
  • Thursday–It’s important how and whom we worship. Idolatry is spiritual adultery, and ruins the relationship we have with God. (Isaiah 40:19, 20)

The first half of Isaiah, through chapter 39, has shown us many of God’s judgments against Judah and their enemies–the consequences of their own wrong actions. God’s justice is certainly a large part of who He is.

But chapter 40 begins a change of tone in the book of Isaiah. We now see more of the comfort and mercy that God’s people are privileged to experience, both during their exile, but especially afterwards, after their captivity is over.

The messages are simple. Judgment (or justice) for Judah is predicted, but so is the comfort that is available to all who trust in God to save them. Without both messages, we would not see a full picture of who God is.

Isaiah had a message, not only for God’s people back then, but for those living much later. The messianic prophecies we see in Isaiah have caused Bible scholars to refer to it as the fourth gospel. We are about to see more eye-opening revelations of the Son of God as we begin the second half of Isaiah.

Sunday: Comfort for the Future (Isaiah 40:1, 2)

Isaiah 40:1, 2 is a welcome shift in tone from condemnation to consolation. Their time of captivity would have come to an end. There was comfort in the fact that war and strife, the consequences of rejecting God, were over at last.

So far in the book of Isaiah, we’ve seen numerous warnings about the punishment God’s people were to suffer at the hands of their enemies. Particular focus seemed to be on wars that were instigated by both Assyria and Babylon, great superpowers of the time.

Chapters 1-39 reveal events that led up to their deliverance from the Assyrians in 701 B.C. (Remember Hezekiah’s miracles that were covered last week in chapters 36-39.) We then see a transition for the second half of the book, which will emphasize their deliverance from Babylon in 539 B.C.–a century and a half later.

The more prophetic elements of the second half of Isaiah have led some to question whether Isaiah was the author of the entire book. But there are many similarities in writing style and expressions that support Isaiah’s authorship. In addition, the New Testament contains many quotes from Isaiah, confirming the prophet’s authenticity.

Bible Verses to Read and Discuss:

Isaiah 40:1, 2 and Isaiah 61:7

  • Why do you think God’s people receive double punishment and double comfort from God?
  • Why does God need a people on earth who would be His representatives, especially as we consider the special role of the Messiah?

Monday: Presence, Word, and Roadwork (Isaiah 40:3-8)

The next few verses of Isaiah 40 show how God will provide comfort to His people (Isaiah 40:3-8). There is a “voice crying in the wilderness” that gives them courage and hope. This voice alerts them to

  • the presence of God (in the form of the Messiah),
  • the truth He will bring about Himself, and
  • the preparation they need, in order to be ready for Him.

The figurative language of this passage is fitting. Roads are straightened; rough places made smooth. Whenever kings or world leaders travel, special preparations are made for their smooth, safe arrival to their destination.  There is usually an announcement of their presence beforehand, so everyone involved is ready for the event.

John the Baptist notably gave voice to this message right before Christ began His ministry. His was a call for spiritual preparation, or repentance. The “roadwork” desperately needed for the people involved their willingness to leave their sins behind and give their hearts to God.

Isaiah 40:8 was an affirmation of God’s word. His word, embodied in the Messiah, would stand forever as a voice they couldn’t afford to ignore any longer.

Bible Verses to Read and Discuss:

Isaiah 40:3 and Matthew 3:1-3

  • Why was the work of John the Baptist needed?
  • How did it fulfill the words of Isaiah’s prophecy?

Tuesday: The Birth of Evangelism (Isaiah 40:9-11)

The “voice crying in the wilderness” has been accurately identified as the preaching of John the Baptist. But there were other voices heard even before John’s. These evangelists recognized and spoke up about the coming of the Messiah.

Simon and Anna recognized who Jesus was while He was still a baby when He was brought to the temple to be dedicated. We are told that Anna, in particular, spoke of the special Babe to all who were looking for the Messiah (Luke 2:38). She became the first evangelist who proclaimed His presence.

Isaiah 40:9-11 speaks about this new kind of Christian evangelism. The verses just prior to these appear in the Hebrew to indicate a male herald, that voice crying in the wilderness. But, starting in verse 9, it reads in the Hebrew as if a female herald has spoken.

Besides the prophetess Anna, other women were honored to be Christian evangelists. The Samaritan woman at the well and Mary Magdalene at the tomb of Jesus, for instance. Their faithful, eager witness of the Messiah made them leaders in the spreading of the gospel.

