Category Archives: Studies in The Book of Isaiah

The LORD’s Answer: Mercy for Israel

The chapter provides the response of the LORD to the prayer that has just been offered. Its message unfolds in three main sections: the LORD’s complaint of the rejection of His overtures by a group of people who practice impure rites (1-7); a comparison of the destinies in store for the faithful and the disloyal (8-16); and a detailed description of the happiness that is to reward the righteous (17-25).

Most modern critics wish to place this section much later than even the time of the so-called “Deutero-Isaiah,” perhaps even in the first half of the fifth-century. But as before, there is ample evidence that the passage could fit the earlier time as well. Indeed, the text is written in such a way that there are several times of application that would work. Verse 11 is said to refer to the temple, and the conclusion is that it must be the temple rebuilt. But it only mentions the “holy mountain.” Thus, it would be hard to date this chapter without recourse to one’s presuppositions about the book itself.

Exposition

I. THE LORD WILL JUDGE REBELLIOUS PEOPLE WHO TURN ASIDE TO FALSE GODS (65:1-5).

The first section picks up the familiar theme: the abandonment of the LORD for pagan and superstitious practices and the retribution awaiting those guilty of it. It is the familiar theme of the sin of Israel in the Old Testament. Here is a final warning: if they continue to reject the appeals of the LORD they will be utterly destroyed.

A. THE LORD CALLS PEOPLE TO HIMSELF (1, 2).

The text begins with

I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me;

I was found by those who did not seek me.

to a nation that did not call on my name,

I said, Here am I, Here am I.

cross2So in verse 1 God explains how He extended the offer to the people to participate with Him in the covenant and in pure worship. The first verse as read in the MT indicates that Gentiles have been called by God and have found Him. Some commentaries suggest that the verse should follow the Greek to indicate that He is saying that He has submitted Himself to be inquired of (cf. Ezek. 36:37) by them that have not asked, and that He has submitted Himself to be found by them that have not sought.

The holding out the hands (an anthropomorphism) in verse 2 is in the gesture of entreaty (cf. Prov. 1:24). But the people have been obstinate (see also Paul in Rom. 10:21). There has been no response by them to God’s overtures. Rather, they have followed a “way that is not good.” This is a litotes; it summarizes the entire section to come which describes the rites of worship of an idolatrous character.

Verses 1 and 2 are applied by Paul in Romans 10:20,21 to two distinct groups of people—the nations in verse 1, who while in a less privileged position have responded to the call; and the Jews in verse 2 who have stubbornly refused. Paul is clearly following the Hebrew tradition of the passage.

B. THE LORD CONDEMNS SUPERSTITIOUS PRACTICES (3-5).

The LORD accuses His people of provoking Him to anger before His very face. According to verse 3 the LORD is thought of as present in a peculiar degree in His own sanctuary near where the idolatrous acts were committed. If this is the point of “before Me” or “to My very face” in the verse, then the setting is the same as Ezekiel describes before the exile. The “gardens” where they make sacrifices refers to the places where tree-worship could be observed, among the groves (not meaning Christmas trees) and fertile places (see Isa. 57:5 and 66:17). The expression “altars of bricks” has received considerable attention since there is no real prohibition for the use of bricks. Some take it that the tiles of the houses are meant as the base for offering to the host of heaven (Jer. 19:13; Zeph. 1:5; and 2 Kings 23:12). Others would repoint (change the spelling of vowels of) the Hebrew to obtain the word “poplars” to refer to the cult object of white poplars that were associated with the underworld.

Verse 4 introduces their sitting among the graves for the purpose of necromancy. Oracles from the dead were supposed to have been conveyed to those who spent the night in the graves, because the souls of the dead were thought to have haunted the tombs.

The same verse tells of their eating unclean meat, such as the pig, probably at sacrificial meals (cf. 66:17). It was believed that to eat animals considered unclean would be not merely an act of rebellion but a means of communion with supernatural powers, the animals being totems, and the eating being a religious act allowing the consumer to receive the qualities of the ancestor which the totem animal represented. The pagan connections and ideas for the pig are some of the reasons why it was outlawed in Israel. It was not merely that it was meat that easily turned bad.

The words in verse 5 are the warnings of one who claims to be holier than others, one who was consecrated by communion with a divinity (perhaps through eating or by being in the tomb) to passers-by so that they will not contact him and be rendered unclean and incapable of normal duties for a time.

God says that such people are “smoke” in His nostrils. This may mean that they are the cause of fiery anger (Jer. 17:4) which manifested itself in the nose according to Hebrew idiom (Ps. 18:8), or that they are to be judged by God.

II. THE LORD WILL PURGE REBELS AND PREPARE THE REMNANT FOR THE CONSUMMATION (65:6-16).

A. JUDGMENT WILL FALL ON THE WICKED (6, 7).

When in verse 6 the LORD says that “it stands written” He means that this evil will not be allowed to pass without judgment. He will not keep silent about this, but will pay back in full measure—into their laps. The expression uses the idea of a large fold in the garment to be a receptacle—here for God’s judgment. The sins of the people as well as the sins of their fathers (verse 7) will be paid back. Their worship on the mountaintops was simply blatant idolatry and profane apostasy.

Nativity SceneB. THE REMNANT WILL BE SAVED (8-10).

In verse 8 the nation is compared to a cluster of grapes which is so rotten that only the presence of juice in a few grapes keeps the whole bunch from being destroyed. The juice in the few grapes (the remnant) is the new wine that should not be destroyed. There is some good—so God will not destroy them all.

When the LORD purges the rebels from the land, He will bring forth the faithful as the sole possessors of the blessings (verse 9). “Bring forth” here means cause to emerge. And the “mountains” would be a reference to Judah, the land which God’s servants will inherit. The use of “there” in the text may be temporal—in the future.

The boundaries of the land are given in verse 10. “Sharon” refers to the whole land, from the Mediterranean to the descent to the Jordan (and not Judah only). The Valley of Achor is apparently the deep valley known as the Wady Kelt, leading down to the Jordan near Jericho. These general descriptions give the breadth of the land that was to be the possession of the LORD’s faithful.

C. THE REBELS WILL BE DESTROYED (11, 12).

The oracle now turns to address those who have abandoned the LORD and have spread a table for Fortune and prepared wine for Destiny (the actions are metonymies for false worship). The text has Gad and Meni. The Greek has daimonio … tuche, although the Vulgate uses Fortuna for Gad. Gad was venerated widely throughout Syria and Palestine; Meni has no similar evidence. But the ideas of fortune and luck were associated with the stars, and so there may be a connection with astrological worship. Whatever the deities were, the people spread food for them in their ritual of sympathetic magic.

Verse 12 announces that such who do these are destined for the sword. The verb “destine” is manah, a play on the name Meni.

D. DIFFERENT DESTINIES AWAIT PEOPLE (13-16).

In verse 13 the LORD contrasts the lot of the righteous with that of the wicked. The wicked will go hungry and eventually be put to shame, meaning completely disappointed in their expectations. The contrast continues in verse 14 where the righteous will sing out of the joy of their hearts, but the wicked will be vexed in their spirits—literally, a shattering of their spirit.

Then, in verse 15 the motif of “name” is introduced. The name of the wicked will be left to curse. This means that a fate like theirs will be the most extreme malediction which the righteous can imprecate upon an enemy. On the other hand, the good estate of the righteous will necessitate different epithets to be used in describing them (see 62:2, 4, 12; and Rev. 2:17; 3:12).

Thus, in verse 16, the LORD’s faithful accomplishment of the threats and promises in these verses will lead people to appeal confidently to Him to fulfill a blessing prayed for, or to avenge a perjured oath. Thus, the “God of truth” will once again be revered in the land; and the troubles of the former times for the remnant will be gone.

III. THE LORD ASSURES HIS PEOPLE OF A GLORIOUS FUTURE IN THE NEW WORLD HE WILL CREATE (65:17-25).

At the consummation of the ages the LORD will create a new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem. It will be characterized by security, prosperity, safety, and close communion with the LORD. The glorious state described in this chapter is picked up by John in the Book of Revelation in his description of the world to come. In that place John portrays it after the Messianic Age and so it must issue into the eternal state, unless the events in Revelation are not to be taken so strictly chronologically.

It will have as its central focus the Messiah, Immanuel; and the righteous will have free access to Him. This glorious new creation will, as Paul says, begin the reign of Christ on earth, that will eventually be delivered up to the Father (1 Cor. 15) and become what we call the eternal state. But Revelation says that the saints will reign with Christ in earth; but have access to Him in the heavenly sanctuary. It will all be far more wonderful, and complex, than we can even imagine.

