This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for December 5) is written by Teresa D. Welch, assistant professor of Christian education at Emmanuel School of Religion in Johnson City, Tennessee.
God Gives Strength (Isaiah 40:1-8, 25, 26, 29-31)
By Teresa D. Welch
Are you waiting, worried, or weary? What concerns do you carry? Wars and rumors of wars? Economic upheaval and increased poverty? Political decisions and governmental policies? Religious hostility or indifference? The words of God recorded in Isaiah 40 are delivered to the nation of Judah, which had these concerns and many more.
The people of God were displaced. Carried off into exile following an attack by the Babylonians, the people of Judah were forced to live in a foreign land, surrounded by foreign people worshipping foreign gods. Jerusalem, their home, lay in ruins, leaving those who remained to suffer economic hardship. And most devastating of all, destruction of the temple left the people of God without their center for worship.
Lamentations 1:1, 3 describe the scene.
How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave. After affliction and harsh labor, Judah has gone into exile. She dwells among the nations; she finds no resting place.
This exile was punishment for the sin and rebellion of the nation of Judah (v. 2). The people of Judah would be waiting for release, wondering if their God had been defeated or had abandoned them, and weary from living in a strange land.
People Without Strength (Isaiah 40:1, 2)
It is to this scene of despair, displacement, and discouragement that Isaiah spoke God’s word, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (v. 1). For the people who would know no peace for decades, this word promised restoration. Everything that had been broken was going to be made whole again. The words my people and your God resounded in their ears like the words of the covenant spoken to their ancestors (Exodus 6:7), acknowledging that they would not be abandoned. Their time of punishment would conclude, and they would be restored again as the people of God (v. 2).
God’s Incomparable Power and Strength (Isaiah 40:3-5, 25, 26)
The people were reminded that the Lord could not be defeated. A “voice” described the preparations for the procession of God (v. 3). Through the desert and wilderness, referencing the trials and sufferings the people of God had and would endure, God would bring his triumphal procession. The Babylonians constructed roads for parading their gods. However, the one true God would change the landscape for his procession, removing all obstacles, so that the “glory of the Lord” could be revealed to all people (vv. 4, 5). This reminded the people that the Lord God was, is, and forever would be the true King of earth.
The people were reminded that nothing on earth or in Heaven compared to the power and strength of God (v. 25). Though surrounded by foreign gods, none could compare to the Holy One (v. 25). For the King of earth was also God of the universe, demonstrated through the numerous stars in the sky that had been placed, numbered, and named by the power of the Lord (v. 26).
Our Weakness Compared to God’s Strength (Isaiah 40:6-8)
A comparison is made between the strength and power of God and the weakness and frailty of all people (vv. 6, 7). Just as grass grows and flowers bloom for a season, and then wither and fade, it is only by the breath of the Lord that life begins and ends. God reminded his people that just as their acts were powerless, so too would the acts of their oppressors be powerless. It is only the Word of God that remains forever ( v. 8 ) and the nation of Judah would need to place its hope in the promises contained in the Word.
God’s Strength in Our Weakness (Isaiah 40:29-31)
It is from the power of God—the same power that restored the nation of Judah to Jerusalem, the power that breathes and all flesh fails, the power that created, named, and placed the stars—that the weak and weary receive strength (v. 29). Even the strength of youth would not endure the time of exile (v. 30), but God’s strength would renew those who grew tired. Those who waited for the Lord, placing their hope in the Word of God, would receive strength (v. 31).
Just as the nation of Judah would have to endure its time in exile, we too will endure times of wilderness and desert in our lives. But the same God who provided strength for the people of Judah through their waiting, wondering, and weariness, says to us today, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” Strength from God comes when we place our hope in the enduring Word, in God’s covenantal love realized in Jesus Christ, and in the glory of the Lord revealed on earth and throughout creation. This is strength that will help us walk, run, or soar.
Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, unless otherwise indicated.
|HOME DAILY BIBLE READINGS|
|Nov. 29: Deuteronomy 5:22-27|
|Nov. 30: 1 Chronicles 16:28-34|
|Dec. 1: 2 Chronicles 5:11-14|
|Dec. 2: Psalm 79:5-10|
|Dec. 3: Isaiah 40 12-17|
|Dec. 4: Isaiah 40:18-24|
|Dec. 5: Isaiah 40:1-8, 25, 26, 29-31|
ABOUT THE LESSON WRITER: Teresa Welch serves as assistant professor of Christian education and director of institutional research at Emmanuel School of Religion in Johnson City, Tennessee. She volunteers as the elementary worship leader and a substitute adult Sunday school teacher at First Christian Church in Johnson City. She also serves as an adjunct professor in the areas of children’s ministry and Christian education at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. Prior to joining the faculty of Emmanuel in 2008, she served as a children’s minister, worship minister, women’s minister, and church administrator in churches in Ohio and Illinois for 15 years. She has delivered workshops and led seminars in children’s ministry and recently wrote a two-part article for Christian Standard on the topic of children and baptism that has been a topic of interest and research. Teresa is a graduate of Ozark Christian College (BCE), Malone University in Canton, Ohio (MA), Lincoln (Illinois) Christian University (MDiv), and Emmanuel School of Religion (DMin).