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Isaiah 41:1 . Keep silence before me, oh islands. Commentators here refer us to the time of our Saviour’s birth, for the isles of Chittim designate the Roman power. In the Augustan age, the temple of Janus for the third time was shut, in commemoration of peace throughout the world, and when the stormy shouts of war were heard no more. Thus, when the fulness of time was come, providence prepared the way, by peace and concord, for the Saviour’s advent. Christian doctors seem agreed, that Janus and Noah are the same person. Italian tradition is constant, that he reigned in Italy, for all nations are willing enough to claim kindred with a god. They built a temple to his memory; and in the worship of their gods, the name of Janus was first invoked. Jupiter taught him the way and manner of life, which before his time had been belligerent and savage, but now became mild, innocent, and social. The poets call this the golden age. The verses of Vola speak of those pristine days in the same manner, as cited in Exodus 4:2.
As Noah taught astronomy to the new world, the poets make him ruler of the heavenly bodies, and give his name to the first month of the year. His statue was constructed with a double face, looking at once both at the old and the new world. Ovid addresses him in these words. “Who shall explain to me thy nature, oh Janus, and the attributes of thy double front? For the gods of Greece do not resemble thee: a deity peculiar among those assembled on the high Olympiade. Instruct me concerning thyself, and say why thou seest at once both before and behind.”
Quem tamen esse Deum te dicam, Jane biformis?
Nam tibi par nuilum Græcia numen habet. Ede simul causam, cur de cœlestibus unus, Sitque quod à tergo, sitque quod ante vides. FASTORUM, lib. 1. Ed. Paris, 1804.
Isaiah 41:2 . A righteous man from the east. The Jews say this is Abraham; but this construction not agreeing with the universal wars and conquests here mentioned, the words are understood of Cyrus, as in chap. 44, 45. He it was who drove the nations as stubble; and in a career of conquests, where his feet had never gone before. He is called “a righteous man,” because he was God’s minister of justice to Babylon, and because he restored the Jews, as well as other nations, to their own land.
Isaiah 41:7 . So the carpenter encouraged the goldsmith. See other satires in Isaiah 40:18; Isaiah 44:9-17. Psalms 115:0.
Isaiah 41:23 . Shew the things that are to come. Here is a challenge of the truth of prophecy, and a defiance given to all idols. Here is a declaration that God alone knows the events of futurity; yea, all contingencies, which have a dependence on the will of man. The testimony of the truth of all predictions is the Divinity. He alone has power to contemplate the future, and from eternity to look through all clouds, in all the wide-extended chain of cause and consequence. No creature ever had or can have this power. Here the words of the holy prophets are justified, and all idols, and all lying oracles, are covered with eternal shame.
The prophet here treats the heathen oracles with contempt; but that contempt admits their existence in his own times; and that existence was wide as the gentile world. The Chaldeans, the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Druids, in every land, consulted their gods.
In 1711 a collection of letters was printed at Paris from missionaries in India. Among these is one from the venerable father Bouchet to father Baltus. He states “that demons still gave oracles, not from the mouth of the statues, but from men; and in a manner which could not proceed from the artifices of the priests. But that with regard to future events their oracles were ambiguous, and often false; for those things the demons could know only by conjecture.”
If we disbelieve the oracles of heathen temples, we disbelieve the testimony of the most accredited gentile historians, and many christian fathers. Herodotus, a judicious historian, mentions many instances, and sometimes names deceptions. The defeat of Perseus, king of Macedonia, was known at Rome on the fourth day. The battle gained by five thousand Croatians, was known in Peloponnesus the same day. The defeat of the Tarquin, near the Lake Regilla, was almost instantly published by two young men in Rome. Plutarch reports these in his life of Paul Emilius: p. 547. Still the words of our prophet are correct, no demon speaking either by priest, or pythoness, could tell the future.
The church in Judea must have been greatly depressed to hear this eminent prophet declare, that all the boasted glory of Israel should go into captivity. He foresaw that after all the struggles and labours of the holy prophets, the false prophets would be the favourite preachers to the rulers of Judah, and that the gods of Jerusalem would be as numerous as her streets. The discourse that follows must therefore be regarded as a cup of strong consolation handed to the saints under the hopeless aspects of their country, while the body of the nation was diseased with every vice of the gentile world.
The prophet next proceeds to satirize the trade of making gods; the panting of the carpenter at every hard blow, the sweatings and the melting heats at the foundries, the strokes of the hammer, and the joyful voice at last It is ready for sodering! Ah, dirty, sooty race; vile as you are, and brutish too, it must require the strong charms of a consecration, and liberal libations of wine, to induce you to bow the knee to idols which cost you so much fatigue. The Almighty therefore saw it was preferable that his true people should suffer hard labour in Babylon, than endure the insults of apostasy in Judea.
When the time comes for the visitation of nations, the Lord encloses his church in the innermost circles of his providence. Yea, amid the storms of war the Captain’s voice is heard, “But thou Israel art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.” I will never forget my covenant with thy fathers, nor with their children. Though the mountains depart, and empires be removed, my kindness shall not depart from thee: Isaiah 54:10. Fear not, look to none but me; for I am with thee. I will be poor in thy poverty, and share in thy captivity. My glory shall be seen by the river Chebar. Ezekiel 1:3. I will strengthen thee for labour, and for war with all thy foes. Yea, I will help thee, and come opportunely to thine aid in the day of trouble. Fear not; you are yet the heirs of grace and glory. “Thy seed shall inherit the gentiles.” I will uphold thee with my arm, in all the weary years of thy pilgrimage. I will not leave thee till I have performed all that I have sworn to Abraham.
Again I say, fear not, worm Jacob, though the enemy in the years of thine affliction trample upon thee. When the poor and needy seek water in the sandy deserts, and there is none; when they cry to me, they shall not perish like the wicked. I will open rivers for them in dry places, and springs in the vallies, and will prepare pools in the parched ground. Rejoice, oh Zion, thou shalt yet survive to see the world like the garden of Eden, and all thine enemies under thy feet. The invading army from the north shall come only to burn the chaff, while my sanctified ones shall gather the wheat into my garner.
Amidst all the difficulties and troubles of life, let us take encouragement from God’s promises, especially that in Isaiah 41:10. Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee, yea, I will uphold thee. We assuredly know that this promise has afforded support and comfort to many souls in the most afflicting circumstances, and even in dying moments. What beautiful and tender language is it the language of an indulgent parent teaching a little child to go. Whoever forsakes us, God will be with us. Whatever difficulties surround us, he will strengthen us; whatever enemies attack us, he will help us. When faint, trembling, and ready to sink, he will uphold us with the right hand of his righteousness. Though we are weak as worms, and like them despised, yet our Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, will help us. Let us wait on the Lord then, be of good courage, and he shall strengthen our hearts.
Let us learn the vanity of idols, and keep ourselves from idolatry. See what ignorant, impotent things all gods are, but JEHOVAH. Let us reverence him who revealeth secrets, foretelleth things to come, does good and permits evil; and who gives us in his works, his providence and his word, a thousand proofs that he is the true God, and the everlasting King. Let us therefore, dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. Let us worship the Lord our God with a veneration and affection suited to his greatness, power, and knowledge, and make him our hope and our confidence; for he is the rewarder of all them that diligently seek him.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 41". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Seventh Sunday after Easter