The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

My Notes on Isaiah 40:25-31

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 5, 2011

Background~Earlier in this chapter we read of a voice saying In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Regarding this verse and those which followed it (i.e., 40:3-5) we wrote: “In ancient times processional highways were built for kings and gods (idols) so that they might enter their capital city in splendor, often as a celebration for the victory of the king and his gods over foreign people and their gods. The people of God and the utensils of worship taken from the Jerusalem Temple were, no doubt, led along such a road as they entered Babylon, with their conquerors celebrating their and their god’s victory over them and their God. Of course, what the victors failed to understand was that what they deemed the defeat of Israel’s God was, in fact, part of a plan orchestrated by him. The King of Babylon, like the King of Assyria before him, thought that he had conquered just another god, and for this both suffered the consequences (Isa 10:10-11; 14:13-15). Here God is declaring that he will have his own victory procession. On this processional highway “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” and “all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken”  (verse 5).”

There was, however, a problem that needed to be confronted. Many of the Jewish people who had been taken into exile all those decades ago, along with many who had been born and raised during the exile, had had their faith in God shaken and Isaiah 40:12-31 seeks to rectify this. These final 20 verses of chapter 40 thus prepare for chapters 41-48.

Isaiah 40:12-31 forms the immediate context from which today’s reading is taken (40:25-31). The passage is in the form of a disputation, i.e., a literary form employed to make known or compare two contrasting or opposing views. This biblical genre comes out of the wisdom tradition and is especially prominent in the book of Job (see A PROPHET CONFRONTS HIS PEOPLE by Adrian Graffy).

The passage of the immediate context consists of four parts, each beginning with a question. The questions opening the first three parts are rhetorical and natural, the fourth, for which the other three prepare, is properly disputational.

Outline of Isaiah 40:12-31~

40:12-17. Unlike the pagan gods the true god is immeasurable (“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand…?”).

40:18-25. No pagan god can compare to him (“To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?”).

40:26. He is incomprehensible (“Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?”)

40:27-31. The disputation proper against the people of God (“Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hid from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God?”).

Today’s Reading (Isa 40:25-31)~

25 To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.

Many see this particular verse as starting the third part of Isaiah 40:12-31 but it does not appear to be a new rhetorical question, rather, it appears to merely repeat the opening question of the second part (see 40:18). For this reason it should be taken as rounding out that section.

The passage which this verse closes out began as follows: 18 To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? 19 The idol! a workman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold, and casts for it silver chains. 20 He who is impoverished chooses for an offering wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skillful craftsman to set up an image that will not move.  By basically repeating the opening question of this section verse 25 not only closes it out but also prepares for what follows:

26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.

The people are bidden to lift up your eyes on high and view the planets (hosts) and consider the greatness of his might and that he is strong in power. His might in power is manifested in the fact that not one of these planets is missing. In contrast to the stability of the planets the idol maker has to take care to use would that will not quickly rot, and ensure that the idol will be crafted in such a way that it will not move, i.e., topple during a victory procession (verse 20).

The question who created these? should be seen as a polemic against the creation of idols mentioned in verse 18-19. Who created the wood, the gold, the silver that the Babylonians used to make things they called their gods?

27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hid from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?

As noted above, this question is properly disputational; the other rhetorical questions in the preceding verses prepared for the section now being introduced (40:27-31). The people are accused of claiming that their fate (my way) and their right are being hid from and  disregarded by their God. How can the people claim that the wise God who measured out and planed creation (verses 12-17); who sits above the earth and controls the heavens (verses 18-25); and who has established the planets (verse 26) is out of touch with the predicament in which they find themselves?

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable.

Unlike the gods of the pagans THE God is everlasting; he will not rot like wood (verse 20). He who is the creator of the ends of the earth cannot be created by man. He does not faint or grow weary, rather, he has staying power and thus he brings princes to nought, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble (verses 23-24).

29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.

He who does not grow weary or faint (vs. 28), and who can bring the princely oppressors of his people to nought, causing them to wither (verses 23-24), can certainly give power to the faint of his people. He who by the greatness of his might controls the planets (vs. 26) can certainly give to him who has no might an increase in strength.

30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

The young, those born in exile, those most effected by the oppression are here exhorted to wait for the LORD. These verse call to my mind an earlier passage from Isaiah concerning the threat posed by Assyria, an instrument God used to punish his people (see Isa 10:5-7). Assyria, as the rod of God’s justice would come quickly: He will raise a signal for a nation afar off, and whistle for it from the ends of the earth; and lo, swiftly, speedily it comes! None is weary, none stumbles, none slumbers or sleeps, not a waistcloth is loose, not a sandal-thong broken; their arrows are sharp, all their bows bent, their horses’ hoofs seem like flint, and their wheels like the whirlwind (5:26-28). Assyria had served as a warning to the kingdom of Judah, but that warning had gone unheeded. Babylon had brought to them the full force of the reality of God’s punishment but now that was being reversed. The speed and efficiency with which God could bring punishment upon his people is matched and surpassed by the speed and efficiency with which he can heal.







3 Responses to “My Notes on Isaiah 40:25-31”

  1. […] My Notes on Today’s First Reading (Isaiah 40:25-31). […]

  2. […] Posts A Summary of Rerum NovarumMy Notes on Isaiah 40:25-31Sermons For New Years Eve/DayMy Notes on Isaiah 40:1-11 Father Callan's Commentary on John 1:6-8, […]

  3. […] Today’s Mass Readings. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: