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The design of this chapter is the same as that of the preceding, and it is to be regarded as the continuation of the argument commenced there. Its object is to lead those who were addressed, to put confidence in God. In the introduction to Isaiah 40:0 it was remarked, that this is to be considered as addressed to the exile Jews in Babylon, near the close of their captivity. Their country, city, and temple had been laid waste. The prophet represents himself as bringing consolation to them in this situation; particularly by the assurance that their long captivity was about to end; that they were about to be restored to their own land, and thai their trials were to be succeeded by brighter and happier times. In the previous chapter there were general reasons given why they should put their confidence in God - arising from the firmness of his promises, the fact that he had created all things; that he had all power, etc. In this chapter there is a more definite view given, and a clearer light thrown on the mode in which deliverance would be brought to them. The prophet specifies that God would raise up a deliverer, and that that deliverer would be able to subdue all their enemies. The chapter may be conveniently divided into the following parts:
I. God calls the distant nations to a public investigation of his ability to aid his people; to an argument whether he was able to deliver them; and to the statement of the reasons why they should confide in him Isaiah 41:1.
II. He specifies that he will raise up a man from the east - who should be able to overcome the enemies of the Jews, and to effect their deliveranceIsaiah 41:2-4; Isaiah 41:2-4.
III. The consternation of the nations at the approach of Cyrus, and their excited and agitated fleeing to their idols is described Isaiah 41:5-7.
IV. God gives to his people the assurance of his protection, and friendship Isaiah 41:8-14. This is shown:
1. Because they were the children of Abraham, his friend, and be was bound in covenant faithfulness to protect them Isaiah 41:8-9.
2. By direct assurance that he would aid and protect them; that though they were feeble, yet he was strong enough to deliver them Isaiah 41:10-14.
V. He says that he will enable them to overcome and scatter their foes, as the chaff is driven away on the mountains by the whirlwind Isaiah 41:15-16.
VI. He gives to his people the special promise of assistance and comfort. He will meet them in their desolate condition, and will give them consolation as if fountains were opened in deserts, and trees producing grateful shade and fruit were planted in the wilderness Isaiah 41:17-20.
VII. He appeals directly to the enemies of the Jews, to the worshippers of idols. He challenges them to give any evidence of the power or the divinity of their idols; and appeals to the fact that he had foretold future events; that he had raised up a deliverer for his people in proof of his divinity, and his power to save Isaiah 41:21-29. The argument of the whole is, that the idol-gods were unable to defend the nations which trusted in them; that God would raise up a mighty prince who should be able to deliver the Jews from their long and painful calamity, and that they, therefore, should put their trust in Yahweh.
Keep silence before me - (Compare Zechariah 2:13) The idea is, that the pagan nations were to be silent while God should speak, or with a view of entering into an argument with him respecting the comparative power of himself and of idols to defend their respective worshippers. The argument is stated in following verses, and preparatory to the statement of that argument, the people are exhorted to be silent. This is probably to evince a proper awe and reverence for Yahweh, before whom the argument was to be conducted, and a proper sense of the magnitude and sacredness of the inquiry (compare Isaiah 41:21). And it may be remarked here, that the same reasons will apply to all approaches which are made to God. When we are about to come before him in prayer or praise; to confess our sins and to plead for pardon; when we engage an argument respecting his being, plans, or perfections; or when we draw near to him in the closet, the family, or the sanctuary, the mind should be filled with awe and reverence. It is well, it is proper, to pause and think of what our emotions should be, and of what we should say, before God (compare Genesis 28:16-17).
O islands - (איים 'iyiym). This word properly means islands, and is so translated here by the Vulgate, the Septuagint, the Chaldee, the Syriac, and the Arabic. But the word also is used to denote maritime countries; Countries that were situated on seacoasts, or the regions beyond sea (see the note at Isaiah 20:6). The word is applied, therefore, to the islands of the Mediterranean; to the maritime coasts; and then, also, it comes to be used in the sense of any lands or coasts far remote, or beyond sea (see Psalms 72:10; Isaiah 24:15; the notes at Isaiah 40:15; Isaiah 41:5; Isaiah 42:4, Isaiah 42:10, Isaiah 42:12; Isaiah 49:1; Jeremiah 25:22; Daniel 11:18). Here it is evidently used in the sense of distant nations or lands; the people who were remote from Palestine, and who were the worshippers of idols. The argument is represented as being with them, and they are invited to prepare their minds by suitable reverence for God for the argument which was to be presented.
And let the people renew their strength - On the word ‘renew,’ see the note at Isaiah 40:31. Here it means, ‘Let them make themselves strong; let them prepare the argument; let them be ready to urge as strong reasons as possible; let them fit themselves to enter into the controversy about the power and glory of Yahweh’ (see Isaiah 41:21).
Let us come near together to judgment - The word ‘judgment’ here means evidently controversy, argumentation, debate. Thus it is used in Job 9:32. The language is that which is used of two parties who come together to try a cause, or to engage in debate; and the sense is, that God proposes to enter into an argumentation with the entire pagan world, in regard to his ability to save his people; that is, he proposes to show the reasons why they should trust in him, rather than dread those under whose power they then were, and by whom they had been oppressed. Lowth renders it, correctly expressing the sense, ‘Let us enter into solemn debate together.’
Who raised up - This word (העיר hē‛yr) is usually applied to the act of arousing one from sleep Song of Solomon 2:7; Song of Solomon 3:5; Song of Solomon 8:4; Zechariah 4:1; then to awake, arouse, or stir up to any enterprise. Here it means, that God had caused the man here referred to, to arouse for the overthrow of their enemies; it was by his agency that he had been led to form the plans which should result in their deliverance. This is the first argument which God urges to induce his people to put confidence in him, and to hope for deliverance; and the fact that he had raised up and qualified such a man for the work, he urges as a proof that he would certainly protect and guard his people.
The righteous man from the east - Hebrew, צדק tsedeq - ‘righteousness.’ The Septuagint renders it literally, Δικαιοσὺνην Dikaiosunēn - ‘righteousness.’ The Vulgate renders it, ‘The just;’ the Syriac as the Septuagint. The word here evidently means, as in our translation, the just or righteous man. It is common in the Hebrew, as in other languages, to put the abstract for the concrete. In regard to the person here referred to, there have been three principal opinions, which it may be proper briefly to notice.
1. The first is, that which refers it to 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 14:0; 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.
(a) The country from which Abraham came, the land of Chaldea or Mesopotamia, is not commonly in the Scriptures called ‘the east,’ but the north (see 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.
(b) 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.
(c) We shall see that the description and the connection require us to understand it of another - of Cyrus.
2. A second opinion is, that it refers directly and entirely to the Messiah. Many of the fathers, as Jerome, Cyril, Eusebius, Theodoret, Procopius, held this opinion. But the objections to this are insuperable.
(a) It is not true that the Messiah was raised up from the east. He was born in the land of Judea, and always lived in that land.
(b) The description here is by no means one that applies to him. It is the description of a warrior and a conqueror; of one who subdued nations, and scattered them before him.
(c) The connection and design of the passage does not admit of the interpretation. That design is, to lead the Jews in exile to put confidence in God, and to hope for a speedy rescue. In order to this, the prophet directs them to the fact that a king appeared in the east, and that he scattered the nations; and from these facts they were to infer that they would themselves be delivered, and that God would be their protector. But how would this design be accomplished by a reference to so remote an event as the coming of the Messiah?
3. The third opinion, therefore, remains, that 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.
(a) 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.
(b) 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 (see 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.
(c) 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.
(d) This supposition accords with the design of the prophet.
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. This opinion is held by Vitringa, Rosenmuller, and probably by a large majority of the most intelligent commentators. The only objection of weight to it is that suggested by Lowth, that the character of ‘a righteous man’ does not apply to Cyrus. But to this it may be replied, that the word may be used nor to denote one that is pious, or a true worshipper of God, but one who was disposed to do justly, or who was not a tyrant; and especially it may be applied to him on account of his delivering the Jews from their hard and oppressive bondage in Babylon, and restoring them to their own land.
That was an act of eminent public justice; and the favors which he showed them in enabling them to rebuild their city and temple, were such as to render it not improper that this appellation should be given to him. It may be added also that Cyrus was a prince eminently distinguished for justice and equity, and for a mild and kind administration over his own subjects. Xenophon, who has described his character at length, has proposed him as an example of a just monarch, and his government as an example of an equitable administration. All the ancient writers celebrate his humanity and benevolence (compare Diod. xiii. 342, and the Cyropedia of Xenophon everywhere). As there will be frequent occasion to refer to Cyrus in the notes at the chapters which follow, it may be proper here to give a very brief outline of his public actions, that his agency in the deliverance of the Jews may be more fully appreciated.
Cyrus was the son of Cambyses, the Persian, and of Mandane, the daughter of Astyages, king of the Medes. Astyages is in Scripture called Ahasuerus. Cambyses was,’ according to Xenophon (Cyr. i.), king of Persia, or, according to Herodotus (i. 107), he was a nobleman. If he was the king of Persia, of course Cyrus was the heir of the throne. Cyrus was born in his father’s court, A.M. 3405, or 595 b.c., and was educated with great care. At the age of twelve years, his grandfather, Astyages, sent for him and his mother Mandane to court, and he was treated, of course, with great attention. Astyages, or Ahasuerus, had a son by the name of Cyaxares, who was born about a year before Cyrus, and who was heir to the throne of Media. Some time after this, the son of the king of Assyria having invaded Media, Astyages, with his son Cyaxares, and his grandson Cyrus, marched against him. Cyrus defeated the Assyrians, but, was soon after retailed by his father Cambyses to Persia, that he might be near him.
At the age of sixteen, indeed, and when at the court of his grandfather, Cyrus signalized himself for his valor in a war with the king of Babylon. Evil-Merodach, the son of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had invaded the territories of Media, but was repelled with great loss, and Cyrus pursued him with great slaughter to his own borders. This invasion of Evil-Merodach laid the foundation of the hostility between Babylon and Media, which was not terminated until Babylon was taken and destroyed by the united armies of Media and Persia. When Astyages died, after a reign of thirty-five years, he was succeeded by his son Cyaxares, the uncle of Cyrus. He was still involved in a war with the Babylonians. Cyrus was made general of the Persian troops, and at the head of an army of 30,000 men was sent to assist Cyaxares, whom the Babylonians were preparing to attack. The Babylonian monarch at this time was Neriglissar, who had murdered Evil-Merodach, and who had usurped the crown of Babylon. Cyaxares and Cyrus carried on the war against Babylon during the reigns of Neriglissar and his son Laborosoarchod, and of Nabonadius. The Babylonians were defeated, and Cyrus carried his arms into the countries to the west beyond the river Halys - a river running north into the Euxine Sea - and subdued Cappadocia, and conquered Croesus, the rich king of Lydia, and subdued almost all Asia Minor. Having conquered this country, he returned again, re-crossed the Euphrates, turned his arms against the Assyrians, and then laid siege to Babylon, and took it (see the notes at Isaiah 13:0; Isaiah 14:0), and subdued that mighty kingdom.
During the life of Cyaxares his uncle, he acted in conjunction with him. On the death of this king of Media, Cyrus married his daughter, and thus united the crowns of Media and Persia. After this marriage, he subdued all the nations between Syria and the Red Sea, and died at the age of seventy, after a reign of thirty years. Cyaxares, the uncle of Cyrus, is in the Scripture called Darius the Mede Daniel 5:31, and it is said there, that it was by him that Babylon was taken. But Babylon was taken by the valor of Cyrus, though acting in connection with, and under Cyaxares; and it is said to have been taken by Cyaxares, or Darius, though it was done by the personal valor of Cyrus. Josephus (Ant. xii. 13) says, that Darius with his ally, Cyrus, destroyed the kingdom of Babylon. Jerome assigns three reasons why Babylon is said in the Scriptures to have been taken by Darius or Cyaxares; first, because he was the older of the two; secondly, because the Medes were at that time more famous than the Persians; and thirdly, because the uncle ought to be preferred to the nephew. The Greek writers say that Babylon was taken by Cyrus, without mentioning Cyaxares or Darius, doubtless because it was done solely by his valor. For a full account of the reign of Cyrus, see Xen. Cyr., Herodotus, and the ancient part of the Universal History, vol. iv. Ed. Lond. 1779, 8vo.
Called him to his foot - Lowth renders this, ‘Hath called him to attend his steps.’ Noyes renders it, ‘Him whom victory meeteth in his march.’ Grotius, ‘Called him that he should follow him,’ and he refers to Genesis 12:1; Joshua 24:3; Hebrews 11:8. Rosenmuller renders it, ‘Who hath called from the East that man to whom righteousness occurs at his feet,’ that is, attends him. But the idea seems to be, that God had influenced him to follow him as one follows a guide at his feet, or close to him.
Gave the nations before him - That is, subdued nations before him. This is justly descriptive of the victorious career of Cyrus. Among the nations whom he subdued, were the Armenians, the Cappadocians, the Lydians, the Phrygians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, comprising a very large portion of the world, known at that time. Cyrus subdued, according to Xenophon, all the nations lying between the Euxine and Caspian seas on the north, to the Red Sea on the south, and even Egypt, so that his own proclamation was true: ‘Yahweh, God of heaven, hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth’ Ezra 1:2.
And made him rule over kings - As the kings of Babylon, of Lydia, of Cappadocia, who were brought into subjection under him, and acknowledged their dependence on him.
He hath given them as the dust to his sword - He has scattered, or destroyed them by his sword, as the dust is driven before the wind. A similar remark is made by David Psalms 18:42 :
Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind,
I did cast them out as the dirt in the streets.
And as driven stubble - The allusion here is to the process of fanning grain. The grain was thrown by a shovel or fan in the air, and the stubble or chaff was driven away. So it is said of the nations before Cyrus, implying that they were utterly scattered.
To his bow - The bow was one of the common weapons of war, and the inhabitants of the East were distinguished for its use The idea in this verse is very beautiful, and is one that is often employed in the Sacred Scriptures, and by Isaiah himself (see Job 21:18; Psalms 1:4; Psalms 35:5; the notes at Isaiah 17:13; Isaiah 29:5; compare Hosea 13:3).
He pursued them - When they were driven away. He followed on, and devoted them to discomfiture and ruin.
And passed safely - Margin, as Hebrew, ‘In peace.’ That is, he followed them uninjured; they had no power to rally, he was not led into ambush, and he was safe as far as he chose to pursue them.
Even by the way that he had not gone with his feet - By a way that he had not been accustomed to march; in an unusual journey; in a land of strangers. Cyrus had passed his early years on the east of the Euphrates. In his conquests he crossed that river, and extended his march beyond even the river Halys to the western extremity of Asia, and even to Egypt and the Red Sea. The idea here is, that he had not traveled in these regions until he did it for purposes of conquest - an idea which is strictly in accordance with the truth of history.
Who hath wrought and done it? - By whom has all this been accomplished? Has it been by the arm of Cyrus? Has it been by human skill and powers. The design of this question is obvious. It is to direct attention to the fact that all this had been done by God, and that he who had raised up such a man, and had accomplished all this by means of him, had power to deliver his people.
Calling the generations from the beginning - The idea here seems to be, that all the nations that dwell on the earth in every place owed their origin to God (compare Acts 17:26). The word ‘calling’ here, seems to be used in the sense of commanding, directing, or ordering them; and the truth taught is, that all the nations were under his control, and had been from the beginning. It was not only true of Cyrus, and of those who were subdued before him, but it was true of all nations and generations. The object seems to be, to lift up the thoughts from the conquests of Cyrus to God’s universal dominion over all kingdoms from the beginning of the world.
I the Lord, the first - Before any creature was made; existing before any other being. The description that 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 (see 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.
And with the last - The usual form in which this is expressed is simply ‘the last’ Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 48:12. The idea here seems to be, ‘and with the last, I am the same;’ that is, I am unchanging and eternal. None will subsist after me; since with the last of all created objects I shall be the same that I was in the beginning. Nothing would survive God; or in other words, he would exist forever and ever. The argument here is, that to this unchanging and eternal God, who had thus raised up and directed Cyrus, and who had control over all nations, they might commit themselves with unwavering confidence, and be assured that he was able to protect and deliver them.
The isles saw it - The distant nations (see the note at Isaiah 41:1). They saw what was done in the conquests of the man whom God in this remarkable manner had raised up; and they had had demonstration, therefore, of the mighty power of Yahweh above the power of idols.
And feared - Were alarmed, and trembled. All were apprehensive that they would be subdued, and driven away as with the tempest.
The ends of the earth - Distant nations occupying the extremities of the globe (see the note at Isaiah 40:28).
Drew near, and came - Came together for the purpose of mutual alliance, and self-defense. The prophet evidently refers to what he says in the following verses, that they formed treaties; endeavored to prepare for self-defense; looked to their idol-gods, and encouraged each other in their attempts to offer a successful resistance to the victorious arms of Cyrus.
They helped every one his neighbor - The idolatrous nations. The idea is, that they formed confederations to strengthen each other, and to oppose him whom God had raised up to subdue them. The prophet describes a state of general consternation existing among them, when they supposed that all was in danger, and that their security consisted only in confederation; in increased attention to their religion; in repairing their idols and making new ones, and in conciliating the favor and securing the aid of heir gods It was natural for them to suppose that the calamities which were coming upon them by the invasion of Cyrus were the judgments of their gods, for some neglect, or some prevailing crimes, and that their favor could be secured only by a more diligent attention to their service, and by forming new images and establishing them in the proper places of worship. The prophet, therefore, describes in a graphic manner, the consternation, the alarm, and the haste, everywhere apparent among them, in attempting to conciliate the favor of their idols, and to encourage each other. Nothing is more common, than for people, when they are in danger, to give great attention to religion, though they may greatly neglect or despise it when they are in safety. Men fly to temples and churches and altars in the times of plague and the pestilence; and as regularly flee from them when the calamity is overpast.
Be of good courage - Margin, as Hebrew, ‘Be strong.’ The sense is, Do not be alarmed at the invasion of Cyrus. Make new images, set them up in the temples, show unusual zeal in religion, and the favor of the gods may be secured, and the dangers be averted. This is to be understood as the language of the idolatrous nations, among whom Cyrus, under the direction of Yahweh, was carrying his conquests and spreading desolation.
So the carpenter - (See the note at Isaiah 40:19).
Encouraged the goldsmith - Margin, ‘The founder’ (see the note at Isaiah 40:19). The word properly means one who melts or smelts metals of any kind; and may be applied either to one who works in gold, silver, or brass. The image here is that of haste, anxiety, solicitude. One workman in the manufacture of idols encouraged another, in order that the idols might be finished as soon as possible, and that thus the favor of the gods might be propitiated, and the impending danger averted.
He that smootheth with the hammer - That is, he encourages or strengthens him that smites on the anvil. The idol was commonly cast or founded, and of course was in a rough state. This required to be smoothed, or polished, and this was in part done doubtless by a small hammer.
Him that smote the anvil - The workman whose office it was to work on the anvil - forming parts of the idol, or perhaps chain.
It is ready for the sodering - The parts are ready to be welded, or soldered together. All this is descriptive of haste and anxiety to have the work done; and the object of the prophet is evidently to ridicule their vain solicitude to defend themselves against the plans and purposes of God by efforts of this kind.
And he fastened it with nails - He fixed it to its place in the temple, or in the dwelling; and thus showed a purpose that the worship of the idol should be permanent, and fixed. Hooks, or nails, were necessary to keep it in its place, and secure it from falling down. When the idol was thus fixed, they supposed that their kingdoms were safe. They judged that the gods would interpose to protect and defend them from their foes. This is a beautiful descrip tion of the anxiety, and pains, and consternation of sinners when calamity is coming upon them, and of the nature of their reliances. What could these dumb idols - these masses of brass, or silver, or stone, do to protect them? And in like manner what can all the refuges of sinners do when God comes to judge them, and when the calamities connected with death and the judgment shall overtake them? They are just as full of consternation as were the pagan who are here described; and all their refuges will be just as little to be relied on as were the senseless images which the pagan had made for their defense.
But thou, Israel, art my servant - This is an address directly to the Jews, and is designed to show them, in view of the truths which had just been urged, that God was their protector and friend. Those who relied on idols were trusting to that which could not aid them. But those who trusted in him were safe. For their protection he had raised up Cyrus, for this purpose he had subdued the nations before him. God now expresses to them the assurance that though the nations should be destroyed, yet that he had chosen them, and would remember them, and his promise made to Abraham, their illustrious ancestor. The word ‘servant’ here is used in a mild and gentle sense, not to denote bondage or slavery, but to denote that they had been engaged in his service, and that he regarded them as subject to his laws, and as under his protection.
Jacob whom I have chosen - The descendants of Jacob, whom I have selected to be my people. Abraham my friend. Hebrew, ‘Loving me,’ my lover. Abraham was regarded as the friend of God (see 2 Chronicles 20:7). ‘And he was called the Friend of God’ James 2:23. This most honorable appellation he deserved by a life of devoted piety, and by habitually submitting himself to the will of God. The idea in this verse is, that as they were the descendants of his friend, God deemed himself bound to protect and deliver them according to his gracious promises; and this is one of the many instances where the divine favor is manifested to descendants in consequence of the piety and prayers of their ancestors.
Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth - From Chaldea - regarded by the Jews as the remote part of the earth. Thus in Isaiah 13:5, it is said of the Medes that they came ‘from a far country, from the end of heaven’ (see the note on that place). Abraham was called from Ur of the Chaldees - a city still remaining on the east of the river Euphrates. It is probably the same place as the Persian fortress Ur, between Nesibis and the Tigris. It was visited by Mr. Wolfe, Mr. Buckingham, and by others.
And called thee from the chief men thereof - Or rather, from the extremities of the earth. The word אציל 'âtsiyl means properly “a side”; and when applied to the earth, means the sides ends, or extremities of it. In Exodus 24:11, it is rendered ‘nobles,’ from an Arabic word signifying to he deep-rooted, and hence, those who are sprung from an ancient stock (Gesenius). In this place it is evidently used in the same sense as the word (אצל 'ētsel) meaning “side,” in the sense of extremity, or end. The parallelism requires us to give this interpretation to the word. So Jerome renders it, longinquis ejus (sc. terroe). The Septuagint renders it, Ἐκ τῶν σκωπιῶν Ek tōn skōpiōn - ‘From the speculations of the earth’ (Thompson), or rather perhaps meaning from the extremity of vision; from the countries lying in the distant horizon; or from the elevated places which offered an extensive range of vision. The Chaldee renders it, ‘From the kingdoms I have selected thee.’ Symmachus renders it, Ἀπὸ τῶν ἀγκῶνων Apo tōn angkōnōn autēs - from its angles, its corners, its extremities. Some have supposed that this refers to the deliverance from Egypt, but the more probable interpretation is that which refers it to the call of Abraham from Chaldea; and the idea is, that as God had called him from that distant land, and had made him his friend, he would preserve and guard his posterity. Perhaps it may be implied that he would be favorable to them in that same country from where he had called their illustrious progenitor, and would in like manner conduct them to the land of promise, that is, to their own land.
Fear thou not - This verse is plain in its meaning, and is full of consolation. It is to be regarded as addressed primarily to the exiled Jews during their long and painful captivity in Babylon; and the idea is, that they who had been selected by God to be his special people had nothing to fear. But the promise is one that may be regarded as addressed to all his people in similar circumstances, and it is as true now as it was then, that those whom God has chosen have nothing to fear.
For I am with thee - This is a reason why they should not be afraid. God was their protector, and of whom should they be afraid. ‘If God be for us, who can be against us?’ What higher consolation can man desire than the assurance that he is with him to protect him?
Be not dismayed - The word rendered here ‘dismayed’ (תשׁתע tı̂shetta‛) is derived from שׁעה shâ‛âh, “to see, to look”; and then to look about as one does in a state of alarm, or danger. The sense here is, that they should be calm, and under no apprehension from their foes.
For I am thy God - I am able to preserve and strengthen thee. The God of heaven was their God; and as he had all power, and that power was pledged for their protection, they had nothing to fear.
I will uphold thee - I will enable you to bear all your trials.
With the right hand of my righteousness - With my faithful right hand. The phrase is a Hebrew mode of expression, meaning that God’s hand was faithful, that it might be relied on, and would secure them.
All they that were incensed against thee - They who were enraged against thee, that is, the Chaldeans who made war upon you, and reduced you to bondage.
Shall be ashamed and confounded - To be ashamed and confounded is often used as synonymous with being overcome and destroyed.
They that strive with thee - Margin, as Hebrew, ‘The men of thy strife.’ The expression refers to their enemies, the Babylonians.
Thou shalt seek them - This denotes that it would be impossible to find them, for they should cease to exist. The whole verse, with the verse following, is emphatic, repeating in varied terms what was said before, and meaning that their foes should be entirely destroyed.
Fear not - (See the note at Isaiah 41:10).
Thou worm - This word is properly applied as it is with us, to denote a worm, such as is generated in putrid substances Exodus 16:20; Isaiah 14:11; Isaiah 66:24; or such as destroy plants Jonah 4:7; Deuteronomy 28:39. It is used also to describe a person that is poor, afflicted, and an object of insignificance Job 25:5-6 :
Behold even to the moon, and it shineth not;
Yea, the stars are not pure in his sight.
How much less man, that is a worm;
And the son of man which is a worm?
And in Psalms 22:6 :
But I am a worm, and no man;
A reproach of men, and despised of the people.
In the passage before us, it is applied to the Jews in Babylon as poor and afflicted, and as objects of contempt in view of their enemies. It implies that in themselves they were unable to defend or deliver themselves, and in this state of helplessness, God offers to aid them and assures them that they have nothing to fear.
And ye men of Israel - (מתי ישׂראל yı̂s'erâ'ēl methēy). Margin, ‘Few men.’ There has been a great variety in the explanation of this phrase. Aquila renders it, Τεθνεῶτες Tethneōtes, and Theodotion, Νεκροὶ Nekroi, ‘dead.’ So the Vulgate, Qui mortui estis ex Israel. The Septuagint renders it, ‘Fear not, Jacob, O diminutive Israel’ (ὀλιγοστὸς Ἰσραὴλ oligostos Israēl). Chaldee, ‘Fear not, O tribe of the house of Jacob, ye seed of Israel.’ Lowth renders it, ‘Ye mortals of Israel.’ The Hebrew denotes properly, as in our translation, ‘men of Israel;’ but there is evidently included the idea of fewness or feebleness. The parallelism requires us so to understand it; and the word men, or mortal men, may well express the idea of feebleness.
And thy Redeemer - On the meaning of this word, see the notes at Isaiah 35:9; Isaiah 43:1, Isaiah 43:3. It is applied here to the rescue from the captivity of Babylon, and is used in the general sense of deliverer. God would deliver, or rescue them as be had done in times past. He had done it so often, that this might be regarded as his appropriate appellation, that he was the redeemer of his people.
The Holy One of Israel - The Holy Being whom the Israelites adored, and who was their protector, and their friend (see the note at Isaiah 2:4). This appellation is often given to God (see Isaiah 5:19, Isaiah 5:24; Isaiah 10:20; Isaiah 12:6; Isaiah 17:7; Isaiah 29:19; Isaiah 30:11-12). We may remark in view of these verses:
1. That the people of God are in themselves feeble and defenseless. They have no strength on which they can rely. They are often so encompassed with difficulties which they feel they have no strength to overcome, that they are disposed to apply to themselves the appellation of ‘worm,’ and by ethers they are looked on as objects of contempt, and are despised.
2. They have nothing to fear. Though they are feeble, their God and Redeemer is strong. He is their Redeemer, and their friend, and they may put their trust in him. Their enemies cannot ultimately triumph over them, but they will be scattered and become as nothing.
3. In times of trial, want, and persecution, the friends of God should put their trust alone in him. It is often the plan of God so to afflict and humble his people, that they shall feel their utter helplessness and dependence, and be led to him as the only source of strength.
Behold, I will make thee ... - The object of the illustration in this verse and the following is, to show that God would clothe them with power, and that all difficulties in their way would vanish. To express this idea, the prophet uses an image derived front the mode of threshing in the East, where the heavy wain or sledge was made to pass over a large pile of sheaves, and to bruise out the grain, and separate the chaff, so that the wind would drive it away. The phrase, ‘I will make thee,’ means, ‘I will constitute, or appoint thee,’ that is, thou shalt be such a threshing instrument. It is not that God would make such a sledge or wain for them, but that they should be such themselves; they should beat down and remove the obstacles in the way as the threshing wain crushed the pile of grain.
A new sharp threshing instrument - A threshing wain, or a corn-drag. For a description of this, compare the notes at Isaiah 28:27-28.
Having teeth - Or, with double edges. The Hebrew word is applied to a sword, and means a two-edged sword Psalms 149:6. The instrument here referred to was serrated, or so made as to cut up the straw and separate the grain from the chaff. The following descriptions from Lowth and Niebuhr, may serve still further to illustrate the nature of the instrument here referred to. ‘The drag consisted of a sort of frame of strong planks made rough at the bottom with hard stones or iron; it was drawn by horses or oxen over the corn-sheaves spread on the floor, the driver sitting upon it. The wain was much like the drag, but had wheels of iron teeth, or edges like a saw. The axle was armed with iron teeth or serrated wheels throughout: it moved upon three rollers armed with iron teeth or wheels, to cut the straw. In Syria, they make use of the drag, constructed in the very same manner as above described.
This not only forced out the grain, but cut the straw in pieces, for fodder for the cattle, for in the eastern countries they have no hay. The last method is well known from the law of Moses, which forbids the ox to be muzzled, when he treadeth out the grain Deuteronomy 25:4.’ (Lowth) ‘In threshing their corn, the Arabians lay the sheaves down in a certain order, and then lead over them two oxen, dragging a large stone. This mode of separating the ears from the straw is not unlike that of Egypt. They use oxen, as the ancients did, to beat out their grain, by trampling upon the sheaves, and dragging after them a clumsy machine. This machine is not, as in Arabia, a stone cylinder, nor a plank with sharp stones, as in Syria, but a sort of sledge, consisting of three rollers, suited with irons, which turn upon axles. A farmer chooses out a level spot in his fields, and has his grain carried thither in sheaves, upon donkeys or dromedaries.
Two oxen are then yoked in a sledge, a driver gets upon it, and drives them backward and forward upon the sheaves, and fresh oxen succeed in the yoke from time to time. By this operation, the chaff is very much cut down; the whole is then winnowed, and the pure grain thus separated. This mode of threshing out the grain is tedious and inconvenient; it destroys the chaff, and injures the quality of grain.’ (Niebuhr) In another place Niebuhr tells us that two parcels or layers of corn are threshed out in a day; and they move each of them as many as eight times, with a wooden fork of five prongs, which they call meddre. Afterward, they throw the straw into the middle of the ring, where it forms a heap, which grows bigger and bigger; when the first layer is threshed, they replace the straw in the ring, and thresh it as before. Thus, the straw becomes every time smaller, until at last it resembles chopped straw. After this, with the fork just described, they cast the whole some yards from thence, and against the wind, which, driving back the straw, the grain and the ears not threshed out fall apart from it and make another heap. A man collects the clods of dirt, and other impurities, to which any grain adheres, and throws them into a sieve. They afterward place in a ring the heaps, in which a good many entire ears are still found, and drive over them, for four or five hours together, a dozen couples of oxen, joined two and two, till, by absolute trampling, they have separated the grains, which they throw into the air with a shovel to cleanse them.
Thou shalt thresh the mountains - The words ‘mountains’ and ‘hills’ in this verse seem designed to denote the kingdoms greater and smaller that should be opposed to the Jews, and that should become subject to them (Rosenmuller). Grotius supposes that the prophet refers particularly to the Medes and Babylonians. But perhaps the words are used to denote simply difficulties or obstacles in their way, and the expression may mean that they would be able to overcome all those obstacles, and to subdue all that opposed them, as if in a march they should crush all the mountains, and dissipate all the hills by an exertion of power.
Thou shalt fan them - Keeping up the figure commenced in the previous verse. To fan here means to winnow, an operation which was performed by throwing the threshed grain up with a shovel into the air, so that the wind drove the chaff away. So all their enemies, and all the obstacles which were in their way should be scattered.
And the whirlwind shall scatter them - The ancients believed that people might be swept away by a storm or whirlwind. See Job 27:0:
The cast wind carrieth him away and he departeth;
And as a storm hurleth him out of his place.
Compare Homer, Odys. xx. 63ff, thus rendered by Pope:
Snatch me, ye whirlwinds! far from human race,
Tost through the void illimitable space;
Or if dismounted from the rapid cloud,
Me with his whelming wave let ocean shroud!
See the notes at Job 30:22.
And thou shalt rejoice in the Lord - In view of the aid which he has vouchsafed, and the deliverance which he has performed for you.
Shalt glory - Shalt boast, or shalt exult. You will regard God as the author of your deliverance, and joy in the proofs of his interposition, and of his gracious protection and care.
When the poor and needy seek water - Water is often used in the Scriptures as an emblem of the provisions of divine mercy. Bursting fountains in a desert, and flowing streams unexpectedly met with in a dry and thirsty land, are often also employed to denote the comfort and refreshment which the gospel furnishes to sinful and suffering man in his journey through this world. The ‘poor and needy’ here, doubtless refer primarily to the afflicted captives in Babylon. But the expression of the prophet is general, and the description is as applicable to his people at all times in similar circumstances as it was to them. The image here is derived from their anticipated return from Babylon to Judea. The journey lay through a vast pathless desert (see the notes at Isaiah 40:3). In that journey when they were weary, faint and thirsty, God would meet and refresh them as if he should open fountains in their way, and plant trees with far-reaching boughs and thick foliage along the road to produce a grateful shade, and make the whole journey through a pleasant grove. As he met their fathers in their journey from Egypt to the land of Canaan, and had brought water from the flinty rock in the desert (Exodus 15:22 ff), so in their journey through the sands of Arabia Deserta, he would again meet them, and provide for all their want.
I will open rivers - That is, I will cause rivers to flow (see the note at Isaiah 35:7). The allusion here is doubtless to the miraculous supply of water in the desert when the Israelites had come out of Egypt. God then supplied their needs; and in a similar manner he would always meet his people, and would supply their needs as if rivers of pure water were made to flow from dry and barren hills.
In high places - The word used here denotes properly barrenness or nakedness Job 33:21; and then a hill that is bare, or destitute of trees. It is applied usually to hills in a desert Jeremiah 3:2, Jeremiah 3:21; Jeremiah 4:11; Jeremiah 7:29; Jeremiah 14:6. Such hills, without trees, and in a dry and lonely desert, were of course usually without water. The idea is, that God would refresh them as if rivers were made to flow from such hills; and it may not improperly be regarded as a promise that God would meet and bless his people in situations, and from sources where they least expected refreshment and comfort.
And fountains in the midst of the valleys - (See Isaiah 30:25, note; Isaiah 35:6, note).
I will make the wilderness - (See the note at Isaiah 35:7).
I will plant in the wilderness - The image in this verse is one that is frequent in Isaiah. It is designed to show that God would furnish for his people abundant consolations, and that he would furnish unanticipated sources of comfort, and would remove from them their anticipated trials and calamities. The image refers to the return of the exiles to their own land. That journey lay through Arabia Deserta - a vast desert - where they would naturally expect to meet with nothing but barren hills, naked rocks, parched plains, and burning sands. God says that he would bless them in the same manner as if in that desolate wilderness he should plant the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the fir-tree, and should make the whole distance a grove, where fountains would bubble along their way, and streams burst forth from the hills (compare the notes at Isaiah 32:15).
The cedar - The large and beautiful cedar, with lofty height, and extended branches such as grew on Lebanon (compare Isaiah 9:10, note; Isaiah 37:24, note).
The shittah-tree - This is the Hebrew name without change, שׁטה shı̂ṭṭâh. The Vulgate is spinam. The Septuagint renders it, Πύξον Puchon - ‘The box.’ Lowth renders it, ‘The acacia.’ Probably the acacia, or the spina AEgyptiaca - the Egyptian thorn of the ancients - is intended by it. It is a large tree, growing abundantly in Egypt and Arabia, and is the tree from which the gum-arabic is obtained. It is covered with large black thorns, and the wood is hard, and, when old, resembles ebony.
And the myrtle - The myrtle is a tree which rises with a shrubby upright stem, eight or ten feet high. Its branches form a dense, full head, closely garnished with oval lanceolate leaves. It has numerous small pale flowers from the axillas, singly on each footstalk (Encyc.) There are several species of the myrtle, and they are especially distinguished for their forming a dense and close top, and thus constituting a valuable tree for shade. It is a tree that grows with great rapidity.
And the oil-tree - Hebrew, ‘Tree of oil’ that is, producing oil. Doubtless the olive is intended here, from whose fruit oil was obtained in abundance. This was a common tree in Palestine, and was one of the most valued that grew.
The fir-tree - The word used here (ברושׁ berôsh) is commonly rendered, in our version, ‘fir-tree’ (Isaiah 60:13; Isaiah 55:13; Zechariah 11:2; Hos 14:8-9; 2 Samuel 6:5; 1Ki 5:8, 1 Kings 5:10; 1Ki 6:15, 1 Kings 6:34; Nahum 2:3, and in other places). Our translators understood it evidently as referring to the cedar. It is often joined, however, with the cedar (see the note at Isaiah 14:8; compare Isaiah 37:24; Zechariah 11:1-2), and evidently denotes another tree, probably of the same class. It is probable that the word usually denotes the cypress. There are various kinds of cypress. Some are evergreen, and some are deciduous, as the American white cedar. The wood of these trees is remarkable for its durability. Among the ancients, coffins were made of it, and the tree itself was an emblem of mourning. It is mentioned here because its extended branches and dense foliage would produce a grateful shade.
And the pine - The Septuagint renders this Λεύκην Leukēn, And - ‘The white poplar.’ The Vulgate renders it, ‘The elm.’ Gesenius supposes that a species of hard oak, holm or ilex, is intended. It is not easy, however, to determine what species of tree is meant.
The box-tree - Gesenius supposes that by this word is denoted some tall tree - a species of cedar growing on mount Lebanon that was distinguished by the smallness of its cones, and the upward direction of its branches. With us the word box denotes a shrub used for bordering flower-beds. But the word here denotes a tree - such as was sufficient to constitute a shade.
That they - The Jews, the people who shall be rescued from their long captivity, and restored again to their own land. So rich and unexpected would be the blessings - as if in a pathless desert the most beautiful and refreshing trees and fountains should suddenly spring up - that they would have the fullest demonstration that they came from God.
Hath created it - That is, all this is to be traced to him. In the apocryphal book of Baruch there is an expression respecting the return from Babylon remarkably similar to that which is used here by Isaiah: ‘Even the woods and every sweet-smelling tree shall overshadow Israel by the commandment of God’ Isaiah 5:8.
Produce your cause - This address is made to the same persons who are referred to in Isaiah 41:1 - the worshippers of idols; and the prophet here returns to the subject with reference to a further argument on the comparative power of Yahweh and idols. In the former part of the chapter, God had urged his claims to confidence from the fact that he had raised up Cyrus; that the idols were weak and feeble compared with him; and from the fact that it was his fixed purpose to defend his people, and to meet and refresh them when faint and weary. In the verses which follow Isaiah 41:21, he urges his claims to confidence from the fact that he alone was able to predict future events, and calls on the worshippers of idols to show their claims in the same manner. This is the ‘cause’ which is now to be tried.
Bring forth your strong reasons - Adduce the arguments which you deem to be of the greatest strength and power (compare the notes at Isaiah 41:1). The object is, to call on them to bring forward the most convincing demonstration on which they relied, of their power and their ability to save. The argument to which God appeals is, that he had foretold future events. He calls on them to show that they had given, or could give, equal demonstration of their divinity. Lowth regards this as a call on the idol-gods to come forth in person and show their strength. But the interpretation which supposes that it refers to their reasons, or arguments, accords better with the parallelism, and with the connection.
Let them bring them forth - Let the idols, or the worshippers of idols, bring forth the evidences of their divine nature and power. Or more probably it means, ‘let them draw near or approach.’
And show us what shall happen - None but the true God can discern the future, and predict what is to occur. To be able to do this, is therefore a proof of divinity to which God often appeals as a demonstration of his own divine character (see Isaiah 44:7-8; Isaiah 45:3-7; Isaiah 46:9-10). This idea, that none but the true God can know all things, and can with certainty foretell future events, is one that was admitted even by the pagan (see Xen. Cyr. i. ‘The immortal gods know all things, both the past, the present, and those things which shall proceed from each thing. It was on this belief also that the worshippers of idols endeavored to sustain the credit of their idol-gods; and accordingly, nearly all the reputation which the oracle at Delphi, and other shrines, obtained, arose from the remarkable sagacity which was evinced in predicting future events, or the skillful ambiguity in which they so couched their responses as to be able to preserve their influence whatever might be the result.
Let them show the former things what they be - The idea in this passage seems to be, ‘Let them foretell the entire series of events; let them predict in their order, the things which shall first occur, as well as those which shall finally happen. Let them not select merely an isolated and unconnected event in futurity, but let them declare those which shall have a mutual relation and dependency, and whose causes are now hid.’ The argument in the passage is, that it required a far more profound knowledge to predict the serges of events as they should actually occur; to foretell their order of occur rence, than it did to foretell one single isolated occurrence. The latter, the false prophets of the pagan often undertook to do; and undoubtedly they often evinced great sagacity in it. But they never undertook to detail minutely a series of occurrences, and to state the order in which they would happen. In the Scriptures, it is the common way to foretell the order of events, or a series of transactions pertaining often to many individuals or nations, and stretching far into futurity. And it is perfectly manifest that none could do this but God (compare Isaiah 46:10).
Or declare us things for to come - Declare any event that is to occur; anything in the future. If they cannot predict the order of things, or a series of events, let them clearly foretell any single event in futurity.
That we may know that ye are gods - The prediction of future events is the highest evidence of omniscience, and of course of divinity. In this passage it is admitted that if they could do it, it would prove that they were worthy of adoration; and it is demanded, that if they were gods they should be able to make such a prediction as would demonstrate that they were invested with a divine nature.
Yea, do good, or do evil - Do something; show that you have some power; either defend your friends, or prostrate your foes; accomplish something - anything, good or bad, that shall prove that you have power. This is said in opposition to the character which is usually given to idols in the Scriptures - that they were dumb, deaf, dead, inactive, powerless (see Psalms 95:1-11) The command here to ‘do evil,’ means to punish their enemies, or to inflict vengeance on their foes; and the idea is, that they had no power to do anything; either to do good to their worshippers, or harm to their enemies; and that thus they showed that they were no gods. The same idea is expressed in Jeremiah 10:3-5 : ‘They (idols) are upright as the palm-tree, but speak not; they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.’
That we may be dismayed - (See the note at Isaiah 41:10). The word ‘we’ here refers to those who were the friends and worshippers of Yahweh. ‘That I, Yahweh, and my friends and worshippers, may be alarmed, and afraid of what idols may be able to do.’ God and his people were regarded as the foes of idols, and God here calls on them to prove that there is any reason why he and his people should be afraid of their power.
And behold it together - That we may all see it; that I and my people may have full demonstration of your power.
Behold, ye are of nothing - Margin, ‘Worse than nothing.’ This refers to idols; and the idea is, that they were utterly vain and powerless; they were as unable to render aid to their worshippers as absolute nothingness would be, and all their confidence in them was vain and foolish.
And your work - All that you do, or all that it is pretended that you do.
Of nought - Margin, ‘Worse than a viper.’ The word used here in the common Hebrew text (אפע 'epa‛) occurs in no other place. Gesenius supposes that this is a corrupt reading for אפס 'epes (nothing), and so our translators have regarded it, and in this opinion most expositors agree. Hahn has adopted this reading in his Hebrew Bible. The Jewish rabbis suppose generally that the word אפע 'epa‛ is the same word as אפעה 'eph‛eh, a viper, according to the reading in the margin. But this interpretation is contrary to the connection, as well as the ancient versions. The Vulgate and Chaldee render it, ‘Of nought.’ The Syriac renders it, ‘Your works are of the sword.’ This is probably one of the few instances in which there has been a corruption of the Hebrew text (compare Isaiah 40:17; Isaiah 41:12, Isaiah 41:19).
An abomination is he that chooseth you - They who select idols as the object of worship, and offer to them homage, are regarded as abominable by God.
I have raised up one - In the previous verses God had shown that the idols had no power of predicting future events. He stakes, so to speak, the question of his divinity on that point, and the whole controversy between him and them is to be decided by the inquiry whether they had the power of foretelling what would come to pass. He here urges his claims to divinity on this ground, that he had power to foretell future events. In illustration of this, he appeals to the fact that he had raised up, that is, in purpose, or would afterward raise up Cyrus, in accordance with his predictions, and in such a way that it would be distinctly seen that he had this power of foretelling future events. To see the force of this argument, it must be remembered that the Jews are contemplated as in Babylon, and near the close of their captivity; that God by the prophets, and especially by Isaiah, distinctly foretold the fact that he would raise up Cyrus to be their deliverer; that these predictions were uttered at least a hundred and fifty years before the time of their fulfillment; and that they would then have abundant evidence that they were accomplished. To these recorded predictions and to their fulfillment, God here appeals, and designs that in that future time when they should be in exile, his people should have evidence that He was worthy of their entire confidence, and that even the pagan should see that Yahweh was the true God, and that the idols were nothing. The personage referred to here is undoubtedly Cyrus (see the notes at Isaiah 41:2; compare Isaiah 45:1).
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.
From the rising of the sun - The east - the land of the birth of Cyrus.
Shall he call upon my name - This expression means, probably, that he should acknowledge Yahweh to be the true God, and recognize him as the source of all his success. This he did in his proclamation respecting the restoration of the Jews to their own land: ‘Thus saith Cyrus, king of Persia, Yahweh, God of heaven, hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth’ Ezra 1:2. There is no decided evidence that Cyrus regarded himself as a worshipper of Yahweh, or that he was a pious man, but he was brought to make a public recognition of him as the true God, and to feel that he owed the success of his arms to him.
And he shall come upon princes - Upon the kings of the nations against whom he shall make war (see Isaiah 41:2-3). The word rendered here ‘princes’ (from סגן seggen or סגן ro n sâgân), denotes properly a deputy, a prefect, a governor, or one under another, and is usually applied to the governors of provinces, or the Babyionian princes, or magistrates Jeremiah 51:23, Jeremiah 51:28, Jeremiah 51:57; Ezekiel 23:6, Ezekiel 23:12, Ezekiel 23:33; Daniel 3:2, Daniel 3:27; Daniel 6:8. It is sometimes applied, however, to the chiefs and rulers in Jerusalem in the times of Ezra and Nehemiah Ezra 9:2; Nehemiah 2:16; Nehemiah 4:8, Nehemiah 4:13; Nehemiah 5:7. Here it is used as a general term; and the sense is, that he would tread down and subdue the kings and princes of the nations that he invaded.
As upon mortar - (See the note at Isaiah 10:6).
Who hath declared from the beginning - The meaning of this passage is, ‘there is no one among the soothsayers, and the worshippers of idols, who has predicted the birth, the character, and the conquests of Cyrus. There is among the pagan no recorded prediction on the subject, as there is among the Jews, that when he shall have come, it may be said that a prediction is accomplished.’
And before-time - Formerly; before the event occurred.
That we may say - That it may be said; that there may be evidence, or reason for the affirmation.
He is righteous - The words ‘he is’ are not in the Hebrew ·The original is simply ‘righteous’ (צדיק tsaddı̂yq), just, that is, it is just, or true; the prediction is fulfilled. It does not refer to the character of God, but to the certainty of the fulfillment of the prediction.
There is none that showeth - There is no one among the worshippers of false gods, the soothsayers and necromancers, that has predicted these events.
None that heareth your words - There is no one that has heard such a prediction among you.
The first shall say to Zion - This translation is unhappy. It does not convey any clear meaning, nor is it possible from the translation to conjecture what the word ‘first’ refers to. The correct rendering undoubtedly is, ‘I first said to Zion;’ and the sense is, ‘I, Yahweh, first gave to Zion the announcement of these things. I predicted the restoration of the Jews to their own land, and the raising up of the man who should deliver them; and I only have uttered the prophecies respecting the time and circumstances in which these events would occur.’ The Septuagint renders it, ‘I will first give notice to Zion, and I will comfort Jerusalem in the way.’ The Chaldee renders it ‘The words of consolation which the prophets have uttered respecting Zion in the beginning, lo, they are about to come to pass.’ The sense of the passage is, that no one of the idol-gods, or their prophets, had predicted these events. The first intimation of them had been by Yahweh, and this had been made to Zion, and designed for its consolation.
Behold, behold them - Lo, these events are about to come to pass. Zion, or Jerusalem, was to behold them, for they were intended to effect its deliverance, and secure its welfare. The words ‘Zion’ and ‘Jerusalem’ here seem intended to denote the Jewish people in general, or to refer to Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish nation. The intimation had been given in the capital of the nation, and thence to the entire people.
And I will give - Or rather, I give, or I have given. The passage means, that the hearer of the good tidings of the raising up of a deliverer should be sent to the Jewish people. To them the joyful news was announced long before the event; the news of the raising up of such a man - an event of so much interest to them - was made to them long before the pagan had any intimation of it; and it would occur as the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy recorded among the Jews. The prophet refers here, doubtless, in the main, to his own prophecies uttered so long before the event would occur, and which would be distinctly known when they would be in exile in Babylon.
For I beheld - I looked upon the pagan world, among all the pretended prophets, and the priests of pagan idolatry.
And there was no man - No man among them who could predict these future events.
No counselor - No one qualified to give counsel, or that could anticipate by his sagacity what would take place.
That, when I asked of them - In the manner referred to in this chapter. There is no one of whom it could be inquired what would take place in future times.
Could answer a word - They were unable to discern what would come to pass, or to predict the events which are referred to here.
Behold, they are all vanity - They are unable to predict future events; they are unable to defend their friends, or to injure their enemies. This is the conclusion of the trial or debate (notes, Isaiah 41:1), and that conclusion is, that they were utterly destitute of strength, and that they were entirely unworthy of confidence and regard.
Their molten images - (See the note at Isaiah 40:19).
Are wind - Have no solidity or power. The doctrine of the whole chapter is, that confidence should be reposed in God, and in him alone. He is the friend of his people, and he is able to protect them. He will deliver them from the hand of all their enemies; and he will be always their God, protector, and guide. The idols of the pagan have no power; and it is folly, as well as sin, to trust in them, or to suppose that they can aid their friend.
It may be added, also, that it is equally vain to trust in any being for salvation but God. He only is able to protect and defend us; and it is a source of unspeakable consolation now, as it was in times past, that he is the friend of his people; and that, in times of deepest darkness and distress, he can raise up deliverers, as he did Cyrus, and will in his own way and time rescue his people from all their calamities.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 41". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Seventh Sunday after Easter