May 17, 2021
"Be silent before Me, islands! And let peoples renew their strength. Let them approach, then let them testify; let us come together for the trial."
“Be silent before Me, islands! And let peoples renew their strength. Let them approach, then let them testify; let us come together for the trial. Who has stirred him up from the east? He calls righteousness to his feet. The Lord hands nations over to him, and he subdues kings. He makes them like dust with his sword, like wind-driven stubble with his bow. He pursues them going on safely, hardly touching the path with his feet. Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord, am first, and with the last – I am He.” Isaiah 41:1–4
In the ancient Near East, whenever a vassal failed to satisfy the obligations of a sworn treaty, the suzerain (usually the king) would take out legal proceedings against him by means of a covenant lawsuit. The legal process was conducted by means of messengers. In the first of its two distinct phases, messengers delivered one or more warnings. These were worded in such a way as to reflect non-negotiable terms of the original treaty.
The vassal would be reminded of what he had promised and would be asked to give an explanation for his offense. The vassal would be told to mend his ways. Just in case he did not take the point, the consequences to the continued offense would be stated. The curses (retributions) of the covenant would have formed part of the original agreement. Such a procedure as this was an ultimatum. Unless the vassal recruited a neighbor state to help them fight the ensuing battle that would result from their breaking the treaty, wise vassals would quickly mend their ways.
Sometimes a messenger sent to deliver this ultimatum was rejected, imprisoned, or even killed! The matter would then move on to the next and final phase. This would take the form of a declaration of war.
“Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?’ ‘He will completely destroy those terrible men,’ they told Him, ‘And lease his vineyard to other farmers who will give him his produce at the harvest.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This came from the Lord and is wonderful in our eyes. Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruit. Whoever falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder!’” Matthew 21:40–44
When Jesus told the parable of the vineyard, seeing Himself as the last in a succession of messengers, most of whom had been stoned and killed, He had this same judicial process in mind. It is what Isaiah described with God calling Israel and Judah to account. In Jesus’ day, Israel had rejected God’s Word (as in Isaiah’s day). They were also about to reject the Son of God.
Isaiah 41 begins in a courtroom. At the sight of a conquering king approaching, instead of turning to the Lord, the nations (Israel included) turned to their idols. When faced with difficult times, where do you turn?