Muhammad (PBUH) And Madinah In The Bible
Published by S.A.L.A.M Initiative
The main proof of Muhammad’s Prophethood, peace be upon him, is and forever will be the Glorious Qur’an which was revealed by God to him through the angel Gabriel. God Almighty, out of His mercy for the Jews and Christians (respectfully referred to in the Qur’an as the People of the Book) also provided an additional proof to mankind of his Prophethood. This can be found in their very own scriptures, the Torah and Gospel.
The 42nd chapter of the Old Testament Book of Isaiah clearly foretells the coming of an Arabian Prophet, specifically Prophet Muhammad. We will go through Isaiah 42 line by line and analyse the verses to see how they relate to Muhammad. Please note that all translations have been taken from the New International Version of the Bible:
1- Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.
Isaiah starts the chapter by drawing our attention to a very special person that He will send. He describes this person as:
“my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight”
At least three of the names of Prophet Muhammad are mentioned – “servant”, “chosen one” and “in whom I delight”. Prophet Muhammad is known as God’s Servant, in Arabic “abd – ullah”. This is mentioned in narrations of his, as recorded by his companions, known as hadith:
Narrated Umar: I heard the Prophet saying, “Do not exaggerate in praising me as the Christians praised the son of Mary, for I am only a Servant (abd). So, call me the Servant of God and His Apostle.” 
“Chosen one” is “Mustafa” in Arabic. This is another of the names of Prophet Muhammad.
The one in whom God ‘delights in’ shows that this person is beloved to God. ‘Habibullah’ in Arabic, which means “Beloved of God”, also happens to be one of Prophet Muhammad’s names.
“I will put my Spirit on him…”
Here, Isaiah indicates that God will support the coming servant with an angel, referred to as a “spirit”. There are some, such as Christians, who believe that the “spirit of God” here is God Himself as the Holy Spirit, who will be sent down to earth to support the servant. When we look to the Old Testament itself we will see that this cannot be the case. The Hebrew word used for “spirit” in Isaiah 42:1, ‘ruwach’, is used to refer to angels throughout the Old Testament. For example, in the Book of Zechariah:
These are the four spirits (ruwach) of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. [Zechariah 6:5]
If the spirit of Isaiah 42:1 is a manifestation of God Himself, as Christians put it, then how are there four manifestations of God standing in the presence of God, and then going out from His presence? So the Book of Zechariah clearly indicates that spirits are entities other than God. The interpretation of four angels makes much more sense here. Many respectable Bible commentaries interpret the four spirits (‘ruwach’) as four angels. For instance, Scofield Reference Notes states in its commentary on Zechariah 6:5:
That which is symbolized by the four chariots with their horses is not the four world-empires of Daniel, but ‘the four spirits of heaven which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth…’ These ‘spirits’ are angels…
The commentary Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible agrees:
These are the four spirits of the heavens – They cannot be literal winds: for spirits, not winds, stand before God, as His servants, as in Job, ‘the sons of God [angels] came to present themselves before the Lord’…
Likewise, Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible states:
these are the four spirits of the heavens; or, “the four winds of the heavens”… angels are called “spirits” or “winds”, Psalm 104:3 they are created spirits, and so differ from God; are incorporeal ones, and so differ from men; and are immaterial and immortal, and so die not: they are spiritual subsistences, and spirits of the heavens, or heavenly spirits.
Even the Qur’an confirms that the Spirit of God, who Muslims believe is the angel Gabriel, was sent down by God to Muhammad:
We have thus revealed a Spirit to you [Prophet] by Our command: you knew neither the Scripture nor the faith, but We made it a light, guiding with it whoever We will of Our servants. You are indeed guiding to the straight path [Chapter 42, verse 52]
Isaiah further states that the coming servant will not just be concerned with his own people, but rather the nations of the entire world:
“…and he will bring justice to the nations”
The word translated as “justice” in Isaiah 41:1 is the Hebrew ‘mishpat’, which also means judgement according to Biblical Hebrew dictionaries. Hebrew commentators of the Old Testament interpret this judgement to be comprehensive in the sense of a complete way of life, which is what Islam represents. Professor of Hebrew Christopher North comments:
Most commentators remark that mishpat is here used absolutely, without the definite article, and that it has the comprehensive sense of the Islamic din (‘’judgement’), which embraces both faith and practice. 
Prophet Muhammad survived several attempts at his life, until he completed his mission and established justice by judging people according to the laws of God. Indeed the message of Islam was completed:
Today I have perfected your religion for you, completed My blessing upon you, and chosen as your religion Islam… [Chapter 5, verse 3]
2- He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.
Here the phrase “not cry” is meant as “not complain about the duty that God gave him”. Throughout his life Prophet Muhammad never once cried out in complaint at the mission that was given to him by God Almighty, in spite of its immense difficulty and hardship. Also it’s interesting to note that the personality and character of Prophet Muhammad is exactly as this verse describes, his companions bore witness to the fact that he was soft in speech and did not raise his voice in markets .
3- A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice.
This description is very characteristic of Prophet Muhammad’s gentle nature which the Qur’an bears testament to:
It was by the mercy of God that you were gentle with them (O, Muhammad) for if you had been harsh and hard of heart they would of dispersed from around you. So pardon them and pray forgiveness for them and consult with them in the affair [Chapter 3, verse 159]
4- He will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.
The first part of this verse mentions:
“He will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth…”
Early into his mission when the Muslims were in a position of weakness, Prophet Muhammad was offered every worldly gain imaginable to try and persuade him to stop preaching the message of Islam:
If you desire money and wealth by preaching what you are preaching, we will collect enough for you from our own. We will make you the wealthiest of all of us. If it is chieftainship that you desire, we are ready to make you our paramount chief, so that we will never decide on a matter without you. If you desire rulership, we will make you our ruler… 
Prophet Muhammad responded by saying:
Even if they place the sun in my right-hand, and the moon in my left-hand in return for giving up this matter, I will never stop, until either God makes it triumph or I die defending it. 
What this incident demonstrates is that Muhammad was not motivated by money or power, but rather he was sincere about the message he was preaching. When his enemies realised that nothing would discourage him from preaching his message, they turned to more aggressive tactics. Prophet Muhammad went on to face extreme persecution and hostility in Mecca but he still did not give up the message of Islam. In the face of this stiff opposition many of his companions were discouraged, but he held steadfast to his mission and struggled on:
Narrated Khabbab: I came to the Prophet while he was leaning against his sheet cloak in the shade of the Ka’ba. We were suffering greatly from the pagans in those days. I said (to him). “Will you invoke God (to help us)?” He sat down with a red face and said, “(A believer among) those who were before you used to be combed with iron combs so that nothing of his flesh or nerves would remain on his bones; yet that would never make him desert his religion. A saw might be put over the parting of his head which would be split into two parts, yet all that would never make him abandon his religion. God will surely complete this religion (i.e. Islam) so that a traveller from Sana’a to Hadramawt will not be afraid of anybody except God.” 
He did not rest until the just rule of Islam was firmly established within his lifetime. Even though he often faced extraordinary odds in battles, the Prophet was not discouraged. Instead, the Qur’an talks about the faith of Muhammad and his companions rising when they were outnumbered by their enemies. Prophet Muhammad survived several attempts at his life, until he completed his mission and established justice by judging people according to the laws of God. Indeed the message of Islam was completed:
This day have I perfected for you your religion and completed My favor on you and chosen for you Islam… [Chapter 5, verse 3]
The second part of the verse in Isaiah mentions:
“…In his teaching the islands will put their hope”
Isaiah informs us that this special person will bring forth a new law. The word translated as “teaching” is the Hebrew “Torah” which means instruction or law. Here Isaiah must be referring to a new book of revelation that this special person will be given. According to commentators on the Bible this word “has in the total context of this passage almost the sense of ‘revelation’” . Notice that Isaiah states that the islands will put their hope in his law, implying he will bring forth something new, something different, as the Law of Moses already existed at the time Isaiah made this prophecy. Another point is that the islands are said to put their hope in his new Torah in the future tense, again implying it is a new law and therefore can’t be a reference to the Torah of Moses which already existed at the time that Isaiah made this prophecy. The Qur’an given to Prophet Muhammad fits this description perfectly as it was a new book revealed after the time of Isaiah:
We sent to you [Muhammad] the Scripture with the truth, confirming the Scriptures that came before it, and with final authority over them: so judge between them according to what God has sent down… [Qur’an chapter 5, 48]
The law of Islam spread as far east as northern China and as far west as southern France. In fact many isles did wait for his law and when the Islamic law came to them with the Muslim armies, they welcomed their liberators. This happened in Syria, Egypt and Spain. With the advent of Islam all the oppressive powers surrounding Arabia fell one after another and the masses could live in peace from then on. In the Qur’an God commanded the Muslims to go on a rescue mission:
Why should you not fight in God’s cause and for those oppressed men, women, and children who cry out, ‘Lord, rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors! By Your grace, give us a protector and give us a helper!’? [Chapter 4, verse 75]
This mission was so successful that even the Christians attributed the Muslim success to God. John Bar Penkaye, a Christian monk and contemporary of the early Islamic conquests, expressed his feelings as follows:
We should not think of the advent (of the children of Hagar) as something ordinary, but as due to divine working. Before calling them, (God) had prepared them beforehand to hold Christians in honour; thus they also had a special commandment from God concerning our monastic station, that they should hold it in honour. Now when these people came, at God’s command, and took over as it were both kingdoms, not with any war or battle, but in a menial fashion, such as when a brand is rescued out of the fire, not using weapons of war or human means, God put victory into their hands in such a way that the words written them might be fulfilled, namely, “One man chased a thousand and two routed ten thousand.” How otherwise, could naked men, riding without armour or shield, have been able to win, apart from divine aid, God having called them from the ends of the earth so as to destroy, by them “a sinful kingdom” and to bring low, through them, the proud spirit of the Persians 
5- This is what God the Lord says— the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:
This is a general statement about God.
6- I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,
“I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you…”
The righteous mission of establishing justice on earth will require special help from God, which is conveyed by the figurative words “And will hold Your hand”. Once “God holds the hand of anyone”, it is impossible to defeat that person. God uses that person as an instrument to wipe out evil and manifest His judgement on evil doers. Let us see how the Qur’an confirms this in the battle of Badr when around 300 ill-armed Muslims faced a thousand strong army of the pagans. The Qur’an says:
And you did not kill them, but it was God who killed them. And you threw not, [O Muhammad], when you threw, but it was God who threw that He might test the believers with a good test. Indeed, God is Hearing and Knowing. That [is so], and [also] that God will weaken the plot of the disbelievers. If you [disbelievers] seek the victory – the defeat has come to you… [Chapter 8, verses 17-19]
“…make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles”
Gentiles means non Jews. Here Isaiah emphasises the universal mission of the coming person. The Qur’an confirms that Prophet Muhammad was sent to the whole of mankind, Jews and Gentiles alike. In the Qur’an God tells us:
We have sent you [O Prophet] as a bearer of glad tidings and a warner for the whole of mankind, but most people have no knowledge. [Chapter 34, verse 28]
It’s also interesting to note that the Qur’an addresses Prophet Muhammad as a light:
O Prophet! Truly We have sent thee as a Witness, a Bearer of Glad Tidings, and Warner,- And as one who invites to God by His leave, and as a lamp spreading light. [Chapter 33, verses 45-46]
7- to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
This describes the state of the people that this special person will be sent to. They will be spiritually blind, trapped in the darkness of idol worship (as the next verse of Isaiah clarifies). It’s interesting that the Qur’an also describes the state of those before the advent of Islam as being trapped in darkness:
A Book which We have revealed unto thee, in order that thou mightest lead mankind out of the depths of darkness into light – by the leave of their Lord – to the Way of (Him) the Exalted in Power, Worthy of all Praise! [Chapter 14, verse 1]
8- I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.
This is a general statement about God.
9- See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.
This makes it clear that Isaiah 42 is a prophecy about the future.
10- Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them.
Isaiah informs us that this special person will bring something new. The statement “a new song” means a new way of worship. This is exactly what Islam represents. The emphasis on the new song here is singing the praise of God all over the earth. The Qur’an opens with the statement “Praise be to God, Lord of the worlds” and is recited by Muslims all over the world during prayers every day.
11- Let the wilderness and its towns raise their voices; let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice. Let the people of Sela sing for joy; let them shout from the mountaintops.
The two key words used are ‘Kedar’ and ‘Sela’ which together pinpoint an exact location for this special person. Out of all the places on earth that Isaiah could have mentioned, He chose to highlight Kedar and Sela’s location so we should pay special attention.
“let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice…”
Who is Kedar, and where did he settle? The Old Testament tells us that Kedar was one of the sons of Ishmael:
These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam [Genesis 25:13]
The Old Testament tells us that Ishmael dwelt in a place called Paran:
While he (Ishmael) was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt. [Genesis 21:21]
Many Christian interpretors of the Bible hold that Paran is in Arabia. From Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible:
He dwelt in the wilderness of Paran – This is generally allowed to have been a part of the desert belonging to Arabia Petraea, in the vicinity of Mount Sinai; and this seems to be its uniform meaning in the sacred writings.
Strong’s Bible Dictionary also tells us:
H6290 pâ’rân From H6286; ornamental; Paran, a desert of Arabia: – Paran.
Sebeos, a 7th century Armenian bishop and historian, when describing the Arab conquest of his time, wrote that the Arabs “assembled and came out from Paran” 
Professor Haseeb Shehada, an Israeli scholar and professor, in his translation of the Samaritan Torah suggested an identification of the wilderness of Paran with the desert of Western Arabia which is known today as Hijaz. 
Some Christians claim that Paran is not in Arabia but rather in the desert of Sinai in Egypt but this can’t be the case as the Old Testament clearly distinguishes between Sinai and Paran as two separate places:
Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran. [Numbers 10:12]
We can also place the location of the descendants of Ishmael, known as Ishmaelites, to Arabia. The Dead Sea Scrolls, which are dated to the 2nd century BCE and represent the oldest surviving manuscript evidence for the Old Testament along with other apocryphal books, link Ishmael and his descendants to Arabia:
And Ishmael and his sons, and the sons of Keturah and their sons, went together and dwelt from Paran to the entering in of Babylon in all the land which is towards the East facing the desert. And these mingled with each other, and their name was called Arabs, and Ishmaelite. 
The Old Testament also tells us that the sons of Ishmael settled throughout Arabia (“East of Egypt toward Asshur”):
Ishmael had settled in the land east of his brothers, and his sons settled everywhere from Havilah to Shur, east of Egypt on the way to Asshur. Ishmael was one hundred thirty-seven when he died. [Genesis 25:17-18]
Kedar and his own sons are also specifically linked to Arabia:
The oracle about Arabia. In the thickets of Arabia you must spend the night, O caravans of Dedanites. … all the splendor of Kedar will terminate. [Isaiah 21:13-16]
Arabia and all the princes of Kedar were your favored dealers in lambs, rams, and goats; in these they did business with you. [Ezekiel 27:21]
These two ancient Assyrian inscriptions, dating to the seventh century BCE, associate the king of the Arabs with the land of “Qedar”:
Hazael, king of Arabs, with a sumptuous gift,
came over to Nineveh, city of my sovereignty,
he kissed my feet
and begged me for his gods. And I had pity. [King Esarhaddon, Prism A IV, lines 6 – 9]
Iauta son of Hazael
king of the land of Qedar paid homage to me.
He approached me concerning his gods (and)
begged my kingship. [King Assurbanipal, Prism B VII, lines 93 – 96]
Compare the above description of King Hazael, described as “king of the Arabs”, with that of his son King Iauta, who is described as “king of the land of Qedar”. This shows us that the land of the Arabs was associated with Kedar even in ancient times which pre-date Islam and Christianity.
