Isaiah 40 is rich with imagery, promises, and soaring truths about God. If you’ve spent time worshiping with Christians, you’ve probably sung a hymn or song which draws on this chapter.
And though we’ve sung from Isaiah 40, I suspect far fewer of us have studied it or dug deeply into the application of this passage. After all, application is hard—we’re usually satisfied if we can find one token application before we move on to the nachos.
Not today, my friends. We’re going deep with application today.
The Main Point
The main point1 of Isaiah 40 can be stated succinctly.
Take comfort: the incomparable God will come and care for his people.
Preparing for Application
When beginning to apply a passage, remember that there are two directions of application (inward and outward). We are confronted with these questions: How do I need to change? How can I influence others to change?
There are also three spheres of application: the head, the heart, and the hands. The author’s main point in a Bible passage should affect what I think/believe, what I desire, and what I do (respectively).
Application Questions for Isaiah 40
Instead of providing my own application of Isaiah 40, I’ve written questions to guide your application of the passage. I worked hard to get forty questions, just to show that the Bible reaches far deeper into our lives than we usually allow.
Head Application, Inward
- Do you believe that God is the creator of everything (Is 40:12, 22)? Do you believe that God is the ruler over the nations (Is 40:15–17)? Do you believe that God directs and names the stars in the sky (Is 40:26)?
- When are you likely to forget that God is the creator and ruler?
- How can you remind yourself that God is the creator and ruler?
- Do you believe that God is wise (Is 40:14)? Do you believe that God is unique, unlike any idol (Is 40:18–20)? Do you believe that God is able to strengthen the weak (Is 40:29–31) and protect the vulnerable (Is 40:11)?
- When are you likely to forget that God is wise and unique, the source of protection and strength?
- How can you remind yourself that God is wise and unique, the source of protection and strength?
- Do you believe that God wants comfort for (and not vengeance upon) his people?
- Do you believe that God is devoted to his people? When are you likely to forget this? Why?
Heart Application, Inward
- In times of distress or uncertainty, what brings you comfort? Do you find comfort in hearing truth about God?
- What do you rely on for strength or energy? Do you depend on caffeine, sleep, “comfort food,” or something else?
- Do you know the burden of exhaustion and discouragement shouldered by God’s people? Do you want God to comfort his people?
- Do you want to be comforted by God, or would you prefer to find comfort in something (or someone) else?
- Do you rejoice that God has come to be near/with you in the person of Jesus? What specifically about Jesus’s presence brings you joy?
- Do you rejoice that God is eager to give you His strength? What difference does God’s provision of his strength make in your life?
- Do you fear the nations? How can you pray so that you will not fear them?
- Do you fear the government? How can you pray so that you will not fear it?
Hands Application, Inward
- With what actions do you seek comfort? When do you desire comfort? How can you train yourself to seek Biblical comfort?
- How can you turn God’s creation into reminders about God’s character for yourself? (Witness the way Isaiah uses these images to teach about God: a shepherd with lambs (Is 40:11), stars (Is 40:26), nations (Is 40:15–17), grass and flowers (Is 40:6–8), scales and measurements (Is 40:12), grasshoppers (Is 40:22), craftsmen (Is 40:19–20), eagles (Is 40:31), youth (Is 40:30).)
- When do you find yourself needing strength? How can you seek/receive the strength that God promises?
- How can you seek God’s strength through his word?
- How can you seek God’s strength through worshiping him?
- How can you seek God’s strength through fellowship with his people?
- How can you seek strength from God through the means he provides (sleep, recreation, etc.) and still acknowledge God as the source?
- What does it look like for you to “wait for the Lord” (Is 40:31)? In what circumstances is it difficult for you to wait for the Lord? Why?
- How will the truths from this passage affect the way you celebrate Advent/Christmas this year?
Head Application, Outward
- What are some false/inadequate comforts you have given to other people? How can you replace these imitations with Biblical comfort?
- When do you have opportunities to remind other Christians what God is like? How can you plan to be ready in these situations?
- What questions can you ask your neighbors or friends to lead to a discussion about God?
- What questions can you ask your children to lead to a discussion about God?
Heart Application, Outward
- Do you desire that all of God’s children know his comfort? Are there some you would rather not be comforted?
- How can we help each other discover what brings us comfort?
- How can we help each other discover where we turn for strength?
- How will you build friendships so that these are natural/welcome topics of conversation?
- Are you hesitant to reveal your own misdirected comfort-seeking to others? If Jesus has died for you and welcomed you into God’s family, why are you hesitant?
Hands Application, Outward
- How can you extend God’s shepherdly comfort to his flock?
- Identify at least two people within your sphere of concern who are especially vulnerable. How can you care for them?
- How can you encourage others to seek God for strength?
- How could you involve others in a Christmas celebration that focuses on God’s comfort and care for his people in Jesus?
- How can you use creation to discuss God with your children?
- How can you use creation to discuss God with your neighbors?
Back to Jesus
How do these application questions specifically remember Jesus? I haven’t made that explicit, but consider this. In the beginning of the chapter (Is 40:2), when God calls for comfort for his people, the basis of the message is this: “her warfare has ended, her iniquity has been removed, she has received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” The foundation of the message is reconciliation with God, initiated by God. Jesus has come near and provided comfort and care for us; therefore, we can exhort ourselves and others to seek out our merciful God.
- Here’s a brief outline of the passage to support this claim. (But you should study the passage yourself to check my work!) The theme of comfort is introduced in Is 40:1, and the three “voices” that respond to this command introduce their own sections in Is 40:3, Is 40:6, and Is 40:9. Isaiah discusses God’s unmatched actions and abilities in Is 40:12-14 (his creation and wisdom), Is 40:15-17 (the nations are insignificant before God), Is 40:18-20 (God is unlike any human idol), Is 40:21-24 (God dwells in the heavens and brings earth’s rulers to nothing), and Is 40:25-26 (the Holy One directs the stars by his power). We also read of God’s coming to his people in both Is 40:3-5 and Is 40:9-11, and his concern for his people is evident in Is 40:9-11 (his ruling arm provides tender care, especially for the most vulnerable) and Is 40:27-31 (God gives his own strength to his people).