Isaiah 40: Introduction to the second half of Isaiah and the prophecies of Christ

The Big Picture

As we have seen, chapters 1-39 deal primarily with judgment on Israel and other nations because of sin and faithlessness.  We now move into the second half of the book (40-66) which speaks primarily of hope and deliverance.  The second half of the book can itself be subdivided into three parts:
  1. Chapters 40-48 - mostly speaking of deliverance from Babylonian captivity (but with some dual fulfillment in Christ, as we will see)
    • The primary event being the deliverance under king Cyrus (Isa 44:28-45:1)
  2. Chapters 49-57 - the rejection and restoration of the suffering Servant (Christ)
    • Isa 52-53
  3. Chapters 58-66 - the consummation of God's restoration of both Israel and the World
    • Central is the coming of the Messiah (both the first time and second time) in Isa 61-63
Just reading these passages, they seem to indicate that the Messiah's first coming would immediately usher in his final judgment and reign.  Hence why the Israelites were expecting a conquering Messiah to show up.  However, passages written later clarify that there is a large time gap between these events. The prophets can be thought of as being carried to a mountain peak and given a view of future peaks.  Hwoever, from this vantage point, it is very difficult to see distances - they can see the distant peaks, but they typically are not given insight into exactly where those peaks are.  In contrast to God's view where he sees all of eternity clearly and knows/determines precisely when things will happen.

          Prophet Perspective (e.g., Isaiah)                                        God's Perspective

Royalty-Free photo: Top view of mountain during daytime | PickPik       File:White Cloud Peaks Labeled.JPG - Wikimedia Commons

Isaiah 40 - "Comfort My people"

As any good essay should be constructed, the main point of this chapter is clearly stated in the introduction, Isa 40:1.  This chapter is about comfort to God's people in the midst of despairing circumstances.


  • "Make straight in the desert" - not the literal desert, but rather the desert of unsaved souls
  • How?  By working in people's hearts and minds to produce soil ready to receive the Good News
  • Following the imagery:
    • "every valley shall be exalted" - those who are so beaten down by helplessness they see no escape must be exalted - given hope
    • "every mountain and hill brought low" - those who are lofted up with pride in themselves must be brought low
    • "the crooked places shall be made straight" - those led aside from the truth by every wind of teaching (Eph 4:14) must be brought to walk steadily in the truth
    • "the rough places [made] smooth" - those with many obstacles in the way of hearing the Good News: habitual sins, financial problems, relationship problems
  • How can we do this in people we talk with?
  • The glory of the Lord will be revealed
    • Near term - Cyrus' liberation of the exiles from Babylon
    • Far term - the Messiah coming to liberate all souls from the bondage of sin
  • All flesh is like grass - we are helpless to do anything in our own ability/strength to protect ourselves from the breath of God (Isa 40:7); like grass against a wildfire
  • One of two translations:
    • "Zion, bring good tidings"
      • Jerusalem charged with announcing the Messiah to the other cities of Judah
    • "Thou that brings good tidings to Zion"
      • The messenger who brings Isaiah's word to Jerusalem to proclaim the Messiah (John the Baptist?  But "thou" is female in the Hebrew...)
  • God's arm - imagery for God's strength used often by Isaiah (Isa 40:11, 51:5,9, 52:10, 53:1, 59:1,16, 62:8, 63:5,12)
  • Yet He is also a shepherd gently caring for his flock (Isa 44:28, 49:9, 63:11)
  • Isaiah first justifies God's greatness by argument based on his creation (Isa 40:12-14)
  • Therefore, sacrifices, even as abundant as all of the trees of Lebanon, are insufficient to justify ourselves to such a great God (Isa 40:16).  A good verse to note that even in the OT people were not justified by sacrifices (but faith (Rom 4:1-4))
  • Idols (made out of God's creation) are worthless compared to him (Isa 40:18-20)
  • Isaiah relays the confusion and feelings of abandonment felt by Israel in the time waiting for God to bring his deliverance (Isa 40:27).  But, hearkening back to the comfort of Isa 40:1, God is ever-knowing and seeing, and also ever-powerful to act in his timing and will surely provide strength to those who call on Him (Isa 40:29-31)
So, Isaiah 40 is a good chapter to reflect on when you find yourself in a season of despair, or feeling like God has allowed you to be exiled away from his love.  Even though God sometimes allows us to walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps 23:4), he has the knowledge of our situation and the ability to help us through it.  Therefore we can be comforted.

How might this passage have been helpful to you during a season or event in the past, or that you could image you may go through in the future?