MENU

Where the world comes to study the Bible

Isaiah 41

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Israel Encouraged Israel Assured of God's Help The Trial of the Nations (41:1-42:4) God's Assurance To Israel Cyrus, the Instrument of Yahweh
41:1-4  (1-4) 41:1  (1)   41:1  (1) 41:1  (1) 41:1-7  (1-7)
  41:2-4  (2-4) 41:2-10  (2-10) 41:2-4  (2-4)  
41:5-16  (5-16) 41:5-7  (5-7)   41:5-7  (5-7) Israel, Chosen and Protected by Yahweh
  41:8-10  (8-10)   41:8-10  (8-10) 41:8-20  (8-20)
  41:11-13  (11-13) 41:11-13  (11-13) 41:11-13  (11-13)  
  41:14-16  (14-16) 41:14-16  (14-16) 41:14-16  (14-16)  
41:17-20  (17-20) 41:17-20  (17-20) 41:17-20  (17-20) 41:17-20  (17-20)  
  The Futility of Idols   The Lord's Challenge to False Gods The Fatuity of Idols
41:21-24  (21-24) 41:21-24  (21-24) 41:21-24  (21-24) 41:21-24  (21-24) 41:21-29  (21-29)
41:25-29  (25-29) 41:25-29  (25-29) 41:25-29  (25-29) 41:25-29  (25-29)  

READING CYCLE THREE

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. In this chapter YHWH displays His power and sovereignty by calling Cyrus II (Persia, cf. vv. 2,25) to take over the rule of the Fertile Crescent from Babylon. This regime change will show

1. YHWH's plan of deliverance for His people (i.e., return from exile)

2. YHWH's judgment of the idols of the peoples who cannot hear, see, or act

 

B. Chapter 41 has an extensive number of commands used as a rhetorical literary device.

1. directed to the "coastlands," v. 1

a. "listen to Me" - BDB 361, KB 357, Hiphil imperative

b. "let the peoples gain new strength" - BDB 322, KB 321, Hiphil imperfect used in a jussive sense

c. "let them come forward" - BDB 620, KB 670, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

d. "let them speak" - BDB 180, KB 210, Piel imperfect used in a jussive sense

e. "let us come together for judgment" - BDB 897, KB 1132, Qal cohortative

2. directed to "one from the east" (i.e., Cyrus II), v. 2 - BDB 921, KB 1190, Hiphil jussive

3. the coastlands speak to each other, "be strong" - BDB 304, KB 302, Qal imperative

4. YHWH speaks to His people

a. "do not fear" - BDB 431, KB 432, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense (also note vv. 13, 14)

b. "do not anxiously look about you" - BDB 1043, KB 1609, Hithpael jussive

5. YHWH (and the heavenly council) as Judge calls the idols to court (vv. 21-24)

a. "present your cases" - BDB 897, KB 1132, Piel imperative

b. "bring forward your strong arguments" - BDB 620, KB 670, Hiphil imperative

c. "let them bring forth" - BDB 620, KB 670, Hipil imperfect used in a jussive sense

d. "let them declare to us" - BDB 616, KB 665, Hiphil imperfect used in a jussive sense

e. "as for the former events, declare what they were" - BDB 616, KB 665, Hiphil imperative

f. "that we may consider them" - BDB 962, KB 1321, Qal cohortative

g. "that we may know their outcome" - BDB 393, KB 390, Qal cohortative

h. "announce to us what is coming" - BDB 1033, KB 1570, Hiphil imperative

i. "declare the things that are going to come forward" - BDB 616, KB 665, Hiphil imperative

j. "that we may know that you are gods" - BDB 393, KB 390, Qal cohortative

k. "do good" - BDB 405, KB 408, Hiphil imperfect used in a jussive sense

l. "do evil" - BDB 949, KB 1269, Hiphil imperfect used in a jussive sense

m. "that we may anxiously look about us" - BDB 1043, KB 1609, Hithpael cohortative

n. "and fear together" - BDB 431, KB 432 (or BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal cohortative), Qal jussive

6. YHWH gives His verdict on the idols in vv. 25-29

a. "who has declared this" - BDB 393, KB 390, Qal cohortative

b. "that we may say, 'he is right'?" - BDB 55, KB 65, Qal imperfect, but in a cohortative sense

c. "when I look, there is no one" - BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal jussive

C. There is a metaphorical trial where the nations are called to account (vv. 1,21) because instead of repentance in the face of YHWH's presence, power and prediction, they make new idols.

 

D. Notice the number of times "I" is used. YHWH chooses to act. This is similar to Ezek. 36:27-38.

 

E.  The new exodus from exile is described in agricultural terms as it was in Isaiah 35. The promises of Deuteronomy 27-29 are now realized.

 

F. Israel has been restored to covenant status by YHWH's mercy and power.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 41:1-4
1"Coastlands, listen to Me in silence,
And let the peoples gain new strength;
Let them come forward, then let them speak;
Let us come together for judgment.
2Who has aroused one from the east
Whom He calls in righteousness to His feet?
He delivers up nations before him
And subdues kings.
He makes them like dust with his sword,
As the wind-driven chaff with his bow.
3He pursues them, passing on in safety,
By a way he had not been traversing with his feet.
4Who has performed and accomplished it,
Calling forth the generations from the beginning?
'I, the Lord, am the first, and with the last. I am He.'"

41:1 Verse 1 is a literary technique used often in the OT (i.e., a court scene, cf. 1:18-20; 43:26; 50:8; Hosea 4; Micah 6; see Appendix One). YHWH brings the nations, and in v. 21, their idols before His judgment seat.

NASB, NKJV,
NRSV"coastlands"
TEV"distant lands"
NJB, REB"coasts and islands"

The word (BDB 15) means "coast" or "region." Isaiah uses it often to refer to Gentile nations in the Mediterranean area (cf. 11:11; 24:15; 41:1,5; 42:4,10,12; 49:1; 51:5; 59:18; 60:9; 66:19).

It is parallel to "peoples" (BDB 522, cf. 49:1). It seems that the nation of Edom is used as a symbol for all "rebellious nations" (i.e., 34:5-17; 63:1-6; Jer. 49:7-22; Lam. 4:21-22; Ezek. 25:12-14; 35:1-15; Obadiah, Mal. 1:2-4). In Isaiah this term often stands for Gentile nations, like Philistia and Phoenicia (cf. 23:2-6).

▣ "in silence" This is another term related to a court scene (cf. Hab. 2:20; Zech. 2:13). There is nothing to say in light of YHWH's presence and power.

▣ "gain new strength" It is surprising that the same verb (BDB 322, KB 321, Hiphil imperfect used in a jussive sense) used of God's people in 40:31 is now used for "the peoples" (i.e., Gentiles).

▣ "come forward" This verb, "draw near" (BDB 620, KB 670, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense) can be used of priests approaching YHWH in sacrifice and worship, but here it is approaching the judge for a defense (cf. 34:1; 48:16).

41:2 "one from the east" This refers to Cyrus II (cf. "one from the north," v. 25). He is mentioned specifically by name in Isa. 44:28; 45:1. Cyrus II

1. became King of Anshan in 558 b.c.

2. gained control of Media in 550 b.c.

3. controlled Lydia in 546 b.c.

4. controlled Babylon in 539 b.c.

5. issued a decree in 538 b.c. that all the deported people groups exiled by Assyria and Babylon could go home, including the Jews

 

▣ "Whom He calls in righteousness" The JPSOA translates this by uniting the thoughts of lines 1 and 2, "who has roused a victor from the east."

The Jewish Study Bible (864) mentions that the Targums translate this so as to refer to Abraham whom YHWH called from Ur of the Chaldees. The military part of v. 2 would then refer to Genesis 14, Abraham's defeat of the kings.

▣ "to His feet" It must be remembered that the Ark of the covenant was viewed as the footstool for YHWH's feet and, thereby, His presence. This is an anthropomorphic phrase.

SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS HUMAN (ANTHROPOMORPHISM)

▣ "He" Notice all the things that YHWH does for Cyrus II.

1. arouses from the east

2. calls in righteousness

3. delivers up nations before him

4. subdues kings

a. like dust

b. like chaff

Verse 3 describes the swiftness of his victories. Verse 4 describes the Lord who accomplishes the victories for His own purposes of redemption and restoration for His people.

NASB"subdues"
NKJV"rule over"
NRSV, JPSOA"tramples"
TEV"victory"
NJB"subjects"
REB"overthrowing"

The problem is the rare verb (BDB 921, KB 1190, Hiphil jussive). It does not seem to fit the context, so the various options. The verb must refer to Cyrus.

41:3

NASB"traversing with his feet"
NJV"he had not gone with his feet"
NRSV, NJB"scarcely touching the path with his feet"
REB"swifter than any traveler on foot"
JPSOA"no shackle is placed on his feet"

The Hebrew is ambiguous. The ancient versions did not understand it.

1. LXX - "the way of his feet shall proceed in peace"

2. Peshitta - "he shall not pass that way on foot"

3. DSS - "they do not discern the path of his feet"

Most modern English translations see it as a metaphor of speed. However, the JPSOA translates the word "path" as "shackles" from an Old Aramaic root. It could refer to new territory (NET Bible).

41:4 "Calling forth the generations from the beginning" This is an idiom for YHWH's control of time and history (cf. 40:21; 41:26; 44:7; 45:21). YHWH directs creation, the call of Abraham, and his seed for His purposes. OT predictive prophecy is the strongest evidentiary basis for the inspired Bible!

▣ "'I, the Lord, am the first, and with the last. I am He'" There is a series of Hebraic terms and forms used here to describe God.

1. "the Lord" comes from the Hebrew verb "to be" (cf. Exod. 3:14, see Special Topic at 40:3)

2. "the first and the last" (cf. Isa. 44:6)

3. "I am He" reflects the term "YHWH" (cf. Isa. 43:10; 46:4; John 8:57-58; 13:19)

Collectively, these terms seem to reflect that God is the only-living, ever-living God (see SPECIAL TOPIC: MONOTHEISM at 40:14). They are used for Jesus, YHWH's Messiah in Rev. 1:8,17; 22:13.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 41:5-16
5The coastlands have seen and are afraid;
The ends of the earth tremble;
They have drawn near and have come.
6Each one helps his neighbor
And says to his brother, "Be strong!"
7So the craftsman encourages the smelter,
And he who smooths metal with the hammer encourages him who beats the anvil,
Saying of the soldering, "It is good";
And he fastens it with nails,
So that it will not totter.
8"But you, Israel, My servant,
Jacob whom I have chosen,
Descendant of Abraham My friend,
9You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth,
And called from its remotest parts
And said to you, 'You are My servant,
I have chosen you and not rejected you.
10Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.'
 11Behold, all those who are angered at you will be shamed and dishonored;
Those who contend with you will be as nothing and will perish.
12You will seek those who quarrel with you, but will not find them,
Those who war with you will be as nothing and non-existent.
13For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand,
Who says to you, 'Do not fear, I will help you.'
14Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel;
I will help you," declares the Lord "and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
15Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges;
You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them,
And will make the hills like chaff.
16You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away,
And the storm will scatter them;
But you will rejoice in the Lord,
You will glory in the Holy One of Israel."

41:5 "The ends of the earth" This second line is parallel to "the coastlands," see note at v. 1. They both refer to the whole "known" Mediterranean and Near Eastern world.

41:6-7 The Hebrew verb "make strong" (BDB 304, KB 302) is used three times in these verses.

1. Qal imperative - be strong, v. 6

2. Piel imperfect - encourage, v. 7

3. Piel imperfect - fastens it, v. 7

The nations looked to each other's deity for help, but in vain, for their gods could not see, hear, or act!

41:8 "But you, Israel, My servant" There has been much discussion over the term "My servant." It seems to be used in three distinct ways in the OT.

1. for an individual like the king or a prophet (cf. Num. 12:7)

2. for the nation of Israel (cf. Isa. 42:19; 44:21)

3. ultimately for the ideal Israelite, the Messiah (cf. Isa. 52:13-53:12)

In the book of Isaiah the second and third options are often merged.

▣ "I have chosen" This verb (BDB 103, KB 119, Qal perfect) is an emphasis on God's election (cf. v. 9; 43:10; 44:1,2; 49:7; Deut. 7:6; 14:2). In the OT election was for service (cf. Gen. 12:3; Exod. 19:5-6), while in the NT election is for salvation which leads to service.

▣ "Descendant of Abraham My friend" Note YHWH's call and promise in Genesis 12,15,22. This foundational Patriarchal covenant is emphasized by Paul in Romans 4 and Galatians 3. Abraham is also called YHWH's friend in II Chr. 20:7; James 2:23. They talked face to face in Genesis 18.

41:9 "You whom I have taken. . .called" Both verbs are perfects (i.e., completed action).

1. taken - BDB 304, KB 302, Hiphil perfect

2. called - BDB 894, KB 1128, Qal perfect

Also note the synonymous parallelism between

1. from the ends of the earth

2. its remotest parts

In context this refers to the places that Assyria resettled (i.e., exiled) the Israelites (722 b.c.) and Babylon resettled the Judeans (605, 597, 586, 582 b.c.).

▣ "I have chosen you and not rejected you" Judah felt that God had rejected them because of the exile and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

The verb "reject" (BDB 549, KB 540, Qal perfect, negated) is used in Lev. 26:44, where YHWH promises not to totally cut off His people because of their sin and covenant breaking. The question comes, how is this promise affected by the NT? It seems to me there are two main options.

1. Israel still has a crucial place in end-time events (i.e., Romans 9-11).

2. God's people have always been those who trust Him and live for Him. In the OT this referred to the seed of Abraham, but also Melchizedek (Genesis 14); Job (Job 1); Jethro (Exodus); Caleb (Joshua); Uriah (II Samuel 11); and others who were not Israelites. In the NT this is widened to all believing Gentiles (i.e., Rom. 2:28-29; Galatians 3).

 

41:10 "Do not fear" This is a very common word from YHWH to His people (cf. vv. 13,14; 43:1,5; 44:2,8; 51:7,12; 54:4,14).

Notice why they should not fear.

1. YHWH is personally with them

2. YHWH is their covenant God

3. He will strengthen them

4. He will help them (vv. 10,14)

5. He will uphold them (vv. 10,13)

6. all who oppose them will

a. be shamed

b. be dishonored

c. be brought to nothing (vv. 11-12)

d. perish

 

▣ "for I am with you" There is no stated verb in this phrase (see NKJV). There is an obvious intended word play (cf. v. 13) between the meaning of the needed verb (I am) and the name for God, YHWH (I Am that I Am, cf. Exod. 3:14). See Special Topic: Names for Deity at 40:3. There is no greater promise in all the Bible (cf. Matt. 28:20; Acts 18:10).

NASB"Do not anxiously look about you"
NKJV, Peshitta"be not discouraged"
NRSV, REB"do not be afraid"
TEV"let nothing terrify you"
NJB"do not be alarmed"
LXX"wander not"

The Hebrew verb (BDB 1043, KB 1609) in the Hithpael, means "gaze not about (in anxiety)."

It is possible that the verb is from another root (עתש), which is found in Ugaritic, meaning "fear" (NET Bible, p. 1250, #21).

41:11 "all those. . .those who contend" Remember that God has promised blessings to those who bless His people and curses to those who curse them (cf. Gen. 12:3). It must be remembered that Israel's strength, trust, and hope was in YHWH, not in themselves.

Notice how the returning Israelites' opponents are characterized.

1. all those who are angered at you, v. 11

2. those who contend with you, v. 11

3. those who quarrel with you, v. 12

4. those who war with you, v. 12

Also notice their fate.

1. will be shamed, v. 11

2. will be dishonored, v. 11

3. will be as nothing, v. 11

4. will perish, v. 11

5. will not be found, v. 12

6. will be as nothing, v. 12

7. will be non-existent, v. 12

 

41:14 "you worm Jacob, you men of Israel" This reference to Jacob as being a worm is not a derogatory term, but seems to be a metaphor for his helplessness (cf. Job 25:6; Ps. 22:6) without God's aid, similar to the imagery of Ezek. 16:6.

▣ "your Redeemer" This (participial title, cf. 43:14) reflects the Hebrew term Go'el (BDB 145, KB 169). This Hebrew term referred to the "kinsmen redeemer" or "avenger." It is used of one who buys a near relative back from slavery or a prisoner of war (cf. the example of Boaz in Ruth 4:1ff).

SPECIAL TOPIC: RANSOM/REDEEM

▣ "the Holy One of Israel" This is a favorite title for Deity in Isaiah (cf. 1:4; 5:19; 10:17,20; 12:6; 17:7; 29:19,23; 30:11,12,15; 31:1; 37:23; also in the second part of Isaiah, 40:25; 41:14,16,20; 43:3,14, 15; 45:11; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7; 54:5; 55:5; 60:9,14). Because He is "holy," His people should be holy (cf. Lev. 19:2; Matt. 5:48; I Pet. 1:16).

This title, in a sense, expresses the impossible tension of a sinful, fallen people conforming to a holy standard. The Mosaic Covenant was impossible to keep (cf. Acts 15; Galatians 3; Hebrews). The old covenant was a way to show the impossibility of humans to conform to God's standard, yet He was with them, for them, preparing them for His answer to their fallen condition. He does not lower His standard, but provides it through His Messiah. The new covenant (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38) is a covenant of faith and repentance, not human performance, though it issues in Christlikeness (cf. James 2:14-26). God wants a people who reflect His character to the nations (cf. Matt. 5:48).

SPECIAL TOPIC: NEW TESTAMENT HOLINESS/SANCTIFICATION

41:15-16 Israel's enemies are described as "mountains" (BDB 249) and "hills" (BDB 148) which will be "threshed," which is an agricultural term for harvesting (cf. Micah 4:13; Hab. 3:12). This is Hebrew poetry, be careful of literalism!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 41:17-20
17"The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none,
And their tongue is parched with thirst;
I, the Lord, will answer them Myself,
As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.
18I will open rivers on the bare heights
And springs in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water
And the dry land fountains of water.
19I will put the cedar in the wilderness,
The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree;
I will place the juniper in the desert
Together with the box tree and the cypress,
20That they may see and recognize,
And consider and gain insight as well,
That the hand of the Lord has done this,
And the Holy One of Israel has created it."

41:17-20 These verses reflect God's presence and blessing which bring abundance in nature (cf. Deuteronomy 27).

41:19 For a good resource for identifying ancient plants and animals see UBS Fauna and Flora of the Bible.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 41:21-24
21"Present your case," the Lord says.
Bring forward your strong arguments,"
The King of Jacob says.
22"Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place;
As for the former events, declare what they were,
That we may consider them and know their outcome.
Or announce to us what is coming;
23Declare the things that are going to come afterward,
That we may know that you are gods;
Indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together.
24Behold, you are of no account,
And your work amounts to nothing;
He who chooses you is an abomination.

41:21 This is a court scene (cf. v. 1).

▣ "The King of Jacob says" This title occurs only here. YHWH was the ideal King of the Covenant people (cf. 44:6; I Sam. 8:7). Jacob's name (i.e., Israel) represents all the Covenant people, all thirteen tribes (cf. 45:4).

41:22-24 This refers to the national gods. God calls on them to act or predict or do anything, but they cannot because they are vanity or nothingness (vv. 24,28-29).

41:23 This verse is one of the places where the compilers of the MT recognized a Hebrew variant and suggested a change.

The MT has "see," 23c (qere, ונראה, BDB 906, Qal imperfect, NKJV, Leupold), but they suggest "fear" (ketiv, ונרא, BDB 431, Qal imperfect, NASB). The UBS Text Project gives "see" a B rating (some doubt).

41:24 "abomination" See Special Topic below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: ABOMINATION

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 41:25-29
25I have aroused one from the north, and he has come;
From the rising of the sun he will call on My name;
And he will come upon rulers as upon mortar,
Even as the potter treads clay."
26Who has declared this from the beginning, that we might know?
Or from former times, that we may say, "He is right!"?
Surely there was no one who declared,
Surely there was no one who proclaimed,
Surely there was no one who heard your words.
27Formerly I said to Zion, 'Behold, here they are.'
And to Jerusalem, 'I will give a messenger of good news.'
28But when I look, there is no one,
And there is no counselor among them
Who, if I ask, can give an answer.
29Behold, all of them are false;
Their works are worthless,
Their molten images are wind and emptiness.

41:25 "have aroused one from the north" This again refers to Cyrus II (cf. v. 2; 44:28; 45:1). The only direction that one could come into Palestine from the Fertile Crescent was from the north because the desert was directly to the east (i.e., "from the rising of the sun").

▣ "he will call on My name" This may refer to II Chr. 36:22-23 or Ezra 1:1-2.

NASB"he will come upon rulers"
NKJV"he will come against princes"
NRSV, TEV,
NJB"he shall trample on rulers"
REB"he marches over rulers"
JPSOA"he has trampled rulers"

The MT has the common verb "come" (BDB 97, KB 112, Qal imperfect) which, translators assume from context, means "step on." The UBS Textual Project suggests another possible root.

1. ויבא - he will come/step on

2. ויבס - he will tread upon

However, it put #1 in the text but gave it a "C" rating (considerable doubt). The NET Bible likes option #2 (p. 1251 #18).

41:26 YHWH shows His existence and power by His prophesied acts in history (cf. 43:9; 45:21).

41:27 "here they are" This seems to refer to true prophets, as vv. 28 and 29 refer to false prophets and the tragedy of people turning to helpless idols.