The message of Isaiah 40 was for the people to see the greatness of God and no longer question whether God knows his people’s difficulty and plight. God is greater than all things and those who wait for the Lord will have their strength renewed. Isaiah 41 is call for the peoples to be brought near for judgment. The first verse tells every person on the earth to enter into the courtroom for judgment. But God is not asking for a defense from the people. Rather, God calls for their silence. This is a “listen and learn” moment. What does God want the peoples of the earth to know and why are they put on trial in this court scene? Let us consider the rest of Isaiah 41 to learn why judgment falls and how we can avoid being the object of God’s wrath.
God Reigns (41:2-4)
The first declaration from the Lord is to ask the people who is in control of the things that are going on in the world. God is the one raising up a ruler who will trample the nations and kings before him. God is the one who is empowering the events of the earth. This prophecy is likely looking to the future when Cyrus would arise as the king of Persia and conquers the nations of the earth. But this is not really important. What is important is that it is God who has done this (41:4)! God reigns. God is the ultimate authority. God is at the beginning and the end of the generations. God rules with eternal power over the generations of the earth. Consider that this never stops and never will. Who is doing this from the beginning to the end of the generations? “I, the Lord. I am he.” This is our first basis for faith in the Lord. God reigns and he does not stop reigning no matter how great the wickedness may increase around us. God is not nervous about what is going on in North America or on the earth. From the very first generation of people to when the very last generation of people comes, God rules over the affairs of the earth.
Foolish Response (41:5-7)
So what do most humans do when we understand that we are not in control of what is going on in this world? We try to find another way to grab control! Humans turn to other humans for strength and turn to their idols for strength rather than turning to the one who is ruling over the earth. Verses 5-7 describe the foolishness of looking to human strength or material things for control or help. Notice in verse 6 that the people try to encourage each other to have strength. We try to trust in other people. We try to trust in a new president who will run the world the way we think it ought to be run. We try to trust in a new government who will do what we think will help us. We try to trust in people to give us what we think we need to feel secure and in control. So we turn to our children, our spouse, our job, our money, our home, our pleasure, our hobbies, our comfort, or something else to give us feeling of control and security we need. But putting our hope in anything or anyone is idolatry. This is what the nations do. They accumulate more gods and more idols to try to feel protected and safe. How often we try to do the same thing! We make something and look at it and think it is good and now we are safe (41:7). God is in control and ruling over the affairs of the earth, and we look to politics, governments, people, wealth, and everything else for security. But it is false security if our trust is not fully in the Lord.
The Blessings of the Chosen (41:8-13)
Notice the contrast at the beginning of verse 8. “But you, Israel, my servant.” God’s chosen people, the offspring of Abraham, are not going to be like this. They will not think the way the people of the earth think. As we read, I do not want us to think that God is speaking to the physical nation of Israel. God is speaking to his true Israel, those who faithfully follow the Lord. God is speaking about his spiritual remnant. In Ephesians 1:4 the apostle Paul says that Christians are God’s chosen. In Galatians 3:25 the apostle Paul says that Christians are the offspring of Abraham. So as we read, let us make sure that we have the proper lens on this prophecy. Though Israel is being judged for its sins, God has not cast off the people or the promises (41:9). Now we have the five fold words of hope. Do not fear because I am with you, I am your God, I will strengthen you, I will help you, and I will uphold you. God will give you the strength you need. Do not look to yourself. Do not look to material things. Do not look to other humans. God is with his people. He does not cast off his chosen.
Notice the words of hope in verses 11-13. Those who strive against you will be put to shame and shall be nothing. God will strive with your enemies. God will deal with those who stand as enemies of his people. This is such a powerful and hopeful promise that is reiterated many times in the scriptures.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19 ESV)
Think about the message of the book of Revelation. The people of God have been killed for the cause of Christ and are crying out for judgment against their enemies. The book of Revelation pictures God moving in judgment against all of our enemies, even down to Satan himself who is cast into the lake of fire. I am your God. I am with you. I will hold you up. I will strengthen you. I will help you. We must put our faith in these words. God will deal with our enemies and will vindicate those who trust in him. God holds your right hand. “It is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you'” (41:13).
God Will Do It (41:14-20)
But this promise is not to cause us too think highly of ourselves or to now forget the Lord and rely upon ourselves. Listen to verse 14: “Fear not, you worm Jacob.” Know who you are! Know that you are powerless and insignificant. You are mere men but the Lord is God. You are men and not everlasting like God. Your Redeemer is the Lord alone! You are nothing. But listen to these glorious words. You are nothing but God will make you something. This is a great message that we will see through the rest of Isaiah’s prophecy. You are nothing, but God is will make you something.
God will redeem you and make you a threshing sledge (41:15). A threshing sledge was a large wooden platform weighed down with heavy stones. Underneath the wooden platform was attached sharp objects so that it would be dragged over the reaped corn to chop up the stalk into stubble ready for winnowing. God says I am going to make you a threshing sledge and you will be so strong that you will thresh mountains and crush them and turn the hills into chaff. The mountains represents all the obstacles and problems of the people. But God is with his people and though you are nothing, a worm, God will make you able to make stubble any obstacles that come against us. God has given the strength to overcome. God will make his people a powerful instrument though they seem to be insignificant. Notice what this strength is supposed to cause in us. “And you shall rejoice in the Lord; in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory” (41:16).
In verse 17-20 God describes a reversal of the fortunes of his people. We are poor and needy. We are parched with thirst and seek water. God will answer and not forsake his people. God is going to richly pour out his blessings on his people. Israel is a desert because of sin. God will going to change that. God will give restoration, renewal, and life. Why will God cause this great reversal? Why is God going to take sinful people who rebelled against the Lord and trusted in their idols and make them a threshing sledge against the mountains? Why is going showing his loving kindness and mercy? Verse 20 is the answer. God wants all to know that God has done this. God wants to cause a radically transformed life so that you and others will see what God has done. God has created a radically transformed people that are able to conquer any obstacle through the power of God who is with us and strengthens us. Our lives are nothing and are just a vapor. But God wants to use our lives for his glory. There are countless people that I know who came from terrible circumstances and were raised in lives of pain and suffering. Broken homes and abusive families. But these people came to the Lord and truly surrendered their lives to Jesus. They began to follow the ways of the Lord and their lives have radically changed. God has blessed them with wonderful families. God has given them a new legacy and a new hope for the future. A total reversal has occurred because they are walking in the ways of the Lord. God is creating a group of people, the offspring of Abraham, collected from the brokenness of the world, and displaying his glory through our lives. There are many people here who can look to the wreckage of sin in their lives in their past and how God as strengthen them and caused them to overcome the devastation. God is an amazing God who has the power to change your life if you will give your life to him. God is making us living stones being built up into a spiritual house for the glory of God throughout the earth (1 Peter 2:5).
Your Idols Cannot Do What God Offers (41:21-29)
God wants the case presented for the idols. Can your idols do what God says he can do for you? Let your idols show what they can do. No, our idols are worthless and useless. Why would we turn to anything else when God has promised to be with you and to strengthen you? Trust in God to change your life and to change your family. Pursue the Lord and follow his ways. God says he will plant you like a tree beside the waters, immovable in the storms of life (Psalm 1). God says he will be with you as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23). God’s offer to you is glorious. For those of us who have experienced this reversal and restoration, then let us know with all confidence that God has done it. Let us glory in the Lord for what he has done.