The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah. The text is Isaiah 40:1-11 and constitutes the beginning of an entirely new section of the Prophet’s writings. This section encompasses chapters 40-55 of Isaiah, a segment quite well known for the Suffering Servant prophecies. Most scholars today would agree with the unity of Isaiah, a reality helped along by the Dead Sea Scrolls. They would also agree that this portion of Isaiah speaks to the exile of the Southern Kingdom of Judah to Babylon. However, conservative Lutheran scholars would also say that additionally these chapters are eschatological and point to the salvation which will be purchased by the “Suffering Servant” at His first coming and completed at His second Advent. Thus, this pericope is well chosen for the Advent season of the Church Year. Reed Lessing writes, “Within the book of Isaiah, chapters 40-55 present prophetic instruction concerning the realization of Yahweh’s worldwide plan of salvation. He has heard the cry of His people, and these chapters intend to get them ready for the new exodus so they can come home to Zion.”
As we read through these 11 verses it is important to make note of the many and various voices and their speaking. There are 17 references to speech in these verses and, of course, the most often spoken of is the voice in 40:3 which the Gospel Writers associate with John the Baptist as he prepares the way of the LORD. Again, a strong Advent association. Also important is 40:9 where we find the first passage in the Old Testament that can be translated as “Good News” or “Gospel.”
Finally, verse 11 invokes beautiful imagery of the Good Shepherd who tends His flock, gathers His lambs in His arms, carries them in His bosom, and gently leads. All of these pictures find a place in Christ Jesus who calls Himself our Good Shepherd in John 10.
”God has heard the cry of His people, and these chapters intend to get them ready for the new exodus so they can come home to Zion.” -Reed Lessing
40:1 נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ (na-cha-Mu na-cha-Mu) root: נחם (naw-kham) Piel, imperative: “to comfort; to
console” The use of the double imperatives indicates the beginning of a new, large section. The double imperative beginning is found at the start of the entire book of Isaiah as well as the beginning of the third and final major section in chapter 56. The words uttered here by God are performative; they do what they say—they provide comfort.
40:2 דַּבְּרוּ עַל־לֵב (dab-be-Ru al lev) “to speak to the heart; to speak upon the heart”
נִרְצָה (nir-Tzah) root: רצה (raw-tsaw) Niphal: “to be carried off; to be carried away; to be accepted”
כּפְלִַיִם (kif-La-yim) from: כֶּפֶל (keh-fel) “double; double the amount”
40:3 יַשְּׁרוּ (yash-she-Ru) root: ישׁר (yaw-shar) Piel: “to make smooth; to smooth out; to make straight”
מְסִלָּה (me-sil-Lah) “track; raised highway”
*Note how the Hebrew divides the verse differently than the Greek LXX. Hebrew: “A voice is calling, ‘In the wilderness, prepare the way of the LORD.’” LXX: “A voice is calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the LORD.’”
40:4 גֶּיא (gei) “valley”
יִשְׁפָּלוּ (yish-Pa-lu) root: שׁפל (shaw-fale) Qal: “to become low; to be low”
*Lessing points out that the straightening of the landscape implies a straightening of crooked people. It has also been noted how this preparation is similar to what took place before the visit of a dignitary, such as a king.
40:5 יַחְדָּו (yach-Dav) “at the same time; all together”
*This “seeing” is possible due to a revelation of God through His Servant.
40:6 Note ONE imperative as compared to TWO in verse one. The use of חַסְדּוֹ (chas-Do) in relation to man as opposed to God may recommend the translation “beauty” or others hold to “covenantal love.”
כְּצִיץ (ke-Tzitz) “flowers; blossoms”
40:7 יָבֵשׁ (ya-Vesh) Qal: “to wither”
נָבֵל (Na-vel) Qal: “to wither; to fade”
נָשְׁבָה (Na-she-vah) Qal: “to blow”
40:8 וּדְבַר (u-de-var) The singular form shows this to be “God’s (divine) Word,” not “words of God.”
40:9 גָּבֹהַ (ga-Vo-ha) “high; lofty; tall”
מְבַשֶֹּרֶת (me-vas-Se-ret) root: בשֹר (baw-sar) Piel, participle: “to herald good news; to proclaim gospel tidings”
*Note the four imperatives in this verse which suggest an urgency.
40:11 Again, note the “Good Shepherd” language as it relates to Psalm 23 and John 10.
This portion of Isaiah brings forth some very expressive Gospel proclamation. Let it not be said that the Old Testament focuses on judgement more than on grace and mercy!
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Isaiah 40:1-11.
Text Week-Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Isaiah 40:1-11.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Jeffrey Pulse of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Isaiah 40:1-11.