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The previous chapter shows that no one is equal to the LORD, no people, no idol. In this chapter the LORD speaks at the beginning directly to the peoples (Isa 41:1). He calls them to go with Him in judgment in the courtroom. In the coming chapters the courtroom comes forward several times. The question to be answered is Elijah’s question to the people of Israel: Who is God: the LORD or the idols like Baal (1Kgs 18:21)?
The fact that the LORD declares in advance to arouse a conqueror from the east is only an indication that He Himself is the true God, the exalted Ruler of all events on earth (Isa 41:2-4). The idolatry of nations will eventually bring Divine judgments on them. Thereby Israel, as God’s chosen people, will be the instrument in God’s hand (Isa 41:5-16).
The LORD also does not forget that His people will have to go through a fearful time. In view of that time He offers them a comforting vista of the situation after that fearful time (Isa 41:17-20). Then follows another challenge to the nations. Let them show their ability to foretell the future as God does. They and their objects of worship will turn to nothing (Isa 41:21-29).
God reveals Himself not only in creation, as in Isaiah 40, He is equally concerned with man. In Isa 41:1-4 He reveals His righteousness and judgment to the nations. From Isa 41:8 He shows Himself in grace to Israel.
The LORD Judges the Peoples
God challenges the coastlands – by which may be meant the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea and thus Europe – and the peoples – behind the coastlands – to come together for judgment with Him (Isa 41:1). This is not about condemnation, but about assessing facts and drawing a conclusion from them. They must first listen silently to the facts. Then God encourages them to gather new strength in order to “come forward” to Him and then to “speak” to Him.
God opens the dispute by asking challenging questions in Isa 41:2-4 and establishing facts for His cause. The person involved is Cyrus, the king of Persia (Ezra 1:1). It is a future event, but God presents it as if He has already called Cyrus on the world stage (Isa 41:2). The completed past tense in which the sentence has been set gives that future event the certainty of a thing that has already happened.
God not only has the ability to tell what will happen in the future, but He also has the power to arouse a man who will fulfill His Divine purposes. The “aroused one … in righteousness” means that Cyrus, as the victor, will do what is consistent with God’s purpose. Therefore, this man, Cyrus, will be able to act without anything or anyone being able to stop him. “From the rising of the sun” indicates that he comes from Persia (Isa 41:25). He will advance victoriously and leave every opponent in the dust. The way he goes is a way which he did not invent himself, but which the LORD has determined and commanded for him (Isa 41:3).
Then the question sounds as to who the author of this performance is and by whom it comes that Cyrus is so successful (Isa 41:4). The LORD Himself gives the answer. He Himself stands at the origin and grants Cyrus the progress. He is “the First”, which means that He has a preexistence before all history and that all things are under His control. He will also bring all things to the end determined by Him. From beginning to end He is the same and acts in complete agreement with His Being. The coastlands and the peoples have no opposition to this God and this action.
Nullity of Man and His Support
While the called coastlands see the appearance of Cyrus, they are afraid and tremble (Isa 41:5) when God gives him world domination to “the ends of the earth”. The same will happen to them in the end time when God’s judgments silence them forever.
And how is it that they are so powerless in the face of the omnipotence of God described above? Because they rely on each other and on their void idols (Isa 41:6-7). It is ridiculous to be brave in the face of the omnipotence of God. Once again their idols are mocked from whom they expect salvation (Isa 40:19-20; cf. Psa 2:4).
The LORD Encourages Israel
Then the LORD addresses Himself in this dispute with the nations with words of comfort very personally to His people, that is to say to the God-fearing remnant (Isa 41:8). The contrast with the preceding verses is sharply indicated by the opening words “but you”. He speaks to them as “Israel” and “Jacob” and reminds them of His elective grace and the promise of restoration and deliverance.
For this He refers to Abraham. Their earliest history is the guarantee of their irrevocable blessing. He speaks of Abraham as “My friend” (2Chr 20:7; Jam 2:23). The word “friend” means someone who loves and is loved, someone with whom you share the deepest thoughts of your heart (Jn 15:15b).
The LORD never lost sight of His people, not even when they were scattered. He “has taken them” from everywhere to have them close to Himself and “called” them to a completely different environment (Isa 41:9). In the past century they have come from the most distant countries, such as Russia and China. He wants His people to be His “servant”, a people who will serve Him. For the first time in Isaiah, Israel is called “servant”. This will happen many times till Isaiah 49:6. This character of Israel as a servant is the result of an act of pure grace and not by any merit on their part.
They have deserved to be “rejected” and thrown away because they have been so unfaithful to the LORD. But precisely because He has “chosen” them, they need not be afraid (Isa 41:10). The coastlands have every reason to be afraid (Isa 41:5), but for God’s people there is no reason to be afraid. That is why the LORD says: “Do not fear.”
In order to banish any fear, the LORD presents Himself to His people in all His affection for them. He begins with the promise “I am with you”, which assures them of His presence and closeness (Mt 28:20). Then He says: “I am your God.” Thus they know that He has a relationship with them, that the covenant has been restored. From the New Testament we know that this will happen through the power of the blood of the new covenant, which is the blood of the perfect sacrifice of Christ.
Finally, He gives a triple assurance of His strength that He uses for them:
1. “I will strengthen you”, or “I have strengthened you”, in weaknesses, difficulties and opposition and especially in the great tribulation.
2. “Surely I will help you”, which means that God will not make Israel strong by sending an angel (cf. Exo 33:2), but by helping Israel Himself (Exo 33:14-17). He helps them to go the right way by giving guidance, direction, and protection.
3. “Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand”, shows how the LORD will help Israel. This presupposes His faithfulness in fulfilling His promises. Linked to the Hebrew word for ‘right hand’ is the thought of strength.
The word “surely” used twice is cumulative, i.e. it connects to the preceding and adds the following certainty, as it is said: ‘And not only that, because in addition ...’ We therefore should not fail to appropriate the comfort of these rich promises. This comfort will pass us by if we only apply this to Israel. It will also pass us by when we do our work for the Lord in self-satisfaction. A servant of the Lord always needs this comfort when he is aware of his unworthiness and helplessness.
Israel Exterminates His Enemies
Israel, as the people of God, has always had numerous and powerful enemies. Persecution and opposition will increase and become more intense as the end of time approaches. The just mentioned comforting promises in these verses lead to the certainty of the destruction of the enemies and a repetition of the guarantee of the promised help.
In Isa 41:11-12 four descriptions are given of the enemies, of the way they express themselves to God’s people. Two of those expressions are in words (Isa 41:11) and two in deeds (Isa 41:12).
1. They are “all those who are angered at you”. This indicates that the fiery heat of satan’s opposition is at work in them. But they will be ashamed and dishonored.
2. They are also “those who contend with you”,
3. “those who quarrel with you” and
4. “those who war with you”. That indicates their active struggle against God’s people.
But they are only people, who to the LORD are “as nothing and non-existent”. They will perish and will not be found. So radical is their downfall and so complete the deliverance of God’s people.
Again the LORD directs the eye of His tried and tested people toward Himself. There is not only the promise of the downfall of the enemy, but the LORD also promises that He will be the support and protection for His people (Isa 41:13). There is not only deliverance, but the LORD will use Israel to fulfill His purpose. To this end He upholds their right hand. Our right hand is the hand with which most of us do the work and symbolizes our activities. The fact that God takes it means that we cannot do anything apart from Him. He wants us to be aware that the strength we need for everything we do must be His strength.
Besides the feeling of the power He gives, He also gives inner peace by banishing fear. Because of His power there need not be any fear of any opponent. If He helps, who can be a threat? Once again it sounds “do not fear” (Isa 41:14). His people have become so oppressed and depressed, that they hardly dare believe that deliverance is coming.
The LORD speaks to them as the “worm of Jacob”, for that is how they feel. A worm is an example of a helpless creature, thrown to the ground and trampled on, an object of contempt (cf. Job 25:6). It is the larva of the kirmizi, an insect with a deep red color. From these larvae crimson is made. To do this, these larvae must be crushed. Crimson is deep red and speaks of sin (Isa 1:18). With this condition of being a worm the Messiah made Himself one in His suffering on the cross, which also means that He is their Savior. He is the worm, He is trampled, yes, He is made sin (Psa 22:6).
The LORD also calls them “men of Israel”. The diminutive “men” indicates that they are vulnerable and mortal and that there is not much left of the people of Israel (this is how the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, translates). This is the result of the great tribulation that has come upon them in which the wicked mass has perished because of its apostacy from the LORD (Deu 4:27). The LORD humbles His people, and also us, that He may exalt them, and us.
For the third time (Isa 41:10; 13; 14) He says He will help them. The guarantee is that He, the LORD, the God of the covenant, says it. An extra guarantee lies in the fact that their Redeemer is “the Holy One of Israel”. He puts, as it were, His signature on the declaration that He will help them. He points His plagued people to Himself. He is the ever existing, never begun, eternal LORD. Again and again He speaks of this Name as the basis of the certainty of His work of salvation. That work is not at the expense of His holiness. He has fully paid the ransom for salvation and has exclaimed: “It is finished!” (Jn 19:30).
The word “Redeemer” is the translation of the Hebrew word goel. Of the thirteen times this word goel appears in Isaiah, this is only the first time here. Redemption is always based on His gracious fulfillment of the obligations of a redeemer, who is a blood relative of who is to be redeemed (Lev 25:48-49). By participating in blood and flesh and thus becoming related to us, He, the true Redeemer for us and His people, has been able to bring about redemption with the price of His blood (Heb 2:14-15).
Isa 41:15-16 vividly describe how the people are used by the LORD to defeat their enemies. Like a “new, sharp threshing sledge” they will pulverize proud and mighty enemies, “mountains” and “hills”, into chaff taken up by the wind and blown away. A threshing sledge is similar to coarse sandpaper, but than a wooden board instead of paper and sharp stones instead of the sandpaper granules. The fact that it is “a new” threshing sledge means that the stones have not yet been dulled by wear and tear.
“The wind” and “the storm” of the LORD will blow the chaff, the remainders of the enemy, completely away. Then His people will not boast of their own deeds, but rejoice in the LORD, Who will then return to His people as Redeemer. Then all obstacles will be removed. Then they will rejoice in Him, for to Him alone they owe all their blessings.
Promise of Blessing
The LORD, Who knows the future, thinks with pity of the wretched and poor of his people who will go through great distress, represented by an extreme drought (Isa 41:17). The thirst here is a picture of yearning for the LORD (cf. Psa 42:2). He then thinks not only of all who will come from Babylon, but of all of His people who will meet with loss and suffering at all times. Above all He thinks of the faithful remnant in the great tribulation. The LORD promises them that He will answer them and will not forsake them. He will refresh them abundantly by making provisions in a way only He can work (Isa 41:18; Isa 12:3; Isa 55:1).
Although all of this describes the literal change from the homeless condition of Israel to the abundant blessing they will receive in the realm of peace (cf. Isa 35:6-7), these promises also have a spiritual meaning. There is a clear reference to the water that was supernaturally provided for during the journey of God’s people in the wilderness after the deliverance out of Egypt. A spiritual meaning is attributed to it (1Cor 10:4; cf. Jn 4:14; Jn 7:37-39; Rev 22:17).
Isa 41:19 continues to describe figuratively the multiple provisions of refreshment and comfort for the people in the coming day. This fullness is indicated by mentioning seven species of trees which the LORD promises to plant in the wilderness, which will turn into a true paradise. All these trees are sustainable and have a pleasant scent. That too is a picture of the continual enjoyment of the fellowship that the Spirit works and of the pleasant scent thereof.
This abundance of blessing, represented in these seven trees, is not the result of human planting. When this situation arrives, all those who will enjoy it will be fourfold aware that it is all the result of the action of “the hand of the LORD” and of His creative power (Isa 41:20).
In that fourfold way, “see and recognize, and consider and gain insight”, there is an ascent. This ascension also describes what the result should be when we contemplate Scripture and think about God’s actions with us. It should lead us to see the Creator of that blessing behind all the blessing that comes from God’s creative hand. The point is that the gift leads us to admire the Giver and that we do not dwell on the gift.
The LORD Challenges the Idols
At the beginning of this chapter the LORD declares the fact of His Godhead in exercising His absolute power to arouse a ruler who subdues nations and that He controls the rise and course of generations. Now He declares His Godhead by stating that He alone knows and can foretell the future. Earlier He challenged the idolaters, now He challenges the idols themselves, the gods of the nations.
The LORD and His people – for He is “the King of Jacob” – stand on one side and the idolatrous heathens stand on the other side (Isa 41:21). Let their gods come forward and prove to them that they are gods if they can. Then let them declare “to us” – that is the LORD Who as King represents His people and connects them with Himself –what the future looks like (Isa 41:22). This concerns both the near future, “what is going to take place”, and the distant future, “what is coming”.
Let them at least do something, whether “good or evil,” so that they at least give some sign of life (Isa 41:23; cf. 1Kgs 18:27). Then, says the LORD, we will at least have a handhold, a face that we can imagine, something we can measure ourselves against and that we may even have to fear. Then let the idols speak now to prove their deity! That does not happen, of course, because they cannot do it. Hence the destructive judgment on them and their creators (Isa 41:24).
The LORD Foretells Future Things
Again the LORD makes clear that power and authority belong to Him alone in the exaltation in which He disposes of national and international affairs. That is why He repeats the prophecy about Cyrus (Isa 41:25). He has aroused him “from the north, and he has come”. In this way the LORD shows again His omniscience and continues His challenge of the idols. The “north” is Media (Isa 41:2). No one else can do it, none of the heathen deities has revealed it (Isa 41:26). No one has heard about it from them. They have not expressed themselves.
There is no answer to the challenge of the LORD. Had there been an answer, their divine power would have been recognized. But the LORD speaks! As the Only One, He formerly addressed the word to Zion (Isa 41:27). They are the first to receive the promise of blessing. All others can only repeat what He has already said. They cannot say anything new that He would not know.
With a clear delight in the lasting good for His people, He promises to give Jerusalem a messenger of good news. The “messenger of good news” is also the LORD Himself. With the words “behold, here they are” He calls upon Zion to see how He has fulfilled His promises, looking to the future time of fulfillment.
Isa 41:28 gives the expected outcome of the lawsuit. The idols and their worshipers are silent. There is no counselor to say a word. The case concludes with an explanation of the contempt and anger of the LORD (Isa 41:29), which literally reads: ‘Behold them all! Nullity! Their product is nothing; wind and desolation are their molten images.’ This is the deathblow for idolatry. The faithful remnant is now convinced of the foolishness of idolatry, which will reappear in the future during the great tribulation in the most penetrating way (Rev 13:14-15).
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Isaiah 41". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13