New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary


Isaiah 40:1 Comfort you, comfort My people, says your God- The historical interlude has demonstrated that the prophecies in Is. 1-36 of judgment at the hands of Assyria were ameliorated and deferred by the intense repentance and intercession of Isaiah's school of prophets. But the interlude concludes with the bad news that the reformation was not thorough, and that Judah would go into captivity in Babylon; and therefore the earlier prophecies of judgment by Assyria would be reapplied to judgment by Babylon. But out of that there was to come a wonderful restoration of God's Kingdom in Israel, explained in the so called 'second Isaiah' (Is. 40-55). But sadly, the Jews who returned failed to allow that amazing potential to come true; the burden of the so called 'third Isaiah' (Is. 56-66). This message of restoration and yet lack of human response to it is what the rest of Isaiah is about.

For "Comfort", see on Zech. 1:13. This comfort is that spoken of in Ez. 14:22,23, where we read that the exiles would be comforted when they recognized the evil of Judah's ways and recognized that the judgment upon her had been just. But Is. 40 appears to be a message of unconditional comfort to the exiles- without specifically demanding their repentance. But even then, they still failed to accept it and respond; they preferred to stay in Babylon. Is. 40:1,2 speaks a message of comfort to the exiles: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God”. But [in full allusion to this prophecy], the exiles were like Rachael who refused to be comforted over her loss (Jer. 31:15); they claimed they found “none to comfort” (Lam. 1:2,16,17,21). But they were willfully refusing the comfort of God’s repeated word of hope and restoration. They didn’t grasp the plain teaching of the prophetic word because they didn’t want to- it demanded too much of them, and a giving up of the comfortable Babylon life. Hence Is. 43:19 laments: “I am doing a new thing: now it springs forth [in the decree to return to Zion?], do you not perceive it?”. And do we "not perceive it?" time and again in our own lives, as to the potentials God is opening up?

According to Jewish tradition, Nehemiah’s real name was Zerubbabel, the branch (Sanhedrin 38a)- perhaps the same Zerubbabel as mentioned in Haggai and Zechariah. The Hippolytus Chronicle 7:3:37 even claims Nehemiah was a direct descendant of David and in the direct kingly line. His name, ‘comfort of Yahweh’, invites us to see him as the potential fulfilment of the Is. 40:1,2 prophecy about a Messiah figure arising to the exiles, giving them God’s comfort. At the time of Judah's redemption, while the temple had been trodden down by her enemies, the promised Messiah figure of Is. 63:1-3,18 was to come from Edom and Bozrah - both code names for Babylon. The words "Bozrah" and "Babylon" have similar root meanings ('high / fortified place'). And he was to lament how the people of Judah were not with him- "of the people there was none with me". But this is the very spirit of Nehemiah, when he returns to Jerusalem from Babylon and looks around the 'trodden down' city at night, not telling the people of the Jews about his inspection- i.e. the people were not with him (Neh. 2:11-16).

Isaiah 40:2 Speak comfortably to Jerusalem-
"I shall speak to her heart" (Hos. 2:16; s.w. "speak comfortably") is an idiom elsewhere used about seeking to win the heart of a woman by persuasive words (Gen. 34:3; Ruth 2:13; Jud. 19:3); Hosea dreamt of winning Gomer back to him by his words. This has a direct equivalent in the restoration context- for the same term is used in Is. 40:2, where God through the prophets seeks to speak to the heart of Zion and persuade her to return from Babylon to Him in Jerusalem and enjoy the married life of His Kingdom. And yet like Gomer, they either didn't want to hear, or responded on a merely surface level.

And call out to her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received of Yahweh’s hand double for all her sins- see on Job 7:1.



The grace of God to the exiles is a foretaste of His grace to us. Time and again God speaks of the exiles in such positive language. For all that they had willingly adopted the gods of the captors, God still fondly describes them as 'Zion who dwells in Babylon' (Zech. 6:10,11). They were the Kingdom in embryo, waiting to just be transplanted from Babylon to Judah, just as we are the temple of God prepared symbolically in Heaven and waiting to be revealed on earth. Putting that grace another way, God proclaimed that despite all their idolatry and weakness in Babylon, Judah had 'paid off' their guilt for former sins by their service there (Is. 40:2). We can only marvel at God's grace, and the tragedy was that it was wasted and unperceived by them. May we do somewhat better.


