Not "fear not" but "no fear": "fear not" is an instruction that requires the victim of fear to act, whereas "no fear" is a Statement declaring that God has already acted on the victim's behalf.
Isa 41:1 Ha-charishu Be dumb, keep silent, remain speechless before Me, imiym islands, coastlands (Mediterranean); and ule-umiym let the peoples renew their strength: let them come near; yedabeiru then let them speak: yachdav together lamishpat to judgment nikravah let us draw near.
The opening phrase describes the awe that results when the Goyim (nations, island dwellers of the Mediterranean etc.) first realize that the God of Israel is El-Elyon (God above all gods). They remain speechless and in awe until they are permitted to speak.
The “imiym” islands, coastlands are those adjoining the Mediterranean. The modern reader must remember that the prophet’s words are spoken to those whose perspective from within the land associates islands with the Mediterranean to the west and a vast expanse in the lands to the east.
“Let the peoples renew their strength” means, let the peoples recover from their speechless awe.
“Let them come near; then let them speak: together to judgement let us draw near.” This judgement is to determine who is greater, the peoples or the Holy One of Israel.
Isa 41:2 Who raised up mimizrach from the east tzedek a righteous man, called him to his feet, yitein gave lefanayv before his face goyim nations, and made him ruler over kings? he yitein gave them as dust to his sword, and as chaff driven to his bow.
This argument is premised on a future historical event, made known to the prophet in advance by the Spirit of God. The prophet speaks into time and space that which God has already seen completed outside of time and space and in a time yet future.
The man from the east is most likely Cyrus king of the Persians, who is later mentioned by name (Isa. 44:28, 45:1). In this case God has caused Cyrus to do His will and Cyrus is called tzedek (righteous) in the sense that as an instrument of Hashem his actions defeat injustice and are right according to God’s greater redemptive purpose for Israel and humanity.
However, the Targum Yonatan understands it to refer to Avraham. While this is inconsistent with the following chapters of Isaiah (44:28; 45:1), it is none the less, interesting.
“Who openly brought Abraham from the east? He brought the chosen of the righteous in truth to his place. He delivered up nations before him, and broke in pieces mighty kings, he cast the slain down like the dust before his sword, and he pursued them like stubble before his bow.” -Targum Yonatan (2nd Century CE)
If Abraham is intended, he was from the east (Gen. 11:31), is called righteous (Gen. 15:6) and the phrasing “made him ruler over kings? he gave them as dust to his sword, and as chaff driven to his bow” refers to his military victory in Genesis 14. However, this is inconsistent with the remainder of this chapter and the subsequent prophecies regarding Cyrus.
Isa 41:3 He pursued them, and passed shalom peacefully; by orach a path (way) that he had not gone with his feet.
Some understand the “He” of verses 2-3 as a reference to God Himself. However, it seems more likely that given the fact that “he” is raised up from the east and seemingly directed to fulfil God’s will for Israel, that “he” refers to Cyrus, and or possibly but less likely a reference to Avraham. This is further qualified by the phrasing “by a path that he had not gone with his feet.”
Isa 41:4 Who has fa’al practised ve’asah and made it, calling ha-dorot the generations meirosh from the beginning? Ani I HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), rishon first, ve’et and the acharoniym last (plural: continuing); Ani hu I am He.
The initial question is rhetorical with the certain and obvious answer that the “Who” is God Himself. So important is the clarification of this fact that the question is immediately followed by the proclamation of Hashem “I YHVH, first and last perpetually, I am He!”
Isa 41:5 The imiym islands, coastlands (Mediterranean) saw it, and feared; the ends of ha-aretz the land (earth) were afraid, approached, and arrived.
When Cyrus appeared from the north-east he swept nations and kingdoms before him and caused panic among the inhabitants of the Mediterranean, both the islands and the coastlines. This is qualified by ha-aretz, a reference to the land of Israel.
Isa 41:6 Each man helped his neighbour; and said to his brother, chazak be strong.
It is a natural response in times of fear to spur on those close to us whom we might rely on as trials unfold. Thus, “be strong” is what the trembling inhabitants of the Mediterranean said in earnest to one another.
Isa 41:7 Vaychazek And be strengthened charash craftsman, the tzoreif smelter, refiner and he that smooths with the hammer him that strikes the anvil, saying, It is ready for the joining: and he strengthened it with nails, that it should not be moved.
Foolishly, rather than repent and turn to the God of Israel, the inhabitants of the Mediterranean seem to perceive the coming of Cyrus as a punishment from their own false deities and seek out those who craft their idols in order to find help from their deaf, dumb and blind gods.
Isa 41:8 And you, Yisrael (Yisra-overcome; El – in God: Israel), avdiy My servant, Yaakov (follower: Jacob) whom I have chosen, the zera seed of Avraham (father of a great number of peoples; Abraham) ohaviy my loved one.
Adonai temporarily leaves His challenge to the idolatrous Mediterranean nations and turns to His chosen people Israel.
God sees Israel not as she is within time and space but as she is, complete through redemption outside of time and space. He speaks to the Israel she will become, connecting her to the patriarch Jacob and ultimately to ha-ivri the Hebrew Avraham (Gen. 14:13).
Israel is called “My servant”, not based on her merits but on God’s grace and faithfulness toward her. Israel may disobey Him and receive just punishment but she remains His servant, His chosen people regardless.
Israel’s role as servant is connected back through Jacob to Abraham, who is credited righteousness through faith (Gen. 15:16). Here God calls Abraham His loved one, literally “My love”, an intimate relational statement of deep affection, however, elsewhere Abraham is called God’s servant (Gen. 26:24). Thus, the nation that comes from his seed is also called God’s servant.
The progression of Israel’s service is interesting. In reverse order we read:
Thus we read, “The Father calls a follower who becomes an overcomer in God” and, “A friend chosen to serve.
“The seed of Abraham My friend” conveys a rich illumination of God’s redemptive plan. Israel is seen as the fruit of the father of faith. This fruit is only made whole through redemption. Thus, Yisra (overcome in) El (God).
This sets Israel apart from her idolatrous neighbours as a people belonging to the one true God.
Isa 41:9 You whom he-chezakticha I have taken in strength (from chazaq) from the extremity of ha-aretz the land (earth), and called you from the chief men there, and said to you, you are my servant; I have chosen you, and not rejected you.
This is spoken from Isaiah’s perspective in the land of Israel. Thus, “Whom I have taken in strength from the extremity of the land” is an allusion to God’s bringing Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans, which was to the extreme east of Israel’s location: The edge of the known world, as it were.
“I have chosen you, and not rejected you.” Israel had endured numerous trials as a result of her sin and the idolatry of the nations, however, God reminds her that He is faithful, that those whom He chooses He does not forsake. Israel’s security is in God’s character, His love, His immutable fidelity.
Isa 41:10 Al tiyra No fear; for I am with you: no anxiety; for I am Eloheiycha your God (Judge): I will strengthen you; moreover, I will help you; certainly, I will uphold you with the yemin tzidki right hand of My righteousness.
“Al tiyra” literally “No fear; for I am with you”. To translate “Fear not” is to miss the fact that it is God Who removes the fear and not our choice not to fear. “No fear” means “I remove fear” and, “For I am with you” assures the servant Israel that in the midst of her turmoil God is closer to her than breathing. Likewise “No anxiety” is not “Don’t be anxious” rather it means “I will remove anxiety from you”, why? Because “I am your God, your judge, and through the lens of redemption I have acquitted you of your sin”.
Not "fear not" but "no fear": "fear not" is an instruction that requires the victim of fear to act, whereas "no fear" is a Statement declaring that God has already acted on the victim's behalf.
“I will strengthen you” not, “strengthen yourself in Me”. “Moreover, I will help you” not, “Help yourself” and finally the affirmation “af” is employed to assure Israel that these things are certain regardless of circumstance, “I will uphold you” and this will be done in the “right hand of My righteousness”. Tzidki from tzedek is used to convey a righteousness that overcomes injustice.
Isa 41:11 Hein Behold, put to shame and humiliated will be those who were furious against you: they will be as nothing; and they that dispute with you will perish.
This is a comfort to Israel and a fierce warning to those in every generation who would dispute with and hate the Jewish people (Israel, ethnic, religious).
“Hein” means “Pay attention!” Those who are furious against Israel will be both shamed and humiliated. Put to shame before all nations and further humiliated in their shameful state.
Isa 41:12 You will seek them, and not find those that contended with you: they that war against you will be as nothing, and as a thing of ceasing.
This is a further promise to Israel and a yet another warning to her enemies. God has placed His Name upon Israel and will utterly wipe out those nations that come against her. So much so that those who have warred against her will disappear, they will cease to be. This is an encouragement to suffering Israel while also being a firm warning to her enemies both national and individual. Many Empires who have oppressed Israel have risen and fallen throughout history but Israel has remained because God has placed is Name on her, her very identity is in Him.
Isa 41:13 For I HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) Eloheycha your God (Judge) will strengthen your right hand, saying to you, “Al-tiyra No fear; I will help you!”
Mercy Himself the God and Judge of Israel will strengthen her and perpetually remind her that He is removing all fear from her. Mercy is Israel’s helper and guardian, she need want for no other.
Isa 41:14 Al-tiyra No fear, you tola’at scarlet string (worm) Yaakov (follower: Jacob), and you men of Yisrael (Yisra-overcome in El – God: Israel); I will help you, says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), and your Redeemer, the kedush Holy One of Yisrael (Israel).
For the third time “No fear” is proclaimed over Israel. Twice denotes an established truth and three times an immutable reality.
The anti-Semitic translation of the New English Bible “Fear not, Jacob you worm and Israel you poor louse” both misunderstands the Hebrew tola’at in a negative sense and adds “louse” insinuating that Israel is retched and worthless. In fact the Hebrew tola’at is employed here as a term of endearment and conveys the crimson symbolism of redemption through blood. The Hebrew literally means “Scarlet worm/string”. One can interpret the remez “No fear because I have covered you with blood little worm my follower, persons of Israel who overcome in Me (El).”
“I will help you says Mercy! Your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” The Hebrew “goel” meaning redeemer is used of a kinsman (A blood relation) who pays off a debt in order to redeem an impoverished or bonded relative. Thus, Hashem identifies Israel as more than a servant- follower, He sees her as a family member, born of Him, and in a sense intrinsically connected to Him. Quite literally the Messiah Yeshua (God with us) is a blood born Jew and the ultimate human kinsman redeemer of Israel.
Isa 41:15 Hineih Now, behold, I will make you a chadash new, sharp threshing sledge, ba’al a master (Husband) piyfiyot having teeth: you will thresh the mountains, and crush the hills making them as chaff. Isa 41:16 You will fan them, and the wind will carry them away, and the whirlwind will scatter them: and you will rejoice in HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), and in the Holy One of Yisrael (Israel) tithalal you will praise, shine on.
“Pay attention!” Once again Israel is called to stop in her tracks and listen carefully. Not only will Hashem redeem Israel from bondage, He will also make her an instrument of judgement against the idolatrous nations. Israel will become a ba’al (master) that brings judgement and threshing to the crop of peoples among the nations, testing the pride of the lofty ones (mountains) and crushing the lesser rulers of iniquity (hills) discarding the wicked as chaff. This will come about both through Israel as a nation and through the Messiah Who will issue forth from her. After all, “Salvation (Himself) is from the Jews (plural)” (John 4:22). Thus, the prophet Isaiah looks forward to Israel’s spiritual redemption and her physical victory over the enemies of God.
Isa 41:17 When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongues are parched with thirst, I HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) will hear them, I the Eloheiy God of Yisrael (Israel) will not forsake them.
This refers to the poor and needy of Israel during the coming exile. Beforehand Hashem is promising to be with Israel in exile and to hear her cries for help and not forsake her.
Isa 41:18 I will open rivers in high places, and mayanot springs in the midst of the valleys: I will asiym make (plural) the wilderness a pool of water, and the tziyah dry eretz land le-motza’ei springs of water. Isa 41:19 I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah acacia tree, and the myrtle, and the shamen olive tree; I will set in the desert the cypress tree, and the pine, and the box tree together:
This is both literal and figurative at the same time. The transformation of nature is intrinsically linked to the spiritual renewal of Israel (41:20 & 55:13). Both those in high places and those in lowly places will receive the living waters that flow forth from Hashem through the coming Messiah. In addition, the land of Israel will be revitalized and the climate transformed when Israel as a nation returns to her God.
Isa 41:20 That they yiru may see, ve’yedeu and know, and consider, ve’yedeu and understand together, that the hand of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has done this, u’kedush and the Holy One of Yisrael (Israel) has bera’ah created it (from bara: creation performed by God alone).
Israel is asked to:
…that the “hand”, the manifest strength of God has already made these things complete outside of time and space and secured them in a future time within time and space.
For the second time in this chapter Hashem refers to Himself as the Holy One of Israel and reveals His continued creative power in the past tense while referring to the future within time and space. The Hebrew bera’ah “created” is from bara and refers to the creative acts performed by God alone from the beginning.
Isa 41:21 “Karevu Present your cause,” says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy); “bring forth your argument,” says the Melekh King of Yaakov (Jacob).
Having consoled Israel Adonai now returns to His dispute with the idolatrous nations (begun in verses 1-4). Now the dispute is with the idols of those nations.
Notice that Hashem quite literally takes sides. He Names Himself “King of Jacob”. Many in the modern Christian Church foolishly assume that God is neutral in political conflict. This is clearly not the case when political conflict coincides with spiritual conflict. Or why did Yeshua say, “The children’s food should not be given to their dogs”? The singular text quoted in defence of pacifist Christian neutrality is the account of the Angel of Hashem speaking to Joshua saying, “I am neither for you or for your enemies, but as the commander of the host of Hashem I have now come.” (Joshua 5:14) They neglect of course the numerous other passages that state God’s explicit siding with and or fighting for Israel (Gen. 12:3; Deut. 1:30; 31:6; Zech. 2:8; Isa. 31:4, 41:11-12, 54:17; Psalm. 138:7; Ezekiel 38-39; Jerimiah 1:19 etc).
Isa 41:22 Approach and make known to us what will happen: let them show what the former things consisted of, that we may consider them, and know the latter goal of them; or declare to us ha-ba’ot the things to come.
God challenges the deaf, dumb and blind gods of the nations’ essentially saying, “If the gods of the Goyim are really gods, let them accurately foretell the future, let them explain the creation of the world, let them reveal the goal of creation and declare the events of the latter days.”
Isa 41:23 Make known the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that you (plural) are elohiym gods, judges: indeed, do good, and do evil, that we may be dismayed, and see it yachdav together.
Again, “If you are gods, do something, anything, be it good or evil. But you cannot, because you are simply deaf, dumb and mute idols constructed by the hands that worship you.”
Isa 41:24 Hein Behold, you (plural) are of nothing, and your work worthless: an abomination chooses you.
“So now, listen up you non gods, you are nothing, your work is nil and those who worship you are self-deluded and abominable.”
Isa 41:25 I have raised up one from the north, and he shall come: from the rising of the sun will he call upon vish-mi My name: and he will come upon princes as upon cement, and as the potter treads clay.
Once again it is God, Sovereign over human history Who orders kings to arise and causes their downfall. It is God Who raises up Cyrus for His purposes.
“I have raised up one from the north” Both 41:2 and 41:25 were fulfilled by Cyrus who was a Persian belonging to the clan of Achaemenes, the head of the tribe. According to the majority of ancient accounts, he was connected with the royal house of Media. After Astyages was dethroned, he became head and chief of the Medes as well as of the Persians. Media was to the north (Isa. 41:25) of Babylonia, and Persia to the east (Isa. 41:2) so that his victorious march had for its starting-point both the east and the north.
“He will call on My Name” alludes to the edict of Cyrus made in Ezra 1:2:
“Thus, says King Cyrus of Persia: ‘Hashem (YHVH), the Elohim God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build a House for Him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.’”
Isa 41:26 Who has declared from the beginning, that we may know? U’milefaniym and before the faces (presence), that we may say, “He is righteous?” Indeed, there is none that declares, indeed, there is none that listens, indeed, there is none that hears (obeys) imreichem your speeches.
The prophet Isaiah makes clear the fact that these predictions are being made long before the events they foretell, making the foolish assertion that the latter sections of Isaiah are post exilic, untenable.
The question is rhetorical and the answer is immutable, “There is none like Hashem”.
Isa 41:27 Rishon First letziyon to Zion (parched land), Hineih Behold, Hineih behold ve’lirushalayim and to Jerusalem (Flood of peace) good news I will give them.
It is Hashem Who is the first Zionist. First to give Zion to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: First to choose her for a people: First to reveal to her the good news of His redemptive purpose for humanity. Thus, “Now, behold, listen up!” The good news promised may be seen at a number of points in Israel’s historical timeline, and is certainly a reference to Isaiah, who has brought news of Israel’s redemption long before her exile to Babylon (Isa. 11:10-16; 21:1-10; 35:10). However, it also refers to Hashem’s redemptive purposes for Israel and all humanity, fulfilled in the King Messiah Yeshua and His atoning sacrificial work. Therefore, “Jacob you scarlet string (worm).”
Isa 41:28 And seeing no man among them, and no counsellor, that, when I asked of them, could answer a word.
Once again, there is not one among all humanity who could debate the fact that the God of Israel is Omniscient, Omnipotent, Immutable, Faithful etc. He alone gives true counsel, He alone can answer.
Isa 41:29 Hein Behold, kulam all are trouble; their works are worthless: ruach a wind, breath ve’tohu and confusion, formlessness are their molten images.
Finally and again, “Now, listen up!” All human beings have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The idols of the nations, who are non-gods, are none the less the abode of demons who seek to perpetuate the tohu confusion and formlessness of the Satanic agenda. In this case they are a deluding and passing wind that will come to nothing.
© 2018 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.