Although this is Harry's blog, he will ask the other two teachers' permission to post their sessions on the blog from time to time, since it hardly makes sense for Harry to do his own study of the chapters that they cover.
This week the teacher was Wini Hoffner. The lesson below is a slightly edited version of her presentation.
Enjoy the study!
In chapter 40 God comforts his people in exile with his word of promise that he will bring them home. He assures them that he is able to do this because of his amazing power - the power by which he created and sustains the universe. He is able to do it because he is sovereign over all the nations. He alone is God. There is no other like him .
In chapter 41, as further proof that he alone is God, he brings a court case against all other nations and their gods.
Listen to me in silence, O coastlands; let the peoples renew their strength; let them approach, then let them speak; let us together draw near for judgment. Who stirred up one from the east whom victory meets at every step? He gives up nations before him, so that he tramples kings under foot; he makes them like dust with his sword, like driven stubble with his bow. 3 He pursues them and passes on safely, by paths his feet have not trod. 4 Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am He. 5 The coastlands have seen and are afraid, the ends of the earth tremble; they have drawn near and come. 6 Every one helps his neighbor, and says to his brother, “Take courage!” 7 The craftsman encourages the goldsmith, and he who smoothes with the hammer him who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, “It is good”; and they fasten it with nails so that it cannot be moved.
Verse 1: “Listen to me in silence”...
The nations are to be silent and listen to the evidence of the Judge of the universe, and then they are to screw up their courage and testify as to how they have the same power and wisdom as the God of Israel.
God gives his evidence in v. 2. The evidence of God’s power is the alarming progress of one from the East, who will be identified in ch. 44 as Cyrus. He is called forth for God’s twofold purpose of judgment and deliverance.
To drive home the contrast between the God of Israel and the gods of the nations the prophet poses a question:
“Who has stirred up one from the east?”
There are so many “he’s” and “his’s” in vv. 2-4 let me clarify by replacing these pronouns with proper nouns:
Who stirred up one from the east whom victory meets at every step? [God] gives up nations before [Cyrus], so that [Cyrus] tramples kings under foot; [Cyrus] makes them like dust with his sword, like driven stubble with his bow.
Isa. 41:3-4 [Cyrus] pursues them and passes on safely, by paths his feet have not trod. 4 Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am He.
Remember Isaiah predicted this event 150 years before it happened, but as we look back on history we see how God used Cyrus to deliver his people. During his reign over Persia Cyrus achieved great victories throughout the ancient NE, marching through Assyria in 547, overthrowing Croesus, King of Lydia, and conquering Babylon in 539. After he conquered Babylon, he issued a decree in 538 which stated that all the people in the lands he had conquered who were living there as exiles were to be returned to their homes. Furthermore their deities were to be restored to their renovated temples. The Jews had no idols, or images, but their temple had been destroyed, and they were allowed to restore their temple and all its fittings because of this decree.
Who brought all this about?
V. 4 tells us.
Let’s delve into this a little bit. This is the Judge of the universe giving his evidence in the court. What is he saying about himself here?
• He is the creator.
• he is the Lord of history
• all of this has been part of his plan from the beginning of time.
How can the nations stand up against this?
The answer is, they can’t. But nonetheless they frantically rush about shouting words of encouragement to each other and urging on their craftsmen to make a more substantial god, even nailing him down so he will stand firm for them!
They are futilely trying to avoid God’s decreed judgment by depending on useless idols made by their own hands. But they are afraid.
By contrast, the exiles are not to fear. They have the sovereign Lord of history at their side. Chapter 40 showed that he is powerful enough to do something about their situation. But does want to? We see a resounding “Yes” in vv. 8-10.
Is. 41:8-10 “But you, O Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
you descendants of Abraham my friend,
I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So 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.
“Do not fear,” the Lord says in v. 10
“Do not fear” occurs many times in this part of Isaiah. Fear is a central issue among the exiles.
What do you think they feared most?
That God had abandoned them. They wondered whether God’s covenant with them had come to an end with the destruction of the Temple in 586.
What assurances does he give them that he has not abandoned them?
- He chose them.
- He called them from all the corners of the earth.. beginning with Abraham from Ur and then with Abraham,’s, Isaac’s, and Jacob’s descendants from Egypt.
- He knows who they are and where they are.
- He has not rejected, nor abandoned them.
In times of crisis in our own lives, why is it that doubt begins to creep in? What are we doubting? Through Isaiah God says to his people in Babylon:
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. (v.10)
The idols could offer no strength to their worshipers. In fact they had to be nailed down so they wouldn’t fall over. The Lord, on the other hand, holds Israel by his powerful, victorious hand.
Since they fear that God has abandoned them, they also fear that their enemies will overpower them. But God assures them in the following verses that not only is he present with them, but that he will act on their behalf.
“All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all. For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. “See, I will make you into a threshing sledge, new and sharp, with many teeth. You will thresh the mountains and crush them, and reduce the hills to chaff. You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up, and a gale will blow them away. But you will rejoice in the LORD and glory in the Holy One of Israel. “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the LORD will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the LORD has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.
Their enemies will vanish, (v.12). Not only will Israel’s enemies vanish, but God will empower Israel to be active on their own behalf.
The nations regard Israel in exile as only a lowly worm (v. 14) but God will turn them into his threshing sledge.
As John Goldingay states: “Yahweh will see that the worm becomes a more powerful earth mover.”
A threshing sledge is made of heavy boards studded with flints. When it is dragged over grain stalks on the threshing floor, it rips open the husks separating the grain from the chaff, which the wind will blow away during the winnowing process that follows.
Just as Cyrus in v. 2 will use his sword to crush Israel’s enemies and turn them into windblown chaff, so God will use Israel as his “threshing sledge” of judgment(v. 15) to winnow the nations. He will use Israel to achieve his own plans.
As a guarantee of this promise, God uses two names for himself: “Redeemer” and “Holy One of Israel”. (14)
Why does he choose these two names in this instance?
“Redeemer. Deliverer. He will deliver them from Babylonia, just as he delivered them from Egypt in the exodus. He will bring them back to himself. He will redeem their property, restoring it to them. Holy One of Israel. He is apart from all other Gods. He is Israel’s God. He has always been and always will be true to them. He has the power to bring them back to himself.
The Lord is our Redeemer. The ultimate redemption took place at Calvary. God redeemed us through Jesus’ death on the cross, bringing us back to himself. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice we can be certain that he will never forsake us.
The Lord, Israel’s Redeemer, is going to deliver them from Babylon just as he delivered them in the Exodus. This weary, thirsty nation has been looking for water but has been unable to find it because they fear that God has abandoned them. God promises to give them abundant water - enough not only to quench their thirst but also to transform their desolate homeland.
Just so Jesus promised to give us living water, water that will transform our desolate lives.
When the nations see the transformation of Israel, “they will consider and understand that the hand of the LORD has done this.” (v. 20)
Do the people around us see a transformation in us which only God himself could bring about? Or do they see a trembling, fearful “worm”? In v. 1 God challenged the nations to give evidence. In the following verses he challenges the gods themselves.
Is. 41:21-29 “Set forth your case,” says the Lord; “Bring your proofs,” says Jacob’s King. “Let them bring them to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. 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. But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; he who chooses you is detestable. “I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes— one from the rising sun who calls on my name. He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay. Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know, and beforetime, that we might say, “He is right”? There was none who declared it, none who proclaimed, none who heard your words. I first have declared it to Zion, and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good tidings. But when I look there is no one; among these there is no counselor who, when I ask, gives an answer. Behold, they are all a delusion; their works are nothing; their molten images are empty wind.
“Set forth your case. Bring your proofs.”
Can these gods predict the future? Can they explain the past? Can they even make sense of what is happening right now? Has anything that has ever happened been ordained by them? Can they do anything at all, right now, to prove that they even exist?
Verse 24: No. They are utterly worthless. More striking is the last clause of v. 24 “he who chooses you is detestable.” Paul shows just how detestable is the one who follows these gods in Romans, chapter one.
The exiles have been living in Babylonia for 70 years. They have undoubtedly been seduced by this pagan culture. They fear that God has abandoned them. Why not turn to these other gods?
In his mercy, the Lord shows them how worthless the Baylonian gods are and how foolish it would be to turn to them.
The Holy One of Israel, by contrast, has raised up Cyrus to defeat Babylonia.
Verse 25. Cyrus is said in v. 25 to come from the north and east because his conquests covered the whole Babylonian Empire from the Persian Gulf to the Caspian and Black Seas.
Not one of the worthless gods ever foretold this. But the sovereign Lord of the universe predicted it beforehand.
Verse 27: He predicted the fall of Israel in prophecies throughout the book of Jeremiah, and now he is predicting her renewal. Because the former prophecy came true, it is certain that the latter will come true as well. The Holy One of Israel is reliable. These are “good tidings” for Israel.
Verses 28-29: The Babylonian gods are not reliable. They can do nothing, They are worthless. Many scholars say that the second half of Isaiah was written after these events took place and that these messages are mere interpretations of current events. However, the emphasis of this entire chapter on the value of prediction as proof of Deity contradicts such a notion. To say otherwise nullifies all that follows in Isaiah.
We have seen in these first two chapters, and will continue to see, that it is the Everlasting God who dominated Isaiah’s thoughts.
• He is our God, the living God who has revealed himself to us in his Word.
• He promises to be with us.
• He promises to help us.
• He promises to do through us what we cannot do ourselves.
• He is the First and the Last. On him Isaiah based all his hope and confidence, and he is the one on whom all our hopes must rest.