It’s a very real truth that God will allow the consequences of our wrong choices if we persist and do not repent and turn back to Him. But He has also provided the injunction to comfort My people, the evidence that He is faithful even when we are not. His comfort is the way to return to Him, no matter where we may find ourselves. To comfort His people is to to reveal the Father-heart of God who meets us where we are and guides us back to His grace and forgiveness.
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” Says your God. (Isaiah 40:1)
Like His other attributes, comfort is an intrinsic part of the great I AM. The all of all that He is as much a part of His comfort as it is any other characteristics. He is the God of all comfort, which means His all is in His comfort. Today’s verse is a command to the spiritual leaders of Israel within the context of the Babylonian captivity. The principles behind it, however, are as relevant to believers today. God does not alter His spiritual principles with the seasons or time. If His injunction was to ‘comfort My people’ then, it retains the same importance now. Moreover, it applies to every believer, not only to leadership. While there are God-ordained leadership functions within the church, every follower of Christ is a ‘priest,’ part of a royal priesthood of saints who are the living temple of God.
Comfort My people carries God’s emphasis.
Wherever we find repetition as we do here, it’s time to pause and note the emphasis. Jesus used ‘verily, verily,’ or ‘truly, truly’ to convey singular emphasis on things He said. The same principle applies in today’s verse. It tells us very clearly that there is something about comfort that makes it a divine imperative. We must take note of its importance and hurry to obey it. When God speaks the same thing twice, we cannot overlook or ignore it. For effective obedience, we need to understand the importance of comfort My people. Things close to the heart of God should never be done by rote or without real understanding of what He expects. This applies to all things of God but especially so when He places His emphasis on something. We cannot effectively demonstrate the nature of God without spiritual understanding of His purposes.
Of course, our understanding is limited. There are many purposes of God that are much higher than we are and which we could never grasp in our human intellectual understanding. But when it comes to instructions, He will always provide the wisdom and understanding we need to fulfil His commands. So why did He emphasise comfort My people? The simple answer is that comfort is the interactive, dynamic response of a loving God to His people. It is a demonstration of His love, grace, and mercy. Through comfort, we see Him reach out hold us to bring us through the difficulties. Comfort is a quiet assurance of love and faithfulness that brings peace, faith, and rest. It is a response straight from the heart of God to the hearts of His people, our assurance of Abba Father and of His infinite care in all things.
The necessity for comfort My people.
This is the prickly part of the principle, because it seems to negate the warm and fuzzies that comfort stirs up in us. The simple reality is that God recognised the need for comfort My people and how important it was. To understand, we can look at the context and see the terrible suffering of defeat, captivity, and exile. The need was there, however, because of Israel’s disobedience. The calamity that came upon them was the consequence of their own choices. They had been warned and yet turned to their own ways and away from righteous living. It may seem harsh on the surface if we’ve been raised in a church that preaches incorrect truths on unconditional love and mercy. But mercy cannot exist without judgement, and comfort is irrelevant if there is no need for it. Comfort is God’s response to a need we create through our actions.
The need that only comfort My people can meet is one of separation from God. Our greatest suffering is never the circumstances we may face but the sense of His absence. He makes it very clear throughout the Bible that He does chastise His people if they don’t return to Him. If we persist in our wicked ways, He will turn His face from our unrighteousness. The grace of God through Christ will never be a get out of punishment free card. It carries accountability which we exercise through choice. Grace only operates when our hearts are right towards God. It’s an active and loving response to a right heart attitude, not a blanket exemption that covers us no matter what we do. But while He chastises, even if to simply step back and let us go our own way and reap the consequences, comfort is never withdrawn.
Comfort My people reveals the Father-heart of God.
Every parent understands what it is to reach out to our children in comfort, even while they may need chastising. The Father-heart of God is in each of us, reflecting the limitless love of God for His children. He doesn’t enjoy disciplining us but will do so if there is no other way. But His heart’s cry is always comfort My people. He always makes sure that in the darkest hours and longest nights, provision is made to bring the assurance only His divine comfort can offer. This will never replace the trial or end it. Without the suffering, there is no need for comfort. It can only exist and operate where there is a need. What it does do, however, is remind us of His faithfulness and His care. It brings us peace in the certainty that He is with us and that our suffering will pass.
The power of comfort lies in His identification with us. It’s the expression of the Father-heart which moves to restore relationship with Him. This is why comfort My people is so important. Despite our rebellions and obstinate sinfulness, He continually works to turn us back to right relationship. While we may have to endure the consequences of our actions, His comfort reveals His love and willingness to restore us when we turn back to Him. Comfort is the manifestation of grace, the assurance that when we return, it will be to His love and mercy. It is our reminder that His Father-heart yearns to enfold us and lovingly show us the way back. His comfort is a place of growth and restoration, a place of learning from our mistakes without fear of being cut off. He allows the consequences but is faithful to never leave us as He promised.
Comfort my people is for every believer.
It’s hard to comprehend that the awesome God of the universe would choose to reveal Himself through weak and sinful human beings. We cannot understand it but we must accept it because it’s an immutable truth. Our purpose in the royal priesthood is to manifest the nature and character of God, and this includes the injunction to comfort My people. It’s easy to look at Israel as a nation rather than as individuals, and so relegate this simple command to literal context. We could say the same about the church and delegate the responsibility to our leadership. It’s important, though, to understand that the ‘collective’ is made up of individuals. Each and every believer will encounter our own ‘exile’ in which our actions seem to have separated us from God. This is a matter of truth rather than condemnation.
We all have the responsibility to extend comfort where there is a need. This isn’t the mushy comfort of ‘it’ll all be fine’ which doesn’t address the issues. When God commands us to comfort My people, it means acknowledging the situation and then releasing His perfect comfort. It’s not about encouraging or even about strengthening. Those are part of it and will be part of the natural outworking of real comfort. But God’s comfort is specific and real. Things aren’t swept under the rug. Reality is faced and acknowledged, and comfort is lovingly released to bring a turning back to God. The ultimate purpose of comfort my people is not to whitewash the situation or make us feel better. It’s to begin the work of loving restoration through the assurance of God’s love and faithfulness. To comfort is to turn someone back to right relationship with God through truth.
Living the grace of comfort My people.
Today’s verse powerfully reminds us of all He is. He knew from the beginning that we would need His comfort and put this in place. Not only that, He comforts us with the assurance of comfort by making comfort My people an eternal command to all. This is a powerful revelation of His grace, which reaches out even in the midst of our rebellion. It reveals a Father-heart willing to meet us where we are, even when we have turned away. As believers, we are called to live in this grace. We do it by giving and receiving comfort, manifesting God in every situation. His comfort is the one thing that will stir us to look beyond our failure to the beautiful truth that He will accept us when we return. We cannot avoid the consequences, but we can live in the grace that brings us through to His Father-heart.
Gracious Father, thank You for Your infinite patience and love and for the grace that reaches us in our consequences. There is no reason, Lord, why You should remain faithful when we are not, but we thank You that You are. Instil in us a deeper understanding of what it is to comfort Your people so that we can both give and receive. Help us to turn back to You and to comfort others in turn with the sure and certain knowledge that You have made a way back.