Thursday, January 8, 2009

Comfort that is double for sins

This scripture uses two word pictures that we
sometimes miss. I know that there is more than one

way to interpret verses, but I thought this was an

interesting cultural perspective.

Isaiah 40:1-2

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: for she hath received of the
LORD'S hand double for all her sins.

“To comfort” in Hebrew literally means “to cause to
breathe again.” The picture is that of a person who
has been sobbing so hard that they have trouble
catching their breath. Israel’s suffering for her sins
had been great and she was out of breath, spiritually
speaking. The Prophet’s task was to say, like a loving
Mother, “There, there, it’s over now. Everything is
going to be all right.”

But what kind of comfort would double for sins be? A
modern scholar tells us that there was something else
going on here. In the East, when a man went bankrupt,
a notice of all his debts was posted by the city gate.
Everyone would see what he owed, and he would be
publicly humiliated. But, someone could come by and
decide to pay his debts for him. If that happened, the
notice was then folded in half—doubled over.
The debts were paid and no one could see them anymore,
so the shame was removed – just like the doubling of
Israel's sins. (Eastern Idioms By D. Walt Whizzney)

We can remember his tenderness and his empathy
for our embarrassments when all of our failings seem
posted on the city gate for everyone to see.

For He promised that he would not leave us comfortless.


  1. What a great insight. Thanks for sharing that Donna.

    I tried looking up the reference, Eastern Idioms, by D. Walt Whizzney, but nothing came up on google. Can you be more specific? Where might I purchase the book?

  2. Unfortunately, my notes come from a longer presentation that I read many years ago and I just put what the author said. I have since discarded the main talk, but I kept the Whizzney quote. At the time, I was just taking notes for myself and I always assumed that I would be able to track down more information later. If you ever do track down the source, please pass it on to me.

  3. Donna, I couldn't find anything from Whizzney, but I did find the following taken from

    “Giving the Double”
    By Nick Harris
    Isaiah 40 is a transition chapter in the
    book of Isaiah. Chapters 1-39, often
    called the first Isaiah, records one
    judgment after another. That changes
    as Chapter 40 begins. It is as if the
    judgment suddenly ends, and God
    says, “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my
    people.” The prophet, speaking in
    behalf of God says this: “For she has
    received the double for all her sins.”
    When I first read that verse of
    scripture, I was confused. I could not
    see how anyone could be comforted,
    knowing that they are going to get
    punished twice for all their sins.
    I was confused, that is, until I
    stumbled upon one of the most
    beautiful customs imaginable from
    Biblical times in the Near East.
    That custom was this: if a person
    owed money that he could not pay
    back, basically he was bankrupt. As
    you can imagine, in ancient Israel
    there were no bankruptcy laws to
    protect those hopelessly in debt.
    Whenever a man could not pay his
    bills, he had three choices. He either
    went to jail, he became the slave of
    his debtor until he could work off his
    debts, or he could take the third
    option. This option was more humane
    but it hurt one’s pride to do it.
    A man who took this option would
    take a piece of goatskin and he would
    write down everything he owed on
    it, right down to the last penny. Next
    to the debt, he would list the names
    of the persons he owed.
    Then he would go to the gates of the
    city, where everybody passed as they
    entered and exited that municipality,
    and he would hang that piece of
    goatskin in the opening of the gate
    where everyone entering or leaving
    the town could read it.
    Friends, enemies and strangers would
    wag their heads and ask themselves,“How did old so-and-so ever get
    himself in such a mess?”
    However, there was a reason to endure
    such public disgrace. In ancient days,
    when a very wealthy person entered
    the gates of the city, and saw a goat
    skin fluttering in the breeze, he would
    sometimes to go over and read the
    information written on the skin.
    If the rich man was moved with
    compassion for that person, he would
    take the goatskin down from the gate.
    He would then double the skin over,
    fold, and secure it. From that point
    on, no one would ever see those debts
    On the back of the folded goat skin,
    he would write, “Paid in full,” and
    then he would sign his name. This
    meant that all those persons to whom
    the bankrupt man owed a debt would
    be repaid in full by the rich man.
    In those days, that repayment of a
    debt was called, “Giving the double.”
    The debts that were hidden by the
    doubled skin were always paid in full.
    That is the meaning of Isaiah’s words,
    “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people;
    speak with tenderness and kindness
    to Jerusalem, for she has received the
    double for all her sins.”
    In other words, it was like the sins of
    Israel had been written down on a
    goatskin and had been put out before
    the nations for all to see. Everything
    Israel had ever done against God had
    been written there in bold letters.
    But the outcome of this state of
    indebtedness and disgrace was this:
    one day a rich man came into the city
    and passed through the gates. Who
    was this rich man? It was none other
    than the very person that Israel had
    sinned against; the one to whom Israel
    owed debts that he could not pay. It
    was the Lord Himself.
    And the Lord, the one to whom all
    the debts are owed, took that goatskin
    down from the gate, and He folded it
    over, he doubled it, and in His ownblood He wrote, “Paid in full.”
    This is what it meant to give “the
    double” for all her sins. “Giving the
    double” did not mean being punished
    twice, it meant having one’s debts
    obliterated by the one to whom the
    debt was owed.
    That hope, the coming of the redeemer
    of the debts, is “the consolation of
    So, for thirty-nine chapters in the
    book of Isaiah, the debt is spelled out.
    This nation was waiting for the day
    when God himself would deal with
    their debt---their sin.
    This nation waited for the day when
    the filth of Israel would be forever
    taken away, the day when God will
    set up his kingdom of righteousness
    and purity, the day when the peace of
    God that passes all human
    understanding will be poured upon
    His people.
    Then is when God will fulfill the
    words of His prophets and He will
    “console” all those who look to Him
    for salvation. They will be “given the

    Steven Montgomery

  4. Thanks, Steven! I love the additional information.

  5. Bob Norman has been making comments and they are not showing up on the blog. This is a test.