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Isaiah 41:2

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

The righteous man - The Chaldee and Vulgate seem to have read צדיק tsaddik . But Jerome, though his translation has justum, appears to have read צדק tsedek ; for in his comment he expresses it by justum, sive justitiam. However, I think all interpreters understand it of a person. So the Septuagint in MS. Pachom. εκαλεσεν αυτον, "he hath called him;" but the other copies have αυτην, her. They are divided in ascertaining this person; some explain it of Abraham, others of Cyrus. I rather think that the former is meant; because the character of the righteous man, or righteousness, agrees better with Abraham than with Cyrus. Besides, immediately after the description of the success given by God to Abraham and his posterity, (who, I presume, are to be taken into the account), the idolaters are introduced as greatly alarmed at this event. Abraham was called out of the east; and his posterity were introduced into the land of Canaan, in order to destroy the idolaters of that country, and they were established there on purpose to stand as a barrier against the idolatry then prevailing, and threatening to overrun the whole face of the earth. Cyrus, though not properly an idolater or worshipper of images, yet had nothing in his character to cause such an alarm among the idolaters, Isaiah 41:5-7. Farther, after having just touched upon that circumstance, the prophet with great ease returns to his former subject, and resumes Abraham and the Israelites; and assures them that as God had called them, and chosen them for this purpose, he would uphold and support them to the utmost, and at length give them victory over all the heathen nations, their enemies; Isaiah 41:8-16. Kimchi is of the same mind and gives the same reasons.

He gave them as the dust to his sword "Hath made them like the dust before his sword" - The image is strong and beautiful; it is often made use of by the sacred poets; see Psalm 1:4; Psalm 35:6; Job 21:18, and by Isaiah himself in other places, Isaiah 17:13; Isaiah 29:5. But there is great difficulty in making out the construction. The Septuagint read חרבם קשתם kashtam, charbam, their sword, their bow, understanding it of the sword and bow of the conquered kings: but this is not so agreeable to the analogy of the image, as employed in other places. The Chaldee paraphrast and Kimchi solve the difficulty by supposing an ellipsis of לפני liphney before those words. It must be owned that the ellipsis is hard and unusual: but I choose rather to submit to this, than, by adhering with Vitringa to the more obvious construction, to destroy entirely both the image and the sense. But the Vulgate by gladio ejus, to his sword, and arcui ejus, to his bow, seems to express לחרבו lecharbo, to his sword, and לקשתו lekashto, to his bow, the admission of which reading may perhaps be thought preferable to Kimchi's ellipsis.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

Who raised up - This word (העיר hē‛yr ) is usually applied to the act of arousing one from sleep Zechariah 4:1; then to awake, arouse, or stir up to any enterprise. Here it means, that God had caused the man here referred to, to arouse for the overthrow of their enemies; it was by his agency that he had been led to form the plans which should result in their deliverance. This is the first argument which God urges to induce his people to put confidence in him, and to hope for deliverance; and the fact that he had raised up and qualified such a man for the work, he urges as a proof that he would certainly protect and guard his people.

The righteous man from the east - Hebrew, צדק tsedeq - ‹righteousness.‘ The Septuagint renders it literally, Δικαιοσὺνην Dikaiosunēn - ‹righteousness.‘ The Vulgate renders it, ‹The just;‘ the Syriac as the Septuagint. The word here evidently means, as in our translation, the just or righteous man. It is common in the Hebrew, as in other languages, to put the abstract for the concrete. In regard to the person here referred to, there have been three principal opinions, which it may be proper briefly to notice.

1. The first is, that which refers it to Abraham. This is the interpretation of the Chaldee Paraphrast, who renders it, ‹Who has publicly led from the east Abraham, the chosen of the just;‘ and this interpretation has been adopted by Jarchi, Kimchi, Abarbanel, and by the Jewish writers generally. They say that it means that God had called Abraham from the east; that he conducted him to the land of Canaan, and enabled him to vanquish the people who resided there, and particularly that he vanquished the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, and delivered Lot from their hands Jeremiah 1:13-15; Jeremiah 4:6; Jeremiah 6:1; Jeremiah 23:8; Jeremiah 25:9, Jeremiah 25:26; Jeremiah 31:8; Jeremiah 46:10; Jeremiah 50:3; Daniel 11:6, Daniel 11:8, Daniel 11:11. This country was situated to the northeast of Palestine, and it is believed is nowhere in the Scriptures called the country of the east.

(b) The description which is here given of what was accomplished by him who was raised up from the east, is not one that applies to Abraham. It supposes more important achievements than any that signalized the father of the faithful. There were no acts in the life of Abraham that can be regarded as subduing the ‹nations‘ before him; as ruling over ‹kings;‘ or as scattering them like the dust or the stubble. Indeed, he appears to have been engaged but in one military adventure - the rescue of Lot - and that was of so slight and unimportant a character as not to form the peculiarity of his public life. Had Abraham been referred to here, it would have been for some other trait than that of a conqueror or military chieftain.

(c) We shall see that the description and the connection require us to understand it of another - of Cyrus.

