The Life, Times And Message Of Isaiah The Prophet Apr/May 1971

ISAIAH 41
The Testing of All Nations Is in the Hands of Jehovah

1-7 The nations are summoned to a dispute.

1 Be silent before me, O you coastlands,
Let the peoples renew their courage,
Let them draw near and then speak.
Let us come together before the seat of judgment.

2 Who raised up from the east,
The one whom victory follows in his footsteps?
Who makes nations to submit to him and subdues kings?
He scatters them with his sword like dust,
And with his bow like driven chaff.

3 He pursues them and marches on safely,
Where no journeying man has ever set foot.

4 Who has done this, and brought this to pass?
Who has called the generations from the beginning?
I the LORD, I am the first,
And with the last of them—I am he.

5 The coastlands saw it and feared,
The ends of the earth trembled.

6 They drew near and came,
Everyone helped his neighbor,
Saying to his brother “courage!”

7 So the craftsman encouraged the goldsmith,
And he who smites the anvil with the hammer
Said to the welder: “This is just right!”
So he fastened it with nails,
That it should not topple over.

Comment:

1 Be silent before me, O, you coastlands

Jehovah addresses himself to the inhabitants of the coastlands, adpoining the Mediterranean and summons them to a dispute. Before the creator and ruler of the earth they can only appear in awe-stricken silence. Having recovered from the shock of His Presence, He bids them to come together to the place of judgment.

2 Who raised up from the east . . .

The argument is based on a future historical event, which Jehovah is making known in advance. Yet for the prophet, that event is already an accomplished fact. “The man from the east” is Cyrus, later mentioned by name (44:28, 45:1). One of the main arguments against the Isaianic authorship of chapters 39-66 by the liberal critics is based on the assumption that prophecies which mention future historical personalities by name, are either “impossible” or without parallel in the prophetic writings. Furthermore an event which still is in the future would not carry any weight with the prophet’s contemporaries. However, the very fact of being able to predict future events before they come to pass, is used by the prophet as proof that Jehovah alone is omnipotent and omniscient, because whatever God declares, He also brings about.

Whom victory follows in his footsteps.

Here the Hebrew term for “victory” is “tsedek”—”righteousness.” It’s used in the sense of righteousness which defeats injustice and triumphs over wrong.

Who makes nations to surrender to him and subdues kings?

The questions which Jehovah asks the nations are calculated to make them think. It is an appeal to their rational faculties.

He scatters them with his sword like dust,

And with his bow like driven chaff.

Some commentators understood that the “he” of verse 2-3 refers to God Himself. Others apply the pronoun to Cyrus. In our context the latter view seems to be more satisfactory.

4 Who has done this and brought this to pass?

Jehovah asks the question and immediately answers it Himself.

It is I who call the generations from the beginning.

Jehovah alone, and not the pagan idols, presides over the destinies of the nations from the very beginning to the sunset of their history.

5 The inhabitants of the coastlands (lit. “islands”) saw it and feared. . . .

The appearance of “the man from the east” who swept nations and kingdoms before him caused great panic among the inhabitants of the Mediterranean, which are usually referred to as “the inhabitants of the coastlands.” However, instead of seeing in these events the hand of God, the nations attributed their misfortunes to the displeasure of their idols. So they sought to remedy this by producing more idols. This the prophet describes with great scorn (v. 6-7).

7 So he fastened it with nail that it should not topple over.

What a ridiculous situation to seek help from “a god” who must be fastened down with nails, that he should not fall!

8-16 Israel the servant of Jehovah will triumph in the end.

8 But thou Israel, My servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
The seed of Abraham my friend.

9 Of whom I have taken hold from the ends of the earth,
And called thee from its farthest parts,
And said unto Thee: “Thou art my servant.”
I have chosen thee and not cast thee off.

10 Fear thou not, for I am with thee,
Be not dismayed, for I am Thy God.
I will strengthen thee, yes, I will help thee
I will surely uphold thee with my victorious right arm.

11 Behold they shall be ashamed and confounded
All they who are incensed against thee,
They shall be as nothing and perish, they who strive against thee.

12 Thou shalt look for those who assailed thee, but not find them.
They shall be completely as nothing, they who make war against thee.

13 For I the LORD thy God hold up thy right arm.
Who says to thee: “Fear not, I will help thee.”

14 Fear not thou worm Jacob,
And thou handful of Israel, I will help thee,
Says the LORD, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.

15 Behold I will make thee a new sharp edged, threshing sledge with many teeth.
Thou shalt thresh mountains and grind them small,
And turn hills into chaff.

16 Thou shalt winnow them and the wind shall carry them off.
And the whirlwind shall scatter them,
But thou shalt rejoice in the LORD.

Comment:

8-10 But thou Israel, my servant . . .

From His dispute with the worshippers of the worthless idols, Jehovah now turns to Israel. This whole passage breathes a spirit of great compassion and affection. God sees Israel not as they are in reality, but as He intends them to become. Israel is called “the servant of Jehovah” by virtue of His sovereign grace and election. This election is of an indelible character, and does not depend on Israel’s merits or lack of them, but rather on God’s own faithfulness and integrity. If Israel disobeys Him, their disobedience brings upon them disaster and punishment. Nevertheless they remain His servant and chosen people. In subsequent chapters we shall discuss more fully the position of Israel as “the servant of Jehovah.”

8 The seed of Abraham my friend.

The election of Israel goes back to Abraham “who believed in the LORD and he counted it to him for righteousness,” (Gen. 15:16). God called Abraham “my servant” (Gen. 26:24). Consequently the nation which sprung from him was also “the servant of God.”

9 Of whom I have taken, hold from the ends of the earth . . .

The prophet speaks from the geographical position of a Palestinian, to whom Ur of the Chaldees, the original home of Abraham was “the ends of the earth.”

10 Fear not for I am with thee,

Be not dismayed for I am thy God.

This promise is unsurpassed in tenderness and beauty. While it was spoken primarily to Israel it is always precious to every believing heart.

I will surely uphold thee with my victorious right arm.

The Hebrew word “af” used in this verse, is a strong affirmation which can be translated as surely, certainly, yes, or indeed.

“Victorious right arm”—yemin tsidki. Here tsedek, like in verse 2 describes that righteousness which triumphs over wrong and injustice, hence “victorious right arm.”

11 Behold they shall be ashamed and confounded . . .     

In Biblical speech the expression “ashamed and confounded” conveys the thought that those who are against the people of God will eventually be utterly perplexed and frustrated when they see the disastrous results of their plans.

14 Fear not thou worm Jacob, and thou handful of Israel,

I will help thee, says the LORD.

In this context the term “worm” expresses great compassion and tenderness for harrassed and afflicted Israel. How surprising to find that the New English Bible translates this:

“Fear not, Jacob you worm, and Israel poor louse.”

Redeemer – Hebrew “goel,” a kinsman, who pays up the debt in order to redeem a near but impoverished relative, who was forced to sell himself or his property to satisfy a debt. (see Lev. 25:25, 32, 48, also 59:20).

15 Behold I will make thee a new, sharp edged threshing sledge. . . .

Jehovah will not  only redeem Israel from bondage but use her as His instrument to execute judgment against the nations which were hostile to Him. The strident language of the prophet may sound harsh, but taking into consideration the main tenor of the book of Isaiah, it must be interpreted to mean that the prophet looks forward to the spiritual triumph of redeemed Israel over her own and God’s enemies. The prophesied victory is one of truth and justice.

17-20 The present distress of Israel

17 The poor and the needy seek water, but there is none.
Their tongues are parched with thirst,
But I the LORD will answer them,
The God of Israel will not forsake them.

18 I will open rivers in barren heights,
And fountains in the midst of valleys.
I will turn the wilderness into a pool of water
And the dry land into springs of water.

19 I will plant in the wilderness
The acacia, the myrtle and the oil tree.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
Together with the fir and the box tree,

20 That they may see and know,
That they may take it to heart and understand,
That the hand of the LORD has done this
And the Holy One of Israel has brought it to pass.

Comment:

Speaking of Israel’s approaching redemption, the prophet also foresees a transformation in nature. This may be understood either literally or figuratively, or even both simultaneously. In Isa. 55 the prophet employs similar language. In both passages the transformation of nature is closely linked with the spiritual regeneration of the people. In both passages this transformation (41:20 and 55:13) is a striking testimony to the power and glory of God. Isaiah displays an unusual familiarity with, and love for trees. Seven different trees are mentioned in verse 19 (comp. Isa. 55:13).

21-29 The worthlessness of the idols.

21 Come forward with your plea,
Present your strongest arguments.
Says the king of Jacob.

22 Let them come forward and tell us
Let them explain to us the things that shall happen,
Tell us that we may consider and know their end,
Or announce to us what will happen in the future.

23 Declare to us the things that will come hereafter,
And we shall know that you are gods.
Do good or do evil, that we may be amazed,
And thoroughly dismayed.

24 But you are nothing,
And your work is of nought,
An abomination is he that chooses you.

25 I raised up one from the north and he came,
From the rising of the sun one that calls upon by name
He will come upon rulers like upon clay,
Even as a potter treads mortar.

26 Who declared this from the beginning, that we might know?
Or made known this that we could say “He is right!”
But there was none to declare, no one to predict,
None has heard your pronouncements!

27 As the first I said to Zion, “behold, behold them!”
I give to Jerusalem a messenger of good tidings.
28 And when I looked, there was not a man,
There was not a counselor among them,
That when I asked a question, they might give an answer.

29 Behold all of them,
Their works are sheer vanity and nought,
Their molten images mere wind and chaos.

Comment:

21-24 Jehovah resumes the dispute of verses 1-4. This time the dispute is not with the pagan nations, but with their idols. If they are gods they ought to be able to be able to predict future events, or at least to do something which is either good or bad. But they and their “deeds” are nothing and without any substance.

25-29 Jehovah alone has proven that He is indeed God by having raised up a man from the north and the east, who at His command descended upor rulers and has trodden them down like clay. The reference is of course to Cyrus, who was born in Media (in the north) and later extended his reign to Persia and to all of the Babylonian empire. “North and east” in this context are geographical positions as seen from the standpoint of the land of Israel.

25 . . . He will call upon my name . . .

Cyrus will recognize the sovereign rule of God. Chapter 45:4-5 repeats that for the sake of Israel, Jehovah called Cyrus by name before he ever knew the Lord.

26 Who declared this from the beginning?

The fact that the arrival upon the historical scene and the meteoric rise to power by Cyrus the Great was foretold by the prophet, is proof that Jehovah alone is the true God. It should be carefully noted that the prophet himself insists that his predictions were made long before the events ever came to pass, and so validates his authenticity as a true spokesman for the Lord.

27 I give to Jerusalem a messenger of good tidings.

In stark contrast to the pagan idols who cannot foretell the future nor do anything good or bad, Jehovah has sent a messenger of good tidings, who long before the event, predicted the deliverance of His people from the Babylonian exile. (Isa. 11:10-16, 21:1-10, 35:10). The whole of Isaiah 13 was a prediction of the future defeat of the Babylonian empire at the hands of the Medians.

29 Behold them all their works are sheer vanity and nought. . . .

Those words sum up the prophet’s thought about the idols: “they and their idols are vanity and absolute chaos, similar to that which existed before God brought order into the primeval world.

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