Yahweh summons the nations from a distance to gather for a court session (Isaiah 41:1; cf. vv. 21-24). Yahweh is Judge. Just as importantly, Yahweh subjects Himself to scrutiny and judgment.
“Keep silence before Me, O coastlands, and let the people renew their strength! Let them come near, then let them speak; let us come near together for judgment. Who raised up one from the east? Who in righteousness called him to His feet? . . .” (Isaiah 41:1-29).
I AM THE WARRIOR
Yahweh presides as Judge, and He states His qualification for that office. He delivers nations, puts down kings, makes kings like dust and chaff, pursues them (vv. 2-3). He qualifies as Judge because He does justice. And He is qualified as Judge because He is the source and the goal of all things (cf. Revelation 1:18, 17). He is the eternally faithful God, “I am” (Isaiah 41:4; cf. Exodus 3:14).
JACOB MY SERVANT
The nations summoned to Yahweh worship idols rather than the living Judge. They have to take steps to keep their idols from falling (Isaiah 41:5-7). Israel, however, is chosen by Yahweh to be His Servant (vv. 8-9). This is the first reference to the “servant of Yahweh” who will be a major character throughout the rest of Isaiah (42:1, 19; 43:10; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; 48:20; etc.). The identity of the Servant develops: Here, Israel as a people is Yahweh’s servant, but elsewhere the Servant is an individual who embodies Israel (cf. 53:1, 11). After chapter 54, Isaiah speaks mainly of “servants” rather than a singular “Servant”; the national Servant narrows to one who suffers for the whole nation, and then this one Servant multiplies. In chapter 41, the accent in on Yahweh’s protection of and favor toward His servant (41:10-15) and the fact that Israel will be the Lord’s machine for cultivating the field of the world (vv. 15-16).
WATER IN THE WILDERNESS
Yahweh not only fights on Israel’s behalf, as He did in Egypt, but He also provides for them, as He did in the wilderness. He opens rivers in the wilderness to refresh the thirsty (Isaiah 41:17-18), and the abundant water turns the wilderness into a grove of trees. Yahweh will make a garden from the desert (v. 19). This is evident in the court case: Yahweh renews the wilderness so that Israel and the nations will know that Yahweh’s hand has acted (v. 20).
GOD IN THE DOCK
Though Yahweh summons the nations to court in verse 1, we don’t know who’s on trial until verse 21. Yahweh calls on Israel and the nations to present their case, and it becomes clearer that Yahweh Himself is on trial. “The justice due me escapes the notice of my God,” Israel has charged (40:27). Yahweh challenges Israel to bring the evidence and present the case. Yahweh has defended His past faithfulness with the references to the exodus (cf. v 17: “I will not forsake them”). A full case would include evidence from the “what is going to take place” as well as the past (vv. 22-23): How can Israel or the nations know whether God establishes justice unless they know what He will do in the future? If they can tell the future, then they are truly gods (v. 23). If they can’t, they are “nothing” (v. 24) and their case against God fails. When Jesus stands in the dock before Jews and Romans, He’s doing nothing new. Yahweh has always been a transcendent sovereign God who also subjects Himself to human interrogation and judgment, so as to prove His faithfulness.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Monday, June 4, 2012 at 7:52 am
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