Isaiah 40

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning,
that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4

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A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2006 James Melough

40:1.  “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.”


God here commands Isaiah to comfort or console the people, for His chastisement is designed to produce repentant obedience, and results in destruction only when that obedience is refused, as it is written, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that  all should come to repentance,” 2 Peter 3:9, but, “He who being often reproved hardens his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy,” Proverbs 29:1.


40:2.  “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.”


The message of comfort continues with the assurance that her warfare (hard service or penal service) was complete, she having already received double, i.e., what she deserved, full punishment for her sins, God being able to forgive them in view of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ which would expiate them.


According to the JFB Commentary this means that “she shall receive (blessings) of the Lord’s hand double to the punishment of all her sins.”


How much more blessed are believers, our sins being pardoned not because of any punishment inflicted upon us, but upon our sinless Substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who has paid for our sins with His own precious blood, and expiated them by His vicarious death as declared in Isaiah 53:5-6, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” 


40:3.  “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight (level, smooth) in the desert a highway for our God.”


The voice was that of the Lord’s forerunner, John the Baptist, whose introduction of Christ is recorded in Matthew 3:3, “For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”


40:4.  “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:”


While this may refer to the geographical changes that will occur in the Millennium, see comments on Isaiah 35:1, most commentators take it to be a call for moral reformation in Israel in preparation for the coming of the Lord at His first advent.


Mountains and hills represent kings and rulers, while the valleys represent the common people.


40:5.  “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”


This will be in glorious contrast to the experience of Moses as recorded in Exodus 33:18-23, when he asked to be shown God’s glory, but was told, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.  And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: and it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: and I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.”


40:6.  “The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry?  All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:”


Responding to the command to cry or proclaim, the prophet asked what it was that he was to announce, and was told to shout that the life of men is as fleeting as that of the grass or the flowers, a fact confirmed by comparing man’s earthly life-span with eternity.  This is true however, only relative to man’s time on earth.  Beyond that brief interval he will continue to exist for ever in the bliss of heaven or the torment of the lake of fire, depending on whether he had been born again spiritually during that fleeting period of earthly probation.


This is the essence of the gospel, relative to which the Lord has commanded believers, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,” Mark 16:15.


40:7.  “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.”


Man’s human life withers, and earthly glory is brief, but God’s word is eternal; and relative to that word it is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” Matthew 4:4.  He who believes God’s word in the gospel, and trusts in Christ as his Savior, will live for ever in the bliss of heaven; but he who believes not will exist for ever in the torment of the lake of fire.


Just as a man blows out a candle, so with equal ease does God end men’s earthly lives, and the imperative of being saved NOW is announced in the fact that we know not the moment when our lives will also be “blown out,” hence the need of heeding God’s warning, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation,” 2 Corinthians 6:2.  This present hour may be our last on earth!


40:8.  “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.”


The brevity of human life and glory is emphasized here by repetition, but by contrast the word of God is declared to be eternal, assuring us of the certainty of our receiving all the everlasting blessings He has promised us.


40:9.  “O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem. That bringest good tidings, lift up the voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!”


As has been noted already Zion is associated with worship, as Jerusalem is with government, so that the command to Zion to go up to the high mountain speaks of the high value God sets on worship; and the command to Jerusalem to shout out the good news fearlessly to the cities of Judah translates into the truth that we are to be bold and energetic in encouraging other believers to render their service with a single eye for God’s glory and the blessing of others.


40:10.  “Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.”


This continues to point to Christ’s millennial reign, during which He will rule the nations with a rod of iron, and brook no disobedience.


“... his work before him” is also translated “His wage before him....” YLT; “... his recompense before him....” ASV; “The prize of his victory is with him, his trophies all go before him....” Jerusalem; “... bringing what he has won, bringing what he has gained,” Moffatt.


The reward here refers not to the reward that He will give to faithful believers, but to the reward which the Father will give Him for His faithful service during His life here on earth, that service being crowned with obedience “unto death, even the death of the cross,” Philippians 2:8.


40:11.  “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”


Here under the figure of a faithful shepherd tending his flock with tender care we have a metaphoric description of the Lord’s loving care of His own, not only in the Millennium, but always.


40:12.  “Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?”


The questions are rhetorical, for clearly the reference is to the Lord’s omnipotence.


40:13.  “Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counselor hath taught him?”


40:14.  “With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment (justice), and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?”


The reference continues to be to the Lord’s absolute self-sufficiency.


40:15.  “Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles (continents) as a very little thing.”


The complete dependence of the nations upon Him for their very existence is declared in the more accurate translations which describe them as “a drop hanging from a bucket ... a drop on a bucket ... a drop on the pail’s rim.”


Our world with its vast continents and oceans, is no more to Him than is a speck of dust to us.


40:16.  “And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering.”


All the trees of Lebanon’s forests cut down and built into a pyre would be a fire too small, and all its animals too few, to constitute a burnt offering worthy of the God of heaven and earth, not only relative to quantity, but also to quality, for they all bear the taint of this corrupt world; and the God “Who is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity,” Habakkuk 1:13, will be satisfied with nothing less than an unblemished offering, that is, one that is inherently pure.  Since therefore earth was incapable of furnishing such an offering, it and everything upon it, including man, were under sentence of death, and doomed to destruction.  But He Himself would provide the adequate sacrifice in the person of His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, an early intimation of that provision being given in Genesis 22:8, when Abraham responded to Isaac’s question by declaring, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering ....”


