When we fail to wait on the Lord, we're like children charging lions: finding ourselves bloodied we begin to doubt God.
Following the prediction of the Babylonian captivity prophesied in the previous chapter, the prophet speaks as from the mouth of God, a message of comfort and relief to the people of Israel (ethnic, religious). This chapter of Isaiah emphasises the omnipotence and omniscience of God and His attributes of mercy and judgement. While its principles may be applied to every believer it is none the less written specifically and always firstly to the ethnic religious chosen people Israel (Jews). Any attempt to make it retrospectively symbolic of the Church is ludicrous. The theme of this chapter is comfort born of the Comforter, it begins, continues and concludes as a message of comfort for Israel (ethnic, religious).
Isa 40:1 You, Nachamu Comfort, console, turn toward, suffer with, grieve with, offer relief to: you, nachamu comfort, console, turn toward, suffer with, grieve with, offer relief to ami My people, yomar says (continues to say) Eloheichem your God (Judge).
The opening verse is the premise for the 30 remaining verses. HaShem has neither forgotten nor rejected His people Israel (ethnic, religious). The Lord (YHVH) God (Elohim, Judge) is seen throughout this section of Isaiah’s work as the Omnipotent, Omnipresent Comforter of Israel. Both YHVH and Elohim are employed eight times in chapter 40, giving a sense of new birth from that which has already been made complete outside of time and space. The Comforter speaks in Mercy (YHVH) and Judgement (Elohim), His mercy is shown to Israel and His judgement is revealed against the nations.
The Hebrew “Nachamu” is an admonition to Israel’s prophets, in particular in this context, to Yeshayahu (Isaiah), to constantly and perpetually remind Israel that Hashem is always ready to offer comfort to His chosen people Israel (ethnic, religious, empirical). The Targum reads “O you prophets, prophesy comforts to My people…” While the Septuagint (Greek OT) refers to “Priests”. Both alternatives have strong implications for all who believe, first and always among the Jews and also for the nations.
The Hebrew “Nacham” carries a great wealth of meaning. It includes, but is not limited to: comfort, grief, turning, repentance, suffering, consolation etc. In a literal sense it is born of a primitive root meaning to sigh or breathe heavily, thus, relief is also inferred.
The Jewish commentator Kimchi observes that the comfort alluded to will be made manifest in the times of the Messiah. This is consistent with one of the rabbinical names for the Messiah “Menachim” (Comforter), a title Yeshua applies to Himself by implication when He says, “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever;” (John 14:16). “Another Comforter” infers that the disciples had been in the presence of the Comforter Yeshua and will receive another Comforter when Yeshua ascends to the right hand of the Father. Thus, Yeshua refers to two Comforters: The Messiah Menachim (Himself) and the Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit). With this in mind we see one of the reasons for the repetition of the Hebrew “Nachamu” at the beginning of this chapter. God is sending two Comforters and is affirming the immutable nature of His comfort toward Israel (ethnic, religious).
We note that in spite of Israel’s disobedience HaShem continues to call her “My people”
Isa 40:2 You Daberu speak to, convey essence, words, things upon lev the heart, core being of Yerushalayim (Yeru-flood shalayim-Peace, wholeness: Jerusalem), and cry out to her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her avonah perversity is pardoned: for she has received from the hand of Hashem (YHVH: Mercy) double for all her sinful missing the mark.
“Speak and continue to speak kindly to Jerusalem.” The words of kindness come forth from the Davar Word, and are spoken through the prophet to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, which Iben Ezra interprets to be the congregation of Israel, though it is probably spoken specifically to the tribe of Judah, in her role as the Kingly tribe. It is most certainly not meant to be understood of the Church as some retrospectively dishonest Christian commentators claim.
These words of kindness are spoken to the lev, the very core of the peoples’ existence and identity, at the heart of the city which is named for a flood of peace (Jerusalem). Thus, comfort, comfort (v.1) kindness, and a flood of peace (v.2).
“Her warfare is accomplished” or as the Targum Yonatan puts it “her captivity by the people (nations) is filled up.”
Iben Ezra, Kimchi, and Ben Melekh read, "her set or appointed time", by comparing the present text with the Hebrew text of Job 7:1. It is understood to refer either to the time of deliverance from captivity or of the age of the Messiah's coming.
“Her perversity is pardoned” bears no mention of Jerusalem’s repentance or atoning worship but alludes to the pardon born of God’s grace through His provision of substitutionary sacrifice (Messiah).
“She has received of the Lord’s hand…” Meaning she has received her just punishment.
“Double for all her missing the mark.” This does not mean that she received twice the fair punishment for a single act, to the contrary, Israel received double because her sins were double, and ongoing. God is just, He does not punish inequitably.
Note that the double received for her sin is mitigated by the double comfort that is offered to her at the beginning of the chapter. Thus, once again, mercy precedes judgement.
Isa 40:3 Kol A voice crying out bamid’bar (ba-in mi-from dabar-the word, essence) in the wilderness, “Prepare you derek a way of (for) Hashem (YHVH: Mercy), make straight ba-aravah in the desert (In the evening: from erev) mesillah a highway (exalted, lifted up) leiloheiynu to (for) our God (Judge).”
“A voice crying out…” Yarchi interprets the voice of the Holy Spirit, and the writers of the Brit Ha-Chadashah (NT) quote Yochanan (John) saying, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, according to what the prophet Isaiah said.”(John 1:23). Both are true: Yochanan the Immerser spoke by the Holy Spirit.
“For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare you the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.’”
-Mattitiyahu (Matthew) 3:3
“In the desert (wilderness).” Specifically in the desert of Judea (Matt. 3:1).
We note that the contraction “Bamidbar”, translated as “In the desert”, is made up of the three Hebrew words “Ba” (in the), “Mi” (from the), and “Davar” (essence, word, thing). Thus, we can also read “A voice crying out in and from the Word (Essence)”: the Word being Messiah Yeshua (Yochanan [John] 1).
“In the past, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through His Son, Whom He appointed the heir of all things, through Whom also He created the world.” -Hebrews 1:1-2
“Prepare you a way of HaShem, make straight in the desert a lifted up path to our God.” Notice the preparation is made both “for” and “of” HaShem, “for” and “to” our God. The way in the desert is of Hashem and the lifted up path is to Him. It is also made for Him (as King Messiah). Therefore, the ambiguity of the Hebrew determiners allows for us to understand that the way is both from God and for Yeshua (God with us).
Therefore, by identifying Yochanan the Immerser as “A voice crying out”, the Gospel writers point to The Lord Who has come to lead Israel into everlasting freedom. That Lord being Imanu (with us) El (God), Yeshua the King Messiah.
The figurative language also connects us to the historical journey of Israel’s escape from Egyptian captivity, when she was led by God in cloud and flame through the desert toward the promised land (Ha-Aretz). Thus, this prophecy points to a future redemption that will involve God Himself leading Israel from bondage to freedom.
The contraction “Ba-aravah” in the desert is from the root erev and hints at these events occurring in the evening of Israel’s historical journey, that is the latter days (as seen from Isaiah’s perspective in the seventh century BCE).
Isa 40:4 Ve’col and every valley yinase will be exalted, lifted up ve’col and every mountain and hill yishpalu will be made low, sink, be humbled: ve’hayah and it has come to pass that the crooked will lemishor be made straight, upright, level, ve’harechasim and the rough, impassable places of binding le’vikah made a plain (wide level valley):
The picture language of verse 4 conveys a central truth of God’s redemptive work. That which is lowly (valley) will be exalted (lifted up) and that which is deceitful (crocked) will be brought into the light (made straight). The contrite and humble heart will receive mercy, while the prideful and self-exalting person will be humbled.
“The rough impassable places of bondage will be made plain,” (a way will be opened up). The latter clause of verse 4 relates back to the imagery of Israel being freed from bondage and led through the impassable Red Sea into a plain road to the promised land. Likewise, God Himself will come to Israel to deliver her from spiritual bondage and through His self-sacrifice, He will make the impassable passable.
Isa 40:5 Ve’niglah And revealed, uncovered will be kevod the glory of Hashem (YHVH: Mercy), and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of Hashem (YHVH: Mercy) dibeir speaks (conveys essence, thing).
All the works of God reveal His glory, however, this verse refers to a time when the glory of God will be uncovered and revealed, not only to the Jews but to all flesh. This happened in part at the first coming of the Messiah Yeshua, and will be made complete at His return.
The prophet emphasizes the certainty of the future fulfilment of these words with the phrase “The mouth of HaShem speaks!”
Isa 40:6 Kol A voice said, “Cry out.” And He said, “What shall I cry?” “All flesh is grass, and its goodness as the flower of the field:”
It appears that a voice from God cries out for a second time to the prophet Isaiah and he answers “What shall I cry (proclaim)?” The proclamation is against the temporary fallen nature of humanity and begins by comparing humanity to the plants of the field that grow and die off according to the seasons, soil and climate conditions.
Isa 40:7 The grass withers, the flower fades: because ruach a spirit of Hashem (YHVH: Mercy) blows upon it: surely ha-am the people is grass.
While the Hebrew “Am” can refer to all people, it is qualified here by the determiner “Ha”: thus, “Ha-am” refers specifically to the people of Israel, who are also the subject of the double comfort offered in verse 1. While the principles present can be applied to all believers, they are first and always specifically (contextually) spoken to the people of Israel (ethnic, religious, empirical).
Isa 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades: ve’devar and the word (essence) of Eloheiynu our God (Judge) will yakum stand (arise) le’olam for ever (to worlds perpetual).
Quite simply, Sinful humanity withers and fades, and the Word (Messiah) of our Judge will arise to condemn or reward forever. If the grass that withers, withers in the Word, it will by the nature of the Word within it, remain. This is why Yeshua says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die…” (John 11:25-26).
Isa 40:9 All of you, go up to the high mountain; you who bring good news, Tziyon (Zion: Parched land) lift up with strength your voice; you who bring good news to Yerushalayim (Jerusalem: Yeru-flood of Shalayim-Peace) rise up, be not afraid; say to the cities of Yehudah (Praise: Judah), “Hineih Look, now, behold Eloheiychem your God (Judge)!”
“All of you” refers to Israel (ethnic, religious).
“The high mountain” is Mt Zion, the Temple mount, Mt Moriah, in Jerusalem.
“You who bring good news” must refer to those in Israel who receive the Lord and His redemptive act, and carry it first and perpetually to their own people and subsequently to the nations. This is an allusion to Israel’s calling to be “A light to the nations” (Isaiah 49:6). This refers to Israel being those who have received the Torah and through the Torah, the goal of the Torah, the King Messiah Yeshua (Romans 10:4). Where are they to carry this message? To the high mountain of Zion where God has placed His Name. It is with the strength of God through His Spirit that they are to lift up their voices to proclaim the Redeemer of Israel. They bring this good news to the city where peace will be poured out (Jerusalem).
“Say to the cities of Judah…”
“For the law will go forth from Zion, And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” -Isaiah 2:1
From Zion and Jerusalem the good news is to be proclaimed to all the cities of Judah and subsequently to all Israel and all nations.
“Look, now, behold Your God!” Look, God is with us (Immanuel).
Isa 40:10 Hineih Look, now, behold, the Adonai (Lord) Hashem (YHVH: Mercy) be’chazak in strength will come, and His arm will rule for Him: Hineih Look, now, behold, His reward, wages are with Him, and His work before Him.
Hineih means “Pay attention!” The Lord YHVH is coming in strength, pay attention, His reward is with Him. He is bringing the rightful wages of the righteous with Him and the work of forgiveness, redemption, and right action is before Him. These are words of encouragement to those made righteous through the straightway of Messiah.
Isa 40:11 He will feed His flock like a shepherd: He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them enclosing them in His bosom, and those with young He will gently lead.
HaShem is first spoken of in fierce strength, as Ruler, coming with just reward and work (v.10). Now He is seen as the Shepherd, gathering His lambs in that same mighty arm, carrying them and drawing them to His breast like a doting father, and leading the developing young ones gently onward.
We are reminded of Psalm 23, and of the Good Shepherd of John 10:11.
Isa 40:12 Who has measured the mayim waters in the hollow of His hand, and estimated the span of shamayim the heavens, and comprehended ba-shalish in (musical instrument, a third) volume the dust of the earth, and weighed the mountains and hills in scales?
HaShem is omnipotent (all powerful).
This series of rhetorical questions set HaShem apart as unique, omnipotent, omniscient, incomparable, and Ruler over all of creation. God alone is capable of these things.
There is a sense in the Hebrew ba-shalish of a Divine and triune comprehension of a music that holds all things together. This music essence also falls under the greater meaning of Ha-Davar (The Word), Yeshua.
Isa 40:13 Who has directed et Ruach the Spirit of Hashem (YHVH: Mercy), or which man by giving advice has taught Him? Isa 40:14 With whom has He taken counsel, and who instructed Him, and taught Him in the path of judgment, and taught Him knowledge, and showed to Him the way of understanding?
HaShem is omniscient (all knowing). None can introduce Him to counsel or knowledge because He is the source and Ruler of all knowledge.
Isa 40:15 Hein Behold, Goyim nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the scales: Hein behold, the small islands He bears up.
Israel had undergone attack after attack from seemingly unbeatable foreign powers. Jerusalem was always under threat from both waning and rising Empires. It is fair to say that Israel was weary and afraid of the potential for other nations to destroy her. It is to this that God speaks. He imparts to Israel His view of things. “These nations that you’re so afraid of are nothing to Me, they barely touch the scales, they weigh next to nothing at all.”
Note that it is great nations that God calls the “small dust of the scales” whereas the small Islands he “bears up”. This is yet another allusion to the Gospel and the use of weak things to shame the strong (proud ones) of this sin affected world.
Isa 40:16 And Levanon (witness) is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts there sufficient for a burnt offering.
“The trees of Lebanon”, as the Targum Yonatan says, are not sufficient to burn on the altar, nor does she have any animals without blemish for a sacrifice suitable to honour the Torah requirements. Thus, Lebanon in the north is left without the means for making atonement according to the requirements of Torah.
Isa 40:17 Col All ha-Goyim the nations are ke’ayin nothing, before Him; and they are counted to Him less than nothing, ve’tohu and formless, empty, confused.
The Hebrew “tohu” links the state of the nations to the formless state of the earth in the beginning (Genesis 1:2). The nations are formless and confused as a result of their idolatry. God is bringing into view a new creation.
Isa 40:18 To whom then will you liken El God (The Judge)? or what likeness will you compare to Him?
Nothing and no one in all creation can compare to YHVH the God of Israel.
Isa 40:19 The workman melts a graven image, and the goldsmith beats out gold over it, and casts silver chains.
The idolatry of the nations is exposed for the farce that it is. Human beings worshipping the work of their own hands.
Isa 40:20 Hamesukan The self-harmer’s terumah offering is a tree not rotting; he chooses a skilful craftsman seeking him to prepare a pesel graven image (idol), not to be moved.
Note that the Hebrew “Ha-me’sukan” from the root “sakan” literally means “self-endangerment. This is a description of an idolater from among the nations. Simply put, idolatry is self-harm.
Isa 40:21 Have you not known? have you not heard? has it not been told to you merosh from the beginning (head)? Have you not understood from the foundations of Ha-Aretz the land (the earth)?
This can be understood to refer specifically to the understanding gained when Israel entered the land (Ha-Aretz). Meaning “Haven’t you seen how I brought you into the land as I promised?”
Alternatively it could be a more general admonition challenging the people in a similar way to that of Romans 1:18-21.
“18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. In unrighteousness they suppress the truth, 19 because what can be known about God is plain to them—for God has shown it to them. 20 His invisible attributes—His eternal power and His divine nature—have been clearly seen ever since the creation of the world, being understood through the things that have been made.[a] So people are without excuse-- 21 for even though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or give Him thanks. Instead, their thinking became futile, and their senseless hearts were made dark.” -Romans 1:18-21 TLV
Isa 40:22 He sits upon the circle of Ha-Aretz the land (earth), and the inhabitants there are like grasshoppers; that stretches out the heavens as a curtain, and spreads them out ca-ohel as a tent lashavet to dwell in:
This is a poetic way of conveying the fact that God is El-elyon (God above gods), and that comparatively speaking human beings are like grasshoppers viewed from the outer atmosphere. God is great and we are miniscule (But loved by God).
Isa 40:23 That brings the rulers to nothing; He makes the judges of Ha-Aretz the land (earth) to become ca-tohu emptiness, formless, confused.
The judges/rulers of the land of Israel who have mislead the people are made formless, confused, incapable.
Isa 40:24 Scarcely are they planted; yes, scarcely are they sown: yes, before they can take root in the land (earth): when He blows upon them, and they wither, and the whirlwind will take them away as stubble.
The same judges/rulers of Israel spoken of in the previous verse scarcely gain power and are removed.
Isa 40:25 To whom then will you liken Me, or will I be like? says Kadosh the Holy One.
Once again, there is none like YHVH the God of Israel.
Isa 40:26 Lift up on high your eyes, and behold who has created these things, Who brings out their host by number: He calls them all by name by the meirov multiplication of oniym His generative power, for He is strong in vigour; iysh a man lo not nedar failing.
This rhetorical question alludes to God as Creator, Master, and as a continued Participant in His creation.
Isa 40:27 Why do you say, O Yaakov (Follower, Jacob), and speak, O Yisrael (Overcome in God, Israel), “My way is hidden from Hashem (YHVH: Mercy), umei’eolohay and from my God (Judge), my judgment is alienated?
This complaint of Israel is made either under the oppression of a foreign army or from exile. It is a disillusioned cry of abandonment.
Isa 40:28 Have you not known? have you not heard, Eloheiy God (Judge) olam eternal, Hashem (YHVH: Mercy), the Creator of the ends of Ha-aretz the land (earth), doesn’t pass out, neither is He weary? His understanding is beyond searching.
HaShem reminds Israel that He is omnipotent. That He never grows weary. Why does He remind her of this? It is because He is always working out the redemption of His chosen people. He is reminding her that He has loved and chosen her and is always able to deliver her.
Isa 40:29 He gives power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increases strength.
Once again HaShem empowers the faint and strengthens the weak. Perpetually offering twofold comfort to His children.
Isa 40:30 Even the youths will pass out and be weary, and the young men will utterly fall:
All will eventually tire regardless of youthfulness or physical prowess.
Isa 40:31 But they that wait upon Hashem (YHVH: Mercy) will renew their strength; they will ya’alu ascend with wings like eagles; they will run, and not grow weary; they will walk, and not pass out.
We note that it is those who wait on YHVH (Mercy) that receive renewed strength. This is an admonition against striving. Where the idolaters of the nations worked to create deity and connect with it through vain delusion, the servant of Hashem is challenged to simply wait on Him.
God does not say “Those who recite prayers constantly will renew their strength”, nor does he say “Those who keep my commandments will renew their strength”. To the contrary, the strength of God is received and not earned.
When we fail to wait on the Lord, we're like children charging lions: finding ourselves
bloodied we begin to doubt God.
By waiting on the Lord the servant of HaShem receives renewed strength which in turn produces the fruit of a resurrected life. The actions born of waiting on God are of an everlasting nature: running without growing weary, walking in the mid-day sun without growing faint.
Therefore, acting with eternal stamina is the result of waiting on God and not the other way round.
“The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still.” (Exodus 14:14)
“Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Yeshua answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.’” (John 6:28-29)
The voice crying in the wilderness (Isaiah 4:3; John 1:23; Matt. 3:3) proclaims the “One Whom God will send”, thus, waiting on Messiah’s coming is evidence of belief in the One Who is to come. Therefore, waiting is an act of faith that receives the strength to act.
Comfort immutable is offered, that we might learn to wait on the Lord and not grow weary.
© 2018 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.