ISAIAH 40, judged from a literary standpoint, is recognized by many critics as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, documents ever written. This being the case, everyone who wishes to be well-educated should study this marvelous passage. Those, however, who wish to know the truth of God in order that they may conform their lives thereto should ask God to open their eyes in order that they might understand this great message.
When the chapter is analyzed, it is seen to fall into the following four divisions: God's special message to believers regarding Jewish evangelization; two responding voices; instructions to workers among the Jews; and the message for Israel explained. These divisions are shown in the chart above.
IN THE first division, column 1, Isaiah speaks to a group of people. This fact is seen by his use of the plural pronoun ye, in the exhortation, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God." These words are directed by the Lord to a certain people who worship the God of Israel as their God. Thus Isaiah brought a message from the eternal God to this group, whom he urges to comfort His Chosen People. Obviously, the ones addressed are able to comfort others. The Lord would never command them to do that which they cannot accomplish by His help. We may believe that these who are addressed have a comforting, consoling message for His people. When I read this verse in the light of the entire revelation of God, I know the ones to whom the Lord here speaks. They are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who have the comfort of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, and who are able to bring a message of comfort to those in distress.
That the people to be comforted, in this case, are the Jews is evident from the exhortation in the second verse, "Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem; and cry unto her ..." Hence the ones whom God calls "my people" can be none other than the daughter of Jerusalem--the Jewish people. With this fact clearly in mind we can see immediately that the conclusion reached in the paragraph above--namely, that the ones urged to speak the comforting message to the Jews, are believers is absolutely correct.
In these two verses, therefore, we see an exhortation given to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ to evangelize the Jewish people. That this charge, which is the same as the one found in Isaiah 62:10-12, will be carried out is evident from Psalm 75:1. It reads as follows: "We give thanks unto thee, O God; We give thanks, for thy name is near: Men tell of thy wondrous works." This verse presents a vision of the time when Israel will be praising God because His "name is near: Men tell of thy wondrous works." She, jubilant and rejoicing over the prospects of Messiah's coming very soon, thanks God for this newly-discovered hope and declares that men have pointed out His wondrous works in her behalf. The entire nation will be evangelized in such a way as to convince it that the coming of the Lord is close at hand. Then a wave of praise and gratitude will sweep over that entire people and they exultantly will thank God; because they have learned the truth from those who have been obedient to His exhortation that they (the believers in Christ) give them (the Jews) the message of the gospel. This same jubilant hope regarding Messiah's coming and exultation in it, on the part of Israel immediately before He does make His appearance, is seen in the marvelous prediction found in Isaiah 30:27-33. Notice especially that in verse 29 we see this same radiant hope expressing itself in joyful anticipation of Messiah's coming.
In Isaiah 40:1,2, God has given an exhortation to you and me, dear Christian friends, to speak this message of comfort to the heart of Israel. What shall we do about this? Are we obedient to this heavenly voice? or will we turn a deafened ear and thus lose a great reward? May God stir our hearts to do His will!
THERE are three things which we believers must proclaim in no uncertain sound to Israel. On the chart above they are enumerated, but let us notice carefully each statement. The first item of the message is "that her warfare is accomplished." When Israel's warfare shall have been accomplished, there will be joy and rejoicing. She will not need therefore any message of comfort. On the surface there appears to be a contradiction; instead a blessed harmony is seen when all the facts are known. Every day we use language like this. When anyone is laboring at a great task and has accomplished practically all the work, he very frequently says that he is through. It is quite evident that he is absolutely and literally not through, but has nearly finished his job. This method of speaking is called the relative use of language. For example, Matthew tells us that all Jerusalem, Judæa, and the regions round about the Jordan went out and were baptized of John, confessing their sins. Nevertheless Luke declares that the Pharisees and the lawyers did not submit to John's baptism (Luke 7:29,30). The facts show that Matthew used his language not absolutely--but relatively. In the same way, the expression, "that her warfare is accomplished," is used relatively. The time yet remaining, when the message is given, for Israel to endure suffering will be negligible in comparison with the long centuries of her wanderings and the pogroms which she has suffered. In view of the facts, these messengers of the cross to Israel can, with all propriety, say that her warfare is accomplished--just a little time until Messiah comes and stops all wars (Ps. 46:9). Taking these facts into consideration, I am absolutely certain that the prophet's language was spoken to believers today, urging them, on the eve of the great Tribulation, to proclaim to Israel that the time is now very short and that she should accept her long-rejected Messiah.
The second item of the message is "that her iniquity is pardoned." Israel, like all other peoples, has many sins, but these evangelists are to tell her that her iniquity is pardoned. This statement seems to point to some definite, specific act of which the nation as a whole is guilty. When it is viewed in the light of related passages, it can mean nothing other than her national sin, which she committed in rejecting Messiah nineteen hundred years ago.
To tell Israel that her iniquity is pardoned is to explain to her the meaning of the cross and the blood of Christ, which is referred to in Zechariah 9:11: "As for thee also, because of the blood of thy covenant I have set free thy prisoners from the pit wherein is no water." The power of Satan and sin was broken at the cross. There, figuratively speaking, "the emancipation proclamation" of the liberation of all men from sin was issued. Men must, however, accept this free gift of God in order to enjoy its benefits. On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all the slaves in America. When the war closed in 1865 the colored man was given independence and citizenship. Some, however, of the slaves did not wish to accept this liberty but remained with their masters in perpetual slavery. That matter was optional with them. Christ, by the shedding of His blood, issued the Emancipation Proclamation to the entire race. He conquered death, hell, and the grave and brought forth life and immortality to light through the gospel. He has offered pardon and redemption to all men. Only when anyone accepts this grace, can he enjoy the liberty and the life, purchased on Calvary for him. In order that men might accept this redemption, others must tell them of it.
God gives a special command, therefore, to believers at this present time, to declare the message of the cross, which alone can blot out Israel's national sin (and all others), to His Chosen People in order that they may repudiate it, accept the Messiah, be forgiven, and cleansed.
In the third place, believers are to declare to her "that she hath received of Jehovah's hand double for all her sins." Increased light brings added responsibility. What advantage has the Jew? Much in every way (Rom. 3:1,2). God created this nation by a biological miracle to show forth His glory (Isa. 43:1-7). Having received all the advantages conferred upon her, God holds her responsible for the proper use of all these gifts. Since therefore she has sinned against light, God will punish her double for her sins. This is asserted, not only by Isaiah in our passage, but by Jeremiah in 16:17,18. The missionaries to the Jews are, therefore, to explain to Israel why she has suffered as she has through the centuries and why she will yet endure untold agonies in the Tribulation. This exhortation embraces our unfolding to her God's providential dealings with her in the past and delivering to her the message with reference to the Tribulation as set forth, not only in the Old Testament, but especially in the Book of Revelation.
A person can only obey this injunction as he understands the great fundamentals of the same. It is, therefore, imperative that those who wish to obey the command of the Lord and to enjoy rich rewards throughout eternity prepare themselves to deliver this three-fold message adequately and convincingly. May the Lord enable us to do this and to give a reason to every man who asks regarding the hope that is within us (I Pet. 3:14,15).
IN THE second column of the chart, we hear two voices responding to God's call to evangelize Israel. The first is one of faith and hope (verses 3-5); the second is one of defeat and discouragement (verses 6-8). There are many men of many minds. All do not respond alike. Some have hearts receptive to the truth and eyes to behold the right. As soon as truth is presented, they accept and react most favorably. Such is the attitude of the first voice which the prophet heard. The one crying is a herald to the people, announcing the approach of Jehovah who is King over all the earth. He calls upon the people to be ready to receive this one. When the language of verses 3-5 is compared with an ancient custom of the East, one sees instantly that the prophet was thinking of the preparation necessary for Messiah's advent in terms of that which was made in anticipation of an earthly monarch. For instance, when one king announced that he contemplated making a visit to another, his host would have a highway constructed from the border of his territory to his capital in order that his visiting friend might come in royal estate. This very thing was, I am told, done in 1898 when Emperor Wilhelm of Germany announced that he intended to visit Jerusalem. The Turkish authorities had a highway built from Jaffa to Jerusalem in order that the Kaiser might come in royal estate into the city of the Great King. A section of the wall of Jerusalem at the Jaffa gate was removed in order that he might ride into the city. This incident throws light upon the language which we are considering. The same thought relative to the preparation necessary for King Messiah's return is clothed in similar language (Isa. 62:10-12).
Who is the one calling, in Isaiah 40:3, upon the people to make this preparation? This one can be none other than the herald of King Messiah. The Jewish interpretation, which is scriptural, is that it is none other than Elijah the prophet; for in Malachi 4:5,6 appears a prediction that God will send Elijah the prophet before the face of the Lord in order to turn the hearts of the children to the fathers and the fathers to the children before the great and terrible day of Jehovah comes. Since the context of our passage is dealing with the second coming of Christ, we may be certain in concluding that this voice is none other than that of Elijah. Malachi's prediction assumes the destruction of the home life and the alienation of parents from children and children from parents among the Jewish people immediately before Messiah appears. Elijah, according to the prediction, will come to restore the family relationship lest Messiah come and smite the earth with a curse.
This herald calls upon the people to make preparation for Messiah's advent. The passage, however, is quoted in Luke 3:4-6 and is applied to the ministry of John the Baptist. Isaiah's prophecy falls into the second class, which is discussed in "How to Interpret Prophecy." It will appear immediately that this is a literal prediction plus a typical signification.
This prophecy has figurative language in it, but it stands for a reality. In making a highway for royalty, the ancients often cut down hills, filled in valleys, and made a level road for the visiting king. Since the prophet was thinking of the coming of the King of kings and Lord of lords, he naturally spoke of the spiritual preparation in terms of the material labor that was necessary in preparing for a human monarch. This is very clear and needs no further explanation.
Since this marvelous sermon is addressed to believers who are commanded to give the truth to Israel, and since the prophet sees Elijah urging his brethren to make the necessary preparation in anticipation of Messiah's advent, we, who know God's plan for Israel and who recognize that the time for His coming is fast approaching, are to make preparation for His advent by giving this message to her. May every one who reads this book likewise catch the vision and do what he can to make this needed preparation.
The second voice heard in response to Isaiah's appeal is described in verses 6-8. This is a note of discouragement and defeat. The one uttering it is typical of a large class of people--even of many saved, regenerated persons. Their attitude is negative. They lack faith. They are near-sighted; although they are told what to cry and to whom to deliver their message, they still ask, "What shall I cry?" The reason for their taking this attitude is that, "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field." They excuse their non-obedience by saying that the seasons come and go; the grass springs up, develops, fades, and passes away. Thus they complain that one generation goes and another comes. Time goes on. If you ask me to be specific, I would say that these people, though they might be born-again, do not believe in the study of the prophetic word and do not realize that we are living in the closing scenes of this age. Thus, they do not become excited over anything but wish to be left alone to pursue their own courses undisturbed. The study of prophecy disturbs the complacency of the disinterested.
To this class, the prophet replies that the grass does wither and the flower does fade, because the breath of Jehovah bloweth upon it; but hastily He reminds the people that the word of our God shall stand forever. Although they do not wish to read and study the prophetic word and are unwilling to obey His command in regard to evangelizing Israel, the Lord will carry out His program just as it is written. Let us remember that He does not fulfill His predictions according to the speculations of men, but as they are written. The signs of the times indicate that we are in the closing scenes of this era. It is for us to be up and doing, serving God, in every way possible, especially in obedience to this matter of giving the gospel to His Chosen People.
ON THE chart, the heading of the third column is "Instructions for workers among the Jews." These are found in verses 9-11. This message is for those who are responsive to God's call to evangelize Israel. That this paragraph is addressed to Christian workers is evident from the command, "O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up on a high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid." In the Common Version the translation is exactly the reverse and reads, "O Zion, that bringest good tidings," etc. But the marginal reading is the same as the text rendering of the American Standard Version. The Hebrew is capable of either of these translations. Thus, we must determine which accords with all the facts of this context in order to know which rendering we should choose. When we remember that what we have already seen in verses 1-5 is addressed to those who have the message of comfort, and who are commanded to give it to the Jews, we see that the text of the Revised Version is the only possible one. In view of these facts, I have put as the heading of the third section, "Instructions for Workers among the Jews."
The worker in Israel who brings the good tidings from the Lord is not to be timid; he is exhorted in these words, "lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid." A person should know his message: he should know how to deliver it and should do it with confidence, conviction, strength, and power in order that it might reach the heart of the hearers. He is to preach with no uncertain sound, speaking the truth in love.