The inadequacy of every other sacrifice is poetically declared by the hymnist in the words:


Not all the blood of beasts,

On Jewish altars slain,

Could give the guilty conscience peace,

Or wash away one stain.

But richer blood has flowed from nobler veins,

To purge the soul from guilt,

And cleanse the reddest stains.


40:17.  “All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity (less then nought, chaos, emptiness).”


Great nations, e.g., Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, have ruled the world of their day, but they have all passed away, their ephemeral glory being now nothing more than a chapter in the record of world history; crumbling ruins being all that remain as tangible evidence of their brief existence.


He who lives only for time is of all fools the greatest.  True wisdom is to have one’s name inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life, by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, for what is declared in Job 19:26 is true of every believer, “And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”  Following the resurrection of life, every believer, in a glorified body, will dwell with Christ in heaven eternally.


40:18. “To whom then will ye liken God? Or what likeness will ye compare unto him?”


God is unique, hence the folly of attempting to represent Him in tangible form, another hymnist having written concerning Him that He is


Immortal, invisible,

God only wise:

In light inaccessible,

Hid from our eyes.


40:19.  “The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains.”


The natural man being sensual, must have something tangible to worship, but the Lord Himself has informed us that “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth,” John 4:24; and in John 20:29 He told Thomas, “... because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”


In spite of the fact that the making or worship of any kind of image is forbidden in Exodus 20:4-5, it is ominously significant that Papal Rome is guilty of this very sin, the sale of such representations contributing much to her incalculable wealth. 


40:20.  “He that is impoverished that he hath no oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved.”


Nor will the poor man permit impecuniosity to deprive him of an idol.  If poverty prevents his making it of gold or silver he will substitute wood that is impervious to decay, and will be careful to fasten it securely so that it wont fall over, failing to note apparently that an idol which he himself must thus protect from falling, is little likely to be able to render him any aid in time of difficulty.


40:21.  “Have ye not known? Have ye not heard? Hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?”


The latter part of this verse is also rendered, “Have you not understood how the earth was founded,” The Jerusalem Bible; “... the words He gave before the worlds began? Have you never heard nor understood....?  Taylor.


40:22.  “It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in;”


Here is declared the global shape of the earth, a discovery made by scientists relatively recently.  How small a part the earth and heavens are of all God’s creation is also announced!  The sky which we think of as being infinite, is to God merely a curtain which He has spread out over the earth.  Well might the Psalmist turn from his contemplation of creation, and exclaim, “What is man that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” Psalm 8:4.


40:23.  “That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.”


History confirms the truth declared here.  Consider the great men who have strutted for a brief moment upon the stage of time.  Their names are now mere ciphers on the pages of history books.  How different is the future of the believer!  He whose name is inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life will reign with Christ eternally.


40:24.  “Yea, they shall not be planted; yea, they shall not be sown: yea, their stock shall not take root in the earth: and he shall also blow upon them, and they shall wither, and the whirlwind shall take them away as stubble.”


Moffatt’s translation of this verse reads, “scarcely planted, scarcely sown, scarcely rooted in the earth, when at a puff from him they wither, the storm sweeps them off like straws.”  Such is the brevity of man’s earthly life as measured against eternity, the decision made during that brief time, whether to accept Christ as Savior, determining whether his eternal existence will be in heaven or in the lake of fire.


40:25.  “To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One.”


The God with Whom we have to deal is incomparable and omnipotent.


40:26.  “Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth.”


Here men are commanded to consider the wonders of the heavens as displayed in the stars, some of which are so vast that earth is as a mere speck of dust by comparison.  The unvarying precision of their movements is controlled by that same God whom men mock, but before Whom they must eventually stand for judgment.


40:27.  “Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God?”


Commentators differ as to whether this is the lament of those who feel that God is indifferent to their troubles; or whether it is the presumptuous conclusion of those who delude themselves that He doesn’t take note of their evil deeds.  The former however, is the more likely, and is the interpretation accepted by most competent scholars.


Since Jacob was the original name, and Israel the new name given the patriarch by God, a further lesson being taught in the use of both names is that saint and sinner alike should never forget that God is fully aware, not only of what men do, but also of what they think.


40:28.  “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding.”


This continues to emphasize God’s omnipotence, omniscience and eternality; and while these attributes  may elude human understanding they are not beyond the grasp of simple faith which is willing to believe even though it may not always fully understand.


40:29.  “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.”


The ABPS translation of this verse reads, “He gives vigor to the weary; and to the powerless he increases strength.”  In other words, God is able and willing to meet every need of His own, the exhortation given us in 1 Peter 5:7 being, “Casting all your care upon him: for he careth for you,” this latter assurance evoking the response of Paul recorded in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.”


40:30.  “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:”


40:31.  “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”


These two verses announce the vast difference between natural and spiritual strength.  Natural stamina eventually fails, but spiritual strength never, for it is the very power of God, and those who depend upon it can say with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” Philippians 4:13   “... for when I am weak, then am I strong 2 Corinthians 12:10, i.e., when I recognize my own weakness and cast myself upon the Lord, all His strength becomes available to me.


The phenomenal power of that supernatural strength is declared in its being likened to that of eagles’ wings, and to the ability to run or walk without ever being exhausted.  It was the strength with which Paul was endowed when God refused to remove “the thorn in the flesh,” but gave instead the assurance of the sufficiency of His grace, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness,” 2 Corinthians 12:9, evoking Paul’s obedient response, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”


We impoverish ourselves unimaginably when we reject the proffered grace, and demand instead removal of the thorn.

[Isaiah 41]

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