OT Encounters: Isaiah 40:1-11, A Voice Cries

By Jeff Pulse

The Old Testament text for this Sunday, December 10, 2017, is from the book of the prophet Isaiah. The text is Isaiah 40:1-11, which constitutes the beginning of an entirely new section of the prophet’s writings. This section encompasses chapters 40-55 of Isaiah, a section most known for the Suffering Servant prophecies. Most scholars today would agree with the unity of Isaiah, and they would agree that this section speaks to the Babylonian exile. However, conservative Lutherans would also say that these chapters are also eschatological and point to the salvation which will be purchased by the “Suffering Servant” at His first coming and completed at His second Advent. As R. Lessing writes, “Within the book of Isaiah, chapters 40-55 present prophetic instruction concerning the realization of Yahweh’s worldwide plan of salvation. He has heard the cry of His people, and these chapters intend to get them ready for the new exodus so they can come home to Zion.”

It is noteworthy in these 11 verses to pay attention to all the voices and the speaking. There are 17 references to speech in these verses, and, of course, the most often spoken of is that of the voice in 40:3 which the Gospel writers associate with John the Baptist as he prepares the way of the LORD. Also important is 40:9, where we find the first passage in the Old Testament that can be translated as “Good News” or “Gospel.” Once again, I would like to give credit to R. Lessing and his work in the Concordia Commentary on Isaiah 40-55.

40:1 nachamu nachamu—root: nacham—piel imperative: “to comfort; console.”

The use of the double imperatives indicates the beginning of this large section. The same double imperative start is employed at the beginning of the entire book, as well as the beginning of the third major section in chapter 56. The words uttered here by God are performative. They do what they say: They provide comfort.

40:2 daberu al-lev—“to speak to the heart/upon the heart”

        kiphlayim—root: kephel—The dual form can be translated as “double the amount; double”

40:3 yashru—root: yashar—piel: “to make smooth; straight”

        mesilah—“raised highway; track”

Note that the Hebrew divides the verse differently than the Greek LXX; Hebrew: “A voice is calling, “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the LORD”; LXX: A voice is calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the LORD”

40:4 gey (from gaye)—“valley” noun in construct form.

        yishpalu—root: shaphal “to be low; become low”

Lessing points out that the straightening of the landscape implies a straightening of crooked people. It has also been noted that this preparation is similar to what took place before the visit of a dignitary such as the king.

40:5 yachda—“at the same time; all together”

This seeing is as a revelation of God through His Servant.

40:6 Note ONE imperative as compared to TWO in verse one. The use of chesed in relation to man as opposed to God may recommend the translation “beauty” or others hold to “covenantal love”

40:7 yavesh—“to wither”

        navel—“to wither; fade”

        nashvah—root: nashab—“to blow”

40:8 davar—The singular form shows this to be “God’s (divine) Word,” not “words of God”

40:9 mevasereth—root: basar—piel participle: “herald good news; proclaim gospel tidings”

Note the four imperatives in this verse. They suggest an urgency.

40:11 See the “Good Shepherd” language used here.

This portion of Isaiah brings forth some very expressive Gospel proclamation. Let it not be said that the Old Testament focuses on judgment more than on grace and mercy!!

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