All the expressions in these verses are very clear. The prophet in describing the restoration of human society to right conditions tells of a transformation of the physical universe, just as formerly the perfect creation was destroyed and changed by sin. The words are used of the Christian hope in 2 Peter 3:13, and Rev. 21:1. Weeping and mourning will be removed (verse 19). And one of the causes of sorrow, death, or at least untimely death, will be removed so that there will be longevity once again (verse 20).

salvationThese descriptions have been taken in a couple of ways by commentaries. Some wish to take the expressions literally and see reference to a new period on this earth when all the transformations in it will be established; for in the eternal state there will be no death and no sinners at all. People who will be on earth will live, marry, have children, build, and be in harmony with nature. Jerusalem will be the center of God’s theocracy, and there will be peace and safety there. This view, a millennial reign of Christ and His saints, would see these conditions in Isaiah as a prelude to the eternal state. This view harmonizes well with some passages of the Bible, but doesn’t harmonize very well with Isaiah 25 and with the order of things in Revelation.

Others, noting that Isaiah 25 had announced there would be no death, and noting the sequence in the Book of Revelation (new heaven and new earth after the millennium), describe this picture as the new creation to come. The language then is figurative and representative—if there were death, one who dies at 100 would be considered a child. And if there were sinners, they would be quickly condemned. But the weakness with this view is that it really strains the meanings of the lines.

What is clear from the prophet’s message is that there is coming a marvelous new creation that will end the curse and its effects. A return from captivity to Israel could not have satisfied these prophecies, especially since the apostle picks them up and advances them. This, then, remains the glorious prospect of the righteous. But the sequence of the events, and how it will all be worked out, cannot be worked out with absolute certainty at this time.

The passage holds out the hope of a share in the world to come, the new creation of the LORD. God will renovate all things in this world to show what He had intended from the beginning. And that “season of refreshing,” that “world to come” as the Rabbis termed it, will see the removal of the curse and the fulfillment of all the promises. So those who respond to God’s call and serve Him faithfully are the heirs of that new creation. Those who stubbornly refuse His call and go after false gods instead will have everlasting shame. Faithfulness to God’s call, then, becomes the central point of the application. Believers must show their faith by their devotion; unbelievers must turn to the truth by faith, abandoning all false beliefs and wicked practices.

For the believers, if the new heaven and the new earth come about a little differently than expected, they will not be disappointed.

Even though Lord Jesus, Come Soon!

 

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Israel’s Plea for Deliverance

Isaiah 64 is a confident prayer for deliverance by the believing remnant. It begins with a plea for the LORD to intervene to deliver His people in His characteristically powerful way (1-4). Their confidence is based on the LORD’s great demonstrations of power in the past. Their recalling the works of the LORD is followed by the acknowledgment of their complete sinfulness (5-8). And yet, in spite of their guilt, they could appeal to God because He was their Father and Creator (= potter); He would change their estate by His grace (9-12).

The prayer is similar to Isaiah 53 in that the exiled people confess their sin as a nation before God. Here they pray for the advent of the LORD to end their afflictions through some powerful intervention. Although the nation had rejected Him by their idolatry and wickedness and brought the exile on themselves, He had not finally rejected Israel. There would be a remnant that would return. Nevertheless, if the people were to be part of that remnant, they had to confess their sin and pray for deliverance before He would deliver them from the consequences of sin.

Exposition

I. THE DEMONSTRATION OF GOD’S POWER: THE PEOPLE OF GOD DESIRE THE DIRECT INTERVENTION BY GOD (64:1-4).

A. THEY LONG FOR A GREAT DELIVERANCE (1, 2).

The prayer recorded here is a national lament. It begins with the request for divine intervention—in a spectacular way. They are praying for divine intervention to deliver them from bondage in exile; but the language goes far beyond that. The people want a dramatic show of power as the LORD intervenes on their behalf. “Rend” the heavens in verse 1 would be a hypocatastasis, an implied comparison to tearing open a curtain. The epiphany language that follows is drawn from “Day of the LORD” prophecies (Joel, Amos) and the Sinai experience. The “mountains” would represent any obstacle that stood in the way of their deliverance (another implied comparison, or hypocatastasis); of course, in the actual eschaton (end of the age) something far more dramatic is in view according to the other prophets who see geological changes in the earth (Zechariah). When the LORD literally rends the heavens and comes down to the Mount of Olives, it will be split in two, and all sorts of geological changes will take place. The mountains “trembling” is a poetic description of an earthquake.

The purpose of such a great display of God’s power is that the name of the LORD might be known. This is a theme that began with the plagues of Egypt and continued throughout the Bible—that He might make Himself known. All acts of God are revelation; His great acts of redemption are likewise to be revelatory so that others might find salvation.

PrayerB. THEY RECALL THE WAY GOD INTERVENES (3, 4).

The people recall how God did amazingly mighty things in the past (verse 3). And in it all they know that the work of the LORD was truly unique. No one ever heard of a God like this who makes a covenant with people and keeps it, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him (verse 4). God delights in doing the impossible, the unexpected, on behalf of His remnant. Here is our theme of waiting for the LORD again—faith, endurance, obedience, expectancy, all rolled into one (see Isaiah 40).

The Church prays “Thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It also prays, “Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.” Verses 1-4 are essentially what we are calling for God to do. And when it happens, when the heavens open and the LORD descends, it will not be just to deliver people from the exile in Babylon, but will be to deliver the redeemed in the Lord, dead or alive, from all bondage, and to make all things new—things that we could never imagine.

Living in the expectation of the LORD’s coming to deliver His own, the people of God have the opportunity to reflect on God’s past interventions. Thus it was with Israel in exile; and so it is today on the eve of the Second Coming. And that reflection should inspire greater faith and obedience and devotion.

II. THE FORGIVENESS OF SIN: THE PEOPLE OF GOD ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR UNWORTHINESS (64:5-9).

A. GOD BLESSES THE RIGHTEOUS (5).

Beginning in verse 5 the prophet acknowledges that God champions the cause of the righteous, but that the nation (for which he speaks) sinned against Him, and those who rebelled against God also sinned against the righteous in the nation. And, if God intercedes for those who choose righteousness (“meet” = intercedes, as in Isaiah 53), then there is not much hope for sinners who oppose the righteous. “How then can we be saved?” he asks. God was angry for the sin of the nation, and the only hope the nation now had was to plead for forgiveness.

B. THEY CONFESS THEIR UNWORTHINESS (6, 7).

So verse 6 is the central part of the confession. Drawing upon Levitical terminology they confess that they are unclean. The terminology means that they would have been barred from fellowship in the Sanctuary. Moreover, any acts of righteousness that they had done were no better than polluted rags (the language comes from ritual uncleanness through bodily function). This recognition of sinfulness is the expression of a contrite heart. According to verse 6 they know that their own sins sweep them away like the wind sweeps the leaf away, for God does not come to their rescue. And because God has hidden Himself from them, no one calls on His name (verse 7). And so their confession of sin is a plea for divine grace so that they can be forgiven and delivered from bondage. There would be no deliverance from bondage without the forgiveness of sin (which is why Christ died at His first advent and will release us from bondage at His second).

LordsPrayerC. THEY BUILD THEIR CONFIDENCE (8).

Their only appeal is the relationship they have with God (verse 8). God is their Father (stressing the covenant relationship); God is their potter and maker (stressing their submission to Him).1 So while acknowledging their sin, they appeal to the close relationship they have with the LORD, how much He has invested in them, and what plans He has for the nation. To call God Father and Potter is to express submission to the will of God—both refer to God’s creation and God’s sovereign will. They will accept His plan for their lives, and so they pray for forgiveness and intervention.

III. THE BESTOWAL OF FAVOR: THE PEOPLE OF GOD APPEAL FOR DIVINE FAVOR (64:9-12).

This passage closes with an impassioned appeal for God to look favorably on them, forgetting their sins against Him, and remembering that they are His people.

The prayer is that God will not remember their sins. The word “remember” is anthropomorphic (here not remembering is equal to forgetting if we say it positively). God knows everything perfectly well; so the expression must mean to hold something against them. When God forgives, it means that He will never bring that issue up again. People may have troubling forgetting; other people may make it difficult for them to forget (like satan)—but if they confess their sins to God, God will never mention them again or hold them against them.

The plea for God to “look upon” them is also anthropomorphic; it conveys the idea of turning with grace and compassion. The idea is reflected very well in the High Priestly benediction which is a prayer for the bestowal of grace, a prayer for God to lift up His face and look on them so they would have grace and peace (Num. 6:22-27).

They motivate God to answer their prayer with the appeal that the Temple has been destroyed, the Temple in which praises were given to God. This holy and glorious Temple has been burned down. After all this, will God still hold back and punish them more. It is time for this divine discipline to end, and the restoration of all things to begin, so that Zion can once again be the center of worship and praise it used to be.

Conclusion

This prayer follows the pattern of many Israelite prayers. It contains the introductory cry, the lament, expressions of confidence, and the prayer proper with its motivations for God to work. We need to study the structure and compare it with other lament psalms, for it does follow the pattern.2 The prophet, speaking for the people, acknowledges both their humility and their confidence as he prays for swift intervention by God for the fulfillment of the covenant promises.

Likewise, people today eagerly anticipate and desire the Second Coming of the LORD in which He will deliver His people from bondage (even that which they have brought upon themselves) and make everything new by destroying oppressing nations. But that expectation should prompt people to confess their sin to the Lord and avail themselves of His mercy. Then their confident prayer will come from holy lips: “Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.” But the prayer will not be for purely selfish interests, but for the glory of the Lord. For indeed, His work today seems to be in ruins in so many places, and the Church has fallen in disrepute, thanks to the sin of people. God will never let that remain forever. (No matter How Hard you try to keep it this way!) That, then, is our appeal, when we pray for the heavens to be opened and the LORD to descend and bring all this to an end. In the meantime, we walk by faith in the blessed hope of the redeemed.

1 Both of these figures, Father and Potter, are straight metaphors, as is the description of the people as “clay.” They stress the personal and covenantal relationship the LORD has with Israel.

2 Remember, though, that the pattern is never stereotyped. We should expect variations and rearrangements.

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The Spirit-filled Servant and the Kingdom of God

It was a portion of this passage that Jesus read in the Synagogue (in Luke 4) and reported fulfilled in their hearing. Thus, no matter what the actual historical application might have been for the speaker (the prophet, or the remnant, or the compiler), the ultimate and fullest meaning is that the Holy Spirit anointed Jesus to declare the Good News.

But the theology of both the Old and New Testament settings corresponds. The Good News in the historical setting was release from the bondage of the exile to full and free service of the LORD once again, a jubilee-like experience; but in the New Testament that bondage is sin and death, and the deliverance is spiritual and eternal as well as physical. Once again the New Testament captures the spirit as well as the letter of the Old Testament passage; but it takes it to its divinely intended—and lofty—fulfillment.

Exposition

I. THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE GOOD NEWS: THE SERVANT DECLARES HOW GOD WILL DELIVER AND RESTORE HIS PEOPLE WITH GLORY (61:1-3).

Verse 1 bases the oracle on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For the Spirit to be upon the speaker clearly meant in the Old Testament that the speaker was controlled (= filled) by the Spirit—his message was the message of God breathed out by the Holy Spirit through the person. Here it is the “Spirit of the Lord Yahweh” who is upon him. In the historical context the meaning is that the prophet, for the discharge of his function, is empowered and enabled by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The two verbs that express the significance of this are “He has anointed me” and “He has sent me.” The image of anointing (hypocatastasis or, implied metaphor) signifies that he was set apart for this mission and endorsed by God.1

Holy SpiritThe several purposes for declaring the Good News now are enumerated. First it will be Good News to the poor. This is a theme that has been introduced before in the book, the Good News being the message of deliverance from bondage. In the New Testament it is the Gospel. The “poor” are those who are destitute, in a distressed condition, poor in every way. One can think of other, current examples of refugees driven from their homes, hungry, destitute, and confused.

The theme of “bind up the broken hearted” picks up the theme of the earlier chapter on bringing revival to the contrite and the lowly. Those “crushed in spirit” (hypocatastasis) by the exile will be strengthened and encouraged.

“To proclaim liberty for the captives” is an idea drawn from the Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25), as well as from the concern of the captivity. Of course that would also bring in the teaching on the High Priest, so in the New Testament there would be more correlations. “Freedom” or “liberty” is the word right out of Leviticus 25:10,40.

The last expression in the verse is “release for the prisoners.” The difficulty here is that the expression translated “release” is used most often for opening eyes and ears, hence the Greek has it “open eyes to the blind.” The idea of “recovery of sight” could have been used metonymically for people as if in a dark dungeon, and when released would see the light of day. Jesus made the blind to see—but that by His own explanation was also a symptom of release from the bondage of sin, for there were many who saw but were blind spiritually and still imprisoned by sin (John 9).

Verse 2 begins with “to proclaim the acceptable year (“year of favor”) of the LORD.” It was up through this line that Jesus quoted, and said was fulfilled. The rest of the passage looks to the Second Coming. Here the “Year of Favor” would be in general referring to divine intervention; but it is also a Jubilee. The idea of “favor” or “grace” captures all the themes in the previous oracles that affirmed that God by grace was delivering people from bondage.

The “day of vengeance” is certainly divine judgment. To Israel it would have come with the deliverance, for Babylon was to be destroyed in the process; but in the New Testament it is eschatological, referring to when Jesus comes with the baptism of fire to judge the world and fulfill His promises to the believing remnant and believing Gentiles.

The theme of comfort (Isa. 40:1) is reintroduced here with “those who mourn.” The language foreshadows the beatitudes of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those who mourn and grieve do so under the bondage of exile; today it is both spiritual and physical, but there is a coming day when all manner of things will be well.

Verse 3 uses a good deal of imagery. “Ashes” is metonymy of adjunct, people having put ashes on their foreheads while mourning. The “turban of beauty” could be drawing upon some festive clothing that replaced the ashes (see Zech. 3) and so another metonymy; or it could be a implied comparison with such action, signifying the change of estates. The “oil of gladness” would refer to oil used to welcome guests to festive occasions, and “festal clothing” would be the natural clothing worn to such affairs—not funeral clothing. Drawing on the image of such a banquet, God is saying that they will rejoice, praise, be comforted, and be glorious, in the place of mourning and despairing (giving up hope).

The verse closes with a metaphor of the branch joined with righteousness to be a symbol of endurance: “trees of righteousness” means that the people will be solidly and enduringly righteous. The image of the “trees” is paralleled with that of “planting.”

Jesus did not read the entire section. The aspect of vengeance or judgment was not part of the first advent, as we now know; neither was the complete renovation of all things, as this passage predicts. The part that Jesus read tells of making proclamation; the part that He did not read speaks to actually doing it, changing the estate of the afflicted. Jesus came and proclaimed the Good News; He did enough miracles to show He was the Messiah, and that when He returned He could indeed change all things.

II. THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE NEW SERVICE: ISRAEL WILL BE RESTORED TO HER SPIRITUAL SERVICE (61:4-6).

The background of this section is the original call of Israel as a kingdom of priests (Exod. 19:6; and add 1 Peter 2:9 for us who have been grafted in ). Verse 4 predicts that they will rebuild the ruined and devastated places; verse 5 tells how foreigners will serve them in the ordinary work; but verse 6 focuses on their spiritual service.

They will be called “priests of God” and named “ministers of God.” Zechariah 3 portrays the restoration of the nation to its priestly function. God does not deliver and forgive for no purpose; God saves in order that the redeemed might serve. What Israel had, she lost by sin; but it would be restored after the exile to a generation that was bearing fruit. God will have a kingdom of priests on this earth; today it is the Church; at the end of the age it looks like the prophets anticipate and Paul confirms that God will yet save Israel (those who are alive prior to the second coming, of course) and use them again for this purpose (Of which shall be soon.)

III. THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE BLESSINGS: THE REMNANT WILL ENJOY GOD’S BLESSINGS (61:7-11).

Verse 7 declares that everlasting joy will replace the shame; and this theme is elaborated upon in the following verses. On God’s part, He who loves justice and hates evil, promises to make an everlasting covenant, and to make the people of God famous in the world as the people the LORD has blessed.

Verse 10 interrupts the flow of the argument with an outbreak of praise. The prophet, speaking for Israel or Jerusalem, expresses gratitude for the promised felicity. The central point here captures the message of the whole chapter. He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, and arrayed me with the robe of righteousness. God has given believers righteousness and salvation. That is the reason for the restoration to service, the joy, and all the festivities. The image of the clothing is used here again by comparison: clothing signifies the nature of the person.

Verse 11 then continues the message of verses 8 and 9, not 10. God will make righteousness and praise spring up from the land. “Spring up” is literally flourish; it draws on the image of planting oak trees, but looks to the product that righteousness will cover the land, because righteous people will be there serving the LORD. This is more than the dream of a prophet; it is a vision of the future—yet to be fully realized, needless to say.

Conclusion

The passage can be treated on two levels, one for historical Israel and the restoration from the exile for part of it, and the eschatological sense for the other part. Jesus in His first advent announces the fulfillment of it, but as with so many of the prophecies there is a partial fulfillment at the first advent, the rest awaiting the second advent.

But the passage can easily be used for today, for the NT applies it this way. The Messiah has done it—and is doing these things—for us: our response should be to live righteously, joyfully and hopefully as those who have been given sight, set free from bondage, received the LORD’s favor. But just as the Spirit anointed the messenger (the prophet first, and then Jesus) to announce this to those in sin, so the Spirit has anointed us as John tells us, making us a kingdom of priests as Peter reminds us, so that we too can proclaim good news to the world. This we do while waiting for the culmination of God’s program for the ages, which will see that great day of vengeance when He comes to set everything right and make all things new.

One expository arrangement that could be used in preaching from this passage is as follows (as in a message for people called to service):

I. God’s servants are appointed by God’s Spirit to proclaim God’s message (Isa. 61:1a)

A. They are anointed by God.

B. They are anointed by God to proclaim good news.

II. The proclamation of the Word of God transforms the lives of those who believe (Isa. 61 1b-3)

A. The good news is that there is hope for the hopeless.

B. The good news is that there is liberty from bondage.

C. The good news is that there is grace for the debtor.

D. The good news is that there is joy in place of sorrow.

III. God’s program of redemption fits us for service (Isa. 61:4-11).

A. We have been blessed with reconciliation.

B. We have been made a kingdom of priests.

C. We have every reason to praiseHallelujah or Alleluia!! (God be praised)

1 The idea of anointing with oil is hereby explained theologically: theocratic leaders so anointed would be receiving the enablement by God to rule–the Holy Spirit. Zechariah 4 explains that the olive oil to the lamps represented the Spirit. And John in his first epistle explains we have the Spirit, the anointing from God. A prayer for anointing by the Spirit today can only be used in the sense that we desire the manifestation of the anointing that we already have.

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God’s Condemnation or God’s Comfort

This section is a long and complex oracle that denounces sinfulness in vivid detail and commends the faith as the only solution for the deep spiritual needs of life. The first part, the condemnation, begins with an accusation of the wicked leaders (56:9-12), but moves quickly to a description of the nation’s evil idolatrous practices in spite of the presence of the righteous remnant (57:1-13a). The comfort, the second part, is held out for the contrite and the lowly (57:13b-19). The last two verses return to the warning that there is no peace for the wicked (20,21).1 There are other ways that this passage can be broken down (especially verses 1 and 2 seem to be a unit, and verses 20 and 21 separate); but essentially the first part is about the evil, and the second part the comfort (This isn’t people’s favorite, But needs to be said.)

Exposition

I. CONDEMNATION: GOD CONDEMNS PEOPLE FOR THEIR WICKED PRACTICES (56:9—57:13A).

A. HE DENOUNCES CORRUPT LEADERS (56:9-12).

The prophet summons the “beasts” to invade, meaning foreign armies (hypocatastasis); the call is rhetorical, making the point that there is nothing to stop them. The “watchmen” have not done their job. These are the prophets and priests who were to warn the people. But, the prophet says, they are all dumb dogs (hypocatastasis). Dogs that don’t bark at danger are not good watch dogs. More than that, they are lazy and greedy, looking out for themselves first (As it is today, sorry to say). As ignorant shepherds (another implied comparison) they turn to their own gain, and are looking for the good life, always a better experience. What a failure the “watchmen” and the “shepherds” were for Israel (see Jeremiah and Ezekiel especially on this).

This failure is the main reason for the idolatry that will be denounced later.

quote-it-is-a-statistical-fact-that-the-wicked-work-harder-to-reach-hell-than-the-righteous-do-to-enter-josh-billingsB. HE LAMENTS THE APATHY OVER THE DEATH OF THE RIGHTEOUS (1, 2).

According to the first two verses, the prophet notes that no one cares that the righteous have died. The application of this point would fit any time; but the projected meaning here is about people who died in the exile. The righteous, the devout, are swept away with the wicked, and no one takes it seriously. Innocent people died. But the text makes it clear that they died to be spared the greater evil; and, in contrast to the wicked who die, they will enter peace, they will find rest as they lie down in death. The chapter will end by telling us there is no peace for the wicked.

In the Babylonian exile, as in all wars and catastrophes, good people died as well as the wicked. And while no one paid much attention to the distinction (unless, of course, some probably used it to point out that it did no good to be righteous, or that the wicked were no worse than the righteous), God made it clear that for the righteous death was an entrance into eternal peace. How much better to do in such a calamity knowing you were right with God, than to go out into a devastating eternity.

As I said above, this could be a separate section. But I think he is talking about the wicked who would perish in exile, and so begins with a distinction that not all who die there are wicked.

C. HE CATALOGS THE INDICTMENT AGAINST THE IDOLATROUS NATION (3-10).

In this section we have a detailed description of evil, idolatrous acts. The important thing to note is that Israel did all of these when they were in their own land and not when they were in captivity. In captivity they may have wavered in their views of Yahweh versus Marduk in view of the war and the exile; but these practices listed here were distinctively Canaanite. The Babylonian captivity purged idolatry from Israel.

So the section needs to be treated as you would treat Ezekiel 1-8. Ezekiel is actually in the exile, but writes about the idolatry in Jerusalem in order to explain why they went into captivity. It was not for bad political choices as they had explained. This chapter in Isaiah would have had the same effect on the exiles—this is why you are here, so do not even think about lapsing into this now or in the future, for there is no peace for the wicked. But, of course, the chapter would have also been an important indictment on the people prior to the exile, Isaiah’s actual audience, especially in the reigns of Ahaz and later Manasseh (who tradition says had the prophet sawn asunder). The sinfulness of these practices is self-evident. But the people doing them convinced themselves that such practices met their spiritual needs.

The wicked would have no chance of resting in peace when they died. The following catalogue explains why. Verse 3 begins the description with “seed” or “offspring” to show that they shared the nature of adulterers and prostitutes. Metonymy (probably adjunct) will figure in these verses because while they describe idolatry false religion was also fornication, literally. This is the point of verse 5 which says, “you burn with lust among the oaks.” The groves of trees were signs of fertility of a local “baal”; that then became a place to worship—to practice the fertility cult. Verse 7 continues this motif: where they made their bed they sacrificed to pagan deities, meaning, the practice of the bed was the sacrifice, at least in part. The pagan symbols of verse 8 probably refer to what Ezekiel 16:17 refers to; looking on the “nakedness” is literally looking on the “hand” (yad), a euphemism for the male organ,2 the sign of fertility. Their idolatry in Canaan was with all kinds of symbols and implements that were designed to induce fertility. Where they were to have placed the Law—the doorposts—they had these grotesque images. They forsook the LORD and made a covenant with the leaders and devotees of the ritual, on whose nakedness they looked.

According to verse 9 they sought information from pagan shrines—everywhere but the LORD. They sent ambassadors to Molech and to Sheol. They were trying to induce false gods to reveal things; theirs was a cult of the dead, so they consulted with the dead by this mysterious seance. The gods of the underworld figured prominently in pagan ritual. One thinks of King Saul in his greatest need going to the Witch of Endor for truth—only to have the LORD bring up Samuel to announce his death. The point is that they feared non-entities, and ignored the Omnipotent One.

It is interesting to note in verse 10 that they believed this all met their needs. They were worn out by these pursuits, but somehow found strength in them rather than see how hopeless it all was. People wrapped up in pagan religion, whether Canaanite or modern, do so for some reason. Satan is able to meet some of their needs, and they then believe the lie.

D. HE REBUKES THEIR IDOLATRY (11-13A).

In a series of questions the LORD through the prophet wonders whom they feared more than the LORD. The rebuke is that the people misunderstood the silence of God, and so did not fear Him but followed after false gods. Consequently, God will call them to task, display their works, and see if their false deities can save them. No, the wind will blow them away!

II. COMFORT: GOD PROMISES COMFORT AND REVIVAL FOR THOSE WHO ARE CONTRITE AND HUMBLE (13B-21).

A. HE PROMISES RESTORATION (13B).

In verse 13b we have a transition to the second half of the passage. “The one who makes me his refuge (hypocatastasis for “trust”) will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain.” The hope here is the restoration to the land and to worship in Zion.

Psalm 11,5B. HE EXPLAINS THE RESTORATION (14-19).

Verse 14 begins with a call for preparation. It repeats the theme of Isaiah 40, to remove the obstacles from the way of the LORD. There it was a message of spiritual preparation, repenting and reforming; here it would include that, but perhaps is more general for removing any obstacles that would slow down the fulfillment of the promise of restoration.

Verse 15 is the actual explanation for the comfort, and will, therefore, occupy more of your exegetical interest in this passage. The descriptions of God are the same as we have seen before, beginning in chapter 6 with the “High and Lofty One.” The theme of “live forever” lets the audience know that life and death and time are no problem for God. The point of all this exaltation is to say that the One who dwells on High dwells also with/in the lowly. And the New Testament will expand the theme to say that He will take the lowly on High with Him. Here we have the themes of God’s greatness and God’s grace.

So you should spend some time on “contrite” (daka’) and “lowly” (shaphal). One who is lowly in spirit is one who is humble, surrendered, depending on God. One who is contrite is one who has had his spirit or attitude crushed by a divine act. There can be no service to God apart from these attitudes. God resists the proud, (There is NO one on God’s green earth that knows it all! Yes, That includes me!) but dwells with the repentant, surrendered, obedient, grateful, sinner. Both words are probably implied comparisons (hypocatastases).

Once you have defined the terms and illustrated them you need to make the point that God does not leave them crushed and low—He revives them. The Hebrew term means “renew, restore, cause life.” As soon as they are crushed and lowly, He comes to dwell in/with them, and they are no longer crushed. God has no desire to keep people abased and crushed—He wants life. They may be still humbled over it all, but that is different.

