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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Isaiah 44

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 44. Israel Will Be Restored by The Pouring Out of His Spirit And By God’s Intervention.

Meanwhile having described Israel’s current state the question would be asked, what can change the situation? The answer is now given. The only hope is the direct intervention of a gracious God. Notice how this vivid picture reiterates and expands on the ideas in Isaiah 43:19-21, with a clear connection in their being His chosen (Isaiah 43:20; Isaiah 44:1) and being formed by Him (Isaiah 43:21; Isaiah 44:2) in both cases. The way in the water-renewed wilderness will be made effective by a walk in the Spirit.


Verses 1-5

The Coming Pouring Out of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 44:1-5).

Isaiah 44:1

‘Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant,

And Israel whom I have chosen.’

This reversal of order of the names Jacob and Israel (see also Isaiah 43:22) compared with Isaiah 41:8 may arise from what has just been described. At present Israel His hardened servant is more like scheming Jacob. But the nation as an entity is still His chosen. Thus not all of them will become ‘devoted to destruction’ and ‘a reviling’ (Isaiah 43:28). Implicit within the descriptions are that they are the seed of Jacob, and therefore of Abraham (Isaiah 41:8).

Isaiah 44:2

‘Thus says Yahweh who made you, and formed you from the womb, who will help you.’

The inner nation had been made, fashioned and shaped by Yahweh right from the time of conception. They are His firstborn (Exodus 4:22). Thus He will not desert them but will help them.

Isaiah 44:2

“Do not be afraid, O Jacob my servant,

And you Jeshurun whom I have chosen.”

The change of Israel’s name to Jeshurun must be significant. It refers back to Deuteronomy 32:15-17. Deuteronomy 32 appears to be re-echoed in this passage. Consider for example the reference to the Rock and the use of Eloah (in Isaiah 44:8), the latter being the poetical word for God. There in Deuteronomy Israel, under the name of Jeshurun, (which is actually an affectionate term, ‘O upright one’), was castigated for growing ‘fat’ and prosperous, and thus forsaking God and lightly esteeming the Rock of their deliverance, moving Him to jealousy with strange gods, and provoking Him to anger with their abominations, sacrificing to god who were not gods at all, but demons. The reference is therefore apposite after Isaiah 43:22-28.

The name Jeshurun occurs elsewhere only three times, in Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 33:5; Deuteronomy 33:26. It probably means ‘upright one’. It may well therefore indicate the spiritual true Israel, while also through Deuteronomy 32:15 indicating rebuke.

So the mention of them as Jeshurun is in fact both a rebuke and a comfort. A rebuke because they had done exactly what Moses had said as described in Isaiah 43:22-28, and a comfort because He is promising to help them because He has in mind those who will yet be truly upright through His grace. It is a reminder that it is the upright ones who are the true Israel.

Isaiah 44:3

“For I will pour water on him who is thirsty,

And streams on the dry ground,

I will pour my Spirit on your seed,

And my blessing on your offspring,

And they will spring up among the grass,

As willows by the watercourses,

One shall say, ‘I am Yahweh’s’,

And another will call himself by the name of Jacob,

And another will subscribe with his hand to Yahweh,

And surname himself with the name of Israel.”

This is an extension on the idea in Isaiah 32:15-18, but here the emphasis is totally on spiritual transformation. The great change to take place in God’s people will occur through the direct activity of God (compare Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 55:10-13; Joel 2:28-29; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Ezekiel 37:7-10).

Here the Spirit of God is again pictured in terms of water poured down and the streams that result. The ground is dry until God’s Spirit works on it. But once His Spirit, His active, personal blessing, has come on Israel’s seed and offspring, they will spring to life like vegetation among the grass. They will grow like willows beside plentiful water (compare Psalms 1:3; Jeremiah 17:8). Only someone who has lived in a similar climate to Canaan can picture the scene. First the dry barren ground, with everything brown and dead all around. And then the rain comes and suddenly as if from nowhere greenery springs up everywhere. It almost seems like magic, but it is really the result of the Creator’s work.

This is thus a picture of new life, of a new creation. It was what Jesus meant by being ‘born of water, even of the Spirit’ and being ‘born from above’ (John 3:5-6), and was what John’s baptism also signified. That is why John the Baptiser also spoke of grain that had to be separated from the chaff at the harvest, a picture of the ‘drenching with rain’ by the Holy Spirit yet to come, producing abundant harvest. It is what Paul meant when he said, ‘if any man be in Christ he is a new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

‘One shall say, ‘I am Yahweh’s’, and another will call himself by the name of Jacob, and another will subscribe with his hand (or ‘write on his hand’) to Yahweh, and surname himself with the name of Israel.” Then those on whom the Spirit works will boast in being Yahweh’s, they will delight in being called sons of Abraham (Galatians 3:7), the true seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:29), they will write on their hands Yahweh’s name as a token of ownership, and they will gladly take the name of God’s Israel and become true ‘children of Israel’.

This statement about ‘calling themselves by the name of Jacob’ would be mainly redundant if it only referred to the Israel that was, for they already called themselves Jacob and bore the name of Israel. It is rather an indication of the wider outreach to the nations, often visualised by Isaiah, with individuals from among the nations uniting with the true Israel and becoming adopted Israelites, and thus calling themselves by the name of Jacob.

This first occurred during the inter-testamental period when many Gentiles became proselytes (converts to Judaism who were impressed by their monotheism and their strict morality and were circumcised into the covenant), and then abundantly when through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit Gentiles were converted worldwide and became Christians, part of the new Israel which sprang from the old, the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16).

This is how the New Testament saw it and proclaimed it. In its eyes Gentile Christians became an essential part of the new Israel, the true vine, founded on Jesus Christ and the Apostles, although by baptism not circumcision, becoming the true seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:29), ingrafted into the olive tree (Romans 11:17; Romans 11:19). For the New Testament regularly sees the ‘church’ (ekklesia) as the new congregation (in LXX ekklesia) of Israel that sprang from the old, founded especially on the Apostles (for confirmation of this new congregation of Israel see Matthew 16:18-19) and on those Jews who entered under the Kingly Rule of God and became followers of Jesus Christ. These were the true Israel, becoming part of the true vine (John 15:1-6).

Then when Christian Jews had first formed the new true Israel, large numbers of Gentiles also became Christians and were united in Jesus’ death with the true Israel, those Jews who had became followers of Christ, so that all became members of the commonwealth of the new Israel and of the household of God (Ephesians 2:11-22; Galatians 6:16), no longer strangers but fellow-citizens. They were grafted into the olive tree, while unbelieving Israel were cut off (Romans 11). That is why there was such a controversy about circumcision. Paul’s reply was not that the church was not Israel, for he regularly stated that they were, but that circumcision had been replaced by the circumcision made without hands in the death of Christ (Colossians 2:11).

This pouring out of the Spirit was the great reality for the early church. It outwardly began at Pentecost as the Holy Spirit fell on Jews and reached out to Jews who were there from all over the Roman world (Acts 2), although the Spirit had unquestionably been at work throughout Jesus’ ministry (e.g. Luke 4:1; Luke 4:18-21) and had been imparted in a special way to the Apostles in the upper room (John 20:22). It continued on in the early church, encompassing Samaritans and Gentiles who became a part of the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16). And that is what they delighted in, being the true Israel of God, being fellow-citizens with the ‘saints’ (the Old Testament name for the pure in Israel) and members of the household of God, and recipients of the promises. No longer separate. No longer alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenant of promise, they saw themselves made one with the true Israel through the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:12-22). Indeed they saw themselves as the true Israel as Paul makes clear, from which unbelievers in Israel had been cut off and the new believers had been grafted in (Romans 11:15-24).

