Isaiah: God controls the nations
God promises comfort to his
An EasyEnglish Bible
Version and Commentary (2800 word vocabulary) on Isaiah chapters 40 to
This commentary has been through Advanced Checking.
Words in boxes are from the Bible.
A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.
This chapter begins the second half of the Book of Isaiah.
In Chapters 1 to 39, God warns his people about
judgement for *sins. In these chapters, Assyria is the enemy. Isaiah himself is
living during the events of this period.
In Chapters 40 to 66, God promises comfort to
his people. (The word ‘comfort’ appears 13 times.) In these chapters, Babylon
is the enemy. God’s people are prisoners in Babylon. The chapters refer to the
situation two centuries after Isaiah’s time. But unlike in chapters 1 to 39,
Isaiah does not mention any actual events from the history of that period.
Words to encourage
v1 Give comfort, yes, give comfort to my people! This
is what your God says. v2 Speak gently to the people who had been
inhabitants of *Jerusalem. Tell them that their time of hard labour is over.
God has forgiven them. The people from Judah have received double for all their
The *Lord’s words are to ‘my people’. They are the *Lord’s own
special people. They belong to him by a personal *covenant (see Exodus chapter
Enemies had ruined *Jerusalem 70 years earlier. But now the
people will be able to build it again (see Isaiah 44:28).
The final words of this verse may seem to mean ‘double
punishment’. However, this would be neither ‘comfort’ (verse 1) nor *justice
(see Genesis 18:25).
The word ‘double’ has two meanings (in the original
language, as well as in English). ‘Double’ can mean ‘twice as much’, as in
‘double punishment’. But ‘double’ can also mean to ‘fold in two’ (see Exodus
26:9). For example, if I fold a piece of paper in two, I double it.
Isaiah is using this second meaning here.
The verse refers to an ancient custom. If poor people
were quite unable to pay a debt, they could become slaves (see 2 Kings 4:1).
There were no national funds to help them. But there was one thing that a poor
person could do. He could fix the final demand (bill) for the money in a public
place. He hoped that some generous rich person would fold the demand in two.
That is, that he would double it. Then he signed his name on the back of
the demand (like a modern cheque). That meant that he would kindly pay the poor
man’s debt. And everybody knew it.
So God forgives his people because of his great
kindness. They could not earn their freedom by their hard labour. But God
himself acts to rescue them.
Prepare the way for God
v3 Listen! Someone is shouting: ‘Clear a way through
the desert for the *Lord! Prepare a straight road through the desert for our
God. v4 Fill every valley with soil. Make the hills level like a plain.
Make rough ground smooth. v5 Then everybody will see the *Lord’s great
*glory. The *Lord himself has promised this.’
The *New Testament declares John the *Baptist to be the person
who is shouting (see Matthew 3:3 and John 1:23). Of course, John’s message was
not about freedom from Babylon. He lived several centuries after the *Jews
returned from Babylon. But John’s message was similar. His message was about
the arrival of the *Messiah. And the *Messiah would bring about freedom from
*sin (verse 2).
The *Lord’s road is to be straight and level. And it is to be
free from blocks in the way. When the road is ready, the *Lord will definitely
arrive. He will be able to travel without difficulty or problems.
The arrival of the *Lord to come to his people’s aid
(see Judges 5:4-5; Psalm 68:7-8) combines with a word picture. It was an
ancient custom to construct special ways for the arrival of an important
visitor. Or for the gods (that is, *idols) to use as people carried the gods’
images in a procession.
The *Lord promises that all nations will see him in his great
*glory. This is the subject of Psalms 95 to 100 in particular.
God’s word lasts always
v6 Listen! Someone is shouting, ‘Announce a message
in public!’ I replied, ‘What message shall I announce?’ The answer came:
‘Declare that all *human beings are like grass. Like wild flowers that last
only a short time. v7 Grass becomes brown and flowers fall. Because the
*Lord sends a hot wind to blow on them. Truly, people are no stronger than
grass. v8 Grass becomes brown and flowers fall. But God’s promises
always remain true.’
*Human beings come and go. Their words and actions are never
Only God’s words and actions are always permanent and always
The *Lord himself leads his people
v9 People in *Jerusalem, climb a high mountain and
announce the good news! Shout loudly, people in *Zion! Call out the good news!
Do not be afraid to speak! Tell the inhabitants of the towns in Judah, ‘Look,
your God is coming!’
v10 Yes, God the Master is coming to rule with
immense power. He is bringing with him the people whom he has rescued. v11 The
*Lord will look after his people, like someone who looks after sheep. He will
pick up the young sheep that have just been born. He will carry them close to
his heart. And he will gently lead their mothers.
The *Lord is coming to *Jerusalem (verses 3-5). He comes as far
more powerful than any nation’s king. He is bringing with him the people that
he has rescued from a foreign country. Although the *Lord is so powerful, he is
very tender (gentle) towards his special people.
The phrase ‘do not be afraid’ appears nine more times in the
later chapters (see Isaiah 41:10; 41:13; 41:14; 43:1; 43:5; 44:2; 44:8; 51:7;
54:4). Each time the words are to encourage God’s servant to do some task. The
servant is not to worry whether he will be capable. God’s power will help him.
The *Lord looks after his people like someone who looks after
sheep. The Bible often uses this description, for example: Psalm 23; Zechariah
11:7; John 10:11.
Nobody can be like the *Lord God
v12 No *human being can measure the seas in the cup
(centre) of his hand. But God can. No *human being can measure the sky by the
width of his hand. But God can. No *human being can put all the dust of the
earth into a box. But God can. No *human being can weigh mountains or even
hills. But God can.
v13 Nobody can understand the mind of the *Lord. No
*human being can teach God anything. v14 God did not gain his knowledge
from any *human being. No *human being taught God wisdom in how to live
rightly. No *human being helped him to understand everything.
v15 To God, even powerful nations seem as small as a
little water in a bucket. To God, great nations weigh no more than a little
v16 Even the vast forests in Lebanon cannot provide
enough trees to be fuel for God’s *altar. Nor are there enough animals to burn
as a worthwhile gift to God. v17 To God, all the nations together amount
to less than nothing.
v18 There is nobody who is like God. And no *human
being can describe what God is like. v19 God is not like an *idol that a
workman shapes. A worker in metals covers the *idol with gold. And he makes
silver chains for it. v20 If somebody cannot afford gold or silver, he
chooses a piece of hard wood. Then he looks for a skilful worker to make an
*idol that will not fall down.
The greatness of God is very
different from anything that exists. Anyway, God himself created everything
(see the Book of Job, chapter 38).
God is completely self-sufficient. In other words, he does not
depend on anyone else.
Neither the political power nor the military power of the
greatest of nations means anything to God.
A man may try to make his own god. But an *idol cannot live. And
it has no possible use. Its maker even has to fix it firmly in position.
Otherwise it will fall.
The *Lord God is spirit. He is not like the physical
things that exist in this world. So any effort to represent him by means of a
model is stupid. But it is also dangerous. *Idols of any kind turn one’s
attention away from God himself.
For Isaiah’s opinion about people who are foolish
enough to trust in *idols, see Isaiah 44:9-20.
God rules the world
v21 You must surely know. You must surely have heard.
Someone must surely have told you from ancient times. You must surely
understand who made the earth in the beginning. v22 It is God who lives
above the skies. In God’s sight the inhabitants of the earth seem as tiny as
insects. God stretched out the heavens as one stretches a curtain. God spread
the heavens like a tent in which to live. v23 God reduces the great
rulers in the world to nothing. He makes the leaders of the nations to be like
empty boxes. v24 They are like young plants that one has set out in the
ground. They have hardly any roots yet. So when the *Lord sends a hot wind, the
plants quickly become dry. They die, and the wind blows them away. v25 Nobody
is like the Holy God. v26 Look up at the sky! God created all the stars
that you see. It is God who leads them all out like an army. And he knows
exactly how many stars there are. Because God’s power is so great, not one of
them is ever missing.
It was God who created the world. And God created all that is in
the world (see Genesis chapter 1).
Nothing in human society is as temporary as political power. God
can take it away in a moment.
Nothing can ever compare with God’s power (verse 12); his wisdom
(verses 13-14); his greatness (verses 15-17); his control (verses 22-23); his
authority (verse 24); or his *holiness (verse 25).
