Here are the notes for Isaiah 41.
41:1 (Invitation To Judgment)
God tells the nations to come before Him to see how much greater he is than idols. Islands (NIV) or Coastlands (NKJV) means nations far away. They must be silent before him in reverence. See Habakkuk 2:20 and Zechariah 2:13 for similar thoughts. Then they must muster their strength to answer argue their position before God as idol worshipers.
God will then ask them questions they cannot answer, and they will be judged because of it. We saw rhetorical questions like this in the last chapter and in Job, where God asks who is like me, knowing that the answer is “no one is like you”.
42:2-3 (God’s Sovereignty In The Affairs of Nations)
God states his sovereignty in the affairs of nations by showing how He has affected history. He raised up a powerful man from the east. NIV says “stirred up”, the NKJV says “raised up” and the NASB says “aroused”. God brought someone from the east to conquer the nations.
Who is this person? One possibility is Abraham. God brought him from Ur, the Chaldean city, he empowered him to conquer the 5 kings and rescue Lot, and gave him the promised land. The “rule over kings” may not have physically happened in Abraham’s lifetime, although they paid tribute to him, but the promise is fulfilled in Christ. This interpretation was favored by the Jewish writers and many say the reference to Abraham in verse 8 supports this position. Calvin also took this position. Matthew Henry takes this position also.
The case could also be made for Cyrus, for God raised him up in Persia to conquer the Babylonians, and all others in the region, in order to provide protection for the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city an the temple. Isaiah speaks of Cyrus as God’s instrument in several places. The New Geneva Bible takes this position (There may be some problem with the verse tense here as “stirred” is past tense, not future.) John Wesley also takes this position.
This person is also a type of Christ, who will ultimately come to judge the nations and conquer those who oppose God.
42:4 (Alpha and Omega)
God here says that he is first and last, he is eternal, and he has been ordering human history from beginning and will until the end. At the end of Revelation, Jesus identifies himself in the same way. See Revelation 22:13. Psalm 45:6 says “your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever…” Hebrews 1:8 applies that verse to Christ. Isaiah 46:10 says God makes the end known from the beginning. He is the one who has acted in history to accomplish his will. Acts 17:26 says that God appoints the times of the nations. Psalm 33:10-11 says The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.
42:5-7 (Fearing But Rebelling)
In the face of the activity of God, man is fearful and weak. We cannot stand before the glory and power of God. Yet, man’s sinful nature causes him to attempt rebellion, joining together as if there is strength in numbers against the Lord. They strengthen their idols and fix them so they do not fall over in the presence of the Lord.