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Isaiah 40:1–8 The Lord’s Message of Comfort to Jerusalem
Immediately after Isaiah’s prophecy of the Babylonian captivity of the kingdom of Judah (39:1–7)—a forthcoming national disaster—the Lord provided words of comfort to Jerusalem’s inhabitants.
Jerusalem. Meaning,Jerusalem’s inhabitants. double for all its sins. “Double” calls to mind the law of Moses, which required double payment for breach of trust (Exodus 22:9) or restitution for theft (Exodus 22:4, 7). “Double” indicates that the full measure of debt has been paid for the nation’s sins (Jeremiah 16:18).
voice . . . calling in the wilderness. This passage has multiple applications: John the Baptist, during his mortal ministry (Matthew 3:3; JST John 1:6–24; Mark 1:1–8; Luke 1:76–79), and the Lord’s Spirit, which “is as the voice of one crying in the wilderness—in the wilderness, because you cannot see him” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:66; see also Doctrine and Covenants 33:10 and 128:20). make straight in the desert a highway for our God. “make straight” means to make the highway undeviating and level for those who travel on it so that they can return to God safely (note that major highways, anciently, were regularly straightened and smoothed out for kings and others who traveled on them). An equivalent to Isaiah’s phrase “make straight in the desert a highway” is “make his paths straight” (Doctrine and Covenants 33:10; 65:1; 45:2). The “highway” here is “the Way of Holiness” (19:19–25; 35:8).
valley . . . lifted up/mountain . . . made low. See Doctrine and Covenants 49:23; 109:74; 133:22.
glory of the Lord . . . revealed. This passage refers to the coming of the Lord in His glory (see commentary on 24:23). all flesh will see it together. All the world will see the Lord when He comes in glory (Doctrine and Covenants 88:95–98; 101:23).
grass/flower. Mortals are symbolically compared to grass and flowers, which are so temporary that they dry up and wither away.
Lord’s spirit. The Hebrew word here (ruach) can be translated “spirit” or “wind.”
word of our God stands forever. In contrast to mankind’s transitory nature, the word of God stands forever. “God’s word” refers to His decrees, prophecies, promises, ordinances, judgments, and more.
Isaiah 40:9–11 The Lord Comes Like a Shepherd
Isaiah calls out to the inhabitants of Zion and Jerusalem to prepare for the coming of the Lord, when He comes in strength and judgment to rule on the earth and to reward its inhabitants according to their works. The Lord is a shepherd who will “tend His flock” and gather them “in His arm.”
good tidings. Twice repeated in this verse, “good tidings” generally refers to the gospel. high mountain. This refers to the Lord’s temple (see also Doctrine and Covenants 43:15–16; 110:9).
His arm rules for him. “Arm” represents strength and power. The same arm that has been stretched out in judgment now establishes the Lord’s reign.
like a shepherd. The Lord Jesus Christ is the shepherd who protects, feeds, and provides water for His flock (Psalms 23; 28:9; Jeremiah 23:3). flock/lambs. Symbolizing God’s followers. gather lambs . . . carry them in His bosom. The Lord gathers the lambs and carries them “in His bosom,” or the fold of the shepherd’s robe, a symbol of loving care.
Isaiah 40:12–25 Who Is Like Unto the Lord?
In an exceptionally brilliant manner, Isaiah contrasts the mightiness of God with the nothingness of humankind and idols—Isaiah employs a variety of symbols, formulates several parallelisms, and poses eleven rhetorical questions (verses 12–14, 18, 21). Note also that the Lord Himself asks a question in verse 25.
Note five forms of measurement in this verse: hand’s hollow, hand’s width (for example, span), a measure (the exact quantity of measurement is unknown to us), scales, and a balance (a weighing apparatus). hollow of His hand. The Lord has power to create the heavens and the earth with His hand, as easily as a mortal may cup his hand and fill it with water. gauged the dust of the earth. This phrase suggests that the Lord knows everything—He can even gauge the earth’s dust (see also Mosiah 4:9).
God possesses all knowledge and understanding, and no human can instruct Him (see also JST Matthew 3:25).
drop from a bucket. When contrasted with God and His Mightiness, the nations of the earth are as insignificant as a single drop of water in a bucket, a few particles of fine dust, or small grasshoppers (40:22). The Lord asked Joseph Smith, “Have I not made the earth? Do I not hold the destinies of all the armies of the nations of the earth?” (Doctrine and Covenants 117:6).
Lebanon is not sufficient for burning. Lebanon, famous for its massive and excellent forests (2:13; 60:13), cannot provide wood or animals sufficient to provide a sacrifice worthy of God.
nothingness and chaos. Throughout earth’s history, some nations have considered themselves to be world powers, but they are “as nothing before Him,” they are “as nothingness and chaos.”
stretches out the heavens like a curtain. God created the heavens as easily as one opens the curtain in a home or as effortlessly as one pitches or enlarges a tent.
rulers/judges. Earth’s rulers and judges (and other powerful individuals) are nothing and chaos when compared to God.
planted/sown/taken root. The world’s powerful are likened to plants—they are planted and sown, and their stem takes root in the soil, but God will destroy them and His tempest will carry them off.
The Lord Himself concludes this section by asking, “To whom will you liken Me, that I may be compared?”
Isaiah 40:26–31 The Lord Sustains His People with His Power
The Lord is the Creator of all that the eye can see; He numbers His creations (people, constellations, and galaxies), and He knows them by name (40:26). Because of His “abundant might and mighty power,” and because “His understanding is unsearchable,” He is able to provide us, who are weak mortals, with strength and power (40:26–30). Indeed, Isaiah promises that those who wait for the Lord will be replenished by His sustaining strength.
Isaiah 40:26, 28
Isaiah poses four rhetorical questions in these verses; questioning is a significant way to teach gospel truths.
Lift up your eyes on high. Isaiah invites us to look at the heavens so that we may begin to comprehend the Lord’s might. He who created all the heavenly bodies directs all of their movements and knows each by name (Psalm 147:4).
Jacob/Israel. This revelation is directed to “Jacob” or “Israel,” names for the Lord’s covenant people from the days of Jacob to the present.
His understanding is unsearchable. The Lord’s understanding is perfect—it is impossible for us to comprehend His knowledge (Romans 11:33).
He gives power to the faint. God provides us with the breath of life; He “is preserving [us] from day to day, by lending [us] breath, . . . and even supporting [us] from one moment to another” (Mosiah 2:21; see also Doctrine and Covenants 84:33). Even the “youth” and “young men,” those who are in the prime of life, “will certainly stumble” without God’s power upholding them.
run and not grow weary. Those who “wait for the Lord” will be spiritually magnified. This promise pertains to the physical body (Doctrine and Covenants 89:20), but it also anticipates the immortal body.
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