To give honour to the stars in the heavens was of great
importance in *Babylonian life. The practice became attractive to God’s people.
They could see the bright stars. They could not see the *Lord.
God created the stars. He remembers them all by name.
So the God of Israel will certainly remember his own special people.
The *Lord gives strength
v27 The descendants (later family) of Jacob should
not continue to complain. The people in Israel should not continue to feel
sorry for themselves. In fact, the *Lord does see when his people suffer
unfairly. v28 You must surely know this. You must surely have heard that
the *Lord has always been God. It was he who created the world and everything
in it. God never gets tired. He never wears himself out. No *human being can
fully (completely) understand God’s ways. v29 God gives strength to
anyone who feels weak. He gives new energy to those who have worn themselves
out. v30 Even young people may feel weak, when they get very tired. Even
young people may fall down because they have worn themselves out completely. v31
But those people who put their trust in the *Lord will gain new strength.
Like great *eagles, they will rise high, as if they had wings. If they run,
they will not get tired. If they walk, they will not become weak.
Sometimes God’s people suppose that he has left them. They think
that he does not still care about them. It is still a common experience. But it
is not true. In fact, God continues to care about his people when they suffer.
And he will bring comfort and aid.
Both God’s patience and his perfect knowledge are greater than
*human beings can ever imagine.
God’s own strength is without limit. He is always ready to give
new energy to weak and tired people who trust him.
God’s gift of new energy will help his people to a better
knowledge of his ways.
Know who really controls events
v1 God speaks: ‘You people in distant nations, be
silent! Listen to me. Collect your evidence. Then prepare what you want to say,
as if in a court. You will have your opportunity to speak. Then together we can
calmly reach a decision about who controls the events through history.
v2 Who is it that has brought a man from the east?
That man wins battles wherever he goes. It is God the *Lord who allows him to
overcome many nations. And to walk over kings. And to reduce many armies to
dust. That man’s weapons (military arms) scatter armies like so much straw that
the wind blows away. v3 He pursues their armies, but he himself is never
in any danger. He travels at such speed. One could say that his feet never seem
to touch the ground.
v4 There is only one who has made all this to happen.
The one who has decided the events through history. The same one who has always
been calling people to his service. I, the *Lord, was there at the beginning.
I, the *Lord, will be there at the end.’
v5 People who live even in distant nations are
greatly afraid. The whole world trembles at what is happening. v6 So
people gather together and tell each other to be brave. v7 But they also
hurry to make a new *idol. One worker is skilled to use wood. He encourages the
worker who is skilled to use gold. One worker hammers the metal flat. He
encourages his partner who shapes it on the *anvil. One worker tells the other
worker that he has done a good job. And he uses nails so that the *idol will
not fall down.
A court of law is where witnesses give evidence. Before it is
possible to reach a decision, the facts of the matter must be clear. Each
person whom the decision may affect has an opportunity to speak without
In ancient times, the ‘court’ was not a building. The
common place to decide legal questions, among other activities, was the open
area inside the city’s main gate (for examples, see Genesis 23:10; Deuteronomy
21:19; Ruth 4:1; Job 29:7). This was the only space in a city where people
could meet. Houses were much too close together. Streets were mere paths.
The older citizens would give any necessary advice from
their experience. Everybody respected their wisdom.
There is great danger and people are afraid. The basic
question that is needing an answer on this anxious occasion is: ‘Who controls
the events through history?’
The crisis is about a foreign army commander who is winning
battle after battle. The officer’s name does not appear until the last verse of
chapter 44. His army is overcoming every country in the area.
The *Lord declares that he is responsible for that foreigner’s
appearance at such a time. The *Lord is using him to carry out a task for him.
It is merely one event in the *Lord’s great plan that controls all of history.
The use of the words ‘beginning’ and ‘end’ often appear
in passages about the *Lord’s control of all history (see Isaiah 40:21; 44:6;
46:10; 48:12). His control is total.
Isaiah mentions the reaction of other nations to the crisis. The
*idols that the nations had were clearly without any power whatever. The
nations’ only solution was to make new *idols!
Isaiah wants to show his people that human effort will
never be sufficient. Not even if people encourage each other. Nor if they hope
that new home-made *idols will protect them.
For Isaiah’s opinion about people who are foolish
enough to trust in *idols, see Isaiah 44:9-20.
Do not be afraid
v8 But you Israel, you are my servant. You are
the people that I chose. You are the family of Abraham, my friend. v9 You
are the people that I rescued from distant countries. I called you from the
furthest parts of the earth. You are still my servants. You are the people that
I chose. I have never given you up. v10 Do not be afraid. I will be with
you. Let nothing frighten you, because I am your God. I will give you strength.
I will help you. v11 Yes, any who oppose you will be ashamed. They will
completely fail. Any who attack you will come to nothing. (In other words,
their efforts will be hopeless.) They will just disappear. v12 You may
search for those who oppose you. But you will not be able to find any. Those who
fight against you will be as nothing. They will vanish. v13 Because I,
the *Lord your God, give you power. It is I who tells you never to be afraid. I
myself will be there to help you.
God calls Abraham his ‘friend’ (see 2 Chronicles 20:7 and James
In the original language, ‘friend’ is ‘one who loves
me’. Anyone who loves God is a member of God’s family. And God himself
considers that person to be his friend.
Friends help friends. God’s people help God when they answer his
call to do something for him.
Similarly, God is ready to give his friends the strength that
they need at any time.
God will help you
v14 So do not be afraid, Israel, small and weak as
you are. I, the *Lord, will help you. I am the Holy God of Israel. It is I who
saves you. v15 I will make you like a new *threshing-sledge that has
sharp teeth (that is, nails). With it you will beat the mountains and you will
reduce them to dust. You will make the hills like bits of grass. v16 You
will throw the bits into the air for the wind to carry away. And the storm will
scatter them. But you will be happy because the *Lord is your God. You will
have pride because the Holy God is Israel’s God.
God’s immense power is available for his people. They do not need
to be afraid of anything.
The picture in words repeats the promise of Isaiah 28:27-29.
God will provide
v17 Days may come when my poor people have no water
to drink. Their tongues are dry. But I am their *Lord. I will provide for them.
The God of Israel will never fail to satisfy them. v18 I will cause
rivers to appear on bare hills where nothing was able to grow. I will make
water to spring up in the valleys. The desert will become a pool of water. And
dry ground will produce sources of water. v19 Now there will be water
where once was only desert. Now I, the *Lord, will plant all kinds of lovely
and useful trees. And vast forests will develop. v20 People will see
what is happening. And they will understand that the *Lord himself has done it
by his great power. The Holy God of Israel has brought it all about.
The *Lord turns desert into garden (Psalm 84:5-7). In Isaiah
42:15, the *Lord turns garden into desert.
The *Lord will cause extraordinary changes in the
world. Only the *Lord, Israel’s God, can do such things. The people in Israel
know that God created everything. So all things and all people are under his
False gods have no power
v21 The *Lord is the King of Israel. He tells the
gods of the nations to produce their evidence, as in a court of law. v22
‘Let these gods come here. Let them tell us what will happen in the future. And
let them tell us the meaning of past events. Then we can consider what they
say. Or let the gods announce future events, so that we can know what to
expect. v23 Tell us what will happen in the future. Then we shall know
whether you really are gods. Do anything you like! Do it, whether it is
something good or something bad. Then we shall be able to see how clever you
are. v24 You do not even exist! So you cannot do anything. Anyone who
chooses to respect you fills me with disgust.
v25 I have called a man from the north. He has come
from the east. He knows me. He will walk heavily on rulers, as a maker of pots
walks on his *clay. v26 Not one of you gods was able to announce these
events before they happened. None of you spoke about them. Nobody warned us.
Otherwise, we could say, “That one was right.” v27 I, the *Lord, am the
first to announce that my people are coming home. I am sending someone to bring
the good news to the inhabitants of *Jerusalem who remained there. v28
But when I looked at the gods, none of them had anything to say. None of them
could answer my questions. v29 Truly, all these gods have no use
whatever. They can do absolutely nothing. They are completely without any sort
No *idols can announce what is going to happen. That is something
that only the *Lord God can do.
See my note on Isaiah 44:9-20.
The *Old Testament calls several people ‘the *Lord’s servant’.
