Isaiah 40:9 - 45:14

Frank Binford Hole

Comments On Isaiah

In spite of the fact that the revelation of the glory of the Lord brings to light, as nothing else does, the sinfulness and frailty of man, there is also brought "good tidings," and this it is which furnishes the "comfort" for "My people." Zion and Jerusalem are represented as lifting up the voice and saying to the cities of Judah "Behold your God!"

About the sixth hour on the day of the crucifixion Pilate brought forth Jesus, and said to the crowd in Jerusalem, "Behold your King!" (John 19: 14). This provoked the violent cry, "Away with Him, crucify Him." In our Scripture the prophet sees the same wonderful Person, but coming in the splendour of Deity with "strong hand." This will be good tidings indeed, after the painful display of sin and utter weakness on the part of men.

It is the Lord Jehovah who is coming with might; but it is "His Arm" who will rule for Him. As we go through these later chapters of Isaiah we shall find the Lord Jesus presented as the Arm of Jehovah some ten or twelve times. In this character He is seen as the One who executes in power all the will and purpose of Jehovah. He is also presented as the "Servant," who is to carry out the yet more wonderful work of sin-bearing and suffering. In the passages that speak of Him as the Servant we see predictions that view Him in His first advent in grace: in those that present Him as the "Arm" our thoughts are carried on to His second advent in glory.

It is so here in verse 10. The Arm is going to rule for Jehovah rather than suffer for Him. He will dispense reward and recompence to others in the day of His glory; and at the same time He will be a tender Shepherd to those who are His flock, gathering even the lambs to His bosom. In other words, while ruling in power at His second advent, He will display to His own; all the grace which shone forth in Him at His first advent. As we look abroad in the earth today, we see how badly needed is the ruling power of a strong hand, and men desire to grasp that power so as to rule in their own interests. The Arm of Jehovah will rule "for Him," and what a day that will be when the will of God will be done on earth as it is in heaven!

The verses that follow present to us the greatness and glory of the Creator-God in the most exalted language. So great is He that the mighty oceans lie in the hollow of His hand like a few drops of water; the expanse of the heavens, illimitable to us, is but the span of His hand; the dust of the earth as well as the mountains and hills are but small things, weighed in His scales. As to understanding, the Spirit of the Lord is far above taking any counsel from man.

We live in a day when nations are rising up and asserting themselves, and arming to the hilt, in order to enforce their will. What are they in the presence of God? They are like a small drop which may hang on a finger-tip, when taken out of a bucket of water; or like the small dust left on the scales when the substance weighed therein has been removed-so insignificant that no one pays attention to it. The nations that look so imposing and threatening to us, are counted by Him as "less than nothing, and vanity." It is good for us to measure them by God's standards and not by our own.

God then is great beyond all our thoughts, as verse 18 indicates, and in the presence of His glory how foolish and contemptible, as verses 19 and 20 say, are the makers of graven images that have not even the power of motion. And further, how feeble and insignificant are men, who appear but as grasshoppers, and their princes and judges but as nothing and vanity, and as stubble in the face of a whirlwind. We may also lift up our eyes and behold the mighty creation outside our little earth; all numbered and named by Him, and upheld by Him too, so that not one fails. He who created them has no equal and cannot be likened to any other. We do well to ponder this magnificent passage, for this God of ineffable power and majesty has been made known to us in Christ as our Father.

The closing verses of the chapter, while not revealing Him as Father, do make known His care and support for those who trust in Him. Where all human power fails He gives strength to those who express their trust by waiting upon Him. As they wait their strength is renewed, and granted as it is needed. Some may need the strength that elevates, others the strength that runs the errands appointed of God, and others again that which enables for the steady and continuous walk through life for the pleasure of God. As we wait on God each shall receive the needed strength. The greatness of our God, as well as His goodness is the guarantee of it.

In view of this disclosure of the glory of God a call goes out to all mankind as chapter 41 opens-for the word "people" in verse 1 should really be in the plural "peoples." God will reason with them as to His governmental ways in the earth. Verse 2 mentions a king, coming from the east of Palestine, who should be a conqueror, ruling over kings. It seems that this is a prophecy as regards the day in which Isaiah wrote, and was fulfilled in Cyrus, who is named in the verse that opens Isaiah 45. God raises up whom He pleases to carry out His designs in the earth. In contrast with this men in their folly and blindness manufacture their idols, as stated in verses 6 and 7. This controversy with Israel as to their persistent turning to idols continues till we reach the end of Isaiah 48.

