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Isaiah 41:1–20 Israel Is the Lord’s Servant
Speaking directly to His people, the Lord states, “You, Israel, are My servant . . . whom I have chosen . . . My friend.” The Lord is speaking to both ancient Israel as well as to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As the Lord’s “servants,” we will serve Him in various sacred and significant capacities; as His “chosen” people, we will have a special relationship with Him; and as His “friend,” we will know Him well and enjoy remarkable privileges. Furthermore, the Lord will “strengthen,” “help,” and “uphold” us (v. 10); He says, “Fear not, for I am with you” (v. 10). Those who strive against us “will be as nothing and will perish” (v. 11). Those who war against us will be “as nothingness” (v. 12). He assures us, “Do not fear, I am helping you” (v. 13). He promises, “You will thresh and crush mountains” (v. 15), and “You will be joyful in the Lord; you will glory in the Holy One of Israel” (v. 16).
Isaiah 41:1, 4–7
The Lord speaks to the nations.
Be silent before Me, O islands. “Islands” seems to refer to the scattered, covenant people (see 1 Nephi 21:1). Be silent, “O islands,” and acknowledge God and His supremacy. The Lord invites them to come “together for judgment,” meaning to hear the Lord’s legal decisions regarding His testimony that He is the Lord (v. 4) and that He has chosen Israel to be His servant (v. 8).
righteous one from the east. The ancient fulfillment suggests that these verses prophesy of King Cyrus; but the future fulfillment pertains directly to Jesus Christ—He is the “Righteous Once from the east” (He will come from the east at His Second Coming).
like dust with his sword, like driven stubble with his bow. Christ will subjugate kings and nations as easily as a sword passes through dust or an arrow is shot through wind-blown stubble.
calling the generations from the beginning? God has controlled the forces of history from the beginning.
islands have seen and feared. Because of the Lord and His power at His Second Coming.
craftsman strengthens the smith. Craftsmen and goldsmiths strengthen each other as well as their idols in order to seek protection from them in times of need. They nail down their idols to secure them so they will not topple when the earth trembles (v. 5).
The Lord has been speaking to the nations, but in verses 8–19 He addresses covenant Israel.
I have chosen you. The Lord chose Israel to serve Him (Deuteronomy 7:6; 26:18) and to make known His name to all the world (66:19; 1 Kings 8:43). My friend. Those who are obedient to God’s commandments are His friends (John 15:14). God’s friends “shall have an inheritance” with Him (Doctrine and Covenants 93:45; 84:64).
The Lord makes seven direct statements to His covenant people: “I have chosen you,” “I have not rejected you,” “I am with you,” “I am your God,” “I will strengthen you,” “I will help you,” “I will uphold you.” My right hand, My righteousness. The right hand is associated with power (Exodus 15:6, 12; Psalm 89:13) and covenants (41:13; 62:8). Note that the popular hymn, “How Firm a Foundation” is based on verses 9–10.
God will protect His covenant people from those who are angry and who war against them.
I, the Lord, your God, grasp your right hand. In making sacred covenants (see also 42:6; Psalm 73:23).
O worm of Jacob. Just as Israel’s enemies are “as nothing” (41:11–12), so covenant Israel is as nothing before the Lord. But through His power, love, and grace, we can receive great spiritual privileges and blessings. In this same setting, God declares that He is our Redeemer (Hebrew go’el).
I make of you a threshing instrument. Covenant Israel is, symbolically, a threshing instrument, which threshes the nations to find the precious grains, meaning to harvest goodly souls. But this instrument is special—it is “a new one, having two edges,” and it miraculously threshes on the “mountains” and “hills” (versus on a flat, solid surface, such as a threshing floor). God’s people will miraculously find souls and bring them to God. God may also be stating that He is giving Israel—as a threshing instrument—victory over their enemies.
poor and the needy seek water. All of us are poor and desperately need Jehovah, who is “the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13; Psalm 36:8–9; see also Ether 12:28). He abundantly supplies us with waters of life; He states, “I will open up rivers . . . fountains . . . a pool of water . . . springs of water.” barren heights/parched land. These expressions pertain literally to waterless, arid ground; but poetically, these expressions speak concerning those individuals who are spiritually thirsty (“Their tongue is parched with thirst,” Jehovah says).
I will place in the wilderness trees. The Lord’s list of seven useful trees represents righteous people. These trees will “see . . . know . . . consider and understand together” that the Lord has done the things identified in this section.
Isaiah 41:21–29 Graven Images Are Chaos, Nothing, and Emptiness
The Lord challenges idols and graven images, which the people have made for themselves, to prove that they are indeed gods. Using legal language, He summons the idols, as if to a courtroom, “Set forth your case. . . . Bring forth your evidences” (41:21) that you are gods. He asks the idols to foretell the future or to share a few historical facts; He invites them to perform any kind of act—good or bad—so that the people will know whether or not the idols are gods. The idols, of course, fail to respond because they are powerless. They are silent and lifeless! The Lord concludes, stating to the idols, “Behold, you are nothing, and your work is worthless; he who chooses you is an abomination” (41:24). Additionally, the Lord designates the gods as “chaos . . . nothing . . . wind and emptiness” (41:29).
Set forth your case. . . . Bring forth your evidences. God challenges idols and graven images, but they are lifeless and cannot respond (compare Doctrine and Covenants 71:8).
tell us what will happen. God challenges idols to prophesy, something only God can do, generally through His prophets. The idols cannot respond. Tell us the former things. God invites the idols to relate past things, something from history, but they have no brains or memory, so they cannot respond. Even mere mortals can relate historical facts.
do good or do evil. God asks the idols to perform an action, anything at all, so “that we may know that you are gods.” But they cannot.
you are nothing, and your work is worthless. Inasmuch as the idols cannot respond to God’s various challenges, He concludes that they are nothing! Worthless!
I stirred up one from the north. The Lord raised up King Cyrus; though he was from the east, his armies would conquer from the north. he will call on My name. At first, Cyrus believed in false gods, but there is evidence that he, to a certain degree, turned to Jehovah. he will come on rulers as on mortar. Cyrus’s enemies were more or less powerless against him, to the point that Cyrus trampled on them “as the potter tramples clay.”
Who [or which god] declared it from the beginning, that we might know? The Lord returns to the topic of idols and graven images and asks the people, Which god “declared it from the beginning?” It was the Lord God of Israel. Which god is “righteous”? Again, the Lord God. None of the idols is able to “declare,” to “announce,” or to “hear” Israel’s sayings (or, prayers).
Zion . . . Jerusalem. The Lord will give to Zion and to Jerusalem “good tidings,” or the gospel.
they are all chaos . . . wind and emptiness. The Lord concludes by stating that idols are nothing but chaos and emptiness.
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