Isaiah 40

Isaiah 40-66 Devotional (overview)
by Pastor Mark Hudson

            Since there is a bit of controversy about the second half of Isaiah, I will address that topic in lieu of commenting on the wonderful chapter 40 of Isaiah.

Presuppositions.  We bring assumptions to a text we read.  Isaiah is called 1st Isaiah, 2nd Is, and 3rd Is.  You would think that when the New Testament quotes a verse in Isaiah and claims that Isaiah is the author that would settle it but that is not the case.

          Even a casual reader will notice the change from Is. 1-39 to 40-66.  So scholars from just before the 1800’s said we notice:

First, a different historical situation.  Assyria is the dominant bully in the region in Isaiah’s time.  Yet in the second half of the book, the audience is in exile (Is 48:20).  They anticipate a return from exile 43:1-7; 44:24-28) and judgment on their captors (Is. 47:1-15; 49:24-26; 51:21-23).  Babylon was not in the picture as a regional threat, yet Isaiah calls a future Persian leader by name, Cyrus who will defeat the Babylonians (Is 44:28; 45:1, 13).  This would be like an American prophet predicting by name a small country like Panama would execute judgment on God’s enemies.  The prophet would name the leader that will arise in 2030.  It would be amazing.  This foretelling of events in the future meant, for liberal scholars, Isaiah couldn’t have written chapters 40-66.  Rather, a group of prophets who studied Isaiah and wrote in his name wrote during the time of exile.  The posited this since no one can know the future and certainly not with that precision.

          The second reason for more than one author is the theological differences.  In Is. 1-39, God’s majesty is emphasized but in Is. 40-66 his universal dominion and infinitude are in the forefront.  The first part, we read of Davidic kings (11:1) but leadership in the second half are priests, Levites, and princes (Is. 61:6; 66:21).  In the first half, we read of concrete historical facts as background, but in the second half we find few such details.  In fact, Isaiah is not specifically named. 

          Third, the style and language is different.  This is obvious to the non-technical reader.  One author described the second half as  more “lyric, flowing, impassioned, hymnic” than the first half.  There are more questions, imperatives, word plays, and rhetorical questions in Is. 40-66.  One scholar, Driver, listed words and constructions that are found only after chapter 40. 

          Then this school of scholars notices a difference in chapters 56-66.  They assumed this author lived in Palestine when the exiles returned.  But then Is 36-39 was seen as another section not written by Isaiah.  Too much like II Kings 18:13-20:19.  Then Is 13-14 refers to Babylon which is not a factor, Assyrian is the only regional power so that section had to be written later  and the same goes for Is 24-27 and Is 12. So, the book gets chopped up more and more.  One Isaiah?  Some said they couldn’t believe in just two Isaiahs!

          The response from those who held to the unity of the book and one author?

Themes and vocabulary

          The same themes and vocabulary found in 1-39 are found in the second half.  On scholar named Margalioth noticed 15 subject areas with had common designations in through out the book.  Both chapters 1-39 and 40-66 shared these same words or ideas: God, Israel, Introductory formulas for oracles, pairing Zion and Jerusalem, in gathering of exiles, messages of consolation and encouragement, expressions of joy and gladness, hopes for universal millennium, words of admonition and chastisement, use of thesis-antithesis pairs, distinctive words and linguistic forms, word pairs, similar construction, and parallel groups having similar content. 

          For example God is called the Holy One of Israel 12 times in the 1st half and 13 in the 2nd half.  Israel is described as blind (29:18; 35:5; 42:16, 18, 19) in both sections and deaf (29:18; 35:5; 42:18; 52:19) in both.  The people of Israel are the “ransomed of the Lord” who will return to Zion (35:10; 51:11).  “The Lord will say” (1:11, 18; 33:10; 40:1, 25; 66:9), “the mouth of the Lord has spoken (1:20; 40:5; 58:14)” or “a voice calls” (6:4; 40:3) area all found in both sections.   

Dependence on Isaiah by other prophets.

          If Isaiah is exilic why do the exilic prophets depend on Isaiah which means Isaiah is earlier?  Zephaniah resembles Is 47:8. Nahum 1:15 and Is 52:7 are similar.  Jer. 31:35 is close to Is 51:15.  Jer refers to Israel as “my servant” in 30:10 which is like Is 41:8-9; 42:1, 19; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; 48:20; 52:13; 53:11.

New Testament citations.

Isaiah is cited by name in the NT, and they include both halves of the book. John cites Is 6:10 and 53:1 in John 12:38-41.  In Acts 8:30, the Ethiopian eunuch was reading from “the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet” or Is 53:7-8.  NT citations are drawn for 12 different chapters, seven from Is 1-39 and five from Is 40-66. 


          This is not just found in 1:1 but also reiterated in 2:1; 7:3; 20:2; 37:2, 5-6; 38:1, 4; 39:5.

          If the major objection to Isaiah is that he could not have known the future, this runs counter to what Isaiah says in 3:1-8; 3:24-4:1; 7:3; 11:10-16; 13:1-14:22; 39:6

          What Isaiah is saying and has been saying in this next session is that Assyria is a tool in God’s hands  Is. 10:5, 15; so will Babylon be 47:5-9.  Babylon’s destruction is a sure as Assyria’s before them 48:14-16 because God had ordained Babylon’s conqueror 42:2-4.  God declares in 43:8-21 that no one is like Him.

          Because God claimed so much in chs.1-39, chs. 40-66 is almost required.  These chapters are the logical conclusion to the previous chapters.  The two questions that need to be answered are can God restore and does He want to? 

          Well, he certainly can restore them and Jerusalem, but He also wants to.  God repeatedly declares He will do something unheard of – bringing exiles back to Jerusalem and punishing those nations who went beyond what God intended.   

          This is short study on an interesting topic. I hope if you are intrigued by this, you will keep looking at the unity of Isaiah.  If this strikes you as rather lame or it leaves you cold, set it aside and enjoy this wonderful chapter. 

          Father help me to see how mighty You are.  That You find the universe small and insignificant, yet You love Your people with an everlasting love.  You are the Creator of the ends of the earth.  You know all things from the beginning.  No one can compare with You.  Help me to lift up my eyes to see Your glory.  In Christ’s glorious name.  Amen.