God's care of his people. (1-9) they are encouraged not to fear. (10-20) The vanity and folly of idolatry. (21-29)
Verses 1-9 Can any heathen god raise up one in righteousness, make what use of him he pleases, and make him victorious over the nations? The Lord did so with Abraham, or rather, he would do so with Cyrus. Sinners encourage one another in the ways of sin; shall not the servants of the living God stir up one another in his service? God's people are the seed of Abraham his friend. This is certainly the highest title ever given to a mortal. It means that Abraham, by Divine grace, was made like to God, and that he was admitted to communion with Him. Happy are the servants of the Lord, whom he has called to be his friends, and to walk with him in faith and holy obedience. Let not such as have thus been favoured yield to fear; for the contest may be sharp, but the victory shall be sure.
Verses 10-20 God speaks with tenderness; Fear thou not, for I am with thee: not only within call, but present with thee. Art thou weak? I will strengthen thee. Art thou in want of friends? I will help thee in the time of need. Art thou ready to fall? I will uphold thee with that right hand which is full of righteousness, dealing forth rewards and punishments. There are those that strive with God's people, that seek their ruin. Let not God's people render evil for evil, but wait God's time. It is the worm Jacob; so little, so weak, so despised and trampled on by every body. God's people are as worms, in humble thoughts of themselves, and in their enemies' haughty thoughts of them; worms, but not vipers, not of the serpent's seed. Every part of God's word is calculated to humble man's pride, and to make him appear little in his own eyes. The Lord will help them, for he is their Redeemer. The Lord will make Jacob to become a threshing instrument. God will make him fit for use, new, and having sharp spikes. This has fulfilment in the triumphs of the gospel of Christ, and of all faithful followers of Christ, over the power of darkness. God has provided comforts to supply all their wants, and to answer all their prayers. Our way to heaven lies through the wilderness of this world. The soul of man is in want, and seeks for satisfaction; but becomes weary of seeking that in the world, which is not to be had in it. Yet they shall have a constant supply, where one would least expect it. I will open rivers of grace, rivers of living water, which Christ spake of the Spirit, ( john 7:38 john 7:39 ) . When God sets up his church in the Gentile wilderness, there shall be a great change, as if thorns and briers were turned into cedars, and fir-trees, and myrtles. These blessings are kept for the poor in spirit, who long for Divine enlightening, pardon, and holiness. And God will render their barren souls fruitful in the grace of his Spirit, that all who behold may consider it.
Verses 21-29 There needs no more to show the folly of sin, than to bring to notice the reasons given in defence of it. There is nothing in idols worthy of regard. They are less than nothing, and worse than nothing. Let the advocates of other doctrines than that of salvation through Christ, bring their arguments. Can they tell of a cure for human depravity? Jehovah has power which cannot be withstood; this he will make appear. But the certain knowledge of the future must be only with Jehovah, who fulfils his own plans. All prophecies, except those of the Bible, have been uncertain. In the work of redemption the Lord showed himself much more than in the release of the Jews from Babylon. The good tidings the Lord will send in the gospel, is a mystery hid from ages and generations. A Deliverer is raised up for us, of nobler name and greater power than the deliverer of the captive Jews. May we be numbered among his obedient servants and faithful friends.
Isaiah 41:1-29 . ADDITIONAL REASONS WHY THE JEWS SHOULD PLACE CONFIDENCE IN GOD'S PROMISES OF DELIVERING THEM; HE WILL RAISE UP A PRINCE AS THEIR DELIVERER, WHEREAS THE IDOLS COULD NOT DELIVER THE HEATHEN NATIONS FROM THAT PRINCE.
1. ( Zechariah 2:13 ). God is about to argue the case; therefore let the nations listen in reverential silence. Compare Genesis 28:16 Genesis 28:17 , as to the spirit in which we ought to behave before God.
before me--rather (turning), "towards me" [MAURER].
islands--including all regions beyond sea ( Jeremiah 25:22 ), maritime regions, not merely isles in the strict sense.
renew . . . strength--Let them gather their strength for the argument; let them adduce their strongest arguments (compare Isaiah 1:18 , Job 9:32 ). "Judgment" means here, to decide the point at issue between us.
2. Who--else but God? The fact that God "raiseth up" Cyrus and qualifies him for becoming the conqueror of the nations and deliverer of God's people, is a strong argument why they should trust in Him. The future is here prophetically represented as present or past.
the righteous man--Cyrus; as Isaiah 44:28 , Isaiah 45:1-4 Isaiah 45:13 , 46:11 , "from the East," prove. Called "righteous," not so much on account of his own equity [HERODOTUS, 3.89], as because he fulfilled God's righteous will in restoring the Jews from their unjust captivity. Raised him up in righteousness. The Septuagint takes the Hebrew as a noun "righteousness." MAURER translates, "Who raised up him whom salvation (national and temporal, the gift of God's 'righteousness' to the good, Isaiah 32:17 ; compare Isaiah 45:8 , 51:5 ) meets at his foot" (that is, wherever he goes). Cyrus is said to come from the East, because Persia is east of Babylon; but in Isaiah 41:25 , from the north, in reference to Media. At the same time the full sense of righteousness, or righteous, and of the whole passage, is realized only in Messiah, Cyrus' antitype (Cyrus knew not God, Isaiah 45:4 ). He goes forth as the Universal Conqueror of the "nations," in righteousness making war ( Psalms 2:8 Psalms 2:9 , Revelation 19:11-15 , 6:2 , Revelation 2:26 Revelation 2:27 ). "The idols He shall utterly abolish" (compare Isaiah 41:7:23 , with Isaiah 2:18 ). Righteousness was always raised up from the East. Paradise was east of Eden. The cherubim were at the east of the garden. Abraham was called from the East. Judea, the birthplace of Messiah, was in the East.
called . . . to . . . foot--called him to attend His (God's) steps, that is, follow His guidance. In Ezra 1:2 , Cyrus acknowledges Jehovah as the Giver of his victories. He subdued the nations from the Euxine to the Red Sea, and even Egypt (says XENOPHON).
dust--( Isaiah 17:13 , 29:5 , Psalms 18:42 ). Persia, Cyrus' country, was famed for the use of the "bow" ( Isaiah 22:6 ). "Before him" means "gave them into his power" ( Joshua 10:12 ). MAURER translates, "Gave his (the enemy's) sword to be dust, and his (the enemy's) bow to be as stubble" ( Job 41:26 Job 41:29 ).
3. Cyrus had not visited the regions of the Euphrates and westward until he visited them for conquest. So the gospel conquests penetrated regions where the name of God was unknown before.
4. Who--else but God?
calling . . . generations from . . . beginning--The origin and position of all nations are from God ( Deuteronomy 32:8 , Acts 17:26 ); what is true of Cyrus and his conquests is true of all the movements of history from the first; all are from God.
with the last--that is the last ( Isaiah 44:6 , 48:12 ).
5. feared--that they would be subdued.
drew near, and came--together, for mutual defense.
6. Be of good courage--Be not alarmed because of Cyrus, but make new images to secure the favor of the gods against him.
7. One workman encourages the other to be quick in finishing the idol, so as to avert the impending danger.
nails--to keep it steady in its place. Wisdom 13:15,16, gives a similar picture of the folly of idolatry.
8. Contrast between the idolatrous nations whom God will destroy by Cyrus, and Israel whom God will deliver by the same man for their forefathers' sake.
servant--so termed as being chosen by God to worship Him themselves, and to lead other peoples to do the same ( Isaiah 45:4 ).
Jacob . . . chosen--( Psalms 135:4 ).
my friend--literally, "loving me."
9. Abraham, the father of the Jews, taken from the remote Ur of the Chaldees. Others take it of Israel, called out of Egypt ( Deuteronomy 4:37 , Hosea 11:1 ).
from the chief men--literally, "the elbows"; so the joints; hence the root which joins the tree to the earth; figuratively, those of ancient and noble stock. But the parallel clause "ends of the earth" favors GESENIUS, who translates, "the extremities of the earth"; so JEROME.
10. be not dismayed--literally, anxiously to look at one another in dismay.
right hand of my righteousness--that is, My right hand prepared in accordance with My righteousness (faithfulness to My promises) to uphold thee.
11. ashamed--put to the shame of defeat (compare Isaiah 54:17 , Romans 9:33 ).
12. seek . . . and . . . not find--said of one so utterly put out of the way that not a trace of him can be found ( Psalms 37:36 ).
thing of naught--shall utterly perish.
13. ( Deuteronomy 33:26 Deuteronomy 33:29 ).
14. worm--in a state of contempt and affliction, whom all loathe and tread on, the very expression which Messiah, on the cross, applies to Himself ( Psalms 22:6 ), so completely are the Lord and His people identified and assimilated. God's people are as 'worms' in humble thoughts of themselves, and in their enemies' haughty thoughts of them; worms, but not vipers, or of the serpent's seed." [HENRY].
men--The parallelism requires the word "men" here to have associated with it the idea of fewness or feebleness. LOWTH translates, "Ye mortals of Israel." The Septuagint, "altogether diminutive." MAURER supports English Version, which the Hebrew text best accord with.
the Lord--in general.
and thy redeemer--in particular; a still stronger reason why He should "help" them.
15. God will make Israel to destroy their enemies as the Eastern corn-drag ( Isaiah 28:27 Isaiah 28:28 ) bruises out the grain with its teeth, and gives the chaff to the winds to scatter.
teeth--serrated, so as to cut up the straw for fodder and separate the grain from the chaff.
mountains . . . hills--kingdoms more or less powerful that were hostile to Israel ( Isaiah 2:14 ).
16. fan--winnowed (compare Matthew 3:12 ).
whirlwind . . . scatter them--( Job 27:21 , 30:22 ).
17. poor and needy--primarily, the exiles in Babylon.
water--figuratively, refreshment, prosperity after their affliction. The language is so constructed as only very partially to apply to the local and temporary event of the restoration from Babylon; but fully to be realized in the waters of life and of the Spirit, under the Gospel ( Isaiah 30:25 , 44:3 , John 7:37-39 , 4:14 ). God wrought no miracles that we read of, in any wilderness, during the return from Babylon.
faileth--rather, "is rigid" or parched [HORSLEY].
