Isaiah 44: No Profit in Idols
The comfort of the revelation of fearless existence follows the poetic description of the choosing, conceiving and forming of the people of Israel. We do well to remember that these words apply to Israel as a nation, and while there is a spiritual principle here that can be applied to every believer, it is only so based on the plain application to the nation of Israel, ethnic, religious, chosen.
Isa 44:1 And now shema hear, listen, receive, understand, Yaakov (follower, Jacob) avdiy My servant; and Yisrael (overcome in God, Israel), whom I have chosen:
This chapter begins with the familiar refrain identifying Israel’s journey from inception to service and culminating in her chosen identity. Following the explanation of Israel’s terrible plight in the previous chapter the prophet now conveys a message of unsurpassed blessing. Therefore, “Listen carefully Jacob My servant, and Israel whom I have chosen”.
Isa 44:2 Thus says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) Who osecha (from asah) fashioned you, ve’yotzer and formed (framed, bound together) you from the womb, who will help you; “Al tiyra No fear, Yaakov (follower, Jacob), avdiy My servant; and you, Yeshurun (upright, lawful, smooth, integrity), whom barchatiy I have chosen (elected, decided for).
The comfort of the revelation of fearless existence follows the poetic description of the choosing, conceiving and forming of the people of Israel. We do well to remember that these words apply to Israel as a nation, and while there is a spiritual principal here that can be applied to every believer, it is only so based on the plain application to the nation of Israel, ethnic, religious, chosen.
God is revealed as “Mercy, Helper, Creator, Artisan” and the One through Whom Israel is called Yeshurun “Upright One”.
The title Yeshurun is used elsewhere only three times (Deut. 32:15; 33:5, 26). The first of the three other instances, like the present example, places the “Upright One” in a state of unrighteousness. The second reference alludes to Moses as king in Yeshurun and the third proclaims the uniqueness of the God of Yeshurun, Who has no equal. Collecting these four occurrences of the name Yeshurun, we’re able to conclude that her uprightness is the state in which God sees her complete outside of circumstance and through His redemptive work. She is not upright of her own accord, nor have her actions made her that way, to the contrary, it is because God has chosen her that He has made certain of her redemption. This is the very essence of the Gospel of our King Messiah Yeshua.
Isa 44:3 For I will pour mayim water upon the thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour ruachiy My Spirit upon your seed (progeny, offspring), u’virchatiy and My blessing upon your offspring:
The poetic form of repetition connects the figure of water poured onto dry ground to the Spirit of God poured out upon the seed of Israel. Both the water and the Spirit bear the fruit of blessing, physical and spiritual.
The Hebrew mayim even in its singular form, denotes an intensity found in plural use. Therefore, water carries the sense of waters.
The water is first poured out upon the thirsty, this with the purpose of satisfying the thirst of the desperately repentant. Subsequently the water floods the dry ground, something that results in sweeping away the transient layer of top soil. To this day in Israel’s desert region, when there is a torrential rainfall, flooding and mudslides cause great damage in the Negev and elsewhere, sometimes resulting in the deaths of residents and hikers caught in the deluge. Therefore, there is at least a sense in which the present verse reveals the Spirit of God as a double edged sword bringing deliverance and life to the repentant while sweeping away those who continue to wander from the truth.
“O God, You are my God; early will I seek You: my soul thirsts for You, my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land, where there is no water;” -Psalm 63:1
Isa 44:4 And they will spring up in the midst of grass, as willows in the water courses (streams, irrigation etc.)
The seed of Israel will spring up in the midst of a revived and green land, both literally and figuratively. Like the willows that grow in water ways with access to a constant supply of water, so too Israel’s progeny will grow immersed in the constant supply of God’s Spirit.
Isa 44:5 Zeh This one will yomar say, “to HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) ani I am;” ve’zeh and this one will yikra call (proclaim) besheim-Yaakov in the name of Jacob (follower); and ve’zeh and this one will yichtov inscribe his hand to HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), u’vesheim and in the name of Yisrael (Israel, overcome in God) ye’khaneh a (future) title (actionable identity).