In verses 8 and 9 of our chapter Israel is reminded that as the seed of Abraham, who is honoured as "My friend," they are a chosen people and called to be the servant of God. How foolish then this turning to idols! And in the succeeding verses we find the most assuring words of encouragement and support which, if only received in faith, would have lifted them far above any reliance on idolatrous things. They should be upheld and their enemies confounded. The Holy One of Israel would be their Redeemer, and make them like a threshing instrument scattering their foes. Moreover He would be as a fountain of water to them, meeting all their needs.

In the light of this comes the challenge to the idols and their followers. Let them produce their cause; let them foretell the future and "declare things for to come." This they could not do, and an abomination were they and their votaries. A further reference to the coming conqueror from the north-east is found in verses 25 and 26, and the chapter closes with words of contempt for the men who supported the idols and the counsels they gave.

This throws into relief the opening of Isaiah 42, where the prophecy turns from Israel, as the failing servant of God, to introduce the Lord Jesus as the true Servant of God. Our attention is to be fixed on Him for He is the chosen One in whom the delight of God rests. He it is, who will bring forth judgment for the nations, and not only for Israel. Here again we find a prophecy which was fulfilled in part at His first advent, but awaits His second advent for the fulfilment of other details.

The prophecy is quoted in Matthew 12: 14-21, as showing the lowliness and forbearance of His coming in grace. The Pharisees were indeed as unreliable and worthless as a bruised reed, and as objectionable as smoking flax, yet He neither broke nor quenched them. He was not an agitator, inflaming the multitude. The powers that were against Him were calculated to make any servant of God be discouraged and fail, yet He carried on His service to the end. He brought forth judgment according to truth by His sacrificial death and resurrection, though we must wait for the second coming to see the public establishment of judgment in the earth, so that the most distant isle shall wait for His law.

Our attention having been called to this true Servant, we have in verses 5-9, words prophetically addressed to Him. In verse 5 the acts of God in creation are stressed. Not only are the heavens and the earth the work of His hands but mankind also. He has given us not only the breath of our bodies but also the spirit, that is man's distinguishing feature in contrast to the beasts. Now this mighty Creator has called His true Servant in righteousness and established Him as a covenant to the people and a light to the nations. In verse 9 Jehovah is presented as declaring new things, so we may discern that the new covenant is predicted here, though not stated with the fulness found in Jeremiah 31.

We may note that Ezekiel 36 predicts the new birth, which is needed if the blind eyes are to be opened, as in verse 7 of our chapter, to "see the kingdom of God," (John 3: 3); whilst in Jeremiah we have predicted the new covenant, under which the kingdom will be established. In Isaiah we have many of the new things predicted, that will mark the kingdom when it is finally established under the rule of Christ.

These new things will move those who enter into them to "Sing unto the Lord a new song;"and the thought, of how the glory of the Lord will be manifested and His praise be sung, fills verses 10-12. But the next verses show that what will bring blessing to His people will mean judgment and destruction to His foes. While the call will come to many who once were deaf and blind, that they may hear and see, the folly and judgment of those who turned to idols will be revealed.

The chapter closes with an appeal to those of Isaiah's day in view of these things. Israel had been called as God's servant and should have been a messenger to the nations on His behalf, yet they had been blind in all essential things. As to privilege they were "perfect," as to their moral state they were blind. Still, as verse 21 indicates, God is not thereby defeated. His righteousness will be established and His law magnified and made honourable-doubtless in connection with His true Servant. But for the present all was failure on the part of Israel and consequently they were spoiled and robbed, and the law dishonoured by their disobedience.

We might have expected therefore that Isaiah 43 would have contained further warnings and judgments, but it opens rather on a note of grace. The Apostle Peter wrote to the scattered Jewish believers of his day how, "the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you," which grace meant "salvation" (1 Peter 1: 10); and here is a case in point. In the presence of their evil God falls back upon His original purpose and His redeeming work. Redemption by power was what the people looked for, and was mainly the theme here, as the succeeding verses show; but presently there will come before us the far deeper work of the suffering Servant-redemption by blood.

The whole chapter is characterized by two things. First, by the declaration of what God will do in His sovereign mercy for His poor blind and deaf people, who were set up to be His witnesses to the other nations. He will bring down their foes, be they Babylon and the Chaldeans or other peoples, and He will deal with their sins, as indicated in verse 25. How He will do this in righteousness is not revealed in this chapter; but the result will be that this people whom He had formed for Himself will ultimately shew forth His praise, as stated in verse 21.

But second though all this grace is so strikingly promised, the existing state of the people in rebellion and sin is not glossed over. They are again made to face their fallen state. There is the promise of a re-gathering of their seed from the east and west, from north and south, but at the moment they had turned from the Lord, as verse 22 says; they did not honour Him with offerings and sacrifices, but wearied Him with their iniquities. As their first father-Adam-had sinned, so they had-followed in his footsteps. Because- of this the curse and reproach lay upon them, imposed by the hand of God.

But yet again, Isaiah 44 opens with a word of mercy. In spite of his crookedness Jacob was God's servant, chosen by Him, and God is always true to His purpose and able to carry it out. This fact should bring comfort and strength to every believer today. The history of the church, like that of Israel, is one of failure and departure from the Divine call and way, yet the purpose of God for us will stand no less securely than His purpose for Israel. The failure and sin is not excused, though in the presence of it the sovereign grace of God is magnified.

The first eight verses of this chapter breathe out that grace in no uncertain terms. The sovereignty of God is declared, for He is the First and He is the Last, and beside Him there is no "God," or, "Rock," as the margin reads. Consequently, though He will chastise in His holy government, He will ultimately bless according to His original purpose.

But at the time when Isaiah wrote there was among the people this persistent tendency to turn to their idols and false gods. Hence once more, in verses 9-20 of our chapter, God reasons with the people about their folly in this matter. The work of smith and carpenter are described, as a result of which an image is constructed, "according to the beauty of a man," which can be kept in the house. Then our thoughts are carried to the work of planting trees, or hewing them down, and then the absurdity of using some of the wood for warming oneself, or baking bread and roasting meat, and then out of the remainder fashioning a "god," before which one falls down and asks for deliverance!

The folly and absurdity of such doings should have been plain to all the people, but it was not. How was it that their eyes were closed and their understanding darkened? The trouble lay in their hearts, which were deceived. Hence they were unable to consider and discern the lie in their " right hand." The position today is just the same. Why do so many take up the erroneous religious cults that abound? The trouble lies not so much in their intellects as in their hearts. It is true for them as for Israel of old that, "a deceived heart hath turned him aside."

Having thus reasoned with the people, once more the prophet announces the merciful interposition of God, both in its ultimate display, which is still future, and in its more immediate display in the raising up of an eastern monarch, who should be favourable to them. As to the future, they would yet be the servant of God, their transgressions and sins blotted out. This would be accomplished on the basis of redemption so that the very heavens as well as the earth will break into song, and the Lord Himself be glorified.

Then in the closing verses a deliverance that reached them about two centuries later is predicted, and Cyrus is named long before he was born The statement that Jerusalem and the temple should be rebuilt clearly indicated that they should be destroyed, and this would confound the tokens of the lying diviners, who were always saying smooth and prosperous things, as other scriptures show. Judgment would fall, but mercy would in its season be shown, and the man through whom it would reach them is named.

In the opening verses of Isaiah 45, the prophet speaks to Cyrus on God's behalf, though as yet he had no existence. He was to be raised up as anointed for this particular service and his hand would be holden of God till it was accomplished. The details given in verses 1-3 were strikingly fulfilled, as we find recorded in the book of Daniel, though Darius the Mede is the conqueror mentioned there. He was the commander of the Medo-Persian army, but the rising power of Cyrus the Persian lay behind him. As we read these verses, we see Belshazzar, and "the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another" (Dan. 5: 6). We see the great gates of Babylon open and broken; and then, as a result of the fall of the great city "the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places" are in the hands of Cyrus. We see here an allusion to the vessels of the house of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried to Babylon, being restored, as recorded in Ezra 1: 7-11.

Here then is a remarkable prophecy that was literally fulfilled within two hundred years of its utterance. God called him by his name, and surnamed him, though Cyrus had not known Him. Yet the words of the decree of Cyrus, recorded in 2 Chronicles 36: 23; and again in Ezra 1: 2; would make it likely that in some way Isaiah's prophecy was brought to his notice.

With Israel's penitent idolatry still in mind, Jehovah declares in the succeeding verses His surpassing greatness. All things are in His hands. He creates the light and the darkness, the peace and the "evil," in the sense off disaster. Man is but a potsherd of the earth-the broken piece of a pot! Let man recognize his own littleness. Let him strive with another potsherd like himself if he will, but let him not strive with the Creator. It is not fitting that a man should strive with his father or mother, much less with his Maker. Verses 5, 13 and 14 again refer to Cyrus and the way in which God would raise him up. It would be "in righteousness," for he would carry into effect the will of God; and to do the will of God is righteousness.

The raising up of Cyrus and the granting to him such wide dominion was a surprising act, in view of the previous power and magnificence of Babylon. We need not wonder that it is claimed as a display of the surpassing power of God, in the presence of which idols are nothing.

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