Verse 16 explains how this happens: God will end His anger, or the human spirit would be devastated. Rather, those days are shortened (God knows what people can take); and verse 18 tells how He revives his spirit: “I will heal … I will guide … restore … comfort.” These are words that have appeared many times in the book, and need to be developed again here.

In the exile God poured out His wrath and punished sinful, rebellious unbelieving Israelites. He destroyed many; He brought many to their knees. Those who were contrite and repentant He would forgive and restore to their land, so that they could praise Him. Most of these had never gone into wicked idolatry like their reprobate countrymen had. To such who are righteous, including idolaters who now repented, God gave peace (compare verses 2 and 19). It would be “peace” in this life (v. 19) and “peace” in the life to come (v. 2).

C. HE RESTRICTS THE COMFORT (20, 21).

These two verses show that there is no peace whatsoever for the wicked. They thought they were finding it in their evil works, but they cannot. All that is held out to the righteous—life, health, prosperity, comfort—goes to make up the idea of “peace.”

Submit to GodConclusion

This passage should be pretty straightforward for exposition, especially in view of modern pagan trends, inside and outside the Church. The whole culture worships false gods in the most profane and debased ways. Thus, God brings judgment and destruction. People who belong to the faith, however, humbly submit to His will, and He will heal, guide, and comfort them with peace.

As for applications, we can work in several areas. For the wicked, the pagan unbeliever, whether in personal trouble (divine judgment) or not (deceived in his prosperity), the message is clear: repent or perish (as Jesus preached). For the believer the message is one of comfort—God heals, comforts, guides, and grants peace, now and in the life to come. This would call for a greater commitment to the faith. Another way to apply the passage to the believer is to say believers ought to pick up the message the prophet was giving; that is, we ought to warn the wicked, and hold out the clear promise of fellowship with the LORD.

So there are several levels of application here, from the pre-exilic community, to different periods of oppression, to the eschaton. But one aspect is timeless and basic to each level: God dwells with the humble and the contrite. If people want to show that they are true believers and faithful to the LORD, they must show evidence of repenting, surrender to His will, and walk humbly before Him; then, He will dwell with them, heal them, restore them to life, and bring them peace, comfort, and joy—so that they might turn from mourning to praise. So we might begin by asking people where they find comfort, joy, peace, and fulfillment.

1 The last two verses, or at least the last verse, may have been an editorial colophon because it has been used before (48:22). It is at least a favorite idea of the prophet.

2 Perhaps. It is also possible that yad simply meant something like an extremity that could be used for either hand or organ.

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God’s Exhortation to Receive His Grace

Having detailed the promises of the LORD through His Messiah concerning His great redemption and renewal of the covenant, the prophet now calls all sinners to repentance and if need be to faith (depending on whether they are already believers or not). For those who turn to the LORD’s marvelous and incomparable thoughts and ways, there will be happy success based on the Word of truth; for those who do not, there will be only continuation in exile, away for the land and away from God’s blessing.

This passage seems to fall into two parallel structures:

Verses 1,2 CALL The LORD invites people to take advantage of all His blessings (spiritual and physical).

Verses 3,4 EXPLANATION The LORD will confirm the eternal covenant made with David; David was evidence of God’s ability to fulfill promises.

Verse 5 RESULT Israel will see the nations drawn to them.

Verses 6,7 CALL The LORD calls for Israel to respond while they can; those who mistreat and misjudge God must change their ways and receive His pardon.

Verses 8-11 EXPLANATION God’s ways are higher than our ways; and God’s word is effectual, so that His plan will be fulfilled.

Verses 12,13 RESULT Life will be abundant in blessing; the LORD will do this for His own name’s sake.

In the first half the LORD enjoins the people to enjoy the blessings of returning to the land in fulfillment of the covenant promises; in the second half the LORD warns them not to delay or misjudge, for His ways are high, His word is effectual, and His blessings are sure.

Clifford divides the passage a little differently. He sees it as a unified poem in three strophes, vv. 1-5, 6-11, 12-13, summoning the exiles to end their separation from Yahweh’s presence by leaving Babylon and coming to Zion. The exiles are to come to the waters (cf. Isa. 12:3), to enjoy without payment a rich feast, to seek Yahweh where he may be encountered, in a word, to live—by being in holy Zion associated with Yahweh. Like David, whom Yahweh chose at the time of the exodus-conquest (2 Sam. 7:8-16; Pss. 78:43-72; 89:1-38, esp. 20), those exiles who heed the invitation to make the new exodus-conquest, to come to the feast, will find themselves “found,” “chosen,” “loved,” “covenanted with.” In short, they will find themselves brought near, consecrated, so that the glory of the heavenly luster of Yahweh will shine forth to the nations.

The passage, then, is on the continuation and fulfillment of the promises because of the everlasting covenant, God’s ways, and God’s words. It is a call for the people—those who believe in the LORD, and those who will believe in the LORD when they hear this call—to take advantage of His offer to share in the blessings of the covenant.

The application of this passage today would have to begin by focusing in on what blessings based on the Davidic covenant have been channeled through the New Covenant. The theology that informs this answer will have to look at the nature of the Messiah as a Davidic king, the role the resurrection played in continuing and guaranteeing the full blessings, and the relationship of faith to full participation in the promises. We do not stop with the doctrine of salvation in this discussion, although that is surely the starting point, for unless one is in the covenant there can be no participation at all. But there are other blessings promised, spiritual and physical, here and now and yet in the world to come as well. So the exposition may need to think on how to call the saints to a deeper faith and commitment so that they might have a greater share in the promises of the Davidic Covenant as they come together in the New Covenant. The call should bring them to greater participation in God’s program, rather than leave them simply living out their days in bondage to the world system.

Exposition

I. THE LORD EXHORTS THE PEOPLE TO RECEIVE HIS BLESSINGS WHICH ARE FREELY PROVIDED AND PERMANENTLY SATISFYING (55:1-5).

A. CALL: THE LORD CALLS EVERYONE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF HIS BLESSINGS (1, 2).

The first two verses use figures of speech to describe the blessings1 of God: thirsty, water, money, buy, wine, milk, without cost. There are two ways that these can be taken, as metonymies or as hypocatastases. If the first interpretation is taken, then there would be reality to the water, milk, wine, buying, and all, but it would represent more than physical prosperity—it would represent abundant life and prosperity now freely given to the people. The fact that these would be granted by God and obtained by faith adds the spiritual dimension. This view would be saying that God was actually offering fine food and water, which may have been symbolic of spiritual blessings too.

If the terms are classified as implied comparisons (or hypocatastases), then the meaning would be exclusively spiritual blessings. Buying would simply be acquiring, but it would be free, for the provision of blessing would be through free grace. No money would be changing hands—it would be a gift from God. That which is good, the richest fare representing spiritual values, would satisfy them. In exile they had to labor for material provisions; in freedom God would give them the greatest of spiritual treasures, life, peace, and joy.

There may be some allusion here to Paradise. They are invited to eat what is good and find satisfaction for their souls. What the passage is saying is that God will provide for all their needs, physical to be sure, but more importantly spiritual since it is redemption and restoration to service life in Zion, the holy city. And that provision will be freely given to those who respond by faith.

The main thrust is the call—the imperative. “Come, listen to me.” This is a call for them to respond by faith, a faith that will leave bondage and return to the land once again to be the people of God. There they will find spiritual blessings. Clifford argues that the life that is being offered here is proximity to the LORD in the shrine of the LORD. It is an invitation to a “feast”; as in Proverbs 9, the invitation moves from food and drink to higher life (see also Psalm 36 where the believer will drink from the rivers of pleasure [‘eden] and be satisfied with the fatness of the LORD’s house. To do this they must come to trust in the loyal love of the LORD, believing that God will not only deliver them from Babylon (where they were separated from their God’s shrine) but would truly supply all their needs.

His GoalsB. EXPLANATION: THE LORD WILL CONFIRM THE DAVIDIC COVENANT (3, 4).

This passage was cited in Acts 13:34 to show that the Davidic covenant was confirmed by the resurrection. Thus, we see the basis in that link for the Christian application of this passage. God made an everlasting covenant with David, assuring that a son of David would rule forever, and bring peace and prosperity to the land. In the New Covenant today believers can trust the LORD to provide for them and to bless them, for the resurrection shows that He can do this. But they also look forward to the grand fulfillment of the promises.

Verse 3 stresses the call for a response by faith: give ear, come to me, and hear me—”that your soul may live.” The explanation that follows is that the covenant promise is based on God’s “unfailing covenant kindness” with David. Here we have both the words for “loyal love” (hesed [kheh-sed]) and the participle for dependable (from ‘aman). No matter what the appearance of circumstances—exile, death of kings, oppression, delay—the covenant promises made to David would be fulfilled, especially in the direction God’s plan was now taking in the New Covenant.2 Also, the death of Jesus posed no problem to this everlasting covenant with David; He simply said, destroy this temple (=body) and in three days I will raise it up. No one could have imagined these ways of God in fulfilling the promises that He made to the patriarchs and the kings (not even satan.) He is not bound by time and events.

The expression “I will make an everlasting covenant” probably should be interpreted to mean “I will confirm my covenant as everlasting.” The primary reference is the promises to David, and there was no other covenant for him. Those promises were: an eternal kingdom, an eternal king, universal peace and righteousness, abundant prosperity, justice and equity throughout the world. Of course, the prophets are beginning to make it clear that the whole nation needs a New Covenant (meaning inner spiritual life rather than an outward law code) in order to realize the promises made to Abraham and David.3

Verse 4 draws upon David as an example: as David was, so Israel will be evidence of the covenant being fulfilled. David was a witness to the covenant in that God began to fulfill His plan through him; Israel will also be a testimony to God’s promises as they return to Palestine and become a people again—the stone that the nations rejected has become the chief cornerstone (see Psalm 118 where the “king” [political leader of the returning exiles] leads the nation to Zion to begin the new program).

C. RESPONSE: NATIONS WILL WANT TO SHARE IN ISRAEL’S PORTION AS GOD’S PEOPLE (5).

Still addressing the nation, the prophet announces that they would summon people to them because of the work of the LORD. Here is another prophetic glimpse of the future incorporation of the nations into the covenant. “Nations” refers to people in the nations, not nations en masse entering the covenant (although there have been such forced conversions). So this would be synecdoche (a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa.)

Because the LORD will endow with splendor, people will see God’s gracious dealings and run to Him. But note the emphasis of the passage: Israel will summon them. Israel always was to be a kingdom of priests, a light to the nations, a channel of blessings. But if people do not believe themselves, they will never do this. Or if they do believe but are caught up in affluence, or are worldly, or believe it is more important to remain separate, they will not do this either. Here, however, he is saying that this group will have a fresh appreciation for the grace of God and so will extend it to other nations.

There are obvious parallels to the New Testament teaching on the mission of the Church. Those who have responded by faith to God’s call have found rest in Christ, who is the Davidic King, and will be witnesses to the nations of the unfailing love of God.

II. PEOPLE MUST QUICKLY TURN TO THE LORD IN FAITH BECAUSE HIS WORD IS ABOUT TO BE FULFILLED (55:6-13).

The people were in captivity; many of them had concluded that all was lost, that there was no future to the promise (as in “where is the promise of His coming? nowadays”), that perhaps the gods of Babylon were powerful enemies after all. They made the mistake (as we often do) of judging God’s plan and God’s word by the standard of their immediate circumstances. This section rebukes that tunnel vision and calls for them to believe the word, seize the moment, and thereby discover that the promises are true.

A. CALL: THE LORD CALLS THE PEOPLE TO REPENT AND TURN TO FOLLOW HIS WAY WHILE THEY CAN (6, 7).

The imperatives of verse 6 stress the urgency of the moment, a window of opportunity—they must not delay in responding to God’s call to return to the land and be the people of God. The commands here are for prayer: seek and call on Him. The time was right for the deliverance, it might not come again or again be as clear; they should therefore pray for deliverance.4 If they believed the Word of the LORD delivered through the prophet they would change their thinking and pray expectantly for the deliverance. The expression “while He is near” is meant to convey that God was about to act on their behalf.

Verse 7 could be taken in one of two ways. If the “wicked” refers to all unbelievers, then this is a general call for repentance and salvation. But that does not fit the context very well. Rather, the “wicked/evil” are those in Israel who judge the LORD by the standards of their experience and mistrust Him. It would then be a rebuke of very weak faith among those who professed to be part of the covenant people. Of course, the verse is general enough in its wording that it could embrace both—obviously if people were doing wicked things as well, they should abandon those. This is a clear teaching in the Bible.

The context favors this latter view, that is, it is a call for the people to change their weak faith to confidence, for the theme of God’s ways and thoughts are here introduced. People should abandon their thoughts (pessimism, skepticism, weak faith—which are evil) and their ways (resigned to exile, disobedience to covenant—which are wicked). Not only abandon, but repent! Such thoughts and ways are sinful—but God will forgive their foolish unbelief. But their repentance must issue into faith; they must act in faith on God’s thoughts and ways—put faith into action.

B. EXPLANATION: GOD’S PLANS ARE INCOMPREHENSIBLE AND HIS WORD IS EFFECTUAL (8-11).

The “thoughts” and the “ways” of the LORD in verse 8 refer primarily to the LORD’s plans for the restoration of Israel in fulfillment of the covenant. Of course, the words fit any of the LORD’s plans, because they are beyond what we could ever think to ask. Here the contrast is made clear by the simile: the heavens are higher than the earth; and since God is in heaven and we are on earth, His ways are higher. But by higher it means incomprehensible to us. There is an entire existence of which we have no knowledge; there is an eternal plan that we can hardly grasp, and there is a divine nature that our infinite minds cannot comprehend. We are always trying to limit God with our categories and our understanding. Just when we think we have figured God out or have determine how God should act, He does something far more marvelous. We are so slow to learn that the only thing we can do is trust what He says and praise what He does. The rest of this passage will anticipate such trust and praise.

The second part of the explanation draws on God’s thoughts and ways as they have been revealed, to say that the Word of the LORD is effectual (verses 10,11). At the center of this section is the affirmation that God’s Word does not return to Him empty or void. This means that what He says will be accomplished because His Word is the expression of His powerful will. No Word from God is vain, untrustworthy, or given to deceive; nothing God plans to do can be interrupted or set aside by humans. His Word will prosper (salah, “achieve its purpose”). Verse 10 provides an earthy simile using the rain that comes down, waters the earth to produce the fruit, and returns to heaven having fulfilled its purpose. So is the Word of God. Not a Word from God will be wasted or ineffective.

If Christians actually believed this, how different they would be living! Naturally, as with Israel, we would pray more earnestly for that which He has promised, and we would act more confidently, trusting in Him to do His work through us. Skepticism, pessimism, resignation, unbelief—these would be “taken captive” (in the words of Paul) and banished from our minds, as God’s ways and thoughts become our ways and thoughts. The bottom line is: Get into God’s Word and live it out by faith, Stop living as though you already know it all, and Keep learning about our LORD.

Where you are todayC. RESULT: THE LORD PROMISES JOYFUL ABUNDANCE FOR HIS OWN NAME’S SAKE (12, 13).

The themes of great rejoicing and peaceful fulfillment are found in this last section. This is what God has in store for His people. The imagery also speaks of paradisiacal splendor: things growing to such fullness that trees are hitting each other in the wind (personifications here, “burst into song” meaning grow luxuriantly, and “clap hands” be full in growth so that they hit each other). The hope also includes the prospects of the reversal of the curse, something that the book has mentioned before with the snake and the viper being rendered harmless. Here thorns and briers will be replaced. The figure would be synecdoche, the bushes and trees representing types of growth.

The point is that all this will be done for “the name of the LORD” (verse 13b). In other words, because God has spoken, His reputation is at stake. He will fulfill His Word to show that He is trustworthy and able to do what He has said. The evidence of that will be everlasting.

Conclusion

So these are the motifs of the chapter: a call for people to receive freely God’s gracious provision of (spiritual and physical) blessing, the promise of the fulfillment of the covenant program, the attracting of nations to the faith, the explanation of the incomprehensible nature of God, and the affirmation of the efficacious nature of His Word of promise. I would word the expositional idea in this fashion: Because God’s Word is sure, people can receive abundant blessings by trusting His marvelous plan to fulfill the covenant promises.

For Israel it meant a call to faith to those professing believers who were unsure and hesitant—much like the call that Jesus made to the disciples who followed Him but were weak in faith, often unsure, somewhat skeptical. It took the resurrection to show that no matter what happens, God can do what He said He will do. The remnant of Israel must turn from such evil and respond to God’s call to return to the land and be part of the covenant program. The inspiration for this renewal of faith would be the awareness of the ways of God and the Word of God.

So the primary application would be to nominal believers today who have capitulated to their circumstances and have not stepped out by faith to become part of God’s work of fulfilling the promises of the New Covenant through the knowledge of Christ, the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant. In the words of the New Testament, they must demonstrate their faith by their works. Repeated emphasis on God’s ways and God’s word will rekindle their faith, if there is any faith there at all. Even those who are mature in the LORD need to keep reminding themselves of the promises of God, so that they might trust His Word and discover His plan. I would correlate New Testament passages on the nature of God’s Word and the guarantee of the fulfillment of the promises.

Of course, the language of the passage is basic enough to apply to unbelievers who need to respond to the call for faith and become a part of the kingdom. They must turn from their wicked ways and trust in His Word to receive His marvelous blessings.

1 I use the term “blessings” because in Hebrew it signifies an enrichment, a gift from God. This could be a spiritual, physical, or material enrichment, as well as the empowerment to obtain such a gift.

2 In the prophets the Davidic Covenant and the New Covenant merge together with the Messianic vision. The New Covenant gives the full expression to the Abrahamic Covenant and essentially captures the spirit of the Sinaitic Covenant although it replaces it. But there can be no New Covenant without a righteous theocratic administrator. So the vision of the Messianic Age blends the eternal covenant with Israel and the eternal covenant with David.

3 To understand this better, you need to correlate the passages (especially Psalms and Isaiah and Jeremiah), and read the literature on these texts–the covenants, royal liturgies, and the eschatology of Messianism.

4 Note that God had determined the program for the deliverance; but his plan determined the means to the end as well–prayer. Prayer is the handmaiden of the eternal plan.

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Future Blessings for the People of God

In view of the great provision of vicarious atonement through the Suffering Servant (Isa. 53), the prophet announces the consequent blessings: the expansion of Israel, the blessings of safety and peace, and the portion of righteousness. This chapter anticipates the salvation and restoration of Israel, begun in part at the restoration of the exiles from Babylon in 536 B.C. but for the most part yet in the future, for as this chapter unfolds it will become clearer and clearer that that return did not exhaust the promises. There yet remains the final culmination of all of God’s covenant promises at the end of the age. In fact, as these chapters progress to the end of the book, the vision gets more glorious, and so more eschatological in its scope.

We have here Isaiah’s glimpse at the promises of the “new” covenant. He does not provide the details of Jeremiah 31 or Ezekiel 36, but he complements what is there. The passages on the new covenant promised: a restoration to the land for Israel and to the pure worship and spiritual service as priests, conversion of Israel to faith in the Messiah, the pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh so that the Law was in their hearts, the end of war and oppression in the land and in the world, and the reign of the Messiah in righteousness. Beginning with the restoration from exile, some of this was fulfilled, but not all; with the coming of Christ, some more was fulfilled, but not all; with the sending of the Spirit, some of that promise was fulfilled, but not all. Only with the second coming will all these things be completely fulfilled. Isaiah 54 lays out some of the promised blessings, but does not say when they will be fulfilled in part or completely.

But this chapter is also immediately practical—for ancient Israel as well as for us today. We shall see that the prophet lays out the plans that God has for His holy people in this world; but the clues in the chapter, and the related contexts of the time, let us know that attaining these promises to the full called for spiritual service—which is why the chapter ends with the reminder that this is the heritage of the righteous servants of the LORD.

Exposition

I. THE LORD ASSURES HIS PEOPLE OF RESTORATION AND RENEWAL (54:1-10)

A. THE RESTORATION WILL BRING DOMINION (1-3).

Jerusalem, addressed as a woman separated from her husband (the Lord) is assured that her children (the people) will be restored and will multiply and that she will be reunited with her husband.

Verse 1 makes the point that the present and future population of Jerusalem will exceed what she had before. The nation of people, addressed as “Jerusalem” by metonymy (subject or adjunct), is compared to a “barren woman” (by implied comparison, called hypocatastasis) who is bereaved of her children and separated from her husband. The image of marriage and the family has been used in these oracles before, and provides a good comparison for the covenant relationship between the LORD and His people. The “married wife” would have been Israel before the exile, in rebellion against God and bringing the judgment of God for sin; her children would have been those Hebrews living when Babylon attacked. The Israelites some seventy years later (children of the desolate) will outnumber them greatly.

The call is for these people to “sing” and to “sing aloud”, because of the restoration from exile. The commands to sing are metonymies of effect, showing the result or effect of the cause—God will restore them (cause), and they will sing (effect). Calling people to sing before the answer to prayer or before divine intervention is a significant call for faith.

Verse 2 anticipates the restoration of the nation by calling for an enlarging of the tents. I think all the images in this verse are related, so one classification and explanation will be adequate. I would think we have metonymy of adjunct or effect; the returning exiles probably actually had tents or similar structures for a while. The call to make the tents larger assumes that there will be an expanding population: the cause will be the restoration and multiplication, and the effect (stated in the text) is their expanding their tents.

Verse 3 explains this call to sing. The returning exiles will spread out to the right and to the left. In the Semitic world, one looks to the east, and so the right hand is south and the left hand north. But there will be more than a population increase—they will possess the nations and rebuild the desolate cities. Here the “nations” means the regional tribes occupying the land in the absence of the nation of Israel.

B. THE RESTORATION WILL BE IN PEACE AND SAFETY (4-10).

The prophet first invites confidence from the people of God, for they would no longer be subjected to Gentile oppression (verse 4). “Fear not” and “be not confounded” are the two imperatives; the promise is “you shall not be put to shame.” In fact, they would forget the shame of their youth and their widowhood. The “youth” (still using the imagery of the family relationships) would refer to the Egyptian bondage; and the reproach of “widowhood” in this chapter (and in 50:1) would represent the Babylonian exiles. So the figures are both hypocatastases, stating “youth” and “widowhood,” but implying by comparison bondage in Egypt and exile in Babylon respectively. These two catastrophes will be remembered no more, meaning that they will have no power over the people to cause fear.

In verses 5 and 6 we have the explanation that the promise of the prophet is based on the relationship that the nation has to God. The lines are beautifully balanced:

For your Maker is your husband,

the LORD of armies is His name;

and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,

the God of the whole earth shall He be called.

The theme of creation is brought forward here again in “your Maker,” that is, the one who brought Israel into existence, but now He is compared to a “husband” (carrying the implied comparison across from previous lines to form a metaphor here). The image of husband would be worthless if it were not for the fact that this husband is being described as the sovereign Creator, the LORD of armies, the Holy One of Israel, the Redeemer, and the God of the whole earth. Any people related by covenant (=image of husband) to such a One as all that need not fear anyone—except God Himself.

The condition of Israel is addressed as a wife that is bereaved, grieved in spirit, forsaken, and cast off (carrying the implied comparison further in the description). But will she be cast off forever? The following verses affirm that the exile was a temporary manifestation of God’s wrath to purge the rebels and faithless from the nation.

Verses 7-10 record the speech of the LORD to assure Israel of future peace. The poetry is exquisite:

For a small moment I have forsaken you,

but with great mercies will I gather you;

In overflowing wrath I hid my face from you for a moment,

but with everlasting love I will have mercy on you.

The whole Babylonian captivity is referred to as a “small moment” when God forsook Israel. It is another implied comparison, a hypocatastasis, to compare 70 years with a moment—but in the plan of the eternal God that is what it is (see also Psalm 30). The regathering is with tender mercies (rakham should be studied fully for this passage). The time is then described as God’s wrath (metonymy of cause for the effect was the judgment of the exile) when He hid His face (anthropomorphism, a very human description to convey withholding mercy), but the restoration (“I will have mercy” is metonymy of cause, its effect being the return) is a display of His everlasting loyal love (a word study on khesed would be helpful). God is speaking to the nation as a whole; His anger was against sin, so that the exile would purge the rebels and draw contrition and faith from the remnant. Now the restoration would show that the judgment time had passed, that there would be a new beginning.

The announcement is similar to the Noachian Covenant; it is as if once again the LORD was hanging up His battle bow in the sky.1 So the simile is made with the “waters of Noah” (metonymy of effect since water was what God used to judge the world). So here too the LORD seals His promise with an oath, just as He did in the days of Noah.

Verse 10 gives the nature of the promise. God’s loyal love and God’s covenant of peace will remain with His people “though the mountains depart and the hills be removed.” It is an eternal covenant that will outlast the hills; it is based on the LORD God, whose character it is to show mercy. This “covenant of peace” is a reference to what Jeremiah will call the new covenant.

andII. THE LORD ASSURES HIS PEOPLE OF PROSPERITY AND SECURITY (54:11-17).

A. THE RESTORATION WILL BE IN SPLENDOR (11-14).

The prophet now predicts the future splendor of the nation as it is to be restored to its original purpose. Verses 11 and 12 introduce to us the images of the precious stones.

There are several views offered here. (l) The gems refer to the people themselves. In support of this one would emphasize that the address is to the people of Israel, the context is the restoration to Jerusalem, and the interpretation of verse 14 suggests that the passage refers to the restoration of Israel to the righteous service of the LORD. Other post-exilic passages use precious stones to represent people, or the leader of the nation (see Psalm 118 for the stone as the nation, Zechariah 3 for Messiah). And since there was no building of the city with these precious gems it seems more likely that the redeemed, the people themselves, are meant. Besides, 1 Peter 2 indicates that the righteous are stones (although not gems). If this is the correct interpretation, then we have hypocatastasis throughout, a comparison of the holy city made of gems with the people. One reading of Revelation 21 and the vision of the heavenly Jerusalem “as a bride” with all the gems also seems to support this interpretation.

(2) A second interpretation is that the gems represent spiritual qualities in the restoration. There will be righteousness and truth, and upon these will God rebuild His nation (see Psalm 97:2 and Isaiah 11:4,5). People who take this view can get carried away with symbolic meanings of all the different gems, since there are not many controls in the context.

