Isaiah 40
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
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.

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. speak ye comfortably to] Lit. “speak to the heart of.” To “speak to one’s own heart” is to whisper or meditate (1 Samuel 1:13); to speak to the heart of another is to soothe, or persuade, or comfort. For the meaning of the phrase, see Genesis 34:3; Jdg 19:3; 2 Samuel 19:7; Hosea 2:14; and esp. Genesis 50:21; and Ruth 2:13, where it is parallel to “comfort” as here.

Jerusalem] an ideal representation of the people, like Zion in Isaiah 40:9; cf. Isaiah 49:14 ff., Isaiah 51:16 f., Isaiah 52:1 ff. Isaiah 52:7 ff. That there was an actual population in the ruined city during the Exile is of course not to be inferred from this figure. There are two standing personifications of Israel in this prophecy, the other being the “Servant of the Lord.” These, however, are not interchangeable; Zion represents the nation on its receptive side; she is the mother of the people, the recipient of the blessings of salvation; while the Servant represents the historic Israel, past, present and future, in its religious aspect, with a Divine mission to fulfil for humanity.

her warfare is accomplished] The word for “warfare” is that rendered “appointed time” in A.V. of Job 7:1; Job 14:14. It means properly a term of military service; then figuratively any period of irksome toil or endurance which a man longs to reach the end of; such as life itself had become to Job. The reference here is of course to the Exile. Render: time of service (R.V. marg.).

her iniquity (better, her guilt) is pardoned] The expression for pardon is rare. The verb commonly means “to be pleased with”; in a few places it means (as here) “to pay off a debt to the satisfaction of the creditor” (see Leviticus 26:34; Leviticus 26:41; Leviticus 26:43, and cf. 2 Chronicles 36:21). For the idea see ch. Isaiah 50:1.

for she hath received … double] i.e. “double penalty for her sins” (cf. Jeremiah 16:18; Jeremiah 17:18; Revelation 18:6), not “(she shall receive) double favour for her previous punishment.” It is difficult to say whether the clause is subordinate to the two preceding (as in A.V.) or co-ordinate with them, as in R.V. (reading that instead of for). The idea that Jerusalem’s punishment had been greater than her sin required is not to be pressed theologically; but the idea that Jehovah’s penal purpose can be satisfied by a temporary chastisement is of the essence of the O.T. notion of forgiveness. It must be remembered, however, that in the view of this prophet, Israel includes the Servant of Jehovah, and the unmerited sufferings of the Servant form the atoning element in the punishment which has fallen on the nation as a whole (ch. 53).

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. The voice of him that crieth] The word “voice” here and often has the force of an interjection; render accordingly: Hark! one crying. The voice is not that of God (on account of the following “our God”), neither is it a human voice; it comes from one of the angelic ministers of Jehovah and is addressed to beings of the same order. The words in the wilderness should be joined with prepare ye etc., in accordance with the accents (R.V.). A.V. agrees with LXX. and Vulg. and the N.T. citations (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4); but sense and parallelism alike shew that the Heb. accentuation is right.

Prepare] strictly “clear of obstacles” (see Genesis 24:31; Leviticus 14:36; Psalm 80:9; cf. ch. Isaiah 57:14, Isaiah 62:10; Malachi 3:1). The figure is taken from the well-known Eastern practice of repairing the roads for a royal journey. It may be difficult to say how far the representation is ideal. Allusions to the march through the desert are too constant a feature of the prophecy (ch. Isaiah 40:10 f., Isaiah 41:18 f., Isaiah 42:16, Isaiah 43:19 f., Isaiah 48:21, Isaiah 49:9 ff., Isaiah 55:12 f.) to be treated as merely figurative; the prophet seems to have expected the deliverance to issue in a triumphal progress of Jehovah with His people through the desert between Babylonia and Palestine, after the analogy of the exodus from Egypt. But all such passages probably look beyond the material fulfilment and include the removal of political and other hindrances to the restoration of Israel.

3–5. The prophet hears a voice calling on angelic powers to prepare the way of the Lord. It is doubtful whether Duhm is right in regarding this as a case of true prophetic “audition”; it is more naturally understood as a flight of poetic imagination.

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. and the crooked … plain] More literally: and the uneven shall become a plain, and the rugged places a valley. rough places is a word of somewhat uncertain sense, which does not occur elsewhere. straight and plain are nouns in the original.

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. In place of it together LXX. has “the salvation of God,” borrowing apparently from ch. Isaiah 52:10. See Luke 3:6.

for the mouth … it] This prophetic formula is nowhere else used by second Isaiah. The whole verse is deleted as a gloss by Duhm and Cheyne, but on grounds which seem insufficient.

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 said, Cry] Render (as before) Hark! one saying, Cry. “Cry” here evidently means “prophesy” as in Isaiah 40:2, ch. Isaiah 44:7, Isaiah 61:1 f.; Jeremiah 7:27. Hence the response, and one said (R.V.) will naturally come from a prophet, the call being from the same quarter as in Isaiah 40:3. There is no need to suppose that an ideal person is meant, the most probable interpretation is that it is the prophet himself who replies to the voice. It is better, therefore, to change the vowels and read with LXX. and Vulg. “and I said”; in spite of the fact that the author usually keeps his own personality in the background. The other reading does not sufficiently express the distinction between the call and the answer; hence A.V. seems to refer both to the same speaker.

all flesh is grass] The answer to the question, “What shall I cry?” Cf. ch. Isaiah 37:27; Job 8:12; Job 14:2; Psalm 37:2; Psalm 103:15, and esp. Psalm 90:5 f. goodliness] The Heb. word is nowhere else used in this sense. It signifies “lovingkindness” or “grace” (of God to men). The transition from the one meaning to the other is illustrated by the Greek χάρις, and there is no reason to suspect the text.

6–8. The second voice proclaims the double truth: all earthly might is transitory, the word of God is eternal. Logically the section interrupts the connexion between Isaiah 40:5 and Isaiah 40:9, and is itself a prelude to Isaiah 40:12 ff. But to transpose Isaiah 40:6-11, as is done by the two commentators just named, is hardly advisable; logical sequence is not the principle on which the book is arranged.

The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.
7. the spirit of the Lord] Better as R.V. the breath of the LORD, i.e. the wind (Psalm 103:16), specially the scorching east-wind (Hosea 13:15) or Sirocco, which blows chiefly in the spring, blighting the fresh vegetation (see Smith, Hist. Geog. of Palestine, pp. 67 ff.).

surely the people is grass] “The people,” used absolutely, must apparently mean “humanity”; although there are no strict parallels to this sense. To understand it of Israel is opposed to the prophet’s general teaching and misrepresents his meaning here. It is not Israel, but the enemies of Israel, whose perishableness he is concerned to assert. The words at best are a flat repetition of Isaiah 40:6 and should probably be removed as a marginal gloss. The LXX., indeed, omits all from because in Isaiah 40:7 to fadeth in Isaiah 40:8 : but this proves nothing, as it is evidently an oversight caused by the homœoteleuton. The resumption of the leading thought is a very effective introduction to the contrasted idea in the end of Isaiah 40:8.

The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
8. the word of our God] is the word spoken by the prophets to Israel, the announcement of Jehovah’s immutable purpose in the world; this is the one permanent factor in human history. It is a mistake to limit the reference to the word of promise just declared by the prophet; the statement is general, although the implied argument is that as the threatening predictions of earlier prophets have been fulfilled, so this new word of comfort shall stand, because it proceeds from the same God, who can dissolve the mightiest combinations of human power (Isaiah 40:23).

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!
9–11. The prophet announces the triumphal approach of Jehovah to Zion.

O Zion … tidings] R.V. has O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion. Either translation is grammatically admissible; but the second is to be preferred, (1) because of the analogous passages Isaiah 41:27 and Isaiah 52:7, and (2) because Zion always in this prophecy represents the community as the passive recipient of salvation. The other rendering might seem to be recommended by the apparent distinction between Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, but this is probably not intended; Zion itself is included among the cities of Judah. The verb employed (měbasséreth) is the Hebrew basis (through the LXX.) of the N.T. εὐαγγελίζειν; the fem. partic. is collective, denoting an ideal band of messengers (less probably the company of prophets). These Evangelists are bidden to “go up to a high mountain” to see from afar the coming of Jehovah, then to “lift up their voice without fear” (of being put to shame) and proclaim the glad tidings.

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] R.V. as a mighty one; lit., “in (the capacity of) a strong one” (Bêth essentiae). The chief ancient versions vocalised the word as an abstract noun běhôzeq (“with strength”), which yields an even better sense. and his arm shall rule] or His arm ruling;—the “arm,” the symbol of strength.

For work render recompence (as R.V.) (see Leviticus 19:13). The idea is somewhat uncertain. It might mean, (1) the reward (lit. “hire”) which Jehovah has earned by His victory over the Chaldæans, in which case the redeemed exiles themselves are the reward, which He brings with Him through the desert (Isaiah 40:11). Or (2) it may refer to the reward which Jehovah is prepared to bestow on His people,—the blessings of His salvation. The last is perhaps the better sense, and is supported by the similar passage, ch. Isaiah 62:11.

10, 11. These words are spoken by the prophet in his own person.

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. Jehovah as the Good Shepherd: an ideal picture of the homeward journey of the exiles, hardly of the permanent relations of Jehovah to His people in the final dispensation. The same image is used of the Restoration in Jeremiah 23:1 ff; Jeremiah 31:10; Ezekiel 34:11 ff.; Isaiah 49:9; cf. Isaiah 63:11.

those that are with young] Render, with R.V., those that give suck. cf. Genesis 33:13.

Ch. Isaiah 40:12-31. Jehovah, God of Israel, the Incomparable, is the title suggested by Dr Davidson[76] for this great passage. It is a meditation or homily on the immeasurable greatness and power and wisdom of Jehovah, the Creator, as displayed in the works of nature and in the government of the world; an expansion of the idea of Isaiah 40:6-8. The argument from Creation is handled with a boldness of conception and freedom of imagination to which there is nothing equal in the earlier literature, and the frequent appeal to it on the part of this prophet may be held to mark a distinct advance in Israel’s consciousness of God, coinciding generally with the period of the Exile. The practical aim which the writer has in view appears from Isaiah 40:27 ff.; it is to counteract the unbelief and despondency of his fellow-countrymen and to inspire them with some true sense of the infinitude of Jehovah, their own God, who has addressed to them the consolations of Isaiah 40:1-11. The passage may be divided as follows:—

[76] Expositor, Second Series, Vol. VII. p. 96.

i. The argument, Isaiah 40:12-26.

(1) Isaiah 40:12-17. The greatness of Jehovah is illustrated by the magnitude of His operations as Creator (Isaiah 40:12), by the perfection and self-sufficiency of His knowledge (Isaiah 40:13-14), and by the insignificance in comparison with Him of all that exists (Isaiah 40:15-17).

(2) Isaiah 40:18-20. The thought of the transcendent greatness of Jehovah “suggests the idol, which also bears the name of God.… The magnitude of the true God suggests the littleness of the idol-god. He is incomparable; it is by no means so. Its genesis and manufacture are known. It is a cast metal, gilt article, upheld with chains, lest it should totter and tumble to the ground. Or it is a hard-wood tree fashioned into a block by a cunning workman[77].” This is the first of several sarcastic passages in which the processes of an idol factory are minutely described: Isaiah 41:6-7, Isaiah 44:9-20, Isaiah 46:6-8.

[77] Davidson, Ibid. p. 101.

(3) Isaiah 40:21-26. The thought of Isaiah 40:12-17 is now resumed and completed. The intelligent contemplation of nature (Isaiah 40:21 f.) or of history (Isaiah 40:23 f.) is enough to dispel the glamour of idolatry, and force the mind back on the Incomparableness of Him who is the Creator and Ruler of the world (Isaiah 40:25 f.).

ii. The application, Isaiah 40:27-31. If such be the God of Israel, how can the exiles think that He is either unobservant of their fate or indifferent to it? Their God is an everlasting God; His strength is unfailing, His understanding unsearchable; and they who wait on Him shall find in Him an inexhaustible source of life and energy.

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. 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.).

Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counseller hath taught him?
13. From the power of Jehovah, the writer passes to expatiate on His perfect and self-sufficing wisdom.

Who hath directed] The verb is the same as “meted out” in the previous verse, and the transition from the literal to the metaphorical use is somewhat uncertain. From the idea of “weighing out” according to a fixed scale we get the notion of “regulating” or “determining”; cf. Ezekiel 18:25 (and pars.) “the way of Jehovah is not weighed out,” regulated, i.e. is arbitrary. Or, on the other hand, the meaning might be “rightly estimated,” “searched out” (as Proverbs 16:2; Proverbs 21:2). The first sense suits the context best; whether we render “direct” or “regulate” or “determine.” LXX. probably read a different word; its τίς ἔγνω νοῦν Κυρίου is verbally cited in 1 Corinthians 2:16.

the spirit of the Lord] denotes here the organ of the Divine intelligence (see 1 Corinthians 2:11). This is more likely than that the spirit is personified and then endowed with intelligence. The idea, however, does not appear to be found elsewhere in the O.T. The Spirit of God is ordinarily mentioned as the life-giving principle emanating from Jehovah, which pervades and sustains the world, and endows select men with extraordinary powers and virtues.

or being … him] Better, perhaps: and was the man of His counsel who taught Him. “His” and “Him” refer of course to Jehovah, not the Spirit.

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. and who instructed] Or, so that he instructed.

path of judgment] path of right (mishpâṭ). See ch. Isaiah 28:26, where the word means orderly procedure; here the reference is to the order of nature, or else the transition is already made from creation to providence (Isaiah 40:15).

way of understanding] Or, way of insight. The intermediate clause and taught him knowledge is omitted by the LXX., and since it disturbs the parallelism, and repeats the verb just used, it may be a gloss.

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.
15–17. The insignificance of collective humanity before Jehovah. The meditation passes from Nature to History, with the same design of encouraging those who doubted Jehovah’s power to save.

a drop of a bucket] Rather: a drop from the bucket; which falls away without appreciably lessening the weight.

the small dust &c.] which does not turn the scale.

the isles] a characteristic word of the second half of Isaiah, occurring 12 times (see Introd. p. xlviii). In the general usage of O.T. it denotes the islands and coastlands of the Mediterranean (comp. the use of the singular by Isaiah in ch. Isaiah 20:6). Etymologically it probably means simply “habitable lands”; and this prophet uses it with great laxity, hardly distinguishing it from “lands” (see esp. ch. Isaiah 42:15).

as a very little thing] “a grain of powder,” used of the manna, Exodus 16:14.

And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering.
16. So infinitely great is Jehovah that the forests of Lebanon would not yield fuel enough, nor its wild animals victims enough, for a holocaust worthy of Him.

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

To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?
18–20. “To whom will ye liken God?” This question introduces the second distinct theme of the argument, the folly of idolatry. Although the prophet has in his mind the difficulties of Jews impressed by the fascinations of idolatry, his words are addressed not to them directly, but to men in general. The error he exposes is not the worshipping of Jehovah by images, but the universal error of thinking that the Deity (’çl) can be represented by the works of human hands. His point of view is that of Paul’s speech to the Athenians: “we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold or silver or stone, graven by art and device of man” (Acts 17:29). In order to see how absurd this is, one has but to observe how the images are manufactured; and the various processes are described with an unmistakeable irony. After Isaiah 40:19 Duhm and Cheyne (following out a hint of Lagarde’s) insert Isaiah 40:6-7 of the next chapter. The description would then fall into two unequal parts; first, the construction of a metal idol (Isaiah 40:19, Isaiah 41:6-7), and second, that of a wooden idol (Isaiah 40:20); each ending naturally with the fastening of the image to its pedestal.

The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains.
19. melteth a graven image] R.V. The graven image, a workman melted it. The word péṣel means strictly a “graven image,” but is used several times as here of an image in general.

overlayeth it with gold] The idol consists of a core of brass which is cast by the “workman,” and then handed over to the goldsmith to be covered with a plating of gold (see ch. Isaiah 30:22).

and casteth silver chains] A perplexing clause, which the LXX. omits. The word rendered “casteth” is the same as that for “goldsmith” (strictly “assayer”), the participle being translated by a finite verb. But such a construction is incorrect: and besides the verb is never used except in the sense of “test” or “purify.” It is only when the partic. has become a noun that it assumes the general sense of worker in metal. Hence Dillmann proposes to render “and with silver chains a smelter (sc. covers it).” But this is exceedingly harsh. The word for “chains” is also of doubtful meaning, and altogether the clause must be pronounced hopelessly obscure.

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. He that is so … oblation] R.V. He that is too impoverished for such an oblation (lit. impoverished with respect to an oblation). If the text be sound this seems the only possible interpretation, although the whole sense turns on the word “such” which is in no way expressed. Moreover the technical těrûmâh (temple-oblation) has no appropriateness here. The LXX. appear to have read těmûnâh (ὁμοίωμα), which looks more promising, but leaves the word for “impoverished” (מְסֻכָּן) more unintelligible than ever. Jerome gives the information that měṣukkân is a durable kind of wood (see Vulg. “lignum imputribile”); and this has led some to connect it with an Assyrian word, musukkânu (= palm-tree). The Targ. gives “he cutteth down a laurel-tree,” apparently taking מסכן as a denominative from סַכִּין (= knife). This shews at least that there was no reliable Jewish tradition as to the meaning of the word. Duhm, combining the hints of the Targ. and the LXX., obtains a reading which is as good as any that can be suggested: “He who carves an image.” The transition from the metal to the wooden idol is thus more distinctly expressed.

a tree that will not rot] Such as those named in ch. Isaiah 44:14. A weak parody of Eternity!

that shall not be moved] that will not totter. See 1 Samuel 5:3-4; cf. Wisd. Sol. 13:15 f.

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. The next section (21–26) again commences with a series of questions driving home the force of the whole previous argument. The appeal seems to be still to mankind at large.

have ye not heard? Rather: Do ye not know? Do ye not hear? The two avenues by which the knowledge of God reaches the mind are reflexion on the facts of nature and history, and external testimony.

told you from the beginning) i.e. from the beginning of the world, by an unbroken tradition.

from the foundations] The preposition “from” might easily have been accidentally omitted in the Heb. The LXX., indeed, and other Versions take “foundations” as obj. to “understood.” The parallelism seems to require the phrase to be taken in a temporal sense (cf. Romans 1:20). but there is no other case where the word has the sense of fundatio (properly, = fundamenta).

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, 23. The majesty of the God who reveals Himself in Creation and Providence is described in interjectional participial clauses, the force of which should not be blunted by the superfluous “It is” of E.V.

upon (rather: above, R.V. marg.) the circle of the earth] i. e. the horizon, where earth and heaven meet (see Proverbs 8:27), “at the confines of light and darkness” (Job 26:10). The earth with its surrounding ocean is conceived as a flat disc, on which the arch of heaven comes down. The rendering “on the vault of the earth” (see Job 22:14, “vault of heaven,” the same word) is possible, though not so good.

and (so that) the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers] Comp. for the expression Numbers 13:33, and for the thought Psalm 113:5 f.

as a curtain] like gauze (lit. fine cloth).

a tent to dwell in] i.e. simply “a habitable tent.”

That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.
23, 24. The majesty of God displayed in Providence.

princes] dignitaries (a poetic word), “potent, grave and reverend signiors.” as vanity] “as nothingness,” lit. “chaos”; see on Isaiah 40:17. For he maketh, render who maketh.

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. Yea, they shall not be …] Render: Scarcely have they been planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock struck root in the earth, when he bloweth etc. (see R.V. marg.).

their stock] The same word as “stem” in ch. Isaiah 11:1, but in a different sense. see the note there.

25, 26 form the peroration of a passage of striking elevation. The writer makes a final appeal to the imagination of his audience by pointing to the nightly pageant of the starry hosts mustered at the command of Him who is Jehovah of Hosts.

To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One.
25. To whom then] Exactly as in Isaiah 40:18, and following a similar idea.

or shall I be equal?] Or, as R.V., “that I should be equal to him?”

the Holy One] Qâdôsh, without the art., almost like a proper name. So Job 6:10; Habakkuk 3:3, and perhaps Psalm 22:3.

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. and behold who hath created] Better as R.V. marg.: and see: who hath created these? The word “create” occurs fifteen times in ch. 40–55 and five times in the chapters which follow; perhaps not more than nine times in the whole of the earlier literature. No other language possesses a word so exclusively appropriated to the Divine activity. Although it may not express the metaphysical idea of creation ex nihilo, it certainly denotes the effortless production, by a bare volition, which is the manner of God’s working. Its frequent use in these chapters is significant not only of the writer’s theology, but of the great movement of religious thought in Israel about the time of the Captivity. See Introd. pp. 44, 48.

For these things render simply these, i.e. “these (stars) yonder” which you see when you lift your eyes on high. The stars are likened to a great army, a host of living, intelligent beings, which every night Jehovah marshals and leads across the sky.

that bringeth out] a participial clause like those of Isaiah 40:22 f.

he calleth … names] Better: calling them all by name, i.e. not “bestowing names on them,” but calling each forth by his name. Cf. Psalm 147:4-5.

by the greatness … faileth] Render as a single sentence: On account of Him who is great in might and strong in power not one is missing; none dares to leave its post vacant when it hears the summons of the Almighty. A slight change of pointing (mçrab for mçrôb) seems necessary to make the epithet “great in might” correspond with “strong in power.” For the latter cf. Job 9:4.

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. My way] i.e. my circumstances, my lot (Psalm 37:5). Israel feels that its hard lot is overlooked or ignored by Jehovah; far harder is the complaint of Job (Isaiah 3:23) that God Himself has hidden his way, setting a hedge across it.

my judgment … God] my right passes from my God,—escapes His notice. In all its consciousness of guilt before God, the nation retained the consciousness of having “right” on its side against its oppressors. (See Appendix, Note II.).

27–31. The prophet now turns to his own people, drawing the lesson of hope and encouragement which lies in the true doctrine of God. Jehovah, whom Israel still calls “my God” (Isaiah 40:27), is eternal and unchangeable, of infinite power and discernment (28), and the source of strength to those who have none in themselves (29) if only they will wait on Him in faith (31).

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. that the everlasting God, the Lord] Better: An everlasting God is Jehovah. He fainteth not] a new sentence.

there is no searching …] Therefore it must be for wise reasons that

Deep in unfathomable mines

Of never-failing skill

He treasures up His bright designs, etc.

29 should be joined in one verse with the last two lines of Isaiah 40:28.

Not only is Jehovah never weary, but He gives strength to them who are weary.

He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
30. Even the youths shall faint …] Better: And though youths faint and are weary and choice young men stumble (the protasis to Isaiah 40:31). Natural strength at its best is exhausted, but—

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. they that wait upon the Lord (shall) renew (lit. “exchange” cf. ch. Isaiah 9:10) their strength.

mount up with wings] although an excellent sense, is doubtful grammatically. The authorities are divided between the Targ. on the one hand, and LXX. and Vulg. on the other. The former has “lift up (their) wings”; the latter “put forth (lit. “cause to grow”) pinions” (LXX. πτεροφυήσουσιν). The second is by far the best. An allusion to the popular notion that the eagle renews his feathers in his old age (Cheyne) is not probable; it is even doubtful if the idea of renewal is in the metaphor at all. It is rather a description (and a very fine one) of the new kind of life which comes to him who waits on the Lord; he is borne aloft on wings of faith and hope.

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Isaiah 39
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