We left off our study of Isaiah with the thought of living in the wilderness, something most of us have to do, spiritually speaking, at some time, but that does not mean we like the thought of it. God’s people, Israel, spent time in the wilderness on more than one occasion. They wandered in the desert for forty years under the leadership of Moses. Then, after being settled in the Promised Land for a good long time, God sent them out of it as a punishment for their sins, a “time out” if you will.
After seventy years in exile in Babylon, God brought his people home. Isaiah 40 (to my mind one of the most beautiful, comforting, and stirring passages in all of Scripture) speaks of this return. Traditionally, this chapter was viewed as a prophecy, a foretelling on the part of Isaiah, about the return of God’s people after the exile. The historical Isaiah never lived to see it. Modern scholars believe that chapters 40 through 54 were written by an anonymous sixth century author who lived during the exile; most scholars of the Hebrew Scriptures today refer to these chapters as Second Isaiah. Whether chapter 40 was written before, during, or after the return from exile, does not change the power, or the beauty or the comfort of the words it contains.
Most people like travelling away from home when it is a planned excursion, say for vacation, or some special event. However, I do not think anyone enjoys being away from home when forced into exile. Such an experience makes our return home, if and when it happens, all the more delicious.
Think of a time when you felt you were in exile. What was that like? If you were to paint a picture of that experience, what colors would you use? Then, what did it feel like when you returned home once more? If that return were depicted in a movie, what musical score would you give to it?
Perhaps you feel right now as though you are in exile. Maybe you are away from your physical home and longing to return or perhaps the exile is spiritual. Maybe you have wandered from where you want to be in your relationship with God, or perhaps some aspect of your self, your psyche, your soul, is in exile from the rest of who you really are, and you long for a sense of wholeness once more. If any of these statements are true of you today, might it be helpful to remember all the times in the past when the Lord brought you home, home to your family, home to yourself, home to God? When we are experiencing exile, spiritually, emotionally, and yes, physically, it is most important to remember that our way is not hidden from the Lord, that we are not disregarded by our God. Rather, God is already preparing to bring us home, and it will happen, in the Lord’s perfect timing. Even now, our God is making straight in the desert a highway for our homeward journey. The Lord is, even in this moment, renewing our strength as we wait upon him. Even if we cannot imagine that we will ever fly home with wings like eagles, or run without weariness on that journey, we shall indeed walk and not faint.