Bible Verses to Read and Discuss:

Isaiah 40:9, Luke 2:36-38, John 4:28-30, and John 20:18

  • How are women often included in the work of evangelism?
  • Why do you think women are so receptive to the message and ministry of Christ?

Isaiah 40:10, 11

  • What kind of God do we see in verse 10, as opposed to verse 11?
  • How are both justice and mercy described here, and why?

Wednesday: Merciful Creator (Isaiah 40:12-31)

God’s creative powers are frequently mentioned in Isaiah 40. Looking at His creation, we can’t deny His power. But it also helps us understand His mercy. He cares so much about us, because He made us. The entire world was made for us, because He cares.

Chapter 40 blends the themes of God’s mercy and deliverance with His glory and power. He is without comparison to anything else we know of in the universe. This is why Jesus Christ is known as the Son of Man and the Son of God. We need both titles to help us grasp everything in God’s nature so we can have a closer relationship with Him.

Jesus came the first time to us in the gentle form of a Baby. We saw the tender, compassionate nature of God through His earthly ministry. But when He comes again, all will see the glorious, omnipotent majesty of God. The One who spoke our world into existence will speak again, calling forth all His saints to join Him in heaven.

What rejoicing there will be when we see the full character of God on display, witnessed by the whole universe. Isaiah invites us to contemplate this event with joyful hearts. God’s comfort will forever be appreciated by those who accept His salvation.

Bible Verses to Read and Discuss:

Isaiah 40:12, 22, 26, and 28

  • How does God’s creative powers add to the comfort Isaiah is also presenting in this chapter?

Thursday: The Problem With Idolatry (Isaiah 40:19, 20)

The need for comfort has often led humans to seek it in the form of created objects, rather than the Creator Himself. Those in the ancient world used objects of wood or stone to represent divine beings they thought could bring them peace, prosperity, and fertility. This, of course, amounted to “self-help” religion, trying to earn favors from those man-made deities.

Isaiah presented a powerful Creator, and then challenged his listeners to match that with any likeness they could create out of wood or stone. Even the most precious stones and beautiful wood could not represent all that God is. See Isaiah 40:18-20.

The prophet pointed out in the next chapter, as well, that such idols are worthless (Isaiah 41:29). He even called them “wind and confusion”. God’s Spirit is also compared to the wind (John 3:8). But idols, inspired by evil spirits, bring only confusion about who God is. They also deny that God’s presence is with them already.

Anything that lessens our love for God or interferes with His worship might be thought of as idolatry. Prophets have referred to it correctly as spiritual adultery, because it destroys our relationship with God.

Bible Verses to Read and Discuss:

Isaiah 40:18-20

  • What makes idolatry so wrong?

Isaiah 41:39 and John 3:8

  • Why are idols compared to wind, which is also a description of God’s Spirit?
  • What kind of confusion is brought about by idol worship? How does it confuse us?

Jeremiah 3:6-9

  • Why is idolatry considered a form of adultery against God?

Friday: Final Thoughts

In chapter 40, Isaiah’s message turns from punitive features (the announcements of punishment) to the more merciful qualities of our Lord (His comforting, abiding presence). God does not alert us to the consequences of rejecting Him without also informing us of the rewards of trusting and loving Him.

There are times when one message is needed more than the other, but Isaiah seems to know just when these times are. God directs him in delivering rebukes, but they are always seasoned with healthy doses of God’s love.

The love becomes more dominant in the second half of Isaiah after their miraculous defeat from the Assyrians, and later, as the Babylonian captivity was coming to an end. Both experiences prefigured actual events we will see at the end of time. Jesus will deliver us from this earth at His Second Coming, just as He brought death to the entire Assyrian army outside Jerusalem. And, just like their return from Babylon, He will return with us 1,000 years later, and help us resettle in our homeland, called New Jerusalem.

It’s interesting to think about the gender of those evangelists in this chapter. One was seen in the Hebrew as a male voice, and the other a female. Blended into one, they allow us to see both sides of God’s character, His mercy and His justice. This is why God created male and female in His image. He needed both man and woman to complete the likeness to our Creator.

Parents often model this blending in the way they love and discipline their offspring. It matters not which parent does which, or even if it’s accomplished by one parent, but children are best raised with a balance of just and loving actions. This is how God is best represented in families, and our communities.

Next Week: Sabbath: To Serve and to Save

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