Isaiah 40:12

I. HIS POWER OVER NATURE. The boldest imagery to express this thought: the "hollow of his hand;" his "span;" his "tierce," a small measure; his scales, with which he weighs the volumes of sea and laud, and measures the vast extent of heaven without an effort, - as we use the hand to weigh or to span! Far from taking offence at such figures, we feel them to be truthful, appropriate, sublime. The Creator is infinitely superior to his world. Vastness of space may overwhelm our imagination, but not his. His thought holds with ease the universe as a whole and in all its parts. "Thou hast ordered all things by measure and number and weight" (Wisd. 11:20). Vain the "materialistic" dreams of students occupied too much with the physical and the phenomenal. The physical is the expression of the intellectual; the phenomenal but the "appearance' of the real; the creation, the "garb we see God by." How much truer to what a spiritual religion teaches us is this view than that which would direct our wonder and our worship to the mere splendours of the material world, rather than to the great creative and informing spirit of the world! Isaiah, contemptuously speaking of the sea as held in God's hand, as one might hold a drop of water, is a better poet than Byron, who apostrophizes the sea as a living being.

II. THE ORIGINALITY OF HIS MIND. A theological difficulty is supposed to be alluded to. "Who hath regulated the mind of Jehovah? Was he himself absolutely free? May not Omnipotence itself be subject to conditions? May there not be an equal or superior power to whose counsels he must defer?" (Cheyne). Distinctly the prophet, without arguing the question, denies the truth of such an hypothesis. By the Spirit of God we mean the mind of God, which is

"The life and light of all this wondrous world we see." The world is not "dead matter," but the creation of that intelligence, the vast poem, inspired by Divine thoughts that breathe and burn. Love is the last ground of all things, and conscience and intelligence are its ministers. God's Being is simple, unique, absolutely original. In a like sense to that which we say the works of a great poet are his unassisted productions, does the prophet say the world is the work of God. "Contrast the Babylonian myth of a joint action of Bel and the gods in the creation of man; and the Iranian of co-creatorship of Ormuzd and the Amshaspands;" or the crude cosmogonic notions of the Greeks. All parts of the world, all habitable lands and nations, are dependent on him, derived from his will, subject to his power. How, then, can earth's noblest products add anything to his riches, or further illustrate the glory of One to whom they already belong? The poverty of Judah in wood may be contrasted with the rich forests of Lebanon; but even Lebanon could not yield enough for his honour, if that honour is to be measured by the extent of the offerings. The nations, and all that is great and imposing in their life, are nought in his eyes; chaos may designate them in this contemptuous view. In short, he is incomparable. No illustration, analogy, similitude, ever thrown forth from the poet-soul and imagination in mankind, as no picture of painter, image of sculptor, will here avail. Nay, there must be moments when the very forms of thought into which everything must be thrown that we may see it at all, and even last of all, the richest and purest musical harmonies, must be set aside as inadequate.

"All are too mean to speak his worth,
Too mean to set our Maker forth." Nothing can surpass the simplicity and the sublimity of this view of God. Nothing less lofty will satisfy our intelligence or meet the yearnings of our heart. The idolatry we are so ready to lavish upon the finite object is the poor caricature of that immense delight which God demands we should enjoy in the thought of him, and which we cannot be satisfied until we have attained. - J.

Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand?
The prophet's notions of God are diffused through all the verses of the text. The prophet's design in describing the Deity with so much magnificence is to discountenance idolatry, of which there are two sorts.

1. Religious idolatry, which consists in rendering that religious worship to a creature which is due to none but God.

2. Moral idolatry, which consists in distrusting the promises of God in dangerous crises, and in expecting that assistance from men which cannot but be expected from God. The portrait drawn by the prophet is infinitely inferior to his original. Ye will be fully convinced of this if ye attend to the following considerations of the grandeur of God.

I. THE SUBLIMITY OF HIS ESSENCE. The prophet's mind was filled with this object. It is owing to this that he repeats the grand title of Jehovah, "the Lord," which signifies "I am" by excellence, and which distinguisheth by four grand characters the essence of God from the essence of creatures.

1. The essence of God is independent in its cause. God is a self-existent being. We exist, but ours is only a borrowed existence, for existence is foreign from us.

2. The essence of God is universal in its extent. God possesseth the reality of every thing that exists. He is, as an ancient writer expresseth it, a boundless ocean of existence. From this ocean of existence all created beings, like so many rivulets, flow.

3. The essence of God is unchangeable in its exercise. Creatures only pass from nothing to existence, and from existence to nothing. We love to-day what we hated yesterday, and to-morrow we shall hate What to-day we love.

4. The Divine essence is eternal in its duration. "Hast thou not known," saith our prophet, "that He is the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth?"

II. THE IMMENSITY OF HIS WORKS (vers. 22, 26). A novice is frightened at hearing what astronomers assert. Over all this universe God reigns.

III. THE EFFICIENCY OF HIS WILL. The idea of the real world conducts us to that of the possible world. The idea of a creative Being includes the idea of a Being whose will is efficient. But a Being whose will is self-efficient, is a Being who, by a single act of His will, can create all possible beings: that is, all, the existence of which implies no contradiction; there being no reason for limiting the power of a will that hath been once efficient of itself.

IV. THE MAGNIFICENCE OF SOME OF HIS MIGHTY ACTS, AT CERTAIN PERIODS, IN FAVOUR OF HIS CHURCH. The prophet had two of these periods in view. The first was the return of the Jews from that captivity in Babylon which he had denounced; and the second, the coming of the Messiah, of which their return from captivity was only a shadow. Such, then, are the grandeurs of God! Application — We observed that the prophet's design was to render two sorts of idolatry odious: idolatry in religion, and idolatry in morals. Idolatry in religion consists in rendering those religious homages to creatures which are due to the Creator only. To discredit this kind of idolatry, the prophet contents himself with describing it. He shames the idolater by reminding him of the origin of idols, and of the pains taken to preserve them. A man is guilty of moral idolatry when, in dangerous crises, he says, 'My way is hid from the Lord; my judgment is passed over from my God.' God is the sole arbiter of events. Whenever ye think that any more powerful being directs them to comfort you, ye put the creature in the Creator s place; whether ye do it in a manner more or less absurd; whether formidable armies, impregnable fortresses, and well-stored magazines; or whether a small circle of friends, an easy income, or a country house. The Jews were often guilty of the first sort of idolatry. The captivity in Babylon was the last curb to that fatal propensity. Thanks be to God that the light of the Gospel hath opened the eyes of a great number of Christians in regard to idolatry in religion. Ye who, in order to avert public calamities, satisfy yourselves with a few precautions of worldly prudence, and take no pains to extirpate those horrible crimes which provoke the vengeance of heaven to inflict punishments on public bodies; ye are guilty of this second kind of idolatry. Were your confidence placed in God, ye would endeavour to avert national judgments by purging the state of those wicked practices which are the surest forerunners and the principal causes of famine, and pestilence, and war. And thou, feeble mortal, lying on a sick-bed, already struggling with the king of terrors; thou, who tremblingly complainest, I am undone! — thou art guilty of this second kind of idolatry, that thou hast trusted in man and made flesh thine arm. Were God the object of thy trust, thou wouldest believe that though death is about to separate thee from man, it is about to unite thee to God.

(J. Saurin.)

"To whom then will ye liken God?"

I. THAT THE GREATEST THINGS IN THE MATERIAL WORLD ARE NOTHING TO HIM. The ocean is great, great in its depths, breadths, contents, occupying by far the largest portion of this globe of ours. But He "hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand." The heaven is great; its expanse is immeasurable, its worlds and systems baffle all arithmetic, but He "meted out heaven with the span." The earth is great, great to us, though mere speck in the universe, and, it may be, an atom to other intelligences; but "He comprehendeth the dust in a measure," etc. What is the universe to God? You may compare an atom to the Andes, a raindrop to the Atlantic, a spark to the central fires of the creation; but you cannot compare the universe, great as it is, to the Creator.

II. THAT THE GREATEST MINDS IN THE SPIRITUAL UNIVERSE ARE NOTHING TO HIM. "Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being His counsellor hath taught Him?" etc. (vers. 13, 14). The Bible gives us to understand that there is a spiritual universe far greater than the material, of which the material is but the dim mirror and feeble instrument — a universe containing intelligences innumerable in multitude and incalculable in their gradations of strength and intelligence. But what spirit or spirits at the head or hierarchy of these intelligences has ever given Him counsel, instructed or influenced Him in any matter? He is uninstructible: the only Being in the universe who is so. He knows all. Sooner speak of a spark enlightening the sun, than speak of a universe of intelligences adding aught to the knowledge of .God. He is absolutely original: the only Being in the universe who is so. We talk of original thinkers. Such creatures are mere fictions. He being so independent of all minds —

1. His universe must be regarded as the expression of Himself. No other being had a hand in it.

2. His laws are the revelation of Himself. No one counselled Him in His legislation.

3. His conduct is absolutely irresponsible, and He alone can be trusted with irresponsibility.

III. THAT THE GREATEST INSTITUTIONS IN HUMAN SOCIETY ARE NOTHING TO HIM. Nations are the greatest things "in" human institutions. "But nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance." What were the greatest nations of the old world, or the most powerful of modern times? What are the greatest nations that have ever been, or are, compared to Him? Nothing, emptiness. Oh, ye magnates of the world, ye kings of the earth, what are ye in the presence of God? Less than animalcula dancing in the sun.

IV. THAT THE GREATEST PRODUCTIONS OF HUMAN LABOUR ARE NOTHING TO HIM. "There is," said an eloquent French preacher, "nothing great but God."


The grand object of this sublime chapter seems to be to inspirit and to comfort the Jews in their Babylonian captivity. Their God in His transcendent greatness is brought under their notice for this purpose —

I. IN THE EXACTITUDE OF HIS OPERATIONS. He is here represented as "measuring" the waters, as "spanning" the heavens, as "comprehending" the very dust of the earth in a measure, as "weighing" the mountains in scales. As the physician adjusts in nicest proportions the elements in the medical dose, with which he hopes to cure his patient; the engineer every crank and wheel and pin in the machine which he has constructed for a certain purpose, so God — only in an Infinite degree — arranges all the parts of the complicated universe. It is seen in the atmosphere that surrounds this globe; were one of its constituent elements more or less than it is the whole would be disturbed. This is seen in the punctuality with which all the heavenly orbs perform their movements; they are never out of time. It is seen, in fact, in the unbroken uniformity with which all nature proceeds on its march.

1. This Divine exactitude should inspire us with unbounded confidence in His procedure. Because God works with such infinite precision, His works admit of no improvement.

2. This Divine exactitude should inspire us to imitate Him in this respect. When we act from blind impulse, or from imperfect reflection, we risk our wellbeing.

II. IN THE ALMIGHTINESS OF HIS POWER. He is here represented as holding the waters in the "hollow of His hand." In thinking of this power we should remember —

1. That all this power is under the direction of intelligence. It is not a blind force, like the force of the storm or the tornado, but it is a force directed by the highest wisdom. Wisdom uses the whole as the smith uses his hammer on the anvil, as the mariner the rudder in the tempest.

2. That all this power is inspired by benevolence. The infinite is here portrayed.

III. IN THE INDEPENDENCY OF HIS MIND. "With whom took He counsel, and who instructed Him?" From this absolute mental independency of God the following things may be deduced —

1. That all His operations must originate in pure sovereignty. All that exists must be traced to the counsels of His own will, for He had no counsellor.

2. That all His laws must be a transcript of His mind. What they are He is; they are the history of Himself. Conclusion — What an argument is" here for an entire surrender to, and a thorough acquiescence in, the Divine will.


How little the palm of a man takes, how little the space which the span of a man can cover, how scanty the third of an ephah. and for what insignificant measures a balance suffices, whether a steelyard (statera), or a retail balance (libra) consisting of two scales (lances). But what Jehovah measures with His palm and regulates with His span is nothing less than the waters below and the heavens above. He uses a shalish, in which the dust composing the earth finds place, and a balance in which He weighs the colossus of the mountains.

(F. Delitzsch, D. D.)

Put two tablespoonfuls of water in the palm of your hand and it will overflow; but Isaiah indicates that God puts the Atlantic and the Pacific and the Arctic and the Antarctic and the Mediteranean and the Black Sea and all the waters of the earth in the hollow of His hand. The fingers the beach on one side, the wrist the beach on the other. "He holdeth the water in the hollow of His hand." As you take a pinch of salt or powder between your thumb and two fingers, so Isaiah indicates God takes up the earth. He measures the dust of the earth. The original there indicates that God takes all the dust of all the continents between the thumb and two fingers.

(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)

There was an engineer by the name of Strasicrates who was in the employ of Alexander the Great, and he offered to hew a mountain in the shape of his master, the Emperor, the enormous figure to hold in the left hand a city of 10,000 inhabitants, while with the right hand it was to hold a basin large enough to collect all the mountain torrents. Alexander applauded his ingenuity, out forbade the enterprise because of its costliness. Yet I have to tell you that our King holds in His one hand all the cities of the earth, and with the other all the oceans, while He has the stars of heaven for a tiara.

(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)

What are all the balances of earthly manipulation compared with the balances that Isaiah saw suspended when he saw God putting into the scales the Alps and the Apennines and Mount Washington and the Sierra Nevadas? You see the earth had to be ballasted. It would not do to have too much weight in Europe, or too much weight in Asia, or too much weight in Africa or in America; so when God made the mountains He weighed them. God knows the weight of the great ranges that cross the continents, the tons, the pounds avoirdupois, the ounces, the grains, the milligrammes.

(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)

The devout thought of these paragraphs passes in survey, first the earth (vers. 12-20); then the heavens (21-26); finally, the experience of the children of God in all ages (27-31).

I. THE TESTIMONY OF THE EARTH. It seems as though we are conducted to the shores of the Mediterranean, and stationed somewhere near the site of ancient Tyre. Before us spreads the Great Sea, as the Hebrews were wont to call it. Far across the waters, calm and tranquil, or heaving in memory of recent storms, sea and sky blend in the circle of the horizon. Now remember, says the prophet, God's hands are so strong and great that all that ocean and all other oceans lie in them as a drop on a man's palm And this God is our God for ever and ever. All men may be in arms against thee: encircling thee with threats, and plotting to swallow thee up. But the nations are to Him as the drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance. Thou hast no reason, therefore, to be afraid.

II. THE TESTIMONY OF THY HEAVENS. The scene shifts to the heavens, and all that is therein. This is the antidote of fear. Sit in the heavenlies. Do not look from earth towards heaven, but from heaven towards earth. Let God, not man, be the standpoint of vision. But this is not all. To this inspired thinker, it seemed as though the blue skies were curtains that God had stretched out as a housewife gauze (see Revised Version, marg.), or the fabric of a tent within which the pilgrim rests. If creation be His tent, which He fills in all its parts, how puny are the greatest potentates of earth! The child of God need not be abashed before the greatest of earthly rulers. And even this is not all — day changes to night, and as the twilight deepens, the stars come out in their hosts; and suddenly, to the imagination of this lofty soul, the vault of heaven seems a pasture-land over which a vast flock is following its Shepherd, who calls each by name. What a sublime conception! Jehovah, the Shepherd of the stars, leading them through space; conducting them with such care and might that none falls out of rank, or is lacking. And will Jehovah do so much for stars, and nought for sons?

III. THE TESTIMONY OF THE SAINTS. "Hast thou not heard?" It has been a commonplace with every generation of God's people, that "the Lord fainteth not, neither is weary." He never takes up a case to drop it. He never begins to build a character to leave it when it is half complete. He may seem to forsake and to plunge the soul into needless trial; this, however, is no indication that He has tired of His charge, but only that He could not fulfil the highest blessedness of some soul He loved save by the sternest discipline. "There is no searching of His understanding." There is another point on which all the saints are agreed, that neither weariness nor fainting are barriers to the forth-putting of God's might. On the contrary, they possess an infinite attractiveness to His nature.

(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

Nature has always been the resort of the suffering. Elijah to Horeb; Christ to Olivet. And in these glowing paragraphs, which touch the high-water mark of sacred eloquence, we are led forth to stand in the curtained tent of Jehovah, to listen to the beat of the surf, and watch the march of the stars.

(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

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