"Comfort My People"
From the time they were first uttered, the words of the prophet
Isaiah have been etched, even imbedded, into our consciousness. They are
unforgettable words, heavy laden not only with meaning but with hope and
with promise, words like "God with us" (Isa. 7:14. The Living
Bible). "For unto us a child is born" (Isa. 9:6), "Every valley
shall be exalted" (Isa. 40:4), and "he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon
him; and with his stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53:5).
Words create pictures, images, echoes; weak, paltry words
create weak, paltry pictures; powerful, refined, well-crafted words create
powerful, refined images and loud, crisp echoes. This, of course, explains
why Isaiah's words speak so loudly, so crisply to us--even after 27 centuries.
In his suffering-servant poem, for instance (Isa.
52:13-53:12), Isaiah brings a picture of the Messiah into finer resolution
than anyone else does in the Old Testament. This section alone is enough
to justify his sobriquet, "the gospel prophet."
Plus, his prediction of Cyrus, by name, a century and a half
before the Persian king conquered Babylon (Isa. 44:28-45:6), is so
stunningly specific that some scholars have attributed much of Isaiah to
a later "second Isaiah," a hollow creation of those unable to see past the
crusty intellectual confines of human imagination.
With a unique blend of vivid imagery, matchless poetic rhythm
and balance, Beethovenlike dramatic contrasts, and a rich weave of profound
themes that recur in a sophisticated symphonic process of ongoing elaboration
and development, Isaiah's inspired book is a worthy literary vehicle for
divine thoughts that are higher than the mundane as the heavens are higher
than the earth (see Isa. 55:9). Even in translation, which loses the
evocative word plays and alliterations of the Hebrew, the book of Isaiah
has few peers in the history of literature, either secular or sacred.
We know his words, so eloquent, so poetic, so emotive, and
powerful, but do we know the man Isaiah and the world in which he wrote,
prayed, and prophesied? As the cruel Assyrian Empire rose to its height of
power, it was a time of crushing peril. Even worse, the people of Judah,
the chosen people, were sinking ever deeper into moral weakness. Greed and
misery fought in the streets. In their struggle for wealth or survival, some
puffed the narcotic vapors of vain euphoria while others withered in despair.
Seeking to preserve his nation's identity by taking a remnant from a state
of denial and anchoring them in reality, Isaiah called upon his people to
behold their God, the Holy One of Israel, the Creator of heaven and earth,
the One who knew them by name and who promised to redeem them from fire,
but only if they would listen. . . and obey.
counseled kings. When the slender thread of God's remnant line was confined
to one city doomed by Assyrian legions, it was Isaiah's prophetic words that
strengthened King Hezekiah to look for the miracle that was Jerusalem's only
hope (Isaiah 36, 37). If Jerusalem had fallen then rather than to
the Babylonians a century later, the Assyrian policy of scattering conquered
peoples could have vaporized the national identity of Judah. Thus, there
would have been no Jewish people from whom the Messiah, the Savior of the
world, would arise.
Isaiah's God said: "Comfort ye my people" (Isa. 40:1),
a comfort that pierced through a gloomy valley of desperate, deepening shadows
to a brighter, gentler world. It contained a hope that kept the community
of faith alive through some painful, even potentially faith-destroying, times
This quarter, we take a look at Isaiah, at his words, his
times, his predicaments, but mostly at his God, the God who, back then as
well as today, cries out to us, "Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have
called thee by thy name; thou art mine" (Isa. 43:1).
What is the message of Isaiah? What did he write back then
that speaks so powerfully to us today? What warnings does he offer, what
promises does he make? And what does he tell us about our God that we,
today--whoever we are and wherever we live--need so desperately to know?
This quarter's Bible Study Guide was written by Dr. Roy Gane,
a Hebrew scholar and a teacher of Old Testament studies at Andrews University
Seminary, in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Roy brings to these lessons not only
his linguistic and historical expertise but his obvious love of the Bible
and (even more so) of the Lord whose Holy Spirit inspired its creation. It
is our prayerful desire that, as you study these lessons, they will rekindle
your passion for the Lord. Dr. Gane's passion for the Lord will rekindle
yours, as well. These words reveal to us the One who, back then and even
now, proclaims with the same longing desire, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people"
(all lessons may not be posted)
School Study Helps
Jerry Giardina of Pecos, Texas, assisted by his wife, Cheryl,
prepares a series of helps to accompany the Sabbath School lesson. He includes
all related scripture and most EGW quotations. Jerry has chosen the "New
King James Version" of the scriptures this quarter. It is used with permission.
The study helps are provided in three wordprocessing versions
Word; RTF for our MAC friends (this
is now a zip file); and HTML (Web Pages).
Last updated on April 5, 2004
Editorial Office: 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, MD 20904.
Principal Contributors: Roy Gane
Editor: Clifford R. Goldstein
Associate Editor: Lyndelle Brower Chiomenti
Publication Manager: Soraya Homayouni Parish
Editorial Assistant: Larie S. Gray
Pacific Press Coordinator: Paul A. Hey
Art and Design: Lars Justinen
Concept Design: Dever Design
Copyright © 2004 by the Office of the Adult Bible Study
General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist. All Rights Reserved.
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