Matthew Poole's Commentary
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.God called Abraham, and was with him: the nations idolatrous, Isaiah 41:1-8. Israel encouraged by promises of safety and deliverance, Isaiah 41:9-20. The vanity of idols, Isaiah 41:21-24. Redemption by Christ, Isaiah 41:25-29.
Keep silence before me; attend diligently to my plea, and then answer it if you can.
O islands; O you inhabitants of islands, as the next clause explains this. By islands he here means, as he doth Isaiah 40:15, and elsewhere, countries remote from Judea, inhabited by the idolatrous Gentiles, with whom he here debateth his cause.
Let the people renew their strength; strengthen themselves to maintain their cause against me; let them unite all their strength together.
Let them come near unto me, that we may stand together, and plead our cause before any indifferent judge.
Let them speak; I will give them free liberty to say what they can on their own behalf.
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.Who? what man or god? Was it not my alone work? The idols were so far from assisting me, that they did their utmost to oppose me in it.
Raised up into being and power, stirring up his spirit, and strengthening him to the work.
The righteous man, Heb. righteousness, which is put for a man of righteousness, as pride is put for a proud man, Psalm 36:11, and deceit for a deceitful man, Psalm 109:2; for it is evident from the following words that he spake here of a person. But who this person is, is much disputed by interpreters. Some understand it of Christ. And doubtless the person here spoken of was an eminent type of Christ, and so in a mystical sense it may belong to him. But the things here said to be done by this righteous man, seem to agree much better unto a man of war than unto the Prince of peace. And therefore this place is immediately understood either,
1. Of Abraham, who was a person eminently righteous, and came out of Chaldea, which sometimes seems to be called the east, as Isaiah 2:6 Zechariah 8:7, who did the things here mentioned; partly in his own person, conquering five kings, and the nations with them, Ge 14, and following God he knew not whither; and partly by his posterity, whose exploits may well be ascribed to him, not only because they came out of his loins, but also and especially because all their successes and victories were given to them for Abraham’s sake, and by the virtue of God’s promise and covenant made with Abraham, for the giving of Canaan to him and to his seed for ever. And this interpretation may seem to receive some countenance from Isaiah 41:5,6, which agrees well to the practice of the Canaanites and neighbouring nations; who upon Israel’s march towards them were filled with great consternation, and used all possible diligence in seeking both to their idols and to men for help against them, as we read in that sacred history. And thus God’s argument against idolatry is taken from an illustrious example of God’s infinite power, put forth in saving his people, and destroying their enemies before them; and of the impotency of idols to hinder him in that work. Or,
2. Of Cyrus, who might be called a righteous man; or, as it is in the Hebrew, a man of righteousness; because he was raised up in righteousness, as it is said of him, Isaiah 14:13, and was God’s great instrument to manifest his righteousness; both his faithfulness, in fulfilling his promise of delivering his people out of Babylon after seventy years (righteousness being often put for faithfulness); and his justice, in punishing the enemies and oppressors of his people, the wicked Babylonians; upon which account the Medes, who served under Cyrus in his expedition against the Babylonians, are called God’s sanctified ones, Isaiah 13:3. And all the other expressions here used are very applicable to him, and were verified in him. He came from the east; from Persia, which was directly eastward, both from Judea and from Babylon, and which is called the east in this very case, Isaiah 46:11. He was raised up by God in an eminent and extraordinary manner, as is noted both by sacred and profane historians; and therefore this very word is used concerning him and his army, not only here, but elsewhere; as Isaiah 13:17 Jer 1 9 51:1,11. To him also all the following passages agree, as we shall see. And although this great person and action were yet to come, yet the prophet speaks of them as if they were already past, as the prophets most frequently do. And as in the clause of the former chapter he speaks of God’s people as if they were actually in the captivity of Babylon, Isaiah 41:27, so here he speaks of them as if they were actually brought out of Babylon by Cyrus. And by this instance he pleads his cause against the Gentiles and their idols, because this was an evident proof of God’s almighty power, and of the vanity and weakness of idols, which eminently appeared in the destruction of the Babylonians, who were a people mad upon their idols, as is said, Jeremiah 50:38, and yet were destroyed together with their idols, Jeremiah 51:47. From the east; from a country eastward from Judea, as Chaldea was in part, but Persia more directly. Called him to his foot; to march after him, and under God’s banner, against Babylon. Thus Barak’s army is said to be at his feet, Judges 4:10. Compare also Genesis 30:30.
Gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings; subdued nations and their kings before him.
He gave them as the dust; to be beaten by him as small as dust, as is said, Psalm 18:42. Or, to be put to flight as easily as the dust is scattered by the wind, as the following clause expounds this.
He pursued them, and passed safely; even by the way that he had not gone with his feet.He pursued them, and passed safely; went on in the pursuit with great ease, and safety, and success.
Even by the way that he had not gone with his feet; which is added as further evidence of God’s wonderful providence, in encouraging and enabling him to march by unknown paths; which hath oft proved dangerous and destructive to great armies. This also was verified both in Abraham and in Cyrus, as is well known.
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? whose work was this but mine?
1. Calling them out of nothing, giving to them breath and being; or,
2. Calling them to his foot, as he said above, Isaiah 41:2, disposing and employing them as he sees fit, sending them upon his errands.
The generations from the beginning; all persons and generations of mankind from the beginning of the world to the end of it.
The first, and with the last; who was before all things, even from eternity, and shall be unto eternity; whereas the idols, to whom God herein opposeth himself, were but of yesterday, being made by men’s hands, and shall within a little time vanish, and be destroyed.
The isles saw it, and feared; the ends of the earth were afraid, drew near, and came.The isles, even remote countries, as Isaiah 41:1, saw it; discerned the mighty work of God in delivering his people, and overthrowing their enemies, in so wonderful a manner.
Feared, lest they should be involved in the same calamity, as being conscious to themselves that they also were enemies to God’s people.
Drew near, and came; they gathered themselves together to consult for their common safety, and to maintain the cause of their idols, whom by this instance they perceived in great jeopardy.
They helped every one his neighbour; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage.They encouraged and assisted one another in their idolatrous practices.
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.The carpenter, who brought wood to compose the body of the idol.
The goldsmith, who was to prepare golden plates for covering and adorning of the image, which some of them beat out upon the anvil, and others smoothed or polished, as it follows.
It is ready for the sodering; that we may put the several parts together, and set it up to be worshipped.
He fastened it to the wall or pillar, lest it should fall down, or go, or be carried away from them. See Isaiah 40:19,20.
But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.But thou, Israel, art my servant: thus the Gentiles show themselves to be the servants of their idols, and own them for their god; but thou art my people, and I am and will be thy God.
Whom I have chosen, out of the heap of the idolatrous nations, to be my peculiar people.
Abraham my friend; with whom I made a strict league of perpetual friendship; of which see Genesis 12:2,3 15:1,18.
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.Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth; thou, Israel, whom I took to myself, and brought hither in the loins of thy father Abraham from a remote country, to wit, Chaldea; or, whom I brought back out of Babylon into thine own land, which though yet to come, he may speak of as of a thing past, as the prophets use to do, as was noted before. Jut the former interpretation seems to agree better with the foregoing verse. From the chief men thereof; from the midst of many great and noble persons, among whom he lived in Chaldea. So this notes God’s singular mercy to Abraham, and consequently to the Israelites descended from him, that he passed by many of Abraham’s betters, and called him into fellowship with himself.
I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away; I have chosen thee not for a small moment, but for ever, by making an everlasting covenant with thee and thy seed through all generations. Or the sense is this; As I have chosen thee at first, so I have not since that time cast thee off, as thou hadst frequently given me sufficient occasion to do. Or, and did not refuse thee, as this word is elsewhere used. So the same thing is repeated in other words, not without some emphasis; for he intimates that he chose them when he had just cause of refusing them.
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.Which I do and will manage with righteousness, whereby I will deliver thee, and destroy thine and mine enemies, as it follows.
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.Shall be ashamed and confounded, both because their hopes and designs shall be utterly disappointed, and because the mischief which they contrived against thee shall fall upon themselves.
Shall be as nothing; shall come to nothing, or perish, as the next clause explains it.
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.Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them; they shall be so totally consumed, that although thou searchest for them, thou shalt not be able to find them any where in the world.
Shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought; shall be utterly brought to nought. The thing is twice repeated, to show the certainty and greatness of their destruction.
For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.Will hold thy right hand; or, will strengthen, &c, as this word properly signifieth; will assist and enable thee to vanquish all thine enemies.
