Section Introduction

Here begins a major new section, identified by many scholars as Deutero-Isaiah.  Whereas Isa 39:5-8 had predicted the Babylonian exile, the present passage is deeply immersed in the exile experience itself, and anticipates God’s gracious action in bringing it to an end.  ‘Nothing is said of the intervening century and a half; we wake, so to speak, on the far side of the disaster, impatient for the end of captivity. In chs. 40–48 liberation is in the air; there is the persistent promise of a new exodus, with God at its head; there is the approach of a conqueror, eventually disclosed as Cyrus, to break Babylon open; there is also a new theme unfolding, to reveal the glory of the call to be a servant and a light to the nations. All this is expressed with a soaring, exultant eloquence, in a style heard only fitfully hitherto (cf. e.g. Isa 35:1–10; 37:26–27), but now sustained so as to give its distinctive tone to the remaining chapters of the book.’ (NBC)

Clifford (Harper’s Bible Commentary) represents a typical critical position on authorship and dating of ‘Second Isaiah’:- ‘Chaps. 40-55 are easily dated. The author assumes throughout that his hearers in Babylon are aware that Cyrus II, king of Persia, will conquer the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Such an assumption was possible only after Cyrus deposed his sovereign Astyages of Media in 550 B.C. and conquered Croesus of Lydia in 547. Second Isaiah must have preached, therefore, in the 540s, probably until the entry of Cyrus’s army into Babylon in 539. The author of chaps.  56-66, probably a disciple, preached in Jerusalem to a mixed community of residents and those who had returned from exile in Babylon. Most, if not all, of these chapters come from the period between Cyrus’s edict in 538 and the rebuilding of the Temple in 515.’

Although many commentators assume a post-exilic setting for this chapter, Smith (NAC) says that ‘the present setting of the prophet and his audience is unknown. But it is known that the full revelation of God’s divine glory among his people was not seen in Isaiah’s day, during the exile, or in the time of the return from Babylonian exile…Since many of the oracles in this book are not in strict chronological order and this announcement of salvation predicts eschatological events, it is best to admit that it is impossible to date the time or setting when the prophet gave this prophecy. All one can say is that it was spoken before the glory of God appears in Zion.’

Dillard and Longman (An Introduction to the Old Testament) envisage the following scenario: ‘Isaiah 40–66 presumes an author living later in the Exile foresaw through divine inspiration what God was about to do through Cyrus, just as Isaiah foresaw through divine inspiration what God would soon do with Tiglath-Pileser III (Isa. 7). This later author saw in Isaiah’s prophecies of exile and a remnant events that were transpiring in his own day, and he wrote to develop and apply Isaiah’s preaching to his fellow exiles.’  These author remarks that although the anonymity of this later prophet is a problem, it is no more of a problem than the anonymity of the writer to the Hebrews.

Goldingay says that although God could, of course, have revealed to Isaiah a message to the exiles 150 years after his own day, it is preferable to regard these chapters as ‘words of comfort that God gave in the here and now of suffering through the pastoral ministry of a poet whom God called to be a new Isaiah for people who had long been under judgment.’

Barnes says of this second part of Isaiah: ‘There is no portion of the Old Testament where there is so graphic and clear a description of the times of the Messiah. None of the other prophets linger so long, and with such apparent delight, on the promised coming of the Prince of Peace; or his character and work; on the nature of his instructions, and the manner of his reception; on the trials of his life, and the painful circumstances of his death; on the dignity of his nature, and on his lowly and humble character; on the prevalence of his religion, and on its transforming and happy effects; on the consolations which he would furnish, and on the fact that his religion would bear light and joy around the world.’

Barnes suggests that this second part of Isaiah deals with two major grounds of consolation: (a) that the nation would be delivered from its captivity (and this would happen through Cyrus), and restored to their own land; and (b) that there would come a far greater deliverer than Cyrus, who would effect a far greater deliverance than that from the Babylonian captivity.

That greater deliverer, says Barnes, is presented in various views:- ‘now as a sufferer, humble, poor, and persecuted; and now the more distant glories of the Messiah’s kingdom rise to view. He sees him raised up from the dead; his empire extend and spread among the Gentiles; kings and princes from all lands coming to lay their offerings at his feet; the distant tribes of men come bending before him, and his religion of peace and joy diffusing its blessings around the world. In the contemplation of these future glories, he desires to furnish consolation for his afflicted countrymen in Babylon, and at the same time a demonstration of the truth of the oracles of God, and of the certain prevalence of the true religion, which should impart happiness and peace in all future times.’

For John Kitchen (Pathways to Peace: Facing the Future with Faith, Meditations from Isaiah 40), ‘Isaiah 40 leaves two great wonders of God lingering before our mind’s eye: his preeminence and his presence. The latter only means anything in view of the former.’

According to Barnes, characteristics of this second part of Isaiah include:-

  • there is no mention of the prophet’s name
  • the language is less fiery and severe, more flowing and tender
  • it is a single prophecy, apparently uttered at one time
  • almost everything relates to the more distant future, long after Isaiah’s own day

The Lord Returns to Jerusalem, 1-11

40:1 “Comfort, comfort my people,”
says your God.
40:2 “Speak kindly to Jerusalem, and tell her
that her time of warfare is over,
that her punishment is completed.
For the LORD has made her pay double for all her sins.”

This chapter opens dramatically with three voices:-

Voice 1 (vv1f) – Cries out with comfort for the people of God at the end of their long punishment.

Voice 2 (vv3-5) – Calls for a highway to be prepared for the Lord, for all mankind will see his approaching glory.

Voice 3 (6-8) – Assures that God’s salvation is for ever, that his purposes cannot fail and that his promises are sure.

“Comfort, comfort my people” – ‘‘speak to the heart’, like a young man wooing his girl (Gen. 34:3), someone bringing reassurance (Ruth 2:13), a deserted husband seeking to win his wife back (Hos. 2:14).’ (Motyer)

My people…your God – ‘In a chilling declaration in Isaiah’s own day, Yahweh had declared “You are not my people, and I am not your God” (Hos. 1:9). The covenant relationship is over. (We might prefer to think of it as suspended, but Hosea’s formulation is more shocking than that.) It ceased for Ephraim in 721 B.C. and it ceased for Judah in 587 B.C. Now Yahweh reverses the declaration and speaks in a way that presupposes that the relationship still holds after all. The words “my people” and “your God” can still be uttered.’ (Goldingay)

“Speak kindly to Jerusalem” – lit. ‘speak to Jerusalem’s heart’ (Goldingay).  But it will not be with words of empty reassurance, but the promise of a new beginning.

Lamentation is over.  ‘In the aftermath of Jerusalem’s fall to the Babylonians in 587 B.C., people who were left in Jerusalem expressed their grief in a series of poems that became the book of Lamentations. A kind of refrain recurs through the first of these poems, “there is none to comfort her” (Lam. 1:2, 9, 17, 21; cf. 16). The city is like a woman who has lost husband and children and sits desolate like Job on his heap of ashes. She has sat this way for nearly half a century. Now a voice declares Comfort, comfort my people.’ (Goldingay)

Comfort, not evangelism?  One strand of Christian Zionism (see here, for example) repudiates evangelism of Jews in favour of ‘comforting Israel’.  This notion is, of course, derived from the present verse.  ‘But the text says nothing of a social-aid programme; rather, it clearly enunciates that God’s ‘comfort’ is channelled through the proclamation of his Word, ultimately fulfilled in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The biblical call to make disciples from among the Jewish people is irrefutable and Christians dare not allow themselves to be manipulated into conceding that evangelism is, as some Jewish leaders allege it to be, an act of hostility. What, one may ask, will it profit the Jewish people if they gain the entire land, economic prosperity, political stability and military security, and lose their own souls?’ (John S. Ross, Christian Zionism)

“The LORD has made her pay double for all her sins” – Israel has more than served her sentence.

40:3 A voice cries out,
“In the wilderness clear a way for the LORD;
construct in the desert a road for our God.
40:4 Every valley must be elevated,
and every mountain and hill leveled.
The rough terrain will become a level plain,
the rugged landscape a wide valley.
40:5 The splendor of the LORD will be revealed,
and all people will see it at the same time.
For the LORD has decreed it.”
40:6 A voice says, “Cry out!”
Another asks, “What should I cry out?”
The first voice responds: “All people are like grass,
and all their promises are like the flowers in the field.

The splendour of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it at the same time – Smith understands this as an eschatological disclosure of God’s glory: ‘The announcement that people will see the glory of God does not seem to refer to people seeing the glory of God in some general way; for example, by observing his glorious deeds in history (Isa 24:15; 25:3; 41:16; 42:12) or by seeing his glory in nature (Ps 19:1–2). Instead, the good news is that all flesh will actually view with their physical eyes the majestic glory of God himself (Isa 40:5; 60:1–3).’  Foretastes of this experience of the glory of God can be found in Ex 24:9-18 and Isa 6:1-8 (in the latter passage, the seraphim sing of this future glory with the words, “the whole earth will be full of his glory” (Isa 6:3).

‘The later application of these verses to the ministry of John the Baptist (Matt 3:3; 11:10; Mark 1:2–3; Luke 7:27; John 1:23) was influenced by the interlinking of the ideas in Isa 40:3–5 with the further comments in Mal 3:1, 4:5–6. Malachi connected the messenger who helps prepare the way for the coming of God with the coming of the messianic messenger of the covenant. Although Isaiah did not give as many details as Malachi, it is easy to understand how the New Testament writers would identify John the Baptist as the fulfillment of this prophecy based on the additional information provided by Malachi. John the Baptist declared the word of God in the wilderness, he prepared people for the coming of God by calling them to repent, and he was the forerunner who came before the Messiah.’ (Smith, NAC)

40:7 The grass dries up,
the flowers wither,
when the wind sent by the LORD blows on them.
Surely humanity is like grass.
40:8 The grass dries up,
the flowers wither,
but the decree of our God is forever reliable.”

v6 ‘What stands in the way of God’s purposes? Ultimately only men who are “like grass” before the heat of Yahweh’s unquenchable zeal (Isa 40:6-8). Nothing can match the power of God and nothing will deflect the grace of God. He wants to save and he will save.’ (Lewis, The Message of the Living God, 229)

‘The glory of God does not look like much compared to the glory of the nations (cf. Isa 30:1-17). Isaiah cries out, “Those great powers are as transient as the wild flowers! They are no more to be feared than a blade of grass!”‘ (Oswalt)

Smith, once again, views this as eschatological: ‘Just as sinful Isaiah could not stand before the glory of a holy God in Isa 6:3–5, so in the future when God reveals his glory to “all flesh” (Isa 40:5), the sinners among them will not be able to stand in his glorious presence.’

“But the decree of our God is forever reliable” – Verses 6-8a have spelt out the disincentive for action.  How is it possible to proclaim God’s message, expecting a response?  Here is the answer.

‘One should not trust other people or put any hope in them, for God’s promises are man’s only solid and a sure source of strength (Isa 55:10–11). The contrast is clear; flowers “fall,” but God’s word “will stand.” What he promises will happen.’ (Smith)

The full implications for this ‘will emerge in 1 Pet 1:23–25, where the word, in its final form as gospel, is no longer the mere contrast to our transience but the cure of it.’ (NBC)

‘First Peter 1:24–25 quotes Isa 40:6–8… Peter encourages his readers to remain firm in their faith. The Christians at that time were strangers and aliens in a pagan Roman world (1 Pet 2:11) and some were facing major persecution (1 Pet 1:6–7; 3:14, 17; 4:12–14). Peter wanted his audience to know that the things of this world were perishable and they will pass away like the grass. In contrast, their faith was imperishable because it was based on the sure promises in God’s eternal Word.’ (Smith, NAC)

40:9 Go up on a high mountain, O herald Zion!
Shout out loudly, O herald Jerusalem!
Shout, don’t be afraid!
Say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
40:10 Look, the sovereign LORD comes as a victorious warrior;
his military power establishes his rule.
Look, his reward is with him;
his prize goes before him.
40:11 Like a shepherd he tends his flock;
he gathers up the lambs with his arm;
he carries them close to his heart;
he leads the ewes along.

