Isaiah 40:1 – 41:20
come to a section of Isaiah (40-55) that has much in it about Christ, the
Servant of the Lord. The setting in the
next chapters is the Lord’s promise of a return from
40:1-2 The message to be sent The
opening word is “comfort” – not a statement that people should be comforted,
but a command from God to give comfort. Comfort comes in believing a message,
which v.2 gives in very brief form. The message must be given with gentleness,
because those who will hear it some day suffer despair and discouragement. The
message was to God’s suffering people in
The message is that the hard
time of captivity is over. These words would be read by people still in
captivity. God later revealed through Jeremiah that the captivity would be 70
years (Jeremiah 25:8-14). Daniel in
In Leviticus 26:14-46, in the time of Moses, God warned of captivity for disobedience but promised to remember His covenant with them. The comfort is that their sin has been paid for. The question is whether the Lord means that they suffered enough in captivity thereby paying for their sins, OR, is it that another payment (not yet identified) has been made and accepted. In all other places where this verb is used in the passive [i.e. ‘has been paid’, which is passive; rather than ‘he paid’, which is active] it always means that God has accepted a substitutionary blood sacrifice for His people. One example is Leviticus 1:4, “It will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.” Isaiah 40 is announcing the comfort that sin has been paid for. Isaiah is merely introducing the subject; later in Isaiah 52,53 he will say Who it was Who paid for sins.
This message is fortified in
another way. She has received something from the Lord’s hand for her sins. Does
Isaiah mean here that
Why does v.2 say double? The
idiom of a foreign language can be difficult. It could mean that something is
folded, or ‘doubled’ over, so that two parts line up and match exactly. Then
this verse would mean that the payment made fits the sin committed precisely.
That is, the sin of God’s people and the sacrifice provided for those sins,
line up in the mind of God. For this reason God says the sins have been paid
for. Isaiah begins a message of comfort that entails the sacrifice of Christ;
40:3-11 Three voices
40:3-5 The first messenger ordered to comfort God’s people, announces as his good news the coming of God. (The approach of God is never good for those whose sins have not been paid for!) This highway in the wilderness differs from the one in 35:8. On that one the people travel back to the Lord; on this highway God comes to them. The response is to make a way for Him, not that He needs help, but that they must by faith look for Him. They should not be casual about this but diligent. God would travel and come to them and show His glory to all mankind.
The earth has always been full of the glory of the Lord (6:3). God rules the nations in the glory of His justice, judging sin. Now He will show the glory of His grace saving men from sin.
The New Testament relates this Scripture to the ministry of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:3). How fitting that it does so. Who was coming after John, but God the Lord, Whose Name is Jesus! Certain parallels are evident: a messenger announces; God is coming; the glory of the Lord will be revealed (John 1:14). Men must prepare by turning from sin.
40:6-8 The second messenger It may not seem like comfort to say that all flesh is like grass that withers. But it is a rule we must learn: we can never enjoy the glory of God unless the glory of man is humbled (2:17). Admitting we are like grass – weak in ourselves physically and morally – shows the glory of our salvation. Note it is even the people of God who are like grass, when we might expect more of them! In Hebrew the breath of the Lord is the same as the Spirit of the Lord. The Spirit so often is the giver of life; here He blows death on man. No truth about ourselves so clarifies the work of God to save us as understanding that in ourselves we are dead in trespasses and sins. Only then will we grasp what it means that God makes dead men alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5). The second messenger brings comfort – not everything has the kiss of death, for the Word of our God stands forever. His word is that He is coming to save.
40:9-11 The third messenger Before the message itself is given, there is instruction to be sure it will be heard. To use a loud voice on a high location helps spread the good news; it must be proclaimed (52:7). The message is the essence of the gospel, “Here is your God.” It is not gospel to speak of ourselves or our works (2 Corinthians 4:5); the gospel is a message of what God has done. The first messenger said He is coming (vv.3-5); this messenger tells of God’s arm, the metaphor that speaks of personal strength. (Later in Isaiah Arm is a title for Christ as in 53:1.) He comes with a reward, one for what He has done – His reward for His work. This statement reappears in Revelation 22:12 when Christ speaks of His coming to recompense and replay everyone for what he has done. He also has the fruits of His victory, like a warrior coming home with his prize. Later Isaiah will reveal that the Lord Jesus will divide the goods with His own (53:12).
40:11 Kings are sometimes called shepherds, a word used of Christ in the New Testament (John 10:11; 1 Peter 5:4; Hebrews 13:20). So when Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd, those knowing Isaiah 40 should have recognized that the coming of God was being fulfilled. When John the Baptist quoted v.3 about himself (John 1:23), that too should draw attention to Isaiah.
40:12-17 God the Creator
40:12-14 The Lord has made the earth and the heavens. What is huge to us is small to Him. This truth prepares the mind to believe He can do whatever He wishes and is able to keep His promises. His power is combined with wisdom; He needs no advice. We are fools to ignore His counsel, and God would not be God if He needed ours. If we could know God fully, we would be His equal. (The finite cannot contain the infinite.) Only the Father, Son (Matthew 11:27), and Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10,11) know each other that way. We do not, counsel, teach, help, or fully comprehend God. (See Romans 11:33-36.)
The Maker of the
universe is Lord over the nations. In comparison with the Lord, the mountains
and oceans are small. The nations are as nothing.
40:18-20 God vs. Idols The true and living God has made man. The gods men make are false and dead. Can a created god compare to God the Creator? No. Whatever material is used will reveal truth about the idol. Unlike God they do not exist on their own; men must make them. They have only a physical beauty applied to them; maybe they are covered with gold, a beauty not inherent to the idols, but taken from the Creator’s world and added to them. They are not living, and unlike the Lord God coming in power (v.10), they are motionless and powerless to stand on their own; they need chains to keep them from toppling. In Isaiah 40-48, the folly of idolatry is a repeated theme. One reason we are not allowed to make any representation of God (Exodus 20:4-6) is that every material image is inadequate, unable to convey His glory. So what is God like? He is transcendent; God is like Himself and nothing in all creation is truly like Him. Later He would send His Son, the One Who really is the radiance of His glory. He is the true image of God. (Hebrews 1:1-4)
40:21-24 Men ought to know God is not the product of the earth
or its people; He sits above it all as God over all (v.22). But they should
know this! The people of
On this earth are great men
of great power: the princes and rulers of this world. To God they are the ones
He constantly removes as He brings them down in death. He blows and they are
gone like chaff, most unlike the Son of David Whose kingdom lasts forever (9:7).
Since this is all true, the interests of
40:25,26 The God Who knows His stars God is called Holy. One might expect in a context of creation that it would say ‘mighty’ or ‘powerful’, but here He has the title ‘Holy’. Sometimes holiness refers to His moral purity, different from the sinfulness of men. Holy means more than that. Holiness has to do with being separate. God is not part of the creation. He is God, different, distinct and unique in what He is and separate from it all.
“To whom will you compare” is
repeated from v.18. There idols are dismissed; here no alternative to God is
even suggested. Who could ever be like the Holy One Who made the stars?
40:27-31 Encouragement for the weary
They suffered from a bad
theology when they assumed God did not know. They suffered from a bad
experience; their pleas seemed to be ignored. The solution was to set the
theology straight and then to call for faith in the Lord who cannot break
covenant with His people. Isaiah called on that future generation to relearn
what they already knew.
Not only does God have strength, He gives strength. He has all power and provides power for the weak. Young men in good physical shape will tire and fall, but those who trust the untiring Lord will have renewed strength and not succumb to despair and unbelief. Isaiah will proceed to give promises of the activity of God Who will help His people, a people that often forgot Him (51:13) but a people He could not forget (49:15). Hope consists of waiting with certainty and trust in His word. In these chapters, Isaiah will give much to encourage their hope.
41:1 This is a courtroom setting, where people meet together and state their arguments for a judicial decision. It is God Who has summoned all to come – in this case the distant islands. God is speaking to Gentiles.
41:2-4 God has a question. Without using a
name, God speaks of some individual who will arise from east of
Who has stirred up this man and carried through His plan? It is the Lord. He is the first, and in the end He is with the last. He is the “I am he”, which is the answer to His own question of vv.2 & 4.
41:5-7 What do the heathen do in response to God’s summons? Invited to approach God to hear and learn from Him, they run instead in fear to their idols. Later Jesus, Who will be a light for the Gentiles (42:6), will go and get them when He brings God’s salvation to the ends of the earth (49:6) in the preaching of the gospel (Acts 13:46-48). In 41:5-7, they are still bound to their idols and they hold each other to their old ways. Part of the strength of error is that God has given us a communal nature. We live as families, a strength when we worship the Lord together. Social solidarity is a powerful factor to hold people in traditions of error. Nations bound by deceit reinforce each other in it. The idols never answered the Lord’s question. They cannot even ask the question, yet the worship of idols holds nations in bondage.
41:8-20 Three pictures of God’s help
41:8-13 The chosen servant Here
Such consolation comes in the presence of real danger. There are those who rage, oppose, and war against them. Since the Lord is with them, their enemies will fail and never be found. With such commitment and help, they should not be afraid.
Scripture never loses sight of the weakness of
41:17-20 The needy supplied The two previous pictures show help against a foe. This one is of the Lord’s supply in hard circumstances. The picture is of people in danger in the desert, where water and shade are hard to find. God’s answer goes far beyond basic needs to show the wonder of a transformed creation.
The poor and needy are the crushed and helpless, as in Matthew 11:28. Isaiah does not mention their prayer but the answer God gave them. To pray to God is to recognize Him as God. Prayer glorifies Him as God, and so does the answer He gives. He promises to hear (Jeremiah 29:12)
The God of Israel will help.
He cannot forsake His own. Yet He always wants us to realize that His supply is
really His supply. To protect His glory, He makes sure His people learn they