By Jeff Pulse –
Our text for Epiphany 5, February 3, 2018, is from the book of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. The text is Isaiah 40:21-31 and is part of the larger narrative of chapter 40 which first addresses the question of God, “Will you save us?” (40:1-11) and then approaches the question, “Can you save us?” (40:11-31). Of course, as we should expect from Isaiah, the answer is “Yes!” He does this by showing/discussing the LORD’s power. R. Lessing outlines this second portion as follows: 12-17: Yahweh’s transcendence over the nations; 18-20: Yahweh’s transcendence over idols;…now, our text for today, 21-24: Yahweh’s transcendence over rulers; 25-26: Yahweh is the transcendent Creator; 27-31: Yahweh wields His transcendent power for the sake of His people.
These words from Isaiah come back to the people of Israel when they are in exile in Babylon and provide great comfort. Even though it may appear otherwise, the LORD has the power over all things, heaven and earth, and He has/will use that power to save His people. The LORD will use His power to bring His people home to the promised land of Israel. In fact, as we then move into chapter 41 and beyond, we hear of His saving power and the One who He will send to save the people, the suffering Servant. Interesting to note, Isaiah also tells of another anointed one who will be His instrument in returning the people from exile—his name is Cyrus the Great (ch. 45). So great is the power of the LORD that He can and does use foreign and pagan rulers to accomplish His purpose. None can stand up to or overcome the transcendence of Yahweh.
Lessing’s commentary on Isaiah 40-55 in the Concordia Commentary Series has proved quite helpful in the preparation of this text.
40:21 Isaiah begins this verse with 4 interrogatives: Do you not know…Do you not hear…Has it not been declared…have you not understood… The assumption is that the people being addressed have faith and must answer “YES” to the questions even as they struggle with their current issues. Note the words yadah “to know” and shama “to hear”: relationship/covenantal words addressed to believers.
40:22 hayoshev—root: yashav Participle used as noun: “he who sits/dwells”
doq—A rare word (hapax legomenon) with uncertain meaning but used with “matach” (to spread out) most likely means “curtain; thin veil”
40:23 rozniym—root: razan Participle used as noun meaning “ruler; dignitary”
40:24 aph bal—3X “hardly; scarcely”
nitau—root: nata—niphil “to be transplanted; be planted”
zorau—root: zara—pual “to be sown”
shoresh—root: sharash—poel “to take root”
wayivashu—root: yabash “to wither”
40:25 thdameyuni—root: damah—piel “to compare; to liken”
weeshweh—root: shuh “to be/become the same; to be like”
Note: Who is like the LORD? None can compare and none should be even considered in the same category.
40:26 nedar—root: adar—niphil “to be missing; to be lacking”
As Lessing notes, we have both the creating (originating) and sustaining (continuing) work of the LORD referenced here.
40:27 nisterah—root: satar—niphil “to be hidden; conceled”
40:28 We see a partial repetition of verse 21 here.
40:29 layaeph—“weary; faint”
40:30 weyiaphu—root: yaaph “to grow weary; be weary”
wuvachuriym—“young man…as in one who is fully grown but not yet married and vigorous.
kashol—root: kashal “to stumble; stagger”
40:31 weqoye—root: qoh—qal “to hope; await in anticipation; wait”
yachaliyphu—root: chalaph—hiphil “to renew; change; cause to succeed”
yaalu—root: alah—qal or hiphil: Qal: “they will rise up by means of…” Hiphil: “they will lift up their…”
Note the contrast set up between verse 31 and verse 30. The difference is the LORD!