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DRAFT: A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of Isaiah 40-42

Kuruvilla Thomas
Bangalore
Published on 21 January 2022 *




Isaiah 40-42 Timeline
Fig. 1


Introduction

This study treats Isaiah 40:1-42:9 as a cryptochiasmus in order to arrive at a coherent reconfiguration of the text ( see definition of cryptochiasmus in [1] ). If you wish to skip the technicalities of a chiastic parse, you may read starting from Section 4 of the Discussion section, which has the reconfigured text.

Isaiah 40:1-42:9, the first prophecy of the second section of Isaiah, is primarily a series of declarations that demonstrate God's greatness and love. The prophecy also has passages that are quoted in the New Testament as predicting the coming of Christ and John the Baptist.



Discussion

1. Presuppositions

We base our parse of Isaiah 40:1-42:9 on the assumption that it refers to 3 periods:

  1. John the Baptist Announces the Start of Christ's Ministry (26AD).
  2. Christian Judahites are Comforted After The First Jewish–Roman War (66AD–73AD).
  3. Declarations of God's Greatness at the Start of Christ's Millennial Reign (circa 2027AD).

2. Parsing the chiasmus

We will use the NIV Bible for this parse.

Parsing this chiasmus involves dividing portions of the text into three categories as above. We will call the time of the Christ's Ministry Period 1, the End of the First Jewish-Roman War in 73AD Period 2, and the Start of the Millennial Reign Period 3.


Categorizing Isaiah 40:1-42:9

Ch 40 vs 1-2 belong to Period 2. The surviving Judahites, the Christians, are comforted after the First Jewish-Roman War.

Ch 40 vs 3 belong to Period 1. John the Baptist announces the coming of Jesus. We set the extent of the subunit based on quotes in Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3 and John 1:23. ( Luke 3:4-6 seems to indicate that the next two verses, 40:4-5, should also be included in this Period, but the LXX rendering in Luke speaks of "salvation" in Luke 3:6 instead of the "glory" in 40:5.)

Ch 40 vs 4 - Ch 42 vs 4 belong to Period 3. A victorious announcement of the start of the Millennial Reign. ( Although 42:1-4 seems to be quoted in Matthew 12:15-21 as predicting Christ at his First Coming, we place it here in Period 3. See commentary below for justification.)

Ch 42 vs 5-8 belong to Period 1. Christ proclaims the gospel of the New Covenant. He leads people away from idolatry and false doctrines.

Ch 42 vs 9 belongs to Period 2. A new age begins under a New Covenant.



Original text

We color-code the chiastic units of the original text (NIV) below for easy visual identification using: red for Period 1, blue for Period 2 and green for Period 3.. We have retranslated parts of the text that have been inaccurately rendered because of a lack of proper context.



Isaiah 40 1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Proclaim [a] to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
9 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your god!” [b] 10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? 13 Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor? 14 Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?
15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. 16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings. 17 Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.
18 With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? 19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. 20 A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple.
21 Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? 22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. 23 He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. 24 No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.
27 Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? 28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.


Retranslation notes for Isaiah 40
[a] vs 2 "Jerusalem. Proclaim" instead of "Jerusalem, and proclaim".
[b] vs 9 "god" instead of "God".


Isaiah 41 1 “Be silent before me, you islands! Let the nations renew their strength! Let them come forward and speak; let us meet together at the place of judgment.
2 “Who has stirred up one from the east, calling him in righteousness to his service[a]? He hands nations over to him and subdues kings before him. He turns them to dust with his sword, to windblown chaff with his bow. 3 He pursued them, and passed safely; even by the way that he had not gone with his feet.[a] 4 Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord—with the first of them and with the last—I am he.”
5 The islands have seen it and fear; the ends of the earth tremble. They approach and come forward; 6 they help each other and say to their companions, “Be strong!” 7 The metalworker encourages the goldsmith, and the one who smooths with the hammer spurs on the one who strikes the anvil. One says of the welding, “It is good.” The other nails down the idol so it will not topple.
8 “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, 9 I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. 10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
11 “All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. 12 Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all. 13 Surely [a] I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. 14 Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob, little Israel, do not fear, for I myself will help you,” declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. 15 “See, I will make you into a threshing sledge, new and sharp, with many teeth. You will thresh the mountains and crush them, and reduce the hills to chaff. 16 You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up, and a gale will blow them away. But you will rejoice in the Lord and glory in the Holy One of Israel.
17 “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. 18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. 19 I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set junipers in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, 20 so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.
21 “Present your case,” says the Lord. “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King. 22 “Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, 23 tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. 24 But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; whoever chooses you is detestable.
25 “I have stirred up one from the north, and he has come; one from the east who proclaims my name. [b] He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay. 26 Who told of this from the beginning, so we could know, or beforehand, so we could say, ‘He was right’? No one told of this, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you. 27 Previously I said to Zion, [c] ‘Look, here they are!’ I gave to Jerusalem a messenger of good news. 28 I see that [d] there is no one— no one among the gods to give counsel, no one to give answer when I ask them. 29 See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion.


Retranslation notes for Isaiah 41
[a] vs 13 "Surely" instead of "For".
[b] vs 25 "I have stirred up one from the north, and he has come; one from the east who proclaims my name" instead of "I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes— one from the rising sun who calls on my name".
[c] vs 27 "Previously I said to Zion" instead of "I was the first to tell Zion".
[d] vs 28 "I see that" instead of "I look but".


Isaiah 42 1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. 2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. 3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
5 This is what God the Lord says— the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: 6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
8 “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.

9 See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.”


3. Building the reconfigured text

From this parse, it appears that Isaiah 40:1-42:9 forms a cryptochiasmus as below:

A1   Ch 40 vs 1-2 Period 2. The Judahites are comforted after the First Jewish-Roman War
  B1   Ch 40 vs 3 Period 1. John the Baptist announces the coming of Jesus
    X   Ch 40 vs 4 - Ch 42 vs 4 Period 3. The start of the Millennial Reign
  B2   Ch 42 vs 5-8 Period 1. Christ preaches the gospel
A2   Ch 42 vs 9 Period 2. The Old Covenant is ended


We now reconstruct the passages in the right order based on the chiastic structure above and based on the ordering rules of a cryptochiasmus [1].

We lead with central pivot point 'X'. The corresponding subunits (For example; subunit A1 corresponds to A2) are placed contiguously to form units (For example, A1,A2 is a unit ) so that we get a list of such units.


The sequence selected for rearrangement is:

X  [A1,A2]  [B1,B2]        (1)

Translating (1) into verse numbers, we get:

Ch 40 vs 4 - Ch 42 vs 4   [Ch 40 vs 1-2, Ch 42 vs 9]   [Ch 40 vs 3, Ch 42 vs 5-8]        (2)

We arrive at the reconfigured passage in the next section by rearranging the verses so they are in sequence (2).



4. Isaiah 40:1-42:9 Reconfigured

Declarations of God's Greatness at the Start of Christ's Millennial Reign (circa 2027AD) (Ch 40 vs 4 - Ch 42 vs 4 )
40 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
9 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your god!”
10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? 13 Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor? 14 Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?
15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. 16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings. 17 Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.
18 With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? 19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. 20 A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple.
21 Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? 22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. 24 No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. 25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. 27 Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? 28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.


41 1 “Be silent before me, you islands! Let the nations renew their strength! Let them come forward and speak; let us meet together at the place of judgment.
2 “Who has stirred up one from the east, calling him in righteousness to his service? He hands nations over to him and subdues kings before him. He turns them to dust with his sword, to windblown chaff with his bow. 3 He pursued them, and passed safely; even by the way that he had not gone with his feet. 4 Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord—with the first of them and with the last—I am he.”
5 The islands have seen it and fear; the ends of the earth tremble. They approach and come forward; 6 they help each other and say to their companions, “Be strong!” 7 The metalworker encourages the goldsmith, and the one who smooths with the hammer spurs on the one who strikes the anvil. One says of the welding, “It is good.” The other nails down the idol so it will not topple.
8 “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, 9 I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. 10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
11 “All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. 12 Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all.
13 Surely I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. 14 Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob, little Israel, do not fear, for I myself will help you,” declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. 15 “See, I will make you into a threshing sledge, new and sharp, with many teeth. You will thresh the mountains and crush them, and reduce the hills to chaff. 16 You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up, and a gale will blow them away.
But you will rejoice in the Lord and glory in the Holy One of Israel. 17 “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. 19 I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set junipers in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, 20 so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.
21 “Present your case,” says the Lord. “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King. 22 “Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, 23 tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. 24 But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; whoever chooses you is detestable.
25 “I have stirred up one from the north, and he has come; one from the east who proclaims my name.. He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay. 26 Who told of this from the beginning, so we could know, or beforehand, so we could say, ‘He was right’? No one told of this, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you. 27 Previously I said to Zion, ‘Look, here they are!’ I gave to Jerusalem a messenger of good news. 28 I see that there is no one— no one among the gods to give counsel, no one to give answer when I ask them. 29 See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion.


