Isaiah 41
Clarke's Commentary
The prophet, having intimated the deliverance from Babylon, and the still greater redemption couched under it, resumes the subject. He begins with the Divine vocation of Abraham, the root of the Israelitish family, and his successful exploits against the idolaters, Isaiah 41:1-7. He then recurs to the Babylonish captivity, and encourages the seed of Abraham, the friend of God, not to fear, as all their enemies would be ultimately subdued under them, Isaiah 41:8-16; and every thing furnished necessary to refresh and comfort them in them passage homewards through the desert, Isaiah 41:17-20. The prophet then takes occasion to celebrate the prescience of God, from his knowledge of events so very distant as instanced in the prediction concerning the messenger of glad tidings which should be given to Jerusalem to deliver her from all her enemies; and challenges the idols of the heathen to produce the like proof of their pretended divinity, Isaiah 41:21-27. But they are all vanity, and accursed are they that choose them, Isaiah 41:28, Isaiah 41:29.

Keep silence before me, O islands; and let the people renew their strength: let them come near; then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment.
Keep silence before me, O islands "Let the distant nations repair to me with new force of mind" - Εγκαινιζεσθε, Septuagint. For החרישו hacharishu, be silent, they certainly read in their copy החדישו hachadishu, be renewed; which is parallel and synonymous with יחלפו כח yechalephu coach, "recover their strength;" that is, their strength of mind, their powers of reason; that they may overcome those prejudices by which they have been so long held enslaved to idolatry. A MS. has הר har, upon a rasure. The same mistake seems to have been made in this word, Zephaniah 3:17. For יחריש באהבתו yacharish beahabatho, silebit in directions sua, as the Vulgate renders it; which seems not consistent with what immediately follows, exultabit super te in laude; the Septuagint and Syriac read יחדיש באהבתו yachadish beahabatho, "he shall be renewed in his love." אלי elai, to me, is wanting in one of De Rossi's MSS. and in the Syriac.

Who raised up the righteous man from the east, called him to his foot, gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings? he gave them as the dust to his sword, and as driven stubble to his bow.
The righteous man - The Chaldee and Vulgate seem to have read צדיק tsaddik. But Jerome, though his translation has justum, appears to have read צדק tsedek; for in his comment he expresses it by justum, sive justitiam. However, I think all interpreters understand it of a person. So the Septuagint in MS. Pachom. εκαλεσεν αυτον, "he hath called him;" but the other copies have αυτην, her. They are divided in ascertaining this person; some explain it of Abraham, others of Cyrus. I rather think that the former is meant; because the character of the righteous man, or righteousness, agrees better with Abraham than with Cyrus. Besides, immediately after the description of the success given by God to Abraham and his posterity, (who, I presume, are to be taken into the account), the idolaters are introduced as greatly alarmed at this event. Abraham was called out of the east; and his posterity were introduced into the land of Canaan, in order to destroy the idolaters of that country, and they were established there on purpose to stand as a barrier against the idolatry then prevailing, and threatening to overrun the whole face of the earth. Cyrus, though not properly an idolater or worshipper of images, yet had nothing in his character to cause such an alarm among the idolaters, Isaiah 41:5-7. Farther, after having just touched upon that circumstance, the prophet with great ease returns to his former subject, and resumes Abraham and the Israelites; and assures them that as God had called them, and chosen them for this purpose, he would uphold and support them to the utmost, and at length give them victory over all the heathen nations, their enemies; Isaiah 41:8-16. Kimchi is of the same mind and gives the same reasons.

He gave them as the dust to his sword "Hath made them like the dust before his sword" - The image is strong and beautiful; it is often made use of by the sacred poets; see Psalm 1:4; Psalm 35:6; Job 21:18, and by Isaiah himself in other places, Isaiah 17:13; Isaiah 29:5. But there is great difficulty in making out the construction. The Septuagint read קשתם חרבם kashtam, charbam, their sword, their bow, understanding it of the sword and bow of the conquered kings: but this is not so agreeable to the analogy of the image, as employed in other places. The Chaldee paraphrast and Kimchi solve the difficulty by supposing an ellipsis of לפני liphney before those words. It must be owned that the ellipsis is hard and unusual: but I choose rather to submit to this, than, by adhering with Vitringa to the more obvious construction, to destroy entirely both the image and the sense. But the Vulgate by gladio ejus, to his sword, and arcui ejus, to his bow, seems to express לחרבו lecharbo, to his sword, and לקשתו lekashto, to his bow, the admission of which reading may perhaps be thought preferable to Kimchi's ellipsis.

