Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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.
Isa 41:1-29. Additional Reasons Why the Jews Should Place Confidence in God's Promises of Delivering Them; He Will Raise Up a Prince as Their Deliverer, Whereas the Idols Could Not Deliver the Heathen Nations from That Prince.
1. (Zec 2:13). God is about to argue the case; therefore let the nations listen in reverential silence. Compare Ge 28:16, 17, as to the spirit in which we ought to behave before God.
before me—rather (turning), "towards me" [Maurer].
islands—including all regions beyond sea (Jer 25:22), maritime regions, not merely isles in the strict sense.
renew … strength—Let them gather their strength for the argument; let them adduce their strongest arguments (compare Isa 1:18; Job 9:32). "Judgment" means here, to decide the point at issue between us.
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.
2. Who—else but God? The fact that God "raiseth up" Cyrus and qualifies him for becoming the conqueror of the nations and deliverer of God's people, is a strong argument why they should trust in Him. The future is here prophetically represented as present or past.
the righteous man—Cyrus; as Isa 44:28; 45:1-4, 13; 46:11, "from the East," prove. Called "righteous," not so much on account of his own equity [Herodotus, 3.89], as because he fulfilled God's righteous will in restoring the Jews from their unjust captivity. Raised him up in righteousness. The Septuagint takes the Hebrew as a noun "righteousness." Maurer translates, "Who raised up him whom salvation (national and temporal, the gift of God's 'righteousness' to the good, Isa 32:17; compare Isa 45:8; 51:5) meets at his foot" (that is, wherever he goes). Cyrus is said to come from the East, because Persia is east of Babylon; but in Isa 41:25, from the north, in reference to Media. At the same time the full sense of righteousness, or righteous, and of the whole passage, is realized only in Messiah, Cyrus' antitype (Cyrus knew not God, Isa 45:4). He goes forth as the Universal Conqueror of the "nations," in righteousness making war (Ps 2:8, 9; Re 19:11-15; 6:2; 2:26, 27). "The idols He shall utterly abolish" (compare Isa 7:23, with Isa 2:18). Righteousness was always raised up from the East. Paradise was east of Eden. The cherubim were at the east of the garden. Abraham was called from the East. Judea, the birthplace of Messiah, was in the East.
called … to … foot—called him to attend His (God's) steps, that is, follow His guidance. In Ezr 1:2, Cyrus acknowledges Jehovah as the Giver of his victories. He subdued the nations from the Euxine to the Red Sea, and even Egypt (says Xenophon).
dust—(Isa 17:13; 29:5; Ps 18:42). Persia, Cyrus' country, was famed for the use of the "bow" (Isa 22:6). "Before him" means "gave them into his power" (Jos 10:12). Maurer translates, "Gave his (the enemy's) sword to be dust, and his (the enemy's) bow to be as stubble" (Job 41:26, 29).
He pursued them, and passed safely; even by the way that he had not gone with his feet.
3. Cyrus had not visited the regions of the Euphrates and westward until he visited them for conquest. So the gospel conquests penetrated regions where the name of God was unknown before.
Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? I the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.
4. Who—else but God?
calling … generations from … beginning—The origin and position of all nations are from God (De 32:8; Ac 17:26); what is true of Cyrus and his conquests is true of all the movements of history from the first; all are from God.
with the last—that is, the last (Isa 44:6; 48:12).
The isles saw it, and feared; the ends of the earth were afraid, drew near, and came.
5. feared—that they would be subdued.
drew near, and came—together, for mutual defense.
They helped every one his neighbour; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage.
6. Be of good courage—Be not alarmed because of Cyrus, but make new images to secure the favor of the gods against him.
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.
7. One workman encourages the other to be quick in finishing the idol, so as to avert the impending danger.
nails—to keep it steady in its place. Wisdom 13:15, 16, gives a similar picture of the folly of idolatry.
But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.
8. Contrast between the idolatrous nations whom God will destroy by Cyrus, and Israel whom God will deliver by the same man for their forefathers' sake.
servant—so termed as being chosen by God to worship Him themselves, and to lead other peoples to do the same (Isa 45:4).
Jacob … chosen—(Ps 135:4).
my friend—literally, "loving me."
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.
9. Abraham, the father of the Jews, taken from the remote Ur of the Chaldees. Others take it of Israel, called out of Egypt (De 4:37; Ho 11:1).
from the chief men—literally, "the elbows"; so the joints; hence the root which joins the tree to the earth; figuratively, those of ancient and noble stock. But the parallel clause "ends of the earth" favors Gesenius, who translates, "the extremities of the earth"; so Jerome.
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.
10. be not dismayed—literally, anxiously to look at one another in dismay.
right hand of my righteousness—that is, My right hand prepared in accordance with My righteousness (faithfulness to My promises) to uphold thee.
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.
11. ashamed—put to the shame of defeat (compare Isa 54:17; Ro 9:33).
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.
12. seek … and … not find—said of one so utterly put out of the way that not a trace of him can be found (Ps 37:36).
thing of naught—shall utterly perish.
For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.
13. (De 33:26, 29).
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.
14. worm—in a state of contempt and affliction, whom all loathe and tread on, the very expression which Messiah, on the cross, applies to Himself (Ps 22:6), so completely are the Lord and His people identified and assimilated. God's people are as 'worms' in humble thoughts of themselves, and in their enemies' haughty thoughts of them; worms, but not vipers, or of the serpent's seed." [Henry].
men—The parallelism requires the word "men" here to have associated with it the idea of fewness or feebleness. Lowth translates, "Ye mortals of Israel." The Septuagint, "altogether diminutive." Maurer supports English Version, which the Hebrew text best accords with.
the Lord—in general.
and thy redeemer—in particular; a still stronger reason why He should "help" them.
