In the last essay we studied 38:1-39:8. In this essay we study chapter 40, which is the beginning of a larger section, chapters 40-55, that predicts the Babylonian Exile. Indeed in these chapters Isaiah addresses the future Jews of the exilic period. Thus Isaiah in his prophesy leaves the historical period of his own lifetime (740-690 BC) with which he had been dealing in chapters 1-39 and shifts to a predictive prophecy that deals with the years 545-535 BC.
The fact that these chapters deal with a period of time about a hundred and fifty years after Isaiah’s death, along with some stylistic differences, convince scholars who do not believe in predictive prophecy to say that these chapters were written by someone other than Isaiah who lived during, or just after, that future time. Thus those scholars conclude that an unknown person they call second Isaiah wrote these chapters. Those of us who believe in predictive prophecy believe that Isaiah wrote them during his lifetime.
So then, in terms of the book s a whole, we saw in chapters 1-39, how God could be trusted to deliver Judah from Assyria in spite of her sinfulness. Now in chapters 40-55 he turns to the future crisis of the Babylonian Exile to encourage future Jews who would be in that seemingly hopeless situation. He encourages them to trust God. The basic message is that God still is sovereign and can be trusted to deliver Judah from the Babylonians.
Verses 1-2 set the stage for the next 27 chapters. The first thing we notice is that the message is one of comfort. The Jews in the time of the Exile were in need of comfort. They were in a foreign land. The hope of returning to Palestine seemed to be somewhere between slim and none. And although they had maintained themselves as a people by not intermarrying with the Babylonians, it didn’t seem to matter much. And yet God comforts them through Isaiah’s prophecy.
Notice in verse two that there are three aspects to God’s message of comfort. There are three clauses in a row that begin with “that.” The Lord, through the prophet, tenderly tells Jerusalem, one, “that she has served her term,” two, “that her penalty is paid,” and three, “that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
The “term” that Jerusalem has served apparently is the Exile. In any case, the “term” is over. The time of suffering is coming to an end.
Even more important is the fact that “her penalty is paid.” The Jews were in Babylon because of their sinfulness. But now Isaiah comforts them with the declaration that the penalty for their sin has been paid. In their time, the Jews might have interpreted that to mean that they had “done their time,” as criminals who get out of prison in our day like to say. But as Isaiah’s prophecy continues, we shall see, especially in the light of the New Testament, that God himself paid the price for their forgiveness.
The clause that says that Jerusalem has received from the Lord’s hand “double for all her sins” is a bit difficult. Oswalt does not comment on it. Delitzsch says that it is not to be taken in a judicial sense, because that would make God appear unjust. In other words, Jerusalem did not suffer more than she deserved. I believe he is correct in that, but he doesn’t provide a good alternative interpretation. It appears that there is no good explanation of its meaning available.
Next, Isaiah declares that a voice cries out. Notice that the voice is unidentified. And notice also that the voice declares that it is God who is coming. And they are to build a metaphorical road for him on which to come. The idea is that God is coming to aid his people in their distress. This idea, in this Old Testament context, is a bit different from the way the New Testament picks up on the saying for the New Testament context. In Matt. 3:3, for example, the saying is quoted as a reference to the voice of John the Baptist. John is a voice in the wilderness that is preparing the way of the Lord, meaning Jesus the Messiah.
Coming back to the Old Testament context, we see in verses four and five that there will be apocalyptic upheavals, and that “all people,” literally “all flesh,” will se it, both of which suggest the end-time. Notice that the result of God’s coming will be the revelation of his glory.
In verses 6-8, Isaiah turns from the glory of God to the transient, mortal nature of humanity. What a contrast! Once again we have an unidentified voice. In this case the voice tells someone else, also unidentified, to cry out about the weakness and transient nature of humanity. What better way to express our transient, mortal nature than to liken us to grass? Grass grows and withers quickly and is blown about by every wind, and humanity in its own way is exactly the same. Our lives are brief and helpless in contrast to the word of God.
And that is the good news in all this. God’s word stands forever. It not only is permanent in contrast to us. It is a word of promise. God has promised deliverance. Therefore, no matter what lies ahead for Israel, they know from God’s word that his promises will not fail. Israel, including us as the New Israel, can rely on God’s word.
Now then, having announced, in verses 3-5, the coming of the Lord and the coming revelation of his glory, Isaiah calls on Jerusalem to become part of God’s great work. The people are called to go up on the mountain to proclaim the good news. And they are to do it without fear. And if we ask what the good news is that they were to declare, it is right there in verse 10. “Here is your God!” In other words, the glad tidings they were to proclaim was that God had come. He is here! Jerusalem is to declare to the cities of Judah not only that God has come, but also that he has come with a mighty arm to deliver.
Verse 11 expands on the good news. The Lord is a shepherd to his flock. He doesn’t just deliver. He also gently nourishes and guides. Back in chapters 1-39 it was clear that God brings judgment upon his enemies, including those who break his covenant. But here we see that he defends and shepherds those who turn to him.
It is no different today. The real presence of God, by means of the Holy Spirit, brings salvation by his mighty arm. And he offers to us the same kind of love and care that he offered Israel during the days of the Exile. That not only is good news. It is salvation for those of us who are willing to “trust and obey,” as the hymn pouts it.
All right, we see that the Lord is a saving and comforting Lord. Next, in verses 12-26, we see that he is an incomparable Lord. Verses 1-11 have answered the question whether or not God wants to deliver Israel from the Exile. The clear answer is “yes.” Now, in verses 12-26, the question is whether or not God can deliver them from the Exile. And again the answer clearly is “yes.”
Notice that verses 12-14 are made up of a series of rhetorical questions. And with those questions Isaiah asserts the uniqueness of God. The intended response to the questions is, “No one!” No one can do those things. And no one can counsel God. That’s why God is incomparable.
At verse 15 Isaiah changes from rhetorical questions to direct assertions. Isaiah here states the uniqueness of God in another way. None of the nations can compare with God. The nations are like a drop in a bucket. They are like the dust that sits on a scale and doesn’t even make it flutter. In other words, they are as nothing in comparison to God. Indeed God is so great that the forests of Lebanon could not provide enough wood, or enough animals, to make adequate sacrifices (v. 16). As far as Isaiah is concerned there is nothing with which to compare God. Certainly it is foolishness to portray him as an idol.
In verse 21 Isaiah once again uses rhetorical questions to drive home his point about the uniqueness of God. For Isaiah nature reveals that God is other than and greater than the earth. And this has been clear “from the foundations of the earth.” That is, from the time of creation itself, it has been clear that God is greater than any other thing. Then in verses 22-23 Isaiah pictures God as sitting above the heavens and the earth with the ability to bring “princes” or “rulers” to naught. Thus he is greater than all of the rulers of the earth. Indeed verse 24 indicates that the rulers are like seedlings that are “blown away” by the God.
Isaiah completes this segment in verses 25-26. Here God himself challenges the people to find someone to compare with God. Of course they cannot. Certainly the sun, moon, and stars are not comparable. God created them. He numbered them and gave them names. Of course the numbering and naming is figurative, but clear. God has power over the heavenly hosts.
All right, we have seen the comforting Lord in verses 1-11 and the incomparable Lord in verses 12-26. Isaiah closes out the section by showing us the dependable Lord in verses 27-31. Verse 27 asks the classic question of the problem of evil. If God is all-powerful, why doesn’t he do something about our suffering? Why is he not righting our situation? Isaiah gives his answer in verses 28-31. Unlike the creation, God never weakens or grows tired. And his wisdom is unfathomable. Indeed God provides energy to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even the strongest on earth, that is, the young, wear out and get weary. But, those who believe in and depend on the Lord will experience the blessings indicated: renewal of strength, the ability to metaphorically take wing like an eagle, and run or walk without weariness.
As you can see there is no promise of deliverance from every painful aspect of life. Rather, it is a promise of an adequate supply of power to live victoriously in the midst of the difficulties of life.