Chapter 40 of Isaiah brings another shift in focus by the Prophet. Chapter 38 & 39 were primarily about specifics things that took place around 700 B.C. This was, in part, a reminder that though God is outside His creation, His plan of redemption is worked out in time with real people going through myriad trials. While the revelation of His plan of redemption is complete, all people will continue to experience various trials until Christ returns.
The HCSB and ESV title this chapter "God's People Comforted" and "Comfort for God's People", while the KJV has "The promulgation of the gospel." While comforting God's people is one theme in this chapter, the major theme that I identified when I read it was the glory of God. KJV's outline is a nice one:
Vs 1-2: The promulgation of the gospel
Vs 3-8: The preaching of John the Baptist
Vs 9-11: The preaching of the Apostles
Vs 12-17: The prophet, by the Omnipotence of God
Vs 18-31: and because He is incomparable, comforts His people
The chapter does start out with words of comfort. Isaiah 40:1-2 (HCSB) “Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of forced labor is over, her iniquity has been pardoned, and she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.”
Isaiah is likely being commanded by YHWH to speak these words, telling Jerusalem her time of slavery is over, her iniquity pardoned, and her sin paid for double. This sounds like New Covenant language, where the remnant of Israel finds reconciliation with God.
Isaiah 40:3-5 (HCSB) A voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the LORD in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be leveled; the uneven ground will become smooth and the rough places, a plain. And the glory of the LORD will appear, and all humanity together will see ⌊it⌋, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
We recognize John's words, as he quoted to this passage in his early preaching (Luke 3: 4-6). We've seen highways and straight, level paths mentioned in Isaiah before, in context to leading the way to Zion. This is the message of Isaiah as it was of John - Christ has gone before us, making the way to peace with God possible. And if you don't hear Handel's music from The Messiah as you read verse 5, go listen to it right now. The KJV is what he used: "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." As with everything else that has come to pass, even this - when Christ returns with the blast of the trumpet and shout of the archangel, the glory of YHWH will be revealed to all mankind; for the mouth of YHWH has spoken it! What a glorious day for all who know Him, or rather are known by Him!
Isaiah 40:6-8 (HCSB) A voice was saying, “Cry out!” Another said, “What should I cry out?” “All humanity is grass, and all its goodness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flowers fade when the breath of the LORD blows on them; indeed, the people are grass. The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever.”
Voices call out, reminding man that his life is as grass - frail and short. All creation will come to an end when YHWH blows on them, for nothing and nobody can withstand Him. Yet His Word remains. What is of God cannot be overturned or ended.
Isaiah 40:9-11 (HCSB) Zion, herald of good news, go up on a high mountain. Jerusalem, herald of good news, raise your voice loudly. Raise it, do not be afraid! Say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord GOD comes with strength, and His power establishes His rule. His reward is with Him, and His gifts accompany Him. He protects His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries ⌊them⌋ in the fold of His ⌊garment⌋. He gently leads those that are nursing.
Zion and Jerusalem are heralds of good news to Judah, just as we each as messengers of reconciliation are heralds of good news to lost sheep everywhere. We tell them, "Here is your God! He rules with power and gather His own, carrying them back to His the safety of His sheepfold." Oh, we have read so much about the wrath of God poured out on His enemies. Savor this passage revealing Him as a gentle shepherd who knows how to care for His flock and is tenderhearted towards them in caring for them. Do you sense His arms around you or does this sound foreign to you? Saints of God - raise your voices LOUDLY! Jesus came to save sinners!
Isaiah 40:12-17 (HCSB) Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand or marked off the heavens with the span ⌊of his hand⌋? Who has gathered the dust of the earth in a measure or weighed the mountains in a balance and the hills in the scales? Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, or who gave Him His counsel? Who did He consult with? Who gave Him understanding and taught Him the paths of justice? Who taught Him knowledge and showed Him the way of understanding? Look, the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are considered as a speck of dust in the scales; He lifts up the islands like fine dust. Lebanon is not enough for fuel, or its animals enough for a burnt offering. All the nations are as nothing before Him; they are considered by Him as nothingness and emptiness.
This paragraph resounds with the last several chapters of Job, wherein that righteous man was reminded of how glorious and almighty YHWH is. How can any human read these Scriptures and not be taken aback at how the Creator describes Himself? No creature can counsel Him or give Him knowledge. No matter how big a farm you may own, look at His handiwork and see how small and insignificant the NATIONS are! This is why it was foolish for Israel to seek a partnership with Egypt to help them fight Babylon. This is also why it is foolish for Americans to get fraught with anxiety over the sad state of our national government.
When the Lord Jesus returns, Revelation 6:15-17 (HCSB) Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the military commanders, the rich, the powerful, and every slave and free person hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of Their wrath has come! And who is able to stand?”
The nations are as dust on God's scales, they are considered as nothing and empty. For apart from Christ, man can do nothing good nor is he capable of being good. Only those who are known by the Good Shepherd have cause to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:14 &18).
Isaiah 40:18-20 (HCSB) Who will you compare God with? What likeness will you compare Him to? To an idol?—⌊something that⌋ a smelter casts, and a metalworker plates with gold and makes silver welds ⌊for it⌋? To one who shapes a pedestal, choosing wood that does not rot? He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not fall over.
Here the nations are reminded that their gods are not gods at, but stupid idols crafted by their own hands. Nothing made by man can compare with the One Who created all things! The best of what man can craft is like Dagon, which was knocked over by being in the same tent as the Ark of God's covenant with Israel (1 Sam 5). Why work to make a stupid thing when the one true God has revealed Himself in creation and spoken to us in His Word and by His Son?
Isaiah 40:21-24 (HCSB) Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not considered the foundations of the earth? God is enthroned above the circle of the earth; its inhabitants are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like thin cloth and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He reduces princes to nothing and makes judges of the earth irrational. They are barely planted, barely sown, their stem hardly takes root in the ground when He blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind carries them away like stubble.
Does Romans 10 come to mind when you read this? Romans 10:14a (HCSB) "But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him?" Have you not heard, do you not know, has it not been proclaimed to you, even from the created order? Don't be misled by those who point to verse 22 and claim the Bible supports a flat earth; that is a "literal" hermeneutic that strains itself to the breaking point. Rather see this as evidence that the Spirit revealed to the prophet that earth is curved - looks like a circle if you see it in 2 dimensions. The point is that God cannot be contained in His creation - He handles the heavens (our galaxy) as a thin cloth.
This next word picture is most interesting to me right now. God reduces the princes (rich, powerful men) to nothing and MAKES JUDGES of the earth IRRATIONAL! Now the rich people in the USA are getting richer - their big barns will not protect them when the Lord returns. Our judges ARE irrational - and this the Lord's doing, is it marvelous in your eyes? They think they are high and mighty - He says they are plants with no root that will wither and be blown away like stubble when the winds blow. Have faith in God, be ye not worried that your country is coming apart at the seams! We in the USA have grown to think wealth, health, and comfort are our rights! This unique experiment in human history has been a tremendous blessing to uncounted people. But it is not the norm and we should not murmur when it withers and is blown away like stubble.
Isaiah 40:25-26 (HCSB) “Who will you compare Me to, or who is My equal?” asks the Holy One. Look up and see: who created these? He brings out the starry host by number; He calls all of them by name. Because of His great power and strength, not one of them is missing.
This is one my favorite passages. How many of you parents have had trouble grabbing the name of the child you wanted at a particular time? We had two children live and our son heard his mother run through the names of his sister and the family dog trying to get his name to come out of her mouth. The boxer George Foreman had 6 sons and named each of them George because he knew he would have this trouble. Compare our feeble minds to that of God! not only did He create all things, He hung each star where He wanted it and calls each one by name - and they are NOT all named George! And none of the countless stars are missing because by Him all things hold together (Col 1:17). That is POWER beyond what our puny minds can comprehend! Ponder this. Every star, put in the sky and kept in place by the very One Who gave His life so we would have life.
The transcendent God is immanent! He is beyond our ability to comprehend yet He has come close to us, became like us, to reveal Himself to those He would save. The bridge in a hymn brought back to life by Matthew Smith (What Wondrous Love is This!) shows our need of Him and the way He transcends the gap between Him and us to save us:
And what wondrous love is this
Though I raised my clenched fist
He opened up my hand to received His gift
And what wondrous love is here
The God Immortal has drawn near
And shed His blood to close the rift
While we were His enemies, Christ died for us. We do not reach out for Him - He reached down to where we were in spiritual death, pried open our clenched fist to receive His gift. And ponder this for a long time: God immortal has drawn near and shed His blood to close the rift! Does your soul rejoice, has Christ drawn close to you and drawn to Himself? Praise Him all ye saints!
Isaiah 40:27-31 (HCSB) Jacob, why do you say, and Israel, why do you assert: “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my claim is ignored by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never grows faint or weary; there is no limit to His understanding. He gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless. Youths may faint and grow weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who trust 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 faint.
It is a common complaint - nobody understand me, nobody even knows I exist! Others claim they can have their hidden sins - nobody sees them, nobody is hurt. How foolish we are! Jacob and Israel are often used as a reference for the remnant, not the ethnic nation. The remnant, from every nation, has heard, knows, YHWH is the everlasting God! Recall those stupid gods we read about earlier? YHWH is not like that. He created all things and He does not get tired; His wisdom is limitless! The highest IQ known to man is empty and nothing compared to the wisdom of God.
And this holy God; One Who is not like us - He is set apart from us - He is our tender shepherd (verse 11). He gives strength to the weary and powerless - come unto me, Jesus said, ALL who are weak and weary and I will give you rest! The young and powerful men of the world will stumble and fall - they will fade like grass and be blown away by the breath of God! But all who trust in Him will be renewed in strength, soaring like eagles, running and not growing weary, walking and not faint. Have you seen a man in his 70s and 80s who still on fire for the Lord, preaching and teaching the gospel with a fire in his belly that won't stop? This is the Lord's doing - He promised right here He would do it! - and it IS marvelous in our eyes!
Dear brothers and sisters - do not go quietly into the night. Cry out for mercy, for renewed strength to teach your grandkids about Jesus, to tell your neighbors about the glories of Christ. He who began a good work in you WILL BE faithful to bring it to completion.