Isaiah Chapter 40
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Go to Bible: Isaiah 40
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” The word “comfort” is repeated twice for emphasis. Note that God does not say, “I will comfort my people,” but instead gives the command for someone to comfort His people. The command is no doubt to Isaiah, but would include other prophets and also likely leaders that are charged with the responsibility of taking care of God’s people. Today, especially since all believers have the holy spirit, it is important that believers comfort one another. Note also that it is “my people” who are to be comforted. The unspoken understanding is that God’s people Judah will be comforted in the flesh to some extent, but the real comfort is to Judeans who are believers, who will be comforted in this life and the next. The comfort to unbelievers is that they have the opportunity to be saved, but if they reject that salvation they are doomed.
The words are sudden and somewhat unexpected. They come after chapters in which God’s judgment is pronounced against God’s people for their sin, and now reveals the love and mercy of God. This prophecy is a different cry from earlier in Isaiah’s ministry when he was told he would call out to Israel but they would not listen (Isa. 6:9-10). By the time of Isaiah 40, the Northern Kingdom of Israel had gone into exile, but the Babylonian Captivity was still more than 100 years in the future, and who knew if Judah would repent and that prophecy would change?(top)
“paid for.” In certain contexts, the Hebrew verb ratsah (#07521 רָצָה) means to “make up for,” “pay for,” “expiate,” and this is one of those cases. This same word occurs in Leviticus 26:34, 41, and 26:43. Keil and Delitzsch write that Israel’s “iniquity is atoned for, and the justice of God is satisfied: [The Hebrew word ratsah] which generally denotes a satisfactory reception, is used here in the sense of meeting with a satisfactory payment, like [ratsah avon] in Lev. 26:41, 43, to pay off the debt of sin by enduring the punishment of sin.”a
The sin of Israel has been “paid off,” and thus pardoned, because she received from Yahweh “double” for all her sins. God had said that sometimes sin would be repaid double (cp. Jer. 16:18; 17:18) and in Leviticus 26, God had clearly said that if people behaved like Israel had behaved, they would receive “sevenfold” punishment for their sin (Lev. 26:18, 24, 28). In any case, at this point, Israel had paid for her sin. This verse in Isaiah shows that sin was sometimes thought of in terms of being a debt that needed to be paid, something that was much more fully developed during and after the Babylonian Captivity and during New Testament times.
[For a more complete understanding of sin, see commentary on 1 John 1:7, “sin.” For a more complete understanding of the land incurring a debt when the Sabbath years were not honored, see Lev. 26 and the commentary on Lev. 26:34.]
“double for all her sins.” The word “double” here could mean twice as much punishment as Jerusalem deserved, but it is more likely that in this context it simply means “an abundance” or “enough.” There is no reason for God to punish Jerusalem twice as much as she deserved.
Keil and Delitzsch, Old Testament Commentary: Isaiah, 7:391.
“A voice of someone calling out.” Isaiah 40:3 is quoted in Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; and John 1:23. The fact that the identity of the one speaking is not specified shows us that here, as in Isaiah 40:1-2, the messenger is purposely not named to place the emphasis on the message. In the New Testament, the “voice” who speaks this message is identified as the forerunner of the Messiah, John the Baptist (Matt. 3:3), and John told the religious leaders that he was the voice of Isaiah 40:3 (John 1:23).
“Prepare a road for Yahweh in the wilderness!” The road is to be prepared “in the wilderness” and “in the desert.” In saying that, the Hebrew text is different from the way the text is quoted in the New Testament, where John the Baptist is “in the wilderness” and he is crying out to prepare the road in the desert. But both texts are accurate. Although John was in the wilderness, it was still true that the road had to be prepared there also.
“for our God.” This is an example of the Jewish principle of agency. God would come to Israel via His representative, the Messiah. To welcome God’s representative was to welcome God, and to reject the representative was to reject God, and by that same principle of agency, people who received those who Jesus sent received Jesus himself (cp. Matt. 10:40; John 13:20).(top)
“Every valley will be lifted up and every mountain and hill will be made low.” This verse is both literal and figurative. When the Lord Jesus comes and conquers the earth, it will indeed become a “paradise on earth” (cp. Luke 23:43). Mountains will be lowered and steep valleys will subside and be less steep (Isa. 2:2; Ezek. 38:20), but there will still be mountains (Amos 9:13; Mic. 4:1).
On the figurative side, “mountains” were often used to represent huge problems or even empires (Isa. 41:15). Babylon was figuratively called the “destroying mountain” because of its imposing nature, not because the city of Babylon was in a mountain setting (Jer. 51:25). The future kingdom of Christ is called a “mountain” for the same reason (Dan. 2:35). There was a great “mountain” that stood against Zerubbabel, and although scholars disagree on what the mountain is, all are in agreement that it is not an actual mountain, but was a kingdom or perhaps a person representing the power of a kingdom. So here in Isaiah 40:4, when the Messiah comes, every thing and every problem that stands in his way will be removed. “Mountains” and “valleys” will be leveled for him. Jesus’ coming and his triumph over evil will not be able to be successfully resisted.(top)
“the glory of Yahweh will be revealed.” This is speaking about the second coming of Christ, when he comes to conquer the earth, and it is therefore future. In this context “the glory of Yahweh” almost certainly has several meanings. The word “glory” can in some contexts refer to power, and in this context of the coming of Yahweh, the power of Yahweh will be revealed as he conquers the earth. Furthermore “all flesh will see it together,” so this refers to the Messiah’s coming when he comes to earth to fight the battle of Armageddon. This is the time when “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of him” (Rev. 1:7). Also, as Christ’s kingdom is established on earth, the “glory of Yahweh,” the glorious light that surrounds Yahweh, will be seen as well.
[For more on the glory of Yahweh, see commentary on Ezekiel 1:28].(top)
“I said.” The Hebrew can be read as either “he said” or “I said.” Although the versions differ, “I said” seems to make more sense, especially in light of the fact that God, the Author, knew that the intimate reference in this context was to the forerunner of the Messiah, John the Baptist.
“All flesh is like grass, and all its dependability is like the flower of the field.” This is a beautiful and powerful picture of the short duration of human life, and the powerlessness of any human to be able to extend their life to any great degree. Human life is not “dependable;” humans will die, and do not even know when that will be (cp. Eccles. 8:8). So people should do whatever it takes to receive everlasting life from the One who can raise them from the dead and give them that life.
Although many versions read “glory” in the verse, that is adopted from the Septuagint because the Hebrew word, which is hesed (#02617 חֶסֶד) and which is often translated as “covenant faithfulness” does not seem to make sense here. But hesed can have the sense of “faithfulness,” and here seems to have the sense of “dependability.”a
John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66 [NICOT], 53.
|Isa 40:7||- (top)|
|Isa 40:8||- (top)|
“go up on a high mountain!” The verb “go up” is imperative. The command is “go up!” The next imperative is “lift up!”
“lift up your voice with strength.” The verb “lift up” is imperative, and to lift up your voice with strength is to speak or cry out loudly. Those who speak up for God should do so in a way that they can be seen, like on a high mountain, and so that they can be heard, which would be by speaking loudly.
“Zion...Jerusalem...cities of Judah.” The audience of the verse expands as the verse, and then the context shows. The speaker speaks to Mount Zion, a part of Jerusalem, then to Jerusalem, then to the cities of Judah. But then Isaiah 40:10-28 reveal that God is the creator and ruler of the universe, and everyone should know about Him.(top)
“the Lord Yahweh will come.” Yahweh will come via His personal representative, the Messiah. This is the Jewish principle of agency (see commentary on Isa. 40:3). Then Yahweh will be present in Jerusalem when the Messiah builds a Temple for Him (Zech. 6:12). That future Temple is described in Ezekiel 40-44.
“Yahweh will come as a mighty one, and his arm will rule for him.” The image is unmistakable. When Yahweh first comes, He will have to come as a warrior and ruler with a strong arm. The current powers that be will not automatically welcome Him or give up their control and power. Those who resist Him will have to be defeated...and they will be. When the Messiah comes, he will kill the wicked and take care of those who have been disadvantaged (Isa. 11:4).
“Behold, his reward is with him and his repayment accompanies him.” When Christ comes back, people will get what they deserve (cp. Matt. 16:27).
[For more on people getting what they deserve, good or bad, when the Lord Jesus returns, see commentary on 2 Cor. 5:10.](top)
“flock...shepherd...lambs.” God is often portrayed as a shepherd and His people as sheep.
“He will gather the lambs in his arm.” The weak and downtrodden people on earth have been beaten down and taken advantage of for so long that they might well wonder if God would ever take care of them. But God has watched the affliction of the afflicted ones and they are guaranteed to be well taken care of when the Messiah comes.(top)
“span.” A span was the distance between the tip of the thumb and the tip of the little finger if the hand was spread out and the fingers extended.(top)
“Who has.” Here in these verses, Isaiah 40:12-28, Yahweh is clearly the one and only God. He created the universe and no other god was His counselor. Yahweh is the one God of Israel, surely, but He is the One God, period. There are no other gods who helped Him create the universe. We today don’t think twice about these statements, but they were a new revelation to people in the ancient world, who saw the universe as the product of the work of many gods.
“the spirit of Yahweh.” In this context, the “spirit” of Yahweh refers to His mind, which is why it could be “directed” or “instructed.” The word “directed” is takan (#08505 תָּכַן), and it has been translated a number of different ways (“directed,” HCSB, KJV, NASB, NAB, NRSV, REV; “measured,” CJB, ESV; “meted out,” JPS, YLT; “understood,” NIV84; “can fathom,” NIV2011; “able to advise,” NLT. In the context, “directed” seems to be a good translation.
The “spirit of God” sometimes refers to the deep inner things of God, such as His mind, something which the Bible itself clarifies. Isaiah 40:13 is quoted two times in the New Testament: Romans 11:34 and 1 Corinthians 2:16. In both of those passages, the word “spirit” in Isaiah is translated as “mind.” For example, Romans 11:34 says, “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor,” and 1 Corinthians 2:16 also has “the mind of the Lord.” That Isaiah uses the word “spirit” but the New Testament uses the word “mind” shows us that “the spirit of Yahweh” in Isaiah is not a reference to a separate “Person” in the Trinity, but is a way of speaking about God or His inner parts, in this case, His mind.
The Septuagint also reads “mind” instead of “spirit,” showing that the ancient Jews understood the “spirit” of God to refer to the workings of His mind. That would not be unusual since many times the Hebrew word “spirit” was used of the working of the mind or the emotions (cp. The Hebrew word for “spirit,” ruach, is also used of people’s thoughts, attitudes, and emotions (cp. Gen. 26:35; 45:27; Exod. 6:9; Deut. 2:30; Josh. 2:11; 5:1; Judg. 8:3; 1 Sam. 1:15; 1 Kings 10:5; 21:5; Job 7:11; 17:1; 21:4; Ps. 34:18; 51:17; 143:4; Prov. 16:18, 19, 32; 29:11; Eccles. 1:14; Isa. 54:6; Ezek. 11:5; and Haggai 1:14).
[For more on the usages of “spirit” in the Bible, see Appendix 6, “Usages of ‘Spirit.’”]
“counselor.” The Hebrew is literally, “a man of his counsel,” that is a “man” who gives him counsel. The Hebrew word “man,” ish (#0376אִישׁ ), while it could refer to a human, in this context more likely generically refers to “someone,” human or spirit being, who is a counselor, thus the translation, “counselor.”
Isaiah 40:13-14 have been used to try to show that God does not work with a divine council, but works alone and without the advice or support of others. However, that is not what the verse is saying. There is ample evidence that God works in concert with His creation and enlists them in helping Him administer the universe. 1 Kings 22:19-20 shows God asking his spirit beings how Ahab can be defeated in battle. Isaiah 6:8 shows God asking who He can send to Israel.
Beyond those scriptures, and there are more like them, God enlisted the aid of Adam and Eve to administer the earth (Gen. 1:28), the aid of judges to help Him rule mankind (Deut. 16:18), the aid of ministers in the Church to help His Son administer the Church (Eph. 4:10-12), and in the future He will enlist the aid of judges and rulers to help His Son rule the Messianic Kingdom on earth (Isa. 1:26; Jer. 23:4). Given that God has worked with His creation to help administer it in all those different ways, why would he not work with His creation to administer the spirit world? Furthermore, the word “archangel” means “leading, chief, or ruling” angel, so there are ruling spirits in the spirit world.
The point of this section of Isaiah is not to make the point that God works alone without the help of other spirit or human beings, but to show that He does not need their help—God is the Great Power in the universe, the everlasting God. He does not need anyone to counsel or teach Him. He is enthroned above the earth (Isa. 40:22), and none can be compared to Him or be His equal (Isa. 40:25). God enlists the help of His creation to rule the various aspects of the universe, but not because He could not do it Himself, it is an act of love and desire to interact with His creation.
[For more on God’s divine council, see commentary on Genesis 1:26. For more on the future Millennial Kingdom on earth, see commentary on Matt. 5:5.](top)
“the path of justice.” The meaning is, who taught God the “right way to do things.”a Although “justice” is a meaning of the Hebrew word, it has a wide range of meanings, many of which apply here. No one taught God the path of justice or the right way to do things.
John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66 [NICOT], 60.
“a speck of dust on a balance.” The “balance” is what merchants used to buy and sell. The dust would never even affect a biblical balance—they were too crude. See commentary on Proverbs 11:1.
“he lifts up the islands.” The “islands” are at the far reaches of the known world at that time, hence they are used to refer to things at the ends of the earth.a
Cp. John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66 [NICOT], 61.
“Lebanon would not suffice to burn a sacrifice.” Lebanon had huge forests and many important trees, which is why Solomon had wood for the Temple imported from Lebanon (1 Kings 5:6-14). But all the wood in Lebanon would not be enough to burn the kind of sacrifice that God deserves as the creator of the universe and lover of humankind.
“its animals sufficient for a burnt offering.” All the animals of Lebanon would not be sufficient for the kind of sacrifices that God deserves.(top)
“like nothing...less than nothing...emptiness.” The text uses three words that are somewhat similar but have different meanings in this context, but those meanings are hard to exactly define and distinguish. The CEB is a typical translation and has, “All the nations are like nothing before God. They are viewed as less than nothing and emptiness.” God values the nations, but in comparison to Him, they are nothing and less than nothing.(top)
|Isa 40:18||- (top)|
|Isa 40:19||- (top)|
|Isa 40:20||- (top)|
“Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?” The fact of the existence of the earth points to a creator. Even with the modern theories of the universe, such as the Big Bang theory, there still must be material that made the Bang possible. That material had to come from a creator. Material things are not self-existent.(top)
“he who sits above the circle of the earth.” God is described as sitting above the circle of the earth. This would not be what we refer to as a “satellite view” of the earth from above. It is unlikely that ancient people would describe the earth from that position. Rather ancient people would sit on a mountain or high place and look in every direction and see horizon in every direction and the earth would appear to be a circle. Furthermore, the sky was considered to be a dome, and thus God could sit above it and look down on people, who from that vantage point would look like grasshoppers. This is the only verse that mentions the “circle of the earth.” It would be too much to interpret this verse to mean that the earth was a globe.(top)
“who brings rulers to nothing.” The Hebrew word “brings” is the common word for “give,” and it is likely used here to mean something like “appoint.” Humans “appoint” other humans to positions of power and authority, but God appoints human rulers to nothingness. In the final scheme of things, it is what God appoints people to that is important.(top)
“They are barely planted; they are barely sown.” Human rulers are barely established when they are taken away.
“trunk.” The Hebrew word refers to the main part of the plant. Since this refers to a part of the plant that takes root in the ground, it is the “trunk” of the tree or plant.(top)
|Isa 40:25||- (top)|
|Isa 40:26||- (top)|
|Isa 40:27||- (top)|
|Isa 40:28||- (top)|
|Isa 40:29||- (top)|
“stumble, yes, stumble.” This is an emphatic translation of the Hebrew, which uses the figure of speech polyptoton.a The Hebrew repeats the word “stumble” in different tenses.
[For more on the figure polyptoton and the emphasis it brings, as well as the way it is translated in the REV, see commentaries on Gen. 2:16 and 2:17.]
See E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, 267.
|Isa 40:31||- (top)|