We now enter a new section of Isaiah. Most commentators distinguish two "halves" of the book. The dire prophetic judgements of the "Old Testament" half, with the tragic end of Israel and much of Judah by the Assyrians, and the more hopefully, Messianic, "New Testament" half in which Isaiah has amazingly accurate prophesies regarding Babylon. This second second begin with chapter 40.
If fact, according to the introduction to the Book of Isaiah in the Ryrie Study Bible, Isaiah's prophesies are so accurate, some scholars conclude that chapter 40-66, or at least 56-66 were written by someone who lived after the events and were added onto Isaiah's writing. Apparently, this isn't possible because of the dating of the Qumran Isaiah scroll.
The world always wants to diminish the supernatural. However, in addition to the Qumran scroll, there are also language and content clues that point away from someone in Babylon writing and instead someone from Palestine.
After commenting, largely, on his own generation in chapters 1-39, he now looks far into the future and sees the Babylonian capture and captivity, also includes an emphasis on the forgiveness and delivery from captivity in chapter 40-66. This includes the rebuilding of the temple and the restoration of the nation, according to the Warren Wiersbe commentary on Isaiah, Be Comforted. What makes this so amazing is Isaiah making these predictions when Babylon was still only a minor player on the world map.
Onto the text:
"Comfort, O comfort My people," says your God.Isaiah 40:1
That's an encouraging start. Comfort from your God. Of course, that means you're in a position to be comforted; but everywhere I turn, I see people who need it. Health, family, money, emotions...so much pain and grief and suffering. But we have a God who loves us and wants to comfort us.
The Lord tells the reader to speak kindly to Jerusalem (His city); let her know the war is over; her sin has been removed; and she is in the Lord's hand following all of her sin. (Again, the agreement seems to be this is in regards to the return to Jerusalem from the Babylonian captivity far in the future.)
A voice is calling, "Clear the way the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.Isaiah 40: 3
The voice goes on to command that every valley be lifted up; the mountains to be made low; the rough made plain; and the rugged broad.
When an ancient king was going to travel on a road, his people were to "make way" for him. That meant making a road that was smooth for his carriage to ride on. A smooth ride on a highway means filling in the holes and plaining down the bumps. That's what the author is describing here, but in an epic proportion. Our King isn't traveling on a road of gravel and stone; but of the whole earth.
A Ryrie footnote infers that this is a double reference to the people as they make their 900 mile journey home to Palestine from Babylon AND John the Baptist making the way ready for Jesus.
In verse 5 this voice further explains that the glory of the Lord will be revealed and everyone will see it. Verses 6-8 the voice commands Isaiah to call out and let everyone know that the grass is lovely, but it fades, like the people of God. But the word of the Lord stands forever.
Then Zion is commanded to get to a high place and lift up their voices to share the good news, without being afraid. "Say to the cities of Judah, 'Here is your God.'"
And, ultimately, this becomes the great commission. It was always the purpose of Israel, His priestly nation. But they couldn't see passed their own wants and needs. Now we are His priestly nation. Can we see passed our own wants and needs to cry out from the mountain tops with the good news of Jesus.
Verses 10-11 go on to describe the coming of the Lord God, the King. With might, He will rule. He will bring reward and recompense. But also, like a shepherd he will tend His flock, gathering lambs, carrying and leading them. Sounds like Jesus to me. King of Kings. Lord of Lord. The Lord is my Shepherd.
The King and the Shepherd. What a beautiful and striking complex set of illustrations of our God. Power and might. Gentle and caring.
Verse 12 asks us to consider the Lord in a way that reminds me of God questioning Job. Who can hold all of the water of the world in His hand, knowing how much it measures? Knows the measurements of the heavens? Knows the measure of the dust of the earth? And has weighed the mountains and hills?
One difference between the Job questions and these are that the Job questions are about specific skills and knowledge about various parts of creation. These questions all mention exact measurements of aspects of the earth. I wonder what the subtext of that pattern is. Could just be two different authors across a large time difference; but I feel like there's something specific being said. Maybe, "Not only had He made it all, but He knows it all today down to a specific measurement." Like knowing the hairs on our head or the grains of sand on the shore.
Th MacArthur Bible Commentary states that these all reflect God's perfect balance. That makes sense. Measuring tools worked by placing the item on one side of a scale and a counterweight on the other. So all of the earth is in perfect balance in His hands.
Verse 13 continues the considerations of our incomprehensible God.
Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as His counselor has informed Him? With whom did he consult and who gave Him understanding? And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge, and informed Him in the way of understanding?Isaiah 40:13-14
No subtext here. Just rhetorical sarcasm. No human is going to direct or advise the God of the universe. No one has anything to teach the Lord on any subject.
Further comparisons of God and man, or God and His creation are found in verse 15. The nations are just a drop from a bucket, a speck of dust on the scale, and islands are just fine dust on His hands.
The forests of Lebanon aren't worth burning. All of the beasts are worth offering.
All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.Isaiah 40:17
God is sovereign. God is incomprehensible in size, scope, understanding, and justice. We are His creation.
It is absolutely essential that we as humans, individually and collectively, submit to Lord in the proper order of things. This has to happen frequently in our hearts because it doesn't take long until we want to start judging God's choices and offering Him advice.
So you might be asking yourself, why is God pounding away at this point. We know He is God. We worship Him and respect Him...
Well, we do and we don't.
To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him?Isaiah 40:18
The answer should be...absolutely and emphatically NOTHING! There is nothing in heaven or on earth that I can compare to the Lord.
But, sadly, often we answer with things from heaven and earth. We are so easily inclined to make idols. (verses 19-20)
- made by craftsmen
- plated with gold
- fashioned with chains of silver
- for those who can't afford gold and silver, they select a fine tree and make it of wood
- even these impoverished people seek out skilled craftsmen to make a solid idol
Having reminded us of our tenancy to choose idols, He again reminds us of the proper orientation of God as the ruler of this tiny little world. We're just grasshoppers and the world is a tent.
In verse 23 He, specifically, calls out the rulers of the world. Not just the rulers of Judah, or Israel, or Assyria, but the whole world. Ever ruler ever. They are nothing. The courts and judges are meaningless. They are tiny little fledgling plants who will wither and blow away in the storm of His breath.
Just like we deceive ourselves by believing in the ability of idols to "help" us; we have misplaced beliefs in how important are current situation is. If world leaders are nothing but chaff, what am I? How utterly insignificant are my cares about work or anything else?
"To whom then will you liken me that I should be his equal?" says the Holy One.Isaiah 40:25
He then shifts His lesson to the skies. Who created the stars, makes them move, calls them by name? He upholds them.
If He can manage the stars, it's reasonable to trust Him with the few decades we each get while we're here.
And now, I think we get to the heart of the lesson. I think everything up to now has been God making His case inductively. Now we get to what prompted the lesson, in my opinion.
Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God"?Isaiah 40:27
That's the heart of the matter, isn't it?
When we are angry. When we are bitter. When we are depressed. When we are outraged and shaking our fist at some situation in our lives...we actually telling the God of the universe, the God who has reminded us of how big and wise and in control He is, that we know better. And what we want or need must have escaped Hid notice.
How delusional we can be. How small and selfish and unaware we can choose to be.
I have a few ongoing stressors in my life and I find myself leaning in to my emotions sometimes. I want to sleep or watch "brainless" TV shows or whatever idol that may bring me distraction or comfort or numbness. Some people even fully embrace their idols without needing a specific cause. Some love living in a state of outrage at the government and the culture wars. Some love the dissipation of alcohol, drugs, or other "pain killers". Some love their car or their dogs or their job in a way that they hope will drown their cares. Whatever the idol may be, and however the cost we pay craftsmen to provide it for us, it's all a statement that we are unhappy with God's understanding of our lives and our need to take care of ourselves.
This is when I make the requisite caveat that there is nothing wrong with sleep, TV, politics, painkillers, cars, dogs, or any other blessing from the Lord. Just like there was nothing wrong with the gold, silver, and wood mentioned in verses 19-20.