2. A second opinion is, that it refers directly and entirely to the Messiah. Many of the fathers, as Jerome, Cyril, Eusebius, Theodoret, Procopius, held this opinion. But the objections to this are insuperable.

(a) It is not true that the Messiah was raised up from the east. He was born in the land of Judea, and always lived in that land.

(b) The description here is by no means one that applies to him. It is the description of a warrior and a conqueror; of one who subdued nations, and scattered them before him.

(c) The connection and design of the passage does not admit of the interpretation. That design is, to lead the Jews in exile to put confidence in God, and to hope for a speedy rescue. In order to this, the prophet directs them to the fact that a king appeared in the east, and that he scattered the nations; and from these facts they were to infer that they would themselves be delivered, and that God would be their protector. But how would this design be accomplished by a reference to so remote an event as the coming of the Messiah?

3. The third opinion, therefore, remains, that this refers to Cyrus, the Persian monarch, by whom Babylon was taken, and by whom the Jews were restored to their own land. In support of this interpretation, a few considerations may be adverted to.

(a) It agrees with the fact in regard to the country from which Cyrus came for purposes of conquest. He came from the land which is everywhere in the Scriptures called the East.

(b) It agrees with the specifications which Isaiah elsewhere makes, where Cyrus is mentioned by name, and where there can be no danger of error in regard to the interpretation (see Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1-4, Isaiah 45:13). Thus in Isaiah 46:11, it is said of Cyrus, ‹Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my commandments from a far country.

(c) The entire description here is one that applies in a remarkable manner to Cyrus, as will be shown more fully in the notes at the particular expressions which occur.

(d) This supposition accords with the design of the prophet.

It was to be an assurance to them not only that God would raise up such a man, but that they should be delivered; and as this was intended to comfort them in Babylon, it was intended that when they were apprised of the conquests of Cyrus, they were to be assured of the fact that God was their protector; and those conquests, therefore, were to be regarded by them as a proof that God would deliver them. This opinion is held by Vitringa, Rosenmuller, and probably by a large majority of the most intelligent commentators. The only objection of weight to it is that suggested by Lowth, that the character of ‹a righteous man‘ does not apply to Cyrus. But to this it may be replied, that the word may be used nor to denote one that is pious, or a true worshipper of God, but one who was disposed to do justly, or who was not a tyrant; and especially it may be applied to him on account of his delivering the Jews from their hard and oppressive bondage in Babylon, and restoring them to their own land.

That was an act of eminent public justice; and the favors which he showed them in enabling them to rebuild their city and temple, were such as to render it not improper that this appellation should be given to him. It may be added also that Cyrus was a prince eminently distinguished for justice and equity, and for a mild and kind administration over his own subjects. Xenophon, who has described his character at length, has proposed him as an example of a just monarch, and his government as an example of an equitable administration. All the ancient writers celebrate his humanity and benevolence (compare Diod. xiii. 342, and the Cyropedia of Xenophon everywhere). As there will be frequent occasion to refer to Cyrus in the notes at the chapters which follow, it may be proper here to give a very brief outline of his public actions, that his agency in the deliverance of the Jews may be more fully appreciated.

Cyrus was the son of Cambyses, the Persian, and of Mandane, the daughter of Astyages, king of the Medes. Astyages is in Scripture called Ahasuerus. Cambyses was,‘ according to Xenophon (Cyr. i.), king of Persia, or, according to Herodotus (i. 107), he was a nobleman. If he was the king of Persia, of course Cyrus was the heir of the throne. Cyrus was born in his father‘s court, A.M. 3405, or 595 b.c., and was educated with great care. At the age of twelve years, his grandfather, Astyages, sent for him and his mother Mandane to court, and he was treated, of course, with great attention. Astyages, or Ahasuerus, had a son by the name of Cyaxares, who was born about a year before Cyrus, and who was heir to the throne of Media. Some time after this, the son of the king of Assyria having invaded Media, Astyages, with his son Cyaxares, and his grandson Cyrus, marched against him. Cyrus defeated the Assyrians, but, was soon after retailed by his father Cambyses to Persia, that he might be near him.

