Isaiah 40:12-31

Sunday Morning Bible Study

December 26, 1999


One of our sons is facing the famous 4th grade "Mission Project" over the holiday. Weíre going to need to be putting together a model of a typical California mission. Weíll be buying supplies, measuring things, cutting materials, gluing and painting. Weíre going to be making a creation, a work of art. Weíre much larger than the people that would go into our mission. What would seem a large distance to the miniature people is only a small distance to us. What would seem like a huge building stone to them will only be a sugar cube to us.

Keep this picture in mind as Isaiah goes on to paint a portrait of God in order to help us get a grasp on just how awesome and powerful our God is. God didnít just build a mission project, He created the heavens and the earth.

:12-17 An Awesome God

:12 Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,

The worldís oceans combined contain 321,253,800 cubic miles of water. Thatís a lot of water! Yet God, in creating the earth, only needed to measure out the water in handfuls.

:12 and meted out heaven with the span,

meted Ė measured

span Ė the distance between the thumb and the tip of the little finger, for us about nine inches.

We tend to use different units of measurement to measure certain things.

If I measure the height of a person, I use feet and inches.

If I measure distance on a trip, I measure in miles.

If Iím measuring distances within the Solar System, I might use Astronomical Units, which is 93 million miles, the distance of the sun from the earth.

When I start measuring things outside our Solar System, I might jump to light years. One light year is 5.88 trillion miles. The nearest star, Alpha Centauri, is 4.3 light years from the earth.

The galaxy that our Solar System is in, the Milky Way, is so huge that our little Solar System is just a speck that is 30,000 light years from the center of the galaxy.

In 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope focused on a small section of space and found 2,000 galaxies in 1/25 of one degree of space. They are now estimating that the universe contains 40 billion galaxies, with each galaxy containing somewhere between 50 and 100 billion stars.

The Hubble Telescope has found star clusters 11 million light years from earth. Quasars have been found 2 billion light years from earth.

The numbers just keep getting bigger and bigger.

God only needs to use His "span" to measure the heavens.

Does that mean that God has to take a long time to measure the heavens? No. It means that God has a big hand.

:12 and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure Ö

The picture is that of measuring out the earthís dirt in a little scoop or using a balance scale to measure out just the right amount of dirt.


How big are your problems?

I think itís good every once in a while to think on the vastness of the universe we live in. Itís good to remind ourselves that God measures the heavens with the just the span of His hand.

And then while weíre a billion light years away from earth looking back, do my problems seem all that terribly large? They may still seem large to me, but theyíre nothing to God.

If God can handle creating such a HUGE universe, shouldnít He be able to handle a problem like mine?

Someone has defined "circumstances" as "those nasty things you see when you get your eyes off of God." (Warren Wiersbe)


I mentioned this quote a month ago, but itís worth repeating Ė

Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, said, "Many Christians estimate difficulty in the light of their own resources, and thus they attempt very little, and they always fail. All giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on His power and His presence to be with them."

The real question isnít "how big are your problems?", the question to ask is, "How big is your God?"

:13 Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD

This is a favorite verse of the apostle Paul. He quotes it in both Romans 11:34 and 1Corinthians 2:16.

directed Ė takan Ė to regulate, measure, estimate, ponder, balance, make even, level, weigh, be equal, be weighed out, test, prove. This is the same word that is used in verse 12, translated as "meted out the heaven with the span".

The idea is "who can measure or ponder the Spirit of the Lord".

Sometimes we feel like we have to inform God about certain situations. We will even try to offer advice when we think that perhaps God needs a little help in figuring out how to handle our problem.

Have you ever had a five year old instruct you in how to assemble his Christmas toy? Especially when youíve assembled lots of toys like it before?

Thereís nothing wrong with pouring out your heart to the Lord and talking to Him about your problems. But donít think that youíre telling Him anything new. And though we ought to bring our requests and petitions to Him, keep in mind that Father always knows best. He always knows what the right thing is to do. Sometimes the key to getting our prayers answered is in learning to ask for the things He wants to do, not because Heís a spoiled child that needs to get His way, but because He wants us to come around to seeing things His way. And sometimes Heís going to wait until we learn to see from His perspective.

:15 are counted as the small dust of the balance

In the ancient marketplace, if the goods you were buying or selling were measured by weight, they would be weighed on a balance scale. The merchant would put the appropriate weight on one side of the scale and your merchandise on the other side. To prove that everything was honest, the merchant would usually blow on the side of the scale with the weight, supposedly blowing off the dust on the scale to show that you were going to make an exact transaction, no paying for dust! These great nations that surround us are nothing more to God than just this small, insignificant dust on a scale.

:16 And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn

Lebanon is the country to the north of Israel, and was famous for itís huge forests of cedar trees. If you were able to cut down all of Lebanonís forests and kill all of itís animals, you would not be able to present a sacrifice of a burnt offering that was actually worthy of God. We might use the "California Redwoods" to get the same idea.

:18-26 Comparing God to idols

:18 To whom then will ye liken God?

Isaiah compares God with the idols that people worship instead of Him.

:20 He that is so impoverished Ö chooseth a tree

You donít have to be wealthy to have an idol. We all can find ways of doing anything other than trusting God.

:22 It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth

circle Ė you could legitimately translate this, "above the globe" (super sphaerum) as some of the ancient translations of this passage have it (John Gill). There is a hint of the world being round here. Be careful that you donít swallow what some science teachers say, in saying that the Bible taught the world was flat. Not so.

Some of the ancients civilizations had amazing ideas about the earth. Some thought that a giant named Atlas was holding up the earth. Others thought that elephants held it in place. The Bible says,

Job 26:7 He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, [and] hangeth the earth upon nothing.

:23 That bringeth the princes to nothing

All the great men of the earth. Theyíre nothing without God.

:24 he shall also blow upon them, and they shall wither

Those who rule nations can have a sense of authority and power about them. But all God needs to do is blow on them and theyíre gone.

:26 he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might

When we think of the billions upon billions of stars we get dazzled. The astronomers can only put numbers to them now. But God calls them all by name.

:26 for that he is strong in power; not one faileth.

One of the Jewish commentaries of this passage (The Targum) translates this as, "because of the multitude of strength, and the power of might, not one is hindered from its order". It seems that this speaks of the natural laws of the universe by which all creation works.

:25 To whom then will ye liken me,


Who are you going to turn to for help?

Who are you looking to bail you out of your problems? Who or what do you run to when youíre in trouble?

We may not turn to little statues with bulging eyes and pray to them, but we have our other little things that we run to for help other than God.

Iím not talking about the practical kinds of things that God may be asking you to do in your life.

If youíre having financial difficulties, and youíre not working, a common thing that youíre going to hear God asking you to do is to get a job. Some folks get the idea that trusting God means that you donít work and you just pray all day. Not so. Getting a job is doing it Godís way. Praying and not working is laziness.

Iím talking about the kinds of things we do to either run away from our problems, or avoid going to God and seeing what He thinks ought to happen.

Our escapes Ė

Things that promote fantasy or escapism. Drugs, sex, alcohol. Living at the movies or in front of the TV set. Being involved in sports not just for the fun of it, but because it helps you escape thinking about your problems. Soap operas, romance novels, not for simple entertainment, but in order to run from your problems.

Our advisors Ė

Sometimes weíre pretty picky on who weíre going to go to for advice. If Iím really mad at my spouse, and Iíd like to entertain the idea of divorce, Iíll go to my non-Christian friends who have all been through divorces, and Iíll ask them for advice on my marriage.

There are a lot of different philosophies out in the world that are begging for people to listen to them. But Iíve got a question for you if youíre going to take the time to listen to some of these secular philosophies Ė

Where is their source of wisdom?

Is this just an idea that some guy has cooked up? Is this just one guyís idea of how to find happiness? Itís pretty scary to think that youíre trusting your life to another faulty, frail, finite human like yourself, when you could be trusting your life into the hands of the Almighty, Infinite Creator.

Even scarier still, is this some kind of philosophy that when you really get down to it, comes from the mouth of demons? There are a lot of philosophies today that seem to have a veneer of religion about them. Spirituality is "in" today. Yet when you get down to it, the picture they paint of God is not the picture of God that the Bible paints. And the Bible contains Godís self-portrait. Donít listen to a person who sounds spiritual just because they sound "spiritual". Be sure itís really God. You may be left out in the cold.


It is said, "While there's life, there's hope." This seems to describe the case of the six Navy pilots who left their aircraft carrier on a scouting mission during World War II, searching the seas for enemy submarines believed operating in the area. When they tried to return, they could not find their ship. It seems that while they were gone, the captain had ordered a war-imposed blackout of all lights on the ship. Over and over the frantic pilots radioed, asking for just one light so they could see to land. The pilots were then told of the blackout and that it could not be lifted even for them. After several appeals and denials of their requests, the ship's radio operator finally turned the switch to break radio contact. Rather than risk the lives of thousands on the ship, the pilots were forced to ditch in the cold Atlantic and from there into eternity. The pilots left the ship thinking they would be able to return, but found that this was misplaced hope. In what are you placing your hope?

-- On This Day, by Dr. Carl D. Windsor (Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville 1989) p.95

:27-31 God cares for me

:27 O Jacob ÖMy way is hid from the LORD

O Jacob Ė though Isaiah is speaking to the Jews, I think itís a pretty valid thing to insert your own name here. "O Richard", "O Debby", "O Dave"


You are important to God.

Thereís one thing that can happen even if we have our theology straight and have an accurate understanding of how great God is. The problem is that we can then look to our own circumstances and wonder why we arenít seeing some kind of incredible display of power or miraculous deliverance in our life.

We get to feeling like God has somehow forgotten us.

He knows more than just the names of the stars. He knows your name as well.

(John 10:3 KJV) Öthe sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by nameÖ

Donít think that youíre so small and insignificant that God is going to lose track of you in all this mess.

Though God is able to work on a BIG scale, He is also very intimately acquainted with the smallest details of our life.

Jesus said,

(Mat 10:29-31 NLT) Not even a sparrow, worth only half a penny, can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. {30} And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. {31} So don't be afraid; you are more valuable to him than a whole flock of sparrows.

:29 He giveth power to the faint

Not only does God not get "faint", but He gives power to those who are "faint".

:30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary

Have you been around any little ones this Christmas? Itís not uncommon for one of us "old folks" to be saying, "I wish I had a tenth of the energy that little one has!" Yet even the little ones get tired and crash.

:31 But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength

wait Ė qavah Ė wait, hope, expect; to look eagerly for; to lie in wait for; linger for

renew Ė chalaph Ė to pass on or away; to change, substitute, alter, change for better, renew. Itís the idea of changing clothes, taking off the old stuff and putting on new ones. Itís taking our weakness and exchanging it for Godís strength.

:31 they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.

mount up Ė ` alah Ė to go up, ascend, climb

There are three things mentioned here. And they go from the great to the ordinary. Itís a wonderful thing to fly like an eagle, but it can be down right ordinary to just walk.

William Carey, the father of modern missions wrote, "I can plod. That is my only genius. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything."


John Claypool, when he was the preacher of the Crescent Hill Baptist Church here in town, had a little daughter who suffered with leukemia. When she went into remission, everybody thought maybe God had healed her. On an Easter Sunday morning she went into a terrible recurrence. In his book, Tracks of a Fellow Struggler, Claypool relates how for two weeks his daughter was wracked with pain, her eyes swollen shut. She asked him, "Daddy, did you talk to God about my leukemia?"

He said, "Yes, dear, weíve been praying for you."

She asked, "Did you ask him how long the leukemia would last? What did God say?"

What do you say to your daughter when you canít help her, and the heavens are silent? Emotionally and spiritually he was exhausted. A few hours later, she died. The following Sunday morning, John Claypool got into the pulpit to preach. It was powerful. He preached on Isaiah 40:31 Ö

Dr. Claypool said something to the effect, "There are three stages of life. Sometimes we mount up with wings as an eagle and fly. Weíre on top of the world. Sometimes we run, and we donít grow weary. We just go through the routine. Sometimes itís all we can do to walk and not faint, and I need your prayers and your encouragement." At the moment John Claypool was at his lowest, he preached probably his most influential sermon. Perhaps his greatest contribution came at his darkest hour. He could have said like Paul, "For when I am weak, then I am strong."

-- R. L. Russell, "Triumphing over Trials," Preaching Today, Tape No. 119.