Isaiah 40:21-31 Commentary2017-03-22T04:46:07+00:00

Biblical Commentary

Isaiah 40:21-31

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Isaiah 40:21-31

COMMENTARY:

THE CONTEXT:

The book of Isaiah is centered on the Babylonian exile, which began in 586 B.C. when Nebuchadrezzar II of Babylonia destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and enslaved the Jewish people.  The exile ended in 539 B.C. when Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild their temple.  The book of Isaiah makes it clear that Nebuchadrezzar was Yahweh’s (God’s) instrument to punish the Jewish people for their sins, and Cyrus will be Yahweh’s instrument to set them free—to redeem them.

Scholars are divided with regard to the authorship of this book.  Some believe that one man wrote the entire book, part of which foretells events to take place long after his death.  Others believe that one author wrote chapters 1-39, a second author or group of authors wrote chapters 40-55, and a third author or group wrote chapters 56-66.

But everyone agrees that chapter 40 begins a new emphasis.  Chapters 1-39 warn of God’s judgment if the people place their trust in secular rulers rather than in God.  Chapters 40-55 lift up the promise of redemption for a people who are experiencing the judgment about which the prophet warned in the earlier chapters.  Chapters 56-66 deal with the return of the Jews to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the city and the temple.

Isaiah 40:1-11 begins the chapter with a promise of comfort and deliverance.  Recalling Yahweh’s covenant promises, these verses assure that, “the word of our God stands forever” (v. 8).  They picture Yahweh as a shepherd who feeds his flock and carries the lambs in his arms (v. 11).

Verses 12-26 promise that Yahweh has the power necessary to deliver his people.  These verses open with a series of questions, such as, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,” that remind the exiles of Yahweh’s majesty.  They say that “the nations are like a drop in a bucket” (v. 15) and the inhabitants of the earth, from Yahweh’s perspective, “are like grasshoppers” (v. 22).  They invite the exiles to lift up their eyes to the heavens and to know that Yahweh knows every star’s name—that every star takes its place at Yahweh’s command (v. 26).

Verses 27-31 promise that “those who wait for Yahweh will renew their strength (and) will mount up with wings like eagles” (v. 31).

These verses, then, call the exiles to faith in the midst of the humiliation of their everyday servitude—a kind of slavery that they have endured for almost five decades.  These exiles know that they are powerless against the master-nation, Babylonia.  This chapter assures them that Yahweh is not powerless.  Yahweh has both the will and the power to redeem them.

ISAIAH 40:21-24.  HAVEN’T YOU KNOWN?  HAVEN’T YOU HEARD?

21 Haven’t you known?
Haven’t you heard, yet?
Haven’t you been told from the beginning?
Haven’t you understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in;
23who brings (Hebrew: no·ten—places, appoints) princes (Hebrew: ro·zenim) to nothing;
who makes the judges(Hebrew: so·pete) of the earth like meaningless (Hebrew: to·hu).
24They are planted scarcely.
They are sown scarcely.
Their stock has scarcely taken root in the ground.
He merely blows on them, and they wither,
and the whirlwind takes them away as stubble.

“Haven’t you known?  Haven’t you heard, yet?  Haven’t you been told from the beginning?  Haven’t you understood from the foundations of the earth?” (v. 21).  In this chapter, it is often difficult to know who is speaking or who is being addressed.  In these verses, the speaker could be Yahweh, the heavenly host, or the prophet.  The people being addressed are the exiles—the Jewish people in Babylon.

In this verse, the voice asks four rhetorical questions designed to remind the exiles that they have known Yahweh—that they have heard about Yahweh through their scriptures and their prophets and their history.  These questions remind the exiles that it has been told to them from the beginning—from the foundations of the earth—from the moment that “God created the heavens and the earth.”  They know that God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light” (Genesis 1:1-3).  They know the power of God’s creative word.

They know the story and are capable of reciting the steps of creation.  They know that God created human life on the last day of the creation—and that “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).  They know about sin—its beginnings in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) and its place in their own lives.

They know about God’s call to Abram—and the covenant that God established with Abram (Genesis 12:1-3).  They know about the birth of Israel in Egypt—of the four centuries of slavery that the descendants of Jacob endured in Egypt.  They know about Moses—how God used Moses to set his people free.

They know how the Israelites sinned in the wilderness and were forced to endure forty years of wandering in that land that most of us would describe as “God-forsaken”—except that it was not God-forsaken at all.  They know how God led his people through the wilderness by a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night.  They know how he fed them with manna from the sky and water from a rock.

They know how God enabled Israel to enter the Promised Land and to establish a nation there.  They know how the Israelites were dissatisfied because they had no human king like other nations—how they rejected God’s kingship by demanding a human king.  They knew how their human kings led them—and how they failed them.

They know how Israel rejected the advice of God’s prophets—how they decided to rely on alliances with ungodly nations instead of relying on Yahweh.  They know how that led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the enslavement of its inhabitants—the enslavement of these exiles who are now being addressed.

Do they know?  Yes!  Have they heard?  Yes!  Has it been told to them from the beginning?  Yes!  Have they understood from the foundations of the earth?  Yes!  Yes, of course!

But they need to be reminded.  They need to be reminded that God has been powerful and faithful from beginning to end.  They need to be reminded of the circumstances that resulted in their enslavement.  They need to be reminded that Israel has suffered before and that suffering was not the end—that God freed them—redeemed them—brought them back.  They need to be reminded of all those things, because God is about to do it again.  Their lives might appear to be hopeless, but that is not the case at all.

If these exiles were dependent on their own power, they would be slaves forever.  But they are dependent, not on their own power, but on God’s.

The next verses will give these exiles a God’s-eye view—will assure them that Yahweh “calls them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power” (v. 26) ­­— will promise that “those who wait for Yahweh will renew their strength (and) will mount up with wings like eagles” (v. 31).

EAGLES, no less!  How these exiles have envied the eagles for their freedom and their power.  How they have wished that they had wings to fly away from their imprisonment.  How they have wished that they could soar above the ground majestically and travel beyond the grasp of their captors.

But the power of eagles is nothing compared to Yahweh’s power—and it is Yahweh who is about to empower these exiles.  That is the promise.

Do they know?  Yes!  Have they heard? Yes!  Has it been told to them from the beginning—from the foundations of the earth?  Yes!  But they need to be reminded.  These four questions call them to remember.

“It is he who sits above the circle of the earth” (v. 22a).  Yahweh sits above the circle of the earth. There is no reason to assume that this reflects an astronomical understanding of a round earth or a solar system centered on the sun instead of the earth.  Perhaps it reflects their vision of a horizon that appears as a half-circle.

But the important thing here is not “the circle of the earth” but rather “he who sits above” the circle of the earth—Yahweh, who is their God—Yahweh, who has the power and will to redeem them.

Do they know this Yahweh?  Yes, they know him.  Do they know that Yahweh sits above the circle of the earth?  Yes, they know.  But they need to be reminded.

“and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers” (v. 22b).  When we last heard of grasshoppers, it was when the people of Israel sent scouts into the Promised Land to see what kind of opposition they might face if they entered the Promised Land.  These scouts returned to report as follows:

“We came to the land where you sent us; and surely it flows with milk and honey; and this is its fruit. However the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large…. The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that eats up its inhabitants; and all the people who we saw in it are men of great stature…. There we saw the Nephilim…, and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight” (Numbers 13:27-28, 32-33).

So the people, having forgotten that they could count on God’s power, complained against Moses and Aaron, saying, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why does Yahweh bring us to this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will be a prey: wouldn’t it be better for us to return into Egypt?  (Numbers 14:2-3).

