Isaiah 40:28-31 - EXEGESIS
CONTEXT: The book of Isaiah is centered on the Babylonian exile, which began in 586 B.C. when Nebuchadrezzar II of Babylonia destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and enslaved the Jewish people. The exile ended in 539 B.C. when Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild their temple. The book of Isaiah makes it clear that Nebuchadrezzar was Yahweh's (God's) instrument to punish the Jewish people for their sins, and Cyrus will be Yahweh's instrument to set them free-to redeem them.
Scholars are divided with regard to the authorship of this book. Some believe that one man wrote the entire book, part of which foretells events to take place long after his death. Others believe that one author wrote chapters 1-39, a second author or group of authors wrote chapters 40-55, and a third author or group wrote chapters 56-66.
But everyone agrees that chapter 40 begins a new emphasis. Chapters 1-39 warn of God's judgment if the people place their trust in secular rulers rather than in God. Chapters 40-55 lift up the promise of redemption for a people who are experiencing the judgment about which the prophet warned in the earlier chapters. Chapters 56-66 deal with the return of the Jews to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the city and the temple.
Isaiah 40:1-11 begins the chapter with a promise of comfort and deliverance. Recalling Yahweh's covenant promises, these verses assure that, "the word of our God stands forever" (v. 8). They picture Yahweh as a shepherd who feeds his flock and carries the lambs in his arms (v. 11).
Verses 12-26 promise that Yahweh has the power necessary to deliver his people. These verses open with a series of questions, such as, "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand," that remind the exiles of Yahweh's majesty. They say that "the nations are like a drop in a bucket" (v. 15) and the inhabitants of the earth, from Yahweh's perspective, "are like grasshoppers" (v. 22). They invite the exiles to lift up their eyes to the heavens and to know that Yahweh knows every star's name-that every star takes its place at Yahweh's command (v. 26).
Verses 27-31 promise that "those who wait for Yahweh will renew their strength (and) will mount up with wings like eagles" (v. 31).
These verses, then, call the exiles to faith in the midst of the humiliation of their everyday servitude-a kind of slavery that they have endured for almost five decades. These exiles know that they are powerless against the master-nation, Babylonia. This chapter assures them that Yahweh is not powerless. Yahweh has both the will and the power to redeem them.
ISAIAH 40:18-20 - HE IS THE INCOMPARABLE ONE
18 To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him? 19 As for the idol, a craftsman casts it, A goldsmith plates it with gold, And a silversmith fashions chains of silver. 20 He who is too impoverished for such an offering, Selects a tree that does not rot; He seeks out for himself a skillful craftsman, To prepare an idol that will not totter.
A theme is now introduced that will run through this whole section of the Book of Isaiah: There is no one like God. He is the true and only God. To compare Him to idols is blasphemous. Even the materials for idols comes from God (see Isa. 44). Humans who are weak and frail have made the idols; they look for ways to make idols that will last. No one made God; He is eternal and uncrated; rather, God created humans. The nature of the question in v. 18 then is rhetorical (erotesis) to express that there is no one to whom we may compare God.
What likeness will you compare to Him? There are many likenesses that represent the gods of the nations.
How do they compare to God? They don't compare at all, because they are only the work of men's hands (the workman molds an image).
• Maybe we are not as crude as the ancient Israelites, though some nations are. However, some people worship a crucifix, others will worship the church, or idolize the preacher. Some people will bow before the gods of materialism, ambition, sex, even home and loved ones, and will substitute anything if only they can escape having to get down to the basic need of facing why it is that God does not guide or deliver." (Redpath)
To prepare a carved image that will not totter: The empty images that are the idols of the nations are so insignificant that they must be made so that they will not totter. They can't even stand up on their own! God has no rivals.
• Look at the care you have to give to your idols. First, you have to choose good wood, because who wants to worship a rotting god? Then you must choose a skilled workman because who wants to worship a poorly made god? Then it has to be well designed because who wants to worship a god that keeps falling over? "Whenever Isaiah speaks about idolatry, he cannot keep from using the most cutting mockery." (Bultema)
ISAIAH 40:21-24. HAVEN'T YOU KNOWN? HAVEN'T YOU HEARD?
21 Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22 It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain And spreads them out like a tent to live in. 23 It is He who reduces rulers to nothing, Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. 24 Scarcely have they been planted, Scarcely have they been sown, Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, But He merely blows on them, and they wither, And the storm carries them away like stubble.
"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?" (v. 21). In this chapter, it is often difficult to know who is speaking or who is being addressed. In these verses, the speaker could be Yahweh, the heavenly host, or the prophet. The people being addressed are the exiles-the Jewish people in Babylon.
