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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 41

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 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.

Keep silence before me, O islands - The same "islands" as in Isaiah 40:15: all maritime regions, and those beyond sea (Jeremiah 25:22), including also Mesopotamia or Babylonia enclosed between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates (Zechariah 2:13). God is about to argue the case, therefore let the nations listen in reverential silence. Compare Genesis 28:16-17, as to the spirit in which we ought to behave before God.

Before me (Hebrew, 'eelay (H413)) - rather (turning), toward me (Maurer).

Let the people renew (their) strength - let them gather their strength for the argument; let them adduce their strongest arguments (cf. Isaiah 1:18; Job 9:32).

Let us come near together to judgment. "Judgment" means here to decide the point at issue between us.

Verse 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.

Who raised up the righteous man from the east, called him to his foot? - "Who" else but God? The fact that God 'raiseth up' Cyrus, and qualifies him for becoming the conqueror of the nations and deliverer of God's people, is a strong argument why they should trust in Him. The future is here prophetically represented as present or past.

The righteous man - Cyrus: as Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1-4; Isaiah 45:13; Isaiah 46:11, "from the east," prove. Called "righteous," not so much on account of his own equity (Herodotus, 3: 89), as because he fulfilled God's righteous will in restoring the Jews from their unjust captivity. Raised him up in righteousness. The Septuagint translates, as the Hebrew, tsedeq (H6664), strictly means, righteousness. Maurer translates, 'Who raised up him whom salvation (national and temporal, the gift of God's 'righteousness' to the good, Isaiah 32:17: cf. Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 51:5) meets at his foot' (i:e., wherever he goes). The English version is better, and is supported by the Chaldaic, Septuagint, Vulgate, Arabic, and Syriac. Cyrus is said to come from the East, because Persia is east of Babylon; but in Isaiah 41:25, from the North, in reference to Media. At the same time the full sense of righteousness, or righteous, and of the whole passage, is realized only in Messiah, Cyrus' antitype (Cyrus knew not God, Isaiah 45:4). HE goes forth as the Universal Conqueror of the "nations" in righteousness, making war (Psalms 2:8-9; Revelation 19:11-15; Revelation 6:2; Revelation 2:26-27). "The idols He shall utterly abolish" (cf. Isaiah 41:7; Isaiah 41:23 with Isaiah 2:18). Righteousness was always raised up from the East. Paradise was east of Eden. The cherubim were at the east of the garden. Abraham was called from the East. Judea, the birthplace of Messiah, was in the East. Abraham, called from Ur of the Chaldees (now Mugheir), can hardly be meant by "the righteous man." For Chaldea in Scripture is termed north, not east of Palestine (Jeremiah 1:13; Jeremiah 4:6). And though in Genesis 14:1-24 he appears for a brief time a conqueror, yet he had not "rule over kings," such as is here described, and which belongs to Cyrus in type, to Messiah antitypically.

Called him to his foot - called him to attend His (God's) steps; i:e., follow His guidance. In Ezra 1:2, Cyrus acknowledges Yahweh as the Giver of his victories: He subdued the nations from the Euxine to the Red Sea, and even Egypt (says Xenophon).

Gave the nations before him - i:e., into his power: as in Joshua 10:12.

He gave (them) as the dust to his sword - (Isaiah 17:13; Isaiah 29:5; Psalms 18:42.) Persia, Cyrus' country, was famed for the use of the "bow" (Isaiah 22:6).

He gave (them) as the dust to his sword, (and) as driven stubble to his bow. Maurer translates, 'gave his (the enemy's) sword to be dust, and his (the enemy's) bow to be as stubble' (Job 41:26; Job 41:29). So the Septuagint, Arabic, and Syriac. But the Chaldaic and Vulgate support the English version, which the celebrity of the Persian skill with the bow favours.

Verse 3

He pursued them, and passed safely; even by the way that he had not gone with his feet. He pursued them ... by the way (that) he had not gone with his feet. Cyrus had not visited the regions of the Euphrates, and westward, until he visited them for conquest. So the Gospel conquests penetrated regions where the name of God was unknown before.

Verse 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.

Who - else but God?

Wrought and done (it), calling the generations from the beginning? The origin and position of all nations are from God (Deuteronomy 32:8; Acts 17:26). What is true of Cyrus and his conquests is true of all the movements of history from the first: all are from God.

I the Lord, the first, and with the last - i:e., the Last (Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 48:12).

Verse 5

The isles saw it, and feared; the ends of the earth were afraid, drew near, and came.

The isles saw it, and feared - that they would be subdued.

Drew near, and came - together, for mutual defense.

Verse 6

They helped every one his neighbour; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage.

Be of good courage - Be not alarmed because of Cyrus, but make new images to secure the favour of the gods against him.

Verse 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: and he fastened it with nails, that it should not be moved.

So the carpenter encouraged the goldsmith - One workman encourages the other to be quick in finishing the idol, so as to avert the impending danger.

Fastened it with nails - to keep it steady in its place. Wis 11:1-26 ; Wis 12:1-27 ; Wis 13:1-19 , give a similar picture of the folly of idolatry.

Verse 8

But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.

But thou, Israel, art my servant - Contrast between the idolatrous nations whom God will destroy by Cyrus, and Israel, whom God will deliver by the same man for their forefathers' sake.

My servant - so termed as being chosen by God to worship Him themselves, and to lead other peoples to do the same (Isaiah 45:4).

Jacob whom I have chosen - (Psalms 135:4.)

The seed of Abraham my friend - Hebrew, 'ohªbiy (H157); Chaldaic, 'my beloved;' the Septuagint and Arabic, 'whom I loved.'

Verse 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.

(Thou) whom I have taken from the ends of the earth - Abraham, the father of the Jews, taken from the remote Ur of the Chaldees. Others take it of Israel called out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 4:37; Hosea 11:1).

And called thee from the chief men thereof - literally, the elbows ( mee'ªtsiyleyhaa (H678)); so the joints; hence, the root which joins the tree to the earth; figuratively, those of ancient and noble stock. So Hebrew, pinah, a corner, is used figuratively for a prince. But the parallel clause ("ends of the earth") favours Gesenius, who translates, 'the extremities of the earth:' so Jerome and Vulgate. Chaldaic translates, 'from its kingdoms.' The Septuagint, Arabic, and Syriac, 'from its eminences.'

Verse 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.

Be not dismayed - literally, anxiously to look at one another in dismay [tishta`, from shaa`ah (H8159), to look].

I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness - i:e., my right hand prepared in accordance with my righteousness (faithfulness to my promises) to uphold thee.

Verse 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.

Ashamed - put to the shame of defeat (cf. Isaiah 54:17; Romans 9:33).

Verse 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.

Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them - said of one so utterly put out of the way that not a trace of him can be found (Psalms 37:36).

They shall be ... as a thing of nought - they shall utterly perish.

Verse 13

For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.

I will help thee - (Deuteronomy 33:26; Deuteronomy 33:29.)

Verse 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.

Fear not, thou worm Jacob - in a state of contempt and affliction, whom all loathe and tread on: the very expression which Messiah, on the cross, applies to Himself (Psalms 22:6), so completely are the Lord and His people identified and assimilated. 'God's people are as "worms" in humble thoughts of themselves, and in their enemies' haughty thoughts of them: worms, but not vipers, or of the serpent's seed' (Henry).

And ye men of Israel. The parallelism requires the word "men" here, to have associated with the idea of fewness or feebleness (cf. margin.) Lowth translates, 'Ye mortals (Hebrew, mªteey (H4962)) of Israel.' The Septuagint [oligostos Israeel], 'Israel altogether diminutive.' The root is maatay (H4970), to be mortal; and muwt (H4192), death. But the word is often used for men in general.

The Lord - in general.

And thy Redeemer - in particular; a still stronger reason why He should "help" them.

Verse 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.

Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument - God will make Israel to destroy their enemies as the Eastern grain-drag (Isaiah 28:27-28) bruises out the grain with its teeth, and gives the chaff to the winds to scatter.

Having teeth - serrated, so as to cut up the straw for fodder, and separate the grain from the chaff.

Thou shalt thresh the mountains ... hills - kingdoms more or less powerful that were hostile to Israel (Isaiah 2:14).

Verse 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.

Thou shalt fan them - winnowed (cf. Matthew 3:12).

The whirlwind shall scatter them - (Job 27:21; Job 30:22.)

Verse 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.

(When) the poor and needy - primarily the exiles in Babylon.

Seek water - fig., refreshment, prosperity after their affliction. The language is so constructed as only very partially to apply to the local and temporary event of the restoration from Babylon; but fully to be realized in the waters of life and of the Spirit under the Gospel (Isaiah 30:25; Isaiah 44:3; John 7:37-39; John 4:14). God performed no miracles that we read of, in any wilderness, during the return from Babylon.

