There is a 170 year gap between Chapter 39 and 40 in the Book of the prophet Isaiah. In Chapter 39, in 700 B.C., Isaiah scolded Jerusalem’s king Hezekiah for showing their armory and treasury to emissaries from the newly formed distant kingdom of Babylon. He told Hezekiah that Babylon could attack Jerusalem in the future.
A hundred years later, in 597 B.C., Babylon’s army did attack Jerusalem, leading the citizens off into slavery in Babylon.
Today’s reading takes up the story seventy years after that in 530 B.C. . In the meantime Persia has become the big power, subduing Babylon. Persia’s King Cyrus II has decreed that the seventy years of slavery for the people of Jerusalem are over. In reparation for their having been so poorly treated, he gives them money and supplies for rebuilding their temple.
In our century Persia has become Iran, Jerusalem’s greatest enemy. It is surprising to read how the Bible back then quoted God as calling Persia, king Cyrus, “My shepherd who fulfills my every wish.”
Cyrus sent heralds ahead of the returning Jews, telling people to make the road smooth for them.
Let me inject one of my old Korea stories here. In 1959 an eighty-four year old Sigmund Rhee toured the country to show the people he was still fit to rule. Three months before the tour, his official came to our town to force every citizen to give twenty hours a week smoothing the road for the president. In passing through he didn’t stop, but he left us a lot of dust.
The New Testament sees John the Baptist as Our Lord’s herald. The message from this story for us is that we should pack up and hit the road to the heavenly Jerusalem.