Each of the titles alluded to in this verse are chosen by individuals from among the people of Israel to show the desire of each one to be identified as belonging to the God of Israel. Thus, this verse is revealing the fact that in the future Israel will return to God both individually and corporately, each one delighting in the uniqueness of a personal and national identity found only in the redemptive work of God through the Messiah.
“To HaShem I am.” In other words, “I belong to HaShem” or, “I belong to Mercy”. This is similar to the identifying mark on the forehead plate of the High Priest of Israel, Kadosh YHVH, “Holy unto HaShem” or, “Holy, set apart to Mercy”. Thus in some sense there is a connection to the priesthood of the nation of Israel.
“In the name of Jacob”. In other words, “I’m proud to be called a Jew” or, “I’m unashamed of the fact that I’m a follower of God”.
“Inscribe his hand to HaShem.” To inscribe one’s hand is to commit all action to that which is inscribed upon it. Thus, this is an act of devotion to God and to a life of service in His kingdom. This last identifier is followed by “In the name of Israel yet to be titled.” This is not a “surname” in the traditional English sense, rather the Hebrew prefix “ye” denotes something yet future and “Khaneh” refers to a title or secondary name. Therefore, it is an affirmation of Israel’s continued ethnic religious identity and a restating of her “overcoming in God”. Thus, her willingness to inscribe her actions to HaShem and her subsequent ministry as the servant of God will affirm her chosen status and reveal her completeness as Yeshurun, the beloved and upright one of God. Made upright through His redemptive work.
I have chosen to explain the so called “surname” in terms of “actionable identity”.
Isa 44:6 Thus says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) Melekh-Yisrael the King of Israel, ve’goalo and his (kinsman) redeemer HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) tzeva’ot who goes warring (of hosts); “Ani I am rishon first, va’ani and I am acharon last (lasting); and beside me (without me) eiyn elohiym there is no god (there are no gods/judges).”
Corresponding to the titles adopted by Israel in verse 5 are the titles of HaShem in verse 6:
Verse 5 Verse 6
Belonging to Hashem Israel is subject to the King of Mercy. Jacob the follower finds redemption in a kinsman. Having been redeemed Israel is inscribed with freedom and Hashem goes to war for her. Israel chosen before creation by the One God, first and lasting.
Iben Ezra makes a correlation between Israel in the land and the title King of Israel: likewise he connects Israel’s exile with the title Redeemer.
Isa 44:7 And who, cha’moniy is like Me, who will call, and will declare it, and set it in order for Me, since I appointed am-olam a people forever (in worlds perpetual)? and the coming things, and that which will come, let them show.
“Am-olam (A people forever)” is applied elsewhere to those who have already gone on to Sheol (holding place of the departed). The epithet is evidence of the ancient Jewish understanding of the everlasting nature of the soul.
The God of Israel is like no other. The rhetorical questions posed expose the inability of the false gods and idols of Israel to accurately predict the future or establish Israel as a people.
Isa 44:8 “Al-tifchadu Don’t tremble (dread), ve’al-tirhu and don’t be afraid: have I not told you me’az from that time? and I have declared it! And you are certainly eidaiy My witnesses. Is there a god beside (without) Me? And, there is no tzur rock; I know not any.”
HaShem directs Israel to neither tremble or be afraid of that which He has foretold through His prophet Isaiah: the catastrophe coming on the nations at the hand of Cyrus. Thus, as Israel watches nation after nation crumble along with their deaf, dumb and incompetent idols, Israel is to rest in the knowledge that her God had foreseen and planned all these things (including her exile) for her ultimate benefit.
God reminds Israel that He has chosen her to bear witness of His redemptive wonders, and that He is her Rock (tzur: an immovable cliff face).
Isa 44:9 They that form an idol are all of them tohu formless; and their coveted things will not profit; and they are their own witnesses; don’t see, and don’t know; so that they may be ashamed. Isa 44:10 Who has formed el a god, or forged a graven image, which profits nothing?
Verses 9 through 20 explain the illogic and folly of idolatry.
We note that the opening phrase calls the idol maker “formless”. The verse goes on to explain that lusting after things (Something Rav Shaul called “the love of earthly wealth [mammon]”), bears no fruit. In counter distinction to Israel, who are chosen witnesses to God’s redemptive wonders, those who fashion idols and pursue worldly wealth are invalid witnesses because they testify to their own deeds. Added to this, they are blind and ignorant, giving eye witness accounts of what they can’t see and applying knowledge they haven’t learned. All this is allowed by God in order to bring them to a point of shame and repentance.
“For the love of worldly wealth is the root of all evil. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” -1Timothy 6:10
The first of the idols of verses 9-20 is forged. Subsequently hammered idols and wooden idols are also mentioned in order to cover the variety of idols created and worshipped by the surrounding nations.
Isa 44:11 Hein Now, behold, all chaveirav his companions will be ashamed: and the workmen, they are me’adam from humanity: let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they will fear, and they will be ashamed together.
Fellow idol makers stand together and will likewise be ashamed of their futile work. Every idol maker described is a human being me’adam “from a man, from humanity”. They will fear and be ashamed together when they realize their error. The question remains, “Will they repent?”
Isa 44:12 The shaper with the axe both works in the coals, and fashions with hammers, and works with the strength of his arms: also, he gets hungry, and his strength fails: he drinks no water, and is faint.
This same ironical language is used in Jeremiah 10:3 to expose the futility of the human propensity for creating our own gods using created things and expending our energy to the point of exhaustion in order to complete something which will never complete us.
Isa 44:13 The cutter of eitziym trees stretches out his ruler; he marks out with a line; he fashions with planes, and he marks it out with the compass, and makes the figure of iysh a man, ke’tiferet according to the beauty, glory, adornment of adam humanity (a man); la’shevet to dwell in bayt a house.
Here the idol made of wood from the forest is made in the likeness of a man “iysh”, and the Hebrew “iysh” is connected to the Hebrew “eish” meaning “fire”. Thus, the irony of the same wood used to make the idol being burned in fire (v.15-16).
The second descriptor adam, meaning man or humanity, is thought by some to distinguish between iysh man and adam woman (human form). The Targum follows this understanding:
“according to the praise of a woman;'' -Targum Yonatan
Yarchi also understands the Hebrew text this way:
“this is a woman, who is the glory of her husband;''
If this is correct, both male and female idols are being alluded to in their distinct roles as symbolic governors of the land (male) and the home (female). Hence the Hebrew bayt (house) in reference to the adorned adam “dwelling in bayt”.
Isa 44:14 He cuts down cedars for himself, and takes the cypress and the oak, and is strengthened among the trees of the forest: he plants an ash, and the rain brings nourishment.
All the trees mentioned here are pleasant to look at and good for fuel but none bear fruit. Thus the spiritual truth that idolatry is fruitless, a self-defeating act that offers no progeny.
Isa 44:15 Then it becomes fuel for a man to burn: for he will take from them, and warm himself; he kindles it, and bakes bread; he makes el a god, and worships it; he fashions an idol, and prostrates before it.
The irony here goes beyond the simple lack of logic involved in worshipping something one uses for fuel. The wood born of creation is, like the human being himself, a created thing. This wood is created for the purpose of warming the human being and for use in food preparation, all this being a gift from the Creator. Therefore, having enjoyed the gift of warmth and sustenance from God, the human being chooses to worship the gift instead of the giver. Some today in the Christian Church do the same, so enamoured are they by miracles and manifestations, that they have begun to worship the gifts of God rather than the Giver.
