The Cone of Isaiah
The cone of Isaiah DIG: What terms does God use to address the exiles in these verses? What do they reveal about God’s relationship with them? How would these terms calm their fears?
REFLECT: Why is the fact that God has not rejected Israel because of her sin, good news for you?
In contrast to the frightened pagan nations, the Israelites are under special protection of ADONAI because they are His servant. Isra’el does not need to create false gods to protect her (41:6-7), for she has the protection of the true God Himself. But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham My friend (41:8). For the first time in Isaiah we are presented with the concept of the servant. From now on, whenever Isaiah uses the term servant, it will be used in one of three senses. First, when he uses the term servant, he is talking about the nation of Isra’el, and he uses it three times in 41:8-16, 42:18-22, and 43:10. Secondly, when he uses the term servant, he is dealing with the faithful remnant, and he uses it three times in 44:1-5, 44:21, and 65:8-16. Thirdly, when he uses the term Servant, it is in reference to the Messiah, and we find it in 42:1-9, 49:1-7, 50:4-9, and 52:13 to 53:12. Only the context will tell us which way he is using it.
The Israelites should have been encouraged by the fact that, like Abraham, Moses and David, they had been especially chosen to serve the LORD. O descendants of Israel His servant, O sons of Jacob, his chosen ones (First Chronicles 16:13; Psalm 105:6). Their relationship to their Redeemer, the Holy One of Isra’el (41:14b), was not merely a judicial act. No, their bond was based on friendship because their ancestor, father Abraham, was His friend. Their relationship was rooted in a common love, both the love of ADONAI for His chosen ones, and the love of the chosen for their God. Consequently, as those chosen to serve the LORD, descendents of His unique friend (Second Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23), they had nothing to fear (John 15:14-15).
ADONAI had already taken the ancestors of Abraham, the Israelites, from all over the world. He said: I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you, saying: You are My servant; I have chosen you and have not rejected you (41:9). He could do it again and indeed He purposed to regather them after seventy years of Babylonian Captivity (see my commentary on Jeremiah, to see link click Gu – Seventy Years of Babylonian Rule). Discipline was necessary but the exile would change their relationship. They would not be forsaken.
We must also experience the wonder that once saved (John 3:16; First Corinthians 15:3b-4), our sin cannot change the LORD’s love for us. Once we realize that we are children of God (see my commentary on The Life of Christ Bw – What God Does For Us at the Moment of Faith), we have nothing to fear.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I Am your God (41:10a). Here ADONAI addresses His chosen ones. Because of their relationship with Him they do not need to fear anything. This is not some positive thinking mumbo-jumbo. Nor will it be a yoga or philosophy class. They could not humanly will themselves to contentment with “good thoughts.” No, they could take courage because their God was with them.
But who was He? One more of the helpless gods? No, He is the great I Am (see my commentary on Exodus At – I Am Has Sent Me to You). Every other being in the universe is dependent; He alone is self-existent, complete in Himself. He had given Himself to them to be their God. There was no new message. It was the same word Isaiah had given Ahaz: Don’t be afraid (7:14b), and that Moses had declared to the Israelites at the Red Sea: Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance that ADONAI will bring you today. . . the LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still (Exodus 14:13-14), and to Joshua on the plains of Mo’ab: The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged (Deuteronomy 31:8). It was the key to Joseph’s success: ADONAI was with Joseph (Genesis 39:2, 21, 23), and also to Isaac’s: I will be with you and bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham (Genesis 26:3). But sitting on the bank of the Euphrates in Babylon, they would think to themselves, “How could we be chosen of the LORD when we have been forcibly taken from our Temple and the Land?” They needed to hear in clear terms that ADONAI was still with them and that He was still willing to be called their God.
The LORD was not a passive companion. Since ADONAI, their God, was with them, they could expect certain things from Him. His presence brought them active strength, expressed as a mountain tsunami of assistance: I will strengthen you and help you; moreover I will uphold you with My righteous right hand (41:10b). Not only has He strengthened them, but He has helped them, and not only has He strengthened and helped them, but He has also upheld them. That help was symbolized by the LORD’s righteous right hand. Therefore, God’s great and powerful right hand will do the right thing for His suffering people and deliver them.
Oh, how blessed it is to know that when the times of pain come and when our hearts become broken, we have Someone to whom we can turn that will give us Strength and that will keep us Safe. Only Jesus does that! A little girl and her father were returning from the funeral of their dearly loved mother and wife. Some kind neighbors invited them to spend a few days with them so they wouldn’t be alone in the house with all its sad memories. However, the father decided it would be better to go home. That night the father placed the little girl’s bed next to his, but neither could fall asleep. Finally the child said, “Daddy, it’s dark, I can’t see you. But you’re there, aren’t you?” “Yes, dear, Daddy’s here right next to you. Go to sleep.” The little girl finally dropped off to sleep. In the darkness and the depth of sorrow, the father in tears said aloud, “O Heavenly Father, it’s so dark, and my heart is overflowing with sorrow. But You are there, aren’t You?” And immediately there came to him a passage from the prophet: Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
Here the prophet introduces a concept known as the Cone of Isaiah. The nation of Israel is pictured as the Servant in verses 8 to 16, the believing remnant is seen as the Servant in verses 17 to 29, and then the Messiah is portrayed as the Servant in Chapter 42:1-9. Like a cone, it gets more and more narrow. It starts at the base as the nation of Israel, and then progresses to the faithful remnant and finally to the point, which could only be the Messiah.
In several places where Isaiah draws a contrast between Isra’el the servant and Messiah the Servant to show that where Isra’el the servant failed, Messiah the Servant will succeed. Then the success of Messiah the Servant will be applied to the nation of Isra’el. All the promises ADONAI has made to Isra’el are eternal and binding. The LORD does not and will not reject Isra’el because of her sins. He is the Promise Keeper. If He says He is going to do something, He will accomplish what He has set out to do. Israel’s sin (or our sin) doesn’t surprise Him. This is Good News for you and me. Because God will not reject Isra’el because of their sin, He will not reject us because of our sin.
In this passage we have the nation of Isra’el referred to as my servant. ADONAI says that the nation is descended from Abraham, My friend. There are three different places in Scripture where Abraham is called the friend of God: here in Isaiah 41:8-10; Second Chronicles 20:7, and James 2:23. The main residence of Abraham was in Hebron, where he lived and was buried. The name Hebron in Hebrew means friend.
The LORD had already taken the descendants of Abraham, the Israelites, from the ends of the earth to their new home in Canaan. He could do it again, and after seventy years of captivity He would do it again. The exile would not change their relationship to Him. So even though Isra’el might be languishing in the Babylonian captivity before the coming of Cyrus, God made it clear to Isra’el (even before she went into the Babylonian captivity) that He had not rejected her. ADONAI says this in eight different ways: First, But you, O Israel, are my servant; secondly, Jacob, whom I have chosen; thirdly, You descendants of Abraham, my friend; fourthly, I took you from the ends of the earth; fifthly, From the farthest corners I called you; sixthly, I said: You are my servant; seventh, I have chosen you and eighth, I have not rejected you.
Then, Isaiah gives the application. In light of the fact that God has chosen Isra’el, and that Isra’el has a very unique position as His ancestors, they are not to fear or be dismayed. Why? Because He is with them, and He is, after all, their God. And ADONAI promises to strengthen, or empower, them; The LORD will help, or assist, them and uphold, or support, them. All of these three blessings of empowerment, assistance, and support will come with the righteousness of God’s right hand.