Present Your Case says the LORD

41: 21-29

   DIG: These verses resume God’s address to the nations. To what “competition” does the LORD challenge the idols? Why do the idols fail when the LORD succeeds? What will be the outcome for those who had placed their trust in the idols? In the LORD? Who is this one from the North and the one from the East? Although Cyrus credited his victories to many gods, what was the real truth about this period of history? How do the military conquests of Cyrus stand in contrast to those of Assyria (10:12-13)?

   REFLECT: Anything you put between your soul and God is your idol- regardless of what it is (see my commentary on Exodus Dl – You Shall Not Make For Yourselves an Idol). Is there anything that you are allowing to take the place of your relationship with the LORD? If so, He wants it out of the way. Where do you go to find the answers to problems in your own life? What new perspective have you gained from this chapter on God’s wisdom? On His dependability?

    The pagan understanding of existence rested on the concept of continuity. According to this concept, everything that exists is part of everything else. Thus humans, nature and the LORD are all inseparably bound together. The world is eternal. What is, always has been, and what has been, always will be. There is no beginning and no end, and nothing ever changes. Thus, the way to tell the future is to understand the past. For what happened under similar circumstances will happen again. The gods are not powerful enough to tell us how the world began, change the cycle, or tell us something that has never happened before. So Isaiah’s attacks here demonstrate an understanding of the pagan concept of continuity. He attacks it precisely at its weak point. His attack illustrates the difference between his (and the Bible’s) conception of ADONAI and that of Judah’s neighbors. What kind of a God knows something that has never happened before? What kind of a God is He who can explain how the world began? He is One who has made everything operate according to His sovereign will. He is One who is Himself the first and the last (41:4 and 22, 44:6, 48:12). But these idols could do nothing of the sort. Consequently, ADONAI's challenge to them.

    What happened to the idols that God called into court in the early verses of Chapter 41 to prove that they were really viable gods? First, the LORD gave a near historical prophecy regarding Cyrus (41:1-7), then a far eschatological prophecy about His Servant and the final deliverance of Israel (41:8-20). Now Isaiah returns to another near historical prophecy (41:21-29), where ADONAI challenges idols to present their strongest case why they should be believed. This near, far, near pattern is not unusual for Isaiah.

    In contrast with idols that are man made and unable to help people, God can and does tell the future. The challenge comes from ADONAI. Present your case, says the LORD. Set forth your arguments, says Jacob’s King (41:21). This emphasis on a merely national God was intentional. ADONAI came before the court as one God among many because that was the issue – who was the one true God?

    In this courtroom scene ADONAI demanded that they prove their case by prophesying about the future. The LORD had just given a near historical prophecy about the coming of Cyrus (41:1-7), and a far eschatological prophecy of Israel’s ultimate restoration (41:8-20). So He challenges the idols to do the same. The challenge is in two statements. First, bring in your idols to tell Us (the Trinity is in view here) what is going to happen, or prophesy what is yet to come. Secondly, tell Us (again, the Trinity) what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome (41:22). In other words, declare the significance of what has already happened in history. That would separate the true God from the imposters. But there was only silence.

    Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear (41:22c-23). Here the LORD, through His prophet, attacked the very roots of their pagan religion. Those who lived in Babylon, Canaan or Egypt could undoubtedly point to things their gods had done. But opposed to their false concept of continuity, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was not locked in an endless repetition of the past. ADONAI is sovereign and can act independently of the past. Then, exasperated, He repeated the challenge; prove yourselves to be gods. It’s as if the LORD was saying, “I don’t care if you do good or do evil, but do something to prove that you are gods.” However, there was still no response from the idols of wood and stone.

    Finally, God drew His own conclusion at the trial. Because they could neither explain the past nor tell the future, because they were unable to do anything independently, they had no claim to be called gods. The idols are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; anyone who chooses you is detestable (41:24). The LORD declared that the ones who chose to worship idols of stone and wood in place of the living God of Israel prove themselves to be detestable. An abomination really, and that is the key point here. In and of themselves, the gods meant little. But to exchange the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles is always tragic for the worshiper (Romans 1:18-23).