18. Alluding to the waters with which Israel was miraculously supplied in the desert after having come out of Egypt.
high places--bare of trees, barren, and unwatered ( Jeremiah 4:11 , 14:6 ). "High places . . . valleys" spiritually express that in all circumstances, whether elevated or depressed, God's people will have refreshment for their souls, however little to be expected it might seem.
19. ( Isaiah 32:15 , 55:13 ).
shittah--rather, the "acacia," or Egyptian thorn, from which the gum Arabic is obtained [LOWTH].
oil tree--the olive.
fir tree--rather, the "cypress": grateful by its shade.
pine--GESENIUS translates, "the holm."
box tree--not the shrub used for bordering flower beds, but [GESENIUS] a kind of cedar, remarkable for the smallness of its cones, and the upward direction of its branches.
20. consider--literally, "lay it (to hear)"; turn (their attention) to it. "They" refers to all lands ( Isaiah 41:1 , Psalms 64:9 , 40:3 ). The effect on the Gentiles .of God's open interposition hereafter in behalf of Israel shall be, they shall seek Israel's God ( Isaiah 2:3 , Zechariah 8:21-23 ).
21. A new challenge to the idolaters (see Isaiah 41:1 Isaiah 41:7 ) to say, can their idols predict future events as Jehovah can ( Isaiah 41:22-25 , &c.)?
your strong reasons--the reasons for idol-worship which you think especially strong.
22. what shall happen--"Let them bring near and declare future contingencies" [HORSLEY].
former things . . . the latter end of them--show what former predictions the idols have given, that we may compare the event ("latter end") with them; or give new prophecies ("declare things to come") ( Isaiah 42:9 ), [MAURER]. BARNES explains it more reconditely, "Let them foretell the entire series of events, showing, in their order, the things which shall first occur, as well as those which shall finally happen"; the false prophets tried to predict isolated events, having no mutual dependency; not a long series of events mutually and orderly connected, and stretching far into futurity. They did not even try to do this. None but God can do it ( Isaiah 46:10 , Isaiah 44:7 Isaiah 44:8 ). "Or . . . things to come" will, in this view, mean, Let them, if they cannot predict the series, even predict plainly any detached events.
23. do good . . . evil--give any proof at all of your power, either to reward your friends or punish your enemies ( Psalms 115:2-8 ).
that we may be dismayed, and behold it together--MAURER translates, "That we (Jehovah and the idols) may look one another in the face (that is, encounter one another, 2 Kings 14:8 2 Kings 14:11 ), and see" our respective powers by a trial. HORSLEY translates, "Then the moment we behold, we shall be dismayed." "We" thus, and in English Version, refers to Jehovah and His worshippers.
here corrupt; so English Version
treats it. abomination
--abstract for concrete: not merely abominable,
but the essence
of whatever is so ( Deuteronomy 18:12
). chooseth you
--as an object of worship.
25. raised up--in purpose: not fulfilled till a hundred fifty years afterwards.
north--In Isaiah 41:2 , "from the East"; both are true: see the note there.
call . . . my name--acknowledge Me as God, and attribute his success to Me; this he did in the proclamation ( Ezra 1:2 ). This does not necessarily imply that Cyrus renounced idolatry, but hearing of Isaiah's prophecy given a hundred fifty years before, so fully realized in his own acts, he recognized God as the true God, but retained his idol (so Naaman, 2 Kings 5:1-27 ; compare 2 Kings 17:33 2 Kings 17:41 , Daniel 3:28 , Daniel 4:1-3 Daniel 4:34-37 ).
princes--the Babylonian satraps or governors of provinces.
mortar--"mire"; He shall tread them under foot as dirt ( Isaiah 10:6 ).
26. Who--of the idolatrous soothsayers? When this prophecy shall be fulfilled, all shall see that God foretold as to Cyrus, which none of the soothsayers have.
beforetime--before the event occurred.
He is righteous--rather, "It is true"; it was a true prophecy, as the event shows. "He is righteous," in English Version, must be interpreted, The fulfilment of the idol's words proves that he is faithful.
showeth, &c.--rather, "there was none (of the soothsayers) that showed . . . declared--no one has heard your words" foretelling the event.
27. Rather, "I first will give to Zion and to Jerusalem the messenger of good tidings, Behold, behold them!" The clause, "Behold . . . them" (the wished-for event is now present) is inserted in the middle of the sentence as a detached exclamation, by an elegant transposition, the language being framed abruptly, as one would speak in putting vividly as it were, before the eyes of others, some joyous event which he had just learned [LUDOVICUS DE DIEU] (compare Isaiah 40:9 ). None of the idols had foretold these events. Jehovah was the "first" to do so (see Isaiah 41:4 ).
28. no counsellor--no one of the idolatrous soothsayers who could inform ( Numbers 24:14 ) those who consulted them what would take place. Compare "counsel of His messenger" ( Isaiah 44:26 ).
when I asked--that is, challenged them, in this chapter.
29. confusion--"emptiness" [BARNES].