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Lowell Brueckner

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Only God Foretells the Future


38. An expository study of Isaiah, chapter 41

We have read of Assyria and its king recently in the book of Isaiah. Not only is there prophecy concerning this empire, but we have learned some of its history, particularly that which relates to its invasion of Judah. Isaiah foresaw the Babylonian Empire and he spoke of the satanic influence upon it.

A message to the nations

In this chapter, Isaiah begins to prophesy concerning Cyrus of Persia and we will learn much of him in the following chapters. He becomes a prominent figure, who is even named by Isaiah in 44:28 and 45:1, long before his birth (see also 41:2, 25; 45:13; 46:11). In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, he has much to do with the return of the Jews to their land and the rebuilding of their temple.  

The prophecies of Isaiah must be heard beyond the borders of Israel. Even in the Old Testament, God’s word was to reach the Gentile nations, as well as the Jews. The Holy One of Israel is the Creator of heaven and earth. This is a message especially for the Mediterranean territory, which will come under Persian rule. The proper and reasonable reaction, when God speaks, is to give rapt attention, in awe and reverence, and the prophets demand it from all earth’s peoples. “Let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab.2:20) and “Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord” (Zec.2:13). That is as it should be and it is a law to be observed throughout all ages. Because the world population drowns in rebellion, His word is ignored and they wander aimlessly in chaos.

Because of His nature, it is in His heart to give the people the opportunity to approach him and to speak. How do we explain this willingness to allow the unrighteous people to bring their strongest arguments and present them in His presence? (v.1) I think this is amazing, given His infinite majesty. You will not find this consideration from those who rank highest on the earth, because they are mere human beings, bound by their own limitations. The opportunity was given to His people in chapter 1:18, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord”. The God of Israel is omnipresent and His ear is open to all who sincerely desire an audience.

Cyrus, the coming conqueror

The conquests of Cyrus the Great are described, defeating the Babylonians and establishing the Persian Empire. The Lord credits Himself for raising up this king and lauds him in a particular way, because of his sympathy with the Jews. Cyrus brings the kings of the nations to utter destruction, including the ones that this prophecy is now addressing (v.2). It is all future, not to take place for almost 200 years.

Verse 3 tells of the ease, with which Cyrus will conquer new territory. The Lord declares His involvement with Cyrus and His absolute sovereignty over the political world: “Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he(v.4). When this takes place, the coast lands and islands of the Mediterranean are to take their eyes off the human vessel and focus on the One, Who raised him up. This is the title that God gave Moses to transmit to his people: I am has sent me to you” (Ex.3:14). He alone is eternal, dwelling in the everlasting present. Notice the final three words in verse 4 and then remember Christ’s declaration in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I am (He).” The messianic element enters as the instigator and solution to the situation, described by prophecy. The answer always lies in the Messiah.

God spoke, demanding the attention of the nations, for their own good, calling to them as the Sovereign, who was behind the human power that He had raised up. Isaiah sees that they are in fear and trembling before the coming conquest. They join to one another in mutual encouragement and turn to their idols for help. Here are the two common characteristics of the heathen world… strength in unity or human alliances and spiritual help from self-made idols. They try to solidify their religious creations, instead of turning to the true and living God, who revealed Himself to them (v.5-7).  

The consolation of Israel

We have studied His call to the nations and seen their reaction to it. Then, He turns in contrast to Israel, as in the spirit of prophecy, they are captives in Babylon: But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend” (v.8).  These are the chosen ones on earth, called into His service. There is history in His relationship with this people, beginning with a wonderful friendship with their patriarch, Abraham. Warmth and intimacy emerges in the prophecy, as the purpose and the heart of God is revealed. It is at the roots of the formation of Israel and carries into the New Testament, when the Messiah, the incarnate God, calls to Himself beloved disciples. They become His friends and all future disciples, among all nations, come into the same relationship.  

In order to form His nation, God called Abraham and Sarah out of Ur of the Chaldeans. Their offspring has fallen into captivity in the same land, from which their forefather had come, but His plan is not frustrated, as under the instrumentality of Cyrus, He brings them back to their own land. The prophecy does not stop there, but reaches a greater fulfillment in our times, when Israel is called “from the ends of the earth… from its farthest corners”. God accomplishes His purposes through Israel, so it is still His servant. He confirms His everlasting covenant with them: “I have chosen you and not cast you off” (v.9).

I continue to quote the prophet directly, as a well-known assurance is guaranteed to His people: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (v.10). Does God want His own to feel secure in His care? There can be no doubt about it. He will not have them living in fear of their enemies; He will have them know His presence with them. Cyrus will not be Israel’s enemy, as he is to the rest of the world, but a friend raised up for them by the Lord.

A few chapters later, we will read, “No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed” (54:17), and Paul declared, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Ro.8:31). The Lord promised that weapons would be used on David’s descendants, but they were meant for discipline and not for destruction. “My steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul” (2 S.7:15). Late in Old Testament history, Jeremiah spoke to the Jewish trunk, into which Gentile Christians have been grafted: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jer.31:3). We inherit these unspeakable blessings, when we recognize that we have come under the favor of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel

God is as a near-relative to His people (Ruth 4) and an enemy to their enemies. Those who hate them and battle against them will be ashamed and confused; not only that, they will perish and become non-existent. We know already that this was literally fulfilled concerning Babylon. In contrast to the gods of the nations that are compassionless idols, God treats His own as children, holding their hand. He reveals Himself to them, as He did so powerfully in the last chapter, and speaks to them in the second person. In so doing, each one can take personal comfort from His word. The nation can only be as confident, as are the individual members: “Your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah points time and again to actions that are brought about through Christ. They have nothing to fear, though they have become as insignificant as a worm, an expatriated people, in the eyes of the nations, (v.11-14).

He is their Redeemer and He is the one who empowers them as an offensive force. He would make them to be as effective as a new threshing instrument with sharp teeth. They will crush the useless obstacles and remove them. They will reduce them to chaff, but they will rejoice and give glory to the Holy One, who clothed them with power. The Holy One always performs a holy work done in righteousness. It always exalts His holiness and from the time of his calling, Isaiah gives Him this title (v.15-16). Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord must recognize His holiness. This threshing instrument is never more useful than it is in the New Testament missionary commission (Ac.1:8).

God always gives His attention to the poor and needy. This is a principle that holds true throughout the divine revelation. It is in recognition of their true condition that His people cry desperately to Him and God answers desperate prayer. Rain falls upon the dry ground and the analogy speaks to us of revival… the desert revives, blossoms and becomes productive. The revival covers whole territories: “I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.” As a result, the barren wilderness becomes a forest of trees. It is a work of God that cannot be ignored: “The hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it” (v.17-20. Three times, from verse 14 through 20, the Lord reveals Himself as the Holy One of Israel).

In a farmhouse on the Hebrides island of Lewis, a common believer spoke to the Lord of this covenant with His people, confessing his own barren, dry state. He with other Christians had come to a town that was resisting God’s “threshing instrument”, sent for the harvesting of their souls. When he challenged the Lord to keep His promise and send rain, the farmhouse shook as God answered from heaven and at three in the morning, the people ran from their houses to the church. Spiritual rain came down in torrents upon that place.

This is a classic example of the spiritual implication in these verses and this is the way that the Lord reveals His work in the earth. It is time for the idols to prove their worth, if they can. Let them recount their history and prophesy their future, as God so clearly and faithfully does. Let the idols prove that they are gods, by good works or bad. Let us see their effect upon human lives. “Behold you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you.” So is everyone in modern times who, according to his world view, chooses the modern idols of secular humanism, the ways and theories of the godless (v.21-24).

Who, but God, can foretell the future

In Ezra 1:1-3, “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing… The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem… he is the God who is in Jerusalem…” The Lord “stirred up one from the north”, states verse 25, and he came from the north against Babylon and, calling upon the name of the Lord, he begins the conquest of nations.

Who, but the God of Israel, foretold these events and He challenges the world to name a man or idol, who can so foresee the future. “Who declared it from the beginning?... There was none who declared it” (v.26). The Bible is set apart because it proclaims and accurately fulfills hundreds of prophecies, therefore proving that it is the living Word of God, unique and above the literature of the world. Isaiah leads the way into the book of the prophets, major and minor, and into a sphere of divine revelation, incomparable to any human work. It is said here to be a “herald of good news”, speaking to the Jew first, but also to the Gentile (v.27 and Ro.1:16; 2:10).

It is amazing that mankind follows blindly things, which provide no real answers to the deepest complexities to his own existence. I am often saying these days that the best of the world of learning, technology and science, all end in a cemetery and are useless in carrying their adherents any farther. God says, “There is no counselor, who, when I ask, gives an answer” (v.28). The modern world still lies in idolatry, ignoring the true God, and relying upon their own creations. “They are all a delusion; their works are nothing; their metal images are empty wind” (v.29). Therefore, this earth reels crazily, out of control, thrown into chaos, with no sure plan or solution. Look around to see if it is not true. Listen to the news, observe the state of the nations, and the institutions, which man has erected to try to discover a plausible answer. You will see that Isaiah’s God is absolutely right, as He declares the vain hope, to which mankind clings.


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