For the past few months at church, we’ve been studying my favorite Old Testament book (and perhaps my favorite in the whole Bible), Isaiah. It’s my favorite for countless reasons, but these are my top:
- The passage the Lord used to give me assurance, comfort and strengthen my faith during the years which I was unemployed (particularly in the first year), was in Isaiah (40-41).
- I gained a great love for the book under Willem VanGemeren, with whom I had the privilege to study this book whilst in seminary.
- It’s the OT book which lays out the most complete view of God’s plan of redemption—from God’s deep love and compassion for His people, to satisfying His justice because of their sin, to the culmination of that satisfaction by paying for their sin once for all in His Son, the Suffering Servant, to the view that His plan always included the salvation and restoration of the nations.
- It has some of the most theologically deep and profound passages on worship (chap 1, 6, 66).
As we’ve been going through this book, I’ve been studying it anew, using one of the commentaries that I had from my class, The Prophecy of Isaiah by J. Alec Motyer.
There have been many times that I’ve wanted to share what I’m learning, as I see something that excites me or challenges me, but I end up writing in my journal in a sort of commentary fashion, going verse by verse, and it probably wouldn’t make much sense to anyone else. But then came Isaiah 40:12-31.
This passage has the response to the person who thinks that God doesn’t see (“my way is hidden from the Lord”) or care (“my cause is disregarded by my God”) what is going on in their life (v.27). We all feel this way from time to time, so if you’re there now, dig in with me. I’m going to attempt to kind of paraphrase of up through verse 26, after writing them out (I’m using the NIV). Then the rest is a mix of paraphrase and commentary on vs.27-31. This is kind of how my journal looked.
12Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?
13 Who can fathom the Spirit of the LORD,
or instruct the LORD as his counselor?
14 Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge,
or showed him the path of understanding?
15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,
nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.
17 Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing.
18 With whom, then, will you compare God?
To what image will you liken him?
19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and fashions silver chains for it.
20 A person too poor to present such an offering
selects wood that will not rot;
they look for a skilled worker
to set up an idol that will not topple.
21 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
25 “To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
27 Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Yahweh is the transcendent Creator, and so vast that it is like He can contain all the seas in the hollow of His hand. He doesn’t take or need counsel. His wisdom and mind are beyond our comprehension. Even all the cedar trees of Lebanon are not sufficient for altar fires. His crowning jewel of creation, mankind, is nothing in comparison to Him (v.12-17).
Are you trying to compare Him to the gods of other religions? Those gods are nothing but gold or wood, and have only as much value as the wealth of the individual can afford him to commission one (gold or wood, see v.18-20). Man may think his idol represents some person, but it’s just gold or wood. The worshiper even has to get a craftsman to secure the idol so it doesn’t topple!
Don’t you know? You used to understand! God is the creator and He is sovereign over all (v.21-24)! And with His power, He knows and names each star. “As one strong in power” (Motyer 306), not one is missing. All is as He intends (v.26).
So now we get to the crux of the passage. Isaiah has set the stage for one of the great questions of humanity: “Does God care about my troubles? How can God let this happen to me?” Yes, God is transcendent and all-powerful, and now we are reminded that he cares (which, in the context of Isaiah 40:1-11, Isaiah has already told us. He’s the God of comfort and the Shepherd-King, v.1-2; 9-11).
v.27-31 – The answer to “How can God do this to me” is first, theology; second, experience (Motyer 307). Actually, even the questions are theological then experiential:
“My way is hidden from God” (God doesn’t see) – theological
“My cause is disregarded” (my prayers are unanswered) – experiential.
So, to the answer. First, theology:
Don’t you know? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all, who never gets tired or weary, and whose understanding is beyond our comprehension (v.28).
Kidner says, “The wrong inference from God’s transcendence is that He is too great to care; the right one is that He is too great to fail” (quoted by Motyer 307). “God is such (eternal, Creator, untiring) that [we] need not doubt His capacity. … He is also such (possessing unfathomable wisdom) that [we] must never expect to understand all His ways” (Ibid).
Second, experience: “resting, trusting and waiting” (Ibid).
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even a young man in peak condition will be overcome by circumstances (tired) or through hardness of life (weary) (v.30). That cannot happen to God (v.28), and in fact, He gives strength to us in those times (v.29) when we hope, wait patiently and rest (trust) in Him (Motyer 307-308). We can be like the eagle who rides on the wind and lets it carry him (v.29-31).
We need to get this, don’t we? God is too great to fail, yet His ways are beyond our comprehension. When we wait and hope—rest, trust—in Him, He will give us strength. The Apostle Paul says that weak is a good place to be, for His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:8)!
 Motyer explains that the word “hope” in v.31 contains its biblical dimension of certainty (see Heb 11:1), and also includes ‘waiting’ (patience) and ‘resting’ (trust) (p308).