17. When the poor and the needy seek water and there is none, And their tongue is parched for thirst, I the Lord will hear them,
18. I will open in elevated places rivers, And in the midst of valleys fountains: And I will make the wilderness a pool of water, And the dry land springs of water.
19. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the accasia tree. And the myrtle and the wild olive; And will set in the desert the fir tree, I And the elm and the box tree together:
20. That they may see, and know, And consider and understand together, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the holy one of Israel hath created it.
The poor and needy are God’s believing people and not the indigent in general. In our passage we see them in a parched and barren wilderness vainly seeking water. In their need they cry unto the Lord and He hears them by changing the wilderness into a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills, and a land of abundant vegetation.
This wonderful work of the Lord reminds of His doing with regard to the people of Israel during the period of the wanderings. He fed them with manna from heaven and from the rocks of the desert fetched them streams of water that followed them on their journey (I Cor. 10:4). And so the Lord will again surely provide in all the needs of His people, the captives in Babylon, on their journey homeward. But the Lord did not again fetch them water out of the rock. They did not pass through wildernesses that for their benefit had been converted into gardens of delight by the power of their God. And so it is plain that the promise of our passage calls for a final and more comprehensive fulfillment. In the final instance it is a good tiding in earthy language of the complete salvation of God’s people, first of His care of them as they pursue their way through the world, this wilderness of woe, to their eternal home, the Father’s house. They seek water but there is none. Their tongue is parched with thirst. And their thirsting is after God. And He fetches them water out of the rock. And the rock is Christ. And they drink and are satisfied.
But this is not all. Through Christ He will purge and make new this sin cursed earth at His appearing and cause His poor and needy to appear in glory upon it. And their thirst after Him will be fully satisfied through their drinking from the rivers of grace that flow from the throne. And they will see and know and consider and understand that it is all the Lord’s work, the creation of the holy one of Israel. Also the wicked who perish in their sins shall see and know. In that clay all idolatry shall cease also on the part of the reprobated. Everytongue shall confess that Jesus is the Lord to the glory of the Father.
I am not indulging in unwarranted spiritualizing in explaining this passage as I do. The promise that God for the benefit of His people will convert the wilderness into a land of springs of water and abundant vegetation is not mere literary ornamentation. What disproves this is the affirmation of the prophet that God’s people will understand that the hand of the Lord has done it. Being earthy men, the organs of revelation could not do otherwise but set forth the heavenly by earthy imagery. It was the only language they knew. It was the language that God in creating the earthy had prepared for Himself for communicating the thoughts of His heart to them.
The challenge to the idols, Isaiah 41:21-29
21. Draw near and plead your cause, saith the Lord; Bring forth your arguments, saith the king of Jacob.
22. Let them bring them forth and show us what will be. Behold, let them show the first things, what they were, That we may set our heart upon them and know their latter end; Or declare us things to come.
23. Show the things that are to come hereafter, That we may know that ye are gods. Yea do good or do evil; That we may be amazed and see together.
24. Lo, ye are worse than nothing. An abomination is he that chooseth you.
In this section the prophet returns to the controversy between the Lord and the heathen and their idols (see vss. 1-7). The pretention of the idols is that they are gods. The Lord summons them to plead their cause, to produce their arguments, that is, to prove their pretention. Let them reveal the future, say what shall be. Doing that, they prove their divinity. For then they show that the destinies of things have been determined by them and that there is in them a will, a sovereignly determining will, according to the counsel of which they work all things. The mark of divinity is the ability not alone to foretell the event but also to determine it and to bring it to pass. The real proof of divinity is the latter two abilities. Just because the Lord determines and does all things, is He capable of foretelling the future? He delivers His people always in fulfillment of His promises. He is a God not only of words but also of action.
And, if they be gods, let them show the “first, beginning, original things.” This is the proper meaning of the expression found in the original text. In our passage the term seems to denote the past in contrast to the future. The mandate seems to be that the idols give a correct analysis of the past in order that one may infer what the future shall be that is, in the words of the text, in order that “we,” the Lord and His people, may set their hearts upon the, event explained and interpreted and know the end thereof from its beginning. But the thought conveyed may also be that the idols point to definite events of the past that they had brought to pass in fulfillment of their prophecy regarding it. Doing that, the Lord and His people will know that they be gods. Yea, the prophet continues, let them do good or evil, that is, let them do something, whatever it may be. As it is, they do nothing. Yet they say, such is the contention of their worshippers, that they are gods. Words, prophecy alone prove nothing. There is much false prophecy. It does not come to pass. The idols must show that they are capable of action and of such action, of course, of which no mere human is capable. They must show that they are vested with a might to which there is no limit and that therefore they can foretell things of which only a being that is divine can have any knowledge.
Of course, the whole purpose of the prophet in thus mandating the idols is to make impressive the fact that they are worse than nothing and that therefore their worshippers are, an abomination.
25. I have raised up one from the north, and he shall come; From the rising of the sun he shall call upon my name, And he shall come upon governors as upon mire, And as the potter treadeth clay.
26. Who hath declared from the beginning, that we may know? And before time, that we may say, He is righteous? Yea, there is none that revealeth, yea, there is none that causeth to hear, Yea, there is none that heareth your words.
27. The first to say to Zion, behold, behold them! And to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings I will give.
28. For I beheld and there was no man; Even among them and there was no counselor, That, when I asked, they could return a word.
29. Behold, all of them are vanity: Nothing are their works; Wind and vanity are their molten images.
The idols cannot say what the future shall be, but the! Lord produces a prophecy by proclaiming what He will do. He knows what will be because He brings it to pass; it is His doing: And the proof of the latter is that He foretold the thing. Also this prophecy is occupied with Cyrus; it repeats the former utterance, that the Lord has raised him up. Here it is stated that he comes from the north and from the rising of the sun, thus from the east. This is a detail that points to Cyrus: He came against Babylon as ruler of Media and Persia, the former of which lay north and the latter east of that city. He shall call upon the Lord’s name. The fulfillment of this prophecy is the command of Cyrus that the temple of the Lord be rebuilt and its service re-established. It reads in part, “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” (Ezra 1:2, 3).
It would be a mistake to conclude that Cyrus was a true worshipper of the Lord. He was not. But the Lord had bound the prophecies concerning him upon his heart. What must have impressed him is that his appearance in history had been foretold so long a time. It could not be ascribed to human foresight. God must have spoken. It was He by whom he was being mandated. Such seems to have been his belief. He may have prayed for the victories that were to be his. He was to press on irresistibly, treading upon the satraps of the Babylonian provinces as upon mire. The purpose of the prophecy is to bring out that the Lord, in contradistinction to the idols that are nothing, does great things. For Cyrus will be active as His agent. The Lord will raise him up. He, himself, declared that the Lord sent him, and his confession was that the Lord is God. Yet he was not a true believer. What activated him was a superstitious dread of the Almighty. The Lord put His fear in the conqueror’s heart—a fear that as to its essence was hatred of God. It was as moved by this type of fear that the wicked king Ahab repented in dust and ashes and that the Pharaoh of the oppression went so far as to confess that the Lord is righteous and that he and his people were, wicked. It shows how that also the hearts of wicked men are in God’s hand.
Next the Lord poses, the question, who among the idols hath declared. The forms of the verbs in the original text (the Hebrew participle) can better be rendered, Who among the idols is declaring, making known, speaking? Making known what? The prophet does not say. But it is plain that he means to be asking, Who among the idols is now foretelling the appearance of Cyrus that, so the prophet continues, we may know of the thing beforehand in order that we may say, He (the idol) is righteous, that is, that we may be able to say that this claim to divinity is not false pretention but morally right?
Of course, there is none of them that makes known, is causing to hear. There is none that hears them speak. All are silent. For they are less than nothing.
The first and only one to say to Zion, Behold, behold them! is the Lord. He alone can say what the future shall be, seeing that He is God and none else. Such is here the reasoning. Hence He gives to Jerusalem a messenger of good tidings such as Isaiah. To Zion this messenger of good news is given and to none else. For Zion is the chosen of the Lord. And the good news is that the captivity of Zion shall be turned.
The Lord beheld (among the priests of the idols) and there was no man that could say, Behold them! no counselor who could return a word when asked. For all are vanity. Their works are nothing and their gods wind.
The Servant of Jehovah, Isaiah 42:1, 2
1. Behold my servant, whom I uphold; Mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth;
2. I have put my Spirit upon him; He shall bring forth right to the Gentiles.
Who is meant by the “servant of the Lord?” The question is pertinent as the expression often occurs in the Bible. It is used to denote the saints in general? Ps. 35:23; men of God as Moses (Ex. 14:31), Joshua (Judges 2:8), Job (Job 1:8), David (Ps. 89:4) etc., and the prophets in general. In Isaiah it denotes the true worshippers of the Lord, the people of Israel, and, the prophets in general.
In the above and related prophecies the expression, is understood in various ways. But the literal testimony of the New Testament Scriptures is, that the “servant of the Lord” of our prophecies in Christ. Matt. 12:15 sq., “And Jesus perceiving it withdrew from thence: and many followed him; and he healed them all, and charged that they should not make him known: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying,
Behold my servant whom I have chosen:
My beloved in whom my soul is well pleased:” etc.
This witness is conclusive for faith. Many hold the view that the expression is used directly of some typical personage of Isaiah’s day and only indirectly of the Messiah. Opinions differ regarding who the person directly indicated was. Some think of Uzziah or Hezekiah, others of Josiah, Jeremiah or Zerubbabel. But the view must be held untenable on the ground that the entire description of the “servant” of our prophecies is of such a character of some typical person. This will become plain as we proceed with our exposition.
In all there are five such prophecies regarding the “servant of the Lord.” They are Isaiah 42:1-7, 49:1-9a, Isaiah 1:4-9, 52:13, 53:12. It is said that there is little if any connection between these prophecies and those surrounding them, and that therefore they cannot be of the same author. But this is a mistaken idea. The two series of prophecies do constitute a unity. In both occur the expression “servant of Jehovah,” here for the Christ, there for His people, the true Israel for whom He laid down His life (Isaiah 53), and who therefore are conformed according to His likeness.
Behold! my servant. It is the Lord speaking. The appellative “my servant” indicates the relation that the Messiah obtains to His Lord. In virtue of His having chosen Him, He is His servant. He thus has a task to perform given Him of His Lord, the triune Jehovah. And it shall be accomplished for the Lord upholds Him, is His strength. The word in the original rendered behold is not a verb but an exclamation here expressive of the infinite ardor of the Lord’s love of His servant. His soul delights in Him, meaning that He loves him with all His heart. He puts His Spirit upon Him and thereby qualifies Him for His task, which is to bring forth right to the Gentiles,—right, that is, the true knowledge of God, God as revealed in the face of Christ. He will bring it forth, publish that which hitherto was hid.