Isaiah 40 – “Praise for God”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
The prophet praises God, belittles the other nations, and urges the people to trust in God.

II. Photo
The prophet praises God: “Grass withers, flowers fade — but the word of our God is always fulfilled!” (v. 8 )

III. Important Verses
1-2: Comfort, oh comfort My people, Says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, And declare to her That her term of service is over, That her iniquity is expiated; For she has received at the hand of the LORD Double for all her sins.
6b-8: “All flesh is grass, All its goodness like flowers of the field: Grass withers, flowers fade When the breath of the LORD blows on them. Indeed, man is but grass: Grass withers, flowers fade — But the word of our God is always fulfilled!”
11: Like a shepherd He pastures His flock: He gathers the lambs in His arms And carries them in His bosom; Gently He drives the mother sheep.
13: Who has plumbed the mind of the LORD, What man could tell Him His plan?
18-19:  To whom, then, can you liken God, What form compare to Him? The idol? A woodworker shaped it, And a smith overlaid it with gold, Forging links of silver.
26: Lift high your eyes and see: Who created these? He who sends out their host by count, Who calls them each by name: Because of His great might and vast power, Not one fails to appear.
30-31: Youths may grow faint and weary, And young men stumble and fall; But they who trust in the LORD shall renew their strength As eagles grow new plumes: They shall run and not grow weary, They shall march and not grow faint.

IV. Outline

1. The prophet is called by God
2. The assignment: placate Jerusalem
3-5. A voice proclaims God’s coming
6-8. A voice proclaims man’s precariousness
9. Imperative for Jerusalem to announce the coming of God
10-25. Hymnic praise
    10. God’s strength
    11. God’s care for his people
    12-14. Nobody understands God
    15-17. God is greater than the other nations
    18-20. God is greater than idols
    21-22. God rules the earth
    23-24. Men are not truly powerful
    25. Oracle: Who can compare to God?
    26. God maintains the stars
27. Confrontation: why hide actions from God?
28. God’s is the creator and all-knowing
29-31. God gives strength to those who trust in him

V. Comment
Chapter 40 begins a section of our book (chapters 40-55) that many call “Second Isaiah.” Clifford summarizes this section as follows: “Second Isaiah urges his fellow exiles to regard Babylon as their ancestors had regarded Egypt and to depart with him on a new Exodus and entry into Zion, by which acts they will become Israel once again. His program is clear and pervades all the speeches. The speeches, by their nature occasional and responsive to audience moods and changing circumstances of which we are not well informed, do not appear to be arranged according to an overarching design.” (491)

Although Second Isaiah’s identity remains unknown (there is neither an introductory statement to precede his speeches nor a narrative that surrounds them), some scholars believe that he was a Babylonian who lived during the 540’s BCE. Clifford writes: “Though they provide little biographical information, the speeches do permit fairly precise dating. They assume that the readers or hearers know that Cyrus, king of Persia, will soon conquer the Babylonian Empire. Such an assumption was only possible after Cyrus deposed his sovereign Astyages in 550 B.C., incorporating Media into the Persian Empire, and conquered Lydia in 546 B.C. That conquest, along with the palpable decline of the Babylonian Empire, signaled one of those great changes of fortune that every so often reshaped the ancient Near East. The speeches do not mention the entry of Cyrus’ army into Babylon in 539 B.C. The speeches were therefore given in the 540s B.C. [Also,] it is reasonably assumed, because of the immediacy of his preaching, that the prophet lived in Babylon, in one of several exiled Jewish communities of the time. His message consistently is addressed to the Babylonian community (cf. esp. 48:20; 52:11–12; chaps. 46; 47), inviting them to join him in a new Exodus-Conquest (esp. 49:1–12).” (492)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Sweeney, Marvin A. “Isaiah 1-39 with an Introduction to Prophetic Literature” The Forms of Old Testament Literature vol. 16 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1996).
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