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Isaiah 40:12-31

Context
The Lord is Incomparable

40:12 Who has measured out the waters 1  in the hollow of his hand,

or carefully 2  measured the sky, 3 

or carefully weighed 4  the soil of the earth,

or weighed the mountains in a balance,

or the hills on scales? 5 

40:13 Who comprehends 6  the mind 7  of the Lord,

or gives him instruction as his counselor? 8 

40:14 From whom does he receive directions? 9 

Who 10  teaches him the correct way to do things, 11 

or imparts knowledge to him,

or instructs him in skillful design? 12 

40:15 Look, the nations are like a drop in a bucket;

they are regarded as dust on the scales.

He lifts 13  the coastlands 14  as if they were dust.

40:16 Not even Lebanon could supply enough firewood for a sacrifice; 15 

its wild animals would not provide enough burnt offerings. 16 

40:17 All the nations are insignificant before him;

they are regarded as absolutely nothing. 17 

40:18 To whom can you compare God?

To what image can you liken him?

40:19 A craftsman casts 18  an idol;

a metalsmith overlays it with gold

and forges silver chains for it.

40:20 To make a contribution one selects wood that will not rot; 19 

he then seeks a skilled craftsman

to make 20  an idol that will not fall over.

40:21 Do you not know?

Do you not hear?

Has it not been told to you since the very beginning?

Have you not understood from the time the earth’s foundations were made?

40:22 He is the one who sits on the earth’s horizon; 21 

its inhabitants are like grasshoppers before him. 22 

He is the one who stretches out the sky like a thin curtain, 23 

and spreads it out 24  like a pitched tent. 25 

40:23 He is the one who reduces rulers to nothing;

he makes the earth’s leaders insignificant.

40:24 Indeed, they are barely planted;

yes, they are barely sown;

yes, they barely take root in the earth,

and then he blows on them, causing them to dry up,

and the wind carries them away like straw.

40:25 “To whom can you compare me? Whom do I resemble?”

says the Holy One. 26 

40:26 Look up at the sky! 27 

Who created all these heavenly lights? 28 

He is the one who leads out their ranks; 29 

he calls them all by name.

Because of his absolute power and awesome strength,

not one of them is missing.

40:27 Why do you say, Jacob,

Why do you say, Israel,

“The Lord is not aware of what is happening to me, 30 

My God is not concerned with my vindication”? 31 

40:28 Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The Lord is an eternal God,

the creator of the whole earth. 32 

He does not get tired or weary;

there is no limit to his wisdom. 33 

40:29 He gives strength to those who are tired;

to the ones who lack power, he gives renewed energy.

40:30 Even youths get tired and weary;

even strong young men clumsily stumble. 34 

40:31 But those who wait for the Lord’s help 35  find renewed strength;

they rise up as if they had eagles’ wings, 36 

they run without growing weary,

they walk without getting tired.

1 tn The Qumran scroll 1QIsaa has מי ים (“waters of the sea”), a reading followed by NAB.

2 tn Heb “with a span.” A “span” was the distance between the ends of the thumb and the little finger of the spread hand” (BDB 285 s.v. זֶרֶת).

3 tn Or “the heavens.” The Hebrew term שָׁמַיִם (shamayim) may be translated “heavens” or “sky” depending on the context.

4 tn Heb “or weighed by a third part [of a measure].”

5 sn The implied answer to the rhetorical questions of v. 12 is “no one but the Lord. The Lord, and no other, created the world. Like a merchant weighing out silver or commodities on a scale, the Lord established the various components of the physical universe in precise proportions.

6 tn Perhaps the verb is used metonymically here in the sense of “advises” (note the following line).

7 tn In this context רוּחַ (ruakh) likely refers to the Lord’s “mind,” or mental faculties, rather than his personal Spirit (see BDB 925 s.v.).

8 tn Heb “or [as] the man of his counsel causes him to know?”

9 tn Heb “With whom did he consult, so that he gave discernment to him?”

10 tn Heb “and taught him.” The vav (ו) consecutive with prefixed verbal form continues the previous line. The translation employs an interrogative pronoun for stylistic reasons.

11 tn The phrase אֹרַח מִשְׁפָּט (’orakh mishpat) could be translated “path of justice” (so NASB, NRSV), but in this context, where creative ability and skill is in view, the phrase is better understood in the sense of “the way that is proper or fitting” (see BDB 1049 s.v. מִשְׁפָּט 6); cf. NIV, NCV “the right way.”

12 tn Heb “or the way of understanding causes him to know?”

sn The implied answer to the rhetorical questions in vv. 13-14 is, “No one.” In contrast to Marduk, the creator-god of Mesopotamian myths who receives help from the god of wisdom, the Lord neither needs nor receives any such advice or help. See R. Whybray, Heavenly Counsellor (SOTSMS), 64-77.

13 tn Or “weighs” (NIV); NLT “picks up.”

14 tn Or “islands” (NASB, NIV, NLT).

15 tn The words “for a sacrifice” are supplied in the translation for clarification.

16 sn The point is that not even the Lebanon forest could supply enough wood and animals for an adequate sacrifice to the Lord.

17 tn Heb “[as derived] from nothing and unformed.”

18 tn Heb “pours out”; KJV “melteth.”

19 tn The first two words of the verse (הַמְסֻכָּן תְּרוּמָה, hamsukan tÿrumah) are problematic. Some take מְסֻכָּן as an otherwise unattested Pual participle from סָכַן (sakhan, “be poor”) and translate “the one who is impoverished.” תְּרוּמָה (tÿrumah, “contribution”) can then be taken as an adverbial accusative, “with respect to a contribution,” and the entire line translated, “the one who is too impoverished for such a contribution [i.e., the metal idol of v. 19?] selects wood that will not rot.” However, מְסֻכָּן is probably the name of a tree used in idol manufacturing (cognate with Akkadian musukkanu, cf. H. R. Cohen, Biblical Hapax Legomena [SBLDS], 133). מְסֻכָּן may be a scribal interpretive addition attempting to specify עֵץ (’ets) or עֵץ may be a scribal attempt to categorize מְסֻכָּן. How an idol constitutes a תְּרוּמָה (“contribution”) is not entirely clear.

20 tn Or “set up” (ASV, NAB, NIV, NRSV); KJV, NASB “to prepare.”

21 tn Heb “the circle of the earth” (so KJV, NIV, NRSV, NLT).

22 tn The words “before him” are supplied in the translation for clarification.

23 tn The otherwise unattested noun דֹּק (doq), translated here “thin curtain,” is apparently derived from the verbal root דקק (“crush”) from which is derived the adjective דַּק (daq, “thin”; see HALOT 229 s.v. דקק). The nuance “curtain” is implied from the parallelism (see “tent” in the next line).

24 tn The meaning of the otherwise unattested verb מָתַח (matakh, “spread out”) is determined from the parallelism (note the corresponding verb “stretch out” in the previous line) and supported by later Hebrew and Aramaic cognates. See HALOT 654 s.v. *מתה.

25 tn Heb “like a tent [in which] to live”; NAB, NASB “like a tent to dwell (live NIV, NRSV) in.”

26 sn See the note on the phrase “the Holy One of Israel” in 1:4.

27 tn Heb “Lift on high your eyes and see.”

28 tn The words “heavenly lights” are supplied in the translation for clarification. See the following lines.

29 tn Heb “the one who brings out by number their host.” The stars are here likened to a huge army that the Lord leads out. Perhaps the next line pictures God calling roll. If so, the final line may be indicating that none of them dares “go AWOL.” (“AWOL” is a military acronym for “absent without leave.”)

30 tn Heb “my way is hidden from the Lord” (so NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV).

31 tn Heb “and from my God my justice passes away”; NRSV “my right is disregarded by my God.”

32 tn Heb “the ends of the earth,” but this is a merism, where the earth’s extremities stand for its entirety, i.e., the extremities and everything in between them.

33 sn Exiled Israel’s complaint (v. 27) implies that God might be limited in some way. Perhaps he, like so many of the pagan gods, has died. Or perhaps his jurisdiction is limited to Judah and does not include Babylon. Maybe he is unable to devise an adequate plan to rescue his people, or is unable to execute it. But v. 28 affirms that he is not limited temporally or spatially nor is his power and wisdom restricted in any way. He can and will deliver his people, if they respond in hopeful faith (v. 31a).

34 tn Heb “stumbling they stumble.” The verbal idea is emphasized by the infinitive absolute.

35 tn The words “for the Lord’s help” are supplied in the translation for clarification.

36 tn Heb “they rise up [on] wings like eagles” (TEV similar).



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