Isaiah 40 – Comfort for God’s People & Faith

I never think about faith anymore, I mean, I don’t  have to sit and wonder what it is or if I have it, because I know I am saved through my faith.  I remember when people used to tell me about You I thought they were nuts, their talk was hog wash.  Once I began believing in You, then I had believed in faith, but not in regards to me.

King Ashurbanipal on his Chariot, Assyrian Reliefwork, from Palace at Nineveh, 650 B.C.
Failure of the Assyrran System
In 663 B. c.E., King Assurbanipal invaded Egypt and looted its rich cities, and in 647 he defeated the long-time rival state of Elam in western Iran. By this time, the Assyrian Empire encompassed an enormous territory, and huge amounts of wealth flowed from dependent peoples to the Assyrian homeland.

Just forty years later, however, it would no longer exist. The collapse of the empire was precipitated by attacks launched by previously subjected peoples, but its causes lay in the structure of the system itself.

Structural Weakness and Military Defeat
The military events are clear: after the death of Assurbanipal in 627 b. c.e., Babylonia regained its independence under a local dynasty, which we call Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean (chal-DEE-uhn). Chaldean troops joined the Medes, an Iranian people from the eastern mountains, in an attack on the Assyrian heartland, and in 612 b. c.e. the combined armies destroyed the Assyrian capital, Nineveh. The Assyrians would resist a few years longer in northern Syria, but soon the Chaldeans had taken over almost their entire territory.

I didn’t believe that my faith would be of any value.  I thought that faith was only valid if the person that had it was a good person.  I could see faith helping others, but I didn’t believe it could help me because, you know, I’m not a hoity-toity that thinks they are better than others.

I remember the day I actually met You, the day my faith went sky high.  I’ll never forget it, that was the day I finally broke down and cried out, or actually bawled, to You, but please don’t tell anybody about that.  From that day on my life has changed.

I know I could never lose faith in You, but in the beginning it was sometimes on, sometimes off, and I think that is because faith can be sort of hard to catch onto, You know? 

I think two things that boggles our little mind is freewill and predestination, and I want to talk about that tomorrow if You don’t mind?

1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

40:1-66:24 – In chs. 1-35 Isaiah prophesied against the backdrop of the Assyrian threat against Judah and Jerusalem, in chs. 36-39 he recorded Assyria’s failure and warned about the future rise of Babylon, and in chs. 40-66 he wrote as if the Babylonian exile of Judah was almost over.

2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.

“Speak ye comfortably” – Lit. “Speak to the heart” (“kindly” or “tenderly”).  The Hebrew for this phrase is used also in 2 Chr 32:6, where Hezekiah “spake comfortably” (encouraged) so that Judah would trust in God in spite of the Assyrian invasion.

“Warfare” – the exile in Babylon.

3  The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

“Voice” three voices are mentioned (vv. 3, 6, 9), each showing how the comfort of v. 1 will come about.  The NT links the voice of v. 3 with John the Baptist in Matt 3:3; Mk 1:3; Lk 3:4; Jn 1:23.

“Prepare ye the way” – clear obstacles out of the road.  The language of vv. 3-4 has in view the ancient Near Eastern custom of sending representatives ahead to prepare the way for the visit of a monarch.  The picture is that of preparing a processional highway of the Lord’s coming to Jerusalem.  In Matt 3:1-8 John declares that repentance is necessary to prepare the way of Christ.

4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

“Glory…revealed” – God would redeem Israel from Babylon and all the nations would see the deliverance.  Ultimately the glory of the redeeming God would be seen in Jesus Christ (Jn 1:14, 11:4, 40, 17:4; Heb 1:3), especially at His return (Matt 16:27, 24:30, 25:31; Rev 1:7).  But also in the redeemed (see Cor 10:31; 2 Cor 3:18; Eph 3:21).

6 The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry?  All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:

Seal of the high priest of the moon god Sin, dating to 2100 B.C.E. Nabonidus’ devotion to Sin was highly unusual, in that Marduk had been the chief god of Babylon for several centuries.
At the heart of Assyria’s failure to rise to the military challenge from the Chaldeans and the Medes was a serious structural weakness. The centralized power structure required a strong king at the helm, and after Assurbanipal no such person stepped forward. Internal struggles for the throne produced instability and uncertainty.

Moreover, the empire relied heavily on the conquered territories to sustain itself—it could not survive without their goods and manpower. Historians believe that when the pressures on the empire’s core mounted, the subject states, which always had taken any opportunity to withhold tribute, probably cut off those supplies, and the empire fell apart.

The exploitative economic policies on which Assyria depended could be sustained only when backed up by military might. When Assyria’s military power faltered, the sources of Assyrian wealth dried up, further undermining the state and leading to collapse of the imperial system.

The Neo-Babylonian Empire
Assyria’s successor, the Neo-Babylonian dynasty, soon restored order and extended the empire by annexing more territory (see again Map 4.2). The most famous NeoBabylonian ruler was King Nebuchadnezzar II (NAB-oo-kuhd-nez-uhr) (r. 604-562 b. c.e.), who captured the kingdom of Judah in 587 b. c.e.

Like his Assyrian predecessors, Nebuchadnezzar used the resources of conquered territories to embellish the cities of his homeland. Under Nebuchadnezzar’s direction, Babylon became the most fabulous city in the western Eurasian world. We can still see remains from his time on the site or in museums around the world (see Lives and Livelihoods: Mesopotamian Astronomers).

The Neo-Babylonian empire did not last long, however. Less than one hundred years after its creation, it was conquered by a far mightier force—the Persian Empire.

“All in the goodliness…field” – even the power of Assyria and Babylon would soon vanish.

7 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.

8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

“Word of our God shall stand” – the plans and purposes of the nations will not prevail.

9  O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!

“Good tidings” – the news that God is leading His people back to Judah.  He cares for His people and will redeem them.  The NT expands this “good tidings” or “gospel” to refer to the salvation that Christ brings to all people (1 Cor 15:1-4).

“Behold your God” – the Lord is returning to Jerusalem.  These words apply to the return from exile, the first coming of Christ (Matt 21:5) and the second coming of Christ (62:11; Rev 22:12).

“Arm shall rule” – He is characterized by both strength and gentleness.

“Reward…work” – His delivered people, the flock of v. 11.  “Work” here refers to “recompense for work.”

10 Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.

“His reward is with him” – Rev 22:123.

11 He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.

12  Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?

40:12-31 – rhetorical questions are used to persuade the people to trust in the Lord, who has the ability to deliver, strengthen and restore His people.

40:12-13 – compares the Lord to a wise master craftsman sitting at his work bench and crafting the world; cf. Prov 8:22-31, where wisdom is portrayed as God’s companion at the time of creation.

“Measured the waters” – in Job 38-41 the Lord overwhelms Job with a  description of His greatness.

13 Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counselor hath taught him?

14 With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?

15 Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.

16 And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering.

“Beasts thereof” – Sacrifices, however numerous, could never do justice to the greatness of God.

17 All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.

“Nothing…vanity” – in spite of the temporary splendor they might posses.

18  To whom then will ye liken God?  Or what likeness will ye compare unto him?

40:18-20 – more than any other prophet, Isaiah shows the folly of worshiping idols.  His sarcastic caricature, satire and denunciation of these false gods reach a peak in 44:9-20.

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

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.

“He…oblation” – the person too poor to purchase gold or silver for the making of an idol.

21 Have ye not known?  Have ye not heard?  Hath it not been told you from the beginning?  Have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?

“From the beginning” – God’s work as Creator is emphasized in the rest of the chapter.

The Persian Empire 550–330 BCE
Astyages, king of Media, was the dominant power in the Middle East when he moved to crush a rebellion in Persia, led by his grandson Cyrus. Cyrus triumphed at the Battle of Pasargadae, going on the capture the Median capital Ecbatana (550 BCE).

Now in control of a substantial empire, he moved to suppress an opportunistic revolt by the Lydians. After being checked at Pteria (547 BCE), he triumphed at Sardis (546 BCE). After conquering Babylon (539 BCE), he turned his attention eastwards: he would die fighting the Massagetae (530 BCE).

His successor, Cambysses II, completed the conquest of Egypt after victory at Pelusium (525 BCE). Darius the Great took the empire to its apogee extending its borders to the Indus Valley in the east, and Cyrene and Thrace in the west. But he would be repulsed by the Greek city-states, who defeated his armies at Marathon (490 BCE).

22 It is he that sitteth upon the circle 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:

23 That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.

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.

25 To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal?  Saith the Holy One.

See v. 18.  Apparently some Israelites doubters were comparing their God with the gods of their captors, and they believed that the Lord was failing the test.

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.

“Bringeth out” – the Hebrew for this expression is used for bringing forth the constellations in Job 38:32.

Battle of Marathon 490 B.C.
The Battle of Marathon was one of the earliest recorded battles.  This Greek victory over invading Persians gave Greek city-states not only the confidence in their ability to defend themselves, but in the belief of their own existence.

Two years earlier an invading army of Persians, after defeating Thrace and Macedonia, had their fleet destroyed by a storm. 

Now, a second army crossed in an expedition bent on conquering the Aegean Islands.  In fall of 490 BC, a Persian force of 20,000 soldiers, under Datis, nephew of King Darius, conquered Eretria on the island of Euboea in seven days.

They then landed near Marathon, 22 miles northeast of Athens. After the fall of Erertia, Athenian General Miltiades rallied 10,000 Hoplite infantrymen and 1,000 Plataean citizen-soldiers to attack the Persians near the east coast. Outnumbered, Miltiades used his knowledge of Persian battle tactics to turn the tide in their favor.

“Their host” – the stars were worshiped by the people (see 47:13; Jer 19:13).

“Not one faileth” – none is missing.

27 Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the LORD, and my judgment is passed over from my God?

40:27-31 – as in many psalms of praise, Isaiah now stresses the goodness of God after describing His majesty.  Such a God is able to deliver and restore His distressed people if they will wait in faith for Him to act.  They are to trust in Him and draw strength from Him.

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

29 He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.

30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:

31 But they that wait upon the LORD 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.

“Wait upon” – trust in or look expectantly to.

“Renew” – Lit. “exchange.”  Their weakness will give way to God’s strength (v. 29).  The Hebrew for this verb is used of changes of clothes (Gen 35:2; Jdg 14:12) which can symbolize strength and beauty (Isa 52:1).  Paul tells believers to clothe themselves with Christ (Rom 13:14; cf. Eph 4:24; Col 3:10).

“Eagles” – known for their vigor (PS 103:5) and speed (Jer 4:13, 48:40).

What is Faith in Jesus Christ?

Our relationship with the God is dependent on faith.

Abraham Had Faith (Heb 11:8).
This is an image of the ruins of Ur in modern Iraq; The current scholarly consensus for the city of Ur Kaśdimcommonly translated as Ur of the Chaldees. It’s a city mentioned in the Bible as the birthplace of the Israelite and Ismaelite patriarch Abraham (referring to the Chaldeans, whom settled in the area about 900 BC). Ur was one of the most important cities of the Sumerians in the 4th and the 1st half of the 3rd millennium B.C.

“Now faith is the substance of things hopes for, the evidence of things not seen.

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:1, 3 6).

It is our faith in God that allows us to survive this world.  It doesn’t matter how difficult life may be or how horrible an event is, if you have faith in God it’s a walk in the park.  That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but life becomes that bowl of cherries we all want.

“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 Jn 5:4).

If you don’t have faith in God then you’ll live the way of the world and not only will that walk in the park be rugged, but in the end:

 “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.  If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of live, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

And the world passeth away and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (1 Jn 2:15-17).

Noah had Faith (Heb 11:7).
This is believed to be a sacrificial altar of Noah’s family.
Archaeological teams have found many ruins and ancient graves. Many human ribs have been excavated and sent to laboratories for dating. In the midst of this alleged “first city” of Noah, there is an unusual and prominent structure, about 10 feet in diameter, that many believe to be the altar on which Noah made his first sacrifice.

I am sure that Eve had loved God, how could she not, but when the devil lied to her and showed her candy coated evilness (the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and pride of live) she dismissed her faith.

“And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Gen 3:4-6).

The devil still does the same thing today.

And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;

And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:

Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:

And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.

And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:

But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

King David had Faith (1 Sam 17:45-47).
The remains of what is thought to be King David’s palace, one of two royal public buildings that were found is believed to be the Kingdom of Judah of the tenth century B.C.

And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?

He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:

For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.

For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.

Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.

Joseph had Faith (Heb 11:22).
Ostracon (pottery sherd with writing) from the Chief Baker of the Temple of Amun at Thebes acknowledging the receipt of wheat.

The main prison of Egypt was called the “Place of Confinement.” It was divided into two parts: a “cell-block” like a modern prison, and “a barracks” for holding a large number of prisoners who were forced into serving as laborers for the government.

When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.

But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;

Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.

But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matt 13:3-23).

There is much confusion about faith today just as there has always been.  It’s like having a computer and knowing its potential but not having a clue how to use it.  

One of the areas about faith that gives people the most trouble is the concept that we have to acquire more faith and that some people have much faith, while others have virtually none.

The Bible is our manual with detailed instructions, but few people take the time to really study it.  Just like the computer, they are impatient and want to do it on their own.  They may play around with the computer and reach some level of success, but to really be proficient, they have to read the book.

If you want the faith that Jesus had then you need to read/study the Bible and walk with Him.  Many people, including myself at one time, spend a lot of effort, like a dog chasing its tail, trying to get something we already have.  Everyone has the same amount of faith:

Moses had Faith (Heb 11:24).
A 10 Commandments stone tablet—believed by some to be the oldest stone copy of the 10 Commandments—was sold at an auction in November 2016 for $850,000.

“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is amount you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom 12:3).

So now you know that you have faith, but it’s just a like a talent.  People are born with a talent, another gift from God, such as the gift to sing, to paint, to draw, to write, to talk, etcetera.  Yet, to be good at it you have to practice it.

This is the same with faith.  We all have the same quality and quantity of faith that Jesus had, but to “see” the true beauty of God it needs to be polished and once it’s shines I can honestly guarantee that you will be amazed because it is awesome!

Don’t misunderstand me, faith is not a talent, it’s a gift from God that must be cherished.  True faith is not and will not give you tangible things.  I’m not wealthy, I live with my parents, I don’t have a car, and to make a living I transcribe audio online.  But I have something that many don’t have.

Everyone has fallen in love at least once and in the beginning you were overwhelmed, ecstatic, with love.  I can promise you that that feeling cannot hold a candlestick to “absolute faith” in Jesus Christ.  

We all know that God is everywhere all the time, but there are times when He’ll just pop into my office to say hello and I can’t even begin to describe my inner-self then. 

Jesus Christ is so awesome that I honestly have to ask Him to leave because I’m unable to handle His holiness, He greatness, His power.   You’re probably saying, “Yeah, right, why would God talk to you?”  Why wouldn’t He talk to me?  He didn’t make us to stare at us.

And that there is worth more, is greater than, much more enjoyable than having wealth, a house, a car, a real job or anything.  There is nothing greater than having true faith in God. 

He doesn’t come to my office because I’m a great person, He comes because my faith invites Him.

I can’t even begin to imagine how Moses dealt with the presence of God.

We also have the same faith that Paul had. Paul said:

Abel had Faith (Heb 11:4).
Sumer was first settled between 4500 and 4000 bce by a non-Semitic people who did not speak the Sumerian language. These people now are called proto-Euphrateans or Ubaidians, for the village Al-ʿUbayd, where their remains were first discovered.

The Ubaidians were the first civilizing force in Sumer, draining the marshes for agriculture, developing trade, and establishing industries, including weaving, leatherwork, metalwork, masonry, and pottery. After the Ubaidian immigration to Mesopotamia, various Semitic peoples infiltrated their territory, adding their cultures to the Ubaidian culture and creating a high pre-Sumerian civilization.

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).

Paul didn’t say that he lived by faith “in” the Son of God but by the faith “of” the Son of God.  The measure of faith that Paul had was the same measure that Jesus had. It was Jesus’ faith.  

Most people don’t doubt that faith works, they just doubt that they have enough faith to get the job done. Remember the scriptures above about the Sower. 

If Satan can blind you from seeing that you have the same faith that Jesus has then he can keep you from using the faith you have.  Understanding this truth will radically change things.

Don’t ever think you don’t deserve for God to take care of you.   Or that you don’t have enough faith in God because you don’t deserve to have that kind of faith.  That is all untrue.  God loves us all the same.

God has given us everything we need, including all the faith we need.  We just need to polish that faith.

We know that Jesus died for us, but He even did more than that.  Before his crucifixion He prayed for us:

“I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for tem which thou hast given me; for they are thine.

And all of mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.

And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.

Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word” (Jn 17:9-10, 13, 17, 19-20).

Remember, Jesus has given you everything you need.