GOD SUMMONS THE NATIONS AND THEIR IDOLS TO COURT – Isaiah 41


Listen to me in silence, O coastlands; let the peoples renew their strength; let them approach, then let them speak; let us together draw near for judgment. Who stirred up one from the east whom victory meets at every step? He gives up nations before him, so that he tramples kings under foot; he makes them like dust with his sword, like driven stubble with his bow. He pursues them and passes on safely, by paths his feet have not trod. Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am He. The coastlands have seen and are afraid, the ends of the earth tremble; they have drawn near and come. Every one helps his neighbor, and says to his brother, “Take courage!” The craftsman encourages the goldsmith, and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, “It is good”; and they fasten it with nails so that it cannot be moved.

Isaiah 41:1‭-‬7 RSV

Here the call for silence opens the imaginary proceedings of a court, where God will face the heathen world with a test question.

The call to renew their strength may be a warning that the encounter will be formidable.

This type of an imaginary court session was a device frequently used by a number of God’s prophets, in Hosea, especially.

Isaiah 41:2, is interpreted by practically all of the present-day commentators as a reference to God’s raising up Cyrus the King of Persia as the deliverer of God’s people from their Babylonian bondage; but we do not accept that interpretation of this passage.

Of course, there is no doubt whatever of Isaiah’s prophesying the rise of Cyrus and of his reporting his very name over a century before he appeared upon the historical scene; but that certainty, in our opinion, falls far short of injecting Cyrus into this particular passage.

We have noted one commentator who mentioned Cyrus fifteen times in his writings on these seven verses, but the text does not even mention him at all!

Here are our reasons for applying Isaiah 41:2 to Abraham, rather than to Cyrus.

  • Cyrus is not mentioned here; and when Isaiah introduced him in Isaiah 45:1ff, there is no notice whatever of his having already been introduced.
  • As noted above, there were three Great Servants of God who would figure prominently in the lifting of Israel’s captivity, these being Israel herself, Cyrus, and the Messiah; and there is no way that Cyrus qualifies for being mentioned first. He simply does not belong first in that triad.
  • The Jewish writers and earlier Christian expositors applied this to Abraham.

What is it that “moderns” have learned that generations of earlier scholars did not know?

  • Righteousness is not a term that suggests Cyrus; and the KJV translates the opening clause here thus: “Who raised up the righteous man from the east, etc.?”
  • Yes, they have been fiddling with this passage, and have rendered it differently; but we remain convinced that the KJV is correct, and that the attempts to change the meaning here are anchored in what may be described as translators trying to support a false interpretation.
  • Furthermore, the injection of Cyrus into this paragraph destroys the unity of the chapter.
  • Note that the very next verse (Isaiah 41:8) speaks of Abraham and Israel. Douglas affirmed flatly that interpreting Isaiah 41:2 as a reference to Cyrus breaks the unity of the chapter.
  • Isaiah’s design of comforting the chosen people in their captivity is far better served by understanding this paragraph as a reference to Abraham, the great ancestor of Israel, than by a reference to one who would not even appear until the captivity was practically terminated already.
  • To us, that makes no sense at all. On the other hand, think of Abraham. God called him, prophesied that his posterity would be a great nation, that they would endure captivity for four hundred years in Egypt, that God would deliver them with great wealth out of the land of Egypt, and that they would inherit the land of Palestine!
  • All of those marvelous prophecies through Abraham, known to every Israelite on earth, were a thousand times more comforting than this passage could possibly have been if it were nothing more than an ambiguous prophecy of a ruler who would appear on earth near the very end of their captivity.
  • The last three verses of this paragraph introduce the idolatrous peoples as greatly alarmed about the great man God raised up (Isaiah 41:2); and they are represented as going to work and making or repairing idols as rapidly as possible.
  • This can be a reference only to Abraham’s utter rejection of idols; because, “There was nothing in the character of Cyrus to cause any such alarm among idolaters.
  • Abraham was called for the very purpose of casting the idolaters out of Canaan; and the success of the Hebrew people through the long generations had indeed put the fear of God upon all the idolatrous nations on earth (Joshua 2:8-11).
  • There is nothing like this that may be said of Cyrus. He simply is not in this passage.
  • Isaiah 41:3,4 could have been said of Abraham, but not of Cyrus, there being no record whatever that he ever pursued anyone! On the other hand, Abraham defeated the coalition of the kings in Genesis 14 and pursued them beyond Damascus. Some pursuit!
  • We fully agree that, “This passage does not very well suit Cyrus.
  • The multitude of ancient interpreters who favored the view that this passage refers to Abraham is impressive. Although Barnes disagreed, he pointed out that:
  • The Chaldee Paraphrast translates Isaiah 41:2, “Who has publicly led from the east Abraham, the chosen of the just”; and this translation has been adopted by Jewish writers generally.
  • They say that it means that God had called Abraham from the east, that he conducted him to the land of Canaan, and enabled him to vanquish the people who resided there, and particularly that he vanquished the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and rescued Lot from their hands; and that the fact of God’s bringing Abraham from the east was a sure and comforting sign that God would also deliver Israel from their captivity in the east.
  • Notice here, that this great man of God spoken of in Isaiah 41:2 would be from “the east.” Cyrus, on the other hand was from “the north.”
  • When Cyrus attacked Babylon, he fell upon the city mainly from the north.
  • Of course, by misapplying Isaiah 41:25, some would attempt to make it appear that Cyrus came upon Babylon from the east, which is inaccurate.
  • Thus, in order to support the Cyrus interpretation of this paragraph, men have not only changed the meaning of “righteous man” but also have perverted the truth on the direction from which Cyrus came.
  • It appears to us that the Cyrus interpretation requires entirely too much fiddling with the Scriptures.
And this is love, that we follow his commandments; this is the commandment, as you have heard from the beginning, that you follow love. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.

2 John 1:6‭-‬7 RSV

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