Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
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).
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins.
2. comfortably—literally, "to the heart"; not merely to the intellect.
Jerusalem—Jerusalem though then in ruins, regarded by God as about to be rebuilt; her people are chiefly meant, but the city is personified.
cry—publicly and emphatically as a herald cries aloud (Isa 40:3).
warfare—or, the appointed time of her misery (Job 7:1, Margin; Job 14:14; Da 10:1). The ulterior and Messianic reference probably is the definite time when the legal economy of burdensome rites is at an end (Ga 4:3, 4).
pardoned—The Hebrew expresses that her iniquity is so expiated that God now delights in restoring her.
double for all her sins—This can only, in a very restricted sense, hold good of Judah's restoration after the first captivity. For how can it be said her "warfare was accomplished," when as yet the galling yoke of Antiochus and also of Rome was before them? The "double for her sins" must refer to the twofold captivity, the Assyrian and the Roman; at the coming close of this latter dispersion, and then only, can her "iniquity" be said to be "pardoned," or fully expiated [Houbigant]. It does not mean double as much as she deserved, but ample punishment in her twofold captivity. Messiah is the antitypical Israel (compare Mt 2:15, with Ho 11:1). He indeed has "received" of sufferings amply more than enough to expiate "for our sins" (Ro 5:15, 17). Otherwise (cry unto her) "that she shall receive (blessings) of the Lord's hand double to the punishment of all her sins" (so "sin" is used, Zec 14:19, Margin) [Lowth]. The English Version is simpler.
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
3. crieth in the wilderness—So the Septuagint and Mt 3:3 connect the words. The Hebrew accents, however, connect them thus: "In the wilderness prepare ye," &c., and the parallelism also requires this, "Prepare ye in the wilderness," answering to "make straight in the desert." Matthew was entitled, as under inspiration, to vary the connection, so as to bring out another sense, included in the Holy Spirit's intention; in Mt 3:1, "John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness," answers thus to "The voice of one crying in the wilderness." Maurer takes the participle as put for the finite verb (so in Isa 40:6), "A voice crieth." The clause, "in the wilderness," alludes to Israel's passage through it from Egypt to Canaan (Ps 68:7), Jehovah being their leader; so it shall be at the coming restoration of Israel, of which the restoration from Babylon was but a type (not the full realization; for their way from it was not through the "wilderness"). Where John preached (namely, in the wilderness; the type of this earth, a moral wilderness), there were the hearers who are ordered to prepare the way of the Lord, and there was to be the coming of the Lord [Bengel]. John, though he was immediately followed by the suffering Messiah, is rather the herald of the coming reigning Messiah, as Mal 4:5, 6 ("before the great and dreadful day of the Lord"), proves. Mt 17:11 (compare Ac 3:21) implies that John is not exclusively meant; and that though in one sense Elias has come, in another he is yet to come. John was the figurative Elias, coming "in the spirit and power of Elias" (Lu 1:17); Joh 1:21, where John the Baptist denies that he was the actual Elias, accords with this view. Mal 4:5, 6 cannot have received its exhaustive fulfilment in John; the Jews always understood it of the literal Elijah. As there is another consummating advent of Messiah Himself, so perhaps there is to be of his forerunner Elias, who also was present at the transfiguration.
the Lord—Hebrew, Jehovah; as this is applied to Jesus, He must be Jehovah (Mt 3:3).
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
4. Eastern monarchs send heralds before them in a journey to clear away obstacles, make causeways over valleys, and level hills. So John's duty was to bring back the people to obedience to the law and to remove all self-confidence, pride in national privileges, hypocrisy, and irreligion, so that they should be ready for His coming (Mal 4:6; Lu 1:17).
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
5. see it—The Septuagint for "it," has "the salvation of God." So Lu 3:6 (compare Lu 2:30, that is, Messiah); but the Evangelist probably took these words from Isa 52:10.
for—rather, "All flesh shall see that the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it" [Bengel].
The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:
6. The voice—the same divine herald as in Isa 40:3.
he—one of those ministers or prophets (see on Isa 40:1) whose duty it was, by direction of "the voice," to "comfort the Lord's afflicted people with the promises of brighter days."
All flesh is grass—The connection is, "All human things, however goodly, are transitory: God's promises alone steadfast" (Isa 40:8, 15, 17, 23, 24); this contrast was already suggested in Isa 40:5, "All flesh … the mouth of the Lord." 1Pe 1:24, 25 applies this passage distinctly to the gospel word of Messiah (compare Joh 12:24; Jas 1:10).
The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.
7. spirit of the Lord—rather, "wind of Jehovah" (Ps 103:16). The withering east wind of those countries sent by Jehovah (Jon 4:8).
the people—rather, "this people" [Lowth], which may refer to the Babylonians [Rosenmuller]; but better, mankind in general, as in Isa 42:5, so Isa 40:6, "all flesh"; this whole race, that is, man.
The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!
9. Rather, "Oh, thou that bringest good things to Zion; thou that bringest good tidings to Jerusalem." "Thou" is thus the collective personification of the messengers who announce God's gracious purpose to Zion (see on Isa 40:1); Isa 52:7 confirms this [Vulgate and Gesenius]. If English Version be retained, the sense will be the glad message was first to be proclaimed to Jerusalem, and then from it as the center to all "Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth" (Lu 24:47, 49; Ac 1:8) [Vitringa and Hengstenberg].
mountain—It was customary for those who were about to promulgate any great thing, to ascend a hill from which they could be seen and heard by all (Jud 9:7; Mt 5:1).
be not afraid—to announce to the exiles that their coming return home is attended with danger in the midst of the Babylonians. The gospel minister must "open his mouth boldly" (Pr 29:25; Eph 6:19).
Behold—especially at His second coming (Zec 12:10; 14:5).
Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.
10. with strong hand—or, "against the strong"; rather, "as a strong one" [Maurer]. Or, against the strong one, namely, Satan (Mt 12:29; Re 20:2, 3, 10) [Vitringa].
arm—power (Ps 89:13; 98:1).
for him—that is, He needs not to seek help for Himself from any external source, but by His own inherent power He gains rule for Himself (so Isa 40:14).
work—or, "recompense for his work"; rather, "recompense which He gives for work" (Isa 62:11; Re 22:12).
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
11. feed—including all a shepherd's care—"tend" (Eze 34:23; Ps 23:1; Heb 13:20; 1Pe 2:25).
carry—applicable to Messiah's restoration of Israel, as sheep scattered in all lands, and unable to move of themselves to their own land (Ps 80:1; Jer 23:3). As Israel was "carried from the womb" (that is, in its earliest days) (Isa 63:9, 11, 12; Ps 77:20), so it shall be in "old age" (that is, its latter days) (Isa 46:3, 4).
gently lead—as a thoughtful shepherd does the ewes "giving suck" (Margin) (Ge 33:13, 14).
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?
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 directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counseller hath taught him?
13. Quoted in Ro 11:34; 1Co 2:16. The Hebrew here for "directed" is the same as in Isa 40:12 for "meted out"; thus the sense is, "Jehovah measures out heaven with His span"; but who can measure Him? that is, Who can search out His Spirit (mind) wherewith He searches out and accurately adjusts all things? Maurer rightly takes the Hebrew in the same sense as in Isa 40:12 (so Pr 16:2; 21:2), "weigh," "ponder." "Direct," as in English Version, answers, however, better to "taught" in the parallel clause.
With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?
14. path of judgment—His wisdom, whereby He so beautifully adjusts the places and proportions of all created things.
Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.
15. of—rather, (hanging) from a bucket [Maurer].
he taketh up … as a very little thing—rather, "are as a mere grain of dust which is taken up," namely, by the wind; literally, "one taketh up," impersonally (Ex 16:14) [Maurer].
isles—rather, "lands" in general, answering to "the nations" in the parallel clause; perhaps lands, like Mesopotamia, enclosed by rivers [Jerome] (so Isa 42:15). However, English Version, "isles" answers well to "mountains" (Isa 40:12), both alike being lifted up by the power of God; in fact, "isles" are mountains upheaved from the bed of the sea by volcanic agency; only that he seems here to have passed from unintelligent creatures (Isa 40:12) to intelligent, as nations and lands, that is, their inhabitants.
And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering.
16. All Lebanon's forest would not supply fuel enough to burn sacrifices worthy of the glory of God (Isa 66:1; 1Ki 8:27; Ps 50:8-13).
beasts—which abounded in Lebanon.
All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.
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.
To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?
18. Which of the heathen idols, then, is to be compared to this Almighty God? This passage, if not written (as Barnes thinks) so late as the idolatrous times of Manasseh, has at least a prospective warning reference to them and subsequent reigns; the result of the chastisement of Jewish idolatry in the Babylonish captivity was that thenceforth after the restoration the Jews never fell into it. Perhaps these prophecies here may have tended to that result (see 2Ki 23:26, 27).
The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains.
19. graven—rather, an image in general; for it is incongruous to say "melteth" (that is, casts out of metal) a graven image (that is, one of carved wood); so Jer 10:14, "molten image."
spreadeth it over—(See on Isa 30:22).
chains—an ornament lavishly worn by rich Orientals (Isa 3:18, 19), and so transferred to their idols. Egyptian relics show that idols were suspended in houses by chains.
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.
20. impoverished—literally, "sunk" in circumstances.
no oblation—he who cannot afford to overlay his idol with gold and silver (Isa 40:19).
tree … not rot—the cedar, cypress, oak, or ash (Isa 44:14).
graven—of wood; not a molten one of metal.
not be moved—that shall be durable.
Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?
21. ye—who worship idols. The question emphatically implies, they had known.
from the beginning—(Isa 41:4, 26; 48:16). God is the beginning (Re 1:8). The tradition handed down from the very first, of the creation of all things by God at the beginning, ought to convince you of His omnipotence and of the folly of idolatry.
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:
22. It is he—rather, connected with last verse, "Have ye not known?"—have ye not understood Him that sitteth …? (Isa 40:26) [Maurer].
circle—applicable to the globular form of the earth, above which, and the vault of sky around it, He sits. For "upon" translate "above."
as grasshoppers—or locusts in His sight (Nu 13:33), as He looks down from on high (Ps 33:13, 14; 113:4-6).
curtain—referring to the awning which the Orientals draw over the open court in the center of their houses as a shelter in rain or hot weather.
That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.
23. (Ps 107:4; Da 2:21).
judges—that is, rulers; for these exercised judicial authority (Ps 2:10). The Hebrew, shophtee, answers to the Carthaginian chief magistrates, suffetes.
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.
24. they—the "princes and judges" (Isa 40:23) who oppose God's purposes and God's people. Often compared to tall trees (Ps 37:35; Da 4:10).
not … sown—the seed, that is, race shall become extinct (Na 1:14).
stock—not even shall any shoots spring up from the stump when the tree has been cut down: no descendants whatever (Job 14:7; see on Isa 11:1).
and … also—so the Septuagint. But Maurer translates, "They are hardly (literally, 'not yet', as in 2Ki 20:4) planted (&c.) when He (God) blows upon them."
blow—The image is from the hot east wind (simoon) that "withers" vegetation.
whirlwind … stubble—(Ps 83:13), where, "like a wheel," refers to the rotatory action of the whirlwind on the stubble.
To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One.
25. (Compare Isa 40:18).
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.
26. bringeth out … host—image from a general reviewing his army: He is Lord of Sabaoth, the heavenly hosts (Job 38:32).
calleth … by names—numerous as the stars are. God knows each in all its distinguishing characteristics—a sense which "name" often bears in Scripture; so in Ge 2:19, 20, Adam, as God's vicegerent, called the beasts by name, that is, characterized them by their several qualities, which, indeed, He has imparted.
by the greatness … faileth—rather, "by reason of abundance of (their inner essential) force and firmness of strength, not one of them is driven astray"; referring to the sufficiency of the physical forces with which He has endowed the heavenly bodies, to prevent all disorder in their motions [Horsley]. In English Version the sense is, "He has endowed them with their peculiar attributes ('names') by the greatness of His might," and the power of His strength (the better rendering, instead of, "for that He is strong").
Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the LORD, and my judgment is passed over from my God?
27. Since these things are so, thou hast no reason to think that thine interest ("way," that is, condition, Ps 37:5; Jer 12:1) is disregarded by God.
judgment is passed over from—rather, "My cause is neglected by my God; He passes by my case in my bondage and distress without noticing it."
my God—who especially might be expected to care for me.
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.
28. known—by thine own observation and reading of Scripture.
heard—from tradition of the fathers.
everlasting, &c.—These attributes of Jehovah ought to inspire His afflicted people with confidence.
no searching of his understanding—therefore thy cause cannot, as thou sayest, escape His notice; though much in His ways is unsearchable, He cannot err (Job 11:7-9). He is never "faint" or "weary" with having the countless wants of His people ever before Him to attend to.
He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
29. Not only does He "not faint" (Isa 40:28) but He gives power to them who do faint.
no might … increaseth strength—a seeming paradox. They "have no might" in themselves; but in Him they have strength, and He "increases" that strength (2Co 12:9).
Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
30. young men—literally, "those selected"; men picked out on account of their youthful vigor for an enterprise.
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.
31. mount up—(2Sa 1:23). Rather, "They shall put forth fresh feathers as eagles" are said to renovate themselves; the parallel clause, "renew their strength," confirms this. The eagle was thought to moult and renew his feathers, and with them his strength, in old age (so the Septuagint, Vulgate, Ps 103:5). However, English Version is favored by the descending climax, mount up—run—walk; in every attitude the praying, waiting child of God is "strong in the Lord" (Ps 84:7; Mic 4:5; Heb 12:1).