Isaiah 40: The Final Answer
Updated: May 20
Chapter 40 begins “the second book of Isaiah.” Some scholars believe these prophecies were written by Isaiah’s disciples around the time of the Babylonian captivity or that they compiled some of Isaiah’s speeches and sermons after his death. Others believe Isaiah wrote all of the prophecies in the book although the timeline causes confusion. In any case, the prophecies are the voice of God revealing His plans for Israel when their captivity is over.
From the start, you can hear the change in His tone:
“Comfort, comfort my people,“ says your God.
“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed,
double for all her sins.“
I’m assuming you don’t speak tenderly to your children while you are disciplining them, but quite certain that you do once the discipline is over. You assure them of your love regardless of their behavior. That’s what our Father does. Yes, Judah’s trials and persecution were “hard service,“ but it was all for the purpose of their discipline, and now that it’s over, God will consider their account paid up—not just once, but twice. Seems odd. But the verse hints at a dual-fulfillment. When Judah’s exile was over, God counted their suffering as sufficient, but beyond the hard service they did in Babylon, the Father Himself would pay a far higher price for their redemption—the blood of His Son.
Verse 3 is a familiar verse. John the Baptist quoted it when the priests and Levites asked him who he was (John 1:23). Whenever I read this in the New Testament, I would picture John in the wilderness, crying. And so he may have been. But this verse isnt about where John was, but rather what will happen there:
A voice of one calling,
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.“
(That’s the power of the comma.)
In Middle Eastern culture, when kings would come to visit, as a show of respect a new road would be built. Seriously. Everything would be cleared away and a highway would be constructed just for their procession. It was a project of enormous proportions, and when it was finished, everyone would line up to watch the show.
So it will be when the LORD comes, only way bigger and way better (verse 4). When He passes through the wilderness, things will change. The desert will bloom with life (Isaiah 35:1-2). When He comes in all of His glory and splendor, you won’t have to push your way through the crowd to get a look. No, somehow, “All people will see it together.” (verse 5).
This brings up a good question. Have you ever thought about what that glory will look like? I’m awed by the masterpieces God paints in the sky with the sun and the clouds or the moon and the stars. It’s glorious. But this glory will appear with the King of kings and LORD of lords Himself. It’s got to be more than just bright lights.
I skipped over an important part of verse 3, but verse 6 stresses it again: There is a voice. Someone has to say what God says. A voice (the same one or another, I don’t know) is telling someone else to cry out.
A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
Without even checking what the scholars have to say, I’m going to assume that the “I” stands for Isaiah. He asks a great question: “What should I say?” Smart man. When you feel like you have to say something, it’s a good idea to ask God what He wants you to say.
Huh? What’s that? I thought I heard someone talking to me.
Well, anyway, here’s what Isaiah was supposed to say:
“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. the grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass.”
I don’t think God is criticizing man or disappointed in him. He’s just stating the facts. We’re subject to death. That’s how He made us. We’re like crocuses peeking through the last little bit of spring snow, there for a few days and then gone. Or daisies from the florist, barely opened, dropping their petals. It not that they have no beauty or value. They just don’t last.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
The comparison isn't made to frown on the transience of man, but to glorify the steadfast, unchanging word of God.
After the Babylonians did their damage, the inhabitants of Jerusalem were gone, the land nearly empty except for some strangers. It must have looked like God had packed up, too. So He sent out voices to remind them that He was still around.
You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ”Here is your God!”
Remember how the leaders in Jerusalem had a tendency to lean on others instead of on God? How they boasted about the alliances they made with other nations? How when they were in trouble they never thought of God? Or they thought of Him but didn’t think He could help? This voice says that on the other side of their captivity and the cross, they will become heralds of the coming King. And this is what they will say:
See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.”
(His recompense and reward is us, by the way.)
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.
Two very different pictures presented one right after the other. He is strong. He is tender. He’s a warrior and He’s a shepherd. The Sovereign LORD is a gentle Father. He is also Creator, the God of order, and the master of the universe (verse 12.) Bigger than all and over it all, He is all that and more.
Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor?
And the answer is? “No one.”
Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way?
The answer? “No one.”
Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?
And again? ”No one.”
All of the nations that opposed His people are just a drop in the bucket, dust on the scales. All the trees of Lebanon can’t provide enough wood for an altar to honor Him. All the animals in the land are insufficient for an offering (verses 15-16).
Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.
Remember, when God or His prophets speak about the nations, they aren’t speaking about the people who live there. They are speaking of the manmade systems of government that attempt to exercise control over them. That’s why the Bible can talk about His love and care for man and His dismissal of the nations. The nations are at His disposal.
With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him?
How foolish to expect a god made from the things of earth to have any power over the God who made it! The created can’t be compared with the Creator. While God reveals Himself through what He makes, created things can only reveal the heart of their maker, for better or worse. We can build our lives on all kinds of things, but they all will decay and topple (verses 19-20).
Only the word of the LORD endures forever.
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
Throughout history, all kinds of voices have been speaking for God. God's glory is revealed through the voice of His creation. God's message was written on scrolls and handed down by men of faith. His strength and mercy in our lives speak of the power of His love. They all testify together: He is big; we are small. He is Creator; we are created. He is a tender Father, but with one breath, He can blow the bullies away (verses 22-24).
“To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.
Back before there were manmade instruments, sailors looked to the skies to get their bearings. Even without the knowledge of astronomy, they knew the stars made paths across the sky, and they knew those paths would never change. (I know, I know, the stars aren’t moving, we are. Is that any less amazing?) If He can supervise all of this, a voice asks, don’t you suppose He can order your life?
Do you not know? He knows.
Have you not heard? He cares. (verse 27)
God’s transcendence doesn’t mean He is too great to care; rather, He is too great to fail. - J. Alec Motyer
On this side of the captivity, God’s people have some truths to relearn:
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
“Have hope,” the voice says. After all:
God is not human, that he should lie,
not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19)
And the final answer? No.
The word of the LORD endures forever.