Shattered People, Rousing Word

Isaiah: Yahweh Alone Is God – Week 1

Isaiah 40

Verses 1 & 2
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.


During the Revolutionary War, thousands of American soldiers needed amputations. The risk of deadly infection, like gangrene, or even the lack of pain medicine made the loss of limb a preferable and necessary procedure.

I’m sure you’ve seen movies where a soldier got shot, other soldiers and medics try to hold him down, they put a piece of wood in his mouth to bite into, the look of terror in their eyes is unbearable, while a doctor saws off their limb. At some point, they pass out, and when they wake up, their long journey to comfort and healing begins.

Or, think now of an inmate, someone who’s gone to prison for a crime. The years in prison are years of loss. Birthday celebrations lost. Travel lost. Freedom lost. Many times, inmates are transformed in prison. I’ve known people who’ve spent years in prison who’ve said that prison was the best thing that happened to me.

Why do they say that? Because whatever inner corruption put them in prison was exorcised, and they felt freer than they had ever been, even while behind bars.

As we begin our series in the prophetic book of Isaiah, it’s impossible to cover its grandeur and scope in this short introduction. We’ll have to do it throughout the series.

Isaiah has been called the Romans of the Old Testament. It is quoted 66 times in the New Testament. Its poetic power and beauty match its sheer size.

The scope of this book encompasses heaven and earth. It opens with this arresting summons: Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the LORD has spoken (1:2). And then the book ends with new heavens and a new earth: 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 (66:22).

Can this vision get any bigger? From heaven and earth to new heavens and a new earth!

We’ll spend 16 weeks in Isaiah from chapters 40 to 55. Isaiah 40 is a pivotal point in the book. Isaiah had a long ministry. He prophesied during the reigns of four of Judah’s kings: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.

He prophesied for over 40 years beginning around the year 740 BC. For fifteen years or so, he declared the impending fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel until it fell in 722 BC. But it’s not as if the Southern Kingdom of Judah did not have serious problems as well. They did.

Both Israel and Judah were apostate. They were only a shell of the vibrant devotion and worship of God that characterized David and the kingdom in his days. So both parts of the kingdom were headed for judgment—God’s judgment. They had been unfaithful. They would not hear God’s word. They were idolatrous, complacent, blood-thirsty, oppressive to their own people, their own poor. So, Isaiah, from chapters 1 to 39, prophesies judgment—devastating judgment.

Here’s how Isaiah opens. Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him (1:4).

Now, when Isaiah’s ministry ends at some point in the early part of the seventh century BC, the fall of Judah is still a good 100 years away, and the return from exile in Babylon still farther out.

Trouble, however, does not feel so far away for Judah. The northern border of Assyria, the mega world power of the time, was only eight miles from Jerusalem. That’s like next door. And they had devastated nation after nation in their path to conquest.

If unspeakable judgment had come in the 40 plus years within Isaiah’s ministry, greater judgment was yet to come in the next 150 years plus, including the exile. The prophet says, Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers. Daughter Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a hut in a cucumber field, like a city under siege (1:7–8).

Isaiah 40 opens at a pivotal point. Following over 200 years of judgment, first on Israel and then on Judah, Isaiah is commissioned with a new word.

This new word is still future from Isaiah’s perspective. He’s speaking God’s future into existence, and different generations of God’s people will hear these words with new resonances (including us). And the new word he was given was, Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Following judgment, it’s now time for God’s comfort, balm, forgiveness, and healing.

Go back to the soldier shot in war. His wound is open, infection likely. He’s put under the judgment of amputation. Unspeakable pain. But then comfort and healing follow. His life is spared.

Or go back to the inmate whose corruption landed him in prison. He’s put under the judgment of loss, loss of freedom and everything that goes with it. But through that judgment, his corruption is exorcised, and he becomes freer than he ever was outside.

The story of Israel follows a similar arc. They were a sinful nation, a people with great guilt, children given to corruption. And they were put through the judgment of conquest and exile. And when the period of exile is over, says the prophet, a time of comfort and restoration begins, and the people become teachable again.

We have a similar problem as the wounded soldier, the corrupt inmate, and sinful Israel. We must go through God’s judgment, so that we can become teachable again, and he may comfort us and heal us.

Our problem is, we think our situation is closer to a beautiful, healthy person chilling by the beach. We’re not wounded. We’re not corrupt. We don’t think anything about us has to be judged.

Isaiah disagrees. God disagrees.

Comfort in the wilderness

Isaiah 40:1–5
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

These words are meant for the beleaguered exiles, who have seen the devastation of their land. They and their descendants are in Babylon. Others remain in Jerusalem but with nothing of the national pride they formerly had. The temple, for one, lies in ruins.

For there to be a kingdom, you need a people, a land, and a king. Israel at this point has no king, a scattered people, and a land that has been destroyed and occupied.

Into that hopeless reality Isaiah 40–55 breaks in as a word of reversal.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Most recently, when we were in Jerusalem on October 7, 2023, it was distressing for me, both as a pastor with 26 other people to get home and as a dad with children back home who were freaking out. We finally got our tickets rebooked, started our somewhat tenuous journey through Jordan (waiting for three hours at a border with heavily armed men), had to change our bus and driver because that’s the policy and things are tense, went through multiple checkpoints (the whole time you feel harassed and stressed), and then finally made it to our gate, after almost eight hours.

Anna got me a cold Starbucks and a sandwich, and I sat at the gate and enjoyed these elements like I had not enjoyed food in a long time—and I don’t even drink coffee! But I felt like I could breathe again.

Now, imagine over 200 years of devastation and then you receive the word from the Lord, Comfort, comfort my people. . . Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her. It’s a new word from God. What’s the soothing message? That her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.

The time of judgment is over. It’s a time for comfort, tenderness, and restoration. It’s going to be hard to receive this word, but God is speaking and the prophet must speak. He must proclaim.

Isaiah 40:3–5
A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

These verses announce the preparation required because the LORD God is on the move.

There are verses in the Psalms where his people say to him, Arise, O LORD! (Psalm 3:7, 132:8), like when a toddler comes a little too early in the morning to mom and dad’s bed and starts rocking them to arise and give her milky.

Sometimes, especially when you’re going through a hard time, it can feel like God has to be woken up to help you. Imagine after 200 years of judgment.

In Isaiah’s announcement, however, God brings the word that he’s on the move! The way must be prepared. A highway in the desert must be made straight for God like for a king and his entourage. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.

There is pomp and circumstance in this announcement because the king of the universe is on the move. These verses very much describe a parade, like when a king and queen, or a winning team, march in a procession, for all to see their splendor.

And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

All of this is as good as done because God has spoken. But for the beleaguered exiles, can the word of God be trusted?

Isaiah 40:6–8
A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”

The contrast here is between the frailty of humans, including their faithfulness, and the endurance of God’s word.

The reason your life feels frail, and nations go up and down, and things in life feel so unstable, is because people are like grass and flowers. They wither before the mighty breath of God.

When God gives a word of comfort, that word endures forever.

Do you believe it?

Isaiah 40:9
You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!”

We finally get to the content that the first eight verses have been anticipating, and that is the declaration, “Here is your God!” OR “Behold your God!”

The prophet is told to go up on a high mountain. He’s told to lift up his voice with a shout. He’s told, again, to lift it up and not be afraid.

This announcement cannot be hidden or mumbled. It must be shouted for all to hear. Why? Because it is good news. Twice the instruction is, You who bring good news to Zion . . . You who bring good news to Jerusalem.

Did you know that Isaiah is the one who gave us the word gospel? Our English word gospel means “good news,” and it translates the Greek word euangelion which is found in the Greek version of the Old Testament in its verbal forms. Isaiah takes that word and charges it with profound new meaning to describe the new thing God is doing for Israel and for the world.

What’s the good news the prophet is declaring? “Here is your God!”

Though the exiles in Babylon and the abandoned people in Jerusalem would have a hard time believing that God still wanted anything to do with them after judgment came on them for their protracted corruption, the prophet is now announcing, Behold your God.

The LORD is on the move, and his word to you is comfort.

Isaiah 40:10–11
See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

The dual message here is that the LORD comes with power and as a shepherd. He comes with a mighty arm and gathering his lambs in his arms. He is tough and tender; strong enough to deliver, gentle enough to comfort his flock.

The Lord is your protector. He has you. He sees you. His strength is channeled tenderly toward you.

Do you believe him? Do you receive his care?

God without equal

When we say the word “God,” we all have ideas in our heads. Our ideas of who God is are infinitesimally small compared to GOD.

It’s like when a child thinks he grasps the vastness and fierceness of the ocean because they’ve seen water in their bathtub. We think that the mental picture and our ideas of “God” accurately represents GOD. But they do not.

These 16 chapters in Isaiah are going to help us grasp the vastness and fierceness of who God truly is.

Isaiah 40:12–14
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? 13 Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor? 14 Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?

The answer to these five questions is the same: no one.

No one has done what God alone can do.

The waters, dust, and mountains of the earth—God can hold in his hand like a young person playing with slime. No one can fathom the Spirit of the Lord.

No one has ever instructed God. God does not read the news to find out what’s happening. He’s never puzzled. He never wrings his hands anxiously. He never sweats any outcome. God has nothing to learn that he didn’t already know. He never looks at something and goes, Hmm, I never thought about that before!

He is utterly not like us.

Isaiah 40:15–17
Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings. Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.

In contrast to God, the nations are like a drop in a bucket.

If you took all the wood in Lebanon to burn in altar fires and all its animals to offer as sacrifices to God, it would not be enough.

The nations are as nothing. This doesn’t mean that they are unimportant to God, like he doesn’t care. It does mean that metaphysically the difference between all the nations of the world and God is such that they’re like nothing.

They’re like the difference between you and a microbe.

So the nations do not compare to God. Is there anything else we can compare him with?

Isaiah 40:18–20
With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple.

We’re going to see this same critique of idol worship a few times in Isaiah. He’s mocking idol worship. Some of the passages are even funny.

His point is: How can you put so much trust and invest so much power in an image that you made? Whether you make it with gold (if you’re rich) or with wood (if you’re poor), how can you make that silly thing your god?

We’ll cover this more as we continue our series. But before you say, They were so primitive, so silly! let’s remember that we spend hours on end bowing to images on our screens. Can you go a week without your phone? That’s different, you say.

Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t.

Isaiah 40:21–26
Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?

He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

“To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

The barrage of questions in this chapter is meant to shake the doubtful exiles and rouse them from their unbelief in the power of God and the word of God. It’s the same shake-up you and I need today.

He’s driving home the sheer majesty of God versus the futility of human pretension and pride—It’s chaff!

Lift up your eyes. How often do you lift up your eyes from your screen and look to the heavens?

Let’s finish with strength for the weary. You know these verses well.

Strength for the weary

Isaiah 40:27–31

Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”?

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

After decades in exile and even longer facing the judgment of God, the people of Israel might be forgiven for believing, My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God. But the prophet has a ready answer.

The recipients of this message are tired, weary, and weak. And there’s a deeper reason for their exhaustion than the exile and the devastation of Jerusalem. They trusted in all kinds of things, except the Lord.

The prophet brings them face to face with the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. The one for whom strength is never exhausted.

Your strength depends on your trust.

If your trust is in anything above the Lord, you will always be tired, weary, and weak. If your trust is in the Lord God, you will soar on wings like eagles, you will run and not grow weary, you will walk and not be faint.

 We’re just beginning our series in Isaiah. I believe the Lord wants you to lift up your eyes, look to the heavens, and soar like the eagles. He has a word for those of you who are tired, weary, and weak. For those who doubt his goodness and his presence in the world and in your life.

Perhaps, like the exiles, you feel shattered. Who of us can look at life and say that we’ve not made a mess of things? But the only way to receive the comfort of God—not the empty comfort of our world, with its addictions and escapism and materialism, but the true comfort of God—is to first receive the judgment of God. Yes, the judgment of God.

The first 39 chapters of Isaiah speak a word of judgment. We’ll still see echoes of it in these chapters ahead. Why the judgment? Because the people were corrupted.

Much like the wounded soldier that had to go through the judgment of amputation, and like the corrupt prisoner that had to go through the judgment of prison, and like unfaithful Israel that had to go through the judgment of exile, you and I must go through the judgment of God because of our corruption, our sin.

The good news that Isaiah announced is that our judgment has gone to Jesus, who died on the cross, for our corruption. But we must receive God’s judgment in him. We must say: My sin put Jesus on the cross. He took my corruption. He took my penalty. He paid for my sin, so that my Creator and God could speak to me tenderly and bring me comfort. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

If you’ve never done that, your corruption remains. God’s judgment hangs over your head. But if you receive Jesus as your payment, as the one who was judged in your place, you have an eternity of God’s comfort waiting for you.

Whom do you trust? Those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength.