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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Isaiah 40

 

 

Verse 1

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

The former were local and temporary in their reference. These belong to the distant future, and are world-wide in their interest. The deliverance from Babylon under Cyrus, which he here foretells, by prophetic suggestion, carries him on to the greater deliverance under Messiah, the Saviour of Jews and Gentiles in the present eclectic Church, and the restorer of Israel and Head of the world-wide kingdom, literal and spiritual ultimately. As Assyria was the hostile world-power in the former part, which refers to Isaiah's own time, so Babylon is so in the latter part, which refers to a period long subsequent. The connecting link, however, is furnished (Isaiah 39:6) at the close of the former part. Even in the former part also, Babylon's downfall through Elamite and Persian assailants is foretold in Isaiah 21:1-17. The latter part was written in the old age of Isaiah, as appears from the greater mellowness of style and tone which pervades it. It is less fiery, and more tender and gentle than the former part. Compare Introduction. The second part is divided into three books by the twice-recurring sentence, "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked" (Isaiah 48:22; Isaiah 57:21). The first of these three books concerns the outward deliverance from Babylon through Cyrus. The second book, Messiah's advent prefigured by the deliverance through Cyrus. The third book, the coming glory of God's kingdom on earth, along with judgments on the ungodly. The historical section (Isaiah 36:1-22; Isaiah 37:1-38; Isaiah 38:1-22; Isaiah 39:1-8) is the basis for understanding the important prophecies of the second part.

Comfort ye - twice repeated, to give double assurance. Having announced the coming captivity of the Jews in Babylon, God now desires His servants, the prophets (Isaiah 52:7), to comfort them. The scene is laid in Babylon, whereto in imagination the prophet transports himself; the time, near the close of the captivity. The ground of comfort is the speedy ending of the captivity, the Lord Himself being their leader.

My people ... your God - correlatives (Jeremiah 31:33; Hosea 1:9-10). It is God's covenant relation with His people, and His "word" of promise (Isaiah 40:8) to their forefathers, which is the ground of His interposition in their behalf, after having for a time chastised them (Isaiah 54:8).


Verse 2

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD's hand double for all her sins.

Speak ye comfortably - literally, to the heart; not merely to the intellect. Speak ye comfortably - literally, to the heart; not merely to the intellect.

To Jerusalem - though then in ruins, regarded by God as about to be rebuilt; her people are chiefly meant, but the city is personified.

Cry - publicly end emphatically, as a herald cries aloud (Isaiah 40:3).

Her warfare - the appointed time of her misery; ts


Verse 3

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness. So the Septuagint and Matthew 3:3 connect the words. The Hebrew accents, however, connect them thus: 'In the wilderness prepare ye,' etc.; and the parallelism also requires this, 'Prepare ye in the wilderness,' answering to "make straight in the desert." Matthew was entitled, as under inspiration, to vary the connection, so as to bring out another sense, included in the Holy Spirit's intention. In Matthew 3:1, "John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness," answers thus to "The voice of one crying in the wilderness." It was in the moral wilderness that the way of the Lord was to be prepared; and it was in the literal wilderness that John preached. Maurer takes the participle as put for the finite verb (so in Isaiah 40:6). 'A voice crieth.' The clause, "in the wilderness," alludes to Israel's passage through it from Egypt to Canaan (Psalms 68:7).

Yahweh being their leader, so it shall be at the coming restoration of Israel, of which the restoration from Babylon was but a type (not the full realization; because their way from it was not through the "wilderness"). Where John preached (namely, in the wilderness-the type of this earth-a moral wilderness), there were the hearers who are ordered to prepare the way of the Lord, and there was to be the coming of the Lord (Bengel). John, though he was immediately followed by the suffering Messiah, is rather the herald of the coming reigning Messiah, as Malachi 4:5-6 proves. Matthew 17:11, cf. Acts 3:21, implies that John is not exclusively meant; and that, though in one sense Elias has come, in another he is yet to come. John was the figurative Elias, coming "in the spirit and power of Elias" (Luke 1:17): John 1:21, where John the Baptist denies that he was the actual Elias, accords with this view. Malachi 4:5-6 cannot have received its exhaustive fulfillment in John; the Jews always understood it of the literal Elijah. As there is another consummating advent of Messiah Himself, so perhaps there is to be of His forerunner Elias, who also was present at the transfiguration. So Justin Martyr ('Dial. with Trypho'), Origen, Chrysostom, etc., held.

The Lord - Hebrew, Yahweh: as this is applied to Jesus, He must be Yahweh (Matthew 3:3).


Verse 4

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

Every valley shall be exalted ... Eastern monarchs send heralds before them in a journey, to clear away obstacles, make causeways over valleys, and level hills. So John's duty was to bring back the people to obedience to the law, and to remove all self-confidence, pride in national privileges, hypocrisy, and irreligion, so that they should be ready for His coming (Malachi 4:6; Luke 1:17).

The crooked - declivities.

Shall be made straight. Contrast Ecclesiastes 1:15, "That which is crooked cannot be funds straight:" but "the things which are impossible with men are possible with God" (Luke 18:27).


Verse 5

And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

All flesh shall see it. The Septuagint for "it" have 'the salvation of God.' So Luke 3:6 (cf. Luke 2:30, "mine eyes have seen thy salvation" - i:e., Messiah); but the evangelist probably took these words from Isaiah 52:10, "all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God." The change, however, is significant from "the glory of the Lord," which is here, and which points ultimately to the coming of the Lord in glory: whereas John the Baptist's mission was to usher in His coming in grace to bring salvation.

For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken (it) - rather, 'all flesh shall see that the mouth of Yahweh hath spoken it' (Bengel).


Verse 6

The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:

The voice said, Cry. The same divine herald as in Isaiah 40:3.

And he said, What shall I cry? "He" - one of those ministers or prophets (note, Isaiah 40:1) whose duty it was, by direction of "The voice," to 'comfort the Lord's afflicted people with the promises of brighter days.'

All flesh is grass. The connection is, All human things, however goodly, are transitory: God's promises alone are stedfast (Isaiah 40:8; Isaiah 40:15; Isaiah 40:17; Isaiah 40:23-24); this contrast was already suggested in Isaiah 40:5, "All flesh ... the mouth of the Lord." 1 Peter 1:24-25, applies this passage distinctly to the Gospel word of Messiah (cf. John 12:34; James 1:10). By the manifestation of Yahweh's glory at Christ's second advent all human glory shall be shown to be as grass, and God's honour shall be fully vindicated. This truth is spiritually already vindicated in the justification of the sinner only through faith in Christ, that none should glory in the flesh (1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 1:29-31).


Verse 7

The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.

The grass withereth ... because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it - or, the wind of Yahweh (Psalms 103:16). The withering east wind of those countries sent by Yahweh (Jonah 4:8). But the Spirit of Yahweh is what sends the 'blast' upon proud but frail man; as He did upon Sennacherib (Isaiah 38:7).

The people (Hebrew, ha'am) - rather, this people (Lowth), which may refer to the Babylonians (Rosenmuller); but better, mankind in general, as in Isaiah 42:5; so Isaiah 40:6, "all flesh;" this whole race - i:e., man.


Verse 8

The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever. No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 9

O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!

O Zion, that bringest good things ... O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings. The Vulgate, Chaldaic, Septuagint, and Arabic translate, 'O thou that bringest good tidings to Zion: thou that bringest good tidings to Jerusalem.' Thou that bringest good tidings ( m


Verse 10

Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.

Will come with strong (hand) - rather, as a strong one ( b


Verse 11

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.

He shall feed his flock - including all a shepherd's care: tend (Ezekiel 34:23; Psalms 23:1; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25).

Carry (them) in his bosom - applicable to Messiah's restoration of Israel, as sheep scattered in all lands, and unable to move of themselves to their own land (Psalms 80:1; Jeremiah 23:3). As Israel was "carried from the womb"

(i:e., in its earliest days) (Isaiah 63:9; Isaiah 63:11-12; Psalms 77:20), so it shall be in "old age" (its latter days) (Isaiah 46:3-4).

Shall gently lead - as a thoughtful shepherd does the ewes 'giving suck,' (margin.) So Jacob, Genesis 33:13-14.


Verse 12

Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?

Lest the Jews should suppose that He who was just before described as a "shepherd" is a mere man, He is now described as GOD.

Who hath measured the waters? - Who else but GOD could do so? Therefore, though the redemption and restoration of His people, foretold here, was a work beyond man's power, they should not doubt its fulfillment, since all things are possible to Him who can accurately regulate the proportion of the waters as if he had measured them with His hand (cf. Isaiah 40:15). Others translate, 'Who can measure?' etc. - i:e., How immeasurable are the works of God! The former is a better explanation (Job 28:25, "He weigheth the waters by measure;" Proverbs 30:4).

The span - the space from the end of the thumb to the end of the middle finger extended. God measures the vast heavens as one would measure a small object with his span. Dust of the earth - all the earth is to Him but as a few grains of dust contained in a small measure-literally, the third part of a larger measure: a tierce (ba-shshalish).

The hills in a balance - adjusted in their right proportions and places, as exactly as if He had weighed them out. There is a law of compensation throughout the distribution and conformation of the seas and the dry lands of the globe. Were they varied, and the mountain ranges displaced, the rain-fall would be entirely altered, and the present fauna and flora would perish (cf. Psalms 95:4-5). The ocean is made vast, in order that the atmosphere may be the means of drawing up exactly that amount of vapour which the dry land needs. The cold tops of the hills are the condensers which gather the moisture into the drops of rain, to prevent the land becoming a desert.


Verse 13

Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counsellor hath taught him?

Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or (being) his counselor, hath taught him? The Hebrew here for "directed" ( tikeen (Hebrew #8505)) is the same as in Isaiah 40:12 for "meted out;" thus the sense is, 'Yahweh measures out heaven with His span,' but who can measure Him? - i:e., Who can search out His Spirit (mind) wherewith He searches out and accurately adjusts all things? The Hebrew is in the same sense as in Isaiah 40:12 (so Proverbs 16:2, "the Lord weigheth ( tokeen (Hebrew #8505)) the spirits;" Proverbs 21:2), 'weigh,' 'ponder.' So Paul quotes the verse, "Who hath known the mind of the Lord?" So the Septuagint and Arabic. But the Syriac and Chaldaic as the English version, "directed." Knowing, or being able to measure the Spirit of the Lord is the necessary preliminary to directing or teaching Him as His counselor.


Verse 14

With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?

(Who) ... taught him in the path of judgment - the way of rightly regulating all things. Who taught Him in the wisdom whereby He so beautifully adjusts the places and proportions of all created things?


Verse 15

Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.

Of - literally, (hanging) from a bucket ( midliy (Hebrew #1805)).

He taketh up the isles as a very little thing - or, 'the isles are as a mere grain of dust (which) is taken up' ( yiTowl (Hebrew #5190), from naaTal (Hebrew #5190), to bear or lift up), namely, by the wind, literally, one taketh up, impersonally (Maurer).

Isles - lands in general, answering to "the nations" in the parallel clause: perhaps lands, like Mesopotamia and Babylonia, enclosed by rivers (Jerome). So Isaiah 42:15. The English version, "isles," answers well to "mountains" (Isaiah 40:12), both alike being lifted up by the power of God; only large islands are required by the sense, in order to illustrate God's power. In fact, "isles" are mountains upheaved from the bed of the sea by volcanic agency; only that He seems here to have passed from unintelligent creatures (Isaiah 40:12) to intelligent, as nations and lands - i:e., their inhabitants. Yittol is taken by Grotius from tul or til, to hurl away. Forerius, from talal, to cover or submerge. The English version requires no ellipsis of 'which.' God 'taketh up and hurleth away the isles (at will), as (though they were) a very little thing.'


Verse 16

And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering.

Lebanon is not sufficient to burn - All Lebanon's forests would not supply fuel enough to burn sacrifices worthy of the glory of God (Isaiah 66:1; 1 Kings 8:27; Psalms 50:8-13.

Nor the beasts thereof - which abounded in Lebanon.

Sufficient for a burnt offering.


Verse 17

All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.

All nations before him (are) as nothing - (Psalms 62:9; Daniel 4:35.)

Less than nothing. Maurer translates ( mee'epec (Hebrew #657)) as in Isa. , of nothing (the Hebrew particle min (Hebrew #4480) is partitive; or else expressive of the nature of a thing), a mere nothing.

Vanity - emptiness.


Verse 18

To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?

To whom then will ye liken God? - Which of the pagan idols, then, is to be compared to this Almighty God? This passage, if not written, as Barnes thinks, so late as the idolatrous times of Manasseh, has at least a prospective warning reference to them and subsequent reigns. The result of the chastisement of Jewish idolatry in the Babylonian captivity was that thenceforth, after the restoration, the Jews never fell into it. Doubtless these prophecies here tended to that result (see 2 Kings 23:26-27).


Verse 19

The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains.

The workman melteth a graven image. "Graven" - Hebrew, pecel (Hebrew #6459); rather, an image in general; because it is incongruous to say melteth (i:e., casts out of metal) a graven image (i:e., one of carved wood). So Jeremiah 10:14, "molten image."

Spreadeth it over with gold - (note, Isaiah 30:22.)

Silver chains - an ornament lavishly worn by rich Orientals (Isaiah 3:18-19), and so transferred to their idols. Egyptian relics show that idols were suspended in houses by chains.


Verse 20

He that is so impoverished that he hath no oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved.

He that (is) so impoverished - literally, sunk in circumstances.

That he hath no oblation - he who cannot afford to overlay his idol with gold and silver (Isaiah 40:19).

Chooseth a tree that will not rot - the cedar, cypress, oak, or ash (Isaiah 44:14).

To prepare a graven image - of wood; not a molten one of metal To prepare a graven image - of wood; not a molten one of metal.

(That) shall not be moved - that shall be durable.


Verse 21

Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?

Have ye not know? - who worship idols. The question emphatically implies they had known.

From the beginning - (Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 41:26; Isaiah 48:16.) God is the beginning (Revelation 1:8). The tradition handed down from the very first, of the creation of all things by God at the beginning, ought to convince you of His omnipotence, and of the folly of idolatry.


Verse 22

It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:

(It is) he that sitteth - rather, connected with last verse, 'Have ye not known? have ye not understood Him that sitteth?' etc. (Isaiah 40:26) (Maurer).

Upon the circle - applicable to the globular form or the earth, above which, and the vault of sky around it, He sits. For "upon" translate 'above.'

(Are) as grasshoppers - or locusts in His sight (even the mighty ones like the children of Anak are so to Him, Numbers 13:33), as He looks down from on high (Psalms 33:13-14; Psalms 113:4-6).

Curtain - referring to the awning which the Orientals draw over the open court in the center of their houses as a shelter in rain or hot weather.


Verse 23

That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity. That bringeth the princes to nothing - (Psalms 107:40; Daniel 2:21.)

The judges - i:e., rulers; because these exercised judicial authority (Psalms 2:10). The Hebrew shoptee, answers to the Carthagenian chief magistrates, suffetes.


Verse 24

Yea, they shall not be planted; yea, they shall not be sown: yea, their stock shall not take root in the earth: and he shall also blow upon them, and they shall wither, and the whirlwind shall take them away as stubble.

They - the 'princes and judges' (Isaiah 40:23) who oppose God's purposes and God's people.

Shall not be planted. They are often compared to tall trees (Psalms 37:35; Daniel 4:10).

Not be sown - the seed, i:e., race, shall become extinct (Nahum 1:14).

Their stock - not even shall any shoots spring up from the stump when the tree has been cut down. No descendants whatever (Job 14:7 : note, Isaiah 11:1).

And he shall also - so the Septuagint. But Maurer translates the previous clauses in connection with this clause. 'They are hardly (literally, not yet, as in 2 Kings 20:4) planted, etc., when He (God) blows upon them.'

Blow upon them, and they shall wither. The image is from the hot east wind (simoom) that 'withers' vegetation.

The whirlwind shall take them away as stubble - (Psalms 83:13, where "like a wheel" refers to the rotatory action of the whirlwind on the stubble).


Verse 25

To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One.

To whom then will ye liken me? - resuming Isaiah 40:18.


Verse 26

Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth.

Bringeth out their host by number - image from a general reviewing his army. He is Lord of Sabaoth-the heavenly hosts (Job 38:32).

Calleth them all by names. Numerous as the stars are, God knows each in all its distinguishing characteristics (a sense which 'name' often bears in Scripture). So (Genesis 2:19-20) Adam, as God's vicegerent, called the beasts by name - i:e., characterized them by their several qualities, which, indeed, He has imparted.

By the greatness of his might, for that (he is) strong in power; not one faileth - or 'by reason of abundance of (their inner essential) force and firmness of strength, not one of them is driven astray;' referring to the sufficiency of the physical forces with which He has endowed the heavenly bodies to prevent all disorder in their motions (Horsley). I prefer the English version. The sense is, 'He has endowed them with their special attributes ("name") by the greatness of His might,' and the power of His strength (the better rendering, instead of, "for that He is strong"). 'Not one (literally, not a man, or individual of them, they being personified as soldiers of a great army) fails' to present himself at Yahweh's call. All the stars rise at His command. Compare Isaiah 34:15.


Verse 27

Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the LORD, and my judgment is passed over from my God?

Why sayest thou, O Jacob ... My way is hid from the Lord? - Since these things are so, thou hast no reason to think that thine interests ("way" - i:e., condition, Psalms 37:5; Jeremiah 12:1) are disregarded by God.

My judgment is passed over from my God - rather, my cause is neglected by my God. He passes by any case, in my bondage and distress, without noticing it, and without doing me justice.

My God - who especially might be expected to care for me.


Verse 28

Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard that the everlasting God the LORD the Creator of the ends of Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.

Hast thou not known - by thine own observation and reading of Scripture.

Hast thou not heard - from tradition of the fathers.

(That) the everlasting ... ? These attributes of Yahweh ought to inspire His afflicted people with confidence.

(There is) no searching of his understanding - therefore thy cause cannot, as thou sayest, escape His notice: though much in His ways is unsearchable, He cannot err (Job 11:7-9). He is never "faint" or "weary" with having the countless wants of His people ever before Him to attend to.


Verse 29

He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.

He giveth power to the faint - Not only does He 'not faint' (Isaiah 40:28), but He gives power to them who do faint.

To (them that have) no might he increaseth strength - a seeming paradox. They "have no might" in themselves; but in Him they have strength, and He 'increases' that strength. The Lord's strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).


Verse 30

Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:

The young men (Hebrew, bachuwriym (Hebrew #970)) - literally, those selected. men picked out on account of their youthful vigour for an enterprise.

Shall utterly fall - Hebrew, falling, shall fall.


Verse 31

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

They shall mount up (2 Samuel 1:23) - literally, they shall make their wing to ascend [ ya`

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Isaiah 40:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/isaiah-40.html. 1871-8.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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