The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
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.Isaiah 41
1. Keep silence before me, O islands [a word which always signifies far-off lands, sea-coasts distant as the horizon]; and let the people renew their strength [pull themselves together, gird up their loins, that they may wrestle with almightiness]: let them come near; then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment [let us wrestle together, let us enter into this controversy: the tone is that of a challenge, a contemptuous defiance].
2. Who raised up the righteous man from the east [who hath raised up from the east the man whom righteousness calls to tread in his steps?], called him to his foot, gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings? [Is the reference to Abraham the pilgrim, or to Cyrus the conqueror? The question is, Who raised up this righteous man?] he [God] gave them as the dust to his sword, and as driven stubble to his bow [hardly was their blood shed or stained upon the ground than they were trampled under foot: it was a humiliating death].
3. He pursued them, and passed safely; even by the way that he had not gone with his feet. [A new way, a path found in pathlessness].
4. Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? [Let us look to facts, to experience, to proofs that cannot be gainsaid: the appeal of God is always to history. Having asked the question, he answers it] I the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he.
5. The isles [distant undiscovered places] saw it, and feared [felt a singular action at the heart, vibrated, wondered, and almost prayed]; the ends of the earth were afraid [felt a sense of ghostliness, immeasurableness; was sure there was a spectral presence in the air], drew near, and came [fell into committee, constituted a council of paganism],
6. They helped every one his neighbour [they said, We must join together in this matter, for no single man can fight the spirits of the air]; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage [they thought that a multiplication, of cowardice would add up to courage; they cheered one another; every man thought his brother was courageous, and every brother was timid with pitiable timidity].
7. So the carpenter [rather, the founder; the idols were metallic, not wooden] encouraged the goldsmith [put something in his way, kept his trade going], and he that smootheth with the hammer him that smote the anvil [they must keep their bellows blowing, and their fire alight], saying, It is ready for the sodering: and he fastened it with nails [the supreme irony! he fastened the little god with nails], that it should not be moved [and secured him against the wall].
8. But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend. [Will that word ever be applied to Christian believers? Is it an incommunicable honour?]
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. [I turned thee from a villager into a cosmopolitan; I brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, and made thee a light flooding the world with splendour: I enlarge men, I ennoble human functions; out of the mustard seed I bring a great tree.].
10. Fear thou not; for I am with thee [a sentiment based upon reason]: be not dismayed; for I am thy God [a flower growing upon a rock]: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. [The rhetoric of God—" I will, I will, I will:" the redundance of almightiness; there shall be strength enough, and all that is left over shall be more than what was given.]
11. Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded [ashamed of their own fuming and vapouring and impotent anger]: they shall be as nothing [it is well when rhetoric fails to catch a figure; it is better that some rhetoric should thus fall down in pitiable humiliation, for there is no simile or personification or imaginable figure that can set forth the confusion of those whom God confounds]; and they that strive with thee shall perish [wither at the top, wither at the root, wither all through, and disappear completely],
12. Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contendeth with thee [not an inch of their steel shall be left behind; net a footprint can be found by concentrated light; wert thou to focalise the sun upon their standards, tip of toe or stump of heel thou couldst not find]: 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. [The encouragement is never given without the reason.]
14. Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel [the beginning was small; God started with dust; and so far he has made intelligent responsible men—men who can curse and pray; go to hell, or rise to heaven: what a miracle in dust!]; I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy redeemer,the Holy One of Israel.
15. Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth [thou shalt beat whatever comes in thy way to small dust, or disentangle it; it shall be wholly in thy power]: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff. [Thou shalt almost touch the mystery of omnipotence: but, observe, it is "I will make thee"—I will do it: even the threshing instrument is only in the hands of an instrument: the Lord reigneth.]
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. [Triumph shall lead to worship; along the high road of victory men shall walk to the altar; there shall be no vapouring and self-boasting, but a great magnifying of God.]
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. [I will make the cisterns and the rocks fountains, and there shall be streams above all known water-levels, and all the streamlets and rills shall flow down into the valleys, and make them green with spring and summer].
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. [What a speech, viewed from the point of human weakness! But nothing can be beyond the altitude of omnipotence.]
19. I will plant in the wilderness [anybody can plant in a garden] the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert [where nobody ever expected anything to grow] the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together:
20. That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand [if providence ever can be made into a theological argument] together, that the hand of the Lord hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.
21. Produce your cause, saith the Lord [let us have both sides of the argument]; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob [be at your best, in your highest form, in your most eloquent frame of mind, and let the foremost speaker amongst you state the case].
22. Let them bring them forth, and show us what shall happen [not what shall happen ten centuries hence, but what shall happen in the near future—say, the day after tomorrow: I will not tax them that they may overlook all the lapse of ages, I will set before them a child's task, if they be prophets at all: what shall happen the next thing but one, is the literal meaning]: let them shew the former things [not the things that happened yesterday, but the things that will happen just before the things that are going to happen], 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 is, almost immediately], that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together [prove yourselves].
24. Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you [the greater fool of the two].
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 [he shall not shed their blood, but shall tread them out of existence; they shall be crushed, not slaughtered, with sharp instruments,—the potter treading clay is the image of this man of woe who shall crush his foe].
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. [If there be, produce him; prove the case: the appeal must always be to history, to fact, to reality, to known experience.]
27. The first shall say to Zion, Behold, behold them: and I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings.
28. For beheld, and there was no man [that could argue the case with me, no man that could prove that history had ever grown one man who was almighty]; even among them, and there was no counseller, that, when I asked of them, could answer a word. [They were all dumb; they could boast when they were by themselves; a great meeting of pagans could applaud one another, but when the divine question was asked they were silent.]
29. Behold, they are all vanity [a veering wind, dying whilst it blows]; their works are nothing [again and again the word of humiliation recurs]: their molten images are wind and confusion [impalpable, imponderable, noisy, self-confounding, and ending in mortification and disappointment]
"This section (Isaiah chapters 40-48) has for its main topic the comforting assurance of the deliverance from Babylon by Koresh (Cyrus), who is even named twice (Isaiah 41:2-3, Isaiah 41:25; Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1-4, Isaiah 45:13; Isaiah 46:11; Isaiah 48:14-15). This section abounds with arguments against idolatry, founded mainly (not wholly, see the noble passage Isaiah 44:9-20) upon the gift of prediction possessed by Jehovah's prophets, especially as shown by their predicting Cyrus, and even naming him (Isaiah 41:26; Isaiah 44:8, Isaiah 44:24-26; Isaiah 45:4, Isaiah 45:19, Isaiah 45:21; Isaiah 46:8-11; Isaiah 48:3-8, Isaiah 48:15). Idols and heathen diviners are taunted with not being able to predict (Isaiah 41:1-7, Isaiah 41:21-24; Isaiah 43:8-13; Isaiah 45:20-21; Isaiah 47:10-13). This power of foretelling the future, as shown in this instance, is insisted upon as the test of divinity. It is of importance to observe, in reference to the prophet's standing-point in this second part, that in speaking both of the captivity in Babylon and of the deliverance out of it, there is (excepting Cyrus' name) no specification of particular circumstances, such as we might expect to find if the writer had written at the end of the exile; the delineation is of a general kind, borrowed frequently from the history of Moses and Joshua. Let it be observed, in particular, that the language respecting the wilderness (e.g. Isaiah 41:17-20), through which the redeemed were to pass, is unmistakably ideal and symbolical.
"It is characteristic of sacred prophecy in general, that the 'vision' of a great deliverance leads the seer to glance at the great deliverance to come through Jesus Christ. This association of ideas is found in several passages in the first part of Isaiah, in which the destruction of the Assyrian army suggests the thought of Christ (e.g. Isaiah 10:24 to Isaiah 11:16; Isaiah 31:8 to Isaiah 32:2). This principle of association prevails in the second part taken as a whole; but in the first section, taken apart, it appears as yet imperfectly. However, Isaiah 42:1-7 is a clear prediction of the Messiah, and that too as viewed in part in contrast with Cyrus; for the 'servant' of Jehovah is meek and gentle (Isaiah 40:2-3), and will establish the true religion in the earth (Isaiah 40:4). Nevertheless, since the prophet regards the two deliverances as referable to the same type of thought (comp. Isaiah 41:1-3), so the announcement of one (Isaiah 40:3-5) is held by all the four Evangelists, and by John Baptist himself, as predictive of the announcement of the other."
—Smith's Dictionary of the Bible.