There is a span of about 150 years between chapter 39 and chapter 40 of Isaiah. The historical background for the material in chapters 40-66 is the Babylonian Exile and the post-exilic period. These chapters have been referred to as “the Book of Consolation” and “the heart of the Old Testament.”
In chapters 1-39 Isaiah spoke to his own generation regarding the ability of God to defend them against the Assyrians.
In chapters 40-66 Isaiah envisioned the day when the Babylonians would destroy Jerusalem and take the Jews into Captivity (586 B.C. and see also 2 Kings 25). He also envisioned the events that would result in the Jews returning to Jerusalem to rebuild and restore their nation.
In chapters 1-39 Sennacherib (king of Assyria) was the predominant world leader. In chapters 40-66 Cyrus (king of Persia) was the predominant world leader.
The Prophet’s Call to Comfort God’s People
What call did the prophet receive from God?
Someone has suggested the Old Testament prophets were called to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. In Isaiah 40:1-2, God called His prophets to comfort His afflicted people. The prophets were called to reassure (“speak kindly” – 40:2) God’s people that their term of bondage was over and their iniquity (the cause for their captivity) removed or forgiven.
In verses 3-5 God called for a highway to be built over which His people could return to their homeland. The highway would be a smooth path free of obstacles.
In verses 6-9 a voice commanded that the message of man’s frailty and God’s enduring Word be proclaimed. God’s Word must be the source of hope and strength and comfort for frail men.
In verses 9-11 Jerusalem was instructed to ascend a high mountain and proclaim the good news of God coming to deliver His people. This news was to be proclaimed to “the cities of Judah” (40:9). The news of God, the Shepherd of Israel, coming to gather His scattered flock and tenderly guide them home was a reassuring message of comfort.
Practical Consideration: God is the God of new beginnings.
Who among us has never longed for a fresh start, for a second chance, or for the opportunity to begin anew in some aspect of life? New beginnings have a way of giving new meaning to life. They have a way of invigorating us with new purpose, energy, and the resolve to meet new challenges. New beginnings have a way of reminding us that past failures do not have to devastate or defeat us.
God announced a message of comfort and hope to His people. It was a message that announced the opportunity for a new beginning. God would give His people the opportunity to cast aside their past failures like a shabby old coat at the door. He would give them the opportunity to return to their land to rebuild their Temple, the walls of their beloved city of Jerusalem, and their lives.
God the Incomparable Creator
What did the prophet proclaim about the bigness of God?
In ancient times war was regarded as more than a matter between nations, it was also regarded as a matter between deities. The peoples of conquered nations often adopted their conqueror’s religion because they believed their conqueror’s deity was superior to their own. Isaiah addressed this issue by proclaiming a powerful message regarding the incomparable bigness of God to those who had lost perspective.
In verses 12-17 he emphasized the bigness of God through a series of rhetorical questions similar to those found in Job 38-41. No one directed, counseled, or assisted God in the creative process. No one and no nation is big enough to be a threat to God.
In verses 18-20 Isaiah emphasized the bigness of the eternal God over against the man-made idols of the Babylonians.
In verses 21-26 Isaiah emphasized the bigness of God as the ruler of the universe. God sits enthroned in the heavens and is able to deal with the puny princes of the earth (40:23) who are like grasshoppers in His sight (40:22). No one or no thing can compare to God (40:25). He created the stars and “calls them all by name” (40:26). Certainly the God who knew each star by name knew the problems of His people.
In verses 27-31 Isaiah reminded the people that the big God of the universe was aware of and concerned about their condition. He was capable of empowering and strengthening His weary people. God’s power and strength was available to those who “wait” (40:31) for Him. The word “wait” comes from a root that means “rope.” The idea presented in verse 31 is of the Lord being a life-line to people in distress. Those who wait for the Lord will not be disappointed. They will receive the strength necessary to overcome their adversity and make the journey home.
Isaiah 40:12-31 accentuate the bigness of God. Isaiah wanted for the people to understand that God is bigger, greater, and more powerful than any nation, idol, or ruler among men. That was a reassuring message of comfort.
Practical Consideration: God is an awesome God.
Isaiah preached a powerful message regarding the bigness of God. This was a message of encouragement and comfort to a people whose problems seemed bigger than God. This was a message of hope to a people who felt forgotten by God. This was a convicting message to those who were tempted to adopt the gods of their conquerors. Our problems seem big only when our God is small. Our circumstances seem overwhelming when we lose sight of our God. May we always be aware of the fact that our God is bigger than any problem, perplexity, or threatening circumstance that we encounter in life.
Verse by Verse NIV
40:10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and His arm [symbol of strength and power; cf. Deut. 4:34] rules [overthrows enemies, redeems His people, exercises rule] for Him. See, His reward [compensation for faithful] is with Him, and His recompense accompanies Him [retribution on enemies].
40:11 He tends [does what is necessary to insure welfare of flock] His flock like a shepherd [figure of tenderness and compassion; figure used of Israel’s royalty and political leaders and God’s relation to His people]: He gathers the lambs in His arms [powerful arms] and carries them [in fold’s of shepherd’s robe] close to His heart; He gently leads those [nursing ewes or those about to give birth] that have young [newborn lambs].
40:18 [rhetorical questions show God’s incomparable nature] To whom, then, will you [people who don’t know truth about God replace Him with idols] compare God [name expresses the all-powerful nature of God]? What image will you compare Him to?
40:19 [description of an idol made for the wealthy] As for an idol, a craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it.
40:20 [description of an idol made for the poor] A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple [idols must be supported by worshippers not vice versa].
40:21 Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told [warning against idolatry] you from the beginning [since ancient times or the beginning of Israel’s history; timeless truths]? Have you not understood since the earth was founded [creation itself testifies to its Creator; cf. Ps. 19:1-6]?
40:22 [three works that testify to God’s greatness: 1] He sits enthroned [as the King who governs and maintains creation; unlike regional gods] above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers [or so they appear from God’s vantage point].  He stretches out the heavens like a canopy [thin, transparent fabric spread over courtyard], and spreads them out like a tent [figure from nomadic life] to live in.
40:23  He brings [rulers are subject to God…] princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing [desolation].
40:24 [rulers compared to plants] No sooner are they [rulers] planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than He blows [effortlessly] on them [rulers] and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
40:25 “To whom [contrast between God and Babylonian deities] will you compare me? Or who [any alleged deity] is my equal?” says the Holy [God set apart from all moral imperfection] One.
40:26 Lift your eyes and look to the heavens [heavens testify to sovereignty of God]: Who created all these [starry host; cf. Ps. 8]? He who brings out [military term for marshalling and giving orders to troops] the starry host [military term: group or army; Isaiah wrote prophetically to captives in Babylon where astrology highly regarded] one by one, and calls them each by name [each star assigned particular nature, characteristics, function]. Because of his great power and [terms refer to abundance of strength] mighty strength, not one of them is missing [military image of roll call].
40:27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way [life and experiences] is hidden from the LORD [phrase implies God could see but refused to help]; my cause [legal case] is disregarded by my God [people charged God with being unaware of their plight]“?
40:28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? [four facts about the Lord: 1] The LORD is the everlasting [not limited by time] God,  the Creator of the ends of the earth [not limited by space].  He will not grow tired or weary [all-powerful; cf. Ps. 121], and  his understanding no one can fathom [all-knowing].
40:29 He [who is strong] gives strength to the weary [faint] and increases the power of the weak.
40:30 Even youths [highly conditioned and athletic] grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall [from overexertion; possibly early death];
40:31 but [contrast between those who rely on own strength and those who rely on God’s to meet life’s struggles] those who hope [wait for; trust and confidence] in the LORD will renew [experience breakthrough; change your weakness for God’s strength] their strength. [three characteristics of those who rely on God’s strength: 1] They will soar [on wind currents] on wings like eagles;  they will run and not grow weary,  they will walk and not be faint.