Our reading today begins sixteen chapters that are defined by the opening words here: “Comfort, comfort…” (40:1). God through Isaiah speaks words of consolation to His people – “comfort My people” – this is not physical Israel/Judah. This is God’s true, spiritual people. This is not physical Jerusalem (v. 2), but heavenly Jerusalem (see Heb 12:22, Rev 21:2, 9-10). These are those whose “warfare” has ended. The word here can can mean “military service” or “compulsory labor” (as if by a slave). Given the book’s overarching theme of restoration from captivity, I would favor this talking about slavery. And our slavery that ended was our slavery to sin and death. Because our iniquity has been pardoned. That we have received “double” for our sins means something closer to “more than enough.”
Back in Isaiah 34, we saw how God’s judgment was likened to a city being turned into a wilderness of thorns and wild animals. In chapter 35, we saw that God’s restoration was likened to the wilderness being made into a lush forest once again inhabitable. And we saw that a highway – the Way of Holiness – would be there for the elect alone to walk on (35:8). Here, in 40:3, we see a herald of God calling for us to ready ourselves for God to work that restoration – to be prepared in the “wilderness” for the “highway” to be built which is here called “the way of YHWH.” This is, of course, referring to the beginning of the promised restoration which started with Christ’s First Coming. The herald is John the Baptist (see Luke 3:4-6), the Elijah-type that would precede the great and awesome day of YHWH (see Mal 4:5, Matt 17:10-13).
In verse 4 we see the valleys being lifted up and the mountains being made low, etc. While this refers to God “straightening things out,” as it were, the idea of the valleys being lifted and the mountains being lowered to meet on common ground is a picture of heaven (the mountain) meeting earth (the valley). This is what happened when Christ came to inaugurate the new creation. He revealed the glory of God (v. 5 – see John 1:14), and every one will see Him when He comes in glory to complete His work (see Rev 1:7). This is sure because God has decreed it.
In verses 6-8, God asserts again the sure and unchangeable nature of His decrees. Men are like the grass and flowers of the field which withers at God’s will. But the Word of God is indestructible, unchangeable, eternal! God then calls Zion and Jerusalem – both referring to the church – to herald the “good news” (v. 9). And the good news is that God, Who is coming to judge in might, will also reward those who have been gathered by the gentle Shepherd (vv. 10-11).
But how? How will God accomplish this? How can the just judge reward sinners simply because the Shepherd has gathered them? Is this fair? Either that is the question that is answered in the rest of the chapter, or God is cutting off any questions before they can even be asked. It is stylistically very similar to how God answers Job, which isn’t surprising, since God answered Job’s complaint about the unfairness of his situation. There are also similarities between this and Romans 9-11, where Paul is heading off the exact question of fairness regarding God’s salvation. And the answer here is the same as it is in those two places: no one has the right to question God!
In verses 12, Isaiah asks Who created the world (see Job 38:4-11). Paul actually quotes verse 13 in Romans 11:34 (as well as 1 Cor 2:16). In verse 14, we see that God does not know what is true and what is just, rather, what is true and what is just are those things because of Who God is! In verses 15-17, we see how much higher – infinitely higher! – than His creation God is. So what can men compare God to (v. 18)? Well, the answer is nothing. But God tells us what we try to compare Him to: idols. Idols are made by men. the rich can get gold idols (v. 19). The poor use wood (v. 20). In other words, instead of honoring God as incomprehensible Creator in Whose image we are made, man would rather make Him in our image.
In verse 22, we see that God sits above the earth. That’s heaven. And heaven is compared to both a tent and a curtain. This points to the fact that the Tabernacle (and the Temple, for that matter) were made to image heaven, where God properly dwells. And where He dwells is behind a curtain, symbolized by the veil that separated Him (as represented by the Ark) from men. Verse 23 echoes Job 12:21.
God then once again asks who He can be compared to (v. 25). The answer is still nothing. Yet, Israel believes God actually owes them something (v. 27). They placed themselves over God! They believed their physical lineage gave them “rights.” They still thought that in Jesus’s day. This is the type of thinking Paul corrected in Romans 9-11. God gave them everything (not as a right, but of grace). And they forsook Him. But those whom God saves through the Shepherd (from verse 11), these are the weak that God will make strong (v. 29), while the strong will be made weak (v. 30). Those who do not work but wait on God will be given this strength (v. 31).
Chapter 41 begins with God calling all people as if to a courtroom to render judgment (41:1). He pleads His case: it was He Who is sovereign over history, like how HE used Assyria and Babylon for judgment (vv. 2-4). Note that He decreed this from the dawn of time as He is the eternal One (this “first and last” designation is given to Christ in Revelation 1:17 and 22:13). Those who have been called into the courtroom (all people) see the course of history and, rather than turn to God, make themselves idols for protection (vv. 5-7). They seek their own strength rather than God’s. Rather than be strengthened by God, they strengthen their own idols.
But Israel, which God here calls “my servant,” is different (v. 8). This is still not physical Israel, but God’s spiritual people in Christ. He is the Servant, and as His church, we are the servant. We are the offspring of Abraham (Gal 3:29), the friend of God (see Jas 3:23). We are those from the ends of the earth (see Acts 1:8) whom God has chosen (v. 9). We have no need to fear like the idolatrous nations (v. 5) because God is our strength (v. 10 – see 40:29). He will judge justly and remove our enemies form our presence (vv. 11-13).
In verse 14, God tells “you worm Jacob” not to fear. If Israel is here the spiritual Israel, why would God refer to us as “you worm?” The word here translated “worm” is translated as such eight times in the Old Testament (such as Jonah 4:7). However, the other 33 times it is used it is translated “scarlet” (as in Lev 14:52 or Num 4:8). When translated as scarlet (as well as in extra-Biblical usage), the word usually refers to a scarlet colored garment or weaving. This is another example of translation containing interpretation. This can literally say “do not fear scarlet (clothed or covered) Jacob.” This translation would fit the context better.
God says He will take “scarlet Jacob” and make us a powerful instrument that will crush the mountains and hills (v. 15). Leveling the mountains is what God calls His herald of the good news to do (as in chapter 40). This is a picture of the church as a mighty instrument of salvation as the place where heaven meets earth. And God will provide for our needs as we herald the good news (v. 17), including restoring the wilderness as in 35:6-7 (v. 18). Verses 19-20 further describe this restoration.
But we are not out of the courtroom yet. God now asks the idolaters to plead their case. YHWH has set forth His case as the only true God, and now He wants to hear from the idols/gods of the unbelievers. In verse 21, the “King of Jacob” is a false god. The word here is used of the Ammonite God Milcom (see Jer 49:1-3, Zep 1:5). God is challenging the gods/idols of the nations to do what He does. Declare the future (v. 22)! Place the nations in fear through sovereign acts (v. 23 – see vv. 2-5)! But they can’t. These gods are powerless before YHWH (v. 24). It is God alone Who can control history (v. 25). God alone Who can declare the end from the beginning (v. 26). Only God Who can call together His heralds of the good news (v. 27). None of the other gods can do any of this (v. 28). They, like the idols built to honor them, are nothing (v. 29). God has won the case.
Chapter 42 begins with the first of four “Servant Songs” about Christ. 42:1-4 is quoted by Matthew as fulfilled in Christ (Matt 12:15-21). This is also attested to of God the Father when He sent the Spirit upon Christ at His baptism (see Matt 3:16-17). The gentleness described here is fitting of the gentle Shepherd from 40:11. This is He Who will bring forth final justice. God then speaks to His Servant in verses 6-9. God calls Christ in righteousness, and will protect Him as He lives out that righteousness (v. 6). He will be given as a (New) Covenant for all people. Verses 6-7 are likely in view in Acts 26:18, which describes Christ’s call on Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles. We see the overlap between Christ as Servant and His church as servant. The “good news” we proclaim continues the work of the Servant, and it removes people from the power of Satan (Acts 26:18), who was one of the gods declared powerless in Isaiah chapter 41.
In verse 8, we see that YHWH, still speaking to the Servant, declares that He will give His glory to no one else. While this is a reference to those false gods/idols who have been shown to be nothing, it is also important to note that Jesus shares in the glory of YHWH (see John 1:14, 17:5). This identifies the Servant and YHWH as different, but still both YHWH. In verse 9, the former things that have come to pass is God’s plan for Israel – to preserve a physical seed to bring forth the greater Son of David. The “new things” that are being declared here is the Person and work of the Messiah. This is also the former sins that God has overlooked (see Rom 3:25) to make us new in Christ (see 2 Cor 5:17), and Who will make us new at our final salvation (see Rev 21:5).
Because of these “new things” that God is bringing about, He calls us to praise Him with a new song (v. 10a – see Ps 33:3). This call goes out to the whole world (vv. 10b-12). In verse 14, God says that He has held His peace “for a long time.” This is that “double” (“more than enough”) of 40:1. God will wait no longer and will cry out as if giving birth. This is the coming of Christ, the seed of the woman (see Gen 3:15, Gal 4:4, Rev 12:5). God will bring the mountains down (heaven to earth – vv. 15-16) and give sight to the blind (v. 16) through the Messiah.
By contrast, those who worship false gods will be put to shame by Him (v. 17). He is the true Israel, because Israel failed to be God’s servant (vv. 18-25 – see 41:8). They failed to be His heralds, and instead made themselves blind and deaf (vv. 19-20 – see 6:9-12). God gave them the Law (v. 21), but they refused it. So they have been plundered and sent away with none to rescue them (v. 22). This was the punishment of God (vv. 24-25).
Isn’t the Word of God amazing?!?!?