Some prophecies were delayed / rescheduled in their fulfilment. Others have their intended fulfilment changed into another form. Is. 40:2 speaks of how Jerusalem’s “punishment is accepted” (RVmg.), referring to how Lev. 26:43 had said that the land would lie desolate until her punishment was fulfilled. This passage could have come true when Judah returned from captivity. But it didn’t. It is applied to the preaching of John the Baptist in the 1st century; but again, Judah would not hear. And so once again the land lay desolate again, until now the time has arrived for the final Elijah prophet. God is seeking to fulfill His word, but He will not force the hand and hearts of men and women. Therefore prophecies are delayed in their fulfilment, as mankind is given yet more opportunities. The briefest attention to context will show that Isaiah 40 follows straight on from the account of Zion’s salvation from the Assyrian in Hezekiah’s time. The command to cry unto Jerusalem that her warfare is finished (Is. 40:2) is clearly following on from the historical account of Jerusalem’s salvation from Sennacherib’s invasion which we have just read in Is. 37-39. The voice in the wilderness [potentially Isaiah?] preached that all flesh was grass, referring back to how the nations around Jerusalem had been “as the grass of the field” during Sennacherib’s invasion (Is. 37:27 cp. 40:6). The voice crying in the wilderness to prepare Messiah’s way therefore was intended to occur after the defeat of Sennacherib. But Hezekiah messed up, and his people turned to materialism and idols. And thus the prophecy was rescheduled to fulfillment in John the Baptist; but again, Israel would not hearken. If Israel would have received it, John would have been the Elijah prophet; but overall they didn’t, and so the whole prophecy is again rescheduled to be fulfilled in the Elijah prophet of our last days. Micah 5 speaks of Messiah being born and being smitten upon the cheek at the same time as Jerusalem is besieged and Judah has been invaded by the Assyrians. Whatever minor fulfilment this may have had in Hezekiah, it was pathetically incomplete- he wasn’t born in Bethlehem, and he wasn’t smitten upon the cheek with a rod. I read all this as meaning that Messiah could have been born and then suffered in such circumstances- but it didn’t happen. The prophecy was fulfilled in essence, although in a different context and in a different way, in the Lord Jesus. Likewise Is. 9:6 speaks as if the birth of Messiah would be at a time of deliverance from Israel’s invaders; yet Is. 9:13 RV implies this would only happen if they were obedient: “Yet the people hath not turned / repented”.  

God would punish Israel at the hand of the Babylonians according to their sins, proportionate to them (Ez. 7:4,9; 5:11; 8:19; 9:10). Yet when Israel were punished by the Babylonians, Ezra (Ezra 9:13) realized that they had not been punished proportionate to their sins.  But here Isaiah says that their judgment had been double what it ought to have been; and yet Ezra says it was less than the promised proportionate recompense for their sins. Here we have the utter, inconsistent grace of God; almost taking guilt for punishing them (cp. how God likewise takes the blame in Is. 54:6-8, as if He had forsaken Israel as a sweet innocent young wife). The way God restored double to Job at the end has echoes of how a thief had to restore double (Ex. 22:2-4)- as if God in His love for Job wished to show Himself as having been somehow ‘guilty’ for taking away from Job what He had?

God had outlined a plan- He will recompense their sin double, and this would lead them back to Him (Jer. 16:18). But this was to be an unrepeatable, once-for-all program that would “cause them to know mine hand… and they shall now that my name is The Lord” (Jer. 16:21). This double recompensing of Judah’s sin happened in the exile in Babylon (Is. 40:2), and therefore the joyful news was proclaimed to Zion in Is. 40 that now the Messianic Kingdom could begin. But there wasn’t much interest nor response to the call to return to Judah in order to share in it. The exile didn’t cause God’s people to repent nor to know His Name. It wasn’t the once-for-all program which He intended.

Isaiah 40:3 The voice of one who calls out, Prepare you the way of Yahweh in the wilderness! Make a level highway in the desert for our God-
Isaiah begins his section on the restoration with a bold prophecy that the restoration of Zion was to be associated with a way being prepared for Israel’s God to come to them (Is. 40:1-3). These words are repeated in Mal. 3:1-3, where the messenger  was to prepare the way of Yahweh’s coming. It seems that in some sense they could have come true in the first return of the exiles along the wilderness way back to Zion, under Ezra. But over 100 years later, in Malachi’s time, the prophecy was still capable of fulfilment, if the priesthood would be purged. But finally it was all deferred in fulfilment until the coming of John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus.

Is. 40:3, which is quoted in Lk. 3:4, speaks of “Prepare ye the way of the Lord”, whereas Is. 62:10 speaks of “Prepare ye the way of the people”. Yet tragically, the way / path of Israel was not the way / path of the Lord (Ez. 18:25). We are not only Jesus to this world but also effectively we are the witness to God Himself. We minister His care to others; to the extent that Paul could write both that he was a minister of God, and also a minister of the church (2 Cor. 6:4; Col. 1:24,25).

The message of Is. 40:3 is that before the final coming of the Lord, there will be a proclamation of this by His people: “Prepare ye [plural] the way of the Lord”. As the King’s servants went ahead of him to make the path he had to travel smooth and plain [remember there were no motorways then!], so we go ahead of the returning Lord of all the earth, to prepare the way / road for Him. And yet within Isaiah, there is ample evidence that God prepares His own way: “I will do a new thing…I will even make a way in the wilderness” (Is. 43:19). Perhaps the element of unreality here, the ‘new thing’, is that the King Himself prepares His own way or road. Or again: “I will make all my mountains a way” (Is. 49:11). The connection with Is. 40:3 is that in the work of preparing the Lord’s way, in the last great preaching appeal of all time in the lead up to the second coming, the Lord Himself will work with us to make that way plain and clear. In all the challenges of the latter day fulfilment of the great commission, the Lord Himself will work with us.

The whole restoration program appears to be predicated upon preachers calling out to Zion to return, both to their God and to their land. This will also be true in the last day fulfilment. The Isaiah 40 passage is therefore a command for our latter day witness to all the world, Israel especially, to prepare their way for the Lord’s coming. We are to “cry” unto Zion that “her iniquity is pardoned”, but we are also to ‘cry’ for her to repent, to be “made straight”, for the rough places to be ‘made plain’; to “cry aloud…lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression (Is. 40:2-4; 58:1). It’s exactly because we have in prospect been forgiven that we are called to repent. The forgiveness has already been granted; iniquity has been pardoned. We are to ‘cry’ out this fact; and also to ‘cry out’ for repentance. But we have to respond to that. It’s similar to how Saul/Paul was called ‘brother’ even before his conversion and baptism. The world’s redemption was achieved through the cross; but we have to appeal to the world to accept it. And in our own lives we must live out what we are preaching to others; exactly because we have already been forgiven, we need to repent of what we’ve been forgiven of, to as it were claim that forgiveness as our very own. And the same Hebrew word translated ‘cry’ occurs in the same context in Is. 40:26; 43:1; 45:3,4; 48:12; 54:6, where we read that it is God Himself who calls every one of Israel back to Him, just as He calls every star by its own personal name. And so in our personal calling of men and women, in our crying out to them in these last days to be prepared for the Lord’s coming, we are workers together with God. He is crying out to them, through our feeble, shy, embarrassed, uncertain words of witness. Likewise it is God Himself who makes the crooked places straight in Is. 42:16 and 45:2- whereas in Is. 40:3, it is we the preachers who are to do this.

Isaiah 40:4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The uneven shall be made level, and the rough places a plain-
The whole purpose of the Gospel is to bring down the mountains of human pride and lift up the valleys of those who lack any self-respect (Is. 40:4), thereby making an equality of attitude amongst God's people. The vision of the Kingdom in Is. 2:2-4 was used as an appeal for humility amongst Israel (Is. 2:10-12). See on Is. 2:11. If we don’t humble ourselves now, then God will do this to us through the process of condemnation at the judgment. In this lies the insistent logic of humility. The theme of ‘bringing down’ pride is a major one in the first half of Isaiah (Is. 2:17; 13:11; 25:5,12; 29:4; 32:19). These passages pave the way for the announcement that in man’s response to the Gospel of Christ, “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” (Is. 40:4). By the hills of human pride being brought down, and the giving of confidence to those so low in the valleys of hopelessness and lack of self respect, there is a levelling of all those who respond to Christ. But more than this; in this lifting up of the hopeless and bringing down of the proud, there is a foretaste of what will happen in the future day of judgment. In essence, “we make the answer now” by whether or not we bring down our pride, or whether we summon the faith in God’s grace and imputed righteousness to believe that we, who are nothing, are lifted up in His sight. “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low” (James 1:9-10).


"Prepare ye the way… make straight in the desert a highway... the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain" is similar to Is. 45:1,2,13 "Thus saith the Lord to Cyrus... I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight... I will make straight all his ways... he shall build my city, and he shall let go my captives". The preparation for the restoration in Is. 45 becomes a type of the preparation of the way to Christ.


 The primary reference of the Isaiah 40 passage is to the Jews. But even more specifically, it is to be cried out “to Jerusalem”. I submit that the most specific fulfilment of the prophecy will be in our latter day preaching resulting in a remnant of Jews repenting in Jerusalem, so that the Lord’s return will be to a faithful Jewish remnant in literal Jerusalem. The ‘making straight’ is to be done in “the desert” (:3)- a description elsewhere of Jerusalem (Is. 51:3). “Every [Heb. ‘the whole, complete’] mountain and hill” (:4) which is to respond to the Gospel may refer to people on the temple mount, upon which the Lord shall “come down, to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof” (Is. 31:4; 10:32). The Hebrew words used here for ‘mount’ and ‘hill’ are identical in the passages. The Lord will return to Zion to find a repentant remnant there, converted by our preaching. Mal. 3:1, a clearly related passage, says that when the way has been prepared, then “the Lord… shall suddenly [Heb. ‘immediately’] come to his temple”. It seems that He comes as soon as, almost to the moment, that the way is prepared. Is it going too far to imagine that when the last Jews are baptized in Jerusalem, perhaps literally on the Temple Mount, then the Lord will immediately return there, “to his temple”? Then the Lord shall “come down to fight for mount Zion and for the hill thereof”.

“Made low” in Is. 40:4 is surely in the spirit of Is. 2:11, which predicts that in the day of judgment, “the lofty looks of man shall be humbled [s.w. ‘made low’], and the haughtiness of man shall be bowed down”. The experience of condemnation in the coming day of the Lord will mean that “the proud and lofty” will be “brought low” (Is. 2:12,17; 5:15). In fact, Isaiah is full of references to the proud being ‘made low’ by judgment- the same Hebrew word is common: Is. 10:33; 13:11; 25:11; 26:5. Perhaps Paul had this in mind when he said that our preaching is a bringing down of every high thing that is exalted against God (2 Cor. 10:5). Our message is basically that we must be humbled one way or the other- either by our repentance and acceptance of the Gospel today, or through the experience of condemnation at the day of judgment. We’re calling people to humility. And we must ask whether the content and style of our preaching really does that. But when John the Baptist quoted and preached this passage, he interpreted it beyond a call to humility. He said that in order to prepare the way of the Lord, to make a level passage for Him, the man with two coats should give to him who had none, and likewise share his food (Lk. 3:11). So the ‘equality’ and levelling was to be one of practical care for others. We have to ask, how often we have shared our food, clothing or money with those who don’t have… for this is all part of preparing for the Lord’s coming. It could even be that when there is more of what Paul calls “an equality” amongst the community of believers, that then the way of the Lord will have been prepared. And He will then return.

Isaiah 40 is a prophecy which didn't come true as it might have done at the restoration, and so it now essentially concerns the time of the Lord's second coming. Verses 4 and 6 contain several references to Is. 2:10-12, which concerns this time; v. 5 = Rev. 1:7; 1 Pet. 4:13; v.10 = Rev. 22:12. Before the Kingdom comes, there must be a witness to Israel of the blessed time that is coming, comforting her (v.2) that her time of punishment for sin has now ended (this can only really have a latter day application): " O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength...say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! behold, the Lord God will come..." . This is the language of Is. 52:7: " How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings...that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth" . We know these words of Is. 52:7 apply to our preaching, according to Paul's use of them in Rom. 10; and yet they specifically refer to the latter day witness to Israel, according to Is. 40. Therefore it is us who should be making this witness in the last days. Not only Isaiah 40 but also Is. 57:14 teach that a level way must be made amongst the Jewish people, i.e. the stumbling blocks and ‘valleys’ must be removed from their path.

Isaiah 40:5 The glory of Yahweh shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken it-
John the Baptist perceived how eager God is to forgive, and how our acceptance of that forgiveness is His glory and His salvation. John says, quoting Is. 40:5, that if men repent and ready themselves for the Lord’s coming, then “all flesh shall see the salvation of God”. But he is changing the quotation- Isaiah said that all flesh shall see the glory of God. But saving men and women is the thing God glories in. Is. 40:5 had called out to a Zion about to be restored that “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed”. In other words, the temple ought to have been a re-establishment of Solomon’s, with God’s attendant acceptance of it also. However, this didn’t happen. Ezekiel saw a vision of the glory of Yahweh filling the temple (Ez. 43:5), as if to show that this, in line with Haggai’s words, was what could have happened at the restoration. However, it’s fulfilment must now await the future.

Isaiah 40:6 The voice of one saying, Cry! Another one said, What shall I cry? All flesh is like grass, and all its glory is like the flower of the field-
This is like a radio play for voices. The Divine command to cry out is met by the question from the preachers as to what should be the burden of the message. Initially, it was of the mortality of humanity and that all human glory would fade. This follows on from the way Hezekiah was duped by human glory and thus disallowed the Kingdom purpose of God in his time. We shouldn't see the mortality of man and the true meaning of the Hebrew word nephesh as a negative thing that we unfortunately have to tell people who believe their loved ones are alive in Heaven. "The voice" tells Isaiah to cry. "And I said, What shall I cry?" (Is. 40:6 LXX; RVmg.). What was to be the message of Isaiah's Gospel? The voice addresses Isaiah as "O thou that tellest good tidings", and tells him the good news he is to preach. It is that "All flesh is grass… the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever". The reality of man's mortality is the backdrop against which we can see the eternity of God and the offer made to us through His abiding word that we really can escape from our condition. Christian preaching about "man is mortal" need not be bad news. The message can be turned into good news! For it was this message of mortality which prepared the way for men to accept Christ (Is. 40:3-5); the mountains of human pride are made low by this message so that we can accept salvation in Christ. 1 Pet. 1:24 RVmg. quotes these verses and concludes that we are being offered salvation through "the word of the God who liveth for ever" - the Gospel that is prefaced by the message of human mortality. God's eternity and man's mortality are placed side by side- and thus the way is prepared for the wonder of the fact that through "the word" of Jesus, of the Gospel, we the mortal are invited to share in that immortality.

"The flower of the field" is one of a number of connections with Ps. 103, here to Ps. 103:15. That Psalm of David was clearly rewritten with reference to what could have been the experience of Hezekiah. God took pity upon him, a fading, mortal man; and he was intended thereby to grasp fully God's eternal plan with His people. But he didn't. It is for us, along with latter day Israel, to do so.

Isaiah 40:7 The grass withers, the flower fades, because Yahweh’s breath blows on it; surely the people are like grass
- see on Mt. 6:26. The blowing of breath alludes to Hezekiah's experience in Is. 38:16 (see note there). His mortality ought to have lead him to devotion to the things of God's eternal kingdom; but it didn't. The withering grass is spoken of in Ps. 129:5,6, one of the songs of degrees written or rewritten by Hezekiah. There, it describes the Assyrian attackers who were blown upon Yahweh's breath / spirit / Angel. But "the people" of Judah were no better in that they too were mortal. Unless they repented, they would likewise perish. They too were to be as withered / dried up bones and foliage (s.w. Ez. 17:10,24; 37:11 and often).