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.
15. God will make Israel to destroy their enemies as the Eastern corn-drag (Isa 28:27, 28) bruises out the grain with its teeth, and gives the chaff to the winds to scatter.
teeth—serrated, so as to cut up the straw for fodder and separate the grain from the chaff.
mountains … hills—kingdoms more or less powerful that were hostile to Israel (Isa 2:14).
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.
16. fan—winnowed (compare Mt 3:12).
whirlwind … scatter them—(Job 27:21; 30:22).
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.
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].
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.
18. Alluding to the waters with which Israel was miraculously supplied in the desert after having come out of Egypt.
high places—bare of trees, barren, and unwatered (Jer 4:11; 14:6). "High places … valleys" spiritually express that in all circumstances, whether elevated or depressed, God's people will have refreshment for their souls, however little to be expected it might seem.
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:
19. (Isa 32:15; 55:13).
shittah—rather, the "acacia," or Egyptian thorn, from which the gum Arabic is obtained [Lowth].
oil tree—the olive.
fir tree—rather, the "cypress": grateful by its shade.
pine—Gesenius translates, "the holm."
box tree—not the shrub used for bordering flower beds, but [Gesenius] a kind of cedar, remarkable for the smallness of its cones, and the upward direction of its branches.
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.
20. consider—literally, "lay it (to heart)"; turn (their attention) to it. "They" refers to all lands (Isa 41:1; Ps 64:9; 40:3). The effect on the Gentiles of God's open interposition hereafter in behalf of Israel shall be, they shall seek Israel's God (Isa 2:3; Zec 8:21-23).
Produce your cause, saith the LORD; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob.
21. A new challenge to the idolaters (see Isa 41:1, 7) to say, can their idols predict future events as Jehovah can (Isa 41:22-25, &c.)?
your strong reasons—the reasons for idol-worship which you think especially strong.
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.
22. what shall happen—"Let them bring near and declare future contingencies" [Horsley].
former things … the latter end of them—show what former predictions the idols have given, that we may compare the event ("latter end") with them; or give new prophecies ("declare things to come") (Isa 42:9), [Maurer]. Barnes explains it more reconditely, "Let them foretell the entire series of events, showing, in their order, the things which shall first occur, as well as those which shall finally happen"; the false prophets tried to predict isolated events, having no mutual dependency; not a long series of events mutually and orderly connected, and stretching far into futurity. They did not even try to do this. None but God can do it (Isa 46:10; 44:7, 8). "Or … things to come" will, in this view, mean, Let them, if they cannot predict the series, even predict plainly any detached events.
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.
23. do good … evil—give any proof at all of your power, either to reward your friends or punish your enemies (Ps 115:2-8).
that we may be dismayed, and behold it together—Maurer translates, "That we (Jehovah and the idols) may look one another in the face (that is, encounter one another, 2Ki 14:8, 11), and see" our respective powers by a trial. Horsley translates, "Then the moment we behold, we shall be dismayed." "We" thus, and in English Version, refers to Jehovah and His worshippers.
Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you.
24. of nothing—(See on Isa 40:17). The Hebrew text is here corrupt; so English Version treats it.
abomination—abstract for concrete: not merely abominable, but the essence of whatever is so (De 18:12).
chooseth you—as an object of worship.
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.
25. raised up—in purpose: not fulfilled till a hundred fifty years afterwards.
north—In Isa 41:2, "from the East"; both are true: see the note there.
call … my name—acknowledge Me as God, and attribute his success to Me; this he did in the proclamation (Ezr 1:2). This does not necessarily imply that Cyrus renounced idolatry, but hearing of Isaiah's prophecy given a hundred fifty years before, so fully realized in his own acts, he recognized God as the true God, but retained his idol (so Naaman, 2Ki 5:1-27; compare 2Ki 17:33, 41; Da 3:28; 4:1-3, 34-37).
princes—the Babylonian satraps or governors of provinces.
mortar—"mire"; He shall tread them under foot as dirt (Isa 10:6).
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.
26. Who—of the idolatrous soothsayers? When this prophecy shall be fulfilled, all shall see that God foretold as to Cyrus, which none of the soothsayers have.
beforetime—before the event occurred.
He is righteous—rather, "It is true"; it was a true prophecy, as the event shows. "He is righteous," in English Version, must be interpreted, The fulfilment of the idol's words proves that he is faithful.
showeth, &c.—rather, "there was none (of the soothsayers) that showed … declared—no one has heard your words" foretelling the event.
The first shall say to Zion, Behold, behold them: and I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings.
27. Rather, "I first will give to Zion and to Jerusalem the messenger of good tidings, Behold, behold them!" The clause, "Behold … them" (the wished-for event is now present) is inserted in the middle of the sentence as a detached exclamation, by an elegant transposition, the language being framed abruptly, as one would speak in putting vividly as it were, before the eyes of others, some joyous event which he had just learned [Ludovicus De Dieu] (compare Isa 40:9). None of the idols had foretold these events. Jehovah was the "first" to do so (see Isa 41:4).
For I beheld, and there was no man; even among them, and there was no counseller, that, when I asked of them, could answer a word.
28. no counsellor—no one of the idolatrous soothsayers who could inform (Nu 24:14) those who consulted them what would take place. Compare "counsel of His messenger" (Isa 44:26).
when I asked—that is, challenged them, in this chapter.
Behold, they are all vanity; their works are nothing: their molten images are wind and confusion.
29. confusion—"emptiness" [Barnes].