Moses is one example (see Exodus 14:31). In the Book of Isaiah various people
are called ‘the *Lord’s servant’ (see Isaiah 20:3; 22:20; 37:35). Sometimes
Israel, as a group of people, is also called ‘the *Lord’s servant’ (see Isaiah
41:8; 44:21). In general, the name means someone that God calls to do something
But in certain passages in Isaiah chapters 40 to 55,
the name ‘the *Lord’s Servant’ has a very special meaning. These particular
passages are Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; and 52:13 to 53:12. These four
passages are often called ‘the Servant Songs’ (see my notes below on verse 1).
The *Lord’s servant
v1 The *Lord speaks: ‘See, here is my Servant. I
support him. I have chosen him. He pleases me. I have put my Spirit on him. He
will establish fair judgement among the nations. v2 He will not shout or
cry out. He will not make loud speeches in the streets. v3 He will not
break a thin stick. Nor will he put out a lamp that gives only a little light.
He will make sure that judgements are always true. v4 My Servant will
not lose hope or courage. He will make the world a place of fair judgements.
And distant nations will wait hopefully for him to teach them.’
v5 It is God the *Lord who created the heavens. He
created them so that they hang like a curtain. It is God the *Lord who created
the earth. And he created all that it produces. He gave the breath of life to
all who live upon the earth. Now this is what the *Lord says to his Servant: v6
‘I am the *Lord. I have called you, my Servant, to bring *justice to the
world. I have given you the power to carry out this task. I have appointed you
to be my *covenant with the nations. And to be as a light for the nations. v7
This is so that you can make blind people able to see. And so that you can
free prisoners. And so that you can bring people out of the darkness in which
they were living. v8 I alone am the *Lord. That is my name. I do not
permit the honour that belongs to me to go to anyone else. Or to go to some
home-made *idol. v9 In the past, I announced that various things would
happen. Look! Those events really have happened. Now I am announcing some new
events. I am telling you about them before they happen.’
In Isaiah 41:21-29, the *Lord has discussed *idols. He declares
that they have no life in them. They have no use for anything. They have no
value whatever (see Psalm 135:15-18).
But now, in the first verse of chapter 42, the *Lord
discusses ‘my Servant’. The *Lord’s Servant is to perform a world-wide service
for all nations. The special Servant will declare the *Lord’s remedy for every
person’s most important desires. People from every nation need a strong base
for their lives. Every *human being needs this. It is essential for a
The name of this special Servant does not appear in
The *New Testament considers that the Servant Songs are
about Jesus (see Matthew 12:17-21; John 1:29).
The basic idea of ‘support’ is that God will hold a
person’s hand firmly. That action gives strength and confidence. God will not
let the task be too much for that person’s strength.
Isaiah uses pictures in words to show the Servant’s quiet
kindness and care for all weak people (see Matthew 12:20-21).
Difficulties will not disturb the Servant’s determination to help
The word ‘*justice’ has much more than a legal meaning. Rather,
it has the meaning of ‘right order’. To establish right order is the work of
the *Lord God who creates all things (see Genesis 1:1-2).
The Servant’s work is world-wide. It is not only for
the benefit of the people from Israel.
The *New Testament considers that these words are about Jesus
(see Matthew 11:5).
The *Lord alone controls events. Therefore he alone can announce
what will happen.
A song to praise God
v10 Tell the whole world to sing a new song to the
*Lord. Tell those who sail the seas to join in the song. And tell those who
live in distant places to join in too. v11 Let people who live in the
deserts and in the cities sing aloud to praise God. Let the people in Kedar
praise him. Let the inhabitants of the city called Sela shout for joy from the
tops of the mountains. v12 Let the inhabitants of distant nations praise
the *Lord. Let them give him great honour.
The declaration of a ‘new song’ (to praise God) is always because
of a new display of God’s goodness (see Psalm 40:2-3; Revelation 5:9).
The *Lord is not only the God of the people from
Israel. He is everybody’s God.
Kedar and Sela were cities in the country called Edom.
Relations between the nations called Israel and Edom
were never good (see my note on Isaiah 34:5). So it is wonderful that even
these two nations can share in the universal joy at the *Lord’s victory
(success in battle).
God will help his people
v13 The *Lord marches into battle like a fierce
champion. Like an angry soldier he shouts loudly as he charges into the fight.
He shows no fear whatever. He will overcome his enemies. v14 ‘For a long
time I have been silent’, says God. ‘I have been still. I have not acted. But
now I shall cry out like a woman as she gives birth. As if I were struggling
for air. v15 I shall destroy mountains and hills. I shall cause all
their trees and plants to be so dry that they die. I shall reduce their rivers
to mere pools. Then I shall dry up the pools. v16 But I shall never
leave my people. I shall lead those who are blind along new ways. I shall take
them by paths that they have never travelled before. I shall turn their
darkness to light. And I shall make the rough places smooth. All this is what I
shall do for them. I shall never leave them. v17 But all who put their
trust in any sort of *idol as their god will be completely ashamed.’
God is like a brave officer who charges into battle with his
God’s people suffered many years as prisoners in a foreign
country. God seemed to be doing nothing to help them. But God must choose the
moment to act.
When God does act, it will be plainly his work. Nothing will be
able to stand in his way. The bushes and trees in the forest will not delay his
arrival. Even the broadest river could not delay his progress.
Some people cannot benefit from the promises in verse 16. They
are the people that choose to trust home-made *idols.
Israel fails to learn
v18 The *Lord says: ‘Listen, you people of mine who
have been so deaf. Look carefully, you people of mine who have been so blind.
Pay close attention to my words. v19 Nobody is more blind than my
servant called Israel. Nobody is more deaf than Israel, which ought to carry my
message to the world. v20 Israel sees many events. But he does not
understand their meaning. His ears are open. But he does not really listen to
the words of God’s laws.’
v21 It was the *Lord’s intention, because of his own
*righteousness, to make his law great and honourable. v22 But the people
in Israel did not obey God’s law. His directions would have made life so good.
So Israel’s enemies have robbed them of liberty and land. Now God’s people are
having to live in a foreign country. It is as if their life is in a deep hole
or in a prison. They cannot escape. There is nobody to come to their rescue. v23
Someone among you people from Israel needs to listen. From now on, someone
must pay proper attention. v24 It was surely the *Lord who handed over
the people from Israel. He handed them over to their enemies, who acted like
robbers. Because it is the *Lord whose law we (the people from Israel) have not
obeyed. We have not followed his way. We have not obeyed his instructions. v25
So the *Lord showed his anger by the way that he made Israel suffer the
results of war. It was as if God’s anger was like a fierce fire. The fire
burned the people in Israel. But they still did not learn their lesson.
God appointed Isaiah to be his special messenger (a servant who
carries a message) to the people in Israel. But, at the same time, God warned
Isaiah that the people would not listen (see Isaiah 6:9-10).
God had chosen the people in Israel to be his witnesses. He
wanted them to obey his law (directions) and so to live happy lives. Then other
nations would want to leave their *idols and decide to follow the *Lord’s
But the people in Israel refused to obey the *Lord. So he
punished them severely. The *Lord allowed a powerful enemy to take them to
Babylon as prisoners.
Chapter 42 reminded the people from Israel that they had totally
neglected to obey God’s instructions. Their punishment was that they would be
prisoners in Babylon. For many years they would be far from their own land.
However, their miserable situation will now change.
God will rescue his people
v1 But now, people from Israel, listen to the *Lord’s
words to you. He who created you says, ‘Do not be afraid of the future.’ He who
formed you as a nation says, ‘I will defend you. I have called you by name. So
you belong to me. v2 Whenever you cross deep waters, I shall be with
you. Whenever you cross rivers, you will not drown. Whenever you go through
fire, the flames will not burn you. The flames will not even hurt you. v3 Truly,
I am the *Lord your God, the Holy God of Israel. It is I who saves you. I
caused the nation called Egypt to let you go free. And I caused the nations
called Cush and Seba to give you your liberty. v4 You are very precious
to me and I love you. Therefore I place you above other nations. I consider
your life to be more valuable than the life of other nations. v5 So do
not be afraid. I am with you. I will bring back your people from the east. I
will gather them from the west. v6 I will order the nations in the north
to free you. And I will order nations in the south to let you go home. They
must send back my sons and my daughters from the most distant parts of the
earth. v7 They are my own people. They are called by my name. I created
them and I formed them to bring me honour.’
