William Nicholson, 1862
"Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you, declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel!" Isaiah 41:14
Vast is the difference between God and man.
God is so glorious that nothing human can fully represent his incomparable Being. "To whom shall we liken him," the High and Lofty One, who inhabits eternity, whose "name is Holy."
On the other hand, man is so fallen, wicked, polluted, and helpless, that the lowest and basest of things are adopted by the sacred writers to represent man's degradation. He is compared to earth, dust, the grass of the field, to a lie, to vanity, and here to a worm!
But, astonishing condescension! to this debased, wretched, and ruined being — Jehovah stoops from his high abode, to bless him with the joys of his salvation.
I. The Character of God's People.
1. The language refers to the Jews as the descendants of Jacob, afterwards called Israel, and his posterity, Israelites.
God's people are now called "Israelites in whom there is nothing false." "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God." Romans 2:28-29. "It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. In other words, it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring!" Romans 9:6-8
Like the children of Israel, they have been in bondage — a spiritual bondage worse than that of Egypt. They have been delivered by One like unto Moses, even Christ, who atoned for them, pardoned and justified them, and who has graciously purposed to lead them through the wilderness of the world, to a better inheritance than Canaan.
Like Jacob of old, Christians are frequently subjected to trials. Like him they pray and wrestle. Like him they prevail; for praying breath shall not be spent in vain. Genesis 32; Psalm 34:15.
2. The Epithet employed to designate their character. "Worm." "Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob!"
This word is used to describe a base, weak, vile, and despised thing, "how much less man, who is but a maggot — a son of man, who is only a worm!" Job 25:6.
In the text it is applied to the Jews in Babylon, as poor, oppressed, afflicted, and despised by their enemies. It indicates their weakness, helplessness, and inability to deliver themselves. Hence Matthew Henry observes; "It is the worm Jacob; so little, so weak, and so defenseless, despised and trampled on by everybody, forced to creep even into the earth for safety. We must not wonder that Jacob is become a worm, when even Jacob's King calls himself a worm and no man." Psalm 22:6.
(1.) This epithet implies baseness. A worm is a creature of little worth; its residence is the ground; it has no beauty in it. What is more contemptible than a worm?
Just so, man's origin as to his body, is the dust. In his fallen state, he is empty, having no good in him — and lighter than vanity. Sin has . . .
enervated his powers, and
alienated his heart from God.
This baseness is frequently felt by Christians. When they think of the grandeur and glory of God as seen in his works, and recorded in his word. Psalm 8:3, 4. The heavens with all their starry hosts are the work of his "fingers." What then must be the works of his outstretched arm? These are not the displays, but rather "the hidings of his power." See Hab. 3:4-12.
When they think of their sins and imperfections. 1 Corinthians 15:9.
When they think of their duties, trials — their ignorance — and their tendency to return to the dust from whence they came.
(2.) This epithet implies pollution. A worm is regarded as unclean. Its element is putrescence.
Just so, man is now degraded from his original dignity even below the brute creation! Yes, he has debased himself even unto Hell! "Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness — only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil!" Isaiah 1:4-6
Every Christian feels his tendency to pollution — feels himself to be a worm.
(3.) This epithet implies danger. A worm is a creature frequently exposed to danger. Every foot is ready to crush it.
Just so, the body of man is liable to casualties — to death, sudden or protracted, from insignificant causes. And the precious soul of man is surrounded by danger. Sin, the world, sinful pleasures, and Satan, are ready to crush it!
(4.) This epithet implies weakness. A worm is not able to make resistance, defend itself, or attack its opponent.
Just so, what resistance can a sinner make against God! Ah! he is only a worm. "Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground!" Isaiah 45:9
What can a believer do against his enemies — the world, the flesh, and the devil — without Divine aid? Without it, he feels himself a worm. 2 Corinthians 12:7, 10.
II. God's People are Subject to Fear."Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob."
The Israelites in Babylon were sadly depressed in mind, fearing that their captivity was absolute — that God would be gracious no more.
Just so, the people of God are subject to fear.
1. Their character, as represented by the baseness, pollution, danger, and weakness of the worm — causes them to fear.
2. They fear their enemies. They have been despised — and regarded as contemptible as worms. Their name cast out as evil. Satan is their grand adversary. Inward corruption their greatest plague.
3. They fear Divine chastisements. These are needful, but "grievous." Hebrews 12:11.
4. They sometimes fear they will be finally lost.
5. They fear death. They regard him as the worst enemy, and as the king of terrors. "To free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." Hebrews 2:15
III. The Exhortation and Promise."Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you, declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel!" Isaiah 41:14
I will assist you in your conscious feebleness, and will deliver you.
"Do not be afraid!" Rise above your fears — cast them away. Look away from earthly resources — to the mighty God of Jacob. Do not be afraid your foes. "He who is for you, is more than all that are against you."
The gracious regard of God will be seen from the following considerations —
1. I will help you, for I have chosen you. Worm as you are — polluted as you are — I have set my love on you. I will therefore help my chosen ones! Ezekiel 16:6, etc.
2. I will help you, for I have redeemed you. You are a guilty polluted worm, ready to perish; but I commissioned my son to die for you — he has shed his blood for your sins. "If any man sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one." I will, for his sake, forgive you, and save you, however vile.
3. I will help you, for I have adopted you. I am your Almighty Father. I know your frame. I remember you are but dust. I pity you, I love you. I will never leave you, nor ever forsake you. Surely I will help my children!
4. I will be with you at all times; so that you shall say, "I am not alone, but the Father is with me." I am present with you to preserve you; "no evil shall befall you." Psalm 91:4-10. I am present with you in afflictions and sorrows.
5. I will help you with the ministration of my angels. Psalm 91:11; Hebrews 1:14.
6. I will guide and direct you in all your perplexities.
7. I will glorify you. You are a worm here — a poor crawling sinful creature — yet I will glorify your soul — and change your vile body when the dead shall be raised. "But our citizenship is in Heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body!" Philippians 3:20-21
Even as the chrysalis becomes a superior and more beautiful being after its temporary sleep; so shall you after your sleep in the grave, rise to bear the image of the heavenly.
8. Finally. The character of God is the guarantee for the accomplishment of his promise: "Says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel!"