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Isaiah: Hope After Exile

Zach Farrar (Community Groups Coordinator)

There was no hope for God’s people. That’s what everyone thought. The prophets had spoken, Israel’s sin had been punished. Exile appeared to be permanent. God’s people were now cast out. After God had sent foreign armies to discipline His people, how could anyone hope for anything better? How could there be a brighter future ahead? The people of God had failed miserably, led by their foolish and wicked kings. The destruction brought on their homeland was horrific. After viewing the demolition of the city of Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah wrote:

“Jerusalem, once so full of people,

is now deserted.

She who was once great among the nations

Now sits alone like a widow.

Once the queen of all the earth,

She is now the slave…

Jerusalem sinned greatly,

So she has been tossed away like a filthy rag.

All who once honored her now despise her,

For they have seen her stripped naked and humiliated.”

– Lamentations 1:1, 8

With the exile in Babylon, the people’s hope was in jeopardy. God had promised them, through their ancestor Abraham, that they would have a special land and be a special people to Him. And yet here they were, exiled to the corners of the earth. Enslaved to pagan masters who did not know or obey God. Humiliated and laid low.

And yet there was still hope.

In the midst of the heart-wrenching reality of exile, God gave His prophets words to comfort and encourage His people. The prophet Isaiah foresaw a day when God would bring His people back to the land, not with military might, but with the leadership of a king. Not a king that led them astray like their old rulers had. But one defined by humility, peace, and love for the Lord. Isaiah foretold of this king, saying

“Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a new shoot –

yes, a new branch bearing fruit from the old root.

And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him –

The Spirit of wisdom and understanding…

He will give justice to the poor

And make fair decisions for the exploited.

The earth will shake at the force of his word…

In that day the Lord will reach out his hand

A second time to bring back His people.

He will gather the scattered people of Judah

From the ends of the earth.”

– Isaiah 11:1-4, 11-1

The promise of Isaiah was astounding. God would send another ruler, a different type of king, to lead the people out of the ruin of exile. Then, and only then, would they finally be restored. The message which seemed to pronounce the doom of all people actually offered a glimmer of hope – God would send a Chosen Leader, a Messiah, who would not only lead the people back to the land, but would teach them how to live in God’s presence. How to be at peace with God. How to enjoy His presence rather than cower in fear at the thought of His judgment. This ruler was still hundreds of years away from arriving, but when He did finally come to bring people back to God, He quoted Isaiah, saying:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

for He has anointed me to bring Good News 

to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,

That the blind will see,

That the oppressed will be set free,

And that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

– Luke 4:18-19

When we look at the prophecies of this coming King, this healthy branch from the sickly tree of Israel, we see hope. And ultimately we see the King Himself, not a messenger or prophet, come to deliver His people. God would fulfill His promise to His people, and it would start with a baby in Bethlehem and culminate with an empty tomb in Jerusalem. For this prophesied King who would bring hope when only despair and ruin seemed possible, was none other than God incarnate, Jesus.

Post Series: Advent 2015

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