ISAIAH CHAPTER 44.
The Evidences of Jehovah’s Love.
THE REASSURANCE OF GOD’S COVENANT FAITHFULNESS. - V. 1. Yet now hear, namely, over against the lamentable condition pictured at the end of the last chapter, O Jacob, My servant, and Israel, whom I have chosen, the assurances of the Lord’s affection serving as a tender invitation to the true members of His people: v. 2. Thus saith the Lord that made thee and formed thee from the womb, who had chosen and established Israel as His people of old, which will help thee, with a steady assistance, with unvarying certainty of protection: Fear not, O Jacob, My servant, and thou, Jesurun, the upright and pious one, a term of endearment which the Lord used of Israel, Deut. 32, 15, whom I have chosen, the fact of God’s merciful election being emphasized time and again. V. 3. For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, those in need of spiritual refreshment, Matt. 5, 6, and floods upon the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed, the children of the Church, and My blessing, that of His mercy in the Word, upon thine offspring; v. 4. and they, the spiritual children of Israel, shall spring up as among the grass, in rich luxuriance, as willows by the watercourses, like the juicy and strong poplars along the banks of the Euphrates, the reference being to the luxuriant spiritual growth of the newly converted, with the fervor of their first love. V. 5. One shall say, I am the Lord’s, proud of his privilege in being permitted to worship the true God; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob, praising the name of the patriarch, as the ancestor of the spiritual Israel; and another shall subscribe with his band unto the Lord, mentioning the name of Jehovah as an honorary title, magnifying it above all other names, and surname himself by the name of Israel, glorifying this designation because it confers such a high honor upon all who wear it. V. 6. Thus saith the Lord, the King of Israel, whose relation to His people is one of dignity combined with love, and his Redeemer, He who delivers from all enemies, the Lord of hosts, who is clothed with mighty power: I am the First, and I am the Last, the one true God from everlasting to everlasting; and beside Me there is no god, He is the exclusive possessor of the eternal deity. V. 7. And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for Me, the Lord’s challenge being to all men to produce one equal to Him in prophetic wisdom, since I appointed the ancient people? As long as the world is in existence, there has never been any other who, like Himself, could foretell the future. And the things that are coming and shall come, let them show unto them, for that would be a proof substantiating their claim of being on a level with God or with his inspired prophets. But since Israel was still suffering with lack of confidence in the true God and, in a measure at least, showed their superstitious fear concerning the power of the heathen nations, therefore Jehovah once more gives them a joyful assurance: v. 8. Fear ye not, neither be afraid, with mistrust toward Jehovah, on the one hand, and dread of the heathen gods, on the other. Have I not told thee from that time and have declared it? namely, the utter vanity of the heathen idols. Ye are even My witnesses, who must admit the truth of this assertion. Is there a [true] God beside Me? The emphatic question is answered with equal definiteness, Yea, there is no [other true] God; I know not any, even the omniscient God being unable to name one. The attitude of men with respect to this one true God decides their eternal fate.
THE VANITY OF IDOLATRY OVER AGAINST JEHOVAH. — V. 9. They that make a graven image, those who manufacture idols, are all of them vanity, nothingness, desolation; and their delectable things, the idols for which they profess such a deep affection, shall not profit, not being able to help them in any way; and they are their own witnesses; they see not nor know, the idol-worshipers themselves testifying that their gods are both blind and ignorant, that they, the idolaters, may be ashamed, for their attitude condemns them. V. 10. Who bath formed a god or molten a graven image that is profitable for nothing? The answer which is implied would clearly state: No one while he is in his right mind. V. 11. Behold, all his fellows, the entire guild of idol-makers, shall be ashamed, and the workmen, those who direct the work, they are of men, themselves creatures and therefore unable to make a real god. Let them all be gathered together, let them stand up, to make an issue of their claim to recognition before the true God; yet they shall fear, and they shall be ashamed together, the hollowness and emptiness of their doing will be exposed before all witnesses. This is followed by a concrete, detailed description of idol-manufacture as practiced in those days, full of the keenest ironical allusions. V. 12. The smith with the tongs both worketh in the coals and fashioneth it with hammers, rather, in the impersonal form of the original, “One fashioneth iron with the cold-chisel, and causeth it to glow in coals, and with hammers formeth it,” and worketh it with the strength of his arms; yea, he is hungry, and his strength falleth; he drinketh no water and is faint. He is so busily engaged that he neglects even eating and drinking, until he becomes utterly exhausted. A similar energy is shown in the case of wooden idols. V. 13. The carpenter stretcheth out his rule, again impersonal, “One felleth trees, draweth his line,” in order to cut a piece of wood of the required size; he marketh it out with a line, he fitteth it with planes, marking off the figure with a stylus, and he marketh it out with the compass, so that the outside wood may be removed exactly, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man, for the idols were given the most handsome appearance, in many instances, that it may remain in the house, be enclosed permanently in a small place, whereas the true God does not live in houses made by men. V. 14. He heweth him down cedars and taketh the cypress and the oat, rather, “In order to have the finest wood, he chooseth the helm-oak and the common oak,” both of them distinguished for the excellence of their wood, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest, carefully nurturing such a tree among the giants of the forest; he planteth an ash, a fir or cedar, and the rain doth nourish it, so that, in the course of years, it reaches its proper size, the description of the long wait tending to show the ridiculous aspect of the idolater’s activity. V. 15. Then shall it be for a man to burn, that is, ordinarily such a tree will yield fuel; for he will take thereof and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god and worshipeth it; as he does the one thing, so he does the other, not realizing how utterly foolish the latter act is in comparison with the former; he maketh it a graven image and falleth down thereto, in the usual act of adoration. The contrast is brought out still more emphatically in the next sentences. V. 16. He burneth part thereof in the fire, for fuel to keep him warm; with part thereof he eateth flesh, using it for cooking; he roasteth roast and is satisfied, feeling perfectly content; yea, he warmeth himself and saith, Aha! an exclamation expressing the height of comfort, I am warm, I have seen the fire, felt its pleasant effect; v. 17. and the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image, what he calls his god; he falleth down unto it, and worshipeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me, for thou art my god, this prayer being the very climax of foolish behavior, which, however, the idoiaters do not realize. V. 18. They have not known nor understood, they do not realize the inconsistency of their conduct; for He hath shut their eyes, rather, their eyes are daubed shut, that they cannot see, and their hearts that they cannot understand, that they do not learn true wisdom. Cp. Rom. I, 18-21. V. 19. And none considereth in his heart, so much as thinks over his act, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, in reflecting upon his own conduct, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also, I have baked bread upon the coals thereof, upon the glowing bed of coals; 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? to the figure which the tree yielded, the idol which it, in a manner of speaking, produces. The idolaters become utterly callous to the rank inconsistency of their behavior, to the unreasonableness of their worship. V. 20. He feedeth on ashes; a deceived heart hath turned him aside, or, more emphatically, “He who watcheth over ashes - a foolish heart has led him astray,” that he cannot deliver his soul, his idolatry leads him into eternal damnation, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand? Spiritual blindness is always, in the first instance, self-inflicted; he that persists in it is eternally lost. On the other hand, the believers, the children of God, the true members of the spiritual Israel, are in happy possession of their deliverance, of the forgiveness of their sins. V. 21. Remember these, namely, what the Lord is about to say, O Jacob and Israel, His people, for thou art My servant, not a foolish idol-manufacturer; I have formed thee, thou art My servant, by virtue of his having been chosen by Jehovah. O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of Me, the admonition, Forget Me not! coming with emphasis at the end of this sentence. V. 22. I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, so that they are completely erased, thy transgressions, even such as meant a severing of the covenant relations, and, as a cloud, thy sins, that is, in the same way as the sun dissolves and drives away the darkness of a heavy cloud. Return unto Me, for I have redeemed thee; with him, in his redemption, is life and salvation. This promise causes the prophet to address a rousing admonition to the entire creation. V. 23. Sing, O ye heavens, for the Lord hath done it, the deliverance has been gained; shout, ye lower parts of the earth, everything beneath the skies; break forth into singing, ye mountains, as the most prominent parts of the landscape, O forest and every tree therein; for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob and glorified Himself in Israel, wherefore all the creatures of the universe should sing praises to this miracle of His redemption. To the believing heart there is no limit to the songs of praise and adoration arising to the throne of grace.
THE PROMISE TO HAVE JERUSALEM REBUILT. — This section, according to a careful analysis, belongs to the next chapter, for it takes up the deliverance of Israel as effected in consequence of the decree of Cyrus. V.24. Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, and He that formed thee from the womb, cp. v. 2: I am the Lord that maketh all things, the supreme Ruler and Guide of the universe, the Sovereign of the world and all it contains; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone, chap. 40, 22; 42, 5; that spreadeth abroad the earth by Myself, without assistance, v. 25. that frustrateth the tokens of the liars, of the vain talkers, especially the necromancers, and maketh diviners mad, so that they appear as fools with their false prophecies; that turneth wise men backward, so that they are relegated to the background, and maketh their knowledge foolish, exhibiting their ignorance before the whole world; v. 26. that, by way of contrast, confirmeth the word of His servant, establishing the prophetic message which His prophets proclaimed, and performeth the counsel of His messengers, so that not one of His words falls to the ground; that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited, rising once more out of the ruins, and to the cities of Judah, which had likewise been plundered and sacked, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof; v. 27. that saith to the deep, in another exhibition of His power, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers, to serve His purpose at all times; v. 28. that saith of Cyrus, the prophecy here giving the exact words of the Lord’s command to him as it came to pass more than a century later, He Is My shepherd, the designation referring to his leadership of nations, and shall perform all My pleasure, namely, in bringing about the deliverance of Israel; even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built, and to the Temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. This prophecy was literally fulfilled; for the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and of the Temple took place in accordance with the express command of Cyrus. That his name is mentioned so many years in advance need cause no more surprise than the fact that Josiah’s work of reformation was predicted at the time of Jeroboam I, more than three centuries intervening between prophecy and fulfillment. The God of prophecy is the omniscient God, before whom nothing is hidden.