“Comfort My People”
1. What is one way that Jehovah comforts us?
JEHOVAH is ‘the God who supplies comfort.’ One way that he comforts us is through the promises he has had recorded in his Word. (Romans 15:4, 5) For example, when faced with the death of someone dear to you, what could be more comforting than the prospect of that loved one’s being resurrected in God’s new world? (John 5:28, 29) And what about Jehovah’s promise that he will soon end wickedness and transform this earth into a paradise? Is it not comforting to have the prospect of surviving into that coming Paradise and never dying?—Psalm 37:9-11, 29; Revelation 21:3-5.
2. Why can we trust the promises of God?
2 Can we really trust the promises of God? Indeed, we can! The Maker of those promises is completely reliable. He has both the capability and the will to carry out his word. (Isaiah 55:10, 11) This was powerfully demonstrated in connection with Jehovah’s statement through the prophet Isaiah that he would restore true worship in Jerusalem. Let us consider that prophecy, as it appears in Isaiah chapter 40, for doing so can strengthen our faith in Jehovah, the Fulfiller of promises.
A Comforting Promise
3, 4. (a) Isaiah records what words of comfort that God’s people will need at a later time? (b) Why will the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem be taken into exile to Babylon, and how long will their servitude last?
3 In the eighth century B.C.E., the prophet Isaiah records words of comfort that Jehovah’s people will need at a later time. Immediately after telling King Hezekiah of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of the Jewish people to Babylon, Isaiah sets forth Jehovah’s words that promise restoration: “‘Comfort, comfort my people,’ says the God of you men. ‘Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call out to her that her military service has been fulfilled, that her error has been paid off. For from the hand of Jehovah she has received a full amount for all her sins.’”—Isaiah 40:1, 2.
4 “Comfort,” the opening word of Isaiah chapter 40, well describes the message of light and hope contained in the rest of the book of Isaiah. For turning apostate the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem will be taken into exile to Babylon in 607 B.C.E. But those Jewish captives will not serve the Babylonians forever. No, their servitude will last only until their error is “paid off.” How long will that be? According to Jeremiah the prophet, 70 years. (Jeremiah 25:11, 12) After that, Jehovah will lead a repentant remnant from Babylon back to Jerusalem. In the 70th year of Judah’s desolation, what a comfort it will be for the captives to realize that the time for their promised deliverance is at hand!—Daniel 9:1, 2.
5, 6. (a) Why will the long journey from Babylon to Jerusalem not impede the fulfillment of God’s promise? (b) The restoration of the Jews to their homeland will have what effect on other nations?
5 The journey from Babylon to Jerusalem is 500 to 1,000 miles [800 to 1,600 km], depending upon the route taken. Will the long trip impede the fulfillment of God’s promise? By no means! Isaiah writes: “Listen! Someone is calling out in the wilderness: ‘Clear up the way of Jehovah, you people! Make the highway for our God through the desert plain straight. Let every valley be raised up, and every mountain and hill be made low. And the knobby ground must become level land, and the rugged ground a valley plain. And the glory of Jehovah will certainly be revealed, and all flesh must see it together, for the very mouth of Jehovah has spoken it.’”—Isaiah 40:3-5.
6 Before embarking on a journey, Eastern rulers would often send out men to prepare the way by removing big stones and even building causeways and leveling hills. In the case of the returning Jews, it will be as if God himself is in the forefront, clearing away any obstacles. After all, these are Jehovah’s name people, and fulfilling his promise to restore them to their homeland will cause his glory to be manifest before all the nations. Like it or not, those nations will be forced to see that Jehovah is the Fulfiller of his promises.
7, 8. (a) The words of Isaiah 40:3 had what fulfillment in the first century C.E.? (b) Isaiah’s prophecy had what larger fulfillment in 1919?
7 The restoration in the sixth century B.C.E. was not the only fulfillment of this prophecy. There was also a fulfillment in the first century C.E. John the Baptizer was the voice of someone “crying out in the wilderness,” in fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3. (Luke 3:1-6) Under inspiration, John applied Isaiah’s words to himself. (John 1:19-23) Starting in 29 C.E., John began preparing the way for Jesus Christ.a John’s advance proclamation aroused people to look for the promised Messiah so that they, in turn, might listen to him and follow him. (Luke 1:13-17, 76) Through Jesus, Jehovah would lead repentant ones into the freedom that only God’s Kingdom can provide—liberation from bondage to sin and death. (John 1:29; 8:32) Isaiah’s words had a larger fulfillment in the deliverance of the remnant of spiritual Israel from Babylon the Great in 1919 and in their restoration to true worship.
8 What, though, about those who are in line to benefit from the initial fulfillment of the promise—the Jewish captives in Babylon? Can they really trust Jehovah’s promise to return them to their beloved homeland? Indeed, they can! With vivid words and illustrations taken from everyday life, Isaiah now gives compelling reasons why they can have complete confidence that Jehovah will prove true to his word.
A God Whose Word Lasts Forever
9, 10. How does Isaiah contrast the transitoriness of man’s life with the permanence of God’s “word”?
9 First, the word of the One who promises restoration lasts forever. Isaiah writes: “Listen! Someone is saying: ‘Call out!’ And one said: ‘What shall I call out?’ ‘All flesh is green grass, and all their loving-kindness is like the blossom of the field. The green grass has dried up, the blossom has withered, because the very spirit of Jehovah has blown upon it. Surely the people are green grass. The green grass has dried up, the blossom has withered; but as for the word of our God, it will last to time indefinite.’”—Isaiah 40:6-8.
10 The Israelites well know that grass does not last forever. During the dry season, the sun’s intense heat changes it from green to a parched brown. In some respects, man’s life is like grass—so temporary in nature. (Psalm 103:15, 16; James 1:10, 11) Isaiah contrasts the transitoriness of man’s life with the permanence of God’s “word,” or stated purpose. Yes, “the word of our God” endures forever. When God speaks, nothing can annul his words or prevent them from being fulfilled.—Joshua 23:14.
11. Why can we trust Jehovah to fulfill the promises contained in his written Word?
11 Today we have Jehovah’s statement of purpose in written form in the Bible. The Bible has faced bitter opposition over the centuries, and fearless translators and others have risked their lives to preserve it. Yet, their efforts alone do not explain why it has survived. All credit for its survival must go to Jehovah, “the living and enduring God” and the Preserver of his Word. (1 Peter 1:23-25) Think about this: Since Jehovah has preserved his written Word, can we not trust him to fulfill the promises it contains?
A Strong God Who Tenderly Cares for His Sheep
12, 13. (a) Why can the promise of restoration be trusted? (b) What good news is there for the Jewish exiles, and why can they have confidence?
12 Isaiah gives a second reason why the promise of restoration can be trusted. The One who makes the promise is a strong God who tenderly cares for his people. Isaiah continues: “Make your way up even onto a high mountain, you woman bringing good news for Zion. Raise your voice even with power, you woman bringing good news for Jerusalem. Raise it. Do not be afraid. Say to the cities of Judah: ‘Here is your God.’ Look! The Sovereign Lord Jehovah himself will come even as a strong one [“even with strength,” footnote], and his arm will be ruling for him. Look! His reward is with him, and the wage he pays is before him. Like a shepherd he will shepherd his own drove. With his arm he will collect together the lambs; and in his bosom he will carry them. Those giving suck he will conduct with care.”—Isaiah 40:9-11.
13 In Bible times it was the custom for women to celebrate victories, crying out or singing the good news of battles won or of coming relief. (1 Samuel 18:6, 7; Psalm 68:11) Isaiah prophetically indicates that there is good news for the Jewish exiles, news that can be fearlessly shouted, even from the mountaintops—Jehovah will lead his people back to their beloved Jerusalem! They can have confidence, for Jehovah will come “even with strength.” Nothing, therefore, can prevent him from fulfilling his promise.
14. (a) How does Isaiah illustrate the tender way in which Jehovah will lead his people? (b) What example illustrates how shepherds tenderly care for their sheep? (See box on page 405.)
14 There is, however, a gentle side to this strong God. Isaiah warmly describes how Jehovah will lead his people back to their homeland. Jehovah is like a loving shepherd who collects his lambs together and carries them in his “bosom.” The word “bosom” here evidently refers to the upper folds of the garment. This is where shepherds sometimes carry newborn lambs that cannot keep pace with the flock. (2 Samuel 12:3) Such a touching scene from pastoral life no doubt reassures Jehovah’s exiled people of his loving concern for them. Surely such a strong yet tender God can be trusted to fulfill what he has promised them!
15. (a) When did Jehovah come “even with strength,” and who is the ‘arm that is ruling for him’? (b) What good news must be fearlessly proclaimed?
15 Isaiah’s words are filled with prophetic meaning for our day. In 1914, Jehovah came “even with strength” and established his Kingdom in the heavens. The ‘arm that is ruling for him’ is his Son, Jesus Christ, whom Jehovah has installed upon his heavenly throne. In 1919, Jehovah delivered his anointed servants on earth from bondage to Babylon the Great and set about completely restoring the pure worship of the living and true God. This is good news that must be fearlessly proclaimed, as if by shouting from the mountaintops so that the proclamation carries far and wide. Let us, then, lift up our voices and boldly let others know that Jehovah God has restored his pure worship on this earth!
16. In what manner does Jehovah lead his people today, and what pattern does this set?
16 The words of Isaiah 40:10, 11 have further practical value for us today. It is comforting to note the tender manner in which Jehovah leads his people. Just as a shepherd understands the needs of individual sheep—including the little lambs that cannot keep up with the rest—Jehovah understands the limitations of each one of his faithful servants. In addition, Jehovah, as a tender Shepherd, sets a pattern for Christian shepherds. Elders must treat the flock with tenderness, imitating the loving concern shown by Jehovah himself. They must be ever mindful of the way that Jehovah feels about each member of the flock, “which he purchased with the blood of his own Son.”—Acts 20:28.
17, 18. (a) Why can the Jewish exiles have confidence in the promise of restoration? (b) What awe-inspiring questions does Isaiah raise?
17 The Jewish exiles can have confidence in the promise of restoration because God is all-powerful and all-wise. Says Isaiah: “Who has measured the waters in the mere hollow of his hand, and taken the proportions of the heavens themselves with a mere span and included in a measure the dust of the earth, or weighed with an indicator the mountains, and the hills in the scales? Who has taken the proportions of the spirit of Jehovah, and who as his man of counsel can make him know anything? With whom did he consult together that one might make him understand, or who teaches him in the path of justice, or teaches him knowledge, or makes him know the very way of real understanding?”—Isaiah 40:12-14.
18 These are awe-inspiring questions for the Jewish exiles to ponder. Can mere humans turn back the tide of the mighty seas? Of course not! Yet, to Jehovah, the seas that cover the earth are like a drop of water in the palm of his hand.b Can puny men measure the vast, starry heavens or weigh earth’s mountains and hills? No. Yet, Jehovah measures the heavens as easily as a man might measure an object with a span—the distance between the end of the thumb and the end of the little finger when the hand is spread out. God can, in effect, weigh mountains and hills in a pair of scales. Can even the wisest humans advise God what to do under present circumstances or tell him what to do in the future? Certainly not!
19, 20. To emphasize the greatness of Jehovah, Isaiah uses what graphic word pictures?
19 What about the mighty nations of the earth—can they resist God as he fulfills his word of promise? Isaiah answers by describing the nations as follows: “Look! The nations are as a drop from a bucket; and as the film of dust on the scales they have been accounted. Look! He lifts the islands themselves as mere fine dust. Even Lebanon is not sufficient for keeping a fire burning, and its wild animals are not sufficient for a burnt offering. All the nations are as something nonexistent in front of him; as nothing and an unreality they have been accounted to him.”—Isaiah 40:15-17.
20 To Jehovah, entire nations are as a drop of water falling from a bucket. They are no more than the fine dust that accumulates on a scale, without effect.c Suppose that someone were to construct a huge altar and use as firewood for the altar all the trees that covered the mountains of Lebanon. Then suppose that he were to offer as sacrifices all the animals that roamed on those mountains. Even such an offering would not be worthy of Jehovah. As if the imagery used thus far were not sufficient, Isaiah resorts to an even stronger statement—all the nations are as “less than nothing” in Jehovah’s eyes.—Isaiah 40:17, New Revised Standard Version.
21, 22. (a) How does Isaiah emphasize that Jehovah is incomparable? (b) Isaiah’s vivid descriptions lead us to what conclusion? (c) The prophet Isaiah records what scientifically sound statement? (See box on page 412.)
21 To emphasize further that Jehovah is beyond compare, Isaiah proceeds to show the folly of those who make idols out of gold, silver, or wood. How foolish to think that any such idol could be a fitting representation of the “One who is dwelling above the circle of the earth” and who holds sway over its inhabitants!—Read Isaiah 40:18-24.
22 All these vivid descriptions lead us to one conclusion—nothing can prevent the all-powerful, all-wise, and incomparable Jehovah from fulfilling his promise. How Isaiah’s words must have comforted and strengthened the Jewish exiles in Babylon who longed to return to their homeland! Today we too can have confidence that Jehovah’s promises for our future will become a reality.
“Who Has Created These Things?”
23. For what reason can the Jewish exiles take heart, and what does Jehovah now stress about himself?
23 There is yet another reason why the Jewish exiles can take heart. The One who promises deliverance is the Creator of all things and the Source of all dynamic energy. To stress his astounding capacity, Jehovah calls attention to his ability manifest in creation: “‘To whom can you people liken me so that I should be made his equal?’ says the Holy One. ‘Raise your eyes high up and see. Who has created these things? It is the One who is bringing forth the army of them even by number, all of whom he calls even by name. Due to the abundance of dynamic energy, he also being vigorous in power, not one of them is missing.’”—Isaiah 40:25, 26.
24. Speaking for himself, how does Jehovah show that he is without equal?
24 The Holy One of Israel is speaking for himself. To show that he is without equal, Jehovah directs attention to the stars of the heavens. Like a military commander able to marshal his troops, Jehovah is in command of the stars. If he were to muster them, ‘not one of them would be missing.’ Though the number of the stars is great, he calls each one by name, either an individual name or a namelike designation. Like obedient soldiers, they keep their place and observe proper order, for their Leader has an abundance of “dynamic energy” and is “vigorous in power.” Therefore, the Jewish exiles have reason for confidence. The Creator, who commands the stars, has the power to support his servants.
25. How may we respond to the divine invitation recorded at Isaiah 40:26, and with what effect?
25 Who of us can resist the divine invitation recorded at Isaiah 40:26: “Raise your eyes high up and see”? The discoveries of modern-day astronomers have shown that the starry heavens are even more awe-inspiring than they appeared to be in Isaiah’s day. Astronomers who peer into the heavens with their powerful telescopes estimate that the observable universe contains as many as 125 billion galaxies. Why, just one of these—the Milky Way galaxy—contains, according to some estimates, over 100 billion stars! Such knowledge should awaken in our hearts reverence for our Creator and complete trust in his word of promise.
26, 27. How are the feelings of the exiles in Babylon described, and what things should they know?
26 Knowing that the years in captivity will dampen the spirits of the Jewish exiles, Jehovah inspires Isaiah to record in advance these words of reassurance: “For what reason do you say, O Jacob, and do you speak out, O Israel, ‘My way has been concealed from Jehovah, and justice to me eludes my God himself’? Have you not come to know or have you not heard? Jehovah, the Creator of the extremities of the earth, is a God to time indefinite. He does not tire out or grow weary. There is no searching out of his understanding.”—Isaiah 40:27, 28.d
27 Isaiah records Jehovah’s words describing the feelings of the exiles in Babylon, hundreds of miles from their homeland. Some think that their “way”—the hard course of their life—is unseen or unknown by their God. They think that Jehovah is indifferent to the injustices they suffer. They are reminded of things that they should know, if not from personal experience, then at least from information that has been handed down. Jehovah is able and willing to deliver his people. He is the eternal God and the Creator of the entire earth. Hence, he still possesses the power he displayed in creation, and not even mighty Babylon is beyond his reach. Such a God cannot grow tired and fail his people. They ought not to expect to be able fully to grasp Jehovah’s doings, for his understanding—or insight, discernment, and perception—is beyond their comprehension.
28, 29. (a) How does Jehovah remind his people that he will come to the aid of weary ones? (b) What illustration is used to show how Jehovah empowers his servants?
28 Through Isaiah, Jehovah continues with encouragement for the despondent exiles: “He is giving to the tired one power; and to the one without dynamic energy he makes full might abound. Boys will both tire out and grow weary, and young men themselves will without fail stumble, but those who are hoping in Jehovah will regain power. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not tire out.”—Isaiah 40:29-31.
