See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. Isaiah 40:10 NIV
The LORD has made proclamation to the ends of the earth: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your Savior comes! See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.’ ” Isaiah 62:11 NIV
These words, some of them duplicates, were probably intended for the Judean exiles in Babylon (40:10) and then for those who returned from exile (62:11). But they raise questions. “Reward” for what? “Recompense” for what? Are they being rewarded and repaid for having gone into exile? But they richly deserved that. Moses had told them more than 800 years earlier that this is what would happen to them if they broke the covenant, yet they had done it repeatedly throughout that whole time. God had been incredibly patient in deferring justice that long. So reward for what?
I suggest two things are in play here. On the one hand, although the Assyrians and Babylonians were Yahweh’s instruments of discipline, they did not see themselves in that way. They arrogantly assumed they were able to do these things simply because they were bigger and tougher, and they carried out their attacks with no mercy and no sense of responsibility for their actions. So the day of recompense came: the great cities of Assyria and Babylon got their due, and they are no more, while Jerusalem has existed, and sometimes even flourished, for all the intervening years.
But I think there is another matter. Not all the Israelites and Judeans who suffered the terrible tragedies of conquest and exile deserved what happened to them. They were genuinely righteous and faithful, and yet they were swept away in the maelstrom too. Nevertheless, they and their children were those who refused to say, “Oh well,” and with others of their people consent to become good Assyrians and Babylonians (the purpose of exile, after all). No, they smuggled out the Scriptures; they refused to give up on Yahweh (Daniel?); and they dared to believe the unbelievable, that God would deliver them from the grip of great Babylon. These are the ones, many of whom never lived to see their beloved land again, for whom the reward came to another generation. These are the ones who were being repaid for a faith that would not stop.
What about us? The song says, “Let all who come behind us find us faithful.” Will another generation be rewarded and recompensed for our faithfulness? May it be.