The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Isaiah 40

Isa 40:1

COMFORT: Different forms of the same Heb verb may sig 'comfort' or 'repent'. But comfort and consolation will only come after repentance! So these vv imply Israel's repentance also. And so John Baptist called upon the nation to "Repent!" (Mat 3:2).

Isa 40:2

TENDERLY: Lit, "to the heart" (RV mg).

HARD SERVICE: "Warfare" (AV). (1) The continual warfare of the Assyrian and the Egyptian in and around Judea for many years, and Israeli plans and wars against them. (By ct, there was no real warfare in and around Judea in the generation or two before Nebuchadnezzar.) (2) May sig the priestly "warfare" (Num 4:23,30,35,39,43). The political priesthood of John's day was coming to an end.

HER SIN HAS BEEN PAID FOR: John preached that through the coming Messiah, men might have their iniquities pardoned without elaborate Mosaic ritual.

DOUBLE: The principle of the double portion in punishment is also seen in Jer 16:18; 17:18; Rev 18:6. For examples of the double portion in Israelite law, see Exo 22:4,7,9 (double restitution by a thief) and Deu 21:17 (double inheritance portion for the firstborn).

Isa 40:3

VOICE: Not a person, but only a voice: impersonal, self-effacing, humble!

THE WAY: Cp other "highway" passages: Isa 19:23; 35:8.

The voice crying in the wilderness demanded a way for the Lord, a road prepared in the wilderness. We should be attentive to the Master's proclamation, and give him a highway into our hearts, built up by gracious operations, through the desert of our nature.

"We have an interesting word picture of a highway being built through a wilderness. John the Baptist is the 'heavy equipment' used to level uneven ground. He will raise the depressions and lower the hills. He will prepare the ground for the road to be laid down... The importance of John's 'bulldozing' message is not lost through the passage of time as we are in need of this truth as much today as the men of Israel in yesteryear. Man is mortal and sinful. We are in need of a redeemer. Humility is not an option. There is no such thing as a proud believer. Anyone who truly understands the Gospel message must realize who they are and what their place is in the universe. It is humbling and uplifting all at once. Humbling in that we know how insignificant we are; uplifting in knowing what we can become in Christ. Let us pray that there is a path cleared through our 'deceitful' and 'desperately wicked' hearts for Christ to build his road" (KT).

Isa 40:4

EVERY VALLEY SHALL BE RAISED UP: Low and groveling thoughts of God must be given up; doubting and despairing must be removed; and self-seeking and carnal delights must be forsaken. Across these deep valleys a glorious causeway of grace must be raised.

EVERY MOUNTAIN AND HILL MADE LOW: Proud creature-sufficiency, and boastful self-righteousness, must be leveled, to make a highway for the King of kings. Divine fellowship is never offered to haughty, highminded sinners. The Lord has respect to the lowly, and visits the contrite in heart, but the lofty are an abomination unto Him.

THE ROUGH GROUND SHALL BECOME LEVEL: The crooked shall be made straight. The wavering heart must have a straight path of decision for God and holiness marked out for it. Double-minded men are strangers to the God of truth. Take care that you be in all things honest and true, as in the sight of the heart-searching God.

THE RUGGED PLACES A PLAIN: Stumbling-blocks of sin must be removed, and thorns and briers of rebellion must be uprooted. So great a visitor must not find miry ways and stony places when He comes to honor His favored ones with His company.

"So John called the entire nation to repentance -- the common people, sunk in the sordid triviality of their small affairs; the publicans, bondslaves of Rome and money; the harlots, the bondslaves of men and money; the rebels, with a delusive freedom as their target and the dogs of war at their heels; the powerful Sadducees, thinking only of wealth and more power; and even the Pharisees, preening themselves on their reputation for sanctity. All of these came to John, fascinated by his primitive way of life, his hoarse voice, his vivid eloquence, his peremptory message, his sublime self-confidence, and his phenomenal humility" (WIsa 351).

Isa 40:5

"Jesus shall reign where'er the sun
Doth his successive journeys run."

We are not discouraged by the length of his delays; we are not disheartened by the long period which he allots to the ecclesia in which to struggle with little success and much defeat. We believe that God will never suffer this world, which has once seen Christ's blood shed upon it, to be always the stronghold of evil. Christ walked in this world to deliver it from the sway of the powers of darkness. What a shout shall that be when men and angels shall unite to cry, "Hallelujah, hallelujah, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!" (Rev 19:6). What a satisfaction will it be in that day to have had a share in the fight, to have helped to break the arrows of the bow, and to have aided in winning the victory for our Lord! Happy are they who trust themselves with this conquering Lord, and who fight side by side with him, doing their little in his name and by his strength!

Isa 40:6

ALL MEN ARE LIKE GRASS: The bad news of the gospel, which must be believed before the good news (v 9) can be preached!

GRASS: Esp the Assyrian host (v 24).

Isa 40:7

Anticipating Mat 13:6...

Isa 40:9

SAY TO THE TOWNS OF JUDAH: Representatives of the 46 cities overthrown by Sennacherib would be found now in Jerusalem.

Isa 40:10

WITH POWER: Lit, "in a strong one" (cp Psa 80:17; Luk 1:51). The Heb is almost 'in Hezekiah'! Messiah as the Arm of the LORD is a recurring theme in Isaiah: 7 times to bring salvation (Isa 33:2; 40:10,11; 51:6,9; 52:10; 53:1), and once in judgment (Isa 30:30). Cp also Isa 63:5: "my own arm".

REWARD... RECOMPENSE: As the LORD returns to Jerusalem as a victorious warrior, he brings with him the spoils of victory, called here his "reward" and "prize." These terms might also be translated "wages" and "recompense." V 11 indicates that his rescued people, likened to a flock of sheep, are his reward. Wages for service performed (cp Isa 49:4). Hezekiah's faith brought from God the "payment" of a renewed Judah, and a restoration of many thousands of Israel from captivity in Assyria/Babylon. Likewise, Christ sees the travail of his life/soul/death: Isa 53:11,12.

Isa 40:11

See Lesson, Good shepherd.

HE GATHERS THE LAMBS IN HIS ARMS: "Our good Shepherd has in his flock a variety of experiences. Some are strong in the Lord, and others are weak in faith, but he is impartial in his care for all his sheep, and the weakest lamb is as dear to him as the most advanced of the flock. Lambs are wont to lag behind, prone to wander, and apt to grow weary, but from all the danger of these infirmities the Shepherd protects them with his arm of power. He finds new-born souls, like young lambs, ready to perish -- he nourishes them till life becomes vigorous; he finds weak minds ready to faint and die -- he consoles them and renews their strength. All the little ones he gathers, for it is not the will of our heavenly Father that one of them should perish. What a quick eye he must have to see them all! What a tender heart to care for them all! What a far-reaching and potent arm, to gather them all! In his lifetime on earth he was a great gatherer of the weaker sort, and now that he dwells in heaven, his loving heart yearns towards the meek and contrite, the timid and feeble, the fearful and fainting. How gently did he gather me to himself, to his truth, to his blood, to his love, to his church! With what effectual grace did he compel me to come to himself! Since my first conversion, how frequently has he restored me from my wanderings, and once again folded me within the circle of his everlasting arm! The best of all is, that he does it all himself personally, not delegating the task of love, but condescending himself to rescue and preserve his most unworthy servant. How shall I love him enough or serve him worthily? I would fain make his name great unto the ends of the earth, but what can my feebleness do for him? Great Shepherd, add to thy mercies this one other, a heart to love thee more truly as I ought" (CHS).

AND CARRIES THEM CLOSE TO HIS HEART: "Why doth he carry the lambs in his bosom? Because he hath a tender heart, and any weakness at once melts his heart. The sighs, the ignorance, the feebleness of the little ones of his flock draw forth his compassion. It is his office, as a faithful High Priest, to consider the weak. Besides, he purchased them with blood; they are his property: he must and will care for that which cost him so dear. Then he is responsible for each lamb, bound by covenant engagements not to lose one. Moreover, they are all a part of his glory and reward... How may we understand the expression, 'He will carry them'?

"Sometimes he carries them by not permitting them to endure much trial. Providence deals tenderly with them. Often they are 'carried' by being filled with an unusual degree of love, so that they bear up and stand fast. Though their knowledge may not be deep, they have great sweetness in what they do know. Frequently He 'carries' them by giving them a very simple faith, which takes the promise just as it stands, and believingly runs with every trouble straight to Jesus. The simplicity of their faith gives them an unusual degree of confidence" (CHS).

HE GENTLY LEADS THOSE THAT HAVE YOUNG: The Shepherd is exemplified by gentleness: Psa 23:2; Isa 49:10; 51:18; Rev 7:17. "It is the same concern which Jacob showed for the flock which was his 'reward' and 'recompense' after long years of hard service (Gen 33:13)" (WIsa 354).

Isa 40:12

WITH THE BREADTH OF HIS HAND: A "span" was the distance between the ends of the thumb and the little finger of the spread hand" (BDB).

MARKED OFF THE HEAVENS...: "Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done" (Jer 31:37).

THE DUST OF THE EARTH: "I will make the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister before me as countless as the stars of the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore" (Jer 33:22).

Like a merchant weighing out silver or commodities on a scale, the LORD established the various components of the physical universe in precise proportions.

"A wise master builder never begins to build without a design. This he drafts after the scale of so much to the foot. This is the extension, or time, so to speak, of the building to be erected. Having considered the whole, he concludes, that it is the best possible plan that can be devised in harmony with the principles of architecture. It then becomes his purpose, his foreordination, predetermination, or design. All subsequent arrangements are made to conform to this recorded purpose, because it is the very best his most deliberate wisdom and ingenuity could devise... Now, the Great Builder of the Heavens and the Earth is God. He either made all things at random, or He did not. Who will say that the Creator permitted chance to elaborate the terrestrial system? The scripture declares that everything was measured, meted out, and weighed, and that the Spirit of the Lord executed His work without any to counsel or instruct Him (Isa 40:12)" (FLD 49,50).

Isa 40:13

WHO HAS UNDERSTOOD THE MIND OF THE LORD?: Or, more literally, 'who has measured out the Spirit of the LORD?' "For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives [him, ie Jesus] the Spirit without limit" (Joh 3:34).

OR INSTRUCTED HIM AS HIS COUNSELOR: Or, better, has been 'the man of His counsel' -- ie, the man in whom God confides.

Isa 40:14

WHOM DID THE LORD CONSULT...?: "In ct to Marduk, the creator-god of Mesopotamian myths who receives help from the god of wisdom, the LORD neither needs nor receives any such advice or help" (NET).

Isa 40:16

There is nothing the nations could do to enhance their status in God's sight.

Isa 40:17

WORTHLESS AND LESS THAN NOTHING: "We are nothing: absolutely nothing. Let us get that straight. As soon as we start to think we are anything, or others think we are anything, or tell us we are anything, we are in danger. Man is nothing. God is everything. Be part of God" (GVG).

Isa 40:18

Vv 18-26: Idols were prevalent in the days of Ahaz (2Ch 28:25; etc).

Man in the Garden was in God's image and likeness (Gen 1:26), but the fall changed all that (Gen 5:3). The only affirmative answer is/will be Christ!

Isa 40:19

Vv 19,20: The Idol: How the idol is created: cp Isa 44:9-20; 46:1-7; Jer 10:1-16.

Isa 40:20

Or, "he who profits from the offering (ie, the "priest") chooses wood.."

Isa 40:22

Vv 22-26: "Now this passage is probably the most daring flight of imagination ever made by the human mind. We have here in Isaiah that which is vaster and more awesome than anything that ever came out of the mind of Shakespeare. It is the thought of the great God, the Shepherd of the universe, moving through His universe, with its billions and trillions of light years, with its worlds so big that our whole solar system would look like a grain of sand by comparison. And God stands out yonder and calls all of these millions of worlds as His sheep; He calls them all by name and leads them out across the vast sky.

"I'd say this is the highest thought I know of, in the Bible or out. And God does this 'by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth'. Just as a shepherd keeps all of his sheep and not one is lost, so God keeps all of His universe. Men point their tiny little glasses at the stars and talk learnedly, but they've just been counting God's sheep, nothing more. God is running His universe" (AWT).

THE CIRCLE OF THE EARTH: The vault of heaven spread out over the earth (Eze 1:26; Exo 24:10).

TENT: God's heavenly dwelling is only temporary, since one day He will dwell on the earth (Rev 21:3,4; 22:3,5).

Isa 40:23

HE BRINGS PRINCES TO NAUGHT AND REDUCES THE RULERS OF THIS WORLD TO NOTHING: In his book "Life Sentence", Charles Colson tells of strolling among the ruins where the Roman senate once met. Recalling his feelings, he wrote: "As I stood snapping photographs, my mind flashed back to the Roosevelt Room in the White House, a few steps across a narrow hallway from the President's oval office. At 8 o'clock each morning a dozen of us, the President's senior aides, had gathered around the antique mahogany table; its polished surface reflected the serious, intense expressions of men who believed the destiny of mankind was in their hands. 'The decisions we must make today,' Henry Kissinger would often say, 'will affect the whole future course of human history.' We believed it. Just as the Roman senators nearly 2,000 years ago. Yet here sat their once majestic forum in dusty piles of stone and rubble. Would even this much be left of the Roosevelt Room, I wondered, in two centuries, let alone two millennia from now?"

Isa 40:24

"All flesh is grass" (v 6). The Assyrian host (cp Isa 37:27; 17:13).

Isa 40:26

WHO BRINGS OUT THE STARRY HOST ONE BY ONE: "Heb 'the one who brings out by number their host.' The stars are here likened to a huge army that the LORD leads out. Perhaps the next line pictures God calling roll. If so, the final line may be indicating that none of them dares 'go AWOL.' ('AWOL' is a military acronym for 'absent without leave')" (NET notes).

Isa 40:27

"Few men have found themselves up against the problem of evil more than Hezekiah did. Following a vicious, worthless father, he gave himself to the LORD with unquenchable zeal. The temple service was restored, the people were called to Jerusalem to renew observance of the Passover, in time of invasion there was a fine unwavering dependence on the God of Israel. Yet naught but calamity befell. One after another, the nation's fortresses fell into the hands of the Assyrians. With satanic cruelty 200,000 captives were driven off to Nineveh and Babylon. Only Jerusalem was left, besieged and helpless. And Hezekiah himself was laid low with a vile incurable disease. What had he done to deserve all this?..." (WIsa 360).

Isa 40:28

HE WILL NOT GROW TIRED OR WEARY: God does not forget His servants (though it appeared He had forgotten Hezekiah).

Isa 40:31

Strength renewed: the reward of the ill Hezekiah.

WINGS OF EAGLES: Suggesting the cherubim at east of Garden of Eden. Also suggesting immortality. Cp Psa 103:5.

RUN...: The prophet carrying the gospel message (2Th 3:1; Phi 2:16; Psa 147:15).

WALK...: "They shall walk with me in white" (Rev 3:4), in midst of lampstands (Rev 2:1).

...And, by extension, they shall "stand" in presence of God (Luk 1:19: Rev 5:6); and they shall "sit" with me in my throne (Rev 3:21).

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