Context: The fortieth chapter of Isaiah is justly considered one of the finest passages in Scripture. Isaiah was both an inspired prophet and a great poet; this chapter is a song of joy resulting from a vision in which he has glimpsed the deliverance of his people. Rejoicing in the greatness of God, he tells his audience that their long suffering is destined to end; and the picture he paints is one of spiritual triumph. Many of these verses were set to music by Handel and incorporated into Messiah; the result is a remarkable fusion of genius, in which sublime poetry is enhanced by music of great power and majesty. Chapter 40 forms a prelude to Isaiah's later prophecies, particularly those in chapters 42, 49, 50, 52, and 53, which foretell the coming of the Messiah; Isaiah refers to this figure as the Servant. The early fathers of the Christian Church felt certain, reading these lines, that Isaiah had prophesied the coming of Christ. Later scholars puzzled over the poet's words and considered a number of Jewish leaders, contemporary with Isaiah, who might have fitted the role of deliverer. Later opinion has concluded, however, that a Messiah was precisely what Isaiah had in mind. He begins by saying that the Lord has at last pardoned Israel and that all things shall be made right, and that all men shall see the glory of the Lord. All flesh comes from grass, and men wither away as the grass does, but the word of God endures forever. Men will behold God on earth; and he will rule them, caring for his flock as a shepherd does. Isaiah then emphasizes the greatness of the Lord, beside which the works of man are nothing.
O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counselor hath taught him?With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering.