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Comfort of Salvation – Isaiah 40

Read the Passage: Isaiah 40

Comfort from God (40:1–8)

Isaiah 40 marks a turning point in this book, as beginning here Isaiah’s message changes from one of dread and judgment to one of hope and salvation. In the concluding twenty-seven chapters of this book, Isaiah gives prophecies of peace (cf. Isa. 40–48), writes about the Prince of peace (cf. Isa. 49–57), and details God’s program of peace (cf. Isa. 58–66). Starting in Isa. 40:1, God commands Isaiah to comfort His people and to speak tenderly with them. This chapter is unique in that God is addressing Isaiah as if he were an exile participating in the Babylonian captivity—an event that wouldn’t take place for over 100 years. In this passage God refers to the future exile in Babylon as the “time of forced labor” (Isa. 40:2). The reference to Israel receiving “double for all her sins” (Isa. 40:2) refers to God being fully paid and completely satisfied for Israel’s transgression of His moral law.

In Isa. 40:3–5 Isaiah mentions the voice of one crying out, “Prepare the way of the Lord” (Isa. 40:3). In the original context, this describes the pathway from bondage in Babylon to freedom in Israel. While the wilderness between Babylon and Israel was barren and rough, since the return to Jerusalem was of the Lord, Isaiah writes that the way home would be straight, level, and smooth. In the larger context of Scripture, the pathway that Isaiah cites here is a prophecy about the ministry of John the Baptist, who showed the way for Israel to leave their bondage of sin and arrive at freedom of Jesus (cf. Luke 3:4–6). Note that the “glory of the Lord” (Isa. 40:5) is a reference to salvation in Christ. In Isa. 40:6–8 Isaiah mentions a herald crying out about the certainty of the Word of God as compared to the contingent nature of mankind. Perhaps this was part of John’s message to Israel.

Character of God (40:9–17)

In Isa. 40:9–11 Israel is instructed to spread the good news about God’s coming deliverance—both from exile in Babylon and from bondage to sin. In this passage God is described as having strength and power, as well as bringing wages and rewards to His people. Isa. 40:11 is one of the most tender verses in all of Scripture, as here Isaiah writes of God, “He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.” Note that this is similar to Jesus’ self-description at Matt. 11:28–30. Next, in Isa. 40:12–17, Isaiah begins to ask a series of rhetorical questions, which he will continue to do throughout the end of this chapter, that highlight the majesty and power of God. In context, these words are designed to comfort a future generation of Israelites who really were in bondage in Babylon.

Comparison with God (40:18–31)

In Isa. 40:12–17 Isaiah writes of the sheer majesty of God, as he notes God’s rule over the natural world (cf. Isa. 40:12), God’s possession of all knowledge, counsel, and understanding (cf. Isa. 40:13–14), and God’s rule over the nations (cf. Isa. 40:15–17). As he continues this line thought, in Isa. 40:18–24 Isaiah highlights God’s grandeur by showing He is incomparable. At Isa. 40:18 Isaiah rhetorically asks, “With whom will you compare God?” As he had done earlier and will do again, in Isa. 40:19–20 Isaiah notes that God cannot even be compared to an idol, for idols are worthless creations of man that are made of metal and wood (cf. Isa. 31:6–7; 44:9–20; Jer. 10:1–10). In Isa. 40:21–24 Isaiah points to God’s creation and sustenance of the earth. Here Isaiah notes God’s power over the inhabitants of the earth (cf. Isa. 40:22), including its princes and judges.

While all of Scripture is the Word of God, and God uses prophets to communicate His message, Isa. 40:25–31 is unique in that here God speaks in the first person, asking, “To whom will you compare Me, or who is My equal?” In this passage God declares that He knows all of the stars by name (cf. Isa. 40:26). This is an arresting thought, as there are more than one billion trillion stars in the observable universe! In Isa. 40:27 Isaiah anticipates an objection that would be made by those in exile—that is, the notion that God does not see their sufferings or hear their prayers. In response, Isaiah again appeals to God’s power and strength. In Isa. 40:31, Isaiah encourages his readers to trust in God, writing, “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Application Questions:

  1. When you were redeemed, did you feel a great sense of comfort? Why do some experience a greater sense of comfort than others in salvation?
  2. What does Isaiah mean in writing that Israel “has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isa. 40:2)?
  3. In what ways can Christians “prepare the way of the Lord” (Isa. 40:3) as they live out their faith before a watching world?
  4. When you have faced suffering and trials, what biblical passages and teachings have been most comforting to you?
  5. If God has all power, strength, and understanding, why does He often seem to delay in answering our prayers?
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