The Word Made Fresh
1Comfort my people, your God says. Comfort them.
2Speak to Jerusalem tenderly.
Tell her that she has served her sentence,
and her penalty has been paid.
Tell her that the hand of the LORD has given her
twice as much as she has sinned.
3A voice is heard proclaiming, “Prepare a way for the LORD.
Make a straight highway in the desert for our God.
4Every valley shall be lifted
and every mountain and hill shall be lowered.
The rough ground will become smooth
and the rugged land will become a plain.
5Then the LORD’s glory shall be shown,
and all the people shall see it.
The mouth of the LORD has said this.
6A voice commands me to speak.
“What shall I say?” I ask.
All the people are like grass;
they are no more permanent than the flowers of the field.
7The grass shall wither. The flower shall fade –
when the LORD’s breath blows upon it
the people will be no more substantial than the grass.
8Yes, the grass shall wither, and the flower shall fade,
but the word of God will last forever.
9Go up to a high mountain, you bearer of good news.
Lift up your voice. Let it resound, O Jerusalem,
for you are the bringer of good news.
Deliver it loudly, Jerusalem. Don’t be afraid to announce it.
Tell the other cities of Judah, “Your God is here!”
10Look! The LORD God comes in power.
The LORD’s arm rules, carrying God’s reward before him.
11God will feed his flock like a shepherd,
gathering the lambs together and gently leading the mother sheep.
12Who has measured the waters in cupped hands?
Who has marked the boundaries of heaven, beginning to end?
Who has enwrapped the earth’s dust and measured it?
Who has weighed the mountains and hills?
13Who has led or counseled the LORD’s spirit?
14Whom did God consult for information?
Who taught God the ways of justice?
Who gave God knowledge and understanding?
15All the nations together are no more than a drop in the bucket,
or dust on the scales; see, God lifts the islands like tiny dust.
16Lebanon cannot provide enough fuel for the fire
or enough animals for a burnt offering sacrifice.
17All the nations together amount to nothing before God,
and to God they are less than nothing. They are empty.
18So, to whom can you compare God?
What figure can compare to God?
19An idol, you say?
A workman sculpts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and casts silver chains for it.
20If you are poor, you may choose an offering
of mulberry wood that will not rot,
then find a skilled woodcarver
to make an image that will stand without toppling.
21Have you not known this? Have you not heard?
Hasn’t this all been told to you from the earth’s beginnings?
22It is the One who sits above the earth’s orbit,
to whom the earth’s people are like grasshoppers.
It is the One who stretched the sky out like a curtain,
and spreads it like a tent to live under.
23It is the One before whom princes have no standing
and the rulers of the earth have no power.
24They are barely planted, carelessly sown,
and their stem has only just begun to take root in the ground;
Then God blows upon them, and they wither,
and a storm carries them off like dust.
25“So, to whom will you compare me?
Who is my equal?” asks the Holy One.
26Look around you and see: who created all this?
The One who summons everything and numbers them,
calling them each by name.
God is great and mighty, and not one of them is missing.
27So, Jacob, why do you say, “My way is hidden from the LORD?”
Why do you say, Israel, “The LORD has no regard for my rights?”
28Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the eternal God who created everything on the earth.
God never feels faint or grows tired,
and God’s understanding is too deep to comprehend.
29God gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.
30Even young people will faint and become exhausted,
31But those who wait for the LORD
will have their strength renewed.
They shall soar with wings like eagles.
They shall run and not become weary.
They shall walk and not grow tired.
Most readers will readily recognize that with chapter 40 we have entered different territory. For the last hundred years or more scholars have generally designated Isaiah 40-66 “Second Isaiah,” concluding that these chapters address the return from the exile to Babylon, which occurred more than 150 years after the time of King Hezekiah, and therefore cannot be part of the collection of writings of the prophet at the beginning of the book. After all, Isaiah 1:1 states plainly that the reign of Hezekiah was the end of the prophet’s time. Recently, however, a number of scholars have begun to question such a division of the book and a renewed debate has been taking shape. The purpose of this guide is to give the reader a simple supplement to assist in daily Bible reading, a chapter at a time. It is not the purpose of this guide to involve the reader in scholarly debates. It is helpful to point out, however, that with chapter 40 we are apparently dealing with a time in history 150 years later than with chapter 39.
1-2: Handel’s “Messiah” has made these verses among the most familiar passages in the Bible. Jerusalem has completed the sentence for its sins, which are well documented elsewhere in the book.
3-5: Now God is approaching, and the LORD’s glory will once again be evident in Zion. The Gospels cite verse 3 as a prophecy related to the appearance of John the Baptizer (Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4). However, in the New Testament the phrase “in the wilderness” is the location of the voice that is calling out. In Isaiah the wilderness is the location of the preparations to be made for the LORD’s coming. A great construction project is called for. It is unimaginable that such a project would be undertaken unless the coming of the LORD was an absolute certainty. In other words, the construction of the highway in the desert is an act of faith that God will indeed appear.
6-11: “All people are grass” is a common sentiment in the Bible (see, for example, 2 Kings 19:26 [repeated in Isaiah 37:27]; Job 5:25; Psalm 58:7, 72:16, 90:5, 129:6; and Isaiah 37:27). The point here is that people come and go but God’s word is the one constant in creation. The LORD’s return to Jerusalem is a certainty. God’s entry into the city is like the entry of a king victorious in battle, but the imagery changes suddenly in verse 11: there God arrives like a shepherd tenderly caring for the flock. The days of warfare will be ended, the days of succor begun.
12-17: But now the poetry takes a decidedly Jobian turn — “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?” (Job 38:4). God is God. There is no one to challenge what God has planned, and God has no counselor. The statements here remind us of God’s response to Job in Job 38-39.
18-20: We are on more familiar ground here. The problem of idol worship we have seen often in Isaiah (2:8, 2:18, 2:20, 10:11, 30:22, and 31:7). The idiocy of worshiping such silly things is the theme here.
21-22: In contrast to idols made by human hands is God the Almighty who “sits above the circle of the earth.”
23-24: In the nations around Israel, the king decides who the people should worship. To God, however, earthly rulers come and go like grass.
25-26: Look up at the stars and see that God has no equal (“The heavens are telling the glory of God.” – Psalm 19:1).
27-31: You can never say God doesn’t know what’s going on. God is the ruler of the universe and God never becomes tired or weary. People may tire out, even youths, but God can renew the strength of the weary. Verse 31 is one of the best known and often quoted statements in the Bible.
Look at the world around us and imagine, if you can, God lovingly bringing every flower and every blade of grass and every animal of the forest into existence. The world is designed to take care of us. We abuse the earth with our foolish desires, but God provides and continues to provide. Each generation is presented with a world that can sustain their lives. God knew what God was doing. God knows what God is doing today. Our task is to learn, and then do, what God expects of us.