ISAIAH CHAPTER 41.
The God of History and of Prophecy.
THE GLORY OF THE LORD AND THE VANITY OF THE HEATHEN. — V. 1. Keep silence before Me, O islands, since the Lord is about to argue His case before the leaders of the Gentile world, and let the people, all those on the side of the enemies, renew their strength, gather all the resources at their command, in order, if that be possible, to gain the advantage in the argument; let them come near, stepping before the tribunal of the great Judge. Then let them speak, arguing their case; let us, the Lord and His enemies, come near together to judgment, to have their matter adjudicated in court. It is a majestic challenge on the part of the great God. V. 2. Who raised up the righteous man from the East, called him to his foot, gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings? literally, “Who stirs, raises up from the East him (whom) justice calls to her footprints, gives nations before him, and lets him step upon kings?” It is God who calls a great deliverer from the Eastern empire, a man who is ready to follow in the footsteps of the covenant faithfulness, and whom the Lord causes to subdue nations and kings. He gave them as the dust to his sword and as driven stubble to his bow, or, in the form of a question, “Who makes them as dust by His sword, as wind-driven stubble through His bow?” all the enemies of the Lord being destroyed before Him. V. 3. He pursued them and passed safely, without hindrance; even by the way that he had not gone with his feet, that is, the conqueror whom the Lord calls will carry on his pursuit of the Lord’s enemies with such energy as to disregard all obstructions, no matter of what kind they may be. V. 4. Who hath wrought and done it, undertaking and also finishing the work which He had set before Him, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord, the First and with the last: I am He. Jehovah, who called all the generations of man into being and will do so until the end of time, raises up also this deliverer as the champion of His cause. We now have a description of the impression which the argument of Jehovah made upon the enemies. V. 5. The isles, the leaders among the heathen, saw it and feared, filled with terror before the deliverer appointed by the Lord; the ends of the earth, all the inhabitants of the world, were afraid, drew near, and came, huddling together for mutual defense, with a show of opposition. V. 6. They helped every one his neighbor, they attempt to assist one another in the work which they now undertake; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage, trying to give him moral support, for they intend to supply gods for their defense against Jehovah. V. 7. So the carpenter, the craftsman in wood and metal, encouraged the goldsmith, the man who cast the idols, and he that smootheth with the hammer him that smote the anvil, saying, It is ready for the soldering, saying of the soldered mass, It is good; and he fastened it with nails that it should not be moved. Although the picture, as put together, seems solid enough, yet the workmen, for safety’s sake, put in a few nails to hold it upright, a fine bit of irony characterizing the vanity of idolatry and the helplessness of the idol worshipers, who trust in the work of man’s hands.
THE LORD’S PROMISE OF A FUTURE VICTORY. — V. 8. But thou, Israel, art My servant, as Jehovah, in a section replete with love and consolation, assures His children, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham, My friend, His servants, the people of His covenant, of old, especially the spiritual descendants of him who had the honor of being known as the friend of God. V. 9. Thou, whom I have taken from the ends of the earth and called thee from the chief men thereof, from its most remote corners, and said unto thee, Thou art My servant; I have chosen thee and not cast thee away. Note how excellently this description fits the believers of the New Testament, and how fully the glory of our calling into His kingdom is given to Jehovah alone. Therefore the Lord’s encouraging words gain in beauty with every new reading; every word, in fact, as one commentator puts it, breathes the most fervent love. V. 10. Fear thou not, for I am with thee, with His merciful power; be not dismayed, filled with anxiety, for I am thy God, who freely gives His heart, His grace, His salvation, to His children; I will strengthen thee, so that no one can overthrow him; yea, I will help thee, upholding him who is in himself too weak to withstand the enemy; yea. I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness, for the righteousness of Cod, which is imputed to men by faith, is the element which sustains him in the midst of all dangers and enemies of this world and keeps him safe for the final deliverance from every evil. V. 11. Behold, all they that were incensed against thee, who gave expression to their wrath, shall be ashamed and confounded, by the defeat and destruction which would strike them; they shall be as nothing, and they that strive with thee shall perish, since the Lord Himself would do battle for His people. V. 12. Thou shalt seek them and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee, daring to attack the Lord’s people; they that war against thee shall be as nothing and as a thing of naught, so utterly exterminated that not a trace of them could be found. V. 13. For I, the Lord, thy God, will hold thy right hand, thereby imparting His almighty strength, saying unto thee, Fear not, I will help thee. Cp. Deut. 33, 26. 29. The encouragement now increases in fervency. V. 14. Fear not, thou worm Jacob, trodden under foot as he now seems, and ye men of Israel, the poor small crew who hold to the Lord: I will help thee, saith the Lord, that is His majestic saying, and thy Redeemer (is) the Holy One of Israel, the mighty Deliverer and Vindicator of His people at all times, He who is zealous for His own honor and for the safety of His children. V. 15. Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth, the sledge used in the Orient to cut up the straw for fodder and to separate the grain from the hull, sometimes used to put captives to death; thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff, the very world-powers being compelled to yield to the army of the Lord. V. 16. Thou shalt fan them, as the husbandman winnows his grain, and the wind shall carry them away, like useless chaff, and the whirlwind, the strong tempest, shall scatter them; and thou, seeing this marvelous victory over the mighty enemies, shalt rejoice in the Lord and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel, properly giving all honor to Him who is the zealous Deliverer of His people. Not only will the enemies be overthrown, however, but the Church of God will find divine refreshment in the midst of the tribulation of this world. V. 17. When the poor and needy seek water, spiritual comfort and strength, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, their heart parched, exhausted with the heat of the affliction, I, the Lord, will hear them, their sighs and their prayers; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them, not permit them to perish in their misery. V. 18. I will open rivers in high places, in dry rocks, as He did in the wilderness, and fountains in the midst of the valleys, so that the headsprings will yield abundantly. I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry land springs of water. In the midst of Israel’s great spiritual trouble the Lord Himself would send refreshment for their souls in the Word of His grace. V. 19. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah-tree, the acacia, or Egyptian thorn, and the myrtle, and the oil-tree, the wild olive, valued as an ornamental tree; I will set in the desert the fir-tree, the cypress, and the pine, the Oriental elm, and the box-tree together, the pine, the former desert becoming a garden of the Lord, v. 20. that they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, become thoroughly saturated with the knowledge, that the hand of the Lord hath done this and the Holy One of Israel hath created it. In this manner the copious spiritual refreshment which would fall to the lot of those sighing for comfort would serve for the glory of Jehovah, just as it is His mercy, and His mercy alone, which to this day is the cause of our salvation and of all spiritual blessings which we enjoy.
THE COMING OF THE DELIVERER. — V. 21. Produce your cause, saith the Lord, presenting their case for the court’s consideration; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob, their arguments for the correctness of their position that they had a right to continue in their idolatry, in their enmity against God. V. 22. Let them bring them forth and show us what shall happen; let them show the former things, the events of the very nearest future, what they be, that we may consider them, laying their argument to heart, turning to it as a strong support of their cause, and know the latter end of them, or declare us things for to come, understand the consequences of events and acts which would take place in the future. The enemies are urged from every angle to bring proof in support of their position as idolaters, but such clear proof as would demand acknowledgment. V. 23. Show the things that. are to come hereafter, at any time in the future, for prophecy is one of the strongest proofs of divinity, that we may know that ye are gods, duly accept them as such; yea, do good or do evil, anything at all that will at least show life, that we may be dismayed and behold it together, concede that they had done wrong in opposing the claims of the idols, and be filled with fear. The entire section is built up in an ironical manner of speaking which greatly heightens the effect of the prophet’s argument: the living God over against the helpless, the dead idols! V. 24. Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of naught; an abomination is he that chooseth you, such is the conclusion which one is bound to reach from the premises presented: the idolater like his idol under the condemnation of the Lord. All the more prominently and emphatically, therefore, Jehovah stands out as the God of history and of prophecy, who directs the affairs of the whole world according to His divine will. V. 25. I have raised up one from the North, and he shall come, serving as the instrument of the Lord; from the rising of the sun shall he call upon My name, proclaiming the true God, as Cyrus did when he issued his decree permitting the Jews to return to their country, 2 Chron. 36, 23; Ezra 1, 1. 2; and he shall come upon princes as upon mortar, treading them under foot as the clay of the streets, and as the potter treadeth clay, the feature of contempt entering very strongly at this point. V. 26. Who hath declared from the beginning that we may know, proved His divinity by foretelling the future, and before-time, that we may say, He is righteous, he is in the right? Yea, there is none, namely, among the enemies, the idolaters, and their idols, that showeth; yea, there is none that declareth; yea, there is none that heareth your words; there was not one real prophet among them. V. 27. The first shall say to Zion, Behold, behold them, or, “I let Zion have the first one who says, Behold, there it is”; and I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings; that is, the idols were unable to foretell the future, but Jehovah, the true God, predicted the happening just as it came to pass, His messengers telling what He would surely perform in the future. Thus the godhead of Jehovah was fully proved. V. 28. For I beheld, and there was no man; even among them, the enemies, and there was no counselor, not one true prophet, that, when I asked of them, could answer a word, or in the form of a question: “And if I ask them, do they so much as answer ?“ It is a most emphatic way of saying that all the claims of the idolaters are fraudulent and empty. V. 29. Behold, they are all vanity, emptiness, nothingness; their works are nothing; their molten images are wind and confusion, utter desolation. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them. Ps. 115, 8.