    Perhaps Joshua said it most succinctly. Speaking to the Israelites at Shechem at the end of his life he declared: Now fear ADONAI and serve Him with all your faithfulness. Throw away the false gods of your forefathers worshiped beyond the River (see my commentary on Genesis Dt – I Will Bless Those Who Bless You, and Whoever Curses You I Will Curse), and in Egypt (see my commentary on Jeremiah 44:1-9), and serve the LORD. But if serving Him seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD (Joshua 24:14-15). What is your choice?

    Since the challenge failed to be taken up, God passes the sentence upon the idols. This is the sentence of the court. First, the LORD summarizes His prophecies. Notice how specific the prophecy gets. This is something that the oracles of the ancient Middle East could never accomplish. In 41:25a ADONAI declared: I have stirred up one (Cyrus) from the North, and he comes – one (Cyrus) from the rising sun (east). How could both be true? They could both be true for one reason. One of Cyrus’ parents was a Mede, and the Medes were from the north. The other one of Cyrus’ parents was Persian, and Persia is in the east. That is how specific the prophecy is: Cyrus and the Medo-Persian Empire brought to an end the Babylonian Empire. He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay (41:25c).

    Furthermore, ADONAI describes Cyrus as one who calls on My name (41:25b). But Cyrus was not a true believer in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Yet, God says through Isaiah that Cyrus would call upon the name of the LORD. Did he? Yes he did. The books of First and Second Chronicles give us God’s viewpoint of Jewish history. There, the Holy Spirit points out that in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken through Jeremiah, ADONAI moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing. This is what Cyrus the king of Persia says: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a Temple for Him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you – may ADONAI his God be with him, and let him go up (Second Chronicles 36:22-23). And in Ezra 1:1-4 we have the decree of Cyrus permitting the Jews to return to Jerusalem. In both passages Cyrus calls upon the God of heaven when giving Judah permission to return to the Land. Therefore, God summarizes the prophets.

    Who told of this from the beginning, so we could know, or beforehand, so we could say, “He was right?” No one told of this, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you (41:26). Once again Isaiah points out that ADONAI was the only One who prophesied about it. Not one whisper of Cyrus’ coming had been made by the idols of Babylon, of Assyria, of the Medes, or of the Persians. So God was the only one who told of this from the beginning, so we could know, or beforehand, so anyone could say: He was right (41:26).

    What the gods could not do, the LORD claims to have done. But of the idols, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you. God said through His prophet: I was the first to tell Zion, “Look, here they are! I gave to Jerusalem a messenger of good news (41:27). The pronoun they refers to the prophecies. He is saying: Look, here are the prophecies that I have told you about.

    Finally, then, we have the conclusion of the case against idolatry. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob declared: I look but there is no one – no one among them to give counsel, no one to give answer when I ask them (41:28). ADONAI had prepared a Savior. Earlier He had declared through His prophet: For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it. With justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD of heaven’s angelic armies (CJB) will accomplish this (9:6-7). But the false gods had neither said nor done anything. This is the first occurrence of a theme that we will see several more times in the book: ADONAI is the only source of salvation (43:12, 50:2, 59:16, 63:3). Even “the wisest” of the supposed gods have no clue. When the LORD asks them, they cannot speak. Only God has the answers in this life.

    They are utterly silent because they are merely wood and stone. Therefore, God declared: See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion (41:29). God uses four words to sum up the idols. They are false, nothing, wind, and confusion. Confusion is the end result of idolatry, religion, or philosophy that is anti-God or atheistic. They do not have the answers to the problems of life. These man-made systems cannot touch the human heart. When one places created things above the Creator, there is nothing that humans can do to fill that spiritual void. The only answer is found in the One who brings good news of great joy that will be for all the people (Luke 2:10).

 

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