Isaiah 41:17
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.
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(17) When the poor and needy . . .—The promise may perhaps take as its starting-point the succour given to the return of the exiles, but it rises rapidly into the region of a higher poetry, in which earthly things are the parables of heavenly, and does not call for a literal fulfilment any more than “wines of the lees,” of Isaiah 25:6.

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.

41:10-20 God speaks with tenderness; Fear thou not, for I am with thee: not only within call, but present with thee. Art thou weak? I will strengthen thee. Art thou in want of friends? I will help thee in the time of need. Art thou ready to fall? I will uphold thee with that right hand which is full of righteousness, dealing forth rewards and punishments. There are those that strive with God's people, that seek their ruin. Let not God's people render evil for evil, but wait God's time. It is the worm Jacob; so little, so weak, so despised and trampled on by every body. God's people are as worms, in humble thoughts of themselves, and in their enemies' haughty thoughts of them; worms, but not vipers, not of the serpent's seed. Every part of God's word is calculated to humble man's pride, and to make him appear little in his own eyes. The Lord will help them, for he is their Redeemer. The Lord will make Jacob to become a threshing instrument. God will make him fit for use, new, and having sharp spikes. This has fulfilment in the triumphs of the gospel of Christ, and of all faithful followers of Christ, over the power of darkness. God has provided comforts to supply all their wants, and to answer all their prayers. Our way to heaven lies through the wilderness of this world. The soul of man is in want, and seeks for satisfaction; but becomes weary of seeking that in the world, which is not to be had in it. Yet they shall have a constant supply, where one would least expect it. I will open rivers of grace, rivers of living water, which Christ spake of the Spirit, Joh 7:38,39. When God sets up his church in the Gentile wilderness, there shall be a great change, as if thorns and briers were turned into cedars, and fir-trees, and myrtles. These blessings are kept for the poor in spirit, who long for Divine enlightening, pardon, and holiness. And God will render their barren souls fruitful in the grace of his Spirit, that all who behold may consider it.When the poor and needy seek water - Water is often used in the Scriptures as an emblem of the provisions of divine mercy. Bursting fountains in a desert, and flowing streams unexpectedly met with in a dry and thirsty land, are often also employed to denote the comfort and refreshment which the gospel furnishes to sinful and suffering man in his journey through this world. The 'poor and needy' here, doubtless refer primarily to the afflicted captives in Babylon. But the expression of the prophet is general, and the description is as applicable to his people at all times in similar circumstances as it was to them. The image here is derived from their anticipated return from Babylon to Judea. The journey lay through a vast pathless desert (see the notes at Isaiah 40:3). In that journey when they were weary, faint and thirsty, God would meet and refresh them as if he should open fountains in their way, and plant trees with far-reaching boughs and thick foliage along the road to produce a grateful shade, and make the whole journey through a pleasant grove. As he met their fathers in their journey from Egypt to the land of Canaan, and had brought water from the flinty rock in the desert (Exodus 15:22 ff), so in their journey through the sands of Arabia Deserta, he would again meet them, and provide for all their want. 17. poor and needy—primarily, the exiles in Babylon.

water—figuratively, refreshment, prosperity after their affliction. The language is so constructed as only very partially to apply to the local and temporary event of the restoration from Babylon; but fully to be realized in the waters of life and of the Spirit, under the Gospel (Isa 30:25; 44:3; Joh 7:37-39; 4:14). God wrought no miracles that we read of, in any wilderness, during the return from Babylon.

faileth—rather, "is rigid" or parched [Horsley].

When my poor people are come to the greatest extremity of danger and misery, then will I appear for their relief.

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst,.... This is to be understood not literally, but spiritually; not of their outward circumstances, though the people of God are for the most part the poor of the world, and in need of the good things of it, hungry and thirsty, and naked; but of their spiritual estate: as in Christ they need nothing; but in themselves, and at different times, and in different frames, want many things; as larger discoveries of the love of God, fresh supplies of grace from Christ, more spiritual light and liveliness, fresh strength and comfort, fresh views of pardon and righteousness, fresh food for faith, and more grace of every sort to help them in their time of need; and which they seek for at the throne of grace, and in public ordinances, and sometimes they can find none, or it is a long time ere they obtain any: they thirst after doctrine, as the Targum, after the word and ordinances, and sometimes their circumstances are such, they cannot come at them; after communion with God, and spiritual comfort, and cannot enjoy it, being in a place where is no water; and after the blessings of grace, and can have no application of them; see Psalm 42:1, this may represent in a great measure the state of the church under the ten persecutions of the Heathen emperors, or when obliged to fly into the wilderness from the wrath of the dragon, Revelation 12:6,

I the Lord will hear them; their cries and prayers, and answer them, and supply their wants, who is the Lord God Almighty, and can help them, the Lord that changes not, and therefore they shall not be consumed:

I the God of Israel will not forsake them; neither their persons, nor his work of grace upon them, but will support them, and provide for them, and carry on his work in them; of which they may be assured, because he is the God of Israel, their covenant God and Father.

When {o} 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.

(o) That is, they who will be afflicted in the captivity of Babylon.

17–20. With great pathos the prophet recalls to mind the miserable condition of Israel in the present, and adapts his glorious promise to their sense of need. He is thus led to a glowing description of the marvels of the desert journey, in which, however, a spiritual meaning is not lost sight of.

When the poor …] Better: The afflicted and needy are seeking water where there is none, their tongue is parched with thirst. It may be a question whether such a description applies to all the exiles, or only to those, the true Israel, who were conscious of the religious privations of the Captivity.

Verses 17-20. - The crowning promise is that of spiritual support and refreshment through' the dull and dreary time of the Captivity, during which Israel dwells as it were in a desert, without water, or shade, or the relief to the eye which is furnished by the greenery of trees and shrubs. God was able to make of this "wilderness a standing water, and water-springs of the dry ground" (Psalm 107:35), and he promises to do so (ver. 18). The soul that longs for him, that thirsts after him, feeling that it dwells "in a barren and dry land, where no water is" (Psalm 63:1), shall be relieved and satisfied by a revelation of God's presence, and an outpouring of his grace unusually copious and abundant. God's grace is shadowed out under the two similitudes of water and verdure, as in Isaiah 35:7, and, to some extent, in Isaiah 30:23-25. Verse 17. - The poor and needy; i.e. primarily, Israel in captivity; but secondarily, also, the "poor in spirit," and those that feel the need of God's grace, everywhere and at all times. Isaiah 41:17At the present time, indeed, the state of His people was a helpless one, but its cry for help was not in vain. "The poor and needy, who seek for water and there is none, their tongue faints for thirst. I Jehovah will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I open streams upon hills of the field, and springs in the midst of the valleys; I make the desert into a pond, and dry land into fountains of water. I give in the desert cedars, acacias, and myrtles, and oleasters; I set in the steppe cypresses, plane-trees, and sherbin-trees together, that they may see, and know, and lay to heart and understand all together, that the hand of Jehovah hath accomplished this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it." Kimchi, Hitzig, and others refer these promises to the returning exiles; but there is also a description, without any restriction to the return home, of the miraculous change which would take place in the now comfortless and helpless condition of the exiles. The shephâyı̄m, i.e., bare, woodless hills rising up from the plain, Jeremiah 12:12, the beqâ‛ōth, or deep valleys, by the sides of which there rise precipitous mountains, and the 'erets tsiyyâh, the land of burning heat or drought (cf., Psalm 63:2), depict the homeless condition of Israel, as it wandered over bald heights and through waterless plains about a land with parched and gaping soil. For the characteristics of the object, which is placed before אענם, we may therefore compare such passages as Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 55:1. נשׁתּה is either a pausal form for נשׁתּה, and therefore the niphal of שׁתת (to set, become shallow, dry up), or a pausal form for נשׁתה, and therefore the kal of נשׁת with dagesh affectuosum, like נתנּוּ in Ezekiel 27:19 (Olshausen, 83, b). The form נשׁתה in Jeremiah 51:30 may just as well be derived from שׁתת (Ges. 67, Anm. 11) as from נשׁת, whereas נשּׁתוּ may certainly be taken as the niphal of שׁתת after the form נמּל, נחר (Ges. 67, Anm. 5), though it would be safer to refer it to a kal נשׁת, which seems to be also favoured by ינּתשׁוּ in Jeremiah 18:14 as a transposition of ינּשׁתוּ. The root נש, of which נשׁת would be a further expansion, really exhibits the meaning to dry up or thirst, in the Arabic nassa; whereas the verbs נוּשׁ, אנשׁ, נסס (Isaiah 10:18), נשׁה, Syr. nas', nos', Arab. nâsa, nasnasa, with the primary meaning to slacken, lose their hold, and נשׁא, נשׁה, נסע, to deceive, derange, and advance, form separate families. Just when they are thus on the point of pining away, they receive an answer to their prayer: their God opens streams, i.e., causes streams to break forth on the hills of the field, and springs in the midst of the valleys. The desert is transformed into a lake, and the steppe of burning sand into fountains of water. What was predicted in Isaiah 35:6-7 is echoed again here - a figurative representation of the manifold fulness of refreshing, consolation, and marvellous help which was to burst all at once upon those who were apparently forsaken of God. What is depicted in Isaiah 41:19, Isaiah 41:20, is the effect of these. It is not merely a scanty vegetation that springs up, but a corresponding manifold fulness of stately, fragrant, and shady trees; so that the steppe, where neither foot nor eye could find a resting-place, is changed, as by a stroke of magic, into a large, dense, well-watered forest, and shines with sevenfold glory - an image of the many-sided manifestations of divine grace which are experienced by those who are comforted now. Isaiah is especially fond of such figures as these (vid., Isaiah 5:7; Isaiah 6:13; Isaiah 27:6; Isaiah 37:31). There are seven (4 + 3) trees named; seven indicating the divine character of this manifold development (Psychol. p. 188). 'Erez is the generic name for the cedar; shittâh, the acacia, the Egyptian spina (ἄκανθα), Copt. shont; hadas, the myrtle, ‛ēts shemen, the wild olive, as distinguished from zayith (ἡ ἀγριέλαιος, opposed to ἡ ἐλαία in Romans 11:17); berōsh, the cypress, at any rate more especially this; tidhâr we have rendered the "plane-tree," after Saad.; and te'asshūr the "sherbin" (a kind of cedar), after Saad. and Syr. The crowded synonyms indicating sensual and spiritual perception in Isaiah 41:20 (ישׂימוּ, sc. לבּם, Isaiah 41:22) are meant to express as strongly as possible the irresistible character of the impression. They will be quite unable to regard all this as accidental or self-produced, or as anything but the production of the power and grace of their God.
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