The worker is to cry to the cities of Judah, to the daughter of Zion--the Jewish people. The gist of the message is, "Behold, your God!" The word rendered "behold," as Professor Franz Delitzsch has well pointed out, calls attention to something in the future. Thus these missionaries are to direct Israel's attention to the future. But what is central in their message? This question is answered in the next verse: "Behold, the Lord Jehovah will come as a mighty one." Here the messengers are to tell Israel that the Lord Jehovah will come as their Deliverer. In Psalm 45:3-5 we see the Lord coming as a warrior--victorious over all enemies. The very word used by Isaiah was employed by the psalmist. It occurs again in Isaiah 9:6 in connection with God and is rendered "mighty God." I can just as accurately render it, "God the Mighty Warrior." From this verse, therefore, we see that God urges believers to evangelize Israel before the Messiah's advent and to tell her of His coming as a warrior. Clearly, this ministry is to be conducted before He comes, because the messengers are to tell Israel that He will appear in this role.
On the other hand, we are sometimes told by earnest students that we are not to evangelize the Jews; for they, according to this erroneous hypothesis to which I have already called attention, are to be converted by looking upon the Lord personally at His return. This theory is contrary to the plain instructions in this passage regarding Jewish evangelization.
Furthermore, the messengers to Israel are to inform her that, when the Lord Jehovah comes as a mighty warrior, He will take the reins of government and will rule. From other passages we know that He will reign from sea to sea and from the river unto the ends of the earth, and of the increase of His government there shall be no end upon the throne of David (Isa. 9:7). When He returns in fulfillment of this passage, He will come with His reward and recompense. Then He, the Good Shepherd, will tend His sheep according to verse 11. This flock can be none other than the faithful remnant which survives the Tribulation, after the apostate portion of the nation has been swept away by the judgments of the great Tribulation.
In verses 12-31 the prophet elucidates his meaning and enlarges upon his description of Messiah, whose coming these messengers are to announce. The greatness of Messiah is set forth in verses 12-17. Here He is represented as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. It was He who measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, meted out the heavens with a span, comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in balances. He was a great architect; He was a great builder--the great creator of the universe; He was the great chemist who compounded the elements in the proper proportions in order to make this universe what it should be. He is omniscient; therefore, He needs no one to instruct Him. He has all knowledge, and no one can counsel Him.
Furthermore, He is so very great that the nations are but as a drop in the bucket; in fact, they are accounted as dust on the balances. He is so very august that the country of Lebanon with its towering mountain peaks would be too small an altar, and all the animals which might be in the land are too few for an adequate sacrifice and offering to Him.
The great Creator is the Messiah, whose coming the workers in Israel are to proclaim to the nation throughout the world. When we compare this passage with related ones, we see that the Creator of the universe is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ in His pre-natal state. Knowing these facts, I have placed as the heading of column 4, "The Greatness of Messiah Creator."
As a heading of columns 5 and 6, I have selected the title, "Messiah Jehovah the Incomparable One." This mighty Creator is infinite in all His attributes; therefore it is inconceivable for one to make any image of Him. It is folly on the part of anyone to think that men with their limited, finite minds could conceive of any form by which to picture Him to others. It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers. It is He who stretches out the heavens as a curtain and spreads them out as a tent in which to dwell. He raises up princes and brings them to naught. He dethrones kings. He abases the judges of the earth. He overrules and controls the affairs of men.
This very Creator, whose coming the workers are to announce to Israel, is the one who created the starry heavens above and whose power keeps each of these bodies in its proper orbit. He calls them all by name, and, because He is so very powerful, not one of them is lacking.
THE message to be delivered to Israel ends with an appeal in verses 27-31. Herein the prophet calls Israel's attention to the fact that this God is omniscient and omnipresent. She must believe Him. She must trust Him, even though she cannot understand and comprehend His existence and being.
All of them must yield their lives to Him; they must give Him their hearts; they must follow Him. It is He who gives power to the faint; it is He who gives increased strength; it is He, who, coming to Israel in her last great struggle, will, as she waits for His appearing, renew her strength, so that she shall mount up with wings as eagles; so that she shall run and not be weary; and may walk and not faint.
O my brother and my sister, may God give us this vision and enable us to see that this is the message which He has given to us, urging us to prepare ourselves and to proclaim with no uncertain sound to Israel the coming of Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords!