Who Has Stirred Up the One from the East

41: 1-7

   DIG: Having reassured the exiled Jews in Chapter 40, whom does God address here? What do you picture is happening to these nations? The one from the east was Cyrus, the Persian king who overthrew Babylon in 538 BC (Isaiah 45:1-7). What is the LORD saying about Himself by claiming that He is the One behind Cyrus’ success? Why was the victory of Cyrus good news for the Jewish exiles in Babylon (Second Chronicles 36:22-23)? How are the other nations reacting to this onward march of Cyrus’ army in 41:5-7? How is their response different from the one God urges upon the Jews in 40:8-10?

   REFLECT: What world problems today seem to be beyond solution? What forces in the world appear to you to be out of control? Do you react to these problems with: Helplessness? Cynicism? Sorrow? Disgust? Hope? Why? What does this chapter show us of the LORD's involvement in human history? How should this affect our attitude toward world problems?

    This is the first of several more trial scenes that are common in this part of the book (also see 41:21-29, 42:18-25, 43:8-13, 44:6-20, 45:20-25). Isra'el is the intended audience. There is no doubt about the outcome. ADONAI is the judge and jury, bailiff and prosecutor. He summons the court, makes His case and then declares the verdict.

    Be silent before Me, you islands (41:1a)! Of the fifteen occurrences of islands in the Old Covenant, fourteen are in Isaiah. Together the islands and the nations in the next sentence suggest the ends of the earth, therefore, all the people in the world. Let the Gentile nations renew their strength! Let them come forward and speak; let us meet together at the place of judgment (41:1b). Since Isaiah was writing in advance for the Jewish people who would be enslaved in Babylon, this near historical prophecy points to the coming of Cyrus (44:28, 45:1) at least a hundred years before he was born. The LORD confronted the Gentile nations and the islands by calling them to trial. He calls on them to renew their strength or come and present the strongest case for their idols.

    First, ADONAI presented His case. Who has stirred up one from the east? The evidence that God produces is the future Cyrus. It was Cyrus, the first emperor of Persia, who came from the east, which refers to Persia. Who has called him in righteousness to his service? It was the LORD who called the Persian king in righteousness. How is this so, because we know from history that Cyrus was anything but righteous? The answer is that God is not calling Cyrus righteous, but the providence of God in raising Cyrus to the throne, shows the outworking of God’s righteousness. So it was God’s righteousness, not that of Cyrus. Then Isaiah recites the victories that Cyrus will have. ADONAI handed nations over to him and subdued kings before him. He turned them to dust with his sword, to windblown chaff with his bow (41:2). Nations are conquered, kings are subdued and will offer no resistance. His victorious march is so rapid that his feet do not seem to touch the ground.

    He pursues them and moves on without a scratch, by a path his feet have not traveled before (41:3). God says Cyrus will be able to conquer territories he had never seen before. Normally, when conquering a new land, spies are sent out to see if there is anything about the geography that would hinder or aid any conquest. But Cyrus will not even bother doing that and will still be able to conquer new territories with ease. Although an invasion would normally involve many dangers, the Persian king would face none of them.

    Then the LORD’s case comes to a conclusion. He asks a rhetorical question: Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? Who is responsible for Cyrus’ spectacular victories? ADONAI was the One who had done it, and accomplished it. So YHVH is both the author and finisher of these prophetic events, saying: I, I the LORD, referring to God as a covenant Keeper, with the first of them, the One who exists before all, and with the last, the One who will prophesy to the last generation, I am He, meaning the eternal One (41:4). I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (Rev 22:13). So we see God’s case.

    Then we are shown the reaction of the pagan idol worshipers when Cyrus arrived on the scene. What was the response to the evidence ADONAI has given? Isaiah mocked the notion that the nations could withstand the advance of Cyrus and the Persians as they carried out God’s will. The islands have seen it and fear; the ends of the earth tremble (41:5a). The ends of the earth is a phrase that Isaiah uses frequently to suggest people everywhere (5:26, 24:16, 40:28, 41:5, 42:10, 43:6, 45:22, 48:20, 49:6, 52:10, 62:11). From one end of the earth to the other they will be terrified of what they see. The nations tremble and run for protection to their newly manufactured gods.

    They approach and come forward, each helps the other and says to his brother, “Be strong” (41:5b-6)! Facing the prospect of Cyrus and his army crashing down on them, they are terrified of what they see and try in vain to seek mutual help. Fear, because while the God of Israel gave the Jews warning of the coming of Cyrus one hundred and fifty years in advance, the idols themselves said nothing. These nations were not warned about the conquests of Cyrus. So the only reaction they can have is fear. How sad it is for those whose only hope is to whistle in the dark and try to convince themselves that their protection will be to simply build more gods.

    Rather than turning to the true God of Israel, they continue in idolatry and build even more gods. They cannot be created by just one Person; it takes a whole range of people to keep them coming. The craftsman encourages the goldsmith, and he who smooths with the hammer spurs on him who strikes and the anvil (41:7a). After all, maybe more gods will help. One idol maker encourages another idol maker in the hopes that this would be of help to them. They make every effort to make it look good. It’s not nice for gods to look ugly. They also strengthen the base of the idols. After all it’s not nice for gods to topple over. But in the last analysis, the idols, which have already been mocked by Isaiah (40:19-20), would not help them against the onslaught of Cyrus’ coming conquests.

    He says of the welding, “It is good.” He nails down the idol at its base so it will not topple over (41:7b). One cannot help but see Isaiah reflecting on Genesis here: God saw all that He had made and it was very good (Genesis 1:31). In both cases the maker sees his product as being good. But there the similarity ends. In Genesis it is the quality the Creator attributes to His creatures; here it is the creatures saying it of a “creator” they have made. These few words expose the difference between creation as described in the Bible and the lie of evolution. It reveals the conflict of a world where the truth of our existence comes from beyond us, to one which we can create our own values, our own gods.


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