It when the cares of our lives get met with elements of God's creation, instead of meditating on WHO God really is and what that means for our situation, that we choose an idol over the Living God and find ourselves hurt, angry, unsatisfied, depressed, and shaken.
That's a hard lesson. To be told to give up our hard-earned negative emotions and choose joy and contentment. "Of course I want to be happy;" we say, "but I can't be happy unless God does what I want."
And now we're back to the top of the cycle where God has to remind us who He is and who we are not.
But there is good news; because we serve a good God. He front-loaded the parental lesson. Fear (awe) of the Lord has to come first. Whether we like it or not, we have to start with submitting to and trusting in WHO HE IS. Once we get that orientation correct, He hits us with the good news:
28 Have you not known?Isaiah 40: 28-31, NKJV, BibleGateway (emphasis mine)
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
31 But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.
If you are struggling. If you are angry or sad or outraged, or depressed, please please please memorize and meditate on this beloved passage. It's not a promise of when or how God will meet your need. But it is a promise of WHO HE IS. Even if the worst version of your circumstance is the outcome; He will still be Him and He will be with you. If you wait on Him, He will be with you and that will be enough.
A New Testament version of this, that I also beg you to memorize and meditate on is:
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.Philippians 4:6-8, NKJV, BibleGateway
Do you see what these verses all have in common? Your choice of mindset.
- God starts His lesson by asking you to consider who He is.
- Compared to the earth, our resources, the nations, idols, world leaders, and even the stars.
- Then He asks you to think about your own thoughts toward Him, your questions about whether He knows or cares about you.
- And finally, He encourages you to wait on Him, remembering who He is.
It's about taking our thoughts captive and making a choice to always focus on Him. I saw this quote on Facebook recently:
The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.William James
Don't get me wrong. This isn't a call to humanist self-help. This taking thoughts captive is a spiritual battle:
5 casting down arguments (imaginations, speculations) and every high thing (arrogant thing) that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,II Corinthians 10:5
Notice how the enemy attacks. With arguments, speculations, and full blown imaginings that falsely contradict the knowledge of God. That's why God spends the first section of the chapter reinforcing WHO He is. That's the point where the enemy attacks are mind.
We have to be solid on who He is and then take captive any thought that is an argument, speculation, or falsehood.
For anyone who thinks I'm preaching and that it's easier to say than to do...well, I am preaching...to myself. I am firmly in verse 31. I am waiting. And waiting. I thought I heard God clearly and understood. But I made assumptions about when and how God would meet my need.
Sometimes I am angry, sad, depressed, and frustrated. Sometimes I seek idols to kill the pain of waiting.
But my hope, my joy, my contentment is only going to come, not from getting my way; but waiting, faithfully, on His way.
I woke up this morning and started to get ready for my day. In comes my cat, Princess, whom I have spoiled. She greets me by meowing and howling relentlessly. Even though she knows she is going to get every need met when I get ready, yet she yells at me the entire time. It was irritating and even made my heart a little hard toward her for a minute. I wanted to delay giving her everything she wanted and needed. I wanted to give her less. She knows me and knows I will provide for her. She should have had faith and patience. She actually ruined my mood for the first hour or so of my day. It's unpleasant being yelled at by someone who should, instead be grateful and happy.
How much more unpleasant is it for my Lord, who has been so faithful to me; that I meow and howl relentlessly in my spirit that I should have my way on my timetable. I feel quite convicted right now.
Let's remember how God started this chapter; those whole new section of scripture:
"Comfort, O comfort My people," says your God.Isaiah 40:1
We are captives in a brutal land. Full of pain, suffering, loss, and discouragement. But to us the Lord sends this message of comfort and hope for the future.
Two final thoughts that come from Warren Wiersbe's Commentary on Isaiah, Be Comforted.
- In verse 31, the word "wait" actually means "hope". You're not just waiting out a storm- white knuckling it. You're waiting with hope and faith in the One who holds the whole world in His hands.
- Both Wiersbe and MacArthur point out that, also in verse 31, the word "renew" really means exchange. Old clothes for new clothes, not just tidying up the old. Not a boosting of our strength, but an exchange of our weakness for his strength.