Before we proceed with our exposition we must take a closer look at &me of the verses of the section last dealt with, Isaiah 40:21-41:7.
Isaiah 41:2a. The versions translate here: who raised up the righteous man (Cyrus) from the east, called him to his foot . . . ?
But righteousness was not an attribute of Cyrus. Though the Lord’s anointed, there was no true fear of God in his heart.
Others translate: who raised him up from the east, with righteousness called him to his foot . . . ?
The objection to this translation is that there is tie antecedent for the pronoun &I of the clause, “who raised him up . . .”
There is also the rendering: who raised up from the east him whom right victory meets at his feet . . . ? meaning, him who meets with victory wherever he goes.
But this is not so good either, considering that the line literally reads: who raised up from the east righteousness (not, righteous man) and called him (not, meets him) to his feet . . . ?
It is best that we keep ourselves to this rendering. It can have a good meaning. Through the agency of Cyrus, the Lord overtook the nations with His righteousness, righteous judgments. Cyrus’ achievement was righteous, not as his act, but as a work of the Lord. As Cyrus’ act it was sin. For there is no ground in the Scriptures for the view that in his conquests he was activated by the love of God.
Then there are the lines that in the versions read: He gave them (the nations) as dust to his (Cyrus’) sword, and as driven stubble to his bow.
As the preposition to does not appear in the original text, we may also translate here: His (Cyrus’) sword made them as dust and his bow as driven rubble.
It will be seen that this agrees fully as well with the context. Isaiah 41:2:
2. Who raised up righteousness from the east, Called him (Cyrus) to his foot, Gave the nations before him, And made him to trample over kings? His (Cyrus’) sword made them as dust, And his bow as driven stubble,
3. He pursued them and passed safely: By the way that he had not gone with his feet.
But Israel-Jacob is the servant of Jehovah chosen and called in certain victory, Isaiah 41:8-13.
8. But thou Israel my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, The seed of Abraham my friend.
9. Thou whom I have seized from the ends of the earth, And called thee from the remote parts thereof, And said unto thee, Thou art My servant; I have chosen thee-, and not cast thee away,
10. Fear thou not, for I am with thee, Do not look about with alarm, for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee: yea, I will help thee; Yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
But thou Israel my servant . . . We must not insert here, as do the versions, the auxiliary art to make the line read: But thou Israel art my servant. The sentence is: But thou Israel my servant . . . fear thou not.
In contrast to the “nations” that the Lord in His sovereign good pleasure cast away and gave before Cyrus that they might be made dust and stubble by his sword and bow, Jacob-Israel as nation is the Lord’s servant. Such is his status before the Lord in virtue of His having chosen him, the seed of Abraham the Lord’s friend (Hebrew, “My lover,” i.e., the one that loves me)—chosen him in Abraham, in Christ, fixed upon him his mind in everlasting and fathomless love. Accordingly the Lord also reached out and seized him or rather them, His chosen ones, from the ends of the earth and called them irresistibly to Himself from the remotest parts thereof, speaking in his heart His gospel, unconditional promises, “Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.” And therefore Jacob-Israel serves the. Lord, does His will, keeps His commandments, takes the Lord’s side and wars His warfare in Babylon. What a glorious consolation.
This mercy the Lord showed Jacob-Israel. Why? Because He willed. This was the supreme reason. For by nature Jacob-Israel is as ill-deserving as the “nations.” This is proved by the fact of their captivity.
In Abraham all the “nations” of the earth are blessed (Gen. 12:3). But in our passage the “nations” appear as appointed and given over to destruction. It shows how necessary it is to work with election and reprobation in explaining these prophecies and all the Scriptures. There are to the “nations” an elect nucleus and a reprobated shell, so to say. The former is the “nations” blessed in Abraham, in Christ, and saved. The latter is the “nations” rejected, cast away and destroyed when the Lord has done with them.
And so “the seed of Abraham” of our passage cannot be limited to the elect among the natural descendent of Abraham. To so limit this seed is to make our passage teach that the entire gentile humanity to a man is reprobated. But contrasted here is not the Jews and the gentile nations but the chosen and spiritual seed of Abraham as comprehending the total of the elect both Jews and Gentiles on the one hand, and the reprobated portion of humanity on the other hand, though it be true that in the first instance the reference is to Judah in the captivity of the exile and to the gentile nations of the Babylonian empire.
Now the nations are afraid. And they have reason to be. For the Lord comes with His judgments and they take refuge to their idols. But Israel-Jacob must not be afraid. He must not look about him with alarm—Jacob-Israel, the servant of the Lord, the chosen of the Lord, called of Him, from the ends of the earth. For the Lord is with him, is his God strengthens him, helps him, upholds him with the hand of His righteousness in all his warfare in Babylon.
We must understand this well. When we help a fellow human, we co-operate with him and he with us. For example, there is a task that is too much for him, and so we assume responsibility for a part of it, allow some of the weight of its burden to rest on our shoulders. There is no such division of labor between the Lord and His people, Jacob-Israel. In His love of them, He bears the whole burden, assumes full responsibility. The whole warfare is His work, seeing that He works in them both to will and to do. Their willing and doing are His work in them. So God helps His people. And that He strengthens them does not mean that He supplements their strength by the addition of some of His own, but it means that all their strength is His. And this help, strength and support is given them through Christ, who is the righteousness of His ill-deserving people. Hence, the hand that supports them is the hand of righteousness.
