Today is the beginning of new Word Woche! hurrah!
And… due to my schedule, I decided to pull something out of my records from school. And while it was a class about prophets and we were required to look at a prophet–this is my favorite verse in the whole Book 🙂
Here you go!
The final form of these verses is what is regarded as Scripture and therefore will be the focus of this study. Verse 40:21 begins with the following rhetorical questions: Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told, announced or reported from the beginning to you? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? (1) This verse parallels the section beginning just before in verse 12 asking similar questions in a similar fashion. It appears as thought the prophet (Isaiah or otherwise) is pointing out things that the people of Israel should know or have been told in the past. Brown, Driver and Briggs indicates that the word in Hebrew (hâlō’) invites an affirmative answer to the questions in the text. (2) “The prophet asks these questions of the exiles with a sense of disbelief. They ought to know very well the prohibition on images of God and the reality of God’s power.” (3) Though more rhetorical questions appear in verse 25, they do not use the same words to ask of the listener but do incorporate the same theme as earlier discussed. However, in review of the third set of questions in verse 28, the words appear almost verbatim as compared to verse 21, connecting the verses and their understandings of the nature of God. Additionally, the Hebrew term ro’sh used in verse 21 (sometimes translating as head or “foundation” (4)) points to the God of Creation as it is the same Hebrew root that described God’s redemptive work within the biblical text. “DI (Deutro-Isaiah) understood God’s control of the universe in the light of the Exodus from Egypt. Yet he seems to go further back than the days of Moses…Thereby he implied that God’s gift of land to Israel, theologically speaking, was one with creation of the world.” (5) The opening verse of this passage strongly describes and directs the listener to the theme Isaiah is going to gradually build.
The text continues from verse 21 to 23 by outlining the characteristics of the answers to the previous questions. The structure parallels that of the opening chapters of Genesis and the initial layout of the Creation story demonstrated in Genesis 1 where God creates the cosmos and then more specifically in Genesis 2 where he creates humans. Verse 22 deals with the natural, referring to God “stretching out over the heavens…” or “sitting upon the throne or vault of the earth.” “[It] captures in one unforgettable image the lesson that no member of the Israelite community should ever forget, that of the creator God seated above ‘the circle of the earth,’ from which perspective its inhabitants appear like grasshoppers. The way is thereby cleared to relativize the status of early rulers, who, far from being able to rival God in creative ability are no more than ‘naught and nothingness’ that existed prior to creation!” (6) The verses together walk through the story of creation and humanity, through the beginnings of the earth and continuing onto the heads of the land, demonstrating God’s vast authority of the small and mighty. The purpose of these verses is to lead to a specific image of God; that of authority and power over all as Creator of the world.
Isaiah 40:24 continues on with the same theme of God as Transcendent but involved Creator. In this verse, the prophet emphasizes three times the Hebrew word ‘ãf which indicates additional emphasis, especially of something greater or by giving strength to the verb action linked with the term. (7) It is also significant as it marks definition and connection between the actions poetically. “The story line of this poetry is simple and rather one-dimensional, and the main argument is clear…The poet intends that listening exiles, upon hearing, should have the emotional experience of having their established ‘plausibility structures” diminished and nullified. There is not alternative source of life in the world except Yahweh.” (8) As reading through these verses, Isaiah gradually builds up the case for All Transcendent God–separate from the natural and human-like creation. This is also the same God of Israel “who reverses rulers to nothing. Who makes judges of the earth meaningless.” (TNIV Isaiah 40: 23.) As poetically as the initial verses, verse 24 flows into the following section that describes the prophet’s main topic of the oracle directly: God As Creator.
Verses 25-26 are the culmination of the all the questioning and all the cosmic and relational descriptions described in the previous verses. Here in this text, the rhetorical questions from verse 21 and 25 (and subsequently 28) find their answers. God declares Himself as Mightier than all: of creation, of humans, and even of other spiritual beings. When indicating he “created these stars,” God is demonstrating stars are creation as contrasted to the Babylonian theological belief that the stars were godly beings in the heavens. “Now…the Holy One speaks in person, and the comparison shifts from human-made images to God’s creative power…The Babylonians worshipped the heavenly host as gods in control of history. The prophet countered this dogma with the testimony that the heavenly host has no power. Only God who created this has power.” (9) The term used to describe Himself in this clause is from the Hebrew word (bārā’) and is a rare but biblical term to describe divine creating, unlike a human-made action. “Created is the verb which the Old Testament reserves for divine action. Innumerable though the stars may be to us (Gn. 15:5), there is neither one more or less than he determines.” (10) Here God speaks of Himself, much like in Job, stating that He is the Creator of the cosmos and He is the One with great power as compared to any manmade ruler of other ‘god.’ Up to this point, Isaiah has presented how God as Creator is central to an Israelite and their current understanding of why they would be exiled from the land given to them by their LORD. It is almost as thought he is saying in these verses: “What right have you to claim, Israel, when you should know I am God, the Creator of Everything and that I am Mightier than the Babylonians.” This is the one of the two most significant themes Isaiah is trying to demonstrate in this chapter. The other theme appears in the following verses.
The remaining portion of chapter 40 in the Book of Isaiah is sometimes considered to be an afterthought to the verses in 40:21-26 which also parallel with previous verses 12-20. At first glance, the topic of verses 27-31 appear to not fit the subject matter of the previous text and can almost stand on their own as a separate pericope of study. However, without the understanding of God as Mightiest Creator, the final verses do not provide the strong evidence for the Hebrew translation and emphasis on “waiting on the LORD.” Brown, Driver and Briggs translate the main verb qāvāh meaning “wait for” also incorporating aspects of to “look eagerly, for, “ and even coming from similar Ancient Near Eastern roots meaning enduring, waiting or remaining. (11) Verses 27-31 provide the reasoning for the main topic located in the previous verses of Transcendent Creator God. Nothing becomes impossible with those who wait upon the LORD; No mile is too long, no army too great, nothing will outlast God as He is the source of all strength and goodness. “Creation faith comes down to the crisis of God’s people in exile…the quotation of a complaint is only a launching pad for the gospel assertion not that follows.” (12) In verse 28 the same questions that appear in verse 21 are now directed at Israel that was once applied to the general reader, asking similar questions as to why they would complain in exile when God the Creator does not tire and can strengthen those who are struggling like themselves. This connects the first paragraph in verses 21-26 with verses 27-31 which reemphasizes the same theme located within both portions of the Isaiah text. Both sections also use the same root word in Hebrew for Create or Creator (bārā’.) “The reality of God as creator and redeemer is everywhere present and known…The prophet’s disputation never was an attempt rationally and theoretically to convince Israel, but fully from the perspective of Israel’s tradition to dramatize the power and wisdom of Israel’s God, who was confessed from the beginning as creator.” (13) By the end of chapter 40, the prophet Isaiah is clear about one specific thing: God is the Transcendent Creator who gives hope to His own and strength to help carry onward. This is the fact that will be most important aspect of Isaiah 40:21-31 that will carry over into the New Testament.
1) References to the biblical text will be the writer’s own interpretation from the Hebrew with the assistance of Francis Brown and others, The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon : With an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1979).unless otherwise specified
2) Ibid., column 1
3) Ivan Friesen, Isaiah, Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2009).p 235, Kindle edition
4) Brown and others.kindle edition
5) George Angus Fulton Knight, Servant Theology : A Commentary on the Book of Isaiah 40-55, Rev. and updated new ed., International Theological Commentary (Edinburgh
Grand Rapids: Handsel Press ;
W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1984).p 22
6) Paul D. Hanson, Isaiah 40-66, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1995).p 29, Kindle edition
7) Brown and others.p 64, column 2
8) Walter Brueggemann, Isaiah, 1st ed., 2. vols., Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998).p 25
9) Friesen.p 236, Kindle edition
10) J. A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah : An Introduction & Commentary (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993).p 306
11) Brown and others.p 875 column 2
12) Brueggemann.p 27
13) Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah, 1st ed., The Old Testament Library (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001).p 311
Brown, Francis, Edward Robinson, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs. The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon : With an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1979.
Brueggemann, Walter. Isaiah. 2. vols. 1st ed. Westminster Bible Companion. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998.
Childs, Brevard S. Isaiah. 1st ed. The Old Testament Library. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
Friesen, Ivan. Isaiah Believers Church Bible Commentary. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2009.
Hanson, Paul D. Isaiah 40-66 Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1995.
Knight, George Angus Fulton. Servant Theology : A Commentary on the Book of Isaiah 40-55. Rev. and updated new ed. International Theological Commentary. Edinburgh
Grand Rapids: Handsel Press ;
W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1984.
Motyer, J. A. The Prophecy of Isaiah : An Introduction & Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993.