Isaiah 40-48

While positioning the exact temporal reference of Isaiah 40-66 is difficult, the theological vision these chapters establish is easily discerned. Here God further showed His jealousy for Israel’s trust, employing polemics to arouse Judah to grasp both His superiority over the idols of the nations and His plan of redemption. Isaiah announced the Lord’s call for Israel to be His servant while they awaited the true Servant of the Lord—the One who would rule over them as the Messiah. While the prophecies of the latter portion of Isaiah had an initial situation in mind, many of the individual predictions are substantive for the storyline of Scripture.

(1) The Lord would send one to prepare the way for His Servant. In Isa 40:3-5, the prophet spoke of one who would prepare the way for the Lord. The Gospel writers spoke in concert that Isaiah was foretelling John the Baptist (Matt 3:3//Mark 1:3//Luke 3:4-6//John 1:23). The framework of John’s messages expressed Isaiah’s topographical references. Valleys, mountains, uneven ground, and rough places would all change, Isaiah said (Isa 40:4). John called his listeners to repent of self-centered religion, to share, resist opportunities for extortion, and go the extra mile (Luke 3:10-14).

(2) The Lord’s Servant would establish justice by performing acts of mercy. In Isa 42:1-4, Isaiah prophesied that the coming Servant of the Lord would be filled with the Spirit and establish justice. In the near term, Cyrus King of Persia was the Lord’s instrument, releasing the captives and allowing them to return and rebuild Jerusalem (Isa 44:24-28; Ezra 1:1-4). But the prophet’s description of the Lord’s Servant goes beyond Cyrus. Matthew saw in Jesus’ ministry in Galilee the kinds of activities that Isaiah wrote about in Isa 42:1-4. Large crowds followed Jesus and Jesus’ merciful acts to the lame, diseased, and tormented among them (Matt 12:15-21) were the fulfillment of Isaiah’s statement that the Lord’s Servant would mercifully right the wrongs plaguing humanity.

(3) The Lord’s Servant would lead a unified people. Both Peter and Paul understood some of Isaiah’s phrases as a basis for calling believers to pursue fellowship in the church. Paul used Isa 45:23 (“Every knee will bow to Me, every tongue will swear allegiance.”) to describe Jesus Christ’s ultimate glory—which resulted from His humble incarnation and crucifixion (Phil 2:10-11). Paul’s injunction to the Philippians was that each should “look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:4)—as Christ did in coming to earth and suffering and dying—after which He was exalted to receive the homage Isaiah predicted. Peter quoted Isa 40:6b-8 (“All humanity is grass, and all its goodness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flowers fade when the breath of the LORD blows on them; indeed, the people are grass. The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever.”) to justify the enduring power of the word of God unto regeneration (1 Pet 1:23-25). In Peter’s mind, Isaiah’s phrase was not merely a matter of doctrinal recitation but was the basis for his command for believers to love one another with devotion and purity (1 Pet 1:22).

(4) The Lord would redeem His people by destroying their opponents—quickly. The Lord had chosen Babylon as an instrument to discipline His people and promised to execute justice against them (Isaiah 47-48). Babylon was a lover of luxury, Isaiah said, thinking herself secure. But the Babylonians would suddenly be destroyed, like the one enduring the loss of children and spouse in the same day (Isa 47:8-9). John took up Isaiah’s portrayal of the downfall of Babylon writing that Babylon’s supposed self-security was paper-thin. In a single day, the Lord would destroy fortified Babylon (Rev 18:7-8).