113-141 Isaiah Chapter 41
The word “coastlands” are translated island or isles and could also mean distant lands. In this opening verse, God is calling to all nations to keep silence before Him. The reason is that they are coming into His courtroom. They are coming near to God for judgment. The Lord God is saying that the people are to renew their strength. In the last chapter of Isaiah in verse 31, Isaiah said that those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. If you are going into the courtroom of the Lord you had better be prepared and of renewed strength. The problem for those of distant lands is they have no god of strength to help them.
“The repetition of the phrase ‘renew their strength’ (cf. Isa_40:31) may well be ironic. Perhaps as the exiles renew their strength in the true God, so the nations are ironically exhorted to do the same – but in their man-made deities!” (Grogan) God will give the idol worshippers time before Him to justify their idolatry. In respect, they will enter His courtroom in silence and then have time to offer their word of excuse. Silence comes for many reasons. There is the silence of shame, of attention, and of submission. Any of these reasons is good for silence before the Lord God.
The Lord God has questions for the idolaters from the distant lands and asks them who authored this event in history? Who raised up the one from the east? There is a debate between the commentators as to this one from the east is. Some say that it is Abraham the father of the faith while others say that it is Cyrus who joined the Meads and Persians into a fighting force to defeat Babylon.
Wolf speaks for those of the belief of Cyrus. “Born east of Babylon in what is now Iran, Cyrus would move through country after country, conquering every king in his path. Shortly after 550 B.C., Cyrus was able to unify the Medes and the Persians and to defeat the powerful kingdom of Lydia in Asia Minor. Then he turned south to conquer Babylon (539 B.C.).” Bultema adds regarding Cyrus: “Both secular and sacred documents present him as righteous and good, and he can be called righteous or, as the text actually has it, justice, especially since he carried out the righteous acts of vengeance on Babylon and that of the deliverance of Israel.” (Wolf)
And for those who think Abraham Clarke speaks. “Some explain it of Abraham, others of Cyrus. I rather think that the former is meant; because of the character of the righteous man, or righteousness, agrees better with Abraham than with Cyrus.” (Clarke) In the context, either side of the argument could be correct but it is best to see the one from the east as Abraham. “Present your case,” the LORD says. “Bring forward your strong arguments,” The King of Jacob says.” (Isaiah 41″21) God is appealing to the worshippers of idols to answer both for the future and the past. And Cyrus is mentioned later in verse 25. “I have aroused one from the north, and he has come; From the rising of the sun he will call on My name; And he will come upon rulers as upon mortar, Even as the potter treads clay.” Cyrus shows God’s knowledge of the future and Abraham shows His knowledge of the past. The past and the future with the present in between all belong to God.
God has called the distant lands to come and reason with Him. God’s greatness is above all of His creation and is above all of history both past and future. These idol worshippers must ask who is in control of human events and who have done it knowing the generations from the beginning. Is there a direction to history or is it just a random act of circumstantial events. Is history a cycle of events which endlessly repeats itself? Is there a God in heaven who direct the events of history? A God who moves history to a final conclusion with a purposeful reason. To answer this question influences everything in our lives.
Here the Lord God proclaims that it is He who has done it. It is He that has called the generations from the beginning. It is God who lifts up the kings and it is He who puts them down. It is God who lifts up the nations and brings them down. God is the first and He is the last. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8) God is the bookends of human history. It is He who started the story and He who finishes the story and throughout the story, He brings it together.
God has a plan and purpose for all of human history and He directs the path of human events towards His designed fulfillment. Life is not given over to blind fate, does not travel in a meaningless circle, and runs in endless circles without resolution. God who is the first and last direct human history and the individual lives of the people.
When the people of the coastlands met this God of all authority they feared Him. They were so humbled by this encounter with God that they had to encourage one another to go on. The Apostle Peter had this same reaction when he saw the power of Jesus. “But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)
The people of distant lands turned away from this God of great power. They let their fear drive them away from Him. Instead of surrender to the Lord God Almighty, they made for themselves gods, idols of gold to worship. It took the craftsmen great labor to make a good god. If they had not done the work right, then their god would not stand up for them to worship. Today people see the power of God and in fear reject Him and turn to gods of their own making. “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 1:21-25)
In contrast to the rejection of God by the idol worshipping people of distant lands God now speaks to Israel through Isaiah. Israel means “Governed by God.” Israel is the servant of God. A true servant of God would not make a likeness of God as he thinks God should be. Servants of God do not tell God what He should do. Servants of God know who the master is and who they are as the servant. “Israel is twice addressed as a servant (literally ‘slave’), that is to say, a person without position or rights – but this servant belongs to a great master.” (Motyer) Israel is the servant of God only because He has chosen them.
Israel was in this position because they were the descendant of Abraham. Abraham was the friend of God and his children had a special place before God. King Jehoshaphat knew that Abraham was a friend of God. (2 Chronicles 20:7) James also knew that Abraham was a friend of God (James 2:23) We also know that Abraham was a friend of God not because of any relation to Abraham but because of our relation to Jesus the Son of God. “You are My friends if you do what I command you.“No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:14-15) Israel is different than the people of the distant lands not because of their greatness but because of the work that God is doing through them.
God gives His people a command and a promise. They are commanded not to fear. Fear, worry, and anxiety often become sinful. God rules over all the nations and He chose and loves us and when He tells us not to fear we must take Him at His word. We are to have no fear because God promises to be with us. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31) We often find ourselves in fear when we are alone but God says fear not for He is with us.
We must remember the God of all power and glory is with us. Years ago J.B. Phillips wrote, “Your God is Too Small.” When we forget how great our God is we become dismayed. God says be not dismayed, for I am your God. Our Almighty God is able and He will help us. He will help us because He loves us. The idols men have need to be held up or fastened down. But God lifts us up with His righteous hand. We do not have a god that needs to be lifted up. “Every truthful man feels that he has a right to be believed. He speaks upon the honor of an honest man, and if you say, ‘I cannot believe you,’ and even begin to lament that you have no faith in him, the reflection is not upon yourself, but on the person whom you cannot believe. And shall it ever come to this that God’s own children shall say that they cannot believe their God? Oh, sin of sins! It takes away the very Godhead from God, for if God is not true, he is not a God; and if he is not fit to be believed, neither is he fit to be adored, for a God whom you cannot trust you cannot worship.” (Spurgeon)
Our enemies are also the enemies of God and if we trust Him He knows how to make our enemies ashamed and disgraced. Whether they be men or evil spiritual forces. This is an outpouring of God’s promise to Abraham. “And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2)
The use of the name Jacob, the son of Abraham and Isaac, is here a reminder of Israel’s past of being lowly and deceitful. God is reminding them that they have been dishonorable. The worm is a destroyer with its mouth. Yet the mouth of the worm is very tender but can gnaw the cedars of Lebanon to destruction. The strength of the Israelite people is not in their army but in their prayers to the Lord. Then they will be able to smite the wicked of the world as the cedars of Lebanon.
The word redeemer in Hebrew is gaw-al and means the next of kin. The one who would buy back a relative’s property, marry his widow, or avenge a wrong committed against him. The Redeemer could be the deliverer who would ransom or redeem his next of kin. The Redeemer would take upon himself the needs of his people as if they were his own.
God empowers his people that they would be able to cut down the mountains as if they were great threshing machines. The Lord’s point is the mountains are nothing, not even a mountain can stand in the way of His people when He helps them. Jesus expressed this same idea in the Gospel of Matthew. “And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” (Matthew 17:20)
When the obstacles in life are overwhelming and yet we overcome them we know that is was His work. We then rejoice in the Lord and not in ourselves and glorify His name for the great things He has done.
The poor and needy of Judah cried out to the Lord that they thirst and the Lord supplied their need with water. The resources of God are limitless and He loves to supply them for His people. God will also make the barren place once again fruitful and fill the land with beautiful forest. For the desert peoples, water and shade are two of their greatest needs. God provided water for drink and shade for shelter. When the Lord supplies through His miraculous provision it is He that should get the glory.
God is just and will not condemn the idols and false gods of other nations without a fair trial. God invites these idol worshippers to come and present their case. God give chance to hear their argument and to weigh their reasons. “Says the King of Jacob.” This is the only time in the Scripture that God uses this title. The King of Israel 138 times in the KJV Bible. It is the title of the Lord God in Isaiah 44:6 and Zephaniah 3:15. Jesus uses the title King of Israel in John 1:49 and John 12:13.
God had challenged the idols and invited them to give an account but none came forward. God then questions the idols of other nations. Why did the idols not come forward and defend themselves? Because they are not living but are just dumb statues and cannot speak. God asks them to come forward and show what they can do. If they are gods, then they know the future and the past now they should speak and tell us. Let them show us the former things from where they were as gods should know and that may know that they are gods.
God is as He is in a courtroom questioning the idols of different sizes and shapes but nothing is heard. God then calls them to do something be it good or evil. But the idols speak nothing and the judgment is that they are nothing, their work is nothing, and those who chose them are an abomination. In this day idolatry is still an abomination to the Lord. Few bow down to idols but they fashion their own opinion of the false gods they will worship. We see this even in the Church. “The spiritual conflict experienced today is exactly of the same nature and of the same character as you find depicted here. The issue is still unsettled in the minds of men, though it is settled eternally in the mind of God. The world is still making every effort to put the best possible show upon its worship of the creature rather than the Creator. Its worship is more the patronizing of the shell of religion than bowing in submission before an empty cross, and occupied throne, and the King of kings in glory.” (Redpath)
The Apostle Paul carries the same idea in his letter to the Corinthian Church. “Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one.” (1 Corinthians 8:4)
The idols know nothing of the future but God knows. God knows that He will bring Cyrus from the north and conquer Babylon which had conquered Judah and Jerusalem. God would use Cyrus to free the exiles that Babylon had taken from Judah. (Ezra 1) “Cyrus had the greatest respect for Jehovah, as we can read in his proclamation concerning the freeing of Israel in Ezra one. In it, he states correctly that Jehovah had given him all the kingdoms of the earth.” (Bultema)
At the trial before God, the verdict is read that they are all worthless. Apart from God and His purposes all of man’s greatness is worthless. The idols that men worship are nothing but wind and confusion. “This chapter is the great I WILL chapter of the Bible. No fewer than fourteen times in the scope of these verses does God reinforce His authority with the promise, ‘I will.’“ (Redpath)
God will strengthen you, help you, uphold you, make you into a threshing-sledge, open us rivers, make a river open up in a desolate height, place a pool of water into the wilderness, plant trees in the wilderness, cedar trees in the desert, give good tidings to Jerusalem, place His throne above the stars, will sit on the mount of congregation, ascend above the clouds, and will be the Most High. “When God says, ‘I will,’ He says it with all the authority of omnipotence. He has foreseen every difficulty. He has studied every obstacle which may come in His way. He has anticipated every possible contingency. He knows the weakness of the one to whom He makes His promise, and yet He says, ‘I will!’“ (Redpath)