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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 41

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-29



Isaiah 41:1-7

ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DELIVERER, AND EFFECT ON THE SURROUNDING NATIONS. Isaiah returns to the standpoint of Isaiah 40:9-11. A deliverer of Israel is about to appear. The nations are therefore summoned to attend, and consider the facts (Isaiah 40:1). He will carry all before him (Isaiah 40:2, Isaiah 40:3), being raised up by God (Isaiah 40:4). The nations will tremble, and seek the protection of their idol-deities (Isaiah 40:5-7).

Isaiah 41:1

Keep silence before me, O islands. God is the speaker. The "islands," or maritime lands of Western Asia, are to be silent before him, pondering the facts with a view to future argument. "Then let them speak" (see Isaiah 41:21-29). Let the people renew their strength; rather, the peoples or the nations; i.e. the inhabitants of the maritime tracts. To judgment; i.e. to a discussion,, which shall terminate in a right verdict.

Isaiah 41:2

Who raised up the righteous man, etc.? rather, who raised up from the East one whom righteousness will call to his foot. It is generally agreed among moderns that the reference is to Cyrus, who is further referred to in Isaiah 41:25, in Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1-4, Isaiah 45:13; and Isaiah 46:11. Cyrus, whether we regard him as King of Persia, or as King of Elam (Susiana), would come from a land lying east of Babylon. "Righteousness called him to his foot" when God, the Righteous One, made him his minister, and gave him a certain task to perform (Isaiah 44:28). Gave the nations before him; rather, gives, or will give. That he was God's instrument must be admitted by all who allow that the course of history is determined by a superintending Providence. Made him rule over kings. Mr. Cheyne translates, "makes him trample upon kings," which seems to give the true sense. It was certainly not the general policy of Cyrus to establish under him a number of subject kings, but rather to rule the conquered countries by means of Persian or Median governors He gave them as the dust to his sword, etc.; or, according to some, he maketh their sword as dust, and their bow as driven stubble. The result is the same, whichever we regard as the true construction. The prophecy tells of the ease and completeness with which Cyrus vanquished his enemies.

Isaiah 41:3

He pursued them, and passed safely; rather, he shall pursue them, and shall pass on in safety. Even by the way that he had not gone with his feet; rather, a path with his feet he shall not tread. ,The meaning seems to be that he will dispense with customary paths, making his advance everywhere over all obstacles, by untrodden ways. Compare the frequent boasts of the Assyrian kings: "To the recesses of the deep forests and the peaks of the difficult mountains, which had never been trodden by the foot of man, I ascended'. "Difficult mountain chains, and inaccessible hills, which none of our kings had ever previously reached—tedious paths and unopened roads—I traversed". "The lands of Sihak, of Arda, of Ulayan, of Alluria, inaccessible mountains, impossible for the horses, and inaccessible for myself, I went through".

Isaiah 41:4

Who hath wrought and done it? i.e. "by whom has this mighty conqueror been raised up?" Can any of the idol-gods claim him as their protege? Assuredly not. He is my work; I, Jehovah, that have called (into being) the generations (of man) from the beginning (of the world)—I, Jehovah, the First, and with the last, am he that he has done this thing. By "the First, and with the last"—a favourite phrase in these later chapters (see Isaiah 45:6 and Isaiah 48:12)—seems to be meant simply "the Eternal" (comp. Revelation 1:8, Revelation 1:11, Revelation 1:17; Revelation 2:8; Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:13).

Isaiah 41:5

The isles saw it, and feared. A general terror seized the nations on the conquest of the Medes by Cyrus. Croesus of Lydia, Nabonidus of Babylon, and Amasis of Egypt, were at once drawn together by the common danger, and made alliance offensive and defensive (Herod; 1.77). The weaker tribes and peoples gave themselves up for lost. Scarcely any resistance seems to have been offered to the Persian arms by the tribes between the Halys and Indus, the Jaxartes and the Indian Ocean. Lydia and Babylon alone made a stout fight; but even these were conquered without very much difficulty. The ends of the earth … drew near; i.e. distant nations held (will hold) consultation together on the danger which threatens them. The league of Lydia, Babylon, and Egypt is the only known instance of such "drawing near" (see the preceding note). Isaiah anticipates marked consultations and exhortations with respect to the idol-gods, in which trust should be put; but perhaps he is scarcely serious in verses 6, 7. Rather he is indulging his sarcastic humour at the expense of the idols and of those who put their trust in them.

Isaiah 41:7

The carpenter, etc. (comp. Isaiah 40:19, Isaiah 40:20 for the variety of workmen employed in the production of idols). Each encourages the others to manufacture a right good god. When all is done, there is, however, need of soldering, and of nails, that the wretched object may be kept erect, and not show its weakness by falling, like Dagon, upon its own threshold (1 Samuel 5:4).

Isaiah 41:8-20


(1) of God's faithfulness (Isaiah 41:8, Isaiah 41:9);

(2) of special divinely infused strength (Isaiah 41:10);

(3) of the infusion of weakness into their enemies (Isaiah 41:11, Isaiah 41:12);

(4) of external Divine aid (Isaiah 41:13, Isaiah 41:14);

(5) of an aggressive vigour that shall enable them to scatter their foes (Isaiah 41:15, Isaiah 41:16); and

(6) of spiritual refreshment even amidst their worst sufferings (Isaiah 41:17-19).

The eye of the prophet travels perhaps, in part, beyond the period of the Captivity; but he is mainly bent on giving the people grounds of comfort and trust during that trying time.

Isaiah 41:8

Israel … my servant (comp. Isaiah 44:1, Isaiah 44:2, Isaiah 44:21; Isaiah 45:4; Isaiah 48:20; Isaiah 49:3-6, etc.). The title characterizes these later chapters, and, while standing no doubt in some special relation to the "Servant of Jehovah" who is the subject of Isaiah 42:1-5; Isaiah 49:5-7, etc; is perhaps mainly selected, and dwelt on, to console Israel in captivity, when servants of the King of Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:20), by the thought that their true Master was God himself, and that to him, and him only, did they really belong. Jacob whom I have chosen (comp. Isaiah 44:1). (On this "choice," and the love which it implied, see Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Deuteronomy 10:15) Abraham my friend; or, Abraham that loved me. It was the special privilege of Abraham to be known as God's friend (see 2 Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23) among the Hebrews, even as he is among the Arabs to this day. The "friendship" intended comprised, no doubt, both an active and a passive element, but it is the active element which the word principally enforces. Abraham loved God, and showed his love by his obedience.

Isaiah 41:9

Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth; i.e. from Ur of the Chaldees (Mugheir in Lower Babylonia), and again from Egypt, another "end of the earth" compared with Palestine. The prophet views Palestine as Israel's true habitat, whatever may be its temporary abiding-place. From the chief men thereof. Most moderns translate "from the corners thereof;" but atsilim has the meaning of "chief men" in the only other place where it occurs (Exodus 24:11). And not cast thee away. Not even when in exile was Israel "cast away." God's care was still extended over them.

Isaiah 41:10

Fear thou not. This verse is most closely connected with the two preceding. The clauses in Isaiah 41:8, Isaiah 41:9 are one and all vocative; here the verb follows. The whole passage is one of great tenderness. I am with thee, on the force of the word" Immanuel"). I will strengthen thee; rather, I have strengthened thee, or I have chosen thee (Delitzsch, Cheyne). The two other verbs are also in the past tense. While primarily they declare past favours, they may also be regarded as prophetic of future ones, since "with God is no variableness.'

Isaiah 41:11, Isaiah 41:12

As Israel would grow strong through God's help, so her enemies would grow weak through God's disfavour. That enemies of all kinds may be seen to be included, the designation is four times varied—"they that are angry with thee;" "that are at strife with thee;" "that are in conflict with thee;" "that are at war with thee." The order is one of climax. Similarly, with each augmentation of the hostility there is an augmentation of the sentence of punishment—"shall be covered with shame;" "shall perish;" "shall not be found;" "shall become as nothingness."

Isaiah 41:13

I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand. God himself will be their Strength, will personally interfere on their behalf, taking them as it were by their right hand. Saying unto thee; rather, I who say to thee.

Isaiah 41:14

Thou worm Jacob. Though in thyself the weakest of the weak, grovelling in the dust, a mere worm (Job 25:6; Psalms 22:6), yet thou hast no cause to fear, since God sustains thee. Ye men of Israel; rather, ye handful, Israel (Delitzsch). The term used is one of disparagement, corresponding to the "worm" of the parallel clause. Few and weak though they be, God's people need not fear. Thy Redeemer. The word goel, here used for the first time by Isaiah, is frequent throughout the later chapters (Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 44:6, Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 47:4; Isaiah 48:17; Isaiah 49:7, Isaiah 49:26; Isaiah 54:5, Isaiah 54:8; Isaiah 59:20; Isaiah 60:16; Isaiah 63:16). It is used for the "nearest of kin," and "avenger of blood," in the Levitical Law, but has a sense similar to that of the present passage in Job 19:25; Psalms 19:14 : Psalms 78:35 : Psalms 103:4; Proverbs 23:11; and Jeremiah I. 34. The sense "redeem" belongs to the verb of which goal is the participle, in Exodus 6:6; Exodus 15:13; Le Exodus 25:25, Exodus 25:33, 48, 49; Exodus 27:13, Exodus 27:19, Exodus 27:21, etc. The Holy One of Israel Isaiah's favourite designation of the Almighty in his covenant relationship to Israel, used eleven times in the earlier chapters (Isa 1:1-31 :35.), once in the middle or historical portion, and thirteen times in the later chapters (Isa 40:1-31 :66.); only used elsewhere in Psalms 71:22; Psalms 78:41; Psalms 89:18; Jer 1:1-19 :29; and Jeremiah 51:5.

Isaiah 41:15

I will make thee a new sharp threshing-instrument. Israel is to be more than sustained. Strength is to be given her to take the aggressive, and to subdue her enemies under her. She is to "thresh them" and "beat them small," as with a threshing-instrument. In the literal sense, no earlier accomplishment of this prophecy can be pointed out than the time of the Maccahean war. Metaphorically, it may be said that Israel began to conquer the world when her literature became known to the Greeks through the expedition of Alexander the Great, and completed her conquest when the Roman empire succumbed to the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Having teeth. Threshing-instruments of the kind described are still in use in Syria and Asia Minor. The corn is spread out on the ground, and the machine, which is sometimes armed with sharp stones, sometimes with saws, is dragged ever it. The Arabic name is still noreg, a modification of the Hebrew moreg. Thou shalt thresh the mountains … the hills; i.e. "thou shalt subdue proud and mighty foes" (Delitzsch).

Isaiah 41:17-20

The crowning promise is that of spiritual support and refreshment through' the dull and dreary time of the Captivity, during which Israel dwells as it were in a desert, without water, or shade, or the relief to the eye which is furnished by the greenery of trees and shrubs. God was able to make of this "wilderness a standing water, and water-springs of the dry ground" (Psalms 107:35), and he promises to do so (Isaiah 41:18). The soul that longs for him, that thirsts after him, feeling that it dwells "in a barren and dry land, where no water is" (Psalms 63:1), shall be relieved and satisfied by a revelation of God's presence, and an outpouring of his grace unusually copious and abundant. God's grace is shadowed out under the two similitudes of water and verdure, as in Isaiah 35:7, and, to some extent, in Isaiah 30:23-25.

Isaiah 41:17

The poor and needy; i.e. primarily, Israel in captivity; but secondarily, also, the "poor in spirit," and those that feel the need of God's grace, everywhere and at all times.

Isaiah 41:18

I will open rivers in high places (comp. Isaiah 30:25). If even the "high places" had water, much more would-the low ground—the valleys—be abundantly supplied. The abundance is indicated by the fourfold designation of the water-supply, as coming from

(1) rivers;

(2) fountains (or wells);

(3) pools; and

(4) springs (comp. Isaiah 41:11, Isaiah 41:12).

Isaiah 41:19

I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, etc. The "glory of Lebanon," the "excellency of Carmel and Sharon" (Isaiah 35:2), shall be given to the "wilderness," wherein Israel dwells. The trees named are the choicest of Syria and Palestine, viz. the cedar (erez). the great glory of Libanus; the acacia (shittah), abundant in the Jordan valley; the myrtle (hadas), which grew on the hills about Jerusalem (Nehemiah 8:15); the olive, cultivated over the whole country; the fir (berosh), or juniper. a product of Lebanon (2 Chronicles 2:8); the plane (tidhar), a tree far from uncommon in Coele-syria, sometimes growing to a great size; and the sherbin (teasshur), a sort of cedar, remarkable for the upward tendency of its branches. The list of names shows a writer familiar with the Palestinian region, but not familiar with Babylonia.

Isaiah 41:20

That they may see, etc. The change would be such that those who experienced it could not fail to recognize "Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel," as its Author.

Isaiah 41:21-29

JEHOVAH'S CONTROVERSY WITH THE NATIONS AND THEIR IDOL-GODS. The argument is now taken up from Isaiah 41:1-4. Jehovah and his worshippers are on the one side; the idol-gods and their votaries on the other. The direct challenge, however, is given by Jehovah himself to the idols:

1. What predictions of their own can they bring forward as proofs of supernatural knowledge?

2. What indications can they give of power either to do good or to do evil (Isaiah 41:22, Isaiah 41:23)? If they can do neither, they are vanity (Isaiah 41:24). Jehovah has both reared up Cyrus he and he only—and has announced the good tidings to his people (Isaiah 41:25-27). No such announcement has been made by the idol-gods; they are therefore mere "wind and confusion" (Isaiah 41:28, Isaiah 41:29).

Isaiah 41:21

Produce your cause. The nations had been told to "draw near"—to "keep silence" while God spoke—and "then to speak" (Isaiah 41:1). Now the time for them to speak is come, and they are challenged to "produce" and plead "their cause." Your strong reasons; literally, your bulwarks, or defences. Saith the King of Jacob. The king and tutelary god of the nation, Israel, really holding the position that the idol-gods were regarded as holding towards the peoples that worshipped them. The "kingly" character of the idol-gods was indicated in such names as Moloch (equivalent to "king"), Melkarth (equivalent to "king of the city"), Adrammelech (equivalent to "glorious king"), Baal (equivalent to "lord"), Adonis (equivalent to "my lord"), etc.

Isaiah 41:22

Let them … show us what will happen. God claims that the power of predicting the future is his own inalienable prerogative. He defies the idol-gods and their votaries to give any clear prediction of future events. No doubt the claim to possess the power was made very generally among the idolatrous nations, who almost universally practised divination, and in many cases possessed oracles. But it was a false claim, based upon fraud and cunning, which deceived men as often as dependence was placed upon it (Herod; 1:53, 91) and landed them in misfortune. The former things … things for to come. Some commentators regard "the former things" as things actually past—"the beginnings of history, for instance, which to the heathen nations were wrapped in darkness" (Kay); but it seems better, on the whole, to understand (with Vitringa, Stier, Hahn, Cheyne, and Delitzsch) by "the former things" those in the immediate future, by "things for to come" those about to happen in remoter times. The former are, of course, much the easier to predict, since they fall to some extent within the domain of human foresight; the latter are more difficult; but the idol-gods are challenged to produce either the one or the other. What they be. A definite and clear statement is required to preclude such vague and ambiguous utterances as the heathen oracles delighted to put forth. That we may consider them (or, lay them to heart), and know the latter end of them; i.e. compare them with the event, when the time comes.

Isaiah 41:23

Yea, do good, or do evil. Here the proof required of the idol-gods is changed. If they cannot prophesy, can they effect anything? Can they do either good or harm? Let them show this. It is a plain "abatement" from the first demand, and therefore properly introduced by "yea" (aph); comp. 1 Kings 8:27. That we may be dismayed; i.e. rather, perhaps, that we may look to it, or examine it; i.e. see if yon have really shown a power of doing anything.

Isaiah 41:24

A pause may be supposed between Isaiah 41:23 and Isaiah 41:24, during which the idol-gods are given the opportunity of "bringing, forth their strong reasons," and, in one way or other, proving their Divinity. But they are stricken dumb; they say nothing. Accordingly, "judgment goes against them by default" (Cheyne), and Jehovah breaks out upon them with words of contempt and contumely, Behold, ye are of nothing, etc. "Ye are utterly vain and futile."

Isaiah 41:25

It remains for Jehovah to plead his own cause, to vindicate his own Divinity. He adduces, as proof of his power in action, the fact of his raising up Cyrus; as proof of his ability to predict, the fact that he has announced his coming. One from the north … from the rising of the sun. Both as a Persian, and as King of Elam, Cyrus might be considered to come from the east. In fact, however, when he attacked Babylon, he fell upon it mainly from the north. After his conquest of Astyages (Istivegu), he made Ecbatana his capital (Herod; 1.153); and it was from this comparatively northern city that he directed his attack upon Nabonidus. His march lay by way of Arbela and Sippara, through the district called Akkad to the Chaldean capital. Herodotus agrees with the monuments in bringing him to Babylon from the north. Shall he call upon my Name; or, shall he. proclaim my Name. (For the actual proclamation of Jehovah's Name by Cyros, see Ezra 1:3; and note especially the phrase, "He [i.e. Jehovah] is the God.") Recent discoveries have raised the suspicion that Cyrus was a eyncretist, who was willing to accept the chief god of any nation as identical with his own Ormuzd. But it is to be borne in 'mind that the document which has produced this impression is one issued by the priestly authorities of Babylon in their own language, and may have been quite unknown to the Persian court. Cyrus may have been a better Zoroastrian than he is represented by the priests of Merodach. The Zoroastrian religion was, as Delitzsch observes, "nearest to the Jewish religion of all the systems of heathenism". He shall come upon princes as upon mortar; i.e. he shall tread them underfoot, mortar being commonly mixed with the feet, as was also clay for bricks and pottery (Herod; 2.36). The chief" princes" whom Cyrus is known to have conquered were Astyages of Media, Croesus of Lydia, and Nabenidus of Babylon. He was studiously mild in his treatment of royal captives, but naturally deprived them of all power.

Isaiah 41:26

Who hath declared from the beginning? Which of the idol-gods has announced the coming of a conqueror? If any, we on Jehovah's side are quite willing to acknowledge it, and to say, He is righteous; or rather, he is right. But, in fact, there is none of them that showeth, none that declareth—no one has heard of any such announcement as delivered by any of them.

Isaiah 41:27

The first shall say to Zion, Behold, behold them; rather, the first has said. By "the first" must certainly be meant Jehovah—" the First, and with the last" of Isaiah 41:4. He has already announced to Zion her deliverance (see Isaiah 40:9-11; Isaiah 41:2, etc.). I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings. Perhaps Isaiah himself (Grotius, Stier, Delitzsch). Perhaps some prophet of the Captivity, as Daniel, who "knew by books" when the Captivity was drawing to a close (Daniel 9:2), and may be supposed to have announced the good tidings to the other exiles.

Isaiah 41:28

For I beheld. "Jehovah once more looks round to see if any of the idols possess an ability to prophesy, but in vain" (Cheyne). He finds no counsellor, i.e. no prophet, among them. Hence the final "outburst of scorn" in Isaiah 41:29, which, however, is directed primarily against the idol-worshippers, and, only through them, against the idols.


Isaiah 41:14-20

God's strength made perfect in weakness.

It is when Jacob is brought so low that his only fitting designation is "thou worm," and Israel is so reduced as to be a mere "handful of men," that the promise is made of the triumphant crushing of enemies, and scattering of them "like the chaff of the summer threshing-floor." It is when the nation generally feels itself to be "poor and needy" (Isaiah 41:17), when it is as it were at the last gasp, actually perishing of thirst, that it is raised to paradisaical bliss, that it finds itself in a veritable "garden of Eden." Exaltation follows abasement, not however by any mere law of alternation, as if men having reached the very bottom of the wheel of fortune must begin to rise, much less by any mere caprice of the power that rules the universe, but by the law of moral fitness. "He that would be great among you let him be your servant." It is when men, chastened by God's afflicting rod, abase themselves in the dust, feeling and acknowledging their weakness, and throwing themselves wholly upon God for strength and power, that they are most fit to become his instruments for the chastisement of others, and to occupy a high position among the nations. His strength is made perfect in their weakness; and this for two principal reasons.

I. IT IS FOR GOD'S GLORY THAT HE SHOULD ASSERT HIS POWER BY WEAK INSTRUMENTS. The poorer the instrument, the more evident that it is the workman to whom the work is due. Egypt is subdued by plagues of frogs and lice and locusts. Sisera falls by the hand of a woman. The Midianites are smitten by the three hundred who lapped with the tongue (Judges 7:5-22). David slays Goliath of Gath with a sling end a stone. Great miracles are wrought by a rod, a word, some spittle. And so also with the events that revolutionize the world. "Big battalions" do not always carry the day. The host of Zerah is smitten by Asa (2 Chronicles 14:9-12). Ben-hadad and the thirty-two kings are repulsed by "the young men of the princes of the provinces" (1 Kings 20:1-20). Cyrus, with a handful of Persian rustics, defeats Astyages. Three hundred Greeks decimate the myriads of Xerxes at Thermopylae. Judas Maccabaeus, with a few thousands, destroys half a dozen Syrian armies three or four times as numerous (1 Macc. 4:26-34:; 7:40-47; 2 Mace. 12:13-37; 15:20-28). God's hand is the more clearly seen, the weaker and poorer the means that he uses.

II. IT IS FOR MAN'S ADVANTAGE THAT HE SHOULD HAVE IT IMPRESSED UPON HIM THAT HIS SUCCESSES ARE NOT DUE TO HIMSELF. As man's arrogance is one of the chief causes of God's judgments upon him, it is well that success should be given him under circumstances which make it almost impossible that he should ascribe the merit of it to his own efforts or abilities. Best, far best for him to know that it is "when he is weak, that he is strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10). So long as we are conscious that we are instruments, we are less inclined to exalt ourselves, to be puffed up, to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. We feel our dependence upon God, realize his power upholding us, lean upon him, and have a sweet satisfaction in so leaning. As our day is, so we feel that our strength will be (Deuteronomy 33:25). His grace will be always sufficient, just sufficient, for us. So we avoid all boasting and self-complacency, and are able to "rest in the Lord," to "stay upon him" and to maintain a perpetual consciousness of his mighty arm supporting us.

Isaiah 41:21-29

The futility and absurdity of false systems do not prevent them from keeping their hold on men.

At the present day, men are apt to find it strange that the prophets should spend so much time, employ so many words, in confuting idolatry and showing it to be utter and absolute folly. To us of the present age the absurdity seems palpable and gross—therefore not worth arguing against. But systems of religion or of irreligion, whenever they have become established and have got possession of men's minds, are very hard to root out. Those who have been brought up in them, who have been accustomed all their lives to bear them spoken of as undoubtedly true, who have found all those about them of one mind respecting them, can with difficulty be persuaded that there is any absurdity in notions with which they have been from infancy familiar. The force of prejudice is in most minds stronger than the force of reason, and often renders men impervious to all argument which runs counter to their long-cherished opinions. Still, as nothing but argument can shake such opinions, it has to be used, nay, to be insisted on, to be reiterated, to be dinned into people's ears, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear. Many systems quite as absurd as idolatry have been accepted by men, and have stood them in the stead of true religion for centuries: some such are accepted even at the present day. An instance of the former kind may be found in the system of Democritus and Epicurus; instances of the latter in the pantheism of India and the more fashionable theory of evolution.

I. THE SYSTEM OF EPICURUS AND DEMOCRITUS. TO suppose the universe nothing but a congeries of minute atoms, existing from all eternity, and moving as chance directs, combining accidentally into forms more or less permanent and after a while falling apart, ungoverned by any mind, without object, intention, or cause; and to suppose life, intelligence, thought, the accidental results of certain positions or combinations of the atoms;—is a theory so intrinsically absurd and ridiculous, that it might have seemed impossible for the wildest fancy to have conceived it, much more of any man of sane mind to have persuaded himself of its truth. Yet this theory, elaborated by Democritus and Leucippus about b.c. 430-400, embraced by Epicurus about b.c. 300-270, and recommended by the genius of Lucretius about b.c. 75, became the favourite creed of educated Greeks and Romans in the century before and the century after our era. St. Paul found two sects predominant at Athens—Stoics and Epicureans. Epicureans preponderated in Italy, where their treatises are found to have been the favorite reading of the rich men who built their villas on the soft shores of the bay of Naples, at the fashionable watering-place of Herculaneum. Among the adversaries which Christianity had to meet and subdue, this Epicurean philosophy was one of the most formidable.

II. THE PANTHEISM OF INDIA. That God exists and nothing else; that he is "the One without a second;" that individual men are God, duplications of him, imagining themselves separate; that the material world is absolutely non-existent; and that all sights and sounds and actions are "illusions," cheats, nonentities with a semblance of being;—this, which is the creed of the educated Hindoo, is another belief so contradictory to common sense, that it might have been supposed impossible of acceptance by any considerable number el men. It is held, however, by thousands, who see no absurdity in it, and arc convinced that it is the only rational theory of existence; and, so far as present appearances go, there seems to be no probability that either Christianity or modern science will succeed in shaking the belief, however absurd it may be and however mischievous.

III. THE MODERN THEORY OF EVOLUTION. The spontaneous origin of life from inorganic matter, the development of protoplasm from molecules, of vegetable life from protoplasm, of animal life from vegetable life, and of humanity from advanced animals, which, though a pure hypothesis, has been accepted almost universally by physicists in the present day, is intrinsically as absurd and unthinkable a theory as either Epicureanism or Hindoo pantheism. But its absurdity is not seen by those who have been taught it from the time that they first turned their attention to physical science, who find it accepted by all their teachers, and assumed as a basis by every book that is put into their hands, who live as it were in an atmosphere saturated with evolutionism, and absorb it with every breath that they inhale. The time will probably come, perhaps after no great delay, when a reaction will set in, and the ability of unintelligent matter to improve itself and advance to perfection will be seen to be as absurd and as self-contradictory as the ability of images carved out of wood and stone to affect the course of events—to "do good or to do evil." Meanwhile, however, the existing false system is almost as impervious to argument and criticism as was the system of heathen idolatry. It has possession of the field (the so-called scientific field), as that had of the general field of human society; it supports itself by a number of interconnected propositions, no one of which rests upon any sure basis; and it does not even perceive the force of the arguments which are brought against it. Thus it may keep its hold upon men for some considerable time, before it takes its final place as "a chapter in the history of human error."


Isaiah 41:1-7

Argument with the nations.

Jehovah calls the countries to "come silently" unto him. Let the people pluck up what strength they may have, and let the cause between them and Jehovah come to the tribunal of reason. Have the idols any spiritual power? or is Jehovah only the true God?

1. THE VICTORIOUS CAREER OF CYRUS. This great man has, in the prophet's thought, a vocation from God. He is the minister of the Divine righteousness (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 45:13). Cyrus is supported by the unseen might of Jehovah, who gives peoples into his hands, makes him tread on the necks of kings, whose swords turn to dust, whose warlike bow becomes as powerless as stubble driven before the blast. On the hero goes, in swift; pursuit, penetrating into trackless districts, or those inaccessible to the ordinary traveller, where he cannot be followed. Or the meaning may be, his passage is swift as that of eagle or vulture (Isaiah 46:11), and he leaves no trace of his feet behind. Now, "who hath produced and carried out this?" "In all religions men have found it necessary, in any great action, to engage some other agent and principle beside the man himself. The god becomes coadjutor in every noble or heroic achievement. Homer brings in Diomed and Ulysses, assisted by Mars and Pallas—one notable for acts of valour, and the other for those of counsel and wisdom; and the like is said of many others." And now which of the heathen gods has been the coadjutor of Cyrus? Why, he has come to overthrow the worshippers of the heathen gods. The deities are chiefly bound up with the futures of their peoples, and with them they fall. Who, then, can have raised up the great conqueror and destroyer, but he who alone abides—who called forth the generations from the beginning of "the vanished past and the vanishing present," who is Alpha and Omega, who preceded all, and will be self-existent in the ages to come. The expression, "I am he," briefly and suggestively conveys this idea of self-existence, of eternity (Isaiah 43:10, Isaiah 43:13; Isaiah 46:4; Isaiah 48:12; Deuteronomy 32:39; Psalms 102:28): "Thou art he, and thy years will not come to an end." Also Psalms 44:5.

"The nameless, he whose nod is Nature's birth."

II. THE ANXIETY OF THE PEOPLES. The decision of the question is postponed; but a scene of alarm among the peoples is depicted. They have heard the news of Cyrus's conquests; the world is shuddering with apprehension. They huddle together like a frightened flock of sheep, trying to impart to one another a courage not really felt. The carpenter and the caster and the goldsmith are all busy among the Western nations, making "a particularly good and strong set of gods." A significant touch is the last—one is strengthening an idol with nails, for fear it should fall, which would be an omen full of dread, as the fall of Dagon of the Philistines may remind us. And so, even as Elijah with the worshippers of Baal, the prophet employs that irony and ridicule which is the test of truth, against the idolaters. And the scene may be regarded as a standing satire against all weak, anxious, fussy resort to human means and devices, and to idle superstitions, when the name of true religion has been paralyzed, when faith in the spiritual and eternal is extinct.—J.

Isaiah 41:8-13

The blessed condition of Israel.

I. ISRAEL IS THE SERVANT OF JEHOVAH. There can be no higher title of honour, privilege, affection, than son. Though the designation reminds us of the infinite distance between God and man, in another way it reminds us of his nearness. The Master and Lord is here the loving and protecting Patron and Friend; the servant, one who reciprocates his affection. They are the descendants of Abraham, who "loved God." The title "reminds the Jews that they had come very far short of their ideal, but at the same time inspires a well-grounded hope that Abraham's "love" will call forth the Divine mercy towards his seed."

II. THE PEOPLE IS CHOSEN OF GOD. And the choice of God is irretractable (Romans 2:29). And the election was made manifest in a wondrous history. They had been fetched from the ends of the earth. The patriarch from Ur of the Chaldees in Mesopotamia; Israel from Egypt. And what are the consequences of this Divine choice? All that is most dear and precious in the relation of marriage or in that of friendship may be called to mind. The nation is wedded to an all-powerful Husband, is linked to a faithful Protector and Friend. Then she may enjoy fearless freedom from fear; the just hand will uphold her. And all her enemies will be thrown into shame and confusion; those that strove with her be brought to nought. Held fast in the right hand of God, Israel may ever hear the assuring word, "Fear not; I do help thee." He is One "who gives salvation to kings;" with one hand giving the Law, with the other defending the obedient. Omniscience watches over the chosen, and omnipotence supports them. Among other "gifts and graces" let us recognize courage and resolution. Timidity, faint-heartedness, is a universal weakness, and the higher or sacred courage one of the rarest possessions of the soul. Perhaps, next to wisdom, it is Heaven's greatest gift. It "gives and obtains kingdoms, turns swords into sceptres, crowns the valiant with victory, and the victorious often with a diadem." Presence of mind: what can impart it like the feeling that God is ever with us, that our feeble hand is enclosed in his? "It is a kind of ecstasy and inspiration, a beam of Divine light darting in upon reason, and exalting it to a pitch of operation beyond its natural and accustomed measures. Perhaps there was never any person in the world remarkably and heroically great, without some such kind of enthusiasm—a mighty principle which at certain times raised him up to strange, unaccountable heights of wisdom and courage. He who in the strength of such a spirit can look the most menacing dangers in the face, and, when the state of all things about him seems desperate, can yet bear his great heart above despair—such a one for the most part makes fortune itself bend and lull down to him, difficulties vanish, and dangers fly before him; so much is victory the claim of the valiant, and success the birthright of the bold."—J.

Isaiah 41:14-16

Weakness made strong.

"A fine touch is lost in the English here. In the Hebrew, Israel is addressed in the feminine gender, as a weak and suffering woman. It is not so in the preceding verses, and in Isaiah 41:15 the prophet significantly reverts to the masculine" (Cheyne).

I. HUMILITY THE CONDITION OF STRENGTH. Jacob is a worm, Israel a "petty folk." This was, we know, a clear historic fact. It was not by armies or by navies, by numerous fortresses and serried ranks, and an impregnable land, that she was strong. She was "diminutive Israel," as the LXX. render. At this moment she might well be thought of as a poor, trembling, defenceless woman. In that one simple oracle, "I will help thee, saith Jehovah," realized, lay her might; and all possible might was there. It is not in human nature to depend where it can stand alone. It is when we feel "what worthless worms are we," that the contrast of God's almightiness comes upon us, and the sense that we may connect ourselves with it. Thrown upon our own resources, and finding them at an end, we "catch at God's skirts, and pray." Then it is no longer we, but our enemies, who fear. We cannot have too low an opinion of ourselves, nor too high an opinion of God. He is here described as the Goel, the Defender of the right, the Avenger of the wrongs of his people. He is the redeeming God (Isaiah 47:3, Isaiah 47:4; Jeremiah 50:33, Jeremiah 50:34). The verbal root means to ransom by the payment of a price, and to deliver from danger, distress, captivity.

II. WEAKNESS MADE STRONG. This petty nation shall become a power against which nothing can stand. Israel becomes as a threshing-roller, sharp, new, and double-edged, which shall crush the mountains, and make the hills as chaff; he shall winnow the nations, and they shall be scattered. With the two-edged sword in their hand, they will execute vengeance on the heathen, and punishments on the people, binding their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron (Psalms 149:1-9.). Perhaps the allusion is to the Maccabean period, and to the glorious wars of the Jews under the priests Simon and Hyrcanus, against the kings of Syria. The oracle which begins by touching the chord of humility ends with the note of boasting: "Thou shalt exult in Jehovah, and in Israel's Holy One shalt make thy boast" Thus the spirit of the true Israel is the spirit of true religion, the spirit of Christ exemplified in St. Paul: "I will glory in infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."—J.

Isaiah 41:17-29

The claims of Jehovah.

The thought seems to resume the thread broken off at the beginning of the chapter. Jehovah appeals to what he has done and to what he is.

I. HIS MERCIFUL DEALINGS WITH HIS PEOPLE. The scene and state of exile is brought before us. They are dwelling in the "tents of Kedar." They are in the midst of a flourishing commercial empire; yet it is to them as a desert where no water is (cf. Psalms 63:1). The true desert is the soul without the sense of God's presence. But God is not limited by place; and why, in lands of exile, should not the spiritual be as near as at home? The mind is its own place, and can be made happy if it only possesses God. This highest happiness is figured as abundance of streams among the bare hills and the highland plains. In the Orient, water is synonymous with relief from intense suffering, deliverance from death—in a word, with gladness, salvation, life itself; and the sight of lovely Paradises as they were called, i.e. parks of trees—the stately cedar, and the brilliant plane and others. Such scenery enters into pictures of the Greek Elysium, and probably of the happiness of the future life among other nations, and doubtless with a correspondence to the truth. Trees and living water: what more beautiful parable can Nature offer of the eternal energy of the living God? what better hint of the future state reserved for his chosen? The design of all these merciful and wonderful deliverances is that Jehovah's nature may be unveiled, and that the nations may contemplate it with reverence and joy—"that they may at once see, and acknowledge, and consider, and understand, that Jehovah's hand hath performed this, and Israel's Holy One hath created it."

II. JEHOVAH'S CHALLENGE. Let the gods of the heathen bring forward their cause; let them point out the bulwarks of argument behind which they entrench themselves. The "King of Jacob" calls these daemonic patrons and kings of other peoples to confront him. Have they insight into the future? Can they predict the coming event? Can they "declare the roots of the future in the past, or give a direct forecast of the future? God alone can reveal the secrets of the past. If the idols can do this, they are Jehovah's equals, and may be trusted for their ability to predict the future" (according to some, this is the meaning). Or let them do some signal deed, whether of good or evil, and prove at least that they are alive. Some wonder should be performed, at which. mankind may gaze, and by which they may be convinced. But judgment must go by default. The gods "can show no prophecies, cannot so much as speak, are dumb, not gods (Habakkuk 2:18)." And they must be known for what they are—"nothing in the world."

III. SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE. Jehovah raised up Cyrus. When called from the north, he came; and from the east, he shall proclaim Jehovah's Name, and diffuse his worship. Some see (combining this oracle with that in Isaiah 65:3-7) the announcement of a spiritual change in Cyrus. He is made to say that Jehovah gave him all the kingdoms of the earth, and charged him to build a house at Jerusalem (Ezra 1:2). He may have come to believe in the God of the Jews, and so to be their brother. The Persians were monotheists, and held a missionary religion. And the Jews may have recognized such a religion as that of Jehovah (cf. Malachi 1:11; Acts 10:35; Acts 17:23). And projecting themselves to the time of the fulfilment of the prediction, Jehovah and his worshippers point to it as evidence of the truth of the religion. And while Jehovah announces the good news of his return to Zion, that is, of Israel's redemption, the idols are dumb. They have no help, no counsel, to give; for they are vanity, nothingness, wind and chaos. Compare with this nothingness the sentences of Jehovah in Isaiah 10:12; Jeremiah 25:12. Such is the conclusion of the trial. The idols are utterly destitute of strength to aid their friends or distress their foes. Jehovah alone is worthy of confidence and regard, as the true God, Protector, and Guide. In times of deepest distress be can raise up a deliverer like Cyrus, and in his own way and time rescue his people from all their calamities.—J.


Isaiah 41:6

Mutual help.

"They helped every one his neighbour; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage." The subject is—Helpfulness. Not mere help, but fulness of help. There may be a help that is tardy, that is somewhat sparse and niggardly; and there may be help which is not helpful in the best sense. This help to which our text refers was accompanied by encouragement—that truest and wisest of all help, which, by giving courage, gives strength. Buildings cannot be built by an architect alone. The inferior hand is as needful as the superior. Read the description: "So the carpenter encouraged the goldsmith, and he that smootheth with the hammer him that smote the anvil, saying, It is ready for the soldering." Each man in his place, and fit for his place. So it must be in human life; and, as civilization develops, each man must attend more and more upon one thing. It will not do to play at art, or architecture, or merchandise, or ministry. Each in his place. So it must be in the Church—there must be mutual help, mutual encouragement. We ought to feel indebted to each other. We ought to be inspirational to each other.

I. HELP IS TO BE UNIVERSAL. They helped "every one." It will not do to evade our own share of toil. Work cannot be done by command or contrivance, but by the constraint of a ready mind. Socialism seems to be disturbing the Continent. It may be a destructive power, but never can be a constructive one. If human beings were machines to be set in order by one hand, it might be so; but they are not. See how Proudhon and Fourier adjust all the social arrangements to a nicety; the Phalange, or the body of associated labourers; the Phalanstere, or the habitation assigned to each, where the four great departments of nature—the material, the organic, the animal, and the social—are provided for. What a scheme! How philosophic it looks—on paper! But what madness to try and make it work, when the derangement of one part would be the derangement of the complicated whole! Who is to restrain the leaders and organizers from craft and selfishness and guile? Difficult as it is to secure good government in general functions in society, who could secure it in a ramified system? Then one will not work, and another will drink, and another will laugh, and another will sleep, and in one brief day some will be better off than others, and the perfect arrangements will fly to pieces before the touchstone of actual life. No; God meant diversity. God meant diligence to be rewarded. Riches and honour come of the Lord, and if there were no incentives to progress and culture and invention, there would be no advancing civilization. Socialism cannot make men work; it would want an army to compel them. The right way is Christ's way. Look every man also on the things of another. Use ability, genius, education, wealth, honour, well, so as to bless others. None are more despicable than those who look alone to being helped. Everything must be ready for them. The way they speak to servants is detestable. They complain if the physician does not come at once—if they are not the first considered by others. Don't they pay? Terrible neglect; they are not helped. Money does not satisfy their indebtedness. Let us see whom they help—if they are swift to speak the generous word, to perform the brave and noble deed. There are, however, some lives—and they must be dread histories—which are spent in fashionable gossip and superficial pleasure-seeking, with no care for others. We see, then,

(1) there must be mutuality;

(2) there must be energy.

Not the help which is mere gift, perhaps easy and costless, but the help which costs service and sacrifice.

II. HELP IS TO BEGIN AT THE NEAREST POINT. "His neighbour"—the nearest person to him. The gospel teaching is to begin at Jerusalem. Home, for instance, is to be a scene of help. There are occasions every day in which we can help each other's comfort, growth, education, freedom from anxiety, and increase in the pleasure of life as life. A man's character is judged of in his home, his Church, his village, his town, his neighbourhood. The eloquent assailer of public wrongs may be other than a patriot at home.

1. This is the help which only he can render; being the neighbour, he is the nearest.

2. This does not bind him by religious "views" or party spirit. He is to help in the great temple of humanity as well as the temple of the Lord God. "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them." There are charities, I find, which, not content with being Christian, wish to know what people's "views" are! What an atmosphere! No. Christ did not ask who were Samaritans, Syro-phoenicians, Greeks, or Jews. "He went about doing good."

III. HELP IS TO BE INSPIRATIONAL, That is to say, it is not to assist laziness or to excuse mere incompetence. "Every one said to his brother, Be of good courage."

1. Courage; for fear is weakness. Those who expect failure court failure. I am wonderstruck at Stanley's courage at the Falls, especially after Pocock was dead. It is marvellous! Think of that poor native who rushed from the presence of the dreadful roaring river into the wilderness.

2. Courage; for God is your Helper. Man is weak! Yes; but read the tenth verse: "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." That is an inspiration indeed—God in Christ working in us and with us. He who gave himself' for us, now working in and with us. What courage this inspires! "In me is thine help found." "Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help!" We shall find all worldliness to be weakness in the end.

3. Courage; for no work is so hard as it looks. There are creative times. What is the dreamer worth when difficult duties have to be done?

4. Courage; for cowards make cowards. Live with persons constantly afraid of fire, of midnight marauders, of infection, of disease, and you will become nervous yourself. If children grow up amid the timorous, they become timorous. But born in the fishing-cove on the beach, how they pull out the boat into the wild sea! accustomed to scenes of courage, they learn courage. Never dispirit others. Say not, "This sum will never be raised. These schools can never be built. This class will never prosper." But say rather, "Be of good courage."

5. Courage; for hindrances will flee before faith. Say to the mountain, "Be thou cast into the sea." Strange that it should obey thee! But it does, for it was a mountain of the mind. Courage is not quixotic; it is founded on faith—on the Word, and cross, and throne of the Lord Jesus Christ. Mutual hell) is what we want. Not the sentimental grievance from some that they are not the subjects of perennial attention and ever-delicate consideration, but the help which is the spirit of all Christian life, because it was the law of his life" who came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister."—W.M.S.

Isaiah 41:18

Water in the wilderness.

"I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water." The place of the fountain is the key-note of this sermon. We are not surprised to find a fountain in the grove or the garden—there, amidst its diamond spray the birds brighten their plumage. But here the caravan halts, whilst men and women fall on their breasts and drink in the living nectar—the sweet water that never harms. We have to meditate upon this subject, however, in its highest aspects. We see not all of life. In nature we come upon unexpected spots of verdure in sterile places; in human life we come upon a true friend in the thorny experiences of adversity. Best of all we have here—in this world, which in so many aspects is a wilderness—One who gives us the testimony concerning himself, that he will be in us "a well of water springing up into everlasting life." We have—

I. SPRINGS IN THE DRY LAND OF SIN. What depth of meaning there is in the promise, "The Seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head"! All seemed lost; and yet at his very feet there sprang up for man "a fountain opened for sin and uncleanness." This is God's revelation fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Often revelations are left to human discovery. There have been hidden beauties in the universe—unknown continents which man must search out and explore. There are hidden adaptations in nature to the need of man, which will reward his enterprise—medicaments for disease, ministrants of alleviation. And there are yet "hidden fountains," which the discovering hand of man will lay bare in the wilderness. But sin must be met by grace at once, that man may be saved—that the child may yet say, "Father."

II. SPRINGS IN THE DRY LAND OF SORROW. Hagar flies. Not the first, nor the last, that the east wind of bitter hatred has driven from the protecting doors. The newspapers record crime. We shudder. But blows at the heart, deeds never reported, never known, borne in the silence of suffering, are often the worst.

1. In solitude Hagar finds an angel. In earliest times they were ministering spirits, and we are distinctly told that they not only were, but are. We lose much comfort from forgetting that they are ministers to us! How? That is what the inquisitive mind is always asking. It is the "how?" which makes such piles on piles of useless divinity. The Word of God is inspired! How? The atonement is made! How? The dead shall arise! How?

2. In want she finds refreshment. Weary and worn and sad, God does not allow her to lack refreshment. Sarah dealt hardly with her, and she fled front her face. But another face was looking down upon her. How kind and considerate ought those to be who have others under them! Often far away from home and friends, there should ever be in our relationships all that we mean by kind consideration.

3. In misery she found peace. The mind filled with tumultuous thoughts was calmed! The angel tells her that "the Lord hath heard her affliction." What a sermon in a sentence! Teach and preach this, brethren. No eloquent words! No explanatory sentences! Sorrow itself has a voice, and God hears that. What rest comes to the heart that feels God has seen and knows all! "She called the Name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me; for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me? Wherefore the well was called Beer-laha-roi;" that is, "the well of him that liveth and seeth me."

III. SPRINGS IN THE DRY LAND OF SOLITUDE. What shall I do? Where shall I go? Am I to leave home? Am I to enter a wilderness that I know not? Yes; anywhere, everywhere; but remember God is there. "Whither shall I go from thy presence?" What will to-morrow bring? A Father. Whence will come my supply? Do not know—the fountain is hidden. But it is there. What is needful for me to do is to drink and live—to taste the living waters. Many analyze them—admit their purity, but do not drink! Our solicitudes are natural. Especially so when life is, like Hagar's, dependent on others. Some here may be driven out into the wilderness at any time. True; but Christ is there! You will, perhaps, never know how precious this fountain is tilt you are away from the old home.

IV. SPRINGS IN THE DRY LAND OF SEPARATION. Alas! other fountains dry up. That is to say, they are sealed to us for a time. But in the hours of bereavement and desolation I call on you to witness:

1. What hidden fountains there are in the Bible. How its histories live when we read our own experiences into them! How its psalms pulse with life when we too are panting after the water-brooks!

2. What hidden revelations in Christ. We know him as a Saviour. But how little we know yet! "In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." We "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." Some persons we need to know less of to preserve our respect and love. Jesus our Lord is infinite in all beauty, purity, and glory; and the more we know of him the more intense will be our devotion, the more complete our trust, the more fervent our love. Let the hidden fountains be not only rejoiced in by us, but let our voice be heard, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters!" We think little of water till we are feverish with thirst on shipboard or in an Eastern wilderness. Some of you perchance may have known what thirst is, and how much less precious is the jewelled cup than the water it contains. Yet from the beginning God has sent the rivers through the deserts one day to be peopled, and the springs as at Damascus run through the valleys. Every nation under heaven can bless God for the rain from heaven and for the water-springs! Soon may all tribes and peoples surround "the fountain." We drink of earthly fountains, and thirst again. But whoso drinketh of the water which Christ will give them shall never thirst again. Within, in the wilderness of these poor hearts, he strikes the fountain that is to lift up its pure springs through the immortal ages.—W.M.S.


Isaiah 41:1-7

The false refuge and the true.

In the regulation of his life, a wise man will give a large place to the consideration of what resources he will have in the times of great emergency. For he knows that such times must come to him as they come to all men, and when they come there is urgent and even terrible need of a refuge to which the stricken soul may flee. We are here reminded of—

I. THE REFUGE WHICH IS FALSE, AND WHICH WILL FAIL US. (Isaiah 41:5-7.) We smile with pity, perhaps even a contemptuous pity, as we read of the carpenter and the smith joining their labour in order to produce the well-made idol, before which the offerings shall be presented, etc. But may it not be that those who watch us from above, and who are so much wiser than we, sometimes sigh, not contemptuously but sadly, as they see us putting our trust and finding our refuge in that which is little better than the carefully manufactured image? When trouble has come, or when dangers thicken, when the heart is agitated or concerned, then the foolish sometimes resort to their idols—to those things which are nearly as impotent and as untrustworthy as these.

1. To the stimulant or the drug.

2. To the social excitement or the stress of business engagement.

3. To the comfort of human affection.

But these are wholly unsatisfactory, because:

1. They are not on a level with the height of our spiritual nature; they are not worthy of us who are created in the image of God, and who are bound to find, in our sorrows and our straits, a resource which answers to the spiritual powers we have received of him.

2. They are transient in their influence; they gradually become less efficacious, and at last lose all power to soothe and to sustain.

3. They themselves are temporary; at any moment they may be removed from our sight and grasp.

II. THE REFUGE WHICH IS TRUE, AND ON WHICH WE MAY CONFIDENTLY RELY. (Isaiah 41:2-4.) It is none other than the living God himself. "In the time of trouble he will hide us in his pavilion." There are three strong assurances of Divine succour.

1. Particular instances of Divine interposition. (Isaiah 41:2, Isaiah 41:8.) The God who raised up Cyrus, who constrained him to answer his own Divine ends, who empowered him to do such great things, and to triumph over such serious obstacles, is One who evidently gives heed to individual souls, and who both can and will select the very instruments which are needed to work out the redemption for which we are waiting and hoping. He who similarly raised up Luther, Zwingle, Calvin, Tyndale, Knox, etc; to take their place and do their work when such men as they were wanted, will not fail us in our emergency now.

2. His government of the whole human race. "Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning?' All human history attests the presence, the power, the righteousness, the providence, of the Lord.

3. His Divine nature. "I the Lord, the First, and with the last, I am he." In God, our Father and our Saviour, we have

(1) One who, whatever passes, will be always with us (Matthew 28:20); and

(2) One who, whatever changes, remains constantly the same (James 1:17; John 13:1; Hebrews 13:8).—C.

Isaiah 41:8, Isaiah 41:9

His grace and our heritage.

We are reminded here of—

I. THE SENSE IN WHICH GOD HAS CHOSEN US. "Jacob, whom I have chosen I have chosen thee." The way in which God's ancient people were chosen of God is familiar biblical history. Abraham was called out of Chaldea, Israel (the people) out of Egypt, the Jews out of Babylonia, in order that they might receive, retain, and reflect the truth of the living God; in other words, this nation was the recipient of those distinguishing mercies which could alone account for their national redemption and their spiritual condition. We are now the subjects of God's electing, his distinguishing grace in these respects;—in ways which are not common to the whole of our race, perhaps not even to the generality of our fellow-men, we have been

(1) acquainted with his redeeming truth, made to know and to understand it in its purity and fulness;

(2) wrought upon by kindly, helpful, winning influences, in the home or in the Church;

(3) affected by the direct and immediate influences of his Divine Spirit. Thus has God chosen and called us to himself

II. THE LIFE TO WHICH WE HAVE BEEN CALLED. A life of holy service. "Thou, Israel, art my servant." We are not called merely to enjoyment or to privilege; we are summoned to God's presence and kingdom—" called to his foot" (Isaiah 41:2), in order that we may serve. Our Christian life is that most honourable, most elevating, most useful, one of service. It is the life

(1) of sacred worship;

(2) of cheerful obedience;

(3) of active helpfulness.

III. THE INTIMATE AND HONOURABLE RELATIONSHIP IN WHICH WE ARE INVITED TO STAND. "The seed of Abraham my friend." Behold, what manner of love and of condescension is this, that we should be called the friends of God! All that Abraham was to God it is certain that we may be,—we who are brought nigh by Jesus Christ. And what his disciples were to him, we also are invited to be (see John 15:14, John 15:15). We are God's friends, inasmuch as:

1. We have a profound sympathy with him in the principles he holds and in the work in which he is engaged.

2. We are trusted by him to do what is right and worthy, and are entrusted by him with that which is high and, arduous.

3. We are admitted to his near presence, and are invited to constant fellowship with him.

4. We are the objects of his love and his good pleasure.—C.

Isaiah 41:10-14

God our Strength.

Israel in captivity, hoping for return from exile, but fearing lest its enemies should prevail and the desire of its heart be defeated, might well delight in such reassuring words as these. In the battle and burden of our life we also gladly welcome them to our hearts.


1. The strength of the forces which are against us. "All they that were incensed against thee;" "they that strive with thee;" "they that war against thee." We may say as Paul said, "There are many adversaries." There are the evil tendencies of our own nature not yet extirpated; there are the vicious, the ungodly, the half-hearted men, who act injuriously upon us; and there are the "principalities and powers" of the evil spiritual world.

2. The weight of the burden of responsibility laid upon us. We are God's servants, his children, his spokesmen, his representatives. He is our God (Isaiah 41:10), and we owe to him the faithful discharge of varied and weighty obligations.

3. Our personal feebleness. "Thou worm Jacob;" "Ye men [mortals]of Israel." Who is sufficient for all these things? With our bodily weakness, our mental poverty and our spiritual failures, with the limitations of our humanity, we look forward to the work which we have to do, to the sufferings we shall be called to bear, to the battle we shall have to fight, with serious apprehension. We are inclined to give way to "fear," to allow ourselves even to "be dismayed."


1. His sympathizing presence. "I am with thee." The presence of a friend or of a parent in the time of trouble is, in itself and independently of any expectation of help, a reassuring thought. That God our Divine Father, that Christ our unfailing Brother and Friend is with us, is by our side, with purest interest and tender sympathy in his heart,—this is a strength and a stay to our trembling hearts.

2. His strengthening aid. "I am thy God: I will strengthen thee," etc. God helps his people

(1) by making their difficulties to disappear, so that "they that are against them are as nothing;" e.g. the drowning of the Egyptian host, and the slaughter of the army of Sennacherib; or, and more often,

(2) by imparting courage and strength to overcome them. He "holds our right hand;" he inspires us with skill and energy to act, with fortitude to endure, with patience to persist, with victorious strength. He "always causeth us to triumph."

3. His faithful, redeeming word. When he is not actually interposing on our behalf we may rest on his sure promise. He has assured. us of our ultimate triumph, not only for ourselves, but for the cause of truth and righteousness in which we are engaged. On this word we may absolutely build.

(1) It is a Divine word; "he is our God" (Isaiah 41:10, Isaiah 41:13).

(2) It is the word of one whose faithfulness cannot fail; it comes from him whose hand is "the right hand of his righteousness."

(3) It is the word of One whose compassion is well proved. He is "the Lord, our Redeemer."—C.

Isaiah 41:15, Isaiah 41:16

The triumph of the truth.

I. THE MOUNTAINOUS OBSTACLES THAT HAVE TO BE OVERCOME. These are not kingdoms, military forces, or fortifications, but things which are far mightier than they—error, prejudice, passion, pride, habit of life, materialism, self-will. These are high hills, massive mountains in the way of the world's welfare.

II. THE INSTRUMENT BY WHICH THEY ARE TO BE SURMOUNTED. This is none other than a living Church. "I will make thee," etc. The Israel which is to "thresh" these mountains is "the Israel of God," the Church of Jesus Christ; not, indeed, any one organization so called or calling itself by that name, but the whole "host of God's elect "—the unnumbered multitude of souls that, under every sky, accept his truth, trust in his Name, love his appearing, toil in his vineyard.


1. The disappearance of all that is evil, the scattering of the chaff (Isaiah 41:16).

2. The exaltation of Christ: "Thou shelf glory in the Holy One of Israel." In the day of redemption men will glory in no one and in nothing but in the Lord that redeemed them; they will enthrone him in their hearts and in the world.

IV. THE PRIZE OF VICTORY. "And thou shalt rejoice in the Lord." The Church will not be filled with a perilous complacency; it will rejoice in the Lord its God—in the honor in which he is universally held; in the love with which all hearts are filled toward him; in the service which every human life is paying him. These ingredients will fill to the brim its pure cup of joy.—C.

Isaiah 41:17-20

The pity and the purpose of Christ and his Church: a missionary sermon.

With what different eyes do we look out on to the world, and how varied a spectacle it presents, according to our views, our spirits, our aims! To the geographer and discoverer it appears in one aspect, to the statesman and the historian in another. The artist sees it in one light, the man of science in a different one. The sportsman and pleasure-hunter has his view of it, the trader has his, etc. But from the standpoint of the sanctuary, and so far as our minds are filled with God's truth and our hearts with the love of Christ, we shall look at the vast, outlying human world with very different eyes. We shall see before us—


1. We think of those multitudes of our race, beneath every sky, of every hue, of every clime and tongue, who are utterly dissatisfied with their life, their creed, or their character; the many millions who are the victims of human oppression, of intolerable tyranny, or of heartless cruelty (social or domestic), or abject slavery; those who are the heirs of grinding poverty, seeking for the bare sufficiency or the comfort or the success which they never gain, which perpetually eludes them; those who are vain seekers after happiness, the voice of whose life is this, "Who will show us any good?" whose experience is one long sad heart-ache; those who are unsuccessful inquirers after God, after truth and righteousness, who say, not in sarcasm, but in sadness, "What is truth?" "Oh that we knew where we might find him!" "What shall we do that we may inherit eternal life?" and to whom no answer comes from the deep void, who have to go groping on in the darkness. These are the poor and needy, seeking water and there is none, "whose tongue faileth for thirst."

2. We include in our view that other multitude who lack the water of life, but who are not conscious of their need. Did it enfeeble the argument for emancipation that so many of the slaves, before their liberty was given them, were content to wear their bonds and to be deprived of the rights of manhood, the claims of womanhood? Or did it not, on the other hand, immeasurably strengthen the case of the emancipators and the cause of the slave? And does it relieve the situation that millions of Chinese are content to live the sordid, selfish, godless lives they are living, and to die the hopeless deaths they are dying? Does it make less pitiful and pathetic the fact that millions of our fellow-subjects in India are content to bow down before images their own hands have carved, and to worship gods and goddesses to honour whom is to be dishonoured and degraded in and by the very act of devotion? Surely this fact only multiplies the reasons for regret and for sympathy. The very muteness of the appeal is the most eloquent plea on their behalf.

II. THE PITY AND THE PURPOSE OF CHRIST ON ITS BEHALF. "When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none,… I the Lord will hear them I will not forsake them.! will open rivers … I will plant trees," etc. If this be primarily applicable to the Israelites in captivity (or on their way home), it must be true of all God's children. He who pitied the thousands of bodily sufferers will much more pity the millions of his sons and daughters who are in the last extremity of spiritual destitution. When Christ "saw the multitude," hungry and weary, he was "moved with compassion" for them. With what profounder pity and intenser feeling does he look down on these far greater multitudes, who are pining and perishing in the famine of the soul! And then does the Church of Christ enter into his spirit and rise toward his stature when it also is stirred to strong, deep sympathy with these poor and needy ones, hungering and athirst for the truth and love of God. And as Christ's purpose answered to his pity, and he came, by the sacrifice of himself, to put away our sin and to take away our sorrow, so must ours also. Pity must end in.provision, in causing the rivers to flow and the fountains to spring and the trees to bear their fruit. Such sources and springs of health and life are our mission Churches. Heathenism is a desert place, a wild waste, where there is no provision for human need. But our Christian Churches, planted in the midst of the ignorant and idolatrous, are rivers in the high places, fountains in the valleys, trees in the desert; there is bread for the hungering, water for those who are perishing with thirst, life for dying souls.—C.

Isaiah 41:21-29

A true test of Divinity.

When these words were written the question to be solved was—Which god, of all the rival deities, is worthy of human trust and worship? The question now is—What is the authority to which we shall submit our judgment and in which we shall rest?—is it human nature, or is it the forces of the material world, or is it the Lord God? The verses before us suggest to us that one criterion in this state of inquiry is to be found in the consideration that we cannot find rest in anything which does not tell us what we most want to know as dependent, struggling, sorrowing, sinning, dying men. The idols of the heathen were valueless; they could not tell "things to come hereafter;" they were utterly ignorant; they had no voice to answer the most urgent and pressing questions which men were asking. Those great and profound inquiries which we are now putting are beyond the reach of nature and of man. Nature, at the demand of science, can shed no light at all on the most sacred problems, the solution of which is everything to us. It makes no sign, it leaves us as we were. Its teaching is as consistent with one conclusion as with the opposite. Man, unaided by special illumination, can reach no certainty, can attain to nothing like assurance; he can guess, can argue, can hope, but he cannot know. God alone, the Author of our being, the Lord of our life, the Arbiter of our destiny, can tell us whence we came and whose we are and whither we go. He can tell us "things to come hereafter," and much else which it is as urgent that we should know. He makes plain and sure to us the truth concerning—


II. OUR HUMAN NATURE. That it is not what it was when it came forth from his creative hand; that it has fallen through sin; that there is a way back which is a way up, toward himself and his favour.



1. Future things here.

2. The great future—the fact of another life, of a day of account—eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.—C.


Isaiah 41:4

The eternal Alpha and Omega.

The idea of these verses seems to be this—look back, if you will, to the very beginnings of nations: God is there. Watch the changes of nations, the uprising of great kings and leaders: God is presiding over all. Peer into the dim mysteries of the future, and still God is controlling and overruling all. The thought here set before the nation finds expression in the private meditations of the psalmist (Psalms 139:1-24.). Nowhere can he get away from the sense of God's presence, and nowhere would he if he could. How fully the Apostle John was imbued with the spirit of the great prophets is well illustrated in the fact that his thought of the manifested God is the old prophetic thought. The glorified and living Christ is revealed to him as saying, "I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty" (Revelation 1:8). Some think the "righteous man," referred to in verse 2, is Abraham, regarded as the first father of the Hebrew nation; and this view finds some support in the expression found in verse 4, "calling the generations from the beginning;" but it is evident that the mind of Isaiah was at this time filled with the return from captivity, and with the Divine raising up of Cyrus as the human agent in effecting that return. And this Cyrus is to him the suggestion of the glorious spiritual Deliverer, who should appear later on to redeem his people from their sins; not first from their sorrows, but first and chiefly from their sins. So we may cover the long ages in our thought. Abraham raised up by God. Moses set forth by God. Cyrus called out by God. Messiah the Sent One of God. "I the Lord, the First, and with the last, I am he." This view of our God may be taken as—

I. A CONTRAST WITH ALL MAN-MADE GODS. This is the prophet's great point. A man-made, or man-conceived, god comes second. Man, in that case is first; the god is his creature, and the creation of a being involves that it is inferior to its creator. God comes first; he is before man. Man is his creature, and set under his conditions.

II. A HOPE WHEN MAN CAN MAKE NO MORE GODS. That time comes by dissatisfaction. None of his gods bring him rest, and at last he will try to make no more. Then God lives, and may be the soul's Rest. That time comes by the ending of the earth-life; but even then God lives, and we may live in him.

III. A SATISFACTION FOR ALL BETWEEN TIMES. If he is first, and is last, then surely he covers and includes all the space between, and we may well turn from all self-trusts and idol-trusts, and seek now the rest, the joy, of his love and favour and service. "This God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our Guide unto death."—R.T.

Isaiah 41:6, Isaiah 41:7

Man's devices to do without God.

A curious and interesting fact is connected with the reference in this passage to hammering an idol into shape. Ancient hammers had no handles; the workman held in his hand the metal piece with which he worked. In all the copies of Egyptian figures engaged in various arts, there does not appear to be one representation of a handled hammer. Mr. Osburn, remarking on this, says, "The jar occasioned to the nerves of the hand by this violent contact of metal with metal, without the interposition of a wooden handle, or other deadening substances, would be intolerable to a modern workman, or, if he had resolution to persevere, would probably bring on tetanus. Long practice from an early age had habituated the robust frames of the ancient mechanics to these rude concussions." This passage is of a satirical character; the folly of idolaters in trusting to gods made by common workmen, and dependent on the most trivial mechanical operations for their form and their stability, is vigorously presented. We regard all this idol-making as man's device to do without the one living and true God; and, so regarded, it is suggestive of applications which may be made to our own times. Now men try to do without God because—

I. THE CONCEPTION OF HIM IS TOO SPIRITUAL. We are not permitted to think of him through any material associations, or to image him in any creaturely shapes. He is to be to us a Spirit. But that sets him out of reach; and since men will not cultivate their spiritual faculties for the apprehension, they put him aside, and try to find what they may put in his place in art-creations, art-ideals. This is their device—let us create the "beautiful," and make it do for us instead of the spiritual God. The "beautiful" is their idol.

II. THE REQUIREMENTS OF GOD ARE TOO STRICT. He gives no chance to self-willed-ness, no opportunity for the pleasantness of doing wrong. So their device is to arrange a training of the body, a system of rules and restraints by which they may regulate themselves and their relationships. Because religion is too severe they try to be satisfied with a morality which reaches no higher than a man's idea of goodness. Morality is their idol.

III. THE ATMOSPHERE OF GOD IS TOO PURE. "Nothing entereth his presence that defileth;" and it is characteristic of him that he "desireth truth in the inward parts." There man finds the demand too great, and is set on the endeavour to satisfy himself with a ceremonial purity, which does not disturb the inward corruptions. Ceremonies may express heart-piety; but they may be put instead of heart-piety. Ceremonies and ritual too often become men's idols, whose worship is easier and more comfortable to the natural man. So men help one another to make their own idols, and shift the one true God into the background.—R.T.

Isaiah 41:8

The Divine choices are wise selections.

Abraham and Jacob are God's chosen ones as founders, and first fathers, of the Israelite race. By this we are to understand that they were selected, in the Divine wisdom, as having just the qualities which, developed in a race, would make a people precisely fitted to carry out ibis purposes. We are not to understand that, in a way of accident, or in a way of mere sovereignty, these first fathers were picked out. God's choices are never arbitrary; they are always judicious selections. "The race is described as God's servant and his elect, or, combining the two characters, his chosen servant, chosen to be his servant." This special relation to Jehovah is the thing which distinguishes the people of Israel from the heathen nations around them. "What advantage then hath the Jew?… Much every way' chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God" (Romans 3:1, Romans 3:2). The truth that the Divine choices are selections, on the ground of recognized fitness, may gain illustration from three distinct spheres.

I. FROM THE SPHERE OF THE SACRED SCRIPTURES, These cover long spaces of the earth's history, and the most marked feature of them is the way in which individuals are set forth prominently; we are shown the precise work they did, and then it is impressed on us that these are the Lord's chosen ones. In the light of that view we read again their story, appraise their qualities and gifts, set their endowments alongside their life-mission; and then we can see clearly that they were selected because they were precisely fitted for their particular work. If we think that subtle laws of heredity have gone to the making and endowing of men, we may also think of God as watching the fitnesses of men, and taking them out for the doing of certain parts of his work. Illustration may be taken from Moses, who was characteristically patriotic and disinterested; or David, whose poetical genius sanctified song for Divine worship; or Paul, whose natural impetuosity adapted him for his service as the first Christian missionary.

II. FROM THE SPHERE OF COMMON LIFE. For Scripture is but. the illustration "in the small" of what God is ever doing "in the large." The mistake is so often made of thinking that God exhausted himself, or limited himself, to the spheres dealt with in Scripture. The true view is that God illustrated himself there. Cyrus is the man in common life of whom God says, "I girded thee, though thou hast not known me." We see God's selections in the fitting of men to places, men of genius and common men, the Tennysons and ourselves.

III. FROM THE SPHERE OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. Here too there are evidently elect men and women; but we need to see that God has no "pets," only "servants"—men whose fitnesses are recognized, and who are consequently selected for office to praise, to preach, to pray, or variously to minister to the Church's needs.—R.T.

Isaiah 41:10

The supreme promise.

"I am with thee." This assurance is the application of that truth of God's infinite superiority to all idols on which the prophet has been, sometimes so seriously, and sometimes so scornfully, dwelling. Here is the argument—God is God alone. He is your God. He is with you. It is a promise specially adapted to the apparently helpless and hopeless condition of Israel in Babylon. There was no relief to the darkness that hung about them, but there was this comfort in the darkness—the almighty, all-wise, all-creating, all-controlling God, was with them, and their trust in him was security for their safety, and for their coming out into the light by-and-by, for he was their God. Matthew Henry paraphrases the text in this way, "Fear thou not, for I am with thee, not only within call, but present with thee; be not dismayed at the power of those who are against thee, for I am thy God, and engaged for thee. Art thou weak? I will strengthen thee. Art thou destitute of friends? I will keep thee in time of need. Art thou ready to sink, ready to fall? I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness, that right hand which is full of righteousness, in dispensing rewards and punishments." The verse, setting before us such varied assurances of Divine help, upholding, and strengthening, seems to bid us think of all that the presence of God with us may be thought to include. If he is, indeed, our God, then—

I. HE KNOWS US. We often distinguish between the outside person, who is interested in us and knows about us, and the friend in intimate personal relations, who knows us. We are permitted to think of God as the Friend in close fellowship, from whom none of our secrets are hid. He is the safe Friend, of whose wise help we are always assured, and in whom we may fully trust, because of the knowledge which his love brings.

II. HE PROVIDES FOR US. This is the work of him who is our God, and on whom we are dependent. But it is precious to be assured that he is in gracious relations with us, and will do for us his good work.

III. HE DEFENDS US. If with us, then "greater is he who is with us than all who can be against us." "What terror can confound me, with God at my right hand?"

IV. HE CORRECTS US. When we know ourselves, and our own frailties and inability to walk alone, we find that God, who can chasten and will chasten, who "corrects in measure," and "scourges every son whom he receives," is the God in whose constant presence we can rejoice.

V. HE GUIDES US. If with us, he must go first, for he is our God. And the darkness does not matter if he is first—on before, only just before. It must be a plain path, and a safe path, when we simply follow his footsteps.

VI. HE REDEEMS US. This is the large word which embraces all the material and spiritual needs we can know. Israel wanted redemption from captivity: God gave that. Israel wanted redemption from idolatry: God gave that. Israel even wanted redemption from "bad self," and, it they would have it so, God would give even that.—R.T.

Isaiah 41:13, Isaiah 41:14

The supreme prayer.

"Lord, help me;" responded to by God in the gracious assurance, "I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel." Likening Israel to a worm, reminds us of its despised and depressed condition in captivity. "However weak and despised and trodden underfoot thou mayest be, in thy captivity and exile, yet fear not, I will help thee." It is a painful suggestion of hopelessness and helplessness that no cry can now rise but the brief, intense, "Lord, help me." And yet it is full of hope that any cry at all can rise, and that, even in despair, men are turning yearning eyes toward God. Of this we may be assured, when man cries, out of the depths, his cry, "Lord, help me," God will answer, out of his heavens, "I will help thee." The associations of the ancient goel, or family avenger, may be used in illustration, as the word translated "Redeemer" is in the original Goel. And the certainty of response to prayer by him who liveth, and is our God and Father, may be illustrated by an incident in the life of Luther. Usually he was of a cheerful temperament, but he was subject to occasional fits of severe depression. Once, when nothing seemed to avail, he was induced to leave home for a few days, in the hope that he might recover his cheerfulness; but he returned with a cloudy and dejected countenance. How great was his surprise, on entering the house, to find his wife seated in the middle of the room, attired in black garments, and with a mourning cloak thrown over her, while she pressed to her eyes her handkerchief, as if weeping bitterly! He eagerly inquired the cause of her distress, which she seemed loth at first to communicate; but on his again imploring her to speak, she answered, "Only think, dear doctor, our Father in heaven is dead! Judge if I have not cause for my grief." Upon this, immediately comprehending her riddle, he laughed, and embracing her, said, "You are right, dear Kate; I am acting as if there were no God in heaven;" and from that hour his melancholy left him. Only two points are suggested for elaboration and illustration.

I. PRAYER NEVER REACHES ITS FULL INTENSITY WHILE IT CAN BE SET IN HUMAN WORDS. We say the same of grief. It never hurts, or imperils reason or life, while it can find expression. Silent grief hurts. A man is not utterly broken down while he can make a prayer and express his wants.

II. PRAYER REACHES ITS INTENSITY WHEN IT CAN BE NO MORE THAN A VOICELESS CRY. A simple "Lord, help me." When the soul is quite full there can be no utterance. A man must go into the presence of God, and leave him to read heart, thought, and desire. Such experiences only come at times into any life. Yet they are the times when we are most really, most wholly, cast on God. Here is a sacred paradox—our best times of prayer are the times when we cannot pray.—R.T.

Isaiah 41:15

Doing surprising things in the strength of God.

Compare with the very striking figure of this text, 2 Corinthians 10:4, 2 Corinthians 10:5, "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God." While there may be designed prophetical allusion to the mastery of Babylonian evils, to the triumphs of the Maccabean era, and to the spiritual victories of Messiah, the general meaning of the figure is that Israel, in the strength of Jehovah, shall overcome all the obstacles to the fulfilment of his destiny. Porter describes the "threshing-instruments" as "flat, heavy, wooden slabs, some five feet long by three wide, slightly turned up in front. The under surface is thickly studded with hobs of hard stone or iron. A massive prison door, with its rows of projecting nail-heads, will give the best idea of a mowrej, as the instrument is now called. Each is drawn by a 'yoke of oxen.' The driver stands on the mowrej, urging the oxen on with his formidable ox-goad. The oxen advance in front, 'treading out the grain,' and the mowrej follows, crushing and cutting the straw with its 'teeth,' till it is reduced almost to dust." With this instrument the Roman tribulum, from which we get our suggestive word "tribulation," should be compared. There is a marked poetical exaggeration in the association of a threshing-instrument with hills and mountains, designed to impress on us that "nothing is too hard for the Lord," or for his people when they are strengthened by him. Making application of the text to our own circumstances, we note—

I. LIFE AS A WHOLE OFTEN SEEMS BEYOND US; out Of our control; we fear to enter on it—we fed we cannot make the best of it. It is so with only such expectations as we can form, on the basis of what is known or other men's lives. It would indeed be so, if God were to show us beforehand the scenes through which we were to be led. Yet let us but lay hold of the strength of God, and our whole life shall be a mountain which we shall thresh and beat small. It shall not master us; we will master it, and make it yield its best.

II. THE SPECIAL DEMANDS OF LIFE OFTEN SEEM BEYOND US. Face to face with duty, we anxiously say, "Who is sufficient for these things?" For us to undertake these duties seems as absurd as for a mowrej to think of threshing a mountain. And yet experience abundantly confirms the fact that, when a man is called of God to do anything, God surely gives him strength for the doing, What is "impossible with men is possible with God," and with all those whom God aids. For things that are right there is no such word as "impossible" in a Christian's vocabulary. Compare Jonathan defeating the Philistines, David overcoming Goliath, and the Apostle Paul saying, "I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me." We have often seen the marvel of God's overcomings when the pressure of circumstances was extreme, and the thwarting of enemies painful. "Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel [the God-helped man] thou shalt become a plain."—R.T.

Isaiah 41:23

The helplessness of idols.

Before God can hopefully intervene on behalf of man, man must have become thoroughly convinced of his own helplessness, and of the insufficiency of all on whom he is disposed to rely. In the time of the Babylonish captivity, many, surrounded day by day with idolatrous sentiments and associations, would incline to reliance on these idols, and to seeking help and deliverance from them. Therefore the prophet, by solemn warnings, by satire and taunt, strives to break God's people away from all such vain confidences. We have some idea of the boastings of the Assyrians in the power of their idol-gods given in the Rabshakeh's messages to Hezekiah. He glories in the superiority of the Assyrian gods over all the gods of the conquered nations; and the discouraged exiles might be tempted to say, "Even our God, Jehovah. could not stand against these Assyrian gods; then let us seek to them for help and deliverance." And if such formal idolatries belong to the past, answering spiritual idolatries belong to the present; and we also are ready enough to turn away from God, when he does not let things be "according to our mind," and we easily take up with idol-devices of our own hearts. So Israel and we may profitably be reminded that all self-made idols are vanity, and must utterly fail all who put their trust in them when the testing-day comes. In our text the idol-claimants are put to a test. Let them do something. Helpless things'. A great deal is done for them; now let things be turned about, and let them do something. We need not be over-particular. If it is inconvenient for them to do something good, let them do something evil—only let it be something. But they cannot. "They are of nothing, and their work of nought" (see 1 Corinthians 8:4). Cheyne says, "The Divine Speaker waives the question of foreknowledge, and makes the least requirement possible." Prove that you are alive, by performing some act whether good (for your friends) or bad (for your foes).' Or, we may empty the terms 'good' and 'evil' of their moral meaning, and suppose them to be used proverbially to express the one simple notion of anything, exactly as the two words 'right and left' merely conveyed the idea of anywhere." Matthew Henry paraphrases thus: "Let them do, if they can, anything extraordinary, that people may admire and be affected with. Let them either bless or curse, with power. Let us see them inflict such plagues as God brought on Egypt, or bestow such blessings as God bestowed on Israel. Let them do some great thing, and we shall be amazed when we see it, and frightened into a veneration of them, as many have been into a veneration of the true God." The point suggested for illustration is that it would be well to put nineteenth-century idols also to the test, and see whether they are worthy of confidence because they have power to do either good or evil. What may be regarded as idols must be decided by each teacher of men for himself. We can only venture to hint that the following may come under the denomination. Indeed, an idol is anything which so occupies the interest of man as to push God out of his supreme place in man's affection and service.

I. THE IDOL OF SCIENCE. Worshipped by many in our day. What can it do? What can it do towards meeting the spiritual need, the sense of sin, the soul-cry, of man? And it can do nothing if it can bear no relation to them.

II. THE IDOL OF LUXURY. Pleasure has numberless votaries, who delight in her service. Yet is she but the syren, who floats on, just a little in front, luring her worshippers into headlessness of the black storms that are gathering in the sky. What can she do in the day of calamity? Then her votaries find she is "all vanity, and her works are nothing."

III. THE IDOL OF SELF. Taking often very interesting shapes, as socialistic theories of man's regeneration by man. Very attractive is the notion that all earth-woes would fade away if only men would bind themselves together in a universal "Help-Myself" Society. And yet the story of the ages is the ever-fresh illustration of the fact that it is not, and it never has been, in "man that walketh to direct his steps." Ask "Self" what it can do for our best and highest interests, and it is as dumb as any idol-block. None hear, and there is no one to answer. Only when the claims of idol Self had been thoroughly worked out, and "man by his wisdom evidently knew not God," did Divine love intervene and send the Son. The "fulness of times" was precisely the time when helpless "Self" was proved to be of nothing, and his works of nought. And yet round these and other idol-shrines men crowd to-day, and need to heat' the solemn appeal of the last of Christ's apostles, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols."—R.T.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 41". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/isaiah-41.html. 1897.
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