11. Behold, shall be ashamed and confounded All they that snorted against thee. They shall be as nothing; And shall perish the men of thy striving.
12. Thou shalt seek them and not find them. The men of thy contention. And shall be as nothing and less than nothing. The men of thy war.
13. For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, Saying unto thee, Fear not, I will help thee.
“The men of thy striving,” and “of thy contention,” and “of thy war” are men wicked. They are the enemies of the church in Babylon. Because God’s people confess the name of the Lord, keep His commandments and condemn the world by their witness, fight, in a word, the good fight of faith, these “men” in their anger snort at them, strive and contend with them, make war against them, the saints, persecute and kill them. Hence, “men of thy strife,” etc. These expressions, I take it, indicate both the good fight of the saints and the enmity of the wicked.
However, because the Lord is with His people, is their God, helps, strengthens and upholds them, they cannot perish in this warfare. They are killed, but Christ will raise them up in the last day. Rightly considered therefore they do not die. They are indestructible. This is what the wicked are also going to discover when at the end of time the church appears with Christ in glory. Then the wicked are going to be ashamed and confounded. And Christ shall cast them into the abyss. Let God’s people then seek them where they may, they will not find them. For the earth will have been completely cleansed of them.
Such is the blessed prospect that is held forth to God’s believing people fighting the good fight in Babylon. And it shall come to pass without fail. For the Lord will not cease to uphold the right hand of His people, to help and strengthen them by saying to them, “Fear not, I will help thee.” The Lord speaks and will continue to speak His word, Gospel, in the hearts of His people, and the fruit thereof is, will be always, that they are strengthened and preserved to the end as His warriors. We should take notice how consistently all the promises of our passage are unconditional. All is the Lord’s work. All depends on Him alone.
It is plain that the reach also of this prophecy extends to the end of time. But its initial fulfillment was the freeing of the church in the captivity of the exile through the fall of the Babylon of the Euphrates valley. The Scriptures make it plain that as captives of Babylon’s kings the true people of God, because of their good confession, were sorely troubled by the heathen in whose midst they dwelt. In the phraseology of our passage they snorted against God’s people in their bitter hatred of them; they strove and contended with them: they made war against them. But the Lord helped, strengthened and upheld His people by His admonitions and promises as sanctified to their hearts so that their faith did not cease. Eventually Babylon went the way of all earthly kingdoms. It fell and passed away. But the church abided. Cyrus, the conqueror from the east, the spoiler of nations, dealt kindly with God’s people, the Jews. Not alone that he gave them permission to return to their own place, but he showed them every consideration. It astounded and confounded the enemies, many of whom had perished in the overthrow.
Jacob-Israel, the church of the elect, is imperishable indeed. But in herself she is weak and lowly. Her strength is the Lord who gives her the victory and richly blesses her with salvation. vss. 14-20.
14. Do not fear thou worm Jacob, ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the Lord, And thy redeemer, the holy one of Israel.
15. Behold, I will make thee for a threshing instrument, sharp, new, Having many teeth. Thou shalt thresh the mountains, and grind them small, And shalt make the hills as chaff.
16. Thou shalt spread them, and the wind will bear them away, And the tempest shall scatter them. And thou shalt rejoice in the Lord, In the holy one of Israel thou shalt exalt.
Jacob is called a worm. It is clear what the speech of this imagery is Jacob, the men of Israel, always on account of their good confession, are rejected, despised and afflicted of men, trampled by the wicked, ground under their heel. (See Ps. 22:6 and also the description of the sufferings of Christ, Isaiah 53) Accordingly, Jacob is a people of suffering and sorrow for Christ’s sake.
But Jacob, the men of Israel, must not be afraid. For the Lord will help him, the worm. There can be no doubt about that. For He is Jehovah, the I am, Jacob’s redeemer, who bought him with a price, the holy one of Israel, whose aloneness is absolute.
And that help is to consist in His making him a threshing instrument to the adversary. What may be the truth and fact signified by this imagery? To my mind it is this. He raises Jacob, the men of Israel, from his spiritual death, grafts him into Christ by a faith that is living and indestructible, and supplies him with grace to embrace and live by His counsel, promises, word of prophecy. And that word is to the effect that the adversary shall be destroyed at the appearing of Christ and that Jacob, the worm, shall inherit the earth. And that word Jacob holds, lives by and proclaims to the wicked and thereby he triumphs over all his enemies because the Lord brings it to pass, so that by identifying Jacob with that Word of His and thus with Christ, the Lord indeed makes him to the adversary a threshing instrument having many teeth. And as it is all the Lord’s work, it is in Him that Jacob rejoices and glories—glories in the holy one of Israel.
That Jacob the Lord’s servant is still the chosen nation and not the personal servant of the Lord is plain from the expression, “Jacob the men of Israel.”
It is also plain what is to be understood by the “mountains and the hills” of vs. 15 that are to be made like chaff to be carried away by the wind and scattered by the tempest when Jacob by his threshing instrument shall have grinded them small. The reference is to the Adversaries of Jacob. They exalt themselves against the Lord and His people, and are therefore compared to hills and mountains.