Wednesday of Week 4 of Lent – First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 49:8-15

The reading is part of a celebration of the people’s joyful return from their exile in Babylon to their home in Jerusalem. It comes from Second Isaiah, a book full of hope and consolation which looks forward to the end of the exile and the people’s going home again.

The Hebrews are still in exile and though their lives are led in hardship and bitterness, the prophet assures them that better times are on the way. This is in response to the cry of God’s people.

At the time of my favour I have answered you.

The reference is probably to the year of jubilee, but the return from exile will bring about the same restoration of land for the people as the jubilee did for those who, because of debt problems, may have had to sell their land.

So the Lord now calls on his people:

…to restore the land, to return ravaged properties, to say to prisoners ‘Come out’, and to those in darkness, ‘Show yourselves’.

It is a time for the restoration of justice to all. The end of their sorrows is symbolised in phrases like “they will never hunger or thirst, scorching wind and sun will never plague them.”

Their God is with them:

He who pities them will lead them, will guide them to springs of water.

The way will made clear for their return:

I shall turn all my mountains into a road and my highways will be raised aloft.

He will give them back their land, seized by the foreign invader. He will bring freedom to the prisoners and light to those in darkness. They will be surrounded by fertile lands, untouched by heat or thirst and luxuriate in springs of fresh water. The ways to the homeland will be cleared and exiles will return from as far away as the “land of Sinim” (now known as Aswan, the first cataract on the River Nile in Egypt).

It is a time for great rejoicing, in which the whole of nature should take part:

Shout for joy, you heavens; earth exult! Mountains break into joyful cries!

Yet, Zion is still sceptical:

Yahweh has abandoned me, the Lord has forgotten me.

But they are wrong – utterly wrong. God does not forget his people. He is full of tenderness and compassion, as gentle as that of any mother, expressed in those extraordinary gentle and affectionate words:

Does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the son of her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you.

In our darkest moments, let us not forget the unchanging intensity of God’s love for us.

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