Isaiah 40


Before we get into the text, I think it would be useful to note from this chapter, through to chapter 66, deal with the restoration of Israel from Babylonian exile. The theme of this whole section is the deliverance from the captivity threatened in Isaiah 39. Judah was to be comforted if she repented. The prophecies of this section have the Babylonian captivity as their viewpoint.

De Hoff, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Here begins the latter part of the prophecy of Isaiah. This last section is divided from the first by the historical chapters that come between. The distress which the people of God were in by the Assyrians is here spoken of as a thing past, Isaiah 40:4. The captivity in Babylon and the deliverance of God’s people are foretold. Before God allowed His people to go into captivity He furnished them concerning Christ and His church. This last part of Isaiah is a prophetic summary of the New Testament. It begins as do the Gospel with ‘the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness’, Isaiah 40:3, and concludes as does the book of Revelation with ‘the new heavens and the new earth’, Isaiah 66:22. The prophet speaks of the shoes being brought home from Babylon, but he also refers to a more glorious deliverance unto Christ, our deliverance from sin.’

These chapters deal with deliverance for Israel at the hand of Israel’s God. Throughout them, there is a captivity assumed, the Babylonian, reasons for it given, assurance of deliverance and an insistence that the rescue is the work of Jehovah.

A Brief Look At Isaiah 40-66

Chapter 40 speaks of God manifesting himself in a new work of Rescue. Israel may have her doubts about it but the redemption is certain.

Chapter 41. The instrument of God’s redeeming work, Cyrus, may strike fear into the nations but Israel has nothing to fear since they have God and the nations have only idols.

Chapter 42. God1s Servant will bring the message of redemption to foreign nations. Though beaten and captive they will be owned by God because the chastisement is due, not to God’s weakness but, to his abhorrence of sin. God’s dealing with Israel will manifest his care for all who sin.

Chapter 43. This chapter says, essentially, that the same God who rescued them from Egypt will rescue them from Babylon, and any other oppression. And this is not because Israel is ‘worthy’ of rescue.

Chapter 44. Despite their unworthiness, God made his choice of them long ago and will live up to his covenanted loyalty. And he is capable of taking care of them in contrast to idols who are powerless.

Chapter 45. The choice of Cyrus and his success is the work of an omnipotent God who is dedicated to Israel. When Israel calls on God she is heard and vindicated. Foreigners are urged to look away from their idols and look to Jehovah for salvation.

Chapters 46-47. The idols of Babylon are satirized and Babylon is assured of her destruction.

Chapter 48. Israelis verbally chastised for open wickedness. And God, knowing how easily they fall into treachery, explains why he has used prediction and captivity in dealing with them.

Chapter 49. This chapter is addressed to both Israel and foreigners because neither of them can understand Israel’s chastisement as to its significance. The captivity and the subsequent redemption are to teach everyone about sin’s need for punishment and God’s pardoning mercy.

Chapters 50-52. These chapters are words of comfort from God’s enlightened messenger who has been much maligned and mistreated, Isaiah 50. God’s dealings with Abraham and Israel when in Egypt are the basis for future optimism concerning deliverance and ultimate victory, Isaiah 51. Isaiah 52 further speaks of Zion’s coming glory and their redemption from exile.

Chapter 53. With Isaiah 52:13-15 we have an explanation of the sufferings of the servant and the announcement of blessing through that suffering.

Chapters 54-55. Restored Israel will find more glory after the pain of exile than she had before and the city which had been razed is to be built with inexpressible splendour, Isaiah 54. And all who are interested can share in the sure mercies of David at the hand of a God who is, unlike Israel or the nations, quick to pardon and pardon abundantly, Isaiah 55.

Chapter 56. Assurances are given to the foreigners who throw in their lot with rescued Israel, as happened in the deliverance from Egypt, that they would be received by the Lord with favour.

Chapters 57-59. With Isaiah 56:9-12 these chapters speak of the wickedness of the nation, Isaiah 57, the self-righteousness of the religious, Isaiah 58, and God’s explaining one more time that their pain is due to their wickedness and not his weakness, Isaiah 58:13-59.