Isa 44:16 Half saraph He burns b’mo in eish fire; al-chetzyo upon half basar flesh yocheil he eats; he roasts the roast, and is satisfied: indeed, he warms himself, and says, heach “Now aha, I am warm, I have seen Ur the light:”
“Ur” is light of the fire (also the name of the city from which Abraham came), not fire as in the burning flames but the light that emanates from it. It is spelled the same way as the uncreated light of the beginning “Or”. This is therefore, equivalent to the exclamation of epiphany made in colloquial English, “I have seen the light.” However, in this context the worshipper of an idol has not seen “The Light”, rather he has seen a false “light” that is born of darkness. Thus, he blasphemes the true “Light” by likening Him to the demonic light of the wood born idol.
Isa 44:17 And the remainder he makes a god, his graven image: he prostrates himself before it, and worships it, and prays to it, and says, “Deliver me; for you are eiliy my god.”
Here the idol is called an el “god”. Thus, while inanimate objects have no power of their own, none the less, spiritual entities are often associated with them and dwell near them in order to deceive and bind idolaters.
“And they served their idols: which were a snare unto them. Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils,” -Psalm 106:36-37
“And he ordained him priests for the high places, and for the demons, and for the calves which he had made.” -2 Chronicles 11:15
“What say I then? that the idol is anything, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is anything? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.” -1 Corinthians 10:19-20
“The rest of humanity, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk,” -Revelation 9:20
In the case of Israel, any one among the people of Israel who is asking a false god to “deliver” them is in direct opposition to the Deliverer of Israel, Hashem.
Isa 44:18 They have not yadeu known nor yaviynu discerned: for He has shut their eyes, so they cannot see; and livotam their hearts, so they cannot yashiyv turn.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.” -Romans 1:18-25
Isa 44:19 And none yashiv turns back in li’bo his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, “I have burned part of it in fire; certainly, also I have baked bread upon the coals from it; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and will I now make the remainder of it le’toeivah into an abomination (disgusting thing)? Will I prostrate myself before the stock of a tree?”
There is heartbreak in these words, “And none turns back”. HaShem longs for right relationship with these idolaters, and yet they resist His love. With incredulity the prophet describes the idolaters lack of ability to apply basic logic to the situation. Thus he quotes what he sees as the appropriate revelation of the situation, “I’ve made a god out of a tree, which I also used for warmth and food and now like a fool am I going to bow down to what’s left of it?”
Isa 44:20 He feeds on eipher ashes: a deceived leiv heart has turned him aside, so he can’t deliver nafsho his soul, nor say, “Is this not a lie in my right hand?”
The Hebrew eipher meaning ashes is also used figuratively to refer to a worthless practice. We note that it is the idolaters own deceived heart (core being) that has turned him away from God, and that he is unable to deliver his own soul, not even by simply recognizing that “this idol built with the strength of my right hand is a lie”.
Isa 44:21 “Zechor Remember these, Yaakov (follower, Jacob) and Yisrael (overcomes in God, Israel); for you are avdiy My servant: I have formed you; you are eved-liy My servant: you Yisrael (Israel), will not be forgotten by Me.”
Having explained the futility of idolatry the prophet now repeats the words of HaShem that began the chapter. HaShem implores Israel to remember the futility of the idolatrous practices that she herself has been engaged in and instead accept the role of witness to HaShem’s wonderous acts of deliverance and redemption.
All would do well to remember the promise of Hashem here:
“Israel will not be forgotten by Me!”
Isa 44:22 “I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, peshaeicha your rebellion (transgressions) and, as a dark cloud, chatoteicha your sins (missing the mark): shuvah return to Me; for ge’altiycha (from goel, a kinsman) I have redeemed you.”
Ultimately it is Hashem’s desire that Israel return to Him in love. Having exposed the worthless practices of Israel and the surrounding nations He now offers forgiveness with open arms, through the redeeming act of blotting out the rebellion and sin of His chosen people. He reminds Israel that it is He Himself who has redeemed her as a kinsman redeemer redeems a family member.
Isa 44:23 Ranu He overcomes, shamayim you heavens; for HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has done it: ha-riu give a blast (shout), you lowest parts of aretz land (earth): break forth hariym the mountains rinah in a ringing cry, O forest, and every tree therein: for HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has ga’al redeemed Yaakov (Jacob), and in Yisrael (Israel) yitpa’ar adorned (glorified) himself.