At the age of sixteen, indeed, and when at the court of his grandfather, Cyrus signalized himself for his valor in a war with the king of Babylon. Evil-Merodach, the son of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had invaded the territories of Media, but was repelled with great loss, and Cyrus pursued him with great slaughter to his own borders. This invasion of Evil-Merodach laid the foundation of the hostility between Babylon and Media, which was not terminated until Babylon was taken and destroyed by the united armies of Media and Persia. When Astyages died, after a reign of thirty-five years, he was succeeded by his son Cyaxares, the uncle of Cyrus. He was still involved in a war with the Babylonians. Cyrus was made general of the Persian troops, and at the head of an army of 30,000 men was sent to assist Cyaxares, whom the Babylonians were preparing to attack. The Babylonian monarch at this time was Neriglissar, who had murdered Evil-Merodach, and who had usurped the crown of Babylon. Cyaxares and Cyrus carried on the war against Babylon during the reigns of Neriglissar and his son Laborosoarchod, and of Nabonadius. The Babylonians were defeated, and Cyrus carried his arms into the countries to the west beyond the river Halys - a river running north into the Euxine Sea - and subdued Cappadocia, and conquered Croesus, the rich king of Lydia, and subdued almost all Asia Minor. Having conquered this country, he returned again, re-crossed the Euphrates, turned his arms against the Assyrians, and then laid siege to Babylon, and took it (see the notes at Daniel 5:31, and it is said there, that it was by him that Babylon was taken. But Babylon was taken by the valor of Cyrus, though acting in connection with, and under Cyaxares; and it is said to have been taken by Cyaxares, or Darius, though it was done by the personal valor of Cyrus. Josephus (Ant. xii. 13) says, that Darius with his ally, Cyrus, destroyed the kingdom of Babylon. Jerome assigns three reasons why Babylon is said in the Scriptures to have been taken by Darius or Cyaxares; first, because he was the older of the two; secondly, because the Medes were at that time more famous than the Persians; and thirdly, because the uncle ought to be preferred to the nephew. The Greek writers say that Babylon was taken by Cyrus, without mentioning Cyaxares or Darius, doubtless because it was done solely by his valor. For a full account of the reign of Cyrus, see Xen. Cyr., Herodotus, and the ancient part of the Universal History, vol. iv. Ed. Lond. 1779,8vo.

Called him to his foot - Lowth renders this, ‹Hath called him to attend his steps.‘ Noyes renders it, ‹Him whom victory meeteth in his march.‘ Grotius, ‹Called him that he should follow him,‘ and he refers to Genesis 12:1; Joshua 24:3; Hebrews 11:8. Rosenmuller renders it, ‹Who hath called from the East that man to whom righteousness occurs at his feet,‘ that is, attends him. But the idea seems to be, that God had influenced him to follow him as one follows a guide at his feet, or close to him.

Gave the nations before him - That is, subdued nations before him. This is justly descriptive of the victorious career of Cyrus. Among the nations whom he subdued, were the Armenians, the Cappadocians, the Lydians, the Phrygians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, comprising a very large portion of the world, known at that time. Cyrus subdued, according to Xenophon, all the nations lying between the Euxine and Caspian seas on the north, to the Red Sea on the south, and even Egypt, so that his own proclamation was true: ‹Yahweh, God of heaven, hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth‘ Ezra 1:2.

And made him rule over kings - As the kings of Babylon, of Lydia, of Cappadocia, who were brought into subjection under him, and acknowledged their dependence on him.

He hath given them as the dust to his sword - He has scattered, or destroyed them by his sword, as the dust is driven before the wind. A similar remark is made by David Psalm 18:42:

Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind,

I did cast them out as the dirt in the streets.

And as driven stubble - The allusion here is to the process of fanning grain. The grain was thrown by a shovel or fan in the air, and the stubble or chaff was driven away. So it is said of the nations before Cyrus, implying that they were utterly scattered.

To his bow - The bow was one of the common weapons of war, and the inhabitants of the East were distinguished for its use The idea in this verse is very beautiful, and is one that is often employed in the Sacred Scriptures, and by Isaiah himself (see Job 21:18; Psalm 1:4; Psalm 35:5; the notes at Isaiah 17:13; Isaiah 29:5; compare Hosea 13:3).

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Can any heathen god raise up one in righteousness, make what use of him he pleases, and make him victorious over the nations? The Lord did so with Abraham, or rather, he would do so with Cyrus. Sinners encourage one another in the ways of sin; shall not the servants of the living God stir up one another in his service? God's people are the seed of Abraham his friend. This is certainly the highest title ever given to a mortal. It means that Abraham, by Divine grace, was made like to God, and that he was admitted to communion with Him. Happy are the servants of the Lord, whom he has called to be his friends, and to walk with him in faith and holy obedience. Let not such as have thus been favoured yield to fear; for the contest may be sharp, but the victory shall be sure.
Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, 39

Study the forty-first chapter of Isaiah, and strive to understand it in all its significance. God declares: “I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together: that they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the Lord hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.” Isaiah 41:18-20. 8T 39.1

He who has chosen Christ has joined himself to a power that no array of human wisdom or strength can overthrow. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee,” He declares; “be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness.” “I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.” Verses 10, 13. 8T 39.2

“To whom then will ye liken Me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: He calleth them all by names by the greatness of His might, for that He is strong in power; not one faileth. Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of His understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:25-31. 8T 39.3

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 480

In the forty-first to the forty-fifth chapters of Isaiah, God very fully reveals His purpose for His people, and these chapters should be prayerfully studied. God does not here instruct His people to turn away from His wisdom and look to finite man for wisdom. “Remember these, O Jacob and Israel,” He declares, “for thou art My servant: ... O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of Me. I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto Me; for I have redeemed thee. Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified Himself in Israel.” TM 480.1

“Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the Lord? and there is no God else beside Me.... Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by Myself, the word is gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength: even to Him shall men come; and all that are incensed against Him shall be ashamed. In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.” TM 480.2

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