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Commentary chapters 44-55.
The first 39 chapter of Isaiah have been based on prophecies made at different times and brought together in a pattern. They were made at various times throughout his prophetic life. Now we come to chapters 40-55 (alternatively we may see it as beginning with chapter 34) which were written as one whole with a continuing theme. The amazing deliverance of Jerusalem from Assyria had awakened in his heart a recognition that Yahweh had a supreme work for His people, and that God must have delivered them with a purpose, in order that they might be His Servant who would take His truth to the nations.
In order really to fully appreciate his thinking we have to understand the background from which he wrote. It is quite clear that he had been meditating in Genesis. He had noted how the world in Genesis 1-11 had gradually developed in its opposition to God, a rebellion expressed in terms of ‘the city’. First Cain rebelled against God and went into the land of ‘wandering’ (nod) and there he built a ‘city’ (Genesis 4.17), probably representing a grouping of people in caves, or some other kind of primitive shelters. It was probably to be seen as the first gathering together of people in a combination to live together without being reliant on Yahweh. Then as mankind advanced this grew into the first empire. The mighty Nimrod established his empire based on Babel (Babylon) and its neighbouring cities (Genesis 10.10) and from there he established his empire in Assyria and built Nineveh and its related cities, the latter making together ‘the Great City’ (Genesis 10.11). This was then followed by the attempt at Babel (Babylon) to build a tower up to heaven and establish their own name as a people who were independent of God (Genesis 11.1-9). The idea of the city therefore came to be seen as representative of opposition to God, and as an expression of man’s independence of God and of man looking to his own resources, with his own independent religion based on his tower, and to be connected with Babylon. We see this idea clearly represented in the first part of Isaiah as Isaiah depicts ‘the city’ as the object of God’s judgment (24.10-12; 25.12; 26.5; 27.10), and sees ‘Babylon’ as the enemy of the world and doomed to total destruction (13.1-22).
Then Yahweh called a man, Abraham, the son of Terah, to leave ‘the city’, Ur of the Chaldees, (and thus connected with the Chaldeans and with Babylon) and go to the land which God would show him. Thus he was called to depart from Babylon. Once he had arrived in Canaan God promised him the land, and that through his seed the whole world would be blessed. However it was not long before the king of Babylon (Shinar) and the king of the nations invaded His land (Genesis 14.1) and seized a ‘son of Terah’ (Lot). However, by the hand of Abraham, the King of Babylon and his fellow kings were thwarted and despoiled and the son of Terah was freed (Genesis 14.1-16), thus leaving Abraham free to carry forward God’s commission as God’s servant. Babylon was thus constantly revealed as the great enemy of God’s purposes, in Isaiah’s time association with Assyria, while in contrast Abraham was revealed as God’s servant..
We can therefore imagine Isaiah’s thoughts when Yahweh’s land, the land that was to fulfil God’s promises to Abraham, was invaded by Assyria, with Nineveh as its capital city, and Assyria then utilised Babylon to control Israel (2 Chronicles 32.11). It must have seemed that history was repeating itself. However, the last ditch deliverance of Jerusalem had brought home to him that again Yahweh was active, that Assyria was not to be allowed to have its free way with God’s people, and it was as a result of that that God revealed to him the future that was to come.
We must note that chapters 44-55 know only of oppression of his people by Egypt and Assyria (52.4). Yet he was undoubtedly very much aware that behind all was the arch-enemy Babylon, the great city noted for its magic and interest in the occult, that boasted of its own superiority to all the cities of the world (13.19), and had now become the centre of the Assyrian Empire. So we can understand why, when Assyria and Babylon began to work as one (2 Chronicles 32.11), he recognised in this a renewed attack on God’s purposes through Abraham.
But as he looked into the future he saw the fulfilment of God’s promises to Abraham being brought about in terms of the coming Servant who would bring His blessing to the world, and thus he saw the opposition to the Servant in terms of ‘Babylon’, who had been the great anti-God from the beginning. That is why in chapter 40-55 we have a continuous picture of the rise of the Servant and the need for the destruction of Babylon. It was like Abraham versus the king of Babylon all over again.
If when Uzziah died in 739 BC Isaiah was eighteen, and he lived into old age, Isaiah could well have been around at the time during Manasseh’s reign (687-642 BC) when it became clear that Babylon were involved under Assyria in overseeing Judah (the involvement would ante-date the seizure of Manasseh). And he would unquestionably have been appalled by Manasseh’s submission to Assyria and Babylon. Thus while it may be that he did not actually prophesy publicly during Manasseh’s reign (1.1) he may well have written this second part of his prophecy to be passed on to the future.
For the chapters from 41-55, following the opening chapter in which God’s great power and visitation of Jerusalem is emphasised, contain the account of the raising by Yahweh of His Servant for the fulfilling of God’s purposes as promised to Abraham, and His dealings with the arch-enemies of idolatry and Babylon. In 43.14 Isaiah stresses that for His Servant’s sake Yahweh will cause the rulers of Babylon to flee from Babylon (the rulers are rendered powerless), in 46.1-2 he stresses the powerlessness of Babylon’s gods (the gods are rendered powerless), in 47 he depicts Babylon’s humiliation (Babylon is humbled to the dust), in 48.14 he declares that Yahweh will work His good pleasure (or Isaiah’s good pleasure) on Babylon, and in 48.20 he tells all who are involved with Babylon to desert it and flee from it. Babylon must no longer hold sway over the people of God. From that moment on idolatry does not arise as an issue in chapters 49-55, and the Servant goes on, first to suffering and then to victory. These are the basic facts that lie behind these chapters.
Chapters 40-55 The Work of God and the Coming Servant of Yahweh.
This section can be divided up into three.
In this part we will concentrate our attention on Isaiah 40-48. 49-55 will be dealt with in the next section.
In the light of what God had done for His people by His amazing and unforgettable deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib (36-37), but having regard also to His warning of what was to happen to the house of Hezekiah at the hands of Babylon (39.6-7), Isaiah was now faced with two conflicting situations. On the one hand was the fact that God had triumphed, against all earthly odds, over a powerful enemy, who had been driven off in total disarray. His worship was now in the ascendant in Jerusalem, the people were filled with relief, expectancy and gratitude, and all false gods had for a time been thrust into the background. But on the other was his recognition that the house of David was rejected and awaiting severe punishment at the hands of Babylon because of their failure to trust wholly in Yahweh (39.6-7). For Yahweh’s servant ‘David’, as personified first in Ahaz and then in Hezekiah, had failed at the hour of need.
And he seemingly further recognised that because of the sins of God’s people (43.22-28) there had to be a future cleansing of Jerusalem and a replacement of the old Temple which had been so severely defiled by idolatry (44.26-45.7). The chapters that follow deal with both these situations.
So in chapter 40 we have an exalted description of the universal and triumphant power of God, which is followed in 41.1-44.23 by a description of how through Abraham, the man whom He called from the east, He has raised up His people, the seed of Abraham, as His servant to do His bidding. This is to result in the establishing of Yahweh’s righteous rule over the nations under His chosen King (42.1-9), the putting to flight of the rulers of Babylon (43.14), the final rejection of idolatry (44.9-20) and the praising of Yahweh by the whole of creation (44.21-23).
This section was probably first written not long after the humiliation of Assyria.
But in view of the people’s previous behaviour (43.22-28) this is then followed in 44.24 onwards by a recognition that as a result of that behaviour the Temple has been defiled and needs replacing, and that as a result Jerusalem is once more to suffer under the hands of the enemy so that it will need to be rebuilt. This is seen as necessary before the Servant can fulfil his role. These chapters may well have first been written some time after the previous chapters, once it had become established that Babylon was responsible for the oversight of Judah as representative of the Assyrian Empire and had begun to exercise its insidious influence over Judah, so that it would have to be destroyed (47).
There has also been brought home to him the fact that God will raise up a deliverer from the house of Cyrus I in Persia, whom he may well have met in his position as a prophet of Judah. The house of Cyrus was chosen as the one which was to fulfil all His will (44.26-45.7) Through it He will finally judge those who have so defiled Jerusalem (possibly having in mind 39.6-7) and through Cyrus He will arrange for their destruction, the rebuilding of Jerusalem once it has been ravaged, and the erection of a new undefiled Temple. This prophecy may well have resulted from a visit to Jerusalem by a group from the Persian court who on learning of the humiliation of Sennacherib by Israel’s God, and Isaiah’s part in it, had come bringing the good wishes of their monarch and a promise of support in the future, together with the news of the birth of the new prince, Cyrus. Or alternatively from an embassy sent from Judah to the Persian court for the same reason, in which Isaiah participated.
The Persian monarch at this time would be Achaemenes, whose grandson was Cyrus I, who was born during the lifetime of Isaiah, and his house was clearly seen by Isaiah as providing the future conqueror who would restore the Temple (44.28-45.1).
So as we move into these next chapters of Isaiah we can understand the feeling of exaltation and certainty that gripped him as he looked ahead, an exaltation that was, however, held in tension with the black cloud that hung over the house of David. On the one hand his expectations were positive, on the other there yet remained much that was to happen. We have here the same dichotomy between imminence and delay which characterises the New Testament. God will act, but meanwhile certain things must happen first.
The Condition of Judah.
We must remember that in spite of her glorious victory over the forces of Sennacherib (36-37), Jerusalem had not got away scot free. Her wealth had been hugely diminished by the fine that they had originally paid to Sennacherib to buy him off, prior to his second invasion of Judah (2 Kings 18.15-16), and her adjoining land and people had been totally devastated by the intrusion of the Assyrian armies. Her second city Lachish lay in ruins, and the whole land had become a wilderness. In the words with which Isaiah opens chapter 40, she had received ‘double for all her sins’.
Thus she is promised that now Yahweh will make a way for her, will raise her up as His Servant, establishing over her the righteous King promised in 7-11, and will restore what has become a wilderness and will fill it with pools of water (41.17-19; 43.19-20), so that she has a way to walk in. And along with this He will not only pour out His rain on them, but will also pour out His Spirit Who will transform the whole people (44.1-5), having removed the encroaching threat of Babylon (43.14).
The Continual Threat of Assyria.
He was, of course, aware that Assyria remained a threat. It was Assyria who had oppressed them in the past (52.4), and, even though it had at present withdrawn its forces, and was busy elsewhere (37.37-38), he probably had no doubt that they would attempt to do so again, indeed were probably already doing so under Manasseh. He must have been well aware that Assyria would not stay away permanently. Their threat, therefore, continued to loom large over God’s people. Their attempted overlordship, brought on Judah by the unbelief of Ahaz, had been a constant problem, and would continue to be so (7.17, 18, 20; 8.4, 7; 10.5, 12, 24; 11.11, 16; 14.25; 19.23-25; 20.6; 21.4, 6; 27.13; 30.31; 31.8; 36-39; 52.4). But it was not of too great a concern to him. God had shown what He could do with Assyria. So he did not see them directly as a matter of great concern, and indeed was informed that Yahweh would deal with the threat by giving Egypt, Cush and Seba to Assyria as a ransom for His people (43.3).
The Threat of Babylon.
Very different was the threat of Babylon. He could not overlook what Yahweh had revealed to him of what Babylon was going to do to Judah’s royal house (39.6-7), and he was disturbed by the fact that Babylon, having been yet again subjugated by Assyria, was ominously being re-established by them after its earlier defeat (23.13), with authority over Judah. He recognised therefore that, as in the past, it would no doubt in the future ill treat God’s people and be a menace to the world (14.3-4, 6; 39.7). Indeed he probably saw them as the greater problem. For as we have seen in chapters 13-14 he saw Babylon as supremely the enemy of God because of its proud boasts and high claims against God. It was the city that from the first had stood up against God and built a tower up to heaven which had resulted in the dividing of the world (Genesis 10.8-12; 11.1-9). It was the city whose king (Amraphel, king of Shinar) had invaded Canaan and seized Lot, Abraham’s nephew, along with much spoil, and against whom Abraham had to raise an army so as to recover both him and the spoils (Genesis 14). It was a city from which every superstition emanated. Thus Babylon was an ever present menace, and now that Assyria were re-establishing it he had no doubt that it would again encroach on God’s people. And that Assyria does indeed later appear to have administered its jurisdiction over Judah from Babylon, comes out, as we have seen, in the fact that Manasseh was taken there when arraigned by the Assyrian oppressors. So it was clear that if Judah was to be free from evil influences Babylon was a city which must be destroyed.
What later happened to Manasseh in 2 Chronicles 33.11 quite clearly confirms that Assyria were at that time controlling Judah through Babylon, which itself was being ruled by a son of the king of Assyria, for when Manasseh was arraigned as a rebel he was dragged off to Babylon.
The Problem of Israel’s Scattered People.
But as he thought of God’s purposes for Israel Isaiah was also aware that many of God’s people were still scattered around the world. Exiles from both Israel and Judah were in Assyria, in Media, in Babylon (Shinar), in Egypt, and even further afield. See 11.11, 16; 27.13; 2 Kings 17.6; and compare 2 Kings 17.24 for regular movements of peoples under Assyria. (And this be it noted without any independent Babylonian invasion). Many of the people of God were far from their own land.
Among them would be Manasseh, who was later taken to Babylon by the Assyrians, no doubt with a number of other exiles from the royal house (2 Chronicles 33.11), as Isaiah had earlier warned (39.7). But it was nevertheless Assyria who still continued as the prominent oppressor (52.4), even though her teeth had temporarily been drawn.
So wanting to proclaim a message of encouragement and deliverance to his people, Isaiah, who knew that in the end Yahweh had promised to deliver His people from all outside influence, proclaimed the greatness of His power and what His future intentions were.
Let Judah, therefore, now consider what the deliverance of Jerusalem and departure of Sennacherib had revealed. It had demonstrated the sovereignty and overlordship of Yahweh in world affairs, so that now, if they would, they could seize their opportunity, rid themselves of all their enemies and become Yahweh’s Servant to the nations in accordance with His purpose established in Abraham.
The Coming Deliverer.
Furthermore he has in mind God’s promise of the raising of a Deliverer, one born miraculously from the house of David (7.14), who will rule the nations and bring peace and justice to the earth (9.6-7; 11.1-4; 42.1-4), and this in spite of the fact that he has seen the failure of the house of David to live up to expectations. For he knows that the One Who will come in the future, will be of a different stamp (7-11). Like ‘David My Servant’ (37.35) He will be God’s Servant, and He will be totally dedicated to fulfilling the purposes of Yahweh. But He will not be simply an earthly king like the others. They are too fallible. He will be miraculously born (7.14).
Does Isaiah Have the Future Exiles in Babylon In Mind?
Significantly there is no mention anywhere in Isaiah of exiles being taken to Babylon, apart from the king’s own ‘sons’ (39.7), and those taken there by the Assyrians, probably from the northern kingdom (11.11). Thus to make the return of Judean exiles from Babylon prominent in these chapters is to ignore what is actually written and to read into these chapters what is not there. It is to see them in the light of future events of which Isaiah was not necessarily aware. This is fine as long as we realise that what we are doing is seeing a fulfilment beyond Isaiah’s expectations. But whoever wrote these chapters does not speak as if aware of a large scale Babylonian exile resulting from a Babylonian invasion, does not speak of a Babylonian ‘world empire’, does not speak specifically of returning exiles from Babylon and in fact, while mentioning it, does not lay great stress on Babylon at all except as a city which must be destroyed, as described in chapters 13-14 and 23.13, because of what it is, the great Anti-God.
That does not mean that we ignore the later situation in Babylon. Only that we must not, if we are to be fair to the writer, interpret Isaiah 40 onwards solely as if he had the Babylonian exile under Nebuchadnezzar in mind. The impression actually given is that he did not. His mind was not on Babylon in that way. It is commentators who are obsessed with such a Babylon, who read Babylon in everywhere and interpret it in this way despite any lack of encouragement in the text, because it fits in with what they want to make the writer say, and with a future of which Isaiah was actually unaware. Isaiah in fact only mentions Babylon once in chapters 40-44 and twice in the following chapters (in 47 and 48.14, 20).
What is in fact made quite clear is that Isaiah was not concentrating his attention on Babylon. That is to demean his prophecy which had a wider worldwide view. He looked rather for worldwide redemption, for that was why Yahweh was raising up His Servant. He was concerned for all the exiles scattered around the world, and was speaking to the people of his own time.
What is actually so surprising in the light of chapters 13-14 and the clear inference in 39.7 of a sacking of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, and of the expected Babylonian jurisdiction over Judah (which is why hostages would be taken), is that we have so little mention of Babylon (only in 43.14; 47; 48.14, 20), with nowhere a reference to exiles returning from there. In fact his non-reference to these latter is quite marked, arising from the fact that he never did realise that so much of Judah would in future be carried off into Babylon. For Babylon was nowhere his great concern except as something to be destroyed by God (chapter 47), and the taking of the sons of David as hostages by them would be seen as but one more in their long list of crimes.
What then was his concern for Babylon? Simply that for Isaiah Babylon was a symbol. Babylon had to be destroyed because it represented the great enemy of God (Genesis 10.9-12; 11.1-9), that boasted against God (13.19; 14.12-15) and ever threatened the people of God (39.7; Genesis 14.1). It was seen as the city that having been laid waste by the Assyrians (23.13), was being rebuilt to carry on its blasphemy, and was the one world city that must be finally destroyed, never to rise again. It should never have been rebuilt (13.19-20), and Yahweh will yet thus destroy it once again.
It is significant in this regard that in 40-47 regular diatribes against the gods are given, but, once the destruction of Babylon and its magicians is described, these diatribes cease, not to reoccur again until after chapter 55. Thus in 40-55 Babylon stands for all that the gods represent. It is the home of extreme evil. It is the very centre of idolatry. The destruction of Babylon is therefore the destruction of the very ‘centre’ of the gods without according them any status. And that is why all righteous people must flee from Babylon (48.20) (which the later returning exiles did not do, they marched out confidently). They must desert all that it stands for. For Babylon represents idolatry of the most heinous kind. It represents the anti-God. It would be seen as such to the end (Revelation 17-18).
The Importance of Abraham.
There is a further point that we should note, and that is the importance of Abraham to Isaiah. He is the one who loved God (41.8), he is the rock from which Israel was hewn (51.1-2), he is ‘the one’ who became ‘many’ (51.2), he is the one whom Yahweh redeemed and in whom his seed is therefore to be redeemed (29.22).
In our modern day, with our modern knowledge, we see things very differently from the ancients. We seek, for example, to set Abraham in his background, as historically a minimal and unimportant figure, a minor tribal leader compared with the great nations of the world. But it is doubtful if ancient Israel saw him in that way.
To the people of Israel/Judah Abraham was a colossus. He was an essential part of their history and they knew well the stories about him. They knew that at the call of God he had with his family tribe come down initially from the east, from Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 11.31; Nehemiah 9.7), and then from the north (from Haran - 11.32-12.1), entering Canaan where he called on the name of Yahweh (Genesis 12.8; 13.4), and was God’s chosen, the one who loved Him (41.8). They knew that he had had many momentous experiences of God, great revelations and theophanies, and had had many powerful covenants made with Him by God that determined both their future and the future of the world for ages to come. They knew how he had grown in power so that even Pharaoh had had to yield to him and give him gifts (Genesis 12.10-20). And they knew how when the kings of Babylon and Elam, with their allies, invaded Canaan it was Abraham who pursued them and administered to them a resounding defeat as leader of an alliance against them (Genesis 14). They knew that he was closely involved with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and had indeed interceded for them (Genesis 18-19), that the king of the Philistines had made treaties with him (Genesis 21.32), that he was a redoubtable Prince (Genesis 23.6). And they would take it all as it stood without seeing it against the background of history as known to us today. Thus they would have had no doubt that had Abraham been alive Assyria and Babylon would have had to watch out. Abraham had been a ‘mighty one’.
When the little boys in Israel lay in their beds, they would say, ‘Mummy, tell us again how Abraham drove out the kings of the east from his land, and rescued Lot. Tell us how he fooled the Pharaoh of Egypt. Tell us how he prayed about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Tell us about his adventures with the king of Gerar. Tell us how the people called him a mighty prince’. To them Abraham was a hero.
So when Isaiah speaks of one who was raised from the east and came from the north (41.2, 25), who was called in righteousness to His foot (41.2) and who called on the name of Yahweh (41.25; Genesis 12.8; 13.4), who defeated nations and kings and pursued them (41.2-3; Genesis 14) and trod upon them as a potter treads the clay (41.25), and in a context where Jacob/Israel, who are addressed as God’s servant, are connected with, and yet contrasted with, Abraham, the one who loved God, we may safely assume that Abraham is in mind in the whole context. And the same probably applies to the bird of prey from the east who is ‘a man of His counsel’, brought from a far country, who brings near righteousness and salvation (46.11). To be described as a bird of prey would not have been seen as defamatory but as glorious. It is saying that he was magnificent, like a great eagle. And it was as a great eagle that Abraham had previously swooped on the king of Babylon (Shinar) (Genesis 14).
Furthermore in Hebrew thought when Abraham entered Canaan his seed entered with him. All entered triumphantly in his body. He came as the one who loved God, and as Yahweh’s servant (Genesis 26.24; Exodus 32.13; Deuteronomy 9.27; Psalm 105.6, 42), and in him came also God’s servant, Israel (41.8). In him came God’s servant David (37.35). And in him came also the greater David yet to come, God’s ultimate Servant (52.13-53.12). The whole future of the Servant entered Canaan with Abraham. Essentially the Servant was ‘the seed of Abraham’ (41.8) and incorporated all that seed from Isaac onwards. And as the Servant it was God’s purpose that they might transform the world
But of course those who interpret the chapters as referring mainly to the Babylonian captivity, against all the pointers, see Cyrus everywhere instead of just in 44.28-45.6, and that despite of no mention of him prior to 44.28. They thus interpret verses which refer to Abraham in terms of Cyrus. One thing to be kept in mind here therefore is that translations often seem to support this case simply because the translators assumed that it was correct and translated accordingly, gliding over controversial verses, not out of a desire to deceive but in order to make them ‘clear’. The problem is that this then prevents fair assessment. For this purpose we would suggest in these passages reference to RV or ASV for a translation which has mainly remained close to the original text.
It is against this background and these warnings then that we must interpret these chapters for ourselves.
THE CALL TO DELIVERANCE: BEHOLD YOUR GOD! (Chapter 40).
Chapter 40 The Greatness of God and The Need To Return to Him.
Following immediately on the gloom resulting from the failure of the Davidic king in chapter 39, and the revelation of the future consequences in the taking of Jerusalem and removal of the Davidic line to a resurgent Babylon (which occurred under the Assyrians - 2 Chronicles 33.11), Isaiah now declares God’s certain final triumph. In the end, Isaiah tells Israel/Judah, God will triumph over all, whether Assyria or Babylon or anyone else, because of Who and What He is.
He sees before his eyes what God has done to Assyria, and how He has humiliated her, and he must have wondered why others did not see it as well. Did they not recognise that God was now on the verge of acting finally if only His people would respond? They had paid heavily for their sins in the invasion by Sennacherib, they had received double for all their sins. But now God was calling on them to forget Assyria, to forget Babylon, and to behold Him and trust Him. It is very similar to Jesus standing at the door in Revelation (Revelation 3.20). The moment of truth is here if only they are willing to trust in Yahweh and open the door.
Seized by his enthusiasm for the moment Isaiah now goes on to describe in detail the greatness and glory of God compared with this puny world. This, he says, is the One Who can make it all happen. Why do they not respond?
And then God Himself takes it up and confirms Isaiah’s words (verse 25). Let them but all but see Him and respond to Him, and they will be all conquering. Let them wait on Him and they will find that His strength is more than sufficient.
The Preparing of the Way (40.1-8).
The humiliation of Assyria has, in Isaiah’s eyes, opened up a new opportunity for the future for Judah/Israel. Yahweh has delivered His people, and awaits their response.
These are the words of the great Judge of all the world. The court has sat, the verdict has been reached and the sentence passed, and it is one of mercy. The words announce a change in Isaiah’s perspective. Previously he has mentioned quite regularly the deliverance and final blessing of Israel and Jerusalem, but here it takes centre stage. The time has come if only they will respond. The enemy has fled back to his own land (37.37). Now is the time to trust in Yahweh.
The verb ‘comfort’ is in the plural. Its repetition indicates the intensity with which it is spoken. The speaker is God, but this raises the question as to who are called on to comfort God’s people. There are two possible answers. Firstly that it is those who are to prepare the way of Yahweh (verse 3), the heavenly beings who speak to each other in verse 6. Or secondly that it is the small group of faithful Israelites gathered around Isaiah and his ministry, the faithful remnant. Or it may be a general command to be obeyed by both. The nations are withering, but the way is being prepared for Yahweh, the great King, to come, and Israel can therefore be comforted.
But the other question is, why can she be comforted? And the answer is, because, if she will accept it, all her tribulations are past, her iniquity is pardoned, she has received ‘double’ for all her sins. They have been ‘doubly paid’, paid in full. In other words she is now in a position where God can show His mercy because of her suffering.
But it was not to be so immediately and later in chapter 53 we will discover that this mercy is in fact shown because of One Who will suffer on her behalf. It is He Who will pay double for all her sins. Isaiah is not under any illusions. He is perfectly well aware that no man can pay for his own sins except by death. That is one of the things he was wrestling with. Thus he in the end comes to the conclusion that Jerusalem can only be delivered because of the price paid by the greatest of her sons. That is why her iniquity can be pardoned, because they will have been borne by Another (53.4, 8). And yet included within that is that she has also been purified through suffering (4.4). Compare the Psalm of Hezekiah (38.15-17). God’s activity has made her ready if only she will see it.
‘Her warfare is accomplished, ended.’ The word translated ‘warfare’ regularly means ‘host, army’ and is so used in ‘Yahweh of hosts’, but therefore it also came to mean ‘war’ or ‘battle’ (Joshua 4.13; 22.12, 33). Here therefore it depicts all Jerusalem’s trouble with which she has battled through the years. It has now been gone through to the full.
‘Her iniquity is pardoned.’ It is not that she has suffered undeservedly. It is because God has stepped in with a pardon (44.21-22). It is already so in the mind of God. The word for ‘pardoned’ is used of the acceptability of a sacrifice for atonement (Leviticus 1.4), and then for general acceptability (Deuteronomy 33.24), for reconciliation (1 Samuel 29.4), and thus for ‘being pleased with’. The idea is therefore that the barrier between God and His true people has been removed. But in the passive (as here) the verb only ever refers to the acceptability of a blood sacrifice (Leviticus 1.4; 7.18; 19.7; 22.23, 25, 27), which points strongly to that meaning here. Once again it connects with the Suffering Servant (53.10-11). They are pardoned through His sacrifice.
Alternately reference may be to Leviticus 26.43, ‘they will accept the punishment for their iniquity’, indicating that Jerusalem has accepted her guilt and whatever punishment has been meted out. But it still required that God would accept it too, which is what is in mind here.
‘She has received of the hand of Yahweh double for all her sins.’ Even Israel would recognise that this could not be strictly true, unless there was more to it than just her own suffering. Isaiah will later point out that it was because One Who was unique would suffer for their sins that this could be so (52.13-53.12). The world for ‘double’ suggests a piece of something doubled up (it comes from the root ‘to fold’) so that both sides exactly match. Thus the exact punishment has been achieved.
It is not therefore out of context that verse 3-4 are cited in Matthew 3.3; Mark 1.2-3; Luke 3.4-6. In the end the preparing of the way was in order to prepare for the coming suffering Servant of the house of David, Who could be called the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father (9.6).
There is no real reason for thinking that this passage should be applied to the ending of the so-called Babylonian captivity (which was only one of a number of captivities), of which Isaiah says nothing. No Babylonian captivity is mentioned and Babylon is only mentioned as a city that must be destroyed because of what it represents. It is unmentioned in chapters 40-42 and hardly prominent in the following chapters. The emphasis is rather on looking forward to the time when the Lord Yahweh Himself, having paid the price of sin through His Servant, will come as a Mighty One, to shepherd His flock and gather His lambs in His arms (verses 10-11), in the everlasting kingdom (compare Ezekiel 37.24).
40.3-5 ‘The voice of one who cries,
Different members of the heavenly court cry out for the carrying out of the verdict described in verse 1 (compare verse 6). The cry here is for another ‘coming out of the desert’ by God, another deliverance, when God will again come to act on behalf of His people. Compare 29.6; 30.27-28; Deuteronomy 33.2-5; Judges 5.3-5 where we have the same idea of God marching out of the desert into the land on His people’s behalf. He is the God of Sinai, coming to call His people back to the covenant, and coming to act on their behalf. And the way is to be prepared for Him. But by whom? Here by Isaiah and his followers, and in the New Testament days, by John the Baptiser.
The picture is of a great king making a journey, with his people going ahead so as to prepare the road and make the way smooth for him. Mountains were to be levelled off, valleys were to be filled in, crooked roads were to be straightened, rough places were to be made flat so that the king could take his journey with ease (this was often literally done). But here the great King is Yahweh, and thus the responders must be His subjects.
The Babylonians could speak similarly of preparing the way for a god. In a hymn to Nebo they said, ‘Make his way good, renew his road, make his path straight, hew him out a track.’ But the thought there was of making a processional way for the god as he was carried in his cart. There was no thought of the god as coming in person.
This call could thus be referring to His angel attendants, those who have already been told to comfort Jerusalem, who would go before Him, gladly serving Him. This would demonstrate heavenly activity on behalf of the people of God (compare Hebrews 1.14). Or it could be referring to the faithful among the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem as preparing the way by repentance and response, by an enthusiastic return to the covenant and the offering of true worship, and by acting as God’s servant towards the people. In the latter case the thought is that they should prepare the way by dealing with all that offends. Once they have removed sin and all that displeases God from their midst He will then come in glory and be revealed among them. This is probably the idea in its use in the Gospels, and in the light of what follows may well be in mind here.
But in general Isaiah sees the way as being prepared for His people, not by them. See 35.8 where it is for those made holy; 42.16 where it is for the blind, making darkness light before them, and crooked places straight; 43.19 where He makes a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert; 55.12 where it is for those led forth in peace. Thus it may well be that we are to see the way for God here as prepared primarily by the heavenly court. God does all. The angels go before Him to prepare the way. His people humbly receive the benefits. (Although this does not prevent man from having some humble part in it). When God acts, His own follow (compare here 62.10-12).
‘And the glory of Yahweh will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together.’ Once the way has been prepared Yahweh’s glory will be revealed (compare Exodus 16.10; 33.18, 22; 40.34). All flesh will behold it (compare Revelation 1.7). And Yahweh has declared it, and thus it will be so. (See 2.10, 19, 21; 4.5; 28.5; 33.17, 21; 60.1, 19-20). So His glory and splendour will be seen by all flesh, and some will wither before it (verses 6-8) and flee for a hiding place (compare 2.10, 19, 21) while His people will rejoice in it and enjoy its splendour (24.23; 60.19-20).
John saw this as fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. ‘And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1.14).
40.6a ‘The voice of one saying, “Cry out.” And one said, “What shall I cry?” ’
Compare here Daniel 12.5-6. Heavenly beings are involved in clarifying what is happening. They are here declaring doom on mankind in his frailty, and the certainty of the fulfilment of God’s word. A Qumran scroll supported by the Greek and Latin versions, has ‘I said’ but there is no known good reason for the change except that it is an obvious simplification.
The heavenly voice is to declare the frailty of men in contrast with Yahweh. Man is as grass, his response to God and to his fellows (chesed - covenant love to God and neighbour) is as withering vegetation, and when the wind of Yahweh comes it withers and fades. Man is unreliable. So man is as vegetation, he withers and fades, but in contrast what God has said, the ‘word of God’, stands for ever. It never withers, it never fades. It is everlasting. In 37.27 this description of man as grass and vegetation is specifically referred to those too weak to stand against Assyria. In Psalm 103.15-16 it is referred to the brevity of life. It represents man in all his frailty.
The wind or spirit of Yahweh here indicates judgments (4.4). Once these come men are unable to stand against them, and their behaviour is badly affected by them. Their changeableness is made apparent. Here the thought is of the effect of the searing wind on vegetation in a hot country, causing it to wither, likening it to the effect of God acting on the generality of mankind.
But in contrast to their fickleness God’s word stands for ever. It never withers or fades. He is unchangeable (see James 1.17). His promises never fail, His purposes always come to completion. He is totally reliable.
The overall thought connects with verse 5 where all flesh sees the glory of Yahweh. But most are blasted over by it. It is only towards His own people that He acts in deliverance.
Jerusalem Is To Respond Like A Town Crier (40.9-11).
Those who have official responsibility for proclaiming good news when it comes, the ‘town criers’ of Jerusalem, are called on to get busy. They are go into a high mountain where all can hear, they are to shout loudly with their stentorian voices. They are to do it without fear, for it is certain of fulfilment. They are to go to all the cities of Judah and cry, “Behold, your God!”
The implication of this is that they are in Jerusalem and speaking to the people of Judah in Jerusalem’s name. There is no thought of exile here. The feminine verbs indicate that they take Zion and Jerusalem as their subjects. Note the progression from the beginning. In verse 1 God cries out. In verses 3, 6 the voices (of heavenly beings) cry out. Now it is Zion which is to cry out through its town criers. All participate in crying out God’s verdict.
‘Do not be afraid.’ This is regularly a preparation for a theophany (Genesis 15.1; 26.24).
This is the good news to be proclaimed to Judah. That Yahweh is coming as a Champion to His people. He will rule by His mighty arm (compare 30.30; 33.2). He has received His reward (His wage) in His people (the Hebrew brings out that it is the reward to Him that is being spoken of), and His recompense for what He has done is before Him. They are the fruits of His victory. For we know that they are His holy ones (4.3; 26.2), His elect on whom He has set His love (35.10 compare 1.27), the weak ones whom He has forgiven (33.23-24 compare 1.25-26). Thus He will reveal His gracious covenant love towards them.