42 1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.
2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. 3a A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
3b In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”


Christian Judahites are Comforted After The First Jewish–Roman War (66AD–73AD) (Ch 40 vs 1-2, Ch 42 vs 9)
40 1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

42 9 See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.”

John the Baptist Announces the Start of Christ's Ministry (26AD) (Ch 40 vs 3, Ch 42 vs 5-8)
40 3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

42 5 This is what God the Lord says— the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: 6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
8 “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.



5. A Commentary on the Reconfigured Text

5.1 Declarations of God's Greatness at the Start of Christ's Millennial Reign (circa 2027AD) (Ch 40 vs 4 - Ch 42 vs 4)

The majestic passages of this Period are arranged as a series of 4 chiasmi.

The passage below in 40:4-9 forms a chiasmus. The pivot, [40:6-8], is an assurance that the word of God is eternal. The subunits, [40:4-5] and [40:9], predict the start of the Millennial Reign.


Chapter 40 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

The path to Christ's glorious reign over the world will be made smooth - all obstacles will be removed. The metaphor is based on the eastern practice of preparing a highway for a king's journey in rough terrain (cf. Isaiah 57:14). God promises ("His mouth has spoken") that His power and glory will be revealed to all mankind when He defeats Satan's forces and installs Christ and his Messiah as rulers. ( Although the LXX rendering of 40:4-5 is quoted in Luke 3:5-6 as applicable to Period 1, we believe this Hebrew version of the passage belongs in this Period, because vs 5 speaks of "glory" whereas the LXX mentions "salvation".)



Chapter 40 6a A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
6b “All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”

During the time of tribulation before the Millennial Reign, the righteous of the earth are exhorted to trust in God and not in man. For the word of God and His faithfulness are forever, while that of man is as fleeting as grass and flowers that soon die off, particularly in unfavourable weather ("the breath of the Lord blows on them") (see also 1 Peter 1:22-25, Isaiah 2:22, Job 14:2, Matt. 24:35).

This passage, the pivot, is presented in this dramatic question-and-answer format to grab the audience's attention, because it has one of the central messages of the Bible. We must clarify that vs 6b-8 is the "voice's" reply to Isaiah's question, “What shall I cry?”



Chapter 40 9 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your god!”

The prophets of the New Israel (see also Isaiah 52:8, 62:6) are to boldly publish the good news of the coming Messiah's arrival ("Here is your god!") to the New Israel ("Zion", "Jerusalem", "towns of Judah" are all synecdochically synonyms for the New Israel). The prophets are to ensure that all of Israel hears their joyful message ("go up on a high mountain", "lift up your voice with a shout", "do not be afraid") (cf. Isaiah 62:11). ( The participle, “You who bring”, is in the feminine, so we believe "you" is the collective personification of these prophets.)



The passage below in 40:10-31 is arranged in the form of a three-unit chiasmus:

A1 40:10-11 The Lord nurtures the righteous
  B1 40:12-14 The greatness of God
    C1 40:15-17 God is greater than the nations
      X 40:18-22 God is greater than other gods
    C2 40:23-25 God is greater than the nations
  B2 40:26-28 The greatness of God
A2 40:29-31 God nurtures the righteous

The greatness of God is established in various ways in this chiasmus to assure the people of Israel that they are safe in the hands of a powerful and loving God.


Subunit A1: The Lord nurtures the righteous (40:10-11)

Chapter 40 10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

God will rule the New Israel during the Millennial Reign through Christ and his Messiah ("mighty arm") (cf. Isaiah 51:9). He will reward the faithful (see also Isaiah 62:11) and nurture his people like a shepherd (see also Jer. 31:10, Eze. 34:11-16...).



Subunit B1: The greatness of God (40:12-14)

Chapter 40 12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? 13 Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor? 14 Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?

This series of rhetorical questions grandly declares the infinite knowledge and wisdom of God, because the implied answer to all these questions is, "No one". God is the creator and sustainer of the universe, and He intimately knows His creation (cf. Job 38:4,25,37) (note that God does not literally measure the elements, as in the anthropomorphic vs 12). This all-knowing creator (the "Spirit of God" in vs 13 refers to God Himself) has no use for advisors or teachers (cf. Romans 11:34).



Subunit C1: God is greater than the nations (40:15-17)

Chapter 40 15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. 16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings. 17 Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.

After establishing God's power over the all creation in the previous passage, Isaiah points out that the kingdoms of the world are consequently no match for God, not even the mightiest and wealthiest (Lebanon is to be considered an exemplar of a wealthy and powerful nation) (see also Psalms 2:1-6).



Pivot X: God is greater than other gods (40:18-22)

Chapter 40 18 With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? 19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. 20 A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple.

Isaiah compares the God of Israel to pagan gods - gods that are really Satan and his fallen angels. These gods control nations outside Israel and have some ability to answer human prayers, but they cannot be compared to the God who created the universe (see Psalm 82). Isaiah roundly mocks the worship of man-made idols, which is the prescribed mode of supplication to these gods (see also Jeremiah 10:1-16).



Chapter 40 21 Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? 22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

Beginning with another series of rhetorical questions, Isaiah once again extols the greatness of Creator and Sustainer of all things, but the thrust here, in the pivot, is to juxtapose the greatness of God with the inadequacy of other idol gods (as detailed in the previous passage, 40:18-20). Note that verse 40:22 should be treated as poetic and figurative - it does not literally describe the structure and workings of the universe (cf. Psalms 104:1-9,147:4).



Subunit C2: God is greater than the nations (40:23-25)

Chapter 40 23 He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. 24 No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. 25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.

The kings of this world are of no consequence in relation to the incomparable power of God - even the greatest empires do not last very long - they live and die according to God's will (cf. Job 12:19, Isaiah 14:9). The people of Israel have no reason to fear other nations, for the mighty God will save them from the overwhelming forces arrayed against them (Psalm 129:5-6).



Subunit B2: The greatness of God (40:26-28)

Chapter 40 26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. 27 Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? 28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

As an example of God's greatness, Isaiah argues that the whole universe and the stars in it were created and maintained by God (note that Isaiah uses poetic, figurative language in vs 26) (see also Psalm 147:4). The Israelites need not worry that their God has forgotten them in the time of their tribulation before the start of Christ's reign. For the creator of all things is omniscient and omnipotent; He has not abandoned His people, and He does not grow tired. ( Verse 27 makes it clear that this entire chiasmus is addressed to Israel.)



Subunit A2: The Lord nurtures the righteous (40:29-31)

Chapter 40 29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

God will give strength to His weary people - they have been beaten down over millennia - so that they have the spirit and energy to soar like an eagle (cf. Psalm 103:5), and thrive in their new role as world leaders during the Millennial Reign. Though man's strength is fleeting, God will give His people lasting energy.



The passage below in 41:1-29 is arranged in the form of a four-unit chiasmus:

A1 41:1-4 The Lord proves His greatness through His Messiah
  B1 41:5-7 The heathen are to make the case for their gods
    C1 41:8-10 God's nation Israel is restored
      D1 41:11-12 Those who come against Israel are destroyed
        X 41:13-16a The Israelites are not to fear
      D2 41:16b-17 Those who come seeking righteousness are blessed
    C2 41:18-20 God's nation Israel is restored
  B2 41:21-24 The idol gods are invited to present their case
A2 41:25-29 The Lord proves His greatness through His Messiah

God's love for Israel is established in various ways in this chiasmus, and the people of Israel are assured that they are safe in the hands of a powerful and loving God.


Subunit A1: The Lord proves His greatness through His Messiah (41:1-4)

Chapter 41 1 “Be silent before me, you islands! Let the nations renew their strength! Let them come forward and speak; let us meet together at the place of judgment.

After their defeat at the start of the Millennial Reign, the hostile nations of the world ("islands") are to be deferential before God ("be silent"); they are to try and recover from their defeat ("renew their strength", which seems to be mildly sarcastic) and present their case to the world that their gods are worthy of worship. This verse can be considered an introductory statement to the "case" between God and hostile nations.



2 “Who has stirred up one from the east, calling him in righteousness to his service? He hands nations over to him and subdues kings before him. He turns them to dust with his sword, to windblown chaff with his bow. 3 He pursued them, and passed safely; even by the way that he had not gone with his feet.

God starts off by presenting, as proof of His power, the fact that His Messiah acted according to prophesy. It was God who roused the righteous Messiah (see Rev. 19:11), the "one from the east" (see Matthew 24:27), and enabled him to subdue and thoroughly destroy all hostile peoples. The Messiah defeated kings through divine assistance (Rev. 19:14) and by the "sword of his mouth" (Rev. 19:15, Isaiah 49:2-3, Rev. 6:2) - not through a physical attack ("by the way that he had not gone with his feet") (see Ezekiel 39:3). (The "one from the east" could also be interpreted as Cyrus, but it is unlikely that Cyrus' victories from ancient history would be convincing proof of God's greatness at this time before the Millennial Reign.)



Chapter 41 4 Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord—with the first of them and with the last—I am he.”

The coming Messiah is of the line of David, as predicted in several prophecies (for ex, see 2 Samuel 7), and to ensure that this prediction came true, God called into existence the generations from David to the Messiah and preserved them over thousands of years ("with them from the first to the last"). God concludes His opening statement in this case by averring that it was He, the great "I am", that had predicted all this and carried it out.



Subunit B1: The heathen are to make the case for their gods (41:5-7)

Chapter 41 5 The islands have seen it and fear; the ends of the earth tremble. They approach and come forward; 6 they help each other and say to their companions, “Be strong!” 7 The metalworker encourages the goldsmith, and the one who smooths with the hammer spurs on the one who strikes the anvil. One says of the welding, “It is good.” The other nails down the idol so it will not topple.

Before the Millennial Reign, many peoples around the world ("islands"), had turned to other gods for the protections and privileges they offer, particularly during the tribulation of the Reign of the Beast (see Rev 13:12-15) - the Reign of the Beast was a time of battle for men's souls. These idol worshippers are unable to make a case for their gods, but they try to encourage each other ("Be strong") and come together to seek their gods' protection from the Lord's judgement and wrath - Isaiah ridicules their efforts (as in 40:18-20).



Subunit C1: God's nation, Israel, is restored (41:8-10)

Chapter 41 8 “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, 9 I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. 10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

God turns from the heathen nations to address His own people. The people of Israel (Israel/Jacob is God's servant in this passage), will gather into the New Israel from the nations around the world to which they had been scattered (see also Isaiah 14:1-2, 49:22, etc.), and they will form a mighty nation under God.



Subunit D1: Those who come against Israel are destroyed (41:11-12)

Chapter 41 11 “All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. 12 Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all.

All who come against the New Israel will be defeated and all hostile peoples will be destroyed, for God will protect His holy nation (cf. Isaiah 54:15).



Pivot X: The Israelites are not to fear (41:13-16a)

Chapter 41 13 Surely I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. 14 Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob, little Israel, do not fear, for I myself will help you,” declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. 15 “See, I will make you into a threshing sledge, new and sharp, with many teeth. You will thresh the mountains and crush them, and reduce the hills to chaff. 16a You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up, and a gale will blow them away.

The downtrodden Israelites ("worm" - vs 14) need not fear, for with God's protection and support, they will become a powerful nation ("threshing sledge") that defeats all enemy nations ("mountains", "hills") and destroys them ("reduce them to chaff") (cf. Isaiah 29:5). This pivot explicitly states the primary message of this entire chiasmus.



Subunit D2: Those who come to Israel seeking righteousness are blessed (41:16b-17)

Chapter 41 16b But you will rejoice in the Lord and glory in the Holy One of Israel. 17 “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.

The people of other nations who consider themselves spiritually unworthy ("poor and needy", "thirsty"), those who earnestly seek righteousness ("water") (cf. John 4:14), will come to Israel for wisdom from God, and they will be blessed. ( By contrast, in the corresponding subunit D1, those who come against Israel will be destroyed. This passage is a good example of how an awareness of the chiastic structure aids in interpretation.)



Subunit C2: God's nation, Israel, is restored (41:18-20)

Chapter 41 18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. 19 I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set junipers in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, 20 so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.

The Israelites had been an impoverished nation as punishment for the waywardness of their forefathers; this passage poetically indicates that God will replace their destitution with abundance (the "desert will be turned into a forest"). It will be clear to all that this sudden prosperity is through God's blessings (cf. Isaiah 35:1-2).



Subunit B2: The idol gods are invited to present their case (41:21-24)

Chapter 41 21 “Present your case,” says the Lord. “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King. 22 “Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, 23 tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. 24 But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; whoever chooses you is detestable.

Accurate foreknowledge is a proof of divinity. Through the prophecies in His Word, that have been interpreted by the Messiah, God has laid out the history of mankind from the beginning and made predictions regarding the future, even to the very end of the world (in the book of Revelation, for example), predictions that have proven accurate to date. God challenges the pagan gods (fallen angels) to do the same, or to do anything at all to prove that they are equal to God. With the gods unable to demonstrate their power, God scorns them as worthless and their foolish, self-centred worshippers as detestable.



Subunit A2: The Lord proves His greatness through His Messiah (41:25-29)

Chapter 41 25 “I have stirred up one from the north, and he has come; one from the east who proclaims my name. He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay. 26 Who told of this from the beginning, so we could know, or beforehand, so we could say, ‘He was right’? No one told of this, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you.

To support His own case, God presents additional details on His predictions about the Messiah. Through several prophecies, God had foretold the coming of a world-conquering Messiah (Daniel 8 even predicts the year of his birth - see [3]), who will be from the east (Matt. 24:27, Isaiah 41:2), and will proclaim God and Christ. While the Messiah is from the east, he will also be, in some sense, "stirred up from the north" (it may be that the Messiah, like Christ, will be called from Egypt, and the "Egypt" of this Period, the Western Empire, is in the north - Matt. 2:15). Although the sacred writings of several other religions predict a coming messiah (for ex. the Mahdi of Islam or the Kalki Avatar of Hinduism), no other gods or their religious books had predicted his coming with anything like the accuracy in the Bible - in fact, most of these other prophecies were quite misleading.



Chapter 41 27 Previously I said to Zion, ‘Look, here they are!’ I gave to Jerusalem a messenger of good news.

This verse is designed to contrast with the silence from the gods in vs 26 and 28. Before the start of the Millennial Reign, God had revealed the true meaning of His prophecies (‘Look, here they are!’) through His Messiah. The Messiah, as the interpreter of prophesies (John 14:26, Daniel 9:24 in [2]), is the messenger of the good news of the Millennial Reign (see also Isaiah 52:7).



Chapter 41 28 I see that there is no one— no one among the gods to give counsel, no one to give answer when I ask them. 29 See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion.

The idol gods have no reply to this challenge from the Lord. God concludes His argument by stating that they are all false gods of no consequence - they have no powers comparable to those of God.



The passage below in 42:1-4 forms a chiasmus. The pivot, [40:2-3a], is regarding Christ in Period 1. The subunits, [42:1] and [42:3b-4], predict that the coming Messiah, acting for Christ, will establish justice on earth during the Millennial Reign.


Chapter 42 1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.

The coming Messiah, the servant in this passage (cf. Isaiah 52:13) (both Israel and the Messiah are called "servant" in this Period), will have divine assistance from God, Christ and the host of angels ("my Spirit" - cf. Isaiah 11:2) in his mission to rule the world with justice and righteousness (see Isaiah 11:1-9, 9:6-7...).



Chapter 42 2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. 3a A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

Christ could not freely preach in the streets of Jerusalem for fear of the Pharisees (for ex. see Matt. 21:23); in fact, he often told his followers not to tell others about him (Matt. 12:14-16). Christ mostly preached in smaller towns and in the countryside - his sermons were delivered on mountains rather than in the public square. Christ only made a public, triumphant march into the city when he was prepared to die (Matthew 21:1–11).

The Pharisees eventually captured him and crushed him on the cross (we interpret Christ to be the "bruised reed" and "smoldering wick") by divine purpose (see Isaiah 53:10), but he rose again ("will not snuff out") and will reign in glory.

Christ's ministry and death from Period 1 are mentioned here in Period 3 to indicate that it was his sacrifice at his First Coming that laid the foundation to his reign through the Messiah in Period 3 (Rev 5:8-14). ( As we have seen in our parse of Isaiah 52-53 [4], the work of Christ in Period 1 often appears in chiasmi regarding the Messiah in Period 3.) Although Matthew 12:16-21 seems to quote this entire chiasmus as applying to Christ at his First Coming, we propose that, based on the context in Matt. 12:14-16, only the pivot applies to Christ in Period 1.



Chapter 42 3b In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

The coming Messiah will faithfully and righteously enforce the just reign of Christ (Rev 19:11); he will not be discouraged despite early opposition and tribulation (Isaiah 53:11). People around the world will seek his counsel and heed his words, because he speaks for God and Christ (Isaiah 11:10).



5.2 Christian Judahites are Comforted After The First Jewish–Roman War (66AD–73AD) (Ch 40 vs 1-2, Ch 42 vs 9)

This Period is structured as a chiasmus. The pivot, [40:2b], declares that the wicked Judahites have been punished. The subunits, [40:1-2a] and [42:9], are addressed to the righteous Judahites.


Chapter 40 1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2a Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.

The Christian Judahites are comforted after the brutal First Jewish-Roman War. The majority of their fellow Judahites, those that did not follow Christ, had been killed or captured, their temple destroyed and their land devastated. But now God will reinstate His divine protection over the Judahites, as their time of punishment has been completed. (See our parse of the "70 Weeks of Daniel" for details on this Period [2].)



Chapter 40 2b Proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

The Judahites had been punished for their sins, far more than they deserved ("double" - cf. Rev. 18:6). In particular, they were punished for the sin of rejecting Christ and the New Covenant (Matt. 23:33-38).



Chapter 42 9 See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.”

With the destruction of Jerusalem, the Old Covenant was ended, and only the New Covenant from Christ was in force. Many prophecies in the Old Testament had been fulfilled by this time, and through the New Testament, God disclosed a new set of prophecies, particularly through the book of Revelation. Interestingly, there is a "prophetic silence" (only a few predictions) regarding the period between end of the Jewish-Roman War (73AD) and the birth of the coming Messiah (1968/69AD).




5.3 John the Baptist Announces the Start of Christ's Ministry (26AD) (Ch 40 vs 3, Ch 42 vs 5-8)

This Period is structured as a chiasmus. The pivot, [42:5-7], grandly predicts the coming of the New Covenant through Christ. In the subunits, [40:3] and [42:8], Christ brings the gospel to a wicked, idolatrous world ("the wilderness").


Chapter 40 3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

John the Baptist announced the coming of Christ and exhorted the Judahites to heed Christ's message (Luke 3:15-17, Luke 3:15-17). The earth is called a "wilderness/desert" here, because the "wilderness" represents the domain of the wicked (cf. Rev 17:3), and the world is controlled by Satan and his fallen angels. The Judahites are to prepare themselves by accepting Christ's message ("prepare the way"), because they will be "route" by which the gospel from God is spread to the world (cf. Isaiah 62:10). This verse is quoted as referring to John in several New Testament passages - Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4, John 1:23.



Chapter 42 5 This is what God the Lord says— the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: 6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,

The enumeration of God's attributes at the start if this proclamation enhances its solemnity and significance. God promises Christ, at the outset of his mission, that He will guide and protect him ("hold your hand", "keep you"), and that through Christ's ministry and death, God will establish a New Covenant for the whole world, both for the Judahites and the Gentiles (Hebrews 8:6, Romans 1:16).



Chapter 42 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

These three metaphors essentially have the same meaning. Jesus will enlighten ("open the eyes of") those who are ignorant ("blind", "in darkness") of the one true God (cf. Luke 2:32, Acts 26:18), and he will free those who are enslaved through false doctrines and idol-worship (cf. Isaiah 61:1). Christ will teach the true nature of God, how He is to be worshipped, and how He wants us to think and act (John 14:6).



Chapter 42 8 “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.

God sent Christ to preach the gospel of the New Covenant, so as to turn the people of the world away from the idol worship encouraged by Satan and his fallen angels (cf. Matthew 4:8-10).



Conclusion

With this chiastic reconstruction of the text, we have shown that Isaiah 40:1-42:9 contains prophecies on three distinct Periods. This prophecy is designed to comfort the Israelites in the time of tribulation before the Millennial Reign, with its promise that the great God of Israel will prevail. It also predicts a New Covenant through Christ that will pave the way to his Millennial Reign.



References

[1] A Definition of Cryptochiasmus
[2] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of "The 70 Weeks Of Daniel"
[3] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of Daniel 8
[4] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of Isaiah 52-53






* Modified parse 28 July 2023