We notice that for all the worthless uses of creation observed in the practice of idolatry there is a counterpoint here. The heavens which had given the rain for the growth of the trees (cut down to make idols) are now called upon to witness the spiritual overcoming of Israel in the One true God HaShem. The land and soil beneath which had provided nutrients for the trees from which the idols were made is now called on to witness the works of God, and the mountains on which the idols were worshipped (at the high places) are called on to give a ringing cry along with the trees themselves, announcing that HaShem has redeemed Jacob and has adorned Himself in Israel with glory: all this in direct opposition to the adorning of the idolatrous humanoid figures of verse 13.
Creation celebrates the redemption of humanity and the renewal of all things:
“For the earnest expectation of created thing waits for the manifestation of the sons of God.
20 For the created thing was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, 21 Because the created thing itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. 23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” -Romans 8:19-23
Isa 44:24 Thus says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), go’alecha your redeemer, and He that yotzercha formed (bound together) you from the womb, “I am HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) that oseh makes all things; that stretches forth the shamayim heavens levadiy Myself; and spreads abroad ha’aretz the earth (land) water;”
HaShem is affirmed again as Kinsman Redeemer, Creator and the One intimately involved in Israel being knitted together from her conception. He alone is Creator of the universe, and it is He alone Who has provided the waters of the heavens to bring life to the soil of the earth, providing sustenance to His creation.
Isa 44:25 That frustrates otot the signs (omens) of the badiym liars, and makes diviners mad; Who turns wise men backward, and makes their knowledge foolish;
HaShem intentionally frustrates the omens offered by spiritualists and mediums, false prophets and Sooth Sayers. Specifically badiym “Babbling liars” and those who consult spirits and pretend to control demonic forces. Those who think themselves wise are turned back and made to look foolish because their wisdom is of men and not of God.
Isa 44:26 Me’kiym Continually raising de’var a word avdo of His servant, and the counsel of His messengers yashliym makes peace; Who says to Yerushalayim (Downpour of peace, Jerusalem), “You will be inhabited;” and to the cities of Yehudah (praise, Judah), “You will be built, and I will raise up the decayed places there:”
“Me’kiym” is a contraction made up of “me” from, and “kum” arise, and in this plural form denotes a continual arising of something. In this case that something is “de’var” a word for God’s servant (singular) and a counsel that comes from His messengers “malachaiv” (angels, prophets etc). His servant Isaiah brings a word (Messiah) and that word (Messiah) is also imparted through the prophets and messengers of God to Israel. He promises to restore Jerusalem (literally and figuratively), and the cities of Judah. He promises to rebuild the people of Israel and the decayed land of her idolatrous practices.
Isa 44:27 Who says latzulah to the deep (ocean), “Be dry, and I will dry up your rivers:”
This is an idiom referring to Sheol (in a figurative way). The deep (Sheol), will one day be dried up (emptied), and the rivers of decay that result from death (fruit of sin) will no longer affect humanity.
Isa 44:28 Who says of Koresh Cyrus (you possess the furnace), “Roiy My shepherd, and all that I desire, yashliym makes peace:” even saying to Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), “You will be built; and to the temple, your foundation will be laid (established).”
“Koresh” Cyrus, is mentioned by name here some 150 years before his birth. There can be no doubt that the God of Israel knows the end from the beginning.
Cyrus is called “My Shepherd” by HaShem because HaShem has appointed him to bring discipline to Israel and restore her again to the land of Israel following her exile. In fact, it was to be Cyrus who issued the decree for the Jews of Persia to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (Ezra 1 through 3; 2 Chronicles 36:22-23).
Josephus the Jewish historian of the first century CE (AD) writes that when Cyrus was made aware of this portion of the scroll of Isaiah, that he immediately decreed the return of the Jews to Jerusalem and gave them permission to rebuild the temple (Josephus Antiquities 11:2).
© 2018 Yaakov Brown
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Founder of the Beth Melekh International Messiah Following Jewish Community,