Notice the threefold ‘behold’. They are to behold their God. They are to behold Him as their sovereign Lord Yahweh, their Champion with His mighty arm. They are to behold Him as the One Who has won them and Who treasures them as His reward.
And He has come as their Shepherd. He will feed them as a shepherd feeds his flock, He will gather the lambs in His protective arm where they are safe, He will carry them next to His heart, and have special care for the nursing mothers who are responsible to their lambs. The picture is one of love, concern and protection. He is the good Shepherd (contrast Ezekiel 34.12 where He is the seeking Shepherd).
The Greatness Of God Proclaimed (40.12-31).
And He will be able to do it because of His greatness. In this vital passage the greatness of God to do What He declares He will do is now revealed in all its fullness.
He Is Over Creation.
The first concentration is on the vastness of God as Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. He is the One Who takes the oceans in the palm of His hand to examine their size, He measures the heavens with the span of His fingers. He takes the dust of the whole earth into His measuring jug (literally ‘his third’), picks up the mountains and puts them in His scales, and weighs the hills in His balances.
Water, sky and earth were the three basic constituents of creation in Genesis 1. So all the basic things in creation are seen as coming under His survey, and He is seen to be vaster than them all.
He Is Omniscient.
The next thing about God is His omniscience. No one can teach Him anything. He is all wise, all knowing, all comprehending. No one has given directions to His Spirit, or has been appointed as His adviser and guided Him. He has never sought counsel from anyone, or needed to be taught how to make right judgments, or been given knowledge, or needed to be shown what is sensible and right. It is He alone Who directs the Spirit of Yahweh, and gives counsel and teaches men knowledge and understanding, and shows them what is right.
This is in contrast with the myths of the nations where the gods regularly make mistakes, consult and seek counsel, and have to learn and grow in knowledge and understanding. When the Babylonian god Marduk is depicted as wanting to ‘create’ he did not just act of himself, he sought the guidance of Ea, the all-wise. But they are to recognise that in reality all advice and counsel comes from Yahweh.
He Is Greater Than All.
Look! They should be aware that even the greatest nation is like a drop of water at the bottom of a bucket as God peers in to see whether it is dry, they are like the fine dust which a man flicks off his balances before using them, hardly noticeable and irrelevant. The furthest isles and coastlands are minute in His sight.
If a burnt offering is to be found worthy of God even all the forests of Lebanon are insufficient for fire, nor are all its cattle and small cattle sufficient for a burnt offering. Before Him all nations are but a thing of nought, they are less than a nothing, in comparison with Him they are totally empty of meaning. (The thought is one of comparison and contrast, not an indication that God does not care about them).
He Is Divinely Incomparable.
There is nothing that can compare with God. The gods of the nations certainly cannot be compared with God, for they are man-made. Such an idea is to be dismissed with contempt. They may be splendid, or they may be sturdy, but they will not be moved, either by themselves or by others. There they stay, lifeless and imprisoned on their bases. What care men take over them, and yet they are nothings. And their quality depends totally on whether their maker is rich or poor. (And besides, ‘the tree that will not rot’ will rot in the end). How then can they be compared with Him?
As often when idols are mentioned the description is pragmatic. The idea is that the worshippers may sense something beyond the idols, but that really there is nothing. Both Old and New Testament however go further and say that what lies behind them is devils (1 Corinthians 10.19-20; Deuteronomy 32.17).
He Is Supremely Great Beyond All Things and All Men, King Over All.
The questions are put to mankind as a whole going back to the beginning of time. They have known, and heard and been told right from the beginning, even from the foundations of the earth, that He is the One Who sits on high, the One Who is ‘out of this world’, on His throne. And to them there was only one way of getting out of this world, and that was upwards. God was above and beyond all that they knew. What a contrast to the idols fixed to their bases.
The circle of the earth probably has in mind the course of the sun, rising from the east and setting in the west, and then going below the earth to arise again on the east. Or it could refer to the circle of the horizon. We should not read into this scientific ideas, even ancient scientific ideas. Few asked those kinds of questions. They described what they saw. Such questions were for Babylonian priests who did engage in such speculation, not for small country savants. No one in Judah would have a theory about the world, other than that they knew that God had made the world. They knew that He had made it as it was and they simply described it as they saw it without speculating.
‘Its inhabitants are as grasshoppers.’ This description may have arisen because they knew what the men below looked like from a mountain top, like a bunch of grasshoppers, and knew that God looked down from even higher. Or it may simply be a way of describing man as tiny compared with God.
‘Who stretches out the heavens as a curtain, and spreads them out as a tent to dwell in. Who brings princes to nothing, He makes the judges of the earth as nought.’ That is, God uses the whole known universe as His tent, a temporary accommodation whenever He needs it. What is more, compared with Him great princes and judges are nothings. They count for nothing in the presence of the Judge of all the earth Who always does what is right and needs no assistance in judging (Genesis 18.25).
‘Yes, they have not been planted, yes, they have not been sown, yes, their stock has not taken root in the earth. What is more He blows on them and they wither, and the whirlwind takes them away as stubble.’ Such prince and judges are transitory, here today and gone tomorrow. They are hardly planted, or sown, or take root when God blows so that they wither, and then as stubble the whirlwind takes them away. He is permanent, they are temporary. It is His wind and breath that controls all things.
The main purpose behind all this is to describe the greatness of the Creator and the minuteness of those whom He has created, specially those whom men fear, and to put them into the context of the magnificence of God.
40.25 “To whom then will you liken me, that I should be equal to him?” says the Holy One.’
God challenges them to produce an equal to Him, someone whom they can remotely compare with Him. Someone who is as unique and set apart as He. There is no one that they can even begin to think of, for He is theHoly One.
He calls on them to survey the stars, the host of heaven. They are all His creation. He simply calls them ‘these’. We can compare how the creation story dismissed them in a phrase, ‘He made the stars also’ (Genesis 1.16). But when the sky is full of stars it is He Who has brought them out. And He has a name for every one of them (Psalm 147.4). The naming of a thing indicated ownership by the One Who named. Thus God is claiming that every one of the stars is His. And they are all there, with none missing, because of His mighty power. Whatever men may think and say, they are all His and He has named each one.
‘‘Lift up your eyes on high.’ Compare here Deuteronomy 4.19 where the verb is used of those who lift up their eyes to heaven to worship the star-gods. What folly! Here they are to lift up their eyes above the heavens to see the Creator of the stars, to Whom all the stars belong.
‘Who brings out their host.’ The word for ‘bring out’ is a military term, as is clear from 43.17 and 2Samuel 5.2. It is similarly applied the host of heaven in Job 38.32. The sense is that the stars are like an army which its leader ‘brings out’ and enumerates.
Israel Cannot Hide Their Ways from God.
We note the first use of Jacob/Israel in this chapter, which continues its use from earlier, and is characteristic of the next few chapters. Isaiah does not see God as addressing the refugees of Judah only, He is addressing all Israel wherever they may be. His people are declaring that God does not know their situation, that He has ceased to make judgments concerning them. That their case is continually disregarded by Him. That many of them are scattered in different parts of the world (11.11), and that God neither knows nor cares. The cities of Judah may have had declared to them what God is going to do, but, they ask, what about the remainder?
‘O Jacob -- O Israel.’ The combination of names is a reminder of how Jacob met God as he was returning to the land, and how he became Israel, of how Jacob the supplanter became Israel the prince with God. But now the people, whether Jacob or Israel are discouraged and discontented. They have lost their vision.
‘Why do you say?’ God is upset at their attitude, and He asks them why they say this in the light of the facts. It is in fact not He Who is at fault, but they. He points out that if they had waited on Him, had trusted in Him, it would be different.
His first challenge concerns Himself. Do they not recognise Whom He is? They should have known. They should have heard. But the implication is that they have not. Then He explains. He is the everlasting God, He is Yahweh the Creator of the ends of the earth. Thus He knows all that goes on in the world. And as the Everlasting One and the Creator of life itself He neither faints nor grows weary. He is always on the alert, always aware of what is going on. And He knows and understands everything. Nor can anyone even begin to search out His understanding. He is the all alive One, the living God.
If they had only trusted in Him and waited on Him (verse 31) they would have discovered that He did know their circumstances, and that He was there to act. For to those who are faint, and who trust in Him, He gives power. To those who have no might, but trust in Him, He gives strength. And they should have known it. And if they would only trust in Him now they would enjoy what He has promised, and He would be able to bring about His purposes through them.
What they must do is recognise the power of their God, and turn from sin, and seek Him. Let them wait on Him. And then, even when the youths are fainting and are weary, and the young men at the peak of their powers are failing under the pressure, those who are trusting God will discover that by waiting on God they will fly like eagles, they will run without losing strength, they will walk without fainting. The eagle was famous for the height to which it flew, mounting into the skies until it was only a dark speck. So would rise those who waited on Yahweh, above the world and all its problems, to share their lives with God (compare 60.8; Psalm 55.6). The runner was the messenger, enduring, keeping on running because he had an important message to take. The runner who ran in Yahweh’s name would never grow weary. And the walker was the one who went about the ordinary affairs of life. ‘Walk’ is regularly used to describe the path of the righteous. The one who waited on God would walk and not faint.
So the offer of God is available. They have been faced with God, ‘Behold your God’ (verse 9). He is there ready to reveal Himself, to come among men in His glory (verses 1-11). He has revealed the greatness of What He is (verses 12-26). Let them but respond and His final purposes will come about, and He will give them the strength needed to participate. And the offer is to all both near and far. The whole chapter is a call to Judah and Israel, both near and far, to repent and respond. It is also a vision of what one day will be. First when men behold God in Jesus Christ (John 1.14), and respond to Him. And then in the final day when they will truly mount up on wings as eagles, meeting the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4.13-18), ever to be with Him.
We may rightly see in this chapter an expansion of Isaiah 6. But here we have, not the Lord seated on His throne, but the Lord enthroned over all things,
THE HISTORY OF SALVATION AND THE SERVANT OF YAHWEH (41-55).
Having brought out the greatness of God these chapters will now describe Isaiah’s concept of the Servant of Yahweh through whom He seeks to bring about His purposes. They are split into two main sections each of which is opened by words addressed to ‘you coastlands/isles’ (41.1; 49.1). His message is seen as directed towards the world. The first main section is then split into two parts, 41.1-44.23 and 44.24-48.22.
So we can analyse it has follows:
It begins with the call of Abraham, God’s beloved and true servant, and the rise from him of the great Servant of the Lord. The rise of the Servant then continues, and included within his rise is God’s erection of a new Temple and His judgment on Babylon, and ends with the future activity of the Servant Whose great sacrifice of Himself will bring bout the redemption of His people (Mark 10.45), with, in chapter 55, a description of the establishing of the greater David yet to come, followed by an appeal for response and a declaration of the certainty that what Yahweh purposes will come about. The whole section could be headed by us ‘from Abraham to the Messiah’. It is a history of salvation.
1). The Rise of The Servant Of Yahweh (41.1-44.23).
The first section mainly sees the Servant as Israel. This is because they are ‘the seed of Abraham’ (41.8), although undoubtedly incorporating the idea of the new Davidic king in 42.1-7, for the Davidic king was central to Israel. Following the arrival of Abraham, God’s beloved, in the land (41.2-4, 25) (containing within him, in Hebrew thought, the seed of all his descendants), Israel/Jacob are announced as God’s Servant because they are his seed (41.8). Though they are weak Yahweh is going to raise them up, and make them strong (41.14 onwards). Thus He calls on all now to behold His Servant who will do His will (42.1-7). Here the Servant is, in context, Israel as descended from Abraham, but as headed by their glorious, future, victorious king, promised in chapters 7-11, Who will establish justice in the earth (42.4, 6; 9.7; 11.1-4).
However, at present all is not well. The Servant is revealed as blind and deaf (42.18). But God will redeem them (43.1) and they will then become His witnesses (43.10), for He is going to do a new thing (43.19). He will be with them continually (43.2), He will draw them together from the four corners of the earth (43.6), and as such they are to be His witnesses (43.10). He will rid them of the ever encroaching rulers of Babylon, the opponent of all that is of God (43.14), and will establish them prosperously in His ways (43.19-21). Then He is going to pour out on His Servant His Holy Spirit, totally transforming those whom He has chosen (44.1-5). And because they are His Servant they must remember that He has formed them from the womb that they might be so, and will not forget them (44.21). This part then ends with creation praising God because He has blotted out the sins of His true Servant whom He has redeemed, and rejoicing because He has glorified Himself in Israel (44.22-23).
So the vision is of a people who are the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3.29), who are drawn together by Him (Acts 2.5) and freed from their blindness (2 Corinthians 4.4; Ephesians 4.18), and who together under their King’s activity are to establish righteousness in the world and bring glory to God. It is God’s overall plan in history. It will fulfil His purposes as revealed in Exodus 19.5-6. It will begin with the restoration of His people to Palestine (something much more complicated than just a mere return of exiles from Babylon), will continue with their witness both there and in the Dispersion (the Jews scattered around the world), and find its ultimate fulfilment when the King comes and sends out His messengers to every part of the world (Acts 1.8) where they will proclaim the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 28.31).
2). The Building of A New Temple and the Destruction of Babylon the Enemy of God In Readiness For the Servant’s Activity (44.24-48.22).
However, because Jerusalem and the Temple need to be re-sanctified, a necessity because of Yahweh’s anger (assumed in 39.6-7) and the previous defilement of the Temple (clearly indicated in 43.28), He will first raise up the house of Cyrus to restore both city and temple, which will be followed (at a time not described) by Israel’s everlasting deliverance and God’s appeal to the world to look to Him and be saved (45.14, 17, 22). Indeed this latter will come about because of the former things, which are revealed as having resulted in the coming of the bird of prey from the east, Abraham, the friend and servant of God, through whose seed all this will be accomplished (46.9-13).
As a result Babylon will be destroyed, with all its occult and religious practises (47). But tragically Israel will still be unrighteous, obstinate and stubborn (48.1-4). Yet in spite of that He will not utterly destroy them but will instead refine them through affliction (48.9-10). They are therefore to turn their backs on dependence on great cities, and on magic and the occult, and on all that Babylon has stood for, and all that it offers and represents, and are to flee from her and her magic and idolatry (48.20-21) because Yahweh has redeemed them, and they must no longer have dealings with such as Babylon, a doomed city. Chapter 48 then ends the section despondently because of the current state of Israel. In spite of all God’s Servant is in no state to act. We could head this whole section as, ‘from call to crisis’.
Meanwhile interspersed with all this are constant references to idols and their futility, which are finally to be dealt with by the destruction of Babylon.
That a new Temple would be required was a huge insight. The old was seen as defiled and no longer acceptable. But what Isaiah was not to know was that the new Temple would also prove to be fallible, so that in the end God would have to raise a further new Temple consisting first of His Son (John 2.21) and then of His people (1 Corinthians 3.16; 6.19; 2 Corinthians 6.16) through which His message would go to the world. But he was correct in his instinct that the old must be replaced by something better, and that it was only through such a new Temple that God’s cause could go forward.
At the same time Babylon, the bastion of idolatry, had to be destroyed with its malicious influence. It was not until men turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God that there could be hope for the future (1 Thessalonians 1.9).
3). The Future Work of the Servant on Behalf Of Israel and the World (49.1-55.13).
The next section from 49.1 to 55 begins with a further reference to the Servant. But the Servant is now no longer seen to be all Israel. Rather He has been formed in order to bring Jacob again to Him, and to gather Israel to Him (49.4). He is to raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the preserved of Israel (49.6), as well as being a light to the Gentiles and God’s deliverance to the end of the earth. He is to be raised up as a covenant of the people, to establish the land (or earth) and enable them to inherit the desolate heritages. And kings will see and arise and princes will worship. Yet He is still addressed in 49.3 as ‘Israel’.
Two possible reasons for this exist, not necessarily mutually exclusive. One is that this is speaking to the faithful in Israel, those responsive to God’s word through the prophets, whom God would indeed use as His servant in days to come. The other that it is the coming One, the future Davidic king Himself, the one person who could alone of all men be called ‘Israel’ for He is their representative and speaks in their name, the one to whom they look, the one who is their very life (Lamentations 4.20). And who else could establish the land? Besides there is no need to exclude either, for both are His Servant, both are the true seed of Abraham. We may thus see the Servant in chapter 49 as faithful Israel acting under and through their righteous king. Their work was then later carried on by the ‘congregation’ of Christ (Matthew 16.18) who became the Israel of God (Galatians 6.16) and the new Servant (Acts 13.47) and took His message out to the world (Acts 13.47).
But now we come across an interesting phenomenon. Concentration on an individual. In 50.2 we are asked, why was there not a man (’ish)? Why was there none to answer? And immediately comes the reply and description of One taught by Yahweh Who has gone through much personal, individual suffering at the hands of men but will be vindicated by Yahweh (50.4-9). He is Yahweh’s Servant (50.10). This is followed by the injunction to those who follow righteousness and seek Yahweh to look back to Abraham who was called when he was but one, who then became many (51.2). There is a strong implication here that now at least the Servant is again, like Abraham, one man who will become many, otherwise why the emphasis on the oneness of Abraham?
This is then followed by one who declares the good news to Zion that ‘Your God reigns’ (compare 40.9, but while in 40.9 it was Zion who spoke, here Zion is spoken to). And finally we have the description of one who is Yahweh’s Servant who will be exalted, and lifted up and be very high, who will sprinkle many nations and king’s will close their mouths at him (52.13,15) who will himself come from suffering (52.14), followed by a picture of that individual as enduring suffering and exaltation ‘for us’, and being offered as a guilt offering, so that ‘we’ may be delivered (chapter 53). As the ‘us’ and the ‘we’ are presumably the faithful in Israel, including Isaiah, this Servant cannot be them. The Servant has thus become one individual suffering on behalf of all God’s true people. Here finally we are brought to the fact that if salvation was to be offered it could only be through One who would Himself take on Himself the sins of the world (John 1.29). None other could be sufficient. Only through the offering of this One could eternal redemption be made available (Hebrews 9.12).
Immediately following the description of this crucial work of the Servant is the description of Israel once again being accepted as Yahweh’s wife (54.4) with a righteousness that comes from Yahweh (54.17), and the call to all to drink what is good so that they might enjoy the sure mercies of David and enter into the everlasting covenant (55.3) and everlasting blessing (55.10-13).
With this Davidic connection can we finally see in this Servant any other than the coming Davidic king who will establish righteousness and establish His everlasting kingdom (9.6-7; 11.1-10)? No wonder that when the Ethiopian Eunuch asked of whom Isaiah spoke, Philip preached unto him Jesus Christ (Acts 8.35).
THE RISE TO SUCCESS OF THE SERVANT AND SUBSEQUENT FAILURE (41.1-48.22).
Having declared the glory and power of God as the One Who is supreme over all things (chapter 40) , Isaiah now turns his attention to the way in which He is about to bring about what He has purposed from the very beginning. He has in mind God’s promise to Abraham when he called on him to flee from the land of the Chaldeans (Genesis 12.31) and go from there to the land of Canaan (48.20 is thus a repetition of this). ‘Get out from your country (in the east - Genesis 11.31) -- to the land that I will show you, and I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great -- and I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse, and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed’ (Genesis 12.1-3).
So as God’s servant (Genesis 26.24; Psalm 105.6, 42; see also Exodus 32.13; Deuteronomy 9.27) Abraham comes from the east (41.2) and possesses the land (41.2-3). After which ‘the seed of Abraham my servant’ (Psalm 105.6), the children of Jacob ‘His chosen ones’ (Psalm 105.6) themselves become His servant and are expected to fulfil the promises made to Abraham (41.8). And Yahweh declares that He will be with them in order that they might fulfil this purpose (41.10-20). Thus if the so-called gods want to prove what they are let them do it by themselves confirming what He is saying (41.21-24).
God’s servant has been raised up from the north (41.25), as Yahweh has declared from the very beginning, (although no one else has (41.26)), and he will fulfil all His will. But only Jerusalem will learn the good tidings through His messenger (41.27), for the gods are silent and are ‘vanity’ and in confusion (41.28-29).
And it is at this point that Yahweh’s true Servant will be revealed (42.1-9), consisting of Israel under her King, on whom will come His Spirit, Who will take His message to the Gentiles and will establish justice in the earth and rule over the furthest coastlands.
In the first analysis this Servant is Israel (41.8). But a second glance soon reveals that He is also Immanuel, in view of what He will achieve (42.1-4). For the Spirit will be on Him and He will establish justice in the earth and will rule the nations (42.2; compare 11.1-9; 9.6-7 with 7.14), and He will accomplish all God’s purpose (42.6-7). The Servant is thus both coming King and coming people. Here we have reach the climax of the description begun in 41.1, and of Yahweh’s achievement, and we now go back to see how it will be brought about.
As a result all the nations are to shout out because Yahweh is going forth as a man of war to deliver His people, who will turn back and be ashamed of their dreadful failure (42.10-17). For the fact is that Yahweh had wanted through His people to exalt His Instruction (Torah - 42.21), but Israel had been proved to be a blind servant (42.19) and had been humiliated into captivity by the spoilers and robbers (of Assyria) (42. 22-25). Now therefore Yahweh would begin His restoration of His servant (43.1-7) who were to be His witnesses (43.10). He will ransom them (deliver them from Assyria) by giving Egypt as their ransom and Cush and Seba will be given for them (43.3). And He will further redeem them by removing the influence of Babylon (43.14). And He will re-establish His people in an abundant land (43.19-21), although first He will have to deal with them because they have not called on Him. He will do this by profaning the princes of the Sanctuary and making Israel a curse and a reviling (43.22-28). Then, however, He will pour on them His Spirit and they will call themselves Yahweh’s (44.1-5), for He Who is the first and the last is Israel’s Redeemer (44.6). They therefore need not fear for He is the Rock and He will bring it about (44.7-8). And they need not fear other gods for they are but vanity and are blind (44.9-20).
So Israel is to remember all these things because Yahweh has chosen them to be His Servant, and has blotted out their transgressions and redeemed them, and waits now for them to turn to Him as His servant (44.21-23) which will bring great rejoicing to creation (44.23).
The Raising Up Of God’s Servant (41.1-44.23)
Chapter 41 Isaiah Urges Israel To Be Faithful as God’s Servant.
The first seven verses of this chapter continue the theme of appeal in chapter 40 but as applied to the nations. They are an appeal to the wider world to consider what God has done through Abraham and his descendants and respond to Him. Great emphasis is laid on Abraham. And in Isaiah’s vision they do respond and worldwide love is established.
This is then followed by an assurance to the faithful in Israel, the true Israel, that they are His servant because they are of Abraham, and that He will be with them where they are, enabling them in the fulfilling of their responsibility, and making full provision for them under all circumstances, if only they will respond. This is accompanied by a challenge to the gods of the nations to demonstrate their capabilities, which they cannot do because they are non-existent nothings, and the chapter finishes with one whom God has raised up, preparatory to the introduction to ‘My Servant’.
God’s Appeal To the People of the World (41.1-7).
Note God’s call to ‘the coastlands’. This call to the coastlands (the nations across the seas) is stressed in both sections (see 49.1) where He then describes the activity of the Servant. Clearly the activity of the Servant and the far off nations are closely involved.
God calls to the coastlands (the far off nations across the Great Sea and in the isles) and the peoples (those around Palestine near and far) to be silent before Him, in awe and readiness to hear. And then like His own true people, they are to renew their strength by waiting on Him (as in 40.31). They too are welcome to approach Him. He calls them to advance to His seat as world Judge and Ruler, and once they have come near to Him then they can speak to Him. Then they can consider things together and think over His past purposes and their significance. For He wants them to consider what He has done through Abraham His ‘loved one’ (friend) (verse 8). Let them look at Abraham, ‘the one who loved Him’, the one through whom the whole world will be blessed (Genesis 12.3).
‘Who has raised up one from the east, whom he calls in righteousness to his foot.’ He calls on them to consider Abraham, who was raised up by Him from Ur of the Chaldees in the east (Genesis 11.31; Nehemiah 9.7), the one who believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness (Genesis 15.6), so that He called Him ‘in righteousness’ to His immediate service (to His foot). Abraham was the one who kept his charge, and walked in accordance with all His commandments and laws (Genesis 26.5), walking in righteousness (Genesis 15.6).
In the light of no further information being given and the reference to Abraham in verse 8 the one called ‘from the east’ and ‘in righteousness to His foot,’ would to Israel naturally mean Abraham, (especially as he is mentioned in the context in verse 8). He loomed large in their history and they would regularly hear at their festivals of his arrival from the east (Genesis 11.31; 12.1, 5), coming as God’s Champion, to reveal his power in Canaan against the kings from the north and despoil them (Genesis 14) and to finally conquer Canaan through his descendants, with nations coming from him (Genesis 17.20) and kings coming from his loins (Genesis 17.6, 16; 35.11)
While the word ‘righteousness’ can signify ‘deliverance’ and is often used in parallel with it, it is righteous deliverance that is in mind. Its basic meaning of true goodness and justice, conformity to the norm of God’s Law is so prevalent in Isaiah, along with its meaning of salvation deliverance, that it can hardly be excluded here. Abraham was seen by God as righteous (Genesis 15.6; 26.5). The true Servant was also called in righteousness (42.6). The purpose of both was to bless the nations (Genesis 12.3).
‘He gives nations before him and makes him rule over kings. He gives them as the dust to his sword, as the driven stubble to his bow.’ Nations and kings were not able to stand before Abraham. This applies first to Genesis 14 when the warrior Abraham defeated the four kings from the north led by Amraphel King of Shinar (Babylon), and including the King of the Nations, and also the kings of Elam and Eliasar, (and his readers would not make the distinctions that we would make) and then to the fact that his descendants, and especially David, conquered Canaan and beyond, defeating nations and ruling over kings, with the prospect of worldwide rule (Psalm 2). For his descendants, including David, were seen as having entered Canaan in the loins of Abraham and what they did would be seen as done by Abraham. And Yahweh made Abraham and them glorious so that their sword and bow were very powerful, with the result that the nations melted before them, becoming like dust and stubble.
‘As the dust to his sword, as the driven stubble to his bow.’ Both sword and bow are connected with Abraham’s seed in Genesis 27.3, 40, as common weapons of his day in use by the family tribe.
‘He pursues them and passes on safely, even by a way that he has not gone with his feet.’ Abraham pursues them and goes on safely in a way that he has not gone with his feet. The way that he had not gone with his feet may indicate that the way he took was not one he had previously travelled when he entered Canaan, for this time he went up the King’s Highway; or it may indicate the speed with which he went, without as it were his feet touching the ground, which would fit his speedy chase of the four kings from the four powerful nations admirably. And he came away safely, because God was with him. Or it may refer to ‘going’ in his descendants, thus himself not passing that way with his feet. In that case it was Abraham in the mind of God who did it, although the feet of those who did it were not his own but his seed. Abraham was victorious through his descendants.
This confirms that God has both Abraham and his descendants in mind. He is speaking of a number of generations, all of them called from the very first beginning of the history of salvation (compare Genesis 21.12 and see verse 8 here). Although He may be looking back even further to the first call of man (Genesis 3.9; 4.26). And Who has done all this? Why, Yahweh, the One Who exists over time from beginning to end. Indeed He is the first before all, and He acted through Abraham in the beginning on his first entry into Canaan, and He is ‘with the last’ as is revealed in the victory of Israel/Judah over Sennacherib. Compare His claim in 44.7, where as the First and the Last He is the One Who appointed both the ancient people and the things that are coming.
So Yahweh calls on the nations to recognise the wonderful work He has done through Abraham right up to His people of this day (41.8). Beginning with one man and his family tribe and increasing them until under David ‘he’ became a large empire. And He is with the descendants of Abraham even to this day, driving away Sennacherib by His power. The corollary is that they should respond in awe and follow Him, and recognise that He is Yahweh, the One Who is and the One Who is there.
‘I am Yahweh, the first, and with the last.’ So let the nations recognise Who He is, The One Who is, the One Who is first before all things. The One Who is always there at the end.
‘I am he.’ Not ‘I am’ but literally ‘I he’ (although LXX has ego eimi). Thus not the name revealed to Moses, although hinting at it. It is declaring that He is the One Who has wrought it and done it, the One Who is Yahweh. It is a regular Isaianic phrase.
There are two possible ways of looking at these verses. The first is to see them as the nations finally responding to the work of God begun through Abraham, possibly at first in the empire of David, where they used their skills to good account instead of making gods with them (see 40.19-20) and then by entering into God’s kingdom of worldwide peace, a vision of the future The second is to see them as the nations cowering before the coming of Abraham and fleeing to their man-made gods.
Taking the first interpretation we find the picture as follows. In vision the nations responded. They saw, were afraid and trembled. And then they drew near to Yahweh and came (compare verse 1). This resulted in a new harmony among men. All rivalry vanished and they encouraged each other, all jealousies ceased, all worked together for the good of the whole, all commended each other, all became good neighbours (Leviticus 19.15-18) and brothers. In this case there is a deliberate contrast to the making of idols. Instead of making idols they make what is good (see Exodus 31.3-5; 35.31-35). Idolatry is replaced by skilful workmanship, and it is quality work, fastened securely. It is 11.5-10 in another form, but this time the concentration is on the human, not the animal kingdom.
Many, however, follow the second interpretation and see this as referring to a flight to idolatry, a combined effort of the nations against God. They ‘drew near and came’, but then their response was a decisive ‘no’. Then they combined and sustained and strengthened each other by making idols which ‘could not be moved’, a pathetic attempt to parallel the permanence of the First and the Last. But they were lifeless. Those who interpret in this way see ‘it is good’ as demonstrating that the gods are seen as needing man’s approval (so much for their pre-eminence), and the combined working as proof of the effort that went into idol making, and of the united front of the world against God. Note that they had to strengthen each other in doing it for they received no help from the gods.
This case would be supported by the words ‘that it should not be moved’ in comparison with 40.20, (see also Jeremiah 10.3-4), but it could equally be argued that that is a deliberate contrast, that now what they ‘fasten with nails that it should not be moved’ is that which is good. For the whole atmosphere is one of neighbourliness, of brotherliness, of encouragement, and of skilful workmanship, giving the impression of the transformation of mankind.
The main argument that supports the second interpretation would be that here we have the pattern of what follows, a contrast between, on the one hand, the activity of the Servant, of Abraham and his seed, and on the other the futility of the gods.
God’s Assurance of Success To His People, Weak Though They Are (41.8-16).
He now declares Israel’s unique position. They are His chosen, but not because of what they themselves are, but because they are the seed of Abraham, the one who loved Him, the one who came from the east. They are His chosen ones in Abraham. They are begotten through Jacob. Thus do they enjoy the unique position of being the servant of Yahweh because they are ‘in Abraham’. They are the seed of Abraham His servant (Psalm 105.6). We have already had ‘David my servant’ (37.35). Now we have ‘Israel my servant’. But both come below Abraham, who was ‘the one who loved Him’ (compare 2 Chronicles 20.7 also see John 15.15) and had had directly revealed to him what God was going to do. Abraham is also constantly described as His servant in the tradition (Genesis 26.24; Psalm 105.6, 42; see also Exodus 32.13; Deuteronomy 9.27).
This confirms that the previous verses referred to Abraham. Why else bring Abraham’s name in here? It would not be like Isaiah to suddenly bring his name in and then include nothing further. These words make the most sense if we see them as following a detailed reference to Abraham in verse 2-4.
The use of ‘Jacob’ here (in contrast with Israel) may be intended to indicate their unworthiness. In verse 14 he is called ‘you worm Jacob’, and Jacob was the double-dealer who became Israel, the prince with God. This may especially be being brought out here in the reversion of the names. Always elsewhere in this whole section (40.1-49.26) when the two are in parallel Jacob comes first. But here Israel comes first (contrast this with 44.1 where an almost identical phrase has the usual order). Jacob was chosen because he was the seed of Abraham, but it was in order to manifest himself as Israel, God’s servant. (But see 10.20 where there appears no reason for the order).
Of course the people of Israel were not all literally descended from Jacob. Far from it. Many had originally been adopted into his ‘household’, his family tribe, which itself was composed largely of people, his household servants, not descended from him. They further came from a conglomerate people, from many nations (Exodus 12.38, 48), and were united in Jacob by the covenant at Sinai. So God’s people were made up of people of many nations, as ‘adopted’ by Abraham. But as so adopted they were seen as his seed, and the implication is that they too should love God. Love was at the heart of the covenant (Deuteronomy 6.4-5).
This brings out Israel’s unique privilege. They were called to be a holy nation, a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19.5-6). It was they who should have taken His word to the nations (2.3), and one day would through the Dispersion (Israel scattered among he nations), and then through the Apostles and the foundation Jewish church, but it was dependent on their obedience.
We are already getting the seeds of the idea of ‘the Servant’. David is His servant, chosen by Him to rule over His people who are also called upon to be His servant (37.35). Israel is His servant, chosen to be a witness to the nations. Thus the Servant is one yet many, king and people, fulfilling the purposes of God revealed to Abraham, who was His servant par excellence. Indeed the nation of Israel would have agreed with this way of seeing things. They certainly saw themselves as ‘in David’. He was their very breath (Lamentations 4.20), and this was why the status of the king, whether good or bad, was so important in the books of Kings. And they saw themselves as ‘in Jacob/Israel’ the patriarch, as looking back to Abraham.
Israel has been taken hold of from the ends of the earth and called from its furthest reaches. The primary thought is first of the call of Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees far away, then of the return of Jacob from Haran, and then of their deliverance from Egypt to be called to be His holy nation, His kingdom of priests (Exodus 19.6), so that Yahweh’s purpose through them might be fulfilled. And then of the fact that He will reach out to scattered Israel worldwide and call them to His service (11.11-12). What He has done before He will do again. They are His chosen servant to the nations, and in spite of what they have done He has not cast them away. They are seen in their totality as His servant if only they are willing.
This idea of the oneness of the nation must not, however, be overpressed. They are seen as one because within the covenant, but they are only so because they are in the covenant. Thus in the end the true servant is the body of those who reveal themselves as within the covenant by obedient response to it. They are the true Israel within Israel (Romans 9.6). As with the remnant, it is only the righteous who will survive, the unrighteous will in the end have been pared away (6.13). The fruitbearing branches will be pruned, the unfruiful will be removed (John 15.1-6).
This will become clearer later. In 49.3 ‘my servant Israel’ will minister to Jacob/Israel seeking to restore them to Yahweh (49.6), the remnant thus clearly being distinguished from unbelieving Israel, and in 53 there is only One Who is qualified to represent Israel, a unique personality representing them all in His own person.
There may be implicit within this also the thought that those who have since been dispersed to every corner of the earth may also be confident that they too can be His servant and a witness both where they are and by returning. For they can be sure that He has not forgotten them (contrast 40.27). And certainly those who were faithful among the dispersed did cause many Gentiles to seek God. But Isaiah also expected many of them to finally return to the land of God’s inheritance (11.11; 27.12-13), which must literally have occurred with the faithful once the opportunity arose durint the inter-testamental period, because of the strength of their beliefs.
But the main idea behind the promise is that they will be gathered to Himself. First in the coming of the righteous son of David calling them under the Kingly Rule of God, and finally in the new heaven and the new earth (65.17).
Yahweh encourages His people in their service. If they are faithful they can be sure of His strength and help wherever they are. For He is with them in their situation and those who look to Him will be upheld. Notice, however, that the hand that will uphold them is the right hand of His righteousness. These promises are only made to those who seek to be righteous in His sight. The righteous right hand will only uphold those desirous of righteousness (1.27; 3.10; 10.22; 24.16; 32.17; 33.5, 15), just as He called Abraham in righteousness (verse 2). These promises remain true today. The righteous may look for help to the Righteous One. (The right hand is the hand of power).
The opponents of God’s people will be thwarted. Those who are enraged against them will become ashamed of their rage and will find themselves confounded, those who strive with them will achieve nothing and will perish, so that if they are sought for no one will be able to find them. Those who war against them will be nonentities. And this will be because Yahweh is holding His people’s right hand, assuring them of His constant help so that they need not be afraid. The picture is one of complete protection. But the holding of the right hand is not just for comfort. It is in order to impart strength. His people may go through tribulation but they can be sure that He is always with them.
Even though Jacob is but a worm, he need not fear, for the One Who will help him is Yahweh, and the One Who will redeem him is the Holy One of Israel. Though he is worth nothing, God, as the Holy One of Israel, is willing to pay a price for his deliverance, even as ‘Jacob’. So Jacob is but a worm and the men of Israel are few, that is, they are inconsequential. His people are both the worm Jacob and the few men of Israel. They are as nothing, but they need not fear for if only they will trust Him they will bring the world to nought (verse 13) because God will help them.
The idea of a worm is of one who is totally unworthy (Job 25.6), one who is a reproach (Psalm 22.6). The word used for men regularly means ‘few’, and thus inconsequential, unable to deal with the problem in hand.
41.15-16 ‘See, I will make you a threshing instrument,
But the worm will turn. Yahweh will make him like a threshing instrument, sharp, new and with teeth. The mountains and the hills will be turned into dust and chaff by them. The mountains are their opponents, and they will not only be turned into chaff, they will also be blown away. Then His people will rejoice and glory in the One Who has done it, for He is Yahweh, He is the Holy One of Israel.
Threshing instruments were heavy sledges of timber with stones and sharp metals underneath. They were dragged over the grain to divide it up and separate grain from chaff, ready for fanning with the winnowing fans which would blow away the chaff leaving the good grain.
The final idea is that God’s true people will become triumphant overcoming all obstacles.
God’s Future Provision For His People In The Land (41.17-20).
We have already seen the stress on God’s people as a worm and as inconsequential, now they are seen as poor, crushed under the weight of things (see 10.2), and needy, unable to face life’s challenges (see 14.30). They are like those who seek water and cannot find it so that their thirst takes over, and their tongue is parched and useless. The background may be the journey through the wilderness from Egypt when Israel constantly faced shortages of water, but in hot countries shortage of water is always a problem, especially when it was dependent on rain which was not always abundant, and when invasion may well have destroyed their wells. Thus it refers to their present experience and may well be only a general statement from their own experience. But at this time Yahweh will answer them, and the God of Israel will not forsake them (32.15).
Note that while the stress has been on His people as like Jacob, He Himself is constantly seen to be the God or the Holy One of ‘Israel’. He is not to be looked on by them as the God of the devious Jacob but as the God of the noble Israel (although He is called the Holy One of Jacob in 29.23 in a context where Jacob himself is pictured as watching them).
When His people are in want He will make copious provision for them wherever they may be. The bare heights will become full of water, the valleys full of copious springs, even in the desert and wilderness areas there will be oases and springs. And in those areas abundant trees will grow, provision for God’s people to rest under and find shade. (None of these trees would be well known in Babylon, for Babylon was short of trees. They are trees of Palestine, even if identification is uncertain. They were not uncertain to the early reader because he knew the trees. Thus the writer is in Palestine). And the wonder of it is that they will all be found together. This is fruitfulness indeed, a most unusual situation demonstrating the creative power of the One Who has done it.
And the purpose of it all is that His people might thoroughly know Who and What God is. That they might see in it all, the hand of Yahweh. That they might be aware of His creative power. This reminds us that if we are His all our experiences have this purpose, that we might learn of Him and know Him more deeply.
This picture is the exact opposite of those which depict God’s judgment on the nations. Then the trees are hewn down (10.33-34), the streams dry up and the land becomes desert (34.9-10; Psalm 107.33-34). This thus has in mind the final blessing, as well as God’s provision and protection along the way.
Yahweh’s Challenge To The Gods of the Nations (41.21-24).
Yahweh now lays down His challenge to the nations and to their gods. Let them come as it were before the court and prove their case. Let them bring out their idols. (Note that the idols have to be brought out. They cannot come of themselves). Let them prove themselves, and produce their strong arguments. Let them declare the future, and show what is to happen. Let them explain the past and its significance, and show what will be its results. Let them declare the significance and impact of the coming of Abraham. Let them show the things that are to come from it. Then all will know that they really are gods. This is what God has been doing. Let them do it as well.
This confirms that in this passage God has been speaking of what has happened in the past as well was what is to happen in the future, and the title ‘the King of Jacob’ ties it in closely with the time of the patriarchs, thus confirming that the coming one from the east was Abraham.
‘The King of Jacob’ is a significant title. God is not ashamed to be the king of the patriarch Jacob, to be the king of the worm (verse 14). Indeed He boasts about it. So the nations see His people as nothing, as unimportant, as having something of a past history but as now no longer counting? Well, this is proof that they cannot see the future. Why, He declares, He is their King. Their past is significant. And from that worm will He produce glorious things. And only a ‘God Who is’ could use a worm to establish the everlasting kingdom. But had the gods really been gods, they would have known of it.
The challenge is expanded. These gods not only know nothing, they do nothing. He is going to do something, so let these also at least do something, anything, whether good or evil. Then at least all would be able to be bewildered and dismayed, and behold it. ‘Do good or do evil’ is often seen as the equivalent of ‘do anything at all’.
The assumption is made that nothing will happen, and the argument is now applied. These gods are of nothing, and their work is nothing. Thus anyone who chooses them is an abomination, because they choose an abomination. We are what we choose. Note the strength of language. They are hateful to God.
The Coming One (41.25-42.9).
The theme of the failure of the idols to tell the past and the future continues. They do not know of ‘the one from the north’. Identity of the ‘one from the north’ has produced widely differing ideas. In context there are good grounds for arguing that he must be the servant of 42.1, for the theme of the servant immediately follows.
Some see it as referring to Cyrus in the light of 44.28-45.1. But there Cyrus is God’s shepherd, not His servant, and it would be meaningless to the reader until he came to that chapter. For the idea here is that He is describing someone who is known, someone who is therefore evidence of what He has done. Far better is it to see it as Abraham in the light of verse 2. Certainly Abraham came from both the north (Haran) and from the east (Ur of the Chaldees). And he is specifically described as one who called on the name of Yahweh (Genesis 12.8; 13.4 compare 26.25). And he was certainly disastrous for rulers (Genesis 12.10-20; 14 all; 20 all), including the king of Elam and the king of Shinar (Babylon) (Genesis 14.1, 9). He seems well represented in this description.
(Actually anyone who came from the east in Mesopotamia would come from the north through Syria. It was only Arabs like the Midianites coming across the Jordan who came only from the east).
Opting therefore for Abraham as being clearly described, we must, however, recognise that it is not just as simple as that. Strictly it is talking about Yahweh’s Servant, thus about Abraham and his seed who came into the land in him. It is summing up salvation history in Abraham. Abraham came, and all who came from Abraham were in Abraham when he came. Thus as he entered the land in him came Isaac and Jacob, His servants (Exodus 32.13; Deuteronomy 9.27), and Moses and Joshua (both officially called ‘the servant of Yahweh’), and David his servant (37.35; Psalm 89.3, 20), and in him came the greater David yet to come. As he entered the land they all entered it in his loins. (This was Israel’s way of thinking).
We should note especially that the term ‘my servant’ is used regularly in Isaiah as depicting various descendants of Abraham, and is used of no others. Thus Isaiah is ‘my servant’ (20.3), Eliakim the viceroy is ‘my servant’ (22.20), David is ‘my servant’ (37.35), Israel is ‘my servant’ (41.8, 9), all are His servants in Abraham. And included under the name of David is David’s greater son, Immanuel. For He is the fulfilment of the Davidic hope. (Nebuchadnezzar is called it by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 27.6), but not by Isaiah, and then only as a temporary function, not as a permanent status. Thus application of the title to an outsider would be contrary to Isaiah’s whole usage).
One has come from the north who has been raised by God. Abraham entered the land from the north and ‘went on southwards’ (strictly ‘towards the Negeb’), emphasising that he came from the north (Genesis 12.5-9). So it was Abraham who came, and yet also those who came in Abraham. It was in essence a whole army of descendants. As Abraham advanced on the land he was Yahweh’s Servant, and Yahweh’s future Servant was in him, comprising all who would be servants of Yahweh in the fulfilling of His purposes. In him came Isaac and Jacob. In him came Moses and Joshua. In him came David. In him came Isaiah and Eliakim and Israel. But always having in mind the Servant of Yahweh par excellence Whom Yahweh had promised. He has been spoken of beforetime, even from ‘the beginning’ by Yahweh. But no one else has spoken of him, or has taken heed of Isaiah’s words about him. No one else has recognised Him. He is one who brings good tidings (61.1-2).
Thus he is a figure in the future, and yet he is in the past. When Abraham came into the land of God’s inheritance the future Servant came in him, One who was as it were in his loins (Genesis 35.11). He came as God’s Servant. And no one recognised Him except Yahweh and Isaiah. But Isaiah has proclaimed Him. He will be Immanuel, God with us (7.14), coming in the name of Israel and representing Israel. Thus the Servant is Israel, and especially Immanuel as representing and summing up Israel, the final focal point of the call of Abraham. That is why sometimes we have the idea of a group and sometimes of an individual (50. 4-9; 52.13-53.12). He will fulfil Israel’s destiny.
‘I have raised up one from the north, and he is come, from the rising of the sun one who calls on my name.’ The sun rises in the east, so that this one came from the east and the north. As we have seen this was Scripturally true of Abraham. He was called by God from Ur of the Chaldees in the east, proceeded to Haran in the north, on which he entered the land from the north, and called on the name of Yahweh, and went on going towards the south (Genesis 12.1-9).
‘And he will come on rulers as on mortar, and as the potter treads the clay.’ This is a remarkably picturesque description of the Bible’s account of Abraham’s victory over the four kings (Genesis 14), which included the kings of Babylon (Shinar) and Elam. They were trodden down by him as men tread down mortar, and as a potter treads the clay. To use a more modern idiom, they were as putty in his hands and as the dust beneath his feet. And in him has come his descendants.
So we may also see it as indicating also Abraham’s victories through his descendants, God’s servant Joshua (‘the servant of Yahweh’ - Joshua 24.29; Judges 2.8) when he conquered the land and God’s servant David (37.35) when he trod down the Philistines and all the nations round about. The one whom God had raised up was strong.
‘Who has declared it from the beginning, that we may know, and beforetime that we may say, ‘He is in the right’. Yes, there is no one who declares, there is no one who shows, yes, there is no one who hears your words.’ So Yahweh now issues a challenge as to who else has been able to speak of the significance of Abraham, and of his seed, and of the One Who is coming Who is the seed of Abraham. But there is no one. The so-called gods are unaware of either. They do not know what is happening. No one declares it, no one reveals it and there is even no one who has absorbed the words of Isaiah about Him. They manifest total ignorance.
‘First to Zion, behold them, behold them, and I will give to Jerusalem one who brings good tidings.’ So now the attention is turned on Zion. Yahweh’s first words are concerning Zion. Let all ‘behold ‘them’. These are the ones whom God has raised up to fulfil His purposes. And it was to Jerusalem that He would give one who would bring good tidings (compare 61.1-2). Jerusalem was to be the bearer of good news (2.2-4), and especially through the one whom He sent. But now, Isaiah asks, where is that one? (41.28). There is no one. Among them there is no Counsellor (compare 9.6). The king has failed. The leaders have failed. There is no one who can reply to Isaiah’s searching words, and speak up. They are all show and pretence, and their idols are as bad as they are (41.29).
‘And when I look there is no man, even among them there is no counsellor, who when I ask of them can answer a word. Behold all of them are vanity, their works are nothing, their molten images are wind and confusion.’ So, sadly, among the people of Jerusalem there is as yet no one who can counsel on these matters, and who can speak to God about them. This comment may be in the words of Isaiah as he has sought to find those who will receive his prophecies and teach them. Or it may be God’s condemnation of the people. Either way the matter is summed up simply. They are vain and empty, what they do is worth nothing and accomplishes nothing, and their idols simply produce messages which are empty wind or total confusion. What is therefore required is a new Servant of God Who will be able to give counsel and fully reveal the truth of what Isaiah has been speaking about, acting on behalf of Israel (see 50.2-9).
Note the parallel to this in 50.2-9. Then too there is ‘no man’ and there too the idea introduces the Servant of Yahweh.
It is interesting to consider the significance of the word ‘behold’ in this passage.
Note that at each point the enemies of Israel (verse 11), their false gods (verse 24) and the ‘gods of the nations’ (verse 29) are contrasted with Jacob made mighty by God (verse 15), the powerful words of those who were to arise from Zion (verse 27), and finally with God’s Servant who will fulfil all His will (42.1). The seventh behold indicates the divine perfection of this Servant.
Chapter 42 The Coming Of The Servant of Yahweh
Having stressed God’s gift to the world in Abraham and of His coming to the land of God’s inheritance with the purpose that through his seed all the world would be blessed (Genesis 12.3 and often) there is now revealed one who will fulfil that function to the world, one who had been, as it were, in the loins of Abraham (41.8).
In a very real sense Abraham is the original from which the Servant of Yahweh comes (see 41.8). The Servant is a representation of him and those who were in his loins. The Servant will fulfil the promises given to Abraham. But the ministry of the Servant would not be fulfilled through Abraham directly. The Servant is the later expression of Abraham through his descendants (41.8), and especially through the One who will be the greatest of them all. Thus the Servant is Abraham’s descendants as they fulfil his ministry. He is God at work through history in those called God’s servant, and especially, as the culmination is seen to be approaching, by Isaiah. And He is finally God’s Servant supreme, His coming King.
On the one hand therefore the Servant is potentially depicting Israel. But Israel had failed in its calling and in its potential (41.27-28) and was failing (42.18-25). They were only the potential Servant of Yahweh. Then he is depicting the faithful in Israel (49.3 compare 49.6), the actual Servant of Yahweh, who quietly and faithfully will partly fulfil that potential. Without the faithful in Israel, Israel would not have continued. But finally he is depicting the coming One, Immanuel, in whom all that was good and faithful in Israel would be summed up), the representative of Israel par excellence, the greater David, the focus of the future (9.5-6; 11.1-4). He and He alone could finally fulfil God’s purposes promised through Abraham (52.13-53.12).
The title ‘servant of Yahweh’ (only ever used of Moses and Joshua and in 42.19) or ‘My servant’ (used more often) is a title of great honour. It was reserved for those who distinguished themselves in God’s service. But even the greatest of God’s servants had had their weak points, and they were His servants in spite of it. Thus Israel can be God’s servant even though they are partially blind (42.19). They have a destiny to fulfil. (And Jeremiah could even temporarily call Nebuchadnezzar His servant because he also had a specific destiny to fulfil under God (Jeremiah 27.6). This last remarkable use, although not Isaianic, emphasises the connection of the term with the fulfilling of God’s purposes. But it must be stressed that Isaiah never uses the term Servant of anyone who did not claim descent from Abraham. Nebuchadnezzar was not the Isaianic Servant).
And yet that Immanuel and the Servant described here are in the end identical comes out in the ministry of the Servant. Yahweh will put His Spirit on Him (compare 11.2) He is to set justice/judgment in the earth (compare 9.7; 11.4) and the isles are to wait for His law. He is to be a covenant to the people (compare 55.3) and a light to the Gentiles (compare 9.1-7). This does not exclude the reference to the faithful in Israel, it confirms it. Just as in Daniel 7 the son of man is the covenant people of God, the holy ones of the Most High (7.27), but is also their representative, their Prince, Who comes before the throne of God to receive everlasting dominion (7.13), so is the Servant the faithful in Israel (49.3 compare 49.6), the holy nation of Yahweh (Exodus 19.5-6), but is also the great One Who will represent them and fulfil their function (52.13). No Israelite would have denied this combination. They saw their prince as Yahweh’s anointed, as their very breath, and they would have accepted that he was seen as summing up all that they were. He was them!
This is confirmed in the New Testament. The Servant there is Jesus (Luke 22.37; Mark 10.45; Mark 1.11 compare Isaiah 42.1) and the idea is applied to Him in Matthew 12.17-21; Luke 2.32; 9.35 RV/RSV; 23.35. But the idea is also applied to the early church ministry in Acts 13.47. They too are the Servant of the Lord.
But it may be asked. Why, if the Davidic king is meant here, is there no specific mention of the fact? The answer firstly lies in the fact that the Servant is more than just the house of David. He is the seed of Abraham. Thus he is the fulfiller of all God’s purposes in the seed of Abraham. But secondly it is because of what has been revealed in Isaiah 1-39. One of the prominent messages of those chapters is the failure of the Davidic line (see also Jeremiah 33.26). Isaiah has ceased to have faith in the house of David as currently constituted. Thus in the Servant he presents the spirit of what the house of David should have been, while isolating him from it. They are not to look for a Davidic king on the throne of Judah, but for One Who will come fulfilling the Davidic potential, the Immanuel of Whom he has spoken, the seed of David, but also his root (11.10). And this he makes manifestly clear.
The Servant of Yahweh (42.1-4).
‘Behold my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights.’ It is not a coincidence that this is the seventh ‘Behold’ in the passage from 41.8. Divine perfection has been reached.
As we have seen, as the last in the series this ‘behold’ connects back with what has gone before. The gods are as nothings, and all are called on to ‘behold’ this fact (41.24, 29). But God has raised up one who will act in His Name, one who has come from the north and trodden down rulers (Abraham - 41.25). And from him has sprung Zion. Thus eyes are turned on them, ‘behold them’ (41.27). But no one has arisen from them in order to give counsel or answer a word (41.28). So now God turns their eyes on one who will arise in the future, and says, ‘Behold My Servant’ (42.1).
But who is ‘My Servant’? Israel/Jacob are declared by Isaiah to be His servant and chosen one in 41.8-9; 43.10, 20; 44.1-2; 45.4; 48.10 (compare Deuteronomy 7.6; 14.2; Psalm 33.12; 135.4) because they were in Abraham His servant and are his seed (41.8; Psalm 105.6) These words can hardly therefore be denied to Israel. But it is clear in these passages that Israel as a whole have come short, and that the reference is therefore to the faithful in Israel (at this present time Isaiah and his disciples). It is they who are the true Israel (49.3; see 65.9). In this particular song therefore this is where the emphasis lies. God visualises the faithful in Israel as fulfilling their ministry to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19.5-6). For they stand in for, and spring from, Abraham, God’s chosen servant and friend, as fulfillers of the promises.
But the description also demands that the Servant be their righteous king. No Israelite at this time would have imagined this destiny of setting judgment in the earth and establishing the law of God among the nations unless it were to be under the rule of the mighty Davidic king who was to rule over them for ever as promised by God (2 Samuel 7.13-17; Psalm 2.7-9; 89.3-4, 27-29, 36-37). And in the light of the earlier teaching of Isaiah this meant Immanuel (7.14). The destiny of God’s true king and God’s true people went together (see Jeremiah 33.26). David was God’s Spirit-endued chosen one and servant from the beginning (1 Samuel 16.13 with verses 8, 9, 10; Psalm 89.3, 20; 2 Chronicles 6.6) and this privilege was seen as passed on to his descendants when they were true to God, although it is possibly not without significance that Scripturally no Davidic king after David is described as endued with the Spirit of Yahweh until the promise of the coming One (11.1-2). None fulfilled the potential. The idea leaps straight from David to the coming David.
‘Whom I uphold.’ See 41.10. The word can indicate the exercise of firm but gentle strength. When Joseph wanted to transpose his father’s hands so that the right hand of blessing might rest on the firstborn he sought to ‘uphold’ his hand (Genesis 48.17). When Moses hands were lifted up to enable victory over the Amalekites they were ‘upheld’ by his lieutenants (Exodus 17.12), providing the extra strength needed. In Psalm 17.5 the Psalmist ‘held fast’ God’s path, the idea being of a firm hold. In Psalm 41.12 The Psalmist saw God as ‘upholding’ him in his integrity against his enemies. God is thus here seen as the one standing alongside to help and giving added strength to the Servant in his earthly weakness.
‘In whom my soul delights.’ This requires a righteous servant, potentially at least. God could not delight in one who was unrighteous as He regularly makes clear. It is only as righteous that the Servant can delight Him. These words were specifically applied to the Jesus by the voice at His baptism. The Servant will bring joy to God’s heart, and He will delight in Him and His people. The word regularly contains within it the idea of acceptability. God delights in uprightness (1 Chronicles 29.17). He delights in His people (Psalm 44.3) and in David (1 Chronicles 28.4). See for a similar idea Deuteronomy 10.15; 2 Samuel 22.20; 1 Kings 10.9. But that delight is in those who are responsive to His ways and obedient to His commandments. So it must be here.
‘I have put my Spirit upon Him, He will bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.’ This is so reminiscent of 11.2-5, 10 that it could only be describing the One spoken of there. But not necessarily only Him. Jacob/Israel will also be endued with the Spirit in the glorious days to come (32.15; 44.1-5). So again Davidic king and people are united, in being Spirit endued. The Servant is both king and people, His true people headed up by His true King. The Servant of Yahweh is to be endued with His mighty Spirit. In the Old Testament the enduing of the Spirit always results in visible success. So God’s people will sweep forward under their glorious king. A finer description in so small a space, of the movement of the Gospel, first through Jesus as God’s Servant (Matthew 12.17-21) and then through His Spirit-inspired people (Acts 13.47) would be difficult to find. But it also incorporates God’s final triumph when the nations are gathered to Him as a result of the Servant’s activity.
‘Judgment.’ The word mishpat has varied meanings relating to making decisions on moral and governmental issues. We must not limit it to the exercise of the authority of the judge, although that is very much included. When used in this kind of context it signifies righteous rule as king and judge, right decisions (judgments) and depth of understanding and discernment in God’s Law (verse 4). And note what the Servant was to do, set judgment in the earth so that the isles waited for His Law. It is true that this indicates a Lawgiver supreme Whose Law or Instruction would prevail, but all would have accepted that such Instruction to be acceptable must be backed up by supreme authority, and Israel would undoubtedly have seen that as being the authority of the Davidic king.
‘To the Gentiles (the nations, the peoples).’ No prophet was more universal in his views than Isaiah and as we have constantly seen he fervently believed that God’s purpose in the end was that all nations should come under His rule and receive His enlightenment (e.g. 2.3-4; 19.18-25; 49.6). The Servant has a universal purpose. That purpose continued its fulfilment through the faithful of Israel in the dispersion, and through the faithful in Israel itself as they awaited their Messiah (Luke 2.25, 32, 37), it continued in the ministry of Jesus to the Samaritans (John 4) and to various Gentiles, the Roman centurion (Luke 7.2-10), the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7.24-30), the Greeks who came to Philip seeking Jesus (John 12.20-21), the demon-possessed man in Decapolis (Mark 5.1-20), the feeding of the crowds in Gentile territory (Mark 8.1-10) and was rapidly expanded through the early church, reaching out continually through the centuries to our own day. The Servant, the seed of Abraham, is still at work as we move forward in Him.
‘He will not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and the dimly-burning flax he will not quench. He will bring forth judgment in truth.’ He will not be a complainer, or a rabble-rouser, or a self-propagating orator, or one who is dictatorially demanding, but rather will deal gently and tenderly with the weak and the helpless, restoring the bent and bruised reed, bringing back to flame the smoking, dimly-burning flax, quietly but firmly dispensing justice. The picture is one of someone of great authority, but perfectly controlled and tender. The true servant of God is distinguished by his quiet competence. And central to the fulfilment of his position as ruler and judge will be truth. There will be no deviation, no darkness, no manipulation, all will be true and will reveal truth. The Servant can thus only signify those who hold firmly to God’s truth, and reveal His tender heart.
‘He will not fail nor be discouraged, until he has set judgment in the earth, and the isles/coastlands wait for his law.’ The Servant will continue steadfastly, finally unfailing in the task given him, refusing to be discouraged, until at last righteous judgment and true justice are total, and even the furthest outreaches of mankind are under His Instruction. They will ‘wait’, either in certain hope for His word, or in obedience under the dispensing of His word.
‘Fail’ and ‘discouraged’ are from the same roots as ‘burn dimly’ and ‘bruised’ (verse 3). He will not allow bruising and dimly burning to affect him. He will be steadfast against all difficulties and hardships. It is not that He will not be bruised (53.10), but that it will not be in such a way as to cause Him to wilt. The necessity for these words is demonstrative of the trials through which the Servant will go. His path is not to be easy but He will conquer in the end.
‘And the isles/coastlands wait for his law.’ We can compare here 51.4-5 where ‘a law shall proceed from Me (Yahweh)’ and ‘the isles will wait on Me and on My arm they will trust’. Thus the isles wait for the instruction of the Servant and they wait for the Instruction of Yahweh.
In one sense this is all the result of Abraham whom God raised up and called in the beginning (41.2, 25). This was the purpose to which He called him. And it has all sprung from the call of Abraham. But it is the work of Abraham as fulfilled through those of his seed who have proved faithful to God (41.8-9), and especially through the Greatest of the seed of Abraham, the final Davidic king, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Matthew 1.1-2, 17). This was one reason why Paul so greatly stressed that the true church of Christ are the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3.7, 29; Romans 9.7-8 in context). The Servant is Abraham marching through history to his finest fulfilment in Jesus Christ and His people. The setting of true ‘judgment’ in the earth, which the peoples would undoubtedly see as a blessing, was one of the promises to Abraham and his seed (Genesis 12.3). And it continues to be revealed through His church, the Israel of God.
God’s Charge to His Servant (42.5-9).
We continue to see here the joint ministries of Israel and their coming King, reaching out and drawing men within the covenant and bringing them light out of darkness and release from the captivity of sin.
God now gives His charge to His Servant. But before He does so we have a description of the One Who is giving the charge. It is El Yahweh, the Creator and ruler of heaven and earth, Who is active within them. It is He Who constantly stretches out the heavens, maintaining the day, bringing out the stars nightly under His control. He is the One Who made the earth so expansive, and is the cause of the fruitfulness of the earth. He is the One Who is the source of all life and breath and inward spirit, without whose work they would have no life sustaining source. He is the One Who has provided for and sustains all, without Whom no man would have food or life. And thus He is over all and His concern is for all. And His Servant is here to perform His service on behalf of the whole world.
One important implication behind this was that the host of heaven was of His doing and the fruitfulness of the ground was His work. There was no necessity of, or room for any interference from any ‘gods’, whether in heaven or earth.
Note again the stress on righteousness. The Servant is ‘called in righteousness’, as was Abraham (41.2). He is accepted as righteous by Yahweh and righteousness is required of him. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness (15.6). His initial call was all of God’s grace (12.1) but demanded a response in righteousness and it resulted in him becoming righteous before God through faith. The same was true for His people at Sinai. The covenant, which is here seen as directly connected with the person of the Sevant, was an offer of grace, but it had to be accepted, acknowledging a requirement that they be righteous, both by atonement through the shedding of blood and through subsequent obedience. David too was a man of righteousness (1 Kings 9.4). Thus the continual requirement for the Servant is righteousness and acceptability to God and obedience to the covenant, and until Israel are righteous they cannot be His effective Servant. Indeed in the end their being accounted righteous, when they are, will be the result of the work of Another (53.11), the Servant supreme, because they cannot make themselves righteous.
‘And will hold your hand, and will keep you.’ Every one who walks as one with The Servant will be able to know that God walks with him and ‘holds his hand’, that is, walks alongside him. But it will especially be true of the One Who could say, ‘I a My Father are one’. The holding of the hand is in order to demonstrate that God is with His Servant and working through him, so that he need not fear. It is an expression previously used of ‘Israel - My servant’ (41.13 with 8). It is in order to demonstrate that he can know that he is being guided by Him (Psalm 73.23), and will be delivered from danger and from the darkness. The angels held Lot’s hand when they delivered him from danger (Genesis 19.16). God will also hold Cyrus’ hand when He is using him as His shepherd (45.1). It denotes God’s control. It is a strong hand. ‘And will keep you.’ The word means to preserve. See Deuteronomy 33.10. Thus the Servant can be sure of the closeness of, and the protecting and confirming presence of, God.
‘And give you for a covenant of the people.’ The basic idea is that God’s covenant of grace and mercy will be extended to the nations through the Servant who will be its guarantee and mediator. There was a very real sense in which Israel as God’s covenant people could offer that covenant to the world, but in the end it was most full offered in Jesus Christ, Who as the Servant came to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10.45). He contains within Himself all that is the covenant. He is the fulfilment of the offer in the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12.3), and this also has in mind the extension of that covenant in the covenant with David (2 Samuel 7.13, 16), and the Davidic covenant promised in 55.3. David was the guarantee to his people of God’s care and protection through his house by an everlasting covenant, the sure mercies of David, which nothing could rescind. And that covenant was revealed as something that would become worldwide because of the promise to the Davidic King of the future, of worldwide dominion (9.7; Psalm 2). It may be suggesting that the Servant as the greater David will renew and extend that covenant and offer it to the nations (55.3), a guarantee that those who respond to Him will enter into a covenant relationship with God (which would eventually be revealed as through His blood of the new covenant shed for the remission of sins - Matthew 26.28).
Or the thought may be that the nations will be able to enter the covenant of Abraham through uniting with his seed, the Servant, who represents the covenant, and becoming one with them by adoption, thus being guaranteed membership of the covenant. This indeed is what happened to new Christians who were adopted through baptism into the Apostolic (and thus by source Jewish-Christian) community of the people of God and became members of the Israel of God on their conversion (Galatians 6.16), in a community where there was neither Jew nor Greek, but all are one in Christ Jesus, all are the true Israel (Ephesians 2.11-22). For the covenant with Abraham contained within it from the beginning the fact that through him and his seed the whole world would be blessed (Genesis 12.3; 26.4-5), and it too was an everlasting covenant (Genesis 17.19).
Yet we do not have to choose between them, for in the end there is only one covenant, even though it has many facets. It is God’s covenant with His own, continued and expanded through the ages, for God is unchanging.
‘For a light to the Gentiles, to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, and those who sit in darkness out of the prison house.’ The Servant would through the covenant bring light to the Gentiles. This was a primary work of Immanuel (9.1-6). But this was also to be the work of the spiritual in Israel (49.6). The blind eyes of the nations would be opened, they would be released from their dungeon chains, they would come out of the darkness of the prison house into the freedom and light. They will no longer be darkened in their understanding and alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that was in them because of the hardness of their hearts (Ephesians 4.18). For they will have received light.
‘I am Yahweh. That is my name.’ This is not just the announcing of His name, it is drawing attention to Who and What He is. The name was seen as indicating character and being. And He is Yahweh, the One Who has caused to be from the beginning, the One Who will be, the One Who is there.
And being Yahweh, the living, active God He will not allow the credit for what He has done, ‘the former things’, in the raising up of Abraham and David, and what He is going to doing to do, ‘the new things’ that He is now declaring, in the effective choosing of the greater David and spiritual Israel, to go to anyone else. Certainly not to graven images. The glory belongs to Him and to Him alone.
So far from this Servant song being an independent unit we find that it is an essential part of the context (although there is nothing to stop it being both, a sacred song incorporated into a context, and yet a part of that context).
A Further Song of Deliverance And Judgment (42.10-17).
Following on the revelation of the Servant comes the joy of the nations in seeing God at work though Him. In this brief section movement is rapid. The righteous will sing for joy at their deliverance, but God will shout His battlecries against the ungodly. He will introduce judgment with the earnestness of a woman in labour, and will bring drought upon the world. He will make easy the way of His chosen ones, but those who trust in idols will be turned away and be greatly ashamed.
In one sense this is the process of history, the advancement of God’s good news, and God’s continuing acts of judgment against unrighteousness. But in the final analysis it looks to the final triumph, and the final judgment of the wicked.
The Song Of Triumph and Praise (42.10-12).
The certain success of the Servant is now made clear. The whole world is called on to give praise. Those who are at the end of the earth (north), those who go down to the sea, and those who are in the distant coastlands across the Great Sea and beyond (west), those who dwell in the cities in the wilderness, and those who live in Kedar’s tent villages (east), and those who dwell in the rocky clefts (south - probably Sela in Edom. Obadiah 1.3 in his burden against Edom speaks of those who dwell in the clefts of Sela). The point is that all will be rejoicing, north, west, east and south, in every furthest and most obscure place, even the dry places in the wilderness, because of the work of the Servant.
They will sing to Yahweh a new song. It is a new song because of the new things that are happening. They will give Him praise, they will lift up their voices, they will sing, and those in the clefts of the rocks will shout from the top of the mountains and give glory to Yahweh, while those in the islands and coastlands will declare His praise. For the Servant is triumphant and his words and work will hold sway over the whole world, and they rejoice in it together. We may rightly see this as the result of the spreading of the Gospel by the early church, as the peoples rejoiced over the Good News that they had received (Acts 13.52), and as occurring through His church today, but in the end it depicts the introduction of the heavenly reality in the new heaven and the new earth, the everlasting kingdom. The one leads into the other.
The Judgment That Is Inevitably Coming (42.13-15).
As often in Isaiah we move to the contrast. On the one hand glory, on the other judgment. While the Servant is bringing about the Kingly Rule of God, and the redeemed are singing their song, and shouting in rejoicing from the mountains, God will also be visiting the world in judgment, and shouting out His battlecries. It is described in terms of a Champion going out to war. He will go out like a warrior, He will stir up zeal in Himself, like soldiers stir up each other’s zeal before the battle, He will call out against the enemy, yes, He will shout His battlecries, and then He will battle mightily against His enemies, bringing them to destruction and defeat. Again it will occur through history but find its final fulfilment at the end of time, for Isaiah is not depicting particular events, he is describing what God will do when He chooses to act.
From the moment when man first fell, and even from before, from His awareness of that in eternity, God has waited for this moment. He has been still and restrained Himself from acting, but now the time has come to bring judgment to birth, and like a woman in labour He cries out, He pants, He gasps, all at once. The end of all things is at hand, and God is constrained until it is fulfilled. Never was moment so important.
Compare the description of the judgment of the earth in 24.1, 3-5, and of Eden in 34.9-10 and contrast 35.1, 7. Here the cause of it all is drought. The vegetation in the mountains and hills will be dried up and the mountains made like a waste place, the river levels will drop resulting in large islands where once there was water, and the pools will dry up and become empty. The rain has not come and the land is bare and desolate. So, while for the people of God there is blessing, (often described in terms of the exact opposite of this), for the unbelieving world there is only final judgment.
But The Chosen Will Be Led Into The Light By God Through The Servant (42.16).
While God is going forward in judgment He will not forget His own. This is God’s preparation for that day, and describes God at work through the Servant (see 49.9-11). The blind will be led by him safely through their darkness in ways and paths that they do not know because they cannot see. The visual image of blind men being led along was a common one, and is used here of the guiding of men towards light by the Servant. For walking in the way compare 35.8. Life before God is often spoken of in such terms. It is a daily walk. And then at last the darkness will be made light before them, and they will see.
In 42.19 the question is, ‘Who is blind but My servant?’. So here the Servant also is ministering to that part of Israel who were blind, just as in 49.6 he will ‘raise up the tribes of Jacob’.
‘And the crooked ways will be made straight.’ This latter is the same as happened to the route that Yahweh took in 40.4. It is a way prepared for conquerors. It is a way made easier by the Servant. And over all is the promise that He will do this and will not forsake them. God’s deep concern for them is revealed.
There may be behind this a reference to the Exodus. Then Israel stumbled along like deaf and blind people, led by His servant Moses, and God made darkness light before them, leading them in a pillar of fire, and He straightened the crooked way, and brought them safely through, never forsaking them in spite of their deserts. And He will ever do the same for those whom He draws to Him.
Idolaters Will Be Turned Back And Will Be Greatly Ashamed (42.17).
In contrast to those who see are those who are idolaters. To the cry ‘behold your God’ (40.9) they reply ‘you idols are our gods’. God does not so much have deep concern for them (they have forfeited that), but deep concern about them. Their end can only be disastrous for they are trusting in nothings. This can only result in their discomfort and shame. Instead of going forward confidently like the blind led by the Servant they will be turned back and discomfited.
The Sad Present State of God’s Servant, The Seed of Abraham (42.18-25).
The glory of the future is now brought down to earth by a recognition of the present condition of God’s servant. In contrast to the glorious future depicted for the Servant, ‘his’ present condition is seen as disastrous. The advancement of God’s purposes through Abraham have almost come to a halt. Abraham is not advancing forward triumphantly in his seed, instead they are stumbling along blindly (what a contrast to verse 16) unable to help themselves, never mind others. God’s Instruction is not being magnified, it is being ignored.
42.18 “Hear you deaf ones, and look you blind, that you may see.”
So God calls on the spiritually deaf and blind to recognise their true situation. Let them hear. Let them see. For only then can His purposes can go forward.
The sad present state of ‘the servant’ as represented by Israel is being brought out as God addresses the world. It is done in such a way as to emphasise to the world why they have no messenger, while at the same time stressing to the servant his true condition, that he is culpably blind.
He first speaks to the world. His servant is blind, His messenger is deaf. Of what use is a blind servant, a deaf messenger they may well ask? God has a message to send to the nations, but the messenger is deaf, he will not hear it. How then can he pass it on? And he is blind, how can he even come to them or reveal anything to them?
Then he turns His attention to His servant. The sad truth is that though they are His dedicated ones, (they still claimed that, for they were dedicated ‘in Abraham’), they are blind, and though they are His servant, they are blind. Note the deliberate emphasis on blindness. No word of deafness here. They are blind, blind, culpably blind. ‘You see many things, but you do not really ‘see’ them.’ In other words, your minds are blinded because your hearts are hardened.
Then comes a further comment thrown out to the world. ‘His ears are open but he does not hear.’ This very divorcing of the deafness from the previous comment reinforces the message of blindness as spoken to the servant. Yes, the Servant is deaf, wilfully deaf. That is why he cannot speak to the world, because he does not hear God’s words. But his central root problem is his blindness. He does not even comprehend. His eyes are closed.
God’s purpose for the nations was that His Law, His Instruction, should be magnified before them and revealed as honourable, as glorious, so that His righteousness might be upheld. But the purpose has been held up. The servant who should have been revealing it to the nations has been robbed by the roadside and despoiled. They are cowering in holes, they are hidden in prison houses, they are treated as a prey. No one delivers them. For they have turned from the One Who could.
So the servant has been handed over to spoilers because of sin and disobedience. He was in no condition to deliver God’s message, and indeed had had no intention of doing so. That is why he has been despoiled. Some were hiding in holes out of fear of the enemy. Others had been taken and put in prison houses. Many were in exile. All were a prey, victims waiting for the lion or bear to do his will. They are themselves the spoil, for everything has previously been taken from them. No one demands their restoration. They are friendless. Abraham’s representatives are in a parlous condition. But why has this happened?
The question is now put as to who will listen to the explanation of why, if they are Yahweh’s servant, they are in this predicament. Why are Jacob in the hand of spoilers, why are Israel in the hands of robbers? It is important for the sake of the time to come. The problem needs to be sorted out.
The answer is given. It was Yahweh Himself Who has done it, for they had sinned against Him and would not obey His Law. That is why all that has happened, has happened to them.
Note how Isaiah does not exclude himself from the sins of the people. ‘We have sinned.’ Since his inauguration in chapter 6 he was ever aware of his own sinfulness. But then he distinguishes his own walk from theirs. It was they who would not walk in His ways. He at least sought to walk with Him and be obedient to His Law.
So it is because of their sin and rebellion that they are experiencing the fury of His anger being poured on them, (rather than receiving His Spirit (32.15)). This is why they have had to face fierce battle. And yet although they have been set on fire round about, and burned, they still do not face up to what they have done, they still do not lay it to heart. What is to be done?
Chapter 43 God’s Redemption and Deliverance For His People.
Having described the condition of His people God now goes on to declare what He will do for them. He will redeem and deliver them. He will gather their exiles from every part of the world. For they are His witnesses. None can deliver out of His hand. He will do what He will. Thus even the upstart Babylon will be taught a firm lesson, and its leaders, who even now oppress His people under the authority of the Assyrians, will have to flee for their lives. For Yahweh is going to establish His people in a land of abundance and blessing, free from all outside interference.
God Has Created and Redeemed a People for Himself Whom He Will Love And Protect (43.1-7).
Suddenly again prospects change, for God’s purposes are sure. Yahweh is the creator of Jacob, and the One Who formed and lovingly shaped Israel. It was He Who called Abraham and brought them forth from him, as a new creation, shaping them to His purposes. As ever the true, spiritual, responsive Israel is in mind. (God constantly makes clear that those who reject Him are not of His people). He will not therefore leave them in the situation which their people have brought on themselves. That is not why He made them.
That is also not why He redeemed them from Egypt by the expending of His power, or called them by their name, seeing them as His firstborn and demonstrating that they were His. Rather will He bring them out of that situation. Indeed it is because of this that He will now act on their behalf in delivering power, for they are precious in His sight (verse 4).
Also included in the idea of redeemed may be that Israel were His firstborn son (Exodus 4.23), and therefore had to be doubly redeemed with the redemption of the firstborn through the offering of a substitute (verse 3).
When Israel had passed through the Reed Sea during Yahweh’s deliverance of them from Egypt, they had passed through its waters and they did not overflow them. So it will be in the future. He will act again for them. Whatever they face, whether fire or water, they will be safe. The overflowing of water had been used to depict the overflowing of their enemies against them (8.7-8; 17.12-13; 28.2 compare 59.19), as had the picture of fire (9.18-21; 4.4). But this would no more be. Neither waters nor flame would touch them in their future, for He would be with them.
Water and fire are traditional symbols for suffering which when used together express totality of suffering (see Psalm 66.12; compare also Psalm 32.6; 42.7; 66.12; James 1.2; 3.6).
And this is because of Who He is, and because He is acting on their behalf as their Redeemer. For He is Yahweh the One Who is, The One Who will be what He will be (Exodus 3.14). And He, the unique and totally separate One, the pure One, the Holy One of Israel, is their Saviour, their Deliverer.
Moreover such is His love that He has sacrificed nations for them, giving Egypt, Cush and Seba for their ransom. What a price. Great Egypt plus mighty Cush plus wealthy Seba. And handed over in return for little Israel. This suits best the time when Cush was a dominant force in Africa, and thus the time of Isaiah, not the time of Babylonian supremacy. Seba is possibly the same as Sheba, or connected with it, who seemingly had close connections with Cush across the Red Sea. Alternately some see it as referring to a people in Upper Egypt between Egypt and the Sudan. Compare how in Genesis 10.6, 7, Cush was the brother of Mizraim and the father of Seba.
Possibly he saw the price as being paid to Assyria to take the heat off God’s people. For while Assyria were taken up with their invasion of the African peoples the pressure on Judah would be the less. Or perhaps the thought is of the Cushite/Egyptian army defeated at Eltekeh, possibly along with Arab allies, sacrificed in the course of delivering Jerusalem. And much later Assyria would sack Thebes, and would also slaughter the Arabs. Or perhaps he is going back to the Exodus (see 10.7) when the plagues that came on Egypt were produced by awful weather conditions which would also affect the nations further south, all sacrificed in the deliverance of His people.
‘Since you have been precious in my sight, honourable, and I have loved you, therefore will I give men for you, and peoples for your life.’ Note the tenderness of His words. His heart still reaches out to them. Israel were His own people, chosen and loved in Abraham and the fathers (Deuteronomy 4.37; 7.7-8; 10.15), and destined to be a holy people and a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19.5-6). He had entered into covenant with them at Sinai, where He had revealed that love. So they were precious to God, and seen as honourable in the status that He had given them, so beloved of Him that He was willing to sacrifice others, both men and peoples, in order that they might be spared the worst excesses. Always He prevented them suffering as much as they deserved (27.7).
The same is true for all whom God loves and on whom He sets His name. He will protect and bless them and finally gather them to Himself. For all who are His are Abraham’s seed and recipients of the blessings of God’s promises to Abraham.
Again Yahweh repeats that He is with them (see verse 2). ( Literally ‘Because with you I’, God with us). And then He promises the restoration of all of true Israel from every part of the world. To men, even to Israel, they seemed lost, swallowed up by the nations, but it is not so. Each of them who is the elect of Yahweh, and faithful to Him, is known to Him, and He will restore them (compare 11.11-12). Both north, south, east and west would give them up at God’s command.
Such a restoration did literally later take place in part in later times, but the root thought is more on the fact that they are not lost to God’s sight, and will be gathered together to Him, and in Acts 2 it is stressed that there were gathered together His people, ‘devout men’, from every nation under heaven (Acts 2.5), to witness, and take part in, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. The writer in Acts probably had these Old Testament ideas in mind. But its final fulfilment awaits the last day when He will gather together His elect from the four winds at the rapture (Matthew 24.31; 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18). Then indeed will full restoration take place. For Isaiah constantly speaks of trends which will lead up to the final result.
Notice that it is not all Israel, but those who are called by His name, those whom He has created for His glory, those whom He had formed and shaped, who would come. In other words it is the true spiritual Israel, the elect, the redeemed, the remnant prepared for Himself, the holy seed (6.13), those not ‘cut off’ because of covenant disobedience. The ideas are a repetition from verse 1.
Once again we must recognise that the prophets had to convey truth through symbols which had meaning both to themselves and their listeners. How else other than in this way could they convey the truth that of those who are God’s true people, created and shaped by Him, not one of them will be lost wherever they are scattered, and all will enjoy His kingdom.
God Declares That Only His People Can Be Witnesses to What He Is (43.8-13).
The call now goes out to any who can do what Yahweh has done and give an explanation of what of significance has happened in the past. This is especially so with regard to Abraham and his seed, and the giving of God’s covenant and Law, the point being that the world has failed to recognise their importance.
‘‘Bring forth the blind people who have eyes, and the deaf people who have ears. Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the peoples be assembled.’ The call to gather to give their witness is sent out to the nations and peoples. But they are described as blind while having eyes and deaf while having ears. That is, they do not ‘see’ or ‘hear’ the truth. They are blind and deaf to truth. God is calling together the deaf and the blind to give judgment! It is intended to sound ridiculous. The description may also be intended to include the unbelieving of Israel.
‘Who among them can declare this, and show us former things? Let them bring their witnesses, that they may be shown to be right.’ The question is, which of them can explain anything that has happened in the past that is of heavenly significance? If they claim to be able to, let them produce their witnesses of such happenings, so that they can be shown to be right.
‘Or let them hear, and say, “It is the truth”.’ Or alternatively let them now listen to God’s witnesses and testify to their truth, acknowledging that He is right.
This takes up from verse 7 (with verses 8-9 referring therefore to those whose eyes and ears and ears are closed to Yahweh, to the nations and the unbelieving in Israel).
God does have His witnesses. They are the Servant whom He has chosen. The fact of God’s choice of His true people is constantly stressed. They were not chosen because they were mighty, nor because they were worthy, but simply because God set His love on them and elected to choose them, and for the sake of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to whom He had made His promises (Deuteronomy 7.6-8). And He chose them so that they might know and believe Him, and understand Who and What He really is. This was why He called Abraham, that He might produce from him a seed which would be God’s witnesses to the world. Abraham believed God (Genesis 15.6), and his seed are to follow in his train (Exodus 14.31; Numbers 14.11; Psalm 106.12 contrast Psalm 78.22).
‘That you may know and believe me, and understand that I am He (literally ‘I He’).’ The knowledge of God was specifically revealed to His Servant in Exodus 6.3, 7 (Yahweh means essentially ‘He is’ or He will be’) under the equivalent of the name of ‘I am’ (Exodus 3.13-15). God’s concern is that they might know, believe from the heart, and understand deep within, the reality of the name and of the One Who bears it.
‘Before me there was no God formed, nor will there be after me.’ This is not saying that God was ‘formed’, it is declaring that there have been no gods formed either before or after Him. For He is before all things, and there are no other gods, nor will there ever be.
Indeed He is Yahweh, the One Who is, and there is no other god who can save in any way apart from Him. Thus all idea of other gods is excluded. It is a clear statement of monotheism.
43.12-13 “I have declared, and I have saved (delivered), and I have shown,
His people can know and believe and understand (verse 10) because He has declared, and saved, and shown. He ‘declared’ His name to Abraham (Genesis 15.7), to Moses (Exodus 3.13-15; 6.2, 29) and to His people at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20.1). He ‘delivered’ His people from Egypt and through the wilderness, and into the land of Canaan, and beyond until under David they ruled the whole area from the River to the Wadi of Egypt. And He had constantly ‘shown’ His power throughout their history, and especially in the deliverance from Sennacherib.
‘And there was nothing strange among you.’ That is, no strange gods or supernatural influence of any kind apart from Him (compare Deuteronomy 32.12). It is the picture of the ‘ideal’ Israel. For He had delivered them from such folly. This was initially so when He first spoke to them, and always so when they walked in obedience to Him, for they had continually had to put away their strange gods (Joshua 24.2-3 with Genesis 12.1, 7-8; Genesis 35.2-3; Exodus 20.3-5, 23; Joshua 24.23; Judges 10.16).
Thus were they witnesses to what God had done and Who and What He was, and what His purposes were.
‘And I am God, yes, since the day was I am He.’ (Literally ‘yes, from the day, I He’). Thus it could mean ‘from the very first day (or the beginning of time) I am He’ or ‘from this day forward I am He’, or ‘at this very day I am He’. Or it may signify the whole course of time looking from the standpoint of the present (from the day looking backwards and forwards). The idea is clearly that in whatever period of time is being described Yahweh alone is God.
‘And there is none who can deliver out of My hand. I will work and who will hinder it?’ Added to that fact is His divine sovereignty. None can deliver from His hand, but He Himself can deliver from any hand and any situation, and none can prevent it. And He can do what He will.
Included In His Redeeming Activity Will Be His Judgment on The Pernicious Influence of the Rulers of Babylon When He Will ‘Bring Them Down’ As Fugitives In Their Ships (43.14-21).
Having declared how Yahweh is going to use Egypt and Cush as a ransom in order to rescue Judah, and how He is going to bring all the worldwide exiles from every part of the world (verses 5-7), Isaiah now briefly turns his attention for the first time since chapter 39 to Babylon. He saw them as standing there as a threat from which God’s people need to be ‘redeemed’, a threat arising from what it has always represented, but enhanced by the fact that it had become a centre of operations for the Assyrians. So Yahweh will redeem His people from under the influence of Babylon, and exact vengeance on them also, by scattering them. He will remove the threat of Babylon.
If we wish to understand what Isaiah is saying here we must first try to climb into his shoes. We must ask, how did he at this time view Babylon? There is in fact no hint here of an independent Babylonian empire or of exiles. We must not read the later Nebuchadnezzar in here. His concern here is with the trouble that Babylon are being in one way or another to His people at this point in time, and we see from elsewhere in Isaiah that it is their religious influence that is the continual problem (47.9-13) from which Judah is to flee (48.20-21). What then is the background?
In chapters 13-14 Babylon was revealed, not only as one of the conspirators against Assyria, but as the enemy of all peoples. It may have at times been in submission to Assyria, but it was still in some ways the great earthly rival to God (13.19). It spoke of all that was contrary to God in the world. With its blasphemous kings (14.12-14) its pernicious influence reached out to the world. And as chapter 47.8-15 reveals they were to be seen as the source of much of the false religion that was besetting God’s people. This in fact ties in with what Isaiah knew from the traditions of his people of how Babylon had from the first been the enemy of all men. It had established the first empire in connection with Assyria (Genesis 10.10). It had caused the scattering of peoples throughout the world and been the builder of a tower into heaven (Genesis 11.1-9). It had sought to threaten Abraham’s land (Genesis 14.1). It had always been a rebel. And then God had made him aware of the ultimate threat of Babylon, partly incited by the visit of ambassadors to Hezekiah (39.1-4), a visit that had filled him with dread. As he informed them, Judah could be sure that Babylon would only seek to swallow up His people and take possession of their wealth (39.6-7). So he would see anything that came from the direction of Babylon as a major threat, and it is probable that in his later days Assyria were actually exercising their influence over Judah through Babylon, for Esarhaddon has rebuilt it and when Manasseh was arraigned he was taken there.
Note On The Influence of Babylon at This Time.
While we do not have any knowledge of any depredations against Judah by Babylon in the days of Hezekiah, especially in the times when it was free from the Assyrian yoke (in for example 721-710 BC, and around 705 BC and after), there may have been some, for Isaiah clearly saw their influence as undesirable, and was afraid of it, and we do know that later, under Assyrian rule, Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son, was taken as hostage to Babylon. This could surely only be because at this time Babylon was in some way acting as Judah’s overseer on behalf of Assyria. And this hostage taking could only have resulted from reprisals for an unsatisfactory response to Assyria’s approaches. It is quite possible that at the time when Manasseh was seized there would have been much looting and possibly grave damage done to the Temple by the Babylonian troops with a view to obtaining what silver and gold was left in it (2 Chronicles 33.11), for we can hardly doubt that Jerusalem would have put up some resistance, especially when they remembered what had happened the last time it was surrounded by the forces of the king of Assyria.
Nor need we doubt that Babylon, as a branch of the Assyrian empire, posed a continual threat and menace to Manasseh throughout his reign. For Esarhaddon, Sennacherib’s son, had been made crown prince of Babylon, and when he became King of Assyria, his son Samas-sum-ukin in turn became the prince of Babylon, and in time even sought to establish himself there independently as king. It would seem therefore, in view of what happened to Manasseh, that, under Assyria, Babylon under the crown princes had at this time some kind of jurisdiction over Judah, and was very much affecting its welfare.
Thus we can be sure that at times through this period the belligerency and influence of Babylon was exerted against Judah. It may have happened in the periods when Babylon was independent, but it would probably be more so when they were under Assyrian rule. And with that belligerency would go the attempt to make them conform to the superstitious practises connected with Babylon (47.12-13).
This is why as His people’s Redeemer Yahweh purposes swift judgment on Babylon. They are not to be allowed to continue to menace or influence His people. But note that there is here no mention of exiles in Babylon. Babylon is not seen by Isaiah as a major recipient of exiles. The importance of Babylon to Isaiah was not the much later captivity of Nebuchadnezzar, of which he gives no hint, it was in what Babylon represented, and the influence it exerted during the reigns of Ahaz, Hezekiah and Manasseh. As chapter 47 will make clear, Babylon was the stronghold of idolatry and widespread occult activity. It was they who had formed the world’s first empire (Genesis 10.8-11), and built a tower to heaven and caused the world to be divided (Genesis 11.1-9). And even now the tentacles of their influence reached everywhere, assisted by their Assyrian masters. They were the bastion of the gods (once Babylon was dealt with in chapter 47 the almost continual reference to the false gods ceases until the wholly new situation of chapter 57). And, at least while under Assyria, they were clearly seen as a centre of belligerence against Judah, as what happened to Manasseh demonstrates.
End of note.
Two past incidents are probably in his mind as Isaiah thinks of Israel’s redemption. The act of Yahweh as Kinsman Redeemer (‘your Redeemer’) would be a reminder of how Abraham acted as Lot’s kinsman-redeemer in Genesis 14 when bringing about the deliverance of captives and booty from a Babylonian king with his allies, an incident that we have been specifically reminded of in 41.2. Here then we may again see the ravagers and thieves from Babylon, who would this time come and rob Jerusalem and take captives (2 Chronicles 22.11). And now they were to be hunted down by Israel’s Kinsman Redeemer (verse 14) and made to restore their captives. And it would be a reminder of the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt by the exercise of miraculous power (Exodus 14-15).
43.14 ‘Thus says Yahweh, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
Note how this sounds like a quick punitive strike against Babylon as a result of regarding it as a rather distant and bad influence, and a thorn in Judah’s side, and not like the description of the destruction of a mighty empire in which they have been exiled. And this even though we know that some exiles from Israel were in Babylon (11.11). The opening words are important. The redemption was for Judah’s sake. But a Redeemer is only needed when people are in trouble, so clearly Babylon are seen here as somehow oppressing and influencing Judah, so that Judah need to be ‘redeemed’ from their control and influence.
Note also that Yahweh has ‘sent to Babylon’. He is speaking as though located in Judah, but acting in Babylon for the sake of a people resident in Judah. Having prophesied what the king of Babylon would do in robbing Jerusalem of all its possessions (39.6-7), which itself would result in the looting the temple in order to get at its gold and silver, (the king’s house was connected with the Temple), and no doubt already aware of Babylonian menaces, Isaiah is now looking ahead to God’s vengeance on them for it. He wanted His people to know that while Babylon, with its continual threat as their regional controller, might harass them and influence them to their harm, it would not get away with its behaviour. It would be harassed in turn.
So as their Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, Yahweh would send (the verb is intensive (piel) denoting His authority over Babylon) to Babylon and ‘bring all of them down as fugitives’. For ‘bring down’ compare Amos 3.11; Obadiah 1.4. The thought is not of being brought to Canaan but of being brought down to defeat and humiliation. They had behaved badly towards Israel/Judah with their pernicious influences and made some of them fugitives, thus will the leaders in Babylon themselves become fugitives. ‘The Chaldeans’ were originally from south Babylonia but the word gradually came to signify the whole land. The ships of rejoicing may have been pleasure vessels on the Euphrates, now used as a means of flight because of their dire straits. Or it could simply be ships that they were proud of. But the point is that what should have been ships which gave them pleasure had become the means of their desperate escape.
This is possibly prophesying the end of Samas-sum-ukin and his followers when they rose against his brother (see above). Or, depending on when Isaiah wrote this, it could be describing the earlier flight of Merodach Baladan from Sennacherib, for he fled across the Persian Gulf by ship, and the ships that were to be sent in pursuit of him were only called off when it was learned that he had died. Isaiah may well have seen that as symbolic of Yahweh’s control over Babylon.
Thus by His treatment of Babylon which has misused His people, Israel/Judah will know that He is Yahweh, the Unique One, the Set Apart One (set apart from all others), the One especially set apart by His moral purity, and Israel’s Creator (43.1), Who brought Israel as it were out of nothing. And that He is their King, Who adopted them as His covenant people at Sinai and watches over them, and reveals Himself as King over all.
It should be noted that there is no idea here of the collapse of a mighty empire, but of a punitive stroke against Babylon which would cause its chief men to flee. It is very possible that Isaiah at this stage would have in mind how Abraham as kinsman redeemer had successfully gone against the king of Babylon, put him and his allies to rout, and delivered God’s people (41.2; Genesis 14). Now Yahweh was to be Israel’s Kinsman-redeemer, delivering them from the invader. However, the following description concentrates not on Abraham but on the miracle of the Reed Sea which more obviously revealed His saving power.
The idea here is that this smiting of Babylon will be done by the Deliverer of Israel Who by His mighty power had delivered His people from Egypt and from Pharaoh’s army at the Reed Sea. And we may see as indicated within these verses that just as Yahweh delivered Israel at the Exodus from the mighty power of Egypt, by the exercise of His Own mighty power, so will now He destroy the power being exercised from Babylon.
The way in the sea and the path in the mighty waters was a poetic description of the crossing of the Reed Sea by which His people finally obtained their freedom from oppression and the concentration is not on the journey but on the ‘way’ in which they were delivered from the pursuing forces. He provided them a safe way to walk in. The chariot and horse being brought forth was a reminder of the way that Pharaoh’s chariot force and cavalry were drawn into God’s snare, together with his army and all his power. The result was that they all ‘lay down’ not to rise. They became extinct like a quenched flame. They were drowned. All oppression ceased.
God promises that once He has acted they will be able to forget the ancient wonders, because He will now do a new thing for them which they will be able to point at. He will make for His people ‘a way in the wilderness’. In Egypt he had provided a way in the sea which kept them safe. Here He will provide them with a way in the wilderness which will keep them safe. This may signify a water-endowed way set up by Yahweh in the ‘wilderness’ of Judah in which they now live, made a wilderness partly by Assyrio-Babylonian depredations, so that they can walk in it freely (compare 35. 1-2, 8) or it may be reminding them of the ‘way of the wilderness’ in which Yahweh had once enabled them to survive (Deuteronomy 8.15). In Isaiah ‘the way’ refers not to a journey but to the way of God’s paths (3.12), in contrast with the ‘way of the people’ (8.11), it is the way of the just which is uprightness (26.7), it is the way of His judgments (26.8). His own do not leave it through drunkenness (28.7), but rather when they begin to go astray to the right hand or to the left they hear a word behind them saying, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30.21). In chapter 35 we were told it is ‘the way of holiness’ which He would make for His people to walk in. So the idea of ‘the way’ is not of a way on which to journey home, but of a way in which they can walk in the land
Here there is a special emphasis on the fact that it will be like a well-watered way in a dry wilderness area, envied and exulted in by the wild beasts. It would have every provision for their need. Provision of water is constantly Isaiah’s picture of blessing (30.25; 32.2; 33.21; 41.18; 66.12). Unlike us they did not have water on tap. Having water by the way was thus their idea of a good and pleasant land. So the inference is that their devastated and ruined land would once again be made a satisfying land for them to walk in. Rivers will be found in arid places, the wild animals, ostriches and jackals will honour Yahweh because the land has become so well watered, enabling His chosen people to drink their fill and be satisfied. And this will be because they are the ones whom He has chosen and formed for Himself so that they might show forth His praise. Note how this is then more emphatically spiritualised in 44.1-5, where the water in dry places is like the Spirit at work in men’s hearts, and the specific connection is made back to this passage in the references to their being His chosen (43.20; 44.1) and to being formed by Him (43.21; 44.2). The picture then is of blessing in the land.
It is also possible that the ‘way in the wilderness’ was intended to remind them how, when they were wandering in the wilderness over their thirty eight year period of chastisement (when they were going nowhere), God had watched over them and cared for them even when there was no water (Deuteronomy 8.15). This would therefore be much better for them than that period. Now there would be water in the way that they had to tread. Note also that the ‘way of the wilderness’ is often spoken of as being the wilder areas in Israel/Judah (Joshua 8.15; Judges 20.42; 2 Samuel 2.24; 15.23), not a way outside it. The Assyrian and Babylonian depredations just produced more of it. Here those wildernesses, which had multiplied after the Assyrian invasion, would now become watered.
Some seek to make this indicate a journey but there is no suggestion of them travelling either here or in any of the similar descriptions and comparison with parallel passages demonstrates that that is not the significance of the words (e.g. 29.17; 32.15; 35.1-10; 41.17-20; 44.3-5). The idea of a journey is never emphasised. (Although if we did see it as a journey it is the one described in verses 6-7, the return from world-wide exile of all the people of Israel). It is more their walk in their own land that is in mind. They were used to walking in the heat along dusty trails in their own land, which had now partly become a wilderness, and longing for water from a spring was a common experience in the heat, so that a well-watered way in the wilderness would be a joy and delight (compare 35.8-10). Here that longing would be satisfied in ‘the way’ that Yahweh provided. Note the interesting contrast between ‘the way in the sea and the path in the mighty waters’ (verse 16), which is described elsewhere as ‘the way for the redeemed to pass over’ (to safety - 51.10), emphasising the old way of escape provided from surrounding dangers, and ‘the way in the wilderness’ now become well-watered, provided for them to walk in, and so escape the wilderness, emphasising God’s provision for His own so that they might walk in the way of holiness. In devastated Judah at the time there would be many more ‘ways in the wilderness’ which were unsuitable to walk in than there had been, but for His own Yahweh would make one that was very suitable and abounding in water, so that they could walk in the way continually.
But its real fulfilment would be when His true people came home to Him through the ministry of Jesus and the church, to walk in ‘the way’. The early Christians saw themselves as the people of ‘The Way’ (Acts 9.2;19.9, 23; 22.4; 24.14, 22), and the designation may well have had verses like this in Isaiah in mind, as also may Jesus have had when He called Himself the Way (John 14.6). It is the Way of God. Here they would find abundantly poured out the ‘rain’ of the Holy Spirit of which they could drink and be satisfied (32.15; 44.1-5; John 3.5; 4.10, 13-14; 7.37). And it again will find its complete fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem, when those who have entered it, the nations who walk amidst its light, will find themselves beside the great and fruitful river of Paradise (Revelation 21.24; 22.1-5).
‘Do not remember the former things.’ The past is not to be the measure of the future. They will not need to dwell on the past. Deliverance in the past was partial, delivery in the future will be gloriously complete. They will speak of ‘God now’ and not ‘God then’. See especially Deuteronomy 32.7 onwards.
But God’s People Have Failed To Be His True People And Must First Face Cursing And Revilement (43.22-28).
However, while there is the glorious vision of this future true people of God, Isaiah has not forgotten the present state of Israel. He was under no illusions about that. Indeed God had warned him what they would be like (6.9-11). Jacob was in a dreadful state even in spite of all God’s offers of forgiveness. Israel was not walking in the way.
These verses must be read with care. At no time did Judah and Jerusalem actually cease the Temple ritual, (it probably even continued, at least spasmodically, during the exile in the ruins of Jerusalem), they simply ceased genuinely offering it to Yahweh. Their home cultus, formally carried on, had become a meaningless ritual, a sideline to their offerings to other gods. That this is the meaning is evidenced by the first verse. Never in Israel’s whole existence did they cease outwardly calling on Yahweh, whether in the land or in exile. The ritual prayers continued, the Psalms were sung, the cult continued, dead though it might be. But here it is made clear that their hearts were not in it. They ceased because they had wearied of Him not because they had been driven from the land. (Note that the general cessation of sacrifice in exile was not due to weariness, so that this does not have that in mind). They were no longer really calling on Him, they simply muttered by rote. In the same way their sacrifices continued as a sideline to the religions they really took an interest in. They were offered mechanically, not as something really offered to a living and present Yahweh. This all ties in with the early part of the reign of Manasseh when there was a great turning back to false gods, probably under Babylonian influence.
This must not be taken too literally. It is the idea that matters. Not all in Judah rejected Yahweh. No doubt there were still some who treated Yahweh seriously, including Isaiah and his disciples for example, but the point is that the general trend was in this direction. This was what it looked like to those who saw them.
Israel Have Failed to Honour Him Therefore He Will Profane Them (43.22-28).
The picture of Israel’s present condition (that of Judah and Jerusalem) is a dismal one. They have not sought Him or genuinely called on Him, and it is because they are weary of Him. They have outwardly continued the ritual but their hearts have been with other gods, and it is on them that they have called and to whom they have looked. They have not brought their sacrifices with a glad heart, and with a genuine sense of worship. While they have continued with the cult it has been formal and dead. They were in fact not offerings made to Him, simply temple ritual, following a dead custom.
‘I have not made you to serve --.’ They did not do it for Him. It was not the propulsive effect of their awareness of Yahweh that made them serve with offerings and an abundance of frankincense, but, in so far as they did it, simply habit and custom. It was not He, and the sense of His presence, Who made them carry out their service, because they looked to Him as living and as there, making demands on them, it was simply the fact that they were in a rut. Empty ritual went on but Yahweh was sidelined, indeed pushed out of mind. It was not He, and the thought of Him, that made them ‘serve’.
‘You have brought me no sweet cane (or ‘fragrant calamus’) with silver, nor have you filled me with the fat of your sacrifices.’ They brought Him no gifts of sweet cane or fragrant calamus (Exodus 30.23; Jeremiah 6.20) and silver. These extra gifts from a thankful and responding heart went to other gods, not to Yahweh. There was no lavishing on God of fat from freewill offerings. He was sidelined.
‘But you have made me to serve with your sins, you have wearied me with your iniquities.’ Rather than them serving Him, they had thought that through their ritual, offered so sinfully, they could actually make Him serve them, forcing Him to do their will, manipulating Him by their activity. Their whole attitude towards Him was sinful and was due to their sins. Sin unforgiven and not admitted always leads to formal worship. And all they have otherwise brought is their iniquities, which have wearied Him. And their sins and their iniquities have especially been brought to His attention by what they do in His house (compare 1.12).
Yet it should not be so. If only they were willing He was standing there ready to forgive. These wonderful words are a reminder to them of what the Temple service should have been all about, the removal of their sins, and a guarantee to those who were still faithful of forgiveness and of what He did for them. Let them remember that it is Yahweh, and only Yahweh, Who can truly blot out their sins, yes, and wills to do it. It is He Who can remove their sins in such a way that they are no longer remembered, but deliberately put aside, filed away as no longer relevant, and no longer held against them, because they are cancelled. And He does it for His own sake, that He might have them as His people. Let them remember this and come back to Him that He may do it. He is the blotter-out and non-rememberer of their sins. Let them therefore return to Him that they may obtain these blessings.
And He is still the same for us today. Once we become aware of our sins we can hear His voice calling to us, ““I, even I, am He Who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” And if we call on Him we can then be sure that He will do it. We can be sure that He will blot out our transgressions, our breaking of His Law and our coming short of His requirements, and He will put our iniquities in the place of non-remembrance (better than being forgotten for nothing will bring non-remembered sins back to God’s memory. They are deliberately excluded). Compare 1 John 1.7. But it is not automatic. It results from our response to His call.
He pleads with His people to discuss matters with Him. Let them remind Him of their arguments. Let He and they both plead their two positions before a tribunal together. If they are right, let them set forth the case to prove that they are right. Then indeed will He have His opportunity to prove that they are wrong and He is right. But they will not listen. It is the same story all over again. Their fathers sinned in the wilderness almost immediately after the covenant had been written in stone, and continued to sin constantly, and now their own representatives and ambassadors to God have done the same. They have shown a continual obstinacy of heart.
‘Your first father(s).’ Actually in the singular but probably a composite or collective noun signifying all their fathers, whoever they looked to. But it may possibly specifically mean Adam, Abraham or Jacob. The continual reference to ‘Jacob/Israel’ in this section may suggest the latter.
‘Therefore I will profane the princes of the sanctuary, and I will make Jacob a devoted thing, and Israel a reviling.’ That is why He will profane the princes of the sanctuary. (He could only do this because the sanctuary was still standing). He will make the leading priests cease to be priests. They will be removed from priestly office. They will lose their ‘sanctity’. They will be made profane.
So the humiliation of the Temple is at the forefront of what Isaiah sees as inevitable. Those who serve in the Temple have humiliated God, and so He will now humiliate those who serve in the Temple. It may well be that he saw that this could only be achieved by the removal of these ‘princes of the Sanctuary’ to an unclean land. Thus he may have seen the final destruction of the temple for its treasures as inevitable, with the consequent cessation of the whole round of sacrifices and the slaughter of priests as they incongruously defended it, and the removal of the chief priests to captivity where they would certainly be ‘unclean’. Isaiah is becoming more aware of what the future holds, but probably only slowly. It will shortly lead on to his declaration that the Temple will one day need to be rebuilt.
‘And I will make Jacob a devoted thing, and Israel a reviling.’ This confirms that he is anticipating disaster for Jerusalem and for Israel. To be ‘a devoted thing’ was to be under sentence of death. Things that were ‘devoted’ had to be destroyed (see Joshua 7) for they were God’s alone. Thus Jacob/Israel will either be destroyed as profaned, or reviled because defeated and humiliated.
Isaiah is aware of Assyria’s continued dominance, but his thoughts are now fixed on what God had said concerning Babylon, the great anti-God which at present has jurisdiction over them under Assyrian overlordship, and his thoughts are now being turned more towards what God had said He would do through Babylon because of Hezekiah’s folly (39.6). He possibly fears not only subjection and looting but the destruction and rape of Jerusalem, although he does not specifically say so. He was probably not aware of the full details. He only knew that those who ran the Temple must be humiliated, and that Israel (Judah) also must be humiliated. And he is recognising more and more the implications of it. That is why in 44.28 onwards he will introduce God’s partial solution to the problem that he foresees, although we have to interpret it with care.
Chapter 44. Israel Will Be Restored by The Pouring Out of His Spirit And By God’s Intervention.
Meanwhile having described Israel’s current state the question would be asked, what can change the situation? The answer is now given. The only hope is the direct intervention of a gracious God. Notice how this vivid picture reiterates and expands on the ideas in 43.19-21, with a clear connection in their being His chosen (43.20; 44.1) and being formed by Him (43.21; 44.2) in both cases. The way in the water-renewed wilderness will be made effective by a walk in the Spirit.
The Coming Pouring Out of the Holy Spirit (44.1-5).
This reversal of order of the names Jacob and Israel (see also 43.22) compared with 41.8 may arise from what has just been described. At present Israel His hardened servant is more like scheming Jacob. But the nation as an entity is still His chosen. Thus not all of them will become ‘devoted to destruction’ and ‘a reviling’ (43.28). Implicit within the descriptions are that they are the seed of Jacob, and therefore of Abraham (41.8).
44.2a ‘Thus says Yahweh who made you, and formed you from the womb, who will help you.’
The inner nation had been made, fashioned and shaped by Yahweh right from the time of conception. They are His firstborn (Exodus 4.22). Thus He will not desert them but will help them.
The change of Israel’s name to Jeshurun must be significant. It refers back to Deuteronomy 32.15-17. Deuteronomy 32 appears to be re-echoed in this passage. Consider for example the reference to the Rock and the use of Eloah (in verse 8), the latter being the poetical word for God. There in Deuteronomy Israel, under the name of Jeshurun, (which is actually an affectionate term, ‘O upright one’), was castigated for growing ‘fat’ and prosperous, and thus forsaking God and lightly esteeming the Rock of their deliverance, moving Him to jealousy with strange gods, and provoking Him to anger with their abominations, sacrificing to god who were not gods at all, but demons. The reference is therefore apposite after 43.22-28.
The name Jeshurun occurs elsewhere only three times, in Deuteronomy 32.15; 33.5, 26. It probably means ‘upright one’. It may well therefore indicate the spiritual true Israel, while also through Deuteronomy 32.15 indicating rebuke.
So the mention of them as Jeshurun is in fact both a rebuke and a comfort. A rebuke because they had done exactly what Moses had said as described in 43.22-28, and a comfort because He is promising to help them because He has in mind those who will yet be truly upright through His grace. It is a reminder that it is the upright ones who are the true Israel.
This is an extension on the idea in 32.15-18, but here the emphasis is totally on spiritual transformation. The great change to take place in God’s people will occur through the direct activity of God (compare 45.8; 55.10-13; Joel 2.28-29; Jeremiah 31.31-34; Ezekiel 36.26-27; 37.7-10).
Here the Spirit of God is again pictured in terms of water poured down and the streams that result. The ground is dry until God’s Spirit works on it. But once His Spirit, His active, personal blessing, has come on Israel’s seed and offspring, they will spring to life like vegetation among the grass. They will grow like willows beside plentiful water (compare Psalm 1.3; Jeremiah 17.8). Only someone who has lived in a similar climate to Canaan can picture the scene. First the dry barren ground, with everything brown and dead all around. And then the rain comes and suddenly as if from nowhere greenery springs up everywhere. It almost seems like magic, but it is really the result of the Creator’s work.
This is thus a picture of new life, of a new creation. It was what Jesus meant by being ‘born of water, even of the Spirit’ and being ‘born from above’ (John 3.5-6), and was what John’s baptism also signified. That is why John the Baptiser also spoke of grain that had to be separated from the chaff at the harvest, a picture of the ‘drenching with rain’ by the Holy Spirit yet to come, producing abundant harvest. It is what Paul meant when he said, ‘if any man be in Christ he is a new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5.17).
‘One shall say, ‘I am Yahweh’s’, and another will call himself by the name of Jacob, and another will subscribe with his hand (or ‘write on his hand’) to Yahweh, and surname himself with the name of Israel.” Then those on whom the Spirit works will boast in being Yahweh’s, they will delight in being called sons of Abraham (Galatians 3.7), the true seed of Abraham (Galatians 3.29), they will write on their hands Yahweh’s name as a token of ownership, and they will gladly take the name of God’s Israel and become true ‘children of Israel’.
This statement about ‘calling themselves by the name of Jacob’ would be mainly redundant if it only referred to the Israel that was, for they already called themselves Jacob and bore the name of Israel. It is rather an indication of the wider outreach to the nations, often visualised by Isaiah, with individuals from among the nations uniting with the true Israel and becoming adopted Israelites, and thus calling themselves by the name of Jacob.
This first occurred during the inter-testamental period when many Gentiles became proselytes (converts to Judaism who were impressed by their monotheism and their strict morality and were circumcised into the covenant), and then abundantly when through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit Gentiles were converted worldwide and became Christians, part of the new Israel which sprang from the old, the Israel of God (Galatians 6.16).
This is how the New Testament saw it and proclaimed it. In its eyes Gentile Christians became an essential part of the new Israel, the true vine, founded on Jesus Christ and the Apostles, although by baptism not circumcision, becoming the true seed of Abraham (Galatians 2.29), ingrafted into the olive tree (Romans 11.17, 19). For the New Testament regularly sees the ‘church’ (ekklesia) as the new congregation (in LXX ekklesia) of Israel that sprang from the old, founded especially on the Apostles (for confirmation of this new congregation of Israel see Matthew 16.18-19) and on those Jews who entered under the Kingly Rule of God and became followers of Jesus Christ. These were the true Israel, becoming part of the true vine (John 15.1-6).
Then when Christian Jews had first formed the new true Israel, large numbers of Gentiles also became Christians and were united in Jesus’ death with the true Israel, those Jews who had became followers of Christ, so that all became members of the commonwealth of the new Israel and of the household of God (Ephesians 2.11-22; Galatians 6.16), no longer strangers but fellow-citizens. They were grafted into the olive tree, while unbelieving Israel were cut off (Romans 11). That is why there was such a controversy about circumcision. Paul’s reply was not that the church was not Israel, for he regularly stated that they were, but that circumcision had been replaced by the circumcision made without hands in the death of Christ (Colossians 2.11).
This pouring out of the Spirit was the great reality for the early church. It outwardly began at Pentecost as the Holy Spirit fell on Jews and reached out to Jews who were there from all over the Roman world (Act 2), although the Spirit had unquestionably been at work throughout Jesus’ ministry (e.g. Luke 4.1, 18-21) and had been imparted in a special way to the Apostles in the upper room (John 20.22). It continued on in the early church, encompassing Samaritans and Gentiles who became a part of the Israel of God (Galatians 6.16). And that is what they delighted in, being the true Israel of God, being fellow-citizens with the ‘saints’ (the Old Testament name for the pure in Israel) and members of the household of God, and recipients of the promises. No longer separate. No longer alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenant of promise, they saw themselves made one with the true Israel through the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2.12-22). Indeed they saw themselves as the true Israel as Paul makes clear, from which unbelievers in Israel had been cut off and the new believers had been grafted in (Romans 11.15-24).
It is unscriptural to see the church and Israel as two separate bodies. The separate bodies are unbelieving Israel (which is not really Israel at all) and believing Israel, and the church became one with the believing Israel. The church is not ‘spiritual Israel’. It is physical Israel, made up of all who truly believe and are made one in the covenant. It is literal Israel. Israel had always been made up of descendants of the patriarchs and all who had been co-opted in. All through the centuries, from the very time of Abraham, people had been able to enter within the covenant and become ‘Israel’. It included many of Abraham’s servants and the foreign servants of the later patriarchs, it included the large number of foreign people who joined the Exodus (Exodus 12.38) and were confirmed as ‘Israel’ at Sinai, it included Uriah the Hittite and many such, it included proselytes through the ages, and it included all who through baptism and new birth entered the Israel of God. They did not replace Israel. They became Israel. And all who did not believe were seen as cut off from Israel (Romans 11.15, 17, 20).
Thus these words found their final fulfilment in the ministry of Jesus, the One drenched (baptizo) in the Holy Spirit, and through the ministry of the Apostles, when they welcomed men of all nations by the Spirit into the Israel of God. As Paul could say, ‘If any man does not have the Spirit of Christ he is not His at all’ (Romans 8.9).
Note the progression, ‘will say’, ‘will call himself’, will subscribe with his hand’, ‘will surname himself’. The commitment begins and becomes ever deeper and more personal.
‘Write on his hand.’ We know from the papyri found in Egypt that soldiers sometimes wrote the name of their commander on their hand, slaves bore the name of their masters, and devotees did the same with the name of their gods (compare 49.16; Exodus 13.16; Deuteronomy 6.8; 11.18).
The Incomparability of God (44.6).
Having declared this wonderful work of the Spirit Yahweh puts it in the context of what He is. Only He could have done such a thing. In the calling of Abraham and the bringing of him into the land He was ‘the first and with the last’ (41.4), and now that calling of Abraham as His servant who loved Him has resulted in this blessing from Him Who is ‘the first and the last’. What he commences and promises, He completes.
Here Yahweh is described as both King and Redeemer to Israel. This was His purpose, that He might rule over them and deliver them. Note that ‘King’ comes first. It was as their King by His own choosing that He planned to redeem them. Note also the contrast between Yahweh the king and Yahweh of hosts. First He is King and Overlord and then He goes into battle on their behalf. Thus all happens because ‘Yahweh reigns’. Isaiah would have very much in mind here His experience in the Temple (6.1-7).
Then He lets them know What He is. ‘I am the first and the last.’ Compare 41.4. That is, He sums up time. He begins it and ends it. And He was before all things and all things will be summed up in Him (compare Ephesians 1.10; Colossians 1.16-17; Revelation 1.8, 17; 2.8). He leads the way into history and He follows up at the end. He is all embracing.
‘And beside me there is no God.’ There is thus no room for other deities, for where could they fit into His all-encompassing being? And which of them could have done what He has done?
Yahweh Lays Down A Challenge To Any Who Claim To Be Gods To Prove It In Prophecy and Action (44.7-9).
God has laid down the past and the future. What has happened and what will happen is under His hand. And He has declared Israel to be His people and what will come about through them. Who then can bring out anything comparable with that?
God challenges anyone to show themselves as comparable with Him, to have revealed what He has revealed and to have done what He has done. Let them proclaim it, solemnly declare it, and lay out their facts about it cogently, so as to prove it. Since it was He and He alone who appointed the everlasting people, (when He appointed Abraham, and even before as described in Genesis 1-11), those who have survived through their seed until now and will live for ever in His everlasting kingdom, let any claimant at least prove himself by declaring what is coming on them, and what is to come about for them (as He will do shortly), and thus establish their claims.
Then He turns to His people and comforts them. Let them not be afraid of such a claimant turning up. He and He alone has declared what will be from of old, and shown it by the revelation of His power in bringing it about, and they are witnesses to the fact. Do they know of any god who can compare with what He is and has done? He can confidently claim that there is no Rock like Him. That is, anyone reliable and dependable, who can be trusted and can provide a firm and sure foundation. He certainly does not know of any.
Indeed those who set about fashioning a graven image to be such a claimant are acting in vain. What they produce may be delectable but it will not bring them any good. Nor do the witnesses for the image have anything to describe. They neither see nor know anything worthwhile that it has done, nor will they, so that they will have to cringe with shame.
Isaiah Reveals The Folly of Idolatry (44.10-20).
Note the contrast of this passage with what precedes it. Isaiah brings out that while it is Yahweh Who formed Israel, the idol is merely fashioned by its owner (verse 2 with verses 9-13). While Yahweh can pour forth that which produces growth, the idol is a part of what is grown. While Yahweh is the first and the last, the idol is but a spare bit of wood, and has had to be grown, and then shaped, and is even then something that could easily be turned to ashes.
So let them consider the people who make these profitless gods and graven images. Even their own fellow producers of gods will be ashamed of what they have done, and as for the makers of these gods themselves, they are simply human, not having any divinity. How can they then make a god? So let them gather together and stand up to establish their case. They will not be able to do it. Instead they will be apprehensive, indeed, they will together as a group be filled with shame and confusion.
He gives an example of the folly of it all. (It should be noted that many intelligent heathen writers were just as critical of the ‘gods’). Here is the blacksmith working away on the god, with axe, and coals, and hammer, and strength of arm, but then he becomes weak because he has not eaten, or faint because he has not drunk some water. But can he turn to the god for strength? No, for the god cannot help him. Such is the god. It is made by man’s instruments and strength, and by a man who cannot keep going without food and water, and it is not able to sustain him. And it lies there useless until he has refreshed himself.
He continues to describe how these gods come into being. They are the careful work of a human carpenter, who uses all his tools and ingenuity and makes it so that it looks like some man pleasing to the eye in order to take its place in the temple or on the god-shelf. They are but an idea from a carpenter’s brain. Note the emphasis on the carpenter’s activity. It is all his doing. Any beauty it has comes from him.
And what are these gods made of? They are made of trees which a man plants for himself, waits for it to grow strong, and then cuts down for his own use. They are the product of the rain, and are made of the same wood with which he warms himself by the fire, with which he cooks his meals, with which he bakes his bread, with which he roasts his roast.
He takes a great deal of trouble to get solid trees for all these purposes, using different branches for different purposes, for this is the purpose for which he has grown them, and one of them then becomes a god!
For when he has used the remainder of the branches he takes another odd bit of the tree, a branch that is left over, and makes an idol of it. To the branch in the fire he comments how pleasant it is to be warmed by it, the branch is serving him; to the branch of which he makes his idol he prays for deliverance. He is serving the branch. What folly! He talks to both, and one serves him and he serves the other, and they came from the same tree. And it was he who has decided which one will do which. And why do these men do this? Because they are spiritually blind.
Such people do not stop and consider what they are doing. And this is because God has closed their eyes preventing them from seeing, and their hearts, preventing them from understanding. He has done this, not directly, but by how He has made them, with the result that they do not use their intelligence, they cannot be bothered to stop and think and consider their folly, the folly of falling down to the stock of a tree, the same tree that they have also burned up for domestic purposes.
‘An abomination’ is the term regularly used for idols.
‘He feeds on (over) ashes.’ This may be an abbreviated way of saying that the part of the tree that cooked his food has now turned to ashes while he feeds (i.e. he ate ‘over ashes’, because the fire smouldered on until it became but ashes), while the bit that made the idol is still in his right hand, and yet could just as easily be tossed in the fire and become ashes. He does not see that that too could just as easily have been ashes had he used that bit for cooking. Where would the god be then? But his heart is so deceived that he does not have the sense to see that the god is but a deceit. This maintains the previous contrasts.
Or it may signify that what he feeds on spiritually is but ashes, it has nothing left in it that is worthwhile. It is like ashes to the mouth. It is only fit to be spat out. ‘To feed on ashes’ may even have been a well known proverb signifying feeding on what is totally unsatisfactory.
Either way the main point is that his heart is deceived by something that could by nature become ashes. And this source of potential ashes has turned him aside from the living God so that he is unable to deliver himself from its grip and recognise that it is but a lie, a deceptive thing. ‘He cannot deliver his soul.’ That is he is so deceived that he cannot deliver his inner self from this thing that has taken hold of him. He is a slave to a piece of wood, that could easily be turned into ashes. He has been blinded by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4.4).
Yahweh Calls On Israel To Remember Their Status And What He Has Done For Them (44.21-23).
Having contemptuously dismissed the gods that men worship Yahweh now calls on His people to recognise how different He is.
God’s people are now told to remember all that He has said to them. For all will come about. And especially let them remember that they are His chosen servant, shaped and fashioned by Him. They do not shape their God, their God shapes them. And let them remember that they are a servant of His, and that He would never forget them. They do not serve branches of trees, they serve Yahweh the living God, Who formed and shaped them to be His servant. What a purpose was theirs, and what resources they had, and what a certain hope. Now they could go forward to fulfil their function. They could be sure He would not forget them. (But alas, by many of them it was He Who would be forgotten).
Indeed God has potentially removed all their transgressions and sins (and has done it actually for those who are committed to Him). They have been blotted out as by a thick cloud. They will no longer be remembered. So let them return to Him because He has redeemed them. The potential for complete forgiveness is before them because of the price He has paid in order to deliver them, both in their redemption from Egypt and in their subsequent deliverances, and in what it costs Him to bring about their cleansing through a multitude of sacrifices. For He has even constantly given up some of His creation to death, so that they might live. And we will learn shortly of an even greater sacrifice yet to be paid (53.1-12).
So let the whole of creation unite in singing about what Yahweh has done and intends to do. The heavens, the earth down below, the mountains and forests, yes, and every tree, let them all join together in shouting and singing because of what God’s purpose is, and what He will accomplish in Israel. For Yahweh’s plan for His Servant will yet come to glorious fulfilment. We note here that the very trees from which idols are so foolishly made, themselves give praise to Yahweh. They know Who is Lord and Creator. Here then Yahweh declares that He will bring about His sovereign will in His own.
We are reminded of another time when creation was called on to worship, and that was when the Lamb was revealed in order to open the seven-sealed scroll of the future (Revelation 5.13), when the destiny of the world was unfolded.
Thus ends in the song of creation a section of the book which began in 41.1 depicting Yahweh’s Servant, raised up in Abraham and ending in the certainty of what Yahweh will do for His servant so that all creation can give Him the praise. He will redeem them and glorify Himself through them.
Note on 40.1-44.23.
The reader who is familiar with commentaries on Isaiah will have noted how little reference we have made to Babylon up to this point, and that is because that is precisely in line with Isaiah’s own words. There has in fact only been one reference to Babylon in Isaiah’s prophecy in the whole section, and that almost as a side issue. Now take note of how many times Babylon has been mentioned in any other commentary that you are using. It is called ‘reading in’. To Isaiah up to this point Babylon has been unimportant. What has been important is God’s intentions through His Servant. And this lack of mention of Babylon will continue on through chapter 45. It is clearly not the centre of Isaiah’s focus, even when dealing with the activities of Cyrus. And even in chapter 46 it is only its humiliation, and the humiliation of its gods, by Assyria that is mentioned (46.1-2). It is a salutary reminder that the writer does not appear to be aware of Nebuchadnezzar and his empire. The Babylonian empire at its zenith might possess the minds of the commentators. It does not possess the mind of Isaiah.
End of note.
YAHWEH IS ABOUT TO ACT SO AS TO ESTABLISH HIS PEOPLE AND PREPARE THE WAY FOR HIS SERVANT (44.24-48.22).
As with what has gone before it is necessary for us to determine the viewpoint from which we will see these narratives, and in order to do so we must put ourselves in the shoes of Isaiah. Chapters 1-39 were mainly behind him, Hezekiah was dead, and what lay before him was the future in terms of Manasseh’s reign. That reign had not had a promising beginning. Manasseh had taken the people back to the old ways,and the ways of Assyria, and had thereby defiled the Temple (2 Kings 21.2-7; 2 Chronicles 33.2-10). The voice of Isaiah was silent (1.1). Judah was once more in subjection to Esarhaddon, the King of Assyria (37.38), who was overseeing Judah from Babylon (2 Chronicles 33.11). The people were corrupted, the Temple was defiled, and Babylon was to be seen by Judah as the great enemy, as, in Isaiah’s eyes, it had always been.
Isaiah had already prophesied something of what the future held. He had informed Hezekiah that his sons would be carried off as trophies to Babylon (39.6-7), and had declared that God’s punishment must come on the personnel who ran the Temple (43.27-28), and the miserable fate of those who trusted in idols (43.27; 44.11). (And this would in fact all actually happen in the near future (2 Chronicles 33.11). For invasion from Babylon would result in Manasseh and his entourage being taken captive to Babylon, the Temple inevitably being sacked, and the people being decimated in the warfare that accompanied it).
But the question now was, how did this fit in with what he had already been saying. How could the Servant whose future had looked so glowing be restored, and what was going to be Yahweh’s response to the situation. These chapters will now deal with that question.
As we have seen the problems were threefold. The first was that the condition of Yahweh’s people was in doubt because of their spiritual position and condition (42.19-25; 43.22-28), the second was the persistent interference of false gods (42.17; 44.9-20), especially those of Assyria and Babylon, and the third was that the nations were still preventing His people from coming home (41.11-12; 42.13-16; 43.1-7). So before the Servant could be restored, and in order that ‘he’ might fulfil his proper function, each of these matters would have to be dealt with. In this section therefore we will discover how Yahweh intends to deal with these questions.
In the terms of those days the restoration of Jerusalem and the building or restoration of the Temple were prerequisites if the Servant was to be able to do his work, and it had become necessary because the previous Temple had been defiled and those who served in it were rejected (43.28). Thus it was essential that God should make all things new. Equally important if the gods and the occult were to be dealt a bitter blow was the downfall of Babylon, because from there came all that was deceptive and evil, as it cultivated idolatry and the occult, and thought itself so superior that it could behave as though it was unobserved, even setting itself up against Yahweh (47.10; compare 14.10-13), as it had always done (Genesis 11.1-9). And finally if His people who were exiled all around the world were to return, it would be necessary to find someone who could deal with the nations who held them captive, so that they could be enabled to do so.
These are the matters that the narrative will now look at. The section opens with a declaration of Yahweh’s credentials:
So Yahweh, the Creator of all things, Who opposes and countermands the exponents of the occult by making things happen in such a way as to make them look foolish, has chosen His Servant, the true Israel within Israel, from the womb (it is all in His divine sovereignty) in order that He might confirm his teaching and fulfil his prophecies. Whatever the true Servant is and does will be confirmed and carried into effect by Yahweh. He is the one who is to bear God’s message to the world (compare 2.4).
But having done so He must prepare the way before them. And in doing this He will restore the situation for them. At present the nations hold many of them captive, Jerusalem has been laid waste, and the Temple is defiled, all of which prevent His Servant Israel from fulfilling their obligation. So now He declares how He is going to remedy matters.
It will be noted initially how firmly these ideas are introduced, and in each case they are introduced, not as concerned about a catastrophe but as a guarantee of their fulfilment. For above all they are introduced as being the work of Yahweh.
It is first made clear that the source of these actions is the One Who does everything according to His will, in fulfilment of His word.
If we see this as a chiasmus with 1). and 4). going together, and 2). and 3). going together, there are two emphases. The first is the important one of the restoration of Jerusalem and Judah after its mauling by Sennacherib, and after its future destruction by Esarhaddon (hinted at in 39.6-7; 43.28), and as it later turns out again by Nebuchadnezzar, because Israel does not take advantage of the opportunity gained by Manasseh’s repentance. The guarantee given by His word is that Jerusalem will be reinhabited after its mauling, the cities of Judah will be rebuilt after their devastation caused by war, the waste places caused by war and famine will be restored (built up), and this will include the re-establishing (and as it later turns out the total rebuilding) of the Temple, all of which have been prepared for previously (41.17-18; 43.19-20; 44.3; 43.28).
The second is Yahweh’s action in the drying up of the deep and the rivers, through the activities of His shepherd, Cyrus, who will do all His pleasure (further expanded on in 45.1-7). Countries in those days were often defined in terms of their rivers (compare 27.1; 7.18, 20; Nahum 3.8), which were of such vital importance to them, and their drying up was seen as a judgment on them (19.45; 42.15; 50.2; Psalm 74.15; Jeremiah 50.38; 51.36; Ezekiel 30.12; Zechariah 10.11). The drying up of the deep and the rivers may well therefore signify the desolation of the land of The River, and therefore of both Assyria and Babylon, in which case this is the promise that both will be dealt with through this instrument whom Yahweh has chosen and anointed. But their drying up also reflects what Yahweh had previously done to Egypt when He dried up their deep (51.10; 63.13; Joshua 2.10), and what He had done when He entered Canaan (Joshua 4.23; compare Psalm 114.3-5), and on top of that it parallels the boast of Sennacherib that with the sole of his feet he had dried up the rivers of all the places that he besieged (37.25). As he had done to others, so would be done to Assyria, and their accomplice Babylon. As a result restoration was promised to God’s people, which would include the opportunity of return from exile, the restoration of life in Judah, the reinhabiting of Jerusalem, the restoration of the Temple, and destruction to their enemies.
Noteworthy in this description is the total lack of mention of the enemies that Cyrus will deal with. The house of Cyrus has not been raised up in order to deliver them from the Babylonian empire, but to deliver them from all their enemies (45.1-7), whoever they may be, and to be God’s instrument as Yahweh fulfils His purpose to restore Judah and the Temple (44.26-28) in readiness for God’s outpouring of righteousness and salvation (45.8; compare 44.1-5). Isaiah does not pretend to know the details, and shows no awareness of the activities of Nebuchadnezzar. He still thinks in terms of Assyrian Babylon..
It will be noted that in what follows, describing the activities of Cyrus, it is his destruction of nations and taking of their cities and treasures, ‘for Jacob my Servant’s sake and Israel my chosen’, that is emphasised (45.1-3). While he would also certainly play his part in giving permission for the building of a new Temple (44.28 with Ezra 1.1), on our reading of it that is here seen as a by-product of his activity. The raising up of the new Temple was to be the work of Yahweh. That was not, of course, to prevent Cyrus having a part in the process. But no heathen king could establish the Temple of Yahweh. (Apart from the lessons learned however, it actually matters little which view we take for Cyrus II was undoubtedly involved in both). Cyrus’ main assignment was to be the defeat and denuding of the nations for Israel’s sake (44.27-28a; 45.1-6).
So as we go into this new section we carefully note God’s promise of a restored Judah, a new or restored Temple, and a new or restored Jerusalem, alongside of which the idolatrous city of Babylon will be destroyed because of all that it represents. This latter is, however, not connected with Cyrus, which from the point of view of accuracy was a good job because Cyrus did not desolate Babylon. Rather having taken it easily, and being welcomed by the priests of Marduk, he restored it to its previous importance within his empire. The final demise of Babylon in fulfilment of Isaiah’s words took place much later.
Isaiah accepts these strands of information without flinching, and without trying to fit them together. He is very much lacking in the full details. What he is aware of are the principles involved. The Temple must be restored, the exiles must return from all over the world, Babylon must be destroyed. But it is important from our point of view to recognise that while Cyrus is very much involved in the general picture, he is not described as being involved with Babylon, and once he has made the world ready for Yahweh’s Servant, he departs immediately from the picture.
So the consequence is that, having in His eternal counsels, brought Abraham to the land like a ‘bird of prey’ (46.11), He will not allow Abraham’s seed to fail, but will restore them so that they might fulfil their task as His Servant..
This description of Abraham as a ‘bird of prey’ is interesting and significant. There can seem little doubt that in using it he has in mind that having originally, within the eternal purposes of God, arrived in the land, Abraham had, like a great bird of prey, descended on the king of Babylon and had driven him off and spoiled him (41.2; Genesis 14), just as his seed would later do with the Canaanites. Thus Isaiah is now to see the continued presence of Abraham in the land in his seed (41.8; 45.4) who are God’s Servant, as a guarantee that Babylon will again suffer through the hand of their Kinsman Redeemer as He acts on behalf of His people, as He did in the days of Abraham. Yahweh too will swoop on Babylon, but this time to destroy it completely.
Further Note on Babylon.
In view of all that he has previously said about Babylon (13-14) it is clear that Isaiah could have expected nothing less than its destruction. Nor could he have doubted that it was necessary. For the shadow of Babylon, the great Anti-God and proponent of the occult, continually hung over the world, and over the people of God, and had to be dealt with. Her evil spiritual influence was known throughout the Near Eastern world, and was affecting the future of Yahweh’s Servant. There was therefore no alternative to her permanent destruction.
And yet that has not been the theme of Isaiah’s message. Indeed Babylon has only been mentioned once, and that almost incidentally, in 43.14. At this stage Isaiah is interested in the work of the Servant, not in Babylon. He does not see Babylon as the threat to Israel’s freedom and independence, (he does not even mention it in chapter 45), only as the centre of all that is devilish.
And this is despite the fact that Babylon had yet to appear in order to loot David’s house and take the errant sons of David to become eunuchs in the house of the king of Babylon as God had already revealed through him (39.6-7). But that was a different issue dealing with the rejection of the current house of David. It said nothing about the destruction of the Temple or the future of the Servant.
So while, as we have gathered in 43.28, he was becoming more and more aware that the Temple had been profaned and must be replaced, he does not make any claim that he knows how or when it will come about. Nothing is said about the way in which it will come to be in that state. He simply knows that it will necessarily be so because God’s people have defiled it (43.22-28). But at no stage, when speaking of the restoration of the Temple, does he mention Babylon as involved, or connected with its destruction in any way. Had he known specifically he would surely have said so. But that was something not revealed to him. While he knew that the Temple must be replaced because defiled, and may well have suspected who the culprit might be, he clearly did not see it as part of his message to Israel.
What he did know was that it was through the folly and unbelief of Ahaz that Assyria had come to tread Israel down (10.5; 52.4). And at this present time he sees that threat as slightly altered in that the direction of the threat now comes from a Babylon, through whom Assyria was operating. This is clear from the fact that later, when Manasseh was arraigned for misbehaviour against Assyria, it was to Babylon that he was carried off in chains to give account (2 Chronicles 33.11). And this involvement of Babylon in the affairs of Israel as acting on behalf of Assyria would chill Isaiah’s heart, for he knew what God had said about Hezekiah’s children and that Babylon was the permanent enemy of God from the beginning. Indeed it was he who had been called upon to demand its permanent destruction, never to be restored (13.19-20; see also 14; 21.9; 23.13). And he knew that through the folly of Hezekiah Babylon had been awakened to the prosperity of Judah and would one day come for her treasures (39.6-7). So when it began acting as broker on behalf of Assyria, in Isaiah’s eyes Babylon, the great Anti-God, came to the fore. Esarhaddon, King of Assyria, rebuilt Babylon and appointed one of his sons there as crown representative and prince, and it would seem that Babylon was now the taskmaster acting on behalf of Assyria with regard to Judah. As the primeval rebellious city, and as the great Anti-God, it had even ingratiated itself with Assyria. It had to be destroyed
So that is why Babylon itself, with its encroaching ways, has to be got rid of, and Yahweh will now assure Israel from his own experience that the gods of Babylon, having been humiliated by the Assyrians, had been revealed as what they were (46.1-2). Babylon herself was thus doomed (47). All men are therefore to turn from any consideration of, or affinity, with Babylon and recognise the triumph of Yahweh in establishing His people (48.20). So physically Israel’s deliverance from the nations will be by the hand of a Persian king, but spiritually their spiritual life will be saved by the establishment of the new Temple (44.28) and by the destruction of Babylon (48.20), the great threat to Yahwism (47; compare 14.13-15).
These then are now the matters with which Isaiah will deal, and the ideas that are mentioned are in huge contrast, and are all important for the work of the Servant, but he does not interconnect them. On the one hand there is to be the full restoration of a pure, new, and undefiled Temple, a place through which the Servant can operate if ‘he’ is willing, and on the other there is to be the destruction of the evil daughter of Babylon with all her false sorceries and idols. For until both these things have occurred the work of the Servant will continue to be hindered. However, this destruction of Babylon is more connected with Assyria (46.1-2) than with Cyrus.
Cyrus is rather seen as the one whose conquests will prepare the way for Israel by conquering the nations and acting on Israel’s behalf. For what Cyrus will do is to be ‘for Jacob, My servant’s sake, and Israel My elect’ (45.4). That is the specific reason why Yahweh has called him by name and put His own name on Him (surnamed him), even though he himself does not know Yahweh. It is because he is acting in order that the Servant might benefit. We must not confuse the two activities of preparing the way for the Servant, which was the purpose of raising up Cyrus, and the destruction of Babylon which will occur through the hand of Yahweh. Both were necessary but no connection is identified between them. To Isaiah they represented the good and the bad about the future as stunningly revealed by Yahweh.
There is no thought in these chapters that Isaiah is over-anxious. He is perfectly aware, on his pinnacle of faith and with his magnificent view of God (40), that the situation is no-contest. And once he has introduced the one who will restore the Servant (45), he puts the gods of Babylon firmly in their place as burdens on the backs of beasts which far from helping them can only make the weary beasts stumble (46.1-2), and proclaims the end of the daughter of the Chaldeans (47). Then, the great enemy having been dealt with, He reintroduces the Servant in his ministry to His people and to the world (49). It is clear that until Babylon is out of the way the Servant cannot finalise his ministry.
It should be noted how little detail is given with regard to these external threats. Isaiah is not necessarily aware of all the full ramifications of them, and is certainly not concerned about them. His whole thought is concentrated on what Yahweh is doing. It is those facts of which he is sure.
End of note.
Yahweh Will Raise Up Cyrus To Rebuild Jerusalem And Lay The Foundations of A New Temple (44.24-45.13).
In the Near East of Isaiah’s day there were not many major powers. Egypt had been silenced by Assyria, Babylon was continually the enemy of God, sometimes independent, and sometimes under the control of Assyria, Assyria was the one who demanded subservience and tribute, Media and Elam at different times assisted in the invasion of Israel. But among those who remained separate from all this, at this stage, was Persia. How Isaiah came to a knowledge that the king of Persia had a son called Cyrus (an earlier Cyrus) we do not know, but it is very possible that he formed part of a royal party which visited Persia on the occasion of Cyrus’ birth, or alternatively assisted in the welcoming of Persian ambassadors who came bringing the good news. The famed prophet Isaiah who had foretold the miracle of Jerusalem would be eagerly sought for by the Persians whose interest in such matters was well known, and he may well have been called on to make his contribution to the birthday celebrations. (We are here speaking of Cyrus I, not the Cyrus II who conquered Babylon). And while they were together there may well have been promises of mutual aid, trade and assistance. Furthermore if Isaiah saw the infant babe for himself, there may well have come to him the certainty as he looked at him, that he was looking at the one whose house would be Yahweh’s shepherd, for there is no doubt that Isaiah possessed the prophetic gift.
Whether Isaiah lived long enough to see Cyrus I of Persia come to the throne we do not know, but he would certainly have continued to know of him, the young promising prince of the kingdom of Persia whose dynasty would one day see the deliverance of Jerusalem. And it is very possible that as the famed prophet of Israel Isaiah continued to have communications with his house. (If Moab could seek out Balaam (Numbers 22.5), Persia could certainly seek out Isaiah). And this was possibly how God showed him that in the dynasty of Cyrus lay the earthly solution to Israel’s seemingly insoluble problems.
It should be noted how briefly the situation is dealt with. No explanation is given for the condition of Jerusalem and its Temple which Cyrus’ grandson (Cyrus II) will have his part in rebuilding, or how it got into that condition. Possibly it was assumed from 39.6-7, but that is unlikely, for the need for rebuilding is not what is actually prophesied there. It seems more probable that Isaiah had come to see that the replacement of the Temple was necessary because it had been defiled (43.28), and that therefore it must happen, and that until it had occurred the Servant could not be raised up to do his work.
It is especially noteworthy that there is nowhere any suggestion in the narrative of who Cyrus will deliver Jerusalem from. All that matters to Isaiah is that the house of Cyrus will become the restorer of Jerusalem and will bring about the building of the new Temple and will subsequently take his reward from the nations, and indirectly bring glory to Yahweh..
It is in fact difficult to see why, if Isaiah knew the answer as to who would destroy Jerusalem he did not reveal it, for in view of 43.14; 47 and 48.20 he could hardly be said to be trying to keep Babylon’s name out of matters.
This new section begins with confirmation of what has gone before. Yahweh is Israel’s Redeemer, and as the One Who formed them from the womb and as their Kinsman Redeemer with a special interest in their welfare, because He had formed them from the beginning as His own in a special relationship. He had brought them to birth. And He now stresses that He alone is the Creator of all things, and that He has done it all alone, with none other with Him. He, and He alone, had stretched out the heavens, He had spread abroad the earth. None was there with Him. It was all His work. Thus there is no limit to what He can do. The whole earth is His.
Note that ‘He who formed you from the womb’ immediately makes the connection with the Servant (44.2, 24; 49.5; see also 44.21; 49.1).
He also makes a fool of those who seek to discern the future. When those deceivers, the soothsayers, make use of their different methods of foretelling, He makes their tokens say the wrong thing, and He affects the minds of the diviners so that they continually err. The wise men (men wise in the occult) He turns back on themselves, and what they say is finally revealed as foolish. This is the constant experience of man. None know the future apart from Him. (Babylon is therefore already being thwarted by His power, see 47.12-13).
In contrast He Himself confirms the word of His own prophets, and ensures the fulfilment of what His own messengers declare and advise. Thus men can determine Who to believe in, because it is only His prophets who reveal the truth, and whose words are fulfilled (compare Deuteronomy 18.21-22). This is one of the central thoughts in Isaiah, that what Yahweh has said, He does.
In support of His prophets’ words He declares the certainty of the continuation of Jerusalem. Whatever happens, she will be inhabited. The parallel with the cities of Judah may indicate an expectancy that there will also be a necessity for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and if so it suggests that Isaiah had a premonition of what was going to happen to it. On the other hand the contrast between Jerusalem ‘being inhabited’ while the remaining cities of Judah would have to ‘be rebuilt’ may point to the situation after the relief of Jerusalem, when only Jerusalem was left standing. Unlike the cases of Babylon (13.19-20) and Edom (34), however, Yahweh wants all to know that her future is secure. Whatever happens she will be inhabited. And He guarantees also the rebuilding of the cities of Judah, and the restoration of the waste places. As promised He will make a way in these wildernesses (43.19). While Judah may have been devastated by Assyria (see 37.26), it will be re-established, and God will ensure that His Servant has a base to work from for the sending out of His Law (2.3).
In contrast to what Assyria has done, not only can Yahweh ensure the inhabiting and building of cities, but He can also dry up nations and peoples. Here the point is that He is so mighty that not only can He ensure the inhabiting of cities, but He can also remove the very lifeline of all nations. He can even dry up the sea, and the rivers that flow from it. This may again refer to the Reed Sea (11.15; 19.5; 51.10; Psalm 66.6; 106.9), and the Nile and its tributaries, as well as the rivers of Mesopotamia (11.15) but it looks beyond that to all seas (e.g. Nahum 1.4). He is the controller of the seas, and of the water supplies of nations, and thus He determines the future of those nations. Compare the boast of Sennacherib, ‘with the sole of my feet will I dry up all the rivers of Egypt’ (37.25). The difference is that Yahweh can really do it. There was little that Israel feared more than ‘the deep’, but Yahweh assures them that even such an enemy is putty in His hands. And He Who could dry up the rivers of the world had the world at His mercy. And this was not only true of the seas. It was true of the mighty nations that were often depicted in terms of the seas and rivers, Egypt as the Nile, Assyria/Babylon as The River. For all is in His hands.
We note here how constantly throughout Isaiah when Yahweh blesses He causes rivers to flow (43.19; 44.3-4; 30.25; 32.2; 33.21; 41.18; 66.12), and when He judges the rivers cease flowing (42.15; 50.2; 19.5). He controls the lifeblood of all peoples.
But the special emphasis to be drawn from this continues in 45.1-3, where Cyrus is to act as His anointed against the nations.
Within all His control Yahweh has a special purpose for Cyrus. Suddenly in the midst of generalities, even though important generalities, there comes a specific, like a bolt from the Isaianic blue. Isaiah speaks of ‘Cyrus’ (Coresh), whom Yahweh calls ‘My shepherd’, who will do His will, and will ‘perform all My pleasure’. The use of ‘shepherd’ suggests a deliberate avoidance of the word ‘servant’. Cyrus’ relationship with Yahweh is not to be seen as close enough for that. What His pleasure for Cyrus is, is described in 45.1-4.
While there may be an indirect indication here of Cyrus’ connection with the building of the new Temple it is not specific, for these are the words of Yahweh. Verses 28a and 28b are not necessarily directly parallel with each other (see analysis above), and it is significant that in what follows it is Cyrus’ activities over the nations that are stressed and not the building of the new Temple. However, there is undoubtedly a link between the two. The coming of Cyrus did result in a new Temple.
But we must not limit Isaiah’s thinking by seeing this as just the forecasting of a bland historical event. The coming of Cyrus at God’s command is in order to introduce a new situation. It will result in a new beginning for the Servant with the foundation of a new, undefiled and pure Temple, and the rendering powerless of the nations by the ‘drying up of the deep’. It will forward the work of the Servant (45.4). Isaiah’s vision of the new Temple here can be compared with that of Ezekiel 40-48. He has in mind a Temple raised up by God Himself which will fulfil the ministry of the Servant. It will be a new spiritual initiative.
This idea that the Temple must be replaced would come as a shock to Israel, but Isaiah, whose first inauguration as a prophet came in the old Temple where he had a glorious vision of Yahweh (6.1-6), has recognised that it has been defiled (43.28), as Ezekiel would after him, and therefore that it must be replaced. And this will spring out from the new beginning commenced as a result of the activity of Cyrus.
Like much prophecy this sees the short and the long view. In the short term a new Temple was built in the decades following the rise of Cyrus II. It was at a time of great expectation. Zechariah portrayed it in terms of the powerful activity of the Spirit (Zechariah 4.6-10), and Haggai saw it as resulting in the shaking of all nations and the coming of ‘the desire of the nations’ (Haggai 2.7). The glory of this house would be greater than that of the former. And that Temple undoubtedly did continue the witness of the Servant and enable the reestablishment of the worship of Yahweh in the land, and its glory was greater because it retained its purity from idolatry. Moreover in His own way God did shake the nations through it and from it was proclaimed the Name of the One Who was the desire of all nations, with the result (we must not judge its accomplishments by men’s standards) that His Law went out to the nations through the Dispersion. But that Temple also would fail, as would the one that followed, and ‘the princes of the Sanctuary’ would once again be removed and be desanctified.
Neither, however, fulfilled Isaiah’s dream, for this new Temple spoken of by Isaiah symbolised what he saw as the task to be accomplished through the Servant, and it therefore finds its ultimate fulfilment in the new Temple of the Servant through which, in accordance with 2.1-4, His message was taken out to the world. This was the Temple of Jesus Himself (John 2.19-21) and of His people (1 Corinthians 3.16; 6.19; 2 Corinthians 6.16; Ephesians 2.13-22). Yet its foundation was undoubtedly first laid by means of Yahweh’s activity though Cyrus in restoring His people, His Servant.
No indication is given by Isaiah of why the Temple would need to be rebuilt. He does not see any need to explain it. To him it is as clear as day that until that has happened the work of the Servant cannot go forward. He may in his own mind have seen the old Temple as being destroyed in an earthquake or through the activities of invaders but he does not speculate on the matter. All that he is sure of is that there must be a new Temple. Like the period of thirty eight years in the wilderness inflicted on an unbelieving Israel, it was an indication that Yahweh was displeased with the present generation.
(Strictly speaking the language does not demand the destruction of the Temple, for it could be translated as ‘You will be firmly established.’ But in view of what did happen the point need not be pressed further).
That the inauguration of the new era was to be brought about by Cyrus, a Persian king, was indeed a new prophecy and remarkable. And the question would be asked, why should a king of Persia be interested in such things? The brief answer given here is that it is because Yahweh the great Shepherd (40.11; Psalm 23.1; 80.1) has appointed him as His under-shepherd. He Who is sovereign over the nations can do what He will. He Who could use Assyria as the rod of His anger (10.5), could now use the house of Cyrus as His shepherd to watch over His people’s interests.
“Even saying of Jerusalem, ‘She will be rebuilt’, and to the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’ ” Was it God or Cyrus who said this? The first part is almost a repetition of verse 26. It is therefore probably God Who is to be seen as speaking. Although some see it as indicating that Cyrus was made to speak and do the will of God.
But this must then raise the question as to who was this Cyrus? And with that question we must briefly stop at this point and consider the problem of Cyrus, a question which has filled many books and produced many theories.
Note on Cyrus (Hebrew Coresh).
The first question that arises is, whom did Isaiah have in mind when he spoke of Cyrus? Persia was situated east of the Persian Gulf in the Iranian plateau. Achaemenes ruled there from about 700 to 675 BC, being followed by his son Teispes (about 675-640 BC), who was again followed by one of his sons Cyrus I (about 640-600 BC). Cyrus was strong enough to oppose Ashurbanipal of Assyria for a time (a considerable feat), but in the end had to submit to him. Isaiah prophesied from the year of the death of Uzziah (about 740 BC) into the reign of Manasseh (687/6 BC to 642/1 BC, having been co-regent from 696/5 BC).
So if he lived to a good old age Isaiah may well have heard of the birth of the young Cyrus who would become Cyrus I, and may even have been present at celebrations accompanying his birth. It may have been then that through a flash of prophetic inspiration from God he saw him and his coming dynasty as the future hope of Israel, especially if Persia had made an offer of assistance if ever Israel required it. And as far as we know Persia was never involved in activities against Israel. It was probably the only powerful nation in the area in Isaiah’s time not to be connected with military activity against Israel. Thus Persia would not be seen as an enemy. It may even have been that the aged Isaiah, as a highly respected and revered prophet, visited Persia and received assurances of support from Cyrus’ father if ever such support was needed. Furthermore ‘Cyrus’ may well have been the dynastic name, and could even have applied to the whole dynasty from Achaemenes onwards, although there is no archaeological evidence for such an idea. Thus by speaking of ‘Cyrus’ Isaiah may have been referring to ‘the house of Cyrus’, just as ‘David’ could mean the Davidic heir (1 Kings 12.16). This would be even more in line with expectation if the Persian kings at this time revealed something of the same enlightened approach as Cyrus II would do later.
Cyrus I’s son was Cambyses I (about 600-559 BC), who was followed by Cyrus II the Great (about 559-530 BC). It was Cyrus II the Great who established the Persian Empire, defeating the Medes, and then defeating Babylon in 539 BC and decreed the restoration of the Jerusalem Temple and the return of its vessels and paraphernalia (Ezra 1.1-4, 7-11; 6.3-12).
Cyrus II was a great believer in supporting local religions and their gods, and in supporting the restoration of exiled people to their homeland and of their stolen idols to their temples, his only requirement being that prayers be offered for him to their gods, and he regularly even provided money for the purpose. He restored the religion of Marduk in Babylon which gained him the support of the powerful priests of Marduk, and in the Cyrus cylinder he himself acknowledged the help of Marduk in his battles. In a text found at Ur it is Sin, the moon-god, whom he credited with his victories. He thus acknowledged all gods and saw them as on his side. This may well have been a known Persian policy even before his time.
So there are a number of possible views about the use of the name of Cyrus by Isaiah, of which we will briefly consider five:
The fourth solution, while highly favoured by many scholars who read Babylon in everywhere in Isaiah 40-55, ignores the fact that Babylon does not feature strongly in the account at all. Indeed reading the immediate section one would not gain the impression that Babylon was in mind. It is strange that if someone was preaching in Babylon and anticipating deliverance they would only mention Egypt, Ethiopia and the Sabeans (45.14) and that the defeat of Babylon is nowhere connected directly with Cyrus. (Although those who support this view see it as described clearly in chapter 47. But that by itself is an unjustified assumption as there is no clear connection between that chapter and chapter 45).
Of the first three suggestions any is possible, but there is no actual good reason for eliminating the name of Cyrus, apart from the theory. Thus one of the first two would appear to be the more favourable. The fifth solution is not one that has as yet made much impact on commentators, but is very worth considering. How we make our decision will probably depend not so much on the evidence but on how we view prophecy. However, apart from 4). each is compatible with Isaianic authorship.
End of note.
Chapter 45 Yahweh Will Raise Cyrus To Do His Will, To Restore Jerusalem and Enable All Exiles To Return From Wherever They May Be.
The point of raising the name of Cyrus before the attention of his readers is that the house of Cyrus is to inaugurate the new beginning. That is why God had ‘anointed’ him (set him apart for a sacred task). As far as God is concerned that will be his main purpose. Cyrus is then outlined as carrying out God’s further purposes in the world, by conquering nations and subduing them so that he may experience Yahweh’s power and be aware of the supernatural power behind his success (He will know that God is Yahweh). He is to be rewarded with the treasures of the nations.
We know indeed from history that Cyrus was making a world more amenable to responding to the truth. He gave no particular god special prominence, but favoured all. He wanted them all on his side. He brought them all to the same level and would, as a result, encourage exiles to return to their own land to worship their own gods. This would then enable all exiles from Israel who wished to, to do so (verse 13; compare 11.11; 43.5-6).
But it should be noted that there is nowhere any specific mention of Babylon, or of a Babylonian captivity, in the passage. Rather the individual emphasis, if there is one, is on African countries, Egypt, Cush and Seba (see 43.3), the countries who had been God’s ransom for Israel, but would now (at some stage unknown) be given to Israel. Those who had been made to serve God’s purpose under Assyrian belligerence, would now be rewarded by being brought to Yahweh. (It is noteworthy that Egypt, Assyria, Tyre and Cush have all been seen as candidates for God’s future blessing, but that there is no such suggestion for Babylon - 18.7; 19.23-25; 23.18).
The importance of Cyrus II for Israel cannot be overstated. Not only was he to make possible a new era in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple, but he would also lay the foundation for the acceptance of God’s true message by men. For instead of forcing his own gods on people he encouraged them to worship their own gods, and revealed a tolerance in religion that changed the way that things were seen. Indeed he himself was willing to worship any god who was prominent in any of the conquered nations, and give it credit. While not the ideal, and certainly not satisfactory for God’s people, this could only give a better opportunity for truth to finally prevail as men’s minds became more open to considering other religions than their own.
Note that the chapter is united around the phrase ‘I am Yahweh and there is no other’ or equivalent phrases (verses 5, 6, 14, 18, 21, 22). This is of course the very opposite of Cyrus’ view. And yet paradoxically he did much to finally establish the fact of Yahweh’s uniqueness without realising it.
Cyrus Has Been Called In Order To Assist God’s Servant, His Chosen One (45.1-8).
God speaks of Cyrus as ‘His anointed’. That was a description usually reserved from a royal point of view for the Davidic house, but the idea of ‘anointing’ is regularly used for setting apart to service and this is therefore little different from Assyria being set apart as His rod (in 10.5), (or Nebuchadnezzar as His servant in Jeremiah 27.6). It is simply stressing that his activity results from God having set him apart for this service. Compare how He could set aside and ‘anoint’ Hazael, king of Syria, in a similar way (1 Kings 19.15-17). It was not an indication of Cyrus’ submission, but of Yahweh’s sovereignty.
One point of this stress on Cyrus as His ‘anointed’ is that the one who should have been His ‘anointed’, the scion of the house of David, had failed Him. Indeed we might see that as explaining why he is called the Anointed One. The insider had failed, and so God had to look to an outsider. Thus until the coming of Immanuel He had to look to other Israel for His instrument. It was an indication that Immanuel was yet to come.
‘Whose right hand I have held.’ The picture is not of a little child being led, but of a strong hand giving help and assistance in a difficult task. He is strengthening Cyrus’ strong right hand.
Cyrus’ rapid conquests are now depicted as being due to Yahweh. God subdues nations before him, and makes kings surrender as they put off their armour. He opens up every door, including those of king’s palaces, a sign of his being welcomed, and ensures that no gates are closed before him. When the gates banged shut it was a sign of the arrival of a hard siege, but Cyrus was to be spared that.
It is Yahweh Who gives Cyrus his wonderful victories. It is He Who goes before him, and makes the hard going easier, who breaks down the strong doors that guard the way, and destroys the locks and bolts that prevent access. He gives him the treasures hidden away in dark places, in inaccessible places, in hidden places, in underground vaults, in caves, and wherever men keep their treasures. And He does this so that Cyrus is made aware of the fact that Yahweh, Who has called him by name to do this work, is in action. ‘Making the rugged places plain’ can be compared with 40.4. He is Yahweh’s ambassador.
This does not signify an expectancy that Cyrus will be ‘converted’. ‘Knowing that God is Yahweh’ often signifies an awareness that a divine power which is not understood is at work (Exodus 14.4), while being ‘called by name’ signifies rather the authority of the caller over the person of the one who is called by name (compare 40.26; Esther 2.14).
‘That you may know that it is I, Yahweh, Who call you by name.’ For this phrase compare Exodus 14.4. There the Egyptians were to ‘know that He was Yahweh’ when they were destroyed at the Reed Sea, but there was certainly no thought of conversion there. It was simply that what they experienced would make them realise that they were up against something bigger than they had expected or could cope with, something which they did not understand, something greater than they had anticipated. See also the use in 1 Kings 8.60; 2 Kings 19.19; Ezekiel 21.5. In the same way will Cyrus ‘know that it is Yahweh’ because he will experience powerful victories such as he had never dreamed of, and be aware of a supernatural power at work even though he does not know its source. He may give credit to Marduk, or Sin, and to Yahweh as well when addressing Israel (Ezra 1.2) but he has been made aware of a power greater than himself. Without knowing it he has been made aware of Yahweh. Of course had he responded it might well have resulted in his conversion. But that is not the point at issue.
Behind this thought is that because he is aware that behind his success is the power of more than just his own favourite gods he will support the worship of Yahweh, which in fact he did, although not exclusively.
The treasures he will obtain are clearly his reward for doing Yahweh’s will in restoring Jerusalem and the Temple and subduing the nations. We can contrast here how Abraham refused to accept a reward for what he did (Genesis 14.22-23). But Abraham was Yahweh’s servant, not His external appointee. God is debtor to no man.
It is now made clear that Cyrus was not called for his own sake. He was called for the sake of Jacob, Yahweh’s servant, and Israel, Yahweh’s chosen. He was thus raised up to further the work of the chosen Servant of God. The reason for his anointing was not because he himself was ‘a chosen one’, but because God was setting him apart to act on behalf of those who were God’s chosen one.
‘I have called you by your name, I have surnamed you although you have not known me.’ Yahweh has called him by name so as to exercise His authority over him, and has surnamed him to show that he must do the will of Yahweh, even though he does not know Him. To surname means to give a name or title. It may refer directly to the fact the He has called him ‘My shepherd’ and ‘My anointed’.
And that will of Yahweh is that, girded by God, provided for and strengthened and borne along, he might assist Yahweh’s chosen Servant, with the result that through their witness all nations, from east to west, might be made aware of Yahweh and Who and What He is, and that they might know that there is no other God apart from Yahweh, that He alone is God. For this was the Servant’s mission.
Note the sequence of the phrases. The third and sixth line, completing each set of three, emphasise that ‘I am Yahweh and there is none else’, in other words that there is no other God apart from Yahweh. Between the first two lines and the fourth and fifth line there is progression. In the first two it is stressed that he has been called for Jacob/Israel’s sake, because they are Yahweh’s servant and chosen one, in the fourth and fifth it is stressed that God has girded him so that he can be an unwitting witness to the nations, not by his own witness, but by preserving those who are Yahweh’s witnesses. In both cases the aim is to bring out that Yahweh is the only God, and there is no other beside Him. In line three ‘I am Yahweh and there is none else’ leads the way, in line six it completes the description. ‘Beside me there is no God’, and its equivalent, complete line three and introduce line six. There is a beauty of pattern and symmetry as so often in Isaiah.
Yahweh is not only the only God, He also controls all things. Forming the light and creating darkness is a reminder of Genesis 1.2-5. He is the Creator of all that is, of the very basis of creation, and He continues to sustain that light and also to produce darkness. Without light and darkness life could not go on. He continues to maintain the world as a place full of contrasts, from one extreme to another, both good and ill, and He especially continues with His work of forming light and creating darkness in a spiritual sense, so that some respond to His light, and others turn away to darkness.
‘I make peace and create disaster.’ As with the previous phrase the contrast must be seen as that of opposites. He makes peace and creates unpeace. Harmony and wellbeing is what God desires for the world, and He seeks to ensure its continuance; disaster (compare Job 2.10) destroys that harmony, and yet He has created that too. For the one makes men seek God because of contentment and prosperity, the other through trial and suffering. And God takes responsibility for all because as the Creator He is finally responsible for all. He is the One Who does all these things.
For different uses of the root for ‘evil’ compare for example Genesis 19.19, ‘some disaster’; 28.8, ‘were unsatisfactory, did not please’; 31.52, ‘do harm’; 37.20, description of a savage beast; 40.7, of looking ‘sad’; 41.3, of being ‘ill-favoured’: 44.29 ‘sorrow’ that results from the evil of misfortune; 44.34; 47.9; 48.16, ‘evil, misfortune’; and so on. It does not necessarily refer to moral evil, although it can do so.
The nations interpreted such things as these as resulting from warring and disputes among the gods. Yahweh excludes the gods and takes full responsibility for it all. No one is involved but Him (compare 44.24).
We now have an illustration of how God forms the light and ‘makes peace’. He calls on the heavens to pour down righteousness, and the earth to open and result in deliverance. The first thought here is of a fruitful heaven and earth. The rains pour down at God’s command, the reward of righteousness, the earth opens up, to produce abundant fruitfulness, bringing deliverance to man, and vindication to His people (compare 32.15).
But in the light of 44.3-5 it goes beyond that. It speaks of God’s transforming power in producing life and salvation in men’s hearts, of the pouring out of His Spirit, of the establishing of righteousness and the vindication of His people by they themselves being made righteousness. There can never be vindication without resulting righteousness. Those who are ‘saved’ are reborn from above (compare 55.10-11 where the word which signifies ‘bring to birth’ is actually used). Here in full glory is His purpose for His Servant.
‘That they may bring forth salvation.’ ‘They’ being the heavens, the skies and the earth. ‘Her’ then reverts to the earth. They bring forth the fruit of righteousness. and deliverance for man. It is total deliverance for His own.
‘I Yahweh have created it.’ Yahweh has brought it about from nothing. It is all His doing quite apart from the working of the world and natural events. In His sovereignty He personally intervenes to produce a situation that would not otherwise have happened. Cyrus can have his part in encouraging the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple, but only God can perform the miracle that rebuilds the hearts of men.
Isaiah Counters Any Possible Opposition That What He Has Suggested Is Unacceptable And Declares Yahweh’s Sovereign Power To Accomplish His Will (45.9-13).
Having earlier in chapters 7, 9, 11 referred to the raising of one supernaturally born from the Davidic house to bring about God’s final restoration, it is understandable that some might cavil at the idea of an ungodly outsider being the means of their present deliverance and the rebuilding of the city and the temple. There was no way that they could see him as the son of David and therefore it would mean the delay of all to which they looked forward. Isaiah counters by simply stating that God can do what He likes when He likes and we have no right to question it.
Woe to him who enters into an argument with his Maker, says Isaiah, for no one has the right to contend with and disagree with his Maker, any more than the clay can ask the potter what he is making, or his work can say that he cannot do it. The clay is submissive. It neither questions the potter’s purpose nor his ability. And we are all only potsherds, like other potsherds, (even Cyrus), while He is the Potter. Thus no one has the right to question what God has determined to do, under any circumstances.
If therefore Yahweh chooses to use a Persian to advance His purposes, that is His decision, and if He determines to use the worm Jacob as His Servant, although only when he has been transformed, then that too is His decision. No one has any right to question either.
The second picture with a similar intent is that of a couple having a child, except that it adds the idea of being intrusive. Woe to him (shame on him) who aggressively questions a man and his wife about what they are producing. The parents receive what comes from the hand of God and it is no one else’s business, and it would be wrong for others to seek to interfere. So are His people to receive what comes from His hands without questioning it, leaving it in the hands of the Father.
In the same way it not open to men, even to His people, to question His ways. He will work in His own way and make His children whom He will.
This can only be biting sarcasm, for it concerns the Holy One of Israel and the Maker of Israel, the One Who is set apart and distinctive, and the One Who is Lord over all as its Creator.
The question is, how dare His people question Him, the Maker of all things, about whom He will produce (as His sons) or about what He will do and make (as the potter)? They cannot. They have no right to. Thus we may paraphrase, ‘Go ahead. Go on asking me of things to come. Go on asking me about my future sons. Go on commanding me concerning the work of my hands. If you do I will take no notice! You are presumptious. It is totally unacceptable. For I control both heaven and earth, I both created man and the earth, and I stretched out the heaven and command all their host, both animate and inanimate. So I can do what I will with both.’
God, (the ‘I’ is stressed), then confirms what He intends to do, and He will do it whatever questions may be asked, continuing to confirm his sovereignty. He has already in His mind raised Cyrus up ‘in righteousness’, (i.e. there is nothing wrong in what He is doing. It is perfectly valid. It is in fact in order to advance good and to fulfil God’s righteous purpose), and will go before him to straighten the way before him. And the reason for it is in order that he might rebuild Jerusalem and free all those of God’s people taken into captivity wherever they may be. It is in order that he might repair all damage that has been caused in the past. And he will do it without demanding payment.
So Yahweh is, through Cyrus, preparing the groundwork for His people’s restoration. Humanly speaking it will then be in their hands what they will do. But they will have no excuse. If the exiles wish to they will be able to return from wherever they are, from Assyria, from Media, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar (Babylon), from Hamath, to the land of God’s inheritance, and there will be a Jerusalem to return to. That is Cyrus’ task, and why God has called him, and it was what Cyrus achieved from God’s point of view.
Note that while Cyrus is ‘raised up in righteousness’ because God is using him righteously, he is not ‘called in righteousness’, a different concept. He may be ‘called by name’ but he is not ‘a called one.’ He is not one of the called of God. He is but a shadow of what the Servant is.
Yahweh’s Final Victory For His True People (45.14-17).
After his brief moment of glory Cyrus is now left behind and Isaiah moves on to the final victory of God’s people through the work of the Servant. There is no limit as to time. Isaiah sees a patchwork of events that will occur, but is in no position to fit them together.
45.14 ‘Thus says Yahweh,
Yahweh first promise to His Servant is that the North African nations, with all their wealth and vigour, the nations which were once given as their ransom (43.3), will one day subject themselves to them, because they acknowledge their God. The labour of Egypt may represent their production, or it may signify that they will be bondmen (a suitable reversal of the bondage in Egypt), the merchandise of Cush is their riches, the tallness of the Sabeans may well indicate their usefulness as servants. They will follow after Israel in chains (taking Christ’s yoke on them) and will subject themselves to Israel’s God, recognising that He alone is God (compare verses 5-6 and in respect of Egypt 19.16-22).
The basic idea is of their total subjection to Israel’s God. The chains are symbolic of being in submission, of being made captive, in the end of being under Christ’s yoke. Those who sought to enchain Israel will themselves be voluntarily chained. This was partially through the Dispersion when God’s word and Law was taken into these areas and responded to, bringing them ‘under the yoke of the Law’, it was fulfilled in the triumph of the Gospel when the ‘soldiers’ of Christ went out to North Africa with the sword of the word in their hands and captured their hearts and received their obedience to Yahweh. It has continued in the missionary activity of the church. And it will reach its final fulfilment when all the redeemed from these nations enter the Holy City in eternity in total submission to Yahweh (Revelation 21.24).
The mention of such a combination of nations was most likely in the time of Isaiah and Hezekiah when Cushite Pharaohs ruled Egypt.
45.15 ‘Truly you are a God who hides yourself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.’
This sudden revelation of a switch in fortunes brings an expression of praise from Isaiah. This is something new, he says. Clearly God has been hiding from His people and the world much of what He is going to do. His salvation is going to be greater than anyone has comprehended.
Such activities of God will spell the death knell of idols. In the light of the worldwide spread of the truth idolatry will be put to shame. Those who make them will be ashamed of them, they will all be filled with confusion together, they will be put to shame. No one will want to have anything to do with them. When God arises even Babylon will be put to shame.
But for God’s true people there will not be shame, but an everlasting deliverance. Never again through all eternity will they be ashamed and confounded. Note the strong emphasis on everlasting. It will be true for ever and ever and ever
So Yahweh Calls Men Around The World To Repent (45.18-25).
God then points out that He did not create the world to be empty, but to be inhabited. It was not just Jerusalem that He wanted to be inhabited with His own (44.26), it was the world. Nor did He proclaim His word in secret, as in a secret society. His words were not empty of meaning, like stilted phrases of a cult. His world was intended for all, and so were His words, that all might live in it and know righteousness, and what is right. Thus He calls on such inhabitants of the world as have turned from their useless idols, to come together to consider things. Was it not He Who had told them about these happenings from the beginning? So let those at the ends of the earth turn to Yahweh, and let them recognise His sovereignty. For He alone provides strength and reality.
The rather complicated structure of the verse is in order to stress Yahweh’s design and purpose in creation. He ‘created’, then He ‘fashioned’, then He ‘made’ it what it became, then He established it. Thus His purpose was not to leave it empty and a waste (tohu - compare Genesis 1.2). He wanted it to be designed and inhabited and established. It was not created in order to be a ‘waste’, it was created for a specific purpose resulting from what God would do with the ‘waste’. Indeed He made it for man to live in, He made it for all men, and He wanted them to live in it as His people. (For ‘be inhabited’ compare 44.26). And who did this? It was Yahweh, the One Who is God (Psalm 96.5). It was Yahweh and no other. The implication therefore is that all should look to Him
This does not mean that the creation was not originally created ‘empty’ before light came and gave it substance. Genesis 1.2 says that it was precisely created in that way, as Isaiah is well aware (that is why he mentions it). It means that that was only the very first stage in the process of creation. After that would come His forming process, the final stage of which was man. Into the darkness He brought light. Into the emptiness He brought electromagnetic waves. So the world owes all to His activity in design.
In the same way that the world was made in order to be inhabited, so were Yahweh’s words spoken in order to have effect. He has not spoken in secret, or in some place in a land of darkness where nothing can be seen and men can meet in secret. It was not to some secret society. Nor did He tell His people, the seed of Jacob, to seek Him in what was empty and barren, in the kind of empty words which often accompany rituals, or even in an empty land. Rather He speaks righteousness, and declares the things that are right. His message is not empty or turgid but positive and demanding and full of content. And it is all about righteousness and goodness and truth, that which all men in their inner hearts all men long for.
Alternately ‘the land of darkness’ may refer to the countries to which exiles have been taken away from ‘the land of light’, from Israel. Then we would remove the comma and read ‘I have not spoken in secret in a place of the land of darkness’, the idea being that He has spoken openly there, not with empty phrases but about righteousness.
Those who have escaped of the nations are invited to, as it were, assemble themselves and to come and draw near to consider a verdict. The impression given is that these escapees have escaped from idolatry, for they are contrasted with those who have no knowledge, being idolaters. Idolatrous people are derided, for they look to a god who cannot save. Alternately they may be being called on to now recognise and face up to the folly of idolatry.
These words could be referring to faithful Israel among the worldwide exiles who have returned to purity of religion, or it may have in mind Gentiles who have been attracted by the faith of the dispersed of Israel, or those who have been disillusioned about the gods by what has come on the earth, or indeed all who have escaped the judgments which have come on the earth and are seeking answers. In other words those whose hearts might be open to truth.
They are contrasted with those who carry around wooden graven images at their religious festivals (see 46.1), who are without sense and spiritual awareness, praying to a god who cannot save, and they are called to a positive response, to consider the facts.
The gods who cannot save are in striking contrast with the One Who calls on the whole world to be saved if they will but look (verse 22). And the gods who have to be carried about on carts (compare 46.1-2) are in striking contrast to the God Who is over heaven and earth and created all things (verse 18).
The appeal continues to those who are disillusioned with idolatry. They are to declare and bring forth what they now think. Then he calls on them to gather in solemn court and speak to each other and discuss matters together and to recognise Who has shown ‘this’ from ancient time, and declared it of old. ‘This’ may be the fact of their exile experiences and their intended purifying effects, or more likely Isaiah’s and other more ancient prophecies concerning all the events and judgments which have disillusioned men. In view of the reference to ancient time the latter is probably more likely.
And Who has shown it from ancient times? Why, none other than Yahweh of course, the One beside Whom there is no other (repeated twice). The One Who is righteous and Who can deliver. Note again the stress on righteousness. This is central to the appeal. And it is further stressed that not only is He righteous but also a Saviour. He does not leave those who seek Him in unrighteousness.
We should note that God is righteous because He is the source and arbiter of righteousness. All is measured by His standards, and He is holy. He is the perfect standard of what right is. (That is why to sin is to come short of the glory of God - Romans 3.23). And His righteousness is revealed in the salvation which He brings to His repentant people through the blood of offerings. And because He is righteous He expects righteousness from all who would worship Him.
45.22 “Look to me and be saved all the ends of the earth, for I am God and there is none else.”
So the call goes out to the ends of the earth to look to the only God for deliverance. All these wondering people must now turn to Him. In Him is salvation. The non-mention of the name Yahweh would suggest that the call is intended to include all nations as ‘all the ends of the earth’ suggests. It is a universal cry. But the call can only go out through His Servant, for there is no one else to take it. This is to be the Servant’s present task. It may well be that Isaiah was in touch with many exiles and was able to get his writings through to them.
Notice the continued emphasis on righteousness. It lies at the root of this whole section. God is calling the nations to righteousness. And that righteousness can only result in every knee bowing to Him, and every tongue swearing fealty to His name. The fact that they can be ‘saved’ signifies that righteousness can be made available to them through forgiveness (compare 44.22). It proclaims that they can both be ‘put in the right’ and then ‘made right’. Righteousness became almost parallel in meaning with deliverance and salvation precisely because Israel came to recognise that God’s salvation would produce righteousness, and a people acceptable to God. It would be a righteous deliverance. Full deliverance must involve righteousness, for before Yahweh, the righteous One, there can be no true deliverance without it. To walk rightly is to have been freed from all unrighteousness.
A mighty word which will accomplish its purpose has now gone out from Yahweh, and He has guaranteed its fulfilment by an oath (compare Genesis 22.16-18). He will bring it about buy His sovereign power. And the fulfilment of it is that ‘to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear.’ It is a word that has gone out in righteousness, so that its results will be righteous. Thus the submission will be on the basis of righteousness. Those accounted righteous will submit in order to serve, the unrighteous in order to fear the consequences. Those who refuse His righteousness will be ashamed (Note here how it is to be part of the Servant’s activity to make many accounted righteous, because He will bear their iniquities (53.11)). And it is a submission that is certain for everyone. Every knee will have bow. All nations round about might in the future be bowing to Cyrus, but one day he will be replaced. In that day every knee will bow to Yahweh and every tongue swear fealty. The whole world will own Yahweh as King, whether for blessing or for judgment. (In Philippians 2.5-11 this is applied to Jesus Christ by Paul as the One to Whom all would bow).
Indeed in that day men will say, ‘Only in Yahweh is righteousness and strength.’ They will know that there is nowhere else to look. They will know that there is no other name in heaven and earth whereby men can be saved. He alone will be able to provide men with righteousness. He alone will be able to give them strength. He alone will be able to vindicate them.
But there will be those who will still be antagonistic towards Him. They too will have to come and bow the knee, but for them it will be to hear the sentence of judgment. They will be ashamed before Him. They will weep and gnash their teeth as sentence goes against them.
In that day all the true seed of Israel, those taken within the protection of Israel, will have been put in the right (53.10), and they will be able to glory, and cry ‘glory to the Righteous One’ (24.16). They will be justified and will glory. These represent those are the faithful in Israel, and all those who unite with the faithful in Israel through the cross (Ephesians 2.12-22).
Chapter 46 The Gods Of Babylon Are In Disarray And They Are Borne By Men While Yahweh In Contrast Bears Men And Delivers Them.
Having led up to God’s final triumph in chapter 45 we are suddenly faced with the opposite side of the picture. Yahweh is on the road to His triumph, but in contrast the greatest of the gods, the gods of Babylon, are in total disarray, being borne away on carts, or on the backs of asses, to disgrace. They are on the road to humiliation. Their makers are confounded (45.16). This must be so when Yahweh triumphs. It is a necessary part of the picture. Babel’s growth right from the beginning meant that the world had turned away from God and set itself up in opposition to Him (Genesis 10.9-12; 11.1-9: Isaiah 13-14). So God’s triumph (45.22-25) must result in Babylon’s disintegration, and the humiliation of their gods. This is the reversal of Genesis 11.
Isaiah here brings out the strong contrast between Babel’s gods and Israel’s God, and is preparing the way for the rise of God’s Servant and its consequences. Babel’s gods are probably to be seen as representative of all the idols that he has been deriding, the ones about whom the greatest boasts have been made. All men revered the gods of Babylon. And it is these very gods which will be humiliated and shamed.
The Gods Of Babylon Are Borne By Asses And Are Wearying Even The Animal Creation Which Carries Them. Their End Is Approaching (46.1-2).
This vivid description is of the gods of Babylon being carried away from Babylon into captivity. Babylon is creaking at the seams. And these great idols did not leave in triumph, they were being borne by beasts, by mules and oxen, possibly in carts or on the backs of beasts of burden. They had previously been borne in triumph at festivals, but now they had become simply a heavy burden over the long miles, an uncomfortable burden that made the beasts very weary. The beasts stumbled, but these gods were such that they were unable to render any assistance.
‘They stoop, they bow down together.’ They themselves just bobbed up and down helplessly, ignominiously fastened on with ropes. They are at the mercy of the movement caused by the stumbling beasts, bowing down to all around.
‘They could not deliver from the burden.’ There is probably a double emphasis here. They could not deliver Babylon from the burden coming on it, and they could not even deliver these poor dumb beasts from their burden.
‘But are gone into captivity.’ It was Sennacherib who carried away the gods of Babylon from Babylon to Assyria in his fury at their rebellion in around 689 BC and Isaiah saw in this the beginning of the fulfilment of his prophecies against Babylon. Although in fact Esarhaddon would later restore the situation and rebuild the temple of Marduk. So the end was not yet. But what had happened to the idols was to Isaiah a vivid picture of their continued helplessness. It is probable that Isaiah had had descriptions of this event brought to him, a visual confirmation of all that he had prophesied. He was unlikely to forget them.
They were also the almost contemporary and ideal illustrations for what he wanted to say next. The great gods of Babylon had been borne ignominiously on the backs of asses into exile, and had been unable to do anything about it! It was a symbol of what was to happen to all gods.
Bel was by this time the same as Marduk, the city god of Babylon, Nebo was his son, and was the city god of Borsippa and the god of writing and wisdom. Both would be carried in the New year procession in Babylon when the Tables of Destiny had written on them the fates decreed by the gods for the coming year.
It should be noted that Cyrus, in direct contrast to Sennacherib, actually restored the worship of Marduk after it had been casually set aside by Nabonidus, and only transferred gods in order to restore them to previous ownership. Thus this would not have been speaking of him. He gained the support of the priests of Marduk He did not rob them of their gods. This brings this writing directly into the days of Isaiah. The Babylon in mind is the Babylon in the days of Assyrian control.
However, while the prime purpose of this description is to indicate that Babylon’s end is approaching because of the helplessness and uselessness of her gods, Isaiah also uses it to contrast the gods of the nations with Yahweh.
While The Gods Of The Nations Have To Be Borne By Man And Beast, Yahweh Himself In Contrast Bears His People (46.3-7).
In contrast with the ignominious situation of the gods of Babylon who have to be borne away on the backs of beasts or on carts, for His own people, God is the One Who Himself does the bearing. Those who have survived of Jacob/Israel after the Assyrian transportation of Israel and the subsequent massacres in Judah, and who are true to Him, have been ‘borne’ by Him from belly to birth, and through life until old age. He has made them and He will bear them, and what is more, in carrying them He will deliver them (as the Babylonian gods were even unable to do for the beasts who bore them). So Yahweh is the great Bearer of His people, and Himself never has to be carried. And He both carries and delivers His people.
God wants all idols to be put firmly in their place. He asks contemptuously to whom they will liken Him and whom they will count as His equal, and put on a par with Him. Surely not the silver and gold image, made into a god by the goldsmith, who has to be carried everywhere and when set down stays exactly where he is put. And when someone cries to him he can neither answer nor deliver them out of trouble. For whatever they may claim, that is the fact of the matter. Will they really compare Him to Babylon and its idols, when all they are is a burden to their worshippers?
So they must reveal their manhood and their human intelligence by appreciating Who and what He is.
‘Remember this and show yourselves men’ probably means ‘remember what I am and what I have done, and the former things of old, and show that you are rational like men should be by understanding it and responding’. Or it may mean ‘show yourselves to be real men by responding in action’. The result is the same. This is the only use in the Old Testament of ’ish (man) as a verb. The next phrase then reveals His opinion of those He is speaking to. It stresses that they are transgressors. Thus for them a change of mind is needed.
This is an appeal to the unfaithful in Israel. He wants them to remember the former things of old which will prove that He, and He alone is God, and respond. Let them consider the gods of Babylon bobbing along on the backs of asses. Then let them consider the fact that He is the only God, and that this is revealed by the fact that He declares the end from the beginning, revealing the whole of things from beginning to end, and reveals things that have not happened long before they do. It is also revealed by the fact of His sovereign statements when He declares that what He has counselled will stand, and He will bring about what He determines. Thus He is supreme. How foolish of them then to transgress against Him.
‘Saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” There is a contrast here between Cyrus having done all His pleasure (44.28), and God’s own doing of His own pleasure. For His purposes and pleasure are longer lasting than the brief activity of Cyrus, separating the end from the beginning. Indeed they began when He called Abraham from the East in order that through his seed he might raise up His Servant to bless all nations and bring the world to Himself (41.2-10).
Let them remember the former things, His ancient activity, and what He has declared which is still not yet done. Isaiah is now dealing with God’s prime purposes in history and their fulfilment, and he therefore again briefly recapitulates the advent of Abraham (41.2-4), for the prime example of Yahweh’s ancient activity is Abraham and the raising up of the Servant. He was called from the East and descended as a bird of prey on Canaan, establishing himself in the land, ridding it of the king of Babylon (Shinar) and then through his descendants driving out the inhabitants. He was also a man after God’s own heart, who did all His will and followed His counsel. He was truly and literally ‘a man of my counsel’. He above all men vividly received the counsel of Yahweh, and responded to it. His whole life resulted from following that counsel. Which was why (from Israel’s viewpoint) Egypt, Babylon and the Philistines all submitted to him.
Cyrus was not a man of God’s counsel. The men of God’s counsel were His messengers the prophets (44.26). And in the context the description requires one involved in God’s counsels from the beginning.
Abraham has already been described as ‘a man from the east’ in 41.2, which see. And has previously been used to demonstrate Yahweh’s power to influence history (41.4). Now he is briefly brought back into the picture so that we are reminded of the prime message of this part of Isaiah, the coming forth of the Servant, preparatory to the destruction of that hindrance to all God’s working, Babylon, which is all part of the ancient plan. For Abraham is the original Servant.
‘The man of My counsel.’ We have been told in verse 11 that His counsel is from ancient times, and goes on in terms of what is ‘not yet done. For He declares the end from the beginning. Thus the one in mind here must be someone involved continually in God’s plans, His Servant, who commenced with Abraham and will continue to the end. This was just not true of Cyrus who was a momentary bright star. But Abraham was the first prophet (44.26 with Genesis 20.7).
‘Bird of prey’ must not be seen as a derogatory title, any more than is ‘lion’ which can be used of God’s favourites (Numbers 23.24; 24.8-9). It is rather the description of someone strong and powerful descending swiftly on the unsuspecting, and seizing the prey, which is exactly what Abraham and his descendants did to their enemies.
Nor must the tenses of the verbs deceive us. As we have regularly seen they do not indicate chronology but completeness and incompleteness. We could paraphrase as ‘when I have spoken I bring it about, when I have purposed I do it’. And we must remember that when Abraham was called his seed was called in him. This would result in still future ‘callings’ for ‘Abraham’ in the call of the Servant at different times; in Moses, David and the like, and also the call of the true Israel to be His Servant, and finally the call of the greater David Who would finalise God’s purposes (see on 41.1-42.9). What He has spoken in Abraham He will bring about through his seed who entered Canaan in him (41.8).
In 41.2 Abraham has been spoken of as ‘called in righteousness’, here he is described as ‘a man of my counsel’, both titles of full approval and demonstrating that he is fully pleasing to God. Furthermore we should note that this chapter has from verse 3 been full of God’s care and concern for His people. It has described His bearing and carrying of them, His delivering of them, and His purposes for them from of old, in the controlling of history and carrying out of His will. Thus a brief reintroduction of the Servant here fits aptly
After the surprising prophecy about Cyrus, which was in order to demonstrate how Yahweh would bring in a new era in him, replacing the Temple and subduing the nations, we required some statement like this which would bring us back to the idea of God’s prime Servant through whom He will introduce His righteousness and place salvation in Zion for Israel His glory. For the truth is that there is really no reason for again introducing Cyrus here. He has been dispensed with in chapter 45. So here we are brought back to the idea of the original Servant. Isaiah’s primary concern is with the final triumph of God.
Note on The Bird of Prey From The East.
The most popular attribution by commentaries of this bird of prey from the East is to Cyrus. But that is largely due to reading subsequent history back into Isaiah, and often with a fixation which the text does not support. Because of subsequent history, with its concentration on the Exile in Babylon, they are seized with the idea that ‘Isaiah’ must be seen as in Babylon encouraging his people with the hope of a return from that land back to Jerusalem, and that this is therefore a picture of Cyrus swooping on Babylon. But that idea, while superficially attractive, is nowhere apparent from the text. It is certainly nowhere clearly stated there. The text deals in great principles, not in a limited situation of exiles coming home from Babylon. It is therefore something that we have rejected simply for that reason, because it is not what the text says. While superficially plausible it is not the situation that is actually being portrayed.
As we have seen the impression given by the text from the start is in fact far different. It is that Isaiah is in Jerusalem and seeking to evangelise the people of Israel, to bring to them the vision of God, to call exiles to return from all over the world, and supremely to bring out the activity of Yahweh’s Servant. Babylon, while having to be dealt with as the enemy of God supreme lurking in the background, is incidental to his main purpose (if Babylon can ever be called incidental), simply acting as the representative of all that is anti-God. It is the city that has to be destroyed because it is the deceiver of the nations and because of its great claims, and because it represents what is bad in all cities. It personifies the world city of 24.10; 25.2; 26.6. It represents idolatry in opposition to God. That is why as the supreme enemy of God it has to be destroyed before the Servant can fulfil his work. But that is because it is a dark and threatening shadow in the background, not because it is actually seen as interfering in the main plot, apart from by its insidiousness.
This is something which had already been stressed in chapters 13-14, where Babylon, while treated as one of the nations rising against Assyria, was also depicted as something far greater than that. Whereas in Genesis 3 emphasis was put on the snake behind which lay a dark and shadowy influence, so throughout Isaiah emphasis is laid on Babylon, behind which is a similar dark and shadowy influence. Like the snake Babylon is picked out as the supreme rebel. Both centralise in themselves the world’s opposition to God. And this is so because from the very beginning Babylon had represented enmity against God. In Genesis 4 Cain in his rebellion ‘built a city’ (established occupation as a group in an encampment or network of caves) and this idea in turn later became centred on Babel (Genesis 10.10; 11.1-9; 14.1). Now that rebellion continues in Babylon.
In fact if we look from the point of view of history the destruction of Babylon actually described in Isaiah goes far beyond anything that Cyrus did. Babylon is to be totally destroyed, and it is Yahweh Who will bring it about as Israel’s Kinsman Redeemer (47.4). Cyrus in fact actually left Babylon largely unaffected except for its change of ruler.
And it will be noted how often it is necessary in Isaiah for commentators to apologise for the text because it does not quite say what they want it to say. They would rather suggest that Isaiah was wrong (about for example the Medes in chapter 13) than discard their interesting but mistaken hypothesis. But the hypothesis to accept is, if at all possible, the one that fits the facts stated.
For the problem is that the text is continually uncompliant with their hypothesis. It just does not say what they want it to say. The truth is that if describing and calling for the return of exile from Babylon was what the writer was mainly trying to do he has gone a strange way about it. He has constantly refused to make any reference to captivity in Babylon, he has spoken regularly as if he were in Jerusalem, he has not brought mention of Babylon in at crucial points, and when he has referred to the return of exiles it has been of worldwide exiles, not of Babylonian exiles.
What he has actually concentrated on has mainly been the raising of God’s Servant preparatory to God’s worldwide triumph, while, apart from its fate at His hands, Babylon has been almost ignored. And it will continue to be so except as an example of God’s great enemy who has to be dealt with, as already demanded in 13-14. Its mention was necessary to Isaiah because it symbolised ‘the city’ as against God. It thus symbolised all cities. That is why it is the one city for which no future hope is ever prophesied. Babylon is to him the example of all that is at enmity with God, and seeking to drag men down, and must therefore be destroyed utterly. But that his silence in so many places about Babylon was not because he was afraid of offending Babylon comes out in his quite open prophecy of its humiliation and destruction in both 43.14 and 47. When he does speak of it, it is as what is most insidious, a strange approach to someone supposed to be avoiding offence.
This non-mention of Babylon was true even when writing of the activity of Cyrus. Nothing is said there about Babylon, and even when the destruction of Babylon is described in chapter 47, it is neither connected by the writer with Cyrus, nor with the deliverance of exiles. It stands on its own as an indication of God’s final purpose for Babylon (a destruction never actually brought about by Cyrus). And yet, as we have pointed out above, the declaration that Babylon is to be destroyed is evidence enough that he did not veil his writing in fear of what the Babylonians might do.
It is true that there is one reference (48.20) which could just possibly be interpreted as referring to exiles returning from Babylon, but even that is doubtful. The plea there is for those associated with Babylon to disassociate themselves with it in haste. It does not read like an orderly return from Babylon with the agreement of the overlord (Ezra 1), such as later took place. It reads as a desperate flight from all that is evil. A return of exiles from there might indeed be seen as expected and necessary in view of 11.11 and 39.6-7, but surely not in these terms. This is not a call to people who have settled in Babylonia to return home, it is a call to all those actually involved with Babylon, to desert her before it is to late. It does not necessarily totally exclude the thought that exiles might be in mind, they too should flee, but it is certainly not a strong case for it.
We can safely say that if someone who knew little of history picked up the book of Isaiah and read it he would not come away with the idea that chapters 40-55 were dealing with a return of God’s people from Babylon. If he noticed the occasional mention of Babylon he would merely see it as greatly emphasising the need for its destruction. He may see such a destruction as partly due to what Babylon would do to Judah as described in 39.6-7, but he would not see it as part of the main plot. He would certainly note that the need for Babylon to be destroyed is repeated in both sections of the book (especially chapters 13-14 and 47), but he would note that that was because of what Babylon signified rather than because of exiles. Thus if he also knew of the references in Genesis he would surely feel that he had gained the clue he was looking for.
Indeed the fact that the impression gained by scholars is of its application to the Babylon situation is rather an indication of the genius of prophecy. Regularly some prophecy which appears only to have one application, does in the future become fulfilled in a totally unexpected way. It is as though God has prepared the way for what is to happen. It demonstrates that such prophecy fits many situations. Consequently in giving His message through Isaiah here we may see God as providing a primer for Israel in whatever situation they found themselves. And that included large scale exile in Babylon. But it does not specifically have that in mind.
And once we rid our minds of the idea that the bird of prey is to descend on Babylon at this point, its application to Cyrus (well away, be it noted, from the context in which Cyrus is dealt with, which is limited to 44.27-45.13) becomes extremely unlikely. This bird of prey has rather come in order to establish righteousness among those who are far from righteousness (46.12-13), and is playing a part in God’s eternal purposes.
End of note.
This is an apt ending to a chapter which has concentrated on God’s uniqueness and the fulfilment of His purposes, which is Isaiah’s constant prime concern. It explains why Yahweh has brought His bird of prey, who executes His counsel, from the east. It is a call to the stubborn people of his day, in accordance with his instructions at his inaugural call (6.9-13), to recognise all that God is going to do. For through His Servant Yahweh will certainly bring about His salvation in Zion for the sake of the true Israel, who are His prized possession, the one who is to bring glory to His name.
‘You stubborn-hearted who are far from righteousness.’ There could be no more apt description than this of Isaiah’s hearers as 6.9-13 makes clear. Their hearts are stubborn, they are far from righteousness. But God is going to bring His righteousness near. He is going to establish a righteous people. And from the point of view of God’s timing it is not far off. His deliverance in righteousness will not linger.
This last is a constant theme of Scripture. Man may see the end as delayed, but God sees it as fast approaching (e.g. Habakkuk 2.3; Hebrews 10.37). Note the paralleling of righteousness and deliverance. When God delivers it is always in righteousness, and God’s deliverance is always a righteous act and contains, and results in, righteousness.
And then finally salvation will be in Zion, the end to which all has been leading up, the culmination of the call of Abraham, the bird of prey from the East. And God’s true and faithful Israel will be His glory, His prized possession, that which brings glory to Him and in which He delights. The picture is of God’s final triumph, the establishing of the everlasting kingdom, the full deliverance of the true people of God.
(For the use of glory to mean prized possessions, wealth and power see for example 8.7; 10.3, 16; 16.14; 17.3-4 (where the glory is sparse); 21.16; Ezekiel 24.25; 25.9; 26.20; Zechariah 11.3).
To the prophets, apart from Ezekiel who sidelines Jerusalem and places the heavenly Temple well away from it, allowing Jerusalem only peripheral significance as far as the worship of God is concerned, a restored and glorified ‘Zion’ is seen as the final goal of history. They had little conception of an afterlife, although Isaiah does occasionally have moments of inspiration concerning such (26.19; 51.6). Instead they use a renewed Zion as a picture of God’s final triumph. The whole world will respond to Mount Zion where God dwells. They will all come to His feet. But as Isaiah constantly makes clear he has in mind the everlasting kingdom. He is depicting pictorially God’s final triumph. Any literal interpretation of Zion’s future as depicted in the prophets can only end up in contradiction and chaos. (We note that few ever try to bring them all together).
If we cavil at this we must remember that the truth is that even we cannot speak of Heaven literally. It is beyond our conceptions as well, so that even John in Revelation had to use earthly figures which if taken literally become absurd. All have to speak of God’s future kingdom in idealistic terms, based on pictures from this world which must not be overpressed, and constant reference to its everlastingness is to warn us against taking it too literally. They had no other method that they could use.
Chapter 47 Babylon Is To Be Destroyed .
If salvation is to triumph, and if righteousness is to be exalted, and if God’s people are to be glorious (46.12-13) then it can only come about through the destruction of evil and of idolatry, and from Isaiah’s religious viewpoint that means the destruction of Babylon. Until Babylon is dealt with the Servant is restrained.
We should note at once that this destruction of Babylon is not attributed to Cyrus. We can only find such an idea there if we read it into the passage. Nor is it directly related to the return of exiles, although it is partly related to her ill-treatment of God’s people. Because she has ill-treated God’s people, God will ill-treat her. Indeed He will destroy her. But even that is not given as the main reason for God’s destruction of Babylon.
Rather what is to happen is seen as God’s judgment on something which is the epitome of evil, just as it was in chapters 13-14. It is because Yahweh is the Redeemer of His people (verse 4), and as such must deal with the continuous menace of Babylon. It will occur because to Isaiah Babylon is more than just a city. It is because it is an idea. It represents Babel (Genesis 11.1-9). It has been the symbol of rebellion from the beginning, and is the earthly symbol of all enmity against God. And its total end is therefore necessary because this enmity must be dealt with if the Servant is to perform his task. Here therefore it is to be faced up to head on.
In order to fully appreciate the idea here it is necessary to appreciate that to Isaiah Babylon is set over against the Servant. She is the exact opposite of the Servant. She is proud and boastful. She could never be a servant! In her distant splendour she sums up all that is in opposition against God. It is thus she who must be finally dealt with if the Servant’s work is to prosper. So while even for Egypt and Assyria there is future hope, there is no future hope for Babylon. John recognised this in the Book of Revelation where again Babylon was depicted as summing up man’s opposition to God and His ways, and needing to be destroyed.
Even the nations saw Babylon as exceptional long before it rose to its later period of supremacy, both because of its glory and its proud claims, and because of its past. Conquering kings restored her and treated her with reverence. The world marvelled at her glories and her superlativeness. She was famed for her lascivious lifestyle. If you wanted to really live you went to Babylon. And she was famed for being the home of the occult and of ‘wise men’ and of those who could supposedly delve into all mysteries and understood the past and could discern the future. She was the centre of corrupt civilisation. She was the home of mystery. She was the bastion of the gods.
That is why Isaiah saw her destruction as so totally necessary. It would stress God’s judgment on all such lascivious behaviour and would indicate the certainty of the final defeat of the gods. They could be seen as congregated there, but they would fail in their attempt to protect it, and in that would be their downfall. And it is surely due to that fact that after this description of the downfall of Babylon, the false gods, which have previously been mentioned constantly, are not again mentioned in the section of Isaiah up to chapter 55. They were seen as doomed along with Babylon.
We saw in 46.1-2 the weakness of the gods of Babylon. That was a preparation for this. Now we are to see it manifested in the destruction of Babylon itself, the final proof of the inadequacy of what were even seen as the greatest of gods (Bel/Marduk was highly revered even by the conquerors of Babylon). They can only stand by and do nothing because of what Yahweh has determined.
In fact the reason for Babylon’s destruction in context is made clear. It is because she called herself ‘the Lady of the kingdoms’ (verse 5 compare 13.19). It is because she will oppress the people of God (verse 6 as threatened in 39.6-7). It is because she considered herself eternal (verse 7). It is because she saw herself as the incomparable and the invincible (verse 8, 10). It is because she was full of sorcery and enchantments (verse 9), because she thought of herself as divine - ‘I am and there is none beside me’ (verse 10 - previously used regularly of Yahweh in chapter 45. See also 46.9). She was the anti-God. That was why she had to be destroyed. She is therefore to lose everything.
This was something that Cyrus’ conquest in no way achieved. Indeed the priests of Marduk welcomed him, for he sustained the glory of Babylon and supported its priests with their sorcery and enchantments. Under him they prospered. What is described here is much more extreme than anything that Cyrus did, and awaited Babylon’s final end after many humiliations. The activities of Cyrus, if in mind at all, would only be another stage in its demise, for God had determined a more extreme fate for Babylon. The thought here is of its final end. Isaiah was very conscious of the fact that Babylon must be destroyed for ever.
The picture is vivid and not suited to the modern Christian mind. It is a picture of a tender and delicate young queen who is dethroned and made to sit on the ground in the dust, then has to take the lowliest and most undesirable of occupations in order to survive, and is finally dragged down and raped. It is the picture of a woman’s worst nightmare, and is describing the fate of Babylon. It will be reduced to poverty and servitude, and will be stripped and raped. The slow progress of her degradation admirably fits the slow progress of judgment on Babylon revealed in history, until its final end came and it was stripped naked of all that it was.
‘Virgin’ is not a strictly accurate translation although it is difficult to think of another which is succint enough. ‘Bethulah’ could at this time be used of a young married woman (married goddesses are called ‘virgins’, and later even temple prostitutes would be called ‘virgins’). It is rather intended here to indicate a woman ripe for sex, but reserved for those seen as chosen (compare the woman in Revelation 17).
‘The Chaldeans.’ These were initially a people in South Babylonia but the name had come to mean Babylonians in general.
She is called on to descend from her throne and to sit on the ground, in the dust, because she is no longer to be looked on as tender and delicate, as a lady. She is to be humiliated and distressed, possibly even becoming a beggar. Then she is told that if she wants to eat and drink she must take millstones and grind meal. This was a task for the very poor, the very humble and for prisoners (compare Exodus 11.4).
Then she is told to unveil herself, take her clothes off, and ‘pass through the rivers’, probably a euphemism for rape, for her nakedness will be uncovered (see Leviticus 18.6-19; 20.17-21 where this describes illicit sexual intercourse). To pass through the rivers was to go through difficult times (compare 43.2). She is to be totally shamed. The idea is that the worst that can possibly happen will come upon Babylon.
Some, however, see ‘pass through the rivers’ as an indication of going into ignominious captivity, for captives were often led off naked (compare 20.4), while still others see the picture as depicting a woman taking off her long skirt and uncovering her legs so she that she could do work in the fields and wade through the irrigation ditches of the rivers. She would become not only a beggar (verse 1) but a field servant.
This is the reality. God will exact vengeance on Babylon in full because of her behaviour. Her sin will receive its deserved punishment to the full. There will be no quarter. ‘I will meet no man’ may mean that God is saying, ‘I will spare no man’, or it may indicate a refusal to parley, a refusal to draw back from complete punishment. Either way it is now too late for mercy. Babylon must face its final doom.
47.4 ‘Our redeemer, Yahweh of hosts is his name, the Holy One of Israel.’
But Who is this ‘I’. This interjected comment gives the answer. It is an indication of how Isaiah sees it. This judgment on Babylon will in fact deliver Israel from Babylon’s unwanted attentions. Yahweh is acting as Israel’s Redeemer. A ‘redeemer’ was someone who paid up on behalf of a poor relative (Leviticus 25.25, 48). So here Yahweh may be seen as acting on behalf of Israel, looked on as His poor relative, although it is only an interjection and secondary to the main gist of the passage.
The idea of redemption indicated delivery by the exercise of power (Genesis 48.16; Exodus 6.6) . The basic meaning was delivering by the payment of a price; by the payment of money, the provision of a substitute or by the expending of power. We are not told which is the basic idea here. Possibly all three. The name ‘Yahweh of hosts’ brings out that He is the God of battle and of all power. Thus His redemption will succeed. ‘The Holy One of Israel’ is a reminder of His purity and grandeur (6.3). He is the unique and righteous One, and acts righteously against the unrighteous.
Here Babylon is depicted as being degraded and becoming like a lowly ladies’ maid or servant who is dismissed to sit quietly in the darkness, away from the lighting, until bidden, and is not allowed the luxury of sharing the bright lighting. She is excluded from the inner circle. Thus Babylon is no longer to be the proud ‘Lady of the kingdoms’, feted by all. She is to lose her position, her luxuries and her privilege. She is to be humiliated and to become a serving woman. And in the end her silence and darkness will be permanent.
Others see ‘silence’ as signifying loss of authority and therefore of a right to speak, with darkness possibly indicating imprisonment.
(Some see ‘darkness’ as always referring to Babylon in this section (see 42.7; 45.19) but it is difficult to see how that is so here. It could be seen as indicating exile, away from the land of light, but why should Babylon be the land of light? It is far better to see it as a general expression of lack of what is good or as lack of light).
At certain stages Babylon fronted for Assyria in oppressing God’s people. It was to Babylon that Manasseh was taken in chains. But that was only the outward manifestation of an oppression that had been going on for years. And in 39.6-7 Isaiah had demonstrated that Judah and Jerusalem were to be invaded by Babylon and stripped of their wealth because Hezekiah had been unable to resist showing it off. To God it was as though that also had already happened. But as ever with invaders they would overplay their hand and exact more than was reasonable. They would make the heaviest of demands extracting heavy tribute, and also possibly forced labour, from the old. The old were one of the classes for which God had a special care, and He expected the same attitude from others. ‘The aged’ may, however, represent the distinguished leaders. This particular form of inhumanity is blamed on the Babylonians by Jeremiah twice in Lam 4:16; 5:12, and in both cases he connects the word with a parallel term denoting rank or office, viz. priests and princes.
It should again be noted that there is no reference to the exile of the large numbers of citizens that did in fact take place, indicating that this was written before the event.
‘I was angry with my people.’ That is He felt it necessary to punish their sins as they deserved. ‘I profaned my inheritance.’ He allowed unclean Babylon to invade the land that was His inheritance. His own people had rendered it unclean, so He magnified its uncleanness.
But Babylon was supremely arrogant (compare chapter 14). She abrogated the role of the everlasting God. No one could be sure of the future for ever except God. But she was so sure of her own everlastingness that she did not consider her behaviour or her doings, nor consider that all earthly things have an end, and that that end would be determined by her behaviour. She believed that she would last for ever and retain all her privileges. She did not need God.
To be a lady meant to be pampered and cosseted, and because of Babylon’s glory, and her reputation, that was what happened to her. She tended to be treated as special even by conquerors. Esarhaddon of Assyria restored her. Assyrian princes ruled over her. Cyrus the Persian made her a capital city. She was clearly used to such treatment. Thus because she was used to being pampered she assumed that the gods, even Yahweh, would pamper her. That is why she did not consider her ways. She was presumptious. Nor would she bring to mind what the consequences of such evil behaviour would be. (Even though history had revealed it often enough). She thought she was eternal.
This is all one with the previous statement. She was given to excessive pleasures and considered that she had a unique right to them. And history records the extravagant living in Babylon. She was noted for it. She dwelt carelessly, confident that no one could call her to account. And above all she spoke as though she was above all others, almost the equal of Yahweh (compare 45.5, 6, 18, 21; see 14.12-14). And she arrogantly assumed that no harm could befall her, and that she could not lose her protector, either her king or her god Marduk (Bel), nor see her children, her citizens, slaughtered. This may be seen as reflecting a time when she was virtually independent, but not necessarily. Babylon felt herself superior even to her conquerors. She seduced them to her will. It was an attitude that prevailed whatever condition she was in.
Isaiah sees no inconsistency between ‘bethulah’ in verse 1 and widowhood and children here. At this time a ‘bethulah’ could be married and have children (unlike an ‘almah). She was not at this time an intact virgin in the modern sense.
Her claims would be repudiated by events. She would lose her protector and see her children slaughtered. And this would happen in spite of all her multiplied sorceries and enchantments. And Babylon, famous for its priests, its sorcerers and its enchanters who would one day be exclusively given the name of Chaldeans (but not yet), would discover that in the end they could not save her.
‘In a moment, in one day.’ When her judgment came it would come extremely quickly. And in that day she would lose everything.
‘They will come on you in their full measure.’ Not just a normal defeat, but an overwhelming humiliation and end. The idea far exceeds that of Cyrus. The point all the way through is that this Babylon is an unusual case and will be dealt with unusually.
Her trust was in her wickedness. This probably signifies all the host of her methods of magic and of the involving of the supernatural by occult means (compare Zechariah 5.8). But that it also includes other forms of wickedness comes out in the claim, ‘No one sees me.’ She did shameful things that had to be done in the dark. Note what the words imply. She knew in her heart that what she did was wrong. She just thought that if no one knew she could get away with it.
Indeed her very wisdom and knowledge had perverted her. She thought that she knew so much that she was almost the equal of God, that she was unique and that her citizens were above all ordinary mortals. Great knowledge often makes men think foolishly.
Because she has trusted in extreme wickedness, wicked things (same word) will come on her. She will sow what she has reaped. And it will come surreptitiously, she will not know its dawning (in spite of her fortune-tellers and diviners). And she will not be able to ward off what is coming by atonement. She has gone too far for atonement. Her sin is unforgivable. So will come on her such desolation as she could not even begin to comprehend, for it is beyond anything she has ever known or heard of.
Again the ideas go far beyond anything Cyrus would do. What is being described here does not have Cyrus in mind. It is the ultimate judgment that will leave her stripped and bare.
Isaiah now calls on her to do what she can with what she has. It will be of no use. Her enchanters and sorcerers have many decades of experience of magic and sorcery, let them now take their stand with it. It will not benefit her, but she may as well try. She will not prevail, but again, she may as well try. Indeed she is worn out by all the advice and words from the gods, and from their ancestors, and from the stars, described as the ‘multitude of your counsels’. And she was so proud of them. Well, let all those who engage in foretelling the future now stand up and save her from what is to come on her. But they will not be able to.
The multiplicity of their counsels, conflicting advice from many sources, is in stark contrast to the one counsel of Yahweh (44.26; 46.11). Yahweh’s counsel does not weary men by its continual contradictions. It has simply to be responded to or ignored.
‘Enchantments’ (what binds) are those means used to bind the supposed heavenly powers to perform on their behalf, the ‘sorceries’ are the actual incantations which they utilise in the process. The astrologers divided up the heavens into sections and sought to read the future from the stars (not unknown today, and just as spurious. At least the ancients believed they were gods. The moderns believe they are fate). The stargazers interpreted unusual signs in the heavens. The monthly prognosticators did their work at the new moon.
We are probably to see that all these people are in stark contrast with Yahweh’s Servant. He would not seek to such extremes, he would simply listen to the voice of God
All such people will be burned up along with all their paraphernalia, as stubble is burned in the fields. They will be unable to deliver themselves from the flames because of their intensity, for this will be no friendly brazier but intense flames.
The things in which they have laboured, all their magic and sorcery, will have been burned up along with the practitioners. Those who have traded with them even from youth will wander off back to their own trading centre. So they will have no religious guides, and no trading partners. They will have no one to look to for deliverance.
Their trading partners might have been potential allies. But God will make them lose interest in the partnership so that they do nothing, simply ignoring Babylon’s need. Such is what happens to those who think and behave like Babylon. Babylon will be deserted by all. Babylon is doomed.
Chapter 48 The Unprepared State of Israel/Judah.
Babylon, and its final fate, has just been described, but the very idea has turned Isaiah’s attention on Israel. It has put Israel under the microscope. Is Israel so much better? The only difference is that God has a purpose for Israel.
But that purpose is not for Israel as they are. And God has already constantly revealed what they are. Full of self pity and self-justification (40.27), deaf and blind and unresponsive (42.18-25), and culpably so (43.8), weary of God and not giving Him due honour while failing to honour the covenant (43.22-28). They are transgressors (46.8), stubborn and far from righteousness (46.12). They are miserably sick (1.5-9). They are a people of unclean lips and hearts (6.5)
Now He brings it all together to demonstrate their true condition, and to plead with them to flee from all that Babylon represents (verse 20). He begins by describing their condition, ‘not in truth or in righteousness’ (verse 1), and that they are obstinate and hard-headed (verse 4), points out that He has constantly shown them what would happen (verses 3-5), and has even told them of new things (verses 6-7), but concludes that they are so treacherous that they have been unwilling to hear and unwilling to perceive (verse 8). Then He explains that they are as a nation still His chosen (verse 10), still His called ones (verse 12), but only once they have gone through purifying affliction (verse 10) so that a true Servant may come out of them. Compare 51.17-23 where the present Zion is a pale copy of Babylon.
Let them then consider that He is the first and the last, that He is the Creator and sustainer of the Universe (12-13). And that what He will do to Babylon will be for the sake of the one who has declared His truth (the Servant). It is because of His love for him that He will do His pleasure on Babylon and on the Chaldeans (14).
So they are to hear the One Who teaches them to profit and leads them in the way that they should go. If only they had done so previously, then they would have enjoyed abundant peace and righteousness. And their numbers would have been as abundant as the sands (17-19). Let them therefore now flee from Babylon and all it stands for declaring that Yahweh has redeemed His servant Jacob, that he is no more entangled in her ways (verse 20). For Jacob there will be abundance of water in the desert, just as there had been when they travelled in the wilderness from Egypt and Yahweh gave them water from a rock (verse 21). But let them remember, for the wicked there can be no peace (verse 22).
The Failure of Israel/Judah And His Intention For Them (48.1-11).
God now calls through Isaiah to His sinful people as Jacob/Israel who come forth from the waters of Judah. This unusual description suggest he is speaking to people now living in Judah, not to people abroad. As a whole they make up Jacob and Israel. This distinction confirms that Isaiah is still in Palestine speaking to the remnants of Judah.
They are of the house of Jacob, and they are called by the name of Israel. Their credentials are good. And they have come from the waters of Judah. ‘The waters’ may refer to the waters that break in a woman prior to birth. Or it may see Judah as a spring from which flow his people. They live in Judah and bring forth their children there. Compare the waters of Shiloah that go softly (8.6).
And they are not only called by the name of Israel, but they swear by the name of Yahweh. This may refer to official oaths taken in court, stating that in such oaths the name of Yahweh is still used. Or it may simply indicate that old traditions die hard, and when they bind themselves with an oath they still do it in Yahweh’s name, just as a modern Atheist may say, ‘By God’. And they make mention of the God of Israel, that is keep Him in remembrance in their outward worship. Thus formally they still declare themselves to be Yahwists.
But there is a fatal flaw. All this is not in truth or in righteousness. It is not a genuine response, nor does it produce obedience to the covenant. In real terms it is a pretence.
‘When they call themselves of the holy city, and stay themselves on the God of Israel.’ (For ki as ‘when’ see 16.12) Even as they call themselves of the holy city and stay themselves on the God of Israel they are not being genuine. They are not holy. They are not really resting in Him. It is not in truth or in righteousness (see also verse 4). In reality they have turned from Yahweh and His ways. Here was irony indeed. They boasted that they were the holy city, and they were anything but holy.
‘Yahweh of hosts is his name.’ This is a reminder to them of Who God is. They speak of Yahweh and the God of Israel, but are they aware of Whom they are speaking? Let them remember that He is Yahweh of hosts and thus God of the hosts of heaven and the hosts of earth.
God now tells them why He always tells them and shows them clearly what He is about to do before He does things, and then does them suddenly. It is so that they will not be able to say, ‘My idol has done it’. For He knows that they are obstinate, and that their neck is of iron, totally unbending, and their brow is of bronze, firm and unyielding, so that given half a chance they will credit it to their idols and their images. (The graven image is one of wood, the molten image is one of wood plated in precious metal).
This exemplifies what we have seen in verses 1 and 2. Outward conformity to Yahweh, but their real interest and concern is for their gods.
What the former things were that had been prophesied we are not told, but there are enough prophecies prior to this time to make a selection. They could include the promises to Abraham about his seed being many, and about the land becoming theirs, and about his descendants being kings. Multiplicity of children, land inheritance and relationships with a king were things that would be important to them. And it could include the deliverance from Egypt and earlier prophecies of Isaiah, some even exact to timing (16.14; 21.16), and the defeat of Sennacherib (29.5-8; 30.31-32; 31.5-9; 33.3-4), with many other examples in between. The point is that Yahweh has been able to declare what would happen when an idol could not, simply because it was He Who was going to bring it about. And as they all knew, these things had happened.
Then God challenges them as to why they do not declare what they have heard about Him from the past. Why do they not give Him the honour due to Him and reveal it to the world? (That is what they should be doing as His witnesses - 43.10).
But there is not only the past. He has shown them new things, the return of their exiles from all parts of the world, the rise of Cyrus, the destruction of Babylon, the coming of the day of Yahweh, the establishing of the everlasting kingdom in peace and righteousness, the coming of the greater David through Gods powerful and unique working. These are things that God has created now. They will happen because of His word. And they had not been told of these before lest they be self-complacent and self-congratulatory and say, ‘Look, I knew that already’.
He has just previously told them that they had heard (verse 6) and known (verses 6-7) about what He had declared and done, but now He admits that they had not really heard, they had not really known. Their ears are heavy, their eyes are closed (compare 6.10). They have not allowed it to come home to them. And this is because they are so treacherous, because they are transgressors even from birth. This reference to them as transgressors is constant (46.8). And there are equally as many transgressors today.
The word for ‘treacherous’ means to do something contrary to the covenant (1 Samuel 14.33), it is used of a friend who fails in friendship (Job 6.14-15), and of family disloyalty (Jeremiah 12.6), and it signifies a failure to honour one’s word (33.1). All these were true of Israel. To be a transgressor from birth indicates that they have been set in sin and disobedience right from a young age (compare Psalm 51.5-6; 58.3). They were ‘born like it’.
So the truth is that the Servant is in a sad state of disobedience and rebellion.
But God will not allow His purposes to be frustrated like this. Somehow He will yet produce from them a righteous Servant. Let them not think that God is not aware of what they are. It is for His own name’s sake that He defers His anger, not punishing them as they deserve. It is so that He will finally receive the praise due to Him that He refrains from cutting them off, although it is something which is for their benefit too (‘for you’). For He will refine them, not as silver is refined in fire, but in the furnace of affliction (4.4; compare Deuteronomy 4.20; Ezekiel 22.18-22). There His choice will come to fruition. From there will He produce His pure remnant (6.13). And He will do it for His own name’s sake (repeated for emphasis), so that no one else might receive His glory, and so that His name might not be sullied.
So here we see God’s determination to fulfil His sovereign purpose in spite of what His people have proved to be. And yet He will not do it without purifying them. For then He would deserve no praise. No, He will bring about their purification through affliction (and we learn later especially through the affliction of His own special Servant (52.13-53.12)). And then He will accomplish His purpose through them.
Yahweh’s Plea To His People To Listen to the Voice Of Isaiah, And Take Their Place As God’s Servant (48.12-19).
Having assured them that in spite of all they are His called ones, God opens His further appeal to Israel by describing what He is, and demands that they listen. ‘Listen’ is here in the singular but in the plural in verses 14 and 16, for here the plea is to Israel as a whole as God’s called one, while in verses 14-16 it is to the people in general.
He is the One Who is, the First and the Last. He is prior to all things both in time and being, He sums up all things and will bring them to conclusion (compare 41.4; 43.10, 11; 44.6). Because He is the first He has initiated all things. Because He is the last He brings them to their proper conclusion. He is over all history from beginning to end.
He is also the Creator, maker and establisher of heaven and earth, which both (unlike Israel) do His bidding. Let them therefore listen to Him.
Israel are called on to assemble themselves together to listen, all of them. Assemblies were usually held at the city gates where there was an open space. There judicial affairs would be settled, important issues considered and decisions made. Here they are to gather at their city gates to consider who it is ‘among them’ who has declared ‘these things’, the future that lies ahead.
The question then is, to whom does ‘them’ refer? Some would refer it to idols, but apart from verse 5 idols are not mentioned in the context, and there the idols ‘did’ and ‘commanded’ rather than declaring, and it is a long way back to be referred to here. Furthermore the idea of idols is not prominent in the passage. But we are clearly told of someone who should have declared it, and have not and that is Israel. They have not declared it (verse 6) because they are treacherous (verse 8). Furthermore Israel are very prominent in the passage. As a similar change from ‘you’ to ‘them’ is reflected also in verses 1-2, that is not a difficulty. So we may see ‘them’ here as probably referring to the decision makers among the assembled people. That being so there is only one who has ‘declared these things’ and that is Isaiah, or possibly Yahweh’s Servant, the faithful in Israel, the Isaianic core.
This being so the natural interpretation of ‘Yahweh has loved him’ is that it refers here to the one who ‘has’ declared these thing, either Isaiah or the Servant, the Isaianic core.
‘Yahweh has loved him.’ If what we have suggested is true we have here firmly asserted Yahweh’s love for His true prophet, even His Servant. He had chosen him and called him to his difficult task and he had proved faithful. Now God expresses His approval of him and His affection for him. ‘Who among them has declared these things?’ Isaiah has, and his disciples. ‘Yahweh has loved him.’ It fits perfectly.
‘He will perform his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm will be on the Chaldeans.’ And because of His love for His prophet Yahweh will perform what Isaiah has shown to be his pleasure in chapters 13-14, what he has declared (compare 44.26). He will bring about the promised judgment of Babylon. We may see it as being of either Isaiah’s or the Servant’s pleasure (or both. Isaiah is an integral part of the Servant). Isaiah has previously made emphatically clear what he sees as needing to happen to Babylon, so that it could certainly be described as being his pleasure, referring to what he sees as needing to be done. Alternately we may see it as being of Yahweh’s pleasure. In either case it will be achieved by His arm, the arm of Yahweh. Thus will both He and His prophet be vindicated.
We should note that in Isaiah the arm active in power always represents the arm of Yahweh (30.30; 40.10, 11; 51.9; 52.10; 53.1; 59.16; 62.8; 63.5, 12).
So the loved one may be seen as His true Servant, as personified in Abraham and Isaiah and spiritual Israel, with in this case Isaiah or the Isaianic core prominent. It is ‘he’ who has declared ‘these things’ For in 41.8 Abraham is His loved one and in 43.4 spiritual Israel is His loved one. On the other hand, nowhere in the Old Testament is Yahweh ever said to love someone other than His own.
‘I, even I, have spoken, yes, I have called him. I have brought him and he will make his way prosperous.’ Isaiah’s true calling and the true calling of the Servant is now affirmed. Yahweh has spoken, Yahweh has called him, Yahweh has brought him to this day, and he will truly make his way prosperous. For he has achieved great things for God and even in what Isaiah is writing at this time the whole world will be blessed.
Note Re ‘Yahweh has loved him’.
In interpreting these verses of Isaiah and the Servant we recognise that we are going against the majority interpretation. Most, strangely, refer these verses to Cyrus. In our view this is untenable. Firstly because nowhere in the Old Testament is God ever said to ‘love’ someone not His own. Cyrus may have been His shepherd and His anointed, but there is no question of him being His beloved. Indeed Cyrus himself declared himself the friend of Marduk. It was Abraham who loved Yahweh (41.8). Secondly the context contains not the slightest hint of Cyrus. He rose to prominence and departed in 44.28-45.13, having accomplished his purpose of ensuring the rebuilding of the temple and of Jerusalem, and having been rewarded with the treasures of an empire. And in fact Cyrus is nowhere specifically connected with Babylon in Isaiah. Thirdly he who loves Yahweh has been stated elsewhere in Isaiah to be Abraham (41.8 - same root) and he who Yahweh loves is spiritual Israel (43.4). Fourthly the phrase ‘Yahweh has loved him’ comes unexpectedly out of the blue if it is spoken of Cyrus, while if it is spoken of the one who alone declared the truth it fits right into the context. Fifthly the only ‘arm’ active in Isaiah is always that of Yahweh (30.30; 40.10, 11; 51.9; 52.10; 53.1; 59.16; 62.8; 63.5, 12). Thus the arm is not likely to be that of Cyrus.
This seems conclusive against Cyrus.
End of note.
The interpretation we have given now clarifies who is speaking here. These are either the words of Isaiah as representative of God’s Servant, or more possibly the Servant himself as here represented by Isaiah (this would tie in better with ‘from the beginning’, that is, from the call of Abraham). He is the one who has ‘declared these things’ (verse 14), God’s faithful servant. He calls on Israel to come near and listen, and consider. He has at no time ever spoken in secret right from the beginning. When each thing ‘was’, there was He declaring it openly.
But if Israel as a whole is the Servant, how can we see the Servant as talking to them? The fact that we can is revealed in chapter 49. That is exactly what we have in 49.3 compared with 49.6, the distinction between Israel as a whole, and the true and faithful Israel.
And now he has a further task assigned to him. He has been sent by the Sovereign Lord Yahweh and His Spirit. This can surely only signify the future activity of the Servant shortly to be declared (49.1-13). Through him the Spirit of Yahweh will continue to act (compare 42.1), declaring the words of Yahweh.
48.17-19 ‘Thus says Yahweh, your redeemer, the Holy One Of Israel,
The suggestion that the last verse is spoken by the Servant fits well with this reply here. Yahweh is giving all Israel the opportunity to be part of the Servant in his ministry. It clearly stresses that potentially all Israel is the Servant, with the opportunity of serving Him if they are willing, while it will shortly in fact be made clear that the actual Servant is faithful Israel (49.3), (commencing from Abraham, Isaac and Israel, and continuing through to the greater David yet to come - see on 41.1 onwards).
Here Yahweh Himself makes His appeal as their Redeemer and as the Holy One of Israel. The title Redeemer signifies One Who saves by the payment of a price. At first sight it is speaking here of God redeeming by exerting His power on behalf of those whom He redeems (although chapter 53 will give it a deeper meaning). But whose Redeemer is He? The answer is that He is the Redeemer of Israel as an entity, as His ‘firstborn’. It may be that the title is to be seen as referring back to the redemption from Egypt, but we can hardly doubt that it is intended to have a present meaning too. He Who redeemed them from bondage in Egypt can now redeem them from the bondage of sin and from the bondage of their enemies.
Thus God aims to be the Redeemer of the entity Israel. But as always those who will may drop out by refusing to submit to Him. While He will heavily influence men and seek to deliver them, He will not force them. He sees Israel as an entity. They are His firstborn. And men can unite within that entity by submitting to the covenant or can withdraw by rejecting the covenant. He will redeem the Israel who want to be Israel. (This was in fact always the choice in Israel. Men could choose to opt in or opt out of the covenant and take the consequences).
Not all those who thought of themselves as Israel would be redeemed even in the wildest dreams of the Jews. Isaiah knew full well that many were lost among the nations by choice, that many had sinned grievously and had died, that many still stood firm against Him and clung to idols, and did not want to respond to Him under any circumstances, and would not. They would refuse any call. They would not be redeemed. So it is a plea to all physical Israel from their potential Redeemer. They had the opportunity as the sons of Abraham to respond if they willed it. It came from One Who wanted to be their Redeemer, and Who would be the Redeemer of those whom He had chosen, who would be revealed in the fact that they responded. (Compare the way that in the New Testament salvation is offered to all and He wants to be their Redeemer and Saviour, and yet it is clearly stated that redemption and salvation is finally only for God’s elect).
For we should note that He was also the Holy One of Israel. Should they desire redemption they must be willing to be made holy, acceptable to Him and set apart in righteousness as He is righteous. God cannot redeem without making holy. It is part of the essence of His redemption (see 4.2-3).
‘“I am Yahweh, your God, who teaches you to profit (teaches you what is profitable for you), who leads you by the way that you should go. Oh that you had listened to my commandments.’ He introduces Himself as their God Who teaches them what is profitable for them, what is truly best for them. He is the One Who has sought to lead them in the way that they should go, especially through His Torah (His Law, His Instruction). And He expresses His yearning, His longing that they might have kept His commandments. If only they had! What consequences would follow.
‘Then had your peace been as a river, and your righteousness as the waves of the sea. Your seed also would have been as the sand, and the offspring of your bowels like its grains.’ If only they had kept His commandments and walked in His ways, then they would have had peace, flowing smoothly like a river, and their righteousness would have been as the waves of the sea lapping gently against the shore, continuing peacefully on and on. What is more they would have grown into a large nation, their children as abundant as grains of sand, just as God had promised Abraham (Genesis 22.17).
‘His name would not be cut off, nor be destroyed from before me.’ There is here an implied, if theoretical, threat. Should it reach a stage where none of His people obeyed His commandments then they would be cut off and destroyed, and ‘his name would be cut off’. Of course it would not happen because of God’s faithfulness to Abraham, and the working of His Spirit. But nevertheless they must beware.
‘His name.’ But the question is whose name will be cut off? In view of the sand of the sea comparison the probable answer is Abraham’s name, for it was to him that the promise was given. If his ‘sand of the sea seed’ are cut off it is Abraham’s name that is cut off. If this be so we have even more reason for seeing the one whom Yahweh has loved as identified in some way with Abraham. The loved one being the Servant, with Abraham as the prime Servant and of course those who are the sand of the sea being potentially a part of that corporate Servant which was in Abraham’s loins.
The Call To Flee From Babylon (48.20-22).
As we come to the end of the section from chapter 40 to 48 we find God’s final charge. It is to ‘flee from Babylon.’ Babylon with all that it stood for was the opposite of the Servant. It represented all that was at enmity with God. That was why it had to be destroyed for ever, and why all men had to flee from it as from danger and peril (compare Revelation 18.4). After this Babylon will not again be mentioned. Her influence is over.
But the question must arise as to whom the call comes to flee. Who are the ones who are to flee from it and to testify to what Yahweh has done? Most see it as referring to the exiles from Judah. But if it is spoken of them (referred to as ‘His servant Jacob’) then this is the only example in the whole book of Isaiah where speakers speak of themselves indirectly in the third person, i.e. ‘saying Yahweh has redeemed (not ‘us’ but) His servant Jacob’. This would give weight to the suggestion that these words are not spoken by Jacob/Israel themselves but by third parties (compare 47.13), who are fleeing from Babylon and testifying in amazement to the deliverance of His servant Jacob as they are filled with wonder at the coming destruction of Babylon and realise why it has happened (see 45.6 where the activities of Cyrus were to cause just such an effect, and 44.23 where the whole world is to sing at the redemption of God’s Servant Jacob).
And this is especially so in view of the fact that return from exile is never spoken of in terms of fleeing (the word used generally signifies fleeing from danger). Always when return from exile is mentioned we are given the idea of Yahweh’s activity (11.11-12; 56.8) and/or of a triumphant homecoming (14.1-2; 49.12, 22-23; 60.9), often with the nations giving their assistance. Note also the contradictory ‘you will not go out in haste, nor will you go by flight’ (52.12), if that is taken to mean the return from exile. So if this was directly referring to return from exile it would be doing so in a unique and even contradictory way. This therefore tends to emphasise that the idea is rather of Babylon being deserted by its ‘friends’ as they become aware of the disaster that is looming, who sing of Jacob’s deliverance because they have recognised in what is happening the hand of Yahweh.
Indeed it is probably intended to be symbolic. All men everywhere must flee from what Babylon is, and from its pernicious influence. And so we may see this as an appeal to all men to flee from Babylon and all that it means. It does of course include any exiles from Israel but they are only indirectly in mind. Rather it is they who are being redeemed by what is happening.
This may then also be seen as the reversal of what was declared in 39.6-7. There a part of the Servant would be dragged off to Babylon. Now the Servant must be made complete (‘His Servant Jacob’). For we have already seen the profound effect that Hezekiah’s failure had had on Isaiah. It is reflected in chapters 13-14. And he knew the consequences of it. Thus he would know that he could have no peace until those exiles returned. They were a necessary part of the completeness of the Servant. Here then in the light of Yahweh having promised to deal with Babylon (48.14) he is possibly including in his words a call to any exiles to return. But that is secondary to the main significance. The flight from all that Babylon is, with its licentious, good-time living and its deep died idolatry was required of all people, because of what Babylon was, and what was about to happen to it. All must flee from Babylon.
The impression given here is not of an orderly return from exile under the command of an overlord, but of the people in mind fleeing for their lives. They are to go forth, they are to flee, for as Yahweh deals with Babylon in apocalyptic judgment all who would be saved must flee. And as they flee they are to sing, to let the whole world know, that Yahweh has redeemed His servant Jacob by restoring them to be His Servant. He has saved them from all that Babylon represents, and the world is filled with wonder. Compare 44.23 where all are to sing because Yahweh has redeemed Jacob. See also 55.12.
So this is not just depicting the return of the exiles from Babylon to make up the new Israel (and note here that those who flee are to flee from the city Babylon, not from the surrounding countryside. It is Babylon in its pride that must be avoided). Isaiah’s prophecies elsewhere clearly suggest that he expected exiles to come from all over the known world, but their return is never depicted in these terms. And he knew full well that many men of Israel and Judah were still in their own land, and that many were scattered among the nations. So as far as Isaiah was concerned any actual returnees from Babylon (and we know that men of the northern kingdom had been exiled there - 11.11) would only play a small part in the whole. Any who would come would simply be seen as part of a whole and as redressing the failure of Hezekiah so that the Servant may be made complete.
But we may add further the thought that this verse is depicting what all men everywhere must do. They must ‘flee from Babylon’, what it signifies and the hold that Babylonian licentiousness and belief in the occult has on them. Wherever they are they must flee from their sources of wealth that hold them back, they must flee from their comfortable living, they must flee from their compromises. For that apocalyptic moment when final judgment comes on Babylon is approaching and all who are His people must flee from the very idea of it (compare Revelation 18.4).
The picture presented is thus precisely that of one looking far ahead and seeing an apocalyptic event taking place without actually having first hand knowledge of it. It is true that what mattered to him was the completing of the Servant for his worldwide task, and that would involve remedying the disaster of 39.6-7, but that was secondary. Primary was for all men to escape from mythical Babylon, the great enemy of God.
We can again compare here what God had said to Abraham. He too had been called on to leave the land of the Chaldees in order to go to where he could fulfil the purposes of God. Thus was it now necessary for his seed to do so also, along with all men. For until they had done so they could not fulfil their ministry as the Servant.
For ‘My Servant Jacob’ compare 44.1, 2; 45.4. For the redemption of Jacob see 44.23 with 21, where the redemption is through the blotting out of their sins. This would suggest that the ‘redemption of His Servant Jacob’ is more in terms of God’s work in them which has freed them from the grip of what Babylon stands for, than having anything to do with exile.
Note the voice of singing and compare 12.5; 14.7; 24.14; 26.19; 42.10; 44.23; 49.9-13; 51.11; 52.9; 55.12.
The fact that Yahweh has redeemed His servant Jacob reminds Isaiah of their previous great deliverance when God had brought His people through the wilderness and had done all that was necessary to prevent them from thirsting.
Exiles from all over the world would come as fugitives, (‘fleeing from what Babylon stood for’), as Israel had come as fugitives out of Egypt, and so Yahweh would deliver them as He had His fugitives from Egypt (49.9-13). For them He had caused waters to flow from the rock, He had even ‘cleaved’ the rock for them to bring those waters out (Exodus 17.6; Numbers 20.11). Thus would He preserve all His own from thirst on their way through any deserts they may cross, even deserts in their own land. But comparison with the next verse, and with verse 18, suggests that this is to be interpreted spiritually as in 44.1-5. It is probably therefore saying that just as those who went through the wilderness were provided with water from a rock, so will the Rock Himself provide spiritual water to all who have found themselves in a spiritual desert and turn to Him so that they might have peace (verse 18). In contrast with the wicked He would give them peace in their hearts (compare verse 18 and verse 22).
48.22 “There is no peace, says Yahweh, to the wicked.”
But for the wicked there is no peace, under any circumstances. Not for them the peace which is like a river (verse 18). Compare 57.21. This comment sums up the whole section from 40-48. With all the glorious truths and promises that had been revealed and given, the hearts of the majority of Israel were still not at peace. This was what chapter 48 has emphasised. The people are not at peace (verse 18). And now Yahweh sums up why. Even with the worldwide exiles returning there is no peace to the wicked. Total reformation will be needed if they are to find peace. But who is there who can bring it about? The answer lies in the chapters that follow as he describes the One Who will come to bring peace, the Prince of Peace (9.6).
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