29 When speaking of the need to give to the tired one power, Jehovah may have in mind the arduous journey that the exiles will have to make in order to return home. Jehovah reminds his people that it is characteristic of him to come to the aid of weary ones who look to him for support. Even the most vibrant of humans—“boys” and “young men”—may be worn down by fatigue and stumble from exhaustion. Yet, Jehovah promises to give power—unwearied power to run and to walk—to those who are trusting in him. The seemingly effortless flight of the eagle, a powerful bird that can soar for hours at a time, is used to illustrate how Jehovah empowers his servants.e With prospects of such divine support, the Jewish exiles have no cause for despair.
30. How can true Christians today draw comfort from the closing verses of Isaiah chapter 40?
30 These closing verses of Isaiah chapter 40 contain words of comfort for true Christians living in the last days of this wicked system. With so many pressures and problems that tend to dishearten, it is reassuring to know that the hardships we endure and the injustices we suffer do not go unnoticed by our God. We can be sure that the Creator of all things, the One whose “understanding is beyond recounting,” will correct all injustices in his own time and way. (Psalm 147:5, 6) Meanwhile, we need not endure in our own strength. Jehovah, whose resources are inexhaustible, can impart power—even “power beyond what is normal”—to his servants in times of trial.—2 Corinthians 4:7.
31. What promise of light did Isaiah’s prophecy contain for the Jewish captives in Babylon, and in what can we have absolute confidence?
31 Think of those Jewish captives in Babylon in the sixth century B.C.E. Hundreds of miles away, their beloved Jerusalem lay desolate, its temple in ruins. For them, Isaiah’s prophecy contained a comforting promise of light and hope—Jehovah would restore them to their homeland! In 537 B.C.E., Jehovah led his people home, proving that he is the Fulfiller of promises. We too can have absolute confidence in Jehovah. His Kingdom promises, which are so beautifully expressed in Isaiah’s prophecy, will become a reality. That is indeed good news—a message of light for all mankind!
a Isaiah foretells the preparing of the way before Jehovah. (Isaiah 40:3) However, the Gospels apply that prophecy to what John the Baptizer did in preparing the way for Jesus Christ. The inspired writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures made such application because Jesus represented his Father and came in his Father’s name.—John 5:43; 8:29.
b It has been calculated that “the mass of the oceans is approximately 1.35 quintillion (1.35 x 1018) metric tons, or about 1/4400 of the total mass of the Earth.”—Encarta 97 Encyclopedia.
c The Expositor’s Bible Commentary notes: “Near Eastern marketplace commerce would take no account of the minute water drop in the measuring bucket or a little dust on the scales when meat or fruit was weighed.”
d At Isaiah 40:28, the expression “time indefinite” means “forever,” for Jehovah is “the King of eternity.”—1 Timothy 1:17.
e The eagle stays aloft with a minimum expenditure of energy. It does so by making skillful use of thermals, or columns of rising warm air.
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Jehovah, a Loving Shepherd
Isaiah compares Jehovah to a loving shepherd who carries his lambs in his bosom. (Isaiah 40:10, 11) Isaiah evidently bases this warm illustration on the real-life practices of shepherds. A modern-day observer who watched shepherds on the slopes of Mount Hermon in the Middle East reports: “Each shepherd watched his flock closely to see how they fared. When he found a new-born lamb he put it in the folds of his . . . great coat, since it would be too feeble to follow the mother. When his bosom was full, he put lambs on his shoulders, holding them by the feet, or in a bag or basket on the back of a donkey, until the little ones were able to follow the mothers.” Is it not comforting to know that we serve a God who has such tender concern for his people?
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What Is the Shape of the Earth?
In ancient times humans in general believed that the earth was flat. As early as the sixth century B.C.E., however, Greek philosopher Pythagoras theorized that the earth must be a sphere. Even so, two centuries before Pythagoras formulated his theory, the prophet Isaiah stated with extraordinary clarity and certainty: “There is One who is dwelling above the circle of the earth.” (Isaiah 40:22) The Hebrew word chugh here translated “circle” may be rendered “sphere.” Interestingly, only a spherical object appears as a circle from every angle.f Far ahead of his time, then, the prophet Isaiah recorded a statement that is scientifically sound and free from ancient myths.
f Technically speaking, the earth is an oblate spheroid. It is slightly flattened at the poles.
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John the Baptizer was a voice “crying out in the wilderness”