By Pr Isaiah White
Israel had two Kingdoms: Judah and Israel. Juda was known as the Southern Kingdom and Israel was called the Northern Kingdom.
Judah had the Israelites and Benjaminites, while Israel was composed of 10 tribes.
These kingdoms suffered economic, social, spiritual and political problems.
They suffered religious apostasy by kings and religious leaders, as well as wars from neighbouring countries.
There were physical challenges like disease (curable and incurable), poverty, hunger and displacement caused by wars.
Spiritual dangers like occultism due to national apostasy and many other social problems explained their lifestyle of depression, stress, anxiety and pain.
During this period, Prophet Isaiah released an oracle from God to the people saying:
“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2).
The prophet brought hope and courage to the suffering people.
A two-fold comfort
There are four parts of the message of comfort in Isaiah 40, but we are addressing the first two for now. The oracle begins with a repetition of the word ‘comfort’.
God sent a message of comfort to people because of the turmoil they were facing.
By the time this Oracle of comfort was released, the Israelites especially from the Northern Kingdom, had been taken into captivity in two waves – in 605 B.C, 597 B.C to the Assyrians.
In 586 B.C, the Southern Kingdom was taken over by Babylon and Jerusalem was destroyed. According to the oracles by prophet Jeremiah, they were to be in exile for 70 years.
With these experiences, the people in exile and the remnants in Israel were almost hopeless and in fear.
The Lord decided to comfort both groups through: l Using the word comfort. The repetitive use of that word in the Hebrew language is in the plural—‘nahamu’,‘nahamu’ (pronounced na-kha-moo)—meaning the message from God to His people both in exile and Israel, was to comfort them.
The verb ‘nakham’ is crucial here. According to Biblical Hebrew grammar, verb declension, ‘nakham’ in the niphal verbal system means to repent.
However, in Isaiah 40:1 it is in the piel verbal system and it takes on another meaning which is to comfort, encourage, give hope and console.
The Israelites were discouraged, depressed, suffering and full of despair about their present and future. They needed a message of comfort.
l Encouraging people to speak comfortably. Verse two says: “Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
The expression is poetic, and the goal is to ensure that when preachers, counsellors and all social workers attempt to address troubled audiences, the message gets to their hearts too.
The oracle in Isaiah 40 is addressed to our hearts. The heart is the center that synthesizes all our mental faculties and deduces a belief system (the authority our belief is placed in) and a worldview (how we interpret the world around us).
While speaking to such fractured and fragile hearts in this problematic world, one has to be kind, loving, generous, merciful and tender to ensure the audience is encouraged.
Israelites considered their suffering consequential. Heathen countries like Assyria and Babylon attacked and had victory over them because of the existing iniquity in the land and, therefore, the tumult they suffered was considered a divine judgment.
But God comforted them by sending His prophet Isaiah with a message of hope. God had remembered them and He was going to deliver them from their troubles.
Like the Israelites did at that time, we equally need this message in our various frustrating situations such as pandemics, wars, divorces, accidents, infections and other psychological and emotional burdens that have hiked mental health issues.
The message from God to us is comfort, comfort and comfort.
God is not only with us. He is for us as well and we shall overcome our troubles.
The writer is a life coach and pastor.
Contact: +256775 822 833