• In this verse, the voice asks four rhetorical questions designed to remind the exiles that they have known Yahweh-that they have heard about Yahweh through their scriptures and their prophets and their history. These questions remind the exiles that it has been told to them from the beginning-from the foundations of the earth-from the moment that "God created the heavens and the earth." They know that God said, "Let there be light," and there was light" (Genesis 1:1-3). They know the power of God's creative word.
They know the story and are capable of reciting the steps of creation. They know that God created human life on the last day of the creation-and that "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). They know about sin-its beginnings in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) and its place in their own lives.
• They know about God's call to Abram-and the covenant that God established with Abram (Genesis 12:1-3). They know about the birth of Israel in Egypt-of the four centuries of slavery that the descendants of Jacob endured in Egypt. They know about Moses-how God used Moses to set his people free.
They know how the Israelites sinned in the wilderness and were forced to endure forty years of wandering in that land that most of us would describe as "God-forsaken"-except that it was not God-forsaken at all. They know how God led his people through the wilderness by a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. They know how he fed them with manna from the sky and water from a rock.
• They know how God enabled Israel to enter the Promised Land and to establish a nation there. They know how the Israelites were dissatisfied because they had no human king like other nations-how they rejected God's kingship by demanding a human king. They knew how their human kings led them-and how they failed them.
• They know how Israel rejected the advice of God's prophets-how they decided to rely on alliances with ungodly nations instead of relying on Yahweh. They know how that led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the enslavement of its inhabitants-the enslavement of these exiles who are now being addressed.
Do they know? Yes! Have they heard? Yes! Has it been told to them from the beginning? Yes! Have they understood from the foundations of the earth? Yes! Yes, of course!
• But they need to be reminded. They need to be reminded that God has been powerful and faithful from beginning to end. They need to be reminded of the circumstances that resulted in their enslavement. They need to be reminded that Israel has suffered before and that suffering was not the end-that God freed them-redeemed them-brought them back. They need to be reminded of all those things, because God is about to do it again. Their lives might appear to be hopeless, but that is not the case at all.
If these exiles were dependent on their own power, they would be slaves forever. But they are dependent, not on their own power, but on God's.
• The next verses will give these exiles a God's-eye view-will assure them that Yahweh "calls them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power" (v. 26) ¬¬- will promise that "those who wait for Yahweh will renew their strength (and) will mount up with wings like eagles" (v. 31).
EAGLES, no less! How these exiles have envied the eagles for their freedom and their power. How they have wished that they had wings to fly away from their imprisonment. How they have wished that they could soar above the ground majestically and travel beyond the grasp of their captors.
• But the power of eagles is nothing compared to Yahweh's power-and it is Yahweh who is about to empower these exiles. That is the promise.
• Do they know? Yes! Have they heard? Yes! Has it been told to them from the beginning-from the foundations of the earth? Yes! But they need to be reminded. These four questions call them to remember.
"It is he who sits above the circle of the earth" (v. 22a). Yahweh sits above the circle of the earth. There is no reason to assume that this reflects an astronomical understanding of a round earth or a solar system centered on the sun instead of the earth. Perhaps it reflects their vision of a horizon that appears as a half-circle.
• But the important thing here is not "the circle of the earth" but rather "he who sits above" the circle of the earth-Yahweh, who is their God-Yahweh, who has the power and will to redeem them.
• Do they know this Yahweh? Yes, they know him. Do they know that Yahweh sits above the circle of the earth? Yes, they know. But they need to be reminded.
"and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers" (v. 22b). When we last heard of grasshoppers, it was when the people of Israel sent scouts into the Promised Land to see what kind of opposition they might face if they entered the Promised Land.
• These scouts returned to report as follows: "We came to the land where you sent us; and surely it flows with milk and honey; and this is its fruit. However the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large.... The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that eats up its inhabitants; and all the people who we saw in it are men of great stature.... There we saw the Nephilim..., and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight" (Numbers 13:27-28, 32-33).
• So the people, having forgotten that they could count on God's power, complained against Moses and Aaron, saying, "Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why does Yahweh bring us to this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will be a prey: wouldn't it be better for us to return into Egypt? (Numbers 14:2-3).
• These Jewish exiles know these stories like the back of their hands. We can be sure that when they heard these words, "and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers," the first thing that would have come to their minds was this story from the book of Numbers-a story of weak faith or no faith at all-a story of grumbling-the kind of grumbling that characterized much of Israel's wandering in the desert. It was not a proud story, but a sad story-a disappointing story-a no-faith story.
• But when they hear, "its inhabitants are like grasshoppers" now, they are not listening to the voices of unfaithful scouts. This is the voice of faith that assures them that all humankind looks like grasshoppers from God's perspective. From his perch in the heavens, God sees everyone as if they were grasshoppers-the people of Israel and the people of Babylon-the ruled and the rulers-the slaves and the kings. What happens next depends not on the slaves or the kings, but on Yahweh. A quick stomp of God's foot would destroy Babylon in an instant-and that, in fact, is what will soon happen when Cyrus of Persia defeats Babylonia-defeats it easily and decisively by the grace of God. That will be the first step in God's plan to free the Jewish exiles.
• So don't worry, exiles! You are in God's hands. You are not the grasshoppers. In God's eyes, the king of Babylon is the grasshopper.
"who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in" (v. 22c). This is another measure of Yahweh's majesty. Yahweh "sits above the circle of the earth" (v. 22b) and "stretches out the heavens like a curtain" (v. 22c). In Yahweh's hands, the heavens are no more substantial or impressive than a piece of fabric that he moves to and fro as he desires. Yahweh spreads the fabric of the heavens to form a tent-the heavens are Yahweh's dwelling place.
• It isn't that the heavens are inconsequential. "God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1), so they must be important. But this verse puts the heavens in perspective. They are part of the created order-nothing more.
"who brings (no·ten-places, appoints) princes (ro·zenim) to nothing" (v. 23a). Catch the humor here. This is the equivalent of "kicking someone upstairs"-promoting an incompetent person to an empty position-a position with no responsibility. In the corporate world, this often happens when it would be embarrassing or dangerous to fire someone. The corporate chieftains just move that person to a corner-often at a higher salary (so the person can't complain)-to a corner where there is nothing to do.
• Yahweh, of course, has no reason to fear any backlash. It has suited his purposes to make the king of Babylon ruler over these exiles. That has been part of his plan. The Jewish people sinned, and this exile is part of their punishment. But their exile, while lengthy, will soon end. If Yahweh has the power to assign authority to kings (and he does), then he also has the power to remove that authority-to appoint the king to rule over nothing at all.
"who makes the judges (so·pete) of the earth like meaningless" (to·hu) (v. 23b). This word, so·pete, is often translated "judges," but refers more broadly to anyone in a position of authority-anyone who makes or enforces the rules that govern society. It can be quite an ego trip to serve in such a position. People in such positions often command vast resources. They make rules that affect thousands or even millions of people. They grow accustomed to sitting in the best seats at public gatherings. Other people look to them for employment or contracts.
• But Yahweh has the power to make them to·hu -chaos, confusing, nothingness. The Lord who gives can also take away. No ruler is safe except the ruler whom Yahweh favors. A kid in a garage or another kid with a primitive operating system can give mighty IBM a run for its money. A couple of Stanford students and a few algorithms can challenge mighty Microsoft. So also can Yahweh bring the ruler of mighty Babylon to his knees.
"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" (v. 24). These exiles would be, among other things, workers in vineyards. They would be familiar with the sirocco winds that blow in from the desert-hot and dry-sucking the moisture from vines and vinedressers alike. A newly planted vine, young and tender, would have no defense at all against such a wind. It would quickly wither and die in the dry heat, and the harsh wind would strip the leaves from its stalk.
• So it is that Yahweh is capable of breathing hot and dry on a king, and the king will see his power (and very possibly his life) wither and die.
ISAIAH 40:25-26. TO WHOM WILL YOU LIKEN ME?
25"To whom then will you compare Me, That I would be his equal?" says the Holy One. 26 Raise your eyes on high, And see who has created these stars, The One who brings out their multitude by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, Not one of them is missing.
"To whom then will you liken me? Who is my equal?" (v. 25a). A few verses earlier, the voice imposed a similar question: "To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to him? A workman has cast an image, and the goldsmith overlays it with gold, and casts silver chains for it. He who is too impoverished for such an offering chooses a tree that will not rot. He seeks a skillful workman to set up an engraved image for him that will not be moved" (vv. 18-20).
• How ridiculous to imagine that a piece of wood or silver or gold-fashioned by human hands-designed not to fall on its face-how ridiculous to imagine that something like that could rival Yahweh.
Now the voice is God's voice, and it is asking the same kind of question. To whom can we compare Yahweh? Who is the equal of Yahweh? The answer to both questions is obviously, "Nobody! No one compares to Yahweh! No one is Yahweh's equal!"
• Once again, these rhetorical questions bring to mind what these exiles already know. But, having served in exile for so long, they have been tempted to forget God's promises-or to wonder if they were ever really true. Like everyone suffering a prolonged trial, they have asked themselves if God really exists. If he really exists, why isn't he doing something? Does he lack the power to do something-or the will-or both? Has he abandoned Israel? Has he decided to abrogate the covenant established so long ago with Abram? Will they be stuck in Babylon forever? Is there any hope?
• So Yahweh answers their question with questions of his own-questions that will remind these exiles of Yahweh's pre-eminent place in the universe.
