Isaiah 41:1-7, 21-29 – God as supreme over history

This is a chapter packed with loads of wonderful stuff so we are going to look at it over two days. I want us to consider the beginning and end of this chapter today and the middle section in-between tomorrow. The first and last parts both deal with the same ideas so they are logically matched. In verses 1 and 21, God is presented as presiding over a legal hearing where he, as judge, summons the nations to appear before him and present their cases. The basic idea is that the nations have no right to protest that they and their idols are in control of their own destiny or the course of history because clearly only God is!

In verses 2 and 25 we have a reference to an unnamed national leader and although this person is said to come from the “east” in the first instance and the “north” in the second this is very much the same individual. The question is who is this vaunted figure? Well, here we have the first reference to Cyrus, the King of the Persian-Medes who conquered Babylon in 539BC and issued the decree allowing God’s people to return from their exile. He is named explicitly in 44:28. In verses 2 to 4 we are told that it is God who has raised up this imperial leader and granted him military success against other nations. In verse 25 Cyrus’ conquests are again mentioned and he is said to call on the “name” of God. What does this mean? Well, Cyrus used God’s name in his decree permitting the exiles to return to Jerusalem but did not acknowledge him as his God (see Ezra 1:2).

In verses 5 to 7 we see that, in the face of the rampaging Cyrus, other nations will try to help one another but their attempts to bolster their position through refurbishing their idols will obviously be futile. These idols are utterly impotent in the face of activity that the one true God has sanctioned. In verses 22 to 24 God invites the so-called gods of the nations to demonstrate their abilities in terms of either predicting the future or explaining the past. The cutting sarcasm here is of course because these false gods have no such powers. As verses 25 to 29 make clear, only God has been able to foresee the emergence of Cyrus and has disclosed this future fact to Isaiah over 100 years before it all came to pass on the stage of history!

On Friday we saw that God is supreme over creation and today we have seen that he is supreme over all history. In terms of the historical context of the Ancient Near East, he knew about the rise and fall of the empires of Assyria, Babylon and the Persian-Medes. He knew that where the policy of the Babylonians was to deport the citizens of those nations they conquered back to Babylon, the policy of their successors the Perian-Medes was to send such people back to their homeland. And this of course was all in perfect keeping with the need, in the first instance, to have the southern kingdom of Judah go into exile as judgment for their failure to honour their covenant with God and, then, in the second instance, for them to be restored after they had served their term away from their homeland! Wow! God is indeed awesome! (Remember you can understand all about the consequences of God’s people breaking the covenant leading to exile and the promise of their restoration back to their home in Leviticus 26 & Deuteronomy 28.)

Prayer: If you’re heading out on a walk today pray for those in the homes you pass that they would be awakened to the sovereignty of the Lord Almighty, that revelation would come to them of their separation from him and their need for a Saviour. If you’re not heading out, pray for your immediate neighbours or friends that don’t know Jesus, that they would recognise his sovereignty and supremacy.

Song: You are worthy of it all