Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentISAIAH 44
An analysis of this chapter is as follows:
I. (Isaiah 44:1-5) Despite the fact of Israel's sin and their condemnation to seventy years of captivity, God was by no means through with Israel. He would restore Israel to his favor and to their homeland. Their posterity would turn to God and actually receive the Spirit of the Lord.
II. (Isaiah 44:6-20) The most powerful and effective condemnation of idolatry to be found anywhere.
III. (Isaiah 44:24-26) God will confound the wisdom of the astrologers, the soothsayers and the diviners and at the same time confirm the word of his servants the holy prophets by bringing about the delivery of Israel from captivity and their return to Jerusalem, even naming the great King who would be a prominent figure in accomplishing this tremendous deliverance about 150 years after Isaiah prophesied this.
Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant, and Israel, who I have chosen: Thus saith Jehovah that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, who will help thee: Fear not, O Jacob my servant; and thou, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and streams upon the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: and they shall spring up among the grass, as willows by the watercourses. One shall say, I am Jehovah's; and another shall call [himself] by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto Jehovah, and surname [himself] by the name of Israel.
Practically all present-day commentators would connect this passage with the previous chapter, basing their reason upon the expression "Yet now hear." However, in our view, the chapter division is appropriate enough where it stands. It is true of course that there is a connection, because Isaiah always placed in close juxtaposition his prophecies of doom for wicked Israel and redemption for upright Israel; and so it is here. The closing verses of Isa. 43 left Israel under the curse and under the ban; but here the help and redemption of Israel are the glorious theme.
This, of course, is fully in keeping with the "two Israels," visible on every page of this great prophecy. But the words, "Yet now hear" emphasize not a continuation of the same theme, but a dramatic change to a new one, just as the word "now" in Rom. 8:1 signals a dramatic switch from the deadness of Rom. 7 to the eternal life of chapter 8, the significant word in each place being "now." Just so it is here, the dramatic shift is from the fleshly, rebellious, condemned Israel who would rot in captivity to their seed, their offspring, who would receive God's great blessings and even experience the infusion of God's Spirit.
In Isaiah's day, the two Israels were a single people, intermingled, and indistinguishable; and therefore, it was absolutely necessary that a single noun or pronoun refer to Jacob, or Israel, no matter which Israel was addressed. Failure to distinguish which Israel was addressed has often led to extravagant statements about how God's totally unmerited and undeserved grace went ahead and saved Israel no matter what they did. A littie thought on what actually happened will do much to temper such extravagant statements.
Payne, for example, on this paragraph noted that, "The big point here is that Israel has a future; she is still God's servant with a mission to perform. Her future will be one of material and spiritual prosperity, so much so that non-Jews will voluntarily attach themselves to Israel and to her God.F1 Yes, yes, this is true; but it should be noted that the blessings promised in no sense whatever applied to that fleshly Israel under the ban and condemned to captivity, but to their children of far distant generations, and particularly among those, only to the obedient. Note what this little paragraph actually promises:
"The outpouring of the Spirit (Isaiah 44:3) is a glimpse of the new covenant as in Jer. 31:31ff; Ezek. 36:26; Joel 2:28, and Acts 2.F2 Isa. 44:5 is a foretaste of Gentile conversion.F3 These verses promise redemption and the reception of the Spirit through the success of the Gospel of Christ.F4 Here God explicitly predicts that future Israel who was to receive the Living Water and the Holy Spirit poured out upon them pre-eminently on Pentecost (Acts 2).F5 Mention of Israel's `seed' in Isa. 44:3 refers primarily to Israel after the Spirit, the true `Israel of God'" (Galatians 6:16).F6
The single word in this very first verse which should have opened the eyes of the blind and deaf Israel is that word Jeshurun, a word derived from a Hebrew root meaning "upright," and also interpreted by some as a diminutive. "It occurs only here and in Deut. 32:15; 33:5,26."F7 "Whether explained as a diminutive, as `dear little Israel,' or as a reference to their call to be an upright nation as Hebraists generally suppose,"F8 it spelled out the special love of God for Israel and at the same time stressed the great requirement of their holiness; but there is little evidence that the captive Israel paid very much attention. Kelley believed that this word Jeshurun, "Is a title of honor and is perhaps intended to describe the transformed character of Israel in the eschatalogical age (the current dispensation)."F9
Thus saith Jehovah, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, Jehovah of hosts: I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God. And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I established the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and that shall come to pass, let them declare. Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have I not declared unto thee of old, and showed it? and ye are my witnesses. Is there a God besides me? yea, there is no Rock; I know not any.
Here is an awesome assertion of Almighty God Himself to the effect that he alone is God; he only can declare future events before they happen; and he alone has done it! This emphasis of Deity Himself upon the importance of predictive prophecy should not be lightly considered. Such a declaration accredited to God Himself cannot be set aside by a ridiculous dictum of human seminaries that "there is no such thing," which is a lie, conceived in the mind of Satan himself and advocated only by those in his service.
"These three verses are the very essence of these chapters, with their emphasis upon God as Israel's champion."F10
A DENUNCIATION OF IDOLATRY
They that fashion a graven image are all of them vanity; and the things that they delight in shall not profit; and their own witnesses see not, nor know: that they may be put to shame. Who hath fashioned a god, or molten an image that is profitable for nothing? Behold, all his fellows shall be put to shame; and the workmen, they are of men: let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; they shall fear, they shall be put to shame together.
In words which again recall an imaginary court scene, God here challenges the makers of idols to gather themselves together that their foolish and sinful practice of making idols may be publicly exposed and that their advocates and makers may be put to shame together. God's denunciation will continue through Isa. 44:20. "This extended expose was doubtless intended to strengthen the Jews against the allurements of paganism during their long captivity in Babylon."F11 The appeal of paganism was powerful indeed. Not only were the licentious rites fully attuned to the lustful desires of men's hearts; but, for ages, nations had credited their pagan idols with giving them victory in war; and weak and thoughtless men were prone to honor their claims. As an aid to captive Israel, God here, through Isaiah, sarcastically made out a devastating case against idols and the worship of them."
The smith [maketh] an axe, and worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it with his strong arm: yea, he is hungry, and his strength faileth; he drinketh no water, and is faint. The carpenter stretcheth out a line; he marketh it out with a pencil; he shapeth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compasses, and shapeth it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the holm-tree and the oak, and strengtheneth for himself one among the trees of the forest: he planteth a fir-tree, and the rain doth nourish it. Then shall it be for a man to burn; and he taketh thereof, and warmeth himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread: yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto. He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied; yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire. And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image; he falleth down unto it and worshippeth, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god.
This is a most remarkable statement about idols. As Adam Clarke stated it:
"The sacred writers are generally large and eloquent upon the subject of idolatry; they treat it with great severity, and set forth the absurdity of it in the strongest light. But this passage of Isaiah (Isaiah 44:12-20) exceeds anything that was ever written upon the subject, in force of argument, energy of expression, and elegance of composition."F12
A few lines are not clear, for example, why would the smith be faint from hunger and thirst? Some have suggested that fasting and abstinence were sometimes used when men were making an idol; but the smith was, in this line, merely making an axe to cut down the tree, a portion of which would be made into an idol! The mention of the smith's strong hands is interesting. All generations, except our own perhaps, have marveled at the strength of blacksmiths.
"Under the spreading chestnut tree.
The village smithy stands;
The smith a mighty man is he
With strong and sinewy hands!"
But how absurd an idol is. First there must be a tree. One must be found, or planted; and then it must be nourished by God's rain until it is grown. Then a workman must take an axe, the axe itself having been made by another workman, and then cut down the tree. Part of it is used for firewood, or cooking, or nearly anything else; and then somebody decides to make a god out of part of it! There must be the carpenter, and the artist, and the pencils, and the compasses, etc.; and then, finally, when the idol is finished, the one who made it falls down in front of it and worships it! What stupid folly is this?
They know not, neither do they consider: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand. And none calleth to mind, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree? He feedeth on ashes; a deceived heart hath turned him aside; and he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?
This concludes the heavenly denunciation of idols and of idol worship. Note in Isa. 44:18 that the fundamental reason why any man is able to engage in such folly is due to the fact that he has been blinded. This, of course, is a reference to the judicial blinding, or hardening of men's hearts by God Himself; but this must never be understood as a capricious or haphazard action on the part of the heavenly Father. "God closes the eyes and hearts of men, but that is never an arbitrary action on God's part. The hardened and blinded are themselves responsible for it (Romans 1:20-28). In their self-imposed darkened state the idolaters cannot understand their own folly."F13
Furthermore, we consider the consecration of so-called "sacred images" in certain allegedly "Christian" communions of our own era as just as foolish, and just as loaded with folly, as was the practice of idolatry in ancient times. Yes indeed, we are familiar with the allegation that the "worshippers" who are bowing down in front of "images" are not actually worshipping the image; but that the image serves to "remind them" of realities which indeed they claim to worship. Yet God did not merely condemn "worshipping" images; he also outlawed and condemned the making of them and the bowing down before them as well (Exodus 20:4,5).
As for the silly notion that an "image" can remind people of any reality whatever: (1) How can an object which cannot think remind an intelligent person of God who is the Infinite Mind? (2) How can an object which can stand in only one place remind an intelligent person of Him who is ubiquitous? (3) How can an object which is totally without any strength or power whatever remind one of the all-powerful, omnipotent God? (4) How can an object, which itself had to be manufactured, improved, painted, and decorated remind any thoughtful person of God the Creator of all things? Etc.
Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me. I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee. Sing, O ye heavens, for Jehovah hath done it; shout, ye lower parts of the earth; break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for Jehovah hath redeemed Jacob, and will glorify himself in Israel.
God did indeed glorify himself in Israel throughout those long ages while the time was being fulfilled for the revelation of the Holy Messiah. There were many defeats for Israel during that period, but none for God. He maintained the continuity of that people through long ages till Christ was born of the Virgin Mary and cradled in the manger at Bethlehem. The Old Israel was intended and expected to recognize and love the Holy Christ, and to receive him with joy and proclaim him as the Saviour of all mankind for the whole world. Israel, through their leaders, refused to do that; but Jesus Christ became the principal Person of all time in spite of Israel's failure. All history is dated from his birth; and history itself shall be concluded in his second advent, at which time he will judge all nations.
THE PROPHECY REGARDING CYRUS
Thus saith Jehovah, thy Redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb: I am Jehovah, that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth (who is with me?); that frustrateth the signs of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish; that confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers; that saith of Jerusalem, She shall be inhabited; and of the cities of Judah, They shall be built, and I will raise up the waste places thereof; that saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers; That saith of Cyrus, [He is] my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure, even saying of Jerusalem, She shall be built; and of the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.
This paragraph is the place where critics generally refuse to acknowledge any possibility of Isaiah's having written these verses; but they have nothing whatever upon which to base any logical objection. Nothing ever known in the history of Biblical interpretation is as thoroughly discredited and repudiated by all thoughtful persons as is the vain, arrogant, and ridiculous postulations of the critics.
This mention of Cyrus in this place was shown to Cyrus when he came to the throne of Persia, according to the historian Josephus; and it was his seeing this passage in the Hebrew Bible and having it identified to him as a valid prophecy of Isaiah that caused him to take the lead in the restoration of the Jews to Jerusalem and in the laying of the foundation of their temple. Josephus' testimony here is independent of the Bible, and is also verified in the Bible. Now let the critics produce one line, or even a single word, of historical testimony about their imaginative "Deutero-Isaiah." Where is it? See our Introduction to Isaiah for further comment on this.
One of the most brilliant young scholars of our generation is Homer Hailey, and we are happy to join him in his affirmation concerning this genuine predictive prophecy:
"Without hesitation or apology, this writer stands with the older commentators who ascribed the whole prophecy, the entire Book of Isaiah, to but one man, the prophet Isaiah; and we believe that by the inspiration of Jehovah's Spirit, God foretold, through Isaiah, events far in the future."F14
Rawlinson pointed out that the prophecy of so minute a thing as the name of man so long before he was born is not, by any means, a unique thing. "Three centuries before Josiah was born, God prophesied his birth, the name he would bear, and the fact that Josiah would burn the bones of men upon the altar at Bethel (1 Kings 13:2)."F15 Not only so, did not the angel of God announce the name of Jesus before he was born; and to Almighty God is that anything different from announcing Cyrus a hundred fifty years before he was born? As Barnes said, "That this passage of Isaiah was seen by Cyrus is the testimony of Josephus; and it is morally certain from the nature of the case, since, otherwise it is incredible that Cyrus should have aided the Jews to return and rebuild their city and the temple."F16
What could possibly have been any more incredible than the prophecy that the Jews would be liberated from captivity by a pagan ruler who would also aid financially in their return and rebuilding of Jerusalem? "Yet it was done by Cyrus 150 years after Isaiah prophesied it."F17
The critics have something much more difficult to explain than the mere fact of this prophecy's having been written 150 years before Cyrus fulfilled it, and that is the incredible wonder of why Cyrus did it at all, unless the Biblical explanation of it is allowed.
The Holy Scriptures affirm that Cyrus himself uttered the following decree and proclamation during the very first year of his reign:
"Now, in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of Jehovah by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, Jehovah stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath Jehovah, the God of heaven, given me; and he hath charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whosoever there is among you of all his people, his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of Jehovah the God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever is left in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, besides the freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem" (Ezra 1--4).
This remarkable edict by Cyrus is also mentioned in the last two verses of 2 Chronicles.
Several of God's prophets had foretold the fall of Babylon, and remarkably, they all indicated that it would be due to a drought upon the waters of the Euphrates; as this passage here puts it, "I will dry up thy rivers." This was quite different from the prophecy of the fall of Nineveh, which, according to Nahum, was prophesied to take place as the result of a flood!
The most exact and circumstantial fulfillment of the prophecy of Babylon's fall occurred on October 12, 539 B.C.F18
Belshazzar, the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, was drinking himself drunk with his lords, ladies, and concubines in the great banquet hah of the palace, an immense place 50 feet by 160 feet in size,F19 quite unaware that the Euphrates River had been diverted by Cyrus, and that the entire Medo-Persian military force would fill the city before daylight, having their access under the walls and gates as the waters of the Euphrates sank lower and lower. That was the night when Daniel interpreted the handwriting on the wall, the last night before "Darius the Mede took the kingdom." See Dan. 5, and my commentary on Daniel.
Barnes has this:
"Cyrus took the city of Babylon after having besieged it a long time in vain, by turning the waters of the river into a vast lake, forty miles square, which had been constructed to carry off the superfluous waters in times of a flood. By doing this, he laid the channel of the Euphrates almost dry, enabling him to enter the city and take it by surprise."F20
Footnotes for Isaiah 44
1: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 802.
2: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 614.
4: Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible (London: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837), Vol. IV, p. 175.
5: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 640.
6: The Pulpit Commentary, p. 155.
7: Homer Hailey, p. 369.
8: George C. M. Douglas, p. 337.
9: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), p. 314.
10: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 614.
11: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 640.
12: Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible (London: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837), Vol. IV, p. 177.
13: Homer Hailey, p. 375.
15: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 10b, p. 158.
16: Albert Barnes' Commentary, Vol. II, p. 143.
17: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 640.
18: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 913.
19: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), Daniel, p. 408.
20: Albert Barnes' Commentary Vol. II, p. 142.