Tonight in Evening Prayer, with the current ACNA draft daily lectionary, Isaiah 40 will be read. Chapter 40 is the beginning of what some people call Second Isaiah. Modernist scholarship posits that the original Prophet Isaiah only wrote the first 39 chapters, and that the remainder of the book was written by one or more of his disciples in subsequent years. While many Evangelicals regard this theory with mild to severe suspicion, it is mutually agreeable that a noteworthy change of pace takes place in the book at this point.
Most of the book up to this point has read like most of the other Old Testament Prophets; warning God’s people and various other nations of God’s judgment for their wickedness, lamenting the idolatry of Israel, and providing numerous “specific” prophesies – that is, oracles addressing particular persons or situations in Isaiah’s present. This culminated in chapters 37-39, telling an actual story of Isaiah and King Hezekiah also found in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.
But now, with chapter 40, begins a series of somewhat more “generic” prophecies with a longer view of the future in mind. Beginning right here, with “Comfort, comfort, my people…!” we start to find numerous texts that are used in the Sunday lectionary and other places surrounding the great Christian holidays like Easter and (especially) Christmas. The first part of Isaiah 40 is one of the famous texts associated with John the Baptist. Throughout the 40’s, 50’s, and all the way to chapter 66, this latter portion of the book of Isaiah throws us pictures of Jesus and his redemptive work thick and thin. At the lectionary’s pace of reading one chapter a day, the discerning reader is pretty much guaranteed to see Jesus and the Gospel every day for the remainder of the book’s duration.