Isaiah 41


‘Be silent before me, you islands! Let the nations renew their strength! Let them come forward and speak; let us meet together at the place of judgment. “Who has stirred up one from the east, calling him in righteousness to his service? He hands nations over to him and subdues kings before him. He turns them to dust with his sword, to windblown chaff with his bow. He pursues them and moves on unscathed, by a path his feet have not travelled before. Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD—with the first of them and with the last—I am he.” Isaiah 41:1-4

The Helper Of Israel

In this chapter, we read that people are saved because of the Majesty of God.

It begins with God challenging the nations to contend with Him so that He may show them that He alone is God. The whole heathen world, that is, ‘the islands’, are challenged to speak after hearing the evidence. God is showing the people that He is God, and cannot be contended with.

Note that verse 2, is an indication that Cyrus who is later mentioned in Isaiah 44:28 and Isaiah 45:1, would be successful in all of his efforts. Of the great conquest of Cyrus, none could boast because it was the working of God. It was God who had raised Cyrus and accomplished all these things through him, God had the power to deliver His people.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following, as to why he believes the text is speaking about Cyrus.

‘This refers to Cyrus, the Persian monarch, by whom Babylon was taken, and by whom the Jews were restored to their own land. In support of this interpretation, a few considerations may be adverted to.’

1. It agrees with the fact in regard to the country from which Cyrus came for purposes of conquest. He came from the land which is everywhere in the Scriptures called the East.

2. It agrees with the specifications which Isaiah elsewhere makes, where Cyrus is mentioned by name, and where there can be no danger of error in regard to the interpretation, Isaiah 44:28 / Isaiah 45:1-4 / Isaiah 45:13. Thus in Isaiah 46:11, it is said of Cyrus, ‘Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my commandments from a far country’.

3. The entire description here is one that applies in a remarkable manner to Cyrus, as will be shown more fully in the notes at the particular expressions which occur.

4. This supposition accords with the design of the prophet.

We must also note that some believe that verse 2 refers to Abraham.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following, as to why the text isn’t speaking about Abraham.

‘This is the interpretation of the Chaldee Paraphrast, who renders it, ‘Who has publicly led from the east Abraham, the chosen of the just’ and this interpretation has been adopted by Jarchi, Kimchi, Abarbanel, and by the Jewish writers generally. They say that it means that God had called Abraham from the east, that he conducted him to the land of Canaan, and enabled him to vanquish the people who resided there, and particularly that he vanquished the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, and delivered Lot from their hands Genesis 14, and that this is designed by God to show them that he who had thus raised up Abraham would raise up them also in the east. There are, however, objections to this interpretation which seem to be insuperable, a few of which may be referred to.’

1. The country from which Abraham came, the land of Chaldea or Mesopotamia, is not commonly in the Scriptures called ‘the east’, but the north, Jeremiah 1:13-15 / Jeremiah 4:6 / Jeremiah 6:1 / Jeremiah 23:8 / Jeremiah 25:9 / Jeremiah 25:26 / Jeremiah 31:8 / Jeremiah 46:10 / Jeremiah 50:3 / Daniel 11:6 / Daniel 11:8 / Daniel 11:11. This country was situated to the northeast of Palestine, and it is believed is nowhere in the Scriptures called the country of the east.

2. The description which is here given of what was accomplished by him who was raised up from the east, is not one that applies to Abraham. It supposes more important achievements than any that signalized the father of the faithful. There were no acts in the life of Abraham that can be regarded as subduing the ‘nations’ before him; as ruling over ‘kings’ or as scattering them like the dust or the stubble. Indeed, he appears to have been engaged but in one military adventure, the rescue of Lot, and that was of so slight and unimportant a character as not to form the peculiarity of his public life. Had Abraham been referred to here, it would have been for some other trait than that of a conqueror or military chieftain.

‘It was to be an assurance to them not only that God would raise up such a man, but that they should be delivered; and as this was intended to comfort them in Babylon, it was intended that when they were apprised of the conquests of Cyrus, they were to be assured of the fact that God was their protector; and those conquests, therefore, were to be regarded by them as a proof that God would deliver them.’

It was God who called forth the generations from the beginning, that is, all the nations that live on the earth in every place owed their origin to God, Acts 17:26.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following.

‘God here gives of himself as ‘the first and the last,’ is one that is often applied to him in the Scriptures, and is one that properly expresses eternity, Isaiah 44:6 / Isaiah 48:12. It is remarkable also that this expression, which so obviously implies proper eternity, is applied to the Lord Jesus in Revelation 1:17 / Revelation 22:13.’

‘The islands have seen it and fear; the ends of the earth tremble. They approach and come forward; they help each other and say to their companions, “Be strong!” The metalworker encourages the goldsmith, and the one who smooths with the hammer spurs on the one who strikes the anvil. One says of the welding, “It is good.” The other nails down the idol so it will not topple.’ Isaiah 41:5-7

Here we read that the idolatrous nations have come from all directions to help meet the Persian army but all is confusion, and fear reigned among them. The gods by which they expect deliverance are not made until now, such a god, made with the hands of men, couldn’t help man.

‘But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. “All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all. For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.’ Isaiah 41:8-13

God, who has offered proof of His Deity, now turns His attention to Israel. The nations, trusting in their idols, were thrown into confusion, but Israel trusting in God might take comfort.

The eyes of Israel are pointing towards the future and so, because of what God had done in the past, Israel was to be encouraged because God would continue to work through them until He had completed the destiny of Israel. All of her enemies would be overcome because God was her protector.

The assurance was that as He had cared for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Genesis 12:1-4, He would care for Israel. Abraham was God’s friend, 2 Chronicles 20:7 / James 2:23, and chosen by God when he was called in Ur of the Chaldees so that he would come to the land that God would later give to his descendants.

Anyone who would make war in order to bring God’s covenanted people to destruction wouldn’t be successful, because God is going to fight for His people.

‘Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob, little Israel, do not fear, for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. “See, I will make you into a threshing sledge, new and sharp, with many teeth. You will thresh the mountains and crush them, and reduce the hills to chaff. You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up, and a gale will blow them away. But you will rejoice in the LORD and glory in the Holy One of Israel. “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the LORD will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set junipers in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the LORD has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.’ Isaiah 41:14-20

Notice the consoling words, ‘do not fear’ are repeated, they are repeated for the purpose of again adding the promise that Israel will not succumb to her foes but will rise above all of her enemies. The words ‘you worm Jacob’ are used to paint a picture of their helpless condition without God, Job 25:6.

The use of the ‘sharp threshing sledge with many teeth’, implies a crushing victory, Isaiah 28:27-28. Instead of being cut down by the nations, God’s people are strong and invincible. They are the ones who will thresh the nations as a large stone grinds the grain.

De Hoff, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Restored to Divine favour, Israel became a terrible instrument of the judgement of the heathen nations.’

The land will go from a wasteland where they suffered drought and famine, to a fertile land of rejoicing, Isaiah 35:7. Palestine would again become the land of milk and honey for the people of God.

When they considered the transformation in lives and land, they would understand that it was the work of God who accomplished this awesome deed.

In other words, at the present time, the state of his people is helpless but their cry wasn’t in vain, and when deliverance came they would know that it was from God.

‘Present your case,” says the LORD. “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King. “Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; whoever chooses you is detestable.’ Isaiah 41:21-24

God now returns to the legal process to which he has challenged all contenders. God stated the fact that it was He who had called the oppressor of the nations into being.

He appeals to the fact that He alone can know the future. If any of the idol gods can produce knowledge of the future, God says in effect, let him step forth. It was time for the false prophets of the false gods to prove themselves.

Pledge, in his commentary, says the following.

‘This fact of divine foreknowledge, predictive prophecy, is one of the strongest evidences available to prove that God is, and that he alone is God. There are those today who scoff at fulfilled prophecy as proof of the deity of God and of his existence. These people might as well scoff at God. God himself uses this fact to demonstrate his sole deity. If God used it, why can man today not use it with validity and force?’

Isaiah not only called the false prophets worthless, but He also pronounced condemnation of those who believed their senseless predictions. Those who reject the Word of God in order to follow after false prophets are detestable to the Lord.

‘I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes—one from the rising sun who calls on my name. He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay. Who told of this from the beginning, so we could know, or beforehand, so we could say, ‘He was right’? No one told of this, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you. I was the first to tell Zion, ‘Look, here they are!’ I gave to Jerusalem a messenger of good news. I look but there is no one—no one among the gods to give counsel, no one to give answer when I ask them. See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion.’ Isaiah 41:25-29

Here we read of the stark contrast between the idol who cannot speak and God who not only speaks but moulds history, makes the future and keeps all things in subjection unto Himself.

The calling upon the name by Cyrus, Isaiah 45:1, probably refers to the edict Cyrus issued which allowed the Jews to return to their homeland, Ezra 1:1-3.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following, concerning the one who is ‘stirred up from the north’.

‘In Isaiah 41:2, he is said to have been raised up ‘from the east’. Both were true. Cyrus was born in Persia, in the country called in the Scriptures ‘the east’, but he early went to Media, and came from Media under the direction of his uncle, Cyaxares, when he attacked and subdued Babylon. Media was situated on the north and northeast of Babylon.’

God points back to the second charge against the heathen, Isaiah 40:21-23. In raising up Cyrus, God demonstrates Himself as a universal God and omniscient ruler. No heathen god had ever foretold the appearance of Cyrus but only Jehovah God, Himself could.

Isaiah was the present messenger of good news to Jerusalem and Jerusalem would eventually be restored. The declaration closes with words of contempt and wrath. No good words come from these idols, they are vain and their makers are confused. Their idols were nothing!

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