"Be solaced, My people, be solaced, says your G-d." - Isaiah 40:1
G-d would chastise them "doubly" by handing them over to earthly agents. Their pain would be doubled because they would also be pained by suffering at the hands of such merciless people. And G-d doubled their pain by not only exiling them, but by also saying, "You are not My people" (Hosea 2:1). But solace will come, in fact, solace is now, as G-d says, "Be solaced because I still call you My people." Not only will Redemption come as a solace, but also will G-d's renewed closeness - they will be "doubly" solaced. But the "double" solace is also needed throughout the long exile so that the Jewish people do not despair. They themselves, too, should not just sit back and wait - if they repent, salvation comes that much sooner. These are the two "times" for redemption to come - at G-d's set time, whether or not they are worthy, or before that, if they are: Be solaced, My people, at the set time; be solaced if you merit it early.
"Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call unto her, for her time is finished and her sins are atoned, for she has received double from G-d for all her sins." - Isaiah 40:2
"Speak to their hearts" to console them that the exile is not indefinite - there is a time set by G-d when it must end. At the same time, speak to their hearts to strengthen their faith, "call unto them" to better their ways: Call them to repentance, so that Redemption will come at an earlier time.
"All valleys shall be elevated, all mountains shall be razed; the crooked shall become straight and the cliffs shall be plains." - Isaiah 40:4
The path to G-d shall be leveled so that all will find it easy to go. But the way to go will be the same: by razing one's pride while elevating one's feeling of worthiness. Each one's crookedness will thus be straightened out and the "cliffs" - the deep insights which we could not previously grasp - shall become "plain" as day.
"The glory of G-d shall be revealed and all flesh shall see together that the mouth of G-d has spoken." - Isaiah 40:5
G-d will reveal to all flesh, all peoples, the truth of His Existence. He will reveal that it is He Who does all - both "good" and "evil" - that the mouth of G-d has spoken all. This will be seen by all peoples together - irregardless if they are prepared.
"As a shepherd will He pasture His flock, gathering the lambs in his arm and carrying them in His bosom; the young ones will He guide patiently." - Isaiah 40:11
G-d will then guide His people with the utmost devotion, even more than the most devoted of shepherds - they are, indeed, His flock. He will guide the "young," the spiritually weak, as He lovingly guided His people through the Wilderness, guiding them to the Final Redemption.
"Who counseled the spirit of G-d, the man who gave Him advice? With whom did He counsel who enlightened Him, who taught Him the way of justice? Who taught Him wisdom and showed Him the path of understanding?" - Isaiah 40:13-14
How can the nations prevent G-d from redeeming His people - who can tell Him what to do?
"The nations are like a drop in the bucket, like the dust on a scale. He picks up the islands like dust." - Isaiah 40:15
The nations cannot possibly prevent G-d from redeeming His people - they are as inconsequential as the last drop in a bucket. Even all their good deeds are as inconsequential as those drops.
"But in Lebanon there is not enough to burn, its animals are not enough to offer." - Isaiah 40:16
When the nations see that G-d is, indeed, redeeming His people, they will regret saying that He cannot and will want to repent and bring offerings. But there are not enough trees in Lebanon for altar fire and not enough animals there for offering to adequately atone for their sins.
"All the nations are as naught before Him - less than nil and nothingness are they to Him. For to whom can you liken G-d, what image can you compare to Him? The idol was cast by a smith, a goldsmith plates it with gold and casts for it with silver chains. The poor will choose a rot-proof tree and seek a skilled sculptor to prepare a long-lasting idol." - Isaiah 40:17-20
All the idol-worshiping nations are naught before G-d - as naught as to the idols they worship. Their idols are but the handiwork of man which must be plated to protect them from the elements or made from non-rotting wood. Totally immobile and lifeless, they must be chained to transport them - how can they be compared to the Living G-d?
"Do you not know, have you not heard, has it not been told to you from long ago; do you not understand the earth's foundations?" Isaiah 40:21
How can you think that the idols are G-d? Do you not "know" better with common sense, have you not "heard" about G-d from others; have you not been "told" by ancient traditions, do you not "understand" from studying the world itself?
"He Who makes princes for naught and the earth's judges He makes for nil, As if they were not planted, as if they were not sown, as if their trunk had not taken root in the ground. A blow upon them and they are dried, a wind shall carry them away like a straw." - Isaiah 40:23-24
G-d guides earthly affairs despite His seeming so far and foils the seeming inevitable plans of princes. He so utterly thwarts them, that it seems afterwards that their plans had no feasible basis, that "they had never been planted or sown."
"To whom can you compare Me, says the Holy One? Lift up your eyes to the heavens and see Who created this, Who brings out the stars by number, Who gives a name to each, Whose power and great might leave none out." - Isaiah 40:25-26
So how can you think that the idols can help you, when G-d alone is the most exalted and Holy One. Whose Providence fills the earth? Just look up to the heavens and see all the stars, each one influencing the earth in a unique way. Who orchestrates each one's unique movement and gives each a "name" - the influence each one has on earth?
Jacob, why do you say, Israel, why do you speak: "My path is hidden from G-d and my judgment has passed on from before G-d." - Isaiah 40:27
So why do you say, Jewish people, that G-d sees not your travails? Unlike the nations, you profess belief in Him, yet you complain as if you did not believe.
"Do you not know, have you not heard? The Lord of the world, G-d, the Creator of the earth's far ends, does not tire nor become weary; there is no grasping of His wisdom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak." - Isaiah 40:28-29
You, Jewish people, have certainly heard that G-d is the Creator of all - He surely knows what you endure. Question not how He allows you to suffer, for His wisdom you cannot grasp. How can He be too weak to help you when it is He Who grants strength to the weary?
"Young men may become tired and weary, youths may fall and stumble, but those who trust in G-d will renew their strength and sprout wings like an eagle. They shall run without becoming weary and march without tiring." - Isaiah 40:30-31
The persecuting nations who relied on their own strength will eventually become weary, but the trusting Jewish people will be invigorated. And do not complain about your sufferings in exile, for through them you were refined: the "young men" who nurture their physical bodies become weak when they reach old age, but those who nurture their souls and minds continue to grow throughout the physical weakness of old age. They shall reach very great personal spiritual levels - they will "sprout wings like an eagle" - but will continue to "run and march" within society to edify it and will not tire of this great task.
Commentary by Meam Loez