II. ISAIAH 40—55#Chapters 40–55 are usually designated Second Isaiah (or Deutero-Isaiah) and are believed to have been written by an anonymous prophet toward the end of the Babylonian exile. Isaiah, who is named frequently in chaps. 1–39, does not appear here; the Assyrians, the great threat during the eighth century, hardly appear; the Judeans are in Babylon, having been taken there by the victorious Babylonians; Cyrus, the Persian king, is named; he will defeat Babylon and release the captives. Second Isaiah, who sees this not as a happy circumstance but as part of God’s age-old plan, exhorts the Judeans to resist the temptations of Babylonian religion and stirs up hopes of an imminent return to Judah, where the Lord will again be acknowledged as King (52:7). Because the prophet proclaimed the triumph of Persia over Babylon, his message would have been considered seditious, and it is very likely for this reason that the collection would have circulated anonymously. At some point it was appended to Is 1–39 and consequently was long considered the work of Isaiah of Jerusalem of the eighth century. But the fact that it is addressed to Judean exiles in Babylon indicates a sixth-century date. Nevertheless, this eloquent prophet in many ways works within the tradition of Isaiah and develops themes found in the earlier chapters, such as the holiness of the Lord (cf. note on 1:4) and his lordship of history. Second Isaiah also develops other Old Testament themes, such as the Lord as Israel’s redeemer or deliverer (cf. Ex 3:8; 6:6; 15:13; 18:8).
A. THE LORD’S GLORY IN ISRAEL’S LIBERATION
Promise of Salvation
1#The “voices” of vv. 3, 6 are members of the heavenly court addressing the prophet; then v. 1 can be understood as the Lord addressing them. It is also possible to translate, with the Vulgate, “Comfort, give comfort, O my people” (i.e., the exiles are called to comfort Jerusalem). The juxtaposition of “my people” and “your God” recalls the covenant formulary. Comfort, give comfort to my people,
says your God.
2Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her service#Service: servitude (cf. Jb 7:1) and exile. has ended,
that her guilt is expiated,
That she has received from the hand of the Lord
double for all her sins.#a. [40:2] Is 50:21.
3A voice proclaims:#A description of the return of the exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem (Zion). The language used here figuratively describes the way the exiles will take. The Lord leads them, so their way lies straight across the wilderness rather than along the well-watered routes usually followed from Mesopotamia to Israel. Mt 3:3 and gospel parallels adapt these verses to the witness of John the Baptizer to Jesus.
In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!#b. [40:3] Mt 3:3; Mk 1:3; Lk 2:27; Jn 1:23.
4Every valley shall be lifted up,
every mountain and hill made low;
The rugged land shall be a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
5Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
6A voice says, “Proclaim!”
I answer, “What shall I proclaim?”
“All flesh is grass,
and all their loyalty like the flower of the field.#c. [40:6] Jb 8:12; 14:2; Ps 37:2; Sir 14:18; Jas 1:10; 1 Pt 1:24.
7The grass withers, the flower wilts,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it.”
“Yes, the people is grass!
8The grass withers, the flower wilts,
but the word of our God stands forever.”
9Go up onto a high mountain,
Zion, herald of good news!#Herald of good news: i.e., of the imminent restoration of the people to their land. This theme of the proclamation of the good news occurs elsewhere in Second Isaiah; cf. also 41:27; 52:7.
Cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Cry out, do not fear!
Say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
10Here comes with power
the Lord God,
who rules by his strong arm;
Here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.
11Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
Carrying them in his bosom,
leading the ewes with care.#d. [40:11] Is 49:9–10; 63:11; Ez 34:23; 37:24; Jn 10:11.
Power of God and the Vanity of Idols
12Who has measured with his palm the waters,
marked off the heavens with a span,
held in his fingers the dust of the earth,
weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?#The implicit answer is “the hand of the Lord” (v. 2). Waters…heavens…earth: together form the universe; cf. Gn 1:1–2. Span: the distance between the extended little finger and the thumb. Fingers: lit., “three fingers” (i.e., thumb, index, and middle).
13Who has directed the spirit of the Lord,
or instructed him as his counselor?#e. [40:13] Wis 9:13; Rom 11:34; 1 Cor 2:16; Jb 38:1–11.
14Whom did he consult to gain knowledge?
Who taught him the path of judgment,
or showed him the way of understanding?
15See, the nations count as a drop in the bucket,
as a wisp of cloud on the scales;
the coastlands weigh no more than a speck.#Drop…wisp of cloud…a speck: the smallest constituent parts of the cosmic waters, heavens, and earth mentioned in v. 12.
16Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,#Lebanon…fuel: the famed cedars would not be enough to keep the fires of sacrifice burning.
nor its animals be enough for burnt offerings.
17Before him all the nations are as nought,
as nothing and void he counts them.
18To whom can you liken God?#f. [40:18–19] Acts 17:29.
With what likeness can you confront him?
19An idol? An artisan casts it,
the smith plates it with gold,
fits it with silver chains.#Chains: needed to hold the idol steady when carried in processions; cf. v. 20; Jer 10:4. #g. [40:19] Ps 115:4–7; Jer 10:4.
20Is mulberry wood the offering?
A skilled artisan picks out
a wood that will not rot,
Seeks to set up for himself
an idol that will not totter.#h. [40:20] Is 44:13.
21Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Was it not told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the founding of the earth?
22The one who is enthroned above the vault of the earth,
its inhabitants like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a veil
and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in,#i. [40:22] Ps 104:2.
23Who brings princes to nought
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
24Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely their stem rooted in the earth,
When he breathes upon them and they wither,
and the stormwind carries them away like straw.
25To whom can you liken me as an equal?
says the Holy One.
26Lift up your eyes on high
and see who created#Created: see note on Gn 1:1–2:3. By name: for he is their Creator. these:
He leads out their army and numbers them,
calling them all by name.
By his great might and the strength of his power
not one of them is missing!#j. [40:26] Ps 147:4–5.
27Why, O Jacob, do you say,#The exiles, here called Jacob-Israel (Gn 32:29), must not give way to discouragement: their Lord is the eternal God.
and declare, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is God from of old,
creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary,
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.
29He gives power to the faint,
abundant strength to the weak.
30Though young men faint and grow weary,
and youths stagger and fall,
31They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength,
they will soar on eagles’ wings;
They will run and not grow weary,
walk and not grow faint.