"says the Holy One" (qa·dos) (v. 25b). "Holy One" and "the Holy One of Israel" are characteristic titles for Yahweh in the book of Isaiah (1:4; 5:19, 24; 10:17, 20; 12:6: 17:7; 29:19, 23; 30:11, 15; 31:1; 37:23; 41:14, 16,20; 43:3, 14-15; 45:11; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7; 54:5; 55:5; 60:9, 14). Yahweh is distinguished by holiness (Psalm 99:3, 9), which has two manifestations:
• The first is Yahweh's separateness-his apartness from the ordinary. He is the Creator. All else is what he created. People must be careful never to confuse the Creator and the created, as they do when they worship planets or trees or idols or anything else that is only part of the Creator's creation.
· That which is made holy through its association with Yahweh also possesses this quality of separateness. Various objects and people were anointed or set apart for holy purposes. These included the tabernacle (Exodus 40:9) and its furnishings (40:10-11). It included prophets (1 Kings 19:16; 1 Chronicles 16:22; Psalm 105:15) and priests (Exodus 28:41; 29:7; Leviticus 8:12; 21:10) and kings (1 Samuel 10:1).
• The second manifestation of Yahweh's holiness is his moral perfection. Yahweh acts justly, honors covenants, and in all ways does what is righteous and holy (Isaiah 5:16).
· Yahweh's holiness renders holy that which is associated with him. Israel is a holy people, because the Holy One has covenanted with them (Deuteronomy 7:6; 26:19; Jeremiah 2:3). Yahweh says, "You shall be holy, for I Yahweh your God am holy" (Leviticus 19:2). In the Old Testament this required of Israel two things. The first was adherence to Torah law. The second was the inward holiness demanded by the prophets-a holiness made manifest by fair treatment of other people and compassion for those in need.
• The land where Israel lives is holy (Zechariah 2:12). Jerusalem is the holy city (Nehemiah 11:1, 18; Isaiah
48:2; 52:1). The temple is holy (1 Chronicles 29:3), as are the mountain on which it is located (Isaiah 11:9; 56:7), the temple offerings (Leviticus 7:1) and the vestments worn by the priests (Leviticus 16:4). The sabbath, set apart for worship, is holy (Genesis 2:3; Exodus 20:8; Isaiah 58:13). All of these are holy because of their association with the Holy One.
"Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these" (v. 26a). See what? Almost certainly the heavens with all its heavenly bodies, the sun, moon, planets, and stars. Before the advent of electricity, the skies would be quite dark, unaffected by the kind of light pollution that makes it difficult for many people today to see the stars in their full glory.
• Again, we have a rhetorical question-again designed to call forth what the people already know. "Who created these?" Who created the sun, moon, planets, and stars? It was revealed to these people long ago that "God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1)-and night and day (Genesis 1:4-5)-and the dome that "divided the waters which were under the expanse from the waters that we above the expanse" (Genesis 1:7)-and "the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He also made the stars (Genesis 1:16). These people have known these verses from early childhood. They most likely know them by memory. They need only be reminded that they know-and that is the purpose of this rhetorical question, "Who created these?"
• It is especially important for the exiles to remember that God created these heavenly bodies. They are surrounded by people who worship the sun and moon and stars. But these heavenly bodies are not gods. They are only part of God's creation.
"who brings out their army (seba·am-from saba) by number. He calls them all by name" (v. 26b). This word, saba, has to do with service or servants, and can refer to military service (Numbers 1:3; 1 Samuel 17:55) (Baker and Carpenter, 934). What we have here, then, is Yahweh assembling the heavenly hosts in ranks-each in its appointed place-perfectly ordered.
• No human could ever count all the stars-each time we think that we have seen all of them, we discover new ones-and new stars are being born while old ones are dying. But Yahweh can number them-and does.
• But Yahweh doesn't call the stars by number, but by name. In that culture, names have more significance than in ours. Names incorporate the character of the person bearing the name, so to know the name is to know the person. By calling the heavenly bodies by name, Yahweh demonstrates his intimate knowledge of all that he has created and placed in the heavens.
"by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power, Not one is lacking" (v. 26c). No star would dare to go AWOL, because Yahweh (1) has its number (2) knows its name (3) and is too powerful to ignore.
ISAIAH 40:27-31. WHY DO YOU SAY, "MY WAY IS HIDDEN FROM YAHWEH?"
27 Why do you say, Jacob, and you assert, Israel, "My way is hidden from the LORD, And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God"? 28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives strength to the weary, And to the one who lacks might He increases power. 30 Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, 31 Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.
"Why do you say, Jacob, and speak, Israel" (v. 27a). Jacob and Israel were, of course, two names for the same man-the man whose name the nation bears. Not only does Yahweh call the heavenly bodies by name. He calls these, his chosen people, by name as well.
"My way is hidden from Yahweh" (v. 27b). This is what Jacob/Israel has been saying. "My way is hidden from Yahweh, and the justice due me is disregarded by my God."
• But this has to be false. How would Yahweh, who keeps track of each and every heavenly body, lose track of his own people-the people with whom he has covenanted? How would Yahweh, who knows the way of each star and asteroid, not know the way of his people? Ridiculous!
"and the justice due me (mis·pat) is disregarded by my God?" (v. 27c). This word, mis·pat, has to do with justice-with legal matters such as judgments or legal decisions. This question suggests that the exiles think themselves treated unjustly. They believe that God has abandoned them and allowed them to be treated in an inappropriate manner. In essence, they are accusing God of treating them unjustly-something totally out of character with God's holiness, which requires him to act justly.
• But, of course, what is happening when the exiles ask this question is that they are the ones doing the disregarding. They are disregarding their sins and the sins of their parents. They are disregarding the reasons why Yahweh has allowed them to suffer this exile.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is unsearchable (v. 28). Once again, three rhetorical questions bring to mind realities with which the exiles are well acquainted: (1) God is eternal. "From everlasting to everlasting (he is) God" (Psalm 90:2). He was before the beginning and will continue after the ending. (2) God is the "Creator of the ends of the earth." He has created everything from one end to the other-from beyond our ability to see in one direction to beyond our ability to see in the other direction. So whether we are talking about time or space, God stretches beyond our understanding in every dimension.
(3) Infinite (interminable) "never weary or tired". Just as there is no end to God with regard to time or space, there is also no end to God with regard to energy.
• If we have any concept of limitless energy, it has to be with regard to the sun. Our personal energy waxes and wanes. Our supplies of oil and gas and other natural resources grow smaller by the minute. But the sun shines today, undiminished, just as it did a thousand years ago-or a million years ago. But astronomers catalog the death of stars, if not daily, then at least frequently. Our sun is a star. The day will come when it will no longer shine.
• But God was here before the sun, and will be here long after the sun has become a black, cold ember-or a black hole in space. God "doesn't faint. He isn't weary." His energy is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
"His understanding is unsearchable" (v. 28d). Everything about our infinite God is beyond the ability of our finite minds to comprehend. We cannot comprehend God's eternal nature, stretching from beyond time in the beginning to beyond time in the end. We cannot comprehend the scope of God's creation, extending beyond our horizons in every direction. We cannot comprehend God's energy, which is as infinite as everything else about him. We cannot reduce God to an algorithm that we can parse in a super-computer. God is beyond our understanding not beyond our knowing.
• Knowing is possible, because God has made himself known. He has revealed himself to us. We can know him. We just can't comprehend everything about him (the Creator), any more than we can comprehend everything about the universe (his creation).
"He increases the strength of him who has no might" (v. 29). God does not grow faint (v. 28b), but he does empower the faint. He does not lack strength, but he does give strength to those who are powerless. The scriptures speak time after time about God's tender heart for those who are vulnerable.
• If God can be said to lose patience, it would be with those who appear strong and self-sufficient. Such
people are more likely to trust in their own strength than in God's. They are more likely to be narcissistic-to
dwell on their own concerns with no thought for God or neighbor.
• But the powerless-those who grow faint-are more likely to approach God on their knees. They are more likely to acknowledge their need for God's help. Having suffered themselves, they are more likely to be attuned to the suffering of their neighbor.
• So in the scriptures, God shows a decided preference for those who are powerless-for those who grow faint. He is always available to such people to give them the strength that they so desperately need.
"Even the youths will faint and get weary, and the young men utterly fall" (v. 30). For the third verse in a row, we encounter this word, "faint." God does not faint (v. 28), but he gives power to the faint (v. 29). Now we are reminded that even the young grow faint. It surprises us to remember that the young grow faint, because there seems to be an inverse relationship between age and energy. Small children are always on the go. It is a full-time job to keep up with a small child. But small children get tired too-and faint. Sometimes it happens so rapidly that it is like watching slow-motion film. First, the child is very active. Then the child starts getting fussy. Then the child wants to snuggle and suck his/her thumb. Then the child falls asleep-soundly asleep-faints.
• The people who embody the ideal combination of strength and stamina are young people-those in their late teens and early twenties. Our best athletes are nearly always in that age-range. The lucky ones compete into their thirties or forties-but they are the exceptions that prove the rule.
• But God reminds us that even men and women in the sweet spot of their physical prowess faint and grow weary and fall exhausted.
• The point is that we, even at our best, are limited in strength and stamina. The prophet wants to remind us of that before telling us how we can renew our strength.
"but those who wait for Yahweh shall renew (ya·hali·pu) their strength" (v. 31a). Those who rely on their own strength have finite resources. Those who wait on the Lord-who maintain their faith in the midst of adversity-have access to infinite resources.
• This word, ya·hali·pu, has various meanings, including passing something on or exchanging or renewing. We might say, then, that those who wait for the Lord will find their energy renewed when God allows them to exchange something of their weakness for something of his strength.
"They will mount up with wings like eagles" (v. 31b). We are often privileged to see eagles soaring in front of our house-usually in the distance, but occasionally up close. Yesterday we were sitting around the dinner table in front of our kitchen window when an eagle came soaring over our front yard-in and among the trees (perhaps God did this for my benefit, knowing that I would be working on this text today). I was the first to see it. I pointed, and my family turned to look. We marveled together at the eagle's majestic size and effortless grace. It was one of those "hold your breath" moments-like having a large plane thunder over your roof-except that the eagle flew silently.
• But the power of eagles is nothing compared to Yahweh's power-and it is Yahweh who empowers those who wait upon him. That is the promise.
"They will run, and not be weary. They will walk, and not faint" (v. 31c). Running and walking are similar. Both propel us along the ground, and both make us tired. Running tires us quickly, and walking tires us slowly-but both produce the same ultimate result-weariness. But those who wait on the Lord will run and walk with renewable energy. The Lord will make it possible for them to go beyond the place where their natural energy would propel them.
Isa. 40:18-31 - EXPLAINED
Verses 18-31: In light of the sovereignty of God, human idolatry is pictured as utterly ridiculous. Through another series of rhetorical questions, the prophet lifts his readers into the very presence of God. He argues that no "graven image" (idol) shall compare to (demuth), or "likeness" of God. The term is the same as that used (in Genesis 1:26), where man is created in the image and likeness of God as a personal and moral being.
Verses 18-20: The prophet sarcastically indicated the futility of trying to portray the immensity of God - His power, wisdom and resources - in the form of a man made idol, no matter how ornate, durable and immovable.
Isaiah 40:18 "To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?"
There truly is no comparison between God and anything or anyone you could see with physical eyes. We are told the following in John:
John 4:24 "God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
He is also spoken of as a consuming fire in Hebrews:
Hebrews 12:29 " For our God is a consuming fire."
Isaiah 40:19 "The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains."
The very first commandment warns us not to worship other gods. It specifically speaks against graven images.
Isaiah 40:20 "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."
This is just talking about those who cannot afford to purchase a gold or silver false god. They settle for one made of wood.
Verses 21-31: Isaiah extolled God as Creator, in whom the Jews were to put their full trust.
Isaiah 40:21 "Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundation of the earth?"
"Have you not heard ... understood": Throughout human history people had heard by special revelation from God that the Lord, not idols, created all things. They had also understood it from natural revelation as reason looks at creation (Romans 1:20).
To worship anything that you could see with physical eyes would be worshipping someone's creation and not the Creator. Those who do such things are without excuse.
Isaiah 40:22 "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:"
The word "circle" is applicable to the spherical form of the earth, above which He sits. This implies that God upholds and maintains His creation on a continuing basis (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). As He looks down, men seem like insects to the One who has stretched and spread out the universal heavens.
If you have ever flown in an airplane and looked back to the earth, you know people look so small they look like little specks walking around. God created billions of these little specks and called them people.
Isaiah 40:23 "That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity."
"Princes ... judges": God disposes of human leaders according to His will. Verse 24 expands on how suddenly God removes them.
High position in society means nothing to God. It is God who elevates a person to high authority and brings another down. We all die the same; we are all judged the same way. The highest position any of us can have is to be sons of God.
Romans 8:14 "For as many are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God."
That Scripture tells us just exactly how we become sons of God.
Isaiah 40:24 "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."
We understand that life is but a vapor. We are here today and gone tomorrow.
James 4:14 "Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away."
God controls our destiny (the number of our days on earth).
Isaiah 40:25 "To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One."
"Liken ... be equal": Israel was foolish to compare such a sovereign, almighty Lord with the gods of their Babylonian captors (see verse 18).
The answer to this could only be one.
1 John 5:7 "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one."
Isaiah 40:26 "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."
"Created these things": Rather than worshiping the stars, Israel should have seen in them the evidence of God's creatorship (Psalm 19:1). As innumerable as the stars are, He knows every one and named each. Not one of the stars runs astray, but all are held by the forces with which He has endowed the universe to keep them in their orbit and place.
John 1:1-3 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." "The same was in the beginning with God." "All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made."
Colossians 1:17 "And he is before all things, and by him all things consist." This says it all.
Verses 27-31: The prophet applied the comforting truths (in verses 1-26), about God to Israel's situation in Babylon during the coming captivity.
Isaiah 40:27 "Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgement is passed over from my God?"
"Why sayest thou": In light of who God is, how could His people in exile have thought He had forgotten them or was ignorant of their condition?
All through these lessons, I have mentioned that there are two houses of Israel. Jacob, in the verse above, is speaking of the Hebrew descendants of Jacob (Israel). Israel, in the verse above, is speaking of the spiritual house of Israel (the believers in Christ).
Just because a person is in the lineage of Jacob, does not cause God to overlook their sin. All men have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The only way for anyone to be free of sin is through the shed blood of Jesus. He paid the penalty for our sin on the cross.
We are judged not guilty of sin, because our sin died on His body on the cross.
Isaiah 40:28 "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."
God was not too weak to act on their behalf, nor was fatigue an obstacle for the Creator in caring for His people (verses 29-30). Though even the young and strong become tired and fall, the Ancient of Days never does.
To the human mind, God's wisdom is not fully comprehensible in how He chooses to fulfill His promises to deliver Israel. Paul saw a future illustration of this truth in God's plan for the final restoration of Israel (Romans 11:33; see Isaiah 40:13).
He planned salvation from the foundation of the earth. He became our substitute. He is not a man that He should tire. He lives in eternity where all of time from the beginning to the end is one eternal day. He is everlasting God. He is Lord of all. He is the Creator of all. He is all knowledge and understanding. He is Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient.
Isaiah 40:29 "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength."
In our weakness, He is strong. Power dwells within Him and He can dispense it to whomever He will.
Luke 9:1 "Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases."
Isaiah 40:30 " Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:"
All humans, young and old, get weary in the flesh. Our bodies have to rest 8 hours a day to be able to go on.
Isaiah 40:31 "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."
"Wait upon the Lord": There is a general principle here that patient, praying believers are blessed by God with strength in their trials (2 Cor. 12:8-10). The Lord also expected His people to be patient and await His coming in glory at the end to fulfill the promises of national deliverance, when believing Israel would become stronger than they had ever been.
The frailty of man gives God the opportunity to pour His strength into us when we ask for His help. When we pray, we must believe and patiently wait for His answer. The strength of the Lord in us makes it possible for us to do all things well.
Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."
Isa. 40:18-31 Application Questions
We should find our strength in God for three reasons.
God is the source for everything we need in life for three reasons:
1. Our God is alive. (v.18-20)
• In the culture I live in our idols are not images on pedestals like the ones described here in Isaiah's day.
• But many of the things that people worship are made by hand.
o People worship gadgets, cars, clothes, houses, tools, and much more.
o We live in a materialistic culture.
• This has always been a problem for mankind. Jesus warned of giving your life over to stuff in Luke 12 where he is quoted in this verse:
And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. Luke 12:15
• God is incomparable to any created thing.
• He alone is worthy of our worship, and incomparably worthy of our allegiance.
o A living God reveals.
o A living God communicates.
o A living God responds.
o A living God is active.
o When you pray to the living God of the universe He hears! He knows! He is personal.
2. Our God is Creator. (v.21-26)
• Not only is our God alive, He is the one who started life itself.
• By his word the heavens were formed.
• He ought to be worshipped for the gift of creation.
• We ought not to worship what He has created over and above the Creator Himself.
• Consider what Paul said about those who are idolatrous:
• By our thoughts and actions we must recognize and worship the Creator God over the created thing.
3. Our God is Sustainer. (v.27-31)
• This is not just a natural reality, speaking of how creation works. This is a practical reality for those who trust in God.
• God is a never ending, incredible source of everything that we need for life.
• We ought not to put our trust in lifeless idols.
• We ought not to seek for strength in the created over the Creator.
• We must remember and believe that the Creator God will also be our Sustainer.
• He will live up to the promises that He has made to Israel.
• He will also complete the work that He has begun in us.
We should find our strength in God for three reasons.
1. Our God is alive. (v.18-20)
2. Our God is Creator. (v.21-26)
3. Our God is Sustainer. (v.27-31)
Isa. 40:18-31 - Ross Commentary Bible.org
C. He is the incomparable One (18-20).
A theme is now introduced that will run through this whole section of the Book of Isaiah. There is no one like God. He is the true and only God. To compare Him to idols is blasphemous. Even the materials for idols comes from God (see Isa. 44). Humans who are weak and frail have made the idols; they look for ways to make idols that will last. No one made God; rather, God created humans. The nature of the question in verse 18 then is rhetorical (erotesis) to express that there is no one to whom we may compare God.
D. (Therefore) God alone is able to control creation (21-26).
If God made everything, and if He is sovereign over all nations, and if He is incomparable, then all creation is under His power. Verse 21 begins this section with four rhetorical questions to remind the people of this that they already knew. The repetition is meant to be a rebuke, like hammering a point home: "Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?" They had centuries of time to have these truths sink in, but their weak faith and stubborn hearts had not taken it all to heart.
