The Lord, by the prophet, here repeats the challenge to idolaters to make out the pretentions of their idols: “Produce your cause (Isa. 41:21) and make your best of it; bring forth the strongest reasons you have to prove that your idols are gods, and worthy of your adoration.” Note, There needs no more to show the absurdity of sin than to produce the reasons that are given in defence of it, for they carry with them their own confutation.
I. The idols are here challenged to bring proofs of their knowledge and power. Let us see what they can inform us of, and what they can do. Understanding and active power are the accomplishments of a man. Whoever pretends to be a god must have these in perfection; and have the idols made it to appear that they have? No;
1. “They can tell us nothing that we did not know before, so ignorant are they. We challenge them to inform us,” (1.) “What has been formerly: Let them show the former things, and raise them out of the oblivion in which they were buried” (God inspired Moses to write such a history of the creation as the gods of the heathen could never have dictated to any of their enthusiasts); or “let the defenders of idols tell us what mighty achievements they can boast of as performed by their gods in former times. What did they ever do that was worth taking notice of? Let them specify any thing, and it shall be considered, its due weight shall be given it, and it shall be compared with the latter end of it; and if, in the issue, it prove to be as great as it pretended to be, they shall have the credit of it.” (2.) “We challenge them to tell us what shall happen, to declare to us things to come (Isa. 41:22), and again (Isa. 41:23), show the things that are to come hereafter. Give this evidence of your omniscience, that nothing can be hidden from you, and of your sovereignty and dominion. Make it to appear that you have the doing of all, by letting us know beforehand what you deign to do. Do this kindness to the world; let them know what is to come, that they may provide accordingly. Do this, and we will own that you are gods above us, and gods to us, and worthy of our adoration.” No creature can foretel things to come, otherwise than by divine information, with any certainty.
2. “They can do nothing that we cannot do ourselves, so impotent are they.” He challenges them to do either good or evil, good to their friends or evil to their enemies: “Let them do, if they can, any thing extraordinary, that people will admire and be affected with. Let them either bless or curse, with power. Let us see them either inflict such plagues such as God brought on Egypt or bestow such blessings as God bestowed on Israel. Let them do some great thing, and we shall be amazed when we see it, and frightened into a veneration of them, as many have been into a veneration of the true God.” That which is charged upon these idols, and let them disprove it if they can, is that they are of nothing, Isa. 41:24. Their claims have no foundation at all, nor is there any ground or reason in the least for men’s paying them the respect they do; there is nothing in them worthy our regard. “They are less than nothing, worse than nothing;” so some read it. “The work they do is of nought, and so is the ado that is made about them. There is no pretence or colour for it; it is all a jest; it is all a sham put upon the world; and therefore he that chooses you, and so give you your deity, and” (as some read it) “that delights in you, is an abomination;” so some take it. A servant is at liberty to choose his master, but a man is not at liberty to choose his God. He that chooses any other than the true God chooses an abomination; his choosing it makes it so.
II. God here produces proofs that he is the true God, and that there is none besides him. Let him produce his strong reasons.
1. He has an irresistible power. This he will shortly make to appear in the raising up of Cyrus and making him a type of Christ (Isa. 41:25): He will raise him up from the north and from the rising of the sun. Cyrus by his father was a Mede, by his mother a Persian; and his army consisted of Medes, whose country lay north, and Persians, whose country lay east, from Babylon. God will raise him up to great power, and he shall come against Babylon with ends of his own to serve. But, (1.) He shall proclaim God’s name; so it may be read. He shall publish the honour of the God of Israel; so he did remarkably when, in his proclamation for the release of the Jews out of their captivity, he acknowledged that the Lord God of Israel was the Lord God of heaven, and the God: and he might be said to call on his name when he encouraged the building of his temple, and very probably did himself call upon him and pray to him, Ezra 1:2, 3. (2.) All opposition shall fall before him: He shall come upon the princes of Babylon, and all others that stood in his way, as mortar, and trample upon them as the potter treads clay, to serve his own purposes with it. Christ, as man, was raised up from the north, for Nazareth lay in the northern parts of Canaan; as the angel of the covenant, he ascends from the east. He maintained the honour of heaven (he shall call upon my name), and broke the powers of hell, came upon the prince of darkness as mortar and trod him down.
2. He has an infallible foresight. He would not only do this, but he did now, by his prophet, foretel it. Now the false gods not only could not do it, but they could not foresee it. (1.) He challenges them to produce any of their pretended deities, or their diviners, that had given notice of this, or could (Isa. 41:26): “Who has declared from the beginning any thing of this kind, or has told it before-time? Tell us if there be any that you know of, for we know not any; if there be any, we will say, He is righteous, he is true, his cause is just, his claims are proved, and he is in the right in demanding to be worshipped.” This agrees with Isa. 41:22, 23. (2.) He challenges to himself the sole honour of doing it and foretelling it (Isa. 41:27): I am the first (so it may be read) that will say to Zion, Behold, behold them, that will let the people of Israel know their deliverers are at hand (for there were those who understood by books, God’s books, the approach of the time, Dan. 9:2), and I am he that will give to Jerusalem one that brings good tidings, these good tidings of their enlargement. This is applicable to the work of redemption, in which the Lord showed himself much more than in the release of the Jews out of Babylon: he it was that contrived our salvation, and he brought it about, and he has given to us the glad tidings of reconciliation.
III. Judgment is here given upon this trial. 1. None of all the idols had foretold, or could foresee, this work of wonder. Other nations besides the Jews were released out of captivity in Babylon by Cyrus, or at least were greatly concerned in the revolution of the monarchy and there transferring of it to the Persians; and yet none of them had any intelligence given them of it beforehand, by any of their gods or prophets: “There is none that shows (Isa. 41:26), none that declares, none that gives the least intimation of it; there is none of the nations that hears your words, that can pretend to have heard from their gods such words as you, O Israelites! have heard from your God, by your prophets,” Ps. 147:20. None of all the gods of the nations have shown their worshippers the way of salvation, which God will show by the Messiah. The good tidings which the Lord will send in the gospel is a mystery hidden from ages and generations, Rom. 16:25, 26. 2. None of those who pleaded for them could produce any instance of their knowledge or power that had in it any colour of proof that they were gods. All their advocates were struck dumb with this challenge (Isa. 41:28): “I beheld, and there was no man that could give evidence for them, even among those that were their most zealous admirers; and there was no counsellor, none that could offer any thing for the support of their cause. Even among the idols themselves there was none fit to give counsel in the most trivial matters, and yet there were those that asked counsel of them in the most important and difficult affairs. When I asked them what they had to say for themselves they stood mute; the case was so plain against them that there was none who could answer a word.” Judgment must therefore be given against the defendant upon Nihil dicit—He is mute. He has nothing to say for himself. He was speechless, Matt. 22:12. 3. Sentence is therefore given according to the charge exhibited against them (Isa. 41:24): “Behold, they are all vanity (Isa. 41:29); they are a lie and a cheat; they are not in themselves what they pretend to be, nor will their worshippers find that in them which they promise themselves. Their works are nothing, of no force, of no worth; their enemies need fear no hurt from them; their worshippers can hope for no good from them. Their molten images, and indeed all their images, are wind and confusion, vanity and vexation; those that worship them will be deceived in them, and will reflect upon their own folly with the greatest bitterness. Therefore, dearly beloved, flee from idolatry,” 1 Cor. 10:14.
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