God’s Unsurpassing Glory
Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and measured out heaven with the span, and measured 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 justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed to him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are like a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance; behold, he taketh up the coasts as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, not its beasts sufficient for a burnt offering. All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.
To promise is one thing. To do what is promised is quite another thing. It would be wonderful if men could plan great things and accomplish them. But for most men, their word of promise exceeds their reality of accomplishment. A presidential candidate promises certain reforms if elected to office. A chief executive officer promises increased profits to his board of directors. A husband promises his wife he will cut the lawn next Saturday. All are sincere and well-intended promises. But many times the promises are not kept. The problem may be lack of power, lack of wisdom, or lack of sovereignty. The mower breaks and the lawn can’t be cut – lack of power. The economy slows and profits are down – lack of wisdom. Congress vetoes a bill and promised reforms are withheld – lack of sovereignty.
God had commanded that Israel be comforted (Isa. 40:1-2); He had requested that she repent of her sin to prepare the way for the coming of the King (Isa. 40:3-4); He promised that the glory of the Lord would be revealed and all flesh would see it (Isa. 40:5); He had revealed that all flesh, like the grass, would wither and all man’s glory, like the flower of the field, would fade (Isa. 40:68); He had commanded Zion to get up into a high mountain to proclaim, “. . . Behold your God!” (Isa. 40:9); and finally, God promised that at His return the wicked would be judged and the righteous rewarded (Isa. 40:10-11). To Israel, enslaved in Babylon and ensnared by idolatry, these were lofty promises. But could God’s promises be kept to Israel, held captive in the midst of the might and glory of Babylon? Surrounding the city of Babylon was a wall fifty- two miles long; the height was three hundred and eleven feet; the thickness was eighty feet; and two hundred and fifty watchtowers extended an additional one hundred feet above the wall to reach four hundred and eleven feet in the air. Even by today’s standards, Babylon would be a massive and impressive city. And under the walls and through the city flowed the Euphrates River. During prolonged siege, the city would not run out of water, and a full twenty years’ supply of food was stored within her walls. The city was impregnable. Is it any wonder that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, one day looked over his city and proclaimed, “. . . Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30)?
In such circumstances, were God’s promises of deliverance to Israel simply the will-o’-the-wisp, an unfulfillable dream, a hollow hope, a mirage that would never know substance? Or did their God have the power, wisdom and sovereignty to bring to fruition such lofty promises of deliverance?
I. HIS POWER IS INFINITE (Isa. 40:12)
For almost seventy years, the Jewish people had been enslaved in Babylon. In large measure, this was punishment for the gross idolatry into which the nation had fallen (Ezek. 11:1-12). If they wanted idolatry, God would give it to them in great measure. Babylon was a heathen nation steeped in idolatry. And during those years of captivity, the children of Israel had strayed far from the God of their forefathers.
For the purpose of calling Israel back to Jehovah, of demonstrating that He had the power to deliver, and giving to her a full consciousness of what He is like, the prophet asks a rhetorical question:
Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and measured out [regulated] heaven with the span, and measured [taken up] the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? (Isa. 40:12).
It was the God of Israel, not heathen idols, who had given to all their proper quantities, their determinate form, and their proportionate place in the universe. How little water a man can hold in the palm of his hand. But God measured the oceans, the seas, the rivers, the streams, the lakes, the ponds in the palm of His hand and placed it there in perfect amounts to sustain life.
How small is the space which a man’s hand can span (about nine inches from the thumb to the little finger), but God’s hand spanned an infinite universe. He placed the heavenly bodies in space and made them the right sizes, located them in the right places, moved them in the right direction, gave them the right speed, and endowed them with the right properties so that they control the light, heat, gravity and tides on the earth. And He did it all with the span of His hand.
How little is contained in a measure (a container that held a third of an ephah, comparable to today’s bushel basket). But God has a container in which He can measure all the dust of the earth.
How small, in either bulk or weight, is the quantity that can be weighed in scales, whether it be an ancient steelyard scale or the tradesman’s balance. But Jehovah, the God of Israel, has a scale with which He has measured the mountains and another with which He has measured the hills. He appointed to both the mountains and the hills their appropriate places and exact dimensions.
So then, with the hollow of His hand Jehovah measured the waters beneath, and with His span He measured the heavens above, and He alone carries a scoop with which to measure all of the dust of which the earth consists and scales in which He can measure the mountains and the hills. The God of Israel alone can measure the immeasurable.
But why does the Prophet Isaiah single out water, Heaven and the earth, mountains and hills as things which God measures and controls?
Water was significant because the Euphrates River ran under the walls of Babylon and through the city. The water was life-sustaining to the Babylonians. Further, Nebuchadnezzar built on the roof of one of his three palaces the famed Hanging Gardens. These gardens, built upon his palace complex, actually included man-made mountains. And on them an amazing variety of trees and plants were planted. These Hanging Gardens became so famous that the Greeks listed them as one of the seven wonders of the world. But to make these gardens possible, an ingenious hydraulic machine was devised to lift water from the Euphrates River to water these rooftop gardens. But God measured the waters of the universe in His hand. Heaven was important because Nebuchadnezzar and his successors thought that they were absolute monarchs, that the Babylonian Empire was invincible and supreme. They did not know that “. . . there is a God in heaven who revealeth secrets . . .” (Dan. 2:28), and that at the end of the age “. . . the God of heaven [will] set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed . . .” (Dan. 2:44). Nebuchadnezzar himself would go insane until he acknowledged that “. . . the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (Dan. 4:25). God alone could span the Heaven.
The earth, mountains and hills were important. The chief Babylonian deity was Marduk, meaning “The Great Mountain.” They believed that their gods came from a great sacred mountain which they called “The Mountain of the Lands.” Because the Babylonians believed that their deities came from the mountains, all of their heathen temples were built to resemble mountains. They viewed the entire earth as a great mountain and called it “Mountain House.” It is for this reason that Daniel speaks of a stone cut out of the mountain without hands (a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal “I AM,” the self-existent God, the only uncaused cause) which will one day smite the image of Daniel, chapter two, thus depicting the destruction of Gentile world powers at His return (Dan. 2:34-35, 45). God alone measures the earth, the mountains and the hills.
The One who measures the water in His hand, the Heaven with a span, and the earth, mountains and hills with scales was about to measure Babylon. In the middle of a sensual party characterized by pride, drink and a sexual orgy, the hand of God wrote on the wall:
. . . MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians (Dan. 5:25-28).
History records that on the very same night the God of Heaven, who could defeat the heathen gods of the mountains and hills, permitted the Medes and Persians to divert the waters of the Euphrates River. The soldiers entered the impregnable city through the dried up water bed – that very night the Babylonian king was killed and the empire fell. God had weighed the city on scales and found it deficient.
Under the succeeding Medo-Persian Empire, the Jews would be allowed to return to Jerusalem. Here, then, was preliminary fulfillment of the divine command, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God” (Isa. 40:1).
The idols of Babylon were impotent and powerless to defend their subjects. But the God of Israel – the God the Israelites had strayed from – He and He alone possessed infinite power to deliver to the uttermost those who placed their trust in Him.
II. HIS WISDOM IS PERFECT (Isa. 40:13-14)
A second rhetorical question is now raised:
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 justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed to him the way of understanding? (Isa. 40:13-14).
The first question called to mind the infinite power of Jehovah to deliver Israel from Babylonian captivity. This second question requires as its only appropriate answer two words, No one. Who directed the Spirit of the Lord? No one. Who, being His counselor, taught Him? No one. With whom took He counsel and who instructed Him? No one. Who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge and showed Him the way of understanding? No one.
The Hebrew word translated “directed” in verse 13 is the very same word which is translated “measured out” in verse 12. The idea is this: Jehovah measures out Heaven with a span, but who can measure out Jehovah – that is, who can search out His Spirit (mind) wherewith He searches out and actually weighs, ponders and directs all things?
Once again, the Book of Daniel, set in the midst of the Babylonian captivity, illustrates this truth.
In Daniel chapter two, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of a great image – he wanted to know what the dream meant. In Daniel chapter four, the king dreamed of a tree which grew and reached into Heaven vertically and toward the ends of the earth horizontally – he wanted to know what the dream meant. In Daniel chapter five, Belshazzar, the new king, saw a hand writing on a wall – he wanted to know what the writing meant.
In each case the Babylonian magicians, astrologers, sorcerers and Chaldeans were summoned to interpret the dreams and writing (Dan. 2:2-3; 4:7; 5:7). In each case they failed. Then Daniel the prophet, the servant of the Most High God, went in before the king, and in each instance he succeeded in giving the proper interpretation (Dan. 2:19; 4:8-9; 5:14-16). Judgment followed in each case. A stone crushed the image of Daniel chapter two. Nebuchadnezzar went mad after his tree dream in Daniel chapter four. The Babylonian Empire fell in the very night of the handwriting on the wall in Daniel chapter five. Is it any wonder that the prophet wrote of Jehovah, “. . . who instructed him, and taught him in the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed to him the way of understanding?” No one, for He alone possesses perfect wisdom which gives guidance for His infinite power.
III. HIS SOVEREIGNTY IS ABSOLUTE (Isa. 40:15-17)
To say that God is sovereign is to say that He is the absolute ruler in an infinite universe. He is answerable to no one and nothing. The only prohibitions on deity are those imposed by His own eternal attributes such as holiness, justice and truth. God must forever in all of His actions be holy, just and true. He cannot act otherwise. But beyond the confines of His attributes, no one can resist His will – or thwart His purposes. God is sovereign.
And so the inspired penman wrote, “Behold, the nations are like a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance; behold, he taketh up the coasts as a very little thing” (Isa. 40:15).
It is almost certainly from this verse that the familiar cliche, “a drop in the bucket,” originated. In actuality, the text is speaking of a drop of water dripping down the side of a bucket that has been drawn from a well. To God, the Gentile nations like Babylon, which align themselves against Jerusalem, are no more significant than a drop of water dripping from a bucket and are “. . . counted as the small dust of the balance . . . .” That is, like a speck of sand that cannot influence the weight on a scale. It was to the isles of the sea that God scattered the Gentile nations and gave to them their dominion (Gen. 10:5) . But in defense of Jerusalem, if necessary, “. . . he taketh up the coasts as a very little thing.”
The cedars of Lebanon were world renowned. These mighty trees grew hard, tall and straight. It was to Lebanon that King Solomon came to acquire the great cedars for construction of the Temple (1 Ki. 5:6). By ships they were transported along the Mediterranean coast to Jaffa, and then overland to Jerusalem.
Nebuchadnezzar had, on several military campaigns, traveled through Lebanon and was captivated by the trees in the land. In an inscription he wrote, “Mighty cedars, tall and strong, of costly value, whose dark forms towered aloft, the massive growth of Lebanon.” And of that forest God has said, “And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor its beasts sufficient for a burnt offering” (Isa. 40:16). Not all the wood of that great forest, nor the abundance of animals that lived within its boundaries, if offered by the nations as a burnt offering to Jehovah, would stay His hand of judgment upon those who harm Jerusalem.
“All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity” (Isa. 40:17). This does not mean that God does not love the Gentile people. But, as national entities arrayed against Jerusalem, they are as a drop of water running down a bucket, as a piece of sand on a scale, they are counted to Him as less than nothing.
A sovereign God chose to inscribe Israel on the palms of His hands (Isa. 49:16). He has declared that Israel is the apple of His eye (Zech. 2:8) . And again, “. . . I will place salvation in Zion for Israel, my glory” (Isa. 46:13), and again, “. . . he who keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps. 121:4). The eternal God is not a man that He should lie. So God commands that Israel, enslaved in Babylon, be comforted.
In the immediate context, God’s command to “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people . . .” (Isa. 40:1) would find its fulfillment through Israel’s deliverance from Babylon and idolatry. What- ever sins Israel committed following that captivity – and there were many – she has never, to this very hour, returned to the sin of idolatry. In the ultimate sense, the promised comfort which God gave awaits the restoration of Israel from among the nations of the world. She will be restored to the land of Israel from among the nations to which she has been scattered. This restoration will require a demonstration of Jehovah’s infinite power, perfect wisdom and sovereign will. Is anything too great for our God?