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I like the Messianic ones, do I not? Isaiah 40 is not as explicitly Messianic as Isaiah 49 or 53, but still the message of salvation from Yahweh alone is central to the text, as it is throughout the Bible. Isaiah 40 speaks of comfort to Jerusalem (read: God’s people), not through anything which can be done by man or by nations, but only through the power of God used mercifully toward His people.
Contextually, the message in Isaiah 40 comes right after a story about King Hezekiah (who reigned during part of Isaiah’s ministry) wherein envoys from Babylon came and inspected Hezekiah’s palace. Isaiah told Hezekiah the word of the LORD, prophesying the exile in Babylon. Although Hezekiah rather selfishly was glad that there would be peace in his lifetime (Isaiah 39.8), chapter 40 tells of the time when there really will be perfect peace and comfort.
Verses 1-2 proclaim comfort for Jerusalem, and forgiveness of her sins by Yahweh. In verses 3-5, a prophecy is made of John the Baptist preparing the people for the arrival of Jesus (cf. Mark 1.3). The Glory of Yahweh is going to be revealed! But is this because of man’s might and power? No, for in verses 6-7, Yahweh says that ‘all men are like grass…the grass withers…’ Obviously, man has no the power to bring forth the glory of God. But, thankfully for us, the Sovereign Yahweh will come with power, but also with gentleness and forgiveness, like a tender shepherd (v.10-11).
Isaiah asks a series of rhetorical questions in verses 12-14 about who can fathom the depths of Yahweh’s power and wisdom. The answer is that no one can, except Yahweh himself. No one can measure the greatness of His creation (v.12), understand His mind (v.13), and certainly no one ever taught Yahweh anything (v.14). Compared to His power, all the power of the nations are as nothing, and their religiosity means less than nothing to him. This is not to say that people and nations are not important to God, or that He does not care what happens to them. Rather, Isaiah is making clear that this comfort that is coming to Jerusalem is not the result of anything that Judah has done. The people of Jerusalem are unable to accomplish this themselves.
Verses 18-20 ridicule idolmakers who try to make gods for themselves of wood and stone. These statues have no power to do anything for you, says Isaiah. Yahweh reigns on high (v. 22) and compared to Him, people are like grasshoppers (how much less something that people have made!). Their feeble attempts at greatness are like chaff blowing in the wind (cf. Psalm 1). Yahweh takes care of all the stars in the heavens, using His power to make sure every one is there (v.26). This reminds of me of Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 6.25-30, where He is telling His disciples not to worry, giving them the example of the birds and flowers; if God makes sure the birds are fed and the flowers clothed, how much more will He take care of His people, made in His image. In Isaiah, Yahweh is using His awesome and infinite power to make sure all of the stars are there! If He cares that much about burning balls of gas, how much more will He make sure that all of His people are safe?
Indeed, Israel is rebuked in verse 27 for not trusting
in Yahweh. Verse 28 reminds that Yahweh is God, and His power and strength
is infinite. And, wonder of wonders, not only is His strength infinite,
but according to verses 29-31, He has chosen to give some of it to us!
Through His unimaginable graciousness, those who hope in Yahweh will never
grow tired or faint, and will persevere to the end of our race.
This paper originated as an extra credit assignment for Old Testament History, Missouri Baptist College, Fall, 2000.
©2000 by Jandy Stone