Isaiah 40:12
Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?
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(12) Who hath measured . . .?—Another section opens, expanding the thought of the eternal majesty of Jehovah, as contrasted with the vanity of the idols, or “no-gods,” of the heathen. The whole passage in form and thought supplies once more a parallelism with Job 38:4; Job 38:25; Job 38:37. The whole image is divinely anthropomorphic. The Creator is the great Work-master (Wisdom Of Solomon 13:1) of the universe, ordering all things, like a human artificer, by number and weight and measure. The mountains of the earth are as dust in the scales of the Infinite.

Isaiah 40:12-14. Who hath measured the waters, &c. — Who can do this but God? And this discourse on God’s infinite power and wisdom is added, to give them the greater assurance, that he was able, as he had declared himself willing, to do those great and wonderful things which he had promised; and neither men nor false gods were able to hinder him. Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, &c. — Whom did God either need or take to advise him in any of his works, either of creation or the government of the world? Were they not all the effects of his own sole wisdom? Therefore, though all the nations of the world should conspire and contrive against him, and oppose this work of his, as indeed they will do, yet his own counsel shall confound all their devices, and he will carry on his work in spite of them. Who taught him in the path of judgment — How to conduct himself, and manage his affairs with good judgment and discretion? Bishop Lowth translates the verse, “Whom hath he consulted, that he should instruct him, and teach him the path of judgment; that he should impart to him science, and inform him in the way of understanding?” Thus the prophet, “in the most sublime manner, celebrates the divine majesty and greatness, but particularly his wisdom. Rapt into an ecstasy, after he had described the beginning and the nature of the new economy, he sees that there would be many men of worldly prudence, who would hesitate at the methods of the divine counsel, and that the pious themselves, considering the extent and firmness of the kingdom of Satan in the world, the obstinate prejudices of the Gentiles, and the power of idolatry, would have their fears and doubts of the effect and success of the kingdom of the Messiah; a spiritual kingdom, to be established without any external means, by the mere preaching of the word, and to oppose itself to whatever was great or strong among men. The prophet, therefore, recurs to these thoughts; teaching, first, that the divine counsel, though it might seem strange to carnal judgment, was yet founded in the sovereign and most perfect wisdom and knowledge of God, whereof the clearest proofs were discernible in the structure of this world; that God was wiser than men; that his counsel was maturely weighed; that it pertained to his wisdom and glory to establish and to promote his kingdom in the world, rather by this method than any other, that he might put to shame all carnal wisdom, both of the Jews and Gentiles; for that the foolishness of God, as it seems to carnal men, is wiser than men, and the weakness of God stronger than men, (1 Corinthians 1:22,) &c., therefore he knew that this method of establishing his kingdom would have its certain effect; that this word, this faith, would overcome the world, and subvert idolatry.” See Vitringa and Dodd.

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.Who hath measured - The object in this and the following verses to Isaiah 40:26, is to show the greatness, power, and majesty of God, by strong contrast with his creatures, and more especially with idols. Perhaps the prophet designed to meet and answer an implied objection: that the work of deliverance was so great that it could not be accomplished. The answer was, that God had made all things; that he was infinitely great; that he had entire control over all the nations; and that he could, therefore, remove all obstacles out of the way, and accomplish his great and gracious purposes. By man it could not be done; nor had idol-gods any power to do it; but the Creator and upholder of all could effect this purpose with infinite case. At the same time that the argument here is one that is entirely conclusive, the passage, regarded as a description of the power and majesty of God, is one of vast sublimity and grandeur; nor is there any portion of the Sacred Volume that is more suited to impress the mind with a sense of the majesty and glory of Yahweh. The question, 'who hath measured,' is designed to imply that the thing referred to here was that which had never been done, and could never be done by man; and the argument is, that although that which the prophet predicted was a work which surpassed human power, yet it could be done by that God who had measured the waters in the hollow of his hand. The word 'waters' here refers evidently to the vast collection of waters in the deep - the mighty ocean, together with all the waters in the running streams, and in the clouds. See Genesis 1:6, where the firmament is said to have been made to divide the waters from the waters. A reference to the waters above the heavens occurs in Psalm 148:4 :

Praise him, ye heavens of heavens,

And ye waters that be above the heavens.

And in Proverbs 30:4, a Similar description of the power and majesty of God occurs:

Who hath gathered the wind in his fists?

Who hath bound the waters in a garment?

Who hath established all the ends of the earth?

And in Job 26:8 :

He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds;

And the cloud is not rent under them.

The word 'waters' here, therefore, may include all the water on the earth, and in the sky. The words, 'the hollow of his hand,' mean properly the hand as it is closed, forming a hollow or a cavity by which water can be taken up. The idea is, that God can take up the vast oceans, and all the waters in the lakes, streams, and clouds, in the palm of his hand, as we take up the smallest quantity in ours.

And meted out heaven - The word rendered 'meted,' that is, measured (כון kûn), means properly to stand erect, to set up, or make erect; to found, fit, adjust, dispose, form, create. It usually has the idea of fitting or disposing. The word 'span' (זרת zeret) denotes the space from the end of the thumb to the end of the middle finger, when extended - usually about nine inches. The idea is, that Yahweh was able to compass or grasp the heavens, though so vast, as one can compass or measure a small object with the span. What an illustration of the vastness and illimitable nature of God!

And comprehended - And measured (כל kôl from כוּל kûl, to hold or contain); 'Lo, the heavens, and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee' 1 Kings 8:27.

The dust of the earth - All the earth; all the dust that composes the globe.


12. Lest the Jews should suppose that He who was just before described as a "shepherd" is a mere man, He is now described as God.

Who—Who else but God could do so? Therefore, though the redemption and restoration of His people, foretold here, was a work beyond man's power, they should not doubt its fulfilment since all things are possible to Him who can accurately regulate the proportion of the waters as if He had measured them with His hand (compare Isa 40:15). But Maurer translates: "Who can measure," &c., that is, How immeasurable are the works of God? The former is a better explanation (Job 28:25; Pr 30:4).

span—the space from the end of the thumb to the end of the middle finger extended; God measures the vast heavens as one would measure a small object with his span.

dust of the earth—All the earth is to Him but as a few grains of dust contained in a small measure (literally, "the third part of a larger measure").

hills in a balance—adjusted in their right proportions and places, as exactly as if He had weighed them out.

Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand? i.e. who can measure them? for indicative verbs in the Hebrew language are oft taken potentially. Who can do this and the following things but God! And this discourse of God’s infinite power and wisdom is here conveniently added, to give them the greater assurance that God was able, as he had declared himself willing, to do these great and wonderful things which he had promised; and that neither men nor false gods were able to hinder him in it. God is here compared to a mighty giant, supposed to be so big that he can take up and hold all the waters of the sea and rivers of the whole world in one hand, and span the heavens, and then take up and weigh the whole earth with the other hand.

Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand?.... The following account of the power, wisdom, and all sufficiency of God, and which is to be understood of Christ, is to show that he is equal to the work of redemption and salvation he has engaged in, and was about to come and perform, and that he is able to do it, as well as to execute his office as a shepherd; and also to observe, that though his rich grace and goodness he had condescended to take upon him the work of a saviour, and the office of a shepherd, yet this was not to be interpreted as if he had lost his dignity and glory as a divine Person, or as if that was in the least diminished; for he was no other than that infinite Being, "who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand"; the waters of the seas, for which he has provided a receptacle, where he has collected and put them together; the dimensions of which are exactly known to him, and the vast confluence of water is no more in his hands than so much water as a man can hold in the hollow of his hand, in his fist, or hand contracted:

and meted out heaven with the span; which he has stretched out as a curtain, Isaiah 40:22, and the measure of which is but one hand's breadth with him; and is no more to him than stretching out a carpet or canopy; and as easily measured by him as a piece of cloth is by a man with the span of his hand, or any measuring rule or yard:

and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure; the word (r) used signifies the third part of some larger measure, as of a sextarius, as some; or of an ephah, or bath as others; or of some other measure not known; See Gill on Psalm 80:5. The Vulgate Latin version renders it, "with three fingers"; and the sense may be, that the dust of the earth, or the earth itself, which is but dust, is no more with the Lord than so much earth or dust as a man can hold between his thumb and two fingers; and in like manner is the whole earth comprehended by the Lord:

and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance; as easily as a man can throw in his goods into a pair of scales, and take the true weight of them, with equal ease did the Lord raise the mountains and the hills in a proper proportion, and has so exactly poised them, as if he had weighed them in a pair of scales; this seems to hint at the use of mountains and hills to be a sort of ballast to the earth, and shows the original formation of them from the beginning. The answer to the above question is, that it was the same divine Person of whom it is said, "behold your God, and who should come with a strong hand, and feed his flock."

(r) "in mensura ternaria", Montanus; "trientali", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Cocceius, Vitringa.

Who hath comprehended the waters in the hollow of his {r} hand, and measured heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?

(r) Declaring that as only God has all power, so does he use the same for the defence and maintenance of his Church.

12. Who can vie with Jehovah in power? The point of these questions lies in the smallness of the measures figured as being used by Jehovah in creating the universe,—the hollow of the hand, the span, etc. Logically, the questions are not quite on the same line as those in Isaiah 40:13 f. There the answer required is a simple negative: “No one”; here the meaning is, “What sort of Being must He be who actually measured” etc.

meted out] Lit. “weighed out” (as Job 28:25); see on “directed,” (Isaiah 40:13). The word for comprehended has in New Hebr. and Aram. the sense of “measure” and is probably so used here,—the only instance in the O.T.

a measure] means “a third part,” a tierce, but obviously a small measure, probably a third of an ephah.

scales and balance might be better transposed; the first word denotes probably a “steelyard,” the second the ordinary pair of scales.

The conception of the universe as measured out by its Creator appears to include two things. There is first the idea of order, adjustment and proportion in Nature, suggesting intelligence at work in the making of the world. But the more important thought is that of the infinite power which has carried through these vast operations as easily as man handles his smallest instruments of precision. The passage is not a demonstration of the existence of God, but assuming that He exists and is the Creator of all things, the prophet seeks to convey to his readers some impression of His Omnipotence, which is so conspicuously displayed in the accurate determination of the great masses and expanses of the material world.

12–14. The argument for the infinitude of God opens with a series of rhetorical questions, not needing to be answered, but intended to raise the thoughts of despondent Israelites to the contemplation of the true nature of the God they worshipped. For a different purpose, namely, to humble the pride of human reason, the Almighty Himself addresses a similar series of interrogations to Job (Isaiah 38:4 ff.).

Verses 12-31. - THE MIGHT AND GREATNESS OF GOD CONTRASTED WITH THE WEAKNESS OF MAN AND THE FUTILITY OF IDOLS. If captive Israel is to be induced to turn' to God, and so hasten the time of its restoration to his favour and to its own land, it must be by rising to a worthy conception of the nature and attributes of the Almighty. The prophet, therefore, in the remainder of this chapter, paints in glorious language the power and greatness, and at the same time the mercy, of God, contrasting him with man (vers. 15-17, 23, 28-31), with idols (vers. 19, 20), and with the framework of material things (vers. 21, 22, 26), and showing his infinite superiority to each and all. In contrasting him with man, he takes occasion to bring into prominence his goodness and loving-kindness to man, to whom he imparts a portion of his own might and strength (vers. 29-31 ). Verse 12. - Who hath measured the waters? (comp. Proverbs 30:4 and Job 38:4-6). The might of God is especially shown in creation, which Isaiah assumes to be God's work. How infinitely above man must he be, who arranged in such perfection, "by measure and number and weight" (Wisd. 11:20), the earth, the waters, and the heavens, so proportioning each to each as to produce that admirable order and regularity which the intelligent observer cannot but note in the material universe as among its chief characteristics! In the hollow of his hand. The anthropomorphism is strong, no doubt, but softened by the preceding mention (in ver. 10) of God's "arm," and by the comparison of God to a shepherd (in ver. 11). Isaiah's exalted notion of God renders him fearless with regard to anthropomorphism. And meted out heaven with the span; rather, with a span (comp. Isaiah 48:13, "My right hand hath spanned the heavens"). And comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure; literally, in a tierce (as in the margin). The measure intended is probably the seah, which was the third part of an ephah, and held about three gallons. The seah was "the ordinary measure for household purposes." In scales... in a balance. The peles, here translated "scales," is probably the steelyard, while the mozenaim is "the balance" or "pair of scales" ordinarily used for weighing. God metes out all things with measures, scales, and balances of his own, which are proportioned to his greatness. Isaiah 40:12In order to bring His people to the full consciousness of the exaltation of Jehovah, the prophet asks in Isaiah 40:12, "Who hath measured the waters with the hollow of his hand, and regulated the heavens with a span, and taken up the dust of the earth in a third measure, and weighed the mountains with a steelyard, and hills with balances?" Jehovah, and He alone, has given to all these their proper quantities, their determinate form, and their proportionate place in the universe. How very little can a man hold in the hollow of his hand (shō‛al)!

(Note: The root שׁל, Arab. sl has the primary meaning of easily moving or being easily moved; then of being loose or slack, of hanging down, or sinking-a meaning which we meet with in שׁעל and שׁאל. Accordingly, shō‛al signifies the palm (i.e., the depression made by the hand), and she'ōl not literally a hollowing or cavity, but a depression or low ground.)

how very small is the space which a man's span will cover! how little is contained in the third of an ephah (shâlı̄sh; see at Psalm 80:6)! and how trifling in either bulk or measure is the quantity you can weight in scales, whether it be a peles, i.e., a steelyard (statera), or mō'zenayim, a tradesman's balance (bilances), consisting of two scales.

(Note: According to the meaning, to level or equalize, which is one meaning of pillēs, the noun peles is applied not only to a level used to secure equilibrium, which is called mishqeleth in Isaiah 28:17, but also to a steelyard used for weighing, the beam of which consists of a lever with unequal arms, which flies up directly the weight is removed.)

But what Jehovah measures with the hollow of His hand, and with His span, is nothing less than the waters beneath and the heavens above. He carries a scoop, in which there is room for all the dust of which the earth consists, and a scale on which He has weighed the great colossal mountains.

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