Isaiah 41

The remainder of Isaiah 41 falls into two sections. The first builds on Yahweh’s special relationship with His chosen people, guaranteeing their deliverance and prosperity for which they will honour Him (v11– 20); and the last section from verse 21 is a challenge to idolaters to prove their validity by predicting future events! It is another court and judgment is pronounced against the idols and idolaters for their total failure to respond (v24, 28–9).

41:11–16 With Yahweh’s Help Israel will Vanquish  All Enemies

Verse 11 “Behold, all they that were incensed  against thee shall be ashamed and confounded:  they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish.”

Verse 12 “Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not  find them, even them that contended with thee:  they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought.”

This section commences with the word, “Behold” (Heb hen ‘look’, niv ‘surely’), and calls for attention. There is portrayed the historic contention between scattered Israel and her detractors. The proponents of anti-semitism are before the court of Yahweh’s justice. The opposition to Yahweh’s chosen people progresses through four stages: from

(1) rage (“they that were incensed against thee”); through to

(2) the formulation of a charge against them (“they that strive with thee”, literally, the men of your lawsuit, ie “those who have a case against you”; cp the charges, the ‘resolutions’ against Israel before the UNO); to

(3) engagement in struggle (“them that contended with thee”, mrg “the men of thy contention”); to finally

(4) open war (“they that war against thee”).

But these two verses not only show the mounting degrees of opposition to the chosen people, but their ultimate ineffectiveness:

(1) the anger reaps “shame and confusion”

(2) the lawsuit fails and its proponents perish

(3) the contenders against Zion vanish

(4) the enemy becomes non-existent.

Thus the nations which have and will strive against Yahweh’s people will be humbled: “he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye” (Zech 2:8). How foolhardy to meddle with the servant of such a master!

Verse 13 “For I Yahweh thy God will hold [roth  ‘am firmly grasping’] thy right hand, saying unto thee, [roth ‘and saying unto thee’] Fear not; I will help thee [roth ‘have become thy helper’].”

Verse 14 “Fear not, thou worm [Heb tola cp Job  25:6; Psa 22:6–7] Jacob, and ye men [mrg ‘few  men’, niv ‘little Israel’] of Israel; I will help thee  [roth ‘have become thy helper’], saith Yahweh, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.”

In these two verses we have the explanation of why the nation, so long downtrodden and oppressed, will have its fortunes reversed: “They shall look upon him whom they pierced”, and be converted and the favour of their Redeemer shall return to them. Whereas they have feared the enemy, been homeless and abused, Yahweh will take firmly their right hand with His “right hand” (v10), like a parent a faltering child, and help them. The fears and dread of the long years of their dispersion will be at an end (Deut 28:65–66).

In verse 13 “held” and “saying” are participles indicating unchanging states (see Rotherham). The permanence of Yahweh’s new relationship with Israel is hereby emphasized.

“Thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel”

Both of these descriptions point out the weakness of the nation, and emphasize the need for a strong redeemer. The task before Israel will be great, for mountains are to be threshed (v16)! But the nation is not to be measured by its inherent weakness and fewness of numbers, but in proportion to Yahweh’s promise of help and transformation. (JA Motyer)

“thy redeemer” (Heb goel) Under the Law of Moses  the redeemer was one who took upon himself the  needs of the next of kin; he bought back the land  of his impoverished relative; redeemed the slave;  preserved the name (Lev 25); and avenged the death  (Josh 20). These roles Yahweh has committed to  His Son, who was our near kinsman and “made in  the likeness of man”, that we might be redeemed  from all iniquity. Through him Yahweh will bring  redemption to Israel. Appropriately in the Servant Prophecy we find Yahweh, the great Architect of  salvation, so designating Himself (49:7, 26; 51:11  “redeemed of Yahweh”; 54:5).

“The Holy One of Israel” This is the first of three occasions in this chapter where God so describes  Himself (cp verses 16 and 20). His separation and  distinction is thereby stressed. His purposes with His people will stand, unlike the prognostications  of all other deities and idols. His moral purity, His Word, His will to perform His declarations cannot be questioned.

Verse 15 “Behold, I will make thee a new sharp  threshing instrument [roth, rsv ‘sledge’] having teeth; thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff.”

Verse 16 “Thou shalt fan [rsv ‘winnow’] them,  and the wind shall carry them away, and the  whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in Yahweh, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel.”

“I will make thee” There will be a new relationship with Yahweh. Israel converted will trust in God and by Him be empowered to do what otherwise would  seem to be impossible. Weakness and fewness of numbers will be more than compensated by the help His right hand will give them. The “worm” becomes the threshing instrument!

“a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth”  A sledge was a heavy wooden platform fitted underneath with “teeth”, stone and metal, which was dragged over a crop to free the grain for winnowing.  But notice that this sledge is sharpened (ie prepared  for the task), new (ie in prime condition) and has teeth (mg Heb ‘mouths’—lit ‘a master of teeth’, ie  has notably efficient teeth). As such it is capable of  threshing “mountains” and “hills”. The seemingly impossible will be done because of Yahweh’s  involvement. It is the same lesson Zechariah brought  home to his contemporaries when the Temple was  being rebuilt: “Who art thou, O great mountain?  before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain…”  How could this be? “Not by might [human], nor  by power, but by my spirit, saith Yahweh of Hosts”  (Zech 4:7, 6). This is the critical lesson disciples of Christ also must learn in the “days of the years of  their pilgrimage”. Like Jacob they must learn to trust in Yahweh, to know that the flesh profits nothing and that the Spirit gives life (John 6:63).

In verse 16 the threshing sledge becomes the winnower. And here the process is not aided by gentle winds that leave behind the grain, but the gale force winds orchestrated by Him Who controls “the stormy wind” (Ps 148:8). All is removed without trace!

“and thou shalt rejoice in Yahweh, and shall glory  [roth ‘boast’] in the Holy One of Israel” Such  supernatural feats by so small a power have but one explanation: the face of the Almighty will again shine on His people (Num 6:25–27). They shall recognize this and exalt in Him. What a glorious day this will be. O to behold these things in the land of the living, when Yahweh shall be honoured and exalted  by both the natural and spiritual seed of Israel.

“rejoicing in the Lord” is a “fruit of the Spirit” and  the natural outpouring of saints, as they contemplate  what God has done and will do for them (Gal 5:22Phil 4:4; 3:1; 2:17; 1:4). With Paul and with Israel in the day soon to dawn, we can each say, “I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me” (Phil 4:13).

41:17–20 The Results—The Earth Transformed  Morally, Physically

Verse 17 “When the poor [Heb ano ‘oppressed’]  and needy [Heb ebyon ‘helpless’] seek water and  there is none and their tongue faileth [roth ‘is  parched’] for thirst, I Yahweh will hear [roth,  rsv ‘answer’] them, I the God of Israel will not  forsake them.

The poor and needy, so often crushed by life’s adversities and without a court of appeal, will have their cries heard and answered. Justice will be the hallmark of Christ’s new administration centred in Jerusalem. In the Psalm 72 portrait of the reign of Christ the destruction of tyrants is in juxtaposition with the relief of “the poor and needy”. “He shall judge [vindicate] the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor … He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight” (v4, 12–14). How great will be the transformation wrought throughout this benighted world, where justice, equity and truth have “fallen in the streets” (Isa 59:13–15).

“I the God of Israel will not forsake them”  Fundamental to the transformation of this parched  earth is the recognition that the God of Israel is  the source of all good and justice, as well as the  Creator of heaven and earth.  This will be a hard pill for the  arrogant nations of the world to  swallow. Those who for centuries have perpetrated pogrom and  discrimination against the Jew  will have to think again. They  will have to change their ways and prostrate themselves before the Power of the universe. The alternative will be annihilation.  But the poor and needy will be relieved. Their cries will be heard.  They will not be “forsaken” (cp  40:27; 49:14; 54:6–9).

Verse 18 “I will open rivers in high places [roth  ‘bare hills’], and fountains in the midst of the valleys [roth ‘plains’]: I will make the wilderness  [‘desert’] a pool [‘lake’] of water, and the dry land springs of water.”

Verse 19 “I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree [roth, rsv ‘acacia’], and the myrtle, and the oil tree [olive]; I will set in the desert the fir tree  [rsv ‘cypress’], and the pine [rsv ‘the plane’, mlb ‘hard  oak’], and the box tree [mlb, rsv ‘pine’] together.”

The picture in verses 17 to 19 is of the weary traveller on life’s journey to the promised land. He is parched and thirsty and in need of shade and the water of life. The backdrop of the vision is the wilderness journey of Israel on their way from the bondage of Egypt to the freedom and joy of the land promised their fathers (Ex 15:21; 17:1). It finds a parallel in the lives of all saints in the days of their pilgrimage as they await God’s intervention in the sultry affairs of this world for the purpose of “making all things new”. For this day they hunger and thirst, despairing of any hope of relief while government is in the hands of men. They know that a better day is on the horizon. The water (v18) and the shade (v19) will come with Christ’s reign of righteousness (Acts 17:31; Psalms 96–99), when the journey for them will end (cp Rev 7:14–17; Isa 49:9–12).

Verse 20 “That they may see, and know, and  consider, and understand together, that the hand  of Yahweh hath done this, and the Holy One of  Israel hath created it.”

This is the grand objective of the Kingdom of God. So stupefied have men become by their learning and philosophies that they have lost sight of the obvious! The theory of evolution has replaced the Creator as men have striven to explain the world in a way which exonerates them from responsibility to Him. They will soon learn that they have been utterly deceived and that the consequences are tragic and final. But the sequel of God’s intervention, the second coming of His Son Jesus Christ, will see the rendering to Yahweh of the glory due to Him.

“That they may see, and know,  and consider, and understand  together” The “they” referred  to are the “poor and needy”, the  subject referred to in verse 17. But the realization  will be true for all who survive Armageddon.  Notice the emphasis upon the process whereby  men will come to acknowledge Yahweh’s primacy  in all things—see, know, consider and understand!  Not only this, but they do so “together”. Glory to  Yahweh will be the result of the contemplations of  all men—they will “understand together”.

“That the hand of Yahweh hath done this, and the  Holy One of Israel hath created it” The conclusion,  long resisted by licentious, hedonistic, atheistic  humanity will at last be irrevocably made: Yahweh, the God of Israel is the one true God, that He directs  and controls the course of events in accordance with His Will. He will be seen as the One behind the transformation of the world and the translation of the kingdoms of this world into the hands of His Son and his faithful followers, the saints.