Tuesdays are for the Old Testament
Luther, Martin, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, translated by Herbert J.A. Bowman) Luther’s Works, Vol. 17, Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 40-66.St. Louis: Concordia, 1972. Logos Electronic Edition.
“Isaiah Chapter 41” pp. 33-59.
Isaiah 41 continues the themes of consolation and rebuke from chapter 40. However, here, there prophet speaks more forcefully (LW 17, 33). Luther notes how difficult it must have been for Abraham to leave his home and country, turning his back on his old religion. Despite that difficulty, God protected Abraham (LW 17, 34). Despite the small forces of Abraham, God used him to overcome armies, as described in Genesis 14. God is able to accomplish his purposes regardless of the resources (LW 17, 35). The nations may oppose God’s kingdom, but they will be unable to do so. Luther sees this as God’s work, opposing those who would deny the Gospel (LW 17, 36). The efforts of opponents will be fruitless.
In Isaiah’s time the denial of God’s person takes the form of physical idols, some made by metalsmiths and some by carpenters. The community would apparently participate, affirming the false worship of others, as described in verses 6 and following (LW 17, 37). In Luther’s time, the idolatry seems to take the form of propping up the papacy and other politicized leaders (LW 17, 38). The doctrine of the Reformers, however, “does not rely on the endorsement and support of others. We do not have to propel it, for it runs by itself and will stand forever” (LW 17, 39). The prophet describes the strength of his people as opposed to the idolaters. He calls them chosen people, his friends. Luther here recalls Jesus’ statement that his apostles are alled his friends (LW 17, 40). In verse 10 the prophet tells the people not to fear. These words of comfort are applied to all Christians. God who is in us is greater than any and all enemies (LW 17, 42). The enemies of God’s people may seem powerful but they will become as nothing (v. 11) (LW 17, 44). As a farmer threshes and winnows grain, the people will be threshed and winnowed, breaking away the impurities and drawing out the godly (LW 17, 47). Despite the poverty and need of God’s people, shown in verse 17, God will bring rescue. He will strengthen his people. He will provide rest. He will quench the thirst of his people (LW 17, 47). All this activity has a purpose. In verse 20 God’s purpose is to let people “see and know.” Luther again observes that the activity of the religious activists, particularly those in the Roman church and Anabaptists, try to work out their own success through religious activities. Counter to this, the Gospel actually does accomplish things, without human help (LW 17, 50). Again and again, the people who think they have worked out the truth by their own reason are wrong. Those who try to force their will on God fail. The future will work out according to God’s Word, not according to anything else (LW 17, 53). Luther does admit that great leaders have fallen to the temptation of their own wisdom. He specifically mentions Augustine, Gregory, and Jerome (LW 17, 54). Ultimately, our works will accomplish something in this life. However, our works may be done in faith or in trusting ourselves. That is the decisive factor (LW 17, 55).
In the end of Isaiah 41, beginning at verse 25, God brings another leader into the picture. Luther observes that some commentators have considered this leader, who calls on God’s name and tramples other rules, as a Christ figure. Luther, however, applies it to Cyrus (LW 17, 56). He will trample the people who have considered themselves strong and important. In doing so, religious ideas are broken down. Luther does take this to be a foreshadowing of the people who would use human wisdom in place of regligious understanding in his own day (LW 17, 57). The good news, as described in verses 27-29, is that God has given his truth to hispeople. They can hear it and believe. When they act on the strength of God, rather than their own strength, they will find themselves secure (LW 17, 58). Sadly, as the chapter closes, the people are not going to trust in God.