The Pulpit Commentary

Isaiah 41:1-7 (Isaiah 41:1-7)

ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DELIVERER , AND EFFECT ON THE SURROUNDING NATIONS . Isaiah returns to the standpoint of Isaiah 40:9-11 . A deliverer of Israel is about to appear. The nations are therefore summoned to attend, and consider the facts ( Isaiah 40:1 ). He will carry all before him ( Isaiah 40:2 , Isaiah 40:3 ), being raised up by God ( Isaiah 40:4 ). The nations will tremble, and seek the protection of their idol-deities ( Isaiah 40:5-7 ).

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Isaiah 41:4 (Isaiah 41:4)

Who hath wrought and done it? i.e. "by whom has this mighty conqueror been raised up?" Can any of the idol-gods claim him as their protege ? Assuredly not. He is my work; I, Jehovah, that have called (into being) the generations (of man) from the beginning (of the world)—I, Jehovah, the First, and with the last, am he that he has done this thing. By "the First, and with the last"—a favourite phrase in these later chapters (see Isaiah 45:6 and Isaiah 48:12 )—seems to be meant simply "the Eternal" (comp. Revelation 1:8 , Revelation 1:11 , Revelation 1:17 ; Revelation 2:8 ; Revelation 21:6 ; Revelation 22:13 ).

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Isaiah 41:1-7 (Isaiah 41:1-7)

Argument with the nations.

Jehovah calls the countries to "come silently" unto him. Let the people pluck up what strength they may have, and let the cause between them and Jehovah come to the tribunal of reason. Have the idols any spiritual power? or is Jehovah only the true God?

1. THE VICTORIOUS CAREER OF CYRUS . This great man has, in the prophet's thought, a vocation from God. He is the minister of the Divine righteousness ( Isaiah 42:6 ; Isaiah 45:13 ). Cyrus is supported by the unseen might of Jehovah, who gives peoples into his hands, makes him tread on the necks of kings, whose swords turn to dust, whose warlike bow becomes as powerless as stubble driven before the blast. On the hero goes, in swift; pursuit, penetrating into trackless districts, or those inaccessible to the ordinary traveller, where he cannot be followed. Or the meaning may be, his passage is swift as that of eagle or vulture ( Isaiah 46:11 ), and he leaves no trace of his feet behind. Now, "who hath produced and carried out this?" "In all religions men have found it necessary, in any great action, to engage some other agent and principle beside the man himself. The god becomes coadjutor in every noble or heroic achievement. Homer brings in Diomed and Ulysses, assisted by Mars and Pallas—one notable for acts of valour, and the other for those of counsel and wisdom; and the like is said of many others." And now which of the heathen gods has been the coadjutor of Cyrus? Why, he has come to overthrow the worshippers of the heathen gods. The deities are chiefly bound up with the futures of their peoples, and with them they fall. Who, then, can have raised up the great conqueror and destroyer, but he who alone abides—who called forth the generations from the beginning of "the vanished past and the vanishing present," who is Alpha and Omega, who preceded all, and will be self-existent in the ages to come. The expression, "I am he," briefly and suggestively conveys this idea of self-existence, of eternity ( Isaiah 43:10 , Isaiah 43:13 ; Isaiah 46:4 ; Isaiah 48:12 ; Deuteronomy 32:39 ; Psalms 102:28 ): "Thou art he, and thy years will not come to an end." Also Psalms 44:5 .

"The nameless, he whose nod is Nature's birth."

II. THE ANXIETY OF THE PEOPLES . The decision of the question is postponed; but a scene of alarm among the peoples is depicted. They have heard the news of Cyrus's conquests; the world is shuddering with apprehension. They huddle together like a frightened flock of sheep, trying to impart to one another a courage not really felt. The carpenter and the caster and the goldsmith are all busy among the Western nations, making "a particularly good and strong set of gods." A significant touch is the last—one is strengthening an idol with nails, for fear it should fall, which would be an omen full of dread, as the fall of Dagon of the Philistines may remind us. And so, even as Elijah with the worshippers of Baal, the prophet employs that irony and ridicule which is the test of truth, against the idolaters. And the scene may be regarded as a standing satire against all weak, anxious, fussy resort to human means and devices, and to idle superstitions, when the name of true religion has been paralyzed, when faith in the spiritual and eternal is extinct.—J.

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Isaiah 41:1-7 (Isaiah 41:1-7)

The false refuge and the true.

In the regulation of his life, a wise man will give a large place to the consideration of what resources he will have in the times of great emergency. For he knows that such times must come to him as they come to all men, and when they come there is urgent and even terrible need of a refuge to which the stricken soul may flee. We are here reminded of—

I. THE REFUGE WHICH IS FALSE , AND WHICH WILL FAIL US . ( Isaiah 41:5-7 .) We smile with pity, perhaps even a contemptuous pity, as we read of the carpenter and the smith joining their labour in order to produce the well-made idol, before which the offerings shall be presented, etc. But may it not be that those who watch us from above , and who are so much wiser than we, sometimes sigh, not contemptuously but sadly, as they see us putting our trust and finding our refuge in that which is little better than the carefully manufactured image? When trouble has come, or when dangers thicken, when the heart is agitated or concerned, then the foolish sometimes resort to their idols—to those things which are nearly as impotent and as untrustworthy as these.

1 . To the stimulant or the drug.

2 . To the social excitement or the stress of business engagement.

3 . To the comfort of human affection.

But these are wholly unsatisfactory, because:

1 . They are not on a level with the height of our spiritual nature; they are not worthy of us who are created in the image of God, and who are bound to find, in our sorrows and our straits, a resource which answers to the spiritual powers we have received of him.

2 . They are transient in their influence; they gradually become less efficacious, and at last lose all power to soothe and to sustain.

3 . They themselves are temporary; at any moment they may be removed from our sight and grasp.

II. THE REFUGE WHICH IS TRUE , AND ON WHICH WE MAY CONFIDENTLY RELY . ( Isaiah 41:2-4 .) It is none other than the living God himself. "In the time of trouble he will hide us in his pavilion." There are three strong assurances of Divine succour.

1 . Particular instances of Divine interposition. ( Isaiah 41:2 , Isaiah 41:8 .) The God who raised up Cyrus, who constrained him to answer his own Divine ends, who empowered him to do such great things, and to triumph over such serious obstacles, is One who evidently gives heed to individual souls, and who both can and will select the very instruments which are needed to work out the redemption for which we are waiting and hoping. He who similarly raised up Luther, Zwingle, Calvin, Tyndale, Knox, etc; to take their place and do their work when such men as they were wanted, will not fail us in our emergency now.

2 . His government of the whole human race. " Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning?' All human history attests the presence, the power, the righteousness, the providence, of the Lord.

3 . His Divine nature. "I the Lord, the First, and with the last, I am he." In God, our Father and our Saviour, we have

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Isaiah 41:4 (Isaiah 41:4)

The eternal Alpha and Omega.

The idea of these verses seems to be this—look back, if you will, to the very beginnings of nations: God is there. Watch the changes of nations, the uprising of great kings and leaders: God is presiding over all. Peer into the dim mysteries of the future, and still God is controlling and overruling all. The thought here set before the nation finds expression in the private meditations of the psalmist ( Psalms 139:1-24 .). Nowhere can he get away from the sense of God's presence, and nowhere would he if he could. How fully the Apostle John was imbued with the spirit of the great prophets is well illustrated in the fact that his thought of the manifested God is the old prophetic thought. The glorified and living Christ is revealed to him as saying, "I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty" ( Revelation 1:8 ). Some think the "righteous man," referred to in verse 2, is Abraham, regarded as the first father of the Hebrew nation; and this view finds some support in the expression found in verse 4, "calling the generations from the beginning;" but it is evident that the mind of Isaiah was at this time filled with the return from captivity, and with the Divine raising up of Cyrus as the human agent in effecting that return. And this Cyrus is to him the suggestion of the glorious spiritual Deliverer, who should appear later on to redeem his people from their sins; not first from their sorrows, but first and chiefly from their sins. So we may cover the long ages in our thought. Abraham raised up by God. Moses set forth by God. Cyrus called out by God. Messiah the Sent One of God. "I the Lord, the First, and with the last, I am he." This view of our God may be taken as—

I. A CONTRAST WITH ALL MAN - MADE GODS . This is the prophet's great point. A man-made, or man-conceived, god comes second. Man, in that case is first; the god is his creature, and the creation of a being involves that it is inferior to its creator. God comes first; he is before man. Man is his creature, and set under his conditions.

II. A HOPE WHEN MAN CAN MAKE NO MORE GODS . That time comes by dissatisfaction. None of his gods bring him rest, and at last he will try to make no more. Then God lives, and may be the soul's Rest. That time comes by the ending of the earth-life; but even then God lives, and we may live in him.

III. A SATISFACTION FOR ALL BETWEEN TIMES . If he is first, and is last, then surely he covers and includes all the space between, and we may well turn from all self-trusts and idol-trusts, and seek now the rest, the joy, of his love and favour and service. "This God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our Guide unto death."—R.T.

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