And their tongue faileth - is rigid or parched (Horsley).

Verse 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.

I will open rivers ... I will make the wilderness a pool of water - alluding to the waters with which Israel was miraculously supplied in the desert after having come out of Egypt.

In high places - bare of trees, barren, and unwatered (Jeremiah 4:11; Jeremiah 14:6).

In the midst of the valleys. "High places ... valleys" spiritually express that in all circumstances, whether elevated or depressed, God's people shall have refreshment for their souls, however little to be expected it might seem.

Verse 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 pine, and the box tree together:

I will plant in the wilderness the cedar - (Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 55:13.)

The shittah - rather, the acacia, or Egyptian thorn, from which the gum-Arabic is obtained (Lowth). The boards and pillars of the tabernacle were made of it, also the ark, the staves, the table of showbread etc. It grows to the size of a mulberry tree. The Hebrew, shitah (H7848), is derived from the Egyptian term sant, or sunt, the "n" being omitted. The tangled thickets into which the stem expands account for the plural masculine form, shitiym, in which also the word occurs. The acacia seyal is the tree especially referred to. It is found in late quantities on the mountains of Sinai overhanging the Red Sea.

Oil tree - the olive.

Fir tree - Hebrew, berosh; including not only the pinus silvestris, or Scotch fir, and latch, but also the cypress: grateful by its shade.

Pine. Gesenius translates, 'the holm.'

Box tree (teasshur) - not the shrub used for bordering flower-beds, but (Gesenius) a kind of cedar, remarkable for the smallness of its cones and the upward direction of its branches. It is called scherbin. The root is ashar, to be tall and erect.

Verse 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.

That they may see ... and consider - literally, lay it (to heart); turn (their attention) to it. "They" refers to all lands (Isaiah 41:1; Psalms 64:9; Psalms 40:3). The effect on the Gentiles of God's open interposition hereafter in behalf of Israel shall be, they shall seek Israel's God (Isaiah 2:3; Zechariah 8:21-23).

Verse 21

Produce your cause, saith the LORD; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob.

Produce your cause, saith the Lord - A new challenge to the idolaters (see Isaiah 41:1; Isaiah 41:7) to say, can their idols predict future events as Yahweh can? (Isaiah 41:22-25, etc.)

Bring forth your strong reasons - the reasons for idol-worship which you think especially strong.

Verse 22

Let them bring them forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them shew 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.

Let them bring (them) forth, and show us what shall happen - `Let them bring near and declare future contingencies' (Horsley). Or, as the Chaldaic, Septuagint, Vulgate, Arabic, and Syriac, 'Let them draw near,' etc. Hebrew, yagishuw (H5066).

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 - show what former predictions the idols have given, that we may compare the event ("latter end") with them; or give new prophecies ('declare things to come') (Isaiah 42:9). Barnes explains it more reconditely-`Let them foretell the entire series of events, showing, in their order, the things which shall first occur, as well as those which shall finally happen.' The false prophets tried to predict isolated events, having no mutual dependency; not a long series of events mutually and orderly connected, and stretching far into futurity. They did not even try to do this. None but God can do it (Isaiah 46:10; Isaiah 44:7-8). "Or declare us things for to come" will, in this view, mean, Let them, if they cannot predict the series, even predict plainly any detached events. I prefer the former view, which is simpler.

Verse 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.

Do good, or do evil - give any proof at all of your power, either to reward your friends or punish your enemies (Psalms 115:2-8).

That we may be dismayed, and behold it together. Maurer translates, 'that we (Yahweh and the idols) may look one another in the face (i:e., encounter one another: 2 Kings 14:8; 2 Kings 14:11) and see' our respective powers by a trial. I prefer, with the English version, taking the same Hebrew as in Isaiah 41:10, "be dismayed;" 'look at one another in dismay.' Thus, in the clause "that we may be dismayed," we refers to Yahweh and His worshippers.

Verse 24

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

Ye are of nothing - (note, Isaiah 40:17.)

And your work of nought. The Hebrew text [ mee'aapa` (H659), of the work of a viper] is here corrupt. So the English version treats it [it ought to be mee'aapec: cf. Isaiah 40:17 ].