In Israel’s culture, to call someone by name was more than a
convenient method to refer to that person. It meant to establish a close
relationship with them. So God can say, ‘You are mine.’ His people belong to
him by *covenant.
The *Lord is still able to save his people from dangerous
situations. Centuries before, he helped them ‘to cross deep waters’ (the Red
Sea; see Exodus chapter 14). And he helped them across a full river (the river
called Jordan, when it was in flood; see Joshua chapter 3).
All the people needed to do was to accept the benefits
that the *Lord’s actions gave to them.
God created all things. So God can control all things.
His people can have confidence in that fact.
Punishment is the result when people do not obey God.
The punishment will seem like the action of fire (see Isaiah 33:11-14). But
such severe punishment will be fair. It will not harm God’s people.
Actual fire may also *threaten God’s people because
they remain loyal to the *Lord. But the *Lord can even protect them from this
kind of fire (see Daniel 3:25-27).
God reminds his people that he has saved them from their enemies
in the past. He rescued them from Egypt (see Exodus 3:15). He rescued them from
foreign countries like Cush and Seba (see Isaiah 11:11-12).
The reason for the *Lord’s action is because he has a special
love for his special people.
Israel is the *Lord’s witness in the world
v8 God says: ‘Bring here the people who are blind.
They are blind although their eyes are able to see. Bring here the people who
are deaf. They are deaf although their ears are able to hear. v9 All the
nations are here. Their people have gathered together. None of their gods were
able to tell about events in the future. And their gods were unable to explain
the meaning of those events. Otherwise, they could produce witnesses to prove
that they did this. v10 People from Israel, you are my witnesses. You
have seen what I have done,’ says the *Lord. ‘I have chosen you people to be my
servant. This is so that you can learn to know me and to trust me. Because,
apart from me, there has never been another real god. Nor will there ever be
any other real god in the future. v11 I alone am the *Lord. I alone can
rescue you in your present situation. And in the future. v12 I, the
*Lord, announced what was going to happen. And it was I, the *Lord, who rescued
you. It was not the work of some foreign god. And you are my witnesses,’ says
the *Lord. v13 ‘I am God and I always shall be. Nobody can force me to
give up my plan. None can change what I intend to do.’
These verses again use the picture in words of a court of law, as
in Isaiah 41:1-20.
The *Lord tells people that believe in other gods to provide
evidence of their gods’ knowledge about future events.
The people from Israel are the *Lord’s witnesses. They know that
he alone has saved his people in the past. He alone can save them in the
future. He alone has total control of their situation.
Escape from Babylon
v14 This is what the *Lord says. (He is the Holy God
of Israel. He is your Rescuer.) ‘People from Israel, for your benefit I shall
send someone with an army to attack Babylon. The army will destroy all that
protects the city. Then what had once been shouts of joy by Babylon’s
inhabitants will change to cries of despair. v15 I am the *Lord, your
Holy God. I am he who created Israel as my people. I am Israel’s king.’
v16 Long ago the *Lord made a road through the sea
for his people. He made a path for them through the deep waters. v17 Then
the *Lord urged Egypt’s chariots and horses to pursue the *Israelites. But it
was only so that the *Lord could destroy that great army in the sea. He ended
their lives, as someone might put out a candle. v18 But do not think
only of what happened long ago. Do not keep in your thoughts only events in the
past. v19 ‘See! I am going to do something completely new. Even now it
is beginning to happen. Surely you can see it. I am going to make a road for
you through the desert. I am creating rivers in the bare (empty) country. v20
Even the wild animals that live in these dry places will give me honour.
Because I am supplying water in the desert and rivers in bare places. So my
people will be able to drink. They are the people whom I chose. v21 They
are the people that I formed for myself. They will praise me in song.’
God again tells the people from Israel that he will rescue them
God’s people are witnesses to how he rescued their families from
Egypt in the past (see Exodus chapter 14; Psalm 77:19-20).
And in the future God’s people will be witnesses of his action to
rescue them again. This time he will rescue them from Babylon.
On both occasions the *Lord shows his authority over both nature
and *human beings.
Israel has neglected to obey God
v22 ‘But you, my own people, have not given me
honour. In fact, you people from Israel have become tired of my service. v23
It was not for me that you burned sheep on my *altar as gifts. You did not
give any honour to me when you offered *sacrifices. I have never asked for too
many gifts from you. I have not tired you by constant demands for *incense. v24
You have never had to buy *incense to offer to me. You have never had to
burn the fat of animals on my *altar to satisfy me. But your wicked deeds are
like a heavy load that I must carry. You have tired me by all your evil
v25 But I am still the *Lord your God. So I have
completely wiped off all the record of your evil actions. I will never again
remember your wicked deeds in the past. v26 Remind me. Explain why you
were complaining. Tell me about it. And bring evidence to prove that you are
right. v27 Your earliest relative practised evil deeds. Still today your
leaders refuse to obey my laws. v28 Therefore, I no longer allow your
priests to serve me in my *Temple. I am letting enemies destroy Israel as a
nation. I am leaving my special people to suffer shame.’
In their hearts, the people did not have a right relationship
It was not *sacrifices that God wanted. God intended *sacrifices
to be a sign of new hearts and new lives. But the people did not have the right
attitude about God’s service. So their actions in the *Temple did not please
God. In fact, their actions offended him.
But the *Lord continued to consider Israel to be his special
people. For that reason, he had completely forgiven them.
The *Lord had made Israel his special people. But they complained
that the *Lord had now left them (see Isaiah 40:27). He had allowed an enemy to
*seize his special people.
Your ‘first relative’ could possibly be Adam (see Genesis chapter
3). Or Abraham (see Genesis 12:18 and 20:9). But more probably the reference is
to Jacob (see Genesis 46:3-7; Hosea 12:2-4).
‘Jacob’ was the original name of ‘Israel’ (see Genesis 35:10).
However, Ezekiel uses a similar picture in words
(Ezekiel 16:3). He is not referring to any particular *ancestor. Rather, he is
explaining how God originally chose Israel. Across the world, nations were
serving false gods. And the people were often very evil. But God chose one
family out of those nations. And, in time, that family would become the nation
The people from Israel refused to obey God. And the result was
that they suffered a severe punishment. In 586 *BC, the powerful *Babylonian
army destroyed *Jerusalem. The army took away most of the inhabitants to be
prisoners in Babylon.
The connection between chapters 43 and 44 is similar to the
connection between chapters 42 and 43.
Chapter 42 ended with words that accused the people
from Israel. Then chapter 43 began ‘But now…’, and it went on to describe the
new situation. The people would soon be able to return to their own country.
In the same way, chapter 43 ended with words that
accused the people from Israel. Then chapter 44 begins ‘But now…’. This phrase
begins a passage that will encourage God’s people. So God gives hope to his
God will *bless his people
v1 But now, Jacob my servant, listen. Hear, Israel,
my people whom I have chosen. v2 The *Lord created you in the beginning.
He formed you into the nation called Israel from birth. (That is, from the
start of the nation.) He will continue to help you. Listen to what he says:
‘You must not be afraid, Jacob my servant, Jeshuran (Israel) whom I have
chosen. And whom I love so deeply. v3 I pour water onto dry ground. And
I create streams to flow in the desert. So I will pour my Spirit upon your
children. And I will greatly *bless the future members of your family. v4 They
will grow like grass grows near water. And they will grow like green trees by a
flowing river. v5 Some people will say that they belong to the *Lord.
Some foreigners will say that their name is now Jacob. That is, that they have
come to join the people from Israel. Some people will write on their hands that
they belong to the *Lord. And other people will be proud to add the name of
God’s people, Israel, to their own names.’
The names ‘Jacob’ and ‘Israel’ appear together again in verse 5.
Jacob was a son of Isaac and Rebekah (see Genesis 25:20-26). God
changed Jacob’s name to ‘Israel’ (see Genesis 32:28).
Jacob became the father of 12 sons. Their families
formed the 12 *tribes of Israel (see Genesis chapter 49).
The rare name ‘Jeshuran’ probably means ‘one whom I greatly
love’. The name appears again only in Deuteronomy 32:15; 33:5 and 33:26.
As in Isaiah 43:1, the *Lord reminds his special people
that he created them.
Water is essential for life. People who live in a dry land like
Israel understand this fact very well.
