The language of Isaiah
When one reads Isaiah he is confronted with the oracles of a prophet who has been shaken to his very core by an epiphany of God’s holiness (Isaiah 6.1-8; cp. 1 Kings 22.19). The words of the prophet are the words of God: just as he forecasts a coming judgment and calls Judah to repentance, so too he casts a vision of a coming day of consolation and salvation. He writes with the heart of a poet. After coming through the wilderness of God’s judgment we come now to the oasis of his mercy. Unquestionably, the poetry of Isaiah is among the most sublime of Scripture. His use of imagery, personifications, word plays, alliterations, songs, metaphor, simile, satire and his general grasp of language open, as it were, the windows of heaven so that the reader is confronted with the full counsel of God’s judgment and blessings. “The scope of the book takes us beyond Isaiah’s days to the new heavens and the new earth. The prophecy spans the pre-exilic, exilic, and postexilic eras, the coming of the Messiah, the messianic age, the church, and the final consummation. The book unfolds God’s plan for the redemption of his people. The name Isaiah, variously translated as ‘salvation is of the Lord,’ or ‘salvation of Yahweh,’ and even ‘Yahweh is salvation,’ unfolds the purpose of the book” (Willem VanGemeren, Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, Isaiah, Libronix Digital Library System). That the gospel is integral to the book is evident in the closing lines: “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD (Isaiah 66.22-23).
A Word of Comfort (40.1-2)
The transition from The Book of the King (Isaiah 1-39), which primarily dealt with God’s judgment, to the climatic The Book of the Servant (Isaiah 40-55), which deals with deliverance, is depicted in miniature in chapters 39 & 40. These two chapters are illustrative of the symmetry of Isaiah. Today’s text, Isaiah 40.1-11, functions as a prologue to the second major division of Isaiah and verses 12-26 are a vision of an incomparably awesome God. The opening words of the chapter are so familiar that even people with a passing acquaintance with the Bible may recognize the words, Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. However, what is easily overlooked is the context in which these words were spoken. Isaiah foretold of a ruinous future for Judah: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon (Isaiah 39.6-7). Hezekiah’s response to this foreboding news is even more bleak: “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good. For he thought, ‘There will be peace and security in my days’” (Isaiah 39.8). If this is the attitude of the king, what hope is there for Judah? Though these events were still future when Isaiah penned them, they are attached to another prophetic message, a message of comfort to give hope to the faithful remnant who will suffer the consequences of God’s judgment on all of Judah. Indeed, Isaiah’s eschatological vision for a distant future when the conquering King shall reign is very hopeful: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isaiah 60.1-3). So, as chapter 39 ends with the promise of punishment in Babylonian captivity, chapter 40 opens with a prophetic assurance that Israel will be comforted and, in time, become the object of God’s blessing.
The plural imperatives, Comfort, comfort are spoken by the Lord to his servant Isaiah. However, it is reasonable to concluded that all God’s servants are responsible to carry out the imperatives of His grace. There is an urgency and emotional intensity in this command. The imperfect tense of says your God has the sense of “keeps saying” which is not uncommon to Isaianic literature (1.1, 18; 33.10; 40.25; 66.9) (cf. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, p. 299). There are in these gentle words an urgent and persuasive appeal for Jerusalem to receive from God a double measure of His grace. Her hard service has been completed refers most probably to the punishment she endured because of her gross iniquities. It is not, of course, being suggested that Israel paid the full measure of her sin (such a thing would be impossible); rather, the Lord has redeemed her by paying for her sins (this is accomplished by the Servant of the Lord, Isaiah 52.13-53.12) and now provides for her a double blessing. That the double for all her sins refers to God’s blessing, and is not another reference to Israel’s punishment, is made clear by Young’s observation:
The idea of receiving double after suffering usually refers to the reception of blessing (cp. Isa. 61:7; Job 11:6). At the same time it fits better with the thought of the verse as expressing the content of the blessing to refer these words to the punishment and misery that Jerusalem has received. Great has been her suffering, but it has not been sufficient to satisfy the Law she had offended – indeed, no human suffering would bring an end to her misery. His own have been in bondage long enough; the time for blessing and deliverance has come. The chastening rod will be lifted, and the light of salvation will dawn. (E. J. Young, Isaiah, nicot, vol. 3, p. 24)
Voice: in the wilderness (40.3-5)
Many have observed that the three-part message of comfort in Isaiah 40.1 corresponds to the three subsections of Isaiah 40-66. Thus, the prophet’s announcement that Jerusalem is redeemed and delivered from judgment in chapters 40.2-48.22 corresponds to her warfare is ended. In chapters 49.1-57.21 Isaiah preaches a message of God that sets forth the promise to replace Israel’s sin with His salvation – her iniquity is pardoned. Finally, in 58.1-66.24 there is a picture of abundant grace and the wonderful culmination of Israel’s salvation – double for all her sins.
The first of the three prologue voices speaks in verse three: Listen, someone is calling, In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. This unidentified voice in Isaiah is identified for us in the New Testament as John the Baptist (John 1.19-23). In Isaiah 35.8 we read: And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. Young says that the Lord is coming and the people must prepare to meet Him. As with any visiting dignitary, one roles out the red carpet. When Jesus comes the “red carpet” involves the removing of the obstacles of sin. In another place Isaiah writes: But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear (Isaiah 59.2). The image of God and the spiritual catharsis of the wilderness experience is not foreign to Scripture. The prophet Elijah was closely associated with the wilderness, and in the New Testament John the Baptist will prepare the way for the coming Messiah as he preaches a message of repentance on the edge of the desert.
Isaiah knows that eventually Nebuchadnezzar will invade Jerusalem and destroy the Temple. With that act the theocracy of Israel will come to an end and the glory of Israel will depart from Jerusalem (cp. Young, p. 30). However, Isaiah presents the reader with an eschatological vision of God’s glory; in that time and place everyone will see the glory of God. The certainty of this is emphasized by his emphatic statement: For the mouth of the LORD has spoken (40.5).
Voice: “The Word will stand forever” (40.6-8)
The second voice cries out: All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. This is more than just an observation about man’s physical frailty and mortality; it is an indictment of his moral failure. Moyter writes: “The Spirit (the breath of the Lord) who is ‘the Lord, and the giver of life’ (Psalm 104:30) is also the Lord, and giver of death. There is a factor of divine judgment at work in the world, a visitation of death, for breath (ruah) is ‘spirit’. Figured by the abrasive wind that blights vegetation, the Spirit is the Lord’s mighty agency at work in the world, making real his personal presence in every place (Psalm 139:7). Not only does physical and moral fragility beset humankind in general but also even those of whom something more might be expected: the Lord’s people” (Motyer, p. 301). In contrast with the brevity of man’s life and the certainty of his judgment, there is the word of God that stands forever. Wise men look to the God of the Word and live; the fool says there is no God and dies.
Voice: the arm of God (40.9-11)
The third and last voice says: Lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news. That is to say: “What you have received you must now make known.” The Lord has come to Jerusalem; she has received a double blessing. Now she must get up to a high mountain and forcefully declare what good things the Lord has done.
The Church is not to keep this message to herself but is to present it to Judah’s cities with a holy boldness, she is not to pose as a seeker after truth, unsure of her message, but to declare in clear, firm, and positive voice that her message is true. She must be vigorously and militantly evangelistic. Hesitation, timorousness, and trembling are out of place. There is no need to fear as though the word of God would not be fulfilled, or as though the message would prove to be untrue and embarrassment would result. (Young, p. 38)
God is coming to His people. As Calvin puts it: “The sum of our happiness consists solely in the presence of God.” This truth is at the very heart of Scripture and is the substance of the good news. Without Him we have nothing; with Him we lack nothing.
While the consolation of the third voice assures Israel that God will rescue the exiles from their captivity in Babylon, there is a wonderfully hopeful eschatological promise of a greater deliverance. Not only will the Lord reward every man for what he has done (cp. 2 Corinthians 5.10), He is also the great shepherd. Isaiah’s imagery of the shepherd is clearly Messianic. Jesus identifies himself as the Isaianic shepherd: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. … I know my sheep and my sheep know me … and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10.11, 14a, 15b). There is no greater comfort than knowing that God gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart (see Isaiah 40.11).