Abomination - abstract for concrete; not merely abominable but the essence of whatever is so (Deuteronomy 18:12).

(Is he that) chooseth you - as an object of worship.

Verse 25

I have raised up one from the north, and he shall come: from the rising of the sun shall he call upon my name: and he shall come upon princes as upon morter, and as the potter treadeth clay.

I have raised up - in purpose; not fulfilled until 150 years afterward.

One from the north - in Isaiah 41:2 "from the east:" both are true. See the note there.

From the rising of the sun (the East) shall he call upon my name - acknowledge me as God, and attribute His success to me. This he did in the proclamation (Ezra 1:2). This does not necessarily imply that Cyrus renounced idolatry; but hearing of Isaiah's prophecy, given 150 years before, so fully realized in his own acts, he recognized God as the true God, but retained his idols (so Naaman, 2 Kings 5:1-27: cf. the Assyrian colonists in Samaria, 2 Kings 17:33; 2 Kings 17:41; Daniel 3:28; Daniel 4:1-3; Daniel 4:34-37).

Princes - the Babylonian satraps or governors of provinces.

As (upon) mortar - mire. He shall tread them under foot as dirt (Isaiah 10:6).

Verse 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.

Who - of the idolatrous soothsayers.

Hath declared from the beginning, that we may know. When this prophecy shall be fulfilled, all shall see that God foretold as to Cyrus, which none of the soothsayers have.

And before time - before the event occurred

That we may say, (He is) righteous - it is true; it was a true prophecy, as the event shows. "He is righteous," in the English version must be interpreted. The fulfillment of the idol's words proves that He is faithful.

Yea, (there is) none that showeth, yea, (there is) none that declareth; yea, (there is) none that heareth your words - there is none of the idols that showeth future events. There is none of the prophets to those idols that declareth the future so shown to him; yea, there is none of the idol worshippers that heareth your words giving revelations as to the future.

Verse 27

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

The first (shall say) to Zion, Behold, behold them: and I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings - rather, 'I first will give to Zion and to Jerusalem the messenger of good tidings, Behold, behold them!' namely, the soldiers of Cyrus already coming for the assault of Babylon and the deliverance of the Jews, or the Jews returning from their dispersion. The Hebrew affix [mem (m)] is masculine, and requires, therefore, that "them" should refer to persons, not things. The clause "Behold ... them" is inserted in the middle of the sentence as a detached exclamation by an elegant transposition, the language being framed abruptly, as one would speak in putting vividly, as it were, before the eyes of others, some joyous event which he had just learned (L. de Dieu). (Compare Isaiah 11:9.) None of the idols had foretold these events. Yahweh was the "first" to do so (see Isaiah 41:4). If the English version be retained, "the first" will mean He who is the First-namely, God.

Verse 28

For I beheld and there was no man; even among them and there was no counsellor that when I asked of For I beheld, and there was no man; even among them, and there was no counsellor, that, when I asked of them, could answer a word.

I beheld ... and (there was) no counselor - no one of the idolatrous soothsayers who could advertise (Numbers 24:14) those who consulted them what would take place in the latter days. Compare "the counsel of his messengers" (Isaiah 44:26).

That when I asked - i:e., challenged them, in this chapter, could answer a word.

Verse 29

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

Their molten images (are) ... confusion - emptiness: Hebrew, thohu, without form (Isaiah 34:11).

Remarks: There is agreed question at issue between God and the world, and between the people of God and the people of the world. The question is, whether the kingdom of God is to prevail, or the kingdom of the world, which is estranged from God. The remarkable interposition of God in behalf of His oppressed people in their Babylonian captivity, whereby He raised up Cyrus to execute His "righteous" will in delivering them, decides the point at issue. That deliverance is a pledge and earnest of the final deliverance of the people of God, the literal and the spiritual Israel, by the Messiah, of whom Cyrus was the type. The nations in vain oppose themselves to the will of God, relying on their earthly idols. The Almighty is the "first," and therefore was before all human devices. He also is "with the last" and therefore shall Himself for ever be, and shall have His people with Him, when all adversaries of Himself and His people shall have been cast out finally. The same antitypical Cyrus, Messiah, shall destroy with the brightness of His coming the God-opposed nations and people, and will deliver the people of His covenant for the sake of Abraham, the forefather of Israel after the flesh, the father of all the faithful, and the "friend of God."

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Isaiah 41". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/isaiah-41.html. 1871-8.
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