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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Isaiah 40

 

 

Verse 1-2

Isaiah 40:1-2. Comfort ye, &c. — “The prophet, in the foregoing chapter, had delivered a very explicit declaration of the impending dissolution of the kingdom of Judah, and of the captivity of the royal house of David, and of the people, under the king of Babylon. As the subject of his subsequent prophecies was to be chiefly of the consolatory kind, he opens them with giving a promise of the restoration of the kingdom, and the return of the people from that captivity, by the merciful interposition of God in their favour. But the views of the prophet are not confined to this event; as the restoration of the royal family, and of the tribe of Judah, was necessary, in the design and order of Providence, for the fulfilling of God’s promises of establishing a more glorious and everlasting kingdom, under the Messiah, to be born of the tribe of Judah, and of the family of David; the prophet connects these two events together, and hardly ever treats of the former without throwing in some intimation of the latter, and sometimes is so fully possessed with the glories of the future more remote kingdom, that he seems to leave the more immediate subject of his commission almost out of the question.” — Bishop Lowth.

Comfort ye my people — Ye prophets and ministers of the Lord, which now are, or hereafter shall be; the LXX. say, ιερεις, ye priests; deliver the following comfortable message from me to my people, that they may not sink under their burdens. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem — Hebrew, על לב, to the heart of Jerusalem. So the LXX., λαλησατε εις την καρδιαν. And cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished — Proclaim in my name, that the time of her servitude, captivity, and misery, is finished. The LXX. render it, Comfort her, οτι επλησθη η ταπεινωσις αυτης, because her humiliation, that is, the time of her humiliation, is fulfilled. Her iniquity is pardoned — I am reconciled to her; I will not impute sin to her, so as to punish her any longer for it. She hath received at the Lord’s hand double, &c. — Not twice as much as her sins deserved, for she herself confesses the contrary, Lamentations 3:22; Ezra 9:13; but abundantly enough to answer God’s design in this chastisement, which was to humble and reform them, and to warn others by their example; double being often put for abundantly. Or, “double in proportion to God’s usual severity in punishing men’s sins.” See Jeremiah 16:18; Jeremiah 17:18; Revelation 18:6. God always punishes men less than their iniquities deserve; yet he showed greater severity against the sins of the Jews than toward those of other nations, Daniel 9:12; Amos 3:2. For as they had received more peculiar favours from God, and a clearer knowledge of his will, than the rest of mankind, their sins were the more aggravated, and required a severer chastisement. Vitringa, however, and Bishop Lowth, not to mention some other learned interpreters, understand the clause in a different light. The meaning, according to the former, is, “that though God might, with great justice, punish the sins of his people more severely, yet, at this time of grace, he would cease from his severity, would forgive their sins, and crown them with a double portion of his blessings.” And the bishop, comparing the passage with Isaiah 61:7; Job 42:10; and Zechariah 9:12, (which see,) translates the verse, “Speak ye animating words to Jerusalem, and declare unto her that her warfare is fulfilled; that the expiation of her iniquity is accepted; that she shall receive, at the hands of Jehovah, blessings double to the punishment of all her sins.”


Verse 3-4

Isaiah 40:3-4. The voice of him that crieth — Or, as the Hebrew may be properly rendered, A voice crieth; an abrupt and imperfect speech, implying, “Methinks I hear a voice;” or, “A voice shall be heard;” in the wilderness — Which word signifies the place, either where the cry was made, or where the way was to be prepared, as it is expressed in the following clause, which seems to be added to explain this. Bishop Lowth understands it in this latter sense, and translates the words, A voice crieth, In the wilderness, prepare ye the way of Jehovah. Which he thus interprets, “He hears a crier giving orders, by solemn proclamation, to prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; to remove all obstructions before Jehovah marching through the desert; through the wild, uninhabited, unpassable country. The idea is taken from the practice of the eastern monarchs, who, whenever they entered upon an expedition, or took a journey, especially through desert and unpractised countries, sent harbingers before them to prepare all things for their passage, and pioneers to open the passes, to level the ways, and to remove all impediments. The officers appointed to superintend such preparations the Latins called stratores.” The bishop understands the prophet as referring to the return of the Jews from Babylon, which he has “no doubt was the first, though not the principal thing in his view.” This deliverance, he says, “is considered as parallel to the former deliverance of them from the Egyptian bondage. God was then represented as their king, leading them in person through the vast deserts which lay in their way to the promised land of Canaan. It was not merely for Jehovah himself that in both cases the way was to be prepared, and all obstructions to be removed; but for Jehovah marching in person at the head of his people.” “Babylon,” the bishop adds, “was separated from Judea by an immense tract of country, which was one continued desert; that large part of Arabia, called very properly Deserta. This was the nearest way homeward for the Jews; and whether they actually returned by this way or not, the first thing that would occur, on the proposal or thought of their return, would be the difficulty of this almost impracticable passage. Accordingly, the proclamation for the preparation of the way is the most natural idea, and most obvious circumstance, by which the prophet could have opened his subject.”

But though Bishop Lowth considers the prophet as first intending to comfort the Jews in their captivity, by predicting, in these words, that God would make the way plain for their return, yet he views him also as employing this deliverance out of Babylon, “as an image to shadow out a redemption of an infinitely higher and more important nature.” “Obvious and plain,” says he, “as I think this literal sense is, we have nevertheless the irrefragable authority of John the Baptist, and of Christ himself, as recorded by all the evangelists, for explaining this exordium of the prophecy of the opening of the gospel by the preaching of John, and of the introduction of the kingdom of Messiah, who was to effect a much greater deliverance of the people of God, Gentiles as well as Jews, from the captivity of sin, and the dominion of death. And this we shall find to be the case in many subsequent parts also of this prophecy, where passages, manifestly relating to the deliverance of the Jewish nation, effected by Cyrus, are, with good reason, and upon undoubted authority, to be understood of the redemption of mankind by Christ.” This interpretation supposes the wilderness to be the place where the way was prepared, rather than the place where the cry was made, and, in the spiritual or mystical application now mentioned, that wilderness signifies “the Jewish Church, to which John was sent to announce the coming of Messiah, and which was, at that time, in a barren and desert condition, unfit, without reformation, for the reception of her king. It was in this desert country, destitute at that time of all religious cultivation, in true piety and good works unfruitful, that John was sent to prepare the way of the Lord, by preaching repentance.” It must be observed, however, that, according to the translation of this clause by the LXX., and the punctuation, as we have it in their copies, and as it is understood by all the evangelists, the voice cried in the desert. For they all read, φωνη βοωντος εν τη ερημω, ετοιμασατε, &c. The voice of one crying in the desert, Prepare ye, &c. But, omitting the consideration of the pointing, we may allow, with some interpreters of the first authority, that “the words, in the desert, belong to both parts of the sentence. The voice of one crying in the desert, Prepare ye in the desert the way of the Lord. And the word desert may be understood both in a proper and mystical sense, for it is certain that John proclaimed this approach of the Messiah in a desert, in the wilderness of Judea; and thence took occasion to consider that people, in which the kingdom of God was to be manifested under the figure of a desert, to be levelled before the face of Jesus Christ; for the metaphorical expressions which follow refer to that great preparation of mind which is necessary for the reception of Christ: see Malachi 3:1. That raising the low, that debasing the high, that refutation of all false and erroneous doctrine, and introduction of truth and righteousness, which was the consequence of the revelation of Christ.” See Vitringa.


Verse 5

Isaiah 40:5. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed — It was revealed in some sort when God brought his people out of Babylon: for that was a glorious work of God, in which he displayed his power, and love, and faithfulness in fulfilling his promises. But his glory was much more eminently revealed when Christ, the Lord of glory, was manifested in the flesh, and gave much clearer and fuller discoveries of God’s glorious wisdom, holiness, goodness, and other divine perfections, than ever before had been imparted to mankind, or to his church. And all flesh shall see it together — All nations, Jews as well as Gentiles. For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it — Though it may seem incredible, yet God is able to accomplish it.


Verses 6-8

Isaiah 40:6-8. The voice said, Cry — Rather, A voice; for it is not the voice last mentioned, which cried in the wilderness, that is intended, but the voice of God, who (Isaiah 40:1) said, Comfort my people. Having, with a view to comfort them, commissioned his prophet to foretel glorious and wonderful things, which he was determined to do for them, he here commands him to assure them of the certainty of these things, by representing the vast difference between the nature, word, and work of men, and those of God. All that men are or have, yea, their highest accomplishments, are but like the grass, or flower of the field, weak and vanishing, soon nipped and brought to nothing: but God’s word is like himself, immutable and irresistible: and, therefore, as the mouth of the Lord, and not of man, had spoken this, as was said Isaiah 40:5, so they ought not to doubt but it would be fulfilled in due time. The passage first refers to the deliverance from Babylon, and imports both that the power of man, if it should set itself to oppose that deliverance, was not to be feared, for it should be as grass before the word, that is, before the purpose and promise of the Lord; should soon wither and come to nothing; and if it should favour, and endeavour to promote the deliverance, it was not to be confided in, for it was still but as grass, compared with the Lord’s word, the only firm foundation for men to build their hopes upon. The words are still more applicable to the salvation of the gospel, the salvation from the power of Satan, sin, and death: with respect either to the preventing or effecting this, the wisdom, or power, or merit of man, is but as grass, or a flower of the grass; weak, and frail, and fading, and neither to be trusted in nor feared. When God is about to work deliverance for his people, he will have them to be taken off from depending upon creatures which would fail their expectation; for he will not allow any creature to be a rival with him for the confidence and hope of his people. As it is his word only that shall stand for ever, so on that word only must our faith stand. St. Peter applies this passage to the salvation effected for God’s spiritual Israel, and by this word of our God which shall stand for ever, he understands that word of the gospel which is preached to us, and by which we are regenerated and purified. See 1 Peter 1:23-25. The grass withereth, &c., because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it — Rather, the wind of the Lord, as רוח יהוהis with equal propriety translated, and undoubtedly here signifies; which Bishop Lowth justly observes, “is a Hebraism, meaning no more than a strong wind;” adding, “It is well known, that a hot wind in the East at once destroys every green thing.” See note on Psalms 103:16. Surely, the people is grass — Or, this people, as העםmay be properly rendered, namely, the Jews no less than the Gentiles. But the word of our God shall stand for ever — Whatsoever God hath said shall infallibly be verified, and come to pass. And particularly the glad tidings of salvation by Christ, published in the ministry of the gospel, and received by true faith, shall be confirmed and established, and be a solid foundation for the confidence and hope of the people of God to rest on in all ages.


Verse 9

Isaiah 40:9. O Zion, thou bringest good tidings — Of deliverance from the Babylonish captivity, to other cities, and parts of the country; and of redemption by Christ to other nations. Lowth, and many other interpreters, think the marginal reading is to be preferred, as giving a better sense, O thou that bringest good tidings to Zion, &c. According to which, Zion is not the deliverer, but the receiver of the tidings, as she is in the parallel place, chap. 52:7. But the translation in our text agrees better with the Hebrew, in which the word for the bringer of the tidings, מבשׂרת, and the verb עריו, get thee up, are both in the feminine gender, and agree with Zion and Jerusalem, continually spoken of, as cities generally are, in that gender, but not with any prophet, apostle, or other messenger of God in the masculine gender. It is true, Bishop Lowth supplies a word to suit the text, as to this particular, and reads, O daughter, that bringest good tidings. But that seems to be taking a liberty with the text which necessity only could warrant, a necessity which certainly does not here exist. For the passage, as we have it rendered, makes good sense, representing Zion or Jerusalem, collectively considered, and including its inhabitants, as the publisher, and the cities of Judah as the hearers of the good tidings. The glad tidings of the coming of Christ into the world, and of the salvation of mankind through him, having been made known to Zion, or Jerusalem, were carried from thence, first to all the cities of Judah, and then to the most distant nations. For out of Zion went forth the gospel law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem: and the rod of the Messiah’s strength, the gospel word, was sent forth out of Zion. See notes on Isaiah 2:3; and Psalms 110:2. Get thee up upon the high mountain — That thy voice may be better heard. Lift up thy voice; be not afraid — Lest thou shouldest be found a false witness, for the declaration shall certainly be verified; say to the cities of Judah — To all my people in the several places of their abode, whether cities or countries; behold your God — Take notice of God’s appearance for your comfort and deliverance; and also that the Messiah, so long expected, is now at last exhibited, in and through whom God will be so present with you, that men may point at him, and say, Behold, here he is! See Haggai 2:7; Zechariah 9:9; Malachi 3:1; Acts 13:32-33.


Verse 10-11

Isaiah 40:10-11. Behold, the Lord God will come with a strong hand — With invincible strength, to deliver his people from their most powerful enemies; and his arm shall rule for him — His own power shall be sufficient, without any other help, to overcome all opposition. His reward is with him — He comes furnished with recompenses, as well of mercy and blessings for his friends and followers, as of justice and vengeance for his enemies: or, “the reward and the recompense which he bestows, and which he will pay to his faithful servants, he has ready at hand with him, and holds out before him to encourage those who trust in him, and wait for him; and his work before him — He is ready to execute what he hath undertaken; or, he carries on his work effectually; for that is said in Scripture to be before a man which is in his power. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd, &c. — He shall perform all the offices of a tender and faithful shepherd toward his people, conducting himself with great wisdom, condescension, and compassion to every one of them, according to their several capacities and infirmities. And shall gently lead those that are with young — Or, those that give suck, as the word עלות, may be rendered. Bishop Lowth translates the clause, The nursing ewes shall he gently lead; observing, that “it is a beautiful image, expressing, with the utmost propriety, as well as elegance, the tender attention of the shepherd to his flock.”


Verses 12-14

Isaiah 40:12-14. Who hath measured the waters, &c. — Who can do this but God? And this discourse on God’s infinite power and wisdom is added, to give them the greater assurance, that he was able, as he had declared himself willing, to do those great and wonderful things which he had promised; and neither men nor false gods were able to hinder him. Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, &c. — Whom did God either need or take to advise him in any of his works, either of creation or the government of the world? Were they not all the effects of his own sole wisdom? Therefore, though all the nations of the world should conspire and contrive against him, and oppose this work of his, as indeed they will do, yet his own counsel shall confound all their devices, and he will carry on his work in spite of them. Who taught him in the path of judgment — How to conduct himself, and manage his affairs with good judgment and discretion? Bishop Lowth translates the verse, “Whom hath he consulted, that he should instruct him, and teach him the path of judgment; that he should impart to him science, and inform him in the way of understanding?” Thus the prophet, “in the most sublime manner, celebrates the divine majesty and greatness, but particularly his wisdom. Rapt into an ecstasy, after he had described the beginning and the nature of the new economy, he sees that there would be many men of worldly prudence, who would hesitate at the methods of the divine counsel, and that the pious themselves, considering the extent and firmness of the kingdom of Satan in the world, the obstinate prejudices of the Gentiles, and the power of idolatry, would have their fears and doubts of the effect and success of the kingdom of the Messiah; a spiritual kingdom, to be established without any external means, by the mere preaching of the word, and to oppose itself to whatever was great or strong among men. The prophet, therefore, recurs to these thoughts; teaching, first, that the divine counsel, though it might seem strange to carnal judgment, was yet founded in the sovereign and most perfect wisdom and knowledge of God, whereof the clearest proofs were discernible in the structure of this world; that God was wiser than men; that his counsel was maturely weighed; that it pertained to his wisdom and glory to establish and to promote his kingdom in the world, rather by this method than any other, that he might put to shame all carnal wisdom, both of the Jews and Gentiles; for that the foolishness of God, as it seems to carnal men, is wiser than men, and the weakness of God stronger than men, (1 Corinthians 1:22,) &c., therefore he knew that this method of establishing his kingdom would have its certain effect; that this word, this faith, would overcome the world, and subvert idolatry.” See Vitringa and Dodd.


Verses 15-17

Isaiah 40:15-17. Behold the nations, &c. — As the drop of a bucket is as nothing when compared with the waters of the immense ocean, so all the nations of the world are as nothing when compared with God; and are counted by him, and in comparison of him, as the small dust which accidentally cleaves to the balance, but makes no alteration of the weight. Behold, he taketh, up the isles, &c. — Those numerous and vast countries, to which they went from Judea by sea, which are commonly called isles in the Scriptures. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, &c. — Although he is pleased to accept poor and small sacrifices from his people, yet, if men were to offer a sacrifice suitable to his infinite excellency, the whole forest of Lebanon could not afford either a sufficient number of beasts to be sacrificed, or a sufficient quantity of wood to consume the sacrifice. All nations before him — In his eyes, or being set against him, as נגדו properly and usually signifies; are as nothing — In his judgment; or in comparison of him; less than nothing — Less than a thing of naught, or of no account or worth.


Verse 18

Isaiah 40:18. To whom then will ye liken God? — This is a proper inference from the foregoing discourse of God’s infinite greatness; from whence he takes occasion to show both the folly of those that make mean and visible representations of God, and the utter inability of men or idols to give any opposition to God. And this discourse, concerning the madness of idolaters, prosecuted both here and in the following chapter, was designed by God as a necessary antidote, whereby the Jews might be preserved from the contagion of idolatry, to which God saw they now had strong inclinations, and would have many and great temptations while they were in captivity.


Verse 19-20

Isaiah 40:19-20. The workman melteth a graven image — He melteth some base metal into a mould which giveth it the form of an image, which afterward is graven or carved to make it the more exact and pleasing likeness of some creature. Thus the image owes all its excellence to the earth for the matter of it, and to the art of man for the fashion of it. The goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold — Beaten out into leaves or plates; and casteth silver chains — For ornaments; or rather, for use, to fasten it to a wall or pillar, lest it should fall down and be broken in pieces. Which is spoken by way of derision of such ridiculous deities as needed such supports. He that hath no oblation — That can hardly procure money to buy the meanest sacrifice; chooseth a tree, &c. — He is so mad upon his idols, that he will find money to procure the choicest materials, and the best artist to make his idol; to prepare a graven image, &c. — Which, after all this cost, cannot stir one step out of its place to give him any help.


Verses 21-24

Isaiah 40:21-24. Have ye not known — Jehovah to be the only true God, the Maker and Governor of the world, and all its inhabitants? How can ye be ignorant of so evident a truth? He addresses his speech to the idolatrous Gentiles; from the beginning — Namely, of the world, as the next clause explains it: were not these infinite perfections of God manifestly discovered to all mankind, by the creation of the world? It is he that sitteth — As a judge or governor upon his throne; upon, or rather, above, the circle of the earth — Far above this round earth, even in the highest heavens; from whence he looketh down upon the earth, where men appear to him like grasshoppers. As here we have the circle of the earth, so elsewhere we read of the circle of heaven, Job 22:14, and of the circle of the deep, or sea, Proverbs 8:27, because the form of the heaven, and earth, and sea, is circular. Spreadeth them out as a tent — For the benefit of the earth and of mankind, that all parts might partake of their comfortable influences. That bringeth the princes to nothing — Who can, at his pleasure, destroy all the great potentates of the world. Yea, they — The princes and judges last mentioned; shall not be planted, &c. — They shall take no root, for planting and sowing are in order to taking root. They shall not continue and flourish, as they have vainly imagined, but shall be rooted up, and perish.


Verse 25-26

Isaiah 40:25-26. To whom then will ye liken me — He repeats what he said Isaiah 40:18, that he might oblige them to the more serious and frequent consideration of the absurdity of idolatry. Lift up your eyes on high — To the high and starry heaven, as appears from the following words. Who created these things — Which you see on high? The host of heaven, as it follows. That bringeth out their host — That at first brought them out of nothing, and from day to day brings them forth, making them to rise and set in their appointed times; by number — As a general brings forth his army into the field, and there musters them. He calleth them all by names — As a master calleth all the members of his family. For that he is strong — Which work is a certain and evident proof of God’s infinite power; not one faileth — Either to appear when he calls them, or to do the work to which he sends them.


Verse 27-28

Isaiah 40:27-28. Why sayest thou, O Jacob — The consolatory part of the prophet’s discourse begins at this verse, wherein the foregoing doctrine and prophecy are applied to the comfort of the church, complaining, amid her various afflictions, that she had been neglected of the Lord; which complaint makes the basis of the consolation contained in this period. Why dost thou give way to such jealousies concerning thy God, of whose infinite power, and wisdom, and goodness, there are such evident demonstrations? My way is hid — He takes no notice of my prayers, and tears, and sufferings, but suffers mine enemies to abuse me at their pleasure. This complaint is uttered in the name of the people, being prophetically supposed to be in captivity. My judgment is passed over from my God — My cause. God has neglected to plead my cause, and to give judgment for me against mine enemies. Hast thou not known? — Art thou ignorant, wilt thou not consider; that the everlasting God — Who had no beginning of days, and will have no end of life; who was from eternity, and will be to eternity, and with whom therefore there is no deficiency, no decay; the Lord — Hebrew, JEHOVAH, the self-existent Being; the Creator of the ends of the earth — That is, of the whole earth, to its utmost bounds, and of all that is in it; fainteth not, neither is weary — With the care of his church, or of the world? He is not by age or labour become weak and unable to help his people, as men are wont to be; nor is the care of them any burden to him. There is no searching of his understanding — His providence comprehends all things, and nothing is exempted from it: and the counsels by which he governs all the world, and, in an especial manner, the affairs of his people, are far above the reach of any human understanding; and therefore we act ignorantly and foolishly if we pass a rash judgment upon the ways of the infinitely wise God.


Verses 29-31

Isaiah 40:29-31. He giveth power to the faint — He hath strength enough, not only for himself, but for all, even the weakest of his creatures, whom he can easily strengthen to bear all their burdens, and to vanquish all their oppressors. The prophet seems to speak with an especial reference to those among God’s people whose faith and hope were very low, which he would support, even until the time of their promised deliverance. Even the youths shall faint — Those that make the greatest boast of their strength, as young men are apt to do, shall find it fail them whenever God withdraws his support. But they that wait upon the Lord — That rely on him for strength to bear their burdens, and for deliverance from them in due time; shall renew their strength — Shall grow stronger and stronger in faith, patience, and fortitude, whereby they shall be more than conquerors over all their enemies and adversities. They shall mount up on wings as eagles Which, of all fowls, fly most strongly and swiftly, and rise highest in their flight, and out of the reach of all danger. Instead of, They shall mount up, &c., Bishop Lowth reads, They shall put forth fresh feathers, like the moulting eagle; observing, “It has been a common and popular opinion, that the eagle lives and retains his vigour to a great age; and that, beyond the common lot of other birds, he moults in his old age, and renews his feathers, and with them his youth. Thou shalt renew my youth like the eagle, says the psalmist, on which place St. Ambrose notes, ‘Aquila longam ætatem ducit, dum, vetustis plumis fatiscentibus, nova pennarum successione juvenescit.’” The eagle extends his age to a great length, while the old feathers failing, he grows young by a new succession of feathers. See note on Psalms 103:5.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 40:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/isaiah-40.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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