Chapter 60-62. With Isaiah 59:15-21 these chapters speak of the glory of the redeemed nation. Of the restoration of her children by the foreigners, Isaiah 60:4ff, of the rebuilding of a glorious city with the help of foreigners, Isaiah 60:10ff, who will render their services to Israel. And this is the message, one of deliverance, that is put into the heart of God’s servant, Isaiah 61:lff, who tells of Zion’s glorious future. Zion’s deliverer will give her new names to suit her coming glory, Isaiah 62.

Chapter 63. The chapter stresses that God alone redeems Israel from her enemies, Isaiah 63:1-6, and the prophet insists that graciousness and rescue are no new thing with God, Isaiah 63:7-14.

Chapter 64. With Isaiah 63:15-19, this chapter registers the nation’s confession of guilt. But it also registers their blaming God, in part, for the terrible state they are in.

Chapters 65-66. These chapters contain God’s response to Israel’s half-hearted confession and their promise to build him a glorious house if only he will restore them from trouble. Israel says he is hard to find, Isaiah 64:1-7. He says Gentiles who aren’t even looking for him are finding him. They offer him a rebuilt house, implied in Isaiah 64:10-11, and he replies that heaven and earth aren’t sufficiently impressive to him so how could their building be, Isaiah 66:1-2. What God is after and what God will bless is a penitent and upright people, Isaiah 65-66. Before God is through Gentiles will pay homage to the God of Israel.

‘Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.’ Isaiah 40:1-2

Comfort For God’s People

This chapter speaks words of comfort and the God of comfort.

Comfort, comfort my people, Jerusalem is to be comforted. The expression ‘my people’ recalls the covenant relationship God had with Israel, Exodus 19:5-6 / Leviticus 20:26 / Deuteronomy 7:6 / Deuteronomy 14:2.

Isaiah uses words, which speak of punishment for Jerusalem. They will be doubly punished but they will be doubly blessed. She has suffered and now she will be rewarded. They were once rejected as God’s people, but now they are again claimed because of His covenant relationship with them, Hosea 1:9.

‘A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5

These verses speak of the time when real comfort would come, not restoration from the captivity but a greater restoration of which the restoration from exile was but a prophetic type, that which Christ would effect.

Matthew 3:3 is the New Testament interpretation, and it says that this of which Isaiah was speaking is the person and work of John the Baptist, John 1:23. John was a spiritual roadbuilder who did a work appointed to him by God. John was preparing the way for the coming of the Lord.

The word ‘desert’, has reference to people who are dried up, people dead spiritually. The real fulfilment of chapters 40-66 is the Christian age. The Babylonian captivity was a foreshadow or type of that which was to come.

God’s glory to be revealed to all flesh, was done by Jesus whose way John had prepared, John 1:14-18 / Hebrews 1:3 / John 17:4.

Pledge, in his commentary, says the following.

‘One must keep in mind that this entire last half of the book of Isaiah is intensely Messianic. There were many Messianic prophecies in the first half, but the latter half is almost entirely filled with them.’

In place of Jerusalem’s period of misery will be the revelation of the glory of the Lord. The way was to be made easy for them to return. The revealing of the glory of the Lord meant the salvation of His people.

‘A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” Isaiah 40:6-8

Here we read of the enduring Word of God. Isaiah is to cry out, people won’t last forever but the Word of the Lord will.

All that constitutes the glory of man can be compared only with the flower in the field, which exists but a short time and then perishes, Psalm 103:15-16 / 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 / 1 Peter 1:24-25.

Israel must have hope because her oppressors would pass out of the picture. God’s promise will stand forever, this would strengthen the hope of Israel.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Both Peter and James quoted from this passage, 1 Peter 1:24-25 / James 1:10-11, bringing to six the New Testament authors who quoted from this chapter, four of them ascribing the passage to Isaiah. No Christian should dare to ascribe it to anyone else!’

‘You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.’ Isaiah 40:9-11

Here we read that God will rule by His arm, that is, the Christ, Isaiah 5:25 / Isaiah 9:12 / Isaiah 10:4 / Isaiah 11:11 /  Isaiah 31:3 / Isaiah 51:9 / Isaiah 53:1 /  Isaiah 62:3.

Isaiah shifts from the promise to the fulfilment which we saw in Isaiah 2:3. Zion and Jerusalem are identified as the messengers of peace who announce the coming of the Lord. God always stands ready to reward his faithful servants and to encourage those who trust in Him.

Notice that God is pictured as a good shepherd, John 10:11-16. This is a picture of Jesus Himself, a coming King as a shepherd, to God, a king is a shepherd, Psalm 23 / Ezekiel 34 / Ezekiel 37. He would protect and nurture the obedient, for they would be His sheep.

‘Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? Who can fathom the Spirit4  of the LORD, or instruct the LORD as his counsellor? Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding? Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings. Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.’ Isaiah 40:12-17

Israel is made to see that God alone possesses absolute might and wisdom. Compared to God they are nothing.

Young, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The language of verses 12-14, reflects upon the vastness and majesty of the creation and suggests the care with which creation was accomplished.’

God possesses absolute knowledge and wisdom, / Job 33:4. This passage is quoted by Paul in Romans 11:34 and referred to by him in 1 Corinthians 2:16. Jehovah is a matchless Being. Nations of the earth are nothing when compared to the greatness of God. They are no weightier than one grain of sand on the scale.

Even the isles are like a speck of dust. With all its mighty forests and its wild beasts, Lebanon couldn’t provide an appropriate offering to God, Romans 11:34. All the cedars of Lebanon couldn’t build a fire large enough to offer all the animals of the country for a sufficient burnt offering to the Lord.

God is pictured as the great arranger of all history. He controls all of the universe. All the glory associated with man in contrast with God is nothing. The conclusion of verse 17 forms the question of verse 18.

‘With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple.’ Isaiah 40:18-20

Here we are given an ironic description of the making of an idol. Even the material used in the manufacture of an idol was created by God Himself. Deity cannot be represented by the works of human hands, John 4:24 / Acts 17:29.

We can only compare God with our own experiences, but He is greater than any of them. We can’t compare God to an idol.

‘Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.’  Isaiah 40:21-24

Here we read four questions directed to those who look upon the idols about them with desire.

The first two, Romans 3:1-2, indicate that Israel had been taught. The last two indicate that all with any teaching of God should be able to recognise God from the evidence of the universe, Psalm 8 / Psalm 19:1 / Romans 1:20. Israel had closed her eyes to evidence and reason.

God is revealed through His words and works proclaimed. God is all supreme, all-knowing and all-powerful, etc, Job 12:21 / Psalm 107:40. God inhabits eternity and all the inhabitants of the earth are stretched out before Him as grasshoppers.

Little gods of men could be carried in men’s pockets but God covers the earth. There is nothing so high in the world that God can’t bring down.

‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.’ Isaiah 40:25-26

Here we read of the incomparable nature of God. The greatness of God is seen in that He leads all the army of the stars and planets as a general leads his army out on the battlefield.

Secondly, His great power is seen in that all this array of the heavenly host is called by name, we can’t even count the stars.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Direct your eyes toward heaven, and in the contemplation of the wonders of the starry world, and God’s power there, learn the evidence of his ability to destroy his foes and to save his friends.’

‘Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ Isaiah 40:27-31

Israel felt that God had turned away from them. Such despondent disbelief has no basis and a double question is asked to emphasise that. Not only does God not faint but He strengthens those who wait on Him.

God is pictured as gathering the lambs in His arms. He won’t fail in giving strength to those who are tired and weak, 2 Corinthians 12:9. Although we may get tired and weak, God’s sustenance always abounds. Those who wait for God to work in their lives won’t be disappointed.

Kelley, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The basic word from which ‘wait’ is derived means ‘to wind’ or ‘to twist’, the word ‘rope’ being a noun that comes from this term. The meaning here is that the believer should let the Lord be his lifeline, his cord of escape.’

They will be able to accomplish things beyond their dreams because God is able to work in the lives of those who walk by faith, Ephesians 3:20-21.

Faith is needed to receive strength from God. People who have every fleshly reason to be strong will fail if they believe not, Galatians 6:9.

Go To Isaiah 41