ISAIAH 40 - 41

 

In our study on Isaiah, we have reached the last major section of the book, which is designed to comfort the people.

 

THE BABYLONIAN PERIOD - HOPE FOR TROUBLED TIMES (40-66)

  • THE ONE TRUE GOD VERSUS IDOLS (40-48)
  • SALVATION THROUGH THE SUFFERING SERVANT (49-53)
  • THE FUTURE GLORY FOR GODíS PEOPLE (54-66)

 

The comfort God is offering His people will only come if they turn away from their sins and turn back to Him. Though His people will suffer persecution and slavery God will deliver them from their Babylonian captivity. Chapter 40 mainly focuses on getting Israel to turn from its sins.

 

I could spend a great deal of time breaking this down verse by verse and make many applications throughout, but in this lesson, we will be going through the text fairly quickly, with just a few comments here and there and making some application for us today. So, let us begin by jumping right into our text in Chapter 40.

 

Isaiah 40:1 "Comfort, yes, comfort My people!" Says your God.2 "Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the LORD's hand Double for all her sins."

 

What Isaiah says here sets the tone for the remainder of the Book. The people are to be comforted because God is going to intervene for His people after they have suffered the consequences of their sin. Though the prophecy would not be fulfilled until over 100 years later, Isaiah speaks of it as if it had already happened because He knows that God will not fail to do what He has said.

 

As Christians, we can take great comfort the fact that Godís Word never fails. When His Word says that if we love Him and keep His commandments that we will live eternally in heaven, we can speak as if it has already happened because we know that it will.

 

Isaiah 40:3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God.4 Every valley shall be exalted And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough places smooth;5 The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

 

Throughout the Bible, we can see a plea for people to repent. In order for a person to be ready for the Lord and to be pleasing to Him, he must prepare his heart. God cannot work or use those who are not willing to change their ways.

 

Notice what Archer says about our text:

"From Matthew's application of this verse to the ministry of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:3), it is apparent that these geographical features symbolize the arid lifelessness of the unconverted soul. The hills represent the carnal pride of the sinner, the valleys his moods of carnal hopelessness and self-pity."

 

The idea is that GodĎs people must prepare themselves for God when He would deliver them from their captivity. While this prophecy pointed toward the Jews at that time, it also pointed to the time of Messiah when John the Baptist was preparing the way for the Lord. Remember the way he prepared the way for the Lord was by preaching Godís Word about the coming kingdom and how people needed to repent. As Isaiah said in verse 5, the Lord has spoken and so we can know that everything that is being said is here true and cannot be changed by man. So, repentance is key in preparing your heart to serve the Lord and to be saved by Him.

 

Isaiah 40:6 The voice said, "Cry out!" And he said, "What shall I cry?" "All flesh is grass, And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.7 The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass.8 The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever."

 

This same messages is repeated in the N.T. in several places. The message is simple. Our flesh is weak and will not last long. However Godís Word stands for ever. Though we may get smarter and be able to do amazing things, nothing we do or accomplish will last forever because some new way will become better and others will be smarter than we are, but Godís Word will stay the same and have the same power it had from the first time it was spoken.

 

Isaiah 40:9 O Zion, You who bring good tidings, Get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, You who bring good tidings, Lift up your voice with strength, Lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God!"10 Behold, the Lord GOD shall come with a strong hand, And His arm shall rule for Him; Behold, His reward is with Him, And His work before Him.11 He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, And carry them in His bosom, And gently lead those who are with young.

 

This is an encouraging statement from Isaiah. He is letting them know that God still cares for them and is still their God. He is their strength. Since God is with them, they should not be afraid because He will deliver them and lift them up. He will take care of them like a good shepherd who protects, corrects, and comforts his flock.

 

The same words of comfort apply to us as well because the Lord is our good Shepherd as well, such as can be seen in Psalm 23 or John 10:14ff. He loves and cares for us and will always be there for us.

 

Isaiah 40:12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, Measured heaven with a span And calculated the dust of the earth in a measure? Weighed the mountains in scales And the hills in a balance?13 Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, Or as His counselor has taught Him?14 With whom did He take counsel, and who instructed Him, And taught Him in the path of justice? Who taught Him knowledge, And showed Him the way of understanding?15 Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, And are counted as the small dust on the scales; Look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing.16 And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, Nor its beasts sufficient for a burnt offering.17 All nations before Him are as nothing, And they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless.

 

Isaiah is pointing out the greatness of God and how nothing can compare to His Deity. He created the heavens and the earth and has always existed. Though we have trouble wrapping our minds around the fact that God was not created, trained or controlled we have to accept that He is all-sufficient. Some of things Isaiah is saying here reminds me of the many questions God asked Job that humbled him and made him realize how small he was in comparison to God.

 

Isaiah points out how the nations of the earth are but a drop in a bucket compared to God and that there is not enough burnt offering on the face of earth that are sufficient for such a great God. The human race is worthless without God. It is only through God that we have any value and any hope. What a wonderful God we have!

 

Isaiah 40:18 To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him?19 The workman molds an image, The goldsmith overspreads it with gold, And the silversmith casts silver chains.20 Whoever is too impoverished for such a contribution Chooses a tree that will not rot; He seeks for himself a skillful workman To prepare a carved image that will not totter.21 Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

 

Isaiah is driving the point home that there is no idol or anything made by man that can be compared to the magnificence of God. Godís people had dabbled more than once in creating gods for themselves, gods that would never last but would eventual need to be repaired or thrown away.

 

Isaiah knows that his people had been taught the truth about dumb idols because such basic knowledge was passed down from generation to generation. There was no excuse they could give for being ignorant of such things.

 

I think we can see how this same argument can be used with us today because sometimes we have a tendency to do the wrong thing even though we know better. We have been taught not do certain sinful things and sometimes we know that Godís Word says that doing that thing can cause to go to hell if we do turn from it. Yet, like these Jews of the O.T. we do them anyway.Isaiah continues his thought in:

 

22 It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.23 He brings the princes to nothing; He makes the judges of the earth useless.24 Scarcely shall they be planted, Scarcely shall they be sown, Scarcely shall their stock take root in the earth, When He will also blow on them, And they will wither, And the whirlwind will take them away like stubble.25 " To whom then will you liken Me, Or to whom shall I be equal?" says the Holy One.26 Lift up your eyes on high, And see who has created these things, Who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, By the greatness of His might And the strength of His power; Not one is missing.

 

Some people like to explain away verses like verse 22 and say that Isaiah was not teaching us some truth about the earth that was not known at the time, but I have to disagree. God was telling Isaiah what to say, and just as Isaiah was given prophecies that occurred 100 years and later should make us have no problem seeing Isaiah speaking about Godís perspective of the earth and its habitants.

 

You will notice that he talks about the circle of the earth, yet many throughout antiquity thought the earth was flat and many different theories were made, yet Isaiah was right. The earth is spherical and the only way he could have known that was from God telling him.

 

In this, he is stating how big our God is and how He is in control and He has the power to make nations rise and fall. Just because a nation may think they are invincible, God can make them come to nothing. Just as history shows, there are no guarantees that a powerful nation will continue to thrive.

 

It is easy for people to lose sight of God when they feel powerful and in control, but Isaiahís message tells us that they need to consider the handiwork of God. For example, when we look up at the night sky and see the few thousands stars that we can see with our naked eye, we can know that God created them all along with all the other stars that we cannot even begin to count. Though we cannot count them, God can and He knows them all by name. This is how powerful and mighty our God is. When we take the time to consider how small we are in comparison to God, it will keep us humble and remind us who it is that we should live for.

 

Isaiah 40:27 Why do you say, O Jacob, And speak, O Israel: "My way is hidden from the LORD, And my just claim is passed over by my God"?28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable.29 He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength.30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall,31 But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.

 

This message was not just relevant to them back then, it is universal and speaks to everyone. Since God is all knowing, there is nothing that can be hidden from. Even if a person can fool those around them all day long, you cannot hide anything from our everlasting God. He never sleeps or grows weak and we will never fully understand Him or the depth of His wisdom. This is can be a scary thought knowing that one is so powerful, and yes, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of living God if you are not living for Him. However, with our God, if you love Him and are living for Him, He will give you strength to push on further than you ever thought possible on your own. When you make God your master, falling into His hands is great blessing and great comfort because you know that you will be taken care of.

 

As we get into Chapter 41, we will see Isaiah talk more about how great God is and how His people need to be encouraged by the fact that God has the power to deliver them and will make them great once more after their Babylonian captivity. He also issues a challenge to the false gods that have been made by man.

 

Isaiah 41:1 "Keep silence before Me, O coastlands, And let the people renew their strength! Let them come near, then let them speak; Let us come near together for judgment.2 "Who raised up one from the east? Who in righteousness called him to His feet? Who gave the nations before him, And made him rule over kings? Who gave them as the dust to his sword, As driven stubble to his bow?3 Who pursued them, and passed safely By the way that he had not gone with his feet?4 Who has performed and done it, Calling the generations from the beginning? 'I, the LORD, am the first; And with the last I am He.' "5 The coastlands saw it and feared, The ends of the earth were afraid; They drew near and came.6 Everyone helped his neighbor, And said to his brother, "Be of good courage!"7 So the craftsman encouraged the goldsmith; He who smooths with the hammer inspired him who strikes the anvil, Saying, "It is ready for the soldering"; Then he fastened it with pegs, That it might not totter.8 " But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, The descendants of Abraham My friend.

 

The message in this chapter has been compared to that of God calling the people to a court session. It was time for the people to be quite and listen and have their strength renewed as they hear what the judge has to say. The series of questions asked starting in verse 2 is designed to get the people to see that God is the one in control and has the power to do great things for his people unlike the useless idols that men put their trust in. This is something we must never lose sight of because just as God was in control in beginning of time in the affairs of man, He is still in control today. He has never lost control nor will He ever lose control. We should never put our faith and trust in man or any manmade thing because man nor thing can every redeem us our grant us eternal salvation.

 

Before I leave this section of Scripture, there are differences of opinion of who is being spoken of in verse 2 that was raised up the east. Many believe this is referring to King Cyrus who Isaiah names later on as the man that would help free His people from their captivity in Isa. 44:28ff. The fact that Isaiah knew the name of this man over 100 years before he was even born is just another proof that God was speaking through him. Those who say this is Cyrus also point out that he was the man from the north in verse 25. The reasoning behind this is that he was from the northeast. So, in that sense he could come from the east and the north. God certainly did use a man named Cyrus to ultimately come to power and free the Jews.

 

However, others believe that the description does not fit King Cyrus, but is actually referring to Abraham because the description fits him well and in context, verse 8 talks about Abraham. The idea is that since God was able to raise up Abraham and do great things for him that God can do great things for them.

 

Personally, I would lean toward it talking about Abraham, but in my opinion it does not really matter who is being referred to because the overall message is what is important, which is that God is control and He can and will deliver you.

 

Isaiah 41:8 " But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, The descendants of Abraham My friend.9 You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, And called from its farthest regions, And said to you, 'You are My servant, I have chosen you and have not cast you away:10 Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.'11 "Behold, all those who were incensed against you Shall be ashamed and disgraced; They shall be as nothing, And those who strive with you shall perish.12 You shall seek them and not find them -- Those who contended with you. Those who war against you Shall be as nothing, As a nonexistent thing.13 For I, the LORD your God, will hold your right hand, Saying to you, 'Fear not, I will help you.'14 " Fear not, you worm Jacob, You men of Israel! I will help you," says the LORD And your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.15 "Behold, I will make you into a new threshing sledge with sharp teeth; You shall thresh the mountains and beat them small, And make the hills like chaff.16 You shall winnow them, the wind shall carry them away, And the whirlwind shall scatter them; You shall rejoice in the LORD, And glory in the Holy One of Israel.

 

There is some great imagery in these words. First, Godís wants them to know that they are His chosen people, He is their God, and He loves them. Though they will have to face the consequences of their sins, He has not abandoned them. He will be there to strengthen and help them.

 

Second, he tells them how God will uphold them with His righteous right hand and also hold their right hand. I can almost see this huge yet tender hand of God holding you up and giving you comfort and strength at the same time.

 

Third, he tells them that God is their redeemer and how He will sharpen them like a new threshing sledge and make it where they will be able to destroy their enemies and that will blow away like chaff.

 

Godís Word can paint such comforting pictures in our mind of how He will redeem us, strengthen us, and comfort us. Just as His people would rejoice when they saw these happening, we should rejoice in the Lord today, knowing what He has done for us and knowing that He is part of lives every day.

 

Isaiah 41:17" The poor and needy seek water, but there is none, Their tongues fail for thirst. I, the LORD, will hear them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.18 I will open rivers in desolate heights, And fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, And the dry land springs of water.19 I will plant in the wilderness the cedar and the acacia tree, The myrtle and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the cypress tree and the pine And the box tree together,20 That they may see and know, And consider and understand together, That the hand of the LORD has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.

 

These are more words of comfort and more imagery. The message is that God knows what is going on and He will be there to help in their time of need. He will not forsake His people just as He will not forsake His people today. To show that He can provide and take of their thirst, He will not just provide them with a few drops of water, but paints the picture of fountains of water flowing and pools of water being available. He describes how God will even make these different kinds trees flourish in the desert, so that people will know that God is the one that made it happen.

 

God watches out for us today as well. He still provides and works in our lives providentially. So, we should gain great comfort from what Isaiah has just said as well. Next, God puts the manmade idols on trial.

 

Isaiah 41:21" Present your case," says the LORD. "Bring forth your strong reasons," says the King of Jacob.22 "Let them bring forth and show us what will happen; Let them show the former things, what they were, That we may consider them, And know the latter end of them; Or declare to us things to come.23 Show the things that are to come hereafter, That we may know that you are gods; Yes, do good or do evil, That we may be dismayed and see it together.24 Indeed you are nothing, And your work is nothing; He who chooses you is an abomination.25 " I have raised up one from the north, And he shall come; From the rising of the sun he shall call on My name; And he shall come against princes as though mortar, As the potter treads clay.26 Who has declared from the beginning, that we may know? And former times, that we may say, 'He is righteous'? Surely there is no one who shows, Surely there is no one who declares, Surely there is no one who hears your words.27 The first time I said to Zion, 'Look, there they are!' And I will give to Jerusalem one who brings good tidings.28 For I looked, and there was no man; I looked among them, but there was no counselor, Who, when I asked of them, could answer a word.29 Indeed they are all worthless; Their works are nothing; Their molded images are wind and confusion.

 

The idols are on the stand and they are being questioned and challenged to show that they are gods. Can they teach anything, can the predict anything? The answer is no. Only God can do that. These idols are worthless and cause nothing but confusion. We must learn from this to be careful not to make things or people our gods because like these useless idols no one or thing can every substitute a living God. As I said earlier, I do believe that Isaiah was talking about Abraham being the one from the east. However, in verse 25, I believe he is referring to King Cyrus as being the one from the north who would rise up against the enemies of the Jews and eventually free them from their captivity. The Jews could take it to heart that God would do all that He said because He has never failed before and He never will.

 

We should always take comfort from the thought that God is always with us and His Word is trustworthy. So, we can be assured that God is our redeemer and that all His promises He has made to us in His Word will come true.