Isaiah 40:6-8 Hebrew, English, and Commentary

The first voice crying out in vs. 3 said to prepare the way for the Glory of Hashem’s return to Jerusalem. The second crier says mighty nations will wither under Hashem’s breath like grass. Later in vss. 23-24 this message will be clarified: he brings princes to nothing when he blows on them. But that same breath does something beautiful in Jerusalem.

Isaiah 40:6

קוֹל אֹמֵר קְרָא

וְאָמַר מָה אֶקְרָא

כָּל־הַבָּשָׂר חָצִיר

וְכָל־חַסְדּוֹ כְּצִיץ הַשָּׂדֶה׃

A voice says, “Cry out.”

And he said, “What shall I cry?”

“All flesh is grass,

and all its goodness is like the flowers of a field.”

 

Isaiah 40:7

יָבֵשׁ חָצִיר נָבֵל צִיץ

כִּי רוּחַ יְהוָה נָשְׁבָה בּוֹ

אָכֵן חָצִיר הָעָם׃

“Grass dries up, flowers wither,

because the breath of Hashem blows on them;

truly the people are grass.

 

Isaiah 40:8

יָבֵשׁ חָצִיר נָבֵל צִיץ

וּדְבַר־אֱלֹהֵינוּ יָקוּם לְעוֹלָם׃

“Grass dries up, flowers wither,

but the word of our God will stand forever.”

 

A few translation notes:

חַסְדּוֹ in vs. 6 is חֶסֶד with a suffixed “his.” The usual meaning of the word is lovingkindness, devoted love, covenant loyalty. Here it seems to mean in some sense merit, goodness, or worth. Some have suggested beauty, but this comes from later use in post-biblical Hebrew. The hesed of flesh/grass here refers to its ability to give hesed, and if hesed is the most valued trait of human life, then it is its worth or its goodness.

In vs. 7, I have translated בּוֹ as “on them,” though it literally is “on it.” Grass and flowers are viewed as a collective, so “it” is not incorrect, but I felt “them” was better.

רוּחַ יְהוָה could be “wind” or “spirit,” but “breath” seemed more personal than “wind” and blowing is not a function of “spirit.”

Commentary:

In vs. 7, the emphasis on the fleeting nature of human society serves the overall message: Hashem has brought about great changes in the face of human politics in a short time by his standards. Empires that seemed mighty were fleeting things to God.

Vs. 8 repeats the first poetic line to make a contrast between two things: the cursory nature of human realms vs. the lasting effect of the divine will in worldly affairs. People are grass but the divine will makes an eternal difference.

The situation is the exile and Jerusalem’s ruin sometime during the 586-539 BCE period. The place is most likely Jerusalem and not Babylon. The exiles of Judea and survivors in Jerusalem feel defeated and hopeless and the empire that defeated them seems eternal. It is not. Like grass, God will blow on it and make it wither. But he will make flowers grow in Jerusalem by the same breath.

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