Isaiah 51:11 reads:
Those the Lord has rescued 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 have often wondered what those ancient Israelites felt like upon returning to Jerusalem from their exile in Babylon. They found their city in ruins, the temple in disarray. They settled in to rebuild and begin their lives anew in a familiar place that many of them had heard about, but never seen. In a sense, after seven decades of Babylonian exile, they returned home to a place they had never been before. How strange must that have been? Still, in the verse above, as Isaiah prophesies about that time, he speaks of the Lord replacing sorrow and uncertainty with joy and songs of praise. He speaks of heads crowned with the knowledge that God loves them and will make all things right.
After this past year of pandemic, lock-down, and loss, I think I can relate to these banished believers more closely than I could have just twelve short – and very long – months ago. Isaiah’s words have a ring of hope to them. More than that, they have a ring of truth to them. They lead us to think about the best claims of our faith. They lead us to hold tightly to the highest and most desired claims of the Gospel. They remind us that God has not left us abandoned in this time or in any other. They remind us that these troubled days will also pass away.
While complete deliverance from these threats – pandemic, economic uncertainty, or a dozen other possible troubles – may not be at our fingertips or even yet in sight, do not let hope be lost. We can be confident of this. He who restored Israel after exile is present with us now. He who created us for his purpose is neither surprised nor frustrated by these obstacles we face.
We may feel like exiles in our own homes, but God is not worried. He will bring us out of this just like he has always brought his people out of difficulty with songs of praise. Like Jeremiah, another prophet of God, asserted, the Lord says, “I know the plans I have for you…” (Jer.29:11) As Paul confidently cries out, “He who began a good work in you will carry it through until completion on the day of Christ Jesus.” (Php.1:6) May we all find our strength through that faith which will not allow us to lose hope – for the Lord, our God, is faithful.