Take the next two days to soak in Isaiah 40:1-5 as you listen to the tenor, orchestra, and chorus in Scene 1.
Scene 1 - "Isaiah's prophecy of salvation"
2. Arioso (Tenor)
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. (Isaiah 40:1-2)
Accompanied recitative (Tenor)
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3)
3. Aria (Tenor)
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain. (Isaiah 40:4)
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40:5)
Isaiah 1-39 are primarily messages of judgment on Judah because of her great sin. The chapters culminate with Isaiah proclaiming Judah would be taken into captivity by the Babylonians (39:7). Judah still had another 100 years before this would happen (587/6 B.C.) and another 70 years in exile in Babylon, but Isaiah offered hope of a time of future restoration back to the Promised Land.
"Comfort" is used 13 times in Isaiah 40-66 and means "ease yourself." In Isaiah 40, the prophet says it twice for extra emphasis. "Speak comfortably" means to "speak to the inner person or heart as the seat of emotions, passions, and courage" (Hosea 2:14).
"Comfort ye" is sung as an arioso which is more melodic than an accompanied recitative and less formal than an aria. Literally, arioso means airy. What a perfect style to depict God saying, "Ease yourself Israel." So, take some time right now to breathe deeply and relax!
The comfort is that even though Judah's captivity would be like enlistment in a war, it would come to an end because they had received just punishment. Instead of shame, they would have a double portion of blessing because He rejoices in restoration (Isaiah 61:7).
Isaiah called out that they prepare themselves for the LORD by getting into a right relationship with Him and coming out of their spiritual wilderness.
This is sung in the accompanied recitative style (accompagnato) where the full orchestra underscores the dramatic text as the tenor sings in the rhythm of ordinary speech.
Raising valleys, lowering mountains, and making crooked roads straight is a picture of workman making a smooth road for a coming king (the music is very royal and majestic at this point). At that time, the wilderness between Babylonia and Jerusalem would have been avoided, but God is saying to make a roadway straight-through this area just as the Israelites went through the wilderness when they were delivered from their bondage in Egypt.
This is sung in an aria which is a solo sung in a lyrical style that repeats words and phrases. In the Baroque era (1600-1750) oratorio, instruments most often accompanied the solo. Arias often include melismas which are several notes accompanying one syllable of text. (The kind that my sons and husband make fun of when I listen to Messiah.)
Handel also used a technique called madrigalism to contrast exalted with low, crooked with straight, and rough with plain. Simply put, this is where the music imitates the word. For example, exalted goes up the scale while low goes down. Listen to it again and see if you can hear this.
Many years later, John the Baptist would utter the same thing in the wilderness of Judea indicating that the way to prepare was to, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:1-4). Isaiah prophesied not only of Judah's return from captivity but also of the coming King, Jesus, who would come in "glory as of the only begotten from the Father" (John 1:14).
I have highlighted the key word glory because Jennens included this word in the libretto 14 times! We will discuss it more tomorrow!
We will also return to Isaiah 40 in Movements 9 & 20. Notice that Isaiah 40 was also in the Jesse Tree Review. This is a very important chapter! (It is even worth memorizing.)
Preparation for the Coming King
God loves us, and He wants to speak kindly to our inner person. He wants to abundantly pardon. He wants to bless. We just need to prepare the way for Him to do that by creating space and making the way smooth for Him to enter in.
In the midst of meditating on this passage, I got a text, "Carol, I am in the forest wrestling with God. Can you please pray that I can hear his voice clear?"
I sent her these verses from Isaiah 40 and asked God to speak kindly to her.
An hour later she wrote:
"Thank you. Two things clear. He loves us completely, and we are completely redeemed. The sword of truth must continue to go forth but with a deeper awareness of our belovedness. My guilt and confusion are gone. Thank you so much!"
Friends, that is the message of Isaiah 40:1-5! Make straight that highway for God in your heart today!
When eastern princes marched through desert countries, ways were prepared for them, and hindrances removed. And may the Lord prepare our hearts by the teaching of his word and the convictions of his Spirit, that high and proud thoughts may be brought down, good desires planted, crooked and rugged tempers made straight and softened, and every hindrance removed, that we may be ready for his will on earth, and prepared for his heavenly kingdom.
Henry, M., & Scott, T. (1997). Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary (Is 40:1)
What is your personal "I will" statement for today?
Who will hold you accountable in your follow through? (If you write yours in the comment section, I will do that!)
Who will you tell what you learned today?
Here is mine:
I will prepare my heart this Advent by asking God to see if there is any hurtful way in me or anything hindering Him from crashing into my life today. I will do this by waiting on Him and listening to Him.
How did you do on your "I will" from December 2?
Here was mine:
I will listen to the music again and imagine that the King of kings is arriving at my home in order to dine with me (Revelations 3:20). I will welcome Him with reverence and joy this Advent season.I listened to the Overture (Sinfonia) as I danced around and prepared my Advent wreath table for my coming King: