Sunday School Lesson 38: Isaiah 40-49

TS_scrollThese chapters begin a new section of Isaiah. The first 39 chapters focused on Judah and Israel before the exile in Babylon: the sin and iniquity of Judah and Israel. This section, chapters 40-56, focuses on Judah and Israel during the exile: the promise of return. And the last chapters, 57-66, will focus on Judah and Israel after the exile: life after the return. If we think of these times in Israel’s history as shadows of eternal types, what might we see as their type? Are there other ways of reading the same material, ways of seeing other shadows of the eternal types? For example, what might they mean to Nephi? to Matthew or Paul? to Joseph Smith? to you as an individual?


If you are having trouble reading Isaiah, this overview may help you see how things are connected to each other. I’ve tried to avoid interpretation in this overview, sticking merely to restatement and description as much as possible.

Chapter 40
1-2: The Lord tells the prophet to comfort his people and tell them that the exile is about to end.
3-5: A highway will be prepared on which the exiles can travel when they return to see the glory of the Lord.
6-8: Though the things of the world are transient, God’s promises are eternal.
9-11: The prophet is told to announce from the mountain tops the return of the exiles, led by the Lord
12-17: The incomparable power of the Lord.
18-20: The Lord cannot be compared to an idol of any kind.
21-26: The incomparable power of the Lord.
27-31: The prophet addresses Israel as a whole reminding them that the Lord has the power to save them and will do so.
Chapter 41
1-4: The Lord invites the nations of the world to come before him to see his omnipotence and their powerlessness.
5-7: In response, the nations band together to protect themselves from the Lord’s wrath. (They may be portrayed as building idols.)
8-16: The Lord turns from the nations to Israel, telling them not to fear and promising them not only his protection, but also that he will make them powerful.
17-20: The difficult conditions of the exile, and the promise that they will be overcome.
21-24: As verse 24 shows, in these verses the Lord speaks to those who worship idols and to the idols themselves, challenging them to declare what is going to happen.
25-26: A prophecy that Cyrus will conquer and a repetition of the challenge to the idols.
27-28: These verses are parallel to verses 25 and 26. They say that Cyrus will be a messenger of hope and they remind us that the idols and their worshipers could not predict Cyrus’s reign.
29: The conclusion: the works of the idol-worshipers are nothing.
Chapter 42
1-4: The elect servant
5-9: The Lord’s promise to his elect servant.
10-13: A hymn praising God.
14-17: The Lord will use his power to give light to the blind, and those who have worshiped idols will be ashamed.
18-25: The Lord calls to blind and deaf Israel reminding them that the fallen state they find themselves in is the result of their blindness and disobedience.
Chapter 43
1-8: In spite of Israel’s disobedience and sin, the Lord will redeem them.
9-13: All the nations, including Israel, are called before the judgment bar to defend themselves against the charge of idolatry?
14-21: Babylon will fall and Israel will be restored to its land, and he will provide the land with water.
22-24: Though the Lord will restore Israel, Israel has not been worthy of his blessings.
25-26: Remember the Lord.
27-28: Israel has not been worthy of the Lord’s blessings.
Chapter 44
1-5: In spite of Israel’s unworthiness, the Lord will help them and will pour both temporal and spiritual blessings on them.
6-8: The Lord bears witness of himself and the surety of his promises.
9-20: The usefulness of work like smithing, carpentry, and farming compared to the uselessness of the work that goes into making an idol.
21-22: Israel must remember the Lord who has redeemed them.
23-28: A hymn calling on all of nature to praise the Lord for the salvation he will bring through Cyrus.
Chapter 45
1-8: The Lord promises Cyrus that he will bring him to power for the sake of Israel, and reminds him that the Lord is the only God and is in control of both nature and history.
9-13: Woe to those who question what the Lord does or doubt his prophecies.
14-17: The idolatrous nations who have conquered Israel will honor him; they will be ashamed because of their idolatry, but Israel will not be ashamed because God has saved him.
18-25: The Lord declares himself the Creator of the world, one who speaks openly and truthfully, declaring to those who have been idolaters that only in him can they be saved.
Chapter 46
1-4: A comparison of idols to the Lord, showing their powerlessness.
5-7: The Lord cannot be compared to an idol.
8-13: Remember that what God has done in the past and trust that what he promises will happen: he will save Israel.
Chapter 47
1-3: The humiliation of Babylon.
4: Perhaps an exclamation of awe by Isaiah.
5-11: Babylon will be violently destroyed.
12-15: The Babylonians will look to their wisdom for an answer to their woes, but they will be destroyed.
Chapter 48
1-8: The Lord has warned Israel and prophesied before, but he has not listened.
9-11: The Lord will save Israel to preserve the sanctity of his name: because of the covenant he has made, not because of Israel’s virtue.
12-15: The Lord and no other God has created the earth and given Cyrus the power to conquer.
16: The Lord has spoken openly from the beginning.
16-17: The Lord, who teaches and guides Israel, has sent the prophet and the Spirit to declare his word to Israel.
18-19: The blessings that would have come had Israel been obedient.
20-22: The exiles are told to praise God and what he has done as they return to Israel from Babylon.
Chapter 49
1-4: Isaiah describes his mission: called from birth and given the power to speak powerfully, he has prophesied to no avail, but he continues to trust in the Lord.
5-6: The Lord’s response to his dejection: your prophesying will be not only a light to Israel, but a light to all the earth so that salvation can come to all.
7: Israel will be raised up from its position as a conquered nation to someone before whom kings and princes bow.
8-13: The Lord has accepted the exile’s prayers and he will redeem them from captivity.
14-16: Zion (Jerusalem) complains that the Lord has forgotten her, but he will not forget: he has engraved her on his hands and he always remembers her destroyed walls.
17-19: The oppressors of Zion’s children will let them be, so Zion will be clothed as a bride to welcome their return.
20-21: There will be so many returning children of Zion that they will complain that there is no room for them, and Zion will be amazed that all these children are really hers.
22-23: The leaders of the nations will serve the returning Israelites and bow down before them.
24-26: The Lord will defend Israel against its enemies.

Study Questions

40:12-26: Why does the Lord think it is so important to emphasize his power and the powerlessness of idols? In how many ways does this apply to us?

41:5-7: Are there events in these last days that this describes?

42:1-4: To how many of the Lord’s servants can you apply these verses? Obviously, Christ is the epitome of this servant. What does that suggest about others to whom these verses could apply?

42:5-9: Can you point to specific things that this teaches about the mission of the Savior? How might it apply to others, or does it not apply?

42:10-13: How do we praise God? Why is it important to do so?

42:18-25 and 43:1-8: These two sets of verses repeat a theme that we have seen in every prophet we have studied: you are in sin but the Lord can save you. Why does the Lord repeat this message so often? How does it apply to the individual? to the Church? to nations? to the history of the world? Does your answer to those questions help explain why the Lord says so much about his power in these chapters? Why does the frequent repetition of this message require a variety of metaphors and symbols?

43:9-13: How does the charge of idolatry apply to us? We often answer this question quickly: “We worship money and status.” Without denying that to be true, is there any way in which the charge of idolatry can sometimes be applied to us?

43:22-28: The ideas of these verses are chiastic: 22-24 (Israel is unworthy) 25-26 (remember the Lord), 27-28 (Israel is unworthy). Why is remembrance so important, and what does it mean to remember the Lord? If we remember him, we will not remember our sins. (See Alma 36:19.) What can that mean?

44:6-8: How has the Lord born witness of himself and the surety of his promises in the latter days?

44:22: Why does the Lord speak of the redemption of Israel in the present tense when they have not been brought back from Babylon at the time of this prophecy and the Savior has not yet atoned for human sin?

45:1-5: What do these verses tell us about some world leaders?

46:8-11: How do we remember what the Lord has done for us individually? for the Church? for our country? for ancient Israel? Why should we remember these things?

47:12-15: Can we understand to describe our own times? How?

48:9-11: How do these verses apply to us today?

48:16: We have seen the Lord say several times that he has spoken openly. Why do you think he emphasizes this to Israel? Does he speak openly to us? How?

49:5-6: Why would the Lord’s response have buoyed up Isaiah?

49:8-12: Why does the Lord use the past tense to describe something that will happen in the future?

49:8-13: How might the particulars of these verses be a type corresponding to your own life?

Overall: In how many places did you see verses describe not only people and events of Isaiah’s time, but the Savior and his work? What characteristics do these chapters ascribe to the Savior? Which ones does it focus on and why? If we remember that Jesus is the Lord of the Old Testament, how does that change our understanding of these chapters?

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