An Incomparable God (Isaiah 40.12-26): Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? … To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see; who created these?
The only foundation for truth
Although Isaiah’s audience may have been inattentive to his message about the greatness of God in creation, they had one great advantage over those who read his message today. They believed that the primary purpose for which men and women exist is to know God and to worship him. They believed that God’s self-disclosure was the foundation of all truth and that creation itself revealed truth about God. Moreover, it was expected that God would reveal truth about himself and what he required from his people through his divinely appointed emissaries. Thus, Isaiah’s message about the sovereignty of God in creation was not only persuasive, it was in keeping with the tradition of the sacred writings of Moses, David and other biblical authors (e.g. Genesis 1-2; Psalm 19; Job 26). In short, then, it was a commonly held belief that revelation was a valid system of epistemology. Epistemology is the theory of knowledge; it is an investigation into what distinguishes justified belief from opinion. It has been a long time since either natural or special revelation, as a valid system of knowledge, has been viewed without considerable skepticism.
Perhaps it is somewhat simplistic, but it seems to me not entirely unwarranted to trace the shift in epistemology back to its Cartesian roots (Descartes) whose famous axiom, cognito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am), grounded his theory of knowledge in man as the one knowable constant. The finite “I” rather than the infinite God becomes the measure of all things. However, one must acknowledge that the Cartesian model was constrained by rigorous methodology and inevitably led to what was generally accepted as universal truth. This at least was compatible with the absolutism of biblical revelation. The deism of the Enlightenment soon gave way to the agnosticism or atheism of those who vigorously promoted the virtues of philosophical naturalism. A more recent shift in epistemology modifies the classic Cartesian model by assuming that the finite “I” is indeed the starting point of knowing but unlike Descartes there is no assumption of common ground between individuals. Each “I” is a world unto itself (cf. D. A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, pp. 93-95). “Postmodernism therefore insists that objective knowledge is neither attainable nor desirable. … Far from thinking that this loss in epistemological certainty is tragic, postmodernism glories in the diversity of outcomes. … [Such thinking] breeds absolutism that manipulates people and controls them, trampling on the splendid diversity of creeds and cultures and races that constitute humankind. Let the diversity flourish – but let none of the disparate voices claim to be ‘true.’ Or better yet, let them all claim to be true, but none in an exclusive or objective sense” (Carson, p. 97). It is this willingness to uncritically accept as true contradictory ideas that fosters the peaceful coexistence of new age mysticism and science.
When a prophet claims to have a message from God and declares, “Thus says the Lord” his revelation is to be understood as a true categorical imperative, that is, an unconditional moral (and spiritual) obligation that is binding in all circumstances, independent of a person’s subjective inclinations. Of course, all prophecy is subject to the stipulations of Deuteronomy 18.18-22. At the very heart of Scripture is the assumption that God speaks and acts in a manner that may be understood and acted upon and that everyone is obligated to obey it. The common sense foundation for the believer’s understanding that God speaks and acts is his innate ability to see the creative hand of God at work in creation. Psalm 19 notes the difference between natural, or general revelation, and special revelation (Scripture). The creation narrative of Genesis is for the psalmist a declaration that God is the Sovereign creator. Even a cursory understanding of the cosmos ought to evoke in the observer a sense of wonder and awe (cf. Job chapters 26; 28-41). This, too, is Paul’s argument against paganism: For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they [unbelievers] are without excuse (Romans 1.20). Paul’s observation strikes at the heart of the deficient epistemological argument inherent in philosophical naturalism.
Yet natural revelation is without words and is universal, being unrestricted by the division of languages. It transcends human communication without the use of speech, words, and sounds (cf. NIV mg. on v. 3). To those who are inclined to hear, revelation comes with no regard for linguistic or geographical barriers, even to the ends of the world (v. 4). Calvin observes, ‘When a man, from beholding and contemplating the heavens, has been brought to acknowledge God, he will learn also to reflect upon and to admire his wisdom and power as displayed on the face of the earth, not only in general, but even in the minutest plants’ (1:308-9). (Willem VanGemeren, “Psalms” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 180).
The incomparable God of creation
We know that Isaiah’s personal vision of the holiness of God thoroughly altered his worldview. He now appeals to his readers’ spiritual sensitivities by reminding them of the greatness of God that is to be seen throughout all creation. As you read Isaiah, or for that matter the Bible, keep in mind that fundamentally it points to a way of understanding the world from God’s point of view.
The Bible and science do not deal with the same problem. Scientific theory inquires: What is the cause of the universe? It thinks in the category of causality, and causality conceives of the relationship between a cause and effect as parts of a continuous process, as changing parts of an unchanging whole. The Bible, on the other hand, conceives of the relationship of the Creator and the universe as a relationship between two essentially different and incomparable entities, and regards creation itself as an event rather than as a process. Creation, then, is an idea that transcends causality; it tells us how it comes that there is causality at all. Rather than explaining the world in categories borrowed from nature, it alludes to what made nature possible, namely, an act of the freedom of God. (Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man, p. 16)
In the pursuit of wisdom, the ancient Greeks acquired knowledge for the love of learning; the western modern man is primarily interested in knowledge as a purchasing tool or as a means of controlling his environment. Knowledge for the man or woman of God is the basic building block of worship. This is what Isaiah has in mind when he describes God as the incomparably great Creator of the universe. Like Job, after the Lord speaks to him (Job 40.3-5), so too the reader of Isaiah is left speechless with only a sense of wonder and awe at the majesty of God. “If we see God through our own eyes, we diminish him without meaning to or even realizing it. But if we see God through God’s eyes, it changes how we see everything else. Isaiah understands that. In this passage he shows us the whole universe through God’s eyes” (Ray Ortlund, Jr., Isaiah, p. 242). The believer’s security rests in the supremacy of God’s sovereignty in all creation. Thus, Isaiah writes: Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and make the rulers of the earth as emptiness (Isaiah 40.21-23). God pays attention to all the details of his creation; there is nothing that does not concern him. He exercises control over everything. Like the psalmist, the believer may take great comfort in God’s sovereignty over all creation: O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me (Psalm 139.1-5).
The immensity of God
Of all the observable wonders of creation, of all the things imagined in heaven, these things are but the outer fringe of God’s glory: Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand? (Job 26.14). God is immense beyond any man’s ability to comprehend his majesty. It is not surprising that the authors of the great confessions of faith are at a loss as how to describe the greatness of God. For example, “The Lord our God is but one only living and true God whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; who is immutable, immense, eternal incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute …” (The First London Baptist Confession of Faith). God alone is the all wise, self-existing creator and sustainer of all things. So of what consequence is human wisdom and human strength in comparison to God’s? God has no need for consultants: O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11.34-36)
There is just one God
If all this is true about God, then what is there to compare to the greatness of God? Isaiah allows for no pretenders to the throne. Indeed, he exposes the pathetic inadequacy of idol makers and the folly of those engaged in idol worship (the popularity of “American Idol” seems to be an Isaianic illustration of a feckless generation of idol worshippers too fitting not to mention). The question is rhetorical and the answer is all too obvious: there is none like God. “The idolater would suppose his idol to represent some supernatural force or being, but the prophet inculcates a 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 earth. Isaiah reflects not the creed of the idolater but the monotheism of the Bible” (J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah, p. 305).
Those who insist on worshipping worthless idols forfeit the grace that might be theirs (cf. Jonah 2.8 NIV; Psalm 115). They are blind and deaf to the spiritual forces that are at work in the world. Few in our society would think of themselves as idol worshippers. While we may be free from graven images, we are certainly not free from idolatry. “As St. Paul explained long since, the person who is covetous is an idolater (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5), and this means that virtually anything can become an idol: money, power, fame, pleasure, sex – in short, humanistic self-centeredness in all its forms” (Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, The Book of the Revelation, p. 115). Stop, look and listen; pay attention to what you see and hear. The Lord is incomparable; there is none like him. Look at creation and think about how carefully everything is ordered in the universe. Now think about how God has brought about our great salvation through the atoning work of his Son. There is nothing you need that is missing. God has given you everything necessary for life and godliness (2 Peter 1.3-11), so don't throw it all away for a worthless idol.
Our Tireless God (40.27-31): He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for 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.
Through a series of interrogatives and declarative statements Isaiah challenged his readers’ grasp of God’s complete sovereignty over all things. If the Lord is the creator of the universe, if he is sovereign over the affairs of men, if he pays attention to all the details of his creation, then what right does anyone have in questioning whether God sees and understands anyone’s unique situation? Isaiah asked the question: Why do say, O Jacob, and speak O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God?” God’s greatness has been amply demonstrated and Israel has witnessed the exercise of God’s sovereignty over the nations (e.g. Assyria was sent home without any help from King Hezekiah). This alone ought to assure Jacob (Israel) of God’s merciful intentions. Isaiah’s emphatic declaration of God’s plan to comfort and care for Jerusalem (40.1-2, 11) was reinforced with assurances that God would give strength to all who trust in him. In short, Isaiah sought to encourage God’s people to maintain their faith commitment to the sovereign purposes of God despite every circumstance that might cause them to think God had forgotten them. He reminds Israel to keep her eyes fixed upon the Lord (cf. Hebrews 12.1-2). Do not say: “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God.” To the contrary, be encouraged with the knowledge that the Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. If your walk with the Lord is not what you want it to be, if you are in need of spiritually reconnecting with the Lord, do not make the mistake of thinking that the Lord does not care about you. “‘The wrong inference from God’s transcendence is that he is too great to care; the right one is that he is too great to fail.’ Secondly, Isaiah points to experience – resting [Jesus is our Sabbath rest], trusting and waiting (30-31). Together, and in this order, they constitute the biblical way of renewal” (J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah, 307).
The problem of despondency (40.27)
The prophetic vision of Isaiah 39.6 is troubling: Behold the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. As disconcerting as this may be for those who took Isaiah at his word, it is not a doomsday message. However long exile may be and no matter how severe the trials, Isaiah assures his readers that the limitless power of God is at work in the hearts of faithful men and women. God will empower them with his strength and they will persevere in righteousness. Isaiah’s vision of the impending ruin of Jerusalem accurately describes the despondency of a people dispossessed of all their earthly possessions. But for all their loss they have not been dispossessed of their heritage as God’s chosen people. Those reading the words of the prophet prior to the exile need to steel themselves against the sea of troubles coming their way and those exiled in Babylon who read the words sometime after 586 B.C. should take heart that a new day is coming (cf. Isaiah 60.1). When one’s faith and resolve to do what is right are tested it is common to complain: “This is unfair; why are you doing this to me?” Isaiah accurately projects the sentiments of a generation living under “house arrest” in Babylon. After years, indeed decades, of praying without any evidence that God hears or cares about their condition it is not too surprising that promises about God’s shepherd-like tenderness (40.11) might become suspect. The question is put forward on two levels: Is my way hidden from the Lord, that is, has God closed my case and will have nothing more to do with me? Secondly, on a personal and experiential level, the supplicant feels “I am constantly being ignored by God.” But, of course, though it appears his prayers are never answered there is no other place to turn. If God will not deliver him, all is lost.
Isaiah’s use of both Jacob and Israel to identify the Babylonian Diaspora is telling. “Jacob … Israel is a favourite designation, and possibly the sequence is intended to recall Genesis 32:22-32 and how the divine wrestler gave a new name and new strength to the helpless, outclassed and disabled Jacob” (Motyer, 307). As you recall the story of Jacob you may remember that he left Canaan because he’d alienated his entire family. Similarly, when he left Haran to return to Canaan, he did so after alienating his father-in-law. As Jacob approached home he was anxious about a potentially fatal confrontation with his brother Esau. Originally Jacob fled Canaan to escape the murderous rage of the brother whom he had cheated out his birthright. At this pivotal moment Jacob was confronted by the Lord and he spent the night wrestling with Him. It is often in the most despairing situations that the Lord strengthens and encourages his children. When all else fails, and it always does, the only way to prevail in life is to wrestle with the Lord when he comes to you. Paul may have had this incident in mind when he invited the Romans to join him in praying for him: I appeal to you, believers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive [wrestle] together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company (Romans 15.30-32).
God’s transcendent greatness (40.28-29)
Isaiah knows that the only remedy for God’s people is that they remember his greatness: Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. Everything hinges on what you know about God and how you act based on what you know to be true. This is where theology begins and ends. It has been said: “To see God is the highest aspiration of man, and has preoccupied the rarest human spirits at all times. Seeing God means understanding, seeing into the mystery of things. It is, or should be, the essential quest of universities” (Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus Rediscovered, 95). The Jews do not need to uncover truth about God; they do not need to search him out. They already know him: their entire history is one that records God’s gracious intervention on their behalf. What they need to do is keep the basic truths about God foremost in their minds and trust him to act with their best interests in mind. Isaiah lays out the central facts about God, namely, he is eternal, he is the creator of all things, he never grows weary and he is infinitely wise. If he is all this (and more) then he never needs to adjust to circumstances or try to cope with a bad situation. He controls every circumstantial event. God knows what he is doing. What the believer needs to know is what God requires of him in his particular situation.
Isaiah helps to clarify this by informing his listeners that God gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. That is, the God who does not grow tired shares his strength with those who are weak. This is not a spasmodic or occasional activity, it is the very nature of who God is to give vigor to those who lack vitality (cf. Motyer, 307-308). “The word group ‘faint’ and ‘be/grow weary’ is the key to this passage, occurring seven times. God is speaking to weak, tired, discouraged people. Who are ‘the faint’ in verse 29? They’re the complainers quoted in verse 27. So, how are these people faint and weak and weary? They’re weak in faith. Their fatigue is spiritual. They’re weak in courage. They feel like quitting. And it’s weaklings like them (and like us) who receive the power of God to live with our heads held high and with a lively confidence in a big God, because we can see in his promise a bright future for us out there beyond the barbed wire. People who find their reasons for living in God have an uncanny resilience about them. They live in ongoing renewal” (Ray Ortlund, Jr., Isaiah, 253-54).
Resting, trusting and waiting on the Lord (40.30-31)
Isaiah is clear about the harsh realities of life: even young men in the prime of life grow weary and fall to the ground so exhausted they cannot get up. What hope is there in such a situation? Isaiah gives us a solution. Wait on the Lord. This is the activity of faith. Endemic to Jewish culture is the keeping of the Sabbath. Indeed, the framework of Israel’s daily life was shaped around the observance of the Sabbath. It is one of the great truths of Scripture that following six days of creation, God rested on the seventh day. Under the Mosaic law, a violation of the 4th commandment was a capital offense. Why did God place such an emphasis on keeping the Sabbath holy? In short, it reminds the believer of what God is doing to secure his salvation. Moreover, it is a promise of something more to come. You may recall that the “rest” enjoyed by Adam and Eve in the garden was lost through Adam’s sin. In the keeping of the Sabbath there is a promise of a better “rest” that is to come. The framework of Israel’s life was shaped around the Sabbath. One of the necessities of keeping the Sabbath was to wait on the Lord: to trust him to provide no matter what the exigencies of a particular Sabbath may thrust upon the believer. The greater Sabbath rest is, of course, realized in the person of Jesus Christ: So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his (Hebrews 4.9-10).
Waiting on the Lord, resting in his tender arms (40.11), and trusting in his sovereign care is the primary activity of any Sabbath day; it is the activity of worship; it is the proactive confidence of faith. Life may be unbearably difficult, but the man or woman of faith who waits for the Lord will never be disappointed: they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Day by day they will be renewed in their strength. After two years of unjust imprisonment in Jerusalem, Paul writes to the Philippians from a Roman prison as he awaits yet another trial. One would certainly excuse him if he had expressed some discouragement or defeat, but his letter is anything but that; to the contrary, it is filled with joy and confidence that the Lord is at work advancing the gospel, even from his imprisonment. Paul was fixated on the resurrected Christ: Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus by Lord (Philippians 3.7-8). God always turns apparent defeat into victory for those who put their hope in him. As the eagle soars above the earth so will the man or woman of God be given a divine strength to persevere in every circumstance to the glory of God.