Tuesdays are for the Old Testament
Luther, Martin, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, translated by Herbert J.A. Bowman) Luther’s Works, Vol. 17, Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 40-66.St. Louis: Concordia, 1972. Logos Electronic Edition.
“Isaiah Chapter 40” pp. 3-32.
Luther recoginzes the shift many have noted at Isaiah chapter 40. In chapters 1-39 “the prophet has functioned as a historical prophet and leader of the army” but the “second book is nothing but prophecy, first external, concerning King Cyrus, and then spiritual, concerning Christ” (LW 17, 3). The call at the start of chapter 40 is for comfort. The message of God is care for troubled people. The prophet speaks out boldly, with kindness to Jerusalem. Her time of strife is over (LW 17, 4). Luther applies this idea of warfare to the conflict everyone has when confronted by God’s Law. The end of our warfare is when we see that Christ is the one who has redeemed us (LW 17, 5). Luther observes that in his time there is no shortage of teachers who try to make the Gospel of Christ a thing of terror and the demands of God’s Law a thing of consolation, turing Christ into another Moses. This is counter to the entire message of Isaiah 4:1-2 (LW 17, 7).
The call in verse 3, one crying out in the wilderness, is clearly what the Gospels allude to in their description of John the Baptizer. Luther sees here a call for the clear preaching of God’s Word, not the mysticism of the Enthusiasts of his time (LW 17, 8). The preaching calls people to prepare the Lord’s way. “To prepare the way of the Lord means to prepare ourselves for the Lord’s activity in us, so that God may help us and our life may be the life of Christ” (LW 17, 9). The preparation entails putting off sins and discarding ur self-reliance. We realize then that all Christians are essentially the same, Luther’s understanding of Isaiah’s words about making the territory smooth (LW 17, 9).
Compared to the landscape of equity and justice created by God, in verses 6 and following, Luther finds that human arrogance and pride will lead to destruction (LW 17, 11). The desires of sinful humans turn away from God. They wither like grass. But in verse 8, God’s Word is eternal. Therefore, the prophet is to speak boldly about God alone (LW 17, 14). In verses 10 and following God is shown to be the one who cares for his flock and who has perfectly created and fully understood everything (LW17, 16). As he considers God’s exceeding greatness, Luther notes that God is not the enormous deity who would crush his creation. On the contrary, he is the one who cares for all his creation. He is the loving master of all (LW 17, 18). He needs no counsellors, as we read in verse 14. The people and political entities of this world have not been able to teach God anything. They do not have any power when compared to him (LW 17, 20).
In verse 19, Isaiah speaks of the folly of idolatry. The person who has an idol made is engaged in a special sort of foolishness. It can be made of any sort of material, possibly at great expense. Luther notes that in his own time people are quite willing to engage in idolatry of their own by considering someone or something as more important than God (LW 17, 23). This is the same as worshiping an object of metal or wood because it trusts in something other than the true God. In fact, God is incomparable (v. 25). For this reason, the prophet calls his hearers to look to the sky. The stars which are so great and permanent are nothing as compared to God. He is to be looked to as greater than all creation (LW 17, 27).
Rather than fearing this great and mighty God, in verses 28 and following the Lord is presented as the one who is faithful and vigilant, caring for his people (LW 17, 29). No matter what else may come and go, the true God is the one who lasts forever. His word will always be sufficient. This is the promise that God has made for his people. God presents himself as the one who strengthens the weary, sustaining them always (LW 17, 31). The righteous look to him and find they receive strength.