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Isaiah 40:1-31

December 27, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Isaiah forty begins a large section of Scripture (chapters 40-66) in which God promises forgiveness and restoration to his people in the face of impending exile. The section begins with a call to comfort for God’s people (40:1-2). It is a gentle voice that comforts God’s people, despite receiving punishment for their sins.

Their comfort begins with a vision of their glorious God. God’s people are to behold his glory and find comfort in his majesty (40:3-5). God’s comfort to his people is that he will lead them and bring them back from exile. He will deliver them and restore their fortunes for his own glory. Nothing can stand in the path of the Lord when he comforts his people by bringing them back from exile. Objects of the earth move as their glorious Lord approaches. When there is a valley it will be brought up to make a straight path, when a mountain is encountered it will be brought low, and when the rough ground seems to be too great, it will be made smooth.

What human can possibly stand in the way of God’s purposes (40:6-8)? What human could the Israelites possibly trust and believe at their word? The Israelites are not to trust in man, because all flesh is like grass. Their comfort is not found in the vain words and fleeting strength of kings or mighty men, but in one true and living God. The Israelites can have confidence in God’s word because his word stands forever.

Verses one through eight serve as a foretaste to the picture we find of God in verses nine through thirty-one. You notice that Isaiah calls the people to behold their God and to rise up with hope and strength for he comes to save and judge with equity (40:9-10).

God’s greatness before the Israelites is demonstrated in human terms (40:12). As a man gathers water in his hand, so God gathers all the waters in his hand. As a man measures a distance with the width of his hand, so God measures the heavens with the width of his hand. And as a man uses scales to measure various things, so God gathers the dust of the earth, the mountains, and hills and measures them on a scale. There are many men who have lived and done great things, but what man has ever done what God has or what man can ever do what God can do? God’s greatness is not just measured by his transcendence over creation; his greatness is also demonstrated in his great love for those who trust in him (40:11). The sovereign God over the universe gathers his people and saves them from their sins. God who created all things, sustains all things, and controls all things, will save his people from their sins.

While the world has all its sages, prophets, kings, counselors, and wise men, not one of them can instruct the Lord (40:13-17). God is not dependent on man for any counsel or insight. The futility of the nations and their knowledge and wisdom is that all of them are like a drop in a bucket and speck of dust on the scales. In other words, all the wisdom of the nations could be gathered in a bucket or pilled high on a scale and still it would not compare to God’s wisdom. God is not dependent on man’s wisdom, but he is also not dependent on man’s sacrifice. An entire forest of Lebanon and all its beasts are not enough for the Lord (cf., Psa 50:10).

What is the God of the Israelites like? Is he like an idol fashioned by craftsman or an invention of man’s creativity (40:18-20)? No. Does humanity not know that he sits in heaven, that he stretches out the heavens, and makes them a tent to dwell in (40:21-22; cf., Isa 66:1)? Those who stand against God are like plants in the earth that are destroyed at his breath (Isa 40:23-25). It is he alone who knows the stars, their number and names and sustains them. God can do whatever he wishes.

God is transcendent, wholly separated from the creation and is sovereign over it, but he is also personal. He is the everlasting God, the Lord, and the Creator who does not grow weary or tired. He does not forget, he does not forsake, but remembers those who call upon him for salvation. This was the message to the Israelites as they were facing impending exile. They did need to question God’s justice for he will not allow injustice to go on forever; they did not need to ask the Lord if he remembers as if he is a man, for he does not forget, but he sees and knows all things. It is not because he does not want to act or because he cannot act, but he will act in his own way and according to his own timetable (cf., Isa 55:8-9). In the end, God will bring final salvation and judgment in his own time. This is the message to the Israelites awaiting exile, wait upon the Lord, trust in him and look for his glorious salvation.

The greatness and salvation of God revealed in Isaiah forty is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus.  The voice that calls in the wilderness to prepare the way for the Lord is fulfilled with the words and actions of John the Baptist (Matt 3:3; Mark 1:2; Luke 3:4-6; John 1:23; cf., Mal 3:1; 4:5-6). John is the one calling Israel to behold their God. The God that John is calling the Israelites to recognize is Christ. Jesus is the very glory of God and his exact representation (John 1:14; Heb 1:3). To embrace God is to embrace Christ. With the coming of Christ the return from exile has truly taken place (cf., Matt 3:16-18). The restoration promised to the Israelites has now come; however, their deliverance and restoration is not from an opposing nation, but from the bondage of sin. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were looking for political and military deliverance from the hands of foreign powers. While it is true that Jesus is King over the nations and will bring physical deliverance from their enemies, the Jews missed the more important deliverance, which all prior acts of deliverance foreshowed.

The Exodus from Egypt becomes the pattern for deliverance in the Old Testament that foreshadows the final and greater Exodus. The promise to the Israelites facing impending exile is that those who wait upon the Lord “will gain new strength” and “they will mount up with wings of eagles” (Isa 40:31). In Exodus 19:4 God proclaims that his deliverance is like mounting his people up on eagles’ wings. The connection is clear between Exodus 19:4 and Isaiah 40:31, namely that God will perform another Exodus on behalf of his people with his coming. The coming of Christ signals this new or final Exodus. Jesus bring about the end of exile and bondage and he brings about final deliverance from sin with his sacrifice at the cross (Luke 9:21; cf., Rev 12:14). The abiding word to the new Israel to bring comfort and hope in the face of suffering and tribulation is the gospel of Christ, which does not fade, but stands forever. Peter recognizes that the word of hope to Israel is now given to the church (1 Pet 1:22-25; cf., Isa 40:6-8). It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that will never fade or wither; it is the true and faithful word of our great and glorious God and Savior Jesus Christ that he will bring deliverance and final salvation to his people. Therefore, let us not lose heart, but wait upon the Lord who will bring deliverance to all those who have loved his appearing.

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:6)

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