Isaiah 40
Matthew Poole's Commentary
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
The prophet having now foretold the Babylonish captivity, Isaiah 39:6,7, doth here arm his people against it by the consideration of their certain deliverance out of it, and their blessed condition after it, as in other things, so especially in the coming of the Messiah, and the great and glorious privileges conferred upon God’s church and people in his days.

The preaching of the gospel by John Baptist and the apostles, Isaiah 40:1-11. The power and wisdom of God in governing the world Isaiah 40:12-17. The folly of idolatry, Isaiah 40:18-26. God knoweth the state of his people, and both can and will protect them, Isaiah 40:27-31.

Ye prophets and ministers of the Lord, which now are, or hereafter shall be, deliver this comfortable message from me to my people, that they may not sink under their burdens.

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.
Cry unto her; proclaim it in my name.

Her warfare; the time of her servitude, and captivity, and misery.

Her iniquity is pardoned; I am reconciled to her; I will not impute sin to her, to punish her any longer for it.

Double for all her sins; not twice as much as her sins deserved, for she herself confessed the contrary, Ezra 9:13 Lamentations 3:22; but abundantly enough to answer God’s design in this chastisement, which was to humble and reform them, and to warn others by their example. Double is oft put for abundantly, as Isaiah 61:7 Jeremiah 16:18 17:18. God here speaks of himself after the manner of men, and compareth himself to a tender-hearted father, who when he hath corrected his child for his misdemeanour, relenteth and repenteth of his severity, and casteth his rod away.

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.
The voice; an abrupt and imperfect speech, such as there are many in the Hebrew language. Methinks I hear a voice; or, a voice shall be heard.

Of him that crieth in the wilderness; which words declare the place either,

1. Where the cry was made; or,

2. Where the way was to be prepared, as it is expressed in the following clause, which is added to explain this. And such places being commonly pathless, and many ways incommodious to passengers, it was the more necessary to prepare a way there. But both come to one thing, for the cry was to be in that place which was to be prepared. This place seems to be understood immediately of the deliverance of the Jews out of Babylon, and of smoothing their passage from thence to Judea, which lay through a great wilderness; but ultimately and principally concerning their redemption by the Messiah, whose coming is ushered in by the cry of John the Baptist, who did both cry and prepare the way in the wilderness, as we read, Matthew 3:1, &c.; where this text is directly expounded of him. But withal the terms of wilderness and desert seem to be here chiefly used in a metaphorical sense, to express the desolate and forlorn condition of the Jewish nation, and especially of the Gentile world, when Christ came to redeem them; for so these words are frequently used in prophetical writings, as hath been noted in divers places.

Prepare ye the way; you to whom this work belongs. He alludes to the custom of princes, who send pioneers before them to prepare the way through which they intend to pass. The meaning is only this, that God shall by his Spirit so dispose men’s hearts, and by his providence so order the empires and affairs of the world, as to make way for the accomplishment of this promise.

Of the Lord; for the Lord, as it is expounded in the next clause, that the Lord may walk in it; which though it may be understood of their coming out of Babylon, when God might in some sort be said to march in the head of them, conducting and preserving them, yet it was much more evidently and eminently fulfilled when Christ, who was and is God blessed for ever, came into the world in a visible manner. Straight; either direct, in opposition to crooked, or even and level, in opposition to the mountains and valleys mentioned in the next verse.

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:
This is only a more particular explication of that which was generally expressed Isaiah 40:3. The sense is, All obstructions shall be removed, and the way made in all respects convenient and easy for the passenger.

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.
The glory of the Lord shall be revealed: so it was in some sort, when God brought them out of Babylon, which was a glorious work of God; but far more properly and eminently when Christ, who was the glorious God, was manifested in the flesh, and gave much clearer and fuller discoveries of God’s glorious wisdom, and holiness, and goodness, and other Divine perfections, than ever yet had been imparted to mankind and to the church.

All flesh; all nations, both Jews and Gentiles.

For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it; though this may seem incredible, yet God is able to accomplish it.

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:
The voice said: God speaks unto his prophets or ministers.

He said, What shall I cry: the prophet desires to know God’s mind, and his message.

All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the prophet having foretold glorious and wonderful things which God had declared and determined to do, and suspecting that men would hardly believe them, he confirmeth their faith and the certainty of the thing in this and the two next verses, by representing to their minds the vast difference between the nature, and word, and work of men and of God. All that men are or have, yea, their highest accomplishments, are but like the grass or flower of the field weak and vanishing, soon nipped and brought to nothing; but God’s word is like himself, immutable and irresistible; and therefore as the mouth of the Lord, and not of man, hath spoken these things as was said, Isaiah 40:5, so doubt not but they shall be fulfilled.

The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.
The Spirit of the Lord; or, the breath, &c, as this word is rendered, Psalm 147:18; the wind, as it frequently signifies, which hath this effect upon grass and flowers, Psalm 103:16 Jam 1:11.

The people; the same which he called flesh, and said they were grass, Isaiah 40:6; which, that he might prove, in this verse he first declares the frail nature of grass and flowers, and then he applies this to the people. Or, this people; the Jews no less than the Gentiles; for here is an article in the Hebrew text, which is frequently emphatical and restrictive.

The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
Whatsoever God hath said shall infallibly come to pass.

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!
O Zion, that bringest good tidings; O Zion, to whom the glad tidings of the coming of Christ into the world, and of the salvation of mankind by him, were first published by Christ and his apostles, and by whom they were published to all nations. But the words are otherwise rendered in the margin, and by others, O thou (whosoever thou art, prophet or apostle)

that bringest good tidings to Zion. So Zion is not the deliverer, but the receiver, of these good tidings, as she is in the parallel place, Isaiah 52:7. But our translation seems to agree better with the Hebrew text, in which the particle unto is not here expressed, as it is in the latter part of the verse; by comparing which part with the former, it seems most probable that Zion or Jerusalem is the speaker or publisher, and

the cities of Judah the hearers.

Get thee up into the high mountain, that thy voice may be better heard, as appears from the next branch of the verse: see Judges 9:7 1 Samuel 26:13,14.

Be not afraid, lest thou shouldst be found a false prophet; for it shall certainly be fulfilled.

Say unto the cities of Judah; to all my people in the several places of their abode, whether cities or countries. Only he names cities, to intimate that they also, though they should be destroyed, yet should afterwards be rebuilt, and inhabited again.

Behold your God! take notice of this wonderful work and glorious appearance of your God, who will be visibly present with you, so that men may point at him, and say, Behold, here he is.

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.
With strong hand; with invincible strength, conquering all his enemies. The word hand or arm may very well be understood out of the following clause.

His arm shall rule for him; he shall need no succours, for his own power shall be sufficient to govern his people, and to destroy his adversaries.

His reward is with him; he comes furnished with recompences, as well of mercy and blessings for his friends and followers, as of justice and vengeance for his enemies.

His work before him; he carrieth on his work or design effectually, so as none can hinder him; for that is said in Scripture to be before a man which is in his power, as Genesis 20:15 24:51, &c. Or work is here put for the reward of the work, as it is Isaiah 49:4 65:7, and elsewhere. And so the same thing is repeated in other words, as is very usual.

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.
He shall perform all the offices of a tender and faithful shepherd towards his people, carrying himself with great wisdom, and condescension, and compassion to every one of them, according to their several capacities and infirmities.

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?
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 directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counseller hath taught him?
Who 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 contrive and conspire against him, and against this work of his, as indeed they will do, yet his own counsel shall confound all their devices, and carry on his work in spite of them.

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?
Taught him in the path of judgment; how to walk and manage all his affairs with good judgment and discretion.

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.
The nations, all the nations of the world,

are as a drop of a bucket, compared with all the water in the bucket, wherein are innumerable drops: such are they if compared with God.

And are counted by him, and in comparison of him, as the small dust of the balance; which accidentally cleaves to the balance, but makes no alteration in the weight.

The isles; those numerous and vast countries to which they went from Judea by sea, which are commonly called isles, as hath been oft observed.

And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering.
And although he is pleased to accept of poor and small sacrifices from his people, yet if men were to offer a sacrifice agreeable to his infinite excellency, the whole forest of Lebanon could not afford either a sufficient number of beasts to be sacrificed, or a sufficient quantity of wood to consume the sacrifice.

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

To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?
This is a proper inference from the foregoing discourse of God’s immense and infinite greatness; from whence he taketh occasion to show both the folly of those that make mean and visible representations of God, as not the Gentiles only, but even some of the Jews did; and the utter inability of men or idols to give any opposition to God in the doing of these great works. And this discourse of the madness of idolaters, prosecuted both here and in the following chapter, was designed by God, as a necessary antidote whereby the Jews might be preserved from the contagion of idolatry, to which God saw they now had strong inclinations, and would have many and great temptations when they were in captivity.

The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains.
The workman melteth a graven image; he melteth some base metal into a mould, which giveth it the form of an image, which afterwards is graven or carved to make it more exact and amiable. Thus the image oweth all its excellency to the earth for the matter of it, and to the art of man for the form or fashion of it.

Spreadeth it over with gold, beaten out into leaves or plates.

Casteth silver chains; either for ornaments; or rather for use, to fasten it to a wall or pillar, lest it should fall down, and be broken in pieces; which is spoken in way of scorn and derision of such ridiculous deities as needed such supports.

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.
That he hath no oblation; that he can hardly procure money sufficient to buy the meanest sacrifice for his God.

He seeketh unto him a cunning workman; he is so mad upon his idols, that he will one way or other find money to procure the choicest materials, and the help of the best artist, to make his idol.

That shall not be moved; which after all this cost and art cannot stir one step out of its place to give you any help.

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?
Have ye not known, to wit, God to be the only true God, the Maker and Governor of the world, and all its inhabitants? how can you be ignorant of so evident a truth? He addresseth his speech to the idolatrous Gentiles.

From the beginning, to wit, of the world, as the next clause explains it. Were not these infinite perfections of God manifestly discovered to all mankind by the creation of the world?

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:
That sitteth, as a judge or governor upon his throne,

upon the circle of the earth; or, above the circle &c.; far above this round earth, even in the highest heavens; from whence he looketh down upon the earth, where men appear to him like grasshoppers. He alludes to one that looks down upon the earth below him from some high place. As here we have the circle of the earth, so elsewhere we read of the circle of heaven, Job 22:14, and of the circle of the deep, or sea, Proverbs 8:27, because the form of the heaven, and earth, and sea is circular and round, as is evident both from sense, and from the principles of philosophy.

As grasshoppers; small and contemptible in his sight. Compare Numbers 13:33.

Stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in, for the benefit of the earth and of mankind, that all parts might partake of its comfortable influences. See Poole "Job 9:8"; See Poole "Psalm 104:2".

That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.
That bringeth the princes to nothing; that can at his pleasure destroy all the great potentates of the world.

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.
They, the princes and judges last mentioned,

shall not be planted; yea, they shall not be sown: they shall take no root, as it follows; for planting and sowing are in order to taking root, and are necessary to it. They shall not continue and flourish, as they have vainly imagined; but shall be rooted up and perish, as is declared in the rest of the verse.

Blow upon them; blast them, as a vehement east wind doth plants.

To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One.
He repeateth what he said Isaiah 40:18, that he might oblige them to the more serious and frequent consideration of the absurdity of the idolatry.

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.
Lift up your eyes on high; to the high and starry heaven as appears from the following words.

These things which you see on high, the host of heaven, as it follows.

That bringeth out; that at first brought them out of nothing, and from day to day brings them forth, making them to rise and set in their appointed and fixed times.

Their host by number, as a general brings forth his army into the field, and there musters them.

He calleth them all by names, as a master calleth all the members of his family.

For that he is strong in power; which work is a certain and evident proof of God’s infinite power.

Not one faileth, either to appear when he calleth them, or to do the work to which he sends them.

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?
Why sayest thou in thy heart? why dost thou give way to such jealousies concerning thy God, of whose infinite power, and wisdom, and goodness there are such evident demonstrations given to all mankind, and to thee in a singular manner?

My way; the course and condition of my life. He takes no notice of my prayers and tears, and sufferings for his name, but suffers my enemies to abuse me at their pleasure, and doth not attempt to rescue me out of their hands. This complaint is uttered in the name of the people, being prophetically supposed to be in captivity.

My judgment; either,

1. My punishment; or rather,

2. My cause, as this word is most commonly used. God hath neglected to plead my cause, and to give judgment for me against mine enemies, as he hath formerly done.

Is passed over from my God; God hath dismissed it, and left it and me in the hands of mine enemies, and now our case is so desperate that God cannot help us; for which reason they compared themselves to dry bones lying in the grave, Ezekiel 37$.

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.
Of the ends of the earth; of all the earth, and the inhabitants thereof, from one end to another. He seems to mention the ends or utmost bounds, because they might seem to be more out of the reach and care of God’s providence, as being most remote from Jerusalem, the only place of God’s solemn and public worship in the world, and being then thought to be uninhabited. The argument is clear and strong: God, who made all, even the most desolate and barbarous parts of the earth, and consequently takes care of them, will not neglect his own land and people.

Fainteth not, neither is weary; he is not by age or hard labour become weak and unable to help his people, as men are apt to be.

There is no searching of his understanding; his counsels, by which he governeth all the world, and in a most particular manner thine affairs, are far above the reach of thy understanding; and therefore thou dost ignorantly and foolishly in passing so rash a censure upon the ways and works of the infinitely wise God.

He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
He hath strength enough not only for himself, but for all, even the weakest of his creatures, whom he can easily strengthen to bear all their burdens, and to vanquish all their oppressors.

Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
The youngest and strongest men, left to themselves, or without God’s help, or which do not wait upon God; which is easily understood from the opposition in the following verse.

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.
That wait upon the Lord; that rely upon him for strength to bear their burdens, and for deliverance from them in due time.

Shall renew their strength; shall grow stronger and stronger in faith, and patience, and fortitude, whereby they shall be more than conquerors over all their enemies and adversities.

They shall mount up with wings as eagles; which fly most strongly, and swiftly, and high, out of the reach of all danger.

They shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint; they shall be enabled to run or walk in their way as they please, without any weariness.

Matthew Poole's Commentary

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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