"Who roused (him) from the east, he who called righteousness at his steps? Who gave nations unto him and rule over kings, making them like dust before his sword and like driven straw before his bow? He pursued them and came through safely, through a path he had never crossed." - Isaiah 41:2-3
Who roused Abraham from Ur Casdim (Chaldea), in the east, to "call righteousness at his steps" - to proclaim G-d wherever he went? Who gave him the four nations which had captured his nephew, Lot, and vanquished their vastly larger number before him? Who pursued them for him so that he did not lose a single man, despite their being in a foreign land, on a "path they had never crossed?" was it not all G-d? Who roused Moses to come from the east, to take Israel out of Egypt? Who vanquished Egypt before him and gave him rule over the kingdoms of Midian, Amori and Bashan, making them as dust before him? Who led him to lead his peace across the Wilderness never crossed before? Was it not G-d Who "called at the steps," to make him His messenger unto His people? Since G-d can do all this, He surely can bring about the Redemption of His people.
"Who did this, who accomplished this? - He Who calls the generations from the beginning. I am G-d, the First, and I shall be with the last ones." - Isaiah 41:4
Why did G-d do that for Abraham? Because He "called from the beginning" - He knew Abraham's righteous offspring of the future. Why did G-d empower Abraham over the four mighty kings who captured Lot? To symbolize his descendants' four exiles, reassuring him that as He was the "First" to be with him, He would be with the "last" of his exiled descendants. As he roused Abraham to leave Ur Casdim for Canaan, would He rouse future generations to leave the exile for the Promised Land.
"The islands saw and feared, the ends of the earth trembled; the (nations) drew near and came." - Isaiah 41:5
When the nations heard of Abraham's victory over the four kings, they feared and trembled and came to greet Abraham. But rather than draw the conclusion that it was G-d who helped him, they just reaffirmed their faith in their lifeless gods.
"Each one helped the other and told him, "Be strong!" The woodchopper encouraged the goldsmith, and the one who smooths with the hammer (encouraged) the one who pounds on the anvil. They say of the soldering, "It is good!" and fasten it with nails so it does not move." - Isaiah 41:6-7
They continued their foolish ways even after Abraham's victory, each one encouraging the other to more idol worship. The idol makers urged on each other at each stage of the work to hurry and finish the job. And what is the finished job that they all worship? - a piece of wood with sheet metal glued and nailed on it.
"But you are My servant Israel and My chosen Jacob, the seed of Abraham, My beloved. I took you from the ends of the earth and called you from its far corners. I told you, You are My servant - I chose you and did not reject you!" - Isaiah 41:8-9
But you, people of Israel, are not like them, but follow the ways of my servant, Jacob. It was in Jacob's merit - whose children were all righteous - that I saved Abraham, when Jacob was still merely Abraham's "seed." I took hold of Abraham from his faraway homeland, from the "end of the earth," and called your maternal ancestors from its far corners, from Lavan the Aramean, their father. While you were still in the Egyptian exile, I called you My servants, having sent you there for your refinement - not to reject you. And as I had done this for your ancestors, I shall do it also for you and bring you back from being exiled to the earth's far corners. I shall call you to come back from under the nations' rule and they will be helpless to prevent you.
"Fear not, for I am with you; be not fainthearted, for I am your G-d. I shall strengthen you and help you, even supporting you with My righteous right hand." - Isaiah 41:10
So fear not, Jewish people, says G-d for I have strengthened you in the past with encouraging words and helped you in days gone by. Let not the long exile make you fainthearted, for I am with you throughout it to support you. I shall strengthen you and help you against the onslaught of the nations so that they be unable to separate you from Me, your G-d. Fear not those nations among which you dwell, as Abraham feared not those mighty kings.
"They shall be shamed and disgraced, all those who contend with you. They shall be naught and disappear, those who contend with you. You shall seek them and not find them, those who quarrel with you; they shall be naught and nothing, those who fight with you." - Isaiah 41:11-12
The Babylonians who had exiled you, thinking you would never return, will be shamed when they see you returning. Those who contended with you to prevent the Second Temple's rebuilding, including Haman who sought to destroy you, will become themselves nothing but naught. The Greeks who quarreled with you to undermine you with their culture, will disappear from being a world power. And Rome-Western civilization which will fight you in insidious ways, will in the end come to naught.
"For I am the Lord, your G-d, Who strengthens your right hand, Who tells you, Fear not, for I shall help you! Fear not, worm of Jacob, the few of Israel, I shall help you! says G-d, your Redeemer and the Holy One of Israel." - Isaiah 41:13-14
Your newfound strength and the nations' weakness against you are both My doing, says G-d. You may be weak as a worm compared to the nations, but as a worm fells a cedar just with its mouth, shall you fell the nations merely with your prayers.
"You shall scatter them and a wind shall carry them, a storm will then disperse them. But you shall rejoice in G-d and praise the Holy One of Israel." - Isaiah 41:16
Though the nations will be thrashed, you will not rejoice at the downfall of your enemies. Instead, you will rejoice that now you are returning to G-d and will praise Him for making you the instrument of His Holy Name.
"The poor and the needy are seeking water, but there is none; their tongue is parched from thirst. But I, G-d, shall answer them; I, the G-d of Israel, shall not forsake them." - Isaiah 41:17
When the poor and the needy without food or drink will forget their thirst and their hunger and will, instead, only feel a hunger and thirst for G-d's Word, then G-d will answer their deepest desire and will open for them wellsprings of wisdom. Even for those whose "tongues are parched" - those who know not even the basics of wisdom - will G-d open those inner wellsprings.
"I have roused (him) from the north and he shall come, from the east he shall call My Name. he shall trample upon princes like mud and like a potter treading clay. Who told this beforehand that we might know, in advance that we could call him right? But no one foretold it, no one announced it, no one even heard your words." - Isaiah 41:25-26
But I, G-d, have roused Nevuchadnetzar from the north and foretold that he will destroy the Temple. Cyrus the Mede will then come from the east to crush Babylon and call upon the Jewish people to rebuild My Temple. And in the End, princes will come - the Messiah and his followers, who are all G-d's princes - and will trample upon the wicked nations like mud. But who among the false prophets ever spoke out to foretell these events that we could say "we have already heard your words?" They only said that Babylon shall never enter the gates of Jerusalem.
"With the first one for Zion, here they are! But for Jerusalem, I shall bring a harbinger." - Isaiah 41:27
And when Cyrus will be the "first" king for Zion's cause and allow the Jewish people to return, many will heed the call - "Here they are!" - but most will stay behind. But in the End of Days, I will send a harbinger to proclaim the Final Redemption - then they will all return.
"I look around and I see no one - there is no one among them who can counsel, no one who can answer if I were to ask. They are all naught and their deeds are nothing; empty wind and molten nothingness." - Isaiah 41:28-29
So there is nothing to look for among the idols - they cannot even advise their adherents, nor answer the simplest inquiry. They are nothing but nothing and naught.
Commentary by Meam Loez