God’s Answer to Skeptics
The nation of Israel and her people the Jews are an enigma to this world. The preservation of the people of Israel is a contradiction of all historical trends. The uniqueness of this people is captured in an essay Mark Twain authored in 1899:
If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning are also way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers . . . The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendour, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they were gone; . . . The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was . . . All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?
The evidence of the existence of God to this unbelieving world of skeptics is seen no clearer than in the Jewish people. The continued history of the Jewish people, and the nation of Israel, defies human logic. The answer to Mark Twain’s question about the secret of the immortality of the Jews is answered in the passage we will be looking at, Isaiah 41:8-29.
Revelation of God
To the non-prejudiced individual, the manifestation of God is clearly seen in the handiwork of creation (Rom. 1:20). The acceptance of deity as the basis for life opens one to the dilemma of which God is the true God in light of the multitudinous “gods” and “religions” that are offered to us. The claims of these different religions and their gods on the lives of seeking men pose a problem. How can one know, without question, which is the true God?
In Isaiah 40:12-31 the Jewish people are addressed by the Prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah 41:1-7 the prophet addresses the Gentiles. The argument of Isaiah is the same to Jew and Gentile in response to their involvement with false gods and idols (Isa. 40:19-20 and 41:7). The God of the Bible, of Israel, is presented as the Creator of Heaven and earth. He is shown to be omnipotent (Isa. 40:12, 15; 41:2), omniscient (Isa. 40:13-14; 41:2) and omnipresent (Isa. 40:22; 41:4). It is incredulous to the prophet that man could reject such a majestic, sovereign God for impotent traditions and gods. The heartrending words of the prophet are for Jew and Gentile to turn from their empty and vain ways and embrace the God of the Bible who is the one true God of this universe.
Israel – God’s Polemic
The statement of a truth does not necessarily make it true about the one to whom it is applied. One has every right, indeed every necessity, to demand evidence proving the validity of a claim. When the issue deals with the question, Which God is the true God?, which is the most important and fundamental question facing religious man, it is imperative that the evidence be indisputable, even inexplicable outside of the one true God’s intervention. It is on the basis of this proposition that a challenge is issued by the God of Israel to all who claim to follow the one true God.
Produce your cause, saith the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob. Let them bring them forth, and show us what shall happen; let them show the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things to come. Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods; yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together (Isa. 41:21-23).
The challenge is to tell us the future before it comes to pass – tell us at this time what will take place so we can verify it by the future and its fulfillment. This alone will prove that You (God) are omniscient, by knowing what is ahead; omnipotent, You will bring it to pass; and omnipresent, You are everywhere to make sure the plan is not thwarted. Through the means of prophecy we will see that You are the one true God of this universe.
The challenge has been made for all to embrace. Whether one follows other gods or is just skeptical about the existence of God, the argument is pointed. If one can do as has been challenged, He is due our worship and adoration. Only One who is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent can fulfill these standards. He is the one true God to follow.
This basis for proof of deity cannot be invoked unless the challenger can produce His cause. It is on the basis of this unique challenge that the history of the Jewish people is offered. The amazing journey of the Jew is summarized from beginning to end in Isaiah 41:8-19, as the God of the Bible proves.
The Chosen People
God’s plan for this world revolves around one people. The call of that one people beginning with Abraham is clear from Isaiah 41:8-9:
But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham, my friend; Thou, whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee. Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.
God’s choosing of the Jewish people as His people is not because of their number, power, greatness or anything of that nature. It is simply that God is sovereign and chose the people of Israel to be the vehicle for His plan for the world.
The purpose of that plan is at least threefold. First, God needed someone to bring His Word to the world. According to Deuteronomy 4:1-2 and Romans 3:1-2, God would use the Jew to write the Bible. The Old and New Testaments were both written by the Jewish people. Secondly, God intended for the nation of Israel to be a witness to the world of the one true God. Isaiah 43:21 states, “This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise.” And, finally, God would use the nation of Israel as the vehicle to bring the Messiah into the world. In Micah 5:2 we are told that the King of Israel, the Messiah, would come from among the Jews and be born in Bethlehem. Redemption for the world would come from the womb of a Jewish mother.
The beginning of Israel’s unique history started with Abraham. The purpose was that God might work out His plan for this world. Apart from God, Israel and the Jew have no explanation or rationale.
The Preservation of the People
The preservation of the Jew is astounding to say the least. Nations and peoples of far greater number, wealth and geographical size have come and gone. The great empires of world history such as the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans have all stepped off the scene of world history, and yet the Jew marches on. The explanation for the phenomenon of the Jew is mentioned in verses 10, 13 and 14 of our text:
Fear thou not; for I am with thee. Be not dismayed; for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness . . . For I, the Lord thy God, will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee. Fear not, thou worm, Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
The answer to the dilemma of the reasons for the continuance of the Jew is God. The omnipotent God of this universe is protecting and keeping them from destruction. So sure is the Bible of the Jewish people’s continued presence on this earth that it is stated in Jeremiah 31:35-37 that one would have to destroy the universe before one could do away with the Jewish people. God’s plan and purpose for mankind is centered around the Jewish people. The Jew will exist forever because he is in the center of God’s will for this world. The preservation of the Jew is only properly understood in God.
The Conflict of the People
The history of the Jewish people has been one of constant conflict. Nation after nation has tried to erase the Jew from the pages of world history. From the Pharaohs to the pogroms, from the Hamans to the Hitlers, from Antiochus Epiphanes to the eventual Antichrist, all will have sought to annihilate the Jew. These are but a few of the endless nations and people of this world who have engaged in the destruction of the Jewish people. Verses 11 and 12 give us insight into the conflict and result of anti-Semitism:
Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded; they shall be as nothing, and they that strive with thee shall perish. Thou shalt seek them, and shall not find them, even them that contended with thee; they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought.
The great part of Israel’s history has been made up of conflicts with surrounding nations. Peace has never come to that nation whose capital is the city of peace, Jerusalem. It is important to note the promised end of all that are incensed against the chosen people of God – those who hate her – those who come against her – those who make war with her will end up as they intended Israel to be. They will be confounded at the end, eventually perishing as if they had never existed. The promise of God in the Abrahamic Covenant “. . . I will . . . curse him that curseth thee [the Jew] . . .” (Gen. 12:3), will be carried out.
The conflict and the preservation of the Jewish people are expressed very well in an essay entitled “What is a Jew?” by Leo Tolstoy:
This question is not at all so odd as it seems. Let us see what peculiar kind of creature the Jew is, which all the rulers and all the nations have together and separately abused and molested, oppressed and persecuted, trampled and butchered, burned and hanged, and, in spite of all this, is yet alive . . . He whom neither slaughter not torture of himself for years could destroy; he whom neither fire nor sword, nor inquisition was able to wipe from off the face of the earth; . . . such a nation cannot be destroyed. The Jew is everlasting as eternity itself.
Israel’s history has been one of conflict and trouble. Anyone who is at all familiar with the Jew and history is aware of this. God’s future promises for Israel, after the devastating time of Jacob’s trouble, are cause for all who love Israel and her people to shout for joy.
The Consummation of the People
Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument, having teeth; thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills like chaff. Thou shall fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them; and thou shalt rejoice in the Lord, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel. When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I, the Lord, will hear them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together (vv. 15-19).
The final climactic events of Israel’s history are summarized in these verses. The end of this world and age, as we know it, will climax with all the nations of the world coming against Israel at the battle of Armageddon (Joel 1:15; 3:9-17; Zeph. 3:8-9; Zech. 12-14).
God will at this time use the nation of Israel to help Him destroy the nations of the world. Zechariah 12:8 says that the Lord will defend Israel, but the people will be “. . . like David; and the house of David shall be like God . . .” All the nations of the world will be defeated (Zech. 14:3 and 9), and all the haters of the Jews will be judged (Mt. 25:41-45).
