The Known Isaiah: Isaiah 41 - 44:1-5

ISA 41:1—44:1-5  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 11
The exordium of chap. 40. laid down clearly that the pledged and stable comfort God designs for His people is inseparable from their repentance by the word and Spirit of God judging nature; as the glad tidings center in their divine Messiah, Who will feed His flock like a. Shepherd, the Ruler and Judge of all the earth, Whose wisdom and power have already shone in creation, and reduce all the nations to a cipher compared with Him, to say nothing of likening Him in their folly to a graven image, or of Israel's unbelief of His watchful eye and efficacious succor.
Chap. 41. follows this up and opens His first indictment(40-48)in the great controversy with Israel. It was the idolatry of the nations, and even of Shem's line, which gave occasion to the dealing with Abraham, chosen, called, and faithful, as the root of promise here below. So when the time came, itself predicted (Gen. 15), to deliver Israel and judge the nation which had held them in bondage, it was avowedly “against all the gods of Egypt” that Jehovah executed judgment. Israel, witness of the one true and living God, failed even under the king of peace; who went after other gods in his old age, and the kingdom was divided. Ephraim, guilty from the first of idolatry for political expediency, was at length broken in pieces that it should not be a people. Judah would follow backsliding Israel still more treacherously “till there was no remedy;” and, because of this persistent idolatry in the house of David, God gave them over to the Chaldeans and set up the imperial system of the Gentiles till the Lord appears for their judgment, and for the full and final deliverance, not of Judah only but of Israel, then to be restored spiritually as well as nationally, and ruled to the joy of all the earth by Him Whose right it is, when idolatry is judged and perishes forever. Then only and thus shall the earth be filled, surely not without the Spirit's power, with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters cover the sea.
The return from Babylon was but an earnest of the restoration which hinges on Israel's heart turning to Christ. Then, not before, is the veil taken away (2 Cor. 3:1616Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. (2 Corinthians 3:16)). When their soul loathed Him here below, His staff Beauty was cut asunder, and the covenant with all the peoples was broken; when He was bought for a slave's price and crucified, He cut Bands, and broke the brotherhood between Judah and Israel (Zech. 11). Every Israelitish hope was buried in His grave, but will rise again in Him at the allotted season: for what word of God can perish?
Meanwhile, founded on Him Who, dead and risen, is now glorified on high, the Holy Spirit is come to gather the children of God and joint-heirs with Christ into one body, the church, which is therefore a heavenly system, though for the present on earth but united to Him the Head above. Those who compose that body are accordingly called to suffer in conformity to His cross, sustained by the assurance of His love and all the privileges of possessed redemption as well as union, and waiting for the fellowship of His glory, Who is coming for us that we may be with Him where He is. Hence we stand contrasted with Israel in most momentous respects of walk and worship, privileges and hopes, as the N. T. shows fully. We may and ought to profit by such scriptures as are before us; but they treat, not of the church, but of God's ancient people, about to be swept into Babylon, and even before that captivity comforted with the assurance of deliverance and restoration through divine mercy and power, only by and by to be adequately appreciated.
The chapter then begins with a summons, which chap. 1 attests as the prophet's style, to the islands and peoples. Jehovah deigns to plead! “Let us come near together to judgment.” It is again a question between the true God and vain images. Because His people served not Jehovah their God with joyfulness and with gladness of heart, by reason of the abundance of all things, therefore, as Moses predicted (Deut. 28), should they serve their enemies in hunger and in thirst, &c., plucked from off the land of promise,. and scattered over the earth. Accordingly Jehovah demands, Who raised up from the east him whom righteousness calleth to its foot? The God Who knew declared beforehand by His prophet. It was He indeed Who wrought as well as spoke. “He, shall give nations before him, and make him rule over kings; he shall give [them] as dust to his sword, as driven stubble to his bow. He shall pursue them and pass in safety, a path with his feet he shall not go” i.e., so should he speed. The description of the conqueror is resumed in ver. 25, as one from the north as here from the east, which singularly met in Cyrus the Persian, who welded the Medes into his kingdom before his crowning overthrow of Babylon. But he is not yet named as in the end of chap. 44. and the beginning of 45. The effort of jealous rabbis followed by some Christians to apply the earlier words to Abraham is vain. It is a prophetic challenge on His part Whose power could make His words good, in contrast with dumb and lifeless idols, to which, as tutelary deities, dread of the avenger drove the Gentiles (ver. 5-7) in their ignorance of Him Who calleth the generations from the beginning, the First and with the last.
But Israel are addressed in terms most assuring as God's servant; they were not to fear: He would uphold them, and confound all inflamed against them. Their weakness is most pointedly owned (14); yet in virtue of their Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, they should thresh mountains and hills, which when scattered like chaff should leave Israel to joy in Jehovah, Who would interpose for the needy in the wilderness, even more gloriously than of old, that they might be satisfied it was His doing and even creating. And in the renewed challenge, which repeats the reference to the as yet unnamed Cyrus, the test of predicting is made most definite. “Bring forward your arguments, saith the king of Jacob.” What a witness to the Israel of that future day, that He is not ashamed to acknowledge them! “Let them bring forth and declare to us what shall happen: show the former things what they are, that we may apply our heart and know their issues or make us know things to come. Declare the things to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods. Yea, do good or evil, that we may be astonished (or examine) and behold it together. Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of naught: an abomination is he that chooseth you.” Then the veil is removed from the conqueror, whom God alone revealed, i.e. Who first before any other to Zion (said), Behold, behold them!
Is it not impudent unbelief, in the face of such a divine claim, for modern rationalism to found on the prophetic style, which speaks in the Spirit of the future as if the past or present, that it was written while the brilliant progress of events was going on, just before Babylon fell and the captivity ended and the return began? Nay more, the skeptical hypothesis implies knavery in the pseudo-Isaiah, and especially in him or those who put these chapters into the vision of Isaiah. It is hard to imagine a more diabolical thrust at prophecy, however covered up under soft words. Proof there is none. The reasoning simply assumes that Isaiah could not be the prophet, because the reference to Cyrus' Medo-Persian career, the overthrow of Chaldean idolatry, the fall of Babylon', and the return, argue the writer cognizant of these momentous events as on the eve of accomplishment, the earlier of them actually a fact. That is, to any upright mind the critical hypothesis insinuates fraud.
Now the far later prophecy of Jeremiah (ch. xxv.) did define the length of the exile in Babylon as 70 years; and Daniel (ch. 9.) is declared to have learned thereby the approaching change. The sole imposture is in the critics. Those holy men of God in no way exaggerated the event, long before Isaiah, much later before Jeremiah, and recognized by Daniel, the only one really in Babylon, as just about to be. So far from elation, the last gave himself to prayer and humiliation for the sins of Jerusalem and the people. Daniel in fact did not go up with the returning remnant, learning (by a fresh prophecy on that very occasion) how far the return would be from the promised restoration, and that the Messiah, when He came after a determined interval, would be cut off and have nothing, instead of even then bringing in for Israel His righteous reign. All this is in perfect accord with the chapters before us. Ch. 41:8-20 was in no way fulfilled in the return. It is still unaccomplished. The return, important as it may have been, was a mere pledge of Israel's glorious hope; and the aged prophet showed his believing estimate of it, by remaining where he was, and received a subsequent assurance from God that, far from losing aught, he should rest and stand in his lot at the end of the days (ch. 12.) The promised blessing of the people is after unexampled tribulation, and Jehovah will make them, when truly repentant, a judicial instrument, “worm Jacob” and “mortals of Israel” though they be, to break down and scatter the proud power of all their foes to God's glory.
What confirms the truth, and disproves the wretched shallowness of neology, is ch. 42:1-4 and its certain application to the Messiah, unless we despise the inspiration of the N. T. also, and count skeptics more reliable than Matthew (chap. 12:17-21), who vouches likewise for Isaiah as the prophet. It is Jehovah's Servant pre-eminently, and beyond all comparison. Not Cyrus is here, not Israel though in ch. xli. 8 called His servant, but Christ, exclusively said (ch. 42:6) to be given “for a covenant of the people and a light of the Gentiles.” It is not an ideal figure, but the real Messiah. It was not yet the hour to lift up His voice in judgment, as the blind Jews desired, though it must have been their own destruction. Meek in heart He sought not glory but to do His Father's will, rejected by an unbelieving people, and about to go far lower to save them or any, so as to be a light to the Gentiles when Israel will have none of Him, caring for the weakest and in no way discouraged till He have set judgment, and the isles shall wait for His law, as in the day of His open power and glory, when all shall be fulfilled, not an earnest only. Then will close the former things, and a new song will be sung to Jehovah as in a new age, which neither the return nor even the first advent responded to, though the latter led to higher and eternal things not here contemplated. Idolatry still flourishes, even in Christendom. And Israel had been verily and exceedingly besotted (vers. 18-20), and therefore degraded of Jehovah to the lowest. There is no real difficulty in seeing only Israel in His blind and deaf servant, the strongest contrast with Messiah. The Revisers correct “perfect” into “at peace,” as the younger Lowth “perfectly instructed” and the elder compares “Mussulman.” It refers to their full endowment of privilege; and in no way is it moral, for they are censured and judged for their idolatry, who should have been a witness for the true and living God to all mankind. Therefore were they given over to severe chastening and humiliation.
Chap. 44. dwells on Israel's relation to Jehovah, in view not of their sins and their punishments, but of His unfailing fidelity in sovereign grace. Clearly this awaits fulfillment, as it goes far beyond any past installment. No wonder that those who adopt the fatal error of limiting prophecy to an immediate future are incapable of seeing or expounding the truth, and must regard the inspired vision as utter exaggeration, to say the least. But the fault is solely in themselves. Jehovah will infallibly stand by Israel, and more conspicuously in the future than in the brightest memorial of the past, and bring their seed from the east and the west, from the north and the south (5, 6). This far exceeds the return from Babylon; and not Gentiles, but Israelites only are here in view.
The blind votaries of idols are once more summoned; and as Jehovah guarantees the redemption of Israel, so He reiterates the proof of a true God in His predictions, committed to them as His witnesses, and here reveals the fall of Babylon expressly, and of the Chaldeans whose cry is in the ships (14), again claiming to be Israel's king, when they had none outwardly. It is not only that the new should surpass the old, but Jehovah reveals that they may know it beforehand. To limit prophecy to its evidence when accomplished is to take the place, unconsciously, of an unbeliever. Jehovah is not silent about His people's sins: so much the more wonderful is the declaration of His full forgiveness and rich blessing for His own sake (ver. 16-28, 44:1-5). What Christian can allege that this is as yet completely fulfilled? Christendom, it is true, long gave up faith in God's mercy to Israel by-and-by, in flat opposition to Rom. 11, and many other N. T. scriptures, to say nothing of the O.T. Ancients and moderns are apt to be alike guilty of high-mindedness in this respect. God's gifts and calling abide; and Christendom will be judged, no less than Israel; but His mercy shall triumph yet. O the depth of His riches!