comforting a friend July 20 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Isaiah 51, 52, 53, 54, 55

Comfort for the Afflicted

What do we say when someone is afflicted with self-induced problems? “You got what you deserved?” No, that won’t bring much comfort. Should we deny their own poor choices caused their problems? No, there is no reason to lie to them; they probably know the truth. Should we lecture them? No, those who are being punished do not need lectures. Those who are afflicted need hope. Some people look for comfort in a bar, but there is true comfort and hope for those who look for help in God.

In Isaiah 40–66, God gives hope to the exiled Israelites. They are or soon will be captives in other lands. God is punishing them for their unrelenting sins of gross wickedness and idolatry. He has not forgotten them, however, any more than a mother could forget her disobedient children.

In today’s Bible reading Isaiah first directs his attention to the righteous Jews. Unfortunately, when some people make poor choices, the innocent also suffers. The Israelites belonging to the northern kingdom are already in exile. Judah will soon follow. They will cower before their captors and live in constant fear of the wrath of their oppressors (51:13-14). The LORD, in His anger over their national sins, has cast them away from their land. Figuratively, in their sufferings, they will drink the cup of His wrath. God temporarily divorces them, suspending His covenant until they turn from their sins and come back to Him (note: divorces in American society are not like the divorce God executed upon the Jews, for it is more like a punitive separation than a divorce—see Isaiah 54:5-8).

Before or during their exile some Jews will repent and seek the LORD. What hope will there be for them? They are to remember they are descendants of Abraham, children of promise. The promises given to Abraham are land, seed, and blessing (Genesis 17:1-10). God declares those ancient promises will still be fulfilled, although their land is in ruins and they are in exile. About 150 years after Isaiah writes this prophecy, under God’s Sovereign control, He will move King Cyrus of Persia to allow the Jews to return to their land and rebuild their temple. For a short while they will obey God. Once again, however, they will lose their land to foreign invaders and be dispersed across the world. In a future day, when God’s judgment on the Jews is complete, He will have compassion, will forgive them, and they will be forever restored to their land. God promises,

The ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

“I [God], even I, am he who comforts you” (Isaiah 51:11-12a, NIV).

In future days, even though the earth will be destroyed in the seven-year Tribulation Period, the Jews will be saved (Romans 11:26; Revelation 14:1-3). Then Jesus will return to rule and reign in Jerusalem for 1,000 years. Afterward, He will continue His reign forever on a new rejuvenated earth (Revelation 20:6; 21:1-7, 10-27).

Are we children of God—meaning, do we have a special relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ? We may not be Jews, but God has given us promises as well. The Apostle Peter gives a promise to those who are being afflicted, not for their own sins but because of their Christian testimony. He says, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1Peter 5:10, NIV). Jesus comforts suffering Christians,

Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10, NIV).

The Apostle Paul instructs Christians to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12, NIV).

Jesus Christ gives comfort in times of trouble. Do we know Him? He also suffered unjustly. Isaiah writes,

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed (53:5, NIV).

Isaiah’s prophecy says this suffering servant will do this for Israel’s transgressions. He also extends His salvation to us (John 1:12). Have we trusted Him to save, forgive, and heal our souls? All of us need His forgiveness (more...).

As we learned in the book of Hosea, God will call Israel, whom He called his wayward wife, back into a relationship with himself. And although she will return to a desolate land, in future years (the Millennium) it will no longer be desolate but lush with vegetation like the Garden of Eden. She will not be like a barren woman either, for she will not be able to contain all those who inhabit her borders. The fulfillment of God’s Abrahamic blessings on Israel will be seen by all. She will be rich, not just with people, but with jewels and precious metals—all evidence of God’s blessings.

If we turn from our sins to God, we, too, can be restored and blessed. God does not hold our past sins against us. He can restore the land the locusts have eaten (the results of punishment for our sins) and He can restore the land of blessing in our lives (although that does not necessarily mean the promise of material riches).

God defends the righteous but punishes the wicked. Although Israel will be restored to the land after the exile, once again she will fall into sin. In a future day, Israel will be saved and God will defend her against all attacks (Isaiah 55:15-17). The Psalmist sings, “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song” (Psalm 28:7, NIV). Is the LORD our strength and shield? Why not sing about it?

An invitation is extended to Israel and the same is extended to us: Come! Seek the LORD while you have the opportunity, and find joy and peace. You will find mercy and pardon. You do not need money to bribe your way out of trouble. Just come to Jesus, and let Him forgive you of your sin and help you straighten out any messes you may have made in your life. Let Him give you His everlasting love. Let Him restore you. Seek Him while He may be found. God’s promises are true; you can trust Him to deliver. You can once again live a life of freedom and joy (Isaiah 55). Come to Jesus!

Lessons to Live By

  • Jesus Christ gives comfort in times of affliction. He also suffered unjustice to pay for our sins and set us free.
  • God defends the righteous but punishes the wicked.
  • If we turn away from our sins to the LORD, we, too, can be restored and blessed. God does not hold our past sins against us.
  • Come to Jesus, and let Him forgive you of your sin and help you straighten out any messes you have made in your life. (more...)

Focus Verse

Romans 12:12 (NIV) “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer,”

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A Look Ahead: Even though we might suffer for being associated with others who are being punished, there are Rewards of Righteousness for those who remain faithful. See this in our Next Lesson.

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