Now in verses 22-26 he picks up themes he has already introduced-creation, nations, incomparability-but focused on how God controls. According to verse 22 God is the Lord of creation and rules with providence. The heavens are like a canopy with everything in His tent. According to verses 23 and 24 He is sovereign over kings-they are planted (hypocatastasis) by Him and then just as quickly as He lets them grow to full flower and power He blows them away like chaff. But His reign is eternal and constant.
Verses 25 and 26 reiterate the theme of His incomparable nature. There is no one like God-He is the "Holy One."87 The people are called to look and contemplate the heavens and see God's handiwork. It is by His power that the starry hosts were created and keep their order. Many Jews in Babylon had fallen into star-gazing and worship. Isaiah will address the issue of astrology and wizardry directly in these messages; but he will also deal with it indirectly by showing that creation witnesses to the sovereignty of God. The New Testament will confirm that this whole universe is borne along by His powerful word (rhema).
III. God's people may renew their strength through hope (40:27-31).
A. The prophet rebukes those who distrust God (27-28).
The people who were in exile in Babylon were a strange mix of persuasions. There was the true remnant of course. But there was a large segment that probably believed in the LORD but had all but given up hope because they were overwhelmed by the captivity. God had apparently discarded them and was not concerned or aware of their plight. Isaiah will have to convince them through these chapters. Some needed to come to faith, period. Most needed to rekindle their faith with this truth.
Verse 27 is a rebuke for the people because they were convinced that God had written them off. That was their complaint. But Isaiah affirms that God is the Creator and the Preserver of all things. He will not forsake what He has made. His first point to prove this is that He does not grow tired like humans. No problems are hidden from God, or too much for Him to handle. And his second point is that God is incomprehensible. His ways are right, even though we do not know them. We will never understand Him, but He knows all about us. So how can anyone even suggest that our ways are hidden from Him? That reverses the whole matter.
B. The prophet promises new strength for believers (29-31).
According to verse 29 God will give strength to those who are exhausted and suffering under oppression. Even youths (v. 30) run out of energy and stumble. So human life is frail and transitory. Verse 31, however, brings the contrast, and the climax of this message on comfort: those who wait on the LORD shall change.
By waiting (Hebrew qawah88, pronounced kah-vah) the prophet means a longing for the fulfillment of the promise by faith, but it is a longing or looking for that is characterized by confident expectation. Waiting requires patience; but it is never indifferent. There is always a restlessness, an eagerness, a looking for something, an inner vigil. To hope for something is active; it is never out of mind. English Bibles alternate between translating with "hope" or "wait." The two ideas are in the word. Here we would say the term describes the essence of confident, expectant faith. In the immediate context it describes the attitude and actions of those Israelites who believed the promises of the LORD and were ready to step out when God began to move. They believed the release was coming; they waited for it. They knew it would happen; they just did not know exactly when.
And when the release would come, they would escape with energy and quickness like eagles mounting up. But the road back to the land of promise would be long, and so it would be as if they would start quickly, slow to a run, and then to a walk. These expressions describe both the facts of embarking on a prolonged journey and the growing confidence that continued success would bring. They would never grow tired on their journey back; and they would not look back in fear. Rather, their confidence would grow as they went because their way back to Judah would be the fulfillment of the promised hope.
Likewise, believers living now at the end of the age in the expectation of the coming of the Lord have the same kind of confidence. To hope for the coming of the LORD does not imply that there is a chance it might not happen; rather, it implies an active faith in the truth of His coming. It will happen; they are expecting it soon. Those who wait for the LORD will not be entangled by this life, but will be focused on the spiritual preparation for His appearance. And as they live out their faith in the light of that hope, they will find their strength renewed for life's difficulties along the way.
Conclusion: In writing a summary expository idea of this whole chapter, I would try to capture all the main aspects of the material:
Because of the incomparable knowledge and power of God, those who have found pardon for their sins and who believe in the sure promise of His Word will prepare for His coming, finding comfort in this life and gaining confidence through faith.
This is but one way to do it, but a little long (even if I did underscore my main sentence to highlight it). I could have easily made the last ideas parallel-comfort, preparation, and strength. But I was thinking of the passage in terms of the focus of Peter that those who have this blessed hope purify themselves. A little shorter expository idea could be something like this:
If we truly believe His word, and realize who He is, we will find comfort in this life, faith to endure, and hope for His coming.
I would base the instructions on the solid doctrine this passage has about the nature of God, but focus on the instructions. As we today look forward to the coming day of deliverance, the appearance in glory of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, we should comfort one another, especially those of weaker faith, with the blessed hope, we should instruct one another in the spiritual preparation, we should build our faith on God's Word, and we should see the fulfillment in the first advent as a sign of the second advent. But ultimately we must wait on the LORD-and I think all that is meant in the above instructions is meant to be a part of that waiting. That is what gives us the strength for the journey home.