It is after this great battle and deliverance by the Messiah that the long-awaited kingdom will be set up. The great promises of Isaiah that the “wolf also shall dwell with the lamb” (Isa. 11:6) and that the “voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her [Jerusalem]” (Isa. 65:19) will finally be realized. True peace will finally have come to Israel and the world.
The truth of these two great themes of the Day of the Lord and the Millennium is graphically illustrated in these verses of Isaiah. The miraculous transformation of Israel from the persecuted to the exalted will be accomplished. The people of promise will finally dwell in safety with the blessings of God multiplied in the kingdom of the Messiah.
What is presented in Isaiah 41:8-19 is a synopsis of the history of Israel. In very basic thoughts the entire history of Israel is laid before us. From their choosing by God, to their conflict and preservation, and finally the consummation of their history, we see what history has already confirmed for us, except for the conclusion. The entire Bible gives us many more specific details about the history of Israel – past, present and future – but what is intended here is just a brief summary of that unique people known as the Jews.
The Purpose of Israel
Although one could give a number of reasons for God’s purpose for Israel, the purpose offered for her existence in this passage of Scripture is clearly seen in verse 20:
That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the Lord hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.
Four steps of reasoning are given, in a progressive order, for the purpose for the existence of the Jewish people:
That they may:
SEE -To see the Jew and their history is to realize that they are unique to this world. When Frederick the Great of Prussia challenged a believer in his court to prove the truth of the Bible and his God, he astutely replied, “The Jew!”
KNOW -To see the nation of Israel and her history, as well as her people, is to know that it is only explained supernaturally. Her continued existence is not explained by luck, coincidence or any other means of this nature.
CONSIDER -To see Israel is to know that the God of the Bible has done this miraculous work. At this point one will have to consider what his relationship is to this sovereign God of the universe. If the God of Israel is so powerful to bring these things to pass and to judge not only individuals but nations that contradict His will, the natural consideration will be for oneself. What will happen to me in light of this Holy God?
UNDERSTAND – The final realization of this process is that the God of Israel is the true God of this universe. The understanding is that He is the One I need to listen to and obey.
The argument of Israel’s history is so that all people, Jew and Gentile, might be willing to respond to “the Holy One of Israel.” It is no wonder that the challenge is issued in verses 21-23 for all the people of this world to foretell history so that they can see if their god is the true God. In the Jewish people this challenge is met minutely and perfectly. No other god, be it Allah, Buddha, or whomever, has ever met this challenge. The God of Israel and the Bible is the one true God of this universe.
The remaining verses of Isaiah 41 offer a summary of the entire thought of the chapter and the promise of good news for all who respond:
Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought; an abomination is he who chooseth you. I have raised up one from the north, and he shall come; from the rising of the sun shall he call upon my name, and he shall come upon princes as upon mortar, and as the potter treadeth clay. Who hath declared from the beginning, that we may know? And beforetime, that we may say, He is righteous? Yea, there is none that showeth, yea, there is none that declareth, yea, there is none that heareth your words. The first shall say to Zion, Behold, behold them; and I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings. For I beheld, and there was no man; even among them, and there was no counselor that, when I asked of them, could answer a word. Behold, they are all vanity; their works are nothing; their melted and cast images are wind and confusion (vv. 24-29).
The impotence of false gods and religions and the resulting abomination of the people who choose that direction are graphically stated. The only One who has perfectly foretold the future is the God of Israel. Thus, we can declare that He is righteous and the only One to be trusted. All false gods and religions are vanity, confusion and worthless. The promise of the God of Israel to a world of confused people is the giving of the One who can provide the good news and hope which the people need.
The promise of this One and His work will be clearly seen in Isaiah 42:1-9. If you have been searching for God and truth, the admonition of this passage is for you as much as it was for those of Isaiah’s day. The Bible is the Word of the one true God of this universe. He is the One to be sought and obeyed. It is He who has given us the bearer of good news. That One is the Messiah of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus summed up the teaching of the Old Testament and the challenge for each of us in these words, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me” (Jn. 5:39).