“Here is your God!” – ‘The emphatic interjection demands our attention: “Look!” “See!” We are to set our eyes upon something which up to this point has been missing from our perception of our lives and circumstances. In this case, that something is God himself.  No other action has more potential and power to inject hope than getting our estimation of God corrected, accurate, and clear. A low view of God is the essence of idolatry. A low view of God dissipates faith and incites fear. Our view of God determines the direction and outcome of life. There is no more important command issued from heaven to mankind than this.’ (John Kitchen)

‘The Bible itself is comprised of sixty-six books. A coincidence? Perhaps, but hold the two together again and look further at their similarities. The Old Testament contains thirty-nine books, the New Testament twenty-seven. Similarly, the book of Isaiah is comprised of two parts: The first thirty-nine chapters set forth the just judgment of God against sin. The last twenty-seven chapters (40–66) comprise the good news of a coming Redeemer who will save his people from their sins. This second half of Isaiah begins with a prophecy (Isa 40:3–5) later fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4–6; John 1:23), who opened the way for Jesus’s ministry. The book of Isaiah ends with a revelation of the new heaven and new earth which will bring to a climax the redemptive work of God (chs 65–66), just as the New Testament closes with the same vision (Rev. 21–22). Four hundred years of silence from God were sandwiched between the Old and New Testaments. It was a time of divine testing. It was a period of terror for those waiting upon God. Isaiah 40 is thus a word for when God seems silent. When God seems distant, uninterested, detached, and uninvolved, he tells you that the greatest single thing you can do is “Behold your God!”’ (John Kitchen)

See how v11 and v12 set side by side the tenderness and the power of the Lord: ‘this God is not only victorious warrior but caring shepherd’ (Goldingay)

‘The hand that cups the oceans in its palms, that marks off the galaxies between thumb and forefinger, that holds the dust of the earth and weighs the mountains, belongs to the arm that rules for Zion. He gathers the lambs of the flock like a shepherd who values and cares for each one of them.’ (Lewis, The Message of the Living God, 229)

‘The challenge is for Isaiah’s audience, and everyone who hears the prophet’s words today, to prepare their hearts to meet the Lord face to face. He offers comfort, forgiveness of sins, his holy presence, protection, gentle care, and an appropriate blessing of salvation. These factors should legitimate a decision by all hearers to respond positively to God’s compassionate grace.’ (Smith, NAC)

Wiersbe outlines vv1-11 as follows:

  1. The voice of pardon, v1f – ‘The nation had sinned greatly against the Lord, with their idolatry, injustice, immorality, and insensitivity to His messengers (Jer. 7). But they were still His people, and He loved them. Though He would chasten them, He would not forsake them.’
  2. The voice of providence, vv3-5 – ‘The Jews had a rough road ahead of them as they returned to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, but the Lord would go before them to open the way…Of course, the ultimate fulfillment here is in the ministry of John the Baptist as he prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus (Matt. 3:1–6).’
  3. The voice of promise, vv6-8 – ‘Like the grass, nations and their leaders fulfill their purposes and then fade away, but the Word of God abides forever (Pss. 37:1–2; 90:1–6; 103:15–18; 1 Peter 1:24–25.) As they began their long journey home, Israel could depend on God’s promises.’
  4. The voice of peace, vv9-11 – ‘Now the nation itself comes out of the valley and climbs the mountaintop to declare God’s victory over the enemy. To “bring good tidings” means “to preach the Good News.” The good news in that day was the defeat of Babylon and the release of the captive Jews (52:7–9). The Good News today is the defeat of sin and Satan by Jesus Christ and the salvation of all who will trust in Him (61:1–3; Luke 4:18–19). God’s arm is a mighty arm for winning the battle (Isa. 40:10), but it is also a loving arm for carrying His weary lambs (v. 11).’

The Lord is Incomparable, 12-31

‘This superb poem rebukes our small ideas and flagging faith, somewhat in the manner of the Lord’s challenge to Job (Jb. 38–41), by its presentation of God as Creator (12–20) and Disposer (21–26) of a universe dwarfed by his presence.’ (NBC)

Is the reason for Israel’s parlous situation a lack of power on God’s part?  Is he no stronger than the gods of Assyria and Babylon?  Here is the emphatic answer, couched in terms of rhetorical questions.

‘The questions in verses 12–14 and 21–22 ask: Yahweh knows about creation: do you? Verses and 23–24 consider implications regarding Yahweh and the nations/kings. The question then becomes, in verses 18 and 25, “So to whom can you compare God?” And verses 19–20 and 26 respond with the implications regarding images/other gods. Finally, verses 27–31 apply all of this in the affirmation that this God gives strength to you.’ (Goldingay)

40:12 Who has measured out the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or carefully measured the sky,
or carefully weighed the soil of the earth,
or weighed the mountains in a balance,
or the hills on scales?

Smith paraphrases this series of questions as follows.  Who can ‘(a) measure out the water in the oceans; (b) “mark off, measure” (tikkēn) the distances between the stars and planets in the heavens; (c) “contain, hold” the dust of the earth in a standard measuring device, and (d) weigh out the various mountains to make sure that everything on earth balances out.’

We, with our modern scientific knowledge, have some idea of the vastness of the oceans, of the night sky, and of the mountain ranges.  But this should make us more, not less, in awe of God’s knowledge and power.

‘These questions point not only to God’s ability to do what is humanly impossible, but also to his unfathomable greatness and power. When people consider the size of the oceans, the vastness of the heavens, and height and grandeur of the mountains, they would naturally find it hard to even imagine the enormous amounts of water in an ocean that is over six miles deep, the trillions of miles between the distant stars in all the different galaxies, and the untold tons of rocks and soil in each individual mountain or mountain range. But the truth is that when God deals with these parts of nature, he is able measure the small amount of liquid in each body of water by simply cupping his hand and filling it with water. God can measure the enormous breadth of the heavens by simply stretching out his fingers (Ps 33:6–7) to mark the distance between two stars. Indeed, God is glorious and great, far beyond human imagination.’ (Smith)

Goldingay says that these questions, taken in isolation, seem to invite the answer, ‘Yahweh’.  But, he suggests, the context indicates that the answer is, ‘No-one’.  That is to say, unlike the Babylonian gods, the Lord had no need of any help in creating the world.

Smith says that once these fundamental truths have been agreed (and no Hebrew would disagree with them), then he can explain how they impact on the present situation.

‘Life is overwhelming. Life is meant to be overwhelming. The choice of living a doable life or being overwhelmed by life is not an option put before us. Ours is simply the choice to decide what will overwhelm us. Will we be overwhelmed by distortions of reality related to the size and magnitude of the challenges before us? Or will we be overwhelmed in worship before the God who governs and engulfs these challenges in the magnitude of his own Person?’ (Kitchen)

40:13 Who comprehends the mind of the LORD,
or gives him instruction as his counselor?
40:14 From whom does he receive directions?
Who teaches him the correct way to do things,
or imparts knowledge to him,
or instructs him in skillful design?

If we cannot measure the natural world (v12), how much less can we measure the mind of its Maker?

We may regard these verses as setting forth God’s aseity – his utter self-sufficiency.  He has no need of anything or anyone outside of himself.

Verses 13-15 ‘In an ancient world crowded with gods, the prophet asks this series of questions to expose the inadequacy of all rivals to Yahweh. He asks further, in mocking terms, who advised Yahweh? How does he manage without counsellors? The nations have armies that outnumber Israel and counsellors that help kings to run their empires, even in the pantheons of the gods there was usually one who existed to give counsel to the others; but no-one can “understand the mind” of God, or has “instructed him as his counsellor” (v14).’ (Lewis, The Message of the Living God, 230)

Who…gives him instruction as his counselor? – Many, now as then, might puzzle of God’s strange providences.  But is so foolish as to imagine that he can advise God as to what he should do?  Shall we send him to one of our seats of learning?  Shall we sit him in front of a counselor?  God always does what it right.  To suppose that we could manage the affairs of this world better than him is utter folly.

‘Take a step or two back from Isaiah’s fortieth chapter for a moment. You’ll see that his questions are taken up by the apostle Paul in Romans 11. Consider where the apostle placed them. Having just exhausted all of his Spirit-given wisdom and revelation in describing the wonder of God’s grace to mankind (Rom. 1–11), the apostle threw up his hands and, nearly beside himself, declared himself unable to put human words around the greatness and grace of God. Hear how he falls back upon Isaiah’s questions:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen.’

(Kitchen)

40:15 Look, the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales.
He lifts the coastlands as if they were dust.
40:16 Not even Lebanon could supply enough firewood for a sacrifice;
its wild animals would not provide enough burnt offerings.
40:17 All the nations are insignificant before him;
they are regarded as absolutely nothing.

The nations are like a drop in a bucket – ‘If the mountains, heavens, and seas in 40:13–14 are so small from God’s perspective, surely the great nations that dominate this small planet and oppose God’s people are no greater than a tiny drop of water (an exaggerated comparative hyperbole). The infinitesimal size of these great nations like Assyria and Babylon is emphasized when they are compared to dust, so no one should fear their puny power.’ (Smith)

How insignificant is a drop in a bucket!  How soon forgotten!  But that is what all the nations – with all their pomp and pride – are to God.

‘Think of the nations in their greatest glory: the USSR and the USA at the height of the cold war, Hitler and his Third Reich during their most daunting advance, Babylon, Greece, Rome of old. They were—and others still are—as nothing before God. They do not derail him from his purposes. They are powerless and inconsequential to the ultimate outcome of human history.’ (Kitchen)

Not even Lebanon could supply enough firewood for a sacrifice – On the great cedars of Lebanon, see Isa 2:13; 10:34; 33:19.

Its wild animals would not provide enough burnt offerings – No sacrifice could ever do justice to God’s immensity.

‘These statements should not be viewed as philosophical abstractions or theoretical expressions about the existence of human life or nations, for these nations did indeed exist. As a sovereign divine spirit being, God simply dwells in a different plane of reality. One of the implications of God’s transcendent incomparability is that the world does not actually revolve around the great nations of the earth and is not determined by personal wishes, human accomplishments, or national goals. What goes on in this world is actually centered on God and his plans. Therefore, in reality these nations have no power.’ (Smith)

40:18 To whom can you compare God?
To what image can you liken him?
40:19 A craftsman casts an idol;
a metalsmith overlays it with gold
and forges silver chains for it.
40:20 To make a contribution one selects wood that will not rot;
he then seeks a skilled craftsman
to make an idol that will not fall over.

To whom can you compare God? – ‘In light of the evidence presented thus far in 40:12–17, is it possible to compare God to anything else (Exod 15:11; Ps 113:5–6)? On the one hand God is totally unique, but on the other hand all human thought about God is based on some comparative analogies (God has some “likeness” dĕmût to a shepherd, a king, a rock, a warrior) that are part of human experience. But no one human analogy or representation can adequately capture the fullness of the glory of this supernatural deity. So the question the prophet raises is not an argument against the use of analogies; he is inquiring about how people comprehend these analogies.’ (Smith)

‘The incomparability of God is utterly compromised when the radical discontinuity of the human and the divine is forgotten or denied and never is the denial made more foolish than in the use of idols and images as representations of the invisible God and ways of channelling and controlling his powers. With rising scorn Isaiah begins in chapter 40 to hold up to ridicule the idea that an idol which has to be prevented from toppling over can represent God or be a means of making him serve our purposes (vv 18-20). Before him the gods of the nations are nothing, their idols are pathetic substitutes, man-made and helpless, needing help in standing upright, the crutch of man’s wounded religiosity.’ (Lewis, The Message of the Living God, 231)

‘According to Deuteronomy 4, the basic problem with [images of Yahweh] is not that God is spirit but that they can only be misleading in the way they represent Israel’s speaking and acting God. They are bound to be silent and immobile and thus cannot actually be God-like. But biblical and archaeological evidence make clear that the prohibition on images worked no better than other biblical injunctions, perhaps because images meet a deeply-felt human need for something to look at and focus on in one’s religious faith. People who use icons and other images need to consider the significance of this point.’ (Goldingay)

v19 ‘At this point the prophet does not even bother to convince the listener that God is superior. It is so obvious that it is beyond question. The idol-god has no shape or beauty other than what the human craftsmen can give it through their skill at carving wood, molding metals, or overlying an object with a thin layer of gold.’ (Smith)

An idol that will not fall over – The best that a skilled idol-maker can hope for is that his workmanship will not fall over!

All the contrasts ‘make it abundantly evident that the prophet is not talking about a comparable divine being; these gods have almost nothing in common with the God of Israel. Is it not crystal clear that the Israelite audience should fear and trust God and not the foreign nations or their gods?’ (Smith)

40:21 Do you not know?
Do you not hear?
Has it not been told to you since the very beginning?
Have you not understood from the time the earth’s foundations were made?

‘Isaiah argues with us because what we know to be true doesn’t always make an impact on us.’ (Ortland)

‘These things that the prophet was talking about were not new ideas. These facts were known from their reading of Torah, from hearing the priests teach the Torah in the temple, from the hymns they sang at festival times, and from the sermons of the prophets.’ (Smith)

Matthew Henry comments that the things the prophet is about to speak of have been known by the light of nature (Psa 19:1; Rom 1:20), and from teaching that has been passed on from generation to generation, from antiquity.

40:22 He is the one who sits on the earth’s horizon;
its inhabitants are like grasshoppers before him.
He is the one who stretches out the sky like a thin curtain,
and spreads it out like a pitched tent.
40:23 He is the one who reduces rulers to nothing;
he makes the earth’s leaders insignificant.
40:24 Indeed, they are barely planted;
yes, they are barely sown;
yes, they barely take root in the earth,
and then he blows on them, causing them to dry up,
and the wind carries them away like straw.

The earth’s horizon is an interpretative translation of an expression that more literally means, ‘the circle of the earth’.  As Smith remarks, there is little evidence that the people of those days thought of the earth as spherical.  It could refer to either the sky or the horizon, both of which are circular to the observer.  Or it may be an allusion to the ancient idea that the earth itself is a disk.

Smith: ‘The circle could refer to the circle of the horizon that one can observe all around on all sides. This understanding would emphasize that God rules over everything the eye can see in every direction, even to the distant ends of the earth…The important point to emphasize is God’s kingly rule over all the earth—from one end to the other. He is so great that people are comparatively imagined as tiny insignificant grasshoppers.’

‘He that has the special residence of his glory in the upper world maintains a dominion over this lower world, gives law to it, and directs all the motions of it to his own glory. He sits undisturbed upon the earth, and so establishes it. He is still stretching out the heavens, his power and providence keep them still stretched out, and will do so till the day comes that they shall be rolled together like a scroll. He spreads them out as easily as we draw a curtain to and fro, opening these curtains in the morning and drawing them close again at night.’ (MHC)

The idea that v22 explicitly teaches that the earth is a sphere, long before that fact was discovered by science, is groundless.  For example, it is asserted that ‘the scientists of Isaiah’s day didn’t know the topography of the earth, but Isaiah said, “It is [God] that sitteth upon the circle of the earth” (Isaiah 40:22). The word for “circle” here means a globe or sphere. How did Isaiah know that God say upon the circle of the earth? By divine inspiration.’  We think that this very assertion brings the noble doctrine of the divine inspiration of Scripture into disrepute.

Grasshoppers – or ‘locusts’.  ‘The numerous inhabitants of this earth are in his eye as grasshoppers in ours, so little and inconsiderable, of such small value, of such little use, and so easily crushed.’ (MHC)

He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in – Even more absurd is the claim that we have here a picture of an expanding universe.  The phrase ‘stretches out’ is parallel to ‘spreads out’.

Just think: ‘the entire creation project is to him as a tent which a man might put up overnight on his travels.’ (Peter Lewis)

He is the one who reduces rulers to nothing – ‘If God has this kind of power and control over the universe, he is surely able to control the grasshopper kings that walk throughout the earth.’ (Smith)

They are barely planted; yes, they are barely sown; yes, they barely take root in the earth, and then he blows on them – ‘These kings may proudly proclaim their greatness and power, but from God’s perspective these arrogant kings are no stronger than a weak tender plant…In God’s framework of eternal time, these kings rule only a short time, so they also can be compared to something that is “no sooner” planted, something that has “scarcely, no sooner” taken root in the soil.’ (Smith)

‘It might look as if the royal line of Babylon were well rooted in the soil of Mesopotamia, because for almost a century now the dynasty of Nebuchadrezzar had been ruling throughout the Near East, an area which included Israel’s beloved Judah and the ruins of their ancient city of Jerusalem. But what is a human root when it has dug down merely into negation? God has only to breathe on the dictator of Babylon and he will wither, even as goes the stubble that is swirled into oblivion by the tempest out of the desert.’ (Knight)

‘God is at work in the world today. It is he who raises up leaders and brings them down again, according to his own purpose and for his own glory. The power brokers who seem so formidable to us, with their monumental egos and pretentious ambitions, are to God like little seedlings—scarcely planted—and God merely blows on them, with zero effort on his part, and to them his mere puff of air is a raging tempest driving them into oblivion. And that makes God himself the only world-figure really to fear, doesn’t it?’ (Ortland)

‘God has not abandoned his control of the universe. He is not the God of the deists, who believed that God had made the world in the same way as a watch, once having been wound, could be allowed to tick away without interference. According to them, if God exists at all, he is like some benign grandfather asleep in an armchair in some distant part of the universe. How different is the God of the Bible! He is constantly interrupting the course of events: politicians and judges (40:23–24) have their power from him. Even before some of them have had time to put down roots, God has swept them away.’ (Thomas)

40:25 “To whom can you compare me? Whom do I resemble?”
says the Holy One.
40:26 Look up at the sky!
Who created all these heavenly lights?
He is the one who leads out their ranks;
he calls them all by name.
Because of his absolute power and awesome strength,
not one of them is missing.

“To whom can you compare me?  Whom do I resemble?” – ‘Idolatry is not only wrong, it is stupid. Behind the second commandment, ‘You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below’ (Exod. 20:4), lies the thought that to imagine God other than the way he is makes no sense. The infinite, all-powerful, all-knowing God cannot be likened to anything made or fashioned by man. Whenever someone says, ‘I like to think of God this way …’, what follows is sure to be idolatrous. The gods of our imagination are too small, too frail, too human.’ (Thomas)

Look up at the sky! Who created all these heavenly lights? – ‘Go outside on a clear night. Look overhead. Don’t take it all for granted. Think about who created those stars. There is a God in Heaven who brings them out every night, one by one. He calls each by name. This vast universe we live in is sustained, moment by moment, by the greatness of his might. And nothing, not the smallest star, falls through the cracks.’ (Ortland)

‘[The] question of comparison is answered by identifying the nature of the thousands of heavenly objects that one sees in the sky. When people “lift up their eyes” they can either worship the natural world that they see (cf. Deut 4:19) because they view these lights as representation of powerful gods, or they can regard them as created objects controlled by the God of Israel.’ (Smith)

He is the one who leads out their ranks – An allusion, perhaps, to the gradual appearance of the stars, one by one, at dusk.

He calls them all by name – ‘The very stars that others worship as gods and powers ruling earthly affairs are no more to him than a flock of sheep to a shepherd who calls them all by name.’ (Peter Lewis)

‘If He is able to shepherd the stars in the night sky, is He not able to shepherd His own people?’ (Reformation Study Bible)

‘If God so cares for the host, tsaba, of stars on high that he knows each of their personalities as a distinct entity and can identify each by its own individual name (cf. Ps. 147:4), then how much more must he have counted the hairs on your heads, O you trembling host, tsaba, of Israel?’ (Knight)

‘Imagine entertaining the thought that Yahweh might be the same class of being! Compared with Yahweh, the Babylonian gods are feeble.’ (Goldingay)

‘In the Scriptures, God not unfrequently appeals to the starry heavens in proof of his existence and perfections, and as the most sublime exhibition of his greatness and power (see Ps. 19:1–6). And it may be remarked, that this argument is one that increases in strength, in the view of men, from age to age, just in proportion to the advances which are made in the science of astronomy. It is now far more striking than it was in the times of Isaiah; and, indeed, the discoveries in astronomical science in modern times have given a beauty and power to this argument which could have been but imperfectly understood in the times of the prophets. The argument is one that accumulates with every new discovery in astronomy; but is one—such is the vastness and beauty of the system of the universe—which can be contemplated in its full power only amidst the more sublime contemplations of eternity.’ (Barnes)

‘In this passage Isaiah is speaking to people whose mood is like that of many today. They may say the right things, but deep inside they don’t really believe anymore—not with a faith that overcomes the world. They’re looking at things through their own eyes. So the promises of God do not put a spring in their step and a sparkle in their eye and steel in their backbone. Why? God just doesn’t look big enough for the risk-taking audacity of true faith. But God is inviting us to turn our perceptions around and see everything from his point of view. He understands that the struggle of faith is won or lost in the way we perceive reality. Yes, we are dwarfed by the creation; but the creation is dwarfed by God. See it that way. See him that way. When you feel threatened by world events and overwhelmed by your own problems, there’s another way to perceive it all. God is opening up to you a prophetic vision. And the Biblical gospel is his way of calling to us, “Behold your God!” (Isaiah 40:9).’ (Ortland)

God knows the stars

‘Think of the stars. To be sure they are big when you are close to one of them, but from your standpoint and mine what possible difference would it make to our lives if tonight, as you looked out of the bedroom window, one of them was missing? Apart from Patrick Moore, who would even notice? It makes no difference at all to that bill that needs to be paid, or the mysterious pains you have noticed in your left side, or that difficult person in the office who seems to be picking on you. But that is just the point. God knows all the stars.’ (Thomas)

God of the small, as well as the big

‘God’s power lies behind the most trivial of things, like a sparrow that falls in one of Jerusalem’s side-streets (Matt. 6:26), or the growth of a lily (Matt. 6:28). If God can remove mountains and command the sun to stop shining (Job 9:5–7) he can also sustain the lion, the mountain goat, the wild ass and ox, the ostrich, horse, hawk and eagle (Job 38:39–39:30). And he can take care of all your needs, however small. One small tear can move the great God of the universe to overflow with the most tender compassion. God is not so preoccupied with running this great universe that somehow you escape his notice. Jesus assured those who loved him that ‘Every hair of your head is numbered.’ Take Peter’s advice: ‘Cast all your anxiety upon him, because he cares for you’ (1 Peter 5:7). Trust God’s majesty and you will not go far astray.’ (Thomas)

40:27 Why do you say, Jacob,
Why do you say, Israel,
“The LORD is not aware of what is happening to me,
My God is not concerned with my vindication”?
40:28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is an eternal God,
the creator of the whole earth.
He does not get tired or weary;
there is no limit to his wisdom.

Why do you say…”the Lord is not aware of what is happening to me?” – Not a surprising complaint, seeing that Israel’s temple was in ruins, its holy city destroyed, and its land overrun.  She herself was far away, in exile.

‘Be honest!’ (urges Derek Thomas). ‘Have you ever felt that God doesn’t care about you, or else he would not have treated you the way he has?’

It is wrong to infer from God’s transcendence that he is too great to care. It is correct to infer that he is too great to fail, v28 (NBC).

Ortland suggests that the Jewish exiles were wavering between two kinds of doubt.  ‘One kind of doubt struggles to believe in view of “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” This kind of doubt is open to God’s answers. It’s willing to listen. The other kind of doubt resists belief. Even when good and sufficient reasons are offered, this kind of doubt folds its arms in defiance and says, “Nah! I still doubt it. And nothing you can say will satisfy me.” That kind of doubt isn’t even able to hear what God has to say.’

The assertion that God is both transcendent and personal is, says Oswalt, perhaps Isaiah’s most important contribution to human thought. Peter Lewis adds, ‘We too do well to remember this when the social, economic and political forces that hold God in easy contempt threaten to crush us and when we feel dwarfed in exile by alien values and impersonal pressures.’ (The Message of the Living God, 232)

Ortland relates the words of Victor Frankl, a leading psychiatrist who from 1942-1945 was imprisoned in several Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz.  He saw that the key difference between those who survived and those who died was hope.  Later, he wrote:

‘The prisoner who had lost faith in the future—his future—was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay. Usually this happened quite suddenly, in the form of a crisis, the symptoms of which were familiar to the experienced camp inmate.… Usually it began with the prisoner refusing one morning to get dressed and wash or to go out on the parade grounds. No entreaties, no blows, no threats had any effect. He just lay there, hardly moving. If this crisis was brought about by an illness, he refused to be taken to the sick-bay or to do anything to help himself. He simply gave up. There he remained, lying in his own excreta, and nothing bothered him any more.’

What do you live for?  Your next holiday?  Your next meal?  Your next new car?  Your next grandchild?  Your next pay-packet?  What if such things are denied you?  What if you see them sailing off into the distance?  What if you think, “There goes my life.”  ‘When our thoughts fall that way, what does God do? He comes with an infusion of hope.’

“Jacob…Israel” – ‘What do these names, “Jacob” and “Israel,” evoke? Long before, in the crisis of his life, the patriarch Jacob wrestled with God. He was desperate for God’s blessing, and God did bless him. God always blesses people who are desperate enough to wrestle with him. As a token of the new beginning in Jacob’s life, God changed his name to Israel, “for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28). Now Isaiah is reminding this generation of Israel’s descendants, during the crisis of their lives, that successful striving with God is their heritage. Their forefather prevailed with God, and so can they. So can we. With the finished work of Christ on the cross guaranteeing even to the most meager faith all of God’s promises, he sees us not as victims but as more than conquerors.’ (Ortland)

‘By reminding them of their eponymous ancestor in this way, [the prophet] is alluding to the promise that God had made to Jacob. That promise was that Jacob’s seed would be as numerous as the dust of the earth (Gen. 28:14).’ (Knight)

‘The regular and distinctive paralleling of the names Jacob/Israel in Isaiah 40–66 is not coincidental but connects back to the patriarchal narratives. Jacob himself received the new name “Israel” after his life-changing encounter with God at Peniel, representing the transformation that God had accomplished in his heart. Yet he continued to also bear his old name, Jacob (“deceiver”), which aptly described his old nature. Jacob/Israel was simul justus et peccator: “at the same time justified and a sinner.” So too the postexilic Israel that Isaiah addresses will be at the same time renewed by God and restored to a new relationship with Him, but also a struggling and weak people who need continual exhortation to pursue obedience as well as constant encouragement to trust in God’s faithful love for them.’ (Reformation Study Bible)

Do you not know? Have you not heard? – ‘The Jewish people had had an abundant opportunity of learning, in their history, and from their fathers, the true character of God, and his entire ability to save them. No people had had so much light on this subject, and now that they were in trial, they ought to recall their former knowledge of his character, and remember his dealings of faithfulness with them and their fathers. It is well for the people of God in times of calamity and trial to recall to their recollection his former dealings with his church. That history will furnish abundant sources of consolation, and abundant assurances that their interests are safe in his hands.’ (Barnes)

Here are four truths that we ought to know, that will protect us from spiritual depression, although we often forget them:

  1. God is eternal.  We are locked into the present moment.  But time does not limit or contain God.  He never runs out of time, is never late, never overtaken by events.  He knows the end from the beginning.  He goes before us into the future.  See Heb 13:8.
  2. God is creator of everything.  ‘There is not a single square inch on this earth unknown to God or lying beyond the range of his presence.’
  3. God is always at work.  We grow weary, but God never does.  We sleep, but God is always wakeful.
  4. God is surpassingly wise.  We are often bewildered by life, but God never is.  We struggle to discern the meaning of events and circumstances.  God knows what he is doing.

(Ortland)

The Lord is an eternal God – ‘therefore, there is nothing in the past or the future that is outside his knowledge.’ (Smith)

He is creator of the whole earth – ‘therefore, there is no nation or group of people on the face of the earth that is outside his knowledge or control.’ (Smith)

‘We moderns speculate about how the universe came into being, and whether God produced it ex nihilo or in some other way. The significance and emphasis of the word before us is rather upon the continual creative activity of God—the word is an active participle—who continually does what no man and no heavenly power can do.’ (Knight)

‘He therefore is the rightful owner and ruler of all, and must be concluded to have an absolute power over all and an all-sufficiency to help his people in their greatest straits.’ (MHC)

He does not get tired or weary – ‘therefore, he is never worn out by a large task and nothing is too complex for him to figure out.’ (Smith)

There is no limit to his wisdom – ‘therefore, there are no loose ends or uncontrollable circumstances of fate that overtax God’s ability to keep track of them.’ (Smith)

Smith adds: ‘These confessions of faith profess God’s involvement with every time period, every space or territory in the universe, every detail of life, and his total understanding of what has, does, and will happen throughout the heaven and earth.’

‘Hard times often come because people are weak and weary, because they have sinned, or because they do not understand some part of God’s plans. It may be confusing when God’s longsuffering patience delays the establishment of justice, but the nation’s present difficulties cannot be attributed to divine weakness, neglect, injustice, or misunderstanding.’ (Smith)

In the light of these wonderful truths, it is irrational of us to suppose that our God is either powerless or careless in the face of our needs.  As Ortland comments: ‘God says to us all, “Not only do I want you to know how great I am for you, I also want you to know how significant you are to me. Even with your imperfect faith, you have striven with me and have prevailed. And I will never back out on my promises to you.”’

40:29 He gives strength to those who are tired;
to the ones who lack power, he gives renewed energy.
40:30 Even youths get tired and weary;
even strong young men clumsily stumble.
40:31 But those who wait for the LORD’s help find renewed strength;
they rise up as if they had eagles’ wings,
they run without growing weary,
they walk without getting tired.

This wonderful passage is about strength – spiritual strength.  The ones addressed are those who were complaining in v27 that God did not know or care.  But now they have been helped to see that he does know and he does care.  They were be given strength, not only to survive, but to flourish.

He gives strength to those who are tired – ‘God is not absent, unavailable, or unwilling to help. Complaining about present problems will not make them go away. The solution is to recognize that everything that happens is part of God’s sovereign plan and that God freely and abundantly gives a portion of his strength to those who need it in difficult times. Through human weakness, his power and glory are displayed.’ (Smith)

‘Many out of bodily weakness are wonderfully recovered, and made strong, by the providence of God: and many that are feeble in spirit, timorous and faint-hearted, unfit for services and sufferings, are yet strengthened by the grace of God with all might in the inward man.’ (MHC)

Even youths get tired and weary – As Smith remarks, the first step in receiving God’s strength is to realise that our own is inadequate; that his strength is needed.

‘Human strength at its best, in its prime, will inevitably fail. We’re no match for the demands of life. But we’re not doomed to our own potential. There is a power beyond ourselves, and we can experience it.’ (Ortland)

Those who wait for the Lord’s help – Some translations have ‘hope’ instead of ‘wait’.

‘Religion is often expressed in the Scriptures by ‘waiting on JEHOVAH,’ i.e., by looking to him for help, expecting deliverance through his aid, putting trust in him (see Ps. 25:3, 5, 21; 27:14; 37:7, 9, 34; 69:3; comp. Note on Isa. 8:17; 30:18). It does not imply inactivity, or want of personal exertion; it implies merely that our hope of aid and salvation is in him—a feeling that is as consistent with the most strenuous endeavours to secure the object, as it is with a state of inactivity and indolence. Indeed, no man can wait on God in a proper manner who does not use the means which he has appointed for conveying to us his blessing…The farmer who should wait for God to plough and sow his fields, would not only be disappointed, but would be guilty of provoking Him. And so the man who waits for God to do what he ought to do; to save him without using any of the means of grace, will not only be disappointed, but will provoke his displeasure.’ (Barnes)

Renewed strengthlit. ‘”change strength”, as one might change into fresh clothes or exchange an old thing for a new.’ (NBC)

Eagle’s wings – ‘Faith means possessing not the mere physical energy of youth, but utter assurance that God is strong with the strength of the Good Shepherd. Anyone then, be he young or old, once he possesses wings like eagles, may find that he need no longer trudge along the road of life, for he will now be swept into a run by the pinions of faith (cf. Ps. 84:5–7). It is of interest to note that throughout the later biblical period and into the Christian centuries the eagle was used as a symbol of new life. The eagle can soar till it is lost to sight. Like the phoenix it was also a symbol of release from bondage and of resurrection to newness of life.’ (Knight)

Rise up…run…walk – Is there significance in these diminishing actions: even those who cannot ‘fly’ will be able to ‘run’; and even those who cannot ‘run’ will be able to ‘walk’?

‘Times of distress are yet to come, but to the weary who seek him and to the weak who call on his name, to his people in all their distresses, to those who have come to the end of their tether and all their natural resources, he will bring relief and vindication and a future with him, strength from the unwearying God. What Isaiah has said in the earlier part of the chapter he says at its end. In the words of John Oswalt: “The Spirit that breathes out destruction for all human pride is the same Spirit who speaks the eternal word of life over all withered and faded human hopes. Here is the paradox introduced at the beginning of the book: if I insist I am permanent, then I become nothing; if I admit that God alone is permanent, then he breathes his permanence on me.”‘ (Lewis, The Message of the Living God, 233)

‘This was at first designed to be applied to the Jews in captivity in Babylon to induce them to put their trust in God. But it is as true now as it was at that time. It has been found in the experience of thousands and tens of thousands, that by waiting on the Lord the heart has been invigorated; the faith has been confirmed; and the affections have been raised above the world. Strength has been given to bear trial without murmuring, to engage in arduous duty without fainting, to pursue the perilous and toilsome journey of life without exhaustion, and to rise above the world in hope and peace on the bed of death.’ (Barnes)

‘In Isa 40 God speaks to people whose mood is the mood of many Christians today-despondent people, cowed people, secretly despairing people; people against whom the tide of events has been running for a very long time; people who have ceased to believe that the cause of Christ can ever prosper again. Now see how God through his prophet reasons with them.

Look at the tasks I have done, he says. Could you do them? Could any man do them? “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?” (Isa 40:12) Are you wise enough, and mighty enough, to do things like that? But I am, or I could not have made this world at all. Behold your God!

Look now at the nations, the prophet continues: the great national powers, at whose mercy you feel yourselves to be. Assyria, Egypt, Babylon-you stand in awe of them, and feel afraid of them, so vastly do their armies and resources exceed yours. But now consider how God stands related to those mighty forces which you fear so much. “Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.” (Isa 40:15,17) You tremble before the nations, because you are much weaker than they; but God is so much greater than the nations that they are as nothing to him. Behold your God!

Look next at the world. Consider the size of it, the variety and complexity of it; think of the nearly five thousand millions who populate it, and of the vast sky above it. What puny figures you and I are, by comparison with the whole planet on which we live! Yet what is this entire mighty planet by comparison with God? “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.” (Isa 40:22) The world dwarfs us all, but God dwarfs the world. The world is his footstool, above which he sits secure. He is greater than the world and all that is in it, so that all the feverish activity of its bustling millions does no more to affect him than the chirping and jumping of grasshoppers in the summer sun does to affect us. Behold your God!

Look, fourthly, at the world’s great ones-the governors whose laws and policies determine the welfare of millions; the would-be world rulers, the dictators and empire builders, who have it in their power to plunge the globe into war. Think of Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar; think of Alexander, Napoleon, Hitler. Think, today, of Clinton and Saddam Hussein. Do you suppose that it is really these top men who determine which way the world shall go? Think again, for God is greater than the world’s great men. “He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.” (Isa 40:23) He is, as the prayer book says, “the only ruler of princes.” Behold your God!

But we have not finished yet. Look, lastly, at the stars. The most universally awesome experience that mankind knows is to stand alone on a clear night and look at the stars. Nothing gives a greater sense of remoteness and distance; nothing makes one feel more strongly one’s own littleness and insignificance. And we who live in the space age can supplement this universal experience with our scientific knowledge of the actual factors involved-millions of stars in number, billions of light years in distance. Our minds reel; our imaginations cannot grasp it; when we try to conceive of unfathomable depths of outer space, we are left mentally numb and dizzy.

But what is this to God? “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” (Isa 40:26) It is God who brings out the stars; it was God who first set them in space; he is their Maker and Master-they are all in his hands and subject to his will. Such are his power and his majesty. Behold your God!

Let Isaiah now apply to us the Bible doctrine of the majesty of God, by asking us the three questions which he here puts in God’s name to disillusioned and downcast Israelites.

1. “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy one.” (Isa 40:25 RSV) This question rebukes wrong thoughts about God. “Your thoughts of God are too human,” said Luther to Erasmus. This is where most of us go astray. Our thoughts of God are not great enough; we fail to reckon with the reality of his limitless wisdom and power. Because we ourselves are limited and weak, we imagine that at some points God is too, and find it hard to believe that he is not. We think of God as too much like what we are. Put this mistake right, says God; learn to acknowledge the full majesty of your incomparable God and Savior.

2. “Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, my way is hid from the Lord and my judgment is passed away from my God?” (Isa 40:27 RV) This question rebukes wrong thoughts about ourselves. God has not abandoned us any more than he abandoned Job. He never abandons anyone on whom he has set his love; nor does Christ, the good shepherd, ever lose track of his sheep. It is as false as it is irreverent to accuse God of forgetting, or overlooking, or losing interest in, the state and needs of his own people. If you have been resigning yourself to the thought that God has left you high and dry, seek grace to be ashamed of yourself. Such unbelieving pessimism deeply dishonors our great God and Savior.

3. “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?” (Isa 40:28 KJV) This question rebukes our slowness to believe in God’s majesty. God would shame us out of our unbelief. “What is the trouble?” he asks. “Have you been imagining that I, the Creator, have grown old and tired? Has nobody ever told you the truth about me?”

The rebuke is well deserved by many of us. How slow we are to believe in God as God, sovereign, all-seeing and almighty! How little we make of the majesty of our Lord and Savior Christ! The need for us is to “wait upon the LORD” in meditations on his majesty, till we find our strength renewed through the writing of these things upon our hearts.’ (Packer, Knowing God)

‘“Hope” means not hope against hope but convinced expectation that has grounds for it. Such hope means that the weary find new resources of energy and perseverance, because they know that they have a future. In this particular case, the grounds lie in God’s power as Creator. This fact about the past and the present gives grounds for hope in the future.’ (Goldingay)

Looking back over this entire chapter

‘To the Lord’s people who, like Simeon, “wait for the consolation of Israel,” this chapter is full of precious “comfort.” Though the Lord has sorely chastised His people, yet the fact that He is still their God guarantees their ultimate restoration. When Jerusalem’s ‘appointed time’ of hardship “is accomplished,” and her iniquity has been expiated through the application of Christ’s atoning blood, upon her repentance, the Lord will speak ‘to her heart,’ and give her double joy for her past sufferings. John the Baptist’s cry in the wilderness before Christ’s first advent, that men should “prepare the way of the Lord” by repentance, is the type of every faithful minister’s preaching now, that men should be ready, through a living, working faith, for the second coming of the Lord. Whatever hindrances may seem now to stand in the way of Christ’s kingdom, God can do that which with man is impossible—He can and will make that which is ‘crooked straight,’ so that ‘all flesh shall see the glory of the Lord.’ This is the encouragement to the Lord’s people when they are faint-hearted because of the present slowness in the progress of the Gospel kingdom.’ (JFB)

He matters.  He is not some fairy-tale hero, or some local deity, or some wish-projection.  ‘Your God is too small’.

He cares.  You can have confidence in this God.  He has visited this planet.