Water, or its absence (lack), means the difference
between life and death. To give water or not to give water is in the power of
the God who creates it.
It is not only the special people of God who benefit from God’s
activities. Other nations also will realise that the *Lord is the provider of
all good things.
There is only one God
v6 The *Lord is Israel’s King and Rescuer. He is the
*Lord of Heaven’s Forces. This is what the *Lord declares: ‘I am the First and
the Last. I was there in the beginning. I will be there at the end. Apart from
me, no god exists. v7 There is none like me. Let any who would claim to
be like me prove it. Let them produce their evidence. Nobody else from ancient
times has ever announced what is going to happen in the future. Let them come
forward now and make known the future. v8 Do not worry. Do not be
afraid. I announced to you long ago what would happen. You are witnesses of
what I said. There is no God other than me. There is no other Rock (place of
security). That is, there is no other firm foundation (base) for people to
trust. If there were, I would certainly know about it.’
The *Lord identifies himself by several titles.
The *Lord is Israel’s King. He expects his people to
respect his rule.
The *Lord is Israel’s Rescuer from trouble. But the
*Lord will choose the moment to act (see Isaiah 41:14-16).
The *Lord is Commander of Heaven’s Forces (Armies).
Their immense power is totally different from any other force. This special
name reminds the people of God that the *Lord commands complete power in every
situation. The name, ‘Commander of Heaven’s Forces’, appears over 60 times in
the Book of Isaiah.
For ‘beginning’ and ‘end’, see my note on Isaiah 41:4.
God describes himself as a ‘Rock’. A rock is a firm place that
provides security. It is a strong base for the construction of a building. In
the same manner, God provides security for his people. They can trust him. They
can depend on him.
*Idols have no value
v9 People who make *idols are wasting their time.
*Idols do not have the slightest value. People who admire *idols are blind.
Such people know nothing. Anyone could see that they are foolish. v10 It
is stupid to make a god or a metal *idol. It provides no benefit whatever. v11
All who give honour to *idols will be ashamed in the end. People who make
gods are themselves only human. So the one and only God says, ‘Let them all
come in front of me. Suddenly they will tremble with fear. And they will
realise how foolish they have been.’
v12 A workman who is skilled to use metals first
makes his tool sharp. Then he causes a piece of metal to become soft in the
fire. After that he uses a hammer with his strong arm to shape the metal. But
if he gets hungry in his labour, he will become tired. And if he drinks no
water, he will become weak.
Isaiah laughs at foolish people who are serious about *idols.
Someone makes an *idol to be his god. But all that he is doing is
to make a god to suit his desires. He wants a god that he can control. That
shows that he has lost all sense of reality. The one real God can never be
under anyone’s control.
To realise suddenly that God is actually present with
them, scares them greatly (see Hebrews 10:31).
The task requires much labour. It wears out even a strong man.
And it is all for nothing worthwhile!
*Idols have no life
v13 Another workman is skilled to use wood. He makes
an outline of a human figure on a block of wood. He marks the wood with a tool.
Then he shapes the wood to look like an attractive person. The *idol is to
stand in someone’s home. v14 This workman had cut down some suitable
tree that grows large in the forest. The rain had helped it to grow very tall
and strong. (Wood from the tree can serve more than one purpose.)
v15 Wood is useful as fuel. A person can make a fire
with wood to keep himself warm. Or he can cook food on the fire. And he can
also use some wood to make an *idol that he will serve as his god. v16 So
with some of the wood he makes a fire to cook meat to eat. And the fire warms
him. So he can say that it makes him feel good. v17 What remains of the
wood he makes into an *idol to be his god. Then he bends his head to give it
honour. And he prays to his wooden god. He asks it to save him from some
v18 Such a person is so stupid. He has no
intelligence. He cannot see what is in front of his eyes. He cannot understand
what he is doing. v19 He does not have enough sense to realise what he
has done with the wood. He burned half the wood in the fire. He baked bread and
he cooked meat on the coals. With the wood that remained he made an awful
*idol. Then he bends his head to give honour to a block of wood! v20 His
actions are really stupid. It is as if he tried to catch ashes to eat. And the
wind is blowing the ashes away. His foolish ideas have so gripped him that now
he cannot escape from them. He does not even consider that the wooden *idol in
his hand is a completely false god.
Isaiah continues to laugh at foolish people who are serious about
To ‘feel good’ is the limit of this person’s purpose in life.
Food and warmth have made this person feel comfortable. But
occasionally he thinks that there may be something missing from his life. So he
makes himself a god to fill the space.
His sense of reality has vanished.
Israel is the *Lord’s servant
v21 The *Lord speaks to the people in Israel: ‘Always
remember that I shaped you as a nation to be my special servant. Therefore,
Israel, I shall never forget you. v22 I have forgiven your evil deeds.
They were like a mere cloud that blew away in the wind. And I have removed from
my mind all those occasions when you did not obey my laws. Like the mist, they
have disappeared. Return to me, because I have made your relationship with me
v23 Shout for joy, you heavens, because of what the
*Lord has done. Shout, you earth, even in your deepest places. Sing loudly for
joy, you mountains, however high you are. Sing with every tree in the forest.
Sing, because the *Lord has rescued the families of Jacob. Yes, he has shown
his *glory in Israel.
The people in Israel have shaped a dead piece of wood. Then they
have called it their god!
But the *Lord has shaped the people in Israel. In other
words, he designed them to be his special nation. He intends his people to be
witnesses. By their behaviour they are to show that the *Lord is the God of
every nation. He is alive. He is active. He is in total control.
The *Lord has freely decided to forgive his people’s *sins. He
gives them a new start again. He has removed their evil deeds completely out of
his mind (see Jeremiah 31:34 and Hebrews 8:12).
Now they can act as witnesses to all the nations. And
their message will be clear, because their behaviour supports their words.
Isaiah tells all that the *Lord has created to praise him. The
state of Israel’s relationship with God affects everything else.
The *Lord controls history
v24 People from Israel, it is the *Lord who rescues
you from foreign countries. The *Lord says, ‘I created you in the beginning. I
am the *Lord who made everything. I alone established the heavens. I alone
created the earth. There was nobody else with me. v25 Some people think
that they know the future. But I will confuse their words, which are mere lies.
Those people try to guess future events. I prove that they are mere fools. I
destroy the wisdom of wise men. I make their advice into nonsense.
v26 But I, the *Lord, bring about the words that my
servant Isaiah speaks on my behalf. I will make sure that *Jerusalem will again
be full of inhabitants. And that men will build again the towns in Judah. They
will establish again the places that enemies ruined. v27 I command the
deep sea to become dry. I cause your rivers to have no water. v28 And I,
the *Lord, declare that Cyrus is to be the ruler of my people. He will complete
all my plans. And he will call you to build *Jerusalem again. And he will
encourage you to establish the *Temple again.’
Long ago, the *Lord rescued the *Israelites from Egypt (see
Exodus chapter 24). That was the time when the *Lord established a *covenant
with the * Israelites.
The *Lord continues to control the events of history.
He will now rescue his people from Babylon. His *covenant with his people is
still in operation.
The *Lord created the world originally. And only he can
put it in order again when *human beings spoil it.
The *Lord names the foreign soldier whose army will bring about
the *Lord’s purpose. So the *Lord shows that he knows about the future. Cyrus
was not born until long after the time when Isaiah lived. Cyrus made the order
to rebuild the *Temple about 200 years after Isaiah wrote these words (Ezra
The *Lord appoints Cyrus
v1 The *Lord has chosen Cyrus as his champion. The
*Lord has given power to Cyrus to overcome nation after nation. The *Lord is
sending Cyrus to take the authority away from kings. The *Lord will open the
gates of cities for Cyrus.
Now the *Lord speaks to Cyrus: v2 ‘I will march ahead
of you to make the mountains level. As you attack cities, I will burst open
their metal gates. I will completely destroy the bars of iron on the gates. v3
I will give you rich things that you did not expect to find. And valuable
stores that people have hidden in secret places. In that way you will realise
that I, the *Lord, Israel’s God, have called you by name to my service. v4 But
I have appointed you for the benefit of Jacob my servant. That is, for my
people called Israel whom I have chosen. Cyrus, I have called you by name and I
have given you great honour. And I have done all this although you have not
known me. v5 I am the *Lord, the God of Israel. Apart from me, no god
exists. It is I, the *Lord, who have given you the strength for the task. I
have done this although you do not recognise me. v6 I am doing this so
that everybody in all the world may know me, the *Lord. And that there is no
other god. v7 I form light and I create darkness. That is, everything in
the natural world. I cause harmony and I bring about disagreements. That is,
everything in human relationships. I, the *Lord, do all these things. v8 Tell
the heavens to send justice (fair judgements) like rain from the sky. The earth
will be ready to receive it. And cause freedom and justice (fair judgements) to
grow like plants. I am the *Lord who will make all this to happen.’
The *Lord is directing all the actions of Cyrus that benefit
Twice we read that the *Lord calls Cyrus ‘by name’. This
emphasises the fact that the *Lord can announce perfectly the details of some
future event. No ‘god’ (*idol) can do that.
Isaiah writes as if the *Lord is speaking to Cyrus
personally. This is a literary form of words in the original language. Today we
would say that the *Lord put thoughts in the mind of Cyrus to do certain
Cyrus himself will not be aware that he is merely the *Lord’s
agent to bring about God’s purposes.
These are impressive ways to say that nothing can ever be outside
God’s plan and purpose.
*Woe to people who do not agree with God’s actions
v9 *Woe to anyone who argues with God who created
him. That is like a pot that argues with its maker. The *clay cannot argue with
the person who shapes it. The *clay cannot order that person to explain what he
is doing. Nor can the pot complain because it has no handle. v10 *Woe to
anyone who does not approve of the way that he was born. v11 It is the
*Lord, the Holy God of Israel, who shapes the future. It is out of the question
for anybody to tell God what he ought to do about his people. v12 ‘I am
the *Lord, who made the earth. I am the *Lord, who created people to live in
it. It was my hands that established the heavens. And it was I who put sun and
moon and stars in their places. v13 It is I who have urged the foreigner
Cyrus to put things right among the nations. And I will make his path straight.
He will repair my city *Jerusalem. He will send home my people who are in
foreign countries. And he will do all this freely and without any payment.’
That is what the *Lord (commander of heaven’s armies) says.
Cyrus was not a *Jew. The *Jews did not think that their God
could use a foreigner to benefit God’s special people.
God made all that exists. So he has the right to do with it
whatever he wishes.
God has the right to use anyone to carry out his purposes.
The *Lord alone is God
v14 This is what the *Lord says to the people from
Israel: ‘The wealth of Egypt and Cush will be yours. The tall men from Seba
will serve you as slaves. They will follow you with chains on their arms and
legs. They will understand that they belong to you. They will agree that God is
with you. And they will agree that he alone is God. There is no other.’
v15 Truly, God of Israel, it is you who rescues us.
But you hide yourself. In other words, you have no form (natural body) that we
can see. v16 All who make *idols will be ashamed. They wander about in
total confusion. v17 But the *Lord will always be there to rescue
Israel. So you, who are his people, will never know shame or confusion.
At different times, the *Israelites have been in the power of the
three countries called Egypt and Cush and Seba (see my note on Isaiah 43:3).
Now the result of the *Lord’s actions is that the *Israelites have exchanged
places with their enemies.
God hides himself. That is, *human beings cannot see him.
People who give honour to home-made *idols can certainly see
them. But that is no benefit whatever, because the *idols themselves are
There is none like the *Lord
v18 God the *Lord created the heavens and he formed
the earth. But he did not make the world to be a empty place of confusion. He
established the world for people to live in. He declares that he is the *Lord.
There is no other god. v19 ‘I, the *Lord, have not spoken in secret, as
if to hide my purpose in darkness. I did not tell the people from Israel to
look for me in an empty place of confusion. I am the *Lord. I speak the truth.
And I declare things that you can trust.’
This was God’s purpose when he created the world. He created it
to be a beautiful place that produced much fruit (see Genesis 1:1-2).
God’s purpose was not a secret. Nor did God hide his purpose in
God cares about his people at all times.
God is the *Lord of all that exists
v20 ‘Gather together! Come here, you people who
remain alive. People who are still carrying their wooden *idols with them
understand nothing whatever. They pray to gods that cannot save them. v21 Come,
bring your evidence as if to a court. Discuss the matter with each other. No
*idols told you that these events would happen in the future. It was I, the
*Lord God, who arranged to rescue my people by means of Cyrus. No other real
god exists, none whatever. v22 Turn to me now and let me rescue you, you
people in all the world! Because I, the *Lord, am the only God that there is. v23
I am making a serious promise. I will not change it. I promise by all that
I am. Every person in the world will come and kneel in front of me. They will
all promise to be loyal to me. v24 They will declare that only by me can
anyone find success and power. But all that are still angry with me will suffer
shame. v25 All people who belong to Israel will find their success and
delight in the *Lord.’
The *Lord does not want to punish people who have made *idols. He
wants to save people. That is, he wants to rescue them from the effects of
their wrong behaviour. But first, they must turn to him.
This was the form of words that God used for his serious promise
to Abraham (see Genesis 22:16).
Those who accept God’s invitation to come to him will then
understand the real purpose of their lives. But people who still refuse God’s
offer will suffer the loss of everything.
The end for Babylon’s gods
v1 The chief gods of Babylon were called Bel (or
Marduk) and Nebo (Bel’s son). The *Babylonians once proudly carried their gods’
images in happy processions. Now those images lie flat on their backs. The
*idols are merely a heavy load for tired animals to try to carry to safety. v2
The gods bend down. They pray together. But they cannot rescue the load of
images. Instead, the gods themselves become prisoners.
To make *idols in the beginning is hard work (see Isaiah 44:12).
To have enemies who force you to carry your *idols to foreign countries, is
also hard work. No *idol of a god can move by itself. Neither can it help. It
has no life.
The *Babylonians had to make images of their own gods.
And then the *Babylonians had to carry the *idols. The gods could not carry the
For Isaiah’s opinion about people who are foolish
enough to trust in *idols, see Isaiah 44:9-20.
God will look after his people
v3 ‘Listen to me, you people from Jacob’s family, you
people from Israel who are alive today. I, the *Lord, have carried you from
before you were born. And I have supported you since your birth as a nation. v4
I will be the one who carries you. Even when you grow old and your hair is
white. I created you and I will support you. I will carry you and I will rescue
God reminds his special people that he was ‘carrying’ (looking
after) them even before their birth (see Exodus 19:4). He will continue to do
so all their lives.
Babylon’s gods cannot do anything
v5 ‘None is like me. None is equal to me. You cannot
compare me with anyone else. v6 Rich people freely spend large sums of
gold from their bags. They weigh much silver for payment. They hire a skilled
worker and he shapes the metal into the image of a god. Then they humbly bend
in front of their new *idol. They even *worship it. v7 They lift it upon
their shoulders to carry it. Then they set it up in its place. And there it
stands. It cannot move. If anyone prays to it, it cannot answer. Neither can it
do anything to save them from trouble.’
An *idol can be very expensive to make. But its maker has
completely wasted his money. No *idol can ever do anything to help its owner.
God’s plans never fail
v8 ‘Remember this, you people who do not obey God’s
laws. Think carefully about what I am saying. v9 Think of all that I did
for you long ago. I alone am God. There is no other god. I am God. There is
none like me. v10 From the beginning I announced what the end would be.
I announced what would happen in the future. I declared that my plans would
never fail. And that I would do all that I intended to do. v11 I am
calling a man (Cyrus) from the east. He comes from a distant country to do what
I intend. He will attack like some powerful bird that suddenly dives from the
sky. I have spoken and I will cause it to happen. I have made my plans and
Cyrus will carry out my purpose.’
God’s people must learn from the variety of methods that the
*Lord used in the past.
The *Lord has a great plan for history that includes both the
past and the future. Isaiah 14:24-27 refers to the rise (success) and fall
(defeat) of Assyria. Isaiah 19:12-17 refers to the defeat of Egypt and Tyre.
Now, Isaiah 46:10-11 refers to the rise of Cyrus and the power of Persia.
But through the whole Book of Isaiah, Israel and *Zion
are much more important in God’s great plan for history. God knows what he is
doing. He controls what happens. The *Lord’s people can completely trust him
for their future.
The fact that Cyrus happened to be a foreigner makes no
The *Lord chooses the person who will carry out his purposes. The
*Lord chooses the tool for the job.
God will save *Jerusalem
v12 ‘Listen carefully to what I am saying, you people
with hard hearts. You cannot believe that you will have freedom in your own
country again. You do not understand my plan. v13 The day when I rescue
you is very near. It is not an event in some distant future. I will rescue
*Jerusalem. That is, I will cause men to build again the city and my *Temple in
it. And I will bring my *glory to Israel. That is, my people will reflect my
beautiful purposes in the world.’
Israel’s ‘hard hearts’ refers to the fact that the people were
not willing to accept a foreigner as God’s agent (see Isaiah 45:9-13).
This short chapter is severe in the manner that it warns the
proud *Babylonians. Isaiah probably does not expect that the inhabitants of
Babylon will actually hear this list of *Babylonian crimes.
But Isaiah also knows that God created every *human
being. And he gave a conscience to each one. A person can refuse to listen to
God’s voice in his conscience. As time goes on, it becomes harder to hear God’s
voice. For example, to take some little thing that is not yours seems not to
matter. But you are stealing. And it can soon become a bad habit.
The *Lord has told Isaiah what his intentions are about
the wicked lives of the *Babylonians.
*Woe to Babylon!
v1 The *Lord declares to Babylon: ‘For so long you
never suffered defeat. But now you must leave your throne (royal seat) and sit
in the dust. You sat like a queen. Now you must sit in the dirt. Nobody will
ever again think of you as a beautiful young woman. Your face was once soft and
gentle. v2 Now you will have to work as a slave. You will have to turn
heavy *millstones. You will have to reduce grain to flour. You will have to
strip the veil (cover) from your face. You will have to lift your skirt. You
will have to make your legs bare to cross streams. v3 You inhabitants of
Babylon will be ashamed when other people see you naked.
My special people will have *satisfaction for the times when
enemies were so cruel to them. I will make sure of that. And nobody will stop
v4 The *Lord is the Commander of Heaven’s Forces. He
will free us! He is the Holy God of Israel!
By 900 *BC, Babylon was already famous among the nations as a
most beautiful city. This was well before Nebuchadnezzar developed the city
still more, 300 years later (see Daniel 4:29-30).
The city’s unusual beauty was the reason why people
thought of Babylon as a ‘beautiful young woman’. So in this chapter, the *Lord
speaks to the inhabitants of Babylon as one speaks to a woman. ‘You’ means the
city, its inhabitants and especially
the powerful forces that controlled it.
The city was beautiful. But enemies will destroy the
city completely. It will never be beautiful again.
The inhabitants of Babylon had been very cruel to their slaves.
But now the inhabitants of Babylon will themselves become slaves.
And they will suffer the same shame that they caused for their former slaves.
The Book of Isaiah emphasises the *Lord’s special name,
‘Commander of Heaven’s Forces’, over 60 times (see my note on Isaiah 44:6).
This verse is the reply of the people from Israel. They are glad
because God will rescue them from Babylon.
Babylon is guilty
v5 The *Lord says to Babylon: ‘Sit in silence in the
darkness of a foreign prison. Never again will anybody call you the “*Mistress
of many nations”. v6 I was angry with my people called Israel. I acted
as if they did not still belong to me. So I handed them over to you, Babylon.
But you were cruel. You showed them no pity. You made even old people to carry
heavy loads. v7 Babylon, you thought that you would always be a great
political power. So you did not give proper consideration to what these events
meant. Nor did you think about what might happen in the future.’
‘Sit in silence’ means that the *Babylonians can never again give
orders to other people. ‘Prison’ signals that the *Babylonians will also lose
The *Babylonian *empire was a collection of states that
the *Babylonians had taken by force over many years.
‘*Mistress’ usually means a female ruler over domestic
affairs. Or, as here, it is the female word for a leader over an *empire.
Babylon is therefore like a gentle woman of beauty. But
Babylon is also like a powerful political ruler with complete authority.
God used Babylon to punish his special people. But Babylon’s
actions were much worse than God intended. So now God will punish Babylon for
its great cruelty.
Babylon’s sudden defeat
v8 ‘So now, listen to me. You love your life of
luxury and pleasure. You think to yourself that all is well. You feel safe. You
have security. You even consider yourself to be as great as God. You never
thought that you would be a widow. Nor that you would suffer the loss of your
children. v9 But suddenly and in a moment, both of these losses will
happen. You will lose both your husband and your children. Even if you use all
your magic, you will lose everything. v10 You felt such security as you
carried out your wicked activities. You thought that nobody could see your evil
deeds. But your wisdom and knowledge led you the wrong way. They made you a
complete fool. You told yourself that you were God. You alone controlled
events. There was none like you. How totally wrong you were! v11 A
sudden attack will surprise you and it will destroy everything. And you will
not be able to avoid it by your magic. You will suffer great trouble. And you
will not find any protection.’
These verses continue to refer to Babylon as a woman.
The people in Babylon were living well. They had no thought that
anything could change. And they had no thought for anyone else.
The loss of children probably refers to their death in battle. Or
that they would become prisoners in a foreign country.
A widow had to depend upon her children for financial
help. There were no state funds. To lose her children too would cause hopeless
despair for her.
The loss of the young soldiers from Babylon would cause
the total defeat of the whole city. Babylon would become like a weak widow who
has nobody to assist her.
In the Bible, ‘fool’ often means someone who has no thought about
God (see Psalm 14:1 and Luke 12:13-21).
No help for Babylon
v12 ‘Of course, you may decide to carry on with your
black (wicked) magic. You may continue to use evil practices. You have depended
on them all your life. You may even hope that one day they might possibly help
you to avoid trouble. Or perhaps you think that you could use them to frighten
other people. v13 The vast quantity of advice that you receive has worn
you out. Some comes from those who study the sky. Some comes from those who
look for the future in the stars. And some comes from those who announce month
by month what to expect. Let all these people rise and rescue you! v14 Look,
they are no better than straw that the fire burns. They cannot rescue even
themselves from the flames. They provide neither coals to warm anybody, nor a
pleasant fire to sit near. v15 People like that will not help you. All
your life you have paid them for their advice. But now they are no use to you.
In this emergency they only want to save themselves. None of them will stay to
try to save you.’
All through the ages, people have believed in *astrology. Even
modern newspapers and magazines regularly include ‘What the stars tell us’.
But the press often confuses readers. Different papers do not
agree on ‘what the stars tell us’!
God forbids the practice of *astrology (see Deuteronomy
Straw burns fiercely for a very short time. Such a fire is not
useful; it has no good purpose.
Israel’s empty religion
v1 The *Lord says, ‘Listen to this, you family of
Jacob. You are called “Israel”. You come from the *tribe called “Judah”. You
make solemn (serious) promises in the name of the *Lord God of Israel. But you
do not do so truly or sincerely. You do not really mean what you say. v2 You
call yourselves citizens of the holy city, that is, *Jerusalem. You even
declare that you put your trust in the *Lord God of Israel, whose name is
“Commander of Heaven’s Forces”. You are lying.’
The people received their new name from the *Lord (see Genesis
32:28). Therefore they ought to be true to him.
But the people’s behaviour does not match their word.
The Book of Isaiah emphasises the *Lord’s special name
‘Commander of Heaven’s Forces’, over 60 times. See my note on Isaiah 44:6.
The *Lord has announced what will happen
v3 ‘Long ago I declared that certain events would
happen. I made known the future by my words. Then suddenly I acted. That proved
my words to be true. v4 I did this because I knew your attitudes. You
had firmly fixed your thoughts on your own opinions. Your neck seems as stiff
as a bar of iron! Your head seems as hard as the hardest metal! v5 That
is why long ago I told you about these future events. Before they happened, I
announced them to you. So you could not say that your *idols had caused those
events. Or that your wooden images or metal gods had made the events happen.’
The ‘certain events’ included such incidents as the promise to
Abraham of land and a vast family (see Genesis 13:15-16). And the rescue of the
people from Egypt (see Exodus 3:8).
God’s action may have seemed ‘sudden’ to *human beings.
But here the word ‘sudden’ simply means ‘God saw that the time was right. And
at that moment, he acted.’
The *Lord uses a powerful picture in words. The people were
totally unwilling to change their opinions. So the *Lord says that their heads
and necks were like metal. It is very difficult to bend metal, because it is
too firm. And the people had such firm opinions that nobody could change their
Much popular religion in Israel believed that *idols controlled
events. The *Lord is denying that this is true. Only he can say what will
happen in the future. Only he can announce events before they happen. No *idol
has ever done that.
The *Lord’s words came true
v6 ‘You heard what I announced. Then you saw what
happened. What I said was true. You ought to agree with that! Now I am now
going to tell you about some new events that will happen. These events were
secrets that you did not know. v7 Only now am I making them happen. So
you could not have known about them before today. And you could not pretend
that you already knew about them.’
Of course, the phrases ‘you heard’ and ‘you saw’ refer to
*ancestors before Isaiah’s day. But reports of what God had done in earlier
centuries were well-known to Isaiah’s audience.
Only the *Lord could announce new events. Because it was he who
was arranging them.
The *Lord protects his name
v8 ‘You have never listened to me. So I have never
been able to trust you. v9 But because of my name, I will hold back my
anger. And because of my honour, I will still be patient. I will not destroy
v10 An expert with metals wants silver that is pure.
So he puts the silver into a very hot fire. This removes all that is not pure
in the silver.’ This is a picture of God’s action when he allowed the people
from Israel to suffer in Babylon. But God knew that he would find nothing good
in his people. So he stopped the process, because otherwise it would have
destroyed the nation called Israel completely. v11 ‘But because of my
name, yes, because of my name, I will save you from my anger. I will not
destroy you. Otherwise wicked people will declare that their gods have overcome
me. I will not allow anybody or anything to have the honour that is mine and mine
To ‘listen’ to another means more than ‘to take in information’.
To listen includes ‘to understand and to show clearly that you agree by your
In the Bible, the word ‘name’ does not merely mean the word that
we may use to call someone. It also means that person’s honour, character and
authority. So when the *Lord protects his name, he is acting to defend the
honour of his most holy character.
The *Lord chose Israel to be his special people (see Genesis
32:28). They belong to him. His name links them to himself. That name
associates the *Lord with the way that Israel behaves.
But Israel’s behaviour is evil. Therefore Israel must
suffer punishment by the *Lord. It is his name that they have damaged.
But the *Lord puts a limit on the punishment. Otherwise
the punishment would totally destroy the nation. Israel would not still exist.
Then enemies could say that the *Lord was too weak to control his own people.
Or they could say that other gods were stronger than the *Lord.
The *Lord chooses Cyrus
v12 ‘Listen to me, my people called Israel. Listen to
me, you people that I have chosen. I alone am God. I, the *Lord, am the First.
I was there at the beginning. I, the *Lord, am the Last. I shall be there at
the end. v13 My own hands laid out the foundations (base) of the earth.
And my right hand spread out the sky. When I spoke, they immediately began to
v14 Come together, all of you, and listen. None of
your *idols announced what Cyrus, my special helper, would do. I, the *Lord,
have chosen him to attack the country called Babylon. He will do what I want
him to do. v15 I, the *Lord, appointed him to carry out this task. And
so he will succeed.’
Like other passages, this verse speaks of God as ‘beginning’ and
‘end’, or as ‘First’ and ‘Last’. Such phrases often appear in passages about
the *Lord’s control of events, both in the past and the future. (See my note on
God created the world by his Word (see Genesis chapter 1, and
John 1:1-2). And what God creates, he continues to control (see Isaiah
When God calls someone to do some task for him, God also helps
that person to carry out the task.
The *Lord’s plan for Israel
v16 ‘Come to me. Listen to what I am saying. In the
past I did not use words that were unclear. I spoke plainly about events that
would happen. At the right moment those events did happen. That was because I
was there to make them happen.’
‘And now,’ says Isaiah, ‘the *Lord God has sent me to speak his
message by his Spirit.’ v17 This is what the *Lord, your rescuer, the
Holy God of Israel, says to you: ‘I am the *Lord, your God. I am your teacher.
I teach you how to succeed. I am your guide. I shall guide you in the path by
which you should go.’
The reference to future events repeats what the *Lord has just
said (see my note on Isaiah 48:3).
This gives some details of the help that God will provide. The
help will be completely sufficient. But it is necessary for people to accept
the help that God offers.
Israel’s failure to obey God
v18 ‘If you had only listened to my commands, your
life would have been like a full river. Such a river flows calmly. Your success
would have been like the powerful waves of the sea. Nothing could have stopped
you. v19 Your families would have been as many as the grains of sand
along the shore. Their name would always have been in front of my eyes.’
Unfortunately, the people would not obey the *Lord’s
instructions. The result was that the people lost a wonderful future. And
instead of happiness, the people became miserable prisoners in a foreign
country for many years.
The *Lord rescues his people
v20 Get away from Babylon! Go with great joy! Shout
the news gladly for everybody to hear! The *Lord has rescued his people Israel!
v21 There was no lack of water when he led them through the desert. He
made water to pour from the rock for them. He split the rock and the water
flowed. v22 But the *Lord warns those who continue their wicked
behaviour. There will still be no safety for them.
Cyrus has already taken control of other territories. In these
places, he found many people that earlier enemies had taken away from their own
countries. Cyrus allowed them to return home.
The *Lord tells his people that they must not delay.
They are to return home when Cyrus gives them the opportunity.
The *Lord reminds his people how he looked after them in the
past. He always supplied the things that they needed, even in the desert (see
But God’s promises are not for people who refuse to give up their
altar ~ special table where priests burned animals as
gifts to God.
ancestor ~ original father of later families.
anvil ~ heavy metal object on which a worker beats other
astrology ~ the study of the stars to discover future
events. The Bible forbids this practice (Deuteronomy 4:19).
Babylonian ~ a person from the country called Babylon; or
anything that has a relationship with the country called Babylon.
Baptist ~ the man who used water as a Christian sign
before Jesus began his public service.
BC ~ ‘Before Christ’ (for dates before the birth of Jesus
bless ~ to show great kindness.
clay ~ kind of earth that a potter uses. Clay is soft when
it is wet. But it becomes hard when it is dry.
covenant ~ special personal agreement that the *Lord made
with Israel (see Exodus chapter 24).
eagle ~ large bird whose powerful wings help it to fly
empire ~ a group of many countries that a powerful king
has taken by force.
glory ~ the splendid beauty and wonderful light of God’s
most holy character.
holiness ~ the morally pure and perfect state.
human, human being ~ a person.
idol ~ home-made image of a god.
incense ~ substance to burn for its sweet smell to give
honour to God.
Israelites ~ God’s special people, also called the
‘*Jews’. He freed them when they were slaves in Egypt. He gave them the land
called Israel and Judah. But they had to leave that land as a punishment when
they refused to obey God. However, God promised that he would free them again.
Jerusalem ~ at the time of David and Solomon, the capital
of the country called Israel. During the time of Isaiah, Jerusalem was the
capital of the country called Judah.
Jews ~ people who belong to the countries called Judah and
Israel; people who belong to the 12 *tribes of Israel.
justice ~ fair decisions by a judge.
Lord ~ God’s personal name in the Bible. In the original
language, God’s name ‘Lord’ means ‘head over all’ and ‘God always’.
Lord of Heaven’s Forces ~ special title to remind the
people of God that he commands complete power in every situation.
Messiah ~ *Old Testament title for Christ.
millstones ~ two heavy flat stones; the worker turns one stone
on top of the other stone to reduce grain to flour.
Mistress ~ a female ruler over domestic affairs; a female
leader over an *empire.
New Testament ~ the final part of the Bible. It contains
27 books from the time of the first Christians.
Old Testament ~ the first part of the Bible. It contains
39 books all from the time before Jesus was born.
righteousness ~ perfect *holiness.
sacrifice ~ a gift of value to God.
satisfaction ~ a glad or content feeling; the feeling that
a person has when (for example) his enemy suffers punishment.
seize ~ to take a person as a prisoner or a slave.
sins ~ evil deeds.
Temple ~ special building in *Jerusalem where the *Jews
praised God and offered him prayers and gifts.
threaten ~ to warn someone of pain if they do not obey.
threshing-sledge ~ a heavy wooden board with nails; the
farmer used it to beat corn to separate grain from the stem.
tribe ~ group of the later family of one father.
woe ~ a very sad cry because much pain is to come.
worship ~ to praise God (or a false god) and to pray to
Zion ~ the mountain in *Jerusalem where God’s holy *Temple
© 2007 Wycliffe Associates (UK)
This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).
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