Isaiah 41

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning,
that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4

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A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2007 James Melough

41:1.  “Keep silence before me, O islands; and let the people renew their strength; let them come near; then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment.”


Here the Creator deigns to enter into discussion with the creature, the term “let the people renew their strength” meaning “let them offer their strongest arguments.”  It is the same gracious condescension as is displayed in Isaiah 1:18 where He says, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow: though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”


“... islands” here mean the continents and every inhabited spot on the globe.  The invitation is worldwide.


41:2.  “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? He gave them as the dust to his sword, and as driven stubble to his bow.”


It is generally agreed that “the righteous man from the east” was Cyrus, to whom God had given virtual sovereignty over the nations of that day, see, e.g., 2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1,2,7-8, though as MacRae has pointed out “there is not necessarily any statement here regarding the character of Cyrus but rather regarding God’s purpose in enabling Cyrus to carry on this great career of conquest.”


41:3.  “He pursued them, and passed safely; even by the way that he had not gone with his feet.”


This continues to describe the extension of Cyrus’ dominion.  It included lands in which he himself had not set foot.


41:4.  “Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning?  I the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he.”


Taylor translates the first part of this verse “Who has done such mighty deeds, directing the affairs of generations of mankind as they march by,” and the Amplified rendering of the second half is, “I, the Lord, the first [existing before history began] and with the last [an ever present, unchanging God]: I am He.”


41:5. “The isles saw it, and feared; the ends of the earth were afraid, drew near, and came.”


Taylor’s rendering of this verse is, “The lands beyond the sea watch in fear and wait for word of Cyrus’ new campaigns.  Remote lands tremble and mobilize for war,” and the NAB translates the last part, “... these things are near, they come to pass.”


41:6.  “They helped every one his neighbor; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage.”


This declares the baseless optimism with which men tend to view worldly affairs.  They look for an eternal earthly Utopia, in spite of the clear warning of Scripture that this present world is destined for destruction, see Revelation 20:11.  And in the religious realm the prevailing idea is that God is too loving and kind to condemn anyone to eternal torment, a thought refuted by Scripture itself.


41:7.  “So the carpenter encouraged the goldsmith, and he that smootheth with the hammer him that smote the anvil, saying, It is ready for the sodering (soldering) and he fastened it with nails, that it should not be moved.”


This cooperation of the tradesmen to produce an idol, foreshadows the ecumenism that is already at work uniting the disparate elements of apostate Christendom into what will be the great world church headed up by Papal Rome.


41:8.  “But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.”


The use of the two names Israel and Jacob is instructive, for they portray the character of the Church, Israel meaning he shall be prince of God, and speaking of what she is spiritually; while Jacob, meaning supplanter: he will take by the heel, speaks of what she is physically: a corporeal entity beset by all the weakness of the flesh; but the further description “the seed of Abraham my friend” is the metaphoric declaration of the truth that, though veiled by the flesh, divine life pulses in those who comprise the Church, the life within us being the very life of Christ; and obedience ought to mark us as those whom He deigns to call “my friends,” He Himself declaring, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you,” John 15:14.


41:9.  “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.”


This was Israel’s reminder of the very great privilege He had bestowed upon her, gathering her out to be His distinctive people, her special work being to make Him known to the nations.


We of this present age enjoy an even higher distinction: we are Christ’s bride the Church, members of His body, possessing His life and nature, His command to us being, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations ... and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world,” Matthew 28:20.


41:10.  “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.”


The Amplified translation of the latter part of this verse reads, “I will strengthen and harden you [to difficulties]; yes, I will help you; yes, I will hold you and retain you with My victorious right hand of rightness and justice.”  Paul’s personal appropriation of this promise is declared in his own words recorded in Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  We can make the same confident assertion when we obey Him.


41:11.  “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.”


“... incensed” is also rendered inflamed: raged: fight: vent their anger against you: defy you: who set themselves against you.


When confronted with the opposition of the world we should remember what is written in Zechariah 2:8, “For thus saith the Lord of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple (pupil) of his eye.”


41:12.  “Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought.”


This is not a promise of peace and safety to every believer, but rather the assurance that in a fast approaching day, God will vindicate His own, and avenge every wrong done to them here on earth.  We should never measure His love for us by the circumstances of our lives.  What He directs or permits is first for His glory, and then for our ultimate blessing, for it is by these means that He strengthens our faith and develops our Christian character.


41:13.  “For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.”


Since the right hand is the hand of power and activity, His promise to hold us by our right hand implies, not deliverance from conflict, but His enablement and assurance of victory in the midst of it, see again Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Our obedience secures the operation of that Divine power on our behalf: our disobedience nullifies it.  His “fear not”, and His assurance of help are contingent on our obedience.


41:14.  “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.”


It is instructive to note that in connection with Jacob - the name associated with his natural state - the term worm is used, but relative to the what is associated with his spiritual state, the new name Israel meaning he shall be prince of God, is employed, God referring to Himself in that connection as “thy redeemer.”  It is only through redemption that men become God’s princes, i.e., members of His royal family; nor should we fail to note that relative to that new state God calls Himself “the Holy One of Israel.”  Holiness is inseparable from the redeemed state, as it is written “Be ye holy, for I am Holy,” 1 Peter 1:16.


41:15.  “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 as chaff.”


This foretells Israel’s glorious future, when she will be made ruler over the nations in the Millennium, the mountains here representing the chief rulers of the world; and the hills, the lesser earthly rulers.  All of them will be subject to Israel’s dominion in that now fast approaching day.


41:16.  “Thou shalt 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.”


Israel’s future supremacy continues to be emphasized here under the figure of a farmer winnowing wheat, those refusing her dominion being likened to the chaff blown away by the wind; and those submitting to her rule being portrayed by the grain that falls back on to the threshing floor.  In that coming day Israel, repentant and obedient as a result of the coming Tribulation judgments, will then rejoice, and as His vicegerent, reflect God’s glory to the whole earth. 


41:17.  “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.”


These poor and needy may well represent those who repentantly acknowledge their need as sinners, for it is to such that God presents the Lord Jesus Christ as the living water which imparts eternal life to those who trust Him as Savior, as He himself said while talking with the Samaritan woman at the well, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water .... whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life,” John 4:10-14.


41:18.  “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.”


This will be literally fulfilled in the Millennium, but the spiritual application is to the present, for there is no place on earth where that living water is not available, God’s gracious invitation being, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price,” Isaiah 55:1.


41:19.  “I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the plane, and the box tree together:”


The phenomenal fecundity of the millennial earth will beggar description, as it is written “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.  It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God,” Isaiah 35:1-2.


41:20.  “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.”


This will be to remove all doubt as to the identity of the One who has brought it about.  No one will question that God is the Author, as declared in Psalm 19:1-4, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork.  Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge.  There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.  Their line is gone out, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun.”


41:21.  “Produce your cause, saith the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob.”


Here the mighty God of heaven condescends to enter into discussion with the creature His hands have made, and that not in connection with a legitimate matter, but in regard to the grievous sin of idolatry.  They had forsaken Him to prostrate themselves before the idols their own hands had made!  And apostate Christendom offers Him the same affront today, for many of those who put in a brief occasional appearance in “church” are they who really worship Mammon, education, pleasure, art, and a host of other “gods.”


It is instructive to note also that He calls Himself “the King of Jacob,” and not of Israel, for Jacob speaks of what man is according to the flesh, while the new name Israel is associated with the obedient submission of the spirit, and with the latter He is not just King, but also loving Father.


41:22.  “Let them bring them forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them show the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come.” 


Other translations of this verse are, “Let us hear (from these idols) what happened in the past, that we may ponder it, or show me what is yet to be, that we may watch how it turns out,” Moffatt; “Let them declare the meaning of past events that we may give our minds to it: let them predict things that are to be that we may know their outcome,” NEB; “The approaching events, let them tell us what they will be, and we will note them, and mark their fulfillment, or declare unto us of things which will happen hereafter,” Spurrell


Fulfilled prophecy is the surest proof that the Scriptures are Divinely inspired, see 2 Peter 1:19, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.”  The exact fulfillment of the largest part of prophecy is the guarantee that the small part remaining will also be completed.


It is also to be noted that of all religions, Christianity is the only one whose handbook has dared to prophesy.


41:23.  “Shew 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.”


Not only were the idols challenged to foretell the future; they were invited to engage in even the slightest activity, good or bad, as proof that they themselves could even move; and in this we are reminded of a similar challenge extended in the days of Elijah, see 1 Kings 18:19-40, when the prophets of Baal were put to shame, and slain.


41:24.  “Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you.”


This continues to expose the impotence of idols, and the insanity of those who would worship them.


41:25.  “I have raised up one from the north, and he shall come forth: 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.”


The one raised up was Cyrus, a believer, to whom God gave virtual universal dominion, so that he is very clearly a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. 


The north is the direction that speaks of heaven as God’s dwelling place; and the east speaks of sin and departure from God, and of human knowledge working in opposition to Him; but it is instructive to note that here the east isn’t named directly, but is described as the place of the sun’s rising, i.e., in the present context, the source of spiritual enlightenment.  His calling upon God’s name speaks of his reverential fear of God; and his coming upon princes “as upon mortar, and as the potter treadeth clay,” is a figurative description of his destruction of those who were rebels against God.  As the potter kneads the clay by trampling it, so did Cyrus trample upon God’s enemies.


41:26.  “Who hath declared from the beginning, that we may know? And beforetime, that we may say, He is righteous? yea, there is none that sheweth, yea, there is none that declareth, yea, there is none that heareth your words.”


This is God’s scathing denunciation of Israel’s idols. They couldn’t even speak, much less foretell the future.


41:27.  “The first shall say to Zion, Behold, behold them: and I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings.”


The Amplified translation of this verse reads, “I, the Lord, first gave to Zion the announcement, Behold, [the Jews will be restored to their own land, and the man shall be raised up who will deliver them] behold them! And to Jerusalem I gave a herald bringing the good news.”


The foretold Liberator is the Lord Jesus Christ who will deliver Israel out of the hand of the Beast, and bring them into the enjoyment of millennial blessings.  That nation’s tragedy is that they failed to recognize the Deliverer when He came to them two thousand years ago, and instead of hailing Him as their Emancipator, delivered Him into the hand of the Romans to be crucified, thus condemning themselves to two millennia of vagabondage.


41:28.  “For I beheld, and there was no man; even among them, and there was no counselor, that, when I asked of them, could answer me a word.”


“For I look [upon the heathen prophets and the priests of pagan practices], and there is no man among them [who could predict these events], and among these idols there is no counselor.”  Amplified.


Neither prophets nor priests of the heathen religions could predict future events, nor answer the prophet’s questions.


41:29.  “Behold, they are all vanity; their works are nothing: their molten images are wind and confusion.”


The images they worshiped had no more worth than wind and emptiness.

[Isaiah 42]

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