Major prophecies and doctrines in Chapter 41, in the order given, include: The Lord would liberate His people from captivity through the intervention of Persia, which would overpower Babylon; the Lord would raise up a righteous man, Cyrus, to accomplish Israel’s liberation; the Lord denounces idolatry; idols are nothing; Israel, being sustained by the Lord, will thresh the nations; and Israel’s enemies will flee before her. In the latter-day restoration, revelation will enable the humble and prayerful to see, know, consider, and understand the Lord’s doctrines of salvation. Worship of idols is further denounced as vain and foolish.
Helpful in understanding this chapter is that chapters 41 and 42 contain a large-scale example of synonymous parallelism. Like chiasmus, an awareness of synonymous parallelism enables greater understanding without which the meaning of some passages may be obscure. Verses 1 through 20 of Chapter 41 are synonymously parallel with verse 21 of Chapter 41 through verse 17 of Chapter 42.1
In verse 1, the Lord introduces a lawsuit, in which the merits of idolatry are to be tried as in a court, and calls the participants to order. He states: “Keep silence before me, O islands; and let the people renew their strength: let them come near; then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment.” The meaning of “keep silence” is “come silently unto me”2 or “listen attentively.” The Lord is identified as the speaker later on, in verse 4. “Judgment,” as used here, means “fairness” or “justice.”3
Verse 1 is synonymously parallel with verses 21 through 24, which are discussed below. The combined set of verses describes a lawsuit in which idolaters are challenged to prove that their idols have any power whatsoever. Verse 21 continues the thought begun in verse 1: “Produce your cause, saith the LORD; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob.” Verses 22 and 23 describe the inability of idols to foresee the future, describe the past, or do good or do evil; verse 24, directed toward the idols, concludes: “Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you.”
In verse 2, the Lord poses a rhetorical question: “Who raised up the righteous man from the east, called him to his foot, gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings? he gave them as the dust to his sword, and as driven stubble to his bow.” The righteous man is Cyrus, who allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon.4 “Unto his sword as the dust” and “unto his bow as fallen leaves” describes the ease with which Cyrus’ sword would pass through and conquer nations.
The beginning of the fulfillment of this prophecy of Isaiah is chronicled:
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia…the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus…that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,
Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the LORD God of heaven given me; and he hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? The LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.5
Verse 3 continues the Lord’s description of Cyrus: “He pursued them, and passed safely; even by the way that he had not gone with his feet.” Cyrus pursued and conquered nations in areas previously unknown to him; “passed safely” means that he was protected by the Lord.
Verses 2 and 3 are synonymously parallel with verses 25 and 26, foretelling the rise of Cyrus who would conquer vast areas, then liberate the Jews from slavery in Babylon. Verse 25 begins, “I have raised up one from the north, and he shall come….”
In verse 4, the Lord asks and answers another rhetorical question: “Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning?” He answers: “I the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.”6 The Lord is responsible for liberating the Jews from Babylon. “The First and the Last” is a title of the Lord used in several places in the scriptures.7
Verse 4 is synonymous with verses 27 and 28, which declare that the Lord is powerful and idols are impotent.
Verse 5 states: “The isles saw it, and feared; the ends of the earth were afraid, drew near, and came.” The nations, ranging from the islands to the ends of the earth, would have great fear because of the advancing Persians; they congregated and prepared to defend themselves against the invaders. “The ends of the earth” here means the whole of the earth.8
Verses 1 through 5 contain a chiasm:
A: (1) Keep silence before me,
B: O islands; and let the people renew their strength: let them come near; then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment.
C: (2) Who raised up the righteous man from the east,
D: called him
E: to his foot,
F: gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings?
G: he gave them as the dust to his sword,
G: and as driven stubble to his bow.
F: (3) He pursued them, and passed safely;
E: even by the way that he had not gone with his feet.
D: (4) Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning?
C: I the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.
B: (5) The isles saw it,
A: and feared; the ends of the earth were afraid, drew near, and came.
“Keep silence before me” is equivalent to “feared.” “O islands…let us come near together to judgment” compares with “the first, and with the last; I am he,” designating that it is the Lord’s judgment being spoken of. “Who raised up the righteous man from the east” corresponds with “I the LORD,” prophesying the rise of Cyrus who would return the Jews from Babylon. “Dust to his sword” matches “driven stubble to his bow,” which describe the ease with which Cyrus advanced over the existing nations of the world.
Verse 6, which is synonymously parallel with verse 27, describes acts of service: “They helped every one his neighbour; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage.” This sentence describes the activities of the nations as they prepared to face the formidable armies under Cyrus’ command; however, because of the parallelism with verse 27, it also describes the Jews’ preparations to return to Jerusalem. Verse 27 foretells that the Lord would send a messenger to Jerusalem with good tidings. The acts of service did not lead to the building of an idol, as described in verse 7.
In verse 7, which is synonymously parallel with verses 28 and 29, the subject changes abruptly to idolatry: “So the carpenter encouraged the goldsmith, and he that smootheth with the hammer him that smote the anvil, saying, It is ready for the sodering: and he fastened it with nails, that it should not be moved.”9 Verse 29 states that “…they are all vanity; their works are nothing: their molten images are wind and confusion.”
In verses 8, 9 and 10 the Lord proclaims that Israel, because of the Abrahamic covenant, is chosen to be the Lord’s servant. These verses are synonymously parallel with verses 1 through 9 of Chapter 42 in which God the Father proclaims his Son, Jesus Christ, as His servant. Both the Lord Jesus Christ and the righteous descendants of Abraham would function as servants of God the Father in bringing the blessings of salvation to the entire human family.10
Verse 8 contrasts idolatrous nations with Israel: “But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen,11 the seed of Abraham my friend.”12 Israel would be freed from Babylon because of promises given to Abraham and Jacob.
Verse 9 continues with the Lord’s description of why Israel would be freed from captivity: “Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.”13 Israel would be gathered from the ends of the earth and chosen because of the promises given to her fathers and her willingness to serve the Lord. This statement foretells not only the liberation of the Jews from Babylon but also the gathering of Israel in the latter days. Again, “the ends of the earth” means the whole of the earth.14
Verse 10 provides assurance from the Lord that He would be with the house of Israel during the foretold gatherings: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” The “right hand” is one lifted up in making covenants;15 in this case the covenants are made by the Lord with Abraham.
The words of this verse form the basis of a favorite hymn, “How Firm a Foundation:”
Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give the aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand.16
Joseph B. Wirthlin, applying the message of verse 10 to our own time, taught:
We live in perilous times. The influence of Satan often appears to be unchecked and overwhelming. Remember the promise that God has given to those who build and maintain brightly burning bonfires of testimony to counter the wolves that threaten us. This is His promise: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will …uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”17
In verses 11 through 16, Isaiah proclaims that Israel would be sustained by the Lord and would dominate her enemies. These verses are synonymously parallel with verses 10 through 13 of Chapter 42, which foretell that upon her gathering, Israel would sing praises to the Lord in the various lands to which she is gathered.
Verse 11 describes the dispersal and defeat of Israel’s foes: “Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish.”
Verse 12 continues the description: “Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought.” Israel’s foes would be defeated and would cease to exist. This prophecy became true of Babylon, which had taken Judah into captivity, and it will also be true of Israel’s oppressors at the time of Israel’s gathering in the latter days.
In verse 13, the Lord provides more assurance: “For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.” When we unite with the Savior and with His perfect and redeeming love, we can appreciate the reality of this promise from the Lord.18
Verse 14 continues: “Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” “Thou worm Jacob” means “thou meek and humble Jacob.”19 “Redeemer” and “Holy One of Israel” are titles of Jesus Christ.
Verses 13 and 14 contain a chiasm:
A: (13) For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand,
B: saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.
C: (14) Fear not, thou worm Jacob,
C: and ye men of Israel;
B: I will help thee, saith the LORD,
A: and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel
In this chiasm Isaiah testifies that the redeemer, the Holy One of Israel who should come, is Jehovah—rendered “LORD” in the King James Version. This chiasm overlaps with a larger one including verses 8 through 16, providing correlation between shared elements.
Verse 15 describes Israel as an instrument in the hands of God to thresh the nations of the world: “Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff.” “Mountains” and “hills” mean “nations” and “lesser nations.”20 Israel would harvest the fields of the earth—white and ready for the harvest—in the latter days, gathering in the righteous.21
Verse 16 continues the description: “Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in the LORD, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel.” The nations harvested are viewed metaphorically as leaves or chaff being “fanned,” with the wheat gathered and the chaff blown away. Note that natural disasters will play a significant role in destroying the wicked.
Verses 8 through 16 contain a chiasm:
A: (8) But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend. (9) Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.
B: (10) Fear thou not; for I am with thee:
C: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee;
D: yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee
E: with the right hand of my righteousness.
F: (11) Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing;
G: and they that strive with thee shall perish.
H: (12) Thou shalt seek them,
H: and shalt not find them,
G: even them that contended with thee:
F: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought.
E: (13) For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee,
D: Fear not; I will help thee.
C: (14) Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD, and thy redeemer,
B: the Holy One of Israel.
A: (15) Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff. (16) Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in the LORD, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel.
The introductory statement consists of verses 8 and 9 in their entirety, which attests that Israel is the Lord’s servant; these verses are equivalent to all of verses 15 and 16, which form the reflection. Verses 15 and 16 do not form a chiasm themselves but are a series of parallel statements describing Israel’s role as servant. Israel will “thresh the mountains [nations], and beat them small, and shalt make the hills [lesser nations] as chaff. Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them….” “I am with thee” is synonymous with “the Holy One of Israel.” “The right hand of my righteousness,” meaning the Lord’s covenant hand, contrasts with “thy right hand,” meaning the hand of Jacob, receiving the Lord’s help.
Verses 17 through 20, which represent a change in subject matter, are synonymously parallel with verses 14 through 17 of Chapter 42. During the latter-day restoration, the Lord will provide abundant revelation to the spiritually poor who pray and humble themselves before Him. The Lord will devastate Israel’s oppressors; those who trust in idols will be ashamed.
In verse 17, the Lord begins: “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.” Compare these words of Jesus, chronicled by John:
Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.
The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water?
Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?
Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:
But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.22
The words “living water” have the same spiritual meaning as the water sought by the poor and needy described in verse 17. In both cases, the Lord is referring metaphorically to the life-giving message of the gospel and its saving ordinances.
In verse 18, the Lord continues: “I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.” The Lord will make the message of the gospel come forth by revelation from on high, here represented by the metaphorical water.23 This verse foretells the restoration of the gospel in the latter days, the establishment of Zion in the wilderness—in the valleys of the mountains—and the Lord pouring forth revelation upon His people. “Valleys,” “wilderness” and “dry land” also mean, metaphorically, peoples of the earth who live without the Lord’s guidance or inspiration.
Verse 19 continues the metaphor, describing the result of the water flowing in the desert: “I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together.” These seven types of trees represent peoples brought to know and partake of the blessings of salvation. The Hebrew meaning for “pine” is “ash” or “elm,” a hardwood tree.24
Isaiah’s metaphor has literal significance as well. Compare Isaiah’s declaration earlier, in Chapter 35:
The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.
It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing….25
This prophecy foretells the establishment of Zion in the wilderness of western North America, with water brought down from the mountains to make the land productive.26
Verse 20 provides the spiritual key to the metaphor: “That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.” In this verse it is clear that the trees represent peoples—brought to see, know, and consider the blessings of the Lord, the Creator of all.27
Verses 17 through 20 contain a chiasm:
(17) When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst,
A: I the LORD will hear them,
B: I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
C: (18) I will open rivers in high places,
D: and fountains in the midst of the valleys:
E: I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
F: and the dry land springs of water.
G: (19) I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree;
G: I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together:
F: (20) That they may see,
E: and know,
D: and consider,
C: and understand together,
B: that the hand of the LORD hath done this,
A: and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.
“Rivers in high places” is compared to “understand together;” “fountains in the midst of the valleys” is compared to “consider;” “pool of water” is equivalent to “know;” and “springs of water” is matched with “see.” These comparisons clearly indicate the spiritual meaning of the metaphor. “I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree” complements “I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together.” The intent of this chiasm is to show that the gifts of the Spirit would be abundant during the latter-day restoration so that those who humbly pray will see, know, consider, and understand. The central statement is a parable describing varieties of trees coming forth in the desert because of the provided water, symbolizing blessings received because of the outpouring of revelation.
In verses 21 through 29 the subject matter shifts again to further denunciation of idolatry, consisting of an indictment or lawsuit. Verses 21 through 24 are synonymously parallel with verse 1, which commences the lawsuit by calling the parties to order.
Verse 21 challenges: “Produce your cause, saith the LORD; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob.” In these two parallel statements, the Lord demands that those who worship idols produce credible evidence that idols have power.
Verse 22 further elaborates the challenge: “Let them bring them forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come.” Let the idols prophesy, if they are able.
Verse 23 demands: “Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together.”28 Idols have no power to foretell the future—nor to do anything, be it good or evil.
In verse 24 the Lord attests that idols are nothing: “Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you.” Speaking to the idols, the Lord declares that they are nothing. Furthermore, he who chooses to worship idols is abominable before the Lord.
In verse 25 the Lord declares the prophecy: “I have raised up one from the north, and he shall come: from the rising of the sun shall he call upon my name: and he shall come upon princes as upon morter, and as the potter treadeth clay.” This verse foretells the advance of Cyrus the Elamite king from the north, destroying the nations before him. “From the rising of the sun” refers to Cyrus’ birth in Elam, in the east. “Shall he call upon my name” describes his fulfilling the design of the Lord even though he would be a ruthless despot and an idolater.29
Verse 25 is synonymously parallel with verses 2 and 3, which also foretell the rise of Cyrus who would allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem from their slavery in Babylon.
Verse 26 is synonymously parallel with verses 4 and 5. Verse 26 poses rhetorical questions regarding the Lord’s power, in contrast to dumb idols: “Who hath declared from the beginning, that we may know? and beforetime, that we may say, He is righteous? yea, there is none that sheweth, yea, there is none that declareth, yea, there is none that heareth your words.” No idols have prophesied, nor told us things from the beginning as the Lord does. No one hears words of the Lord spoken by idols; no idols have foretold the conquest of Cyrus nor of his righteousness in providing for the return of the Jews to Jerusalem.
Verse 27, which is synonymous with verse 6, presents the Lord’s alternative: “The first shall say to Zion, Behold, behold them: and I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings.” The Lord has taught these things to Zion (the righteous) from the first, and will send messengers to Jerusalem to bring them the glad tidings of the gospel. In this verse “Zion” means both a place of latter-day spiritual gathering and the latter-day righteous Jerusalem, the place of physical gathering for repentant Israel.30 Verse 6 clarifies that the good tidings spoken of are the return of the Jews from Babylon, and as a type, the gathering of Israel in the latter days.
Verse 28 states: “For I beheld, and there was no man; even among them, and there was no counsellor, that, when I asked of them, could answer a word.” The Joseph Smith Translation renders “even among men….”31 Among idols and the men who worship them, stupefaction prevails.
Verse 29 summarizes: “Behold, they are all vanity; their works are nothing: their molten images are wind and confusion.”32 Idols are vanity and foolishness.
1. Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1982, p. 349-356.
2. F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 01961-3473, 1996, Strong’s No. 2790, p. 361.
3. See Isaiah 1:21; 30:18; 32:1; 33:5; 49:4; 53:8.
4. See Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1.
5. 2 Chronicles 36:22-23; see also Ezra 1:1-11.
6. Verse 4 contains a chiasm: Who hath wrought and done it/beginning/I/the LORD/the first/I am he.
7. See Isaiah 44:6; 48:12 (1 Nephi 20:12); Revelation 1:11, 17; 22:13; Alma 11:39; Doctrine and Covenants 110:4.
8. See Isaiah 5:26; 26:15; 40:28; 41:9.
9. Verse 7 contains a chiasm: Carpenter/goldsmith/hammer/anvil/sodering/he fastened it with nails.
10. See Doctrine and Covenants 109:57-58.
11. See Deuteronomy 7:6; 26:18.
12. See 2 Chronicles 20:7; also James 2:23.
13. Verses 8 and 9 contain a chiasm: Thou, Israel/servant/Jacob whom I have chosen/seed/Abraham/friend/ thou/ whom I have taken/servant/thee.
14. See Isaiah 5:26; 26:15; 40:28; 41:5.
15. See Deuteronomy 33:2; Isaiah 62:8.
16. Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985, Hymn no. 85, “How Firm a Foundation,” verse 3.
17. Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Spiritual Bonfires of Testimony,” Ensign, Nov. 1992, p. 34.
18. W. Craig Zwick, “The Lord Thy God Will Hold Thy Hand,” Ensign, Nov. 2003, p. 34.
19. Brown, et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 8438, p. 1068; see also Isaiah 41:14, footnote 14a.
20. See Isaiah 2:2, 14 and 2 Nephi 12:2, 14; Isaiah 11:9; 13:2, 4; 30:25 and pertinent commentary.
21. See John 4:35; also Doctrine and Covenants 4:4; 6:3; 11:3; 12:3; 14:3; 33:3,7.
22. John 4:10-14.
23. See Isaiah 12:3; 35:6-7; 55:10-11; 58:11.
24. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 8410, p. 187.
25. Isaiah 35:1-2.
26. LeGrand Richards, “The Second Coming of Christ,” Ensign, May 1978, p. 74.
27. See Isaiah 40:28; 42:5; 44:24; 45:12; Moses 1:33; 4:2.
28. Verses 22 and 23 contain a chiasm: Shew us what shall happen/shew the former things/what they be/consider them/know/latter end of them/declare us things for to come/shew the things that are to come hereafter.
29. See Isaiah 10:15 (2 Nephi 20:15).
30. See Isaiah 3:16; 33:5, 14, 20; 34:8; 37:32; 40:9; 51:3.
31. Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible: Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri, 1970, p. 207.
32. Verses 23 through 29 contain a chiasm: Shew the things that are to come hereafter/gods/ye are of nothing, and your work of nought/I have raised up one from the north/there is none that sheweth/Zion/behold/behold/ Jerusalem/there was no man/they are all vanity/their works are nothing/molten images/wind and confusion.