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The first 11 verses of this chapter are in the Year B readings of the Lectionary.  Churchgoers hear them on the Second Sunday of Advent, the Nativity of John the Baptist.

The rest of the chapter is also well worth studying, as it speaks to the incomprehensible glory of God. Yet, presumably, we don’t have time to hear it all.  So, let’s begin to examine it today as part of Churchmouse Campanologist‘s ongoing series, Forbidden Bible Verses.   

Today’s reading is from the New International Version.

Isaiah 40:12-17

12 Who 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 has understood the mind of the LORD,
       or instructed him 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.


The Book of Isaiah is a personal favourite.  Some people find the prophecies daunting and intimidating, yet the message I glean from them is that those who fear the Lord will walk with Him in righteousness.  Even more important, this book gives us hope of the arrival of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  In those dark, dismal December days, what Isaiah says comes as good news, a flicker of light in the shadows.

Chapter 40 begins the second series of Isaiah’s prophecies which continue through the remainder of the book. These operate on two levels: for contemporary Jews, they served as reassurance of their redemption.  However, they also address the coming of the Messiah. They foretell the New Testament beginning to end, from Is. 40:3’s ‘the voice in the wilderness’ to the ‘new heavens and the new earth’ in Is. 66:22.      

Verse 11 describes the Lord’s relationship with His people as one between a shepherd and his treasured flock.  He will always watch out and care for us.  Verse 12 brings home His omnipotence.  We marvel at that which we cannot measure: mighty oceans and mountains.  Yet, God has effortless oversight over His creation.  The Earth and the universe for Him are measurable and controllable.

The questions of verses 13 and 14 are comparable to statements, declaring that no one advises God, for He requires no counsel or instruction.  All wisdom begins with Him.   

Verse 15 reminds us that our so-called powerful earthly governments and expanses of nations are nothing in His eyes.  They — and we — are no more than dust in that we can never control Him, but He us in His omnipotence.

Furthermore, He does not need our sacrifices, donations, temples or churches to prop Him up (verse 16), no matter how aesthetic and pleasing we find them.  The prophet cautions us in verse 17 that our aspirations to power and control are but vanity: we are weak and perishable.  Ultimately, God works mankind and creation to His plan.  Matthew Henry (1662 – 1714), the Presbyterian minister and author of the authoritative and comprehensive Bible commentary, concludes:

Let this beget in us high thoughts of God and low thoughts of this world, and engage us to make God, and not man, both our fear and our hope. This magnifies God’s love to the world, that, though it is of such small account and value with him, yet, for the redemption of it, he gave his only-begotten Son, Jn. 3:16.


Next week: Isaiah 40:18-26

For further reading:

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

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