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.Thou worm Jacob, who art weak in thyself, and despised and trodden under foot by thy proud and potent enemies.
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.New; and therefore sharper and stronger than another which hath been much used.
Sharp threshing instrument having teeth; such as were usual in those times and places, of which See Poole "Isaiah 28:25", See Poole "Isaiah 28:28".
The mountains; the great and lofty potentates of the world, which set themselves against thee; such persons being frequently expressed in Scripture under the notion of
hills and mountains.
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.Thou shalt fan them, when thou hast beaten them as small as dust or chaff.
Shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel; for to him, and not to thyself, thou shalt ascribe thy victory over thine enemies.
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.When my poor people are come to the greatest extremity of danger and misery, then will I appear for their relief.
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.In high places; upon the mountains, where by the course of nature there are no rivers.
In the midst of the valleys; or, in the valleys, to wit, in such of them as are not well watered. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water: these people, who are like a dry and barren wilderness, I will abundantly water with my blessing, and make them fruitful and beautiful, as the next verse showeth; which may be understood, either of the Jews, who were in a wilderness condition, till God brought them out of it; or of the Gentiles converted to the true religion under the gospel.
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:Trees which are both useful and pleasant to the eye, and giving a good shadow to the traveller, which in those hot and parched countries was very comfortable. Thus much is evident and confessed. But what particular trees these Hebrew words signify seems to me improper to discourse here, because only the learned are capable of judging in this case, and they may consult my Latin Synopsis upon this and other places of Scripture where they are mentioned.
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.That they may see; or, that men may see; for it is an indefinite expression. The sense is, that all that see this wonderful change may consider it, and may know that this is the work of God alone.
Produce your cause, saith the LORD; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob.Produce your cause: the prophet having pleaded God’s cause against the idolatrous Gentiles, whom he challenged to a dispute, Isaiah 41:1, he now reneweth the challenge, and gives them liberty and invitation to speak whatsoever they can on the behalf of their idols.
Bring forth your strong reasons, to prove the divinity of your idols.
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.Let them; either the idols; or, which is all one, the idolaters in the name and by the help of their idols.
What shall happen; all future events; which he divides into two sorts in the following clause, the former and the latter, as we shall see.
Let them show the former things; which is not to be understood of such things as are past, for such things might easily be known by men from history, much more by the devils who possessed and acted in their idols; but of such things as should shortly come to pass, which may be better discerned than those things which are yet at a great distance. So he propounds the easiest part first. Let us try whether they can foretell those things which are even at the door, and if so we will try them further. Let them tell us what things shall happen, and in what order, which first, and which last.
That we may consider them, Heb. and we will set our heart to it; we will allow the argument its due weight, and either fairly answer it, or give up our cause against idols.
And know; that we may know, or let us know by their information.
The latter end of them; the consequence of them, whether the events did answer to their predictions, or what things happened next after those former things.
Declare us things for to come, to wit, hereafter, or after a long time; which limitation may be easily gathered, both from the opposition of this clause to the former, and from the next following clause, where it is so limited and explained.
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 know that ye are gods; that we may have, if not a certain proof, yet at least a probable argument, of your deity. It may be objected that the devil hath foretold future events by idols; but it may be answered, that such predictions were but rare, and oftentimes were false, and confuted by the event; and generally were dark and doubtful, as hath been noted; and when they were verified by the event, that was only done by Divine permission and revelation, for the trial or punishment of wicked men, of which we have an instance, Deu 13:1-3, and therefore doth no more prove them to be gods than the predictions made known by God unto the prophets proved them to be gods.
Do good, or
do evil; protect and bless your worshippers whom I intend to destroy, and destroy my people whom I intend to save, and then you have some colour to assert your deity. But, alas! you can neither do good nor evil.
That we may be dismayed, and behold it together; that I and my people may be astonished, and confounded, and forced to acknowledge your godhead.
Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you.Ye are of nothing; you lately were nothing, without any being at all, and now you have nothing at all of divinity or virtue in you.
Your work; either,
1. Passively, your workmanship, all the cost and art which is laid out upon you. Or,
2. Actively, all that you can do. Your operations are like your beings; there is no reality in your beings, nor efficacy in your actions.
He that chooseth you; he that chooseth you for his gods, is most abominable for his folly as well as his wickedness.
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; you neither foreknow nor can do any thing; but I do now foretell, and will certainly effect, great revolution and change in the world, which you shall not be able to hinder. One; which word, though not expressed in the Hebrew, must necessarily be understood, as being oft designed in the following words by the pronoun he. He understands one people; or rather one person, prince, or general, together with his people or forces, as appears from the latter part of the verse. Some conceive that the prophet in this place speaks of two several persons; in the first clause of Nebuchadnezzar, who in Scripture is commonly said to come
from the north, as Jeremiah 1:13,15 4:6; and the next clause of Cyrus, who came from the east, Isaiah 46:11. And then the words may be thus rendered, one
from the north, and he shall come; and one
from the rising of the sun, he shall call, &c. But it seems more natural and easy to understand the whole context of one and the same person, even of Cyrus, of whom he spake before, Isaiah 41:2, &c., who might well be said to come, both from the north and from the east: from the north rather, because he was a Mede by his mother, as he was a Persian by his father; or because a great part of his army was gathered out of Media, which was, and in Scripture is said to be, northward in reference to Judea, Jeremiah 50:9,41 51:48; and because Darius the Mede was joined with him in this expedition: and from the east, because Persia was directly eastward from Judea. And peradventure this work of
calling upon or proclaiming God’s name is here ascribed to him as he came from the east, rather than as he came from the north, because that work was not done by Darius the Mede, but by Cyrus the Persian.
Shall he call upon my name; or rather, as others render it, who shall call upon; or rather, proclaim my name, which Cyrus did in express and emphatical terms, Ezra 1:12.
He shall come upon princes as upon mortar; treading them down as easily as a man treadeth down mortar.
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.Who hath declared from the beginning? which of all your idols did or could foretell such things as this from the beginning of the world unto this day? They never yet did nor can foretell any such things, further than I think fit to reveal it to them.
Beforetime; either in time past, or before the things come to pass.
That we may say, that we may be convinced and forced to acknowledge,
He is righteous; his cause now pleaded is just and good; he. is a God indeed as he pretends to be, he claims his Divinity by a good title.
Yea, there is none; Heb. surely there is none of your gods that hath done or can do this, and therefore their claim to the Deity is false and foolish.
There is none that heareth your words; none of your worshippers ever heard any such thing, either from you or of you; nor indeed doth any man hear your words, because you are dumb, and cannot speak.
The first shall say to Zion, Behold, behold them: and I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings.The first; I who am the first, as I said before, Isaiah 41:4, and therefore capable of declaring or foretelling things to come from the beginning, which your idols cannot do, Isaiah 41:26.
Shall say to Zion; do and will foretell unto my people by my prophets things to come.
Behold, behold them; I represent things future as if they were present, and to be beheld with your eyes. By them he means either,
1. These things which are to come: or,
2. These men; either Cyrus and his forces, who came to deliver the Jews out of Babylon; or, which is the same thing in effect, the Jews returning from their captivity in Babylon.
One that bringeth good tidings; a messenger or messengers, the singular number being here put for the plural, as it is in many other places, to wit, my prophets, who shall foretell the good tidings of their deliverance from captivity.
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.For I beheld, Heb. And I beheld; I looked about me to see if I could find any man of them that could certainly and of themselves foretell such future events.
No man; not any, to wit, of the idols; for the word man is sometimes used by the Hebrews of brute creatures, and even of lifeless things, as Isaiah 34:15 40:26, and elsewhere.
There was no counsellor; though these idols were oft consulted, and by the help of the devil did sometimes deliver oracles, yet none of them were able to give any solid and certain advice concerning future things.
That, when I asked of them, could answer a word; when I tried their divinity by this character, they had nothing to say for themselves.
Behold, they are all vanity; their works are nothing: their molten images are wind and confusion.They are all vanity: this is the conclusion of the whole dispute, and the just sentence which God passeth upon idols after a fair trial; they are vain things, and are falsely called gods. Their works are nothing: see Isaiah 41:24.
Their molten images; which he mentions, because their materials were most precious, and more cost and art was commonly bestowed upon them; for after they had been molten, they used to be carved, or polished, and adorned: but under these he synecdochichally comprehends all images whatsoever.
Are wind; empty and unsatisfying things, which also, like the wind, do quickly pass away, and come to nothing. And confusion; confused, and deformed, and useless things, like that rude heap in the beginning of God’s creation, of which this very word is used, Genesis 1:2.