From: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Prologue: Promise of Deliverance
 Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
 Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
 He will feed his flock like a shepherd,
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.
40:1-55:13. These chapters make up the second part of the book of Isaiah, also
known as “Second Isaiah” or “Deutero-Isaiah”. Almost everything here refers to a
period of history one or two centuries later than that of “First Isaiah”. The oppres-
sor is no longer Assyria but Babylon, which conquered Jerusalem in 587-586 BC,
and then began a series of deportations that sent the upper classes of Jerusalem
and Judah into exile. Many years later (539 BC), Cyrus, king of the Persians,
conquered the Babylonians and issued a decree allowing those deportees who
so wished to return home. These events are echoed in Second Isaiah’s oracles,
songs, lamentations and denunciations, and the prophetic visions of the final, en-
during deliverance and restoration of the chosen people and the city of Zion.
The various literary units in this part of the book are grouped into two Is 52:7-11
sections more or less by subject. The first (40:1-48:22) implies that the Jews are
still held against their will in Babylon. Their deliverance is announced, thanks to
the power of the Lord, who rules the world and determines the course of human
affairs; he has chosen Cyrus, king of Persia, called here his “anointed”, his mes-
siah, to redeem Israel from exile (44:24-45:25).
This section, too, contains the announcement that God will choose a “servant”,
whom he will send empowered by the Spirit to establish law and justice (42:1-9,
the first “song of the Servant”).
The second section celebrates the glorious restoration of the people of God on
Zion; in this, too, the “Servant of the Lord” will play the key role; the section con-
tains the last three “songs of the Servant” (49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12).
40:1-48:22. The historical background to these chapters is the time immediately
after the return of the exiles from Babylon, which is depicted as a “new exodus”.
The exodus from Egypt was the prototype of all God’s interventions on his peo-
ple’s behalf: now we hear of another one, “new” because the power with which
God, the Creator of all things, acts now surpasses that to be seen in the exo-
dus. The news that deliverance is at hand greatly consoles the people: we are
told this at the start, and it is repeated in the oracles that follow. For this reason,
this part of the book of Isaiah is usually called the “Book of Consolation”, and it
has been interpreted as an anticipation of the consolation that Christ will bring:
“The true consolation, balm and release from all human ills is the Incarnation of
our God and Saviour” (Theodoret of Cyrus, “Commentaria In Isaiam”, 40, 3).
The section opens with a song of joy over the imminent release of the exiles
(40:1-11). After this a number of oracles are grouped together which describe the
reason why the people should hope in the Lord who is mighty and desires to save,
who is ready to do so (42:1-25), to manifest himself as the Redeemer of Israel (43:
1-44:23) and bring salvation to Jerusalem (44:24-48:19). The section ends with a
prophecy of the redemption of his people and a call to leave Babylon (48:20-22).
40:1-11. The section begins on a formal note with an anonymous voice proclai-
ming the Lord’s consolation (vv 1-5) The same voice calls on the prophet himself
to proclaim that the word of God and his message of salvation will endure forever
(vv. 6-11). The oracles are addressed to those people of Jerusalem who have been
deported to Babylon. When they were first spoken, many decades had passed
since these people and the previous generation were forced to leave the holy city.
Those years of suffering and exile have more than atoned for their sins. The time
comes for them, with the Lord’s help, to set out on the return journey. That jour-
ney is mentioned throughout this section. The voice speaking in the name of the
Lord boosts their morale: it won’t be a difficult journey; they will find a way opened
up for them which will bring them to the glory of the Lord. As in the exodus from
Egypt, on the “way” from Babylon to Jerusalem they will see wonderful evidence
of the power of God.
The words spoken by the mysterious voice, inviting them to set out, fills the retur-
nees with hope. The four Gospels see these words fulfilled in the ministry of John
the Baptist, who is the voice crying in the wilderness “Prepare the way of the
Lord” (cf. v. 3). And, indeed, John, with his call to personal conversion and his
baptism of repentance, does prepare the way for people to find Jesus (cf. Mt 3:3;
Mk 1:3; Lk 3:4; Jn 1:23), whom the Gospels confess to be “the Lord” (cf. v. 3).
John the Baptist is his herald, the “precursor”: “The voice commands that a way
be opened for the Word of God, the path smoothed and all obstacles removed:
when our God comes, he will be able to walk without hindrance. Prepare the way
of the Lord: this means to preach the gospel and to offer consolation to his people,
with the desire that the salvation of God embrace all mankind” (Eusebius of Cae-
sarea, “Commentana In Isaiam”, 40, 366). Hence, in Christian tradition, “John
the Baptist is ‘more than a prophet’ (Lk 7:26). In him, the Holy Spirit concludes
his speaking through the prophets. John completes the cycle of prophets begun
by Elijah (cf. Mt 11: 13-14). He proclaims the imminence of the consolation of Is-
rael; he is the ‘voice’ of the Consoler who is coming (Jn 1:23; cf. Is 40:1-3)” (”Ca-
techism of the Catholic Church”, 719).
In the second part of the oracle, the anonymous voice asks the prophet to speak
in the name of the Lord (vv. 6-8). Merely human plans can only go so far; but the
word of God stands forever. In the things that the voice says there must be an al-
lusion to the might of Babylon, which withers like the flower of the field when the
“breath of the Lord blows upon it”, because it challenged the goodness of God.
The message to be given to the people speaks of trusting in the power of God,
who comes not to lay waste but to protect and recompense those in his care (vv.
9-11). Here we find for the first time the simile of the “flock” being applied to the
people of God, one of a number of figures of speech used in Holy Scripture to de-
scribe God’s tender care of his people (cf. Jer 23:3; Ezek 34:1ff; Ps 23:4) and
which Christian tradition uses to explain the mystery of the Church: “The Church
is a sheepfold whose one and indispensable door is Christ (Jn 10:1-10). It is a
flock of which God himself foretold he would be the shepherd (Is 40:11; Ezek 34:
11-31), and whose sheep, although ruled by human shepherds, are nevertheless
continuously led and nourished by Christ himself, the Good Shepherd and the
Prince of the shepherds (cf. Jn 10:11; 1 Pet 5:4), who gave his life for the sheep
(cf. Jn 10:11-15)” (Vatican II, “Lumen Gentium”, 6).
The words of vv. 6-8 will later be used in the First Letter of St Peter to confirm
the validity of the precept of brotherly love (1 Pet 1:24-25).
Source: “The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries”. Biblical text from the
Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of
the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.
Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and
by Scepter Publishers in the United States.