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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Isaiah 41

 

 

Verse 1

Isaiah 41:1. Keep, &c. — “The prophet, having in view the subversion of idolatry, had, in the former chapter, from Isaiah 41:18, argued against it, from the essence and nature of God, the supreme Creator and Ruler of the world, being such as not to be represented by any corporeal matter or figure. To this disputation he subjoined a consolation, directed to the people of God, from Isaiah 41:27 to the end of the chapter. Therefore, after this consolatory parenthesis, he renews his disputation against idolaters, by an argument taken from God’s certain foreknowledge, and foretelling of future events, from which he selects that remarkable one respecting Cyrus, as the deliverer of the people of God, and the destroyer of Babylon: an event utterly unknown to idols and idolaters, and therefore an astonishment to the nations; and yet an event which God so long time before exactly foretold in every circumstance by our prophet. He who can thus predict future events, the prophet urges, must be allowed to possess true divinity. He who cannot, has no claim to that honour. The prophet the rather makes use of this argument, because paganism so much gloried in its false prophecies and oracles. Here then is God exhibited, as if appearing in public, and preparing himself to dispute with idolaters, for his truth and glory; and therefore the islands and people, all the nations of the world, are summoned to plead their cause; and an awful silence is enjoined, according to the forms observed in courts of justice, for both in this and Isaiah 41:21 the expressions and ideas are taken from those courts.” See Vitringa and Dodd. The phrase, Let the people renew their strength, signifies, “Let them prepare themselves, and come forth to the cause, furnished with all the strength of argument and reason they can collect; let them unite all their powers, and set their cause in the best light possible.”


Verse 2-3

Isaiah 41:2-3. Who raised up — Into being and power? Was it not my work alone? The righteous man — Many expositors understand this of Abraham, who was a person eminently righteous, and was called from the other side of the Euphrates, which lay eastward from Judea, and who performed the things here mentioned, partly in his own person, conquering five kings and their people with them, (Genesis 14.,) and following God he knew not whither; and partly by his posterity, whose exploits may well be ascribed to him, not only because they came out of his loins, but also, and especially, because all their successes and victories were given to them for Abraham’s sake, and by the virtue of God’s covenant made with him. And this interpretation seems to receive some countenance from Isaiah 41:5-6, which agree well with the practice of the Canaanites and neighbouring nations; who, upon Israel’s march toward them, were filled with great consternation, and used all possible diligence in seeking both to their idols and to men for help against them. To which may be added, that Abraham was called out of the east; and his posterity were introduced into the land of Canaan, in order to destroy the idolaters of that country; and they were established there on purpose to stand as a barrier against idolatry, then prevailing, and threatening to overrun the whole face of the earth. But though the particulars here mentioned by the prophet are most, or all of them, applicable to Abraham, yet Lowth, Vitringa, and many other commentators of great authority, think that they more exactly belong to Cyrus, and that upon a comparison of them with what is asserted Isaiah 41:25; Isaiah 45:1; Isaiah 45:13; and Isaiah 46:11, there can be no doubt that he is here meant. Cyrus might be called a righteous man, or, a man of righteousness, as the Hebrew rather means, because he was raised up in righteousness, as is said of him Isaiah 45:13, and was God’s great instrument, to manifest his faithfulness in fulfilling his promise of delivering his people out of Babylon, and his justice in punishing the enemies and oppressors of his people, the Babylonians; upon which account the Medes, who served under Cyrus in his expedition, are called God’s sanctified ones, Isaiah 13:3; Isaiah 13:17. And all the other expressions here used are very applicable to him, and were verified in him. He came from the east, from Persia, which was directly eastward from Judea and from Babylon. He was raised up by God in an eminent and extraordinary manner, as is observed both by sacred and profane historians. To him also all the following particulars agree, as we shall see. And although these things were yet to come, yet the prophet speaks of them as if they were already past, a practice not unusual with the prophets. And as in the former chapter, (Isaiah 41:27,) he speaks of God’s people as if they were actually in captivity in Babylon, so here he speaks of them as if they were actually brought out of it by Cyrus. And by this instance he pleads his cause against the Gentiles and their idols; because this was an evident proof of God’s almighty power, (as the prediction of it was of his infinite wisdom,) and of the vanity and weakness of idols, which eminently appeared in the destruction of the Babylonians, who were a people mad upon their idols, and yet were destroyed together with their idols, Jeremiah 50:38; Jeremiah 51:47. Called him to his foot — To march after him, and under his banner against Babylon. Thus Barak’s army is said to be at his feet, 4:10. Gave the nations before him, &c. — Subdued nations and kings before him. Gave them as the dust to his sword — To be put to flight as easily as the dust is scattered by the wind. He pursued them, and passed safely — Went on in the pursuit with great ease, safety, and success; even by the way that he had not gone — By unknown paths; which is added as a further evidence of God’s providential care of him. This was verified both in Abraham and in Cyrus.


Verses 4-6

Isaiah 41:4-6. Who hath done it? — Whose work was this but mine? Calling the generations — Calling them out of nothing; giving them breath and being; disposing and employing them as I see fit: from the beginning — All persons and generations of mankind from the beginning of the world. I the Lord, the first, &c. — Who was before all things, even from eternity, and shall be unto eternity: the isles saw it, and feared — Even remote countries discerned the mighty work of God in delivering his people, and overthrowing their enemies in so wonderful a manner, and were afraid lest they should be involved in the same calamity. The ends of the earth drew near and came — They gathered themselves together to consult for their common safety, and to maintain the cause of their idols, which, by this instance, they perceived to be in great jeopardy. They helped every one his neighbour — They encouraged and assisted one another in their idolatrous practices. “Remote countries,” says Lowth, “were astonished at the sudden rise of the conqueror Cyrus, and joined in an alliance to check his growing greatness, just as several artificers that are concerned in the trade of idol- making assist one another in carrying on their common interest, and stir up the zeal of others in defence of image-worship:” see Acts 19:25. Or, according to others, the prophet describes in these verses the vain and fruitless attempt of idolaters to hinder the effect of Cyrus’s appearance, namely, the demolition of Babylon and its idols. “The passage maybe also fitly applied to the heathen powers combining together to support idolatry, and suppress the Christian religion.”


Verses 8-13

Isaiah 41:8-13. But thou, Israel, art my servant — Thus the Gentiles show themselves to be the servants of their idols, and own them for their gods: but thou art my people, and I am and will be thy God. Jacob, whom I have chosen — Out of the multitude of idolatrous nations, to be my peculiar people. The seed of Abraham my friend — With whom I made a strict league of perpetual friendship: see Genesis 12:2-3; Genesis 15:1; Genesis 15:8. “The expressions are very endearing: it is honourable to be God’s servant, still more so to be his chosen servant, and to be descended from one to whom he vouchsafed the title of friend, as God did to Abraham, (2 Chronicles 20:7,) the greatest honour that any man is capable of: which glorious privilege Christ was pleased to communicate to his disciples, John 15:13. Thou whom I have taken, &c. — Thou Israel, whom I took to myself, and brought hither in the loins of thy father Abraham, from a remote country, namely, from Chaldea; or, whom I brought out of Babylon into thine own land: which, though yet to come, he may speak of as of a thing past, according to the usual custom of the prophets when foretelling future events. But the former interpretation seems better to agree with the foregoing verse. And called thee from the chief men thereof — From the midst of many great and noble persons, among whom he lived in Chaldea. But the Hebrew, מאציליה, is rendered by Vitringa and Dr. Waterland, from the sides thereof, and by Bishop Lowth, from the extremities thereof, which is probably the prophet’s meaning. I have chosen, and not cast thee away — Or, and will not reject thee: I have chosen thee and thy seed through all generations. They that were incensed against thee shall be confounded — Both because their hopes and designs shall be utterly disappointed, and because the mischief which they contrived against thee shall fall on themselves. They shall be as nothing — Shall come to nothing, or perish. Thou shalt not find them — They shall be so totally consumed, that although thou search for them, thou shalt not be able to find them anywhere in the world. “The powerful monarchies that have been incensed against the church, and have contended with her, have been put to shame, and brought to nothing: and this prediction hath already been fulfilled in the ruin of the Egyptian, Assyrian, Chaldean, Macedonian, and Roman empires, which we now may seek for in vain; for no vestiges of the four former, and scarcely any of the last, can be found; while the church still subsists! In like manner all that now do, or hereafter shall contend with her, shall perish.” — Scott. I the Lord will hold thy hand — Or, will strengthen it, as מחזיקsignifies: I will assist and enable thee to vanquish all thine enemies.


Verses 14-16

Isaiah 41:14-16. Fear not, thou worm Jacob — Who art weak in thyself, despised and trodden under foot by thy proud and potent enemies. I will make thee a new sharp thrashing instrument — Such as were usual in those times and places. Thou shall thrash the mountains and hills — The great and lofty potentates of the world, which set themselves against thee: or, the greater or lesser kingdoms or countries which were enemies to God’s truth and people; so the phrase signifies, Isaiah 2:14, and Psalms 72:3. The expressions of this and the following verse allude to the custom of the eastern countries, of having their thrashing-floors upon the tops of hills and mountains. Thou shalt fan them — When thou hast beaten them as small as chaff; and the wind shall carry them away — They shall no more molest thee; they shall be scattered and lost. And thou shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel — For to him, and not to thyself, thou shalt ascribe thy victory over thine enemies.


Verses 17-20

Isaiah 41:17-20. When the poor and needy seek water, &c. — When my poor people are come to the greatest extremity of danger and misery, then will I appear for their relief. I will open rivers in high places — Upon the hills and mountains, where, by the course of nature, there are no rivers; and fountains in the midst of valleys — Or, in the valleys, namely, in such of them as are not well watered. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, &c. — Those people who are like a dry and barren wilderness, I will abundantly water with my blessings, and make them fruitful: which may be understood either of the Jews, who were in a wilderness condition, till God brought them out of it; or of the Gentiles converted to the true religion under the gospel. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the myrtle, &c. — Trees which are both useful and pleasant to the eye, and affording a good shadow to the traveller. But what particular trees the Hebrew words here used signify is not certainly known. That they may see — Or, that men may see: that all that see this wonderful change may consider it, and acknowledge that the hand of the Lord hath done this — That it is the work of God. “The many wonderful steps by which the restoration of the Jewish nation shall be brought about, will convince all considering persons that it is the work of God; and his power will still more undeniably discover itself in the propagation of the gospel, and the enlightening of those who sit in darkness with the saving truth of it.” — Lowth.


Verses 21-24

Isaiah 41:21-24. Produce your cause — He renews his challenge to the idolaters to plead the cause of their idols, and give convincing proof of their divinity: see on Isaiah 41:1. Bring forth your strong reasons — Hebrew, הגישׁו עצמותיכם, which Bishop Lowth renders, “Produce these your mighty powers;” and Jerome, “Accedant idola vestra, quæ putatis esse fortissima,” let those of your idols, whom you think most powerful, approach. “I prefer this,” says the bishop, “to all other interpretations of this place. The false gods are called upon to come forth and appear in person, and to give evident demonstration of their foreknowledge and power, by foretelling future events, and exerting their power in doing good or evil.” Let them — Either the idols, or the idolaters in the name and by the help of their idols; show us what shall happen — All future events, which he divides into two sorts in the following clause, the former and the latter. Let them show the former things — Let the idols, or you their worshippers, prove that they ever uttered any true oracles or prophecies relating to former times, and, that the event hath exactly answered the prediction, and this will give credit to any predictions they shall deliver relating to things yet future. Or, by the former things, may be meant such things as should shortly come to pass, which might be better discerned than those things which were yet at a greater distance. So understood, he proposes the easiest part first. Let us try whether they can foretel those things which are even at the door, and, if so, we will try them further. Let them tell us what things shall happen, and in what order; which first and which last. That we may consider them — Hebrew, ונשׁימה לבנו, and we will set our heart to it. We will allow the argument its due weight, and either fairly answer it, or give up our cause against idols; and know — That we may know; the latter end of them — The consequence of them, as אחריתןmay be rendered, whether the events answer to their predictions. Or declare us things for to come — Namely, after a long time. That we may know that ye are gods — That we may have, if not a certain proof, yet a probable argument of your deity. Yea, do good or do evil — Protect your worshippers, whom I intend to destroy, or destroy my people, whom I intend to save; that we may be dismayed, &c. — That I and my people may be astonished, and forced to acknowledge your godhead. Behold, ye are of nothing — You lately were nothing, without any being at all; and your work of naught — Your operations are like your beings; there is no reality in your beings, nor efficacy in your actions. An abomination is he that chooseth you — He that chooseth you for his gods is most abominable for his folly, as well as his wickedness.


Verse 25

Isaiah 41:25. I have raised up, &c. — You neither foreknow, nor can do any thing. But I do now fore-tel, and will certainly effect, a great revolution and change in the world, which you shall not be able to hinder; one from the north — Cyrus might be said to come from the north, because he was a Mede by his mother, as he was a Persian by his father; or because a great part of his army was gathered out of Media, which was northward in reference to Judea, and because Darius the Mede was joined with him in this expedition. From the rising, &c., shall he call upon my name — Or proclaim my name, as the words may be rendered, which Cyrus did in express and emphatical terms, Ezra 1:1-2. He shall come upon princes as upon mortar — Treading them down as easily as a man treadeth down mortar.


Verse 26

Isaiah 41:26. Who hath declared from the beginning — Which of your idols could foretel such things as these from the beginning of the world unto this day? And beforetime — Before the things come to pass. That we may say, He is righteous — His cause is good; he is a God indeed. Yea, there is none that showeth — Hebrew, surely, there is none of your gods that hath done or can do this, and therefore their claim to divinity is false and foolish. There is none that heareth your words — Because you are dumb and cannot speak.


Verse 27

Isaiah 41:27. The first shall say, &c. — Hebrew, ראשׁון לציון, literally, first, or the first to Zion; which words some interpret thus: I, who am the first, (Isaiah 41:4,) do and will foretel to my people things to come. Behold, behold them — I represent things future (namely, the rise of Cyrus, and the deliverance of my people from Babylon by him) as if they were present, and to be beheld with men’s bodily eyes. Behold the wonderful works which God hath wrought for you: or, Behold my people returning to their ancient habitations. Bishop Lowth, who observes, “The verse is somewhat obscure by the transposition of the parts of the sentence,” translates it thus: I first to Zion, (gave the word,) Behold, they are here; And to Jerusalem I give the messenger of good tidings. The sense of which he says is, “I first, by my prophets, give notice of these events, saying, Behold, they are at hand! I give to Jerusalem,” &c.


Verse 28-29

Isaiah 41:28-29. For I beheld — I looked to see if I could find any of them that could certainly foretel future events; and there was no man — Not any of the idols; for the word man is sometimes used by the Hebrews of brute creatures, and even of lifeless things. There was no counsellor — Though these idols were often consulted, yet none of them were able to give any solid or certain advice concerning future things. Behold, they are all vanity — This is the conclusion of the whole dispute, and the just sentence which God passes upon idols: they are vain things, and falsely called gods. Their molten images are wind — Empty and unsatisfying things, and which, like the wind, do quickly pass away and come to nothing; and confusion — Confused, useless things, like that rude heap in the beginning of God’s creation, of which this word, תהו, is used, Genesis 1:2. He mentions molten images particularly, because their materials were most precious, and more cost and art were commonly bestowed upon them than upon others: but under these he comprehends all images whatsoever.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 41:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/isaiah-41.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, July 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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