The word of the Lord imperishable, Isaiah 40:6-8.
The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? (Cry), All flesh is grass, And all the beauty thereof as the flower of the field: Withereth the grass, fadeth the flower: Because the breath of the Lord bloweth upon him: Truly the people is grass. Withereth the grass, fadeth the flower: But the word of the Lord shall stand forever.
This voice, too, must be identified with the Lord. For it does a thing that the alone can do. It mandates the prophet. It bids him to cry and specifies what is to be cried. The content of the cry points to Him alone as its author: For it tells what is characteristic of His Word. No one but He can say anything about Himself and His word.
The one mandated is the prophet as representative of all the prophets of God.
“All flesh” is humanity, every individual man without exception. That the animals are here excluded is indicated by the occurrence in the text of the term “The people” alongside of the expression “all flesh.”
Our passage first voices a complaint, “All flesh is as grass . . .” It receives full expression in Ps. 90.
Thou tarriest them—the children of men—away as with a flood they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass that groweth up.
In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth. For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.
So the Lord’s captives in Babylon lamented as they would contemplate the terrifying fact. But let them consider. The word of the Lord is not a thing that like “all flesh,” like the grass of the field, withers and vanishes away, but it is a word that stands forever, definitely His word to the exiles that their warfare is finished, that their sins are blotted out and they are forgiven of him implying that with regard to them, His chosen people His wrath has been appeased, His justice satisfied, and that He will now turn their captivity and crown them with immortality and life according to His word. And it shall come to pass seeing that His mouth has spoken it and that His word stands forever. And therefore also His redeemed ones shall abide forever, sustained and perpetuated by His word by which they also were raised from the dust of death and crowned with glory.
This is not seeing in the glad announcement of the prophet truth that is not there and that was not there to the minds of His captives in exile. Seeing that they, too, as well as “all flesh” were withering away and returning to the dust there is Babylon, what real and abiding comfort could they have derived from Isaiah’s gospel, if, to their mind, all it promised was a deliverance from the clutch of earthy rulers and a return to an earthy Canaan, Jerusalem and temple. What was the purpose or God in voicing by the mouth of the prophet the lamentation that “all flesh is as grass,” and in concluding it with the glad tiding that, in contrast thereto, the word of the Lord abideth forever, if it was not to give the lamenters to understand that what He was promising them in the final instance is a resurrection from the dead unto life everlasting and that the promise would surely come to pass. If this is not true, then all the prophecy of the Old Testament Scriptures is nothing but senseless prattle, and the living by the promise, as the captives in Babylon were doing, an utterly vain thing. If the essence of all prophecy was not that Christ would come to suffer and die for the sins of His people and that He would be raised again, there was no prophecy worthy of the name and then the faith of the saints was vain and they of all creatures the most miserable. If on the other hand there was prophecy worthy of the name, but of the saints were not empowered to grasp essentially the import and thrust of its promises, they were still wholly without comfort in their afflictions. But they did have comfort, their only comfort in life and in death and that consisted in their knowing that they belonged not to themselves but to their faithful Savior, the Jehovah God of Israel, who, through the lamb that He Himself would provide Him, would atone their sins. Accordingly they knew that though after their skin worms should destroy their bodies, they should yet in their flesh, see God (Job 19:26).
The summons to Jerusalem, vss. 9-11.
Upon a mountain high get thyself, O thou good news bringing Zion; Lift up thy voice with strength, O thou good news bringing Jerusalem: Lift up thy voice, be not afraid; Say unto the cities of Judah; Lo, your God Lo, God the Lord with strength shall come, And His arm shall rule with him. Like a shepherd his flock He shall feed: With His arm He shall gather the lambs, And in His bosom carry, And those that are with young He shall gently lead.
Zion, Jerusalem, and the “cities of Judah” collectively and separately represent the church, God’s afflicted people in the captivity of the exile with this difference that the “good news bringing Zion and Jerusalem are in contrast to the cities of Judah” the church as to her prophets or comforters. That the comforters in the church should be identified with Jerusalem and Zion and not with the other cities of Judah can be explained. In Jerusalem had dwelt the Lord in His holy temple between the cherubim above the mercy seat. Here had flown the blood of atonement and burned God’s altars. Hence Jerusalem was known as the good news bringing city. From out of Zion had gone forth to the saints the glad tidings of the Aaronic blessing, “The Lord bless thee and keep thee . . .” But the voice of blessing was now silent. For Jerusalem was in ruins and the church was in exile a captive of the world power.
But the time of her deliverance is at hand, now that she has received double from the hand of the Lord for all her sins. The comforters therefore shall get them on a high mountain and without fear of the powers of darkness let their voice be heard with strength. They shall say to the cities of Judah, God’s afflicted people, “Lo, your God!” According to the lines that follow, this means that He comes. Hence, “Lo, your God!” And He comes with strength that is infinite, for He is the infinite God. Hence, His arm shall rule for Him and none other. The deliverance of the captives is a certainty. For He comes irresistibly.
And His reward is with Him and His recompense before Him—life and immortality for His afflicted and contrite people that war His warfare in Babylon, but death and destruction for the unbelieving and disobedient.
His penitent people He loves. He shall feed them. They are His flock. And how tender His regard for each one of His sheep. In the imagery of the text, the lambs He gathers in His arms and carries in His bosom and gently leads them that are with young. In this manner will He bring His captives home.
Twice mention is made of God’s arm of which it is said that it is with Him and that by it He rules and gathers His sheep. His arm—the arm of the triune Jehovah—is the personal servant of Jehovah (of subsequent chapters) the incarnate Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is only, Isaiah 40:12-26.
It is a great salvation that the Lord holds forth to His captive people. Its realization calls for infinite might, wisdom, understanding. Doubts arise (see vs. 27). Can the Lord do as he promised? To these doubts the Lord replies in the present section.
Who measured with His hollow hand the waters, And the heavens with a span measured, And included in a measure the dust of the earth, And weighed in scales the mountains, And the hills in a balance? Who directed the Spirit of the Lord, Or what man was His counselor that instructed Him? With whom did He take counsel, and who caused Him to understand, And taught Him the path of judgment, and taught Him knowledge, And made Him to know the way of understanding?
The prophet is here occupied with the work of creation. Who hath measured with the hollow of his hand the waters, etc. According to some, what the prophet meant is, that no man is able to measure God’s works, but without meaning to say that God did that. According to others, that precisely is what the prophet means, namely that God alone is able to weigh the mountains and the hills, measure the works of His hands. According to still others the thought conveyed is, that no man can ascertain the wisdom or correctness of God’s works; because he has no means of measuring them, or that God’s works defy man’s power of comprehension.
To my mind the meaning is, that God’s works cannot be measured by man, that, in the words of Paul, His judgments are unsearchable, and His ways past finding out, and that therefore man cannot know the wisdom and the knowledge that they represent, except God reveal it to him.
This would be different if man directed the Lord’s Spirit, were His counselor that instructed Him, caused Him to understand, taught Him the path of judgment etc. But were this true, than man were God and God were man’s creation.
But who is man? And who is God? The prophet tells us.
15. Behold, the nations are as a drop on the bucket, And as small dust on the balance are they counted: Behold, isles as small dust He taketh up.
16. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, Nor the animals thereof sufficient for a burnt offering.
17. All nations are as nothing before Him; And they are counted as less than nothing. God’s aloneness is absolute.
Therefore, “Who shall weigh the mountains with a balance?” and, “who shall teach Him knowledge?” Some man or association of men or some other god? Absolutely no one.
The drop on the bucket—let us take notice, on and notin—has no significance before the bearer. It is nothing. As to the small dust on the scale, it does not influence the weight, so that it, too, is nothing. So all the nations before God, they are nothing. Worse than that, they are vanity, emptiness before God. Why is this so? For two reasons. First, God being God is the foundation of His own blessed existence and therefore conditioned by no one. Second, all nations exist solely by His power. And to His power there is no limit. He could, if He chose, take up the islands of the sea without any effort. So again: He is only. His sublimity is absolute. Be alone is great. And because He is so great, all the forests of Lebanon do not suffice as a worthy sacrificial fire, nor all the beasts of those forests as a worthy sacrifice.
18. To whom then will ye liken God? Or what likeness would you compare to God?
God can be likened to no one, for He is alone. For the same reason, no creature or its image can be likened, compared, to God. To do the former is to draw God down to the level of the corruptible creature. This is to destroy Him conceptually. To do the latter is to raise the corruptible creature to the level of God. This is likewise to destroy Him conceptually.
The people of Israel at Mt. Horeb committed this great sin. They made carved image of a calf and said to the image and thereby to the creature imaged—the calf, “Thou art the God that delivered us from our bondage.” In Psalm 106 they are charged with worshipping the molten image and thus with changing the glory of God into the likeness of an ox that eateth grass. This is the great sin of idol worshippers both ancient and modern. The modern man invents a doctrine of God, that is, forms in his mind a conception or image of God according to his own liking, and that image he worships. Though he is not in the literal sense prostrated before a carved image of wood or stone, he is an image worshipper as actually as were those Jews at Horeb that worshipped the golden calf.
In the two verses that follow, the prophet holds up for scorn and ridicule all such vile doings.
19. A carved image the engraver moulds, And the goldsmith spreads it over with gold, And chains of silver refines.
20. He that is so poor that he has no gift, a tree that will not root chooses; And engraver cunning he seeks for himself to prepare him a carved image that will not rot.
The idolater has a carved image made for himself overlaid with gold and provided with chains for fastening it to the ground in order that it may not accidentally be toppled over. If he can’t afford an image so costly, he has one made of durable wood. That dumb, lifeless thing he now worships. From it he expects all his salvation. He does not despite the fact that his reason tells him that it is foolishness to trust in a dumb idol. God gave men over to this folly, because, though they knew God, they honored him not as God.
In view of the fact that God made man in His own image, it might be asked why it is so sinful to liken the creature with God. To this it must be answered that God did not make man another God equal with Him but He made man a creature. As creature he reflected God’s glories while he stood. Idolatry identifies the creature with God and thereby destroys God conceptually by deifying the corruptible creature. Essentially worshipping the creature, be that creature the mightiest of men, is as senseless as to worship lifeless stone or wood, as before God the one has as much a nothingness as the other.