Isaiah 40:17
All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(17) Less than nothing.—Literally, as things of nought.

Vanity.—Once more the tohu, or chaos, of Genesis 1:2—one of Isaiah’s favourite phrases (Isaiah 24:10, Isa_29:21, Isa_34:11).

40:12-17 All created beings shrink to nothing in comparison with the Creator. When the Lord, by his Spirit, made the world, none directed his Spirit, or gave advice what to do, or how to do it. The nations, in comparison of him, are as a drop which remains in the bucket, compared with the vast ocean; or as the small dust in the balance, which does not turn it, compared with all the earth. This magnifies God's love to the world, that, though it is of such small account and value with him, yet, for the redemption of it, he gave his only-begotten Son, Joh 3:16. The services of the church can make no addition to him. Our souls must have perished for ever, if the only Son of the Father had not given himself for us.Are as nothing - This expresses literally what had been expressed by the beautiful and striking imagery above.

Less than nothing - A strong hyperbolic expression denoting the utter insignificance of the nations as compared with God. Such expressions are common in the Scriptures.

And vanity - Hebrew, תהו tôhû - 'Emptiness;' the word which in Genesis 1:2 is rendered 'without form.'

17. (Ps 62:9; Da 4:35).

less than nothing—Maurer translates, as in Isa 41:24, "of nothing" (partitively; or expressive of the nature of a thing), a mere nothing.

vanity—emptiness.

Before him; either in his eyes, or being set against him, as this Hebrew word properly and most usually signifies.

Counted to him, either in his judgment, or in comparison of him.

Less than nothing; less than a thing of nought, or of no account or worth; or, as others render it, for nothing. All nations before him are as nothing,.... As if they were nonentities, and were not real beings in comparison of him, who is the Being of beings, the author of all beings which exist in all nations; who are all in his sight, and are not only as grasshoppers, as is after mentioned, but even as nothing:

and they are counted to him as less than nothing, and vanity; if there is or could be such a thing less than nothing, that they are; and so they are accounted of by him; they are like the chaos out of which the earth was formed, when it was "tohu" and "bohu", the first of which words is used here; this serves to humble the pride of men, and to lessen the glory of the nations, and the inhabitants of them.

All nations before him are as {t} nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.

(t) He speaks all this to the intent that they would neither fear man nor put their trust in any, save only in God.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
17. less than nothing] Better: of nought; “belonging to the category of nothingness” (Cheyne).

vanity] The Hebr. is tôhû, a word which means primarily “a waste,” and is applied in Genesis 1:2 to the primeval chaos (A.V. “without form”). See on ch. Isaiah 29:21, Isaiah 34:11. Here and in many other cases it is a synonym for nonentity.Verse 17. - All nations; rather, all the nations; i.e. all the nations of the earth put together. In ver. 15 single "nations" had been declared to be of no account; now the same is said of all the nations of the earth collectively. They are accounted of God as 'ephes, nothingness, and tohu, chaos or confusion. The prophet dwells upon this, the redeeming side not the judicial, as he proceeds to place the image of the good shepherd by the side of that of the Lord Jehovah. "He will feed His flock like a shepherd, take the lambs in His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are giving suck." The flock is His people, now dispersed in a foreign land. The love with which He tends this flock is shown, by way of example, in His conduct towards the טלאים ( equals טליים from טלי equals טלה), the young lambs that have not long been born, and the עלות, those giving suck, lactantes (Vulg. fetae), not those that are sucking, sugentes (from עוּל med. Vav, to nourish). Such as cannot keep pace with the flock he takes in his arms, and carries in the bosom of his dress; and the mothers he does not overdrive, but ינהל (see at Psalm 23:2), lets them go gently alone, because they require care (Genesis 33:13). With this loving picture the prologue in Isaiah 40:1-11 is brought to a close. It stands at the head of the whole, like a divine inauguration of the prophet, and like the quintessence of what he is commanded to proclaim. Nevertheless it is also an integral part of the first address. For the questions which follow cannot possibly be the commencement of the prophecy, though it is not very clear how far they form a continuation.

The connection is the following: The prophet shows both didactically and paraenetically what kind of God it is whose appearance to redeem His people has been prophetically announced in Isaiah 40:1-11. He is the incomparably exalted One. This incomparable exaltation makes the ignorance of the worshipers of idols the more apparent, but it serves to comfort Israel. And Israel needs such consolation in its present banishment, in which it is so hard for it to comprehend the ways of God.

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