After the “Passover” deliverance from the Assyrians (Isaiah 37), Isaiah hears a voice announcing a new exodus (Isaiah 40:3, 6). Yahweh returns through the wilderness to Zion (vv. 3-11).
“‘Comfort, yes, comfort My people!’ says your God. ‘Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.’ . . . (Isaiah 40:1-31).
Chapter 40 opens a new section of Isaiah. It is divided into three sub-sections by the repetition of the phrase “there is no peace for the wicked” (48:22; 57:21; cf. 66:24). The whole is about Judah’s return from Babylonian exile, but Babylon is not mentioned immediately (cf. 43:14). At first, the prophecy still seems to be about the deliverance from the Assyrians: Sennacherib could invade Judah only because Yahweh was absent, but Isaiah now sees Yahweh returning to protect His people.
CLEAR THE WAY
The chapter begins with an exhortation to some group, probably the prophets. There is a threefold announcement: Comfort, speak, call (v. 1). Zion can be sure that her sin is removed (v. 1), but before Yahweh’s glory comes, she has to clear a path, smoothing the ground, lifting valleys, lowering mountains (Isaiah 40:3-4). Yahweh’s coming will show His glory to all the nations (v. 5). All flesh withers and dies (vv. 6-7), but Yahweh’s promise stands firm forever (v. 8).
TO WHOM DO YOU LIKEN GOD?
Yahweh will come like a mighty man (v. 10) and a shepherd gathering His sheep (v. 11). He will redeem Israel because He is the wise craftsman who designed the world (vv. 12-14; cf. Genesis 1; Proverbs 8). He laid the foundations of the house of earth, and stretched out the firmament like a tent (vv. 21-22). He numbers and names the stars (v. 26). The gods of the nations, including Nisroch of the Assyrians, are no match for him; they are the products of craftsmen (vv. 18-20), not craftsmen of creation. Before Yahweh, the nations are not a sea but a drop of water (v. 15) and the islands are grains of sand (v. 15). All He has to do is breathe His fiery Spirit on rulers and judges, and they burn and blow away like stubble (vv. 23-24).
DO YOU NOT KNOW?
Isaiah’s prophecy is peppered with rhetorical questions (vv. 14, 18, 21, 27, 28). The questions are as much for Judah and Jerusalem as for the nations. Judah too needs to be reminded who Yahweh is. Faced with invasion and exile, Judah is tempted to think “the justice due me escapes the notice of my God” (v. 27). Yahweh responds not only by emphasizing His untiring power and inscrutable wisdom (v. 28) but also by assuring Judah that they will renew their strength by relying on Him (vv. 29-31).
THE VOICE AND THE GLORY
John the Baptist quotes Isaiah 40:3-4 to explain his ministry (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4-6). That means that Jesus’ advent is the coming of Yahweh described in the rest of the chapter. Jesus is the Glory, the Mighty Man, the Shepherd, the Wise Craftsman, the Creator, the Ruler of nations who comes to make this old world young again.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Monday, May 28, 2012 at 6:55 am
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