Isaiah 40:1
Comfort you, comfort you my people, said your God.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
XL.

(1) Comfort ye . . .—I start with the assumption that the great prophetic poem that follows is the work of Isaiah himself, referring to the Introduction for the discussion of all questions connected with its authorship and arrangement. It has a link, as has been noticed, with the earlier collection of his writings in Isaiah 35:9-10. The prophet’s mind is obviously projected at the outset into the future, which it had been given him to see, when the time of punishment and discipline was to be succeeded, having done its work, by blessedness and peace. The key-note is struck in the opening words. The phrase “my people” is a distinct echo of Hos. ii. 1. Lo Ammi (i.e. “not my people,”) has been brought back to his true position as Ammi (i.e. “my people”).

Saith your God.—Noticeable as a formula which is at once peculiar to Isaiah and common to both his volumes (Isaiah 1:11; Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 33:10; Isaiah 41:21; Isaiah 66:9).

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

Comfort ye my people — Ye prophets and ministers of the Lord, which now are, or hereafter shall be; the LXX. say, ιερεις, ye priests; deliver the following comfortable message from me to my people, that they may not sink under their burdens. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem — Hebrew, על לב, to the heart of Jerusalem. So the LXX., λαλησατε εις την καρδιαν. And cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished — Proclaim in my name, that the time of her servitude, captivity, and misery, is finished. The LXX. render it, Comfort her, οτι επλησθη η ταπεινωσις αυτης, because her humiliation, that is, the time of her humiliation, is fulfilled. Her iniquity is pardoned — I am reconciled to her; I will not impute sin to her, so as to punish her any longer for it. She hath received at the Lord’s hand double, &c. — Not twice as much as her sins deserved, for she herself confesses the contrary, Lamentations 3:22; Ezra 9:13; but abundantly enough to answer God’s design in this chastisement, which was to humble and reform them, and to warn others by their example; double being often put for abundantly. Or, “double in proportion to God’s usual severity in punishing men’s sins.” See Jeremiah 16:18; Jeremiah 17:18; Revelation 18:6. God always punishes men less than their iniquities deserve; yet he showed greater severity against the sins of the Jews than toward those of other nations, Daniel 9:12; Amos 3:2. For as they had received more peculiar favours from God, and a clearer knowledge of his will, than the rest of mankind, their sins were the more aggravated, and required a severer chastisement. Vitringa, however, and Bishop Lowth, not to mention some other learned interpreters, understand the clause in a different light. The meaning, according to the former, is, “that though God might, with great justice, punish the sins of his people more severely, yet, at this time of grace, he would cease from his severity, would forgive their sins, and crown them with a double portion of his blessings.” And the bishop, comparing the passage with Isaiah 61:7; Job 42:10; and Zechariah 9:12, (which see,) translates the verse, “Speak ye animating words to Jerusalem, and declare unto her that her warfare is fulfilled; that the expiation of her iniquity is accepted; that she shall receive, at the hands of Jehovah, blessings double to the punishment of all her sins.”40:1-11 All human life is a warfare; the Christian life is the most so; but the struggle will not last always. Troubles are removed in love, when sin is pardoned. In the great atonement of the death of Christ, the mercy of God is exercised to the glory of his justice. In Christ, and his sufferings, true penitents receive of the Lord's hand double for all their sins; for the satisfaction Christ made by his death was of infinite value. The prophet had some reference to the return of the Jews from Babylon. But this is a small event, compared with that pointed out by the Holy Ghost in the New Testament, when John the Baptist proclaimed the approach of Christ. When eastern princes marched through desert countries, ways were prepared for them, and hinderances removed. And may the Lord prepare our hearts by the teaching of his word and the convictions of his Spirit, that high and proud thoughts may be brought down, good desires planted, crooked and rugged tempers made straight and softened, and every hinderance removed, that we may be ready for his will on earth, and prepared for his heavenly kingdom. What are all that belongs to fallen man, or all that he does, but as the grass and the flower thereof! And what will all the titles and possessions of a dying sinner avail, when they leave him under condemnation! The word of the Lord can do that for us, which all flesh cannot. The glad tidings of the coming of Christ were to be sent forth to the ends of the earth. Satan is the strong man armed; but our Lord Jesus is stronger; and he shall proceed, and do all that he purposes. Christ is the good Shepherd; he shows tender care for young converts, weak believers, and those of a sorrowful spirit. By his word he requires no more service, and by his providence he inflicts no more trouble, than he will strengthen them for. May we know our Shepherd's voice, and follow him, proving ourselves his sheep.Comfort ye, comfort ye my people - This is the exordium, or the general subject of this and the following chapters. The commencement is abrupt, as often happens in Isaiah and the other prophets. The scene where this vision is laid is in Babylon; the time near the close of the captivity. The topic, or main subject of the consolation, is stated in the following verse - that that captivity was about to end, and that brighter and happier days were to succeed their calamities and their exile. The exhortation to 'comfort' the people is to be understood as a command of God to those in Babylon whose office or duty it would be to address them - that is, to the ministers of religion, or to the prophets. The Targum of Jonathan thus renders it: 'Ye prophets, prophesy consolations concerning my people.' The Septuagint renders it, 'Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith God. O priests, speak to the heart of Jerusalem; comfort her.' The design of Isaiah is doubtless to furnish that which should be to them a source of consolation when amidst the deep distress of their long captivity; to furnish an assurance that the captivity was about to end, and that brighter and happier times were to ensue.

The exhortation or command is repeated, to give intensity or emphasis to it, in the usual manner in Hebrew, where emphasis is denoted by the repetition of a word. The word rendered 'comfort' (from נחם nâcham) means properly to draw the breath forcibly, to sigh, pant, groan; then to lament, or grieve Psalm 90:13; Jeremiah 15:6; then to comfort or console one's-self Genesis 38:12. then to take vengeance (compare the note at Isaiah 1:24). All the forms of the word, and all the significations, indicate deep emotion, and the obtaining of relief either by repenting, or by taking vengeance, or by administering the proper topics of consolation. Here the topic of consolation is, that their calamities were about to come to an end, in accordance with the unchanging promises of a faithful God Isaiah 40:8, and is thus in accordance with what is said in Hebrews 6:17-18.

My people - The people of God. He regarded those in Babylon as his people; and he designed also to adduce such topics of consolation as would be adapted to comfort all his people in all ages.

Saith your God - The God of those whom he addressed - the God of the prophets or ministers of religion whose office was to comfort the people. We may remark here, that it is an important part of the ministerial office to administer consolation to the people of God in affiction; to exhibit to them his promises; to urge the topics of religion which are adapted to sustain them; and especially to uphold and cheer them with the assurance that their trials will soon come to an end, and will all terminate in complete deliverance from sorrow and calamity in heaven.

CHAPTER 40

Isa 40:1-31. Second Part of the Prophecies of Isaiah.

The former were local and temporary in their reference. These belong to the distant future, and are world-wide in their interest; the deliverance from Babylon under Cyrus, which he here foretells by prophetic suggestion, carries him on to the greater deliverance under Messiah, the Saviour of Jews and Gentiles in the present eclectic Church, and the restorer of Israel and Head of the world-wide kingdom, literal and spiritual, ultimately. As Assyria was the hostile world power in the former part, which refers to Isaiah's own time, so Babylon is so in the latter part, which refers to a period long subsequent. The connecting link, however, is furnished (Isa 39:6) at the close of the former part. The latter part was written in the old age of Isaiah, as appears from the greater mellowness of style and tone which pervades it; it is less fiery and more tender and gentle than the former part.

1. Comfort ye, comfort ye—twice repeated to give double assurance. Having announced the coming captivity of the Jews in Babylon, God now desires His servants, the prophets (Isa 52:7), to comfort them. The scene is laid in Babylon; the time, near the close of the captivity; the ground of comfort is the speedy ending of the captivity, the Lord Himself being their leader.

my people … your God—correlatives (Jer 31:33; Ho 1:9, 10). It is God's covenant relation with His people, and His "word" of promise (Isa 40:8) to their forefathers, which is the ground of His interposition in their behalf, after having for a time chastised them (Isa 54:8).The prophet having now foretold the Babylonish captivity, Isaiah 39:6,7, doth here arm his people against it by the consideration of their certain deliverance out of it, and their blessed condition after it, as in other things, so especially in the coming of the Messiah, and the great and glorious privileges conferred upon God’s church and people in his days.

The preaching of the gospel by John Baptist and the apostles, Isaiah 40:1-11. The power and wisdom of God in governing the world Isaiah 40:12-17. The folly of idolatry, Isaiah 40:18-26. God knoweth the state of his people, and both can and will protect them, Isaiah 40:27-31.

Ye prophets and ministers of the Lord, which now are, or hereafter shall be, deliver this comfortable message from me to my people, that they may not sink under their burdens.

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. The Babylonish captivity being predicted in the preceding chapter, for the comfort of God's people a deliverance is promised, expressed in such terms, as in the clearest and strongest manner to set forth the redemption and salvation by Jesus Christ, of which it was typical. Here begins the more evangelical and spiritual part of this prophecy, which reaches to and includes the whole Gospel dispensation, from the coming of John the Baptist to the second coming of Christ. It begins with comforts, and holds on and ends with them; which consolations, Kimchi observes, are what should be in the times of the Messiah; and the word "comfort" is repeated, he says, to confirm the thing. It is God that here speaks, who is the God of all comfort; the persons whom he would have comforted are his "people", whom he has chosen, with whom be has made a covenant in Christ, whom he has given to him, and he has redeemed by his blood, and whom he effectually calls by his grace; these are sometimes disconsolate, by reason of the corruptions of their nature, the temptations of Satan, the hidings of God's face, and the various afflictions they meet with; and it is the will of God they should be comforted, as appears by sending his Son to be the comforter of them, by giving his Spirit as another comforter, by appointing ordinances as breasts of consolation to them, by the promises he has made to them, and the confirmation of them by an oath, for their strong consolation; and particularly by the word of the Gospel, and the ministers of it, who are Barnabases, sons of consolation, who are sent with a comfortable message, and are encouraged in their work from the consideration of God being their God, who will be with them, assist them, and make their ministrations successful; and to these are these words addressed; which are repeated, not to suggest any backwardness in Gospel ministers, who are ready to go on such an errand, however reluctant they may be to carry bad tidings; but rather to signify the people's refusal to be comforted, and therefore must be spoken to again and again; and also to show the vehement and hearty desire of the Lord to have them comforted. The Targum is,

"O ye prophets, prophesy comforts concerning my people.''

And the Septuagint and Arabic versions insert, "O ye priests", as if the words were directed to them. The preachers of the Gospel are meant, and are called unto; what the Lord would have said for the comfort of his people by them is expressed in the following verse.

Comfort {a} ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

(a) This is a consolation for the Church, assuring them that they will never be destitute of prophets by which he exhorts the true ministers of God that then were, and those also that would come after him, to comfort the poor afflicted and to assure them of their deliverance both of body and soul.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1, 2. The term of Jerusalem’s servitude is accomplished; she has suffered the full penalty of her transgressions.

Comfort ye] The repetition of an emphatic opening word is characteristic of the writer’s style; cf. ch. Isaiah 43:11; Isaiah 43:25, Isaiah 48:11; Isaiah 48:15, Isaiah 51:9; Isaiah 51:12; Isaiah 51:17, Isaiah 52:1; Isaiah 52:11 etc. (see Introd. p. xlv). It is rather idle to enquire who are the persons addressed; they might no doubt be prophets (as the clause is paraphrased by the Targ.) or the prophetically minded among the people, but certainly not the priests, as is suggested by the Sept. addition of ἱερεῖς at the beginning of Isaiah 40:2.

saith your God] The verb differs in tense from the usual prophetic formula, being an impf. either of continued or of incipient action (see Introd. p. xlvii, and Driver, Tenses, § 33 (a) Obs.). To translate it by a future and take this as a proof that the words were written by Isaiah 150 years before is quite unwarranted.

Ch. Isaiah 40:1-11. The Prologue

This first proclamation of glad tidings to Zion (see ch. Isaiah 41:27) is a passage of singular beauty, breathing the spirit of new-born hope and enthusiasm with which the prophet enters on his work. The announcement of a miraculous restoration of the exiles to their own land is the central theme of his prophecy, and the point around which all the ideas of the book crystallize. As yet the historical fact is but dimly outlined, the writer’s mind being occupied with its ideal significance as a revelation of the glory and the gracious character of Jehovah (Isaiah 40:5; Isaiah 40:10 f.). His state of mind borders on ecstasy; his ears are filled with the music of heavenly voices telling him that the night is far spent and the day is at hand; and although his home is with the exiles in Babylon, his gaze is fixed throughout on Jerusalem and the great Divine event which is the consummation of Israel’s redemption.—The prologue consists of two parts:

i. Isaiah 40:1-2.—Proclamation of forgiveness and promise of deliverance to the exiled nation.

ii. Isaiah 40:3-11. An imaginative description of the process by which the promise is to be fulfilled,—Jehovah’s return with His people to their ancient abode. This second division contains three sections:—

(1) Isaiah 40:3-5. A voice is heard calling on un seen agencies to prepare a way for Jehovah through the desert. The idea expressed is that already the spiritual and supernatural forces are in motion which will bring about the return of the captives and a revelation of the Divine glory to all the world.

(2) Isaiah 40:6-8. A second voice calls on the prophet to proclaim the fundamental truth on which the realisation of his hope depends,—the perishableness of all human power, and the enduring stability of the word of the Lord.

(3) Isaiah 40:9-11. The prophet himself now takes up the strain; he summons a company of ideal messengers to announce to Zion and the cities of Judah the advent of Jehovah with His ransomed people.Verse 1. - Comfort ye, comfort ye my people. The key-note is struck at once. With that iteration which is his favourite mode of emphasizing what is important (see the comment on Isaiah 38:11), the prophet declares that he and his brethren have a direct mission from God to "comfort" Israel. Note the encouragement contained in the expressions, "my people," and "your God." Israel is not cast off, even when most deeply afflicted. The consequences of this coqueting with the children of the stranger, and this vain display, are pointed out in Isaiah 39:3-8 : "Then came Isaiah the prophet to king Hizkiyahu, and said to him, What have these men said, and whence come they to thee? Hizkiyahu said, They came to me from a far country (K. omits to me), out of Babel. He said further, What have they seen in thy house? Hizkiyahu said, All that is in my house have they seen: there was nothing in my treasures that I had not shown them. Then Isaiah said to Hizkiyahu, Hear the word of Jehovah of hosts (K. omits tsebhâ'ōth); Behold, days come, that all that is in thy house, and all that thy fathers have laid up unto this day, will be carried away to Babel (בּבל, K. בּבלה): nothing will be left behind, saith Jehovah. And of thy children that proceed from thee, whom thou shalt beget, will they take (K. chethib, 'will he take'); and they will be courtiers in the palace of the king of Babel. Then said Hizkiyahu to Isaiah, Good is the word of Jehovah which thou hast spoken. And he said further, Yea (כּי, K. אם הלוא), there shall be peace and stedfastness in my days." Hezekiah's two candid answers in vv. 3 and 4 are an involuntary condemnation of his own conduct, which was sinful in two respects. This self-satisfied display of worthless earthly possessions would bring its own punishment in their loss; and this obsequious suing for admiration and favour on the part of strangers, would be followed by plundering and enslaving on the part of those very same strangers whose envy he had excited. The prophet here foretells the Babylonian captivity; but, in accordance with the occasion here given, not as the destiny of the whole nation, but as that of the house of David. Even political sharp-sightedness might have foreseen, that some such disastrous consequences would follow Hezekiah's imprudent course; but this absolute certainty, that Babylon, which was then struggling hard for independence, would really be the heiress to the Assyrian government of the world, and that it was not from Assyria, which was actually threatening Judah with destruction for its rebellion, but from Babylon, that this destruction would really come, was impossible without the spirit of prophecy. We may infer from Isaiah 39:7 (cf., Isaiah 38:19, and for the fulfilment, Daniel 1:3) that Hezekiah had no son as yet, at least none with a claim to the throne; and this is confirmed by 2 Kings 21:1. So far as the concluding words are concerned, we should quite misunderstand them, if we saw nothing in them but common egotism. כּי (for) is explanatory here, and therefore confirmatory. אם הלוא, however, does not mean "yea, if only," as Ewald supposes (324, b), but is also explanatory, though in an interrogative form, "Is it not good (i.e., still gracious and kind), if," etc.? He submits with humility to the word of Jehovah, in penitential acknowledgement of his vain, shortsighted, untheocratic conduct, and feels that he is mercifully spared by God, inasmuch as the divine blessings of peace and stability (אמת a self-attesting state of things, without any of those changes which disappoint our confident expectations) would continue. "Although he desired the prosperity of future ages, it would not have been right for him to think it nothing that God had given him a token of His clemency, by delaying His judgment" (Calvin).

Over the kingdom of Judah there was now hanging the very same fate of captivity and exile, which had put an end to the kingdom of Israel eight years before. When the author of the book of Kings prefaces the four accounts of Isaiah in 2 Kings 18:13-20, with the recapitulation in 2 Kings 18:9-12 (cf., Isaiah 17:5-6), his evident meaning is, that the end of the kingdom of Israel, and the beginning of the end of the kingdom of Judah, had their meeting-point in Hezekiah's time. As Israel fell under the power of the Assyrian empire, which foundered upon Judah, though only through a miraculous manifestation of the grace of God (see Hosea 1:7); so did Judah fall a victim to the Babylonian empire. The four accounts are so arranged, that the first two, together with the epilogue in Isaiah 37:36., which contains the account of the fulfilment, bring the Assyrian period of judgment to a close; and the last two, with the eventful sketch in Isaiah 39:6-7, open the way for the great bulk of the prophecies which now follow in chapters 40-66, relating to the Babylonian period of judgment. This Janus-headed arrangement of the contents of chapters 36-39 is a proof that this historical section formed an original part of the "vision of Isaiah." At any rate, it leads to the conclusion that, whoever arranged the four accounts in their present order, had chapters 40-66 before him at the time. We believe, however, that we may, or rather, considering the prophetico-historical style of chapters 36-39, that we must, draw the still further conclusion, that Isaiah himself, when he revised the collection of his prophecies at the end of Hezekiah's reign, or possibly not till the beginning of Manasseh's, bridged over the division between the two halves of the collection by the historical trilogy in the seventh book.

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