This article continues the theme of Yahweh’s unrivalled greatness. In view of this, His servants have no need to think  that they have been forgotten, or that His purpose with them has failed. In His time, those who wait on Him shall  be delivered and glorified.

Isaiah 40

The following verses investigate Yahweh’s  unequalled comparison with idols!

Verse 19 “The workman melteth a graven image,  and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold and  casteth silver chains.”

This might be regarded as an expostulation. What!  Compare Yahweh of Israel with an idol which a  craftsman has made!

“The workman” The Hebrew word denotes an  artificer and is applied to one who engraves wood  or stone (Exod 28:11); to a workman in iron, brass,  stone and wood (Exod 25:35; Deut 27:15)

“melteth” ie casts or founds.

“a graven image” The word is used of images  carved from wood (Exod 20:4), but is also applied to a molten image, that is, one cast from metals (Jer  10:14, 51:17).

“and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold”  Idols were frequently overlaid with silver or gold  (41:7). Thus the more elaborate the carving and the  more costly and lavish the finish, the greater the value, importance and power of the god!!

Verse 20 “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.”

The comparison here is with the previous verse  (19). Here the offerer (ie the idol worshipper) is  poor and he cannot afford rich and costly idols.  The word “oblation” (ie offering) does not denote  an offering made to the true God, but to an idol, as  the image was regarded to be.

The sense is well-expressed by the Living Bible,  “The man too poor to buy expensive gods [like that  of v19] will find a tree free from rot and hire a man  to carve a face upon it, and that’s his god—a god  that cannot even move!”

“that shall not be moved” (cp 41:7) That is, not be  moved or topple like Dagon (1 Sam 5:4). This is the  crowning folly! The idol made by human hands and  elaborately graven of the most desirable materials is  fixed and immobile. How utterly useless! How blind  and lacking in perception are its devotees?!

In this there is a challenge to Christ’s servants  lest they should place value upon that which is seen  and fabricated by human hands. “Covetousness is  idolatry”, and can destroy the hope of the Kingdom  in us. It is like a foreign god in our heart.

“The idolater would suppose his idol to  represent some supernatural force or being, but  the prophet inculcates the true understanding. Idols  may look magnificent, venerable and mysterious,  they may excite a sense of awe, but there is nothing  there except the materials—no ability but human  ability, no innate resources but those of the earth”  (JA Motyer).

Isaiah 40:21 Seeing Yahweh’s Supremacy is Evident, Men are Reproved for Failing to See It

Verse 21

1 Have ye not known? [roth ‘taken note’]

2 Have ye not heard?

3 Hath it not been told you from the beginning?

4 Have ye not understood [roth ‘been led to discern’]  from the foundations of the earth?

These four questions are particularly applicable to Judah, for despite having the knowledge of God, they repeatedly turned back to idolatry. The ten tribes (Israel) had already been taken into captivity. Despite this challenge, tragically, in the forthcoming reign of Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, the worship of Yahweh the great Creator ceased and Baal worship was instituted (2 Kings 21). Questions 2 and 3 relate to “hearing” and “being told”. This was not true of Israel’s idolatrous neighbours: they had never “heard” and been taught the truth.

But the Jews had no excuse, as idolatry had been condemned from the days of Moses onwards (Exod 20:3-4; 32:1ff).

40:22-24 Yahweh’s Supremacy Reaffirmed by His Loftiness and Power over Men and Nations

Verse 22 “It is he that sitteth upon the circle  [roth mrg ‘compass’, or ‘vault’] 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.”

Verse 23 “That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity” [Heb  tohu, roth ‘like a desolation’].

Verse 24 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.”

Verse 22 is a reply to verse 21. It portrays the  immensity of the Creator, picturing Him sitting on  the vault or horizon (both of which appear circular),  presiding over human affairs where men appear  minute as grasshoppers (cp Num 13:33). Thus He  rules with consummate ease.

So great is God that He requires the whole  universe as a tent to dwell in! (cp 66:1; 1Kings  8:27; Gen 1:7; Psa 104:2).

Verse 23 reveals God’s involvement, yea,  control over the affairs of the nations. His  enthronement on high is not a hollow boast nor an  ornamental monarchy, but He actually rules in the  Kingdom of men (Dan 4:17). Princes and rulers  may seem to hold power but they are completely  under His jurisdiction (John 19:10–11). In His time  and in accord with His will they are appointed to  non-existence, and are of no further significance!  (cp Job 12:21; Psa 107:40; 2:10–11).

Verse 24 enforces Yahweh’s unique dignity and  control. Princes and judges come and go. There is  no permanent monument to their honour. Before  the scale of His eternity they have barely taken root  before they are withered and become extinct. His  irresistible will banishes them as stubble before the  whirlwind. These are awesome contemplations and  they are in such contrast with the gentle care He  shows to His own as the Shepherd of Israel (v11).

Rotherham’s version presents the reality in graphic terms:

“Scarcely have they [princes and judges] been  planted,  Scarcely have they been sown,  Scarcely hath their stock begun to take root in  the earth  When he hath just blown upon them and they have withered, And a whirlwind as though they had been chaff carrieth them away.”

40:25 The Conclusion Confirmed

Verse 25 “To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One.”

Having set forth His power (v12), wisdom  (v13–14) dignity (v15–17), sovereignty (v22–23)  and authority (v24), God Himself now speaks for  the first time and invites comparison!! To ask is to answer the question. But the answer is made absolute by the words spoken being attributed  to “the Holy One” (In the Hebrew text ‘the Holy  One’ is an “adjective without the definite article,  as though ‘Holy’ were another name for the Lord”  [JA Motyer]). By this term God’s moral perfection  and distinction is introduced to the argument as a killing blow.

40:26 Yahweh the Creator and Controller of the  Heavens. A Glimpse of the Heavens will Confirm the Truth of His Godhead.

Verse 26 “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” [rsv ‘not one  is missing’].

The words “lift up” are used of the worship of  the stars (Deut 4:19), which was one of the sins for which the ten tribes were taken into captivity  (2 Kings 17:16); and a large part of the religion of Babylon.

“and behold who hath created these…”

Modern science has revealed that there are ten million stars in the Milky Way Galaxy alone, and then, amazingly, that there are ten million such  galaxies! These are all creatures made by the Creator (Gen 1:16, “he made the stars also”), and testify to His power (Psa 19:1–6).

“that bringeth out their host by number”

The order and regularity of the movements of the heavenly bodies is here referred to. Just as a general marshals, summons and directs his army, so God controls the heavenly host.

“He calleth them all by names by the greatness of his power”

Astronomers may give to the stars names, but their real names are those by which the Creator directs them (cp Job 38:31–32; Psa 147:4). Innumerable as the stars may be to us (Gen 15:5), there is neither one more or less than He has made. He controls and directs them totally and individually, giving each names.

“not one faileth” roth “not one is missing”. Not  only are they all named but they are individually  accounted for! These facts bear heavily upon the  argument and position that “Jacob” and “Israel”  have taken against Yahweh—if He is so great and  His ways so precise and perfect, how could they claim that He has ignored and disregarded them?  (v27)

40:27-31 In Persecution and Delay Israel Feels  Deserted. But Seeing Yahweh Directs All Things the Faithful will be Rewarded

Verse 27 “Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest,  O Israel, My way is hid from Yahweh, and my  judgment is passed over from [roth ‘right is  disregarded by’] my God?”

God’s argument is brought up against the claims  of His people. They are despondent, believing  He has hidden His face from their calamities and  disregarded their cause. But if He controls all  things, is aware of all that transpires, and directs  events, then such a claim is invalid.

“Jacob” (= ‘supplanter’) is the name given to  the natural seed of Abraham, whereas “Israel” was  the new name given to Jacob when he prevailed  over the angel (Gen 32). It signifies one who will  prevail with God’s help. It is used of spiritual Israel,  that is, of all those who put their trust in the God  of Israel (cp Gal 6:16; John 1:47; Rom 9:6). By  the use of these names God is recalling this telling  event in the life of the father of the twelve tribes  (Gen 32:22–32).

Verse 28 “Has thou not known? Hast thou not  heard, that the everlasting God, Yahweh, the  Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not  neither is weary? There is no searching of his  understanding.

Any feelings of despair over their lot (ie Israel’s)  could and should be dissipated by that which they  had “heard” and should have “known”. The words  are a call to remember that God is eternal, is the  Creator who is never weary and knows and is aware  of all things. Possessing these powers He never  lacks the capacity to relieve, nor is He unaware of  Israel’s plight. He is not limited by time or inability  and though we may not comprehend the present  apparent delay or distress, it does not mean He has  forsaken His people or purpose.

“Because He works on an everlasting,  worldwide and ceaseless level, we cannot fathom  his understanding, ‘search through his discernment’.  His ways belong to eternity, we to time: His vision is  for the world, we are local; His ceaselessness keeps  Him always ahead of the point we have reached”  (JA Motyer).

“There is no searching of his understanding” Cited  Romans 11:33, the great chapter unravelling the secret  of God’s dealings with Israel, as here in Isaiah 40.

Verse 29 “He giveth power to the faint and to them  that have no might he increaseth strength”

Whilst God is strong, He also desires to share this  strength and impart it to others. But He cannot work  with those who are self-sufficient and filled with  the knowledge of their own strength. To those who  are feeble and who put their trust in Him, He will  look (57:15; 66:2) “His strength is made perfect in  weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

Verse 30 “Even the youths shall faint, and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall” [rsv  ‘fall exhausted’].

Life demonstrates that merely natural resources fail, but a different experience is possible and  promised.

The word for “young men” is bahurim and  refers to those chosen or selected (lxx Gk eklectoi  ‘choice men’); that is, men in peak condition, in the  prime of life have their limits. Their powers are soon exhausted. But the power of God is unexhausted and inexhaustible.

Verse 31 “But they that wait upon Yahweh 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.”  “They that wait upon Yahweh”

This phrase expresses the key attitude of those with  whom God can involve Himself. They look to Him,  trust in Him and patiently wait the outworking of His  purpose. This key attitude is frequently referred to in  the Servant prophecy (cp 42:4; 50:10; 51:5; 60:9).

“shall renew [mrg ‘change’] their strength”

The Hebrew word means to change, to alter; and  then to revive, to renew, to cause to flourish again.  Whilst strength of mind to face trial can be gained  by trust in God, now in the ultimate sense the verse  refers to renewed physical strength. This will be  dispensed following resurrection, when the elect  will be changed and put on immortality, being  “made equal to the angels, able to die no more”  (1 Cor 15:51–52; Luke 20:36).

“They shall mount up with wings as eagles”

[roth “They shall mount on strong pinion like eagles”.] Eagles live and retain their vigour to a great age. They moult in old age and renew their feathers and with them their youth. Compare this with Psalm 103:5: “Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s”. Added to this is the promise of running without becoming weary, and of walking and not fainting. What a glorious prospect this is. Age weakens and robs of strength. But those who wait upon Yahweh shall have their mortality swallowed up in life. They shall be made “like” the “glorious”, immortal, all-powerful Son of God, “for they shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2; Phil 3:21).