He pursued them, and passed safely; even by the way that he had not gone with his feet.
And passed safely "He passeth in safety" - The preposition seems to have been omitted in the text by mistake; the Septuagint and Vulgate seem to have had it in their copies; εν ειρηνῃ, to pace, בשלום beshalom, "prosperously." It is so in one of De Rossi's MSS.

Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? I the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.
Who hath wrought and done it "Who hath performed and made these things" - A word is here lost out of the text. It is sups plied by an ancient MS., אלה elleh, "these things; "and by the Septuagint, ταυτα; and by the Vulgate, haec; and by the Chaldee, אלן elin; all of the same meaning.

The isles saw it, and feared; the ends of the earth were afraid, drew near, and came.
Were afraid "And they were terrified" - Three MSS. have ויחרדו vaiyecheridu, adding the conjunction ו vau, which restores the second member of the sentence to its true poetical form.

They helped every one his neighbour; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage.
So the carpenter encouraged the goldsmith, and he that smootheth with the hammer him that smote the anvil, saying, It is ready for the sodering: and he fastened it with nails, that it should not be moved.
That it should not be moved "That it shall not move" - Five MSS., (two ancient), and the ancient Versions, add the conjunction ו vau, "and, "reading ולא velo, "and not, "which seems to be right.

But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.
Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.
And called thee from the chief men thereof "And called from the extremities thereof" - אציל מאציליה atsil meatsileyha, signifies the arm, ascilla, ala; and is used like כנף canaph, "the wing, "for any thing extended from the extremity of another, or joined on to it. It is here parallel with and synonymous to מקצות mikkatsoth, "from the ends, "in the preceding member.

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
Be not dismayed - ואל תשתע veal tishta, "And be not dismayed. "The ו vau is added by twenty-one of Dr. Kennicott's MSS., thirty of De Rossi's, and one of my own, and three editions. It makes the sense more complete.

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.
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.
For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.
Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
Fear not, thou worm Jacob - In the rabbinical commentary on the five books of Moses, Yelamedenu, it is asked, Why are the Israelites called a worm? To signify, that as the worm does not smite, that is, gnaw the cedars, but with its mouth, which is very tender, yet it nevertheless destroys the hard wood; so all the strength of the Israelites is in prayer, by which they smite the wicked of this world, though strong like the cedars, to which they are compared, Ezekiel 31:3.

Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff.
A new sharp threshing instrument having teeth "A threshing wain; a new corn-drag armed with pointed teeth" - See note on Isaiah 28:27-28.

Thou shalt thresh the mountains - Mountains and hills are here used metaphorically for the kings and princes of the Gentiles. - Kimchi.

Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in the LORD, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel.
When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.
I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together:
I will plant in the wilderness the cedar - The two preceding verses express God's mercy to them in their passage through the dry deserts, in supplying them with abundant water, when distressed with thirst, in allusion to the exodus. This verse expresses the relief afforded to them, fainting with heat in their journey through that hot country, destitute of shelter, by causing shady trees, and those of the tallest and most beautiful kinds, to spring up for their defense. The apocryphal Baruch, speaking of the return from Babylon, expresses God's protection of his people by the same image: "Even the woods and every sweet-smelling tree shall overshadow Israel by the commandment of God." 5:8.

The oil tree - This, Kimchi says, is not to be understood of the olive tree, for the olive is distinguished, Nehemiah 8:15; but it means the pine or fir, from which pitch is extracted.

That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.
And consider - The verb ישימו yasimu, without לב leb added, cannot signify to apply the heart, or to attend to a thing, as Houbigant has observed; he therefore reads ישמו yashshemu, they shall wonder. The conjecture is ingenious; but it is much more probable that the word לב leb is lost out of the text; for all the ancient versions render the phrase to the same sense, as if it were fully expressed, ישימו לב yasimu leb; and the Chaldee renders it paraphrastically, yet still retaining the very words in his paraphrase, ושוון דחלתי על לבהון vishavvun dechalti al lebehon, "that they may put my fear in their heart." See also Isaiah 41:22, where the same phrase is used.

Produce your cause, saith the LORD; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob.
Bring forth your strong reasons "Produce these your mighty powers" - "Let your idols come forward which you consider to be so very strong. "Hieron. in loc. I prefer this to all other interpretations of this place; and to Jerome's own translation of it, which he adds immediately after, Afferte, si quid forte habetis. "Bring it forward, if haply ye have any thing." The false gods are called upon to come forth and appear in person; and to give evident demonstration of their foreknowledge and power by foretelling future events, and exerting their power in doing good or evil.

Let them bring them forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come.
Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together.
That we may be dismayed, and behold it together "Then shall we be struck at once with admiration and terror" - The word ונרא venere is written imperfectly in the Hebrew text; the Masoretes supply ה he at the end; and so it is read in twenty-two MSS. and four editions; that is, ונראה venireh, and we shall see. But the true reading seems to be ונירא venira, and we shall fear, with י yod supplied, from ירא yara.

Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you.
Your work of naught "Your operation is less than naught" - For מאפע meepha, read מאפס meephes; so the Chaldee and Vulgate. A manifest error of the text; compare Isaiah 40:17. The rabbins acknowledge no such error, but say that the former word signifies the same with the latter, by a change of the two letters ס samech and ע ain. - Sal ben Melec in loc.

I have raised up one from the north, and he shall come: from the rising of the sun shall he call upon my name: and he shall come upon princes as upon morter, and as the potter treadeth clay.
I have raised up one from the north - "That is, "says Kimchi, "the Messiah. The king of Assyria placed the ten tribes in Chalach and Chabar by the river Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes, 2 Kings 17:6, which lands lie northerly and easterly."

He shall come upon princes "He shall trample on princes" - For יבא yabo, Le Clerc reads יבס yebes, from the Chaldee, who seems to read both words. "Forte legend. ויבס vaiyebes vel וירמס vaiyirmos: sequitur ס." "This should perhaps be read ויבס vaiyebes, or וירמס vaiyirmos: a ס samech follows." - Secker. See Nahum 3:14.

Who hath declared from the beginning, that we may know? and beforetime, that we may say, He is righteous? yea, there is none that sheweth, yea, there is none that declareth, yea, there is none that heareth your words.
Your word - אמרתיכם imrntheychem; but, instead of this, one of my most ancient MSS. has דבריכם dibreychem. The meaning is nearly the same: but in this reading this His. is singular.

The first shall say to Zion, Behold, behold them: and I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings.
The first shall say to Zion, Behold, behold them "I first to Zion gave the word, Behold they are here" - This verse is somewhat obscure by the transposition of the parts of the sentence, and the peculiar manner in which it is divided into two parallel lines. The verb at the end of the sentence belongs to both parts; and the phrase, Behold, they are here! is parallel to the messenger of glad tidings; and stands like it, as the accusative case to the verb. The following paraphrase will explain the form and the sense of it. "I first, by my prophets, give notice of these events, saying, Behold, they are at hand! and I give to Jerusalem a messenger of glad tidings."

For I beheld, and there was no man; even among them, and there was no counseller, that, when I asked of them, could answer a word.
Among them "Among the idols" - For ומאלה umeelleh, I read ומאלים umeellim, with the Septuagint, και απο των ειδωλων, "and from or among the idols. "See Exodus 15:11; Isaiah 57:5.

R. D. Kimchi has many good observations on this chapter. Bishop Lowth follows him in applying it to Abraham, and not to Cyrus; the whole being spoken in the past tense, which is not used, or rarely, in such a case for the future. Almost the whole of the rabbins understand it of Abraham. On Kimchi's plan, the following is a paraphrase.

The righteous man - Abram, from the east - the land of his nativity, called the land of the children of the east, Genesis 29:1.

Brought him to his feet - Whithersoever his feet went, he preached righteousness and truth; as it is written, "There he proclaimed in the name of Jehovah," Genesis 21:31. And he called it ויקראהו vaiyikraehu - that is, צרק tsedek, righteousness, to his feet, enabled him to hold it forth wherever he went.

He called the nations - To leave their idols and worship him who made the universe. He taught them the way of righteousness, truth, and faith. Was there ever a prodigy like to this? A man who had been an idolater, rising up against all the nations of the earth, reproving their faith, and not fearing before them nor their kings! Who stirred up his heart to do this? Was it not the Lord?

Gave the nations before him - And made him rule over kings - Chedorlaomer, and the kings which were with him: whom the Lord gave as dust to his sword, and stubble to his bow.

He pursued them - He and his three hundred and eighteen servants.

He passed safely - שלום shalom for בשלום beshalom, in safety; so said, because he lost not one of his men in this expedition. See Kimchi.

Behold, they are all vanity; their works are nothing: their molten images are wind and confusion.
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke [1831].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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