Smith’s Bible Dictionary defines Kedar as:
“…the name of a great tribe of Arabs settled on the northwest of the peninsula… That they also settled in villages or towns we find from Isaiah (Isaiah 42:11). The tribe seems to have been one of the most conspicuous of all the Ishmaelite tribes…” 
The Keil-Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament discusses Isaiah’s use of Kedar: “The name Kedar is here the collective name of the Arabic tribes generally” 
In summary, we’ve established that Ishmael and his descendants, including Kedar, dwelt in Arabia. In fact, we can narrow this location down further to a particular part of Arabia:
According to Harper’s Bible Dictionary  the term ‘Ishmaelites’ is used synonymously with the term ‘Midianites’. We can see this from the story of Joseph in Genesis:
Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard. [Genesis 37:36]
Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. [Genesis 39:1]
So these two groups, the Midianites and Ishmaelites, are used interchangeably. We know that geographically, Biblical Midian is located in modern day Western Saudi Arabia (click on picture to enlarge):
The Old Testament scholar Charles Foster also identifies Kedar with ‘Hedjaz’ which is Western Saudi Arabia:
Namely, of the land of Kedar; which every reader conversant with Arabian geography will recognise as a most accurate delineation of the district of Hedjaz, including its famous cities of Makkah and Madina. 
In summary we have established that Ishmael and his descendants, specifically Kedar, settled in modern day Western Saudi Arabia.
Recall that Isaiah mentions Kedar in conjunction with a ‘Sela’:
“Let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice. Let the people of Sela sing for joy…“
Whilst it’s true that Saudi Arabia represents a wide geographic region, the use of the word ‘Sela’ pinpoints an exact location. The place being spoken of is actually the city of Madinah because ‘Sela’ is the name of a famous mountain in Madinah. Madinah was the city of Prophet Muhammad. The following hadith narrations are a few examples that mention this mountain:
…while I was sitting in the condition which God described (in the Quran) i.e. my very soul seemed straitened to me and even the earth seemed narrow to me for all its spaciousness, there I heard the voice of one who had ascended the mountain of Sala’ calling with his loudest voice, ‘O Ka’b bin Malik! Be happy (by receiving good tidings).’ I fell down in prostration before God, realizing that relief has come… 
…by God, we did not see any cloud or any patch of it, and there was neither any house or building standing between us and Sala’… 
The famous Arab geographer and historian Al-Hamdani, who lived 150 years after Prophet Muhammad, mentioned in his book “Geography of Arabian Peninsula” that the mountain Sela was part of Madinah city.
If you Google “Sela mountain” you can see the Wikipedia entry (please click on picture to enlarge):
Here is a map of the city of Madinah obtained by searching Google Maps for “Sela mountain medina” , you can see Sela mountain in the middle of the city (please click on picture to enlarge):
Here is a picture of Sela mountain. In the picture you can see Masjid Nabawi, Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in modern day Madinah. The foot of Sela mountain can be seen to the right of the mosque (please click on picture to enlarge):
As well as being linked to Kedar and Sela geographically, Prophet Muhammad’s genealogy is also linked. His lineage can be traced back to Ishmael directly through Kedar:
One of the earliest biographies of the Prophet Muhammad, Tabaqat Ibn Sa’d (d. 845 CE), documents one of the chains of genealogy, which confirms that the Prophet was a direct descendant of Ishmael through his second son Kedar. Hayden’s Bible dictionary states: “Mohammad is said to have been of the Bene-Kedar [sons of Kedar]” .
Isaiah not only tells us the location, but also describes how the people will react when the special person arrives:
“…Let the people of Sela sing for joy; let them shout from the mountaintops…”
We are told that the people of Sela will be so overjoyed that they will sing with joy. This is exactly what happened when Prophet Muhammad arrived in Madinah, its inhabitants were overjoyed and cried out in happiness:
I never saw the people of Madinah so happy with anything as they were with his arrival. I even saw the little boys and girls saying, “Here is the Messenger of God; he has come!” 
The people hurried quickly to meet the Messenger of God when he arrived in Madinah. They cried, ‘The Messenger of God has arrived! The Messenger of God has arrived!’ 
Then men and women climbed upon house-tops; the boys and servants scattered in the way, and they were all calling out: ‘Muhammad! Messenger of God! Muhammad! Messenger of God!’ 
In summary, this verse pinpointed the exact location of Prophet Muhammad, the city of Madinah in Saudi Arabia.
12- Let them give glory to the Lord and proclaim his praise in the islands.
This seems to indicate that this special person’s impact will be far reaching. Islam spread rapidly throughout the Arabian peninsula, even reaching as far as Spain in just over a hundred years after Prophet Muhammad. Today there are over 2 billion Muslims in the world, that’s 1 in 4 people on earth (please click on picture to enlarge):
13- The Lord will march out like a champion, like a warrior he will stir up his zeal; with a shout he will raise the battle cry and will triumph over his enemies.
Here Isaiah, in Biblical language, is asserting that the foretold servant will triumph against the enemies of God. Throughout history God has dealt sternly with those who are sent guidance and persist in disbelief. If one was to pay a little attention to the life of the Prophet of Islam, one will see, without a shadow of a doubt, that this prophecy was fulfilled with his arrival. The Prophet Muhammad was sent as a “man of war” for those who opposed justice and mercy. He fought 27 battles in person and was victorious against all the enemies of God who fought him. They employed all possible means to destroy the Prophet but they failed, as God had promised to protect his messenger. In the battle of the ditch (also known as the battle of armies (Ahzab) due to the participation of many tribes) over ten thousand men besieged Madinah but they failed to defeat the Prophet and his companions. Islam was victorious and Islam endured. The historian Howard Johnston describes the triumph of Islam:
“Seldom, if ever, has a set of ideas had so great an effect on human societies as Islam has done, above all in the first half of the seventh century. In little more than twenty years, the religious and political configuration of Arabia was changed out of all recognition. Within another twenty all of the rich, highly developed, militarily powerful world enveloping Arabia was conquered, save for Asia Minor and North Africa” 
Throughout history God has dealt sternly with those who are sent guidance and persist in disbelief. Prophet Muhammad had to engage in many battles with the idol worshipping enemies of God and ultimately prevailed against them. The Qur’an proclaims it loud and clear as follows:
Their intention is to extinguish God’s Light (by blowing) with their mouths: But God will complete (the revelation of) His Light, even though the Unbelievers may detest (it). It is He Who has sent His Messenger with Guidance and the Religion of Truth, that he may manifest it over all religion, even though the Pagans may detest (it). [Chapter 61, verses 8-9]
14- For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant.
There was a long period of inactivity for Prophethood between Jesus and Muhammad, over 600 years. During this time the Arab pagans were indulging in idolatry and revelling in evil practices. No more would God tolerate this evil, the time was right for this special person to emerge and bring monotheism to Arabia. The Qur’an informs us:
O People of the Scripture, there has come to you Our Messenger [Muhammad] to make clear to you [the religion] after a period [of suspension] of messengers, lest you say, “There came not to us any bringer of good tidings or a warner.” But there has come to you a bringer of good tidings and a warner… [Chapter 5, verse 19]
15- I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands and dry up the pools.
Here, Isaiah is conveying God’s plan in figurative language. By “laying waste of mountains and hills” and “drying up all their vegetation”, the reference is probably to the great changes which God would make in the pagan world. All that flourished on Pagan ground; all that was nurtured by idolatry; all their temples, altars, shrines, should be overturned and demolished; and in all these things great and permanent changes would be produced.
16- I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.
“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them…”
The pagan Arabs at the time of Prophet Muhammad fit this description perfectly because they had not been sent a messenger prior to Muhammad. The Qur’an bears witness to this, God states that Muhammad was sent to:
… warn a people to whom no warner has come before… [Chapter 32, verse 3]
“I will turn the darkness into light before them…”
Darkness is the emblem of ignorance and sin. All this would be turned upside down – sin will be replaced by virtue and ignorance by knowledge. Darkness was turned into light as the Qur’an states:
[He sent] a Messenger [Muhammad] reciting to you the distinct verses of God that He may bring out those who believe and do righteous deeds from darknesses into the light… [Chapter 65, verse 11]
17- But those who trust in idols, who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’ will be turned back in utter shame.