It is unscriptural to see the church and Israel as two separate bodies. The separate bodies are unbelieving Israel (which is not really Israel at all) and believing Israel, and the church became one with the believing Israel. The church is not ‘spiritual Israel’. It is physical Israel, made up of all who truly believe and are made one in the covenant. It is literal Israel. Israel had always been made up of descendants of the patriarchs and all who had been co-opted in. All through the centuries, from the very time of Abraham, people had been able to enter within the covenant and become ‘Israel’. It included many of Abraham’s servants and the foreign servants of the later patriarchs, it included the large number of foreign people who joined the Exodus (Exodus 12:38) and were confirmed as ‘Israel’ at Sinai, it included Uriah the Hittite and many such, it included proselytes through the ages, and it included all who through baptism and new birth entered the Israel of God. They did not replace Israel. They became Israel. And all who did not believe were seen as cut off from Israel (Romans 11:15; Romans 11:17; Romans 11:20).

Thus these words found their final fulfilment in the ministry of Jesus, the One drenched (baptizo) in the Holy Spirit, and through the ministry of the Apostles, when they welcomed men of all nations by the Spirit into the Israel of God. As Paul could say, ‘If any man does not have the Spirit of Christ he is not His at all’ (Romans 8:9).

Note the progression, ‘will say’, ‘will call himself’, will subscribe with his hand’, ‘will surname himself’. The commitment begins and becomes ever deeper and more personal.

‘Write on his hand.’ We know from the papyri found in Egypt that soldiers sometimes wrote the name of their commander on their hand, slaves bore the name of their masters, and devotees did the same with the name of their gods (compare Isaiah 49:16; Exodus 13:16; Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18).


Verse 6

The Incomparability of God (Isaiah 44:6).

Having declared this wonderful work of the Spirit Yahweh puts it in the context of what He is. Only He could have done such a thing. In the calling of Abraham and the bringing of him into the land He was ‘the first and with the last’ (Isaiah 41:4), and now that calling of Abraham as His servant who loved Him has resulted in this blessing from Him Who is ‘the first and the last’. What he commences and promises, He completes.

‘Thus says Yahweh, the King of Israel,

And his Redeemer, Yahweh of hosts.

“I am the first and the last,

And beside me there is no God.” ’

Here Yahweh is described as both King and Redeemer to Israel. This was His purpose, that He might rule over them and deliver them. Note that ‘King’ comes first. It was as their King by His own choosing that He planned to redeem them. Note also the contrast between Yahweh the king and Yahweh of hosts. First He is King and Overlord and then He goes into battle on their behalf. Thus all happens because ‘Yahweh reigns’. Isaiah would have very much in mind here His experience in the Temple (Isaiah 6:1-7).

Then He lets them know What He is. ‘I am the first and the last.’ Compare Isaiah 41:4. That is, He sums up time. He begins it and ends it. And He was before all things and all things will be summed up in Him (compare Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:16-17; Revelation 1:8; Revelation 1:17; Revelation 2:8). He leads the way into history and He follows up at the end. He is all embracing.

‘And beside me there is no God.’ There is thus no room for other deities, for where could they fit into His all-encompassing being? And which of them could have done what He has done?


Verses 7-9

Yahweh Lays Down A Challenge To Any Who Claim To Be Gods To Prove It In Prophecy and Action (Isaiah 44:7-9).

God has laid down the past and the future. What has happened and what will happen is under His hand. And He has declared Israel to be His people and what will come about through them. Who then can bring out anything comparable with that?

Isaiah 44:7

“And who is as I, let him proclaim it,

Let him declare it, and demonstrate it for me,

Since I appointed the ancient (everlasting) people.

And the things that are coming, and what will come about, let them declare.”

God challenges anyone to show themselves as comparable with Him, to have revealed what He has revealed and to have done what He has done. Let them proclaim it, solemnly declare it, and lay out their facts about it cogently, so as to prove it. Since it was He and He alone who appointed the everlasting people, (when He appointed Abraham, and even before as described in Genesis 1-11), those who have survived through their seed until now and will live for ever in His everlasting kingdom, let any claimant at least prove himself by declaring what is coming on them, and what is to come about for them (as He will do shortly), and thus establish their claims.

Isaiah 44:8

“Fear not, and do not be afraid.

Have I not declared to you of old, and showed it?

And you are my witnesses. Is there a God beside me?

Yes, there is no Rock. I do not know of any.”

Then He turns to His people and comforts them. Let them not be afraid of such a claimant turning up. He and He alone has declared what will be from of old, and shown it by the revelation of His power in bringing it about, and they are witnesses to the fact. Do they know of any god who can compare with what He is and has done? He can confidently claim that there is no Rock like Him. That is, anyone reliable and dependable, who can be trusted and can provide a firm and sure foundation. He certainly does not know of any.

Isaiah 44:9

‘Those who fashion a graven image are all of them acting in vain (worthless, vanity),

And their delectable products will not profit.

And their own witnesses do not see, or know.

That they may be ashamed.’

Indeed those who set about fashioning a graven image to be such a claimant are acting in vain. What they produce may be delectable but it will not bring them any good. Nor do the witnesses for the image have anything to describe. They neither see nor know anything worthwhile that it has done, nor will they, so that they will have to cringe with shame.


Verses 10-20

Isaiah Reveals The Folly of Idolatry (Isaiah 44:10-20).

Note the contrast of this passage with what precedes it. Isaiah brings out that while it is Yahweh Who formed Israel, the idol is merely fashioned by its owner (Isaiah 44:2 with Isaiah 44:9-13). While Yahweh can pour forth that which produces growth, the idol is a part of what is grown. While Yahweh is the first and the last, the idol is but a spare bit of wood, and has had to be grown, and then shaped, and is even then something that could easily be turned to ashes.

Isaiah 44:10-11

‘Who has fashioned a god,

Or casted a graven image that is profitable for nothing?

Behold all his fellows will be ashamed,

And the craftsmen, they are simply human (‘they are of men’).

Let them all be gathered together,

Let them stand up.

They will be afraid.

They will be ashamed together.’

So let them consider the people who make these profitless gods and graven images. Even their own fellow producers of gods will be ashamed of what they have done, and as for the makers of these gods themselves, they are simply human, not having any divinity. How can they then make a god? So let them gather together and stand up to establish their case. They will not be able to do it. Instead they will be apprehensive, indeed, they will together as a group be filled with shame and confusion.

Isaiah 44:12

‘The blacksmith takes an axe, and works in the coals,

And fashions it with hammers, and works it with his strong arm.

Yes, he is hungry and his strength fails,

He drinks no water and is faint.’

He gives an example of the folly of it all. (It should be noted that many intelligent heathen writers were just as critical of the ‘gods’). Here is the blacksmith working away on the god, with axe, and coals, and hammer, and strength of arm, but then he becomes weak because he has not eaten, or faint because he has not drunk some water. But can he turn to the god for strength? No, for the god cannot help him. Such is the god. It is made by man’s instruments and strength, and by a man who cannot keep going without food and water, and it is not able to sustain him. And it lies there useless until he has refreshed himself.

Isaiah 44:13

‘The carpenter stretches out a line,

He marks it out with a pencil,

He shapes it with chisels,

And he marks it out with compasses,

And he shapes it after the figure of a man,

Containing the beauty of a man, to dwell in the house.’

He continues to describe how these gods come into being. They are the careful work of a human carpenter, who uses all his tools and ingenuity and makes it so that it looks like some man pleasing to the eye in order to take its place in the temple or on the god-shelf. They are but an idea from a carpenter’s brain. Note the emphasis on the carpenter’s activity. It is all his doing. Any beauty it has comes from him.

Isaiah 44:14-17

‘He hews down for himself certain cedars,

Or takes the cypress and the oak,

And makes one of the trees of the forest,

To grow strong for himself.

He plants a fir tree, and the rain nourishes it.

Then it will be for a man to burn,

And he takes of it and warms himself.

Yes, he kindles it and bakes bread.

Yes, he makes a god and worships it.

He makes a graven image and falls down to it.

He burns part of it in the fire, with part of it he eats flesh,

He roasts roast and is satisfied,

Yes he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm. I have seen the fire.”

And of the residue of it he makes a god, even his graven image.

He falls down to it and worships, and prays to it,

And says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.” ’

And what are these gods made of? They are made of trees which a man plants for himself, waits for it to grow strong, and then cuts down for his own use. They are the product of the rain, and are made of the same wood with which he warms himself by the fire, with which he cooks his meals, with which he bakes his bread, with which he roasts his roast.

He takes a great deal of trouble to get solid trees for all these purposes, using different branches for different purposes, for this is the purpose for which he has grown them, and one of them then becomes a god!

For when he has used the remainder of the branches he takes another odd bit of the tree, a branch that is left over, and makes an idol of it. To the branch in the fire he comments how pleasant it is to be warmed by it, the branch is serving him; to the branch of which he makes his idol he prays for deliverance. He is serving the branch. What folly! He talks to both, and one serves him and he serves the other, and they came from the same tree. And it was he who has decided which one will do which. And why do these men do this? Because they are spiritually blind.

Isaiah 44:18-19

‘They do not know, nor do they consider.

For he has closed their eyes so that they cannot see,

And their hearts so that they cannot understand.

And none brings it to mind,

Nor does he have the intelligence or understanding to say,

“I have burned part of it in the fire, yes I have also baked bread on its coals,

I have roasted flesh and eaten it,

And shall I make what remains an abomination?

Shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?” ’

Such people do not stop and consider what they are doing. And this is because God has closed their eyes preventing them from seeing, and their hearts, preventing them from understanding. He has done this, not directly, but by how He has made them, with the result that they do not use their intelligence, they cannot be bothered to stop and think and consider their folly, the folly of falling down to the stock of a tree, the same tree that they have also burned up for domestic purposes.

‘An abomination’ is the term regularly used for idols.

Isaiah 44:20

‘He feeds on ashes.

A deceived heart has turned him aside,

So that he cannot deliver his soul, or say,

“Is there not a deceit in my right hand?” ’

‘He feeds on (over) ashes.’ This may be an abbreviated way of saying that the part of the tree that cooked his food has now turned to ashes while he feeds (i.e. he ate ‘over ashes’, because the fire smouldered on until it became but ashes), while the bit that made the idol is still in his right hand, and yet could just as easily be tossed in the fire and become ashes. He does not see that that too could just as easily have been ashes had he used that bit for cooking. Where would the god be then? But his heart is so deceived that he does not have the sense to see that the god is but a deceit. This maintains the previous contrasts.

Or it may signify that what he feeds on spiritually is but ashes, it has nothing left in it that is worthwhile. It is like ashes to the mouth. It is only fit to be spat out. ‘To feed on ashes’ may even have been a well known proverb signifying feeding on what is totally unsatisfactory.

Either way the main point is that his heart is deceived by something that could by nature become ashes. And this source of potential ashes has turned him aside from the living God so that he is unable to deliver himself from its grip and recognise that it is but a lie, a deceptive thing. ‘He cannot deliver his soul.’ That is he is so deceived that he cannot deliver his inner self from this thing that has taken hold of him. He is a slave to a piece of wood, that could easily be turned into ashes. He has been blinded by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4).


Verses 21-23

Yahweh Calls On Israel To Remember Their Status And What He Has Done For Them (Isaiah 44:21-23).

Having contemptuously dismissed the gods that men worship Yahweh now calls on His people to recognise how different He is.

Isaiah 44:21

“Remember these things, O Jacob,

And Israel, for you are my servant.

I have formed you, you are a servant of mine,

O Israel, you will not be forgotten of me.”

God’s people are now told to remember all that He has said to them. For all will come about. And especially let them remember that they are His chosen servant, shaped and fashioned by Him. They do not shape their God, their God shapes them. And let them remember that they are a servant of His, and that He would never forget them. They do not serve branches of trees, they serve Yahweh the living God, Who formed and shaped them to be His servant. What a purpose was theirs, and what resources they had, and what a certain hope. Now they could go forward to fulfil their function. They could be sure He would not forget them. (But alas, by many of them it was He Who would be forgotten).

Isaiah 44:22

“I have blotted out as a thick cloud your transgressions,

And as a cloud your sins.

Return to me for I have redeemed you.”

Indeed God has potentially removed all their transgressions and sins (and has done it actually for those who are committed to Him). They have been blotted out as by a thick cloud. They will no longer be remembered. So let them return to Him because He has redeemed them. The potential for complete forgiveness is before them because of the price He has paid in order to deliver them, both in their redemption from Egypt and in their subsequent deliverances, and in what it costs Him to bring about their cleansing through a multitude of sacrifices. For He has even constantly given up some of His creation to death, so that they might live. And we will learn shortly of an even greater sacrifice yet to be paid (Isaiah 53:1-12).

Isaiah 44:23

‘Sing, O you heavens, for Yahweh has done it,

Shout you lower parts of the earth,

Break forth into singing, you mountains,

O forest, and every tree in it.

For Yahweh has redeemed Jacob,

And will glorify himself in Israel.’

So let the whole of creation unite in singing about what Yahweh has done and intends to do. The heavens, the earth down below, the mountains and forests, yes, and every tree, let them all join together in shouting and singing because of what God’s purpose is, and what He will accomplish in Israel. For Yahweh’s plan for His Servant will yet come to glorious fulfilment. We note here that the very trees from which idols are so foolishly made, themselves give praise to Yahweh. They know Who is Lord and Creator. Here then Yahweh declares that He will bring about His sovereign will in His own.

We are reminded of another time when creation was called on to worship, and that was when the Lamb was revealed in order to open the seven-sealed scroll of the future (Revelation 5:13), when the destiny of the world was unfolded.

Thus ends in the song of creation a section of the book which began in Isaiah 41:1 depicting Yahweh’s Servant, raised up in Abraham and ending in the certainty of what Yahweh will do for His servant so that all creation can give Him the praise. He will redeem them and glorify Himself through them.

Note on Isaiah 40:1 to Isaiah 44:23.

The reader who is familiar with commentaries on Isaiah will have noted how little reference we have made to Babylon up to this point, and that is because that is precisely in line with Isaiah’s own words. There has in fact only been one reference to Babylon in Isaiah’s prophecy in the whole section, and that almost as a side issue. Now take note of how many times Babylon has been mentioned in any other commentary that you are using. It is called ‘reading in’. To Isaiah up to this point Babylon has been unimportant. What has been important is God’s intentions through His Servant. And this lack of mention of Babylon will continue on through chapter 45. It is clearly not the centre of Isaiah’s focus, even when dealing with the activities of Cyrus. And even in chapter 46 it is only its humiliation, and the humiliation of its gods, by Assyria that is mentioned (Isaiah 46:1-2). It is a salutary reminder that the writer does not appear to be aware of Nebuchadnezzar and his empire. The Babylonian empire at its zenith might possess the minds of the commentators. It does not possess the mind of Isaiah.

End of note.


Verse 24

YAHWEH IS ABOUT TO ACT SO AS TO ESTABLISH HIS PEOPLE AND PREPARE THE WAY FOR HIS SERVANT (Isaiah 44:24 to Isaiah 48:22).

As with what has gone before it is necessary for us to determine the viewpoint from which we will see these narratives, and in order to do so we must put ourselves in the shoes of Isaiah. Chapters 1-39 were mainly behind him, Hezekiah was dead, and what lay before him was the future in terms of Manasseh’s reign. That reign had not had a promising beginning. Manasseh had taken the people back to the old ways,and the ways of Assyria, and had thereby defiled the Temple (2 Kings 21:2-7; 2 Chronicles 33:2-10). The voice of Isaiah was silent (Isaiah 1:1). Judah was once more in subjection to Esarhaddon, the King of Assyria (Isaiah 37:38), who was overseeing Judah from Babylon (2 Chronicles 33:11). The people were corrupted, the Temple was defiled, and Babylon was to be seen by Judah as the great enemy, as, in Isaiah’s eyes, it had always been.

Isaiah had already prophesied something of what the future held. He had informed Hezekiah that his sons would be carried off as trophies to Babylon (Isaiah 39:6-7), and had declared that God’s punishment must come on the personnel who ran the Temple (Isaiah 43:27-28), and the miserable fate of those who trusted in idols (Isaiah 43:27; Isaiah 44:11). (And this would in fact all actually happen in the near future (2 Chronicles 33:11). For invasion from Babylon would result in Manasseh and his entourage being taken captive to Babylon, the Temple inevitably being sacked, and the people being decimated in the warfare that accompanied it).

But the question now was, how did this fit in with what he had already been saying. How could the Servant whose future had looked so glowing be restored, and what was going to be Yahweh’s response to the situation. These chapters will now deal with that question.

As we have seen the problems were threefold. The first was that the condition of Yahweh’s people was in doubt because of their spiritual position and condition (Isaiah 42:19-25; Isaiah 43:22-28), the second was the persistent interference of false gods (Isaiah 42:17; Isaiah 44:9-20), especially those of Assyria and Babylon, and the third was that the nations were still preventing His people from coming home (Isaiah 41:11-12; Isaiah 42:13-16; Isaiah 43:1-7). So before the Servant could be restored, and in order that ‘he’ might fulfil his proper function, each of these matters would have to be dealt with. In this section therefore we will discover how Yahweh intends to deal with these questions.

· In the case of the first He will rebuild Jerusalem and re-establish (or lay the foundations of) a new Temple (Isaiah 44:26; Isaiah 44:28), using the house of Cyrus as His instrument.

· In the case of the second He will destroy the daughter of Babylon who is responsible for all the lies and deceit connected with the occult and with false gods (Isaiah 46:1-2; Isaiah 47:1-15). But here Cyrus is not mentioned as involved.

· In the case of the third He will deal with all the nations whose lands contain exiles, so that His Servant might be restored in order that ‘he’ may begin again (Isaiah 44:27; Isaiah 45:1-7) in line with God’s promises to Abraham (Isaiah 41:8). This section will include prophecies concerning the subjection of Egypt/Ethiopia (Isaiah 45:14-17), the humbling of Babylon’s gods (Isaiah 46:1-2), and the destruction of the great enemy Babylon from which all men must flee (47; Isaiah 48:20).

In the terms of those days the restoration of Jerusalem and the building or restoration of the Temple were prerequisites if the Servant was to be able to do his work, and it had become necessary because the previous Temple had been defiled and those who served in it were rejected (Isaiah 43:28). Thus it was essential that God should make all things new. Equally important if the gods and the occult were to be dealt a bitter blow was the downfall of Babylon, because from there came all that was deceptive and evil, as it cultivated idolatry and the occult, and thought itself so superior that it could behave as though it was unobserved, even setting itself up against Yahweh (Isaiah 47:10; compare Isaiah 14:10-13), as it had always done (Genesis 11:1-9). And finally if His people who were exiled all around the world were to return, it would be necessary to find someone who could deal with the nations who held them captive, so that they could be enabled to do so.

These are the matters that the narrative will now look at. The section opens with a declaration of Yahweh’s credentials:

1) He is their Redeemer Who formed them from the womb. Compare for this Isaiah 43:1 which demonstrates that it is describing Israel, ‘thus says Yahweh Who formed you, O Israel, fear not for I have redeemed you’. For formation from the womb see Isaiah 44:2 where Yahweh, speaking to ‘Jacob my Servant, and Israel whom I have chosen’ says that He has ‘formed them from the womb and will help them.’ Compare also Isaiah 49:1 where The Servant, Who is identified as spiritual Israel (Isaiah 49:3 with 5-6), is ‘called from the womb’, and Isaiah 49:5 where he is ‘formed from the womb to be His Servant’. Clearly then He is also speaking to His Servant here.

2) He is the One Who, with none around to help, made all things, stretching out the heavens alone, and spreading out the earth when none was with Him. He alone is the Creator of all things.

3) He is the One Who oversets the occult world, frustrating and making fools of deceitful ‘diviners’, and showing up the recognised ‘magicians’, the ‘wise men’, by deliberately acting in order to show up their knowledge as foolish.

4) In contrast He is the One Who confirms the word of His true Servant and performs the counsel of His true messengers, that is He fulfils their prophecies so that all may be aware that they are His true prophets.

So Yahweh, the Creator of all things, Who opposes and countermands the exponents of the occult by making things happen in such a way as to make them look foolish, has chosen His Servant, the true Israel within Israel, from the womb (it is all in His divine sovereignty) in order that He might confirm his teaching and fulfil his prophecies. Whatever the true Servant is and does will be confirmed and carried into effect by Yahweh. He is the one who is to bear God’s message to the world (compare Isaiah 2:4).

But having done so He must prepare the way before them. And in doing this He will restore the situation for them. At present the nations hold many of them captive, Jerusalem has been laid waste, and the Temple is defiled, all of which prevent His Servant Israel from fulfilling their obligation. So now He declares how He is going to remedy matters.

It will be noted initially how firmly these ideas are introduced, and in each case they are introduced, not as concerned about a catastrophe but as a guarantee of their fulfilment. For above all they are introduced as being the work of Yahweh.

It is first made clear that the source of these actions is the One Who does everything according to His will, in fulfilment of His word.

1) He says to Jerusalem, “You shall be inhabited”, and to the cities of Judah, “You shall be built. And I will build up its waste places.”

2) He says to the deep, “Be dry, and I will dry up your rivers.”

3) He says of Cyrus, “He is My shepherd and will perform all My pleasure.”

4) Even saying to Jerusalem, “You shall be built”, and to the Temple, “You shall be established” (or ‘your foundations shall be laid.”

If we see this as a chiasmus with 1). and 4). going together, and 2). and 3). going together, there are two emphases. The first is the important one of the restoration of Jerusalem and Judah after its mauling by Sennacherib, and after its future destruction by Esarhaddon (hinted at in Isaiah 39:6-7; Isaiah 43:28), and as it later turns out again by Nebuchadnezzar, because Israel does not take advantage of the opportunity gained by Manasseh’s repentance. The guarantee given by His word is that Jerusalem will be reinhabited after its mauling, the cities of Judah will be rebuilt after their devastation caused by war, the waste places caused by war and famine will be restored (built up), and this will include the re-establishing (and as it later turns out the total rebuilding) of the Temple, all of which have been prepared for previously (Isaiah 41:17-18; Isaiah 43:19-20; Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 43:28).

The second is Yahweh’s action in the drying up of the deep and the rivers, through the activities of His shepherd, Cyrus, who will do all His pleasure (further expanded on in Isaiah 45:1-7). Countries in those days were often defined in terms of their rivers (compare Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 7:18; Isaiah 7:20; Nahum 3:8), which were of such vital importance to them, and their drying up was seen as a judgment on them (Isa 19:45; Isaiah 42:15; Isaiah 50:2; Psalms 74:15; Jeremiah 50:38; Jeremiah 51:36; Ezekiel 30:12; Zechariah 10:11). The drying up of the deep and the rivers may well therefore signify the desolation of the land of The River, and therefore of both Assyria and Babylon, in which case this is the promise that both will be dealt with through this instrument whom Yahweh has chosen and anointed. But their drying up also reflects what Yahweh had previously done to Egypt when He dried up their deep (Isaiah 51:10; Isaiah 63:13; Joshua 2:10), and what He had done when He entered Canaan (Joshua 4:23; compare Psalms 114:3-5), and on top of that it parallels the boast of Sennacherib that with the sole of his feet he had dried up the rivers of all the places that he besieged (Isaiah 37:25). As he had done to others, so would be done to Assyria, and their accomplice Babylon. As a result restoration was promised to God’s people, which would include the opportunity of return from exile, the restoration of life in Judah, the reinhabiting of Jerusalem, the restoration of the Temple, and destruction to their enemies.

Noteworthy in this description is the total lack of mention of the enemies that Cyrus will deal with. The house of Cyrus has not been raised up in order to deliver them from the Babylonian empire, but to deliver them from all their enemies (Isaiah 45:1-7), whoever they may be, and to be God’s instrument as Yahweh fulfils His purpose to restore Judah and the Temple (Isaiah 44:26-28) in readiness for God’s outpouring of righteousness and salvation (Isaiah 45:8; compare Isaiah 44:1-5). Isaiah does not pretend to know the details, and shows no awareness of the activities of Nebuchadnezzar. He still thinks in terms of Assyrian Babylon..

It will be noted that in what follows, describing the activities of Cyrus, it is his destruction of nations and taking of their cities and treasures, ‘for Jacob my Servant’s sake and Israel my chosen’, that is emphasised (Isaiah 45:1-3). While he would also certainly play his part in giving permission for the building of a new Temple (Isaiah 44:28 with Ezra 1:1), on our reading of it that is here seen as a by-product of his activity. The raising up of the new Temple was to be the work of Yahweh. That was not, of course, to prevent Cyrus having a part in the process. But no heathen king could establish the Temple of Yahweh. (Apart from the lessons learned however, it actually matters little which view we take for Cyrus II was undoubtedly involved in both). Cyrus’ main assignment was to be the defeat and denuding of the nations for Israel’s sake (Isaiah 44:27-28 a; Isaiah 45:1-6).

So as we go into this new section we carefully note God’s promise of a restored Judah, a new or restored Temple, and a new or restored Jerusalem, alongside of which the idolatrous city of Babylon will be destroyed because of all that it represents. This latter is, however, not connected with Cyrus, which from the point of view of accuracy was a good job because Cyrus did not desolate Babylon. Rather having taken it easily, and being welcomed by the priests of Marduk, he restored it to its previous importance within his empire. The final demise of Babylon in fulfilment of Isaiah’s words took place much later.

Isaiah accepts these strands of information without flinching, and without trying to fit them together. He is very much lacking in the full details. What he is aware of are the principles involved. The Temple must be restored, the exiles must return from all over the world, Babylon must be destroyed. But it is important from our point of view to recognise that while Cyrus is very much involved in the general picture, he is not described as being involved with Babylon, and once he has made the world ready for Yahweh’s Servant, he departs immediately from the picture.

So the consequence is that, having in His eternal counsels, brought Abraham to the land like a ‘bird of prey’ (Isaiah 46:11), He will not allow Abraham’s seed to fail, but will restore them so that they might fulfil their task as His Servant..

This description of Abraham as a ‘bird of prey’ is interesting and significant. There can seem little doubt that in using it he has in mind that having originally, within the eternal purposes of God, arrived in the land, Abraham had, like a great bird of prey, descended on the king of Babylon and had driven him off and spoiled him (Isaiah 41:2; Genesis 14), just as his seed would later do with the Canaanites. Thus Isaiah is now to see the continued presence of Abraham in the land in his seed (Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 45:4) who are God’s Servant, as a guarantee that Babylon will again suffer through the hand of their Kinsman Redeemer as He acts on behalf of His people, as He did in the days of Abraham. Yahweh too will swoop on Babylon, but this time to destroy it completely.

Further Note on Babylon.

In view of all that he has previously said about Babylon (Isaiah 44:13-14) it is clear that Isaiah could have expected nothing less than its destruction. Nor could he have doubted that it was necessary. For the shadow of Babylon, the great Anti-God and proponent of the occult, continually hung over the world, and over the people of God, and had to be dealt with. Her evil spiritual influence was known throughout the Near Eastern world, and was affecting the future of Yahweh’s Servant. There was therefore no alternative to her permanent destruction.

And yet that has not been the theme of Isaiah’s message. Indeed Babylon has only been mentioned once, and that almost incidentally, in Isaiah 43:14. At this stage Isaiah is interested in the work of the Servant, not in Babylon. He does not see Babylon as the threat to Israel’s freedom and independence, (he does not even mention it in chapter 45), only as the centre of all that is devilish.

And this is despite the fact that Babylon had yet to appear in order to loot David’s house and take the errant sons of David to become eunuchs in the house of the king of Babylon as God had already revealed through him (Isaiah 39:6-7). But that was a different issue dealing with the rejection of the current house of David. It said nothing about the destruction of the Temple or the future of the Servant.

So while, as we have gathered in Isaiah 43:28, he was becoming more and more aware that the Temple had been profaned and must be replaced, he does not make any claim that he knows how or when it will come about. Nothing is said about the way in which it will come to be in that state. He simply knows that it will necessarily be so because God’s people have defiled it (Isaiah 43:22-28). But at no stage, when speaking of the restoration of the Temple, does he mention Babylon as involved, or connected with its destruction in any way. Had he known specifically he would surely have said so. But that was something not revealed to him. While he knew that the Temple must be replaced because defiled, and may well have suspected who the culprit might be, he clearly did not see it as part of his message to Israel.

What he did know was that it was through the folly and unbelief of Ahaz that Assyria had come to tread Israel down (Isaiah 10:5; Isaiah 52:4). And at this present time he sees that threat as slightly altered in that the direction of the threat now comes from a Babylon, through whom Assyria was operating. This is clear from the fact that later, when Manasseh was arraigned for misbehaviour against Assyria, it was to Babylon that he was carried off in chains to give account (2 Chronicles 33:11). And this involvement of Babylon in the affairs of Israel as acting on behalf of Assyria would chill Isaiah’s heart, for he knew what God had said about Hezekiah’s children and that Babylon was the permanent enemy of God from the beginning. Indeed it was he who had been called upon to demand its permanent destruction, never to be restored (Isaiah 13:19-20; see also 14; Isaiah 21:9; Isaiah 23:13). And he knew that through the folly of Hezekiah Babylon had been awakened to the prosperity of Judah and would one day come for her treasures (Isaiah 39:6-7). So when it began acting as broker on behalf of Assyria, in Isaiah’s eyes Babylon, the great Anti-God, came to the fore. Esarhaddon, King of Assyria, rebuilt Babylon and appointed one of his sons there as crown representative and prince, and it would seem that Babylon was now the taskmaster acting on behalf of Assyria with regard to Judah. As the primeval rebellious city, and as the great Anti-God, it had even ingratiated itself with Assyria. It had to be destroyed

So that is why Babylon itself, with its encroaching ways, has to be got rid of, and Yahweh will now assure Israel from his own experience that the gods of Babylon, having been humiliated by the Assyrians, had been revealed as what they were (Isaiah 46:1-2). Babylon herself was thus doomed (47). All men are therefore to turn from any consideration of, or affinity, with Babylon and recognise the triumph of Yahweh in establishing His people (Isaiah 48:20). So physically Israel’s deliverance from the nations will be by the hand of a Persian king, but spiritually their spiritual life will be saved by the establishment of the new Temple (Isaiah 44:28) and by the destruction of Babylon (Isaiah 48:20), the great threat to Yahwism (47; compare Isaiah 14:13-15).

These then are now the matters with which Isaiah will deal, and the ideas that are mentioned are in huge contrast, and are all important for the work of the Servant, but he does not interconnect them. On the one hand there is to be the full restoration of a pure, new, and undefiled Temple, a place through which the Servant can operate if ‘he’ is willing, and on the other there is to be the destruction of the evil daughter of Babylon with all her false sorceries and idols. For until both these things have occurred the work of the Servant will continue to be hindered. However, this destruction of Babylon is more connected with Assyria (Isaiah 46:1-2) than with Cyrus.

Cyrus is rather seen as the one whose conquests will prepare the way for Israel by conquering the nations and acting on Israel’s behalf. For what Cyrus will do is to be ‘for Jacob, My servant’s sake, and Israel My elect’ (Isaiah 45:4). That is the specific reason why Yahweh has called him by name and put His own name on Him (surnamed him), even though he himself does not know Yahweh. It is because he is acting in order that the Servant might benefit. We must not confuse the two activities of preparing the way for the Servant, which was the purpose of raising up Cyrus, and the destruction of Babylon which will occur through the hand of Yahweh. Both were necessary but no connection is identified between them. To Isaiah they represented the good and the bad about the future as stunningly revealed by Yahweh.

There is no thought in these chapters that Isaiah is over-anxious. He is perfectly aware, on his pinnacle of faith and with his magnificent view of God (40), that the situation is no-contest. And once he has introduced the one who will restore the Servant (45), he puts the gods of Babylon firmly in their place as burdens on the backs of beasts which far from helping them can only make the weary beasts stumble (Isaiah 46:1-2), and proclaims the end of the daughter of the Chaldeans (47). Then, the great enemy having been dealt with, He reintroduces the Servant in his ministry to His people and to the world (49). It is clear that until Babylon is out of the way the Servant cannot finalise his ministry.

It should be noted how little detail is given with regard to these external threats. Isaiah is not necessarily aware of all the full ramifications of them, and is certainly not concerned about them. His whole thought is concentrated on what Yahweh is doing. It is those facts of which he is sure.

End of note.


Verses 24-28

Yahweh Will Raise Up Cyrus To Rebuild Jerusalem And Lay The Foundations of A New Temple (Isaiah 44:24 to Isaiah 45:13).

In the Near East of Isaiah’s day there were not many major powers. Egypt had been silenced by Assyria, Babylon was continually the enemy of God, sometimes independent, and sometimes under the control of Assyria, Assyria was the one who demanded subservience and tribute, Media and Elam at different times assisted in the invasion of Israel. But among those who remained separate from all this, at this stage, was Persia. How Isaiah came to a knowledge that the king of Persia had a son called Cyrus (an earlier Cyrus) we do not know, but it is very possible that he formed part of a royal party which visited Persia on the occasion of Cyrus’ birth, or alternatively assisted in the welcoming of Persian ambassadors who came bringing the good news. The famed prophet Isaiah who had foretold the miracle of Jerusalem would be eagerly sought for by the Persians whose interest in such matters was well known, and he may well have been called on to make his contribution to the birthday celebrations. (We are here speaking of Cyrus I, not the Cyrus II who conquered Babylon). And while they were together there may well have been promises of mutual aid, trade and assistance. Furthermore if Isaiah saw the infant babe for himself, there may well have come to him the certainty as he looked at him, that he was looking at the one whose house would be Yahweh’s shepherd, for there is no doubt that Isaiah possessed the prophetic gift.

Whether Isaiah lived long enough to see Cyrus I of Persia come to the throne we do not know, but he would certainly have continued to know of him, the young promising prince of the kingdom of Persia whose dynasty would one day see the deliverance of Jerusalem. And it is very possible that as the famed prophet of Israel Isaiah continued to have communications with his house. (If Moab could seek out Balaam (Numbers 22:5), Persia could certainly seek out Isaiah). And this was possibly how God showed him that in the dynasty of Cyrus lay the earthly solution to Israel’s seemingly insoluble problems.

It should be noted how briefly the situation is dealt with. No explanation is given for the condition of Jerusalem and its Temple which Cyrus’ grandson (Cyrus II) will have his part in rebuilding, or how it got into that condition. Possibly it was assumed from Isaiah 39:6-7, but that is unlikely, for the need for rebuilding is not what is actually prophesied there. It seems more probable that Isaiah had come to see that the replacement of the Temple was necessary because it had been defiled (Isaiah 43:28), and that therefore it must happen, and that until it had occurred the Servant could not be raised up to do his work.

It is especially noteworthy that there is nowhere any suggestion in the narrative of who Cyrus will deliver Jerusalem from. All that matters to Isaiah is that the house of Cyrus will become the restorer of Jerusalem and will bring about the building of the new Temple and will subsequently take his reward from the nations, and indirectly bring glory to Yahweh..

It is in fact difficult to see why, if Isaiah knew the answer as to who would destroy Jerusalem he did not reveal it, for in view of Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 47 and Isaiah 48:20 he could hardly be said to be trying to keep Babylon’s name out of matters.

Isaiah 44:24

‘Thus says Yahweh your Redeemer,

And he who formed you from the womb,

“I am Yahweh, who makes all things,

Who stretches forth the heavens alone,

Who spreads abroad the earth.

Who is with me?” ’

This new section begins with confirmation of what has gone before. Yahweh is Israel’s Redeemer, and as the One Who formed them from the womb and as their Kinsman Redeemer with a special interest in their welfare, because He had formed them from the beginning as His own in a special relationship. He had brought them to birth. And He now stresses that He alone is the Creator of all things, and that He has done it all alone, with none other with Him. He, and He alone, had stretched out the heavens, He had spread abroad the earth. None was there with Him. It was all His work. Thus there is no limit to what He can do. The whole earth is His.

Note that ‘He who formed you from the womb’ immediately makes the connection with the Servant (Isaiah 44:2; Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 49:5; see also Isaiah 44:21; Isaiah 49:1).

Isaiah 44:25

“Who frustrates the tokens of the deceivers,

And makes diviners mad.

Who turns wise men backwards,

And makes their knowledge foolishness.”

He also makes a fool of those who seek to discern the future. When those deceivers, the soothsayers, make use of their different methods of foretelling, He makes their tokens say the wrong thing, and He affects the minds of the diviners so that they continually err. The wise men (men wise in the occult) He turns back on themselves, and what they say is finally revealed as foolish. This is the constant experience of man. None know the future apart from Him. (Babylon is therefore already being thwarted by His power, see Isaiah 47:12-13).

Isaiah 44:26

“Who confirms the word of his servant,

And performs the counsel of his messengers.

In contrast He Himself confirms the word of His own prophets, and ensures the fulfilment of what His own messengers declare and advise. Thus men can determine Who to believe in, because it is only His prophets who reveal the truth, and whose words are fulfilled (compare Deuteronomy 18:21-22). This is one of the central thoughts in Isaiah, that what Yahweh has said, He does.

Isaiah 44:26

“Who says of Jerusalem, ‘she will be inhabited’,

And of the cities of Judah, ‘they will be rebuilt’,

I will raise up its waste places.”

In support of His prophets’ words He declares the certainty of the continuation of Jerusalem. Whatever happens, she will be inhabited. The parallel with the cities of Judah may indicate an expectancy that there will also be a necessity for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and if so it suggests that Isaiah had a premonition of what was going to happen to it. On the other hand the contrast between Jerusalem ‘being inhabited’ while the remaining cities of Judah would have to ‘be rebuilt’ may point to the situation after the relief of Jerusalem, when only Jerusalem was left standing. Unlike the cases of Babylon (Isaiah 13:19-20) and Edom (34), however, Yahweh wants all to know that her future is secure. Whatever happens she will be inhabited. And He guarantees also the rebuilding of the cities of Judah, and the restoration of the waste places. As promised He will make a way in these wildernesses (Isaiah 43:19). While Judah may have been devastated by Assyria (see Isaiah 37:26), it will be re-established, and God will ensure that His Servant has a base to work from for the sending out of His Law (Isaiah 2:3).

Isaiah 44:27

“Who says to the deep, ‘Be dry,

And I will dry up your rivers’.”

In contrast to what Assyria has done, not only can Yahweh ensure the inhabiting and building of cities, but He can also dry up nations and peoples. Here the point is that He is so mighty that not only can He ensure the inhabiting of cities, but He can also remove the very lifeline of all nations. He can even dry up the sea, and the rivers that flow from it. This may again refer to the Reed Sea (Isaiah 11:15; Isaiah 19:5; Isaiah 51:10; Psalms 66:6; Psalms 106:9), and the Nile and its tributaries, as well as the rivers of Mesopotamia (Isaiah 11:15) but it looks beyond that to all seas (e.g. Nahum 1:4). He is the controller of the seas, and of the water supplies of nations, and thus He determines the future of those nations. Compare the boast of Sennacherib, ‘with the sole of my feet will I dry up all the rivers of Egypt’ (Isaiah 37:25). The difference is that Yahweh can really do it. There was little that Israel feared more than ‘the deep’, but Yahweh assures them that even such an enemy is putty in His hands. And He Who could dry up the rivers of the world had the world at His mercy. And this was not only true of the seas. It was true of the mighty nations that were often depicted in terms of the seas and rivers, Egypt as the Nile, Assyria/Babylon as The River. For all is in His hands.

We note here how constantly throughout Isaiah when Yahweh blesses He causes rivers to flow (Isaiah 43:19; Isaiah 44:3-4; Isaiah 30:25; Isaiah 32:2; Isaiah 33:21; Isaiah 41:18; Isaiah 66:12), and when He judges the rivers cease flowing (Isaiah 42:15; Isaiah 50:2; Isaiah 19:5). He controls the lifeblood of all peoples.

But the special emphasis to be drawn from this continues in Isaiah 45:1-3, where Cyrus is to act as His anointed against the nations.

Isaiah 44:28

“Who says of Cyrus, he is my shepherd,

And will perform all my pleasure.”

Within all His control Yahweh has a special purpose for Cyrus. Suddenly in the midst of generalities, even though important generalities, there comes a specific, like a bolt from the Isaianic blue. Isaiah speaks of ‘Cyrus’ (Coresh), whom Yahweh calls ‘My shepherd’, who will do His will, and will ‘perform all My pleasure’. The use of ‘shepherd’ suggests a deliberate avoidance of the word ‘servant’. Cyrus’ relationship with Yahweh is not to be seen as close enough for that. What His pleasure for Cyrus is, is described in Isaiah 45:1-4.

Isaiah 44:28

“Even saying of Jerusalem, ‘She will be rebuilt’,

And to the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’ ”

While there may be an indirect indication here of Cyrus’ connection with the building of the new Temple it is not specific, for these are the words of Yahweh. Isaiah 44:28 a and 28b are not necessarily directly parallel with each other (see analysis above), and it is significant that in what follows it is Cyrus’ activities over the nations that are stressed and not the building of the new Temple. However, there is undoubtedly a link between the two. The coming of Cyrus did result in a new Temple.

But we must not limit Isaiah’s thinking by seeing this as just the forecasting of a bland historical event. The coming of Cyrus at God’s command is in order to introduce a new situation. It will result in a new beginning for the Servant with the foundation of a new, undefiled and pure Temple, and the rendering powerless of the nations by the ‘drying up of the deep’. It will forward the work of the Servant (Isaiah 45:4). Isaiah’s vision of the new Temple here can be compared with that of Ezekiel 40-48. He has in mind a Temple raised up by God Himself which will fulfil the ministry of the Servant. It will be a new spiritual initiative.

This idea that the Temple must be replaced would come as a shock to Israel, but Isaiah, whose first inauguration as a prophet came in the old Temple where he had a glorious vision of Yahweh (Isaiah 6:1-6), has recognised that it has been defiled (Isaiah 43:28), as Ezekiel would after him, and therefore that it must be replaced. And this will spring out from the new beginning commenced as a result of the activity of Cyrus.

Like much prophecy this sees the short and the long view. In the short term a new Temple was built in the decades following the rise of Cyrus II. It was at a time of great expectation. Zechariah portrayed it in terms of the powerful activity of the Spirit (Zechariah 4:6-10), and Haggai saw it as resulting in the shaking of all nations and the coming of ‘the desire of the nations’ (Haggai 2:7). The glory of this house would be greater than that of the former. And that Temple undoubtedly did continue the witness of the Servant and enable the reestablishment of the worship of Yahweh in the land, and its glory was greater because it retained its purity from idolatry. Moreover in His own way God did shake the nations through it and from it was proclaimed the Name of the One Who was the desire of all nations, with the result (we must not judge its accomplishments by men’s standards) that His Law went out to the nations through the Dispersion. But that Temple also would fail, as would the one that followed, and ‘the princes of the Sanctuary’ would once again be removed and be desanctified.

Neither, however, fulfilled Isaiah’s dream, for this new Temple spoken of by Isaiah symbolised what he saw as the task to be accomplished through the Servant, and it therefore finds its ultimate fulfilment in the new Temple of the Servant through which, in accordance with Isaiah 2:1-4, His message was taken out to the world. This was the Temple of Jesus Himself (John 2:19-21) and of His people (1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:13-22). Yet its foundation was undoubtedly first laid by means of Yahweh’s activity though Cyrus in restoring His people, His Servant.

No indication is given by Isaiah of why the Temple would need to be rebuilt. He does not see any need to explain it. To him it is as clear as day that until that has happened the work of the Servant cannot go forward. He may in his own mind have seen the old Temple as being destroyed in an earthquake or through the activities of invaders but he does not speculate on the matter. All that he is sure of is that there must be a new Temple. Like the period of thirty eight years in the wilderness inflicted on an unbelieving Israel, it was an indication that Yahweh was displeased with the present generation.

(Strictly speaking the language does not demand the destruction of the Temple, for it could be translated as ‘You will be firmly established.’ But in view of what did happen the point need not be pressed further).

That the inauguration of the new era was to be brought about by Cyrus, a Persian king, was indeed a new prophecy and remarkable. And the question would be asked, why should a king of Persia be interested in such things? The brief answer given here is that it is because Yahweh the great Shepherd (Isaiah 40:11; Psalms 23:1; Psalms 80:1) has appointed him as His under-shepherd. He Who is sovereign over the nations can do what He will. He Who could use Assyria as the rod of His anger (Isaiah 10:5), could now use the house of Cyrus as His shepherd to watch over His people’s interests.

“Even saying of Jerusalem, ‘She will be rebuilt’, and to the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’ ” Was it God or Cyrus who said this? The first part is almost a repetition of Isaiah 44:26. It is therefore probably God Who is to be seen as speaking. Although some see it as indicating that Cyrus was made to speak and do the will of God.

But this must then raise the question as to who was this Cyrus? And with that question we must briefly stop at this point and consider the problem of Cyrus, a question which has filled many books and produced many theories.

Note on Cyrus (Hebrew Coresh).

The first question that arises is, whom did Isaiah have in mind when he spoke of Cyrus? Persia was situated east of the Persian Gulf in the Iranian plateau. Achaemenes ruled there from about 700 to 675 BC, being followed by his son Teispes (about 675-640 BC), who was again followed by one of his sons Cyrus I (about 640-600 BC). Cyrus was strong enough to oppose Ashurbanipal of Assyria for a time (a considerable feat), but in the end had to submit to him. Isaiah prophesied from the year of the death of Uzziah (about 740 BC) into the reign of Manasseh (687/6 BC to 642/1 BC, having been co-regent from 696/5 BC).

So if he lived to a good old age Isaiah may well have heard of the birth of the young Cyrus who would become Cyrus I, and may even have been present at celebrations accompanying his birth. It may have been then that through a flash of prophetic inspiration from God he saw him and his coming dynasty as the future hope of Israel, especially if Persia had made an offer of assistance if ever Israel required it. And as far as we know Persia was never involved in activities against Israel. It was probably the only powerful nation in the area in Isaiah’s time not to be connected with military activity against Israel. Thus Persia would not be seen as an enemy. It may even have been that the aged Isaiah, as a highly respected and revered prophet, visited Persia and received assurances of support from Cyrus’ father if ever such support was needed. Furthermore ‘Cyrus’ may well have been the dynastic name, and could even have applied to the whole dynasty from Achaemenes onwards, although there is no archaeological evidence for such an idea. Thus by speaking of ‘Cyrus’ Isaiah may have been referring to ‘the house of Cyrus’, just as ‘David’ could mean the Davidic heir (1 Kings 12:16). This would be even more in line with expectation if the Persian kings at this time revealed something of the same enlightened approach as Cyrus II would do later.

Cyrus I’s son was Cambyses I (about 600-559 BC), who was followed by Cyrus II the Great (about 559-530 BC). It was Cyrus II the Great who established the Persian Empire, defeating the Medes, and then defeating Babylon in 539 BC and decreed the restoration of the Jerusalem Temple and the return of its vessels and paraphernalia (Ezra 1:1-4; Ezra 1:7-11; Ezra 6:3-12).

Cyrus II was a great believer in supporting local religions and their gods, and in supporting the restoration of exiled people to their homeland and of their stolen idols to their temples, his only requirement being that prayers be offered for him to their gods, and he regularly even provided money for the purpose. He restored the religion of Marduk in Babylon which gained him the support of the powerful priests of Marduk, and in the Cyrus cylinder he himself acknowledged the help of Marduk in his battles. In a text found at Ur it is Sin, the moon-god, whom he credited with his victories. He thus acknowledged all gods and saw them as on his side. This may well have been a known Persian policy even before his time.

So there are a number of possible views about the use of the name of Cyrus by Isaiah, of which we will briefly consider five:

1) That the prophecy was that of Isaiah, and the reference is to ‘the house of Cyrus’ which was known to him through the prince who would become Cyrus I, or through his father.

2) That the prophecy was that of Isaiah and that the naming of Cyrus was prophetic foresight, with or without Isaiah having any other knowledge of the name of Cyrus (compare 1 Kings 13:2 for a similar idea re Josiah). Of course this could also be combined with 1).

3) That the prophecy was that of Isaiah but that the name of Cyrus was added by a scribe later once the name of the deliverer was known, possibly by way of marginal notes that became incorporated in the text. It is noted that the name of Cyrus could easily be an added postscript and if dropped out, would hardly disturb the remainder of the text. However, altering the text without manuscript evidence is always a dangerous procedure, and mainly unjustified.

4) That the prophecy was that of an Isaianic disciple in Babylon who saw in Cyrus a solution to the hopes of the exiles to return to the land and rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. But in this case why does he limit his reference to the restoration of the Temple to five words throughout his whole book and his references to Babylon in 44-66 to three brief mentions and one chapter, and never clearly mention the exiles in Babylonia?

5) That the word coresh (Cyrus) should rather be read as ‘ caresh’ meaning ‘the crushed one’ (or something similar) , and therefore as referring to the house of David in its humiliation, or even to the humiliation and subsequent glorification of the Servant (Isaiah 50:4-9; Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12). This would tie in with ‘coresh’ being Israel’s shepherd and Yahweh’s anointed one. The main problem with this interpretation would be the coincidence of names, for coresh certainly indicates the name of Cyrus in the book of Ezra.

The fourth solution, while highly favoured by many scholars who read Babylon in everywhere in Isaiah 40-55, ignores the fact that Babylon does not feature strongly in the account at all. Indeed reading the immediate section one would not gain the impression that Babylon was in mind. It is strange that if someone was preaching in Babylon and anticipating deliverance they would only mention Egypt, Ethiopia and the Sabeans (Isaiah 45:14) and that the defeat of Babylon is nowhere connected directly with Cyrus. (Although those who support this view see it as described clearly in chapter 47. But that by itself is an unjustified assumption as there is no clear connection between that chapter and chapter 45).

Of the first three suggestions any is possible, but there is no actual good reason for eliminating the name of Cyrus, apart from the theory. Thus one of the first two would appear to be the more favourable. The fifth solution is not one that has as yet made much impact on commentators, but is very worth considering. How we make our decision will probably depend not so much on the evidence but on how we view prophecy. However, apart from 4). each is compatible with Isaianic authorship.

End of note.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 44:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-44.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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