Soar Like An Eagle (Isaiah 40)

Isaiah 40 introduces the major section of Isaiah 40-55. The question of God's trustworthiness has been thoroughly answered in Isaiah 7-39 despite man's failure and sins. Now the questions are:
  • What will motivate the people of God to trust him and become the servants they were called to be?
  • How is it possible for sinful Israel to become God's servants?
  • What is to be done about the sin that has alienated them from God?
Isaiah addresses these questions in the future context of the coming Babylonian exile, when he anticipates the questions the exiles will be prompted to ask in that crisis. Isaiah 40-55 answer the questions in two parts:

  1. Isaiah 41-48 address Israel's captivity in Babylon. If they are to be the redeemed servants of the Lord, they need to be free in order to worship God in the land of the promises. These chapters speak of God's capacity to deliver and his desire to do so.
  2. Isaiah 49-55 address what needs to be done about the sin that got the people in their dilemma.
Isaiah recognizes that the Exile will bring up questions about these issues. Though the questions are never specifically stated, answers are given again and again to implied questions.
  1. The first answer is "I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me" (Isa 46:9, NIV).
  2. The second answer is "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God" (Isa 41:10, NIV).
What then are the questions? They are:
  1. Has not God been defeated by the gods of Babylon?
  2. Has not our sin separated us from God forever?
To both these questions, Isaiah answers with a resounding "NO." God has NOT been defeated either by the Babylonian gods or by his people's sin. In fact, God will use the evidence of their lives to demonstrate his sole Godhood. Far from being cast off, they will be his witnesses in his case against the idols.
These two themes emerge at once in Isaiah 40. It has two main divisions and a kind of summary conclusion:
  1. God's Promised Deliverance (1-11). This first section addresses whether God has cast his people away. Echoing Isaiah 12, where this event is anticipated, God speaks not judgment but comfort. He will deliver them, and they will be in a position to tell the world of the deliverance.
  2. God's Ability to Deliver His People (12-26). God is the incomparable God, like whom there is no other. The nations of the earth are nothing to him, so they need not fear that they have been abandoned. God is indeed able to deliver his people.
  3. Waiting in Hope (27-31). For God to deliver them, the people need only to wait in hope for the time to come.
The dominant idea here is that of the undeserved grace of God. This is what will motivate people to trust God, just as was intimated in Isaiah 12. When God delivers his people without any deserving on their part, they will at last be willing to cast themselves on him without reservation. So if Isaiah 7-39 is about trust as the basis of servanthood, Isaiah 40-55 is about grace as the motive and means of servanthood.
Oswalt, John N. Isaiah: The New Application Commentary. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 2003. 440.