Whatever the season, nature and God have something to communicate.
Winter evokes nostalgia for many in North America: the Christmas and New Year holidays, the smell of a crackling fire, fresh snow upon the mountains. Changing seasons kindle hope and the promise of new life. In the thick of winter, the bracing cold signals that the temperate months of autumn are past, the length of days no longer stretched wide for lingering, the promise of spring blossoms still weeks away. The sharpness of winter brings purpose—if you plan to shovel snow or get in an evening run, you best start early as night falls fast.
The English poet John Keats muses on the seasons in his poem “On the Grasshopper and Cricket.” “The Poetry of earth is never dead,” he begins. Whether in “summer luxury” or “On a lone winter evening, when the frost has wrought a silence,” the sounds of nature carry on. “The poetry of earth is ceasing never,” Keats repeats a few lines later. In every season, nature speaks.
A Gift of Grace
Scientists explain the phenomenon of seasons; simply put, the earth revolves around the sun, and when earth’s axis points toward the sun, it’s summer. When it points away, it’s winter. There’s a certain steadiness in the constancy of changing seasons, a gift of grace upon grace in its rhythm-keeping.
Indeed, the psalmist of ancient Scripture marvels at the metrical handiwork of God and personifies His creation as surrendering to His appointed rhythms: “He made the moon to mark the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down” (Psalm 104:19). “Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration,” says Jeremiah 8:7. Psalm 1 adds that the person who meditates upon God is “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (see verses 2-3). Nature invites us into the rhythmic practice of paying attention to our Creator, a gift of grace in every season.
A prophet’s poem also connects the flora in fading seasons to human life:
All people are like grass,
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Isaiah 40: 6b-8
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall
but the word of our God endures forever.
A Breath of Hope
Context and literary genre are important in understanding Scripture and other historical works; Isaiah 40 is considered the opening lines of the Book of Comfort. Isaiah’s previous chapters address the judgment of divided Israel—God’s people are suffering in exile under Babylon. The prophet envisions their deliverance and restoration with the inbreaking of God’s voice, which runs throughout Isaiah 40. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem” begins the chapter (see verses1-2).
Bible scholar Ken Bailey observes,
Jerusalem is comforted and forgiven. This is remarkable verbiage to be addressed to returning refugees who generally think that their oppressors have sinned but not themselves. Such refugees often see their suffering as demonstrating their righteousness….
A refugee people is usually crushed in spirit. Their brokenness and sense of hopelessness makes any call for renewal or action impossible. They are too exhausted. This feeling and attitude is reflected in [Isaiah 40:6-8].1
Commentators Keil and Delitzsch point out that the Hebrew verb nachamu translated “comfort” literally means “to cause to breathe again.” How desperately these exiles needed a breath of fresh hope in a lengthy season of captivity. Furthermore, the repeated divine imperatives to “comfort” prompt one’s attention. A discouraged people longed to know that God had not forgotten His covenant promises to them in exile. God had not overlooked them and declares that their suffering is about to end. He is going to come both as Sovereign LORD bringing reward and recompense and as a tender shepherd to reveal his glory—and not just to them and their oppressors but to the entire world (see Isaiah 40: 5, 9-11)!
When We Least Expect It
Notice, now, in verses 6-8 the similes (comparisons) and repeated mention of grass and flowers; for example, “People are like grass/The grass withers…. The people are grass. The grass withers….” Like “Comfort, comfort,” the repetitions reinforce God’s reassuring message. Just as “the grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them,” so, too, will Babylon fall. Despots and empires may seem indomitable, but with a mere breath, God will bring them to naught and restore his people.
Isaiah then contrasts human nature with the character of God: “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever” (verse 8). As the familiar aphorism goes, “Contrast is the mother of clarity.”2 The distinction made between fragile creatures and God’s eternal word underscores how clearly different, how wholly other is God. “He is the living God and he endures forever,” exclaims the prophet Daniel. “His kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end” (Daniel 6:26). And as Scripture later reveals, the LORD, shepherd, and enduring word prophesied by Isaiah here in chapter 40 is Jesus: “The Word was with God, and the Word was God … and in him is life” (John 1: 1, 4)
Perhaps you, too, are broken, hopeless, and exhausted. Perhaps it seems that the season you are enduring will never end—or you long for carefree times long past. The ancient words of Scripture cry out that even when we least expect it, when hope seems far gone, God speaks to us. He alone can breathe life into our weary lives, for He is both Sovereign LORD and tender shepherd who “gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart” (Isaiah 40:11). He is the enduring Word offering compassion and hope in every season of our lives.
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 Ken Bailey, Study Guide to Isaiah 40-66: A Demonstration and Explanation of its Rhetorical Forms (2011), 4, online at https://shenangopresbytery.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/isaiah-study-guide-1.pdf.
 Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003), viii.
Danielle Durant invites others to join her in unearthing the perpetual wonders of beauty and truth found in the ageless drama of Scripture. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the College of Charleston (Charleston, SC) and a Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, MA). Danielle is passionate about all things running, nature, and her expressive Maine Coon cat, Simeon.