Isaiah 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God stands forever-
See on :7. The phrase for 'fading flower' is only elsewhere used about the people of Israel fading under judgment (Is. 28:1). Only the long term prophetic purpose of God with Israel would be eternal, and it was that word of Kingdom promise uttered through Isaiah that the people were asked to identify with.

Isaiah 40:9 You who tell good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who tell good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with strength- lift it up, don’t be afraid. Say to the cities of Judah, Behold, your God!-
"The high mountain" (AV) is Zion. "Go up" is the same word about Judah ‘going up’ from Babylon to Israel. But the majority of Judah remained in Babylon. And the majority of those who did return, only did so in order for purely personal benefit- of having their own house and land. They ‘went up’ to the land, but not to Zion. With reference to Isaiah 40:9, Hag 1:7-9 exhorted them: “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD. Ye looked for much [i.e. they expected the promised Kingdom blessings], and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house”. Their focus was on their own lands and farms rather than the glory of Zion (as Nehemiah 13:10,11). They stood related to the things of God’s kingdom, but never ventured beyond their own personal self-interest. They would not accept that God manifestation rather than human salvation and pleasure was the essential purpose of their God.

The returnees were to lift up their voice with joy at Zion’s restoration. But at the very humble dedication of the temple, the younger people lifted up their voice with joy (Ezra 3:12 same words), but the older men wept, as the temple was not even as great as Solomon’s, and certainly not that commanded in Ezekiel and Isaiah. "Behold your God" will finally come to literal truth in the last days, when God shall dwell in Zion (Ez. 48:35), and in the person of His Son, He will "come" to Zion. But the same words for lifting up the voice are used of the need to show Jacob their sins (Is. 58:1). The call is joyful, advertising the Lord's coming, but it is also a call to repentance; as it is today.

Isaiah 40:10 Behold, the Lord Yahweh will come as a mighty one and His arm will rule for him. Behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before him-
When Nehemiah speaks of them having been redeemed by Yahweh’s “strong hand” (Neh. 1:10). he is using the language of Is. 40:10, regarding how Yahweh would come and save Israel from Babylon and restore them to the land “with strong hand”. Nehemiah saw the prophecy could have been fulfilled then. The way Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:2; Neh. 7:5-7), Ezra (Ezra 7:8; 8:32) and Nehemiah (Neh. 2:11; 13:7) are described as ‘coming to Jerusalem’ may hint that they could have fulfilled this coming of Yahweh to Zion; they could have been Messianic figures (Neh. 2:11; 13:7). But the whole prophecy is delayed and deferred until the coming of the Lord Jesus to Zion. The "reward" of God will be in the fulfilment of the promises to Abraham (Gen. 15:1 s.w.) in salvation (Is. 62:11), at the time when Judah were restored from captivity and accepted the new covenant (s.w. Jer. 31:16). This huge potential is all deferred to the last days, when the Abrahamic covenant will be finally fulfilled in the return of the Lord Jesus to earth.

Isaiah 40:11 He will feed His flock like a shepherd, He will gather the lambs in His arm, and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead those who have their young-
The primary possible fulfillment was in Cyrus as Yahweh's shepherd (Is. 44:28); but he failed in this role and Judah failed to be obedient sheep. So the prophecy is reapplied to the Lord Jesus (Is. 11:12), the good shepherd, operating on behalf of Yahweh Himself, who was to shepherd the scattered flock of Israel when they are gathered into the new covenant (s.w. Jer. 31:10; Ez. 34:12). It is God who gathers His people (Is. 11:12; 40:11; Jer. 31:10; Ez. 34:12), whereas the Gentiles gather themselves to Him (Is. 49:18). His grace therefore appears the greater to His people, somehow forcing through His purpose with obstinate sheep. It was the responsibility of the priests and religious leaders to "gently lead" the exiles back to their God and their land, but they failed in this (Is. 51:18 s.w.); and so because their was none to guide / gently lead (s.w.), God Himself had to intervene and do this through His Son (Is. 40:11; 49:10).

Isaiah 40:12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and marked off the sky with His span, and calculated the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?-
The evident and immense power of Yahweh in the natural creation is often cited in Isaiah as a guarantee that His plans for a spiritual 'new creation' were just as capable of fulfilment. He was not to be seen as lacking in any possibility. The language of calculation, measuring, marking off and weighing is all that of building. He would rebuild Zion and rebuild His Kingdom. He would build according to plans, and those plans had now been released through Isaiah and the prophets. The same word for "measured" is used multiple times in Ezekiel 40-42, where Israel are commanded to measure the new temple system and build according to that measure. God had "measured" Jerusalem (s.w. Zech. 2:2) and Zion; but the returned exiles refused to build according to those dimensions. So God Himself would do so, although in a different way than building a literal temple in Zion. See on Is. 44:13.

Isaiah 40:13 Who has directed the Spirit of Yahweh, or has taught Him as His counsellor?-
"Directed" is the same word translated "marked off" in :12. Yahweh's Spirit was available without measure, without being marked off or defined by anyone. This idea is surely behind the statement in Jn. 3:34 that the Lord Jesus had the Spirit "without measure", without limit, not just a portion marked off for Him. There was huge, unlimited Spiritual potential to enable the restoration of God's people, both physically and psychologically. But they didn't make use of it, and so it was all reapplied to the Lord Jesus. 

LXX "Who has known the mind of the Lord? and who has been his counsellor, to instruct him?" is twice quoted about how those with the spirit of the Lord Jesus do in fact know "the mind of the Lord" (Rom. 11:34; 1 Cor. 2:16). This is the answer to the rhetorical question. The answer is not 'Nobody', but rather 'Not idolaters, but those who worship Yahweh in spirit and truth'. As the Spirit could have been given "without measure" to the exiles, so it was given to the Lord Jesus, and shall be given to all in Him.

We can note here that the Hebrew (Masoretic) text and the Septuagint (LXX) differ significantly here, as they often do; and yet both variants are quoted or alluded to in the inspired New Testament.

Isaiah 40:14 Who did He take counsel with, and who instructed Him and taught Him in the path of justice, and taught Him knowledge and showed Him the way of understanding?-
The fact God is uncreate is cited as an example of how God's grace toward His people was purely and totally of His own initiative. Our initiatives are never totally our "own" because they are subconscious responses to previous experience and stimuli. But God's initiative in saving His people is quite literally, purely, solely, His very own initiative.

There are a number of passages which associate Job with Israel in general terms. It has been suggested that the book of Job was re-written and compiled by Hezekiah's men who at the same time produced the Psalter (all under inspiration, of course). The copious connections between the suffering servant prophecies of Isaiah and the book of Job (take a glance down the A.V. margins of Job) are therefore more easily understandable- the account of Job's sufferings and vindication amidst opposition was framed in language that pointed forward to the similar suffering (through the same disease?) and vindication of Hezekiah. The suffering servant of Isaiah refers to both Israel and the Lord Jesus, exactly as the parable of Job also does. The connections between Isaiah 40 and the book of Job are especially marked. Is. 40:14 = Job 21:22; 40:17 = Job 6:18; :22 = Job 9:8; :23 = Job 12:21; :24 = Job 14:8; :26 = Job 25:3;  :27 = Job 3:23; :31 = Job 29:20.

Isaiah 40:15 Behold, the nations are like a drop in a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on a balance. Behold, He lifts up the islands like a very little thing-
This is not to say that God doesn't care for people; rather is it saying that in the balance alluded to in :12, it is Israel who weigh heavily in God's balances far more than other people. It is another way of expressing His supreme passion for His people. "The islands" may simply mean the dry land, the land upon which the nations are located (Is. 42:15 understands "islands" as simply 'dry land').

Isaiah 40:16 Lebanon’s forest is not sufficient to burn, nor its animals sufficient for a burnt offering-
The context is of God protesting His especial and unique love for His people; and He may be implying that no amount of animal sacrifice would buy that love or deserve it.

Isaiah 40:17 All the nations are like nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing, and vanity-
As explained on :15, this is not to say that God doesn't care for people; rather is it saying that in the balance alluded to in :12,15, it is Israel who weigh heavily in God's balances far more than other people. It is another way of expressing His supreme passion for His people. All the might of Assyria or Babylon would not tip the scale against Israel.

Isaiah 40:18 To whom then will you liken God?-
The context implies: 'In loving His people so very much?'. But the Jews had in fact made God in the likeness of their idols, justifying idolatry as a worshipping of Yahweh. Hence LXX "To whom have ye compared the Lord?". Those who worship idols forsake that great love of Yahweh, and thereby forsake their own mercy (Jonah 2:8).

Or what likeness will you compare to Him?- “Likeness” is used in the LXX in the frequent warnings not to make an image or likeness of any god, let alone Yahweh (Ex. 20:4; Dt. 4:16-25; Ps. 106:20; Is. 40:18,19). The reason for this prohibition becomes clearer in the New Testament; the ultimate likeness of God is in His Son, and we are to create the likeness of His Son not as a mere physical icon, but within the very structure of our human personality and character. This sets the scene for God's following condemnation of idolatry (Acts 17:29), which initially was the reason why Judah preferred to remain in Babylon.

Isaiah 40:19 A workman has cast an image, and the goldsmith overlays it with gold, and casts silver chains for it-
Similar language is used in Is. 30:22 of the idols which Judah were to throw away when they repented; and this is now an appeal for them to do so and leave Babylon.

Isaiah 40:20 He who is too impoverished for such an offering chooses a tree that will not rot. He seeks a skilful workman to set up an engraved image for him that will not be moved-
The idea is that it will not totter, unlike the idol of 1 Sam. 5:3,4. 

Isaiah 40:21 Haven’t you known? Haven’t you heard, yet? Haven’t you been told from the beginning? Haven’t you understood from the foundations of the earth?-
We sense here the frustration of God in Isaiah. The call to repent and return to the land had been made by all the prophets, but still Judah had not heard it. They had heard, but not 'heard' in the sense that God wants us to hear His word.

Isaiah 40:22 It is He who sits above the circle of the earth-
This may simply refer to the horizon, where earth and heaven meet, and is not to be pushed as evidence that the Bible taught a curved earth at a time when generally there was belief in a flat earth. The idea would perhaps rather be that Yahweh is enthroned at the limit of human vision and understanding; a principle ever true, no matter how advanced is human science.

And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in- As explained on :15, the idea is not that the inhabitants of the planet are irrelevant to God. Their smallness is mentioned in contrast to Yahweh's purpose with His people, His tabernacle, which was to be eternally established in Zion. Israel in their faithlessness had considered themselves to be tiny grasshoppers compared to Gentile power (Num. 13:33). Now, Yahweh puts it the other way around. It is the Gentiles who are as grasshoppers compared to the 'weight' and significance of Israel before Him (:15).

Isaiah 40:23 Who brings princes to nothing; who makes the judges of the earth meaningless-
Both Gentile princes, such as those who accompanied the Assyrian army to Jerusalem in Hezekiah's time, along with the rulers of the land (who are often condemned as corrupt and unspiritual) would be brought to nothing at the reestablishment of God's Kingdom. The theme of vanity or "meaninglessness" is common in later Isaiah. In contrast to the things of the Kingdom, all else is to be seen as vain and without ultimate meaning. This was hard to accept for the Jews in exile who were now becoming prosperous in the lands of their captivity, as the book of Esther witnesses.

Isaiah 40:24 They are planted scarcely, they are sown scarcely, their stock has scarcely taken root in the ground. He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the whirlwind takes them away as stubble-
This is all in contrast to the Messianic root out of the stock of David, who would be eternal (s.w. Is. 11:1). Eternity and permanent meaning was and is only to be found by association with Him.  

Isaiah 40:25 To whom then will you liken Me? Who is My equal? says the Holy One-
This is another appeal for the exiles to repent of their idolatry. So much of later Isaiah is taken up with mockery and criticism of the Babylonian gods and the Marduk cult. The book of Esther, with Mordecai as the joint hero, named as he was after Marduk, demonstrates how caught up were the Jews with the Babylonian gods. Ezekiel repeatedly reveals the idolatry of the captives. Isaiah was therefore an appeal for the Jews to quit the Marduk cult and believe in the radical prophecies about the overthrow of Babylon. The situation is analogous to how the New Testament is full of references to the Roman imperial cult of empire worship. So much of the Bible is like Isaiah and the New Testament- a radical, counter-cultural call to see our present world for what it is, and to perceive that the ways of God simply can’t be mixed in, watered down or compromised with the way of this world. Alexander Heidel analyzed the recovered Babylonian poem to Marduk Enuma Elish, discovering phrase after phrase in it which recurs in Isaiah- with reference to Yahweh exclusively (Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963). The similarities are exact, and impressive. Without doubt, Isaiah was developing a major theme in his later writings- that the true Israel of God must not have any part in the Marduk cult, and must understand all the claims made for Marduk as being untrue, and solely appropriate to Yahweh God of Israel. Consider some of the claims made for Marduk (exact references given in Heidel):

- “Marduk is King alone” (cp. “Your [Israel’s] God reigns as King!”, Is. 52:7)

- “None among the gods can equal him”

- Marduk killed Tiamat in the waters and cut him in pieces [applied to Yahweh in Is. 51:9,10]

- Creator of the stars (cp. Is. 40:26; Is. 45:12).

- Marduk is without comparison (cp. Is. 40:18,25 etc.)

- Marduk was, and no other (cp. Is. 45:5,6 etc.)

There are also mocking allusions to Marduk, showing Yahweh’s supremacy over him. Marduk was formed- but Yahweh had no god before Him and will have none after Him (Is. 43:10). Marduk had a counsellor, Ea, called in the inscriptions “the all-wise one”. But Yahweh has all wisdom and has no such counsellor (Is. 40:13,14; Is. 41:28). All this reference to the Marduk cult was in my opinion not merely a pointless mockery and poking of fun at the Persian culture. It was a very real appeal to the Jewish exiles to quit it, to come out and be separate; remember again and again that Mordecai [and perhaps Esther too] had adopted names reflective of the Marduk cult.

Isaiah 40:26 Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these, who brings out their army by number. He calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might, and because He is strong in power, not one is lacking-
This language alludes to the Babylonian god Marduk; the point being that Yahweh and not the god of Babylon is supreme. See on Is. 40:25. The Jews only totally quit idolatry some time later; they liked to think, as we also tend to, that we can serve the gods of our world in the name of Yahweh worship. But Yahweh is presented as supreme, and Marduk as nothing. God knew His exiled people; just as He knew every star, so He knew every exile; "nothing has escaped thee" (LXX). They were not forgotten, and neither are we. His purpose shall work out, even if it is delayed by the refusal of the majority of His people to accept and progress it.

Ezra 2:62 records Judah being ‘reckoned by genealogies’, using the same Hebrew word which is the hallmark of the Chronicles genealogies (1 Chron. 4:33; 5:1,7,17; 7:5,7,9,40; 9:1,22). And in this context, Is. 40:26 compares God’s ‘bringing out’ of Judah from Babylon with His ‘bringing out’ the stars by their individual names, all wonderfully known to Him. Ps. 87:6 had prophesied something similar about the restoration of Zion’s fortunes: “The LORD shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there”. The Kingdom of God was to be the restoration of Israel’s Kingdom- but they had to actually get on and restore it rather than wait for it to come.

Isaiah 40:27 Why do you say, Jacob, and speak, Israel, My way is hidden from Yahweh, and the justice due me is disregarded by my God?-
Time and again in the restoration prophecies we encounter statements intended to answer the skepticism felt by the exiles about the promises of redemption from Babylon (Is. 40:27-31; Is. 42:22; Is. 43:22; Is. 46:12; Is. 48:4,8; Is. 49:14). See on Is. 49:24. Ezekiel had to argue with the exiles in Ez. 18, insisting that God's ways were just and it was their ways which were unjust. They were not suffering wrongly, there was no injustice in their exile. The link between Is. 40:27 and Job 3:23 is most significant. These are the words of Job in 3:23: "Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?". Thus Job represents Israel; and because "Israel" in Isaiah also refers to our Lord, we can make the equation Job=Israel=Jesus. The distancing between himself and God which Christ felt on the cross (Mt. 27:46) is thus foreshadowed by Job feeling the same- and like Christ, it was a trial from God, not a specific punishment for sin, and related to His identification with a sinful Israel who were separated from God by their sins. See on Is. 30:20. 

Reasoning back from the addresses to the captives in later Isaiah, it appears they thought that Yahweh was a God who just operated in the land of Israel. The captives felt they couldn’t sing the songs of Yahweh in a Gentile land (Ps. 137). They thought that now they were outside His land and far from His temple, they were forgotten by Him (Is. 49:14,15), their cause ignored by Him (Is. 40:27) and they were “cast off” from relationship with Him (Is. 41:9). Hence Isaiah emphasizes that Yahweh is the creator and the God of the whole planet, and His presence is literally planet-wide. Likewise there is much stress in those addresses on the fact that Yahweh’s word of prophecy will come true. Remember that there had been many false prophets of Yahweh just prior to the captivity who predicted victory against Babylon and prosperity (Lam. 2:9,14; Jer. 44:15-19). And the 70 years prophecy of Jeremiah appeared to not be coming true, or at best was delayed or re-scheduled in fulfilment [even Daniel felt this, according to his desperate plea for fulfilment in Daniel 9]. And so there was a crisis of confidence in the concept of prophecy, and Yahweh’s word and prophets generally. Isaiah addressed this by stressing the nature and power of that word, and urging faith in its fulfilment and relevance.


Isaiah 40:28 Haven’t you known? Haven’t you heard? The everlasting God, Yahweh, the Creator of the ends of the earth, doesn’t faint. He isn’t weary, His understanding is unsearchable-
Because of their many years in exile, the Jews were effectively considering Yahweh to be weary, and to have made a mistake in His planning. But His power and understanding were not to be questioned. The apparent delays were due to their weakness and weariness (:30), lack of understanding and impenitence- rather than to God's. They were in exile at the ends of the earth / land promised to Abraham; but God had created those ends of the land and was not oblivious to His people there.

Isaiah 40:29 He gives power to the weak, He increases the strength of him who has no might-
Very relevant to the great physical effort that had to be made by the handful who first set about the rebuilding. But the idea was that the weak exiles, especially in their spiritual weakness, could be empowered if they accepted the gift of God's Spirit implicit in the new covenant.

Isaiah 40:30 Even the youths faint and get weary, and the young men utterly fall-
This can be read as a criticism. As explained on :28, the exiles considered Yahweh to be weary and limited in power, but Isaiah's point is that it is Judah who are like that. The apparent inactivity and delay in the progression of His purpose was due to their weariness and not His. These youths, the generation born in exile who ought to have been returning to the land, are contrasted negatively against those who did wait faithfully for Yahweh's action (:31).

Isaiah 40:31 But those who wait for Yahweh will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run, and not be weary, they will walk, and not faint-
See on :30. Those who waited in faith for Yahweh's action whilst in exile would be empowered both physically and spiritually to 'return' to God and their land. As God doesn’t faint or weary, so somehow those who identify their lives with His will also keep on keeping on- even now (Is. 40:31 cp. 29). Just as eagles renew the feathers of their wings, so David felt that his youth was renewed like the eagle's in his repeated experience of God's grace (Ps. 103:5), that his soul was restored (Ps. 23:5), and that a right spirit could be renewed by God within him (Ps. 51:10). 


Those who truly waited upon Yahweh would renew their strength; they would “mount up as eagles” (Is. 40:31), the s.w. used throughout Ezra and Nehemiah for the ‘going up’ to Jerusalem from Babylon to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:3,5,11; 2:1,59; 7:6,7,28; 8:1; Nehemiah 7:5,6,61; 12:1). The idea of mounting up with wings as eagles also connects with Ezekiel's vision of the cherubim, mounting up from the captives by the rivers of Babylon, and returning to the land. But the reality was as in Neh. 4:10: “And Judah said, The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall”. Examination of the context shows that they had just had plenty of strength; they lost physical stamina because of their spiritual weakness. This is in contrast to how for the idolater, “his strength fails” (Is. 44:12). But the same word is used also in Ezra 10:13: “But the people are many, and it is a time of much rain, and we are not able to stand [lit. ‘not strong enough to be’] without”. Both Ezra and Nehemiah encouraged the people not to make such excuses but to get on with achieving what was truly possible.