ISAIAH CHAPTER 40.
The Word of Comfort and the God of Comfort.
The last part of the book of the prophet Isaiah has fitly been called the Book of Comfort, for in its beautiful language and in its exalted visions the Gospel of salvation is so clearly taught that it often seems as though John himself were speaking. The preacher and the prophet are combined in the message brought out by Isaiah to such an extent as to make us feel that voices from the world beyond are singing a glorious hymn of praise.
THE GOSPEL OF COMFORT. — V. 1. Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people, saith your God. Note the repetition of the charge, with the emphasis implied, the significance of the address in the plural as including the Gospel-messengers of all times, and the inviting designations “My” people and “your” God. In the very charge of Jehovah there is contained a tender call to the believers of all times to find true comfort and consolation in the message of salvation. V. 2. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, literally, “to the heart of Jerusalem,” addressing words of consolation to all members of the spiritual Zion, the Church of God, and cry unto her, in a sermon of sweetest assurance, that her warfare is accomplished, that the tribulation to which His people are subjected would soon be ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, namely, in and through the Messiah, whose coming is so clearly foretold in this series of prophecies; for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins, that is, the severe punishment which the Lord’s people had to endure for their sins was to be replaced in richest measure by evidences of His grace and mercy. That is the strange and wonderful manner in which the Lord deals with His children always - He substitutes acts of love and mercy for the well-merited condemnation. The prophet now shows in what way his threefold message would be realized. V. 3. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, of the herald of the great King Messiah, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, in the very midst of the spiritual wilderness in which men find themselves by nature, they should make ready a road on which their King might come into their hearts, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. V. 4. Every valley shall be exalted, the hearts that have been humbled by the hammer-blows of the Law being lifted up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, the proud and self-righteous spirits being taught to despair of their own virtue; and the crooked shall be made straight, the hindrances laid flat, and the rough places plain, all obstructions due to sin and objection to the Lord and His Word being removed by the message of the New Testament; v. 5. and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, namely, chiefly in the coming of His only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth, John 1, 14, and all flesh shall see it together, all men having an opportunity to become acquainted with the Gospel of salvation, Matt. 24, 14; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. The paragraph deals with the call to repentance with which the Messianic era opened, particularly in the preaching of John the Baptist, Matt. 3, 1-3; Mark 1, 2. 3; Luke 3, 2-6; John 1, 23, but finds its application also in all true preaching of the New Testament, which is essentially a proclamation of sin and grace. The prophet now introduces a dialog between a heavenly voice and that of the ideal prophet concerning the proclamation which is to be made. V. 6. The voice, some one with authority speaking from heaven, said, Cry, call out, announce! And he, a voice on earth representing all true preachers of righteousness, said, What shall I cry? What are to be the contents of his preaching? And the answer comes down from heaven, All flesh is grass, all human beings are mortal, transitory, perishable, subject to death and decay, and all the goodliness thereof, all the outward show and pomp of men, is as the flower of the field, barely reaching an early maturity before it withers. V. 7. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it, for it is He who gives them their being, and it is He who causes their decay; surely the people is grass, even the covenant nation. Cp. Ps. 104, 29. 30; Eccl. 8, 8; Rom. 6, 23; Ps. 90. V. 8. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, the repetition being made for the sake of impressing this great truth upon all minds; but the Word of our God shall stand forever, in the midst of the death and decay of this world, in the midst even of the final great cataclysm which will usher in the end of the present earth, the Word of the Lord abides without change and modification, throughout eternity. The prophet, therefore, urges Zion, the Church of the Lord, to make known this Word with rejoicing, v. 9. O Zion, that bringest good tidings, the congregation of the Lord being regarded as an evangelist proclaiming the message of the Gospel, get thee up into the high mountain, from where her voice could be heard far and wide. O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, the parallelism bringing out the urgency of the call, lift up thy voice with strength, in triumphant strains, in a cheerful announcement; lift it up, be not afraid, faint-hearted on account of the feeling of unworthiness; say unto the cities of Judah, to all those who have experienced tribulation similar to that of the mother, Behold your God! The picture is that of the deliverance from the Babylonian captivity, but its application throughout presupposes New Testament conditions. V. 10. Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, the almighty Ruler making use of His omnipotence, and His arm shall rule for Him, in triumphing over all enemies. Behold, His reward is with Him, namely, that which He gained in the severe battle which He undertook, and His work before Him, the spoils which He has brought back, with which He intends to bless His people. One of these blessings is now described. V. 11. He shall feed His flock, take the proper care of all His children in the faith, like a shepherd, in His capacity as the one true Shepherd of their souls; He shall gather the lambs, the young, weak, and inexperienced, with His arm, picking them up since they are unable to walk, and carry them in His bosom, with the most tender care, and shall gently lead those that are with young, lest the ewes be harmed by being overdriven. This entire introductory section, with its four strophes outlining the last part of the book, pictures the coming of the Messiah in all the beauty of its comfort, calls to repentance, emphasizes the certainty of His salvation, and proclaims the victory of the Lord and the glorification of the believers.
JEHOVAH THE SUPREME RULER. — The connection of thought between this section and the foregoing one is this, that the majesty and glory of God over against the idolatry of the heathen nations guarantees the security and the deliverance of the believers of all times. V. 12. Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand? fixing the quantity of all the water in ocean, seas, and streams, and meted out heaven with the span, the measure between the thumb and middle finger, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, the third part of an ephah, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? Before the exalted Lord and Ruler of the universe the whole earth and all it contains are insignificant, amount to nothing or next to nothing, yet it was His good pleasure to weigh them out and to adjust them in their proper relation. V. 13. Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord? Who can measure and understand Him, or, being His counselor, hath taught Him? advising Him on the basis of his understanding of the Lord’s mind. Cp. Rom. 11, 34. The fundamental principle of education is here stated: Understanding the pupil and giving him instruction, teaching him to discriminate and to perform the works of His government properly. It is preposterous that God should need or seek the counsel of any man. V. 14. With whom took He counsel, and who instructed Him, so that He learned discrimination, and taught Him in the path of judgment, and taught Him knowledge, so that He could apply His wisdom in the right manner, and showed to Him the way of understanding? so that His knowing could be translated into the right kind of doing. This thought is even more outside of the pale of possibility, for the Lord is immensely exalted above all human beings even at the highest point of their enlightenment, as the text shows in the next section. V. 15. Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, clinging to the bottom of the bucket when it is emptied, and are counted as the small dust of the balance, like a grain of sand in the pan. Behold, He taketh up the isles as a very little thing, like a mote that is carried upward. The prophet uses the very strongest comparisons to indicate the immeasurable distance by which even the imagination of man stays behind and fails to reach the exaltation of Jehovah. V. 16. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, to supply fuel enough for worthy sacrifices to the glory of God, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering, the untold number of animals with which these forests abounded would not be enough fittingly to honor Him by their sacrifice. V. 17. All nations before Him are as nothing, their entire sum and substance totaling only so much before Him; and they are counted to Him less than nothing and vanity. Therefore the prophet inserts the question which, at the same time, introduces the new section of this chapter, v. 18. To whom, then, will ye liken God? Why try to make comparisons, which, at best, are so utterly inadequate and futile? Or what likeness will ye compare unto Him? How foolish to try to represent Him by one of the idols whom the prophet now proceeds to describe. V. 19. The workman melteth a graven image, casting it in molds, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, in a plating of the more precious metal, and casteth silver chains, as ornaments on the figure. V. 20. He that is so impoverished that he hath no oblation, that is, the heathen priest who is supported by such gifts, chooseth a tree that will not rot, the most durable wood; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, to set it up in the proper manner, that shall not be moved, so that the idol would fall to the ground. Note the irony of the prophet which is in evidence throughout, followed by disgust, which shows itself in a number of questions expressing great displeasure. V. 21. Have ye not known? Have ye not heard? The facts which the prophet has in mind could and should be well known to all whom the prophet’s words might reach. Hath it not been told you from the beginning? Have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? God alone has established the earth and laid its foundations and no idol ever even approached him, much less was worthy of being compared with Him. This God is now described by the prophet. V. 22. It is He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, highly exalted above the globe of this puny world, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers, so insignificant and despicable in comparison with Him; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, the reference being to the awning which is drawn over the court of Oriental houses for shelter in rain or hot weather, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in; v. 23. that bringeth the princes to nothing, their power being helpless before Him; He maketh the judges of the earth as vanity, nothingness, an empty show. V. 24. Yea, they shall not be planted; yea, they shall not be sown; yea, their stock shall not take root in the earth, that is, hardly have they, in their own opinion, gained a foothold, believing themselves to be safe without the Lord, and He shall also blow upon them, and they shall wither, and the whirlwind shall take them away as stubble, as chaff in a tornado, absolutely helpless before Him who is the Ruler of the universe. Therefore the Lord now bids men consider His incomparable majesty and glory. V. 25. To whom, then, will ye liken Me or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One. It is a vain and fruitless task even to compare the wisdom and power of individuals and of nations with that of the Lord; for he is the Possessor of limitless power and wisdom. V. 26. Lift up your eyes on high, namely, to the heights of heaven, to the starry firmament, and behold who hath created these things, all the heavenly bodies, that bringeth out their host by number, like a shepherd leading his sheep to the meadow. He calleth them all by names by the greatness of His might, for that He is strong in power; not one faileth, He takes care, by virtue of His might and of His goodness, that not one is left behind. How readily will He, therefore, will His love and goodness, surround His children everywhere with His protection! Cp. Ps. 147, 4; Matt. 10, 30. V. 27. Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, all the believers everywhere, when evil days come upon them, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? the complaint often being made by Christians that the Lord takes no interest in them, that He disregards their case, that He neglects them, passing by their distress without noticing it. The reproachful question is followed by an emphatic statement, also in the form of a question, v. 28. Hast thou not known? It surely had been proclaimed often enough. Hast thou not heard that the everlasting God, who is unchangeable from eternity to eternity, the Lord, the covenant God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, that is, of the whole world with all that it contains, fainteth not, neither is weary? He never so much as begins to abandon His vigilant care for His children, much less will He fail in it. There is no searching of His understanding, it cannot be fathomed by the finite mind of any human being. This fact, then, should inspire His people with the strongest confidence. V. 29. He giveth power to the faint, sustaining them when they are about to sink down; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength, that is, to those who are utterly helpless He imparts power. V. 30. Even the youths, those in the prime of their young manhood, shall faint and be weary, namely, when depending on their own strength, and the young men, those excelling in youthful vigor and energy, shall utterly fall, for mere human might and power is, after all, subject to weariness and decay. V. 31. But they that wait upon the Lord, putting all their trust in Him alone, shall renew their strength, gaining new spiritual power from day to day; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, the birds who have ever been types of almost limitless strength, Ps. 103, 5; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint, finishing their course with the strength imparted to them from on high, victorious to the last. 2 Tim. 4, 7.