Strength to the Weary

A Study on Isaiah 40

Strength to the Weary

Isaiah 40 from v. 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?
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.

He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
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.

“To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?”
says the Holy One.
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
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.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
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.

In verses 18-20, the Lord had ‘majored’ on the worthlessness of the idols that the people bowed down to – something that we need setting free from in our hearts just as much as anyone did in ancient Babylonia. But here we find God declaring to His exiled people His authorship and leadership of creation; how He orders the star-dance of the constellations – each one upheld by His love and His power. It is He who causes the Northern Lights to appear in such splendour over our skies in Shetland – and the glory of the Lord is being revealed again in our generation. May we have eyes to see and understand (v5)

In verse 27, the prophet moves from the majestic macro vision of God to address the despondency His people were feeling. Weighed down by repeated setbacks, the people had effectively come to the conclusion that God was either too tired or too forgetful to do anything to help them. They probably wouldn’t have put it quite like that, but their heart weariness was unmistakable. (cf Psalm 38:5-22).

‘Do you not know . . . ?’ God asks, as pointedly as Jesus rebuked the disciples when they too were found wanting in faith. What is He chiding His people for? Failing to remember that He is sovereign over all that happens. (Compare v. 21 with Matthew 8:26 or Mark 16:14).

I love the way the Yahweh’s complete and seemingly easy sovereignty over affairs on Earth shines through in these latter chapters of Isaiah. Derek Kidner helpfully reminds us that ‘the wrong inference from God’s transcendence is that He is too great to care. The right one is that He is too great to fail.’

The Lord urges us through Isaiah that instead of settling for the miseries of unbelief, we can adopt a completely different outlook on life. It may not be an easy attitude to maintain when the weight of grossly intimidating people and circumstances presses in on us, but a living understanding of His sovereignty will help us in the midst of our troubles to wait, to hope, to trust and to renew our strength in Him.’ (v31). Yes the people have been through suffering and exile, but God is willing to bring them double comfort for all the trials they have endured. (vv 1-2); He is not against them, any more than He is against us, because of our sins and shortcomings. His reassurance is matched only by His willingness to help – but His people must be prepared to trust Him to find the ways to fulfil His promises.

The people, however, were more in a frame of mind to ‘complain’ than to trust. (v27) (The use of the present tense suggests they were doing this repeatedly). The Greek word for ‘grumble’ is gongoozmo – an alarmingly onomatopoeic word that sums up their attitude perfectly. I know exactly where they were coming from – but where does our gongoozmoing get us?

So ‘disregarded’ do the hearers feel that they have even stopped praying for God to get on the case. They feel flattened and dejected.

Why the reference to Jacob in verse 27? After all, that is a name inextricably associated with an arch deceiver. But the Lord knew that in his heart of hearts, Jacob really did feel after Him. When he had served his long years of servitude, the Lord came to him again and told him to return to the Land of Promise. Jacob. The man who wrestled with God ended up with a physical limp but a new name: ‘Israel’ – ‘he who strives with God.’ With the new name came fresh strength to match the calling.

Since God is untiring in His longing to do us good, why do we waste so much time and energy doubting Him? The same God who upholds the stars directs and supports His people. Therefore we must prepare for action.

The Hebrew word ‘pannu’ (prepare, v.3) hints that God is removing obstacles on our behalf. Verse 4 goes even further. All the emphasis is on God taking the initiative – in power but with great tenderness (vv.10-11). God is preparing good things for us. Therefore, even though we often feel weary, we mustn’t limit Him through our impatience and low level of faith.

Who has understood the mind of the Lord,
or instructed Him as His counselor? (v13)

I was surprised to discover that the word translated ‘mind’ is none other than ruach: the breath, wind or Spirit of God. God’s mind is always moved by the flow of the Holy Spirit. It has been so from Genesis 1:2 onwards. Come, Ruach of God, blow through our lives, our institutions and our churches!

Verse 28 encourages us to ‘know’ and to ‘hear’. To ‘know’ is an appeal to our minds: to understand and trust in the nature of God, even if we are finding it hard to feel His presence (Is. 50:10). To ‘hear’ is an appeal to our senses: God reveals Himself (and His will) to us in so many ways apart from the purely audible.

Perhaps some of us need to get back to the place we have experienced in the past, when we knew very well that ‘God never takes us anywhere where His grace cannot reach us or His power cannot work.’ The cloud of witnesses encourages us to push on to fulfill the purposes He has in mind for us.

The people are so dispirited, however, that they question even His willingness to work on their behalf. The weariness we see in verse 29 points to a near complete collapse in the face of life’s pressures. ‘Tired’ and ‘weary’ in verses 29 and 30 are the same word in Hebrew; it means ‘being overcome by circumstances.’ We have all known that time when we feel unable to cope internally, and unbearably oppressed by external pressures.

Who is it who has grown weary? Not just those who feel old and ‘past it’, but even the flower of the generation who had survived the Babylonian exile. May God give to each one of us who feels profoundly tired and weary fresh strength to our bones and hope to our souls.

The prophet declares that ‘those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.’ (40:31) The word ‘hope’ contains both the concept of waiting (patience) and resting (trusting). This is better than a visit to the gym, helpful though that may be: this is a supernatural strength that the unfailing, unfainting Lord of the Ages imparts directly to bruised ands battered souls. It is He who enables us to withstand pressures we could never have envisaged, and can only endure by His grace.

Father, it is such a comfort to know that You know and understand. Resurrection lies ahead, when You will turn all our mourning into dancing. (cf Ps. 138:7-8) Therefore we come to the Fountain Head to give You the love of our hearts, and to be renewed in strength and vision. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power,
and His arm rules for Him.
See, His reward is with Him,
and His recompense accompanies Him
(v. 10)