These Jewish exiles know these stories like the back of their hands.  We can be sure that when they heard these words, “and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,” the first thing that would have come to their minds was this story from the book of Numbers—a story of weak faith or no faith at all—a story of grumbling—the kind of grumbling that characterized much of Israel’s wandering in the desert.  It was not a proud story, but a sad story—a disappointing story—a no-faith story.

But when they hear, “its inhabitants are like grasshoppers” now, they are not listening to the voices of unfaithful scouts.  This is the voice of faith that assures them that all humankind looks like grasshoppers from God’s perspective.  From his perch in the heavens, God sees everyone as if they were grasshoppers—the people of Israel and the people of Babylon—the ruled and the rulers—the slaves and the kings.  What happens next depends not on the slaves or the kings, but on Yahweh.  A quick stomp of God’s foot would destroy Babylon in an instant—and that, in fact, is what will soon happen when Cyrus of Persia defeats Babylonia—defeats it easily and decisively by the grace of God.  That will be the first step in God’s plan to free the Jewish exiles.

So don’t worry, exiles!  You are in God’s hands.  You are not the grasshoppers.  In God’s eyes, the king of Babylon is the grasshopper.

“who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in” (v. 22c).  This is another measure of Yahweh’s majesty.  Yahweh “sits above the circle of the earth” (v. 22b) and “stretches out the heavens like a curtain” (v. 22c).  In Yahweh’s hands, the heavens are no more substantial or impressive than a piece of fabric that he moves to and fro as he desires.  Yahweh spreads the fabric of the heavens to form a tent—the heavens are Yahweh’s dwelling place.

It isn’t that the heavens are inconsequential.  “God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), so they must be important.  But this verse puts the heavens in perspective.  They are part of the created order—nothing more.

“who brings (no·ten—places, appoints) princes (ro·zenim) to nothing” (v. 23a).  Catch the humor here.  This is the equivalent of “kicking someone upstairs”—promoting an incompetent person to an empty position—a position with no responsibility.  In the corporate world, this often happens when it would be embarrassing or dangerous to fire someone.  The corporate chieftains just move that person to a corner—often at a higher salary (so the person can’t complain)—to a corner where there is nothing to do.

Yahweh, of course, has no reason to fear any backlash.  It has suited his purposes to make the king of Babylon ruler over these exiles.  That has been part of his plan.  The Jewish people sinned, and this exile is part of their punishment.  But their exile, while lengthy, will soon end.  If Yahweh has the power to assign authority to kings (and he does), then he also has the power to remove that authority—to appoint the king to rule over nothing at all.

“who makes the judges (so·pete) of the earth like meaningless” (to·hu) (v. 23b).  This word, so·pete, is often translated “judges,” but refers more broadly to anyone in a position of authority—anyone who makes or enforces the rules that govern society.  It can be quite an ego trip to serve in such a position.  People in such positions often command vast resources.  They make rules that affect thousands or even millions of people.  They grow accustomed to sitting in the best seats at public gatherings.  Other people look to them for employment or contracts.

But Yahweh has the power to make them to·hu ­­­­—chaos, confusing, nothingness.  The Lord who gives can also take away.  No ruler is safe except the ruler whom Yahweh favors.  A kid in a garage or another kid with a primitive operating system can give mighty IBM a run for its money.  A couple of Stanford students and a few algorithms can challenge mighty Microsoft.  So also can Yahweh bring the ruler of mighty Babylon to his knees.

“They are planted scarcely.  They are sown scarcely.  Their stock has scarcely taken root in the ground.  He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the whirlwind takes them away as stubble” (v. 24).  These exiles would be, among other things, workers in vineyards.  They would be familiar with the sirocco winds that blow in from the desert—hot and dry—sucking the moisture from vines and vinedressers alike.  A newly planted vine, young and tender, would have no defense at all against such a wind.  It would quickly wither and die in the dry heat, and the harsh wind would strip the leaves from its stalk.

So it is that Yahweh is capable of breathing hot and dry on a king, and the king will see his power (and very possibly his life) wither and die.

ISAIAH 40:25-26.  TO WHOM WILL YOU LIKEN ME?

25To whom then will you liken me?
Who is my equal? says the Holy One (Hebrew: qa·dos).

26Lift up your eyes on high,
and see who has created these,
who brings out their army (Hebrew: seba·am) by number.

He calls them all by name.
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power,
Not one is lacking.

“To whom then will you liken me?  Who is my equal?” (v. 25a).  A few verses earlier, the voice imposed a similar question:  “To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to him? A workman has cast an image, and the goldsmith overlays it with gold, and casts silver chains for it. He who is too impoverished for such an offering chooses a tree that will not rot. He seeks a skillful workman to set up an engraved image for him that will not be moved” (vv. 18-20).

How ridiculous to imagine that a piece of wood or silver or gold—fashioned by human hands—designed not to fall on its face—how ridiculous to imagine that something like that could rival Yahweh.

Now the voice is God’s voice, and it is asking the same kind of question.  To whom can we compare Yahweh?  Who is the equal of Yahweh?  The answer to both questions is obviously, “Nobody!  No one compares to Yahweh!  No one is Yahweh’s equal!”

Once again, these rhetorical questions bring to mind what these exiles already know.  But, having served in exile for so long, they have been tempted to forget God’s promises—or to wonder if they were ever really true.  Like everyone suffering a prolonged trial, they have asked themselves if God really exists.  If he really exists, why isn’t he doing something?  Does he lack the power to do something—or the will—or both?  Has he abandoned Israel?  Has he decided to abrogate the covenant established so long ago with Abram?  Will they be stuck in Babylon forever?  Is there any hope?

So Yahweh answers their question with questions of his own—questions that will remind these exiles of Yahweh’s pre-eminent place in the universe.

“says the Holy One” (qa·dos) (v. 25b).  “Holy One” and “the Holy One of Israel” are characteristic titles for Yahweh in the book of Isaiah (1:4; 5:19, 24; 10:17, 20; 12:6: 17:7; 29:19, 23; 30:11, 15; 31:1; 37:23; 41:14, 16,20; 43:3, 14-15; 45:11; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7; 54:5; 55:5; 60:9, 14).

Yahweh is distinguished by holiness (Psalm 99:3, 9), which has two manifestations:

The first is Yahweh’s separateness—his apartness from the ordinary.  He is the Creator.  All else is what he created.  People must be careful never to confuse the Creator and the created, as they do when they worship planets or trees or idols or anything else that is only part of the Creator’s creation.

That which is made holy through its association with Yahweh also possesses this quality of separateness.  Various objects and people were anointed or set apart for holy purposes.  These included the tabernacle (Exodus 40:9) and its furnishings (40:10-11).  It included prophets (1 Kings 19:16; 1 Chronicles 16:22; Psalm 105:15) and priests (Exodus 28:41; 29:7; Leviticus 8:12; 21:10) and kings (1 Samuel 10:1).

The second manifestation of Yahweh’s holiness is his moral perfection.  Yahweh acts justly, honors covenants, and in all ways does what is righteous and holy (Isaiah 5:16).

Yahweh’s holiness renders holy that which is associated with him.  Israel is a holy people, because the Holy One has covenanted with them (Deuteronomy 7:6; 26:19; Jeremiah 2:3).  Yahweh says, “You shall be holy, for I Yahweh your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).  In the Old Testament this required of Israel two things.  The first was adherence to Torah law.  The second was the inward holiness demanded by the prophets—a holiness made manifest by fair treatment of other people and compassion for those in need.

The land where Israel lives is holy (Zechariah 2:12).  Jerusalem is the holy city (Nehemiah 11:1, 18; Isaiah 48:2; 52:1).  The temple is holy (1 Chronicles 29:3), as are the mountain on which it is located (Isaiah 11:9; 56:7), the temple offerings (Leviticus 7:1) and the vestments worn by the priests (Leviticus 16:4).  The sabbath, set apart for worship, is holy (Genesis 2:3; Exodus 20:8; Isaiah 58:13).  All of these are holy because of their association with the Holy One.

“Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these” (v. 26a).  See what?  Almost certainly the heavens with all its heavenly bodies, the sun, moon, planets, and stars.  Before the advent of electricity, the skies would be quite dark, unaffected by the kind of light pollution that makes it difficult for many people today to see the stars in their full glory.

Again, we have a rhetorical question—again designed to call forth what the people already know.  “Who created these?”  Who created the sun, moon, planets, and stars?  It was revealed to these people long ago that “God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1)—and night and day (Genesis 1:4-5)—and the dome that “divided the waters which were under the expanse from the waters that we above the expanse” (Genesis 1:7)—and “the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He also made the stars (Genesis 1:16).  These people have known these verses from early childhood.  They most likely know them by memory.  They need only be reminded that they know—and that is the purpose of this rhetorical question, “Who created these?”

It is especially important for the exiles to remember that God created these heavenly bodies.  They are surrounded by people who worship the sun and moon and stars.  But these heavenly bodies are not gods.  They are only part of God’s creation.

“who brings out their army (seba·am—from saba) by number.  He calls them all by name” (v. 26b).  This word, saba, has to do with service or servants, and can refer to military service (Numbers 1:3; 1 Samuel 17:55) (Baker and Carpenter, 934).  What we have here, then, is Yahweh assembling the heavenly hosts in ranks—each in its appointed place—perfectly ordered.

No human could ever count all the stars—each time we think that we have seen all of them, we discover new ones—and new stars are being born while old ones are dying.  But Yahweh can number them—and does.

But Yahweh doesn’t call the stars by number, but by name.  In that culture, names have more significance than in ours.  Names incorporate the character of the person bearing the name, so to know the name is to know the person.  By calling the heavenly bodies by name, Yahweh demonstrates his intimate knowledge of all that he has created and placed in the heavens.

“by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power, Not one is

lacking” (v. 26c).  No star would dare to go AWOL, because Yahweh (1) has its number (2) knows its name (3) and is too powerful to ignore.

ISAIAH 40:27-31.  WHY DO YOU SAY, “MY WAY IS HIDDEN FROM YAHWEH?”

27Why do you say, Jacob,
and speak, Israel,
“My way is hidden from Yahweh,
and the justice (Hebrew: mis·pat) due me is disregarded by my God?”
28Haven’t you known?
Haven’t you heard?
The everlasting God, Yahweh,
The Creator of the ends of the earth, doesn’t faint.
He isn’t weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
29He gives power to the weak.
He increases the strength of him who has no might.
30Even the youths faint and get weary,
and the young men utterly fall;
31But those who wait for Yahweh will renew (Hebrew: ya·hali·pu) their strength.
They will mount up with wings like eagles.
They will run, and not be weary.
They will walk, and not faint.

“Why do you say, Jacob, and speak, Israel” (v. 27a).  Jacob and Israel were, of course, two names for the same man—the man whose name the nation bears.  Not only does Yahweh call the heavenly bodies by name.  He calls these, his chosen people, by name as well.

“My way is hidden from Yahweh” (v. 27b).  This is what Jacob/Israel has been saying.  “My way is hidden from Yahweh, and the justice due me is disregarded by my God.”

But this has to be false.  How would Yahweh, who keeps track of each and every heavenly body, lose track of his own people—the people with whom he has covenanted?  How would Yahweh, who knows the way of each star and asteroid, not know the way of his people?  Ridiculous!

“and the justice due me (mis·pat) is disregarded by my God?” (v. 27c).  This word, mis·pat, has to do with justice—with legal matters such as judgments or legal decisions.  This question suggests that the exiles think themselves treated unjustly.  They believe that God has abandoned them and allowed them to be treated in an inappropriate manner.  In essence, they are accusing God of treating them unjustly—something totally out of character with God’s holiness, which requires him to act justly.

But, of course, what is happening when the exiles ask this question is that they are the ones doing the disregarding.  They are disregarding their sins and the sins of their parents.  They are disregarding the reasons why Yahweh has allowed them to suffer this exile.

“Haven’t you known? Haven’t you heard?” (v. 28a).  Once again, two rhetorical questions bring to mind realities with which the exiles are well acquainted.

“The everlasting God, Yahweh, The Creator of the ends of the earth”

(v. 28b).  First, God is eternal.  “From everlasting to everlasting (he is) God” (Psalm 90:2).  He was before the beginning and will continue after the ending.

Second, God is the “Creator of the ends of the earth.”  He has created everything from one end to the other—from beyond our ability to see in one direction to beyond our ability to see in the other direction.  So whether we are talking about time or space, God stretches beyond our understanding in every dimension.

“doesn’t faint.  He isn’t weary” (v. 28c).  Just as there is no end to God with regard to time or space, there is also no end to God with regard to energy.

If we have any concept of limitless energy, it has to be with regard to the sun.  Our personal energy waxes and wanes.  Our supplies of oil and gas and other natural resources grow smaller by the minute.  But the sun shines today, undiminished, just as it did a thousand years ago—or a million years ago.  But astronomers catalog the death of stars, if not daily, then at least frequently.  Our sun is a star.  The day will come when it will no longer shine.

But God was here before the sun, and will be here long after the sun has become a black, cold ember—or a black hole in space.  God “doesn’t faint.  He isn’t weary.”  His energy is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

“His understanding is unsearchable” (v. 28d).  Everything about our infinite God is beyond the ability of our finite minds to comprehend.  We cannot comprehend God’s eternal nature, stretching from beyond time in the beginning to beyond time in the end.  We cannot comprehend the scope of God’s creation, extending beyond our horizons in every direction.  We cannot comprehend God’s energy, which is as infinite as everything else about him.  We cannot reduce God to an algorithm that we can parse in a super-computer.  God is beyond our understanding.

But not beyond our knowing!  Knowing is possible, because God has made himself known.  He has revealed himself to us.  We can know him.  We just can’t comprehend everything about him (the Creator), any more than we can comprehend everything about the universe (his creation).

“He increases the strength of him who has no might” (v. 29).  God does not grow faint (v. 28b), but he does empower the faint.  He does not lack strength, but he does give strength to those who are powerless.  The scriptures speak time after time about God’s tender heart for those who are vulnerable.

If God can be said to lose patience, it would be with those who appear strong and self-sufficient.  Such people are more likely to trust in their own strength than in God’s.  They are more likely to be narcissistic—to dwell on their own concerns with no thought for God or neighbor.

But the powerless—those who grow faint—are more likely to approach God on their knees.  They are more likely to acknowledge their need for God’s help.  Having suffered themselves, they are more likely to be attuned to the suffering of their neighbor.

So in the scriptures, God shows a decided preference for those who are powerless—for those who grow faint.  He is always available to such people to give them the strength that they so desperately need.

“Even the youths will faint and get weary, and the young men utterly fall” (v. 30).   For the third verse in a row, we encounter this word, “faint.”  God does not faint (v. 28), but he gives power to the faint (v. 29).  Now we are reminded that even the young grow faint.  It surprises us to remember that the young grow faint, because there seems to be an inverse relationship between age and energy.  Small children are always on the go.  It is a full-time job to keep up with a small child.  But small children get tired too—and faint.  Sometimes it happens so rapidly that it is like watching slow-motion film.  First, the child is very active.  Then the child starts getting fussy.  Then the child wants to snuggle and suck his/her thumb.  Then the child falls asleep—soundly asleep—faints.

The people who embody the ideal combination of strength and stamina are young people—those in their late teens and early twenties.  Our best athletes are nearly always in that age-range.  The lucky ones compete into their thirties or forties—but they are the exceptions that prove the rule.

But God reminds us that even men and women in the sweet spot of their physical prowess faint and grow weary and fall exhausted.

The point is that we, even at our best, are limited in strength and stamina.  The prophet wants to remind us of that before telling us how we can renew our strength.

“but those who wait for Yahweh shall renew (ya·hali·pu) their strength” (v. 31a).  Those who rely on their own strength have finite resources.  Those who wait on the Lord—who maintain their faith in the midst of adversity—have access to infinite resources.

This word, ya·hali·pu, has various meanings, including passing something on or exchanging or renewing.  We might say, then, that those who wait for the Lord will find their energy renewed when God allows them to exchange something of their weakness for something of his strength.

“They will mount up with wings like eagles” (v. 31b).  We are often privileged to see eagles soaring in front of our house—usually in the distance, but occasionally up close.  Yesterday we were sitting around the dinner table in front of our kitchen window when an eagle came soaring over our front yard—in and among the trees (perhaps God did this for my benefit, knowing that I would be working on this text today).  I was the first to see it.  I pointed, and my family turned to look.  We marveled together at the eagle’s majestic size and effortless grace.  It was one of those “hold your breath” moments—like having a large plane thunder over your roof—except that the eagle flew silently.

Some years ago, we were visiting a trout hatchery in the California hills when an eagle suddenly swooped down to scoop up a trout from the water only a few feet from us.  We had no idea what was happening, and it was like an explosion in our midst.  A lead weight couldn’t have dropped so quickly out of the sky—this was powered flight—a dive-bombing eagle.

Later, we remembered hearing the eagle’s wings shattering the air—but we heard them only for an instant.  And we remembered the eagle striking the water and grabbing the fish—that was the explosion.  And then the eagle was once again high in the sky.  The whole process took only a couple of seconds.  The eagle’s power was awe-inspiring—and just a bit frightening.  What if it had been after a pet dog or a cat or a baby?  We would have had no defense whatsoever.

But the power of eagles is nothing compared to Yahweh’s power—and it is Yahweh who empowers those who wait upon him.  That is the promise.

“They will run, and not be weary.  They will walk, and not faint” (v. 31c).  Running and walking are similar.  Both propel us along the ground, and both make us tired.  Running tires us quickly, and walking tires us slowly—but both produce the same ultimate result—weariness.  But those who wait on the Lord will run and walk with renewable energy.  The Lord will make it possible for them to go beyond the place where their natural energy would propel them.

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.  The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament.  The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Baker, Warren and Carpenter, Eugene, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Old Testament(Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003)

Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching:  A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year B (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)

Brueggemann, Walter, Westminster Bible Companion:  Isaiah 40-66 (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1998)

Goldingay, John, New International Biblical Commentary: Isaiah (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001)

Hanson, Paul D., Interpretation Commentary: Isaiah 40-66, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1995)

Motyer, J. Alec, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Isaiah, Vol. 18 (Downers Grove, Illinois:  Inter-Varsity Press, 1999)

Oswalt, John N., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40-66 (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998)

Muilenburg, James (Introduction and Exegesis of Isaiah 40-66); and Coffin, Henry Sloane (Exposition of Isaiah 40-66), The Interpreter’s Bible:  Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Vol. 5 (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1956)

Seitz, Christopher R., The New Interpreters Bible: Isaiah, Vol. VI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001)

Strawn, Brent A., in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary:  Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text.  The First Readings:  The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)

Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.;  Hayes, John H.;  Holladay, Carl R.;  Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, B (Valley Forge:  Trinity Press International, 1993)

Watts, John D. W., Word Biblical Commentary: Isaiah 34-66 (Dallas:  Word Books, 1987)

Young, Edward J., The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972)

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Copyright 2008, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan