Isaiah 41

The Lord Challenges the Nations

1“Listen to me in silence, you coastlands!
Or “islands” (KJV, NIV, CEV); TEV “distant lands”; NLT “lands beyond the sea.”

Let the nations find renewed strength!
Let them approach and then speak;
let us come together for debate!
The Hebrew term מִשְׁפָּט (mishpat) could be translated “judgment,” but here it seems to refer to the dispute or debate between the Lord and the nations.

2 Who stirs up this one from the east?
The expression this one from the east refers to the Persian conqueror Cyrus, as later texts indicate (see 44:28–45:6; 46:11; 48:14–16).

The interrogative particle is understood by ellipsis.
officially commissions him for service?
Heb “[in] righteousness called him to his foot.”

He hands nations over to him,
Heb “he [the Lord] places before him [Cyrus] nations.”

and enables him to subdue
The verb יַרְדְּ (yarde) is an otherwise unattested Hiphil form from רָדָה (radah, “rule”). But the Hiphil makes no sense with “kings” as object; one must understand an ellipsis and supply “him” (Cyrus) as the object. The Qumran scroll 1QIsaa has יוֹרִד (yorid), which appears to be a Hiphil form from יָרַד (yarad, “go down”). Others suggest reading יָרֹד (yarod), a Qal form from רָדַד (radad, “beat down”).
He makes them like dust with his sword,
like windblown straw with his bow.
The point is that they are powerless before Cyrus’ military power and scatter before him.

3 He pursues them and passes by unharmed;
Heb “[in] peace”; KJV, ASV “safely”; NASB “in safety”; NIV “unscathed.”

he advances with great speed.
Heb “a way with his feet he does not come [or “enter”].” One could translate, “by a way he was not [previously] entering with his feet.” This would mean that he is advancing into new territory and expanding his conquests. The present translation assumes this is a hyperbolic description to his speedy advance. He moves so quickly he does not enter the way with his feet, i.e., his feet don’t even touch the ground. See C. R. North, Second Isaiah, 94.

4 Who acts and carries out decrees?
Heb “Who acts and accomplishes?”; NASB “Who has performed and accomplished it.”

The interrogative particle is understood by ellipsis (note the preceding line).
summons the successive generations from the beginning?
I, the Lord, am present at the very beginning,
and at the very end – I am the one.
Heb “I, the Lord, [am with] the first, and with the last ones I [am] he.”

5 The coastlands
Or “islands” (NIV, CEV); NCV “faraway places”; NLT “lands beyond the sea.”
see and are afraid;
the whole earth
Heb “the ends of the earth,” but this is a merism, where the earth’s extremities stand for its entirety, i.e., the extremities and everything in between them.
they approach and come.
6 They help one another;
Heb “each his neighbor helps”; NCV “The workers help each other.”

one says to the other, ‘Be strong!’
7 The craftsman encourages the metalsmith,
the one who wields the hammer encourages
The verb “encourages” is understood by ellipsis (note the preceding line).
the one who pounds on the anvil.
He approves the quality of the welding,
Heb “saying of the welding, ‘It is good.’”

and nails it down so it won’t fall over.”

The Lord Encourages His People

8 “You, my servant Israel,
Jacob whom I have chosen,
offspring of Abraham my friend,
Or perhaps, “covenantal partner” (see 1 Kgs 5:15 HT [5:1 ET]; 2 Chr 20:7).

9 you whom I am bringing back
Heb “whom I have taken hold of [i.e., to lead back].”
from the earth’s extremities,
and have summoned from the remote regions –
I told you, “You are my servant.”
I have chosen you and not rejected you.
10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you!
Don’t be frightened, for I am your God!
According to BDB (1043 s.v. שָׁעָה), the verb תִּשְׁתָּע (tishta’) in the second line of the poetic couplet is a Hitpael form from the root שָׁעָה (shaah, “gaze,” with metathesis of the stem prefix and the first root letter). Taking the Hitpael as iterative, one may then translate “do not anxiously look about.” However, the alleged Hitpael form of שָׁעָה (shaah) only occurs here and in verse 23. HALOT 1671 s.v. שׁתע proposes that the verb is instead a Qal form from the root שׁתע (“fear”) which is attested in cognate Semitic languages, including Ugaritic (discovered after the publishing of BDB), suggests the existence of this root. The poetic structure of v. 10 also supports the proposal, for the form in question is in synonymous parallelism to יָרֵא (yare’, “fear”).

I strengthen you –
yes, I help you –
yes, I uphold you with my saving right hand!
The “right hand” is a symbol of the Lord’s power to deliver (Exod 15:6, 12) and protect (Ps 63:9 HT [63:8 ET]). Here צֶדֶק (tsedeq) has its well-attested nuance of “vindicated righteousness,” i.e., “victory, deliverance” (see 45:8; 51:5, and BDB 841-42 s.v.).

11 Look, all who were angry at you will be ashamed and humiliated;
your adversaries
Heb “the men of your strife”; NASB “those who contend with you.”
will be reduced to nothing
Heb “like nothing”; NAB “come to nought.”
and perish.
12 When you will look for your opponents,
Heb “the men of your struggle”; NASB “those who quarrel with you.”
you will not find them;
your enemies
Heb “the men of your battle”; NAB “who do battle with you.”
will be reduced to absolutely nothing.
13 For I am the Lord your God,
the one who takes hold of your right hand,
who says to you, ‘Don’t be afraid, I am helping you.’
14 Don’t be afraid, despised insignificant Jacob,
Heb “O worm Jacob” (NAB, NIV). The worm metaphor suggests that Jacob is insignificant and despised.

men of
On the basis of the parallelism (note “worm”) and an alleged Akkadian cognate, some read “louse” or “weevil.” Cf. NAB “O maggot Israel”; NRSV “you insect Israel.”
I am helping you,” says the Lord,
your protector,
Heb “your kinsman redeemer.” A גָּאַל (gaal, “kinsman redeemer”) was a protector of the extended family’s interests.
the Holy One of Israel.
See the note on the phrase “the Holy One of Israel” in 1:4.

15 “Look, I am making you like
Heb “into” (so NIV); ASV “have made thee to be.”
a sharp threshing sledge,
new and double-edged.
Heb “owner of two-mouths,” i.e., double-edged.

You will thresh the mountains and crush them;
you will make the hills like straw.
The mountains and hills symbolize hostile nations that are obstacles to Israel’s restoration.

16 You will winnow them and the wind will blow them away;
the wind will scatter them.
You will rejoice in the Lord;
you will boast in the Holy One of Israel.
17 The oppressed and the poor look for water, but there is none;
their tongues are parched from thirst.
I, the Lord, will respond to their prayers;
Heb “will answer them” (so ASV, NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV, NLT).

I, the God of Israel, will not abandon them.
18 I will make streams flow down the slopes
and produce springs in the middle of the valleys.
I will turn the desert into a pool of water
and the arid land into springs.
19 I will make cedars, acacias, myrtles, and olive trees grow in the wilderness;
I will make evergreens, firs, and cypresses grow together in the desert.
20 I will do this so
The words “I will do this” are supplied in the translation for clarification. The Hebrew text has here simply, “in order that.”
Heb “they”; NAB, NRSV “that all may see”; CEV, NLT “Everyone will see.”
will observe and recognize,
so they will pay attention and understand
that the Lord’s power
Heb “hand” (so KJV, NASB, NIV, NRSV).
has accomplished this,
and that the Holy One of Israel has brought it into being.”
Or “created it” (KJV, NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV); TEV “has made it happen.”

The Lord Challenges the Pagan Gods

21 “Present your argument,” says the Lord.
“Produce your evidence,”
Heb “strong [words],” see HALOT 870 s.v. *עֲצֻמוֹת.
says Jacob’s king.
Apparently this challenge is addressed to the pagan idol gods, see vv. 23–24.

22 “Let them produce evidence! Let them tell us what will happen!
Tell us about your earlier predictive oracles,
Heb “As for the former things, tell us what they are!”

so we may examine them
Heb “so we might set [them to] our heart.”
and see how they were fulfilled.
Heb “and might know their outcome.”

Or decree for us some future events!
23 Predict how future events will turn out,
Heb “Declare the coming things, with respect to the end.”

so we might know you are gods.
Yes, do something good or bad,
so we might be frightened and in awe.
The translation assumes the Qere (וְנִרְאֶה [venireh], from יָרֵא [yare’], “be afraid”).
Heb “so we might be frightened and afraid together.” On the meaning of the verb שָׁתָע (shata’), see the note at v. 10.

24 Look, you are nothing, and your accomplishments are nonexistent;
the one who chooses to worship you is disgusting.
Heb “an object of disgust [is he who] chooses you.”

25 I have stirred up one out of the north
That is, Cyrus the Persian. See the note at v. 2.
and he advances,
one from the eastern horizon who prays in my name.
Heb “[one] from the rising of the sun [who] calls in my name.”

He steps on
The Hebrew text has וְיָבֹא (veyavo’, “and he comes”), but this is likely a corruption of an original וַיָּבָס (vayyavas), from בּוּס (bus, “step on”).
rulers as if they were clay,
like a potter treading the clay.
26 Who decreed this from the beginning, so we could know?
Who announced it
The words “who announced it” are supplied in the translation for clarification. The interrogative particle and verb are understood by ellipsis (see the preceding line).
ahead of time, so we could say, ‘He’s correct’?
Indeed, none of them decreed it!
Indeed, none of them announced it!
Indeed, no one heard you say anything!
27 I first decreed to Zion, ‘Look, here’s what will happen!’
The Hebrew text reads simply, “First to Zion, ‘Look here they are!’” The words “I decreed” are supplied in the translation for clarification.

I sent a herald to Jerusalem.
28 I look, but there is no one,
among them there is no one who serves as an adviser,
that I might ask questions and receive answers.
29 Look, all of them are nothing,
The Hebrew text has אָוֶן (’aven, “deception,” i.e., “false”), but the Qumran scroll 1QIsaa has אין (“nothing”), which forms a better parallel with אֶפֶס (’efes, “nothing”) in the next line. See also 40:17 and 41:12.

their accomplishments are nonexistent;
their metal images lack any real substance.
Heb “their statues are wind and nothing”; NASB “wind and emptiness”; NIV “wind and confusion.”

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