Our first reading today is from Chapter Forty of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It tells how in the year 530 B.C. God’s messenger told the Jews that their seventy years of captivity in Babylon had ended, and God would smooth the way for them to journey back to rebuild Jerusalem.
An odd thing is that there is a hundred and eighty year time gap between the previous Chapter Thirty- Nine and this Chapter Forty. Chapter Thirty-Nine went back to 710 B.C. when Babylon was a new nation springing up in Mesopotamia, and its king sent an embassy to make his first contact with King Hezekiah in Jerusalem. At that time Hezekiah showed off his treasury and armory to Babylon’s embassy, and Isaiah told the king that he had done a foolish thing. Isaiah told King Hezekiah that a hundred years in the future Babylon would send an army to capture Jerusalem’s wealth. That didn’t bother King Hezekiah. He said, “At least there will be peace and quiet in my lifetime.”
If you are following this story you will ask, “Why is there an hundred and eighty year time lapse between Chapter Thirty-Nine and Chapter Forty?” The answer points to a decision made by a group of seventy Jewish scholars working in Alexandria Egypt in 200 B.C. They were gathering the separate scrolls from the various ancient prophets, fitting them into one continuous Bible text. Now the scrolls with the prophesies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were clearly marked, but there was no identification on the wonderful prophetic words from 530 B.C. At a loss for what to do with those grand scrolls, they bundled them up with the much earlier scrolls from Isaiah. We do not have the name of wonderful prophet and poet who was God’s messenger for this Chapter Forty and the following chapters. We usually refer to him as Second Isaiah.
Second Isaiah’s message is that through seventy years of captivity the Jews had paid for all their sins, and they had become a fresh holy people whom God welcomes in his embrace. For us the message is that even if we have sinned badly in the past, God wants us to put all that behind us. God says, “Comfort, give comfort to my people.” He tells us our guilt is expiated, and he welcomes us home.