Isaiah 40-66 - Lesson 1

By Harold Shank

Title: The God who cares like a shepherd and soars like an eagle


1. The student can state some of the reasons for studying the book of Isaiah

2. The student will explain the broad historical background of the book of Isaiah

3. The student will explain the role Isa 40 plays in describing the nature of God.


  1. Ask the class to read Isa 40 prior to class time.
  2. The teacher should determine in advance what experience the class has with Isaiah.
    1. If the class is unprepared to study any Old Testament book, the teacher might consider dividing the class between the “Why Study the Book of Isaiah” (see Additional Study section of this lesson) and the Isa 40 section.
    2. If the class is aware of the reasons for studying an OT book, but has little experience with the book of Isaiah, then the teacher might consider dividing the class time between “General Reflections on the Book of Isaiah” (see Additional Study) and the Isa 40 section.
    3. In some cases the teacher might find it helpful to spend two weeks on the material below
      1. Week one-“Why Study the Book of Isaiah” and “General Reflections on the Book of Isaiah”
      2. Week two-review of week one and Isa 40.
  3. Locate a map that includes Jerusalem and Babylon.
  4. In the historical background section, this lesson includes many lines from the text of Isaiah. It is unnecessary to present all of these in class, but these passages are included to allow the teacher access to the evidence from the text about the historical background. It may be sufficient to announce the conclusion and if the class questions the conclusion, these passages can be used to substantiate the point.
  5. All citations of Scripture are from the RSV.


One of the central themes of the book of Isaiah is the nature of God and how he relates to his people. Isaiah 1 and 40 introduce the reader to that theme.


  1. Historical background.
    1. There are clear references in Isa 40-55 that, although Isaiah died nearly a hundred years before it happened, he is speaking to people who are in Babylonian captivity. Consider these passages
      1. Isa 41:8-9: But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; 9 you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off??_”
      2. Isa 43:14-Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “For your sake I will send to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentations.”
      3. Isa 48:20-Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea, declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it, send it forth to the end of the earth; say, “The LORD has redeemed his servant Jacob!”
      4. Isa 49:21-22-Then you will say in your heart, “Who has borne me these? I was bereaved and barren, exiled and put away— so who has reared these? I was left all alone— where then have these come from?” 22 Thus says the Lord GOD: I will soon lift up my hand to the nations, and raise my signal to the peoples; and they shall bring your sons in their bosom, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.
      5. Isa 51:10-11-So the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
    2. There are clear references to the condition and attitudes of the people in Babylonian captivity.
      1. Afraid and uncomfortable: Isa 54:11-O afflicted one, storm-tossed & not comforted…
      2. Dismayed: Isa 40:27-Why do you say, O Jacob, & speak O Israel, “My way is hid from the LORD, & my right is disregarded by my God?”
      3. In doubt: Isa 46:12-Hearken to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from deliverance
      4. Tempted by idolatry: Isa 42:17-They shall be turned back and utterly put to shame, who trust in graven images, who say to molten images, “You are our gods.”
      5. Away from home: Isa 41:8-9-But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners.
      6. Questioned God: Isa 45:9-Isaiah pictures people as a clay pot arguing with its maker. The people were rebuking God!
      7. Forsaken by God: Isa 49:14-But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” (worksheet)
      8. Weak and helpless: Isa 41:14-Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel.
      9. Defeated: Isa 41:17-When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
      10. Unforgiven: Isa 42:22-But this is a people robbed and plundered, they are all of them trapped in holes and hidden in prisons; they have become a prey with none to rescue, a spoil with none to say, ‘Restore!’
      11. Unloved: Isa 54:7-For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you.

Learning Experiences:_________________

  1. Theme of Isa 40
    1. The exiles have two questions about God:
      1. His Power-Does God have the power to deal with our situations?
      2. His Interest-Does God care about us?
    2. Isaiah Responds:
      1. Isa 40:10-11 Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
      2. God’s might proves he has the power and his gentleness shows his care.
  2. Outline of Isa 40
    1. God and the three voices-Isa 40:1-11
    2. Isaiah’s three point sermon about God-Isa 40:12-31
  3. God and the three voices-Isa 40:1-11
    1. God speaks-Isa 40:1-2
      1. Jerusalem is likely a term used to describe the people in exile just as Americans use “the White House” to refer to the President.
      2. What 3 commands does God give? (comfort my people; speak tenderly to Jerusalem; cry to Jerusalem).
      3. What 3 announcements does God make? (worksheet)
        1. War is over-perhaps a reference to the Babylonian’s victorious war against Judah in 587-86 BC.
        2. People are forgiven-perhaps a reference to the sins of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah chronicled in 2 Kings and Jeremiah.
        3. Double suffering is over-likely a reference to the fall of Jerusalem and the years in exile.
      4. The thrust of God’s speech is to announce that exile is over and that he will bring the people home. The effort to persuade the people to trust God is taken up in Isa 40-55.
  4. Voice 1-Isa 40:3-5
    1. What preparations does the first voice mention?
    2. The obstacles might refer to one of two things:
    3. Removing the political and geographical problems involved in the 600 mile return trip from Babylon to Jerusalem.
      1. Removing the resistance of the people in exile to God’s initiative.
      2. . Here voice 1 announces God’s return to bring his people home (worksheet) while in Mt 3:3; Mk 1:2-3; Lk 3:4-6 and Jn 1:23 the voice is reapplied to John the Baptist who announces Jesus coming to lead people to salvation. Many prophecies in Isaiah have more than one fulfillment (for example the prophecy in Isa 6 is repeatedly cited in the New Testament as being fulfilled in multiple ways).
    4. Voice 2-Isa 40:6-8
      1. What image does voice 2 use to describe the dependability of the exiles?
      2. Although the exiles are as dependable as grass, God’s word is entirely dependable. (worksheet) This teaching is a major theme in Isaiah. See Additional Study.
    5. Voice 3-Isa 40:9-11
      1. The following 15 chapters will show how resistant the exiles are to the news that God will bring them home, so Isaiah announces several key qualities of God. (worksheet)
        1. He comes.
        2. He is powerful.
        3. He cares.
        4. He removes all fear.
      2. Word study.
        1. The phrase “good tidings” is often translated as Gospel, i.e. good news. The word will reappear in Isa 52.
        2. The words “reward” and “recompense” likely refer to God giving the land of Canaan back to the exiles.
      3. The opening scene gives insight into God’s planning process as he announces the return from exile and the means by which it will take place. Some propose that this scene takes place in heaven prior to God returning to lead his people home.
      4. Isa describes God for the doubter in exile.
        1. God shows himself willing to care for the people (11).
        2. God is powerful enough to rescue them (10).
        3. There is no one like God which provides a link to the following material.
          1. Isaiah’s three point sermon about God-Isa 40:12-31. Isaiah now responds to the skepticism among the exiles by the first in a series of lessons on the nature of God. This lesson has three points.
            1. God is incomprehensible-Isa 40:12-17.
              1. Isaiah moves from one illustration to another to suggest that humanity cannot fully understand God.
              2. God can put all the water on the earth into his hand and measure it. God knows how to do things that totally escape our understanding.
              3. Lebanon was a heavily forested area, but even if all the trees were cut down for a fire for God’s altar, the altar would be insufficient because God’s wisdom is beyond human comprehension.
              4. God is incomparable-Isa 40:18-24.
                1. People make idols so they can see what God looks like. But such images fail to describe God.
                2. There is nothing we know that is close to God in appearance or nature.
                3. We have no way of comparing a God who looks at us like we look at grasshoppers.
                4. We often use metaphors and figures of speech to understand things that are new to us.
                  1. We might say, “It tastes like hamburger meat” to describe a new food.
                  2. We might say “He is as strong as an ox” to describe a body builder
                  3. The Bible often uses humanlike images to describe God.
                    1. God is said to walk, talk, see, hear, sit, stretch, spread, make, etc. all of which seek to give us insight into God’s nature.
                    2. God is compared to a rock, king, and shepherd.
                    3. Here Isaiah says that none of these images completely explains God.
                    4. God is inexhaustible-Isa 40:25-31.
                      1. Isa 40:27 quotes the exiles who say that God has deserted them implying that he did not have the energy to see his plan through.
                      2. Isaiah cites high energy humans who do wear out.
                      3. He compares God to an eagle, who from a human point of view, soars without wearing out.
                    5. Isaiah’s sermon aims to convince the exiles that God is powerful enough to rescue them from Babylonian captivity. As the following chapters reveal, not many exiles were convinced.


  1. How can this expanded view of God affect our lives when we have problems or sorrows?
  2. How can this expanded view of God affect our spread of the gospel?


[The section in this study called “Continuities” aims to find the teachings in Isaiah that continue to affect our own times.]

  1. Exile and homecoming are the major themes of Isaiah 40-55. What displaced people exist in contemporary society (college students, military personnel in war zones, refugees, children of divorce, homeless people, and illegal aliens)? How might the words of Isaiah speak to these people? What people experience homecoming (soldiers coming home, alumni returning to their Alma Mater, business travellers coming home from a long trip)? How do Isaiah’s words fit them?
  2. In the last 50 years many of the new Christian songs are about the nature of God. Select one of those songs and compare the teaching about God in the song with what Isaiah says. Why are so many new songs about God?
  3. The exiles had misconceptions about God. Explain how their view was inaccurate. What are some contemporary misconceptions about God? How might Isaiah 40 be used in response?
  4. Isa 40:30-31 is often put on posters and widely quoted. Do you think people who hear these words understand the original context and implication? What is the point of these remarkable lines?
  5. Why Study the Book of Isaiah?
    1. We are doing what Jesus did. Even a quick reading of the Gospels reveals that Jesus knew the book of Isaiah (see Mk 7:4; Lk 4:18-19). He drew support for his ministry from this ancient book. Since we follow Jesus, we do well to read what he read.
    2. We are doing what the Gospel writers did. Matthew, for example, repeatedly draws on the book of Isaiah to explain the ministry of Jesus. See Mt 1:23; 3:3; 4:15-16; 12:18-21; 13:14-15; 15:8-9.
    3. We are doing what Paul did. Many New Testaments have columns at the side of the text that include cross references. In many cases these are verses that the New Testament book is alluding to or quoting from the Old Testament. A quick glance at the works of Paul shows that he often quotes Isaiah or uses phrases from Isaiah (see Eph 3:14 where Paul cites Isa 45:23 or Eph 6:11 where Paul uses the armor of God image from Isa 59:17f). A study of the book of Isaiah will aid in understanding the epistles of Paul.
    4. The early Christians used Isaiah to preach the Gospel. One clear example comes in Acts 8 when Phillip joined the Ethiopian eunuch on his journey. The eunuch was reading Isaiah 53. Phillip used that text to teach him the Gospel culminating in his baptism by the side of the road. Although we have access to the Gospels in the New Testament, clearly the book of Isaiah anticipates and informs that Gospel.
    5. The New Testament quotes the book of Isaiah over 100 times. These quotations cite Isaiah as an authority to give direction to the early church. We can draw on this same resource in our study of Isaiah.
    6. The book of Isaiah is the oldest extant copy of any part of Scripture. There are a large number of ancient manuscripts of various books of the Bible. Most of the oldest ones are incomplete and may only contain a few verses or chapters. However, the complete book of Isaiah [the manuscript from the Qumran caves, see a picture and some brief information at] dating to a century or so before Jesus’ time is one of the oldest, perhaps the oldest, section of Scripture that we have. Clearly it is the oldest complete copy ofany biblical book. We do well to give attention to the world’s oldest biblical manuscript.
  6. General Reflections on the Book of Isaiah
    1. Isaiah contains foundational biblical teaching on these subjects
      1. Messiah
      2. Nature of God
      3. Service
      4. Nature of Justice
      5. Word of God
      6. New heavens and the new earth
    2. The authorship of Isaiah is often debated, but this study teaches that the 8th century prophet Isaiah wrote the entire book, but addressed people in three different time periods.
      1. The three audiences of Isaiah are:
        1. Jerusalem in the 8th century B.C. in Isa 1-39. See the eBible study on Isa 1-39.
        2. Jews in Babylonian captivity in the 6th century B.C. in Isa 40-55. These chapters are taken up in this series of studies.
        3. Jews in post exilic Jerusalem in the 5th century B. C. in Isa 56-66. These chapters are taken up in this series of studies.
      2. A central point of the book of Isaiah is that since God announces events before they happen, he is God.
        1. The prophet Isaiah announces events that take place in his own future (8th century), in his nation’s immediate future (captivity and post exilic periods), in the distant future (first century) and in our future (new heavens and new earth). The book of Isaiah is a rolling set of announcements from God about events about to happen and then the chronicle of those events actually taking place.
        2. Throughout the book of Isaiah the prophet announces future events, writes down the predictions, and then deposits the manuscript in order to verify the truth of God’s knowledge of the future (cf. Isa 8:16; 30:8).
  7. In several places Isaiah uses the image of a court room where the Babylonian gods and the LORD God meet. The lawyer asks the Babylonian gods to announce what will shortly happen. They are silent. The attorney asks the LORD God to announce what will happen. God submits the evidence of what he has already announced in the past that has happened. The attorney turns to the Babylonian gods to say, “Behold, you are nothing” (Isa 41:24).
  8. Context: The GOD of HOPE and HISTORY sends a SERVANT - Isa 40-55
    1. Isa 40-66 introduces a series of individuals that God uses to do his work including:
      1. Cyrus, the Medo-Persian king, who defeated Babylon and permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem.
      2. Israel, the nation in captivity, must become God’s servant.
      3. A servant teacher who suffers for the people.
      4. A preacher who announces the righteousness and justice of God.
      5. The servants who return to Zion.
    2. The 16 chapters in Isa 40-55 take up these issues:
      1. The GOD of hope and history sends a servant. These chapters contain one of the longest sustained treatments of the nature of God anywhere in the Bible.
      2. The God of HOPE and history sends a servant. These chapters contain some of the warmest words of reassurance and hope in all human literature
      3. The God of hope and HISTORY sends a servant. These chapters contain the Bible’s most persuasive argument for the existence of God: the one who announces historical events ahead of time must be the world’s unique divine power.
      4. The God of hope and history sends a SERVANT. These chapters contain God’s method for achieving his goals. He selects a servant to accomplish his mission.
    3. The 16 chapters in Isa 40-55 unfold in two broad sections
      1. Isa 40-45 take up the theme of God taking Babylon out of Israel. Isaiah assures Israel that the LORD, the holy one of Israel, ismore powerful than the Babylonian gods and that he still cares about Israel.
      2. Isa 46-55 take up the theme of God taking Israel out of Babylon. God commands the people to leave and return to Israel.
    4. The 16 chapters in Isa 40-55 presuppose that the people in Babylonian captivity fall into three general groups:
      1. Assimilated: Some have assimilated to the new culture. No longer in Jerusalem they begin to live and think like their Babylonian hosts, including adopting Babylonian theology.
      2. Despair: Some have given up in despair. Since things are no longer the way they were in the old days in Jerusalem, they throw up their hands in defeat apparently believing that the God who was unable to stop the destruction of Jerusalem is equally unable to deliver them from captivity.
      3. Hopeful. Some renew their hopes through faith. Led by Isaiah the prophet, a group finds hope in God’s dream of a new, but different Jerusalem in which the Holy One of Israel still rules.

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