It is clear that the special person that God is talking about will be sent to a people who worship idols. This perfectly describes the pre-Islamic Arabs, as the whole of Arabia at the start of Muhammad’s Prophethood consisted of idol worshippers.
How beautifully does this verse in Isaiah summarise the conclusion of Prophet Muhammad’s mission in the Arabian Peninsula. Not only did Prophet Muhammad conquer Mecca, the Pagan capital of Arabia, but by the end of his life, in just 23 short years of Prophethood, Arabia had shunned idol worship and now worshipped the One true God of Abraham. The Qur’an mentions this conquest:
When the victory of God has come and the conquest, And you see the people entering into the religion of God in multitudes, Then exalt [Him] with praise of your Lord and ask forgiveness of Him. Indeed, He is ever Accepting of repentance. [Chapter 110]
18 – 23 Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see! Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one in covenant with me, blind like the servant of the Lord? You have seen many things, but you pay no attention; your ears are open, but you do not listen. It pleased the Lord for the sake of his righteousness to make his law great and glorious. But this is a people plundered and looted, all of them trapped in pits or hidden away in prisons. They have become plunder, with no one to rescue them; they have been made loot, with no one to say, “Send them back.” Which of you will listen to this or pay close attention in time to come?
“Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see… You have seen many things, but you pay no attention; your ears are open, but you do not listen… Which of you will listen to this or pay close attention in time to come?”
Finally, Isaiah closes with an admonishment. It seems clear that the “deaf and blind” Isaiah is talking about in this verse are those who reject Prophet Muhammad. Who among you will heed God by acknowledging him, who will “listen” and “pay close attention in time to come”.
24 – 25 Who handed Jacob over to become loot, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned? For they would not follow his ways; they did not obey his law. So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart.
These are general statements about Israel.
CONFUSION OVER THE IDENTITY OF THE SERVANT IN JEWISH TRADITION
If we look to classical Jewish Old Testament commentators on Isaiah 42, we find that there is diverse opinion on the identity of God’s coming servant. This is according to the Jewish Study Bible:
The identification of the servant in these verses is hotly debated. Possibilities include Cyrus (according to Saadia Gaon), the prophet himself (so Ibn Ezra), the Messiah (so Targum and Radak), and the Israelite nation as a whole (so Septuagint and Rashi). 
We can see that some of the greatest Jewish commentators, giants in Rabbinic literature such as Saadia Gaon, Ibn Ezra, Radak and Rashi, held a variety of different opinions on Isaiah 42. Some took the view that the servant is Cyrus the Great, others that he is Isaiah himself, the Messiah and even the nation of Israel. Let’s analyse these different opinions and see why none of them is satisfactory:
Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great was a Persian King who reigned from 559 – 530 BCE. He was the founder of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, and under his rule the empire expanded vastly. From the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Indus River in the east, Cyrus the Great created the largest empire the world had yet seen. The Old Testament states that he was handpicked by God to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple after its destruction and the exile of the Israelites into Babylon:
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing.
“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them.’” [Ezra 1:1-3]
The first thing to note is that the Old Testament associates Cyrus as a fulfilment of prophecy in Jeremiah, not Isaiah (“to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah”). Now that’s not to say that Cyrus isn’t mentioned at all in Isaiah, he is. In fact, he is spoken of in highly favourable terms:
who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’ [Isaiah 44:28]
Another indication that the servant is not Cyrus is in the personal characteristics that Isaiah 42 outlines. Now Cyrus does indeed satisfy some of the characteristics of the servant of Isaiah 42 in a general sense. For example, he was chosen and supported by God in the sense that he was divinely appointed to facilitate the restoration of the Jerusalem Temple. Where he falls short is in particulars such as idolatry, war and geography. The Old Testament alludes to his pagan background when it states that Cyrus wrote to the Israelites saying, “may their God be with them” [Ezra 1:3]. This is backed up by archaeological findings such as the Cyrus the Great Cylinder which also show that Cyrus worshiped pagan gods. The Cyrus the Great Cylinder is an ancient artefact written in the Akkadian language. This cylinder was excavated in 1879 by the Assyro-British archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam and is kept today in the British Museum in London :
The cylinder states that Cyrus the Great worshiped pagan gods such as Bel and Nabu:
pray daily before Bêl and Nabû for long life for me, and may they speak a gracious word for me and say to Marduk, my lord, “May Cyrus, the king who worships you, and Cambyses, his son, their […] I permitted all to dwell in peace […]” (Cylinder, English Translation, lines 35-36)
According to the Old Testament, Bel and Nabu are the names of pagan Babylonian deities: “Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low; their idols are borne by beasts of burden.” [Isaiah 46:1] It’s difficult to reconcile such pagan beliefs and practices of Cyrus with the monotheistic servant of Isaiah 42 who will “turn back idolatry in utter shame” and cause the “praise of God to be sung from the ends of the earth”:
But those who trust in idols, who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’ will be turned back in utter shame. [Isaiah 42:17]
Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them. [Isaiah 42:10]
With regards to war, recall that Isaiah 42 states that the servant will be a mighty warrior who will prevail against God’s enemies:
“The Lord will march out like a champion, like a warrior he will stir up his zeal; with a shout he will raise the battle cry and will triumph over his enemies.” [Isaiah 42:13]
Historically we know that Cyrus died at the hands of his enemies in battle. According to professor of Central Eurasian Studies Christopher Beckwith, Cyrus died in battle fighting the Massagetae:
Cyrus did not venture into Egypt, as he himself died in battle, fighting the Massagetae along the Syr Darya in December 530 BCE. 
Finally, with regards to geography, recall that Isaiah 42 associates the coming servant with Kedar and Sela, the cities of Mecca and Madinah, whose inhabitants will “rejoice” and “sing for joy” at his arrival:
Let the wilderness and its towns raise their voices; let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice. Let the people of Sela sing for joy; let them shout from the mountaintops. [Isaiah 42:11]
Cyrus has no historical connection with Mecca or Madinah. Even though his empire conquered much of the world, he did not gain control of (or even set foot in) the deserts of Saudi Arabia. These lands are one of the few places on earth that have never been conquered by an outside empire. The Arabian Peninsula is an unforgiving, harsh land. The main source of life are the sparse oases that dot the landscape. Travelling through the desert is a difficult feat to accomplish, and even today there are parts of it that are devoid of any population, due to its lack of water. Indeed, the Arabian Peninsula had been known as “Island of the Arabs” by the pre-Islamic Arabs. It was called an island because of how isolated it was from the outside world.
In conclusion, when we weigh up all the characteristics of the servant that are laid out in Isaiah 42 we find that Cyrus the Great falls short in satisfying many of them.
Prophet Isaiah himself
If one analyses the language and context of Isaiah 42 it becomes clear that the coming servant cannot be Prophet Isaiah himself. When Isaiah describes the servant, he is referred to in the future tense, indicating that the servant has not yet been sent by God:
“the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you” [Isaiah 42:9]
By contrast, when Isaiah does convey prophecies about himself, he mentions his own name:
In the year that the supreme commander, sent by Sargon king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and attacked and captured it— at that time the Lord spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz. He said to him, “Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.” And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot. Then the Lord said, “Just as my servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for three years, as a sign and portent against Egypt and Cush, so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared—to Egypt’s shame.” [Isaiah 20:1-4]
So if Prophet Isaiah was intended to be the servant of Isaiah 42 then it’s reasonable to assume that he would have been identified by name there as well, just like he is above in Isaiah 20.
In terms of the characteristics of the coming servant, Prophet Isaiah falls short as he was not a man of war, nor did he have any historical connection with the Arabian cities of Mecca and Madinah. Isaiah 42 also speaks of the servant bringing light to the Gentiles but Prophet Isaiah’s dealings were primarily with his own people, the Israelites, and not the Gentiles. Although he does prophecy about the fate of Gentile kingdoms, the largest single subject in his writings are warnings to Israel.
Jewish people reject the notion that Jesus is the Messiah; they are still awaiting the arrival of the Messiah. So from their perspective, the servant of Isaiah 42 stands as an unfulfilled prophecy of nearly three thousand years as the Messiah is yet to arrive. Now there is a serious issue with this understanding. We’ve already seen that the Prophet Muhammad fulfils all the criteria mentioned in Isaiah 42, so the question must be asked: why would Isaiah set out criteria that can be fulfilled by individuals other than the Messiah, if it is indeed the Messiah to whom Isaiah 42 refers? If Isaiah is speaking of the Messiah, then we would expect that he would set out criteria that only the Messiah can fulfil. Otherwise it defeats the purpose of prophecy in the first place, because prophecies are supposed to be specific.
Now from the point of view of both Christians and Muslims, Jesus is indeed the Messiah. If we compare the characteristics of Isaiah 42 with the life and teachings of Jesus as they are portrayed in the New Testament, then the Messiah Jesus falls short in fulfilling the prophecy. For example, Isaiah 42 states that the servant will not cry out:
He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. [Isaiah 42:2]
This disqualifies Jesus, who complained and literally cried out directly to God, according to the Bible, at many points in his ministry:
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). [Matthew 27:45-46]
Another area where Jesus fails as a candidate is to do with establishing justice. Isaiah 42 states that the servant will establish justice on earth:
He will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope. [Isaiah 42:4]
Jesus therefore cannot be the servant as, when he was asked whether he was the King of the Jews, Jesus stated that his kingdom was not of this world: “My kingdom is not of this world…” [John 18:36]. Yet here Prophet Isaiah announces the advent of a figure with temporal powers who will establish global justice. For one to establish justice on the earth, one has to have spiritual as well as temporal capacity. Christians and Muslims agree that Jesus rose without bringing justice to the nations, as his handful of disciples did not possess the strength required to enforce justice. In fact, Jesus and his disciples all left this world in a state of injustice, the exact opposite of what Isaiah 42 prophecies. Pagan empires like the Romans and Persians dominated much of the earth at that time, including the lands of Jesus and his early followers, enforcing their own unjust laws and not the laws of God. Christians, for hundreds of years after Jesus, were brutally oppressed by the pagan Romans who tortured and fed them to lions.
Another issue with Jesus as a candidate is the target audience of the coming servant. Throughout Isaiah 42 there is the theme of idolatry, describing those who worship idols as “blind” and being in “darkness”. It is also said that the idolaters will be “turned back in utter shame”:
I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols. [Isaiah 42:8]
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. But those who trust in idols, who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’ will be turned back in utter shame. [Isaiah 42:16-17]
This is unlikely to be a reference to Jesus because, unlike Muhammad whose lifetime opponents were primarily idol worshippers, Jesus’ opponents during his ministry were the Jewish religious leaders, the Sadducees and Pharisees. His people, the Israelites, were monotheists and not idol worshippers. On one occasion Jesus even told his disciples to stay away from the idol worshipping Gentiles, the exact opposite of what Isaiah prophesied. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that: “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Do not go among the Gentiles…’” [Matthew 10:5]
Another reason why this verse in Isaiah cannot apply to Jesus is that his people, the Israelites, had already received the Torah and a multitude of Prophets from God. In other words, they has already received the light of revelation and guidance and therefore cannot be said to be sitting in darkness. Here are just some of the Prophets that the Israelites were sent, up to and including Jesus:
Recall that Isaiah 42 gives us a list of momentous achievements for the coming servant. Chief of these is that:
The Lord will march out like a champion, like a warrior he will stir up his zeal; with a shout he will raise the battle cry and will triumph over his enemies. [Isaiah 42:13]
By comparison, Jesus did not triumph over his enemies; according to Christians he was crucified by them. Moreover Jesus wasn’t interested in fighting, he was not a man of war; he was a pacifist according to the New Testament. He said such things as: “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” [Matthew 26:52] and “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight…” [John 18:36].
Finally, from a geographic perspective, Jesus has no historical association with Kedar or Sela. The New Testament has Jesus moving within ancient Palestine, in places like Nazareth and Bethlehem. He simply has no link to the deserts of Saudi Arabia, nor is there any record of the inhabitants of Mecca and Madinah “rejoicing” and “singing for joy” with the advent of Jesus. The renowned British Arabist Richard Bell states: “In spite of traditions to the effect that the picture of Jesus was found on one of the pillars of the Ka’bah, there is no good evidence of any seats of Christianity in the Hijaz or in the near neighbourhood of Makkah or even of Madinah” 
Here is a table which lists all of the verses of Isaiah 42 and summarises the analysis of whether it applies to Muhammad and Jesus (please click on picture to enlarge and then zoom in):
The burden of evidence is clearly heavily in favour of Prophet Muhammad. Moreover, numerous verses in Isaiah rule out Jesus from being a candidate for the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy.
The nation of Israel
The argument here is that since other chapters of Isaiah refer to the nation of Israel as God’s servant, therefore the servant mentioned in Isaiah 42 must also be a reference to Israel:
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight… [Isaiah 42:1]
A major problem with this interpretation is that it does not consider the context of Isaiah 42 which speaks of two very different servants. The first section of Isaiah 42, verses 1 – 17, describe a momentous servant in extremely positive terms, one who will be a “light for the Gentiles” (42:6), will “open eyes that are blind” and “free people from darkness” (42:7). This is the righteous servant who will eliminate idolatry and spread justice throughout the world. Meanwhile the second section of Isaiah 42, verses 18 – 25, describe a different kind of servant, one who is said to be “deaf and blind” (42:18), “plundered and looted”, “trapped in pits” and “hidden away in prisons” (42:22). In fact, Isaiah goes so far as to severely condemn this servant:
So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart [42:25]
Just who is this condemned servant? Isaiah makes it clear that the servant of condemnation is none other than the nation of Israel:
Who is blind like the one in covenant with me, blind like the servant of the Lord? [Isaiah 42:19]
The “one in covenant with me” is a clear reference to the nation of Israel who were in covenant with God at the time Isaiah made this prophecy. Isaiah goes on to make it even more explicit:
Who handed Jacob over to become loot, and Israel to the plunderers? [Isaiah 42:24]
When one compares the characteristics in the different sections of Isaiah side-by-side it becomes obvious that two very different phenomena are being described:
It is clear that the righteous servant cannot be the same personality as the condemned servant. It would not make sense for Isaiah to describe the servant as one who gives light and guides others out of darkness, only to then go on and describe the same servant as deaf and blind. A deaf and blind person (or people) cannot be a guiding light for others; they are in need of guidance themselves.
Furthermore, Isaiah describes the condemned servant Israel as being trapped in a prison. By contrast, the righteous servant is said to free others from prisons:
How can one who is said to free captives from darkness do so if they themselves are imprisoned? Again this demonstrates that Isaiah 42 can only be describing two very different servants.
John N. Oswalt, an American scholar and distinguished professor of the Old Testament, rejects the notion that the righteous servant refers to the nation of Israel:
The identity of this ‘servant’ [in 42:1-9] has been the source of endless controversy. The differences between him and the servant Israel are striking. The servant Israel is fearful and blind, yet God loves him and will deliver him so that he can be God’s evidence to the nations that he is indeed God. But this Servant is of a different sort. He is always obedient and responsive to God, his mission is to bring justice to the nations for God, and he is to be a ‘light’ to the nations and a ‘covenant’ to the people (of Israel, see 49:6). In contrast to the promises of divine blessing constantly being given to the servant Israel, this servant receives no benefits through his ministry but only increasing difficulty. In sum, whoever this is, it is not the nation of Israel; it is another figure altogether. 
In summary, when we consider the context of Isaiah 42 we can see that it’s impossible that the two servants being spoken of are the same, because their characteristics are mutually exclusive. Since Israel is explicitly identified as the blind and condemned servant, therefore the guiding and righteous servant must be someone other than Israel. The only possible conclusion that can be made by viewing these verses is the following: Isaiah 42 refers to two servants, a Prophet of God and Israel. Isaiah prophesies of a time when the Prophet, a servant who has wisdom, understanding and knowledge, will open the eyes and ears of God’s blinded and deaf servant Israel.
In this section we have covered in detail many different opinions about the identity of the coming servant in Isaiah 42. We’ve seen that throughout the ages, Jewish commentators on the Old Testament have held varying opinions. A careful analysis of the characteristics of Isaiah 42 shows that all the candidates typically put forward – Cyrus the Great, Isaiah himself, the Messiah and the nation of Israel – fall short in satisfying the characteristics. This sheer variety of opinion, together with the fact that they all fall short as candidates, shows the utter confusion of Jewish commentators on Isaiah 42. All this confusion disappears if we just let Isaiah 42 speak for itself:
- The coming servant will be associated with Kedar and Sela. Careful analysis of these two locations points to the Arabian cities of Mecca and Madinah,
- his arrival will make their inhabitants sing with joy,
- he will be a warrior who will do battle with an idolatrous people,
- he will bring light to the Gentiles,
- he will spread peace and justice in the world
We can see that the entirety of Isaiah 42 points to Muhammad, and the big clue is the link to Kedar and Sela, an Arabian prophet.
HOW THE EARLY MUSLIMS VIEWED ISAIAH 42
Both the Qur’an and hadith make mention of details about Prophet Muhammad that can be found in the Hebrew Scriptures:
Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered prophet, whom they find written in what they have of the Torah and the Gospel, who enjoins upon them what is right and forbids them what is wrong and makes lawful for them the good things and prohibits for them the evil and relieves them of their burden and the shackles which were upon them. So they who have believed in him, honoured him, supported him and followed the light which was sent down with him – it is those who will be the successful. Say, [O Muhammad], “O mankind, indeed I am the Messenger of God to you all, [from Him] to whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. There is no deity except Him; He gives life and causes death.” So believe in God and His Messenger, the unlettered prophet, who believes in God and His words, and follow him that you may be guided. [Qur’an 7:157-158]
Narrated Ata bin Yasar: I met Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin Al-’As and asked him, “Tell me about the description of God’s Apostle which is mentioned in Torah. He replied, ‘Yes. By God, he is described in Torah with some of the qualities attributed to him in the Quran such as: “O Prophet! We have sent you as a witness and a giver of glad tidings, and a warner (Qur’an 48:8) and guardian of the Ummiyyeen (unlettered people). You are My servant and My Messenger (i.e. Apostle). I have named you “Al-Mutawakkil” (one who depends upon God). You are neither discourteous, harsh nor a noise-maker in the markets And you do not do evil to those who do evil to you, but you deal with them with forgiveness and kindness. God will not let him (the Prophet) die till he makes straight the crooked people by making them say: “None has the right to be worshipped but God,” with which will be opened blind eyes and deaf ears and enveloped hearts.” 
When we compare the Qur’an and hadith to Isaiah 42, you cannot help but notice the remarkable resemblance between them (please click on picture to enlarge):
It seems that even the early Muslims were aware of this prophecy, at least in its overall meaning, if not verbatim. How early Muslims could have come to know of this prophecy in the Hebrew Scriptures is an interesting question. The most probable answer is that they came to know of this prophecy from the Jewish converts to Islam, especially Rabbis such as Abdullah ibn Salaam and Ka’ab Al Ahbar who were leading scholars of the Torah  .
An important point worth mentioning is the presence of various Jewish tribes in Madinah before the advent of Muhammad. Jewish historians, secular historians and Islamic history records this fact:
Alexander Marx, an American historian, and Max Margolis, an American philologist, wrote the following in their book “A History of the Jewish People”:
In the northwest of the peninsula the Jews occupied the oases on the line of the caravan route running from north to south. Taima, Fadak, Khaibar, Wadi-l-Kura (Vale of Villages) were in their hands and Yathrib (later Medina) was in all probability founded by them… [In] Yemen, their industry and enterprising spirit helped to revive the prosperity of the country. 
The American historian Salo Baron, the most noted historian of the Jews of his generation, recorded the following in his book “Social and Religious History of the Jews”:
Judaic presence and influence throughout the region burgeoned steadily throughout the first few centuries of the Common Era. The process is substantiated by solidly sympathetic references to Jews and Judaism in pre-Islamic Arabic literature. By the sixth century, it is clear that “Jewish tribes dominated Yathrib (Medina)… Among some twenty Jewish tribes mentioned in later Arabic literature stand out the Aramaic-sounding Banu Zaghura. More important were the Banu Nadhir, Banu Quraiah and Banu Qainuqa’, who between them, occupied at one time fifty-nine strongholds and practically the entire fertile countryside… Other Jewish settlements… included Dedan, Al-Hijr, Teima, Ablaq, central Arabian Yamana, Ta-if, and possibly, Mecca” 
According to Watt, a Scottish historian and Professor in Arabic and Islamic Studies, the Jewish tribes had previously dominated the political, economic and intellectual life of Madinah. 
Islamic history records that some Jews in Madinah converted to Islam. One famous example is the Jewish rabbi Abdullah bin Salam who converted to Islam upon the Prophet Muhammad’s arrival in Madinah. 
The question then arises, why were there numerous Jewish tribes within Madinah? The answer is that the learned Jews were aware of this prophecy in Isaiah and were anxiously awaiting the coming of a new prophet. Islamic history records this fact:
…God had set them (the people of Madina) on the road to Islam, for there were Jews with them in their own country – people who had scriptures, and were endowed with knowledge… The Jews had the upper hand of them in their country. Whenever there was a dispute among them, the Jews said to them: ‘Now a prophet will be sent, his time is almost come. We shall follow him and with his help we shall obliterate you as the ‘Ad and Iram were obliterated…’ 
The Qur’an also affirms this:
Is it not a sign to them that the learned men of the Children of Israel knew it (as true)?” [Chapter 26, verse 197]
Those to whom We have given the Scripture recognise him [Muhammad] as they recognise their [own] sons.” [Chapter 6, verse 20]
We can learn more about these Jewish tribes of Arabia by looking to early Islamic sources. These state that as well as there being a presence of a number of large, powerful Jewish tribes residing in and around the city of Medina, there was even a huge Jewish settlement in Arabia called Khaybar. Some of the most influential of these tribes were the Banu Nadir and Banu Qurayza. These were called ‘al-kahinan’ (“the two priestly tribes”) . This is because these tribes claimed descent from ‘al-Kahin’, the son of biblical Aaron. Al-Kahin is the Arabised version of the Hebrew ‘Kohen’, which means “priest”. Even in the Old Testament, Jewish law stipulates that the priests who served in the temple must descend from Aaron. Safiyya, the Jewish daughter of the chief of the Banu Nadir tribe, is even referred to as “daughter of Aaron” by the Prophet Muhammad .
In summary, early Islamic sources reveal the following about the Jews of Medina:
- They were part of large tribes that pre-dated Muhammad’s arrival in the city
- Some of these tribes claimed descent from Aaron, as such they were priests
- They must have had deep knowledge of their scriptures, as they knew of the impending arrival of a new Prophet in the city of Medina
If we look to early Jewish sources, we find support for this. The Jerusalem Talmud, also known as Talmud Yerushalmi, is a collection of fourth and fifth century Rabbinic commentaries. It states that Jewish priests from the first temple period travelled to Arabia and lived among the Ishmaelites: “80,000 young priests (broke through) Nebuchadnezzar’s armies and went to the Ishmaelites…” . The Jerusalem Talmud even interprets Isaiah 21 as a reference to the departed priests:
That is what is written, ‘load in Arabia’, a large load on Arabia. ‘In a forest in Arabia they will stay’ [Isaiah 21:13], those that should have been in the forest of Lebanon [the temple, 1 Kings 7:2], ‘in Arabia they will stay’ 
The claim that Jewish tribes were awaiting the arrival of a Prophet in Arabia is further supported by writings such as the Secrets of Rabbi Simon ben Yohai, a Jewish apocalypse of the mid-eighth century which presents a Judaic messianic interpretation of the advent of Islam. It contains a positive endorsement of the mission of Muhammad and an affirmation of the divinely mandated role of the Arabs in saving the Jewish people from persecution:
When he saw the kingdom of Ishmael that was coming, he began to say: ‘Was it not enough, what the wicked kingdom of Edom did to us, but we must have the kingdom of Ishmael too?’ At once Metatron the prince of the countenance answered and said: ‘Do not fear, son of man, for the Holy One, blessed be He, only brings the kingdom of Ishmael in order to save you from this wickedness. He raises up over them a prophet according to his will and will conquer the land for them and they will come and restore it in greatness, and there will be great terror between them and the sons of Esau.’ Rabbi Simon answered and said: ‘How do we know that they are our salvation?’ He answered: ‘Did not the Prophet Isaiah say thus: “And he saw a troop with a pair of horsemen, etc.”’ 
These statements provide a fascinating insight into an eighth century Rabbinic understanding of the conquests of the Muslims. Some of the key points mentioned:
“for the Holy One only brings the kingdom of Ishmael in order to save you from this wickedness…”
“He raises up over them a Prophet according to his will and will conquer the land for them and they will come and restore it in greatness…”
Did not the Prophet Isaiah say thus: “And he saw a troop with a pair of horsemen…”
What this demonstrates is that early Jewish scholars were open to the idea of prophets emerging from among the Arabs, and we can see that some even interpreted sections of Isaiah as prophecies that have been fulfilled by the arrival of Muhammad.
COMMON OBJECTIONS ANSWERED
Objection 1 – Muhammad is not mentioned by name in Isaiah so the prophecy can’t be about him.
The writers of the New Testament claim that prophecies about Jesus can be found throughout the Old Testament, and yet in none of these prophecies is Jesus mentioned explicitly by name. Here is one example:
When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. [Matthew 2:14-15]
So according to the Gospel of Matthew, there’s a prophecy in the Old Testament that was fulfilled by Jesus. But when one goes back to the book of Hosea in the Old Testament where the statement is referenced from, you will find that Matthew quoted only half the passage:
When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. [Hosea 11:1]
As you can see, when read in full, rather than being a prophecy about Jesus, this verse was in fact speaking of a past event, the exodus at the time of Moses. If Christians have no issue accepting this standard of prophecy for Jesus, then in the name of fairness and consistency they should adopt at least a similar standard for Muhammad. As we have seen, however, the evidence for Muhammad in Isaiah 42 is clear and unambiguous by comparison. Christians should adopt a methodology that is fair and consistent when it comes to finding prophecies of Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them both) in the Old Testament. We can’t have one set of standards for Muhammad, and another for Jesus.
Objection 2 – The Qur’an mentions that Muhammad can be found in the Torah, but Isaiah 42 is not part of the Torah.
It’s true that in its most limited sense, the Torah refers to the five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). However in a broader sense, Torah actually includes all Jewish law and tradition. The Hebrew word “torah” just means instruction or law, and so in Judaism it is also used in a general sense to refer to the entire Old Testament which includes Isaiah. Rabbi Alfred J. Kolatch informs us:
“In Jewish tradition the word ‘Torah’, which literally means ‘teaching’, is often used to describe the entire gamut of Jewish religious learning. When so used, ‘Torah’ refers not only to the five books of Moses, but also to the Prophets, Holy Writings, Talmud, and Midrash — In fact all religious writings from earliest times to the present.” 
It’s important to note that in the New Testament Paul quotes Isaiah and refers to it as ‘law’:
In the Law it is written: “With other tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” [1 Corinthians 14:21]
Here Paul has directly quoted from Isaiah 28:11-12:
Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people, to whom he said, “This is the resting place, let the weary rest”; and, “This is the place of repose”— but they would not listen.
Jesus also quotes directly from the Psalms and refers to it as ‘law’:
Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? [John 10.34]
Here Jesus has quoted Psalm 82:6 from the Old Testament:
I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.
Clearly, Paul and Jesus refer to Isaiah and the Psalms as Torah (‘law’) even though technically they are not part of Torah. In the same way, when the Qur’an refers to the Torah in verses such as 7:157 it could just be a reference to the complete collection of scriptures that the Jews had at the time of Muhammad, which included the Book of Isaiah. So for the sake of convenience it is referred to as Torah collectively. Even if we accept the technical, narrow definition of Torah, then this does not refute that the Qur’an could be referring to Isaiah, because the Qur’an doesn’t state that he can only be found in the Torah.
Objection 3 – Muslims claim that the Torah we have today is corrupted, so you can’t use Isaiah 42 to prove the Prophethood of Muhammad.
It is true that much of the original Torah revealed to Moses has been corrupted (see this article for further information). However that does not mean that all of the Torah has become corrupted. It turns out that the Book of Isaiah is perhaps the most reliable book (in terms of textual preservation) in the entire Old Testament. We know this thanks to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These are a collection of texts discovered between 1946 and 1956 inside caves near the Dead Sea. The texts are of great religious significance because they include the earliest known surviving manuscripts of the Old Testament, dated from approximately 150 BCE – 70 CE. Many manuscripts are fragmentary, however the Book of Isaiah can be found in its entirety and is virtually identical to what we have of the Book of Isaiah today . So in summary, the Torah that we have today is unreliable as a whole, but the Book of Isaiah in particular is reliable. Readers are encouraged to reflect on why out of all the books of the Old Testament it is the Book of Isaiah, containing a very clear prophecy about Muhammad – that has been preserved. Perhaps God intended for this to be a sign to Jews and Christians.
Finally, the authors of the Bible also quote from books that are considered forgeries. For example, the New Testament book of Jude contains the following prophecy:
It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” [Jude 1:14-15]
Such a prophecy is nowehere to be found in the entire Bible. One of the startling discoveries among the Dead Sea Scrolls were the presence of apocryphal texts not found in the modern Old Testament. During the excavation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a book called “1 Enoch” (also known as The Book of Enoch) was discovered. Enoch 1:9 says this:
And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of holy ones to execute judgement upon all, and to destroy [all] the ungodly: and to convict all flesh of all the works [of their ungodliness] which they have ungodly committed, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners [have spoken] against Him.”
You can see that this quote is virtually identical to the quotation in Jude. Now, Enoch is deemed to be a forgery by the vast majority of Christians, hence its designation as Apocrypha. So if Muslims cannot quote from the Bible because we believe some of it is corrupted, then the author of the New Testament book of Jude is also wrong in doing so when he quotes prophecies in Enoch.
Objection 4 – Isaiah 42 does refer to Jesus! Some of the verses apply to his first coming, and some verses apply to his second coming.
As the article has shown, when you take the apparent meaning of the verses in Isaiah 42 and apply them to the life of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, it comprehensively rules out Jesus as a candidate. So what Christians have to do instead is divide the life of Jesus into two periods, the first and second coming. This approach allows one to get around the problematic verses by arbitrarily picking and choosing which coming they apply to. So if a particular verse of Isaiah 42 rules out Jesus when we analyse his life in the Gospels, then they will interpret it as a reference to his second coming in the end times. Not a methodical approach by any means.
In fact it’s very contrived, and in spite of best efforts it still doesn’t work when we take the whole of Isaiah 42 in context. The context is the coming of a special person who will be sent to battle idol worshippers, defeat them and turn their darkness into light – the worship of God:
The Lord will march out like a champion, like a warrior he will stir up his zeal; with a shout he will raise the battle cry and will triumph over his enemies… I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. But those who trust in idols, who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’ will be turned back in utter shame. [Isaiah 42:13, 16-17]
Those involved in the darkness of idolatry, called the “blind” by Isaiah, will be battled and ultimately “guided” and “not forsaken”.
Since Jesus never fought anyone during his first coming, he was a pacifist according to the Gospels, Christians are forced to interpret this verse in light of his second coming in the end times – the Jesus that brings fire and brimstone:
Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. [1 Thessalonians 5:1-3]
and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. [2 Thessalonians 1:7-10]
“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. [Matthew 24:30]
Now Isaiah 42 simply cannot apply to the second coming of Jesus. In the first two verses above, Paul claims that when Jesus returns, those who “do not know God” – the blind – will be “punished with everlasting destruction”. This is a destruction that is “sudden”, like “a thief in the night”. When someone is destroyed suddenly by God, they have lost all chance of being guided, they have been eternally forsaken by God and condemned to hell – the exact opposite of Isaiah 42 which talks of the idol worshippers being “guided” and “not forsaken”! Moreover Matthew states that when Jesus returns “all the peoples of the earth will mourn”. Yet the general theme that runs throughout Isaiah 42 is the rejoicing and singing of God’s praises by the people of earth because they have been guided away from the darkness of idolatry into the light of the worship of God:
…In his teaching the islands will put their hope. [42:4]
…open eyes that are blind …release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. [42:7]
Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth… [42:10]
Let the wilderness and its towns raise their voices… rejoice… sing for joy… let them shout from the mountaintops. [42:11]
Any sincere person that interprets Isaiah 42 consistently will see that it simply cannot apply to Jesus, regardless of whether one takes it as a reference to his first or second coming. The fact is that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the only person in history that has fulfilled all of the criteria set out in Isaiah 42.
Objection 5 – Sela is located in Jordan, not Saudi Arabia!
The argument here is that the “Sela” referenced in Isaiah 42:11 is actually Sela in the city of Petra (Jordan) and not the Sela in Madinah, Saudi Arabia. For example the following verse may be cited to support of this argument:
He was the one who defeated ten thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt and captured Sela in battle, calling it Joktheel, the name it has to this day. [2 Kings 14:7]
The Edomites were a people that inhabited the land of Edom, the Biblical name for modern day Jordan. Let’s consider the entirety of the verse of Isaiah in question:
Let the wilderness and its towns raise their voices; let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice. Let the people of Sela sing for joy; let them shout from the mountaintops. [Isaiah 42:11]
Now, if Isaiah had intended to identify the Sela of Edom, then he would have mentioned the rejoicing of the Edomites, not Kedar. The Edomites and Kedarites were two different groups that inhabited entirely different lands:
The fact is that Isaiah mentions Sela in conjunction with Kedar’s location, and as has already been demonstrated, Kedar dwelt in the desert of Western Saudi Arabia. So this should lead us to conclude that Sela is in the city of Madinah, because Sela is the name of a famous mountain in Madinah. Recall that Madinah, a city located in Western Saudi Arabia, is Muhammad’s city. Moreover the Sela of Edom does not fit the context of the chapter of Isaiah, which talks of the coming of God’s special person. Which Prophet or Messenger of God ever travelled to Edom and was received by overjoyed people? The Bible mentions no such incident. We can see that the only Sela that fulfils the prophecy in full is Madinah.
Another way that we can come to a resolution on the identity of Sela is to consider the nature and purpose of prophecy. Prophecies allow those who receive them to be aware of things that are going to happen in the future. If a prophecy causes confusion, or raises more questions in the minds of its recipients, then that defeats the purpose of prophecy. Now if Kedar has no significance in the verse, then there is no certainty as to which site is being mentioned. Given that there were multiple Selas at the time Isaiah was writing, how would his audience be able to determine which Sela is being spoken of? It’s only expected for Isaiah to actually specify which one he’s talking about. That must be why Isaiah spoke about Kedar, as it allows us to pinpoint a specific Sela, that of Prophet Muhammad.
The 42nd chapter of Isaiah in the Old Testament clearly foretells the coming of a Prophet with the following qualities: he will be God’s servant, he will bring a new law, he will bring light to the Gentiles, he will arise from the city of Madinah in Saudi Arabia, he will be a warrior and crush the enemies of God, those who worship idols. These are a people that had not received any revelation before this. Moreover it has been shown that it is impossible for Isaiah 42 to refer to Jesus. If the reader is still not convinced in spite of all the evidence that the Prophet can be none other than Muhammad, peace be upon him, then perhaps they should reflect on this prophecy that has remained unfulfilled for thousands of years.
1 – Bukhari Kitab Ahadees al-Ambiyaa (Prophets) 60, Chapter 48, Hadith 654.
2 – Christopher North, The Second Isaiah: Introduction, Translation and Commentary To Chapters XL-LV, p. 108.
3 – Bukhari Kitaab al-Buyu’ (Book of Sales and Trade) Chapter 50 (The dislike of raising voices in the market).
4 – Seerah ibn Hisham, vol. 1, pp. 293-294.
5 – Ibid., pp. 265-266.
6 – Bukhari, Kitab Manaqib al-Ansar (Merits of the Helpers in Madinah) 63, Chapter 29, Hadith 191.
7 – Christopher North, The Second Isaiah: Introduction, Translation and Commentary To Chapters XL-LV, p. 109
8 – John Bar Penkaye, quoted by Walter E. Kaegi, Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquest, Cambirdge, 2000, p. 216.
9 – Sebeos (1999). The Armenian History of Sebeosi, pp. 95–97.
10 – Professor. Haseeb Shehada (1989). Translation of the Samaritan Torah, p.90. Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.
11 – Dead Sea Scrolls, Book of Jubilees, p.118, verses 12-13.
12 – Smith’s Bible Dictionary, 1884, p 370.
13 – Keil-Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, 1991, p. 253.
14 – Achtemeier, Paul J., Harper’s Bible Dictionary, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985.
15 – Charles Foster, The historical geography of Arabia, P. 130.
16 – Bukhari Kitab al-Maghazi (Book of Expeditions led by the Prophet) Chapter 80, Hadith 702.
17 – Muslim, Book 4, Chapter 169 (Supplication in prayer for rain), Hadith 1955.
18 – Click on this link to go to Google Maps.
19 – A Bible Dictionary, Hayden Series, edited by Rev. Charles Boutell, p. 386.
20 – Bukhari, Book of Prophetic Commentary, Hadith 4560.
21 – Tirmidhi, Book of the Description of the Day of Resurrection, Softening of Hearts, and Piety, Hadith 2409.
22 – Muslim, The Account of the Prophet’s Emigration, Hadith 7150.
23 – James Howard-Johnston, Witnesses to a World Crises, 2010, pp. 357-358.
24 – The Jewish Study Bible, p. 867 on Isa. 42:1-9.
25 – Amélie Kuhrt, The Persian Empire: A Corpus of Sources of the Achaemenid Period, pp. 70-72.
26 – Christopher Beckwith, Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present, p. 63
27 – Richard Bell, The Origin of Islam in its Christian Environment, p. 42.
28 – John Oswalt, The NIV Application Commentary, 2003, p. 470, on Isaiah 42:1-9.
29 – Bukhari Kitaab al-Buyu’ (Book of Sales and Trade) Chapter 50 (The dislike of raising voices in the market).
30 – Bukhari Kitab Manaqib al-Ansaar (Merits of the Helpers in Madinah), Chapter 45 (The emigration of the Prophet and his Companions to Al-Madina).
31 – Sunan Al Daarimi, Hadith no. 3193, Hadith scholar Hussain Salim Asad al-Darani in his book on the evaluation of Musnad al Daarimi declared this narration’s chain of transmission to be Hasan (good), see no. 3370, p. 2095.
32 – Max L. Margolis and Alexander Marx, A History of the Jewish People, NY. 1927, 248.
33 – Salo Baron. Social and Religious History of the Jews. Chapter XVI The Pre-Islamic World. Selections.
34 – Watt, Montgomery, Muhammad in Medina, (OUP, 1988 impression), p. 192.
35 – The Quran And The Gospels: A Comparative Study,’ p. 47 by Dr. Muhammad Abu Laylah of Azhar University.
36 – Rodinson, Maxime, Mohammed, (Pelican, London, 1973), p.143, quoting the Sira of Ibn Hisham.
37 – Norman Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book, p. 9.
38 – Tirmidhi, Hadith #3894.
39 – See translation of Jerusalem Talmud, Ta’anit 4.5 by Heinrich W. Guggenheimer, Tractates Ta’aniot, Megillah, Hagigah and Mo’ed Qatan (Masqin), p. 174.
40 – Ibid.
41 – John C. Reeve, Trajectories in Near Eastern Apocalyptic: A Post Rabbinic Jewish Apocalypse, pp. 10-11.
42 – Alfred J. Kolatch, This is the Torah, 1988, p. 1.
43 – See “The Great Isaiah Scroll” online here: http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/isaiah
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