New English Translation
The Lord Returns to Jerusalem
40 “Comfort, comfort my people,”
says your[a] God.
2 “Speak kindly to[b] Jerusalem and tell her
that her time of warfare is over,[c]
that her punishment is completed.[d]
For the Lord has made her pay double[e] for all her sins.”
3 A voice cries out,
“In the wilderness clear a way for the Lord;
build a level road[f] through the rift valley[g] for our God.
4 Every valley must be elevated,
and every mountain and hill leveled.
The rough terrain will become a level plain,
the rugged landscape a wide valley.
5 The splendor[h] of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people[i] will see it at the same time.
For[j] the Lord has decreed it.”[k]
6 A voice says, “Cry out!”
Another asks,[l] “What should I cry out?”
The first voice responds:[m] “All people are like grass,[n]
and all their promises[o] are like the flowers in the field.
7 The grass dries up,
the flowers wither,
when the wind sent by the Lord[p] blows on them.
Surely humanity[q] is like grass.
8 The grass dries up,
the flowers wither,
but the decree of our God is forever reliable.”[r]
9 Go up on a high mountain, O herald Zion.
Shout out loudly, O herald Jerusalem![s]
Shout, don’t be afraid!
Say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
10 Look, the Sovereign Lord comes as a victorious warrior;[t]
his military power establishes his rule.[u]
Look, his reward is with him;
his prize goes before him.[v]
11 Like a shepherd he tends his flock;
he gathers up the lambs with his arm;
he carries them close to his heart;[w]
he leads the ewes along.
The Lord is Incomparable
12 Who has measured out the waters[x] in the hollow of his hand,
or carefully[y] measured the sky,[z]
or carefully weighed[aa] the soil of the earth,
or weighed the mountains in a balance,
or the hills on scales?[ab]
13 Who comprehends[ac] the mind[ad] of the Lord,
or gives him instruction as his counselor?[ae]
14 From whom does he receive directions?[af]
Who[ag] teaches him the correct way to do things,[ah]
or imparts knowledge to him,
or instructs him in skillful design?[ai]
15 Look, the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales.
He lifts[aj] the coastlands[ak] as if they were dust.
16 Not even Lebanon could supply enough firewood for a sacrifice;[al]
its wild animals would not provide enough burnt offerings.[am]
17 All the nations are insignificant before him;
they are regarded as absolutely nothing.[an]
18 To whom can you compare God?
To what image can you liken him?
19 A craftsman casts[ao] an idol;
a metalsmith overlays it with gold
and forges silver chains for it.
20 To make a contribution one selects wood that will not rot;[ap]
he then seeks a skilled craftsman
to make[aq] an idol that will not fall over.
21 Do you not know?
Do you not hear?
Has it not been told to you since the very beginning?
Have you not understood from the time the earth’s foundations were made?
22 He is the one who sits on the earth’s horizon;[ar]
its inhabitants are like grasshoppers before him.[as]
He is the one who stretches out the sky like a thin curtain,[at]
and spreads it out[au] like a pitched tent.[av]
23 He is the one who reduces rulers to nothing;
he makes the earth’s leaders insignificant.
24 Indeed, they are barely planted;
yes, they are barely sown;
yes, they barely take root in the earth,
and then he blows on them, causing them to dry up,
and the wind carries them away like straw.
25 “To whom can you compare me? Whom do I resemble?”
says the Holy One.[aw]
26 Look up at the sky![ax]
Who created all these heavenly lights?[ay]
He is the one who leads out their ranks;[az]
he calls them all by name.
Because of his absolute power and awesome strength,
not one of them is missing.
27 Why do you say, Jacob,
Why do you say, Israel,
“The Lord is not aware of what is happening to me;[ba]
My God is not concerned with my vindication”?[bb]
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is an eternal God,
the Creator of the whole earth.[bc]
He does not get tired or weary;
there is no limit to his wisdom.[bd]
29 He gives strength to those who are tired;
to the ones who lack power, he gives renewed energy.
30 Even youths get tired and weary;
even strong young men clumsily stumble.[be]
31 But those who wait for the Lord’s help[bf] find renewed strength;
they rise up as if they had eagles’ wings,[bg]
they run without growing weary,
they walk without getting tired.
- Isaiah 40:1 tn The pronominal suffix is second masculine plural. The identity of the addressee is uncertain: (1) God’s people may be addressed, or (2) the unidentified heralds commanded to comfort Jerusalem.
- Isaiah 40:2 tn Heb “speak to the heart of Jerusalem.” Jerusalem is personified as a woman.
- Isaiah 40:2 tn Heb “that she is filled [with] her warfare.” Some understand צָבָא (tsavah, “warfare”) as meaning “hard service” or “compulsory labor” in this context.
- Isaiah 40:2 tn Heb “that her punishment is accepted [as satisfactory].”
- Isaiah 40:2 tn Heb “for she has received from the hand of the Lord double.” The principle of the double portion in punishment is also seen in Jer 16:18; 17:18 and Rev 18:6. For examples of the double portion in Israelite law, see Exod 22:4, 7, 9 (double restitution by a thief) and Deut 21:17 (double inheritance portion for the firstborn).
- Isaiah 40:3 tn Heb “make level a built road.” The verb יָשַׁר (yashar) in the Piel means “to make smooth, or straight.” The noun מְסִלָּה (mesillah) typically refers to a main road, possibly paved with stones or made level with fill (see HALOT 606 s.v. and The Concise DCH 230 s.v.).
- Isaiah 40:3 sn Most translations render this as “desert” (KJV, NASB, ESV, NRSV, NIV 2011, Holman), “wilderness” (NIV 1984), or “wasteland” (NLV). The rift valley (עֲרָבָה, ʿaravah), which extends from Galilee to the Gulf of Aqaba, is quite arid and desert-like in the areas near the Dead Sea and southward (see the note at Num 22:1). But the point here has more to do with preparation for a royal visit. To come to Jerusalem from the east requires coming through the rift valley (or Jordan Valley). Thematically, God is typically portrayed as coming to Israel from the east. Similarly in the Gospel accounts Jesus approaches Jerusalem from the east.
- Isaiah 40:5 tn Or “glory.” The Lord’s “glory” is his theophanic radiance and royal splendor (see Isa 6:3; 24:23; 35:2; 60:1; 66:18-19).
- Isaiah 40:5 tn Heb “flesh” (so KJV, ASV, NASB); NAB, NIV “mankind”; TEV “the whole human race.”
- Isaiah 40:5 tn Or “indeed.”
- Isaiah 40:5 tn Heb “the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (so NASB, NIV, NRSV).
- Isaiah 40:6 tn Heb “and he says.” Apparently a second “voice” responds to the command of the first “voice.”
- Isaiah 40:6 tn The words “the first voice responds” are supplied in the translation for clarification. The first voice tells the second one what to declare.
- Isaiah 40:6 tn Heb “all flesh is grass.” The point of the metaphor is explained in v. 7.
- Isaiah 40:6 tn Heb “and all his loyalty.” The antecedent of the third masculine suffix is בָּשָׂר (basar, “flesh”), which refers collectively to mankind. The LXX, apparently understanding the antecedent as “grass,” reads “glory,” but חֶסֶד (khesed) rarely, if ever, has this nuance. The normal meaning of חֶסֶד (“faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”) fits very well in the argument. Human beings and their faithfulness (verbal expressions of faithfulness are specifically in view; cf. NRSV “constancy”) are short-lived and unreliable, in stark contrast to the decrees and promises of the eternal God.
- Isaiah 40:7 tn The Hebrew text has רוּחַ יְהוָה (ruakh yehvah), which in this context probably does not refer to the Lord’s personal Spirit. The phrase is better translated “the breath of the Lord,” or “the wind of [i.e., sent by] the Lord.” The Lord’s sovereign control over nature, including the hot desert winds that dry up vegetation, is in view here (cf. Ps 147:18; Isa 59:19).
- Isaiah 40:7 tn Heb “the people” (so KJV, ASV, NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV).
- Isaiah 40:8 tn Heb “but the word of our God stands forever.” In this context the divine “word” specifically refers to his decreed promise assuring Jerusalem that her suffering is over and his glorious return imminent (vv. 1-5).
- Isaiah 40:9 tn The second feminine singular imperatives are addressed to personified Zion/Jerusalem, who is here told to ascend a high hill and proclaim the good news of the Lord’s return to the other towns of Judah. Isa 41:27 and 52:7 speak of a herald sent to Zion, but the masculine singular form מְבַשֵּׂר (mevasser) is used in these verses, in contrast to the feminine singular form מְבַשֶּׂרֶת (mevasseret) employed in 40:9, where Zion is addressed as a herald.
- Isaiah 40:10 tn Heb “comes as a strong one”; ASV “will come as a mighty one.” The preposition בְּ (bet) here carries the nuance “in the capacity of.” It indicates that the Lord possesses the quality expressed by the noun. See GKC 379 §119.i and HALOT 104 s.v. בְּ.
- Isaiah 40:10 tn Heb “his arm rules for him” (so NIV, NRSV). The Lord’s “arm” symbolizes his military power (see Isa 51:9-10; 63:5).
- Isaiah 40:10 tn As the Lord returns to Jerusalem as a victorious warrior, he brings with him the spoils of victory, called here his “reward” and “prize.” These terms might also be translated “wages” and “recompense.” Verse 11 indicates that his rescued people, likened to a flock of sheep, are his reward.
- Isaiah 40:11 tn Heb “in his bosom” (so KJV, NAB, NASB, NRSV), an expression which reflects closeness and protective care.
- Isaiah 40:12 tn The Qumran scroll 1QIsaa has מי ים (“waters of the sea”), a reading followed by NAB.
- Isaiah 40:12 tn Heb “with a span.” A “span” was the distance between the ends of the thumb and the little finger of the spread hand” (BDB 285 s.v. זֶרֶת).
- Isaiah 40:12 tn Or “the heavens.” The Hebrew term שָׁמַיִם (shamayim) may be translated “heavens” or “sky” depending on the context.
- Isaiah 40:12 tn Heb “or weighed by a third part [of a measure].”
- Isaiah 40:12 sn The implied answer to the rhetorical questions of v. 12 is, “No one but the Lord.” The Lord, and no other, created the world. Like a merchant weighing out silver or commodities on a scale, the Lord established the various components of the physical universe in precise proportions.
- Isaiah 40:13 tn Perhaps the verb is used metonymically here in the sense of “advises” (note the following line).
- Isaiah 40:13 tn In this context רוּחַ (ruakh) likely refers to the Lord’s “mind,” or mental faculties, rather than his personal Spirit (see BDB 925 s.v. 6).
- Isaiah 40:13 tn Heb “or [as] the man of his counsel causes him to know?”
- Isaiah 40:14 tn Heb “With whom did he consult, so that he gave discernment to him?”
- Isaiah 40:14 tn Heb “and taught him.” The vav (ו) consecutive with prefixed verbal form continues the previous line. The translation employs an interrogative pronoun for stylistic reasons.
- Isaiah 40:14 tn The phrase אֹרַח מִשְׁפָּט (ʾorakh mishpat) could be translated “path of justice” (so NASB, NRSV), but in this context, where creative ability and skill is in view, the phrase is better understood in the sense of “the way that is proper or fitting” (see BDB 1049 s.v. מִשְׁפָּט 6); cf. NIV, NCV “the right way.”
- Isaiah 40:14 tn Heb “or the way of understanding causes him to know?”sn The implied answer to the rhetorical questions in vv. 13-14 is, “No one.” In contrast to Marduk, the creator-god of Mesopotamian myths who receives help from the god of wisdom, the Lord neither needs nor receives any such advice or help. See R. Whybray, Heavenly Counsellor (SOTSMS), 64-77.
- Isaiah 40:15 tn Or “weighs” (NIV); NLT “picks up.”
- Isaiah 40:15 tn Or “islands” (NASB, NIV, NLT).
- Isaiah 40:16 tn The words “for a sacrifice” are supplied in the translation for clarification.
- Isaiah 40:16 sn The point is that not even the Lebanon forest could supply enough wood and animals for an adequate sacrifice to the Lord.
- Isaiah 40:17 tn Heb “[as derived] from nothing and unformed.”
- Isaiah 40:19 tn Heb “pours out”; KJV “melteth.”
- Isaiah 40:20 tn The first two words of the verse (הַמְסֻכָּן תְּרוּמָה, hamesukkan terumah) are problematic. Some take מְסֻכָּן as an otherwise unattested Pual participle from סָכַן (sakhan, “be poor”) and translate “the one who is impoverished.” תְּרוּמָה (terumah, “contribution”) can then be taken as an adverbial accusative, “with respect to a contribution,” and the entire line translated, “the one who is too impoverished for such a contribution [i.e., the metal idol of v. 19?] selects wood that will not rot.” However, מְסֻכָּן is probably the name of a tree used in idol manufacturing (cognate with Akkadian musukkanu, cf. H. R. Cohen, Biblical Hapax Legomena [SBLDS], 133). מְסֻכָּן may be a scribal interpretive addition attempting to specify עֵץ (ʿets) or עֵץ may be a scribal attempt to categorize מְסֻכָּן. How an idol constitutes a תְּרוּמָה (“contribution”) is not entirely clear.
- Isaiah 40:20 tn Or “set up” (ASV, NAB, NIV, NRSV); KJV, NASB “to prepare.”
- Isaiah 40:22 tn Heb “the circle of the earth” (so KJV, NIV, NRSV, NLT).
- Isaiah 40:22 tn The words “before him” are supplied in the translation for clarification.
- Isaiah 40:22 tn The otherwise unattested noun דֹּק (doq), translated here “thin curtain,” is apparently derived from the verbal root דקק (“crush”) from which is derived the adjective דַּק (daq, “thin”; see HALOT 229 s.v. דקק). The nuance “curtain” is implied from the parallelism (see “tent” in the next line).
- Isaiah 40:22 tn The meaning of the otherwise unattested verb מָתַח (matakh, “spread out”) is determined from the parallelism (note the corresponding verb “stretch out” in the previous line) and supported by later Hebrew and Aramaic cognates. See HALOT 654 s.v. *מתה.
- Isaiah 40:22 tn Heb “like a tent [in which] to live”; NAB, NASB “like a tent to dwell (live NIV, NRSV) in.”
- Isaiah 40:25 sn See the note on the phrase “the Holy One of Israel” in 1:4.
- Isaiah 40:26 tn Heb “Lift on high your eyes and see.”
- Isaiah 40:26 tn The words “heavenly lights” are supplied in the translation for clarification. See the following lines.
- Isaiah 40:26 tn Heb “the one who brings out by number their host.” The stars are here likened to a huge army that the Lord leads out. Perhaps the next line pictures God calling roll. If so, the final line may be indicating that none of them dares “go AWOL.” (“AWOL” is a military acronym for “absent without leave.”)
- Isaiah 40:27 tn Heb “my way is hidden from the Lord” (so NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV).
- Isaiah 40:27 tn Heb “and from my God my justice passes away”; NRSV “my right is disregarded by my God.”
- Isaiah 40:28 tn Heb “the ends of the earth,” but this is a merism, where the earth’s extremities stand for its entirety, i.e., the extremities and everything in between them.
- Isaiah 40:28 sn Exiled Israel’s complaint (v. 27) implies that God might be limited in some way. Perhaps he, like so many of the pagan gods, has died. Or perhaps his jurisdiction is limited to Judah and does not include Babylon. Maybe he is unable to devise an adequate plan to rescue his people, or is unable to execute it. But v. 28 affirms that he is not limited temporally or spatially nor are his power and wisdom restricted in any way. He can and will deliver his people, if they respond in hopeful faith (v. 31a).
- Isaiah 40:30 tn Heb “stumbling they stumble.” The verbal idea is emphasized by the infinitive absolute.
- Isaiah 40:31 tn The word “help” in the phrase “for the Lord’s help” is supplied in the translation for clarification, as is the possessive on “Lord.”
- Isaiah 40:31 tn Heb “they rise up [on] wings like eagles” (TEV similar).