Notes on Isaiah 51-52

Isaiah 51‑52  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 8
In chapter 1 we have seen the divine Messiah in the depths of humiliation, but the Lord Jehovah helping and justifying Him. In chapter 53 (which really begins at 52:13) we shall see Him “wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities,” when Jehovah “laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Compare Psa. 69; 22) Between these everlasting foundations of blessing for Israel (or for any), the Holy Spirit gives us awakening appeals of the utmost force, interest, and beauty. It is a complete whole, consisting of seven distinct parts (chap. 51:1-3; 4-6; 7, 8; then, 9-16; 17-23; 52:1-10; lastly, 11, 12), and tracing the gradations of the godly Jewish remnant from their deep distress, fearing Jehovah and obeying the voice of His servant, though in darkness as yet and having no light, but gradually advancing till they stand in the full glory that was promised them.
The first remark to be made is one of no small importance as affecting the interpretation or rather application of this prophetic strain. It is not under the head of Babylon, but of a rejected Messiah. And in fact the attempt to apply to their state after the return from Babylon either the calls of righteousness to them, or the calls of the Spirit in them, or the final word as a priest to Jehovah abandoning their old seats of impurity, is not worth a refutation—hardly a notice.
Chapter 48 closed that part of the subject. Chapter 49 opened the new complaint and ground of judgment God lays against His people—not idolatry judged by the captivity in Babylon, but the refusal of Christ, the ground of their dispersion and distresses under the fourth empire. Therefore was Israel divorced from Jehovah; but a remnant, poor in spirit, by grace obey the voice of His humbled servant. Their moral restoration and final triumph are here brought before us in as orderly a way as is compatible with the boldest flights of the sublimest of the poets.
The first appeal to hear (ver. 1-3) is to them as following after righteousness and seeking Jehovah. Such will be few indeed at first. They may feel themselves alone, the mass of Israel being apostate like the Gentiles. But they are exhorted to look to Abraham and Sarah. “For I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.” Then faith must count on no less but more manifest blessing, after all their sorrow now at its worst. “For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shalt be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody.” (Ver. 3)
The next (ver. 4-6) goes farther and calls them Jehovah's people and His nation: “Hearken,” &c. [the word is a different one from that more general term in ver. 1, 7, and implies attention.] It is a total mistake in Bishop Lowth to think the address in this case is made not to the Jews but to the Gentiles, “as in all reason it ought to be!” It was the more required as a comfort for the Jews, because they have been so long called Lo-ammi. (Compare Hos. 1; 2) The peoples are distinguished, for whose light His judgments should rest, as His arms should judge them, while His righteousness and salvation established forever should be the portion of Israel.
The third (ver. 7, 8) calls them to hear, as knowing righteousness and having Jehovah's law in their hearts. Why should such fear the reproach and revilings of men whom the moth and the worm, little and feeble as they are, should devour?
Similarly the Spirit now answers, as it were in the remnant. First (ver. 9.-16) they call for the power of Jehovah to assert itself against their mighty foes, as of old against proud Egypt. “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?” (Ver. 9, 10.) They predict their deliverance in verse 11, and the Lord's reply to their trembling hearts in terms as full of pathos as of grandeur in verses 12-16.
Next (ver. 17-23), the Spirit of God summons Jerusalem to arise and stand up, with a most vivid description of her reeling under the Lord's judgment without one of her sons to guide or help, and of His taking the cup from her hand, not here to drink it Himself, but to put it into the hands of their oppressors.
Then, thirdly (chap. Id. 1-10), Zion is called to awake and put on strength: “Put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city.” The days of Egypt and of Assyria should never return: no more should the uncircumcised and the unclean come there. Beautiful then in their eyes, as in His, are the feet of him that brings good tidings and publishes peace. Before (chap. 40), the cities of Judah were told, “Behold your God.” Now Zion hears, “Thy God reigneth!” The watchmen lift up their voice, singing, not warning; the very wastes of Jerusalem, so long forsaken, sing together in their irrepressible joy. “For the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” (Ver. 9, 10.)
Lastly, the strain closes with the peremptory call to act consistently with the holiness of the Lord and of his sanctuary. “Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; he ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord.” It should not be, as of old, in hurry and anxiety, however guided and delivered even then. But the greatest triumphs of their fathers fade in the glorious intervention of Jehovah which the children now know. “For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your reward.” (Ver. 12.) It is in truth and in its fullest display the day of the Lord when Israel forever leave the unclean Gentiles, henceforth to be a richer blessing to them than their evils had been a snare and ruin to Israel.