Isaiah 40:12
    Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, 
    and meted out heaven with the span, 
    and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, 
    and weighed the mountains in scales, 
    and the hills in a balance?

There are five statements about the creation. Loosely paraphrased:

  1. Measured the amount of water (as a whole), (in the palm of his hand, figuratively.)
  2. Measured and stretched out the heaven (by his fingertips, figuratively.)
  3. Measured, balanced and sustain the amount of dust (earth, clay).
  4. Weighted the mountains (in scales, figuratively).
  5. Balanced the mountains against the hills to balance.

Is this about correct?

The two I am most unsure about are 4 and 5. Does it say the hills and the mountains are equal in weight? What is hill vs. mountain? Is the "balance" perhaps referring to all the measurements, not only the hills/mountains?

Number 3 is also somewhat vague for me. Does the word comprehended in combination with measure give it the meaning I have written?

Any other misconceptions?

  • This verse describes God's power to create and his provision to sustain. It show he is all-powerful. (Because God is the only one that could do the things describe in these verses)
    – user783
    Jun 3, 2014 at 18:47
  • @hbrock: Yes, thanks, I get that from it. My question, perhaps badly formulated, is more in regards to the exact meaning of the statements. More literally, if that is the correct word to use. I.e. an extended paraphrasing and comment on the literal and figurative meaning of each statement.
    – user129107
    Jun 3, 2014 at 19:33

2 Answers 2


This is Hebrew poetry, and it should be examined with the parallels in mind.

Isaiah 40:12
Who hath     measured       the-waters              in-the-hollow-of-his-hand, 
         and-meted-out      heaven                  with-the-span [of his hand], 
         and-calculated     the-dust of-the-earth   in-a-measure, 
         and-weighed        the-mountains           in-scales, 
         and                the-hills               in-a-balance?

The first column tells what God has done (framed as a rhetorical question). The second is the object of the action. And the third column is the prepositional phrase showing how it was done to what (figuratively). In Hebrew, each row in the third column is simply one word. I would venture that the lack of a verb in the fifth row is to balance out the extra noun in the third row (of-the-earth). I used dashes to show which parts of the translation are from the same word.

Regarding the third, I used "calculated" for the verb. The word for "measure" comes from the word for "third" and indicates this is a third of the larger measure. It would be like saying a peck is one-quarter of a bushel. Whether a shalish is a third of an homer or third of an ephah (or something else) doesn't matter.

4 is correct but 5 is not. God has not weighed the mountains in one side of the scales against hills in the other. He has weighed each of them against some set of weights to determine their respective masses. Figuratively. The words for scales and balances in different but synonyms. Different words were chosen because Hebrew poetry relies on parallels and not exact repetition. However, there is no fifth verb for the first column.

A Hebrew hill (gib'ah) is an elevation smaller than a mountain (har). These do not necessarily use the same height standards as the modern world.

  • Great. Never columnised like that before. The structure makes it so much "nicer" to read as a whole. (I have a dream one day being able to read this in Hebrew, but that is another story.) Thanks. And thanks for good links. Interesting reads.
    – user129107
    Jun 3, 2014 at 21:03
  • Thanks! That kind of outline provides more bang-for-your-buck than any other analysis I've been taught.
    – Frank Luke
    Jun 3, 2014 at 21:39

Isaiah comforts the Israelites by raising the following inspiring questions. Isaiah 40:12 What do the mean?

The ESV has justly given the title to chapter 40;" Comfort for God's People ", God the all powerful and wise , the creator of the Heavens and the Earth, promises his people the Israelites that are captives in Babylon that He will restore them to Jerusalem and that no one can stop him.

Comfort for God's People

40:1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.

Isaiah comforts the Israelites by raising the following inspiring questions. Isaiah 40:12

ESV 40:12 "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?

"Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand?"

Just as easily as a person can measure the water in the hollow of his hand, likewise to God the oceans are like a drop in his palm.

"And marked off the heavens with a span?"

As easily a person can measure the distance of the span of his hand ,God just as easily can measure the distances of the heavens.

"Enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?"

Can tiny man measure and weigh the mountains in scales?, certainly not, but to God nothing is impossible and so nothing is able to stand in his way to fulfill his promise to liberate his people the Israelites and restore them in Jerusalem.

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