Prophetic Words of Comfort That Involve You
1. Why should we be interested in the prophecy of Isaiah?
ISAIAH wrote the book that bears his name almost 3,000 years ago, but it has real value for us today. We can learn vital principles from the historical events that he recorded. And we can build our faith through study of the prophecies that he wrote down in Jehovah’s name. Yes, Isaiah was a prophet of the living God. Jehovah inspired him to record history in advance—to describe events before they happened. Jehovah thus demonstrated that he can both foretell and shape the future. After studying the book of Isaiah, true Christians are convinced that Jehovah will fulfill all that he has promised.
2. What was the situation in Jerusalem when Isaiah recorded his prophetic book, and what change would occur?
2 By the time Isaiah completed the writing of his prophecy, Jerusalem had survived the Assyrian threat. The temple was still standing, and people were going about their day-to-day affairs much as they had for hundreds of years. However, that situation would change. The time would come when the wealth of the Jewish kings would be carried away to Babylon and young Jews would be court officials in that city.a (Isaiah 39:6-7) This would occur more than 100 years later.—2 Kings 24:12-17; Daniel 1:19.
3. What message is found in Isaiah chapter 41?
3 God’s message through Isaiah, however, is not merely a message of doom. Isa Chapter 40 of his book begins with the word “Comfort.”b The Jews would be comforted by the assurance that either they or their children would be able to return to their homeland. Isa Chapter 41 continues that comforting message and foretells that Jehovah would raise up a powerful king to fulfill the divine will. It contains reassurances and gives encouragement to trust in God. It also exposes as powerless the false gods in whom people of the nations put their trust. In all of this, there is much to strengthen faith, both in Isaiah’s day and in ours.
Jehovah Challenges the Nations
4. With what words does Jehovah challenge the nations?
4 Jehovah through his prophet says: “Attend to me in silence, you islands; and let national groups themselves regain power. Let them approach. At that time let them speak. Let us come up close together for the judgment itself.” (Isaiah 41:1) With these words Jehovah challenges the nations who oppose his people. Let them stand before him and gird themselves to speak! As will later be seen, Jehovah demands, as though he were a judge in a court, that these nations furnish proof that their idols are truly gods. Can these gods foretell acts of salvation for their worshipers or judgments against their enemies? If so, can they fulfill such prophecies? The answer is no. Jehovah alone can do these things.
5. Explain how Isaiah’s prophecies have more than one fulfillment.
5 As we consider Isaiah’s prophecy, let us bear in mind that, as with many Bible prophecies, his words have more than one fulfillment. In 607 B.C.E., Judah will go off into exile in Babylon. However, Isaiah’s prophecy reveals that Jehovah will deliver the Israelites held captive there. This happens in 537 B.C.E. That release had a parallel in the early days of the 20th century. During the first world war, Jehovah’s anointed servants on earth passed through a period of tribulation. In 1918 pressure from Satan’s world—incited by Christendom as the leading part of Babylon the Great—brought the organized preaching of the good news to a virtual halt. (Revelation 11:5-10) Some leading officers of the Watch Tower Society were sent to prison on trumped-up charges. To all intents and purposes, the world had triumphed in its battle against God’s servants. Then, as happened back in 537 B.C.E., Jehovah unexpectedly brought about their liberation. In 1919 the imprisoned officers were released, and later the charges against them were dropped. A convention at Cedar Point, Ohio, in September 1919 reinvigorated Jehovah’s servants to pick up the work of preaching the good news of the Kingdom. (Revelation 11:11, 12) From then till now, the scope of that preaching work has increased remarkably. Moreover, many of Isaiah’s words will have wonderful fulfillment in the Paradise earth to come. Consequently, Isaiah’s words of long ago involve all nations and peoples today.
A Deliverer Called Forth
6. How does the prophet describe a future conqueror?
6 Through Isaiah, Jehovah foretells a conqueror who will both save God’s people from Babylon and bring judgment upon their enemies. Jehovah asks: “Who has roused up someone from the sunrise? Who proceeded in righteousness to call him to His feet, to give before him the nations, and to make him go subduing even kings? Who kept giving them like dust to his sword, so that they have been driven about like mere stubble with his bow? Who kept pursuing them, kept peacefully passing along on his feet over the path by which he did not proceed to come? Who has been active and has done this, calling out the generations from the start? I, Jehovah, the First One; and with the last ones I am the same.”—Isaiah 41:2-4.
7. Who is the coming conqueror, and what does he accomplish?
7 Who is the one to be roused from the sunrise, from eastern parts? The countries of Medo-Persia and Elam are located east of Babylon. From there marches Cyrus the Persian, along with his mighty armies. (Isaiah 41:25; 44:28; 45:1-4, 13; 46:11) Though Cyrus is not a worshiper of Jehovah, he acts in harmony with the will of Jehovah, the righteous God. Cyrus subdues kings, and these are scattered like dust before him. In pursuit of conquest, he passes “peacefully,” or safely, over paths not customarily traveled, overcoming all obstacles. By the year 539 B.C.E., Cyrus reaches the mighty city of Babylon and overthrows it. As a result, God’s people are released so that they might return to Jerusalem to reestablish pure worship.—Ezra 1:1-7.c
8. What can Jehovah alone do?
8 Thus, through Isaiah, Jehovah foretells the rise of Cyrus long before that king is born. Only the true God can accurately prophesy such a thing. Jehovah has no equal among the false gods of the nations. With good reason, Jehovah states: “To no one else shall I give my own glory.” Only Jehovah can rightfully say: “I am the first and I am the last, and besides me there is no God.”—Isaiah 42:8; 44:6, 7.
Frightened Peoples Trust in Idols
9-11. How do the nations react to the advance of Cyrus?
9 Isaiah now describes the reaction of the nations to this future conqueror: “The islands saw and began to fear. The very extremities of the earth began trembling. They drew near and kept coming. They went helping each one his companion, and one would say to his brother: ‘Be strong.’ So the craftsman went strengthening the metalworker; the one doing the smoothing out with the forge hammer him that is hammering away at the anvil, saying regarding the soldering: ‘It is good.’ Finally one fastened it with nails that it could not be made to totter.”—Isaiah 41:5-7.
10 Looking some 200 years into the future, Jehovah surveys the world scene. Mighty armies under Cyrus move swiftly, conquering all in opposition. Peoples—even the inhabitants of the islands, those in the most distant places—tremble at his approach. In fear they unite to oppose the one whom Jehovah has called from the east to execute judgment. They try to encourage one another, saying: “Be strong.”
11 Craftsmen work together to fashion idol gods to deliver the people. A wooden frame is fashioned by a carpenter, who then encourages the goldsmith to plate it with metal, perhaps gold. A sculptor hammers the metal smooth and approves of the soldering. Perhaps it is with some sarcasm that mention is made of fastening it with nails so that it does not totter or show weakness, as did the idol of Dagon that toppled before the ark of Jehovah.—1 Samuel 5:4.
12. What reassurance does Jehovah give to Israel?
12 Now Jehovah turns his attention to his people. Unlike the nations who trust in lifeless idols, those who trust in the true God need never fear. Jehovah’s reassurance begins with the reminder that Israel is the offspring of his friend Abraham. In a passage of great tenderness, Isaiah reports Jehovah’s words: “You, O Israel, are my servant, you, O Jacob, whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend; you, whom I have taken hold of from the extremities of the earth, and you, whom I have called even from the remote parts of it. And so I said to you, ‘You are my servant; I have chosen you, and I have not rejected you. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not gaze about, for I am your God. I will fortify you. I will really help you. I will really keep fast hold of you with my right hand of righteousness.’”—Isaiah 41:8-10.
13. Why will Jehovah’s words be of comfort to the captive Jews?
13 How comforting these words will be to the faithful Jews held captive in a foreign land! How encouraging it will be to hear Jehovah call them “my servant” at the time when they are exiles, servants of the king of Babylon! (2 Chronicles 36:20) Though Jehovah will discipline them because of their unfaithfulness, he will not reject them. Israel belongs to Jehovah, not to Babylon. There will be no reason for God’s servants to tremble at the approach of the conquering Cyrus. Jehovah will be with his people to help them.
14. How do Jehovah’s words to Israel comfort God’s servants today?
14 Those words have reassured and strengthened God’s servants even down to our day. Back in 1918 they yearned to know Jehovah’s will for them. They longed for deliverance from their spiritually captive state. Today we yearn for relief from the pressures inflicted on us by Satan, the world, and our own imperfection. But we appreciate that Jehovah knows precisely when and how to act in behalf of his people. Like young children, we hold on to his mighty hand, confident that he will help us to cope. (Psalm 63:7, 8) Jehovah treasures those who serve him. He supports us today just as he supported his people through the difficult period of 1918-19 and just as he supported faithful Israelites so long ago.
15, 16. (a) What will become of Israel’s enemies, and in what ways does Israel resemble a worm? (b) In view of what impending attack are Jehovah’s words particularly encouraging today?
15 Consider what Jehovah next says through Isaiah: “‘Look! All those getting heated up against you will become ashamed and be humiliated. The men in a quarrel with you will become as nothing and will perish. You will search for them, but you will not find them, those men in a struggle with you. They will become as something nonexistent and as nothing, those men at war with you. For I, Jehovah your God, am grasping your right hand, the One saying to you, “Do not be afraid. I myself will help you.” Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel. I myself will help you,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, even your Repurchaser, the Holy One of Israel.”—Isaiah 41:11-14.
16 Israel’s enemies will not prevail. Those who are heated up against Israel will be ashamed. Those who fight against her will perish. Though the captive Israelites seem as weak and defenseless as a worm squirming in the dust, Jehovah will help them. What encouragement this has been all through “the last days” as true Christians have faced the determined hostility of so many in the world! (2 Timothy 3:1) And how strengthening Jehovah’s promise is in view of the impending attack by Satan, who is referred to in prophecy as “Gog of the land of Magog”! Under Gog’s ferocious assault, Jehovah’s people will seem as defenseless as a worm—a people “dwelling without wall” and not having “even bar and doors.” Yet, those hoping in Jehovah will not need to quake with fear. The Almighty himself will fight to deliver them.—Ezekiel 38:2, 11, 14-16, 21-23; 2 Corinthians 1:3.
Comfort for Israel
17, 18. How does Isaiah describe the empowering of Israel, and of what fulfillment may we be assured?
17 Jehovah continues to comfort his people: “Look! I have made you a threshing sledge, a new threshing instrument having double-edged teeth. You will tread down the mountains and crush them; and the hills you will make just like the chaff. You will winnow them, and a wind itself will carry them away, and a windstorm itself will drive them different ways. And you yourself will be joyful in Jehovah. In the Holy One of Israel you will boast about yourself.”—Isaiah 41:15, 16.
18 Strength will be given to Israel to take the offensive and, in a spiritual sense, to subdue her mountainlike enemies. When Israel returns from exile, she will triumph over enemies who try to prevent the rebuilding of the temple and of Jerusalem’s walls. (Ezra 6:12; Nehemiah 6:16) However, Jehovah’s words will be fulfilled on a grand scale with “the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16) Jesus promises anointed Christians: “To him that conquers and observes my deeds down to the end I will give authority over the nations, and he shall shepherd the people with an iron rod so that they will be broken to pieces like clay vessels, the same as I have received from my Father.” (Revelation 2:26, 27) The time will certainly come when Christ’s brothers resurrected to heavenly glory will have a part in the destruction of Jehovah God’s enemies.—2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8; Revelation 20:4, 6.
19, 20. What does Isaiah write about the restoration of Israel to a place of beauty, and how is this fulfilled?
19 In figurative language, Jehovah now reinforces his promise to bring succor to his people. Isaiah writes: “The afflicted ones and the poor ones are seeking for water, but there is none. Because of thirst their very tongue has become dry. I myself, Jehovah, shall answer them. I, the God of Israel, shall not leave them. Upon bare hills I shall open up rivers, and in the midst of the valley plains, springs. I shall make the wilderness into a reedy pool of water, and the waterless land into sources of water. In the wilderness I shall set the cedar tree, the acacia and the myrtle and the oil tree. In the desert plain I shall place the juniper tree, the ash and the cypress at the same time; in order that people may see and know and pay heed and have insight at the same time, that the very hand of Jehovah has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has himself created it.”—Isaiah 41:17-20.
20 Though the exiled Israelites reside in the capital city of a wealthy world power, it is to them like a waterless desert. They feel like David when he was hiding from King Saul. In 537 B.C.E., Jehovah opens the way for them to return to Judah and rebuild his temple in Jerusalem, thus restoring pure worship. Jehovah, in turn, blesses them. In a later prophecy, Isaiah foretells: “Jehovah will certainly comfort Zion. He will for certain comfort all her devastated places, and he will make her wilderness like Eden and her desert plain like the garden of Jehovah.” (Isaiah 51:3) This really does occur after the Jews return to their homeland.
21. What restoration occurred in modern times, and what will happen in the future?
21 Something similar occurred in modern times when the Greater Cyrus, Christ Jesus, liberated his anointed followers from spiritual captivity so that they could work to restore pure worship. Those faithful ones were blessed with a rich spiritual paradise, a figurative garden of Eden. (Isaiah 11:6-9; 35:1-7) Soon, when God destroys his enemies, the entire earth will be transformed into a physical paradise, just as Jesus promised the evildoer on the stake.—Luke 23:43.
