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Isaiah 45

Chapter Forty-five:

Vs. 1-8: All of these verses are linked thematically by the LORD’s use of Cyrus to bring justice to the world.  The LORD gives three reasons in these verses for why he chooses Cyrus for this task:

1)  He chooses Cyrus “so that [Cyrus] may know that it is … the LORD who call[s] [him] by [his] name” (v. 3).

2)  He chooses Cyrus “…for the sake of [his] servant Jacob…” (v. 4) to deliver the Jews from Babylonian captivity.

3)  He chooses Cyrus “so that they [all the peoples of the earth] may know from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides [God]…” (v. 6).

v. 3: “It is I, The LORD…who call you by your name.”  Cyrus is actually named in v. 1 where the LORD addresses him.

v. 4: “I surname you.”  A surname[1] is an additional name one gets because of some quality one possess.  The skill one displays in one’s profession is an example of such a quality.  A surname could also, by association, identify all the members of the surnamed person’s family; thus, a man who is a good smith is nicknamed John “Smith” and all his descendants inherit the surname.  I suppose “Israel” was a surname for Jacob.[2]

The Hebrew word translated here in Isaiah as “surname” is kanah, which Barnes says connotes friendliness and affection (Isaiah II, 130).  Strong’s Concordance agrees with this, offering “to give flattering titles” as a definition (3655).  Thus, the surnaming of Cyrus implies at least two things:

1) God’s affection for him personally as the instrument of divine justice

2) God’s adoption of him as his anointed one[3] (v.1), foreshadowing the coming of The Great Anointed One, Jesus.  “Anointed one,” I assume, is the surname God gives to Cyrus.

v. 8: This is a beautiful image: Salvation, watered by Righteousness from heaven, springs up like plants watered by rain.

v. 9: I believe vs. 9-13 should be read as a whole.  Although Barnes does not group 9-13 together, he does note that v.9 heads a section which turns from the chapter’s initial direction.  He says that this section may be addressed to “unbelieving Jews who were disposed to murmur against God.”  Luther seems to have agreed with him in this because the heading he supplies for vs. 9-13 is “Gegen die Vermessenen in Israel.” [4] But I do not believe that.  I believe the “you” to whom these verses are directed is either Babylon or the heathen nations in general who would doubt that God would use Cyrus to free the Jews.  The Jews themselves are referred to in the third person, which makes me think that Jews are not being addressed directly: “Will you question me about my children?” and “He [Cyrus] shall …set my exiles free.”

Whoever this section is addressed to is obviously “striving with [his or her] Maker” by finding fault with God’s plan concerning Cyrus.  Finding fault could mean that the person does not believe God’s plan is a good one and/or that God will not be able to bring the plan about.

v. 10: Since this verse parallels the image of the clay vessels and their maker in v. 9, I think the father and woman (mother) here in v. 10 should be understood as the father and mother (i.e. the makers) of the person who is questioning them (rather than some random father and mother).  This illustrates the self-defeating nature of doubting God: whenever one does so, one doubts the roots of one’s very own existence; that is why there is “woe to anyone who” does it.

v. 13: Cyrus received rewards for conquering the Babylonian empire (v. 3), but he allowed the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple because God directed him to do so.  See Ezra 1:1-2.  Barnes writes that Josephus, in Ant. B. 11 chapter 1 section 2, claims that Cyrus was moved to restore Jerusalem and the temple after being shown the book of Isaiah (Isaiah I, 13).

v. 14: This grouping of Egypt, Ethiopia, and the Sabeans should be read in conjunction with 43:3, where these countries are also treated as a group.  (See note there.)  I think the grouping in both chapters signifies the same thing.  It is idiomatic for “from west to east,” or, as in v. 6 of this chapter, “…from the rising of the sun and from the west….”  Also, in both chapters these nations will be subjected to Israel or to Israel’s welfare.  In chapter 43, they will be given as ransom for Israel, and here they will be brought as captives and slaves to Israel.  I believe that is the proper interpretation of these passages, but I do not know how to apply it to actual events.  Perhaps there is a spiritual application; after all, these passages are saying, essentially, that the world will be made subject to Israel, which is true in one sense even now as far as spiritual Israel (Christ’s kingdom) is concerned, and will be true in the fullest sense when Christ returns.  See also notes on chapter 2:1-4.

v. 15: “Truly, you are a God who hides himself….”  This is an interesting passage.  I am not sure who the speaker is.  If, as the NRSV and New American Standard translation suggest,[5] the speaker is a Jew (or Judah collectively), then I believe the writer means for the statement to be false.  Outside the context of this chapter, of course, the statement certainly has true application; other passages of Isaiah (1:15, 8:17) speak of God’s hiding himself.  But in the context of this chapter, the statement is difficult for me to explain in light of v. 19: “I have not spoken in secret in some dark land; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob ‘Seek me in a waste place[6].’”

I am confident that v. 19 is saying that God has not been hidden or inaccessible.  The tone of v. 19 is very similar to Christ’s tone in John 18:20 where he says, “I have spoken openly to the world…and I spoke nothing in secret.”  I find that the Strong’s Concordance dictionary entry for the Hebrew word translated in v. 19 as “in secret” or “secretly” is cether (5643), which the concordance says is derived “from [entry] 5641.”  Entry 5641 is cathar, which is the very same word translated in v. 15 as “hides.”  This makes me believe that the writer had v. 15 in mind when he wrote v. 19 and that he intended for v. 19 to rebuke the sentiment of v. 15.  God is the declared speaker of v. 19, so there is no doubt that what it says is true, and what it says contradicts v. 15.  Therefore, in the context of this chapter the sentiment of v. 15 is wrong if the speaker is a Jew because God specifically says that he has not hidden himself from the Jews .  This does not mean that v. 19 contradicts similar expressions in other parts of Isaiah (or the Bible).  In another context one might truly say of God that he hides himself from the Jews or any number of other people.  I believe he hides himself even from the faithful (among both Jews and Gentiles) sometimes because he wants us to go through the spiritual exercise of seeking him out (Proverbs 25:2). I also believe he hides himself from the unfaithful, i.e., those who are not seeking him genuinely anyway. [7] Nevertheless, God never hides himself indefinitely from those who seek him with a penitent, patient, and humble heart.  As Christ said, “He who seeks finds; and to him who knocks it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:8).  In this chapter, when God says that he has not hidden himself, he must mean that he has not hidden himself from the Jews in the way that the (Jewish) speaker of v.15 is thinking.  For instance, perhaps the speaker thinks God hides himself because the divine personality is aloof by nature or because he does not want people to find him, but the truth is that God is love and wants people to find him, even when he is hiding himself.

On the other hand, if the speaker of v. 15 is still the collective Gentile world, then it would not necessarily contradict v. 19, since v. 19 only asserts that God has not hidden himself from the Jews.  It is true that he still would not hide himself from the Gentiles simply because he did not want to be found by them; nevertheless, he had revealed himself to the Jews in a more open manner than he had to the Gentiles, even though he still loved the Gentiles and desired them to seek him.

But even if the speaker is a Gentile or the Gentile world personified, then he may also be wrong, in the context of this chapter, to say that God hides himself.  In v. 20, God says, “Draw near you survivors of the nations,”[8] and in v. 22 God says, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth.” Such statements seem to be an open invitation to salvation for the Gentile world.  Perhaps God means to suggest that the invitation has always been there for the Gentiles, but that they had so darkened their minds with idolatry that they were unable to perceive the invitation.  Thus, they are wrong to say that God hides himself.

As I say, I do not know who the speaker is, but I believe the sentiment of v. 15 should be understood in one of the two contexts I have described above, depending upon whether the speaker is a Gentile or a Jew.  I have no idea why the NRSV and NAS translations close the quotation at v. 14.  If I knew, perhaps that would help me decide who the speaker is.

v. 19: I think the sentence, “I did not speak in secret…” should be juxtaposed with Isaiah 6:9-10 and other similar passages in Isaiah where God seems to be intentionally obscure.  See notes there.

v. 20: The mention of wooden idols here reminds me of 44:13-17.

v. 24: This verse seems to parallel vs. 14 and 16.  24a = 14 and 24b = 16.

[1] According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, “sur-” as a prefix means “over” or “above;” thus, I suppose, a surname is a name above and beyond one’s birth name.

[2] See also 44:5.

[3] “Messiah” in Hebrew.

[4] “Against the presumptuous ones in Israel”

[5] These translations end the quotation marks for the Gentiles’ speech at v. 14.  Therefore, I assume they are suggesting that the speaker of v. 15 is a Jew.

[6] NRSV translates “in a waste place” as “in chaos,” and the OKJ translates it as “in vain.”

[7] I know it sounds paradoxical to say that he hides himself from those who are not seeking him, but perhaps the paradox of this is like the paradoxical interaction of his will with ours whenever we make evil decisions (such as the decision not to seek him).  See notes on 9:18-19 and 10:7.

[8] This is actually happening in v. 14.


6 Responses to “Isaiah 45”

  1. […] using the “coastlands” (Phoenicia) and “the villages of Kedar (located in Arabia).  See also 45:14 […]

  2. […] Concerning the word “surname” see notes on 45:4. […]

  3. […] 4: “I surname you.”  A surname[1] is an additional name one gets because of some quality one possess.  The skill one displays in […]

  4. […] using the “coastlands” (Phoenicia) and “the villages of Kedar (located in Arabia).  See also 45:14 […]

  5. […] Concerning the word “surname” see notes on 45:4. […]

  6. […] 4: “I surname you.”  A surname[1] is an additional name one gets because of some quality one possess.  The skill one displays in […]

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