Wednesday, February 22, 2012


The Old Testament Reading appointed for Quinquagesima, the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, is Isaiah 35:3-7.

     Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.

Especially enlightening is a literal translation of verse 4:

     Say to the hasty of heart, “Be strong! Fear Not! Behold your God! Vengeance will come, recompense of God! He will come and save you!”

Here is what Dr. Luther wrote in his commentary on this passage of Holy Scripture:

     3. Strengthen the weak hands. This is wonderful comfort that is to be understood not in a physical but in an internal sense, because it shines under the appearance of the cross. For this church of Christ is extremely poor and wretched in appearance, since its poor, distressed, naked, imprisoned, and dishonored are the refuse of all and loathsome to all men for the sake of Christ’s name. And the members of the church are exposed to all, to Satan and to the craftiness and power of the world and the flesh. They are like “the offscouring of the world” (1 Cor. 4:13). It is as if people were saying: “They are to be regarded as a misfortune and a monster. If we could only be rid of these scoundrels.” With all their might they exert themselves to expel and exterminate this utterly loathsome Christian people. So we see today that all the most criminal people are less disturbed than the members of this church. Therefore the inward joy of the spirit fights with the grief of the body exposed to the cross. Therefore the prophet comforts them with exceedingly great consolations. Strengthen. This is a command. As long as Satan is awake he will not stop attacking us. It is for us to stand in the battle line against his stratagems.
     Weak hands, hands that are so weary. Give medicine to those hands so that you become strong again. For Satan has two ways of fighting. He would gladly cast the faithful down suddenly from their joy and faith and into fear and despair. Secondly, he cunningly strives by long lasting torments and by the unremitting pressure of the torments to tire them out. It is as Cyprian confesses: “Satan did not want the captive brothers to be killed in this life, but he preserved them in a long life and distressed them with unremitting aggravation to the point of exhaustion.” These are extremely powerful attacks. Against Satan’s continuous attack we must set our continuous divine help. The devil is a spirit at leisure and thinks of nothing but to take us by storm. We ought not have slack and idle hands over against his deceptions. Have we not experienced in these ten years how he tried by various forces to frighten us away from faith in the Gospel? First through the terrors of the papists, then through the world’s disgrace, then through murdering tyrants, through the fanatics, the schismatics, and fatherly flatteries. The church must diligently oppose his stratagems.
     4. Say to those who are of a fearful heart. ln Hebrew: “To those who are hasty and speedy in heart,” who are not steady and firm but want to run away and give Satan the victory.
     Be strong. We ought to strengthen ourselves with these words and say, “Though all devils were rolled into one, my God is still greater.” The afflicted must be comforted with such spiritual consolations of the Word, not with any fleshly comfort which does nothing for troubled consciences but with spiritual comfort and with the living Word of God they must be ruled and strengthened. Why? Because
     Behold, our God, etc. By those words he indicates that our God is absent but will come very quickly to avenge and save us. These are words of promise for the future, for God first permits people to condemn and persecute His church, as though He were absent, and then He will come very quickly, visit vengeance upon the adversaries and tumult upon the world, and save His church. This is truly hard for the flesh.
     With the recompense of God. He will come and save you. Do not avenge yourselves. He is the God of vengeance, He will fittingly requite them and save you. Thus we see that vengeance always comes before they carry out their plan. So Jerusalem, opposing the Word, was stormed by the Romans; then Rome perished, and so will our papists. Thus the Spirit comforts us, as if to say, “Remain godly and constant and be lifted up. The Lord will come in time of trial, and He will avenge and save you.” So he comforts the church that is exceedingly hateful to the world and Satan and besides does not shine with outward splendor. On the contrary, it is pressed down by a very heavy cross; it is also beset and harassed by a variety of internal evils, such as weakness of faith and falling into sin. Beyond all these, Satan, the tempter, fights against it.
     5. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened. In that time when the church will flourish in the midst of drought and will be cultivated in the desert, the blind will see plainly, etc. This is taken literally with reference to the miracles of Christ and the church, as we read in the last chapter of Mark (Mark 16:17, 18), signs that were necessary to confirm the new Word, signs that were added to the glory of the church, signs that are not done physically in the last time of the church, now that Christ is no longer weak. They were necessary then as a witness to the Jews, who ought to have recognized the church of God. Allegorically, in the time of the Gospel there were opened (1) the eyes of the blind, or ignorant, as we see happening today; (2) the ears of the deaf, who now accept the Gospel; (3) the lame walking in their own superstitions, as Isaiah calls all idolators lame, people who walk around in some sect of their own. They limp on one leg. They do not walk in an upright faith. Then, however, when they accept the Word by faith, they walk upright and leap for spiritual joy in Christ.
     (4) And the tongue of the dumb sing for joy, namely, it will glory in a strong confession, and the mercy of the Lord shown to us is proclaimed and boasted; and they will say: “See how God has rescued us from the darkness!”
     For waters shall break forth, that is, they are parted and distributed. As a spring flows forth in moistening streams, so this church, which was desert, should gush out in streams of the teachings of the Gospel, always one stream leaping from another into one city and then another, although in the eyes of the world it might seem forever desert.
     7. The burning sand shall become a pool, that is, where formerly there was total dryness, there will now be not only streams but also pools and springs. Thus the church will grow in such a way that elsewhere and in other places our streams will become springs. The Word of God will come in abundance.
     In the haunt, that is, where formerly the serpent was and the dragon reclined.
     The grass shall become reeds and rushes. Dragons and serpents like above all to be in dry places, as we see from experience today. As this was formerly a desert, most dreadful in dryness, but now because of the exceeding abundance of moisture has become a place where reeds and rushes grow, so there was nothing but heat, dryness, and ungodliness as long as the Word was absent, but now with the preaching of the Word it is moist and joyful. The serpents and dragons are those who teach ungodly things and with their most pestilential teachings take possession of men’s souls and consciences, like Erasmus, Zwingli, and Oecolampadius, whom also Christ calls a brood of vipers (Matt. 23:33). Our lazy bishops and clerics are not worthy of this name, yes, they are scarcely dung and vomit. In the haunts there will be the highest fruitfulness of the Gospel and of fertile hearts, which, having come to faith, are made fruitful by the Word, teach others with their gifts and help others participate. This is the fruitfulness and abundance of the Spirit.


Quoted from:
     Luther, M. (1999, c1969). Vol. 16: Luther's works, vol. 16 : Lectures on Isaiah: Chapters 1-39 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (16:300). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

No comments: