Isaiah 41 - Outline of Isaiah (Book Notes menu page)
III. Salvation (poetry), ch. 40-66
A. Peace assured through knowing the LORD God... (The God of Peace), ch. 40-48
  1. Who Tends His Sheep and governs Creation, 40:1-31
  2. Who declares the end of His servant (Israel) from the beginning, 41:1-29
1. Keep silence before me, O islands;
and let the people renew [their] strength:
let them come near; then let them speak:
let us come near together to judgment.
...let the people {lit., peoples} renew their strength...-
The thought flows from the closing verse of the preceding chapter.
"They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength" (Isa 40:31).
The great need of Israel and of the gentile nations is to know the LORD.
Yet, Israel had turned from Him to the idols of the nations.
keep silence before me, O islands {ie., coastlands}...-
The nations, that once roared against Israel as God's instruments of judgment against her iniquity, are now to 'hold their peace' (cp. this word in Isa 36:21). The LORD invites them to reason together with Him, not to reach some agreement in compromise, but so that they may understand the truth, and so that they may see the conclusion of His case against Israel. Following the long section emphasizing judgment upon sin (ch. 1-39), this marks a return to Isa 1:18.
let them speak...- Though the nations are invited to present their arguments,
they will find themselves speechless as the LORD presents His case.
2 Who raised up the righteous [man] from the east, called him to his foot,
gave the nations before him, and made [him] rule over kings?
he gave [them] as the dust to his sword, [and] as driven stubble to his bow.
3 He pursued them, [and] passed safely;
[even] by the way [that] he had not gone with his feet.
4 Who hath wrought and done [it], calling the generations from the beginning?
I the LORD, the first, and with the last; I [am] he.
5 The isles saw [it], and feared;
the ends of the earth were afraid, drew near, and came.
...the righteous man from the east...- Who does this refer to?
Many scholars believe this refers to Cyrus, the king of Persia, whom the Lord would raise up, following the Babylonian captivity of Jerusalem, to overthrow Babylon and to restore and build Jerusalem, at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.
     While it is true that Isaiah uses similar language in a prophecy which identifies Cyrus, by name, as a rebuilder of Jerusalem (Isa 44:24 - 45:5), that restoration is not yet in view at this point in chapter 41 (although it is glimpsed briefly at v.25, where the 'one from the north' is a probable reference to Cyrus).
     Here, the LORD is challenging the nations to compare their worthless idols to the God of Israel. Near the end of the chapter, He invites them to produce evidence that their gods have guided past events, or can predict future events (vs.21-23). In the verses that precede that invitation, the LORD demonstrates that He has called and guided Israel in the past, and that He has foretold her future.
     Therefore, 'the righteous man from the east' is better understood as Abraham (v.8), whom the LORD called out of idolatry, to serve the living and true God.
  • ...from the east...- ie., from Ur of the Chaldees (to the east of Israel), Gen 11:31
  • ...called him to his foot...- cp. Gen 17:1
  • ...gave the nations before him... - cp. Gen 12:1-3
  • ...made him rule over kings... gave them as dust to his sword... he pursued... passed safely...- Gen 14:1,2,12-24.
    "These four idolatrous kings were idolaters, and, therefore, helpless before the man of God who walked in righteousness, ie., in separation from idols..." [in quotes, GWms]
  • the way that he had not gone with his feet. cp. Heb 11:8-10.
Who raised up the righteous man from the east? -
ie., Who called Abraham out of Ur and out of idolatry?
Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning?...-
ie., Who accomplished the things promised to Abraham, giving him seed and making of him a great nation?
I the LORD {Jehovah, the everliving One}, the first and with the last, I am he {or, 'I am'}.-
It was the LORD God, who brought Israel into existence and who will be with them unto the end. Deu 32:7,8; Isa 46:3,4
(This is the first occurrence of the title 'the first and the last.' See also Isa 44:6; 48:12; Rev 1:17; 2:8; 22:13)
the isles {ie., coasts, regions} saw it and feared...-
The idolatrous nations of Canaan observed the LORD's working in behalf of Israel and were terrified (Josh 2:9-11). Some, like Rahab, drew near and came to trust the LORD. But what was the usual response?
6 They helped every one his neighbour;
and [every one] said to his brother, Be of good courage.
{cp. 1Sam 4:5-9}
7 So the carpenter encouraged the goldsmith,
[and] he that smootheth [with] the hammer him that smote the anvil,
saying, It [is] ready for the sodering:
and he fastened it with nails, [that] it should not be moved
{ie., be shaken, totter}.
The heathen nations encouraged one another in their idolatrous stance, repairing their idols and making new and better gods with the hope that they might stand against the LORD. cp. 1Sam 5:1-5
8 But thou, Israel, [art] my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen,
the seed of Abraham my friend.
9 [Thou] whom I have taken from the ends of the earth,
and called thee from the chief men thereof,
and said unto thee, Thou [art] my servant;
I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.
10. 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;
yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
but thou, Israel, art my servant...-
How gracious is the Lord, to call Israel 'my servant' and to identify Himself as 'thy God.' Though they had broken His Law and failed to attain His design for them (Ex 19:5,6)... though they had fallen, even into idolatry... even so, God's purpose would be fulfilled through them, namely, that the nations should know the LORD God of Israel as the one and only true God. Isa 43:8-10; cp. Rom 3:1-3; 9:4,5
Here, the LORD addresses Israel directly, for they, like the gentile nations, also need to know Him.
Jacob whom I have chosen...- Everything about Israel is the LORD's doing.
  • in the past -- I have chosen... I have taken... called...
  • in the present -- I have chosen... not cast thee away (cp. Rom 11:1) ... I am with thee... I am thy God.
  • into the future -- I will strengthen {ie., make courageous}... I will help {ie., assist}... I will uphold thee {ie., support}...
    Relative to the future, note the progression, from self-dependency to complete dependency upon Him:
    I will make you courageous... I will come alongside to assist you... I will support (carry) you with the right hand of my righteousness (cp. Ex 15:6; Psa 118:15,16; Php 4:13).
fear not... be not dismayed...- How these promises must have encouraged
and sustained Daniel and his friends in their stand against Nebuchadnezzar's idolatrous image! (Dan 3:16-18)
11 Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded:
they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish.
12 Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, [even] them that contended with thee:
they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought.
13 For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand,
saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.
14 Fear not, thou worm Jacob, [and] ye men of Israel; I will help thee,
saith the LORD, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
fear not, thou worm Jacob...- Israel should have been crushed, like a worm, long ago,
by the continual onslaught of powerful enemies down through the centuries. Psa 124:1-8
the Holy One of Israel...- will not only preserve Israel in their weakness, by His strength,
but He will also use them powerfully in the course of judging the nations (seen as mountains and hills in v.15).
15 Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth:
thou shalt thresh the mountains,
and beat [them] small, and shalt make the hills as chaff.
16 Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them:
and thou shalt rejoice in the LORD, [and] shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel.
and thou shalt rejoice... [and] glory in the Holy One of Israel.-
This victorious future awaits them, in the day that they truly know Him.
Until then, while their troubles continue, He will not forsake them, but will bring them to a desired end, so that they will know Him (vs. 17-20).
17 [When] the poor and needy seek water, and [there is] none, [and] their tongue faileth for thirst,
I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys:
I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.
19 I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree;
I will set in the desert the fir tree, [and] the pine, and the box tree together:
20 That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together,
that the hand of the LORD hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.
That they may see, and know and consider... the hand of the LORD hath done this...-
Israel's preservation and restoration declare that the Holy One of Israel is the true and living God.
Having presented an overview of His working in and through Israel, in the past, present and future, the LORD challenges the false gods of the nations to demonstrate their value (in v.21-24).
21. Produce your cause, saith the LORD;
bring forth your strong [reasons], saith the King of Jacob.
22 Let them bring [them] forth, and shew us what shall happen:
let them shew the former things, what they [be],
that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them;
or declare us things for to come.
23 Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye [are] gods:
yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold [it] together.
24 Behold, ye [are] of nothing, and your work of nought:
an abomination [is he that] chooseth you.
let them show the former things... or declare us things for to come.-
The idols can neither explain the course of history past, nor predict the course of events in the future. Being powerless to have any influence in the world, they are without worth (v.29; 1Cor 8:4).
While an idol is 'nothing,' an idolater is an 'abomination' {ie., an unclean or disgusting thing}, because he has 'chosen' a lie in place of the true God (who has 'chosen' Israel; cp. the word 'chosen' in vs.8,9). Concerning the 'lie' of idolatry, see Hab 2:18-20; Rev 22:15
While the idols remain dumb and idle, the LORD continues to press His purposes...
25 I have raised up [one] from the north, and he shall come:
from the rising of the sun shall he call upon my name:
and he shall come upon princes as [upon] morter, and as the potter treadeth clay.
I have raised up {ie., stirred up, awaken}...-
The LORD announces, as accomplished fact, the coming of a gentile king who will crush Babylon and her idols, and cure Israel of her idolatry. In the following chapters, the LORD continues contending against idols, and provides details concerning the coming king, even calling Cyrus by name, about 150 years before the prophesied events.
from the rising of the sun he shall call upon my name...-
'The rising of the sun' often refers to 'the east.' Cyrus, king of Persia, would come from the north and east to conquer Babylon. However, rather than describing his physical travels, this line speaks of Cyrus' spiritual journey, from idolatry and sun worship, to calling upon the name of the LORD (see Ezra 1:1-4).
26 Who hath declared from the beginning, that we may know?
and beforetime, that we may say, [He is] righteous?
yea, [there is] none that sheweth, yea, [there is] none that declareth,
yea, [there is] none that heareth your words.
27 The first [shall say] to Zion, Behold, behold them:
and I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings.
28 For I beheld, and [there was] no man;
even among them, and [there was] no counsellor,
that, when I asked of them, could answer a word.
29 Behold, they [are] all vanity; their works [are] nothing:
their molten images [are] wind and confusion.
...I beheld, and... no man... could answer...-
The worshippers of false gods are dumb struck. They are unable to answer the LORD's challenge.
(Just as the the idolatrous wisemen of Babylon could not discern what the LORD revealed to Daniel. Dan 2:11,12; 4:7,8)
who hath declared from the beginning...? The first shall say to Zion...-
Only the LORD has declared the past and future.
Only He is righteous (in the sense that His Word is true).
It is He, 'the First' (v.4; cp. Col 1:17), who speaks peace to Jerusalem.
If only they would listen to the good news that springs from Zion (Isa 40:9), rather than giving heed to the vanities of the gentile nations.

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