A Challenge to Israel’s Enemies
22. With what words does Jehovah again challenge the nations?
22 Jehovah now returns to his controversy with the nations and their idol gods: “‘Bring your controversial case forward,’ says Jehovah. ‘Produce your arguments,’ says the King of Jacob. ‘Produce and tell to us the things that are going to happen. The first things—what they were—do tell, that we may apply our heart and know the future of them. Or cause us to hear even the things that are coming. Tell the things that are to come afterward, that we may know that you are gods. Yes, you ought to do good or do bad, that we may gaze about and see it at the same time. Look! You are something nonexistent, and your achievement is nothing. A detestable thing is anyone that chooses you.’” (Isaiah 41:21-24) Are the gods of the nations able to prophesy accurately and thus prove that they have supernatural knowledge? If they are, surely there should be some results, either good or bad, to support their claims. In fact, though, idol gods are not able to achieve anything and are as something nonexistent.
23. Why did Jehovah, through his prophets, condemn idols so persistently?
23 In our day some might wonder why Jehovah, through Isaiah and his fellow prophets, spent so much time condemning the folly of idolatry. The uselessness of man-made idols may seem obvious to many today. However, once a false system of belief has been established and widely accepted, it is hard to root it out of the minds of those who believe it. Many contemporary beliefs are as senseless as the belief that lifeless images are really gods. Yet, people cling to such beliefs despite persuasive arguments against them. It is only by hearing the truth again and again that some are moved to see the wisdom of trusting in Jehovah.
24, 25. How does Jehovah again refer to Cyrus, and of what other prophecy does this remind us?
24 Jehovah again refers to Cyrus: “I have roused up someone from the north, and he will come. From the rising of the sun he will call upon my name. And he will come upon deputy rulers as if they were clay and just as a potter that tramples down the moist material.” (Isaiah 41:25)d In contrast to the gods of the nations, Jehovah can accomplish things. When he brings Cyrus out of the east, from “the rising of the sun,” God will demonstrate his ability to predict and then fashion the future to fulfill his prediction.
25 These words remind us of the apostle John’s prophetic description of kings who would be roused to action in our time. At Revelation 16:12, we read that the way will be prepared “for the kings from the rising of the sun.” These kings are none other than Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. Just as Cyrus delivered God’s people long ago, these far mightier kings will annihilate Jehovah’s enemies and shepherd his people through the great tribulation into a new world of righteousness.—Psalm 2:8, 9; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 7:14-17.
Jehovah Is Supreme!
26. What question does Jehovah now pose, and is it answered?
26 Again, Jehovah declares the truth that he alone is the true God. He asks: “Who has told anything from the start, that we may know, or from times past, that we may say, ‘He is right’? Really there is no one telling. Really there is no one causing one to hear. Really there is no one that is hearing any sayings of you men.” (Isaiah 41:26) No idol god announced the coming of a conqueror to liberate those trusting in it. All such gods are lifeless, silent. They are not gods at all.
27, 28. What vital truth is emphasized in the concluding verses of Isaiah 41, and who only proclaim this?
27 After reporting these stirring prophetic words of Jehovah, Isaiah drives home a vital truth: “There is one first, saying to Zion: ‘Look! Here they are!’ and to Jerusalem I shall give a bringer of good news. And I kept seeing, and there was not a man; and out of these there was also no one that was giving counsel. And I kept asking them, that they might make a reply. Look! All of them are something nonexistent. Their works are nothing. Their molten images are wind and unreality.”—Isaiah 41:27-29.
28 Jehovah is first. He is supreme! He is the true God, who announces the deliverance of his people, bringing good news to them. And only his Witnesses proclaim his greatness to the nations. Scornfully, Jehovah denounces those who trust in idol worship, dismissing their idols as “wind and unreality.” What a powerful reason to cling to the true God! Jehovah alone is worthy of our confident trust.
c The Greater Cyrus, who in 1919 liberated “the Israel of God” from spiritual captivity, is none other than Jesus Christ, who sits enthroned as King of God’s heavenly Kingdom since 1914.—Galatians 6:16.
d Although Cyrus’ homeland was east of Babylon, when he made his final attack on the city, he came down from the north, from Asia Minor.
[Picture on page 19]
Cyrus, though a pagan, is chosen to do God’s work
[Picture on page 21]
The nations trust in lifeless idols
[Pictures on page 27]
Israel, like “a threshing sledge,” will ‘crush the mountains’