(3) A third view takes the building and the gems literally—but with a spiritual meaning. This would be metonymy. That is, when the great restoration comes, the people will be gathered to the LORD, to the Messianic sanctuary. In the new creation the setting and the circumstances of that place will be with spectacular elements that actually exist—there is a reality to the surroundings. A glorious new city made with all the precious gems would be in the age to come. But the gems would still signify the purity and the righteousness and the perfection of the LORD and His eternal holy place.

In support of this view is the fact that in both Isaiah 54 and in Revelation 21 so much detail is put into the description of the city, as well as the fact that both passages seem to distinguish the people from the city, for the people will enter the city. This view would harmonize well with the interpretation in Revelation of a physical-spiritual reign of Christ with the new holy city in a new heaven and a new earth.

One could argue that the gems in some way represent the wealth of the nation as it is returned to its land to be a state again; but the language is rather elaborate. It seems to have a future view like so many of the Messianic passages. How it will all work out exactly is hard to say with confidence, until we see it all fulfilled. Even in Revelation 21 there is no small disagreement over whether there is a physical reality to the vision or only a spiritual reality. We know at least that the redeemed will be glorified in His presence, in the place He is preparing—wherever and whatever that might be. I prefer the third view about, an actual new heaven and new earth and new Jerusalem, but unlike anything limited to this physical world.

So the LORD says to Jerusalem, “O you afflicted, tossed with tempest and not comforted, I will set your stones in antinomy, and lay your foundations with sapphires.”

The context must be considered in the full interpretation here. Verse 13 stresses the spiritual significance of this valuable restoration to be the kingdom of priests. “Your children will be taught by the LORD.” In other words, the divine influence on future generations of Israelites will be responsible not only for their being in the land and growing under God’s blessings, but also for the peace that they shall enjoy. So immediately after a description of how God will rebuild the city, there is the announcement of the spiritual influence on the people.

Then, in verse 14 we read how the LORD will establish the city of Jerusalem—it will be with righteousness. The use of this term is metonymical; the context of the verse makes it clear that the victory over the captors and the nations is meant (this use of “righteousness” has been used before in the book and is used in Psalms as well), for they shall fear no more. But why call it “righteousness?” The reason is that righteousness is the cause of the victory—the righteousness of God who will judge the wicked oppressing nations, and the righteousness of the people who believe in the LORD and walk in His ways. Israel will be far from oppression and terror (again metonmyical ideas since they refer to the actions of the nations and the effects of those oppressing nations).

B. THE RESTORATION WILL BE WITH DIVINE PROTECTION (15-17).

Signs of Spiritual Maturity

Signs of Spiritual Maturity

Verse 14 could be taken with this section because it does speak of safety from the nations. But in these verses the prophet contrasts the way that God used the nations in the past to discipline Israel with the way He will now protect Israel from them. If nations gather against Israel, it will not be by the LORD, and so they cannot succeed in their mission (verse 15). God declares to Israel in verse 16 that both the one who makes the weapon and the one who uses it are under His sovereign control (“create” here in the sense of causing something to happen). No weapon brought against them will succeed, and no voice speaking against them will stand (verse 17a). The promise is for perfect peace.

Obviously, these promises were not completely realized by the returning exiles. The promises of God for the covenant people stand; but participation in them fully by individuals is based on faith and obedience. Moreover, God’s prophetic messages do not specify the time of the fulfillment. That generation, with the opportunity for the new beginning and the great fulfillment, did not merit the complete promise. Hebrews says that all of them died, not receiving the promise; consequently, the grand fulfillment is yet to come.

The summation of the passage in verse 17b provides us with a key to the exposition: “this is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness which is of me.” God promised peace, security, righteousness, and spiritual service for the believing remnant; but they had to take His promises by faith and return rejoicing to the land to do it.

To tie this together with the events of the post-exilic community would be most helpful as you prepare the theology of the passage. The promises were there for the taking; but the returning community in those days received only part of what God was fully intending to do. The rest remains yet unfulfilled.

Conclusion

In direct correlation to the message of this chapter I would include Peter’s epistle in which he reminds us that we are an elect nation, a holy priesthood, living stones built on the foundation stone, a people that has obtained mercy and will not be put to shame; and that we are to show forth our praise of Him as we live in righteousness before all people who will see our good works and glorify the Father (1 Peter 2:5-10). So the message for us today is the same as the message for the returning exiles in Isaiah 54. God has begun a new work in Christ and called us as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation displaying the mercy and righteousness of God. Great promises of the blessings of peace, safety, prosperity and victory are held out to those who obediently walk in God’s perfect will for their lives.

But this does not nullify the fulfillment of these verses at the end of this age and the dawn of the messianic age. God will regather His people, and He will build His holy city, and He will make his servants into spiritual servants. What the people of God do in the meantime will find its glorious culmination at the time of the coming of the Messiah.

1) In Genesis 9 the word for the rainbow is the same as the battle bow; it gives the picture of hanging up the battle bow because peace was to follow.

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“The Triumph of the Suffering Servant” An Exposition of Isaiah

If you’ve never read one of my posts or will never read another one, You Must Read this one.

Down through history the sufferer has been the astonishment and the stumbling block of humanity. The ancient barbarians simply got rid of sufferers in their societies. More civilized peoples have dealt more kindly with them; but sufferers remain a problem for philosophers and a severe test of the faith of religious people. It is not natural for people to see any profit in suffering; rather, mankind staggers over it, considering it a tragedy, a hindrance to progress, a fate to be avoided. (Remember Christ didn’t have a Lexus, comfortable home or steaks off the barbie, He wasn’t thrown into a home and just called RETARDED.)

But for the Christian the Scripture presents a far different view of the sufferer, and of suffering. In summary, we may report from the Bible that it is the will of God that believers suffer. That is not a popular teaching; it is not a truth that we remember or hold dear to our hearts. We hate suffering and try to avoid it. Nevertheless, our LORD says that the world hated Him, and if it hated Him, it will hate us as well. The Bible says that all who live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3). Paul announces that it is given to us to believe and to suffer for Christ (Phil. 1:29). Peter explains that Christ’s death is a sample for us, that Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example that we follow in His steps (1 Pet. 2:19-23). In fact, our Lord learned obedience through the things that He suffered; if that is true of the Son of God, how much more is it true of us?

We do not seek suffering. Some in the history of the Church have done that, considering martyrdom, no matter how contrived, to be the highest good. Nevertheless, God declares that suffering will be a part of the experience of the faithful believers in this world. It is inevitable. It is part of God’s plan for the development of our faith (Have I personally suffered? Yes. Homelessness, Hunger, close to death of my daughter as Abram and his son Isaac faced, among others, That’s why in Humility, I can share with you.)

Suffering may come to the people of God in many forms—actual persecution from the world, malicious slander and mental cruelty because of our chosen piety, trials and testings from the Lord, suffering with and for others in the body, or the natural cost of serving the Lord in this sinful world. In such cases suffering is a service to God, a self-sacrificing service. It is when we do this that we take up our cross, that we have fellowship with his sufferings.

The picture of the suffering of our Lord is nowhere more poignantly displayed than in the prophecy of Isaiah, Chapter 52:13-53:12. What is described here is the ideal Sufferer, the Suffering Servant. The prophet himself does not identify him—that identification must await the fullness of time when Christ came and suffered, the just for the unjust. For us who know Christ we can see this as the prediction of His sufferings. This is the primary meaning of the text.

But secondarily, it is also exemplary for all suffering that is accomplished for others. Indeed, as Peter says, Jesus suffered, leaving us an example of how we should suffer to the glory of God.

The passage is divided into five stanzas of three verses each. The first line of each of the sections gives a summary of that section. In fact, the first stanza, 52:13-15, gives a summary of the whole section.

I. “MY SERVANT SHALL PROSPER”—THE SUFFERING LEADS TO GLORY. (ISAIAH 52:13-15)

The first three verses give us an overview of the section: through the humiliation of suffering the Servant of the LORD will be exalted.

A. THE SERVANT WILL BE EXALTED (13).

This grand theme is announced in the first verse. The Servant will be exalted, be raised on high, will be very high. The significant means of this being accomplished is the fact that he will “deal wisely” or “prosper.” The verb used here describes prudent and practical wisdom. It means that he will live skillfully according to the plan of God so that he may be prosperous and have good success. Jeremiah associates this verb with the prophecy of the Messiah receiving the kingdom (23:5). This point then is that this Servant will prosper as God intends him to.

B. THE EXALTATION WILL CONTRAST THE HUMILIATION (14, 15).

The theme announced in the first verse is now developed: the exaltation follows humiliation. The humiliation is reported in v. 14: earlier, many were aghast at him. They were astonished because his form and his visage was so marred. “Marred” is mild. The term used describes a spoiling, a destruction, an appearance-changing affliction. The details of this will be discovered in 53:1-9.

The exaltation is reported in v. 15. Kings are astonished that he, of all people, should be so exalted. The contrast is staggering—he will startle kings (“startle” is preferable to the translation “sprinkle”). When they see God’s plan work out, when they look on him whom they pierced, they shall see what they had not been told, they shall understand what they had not heard. In that day, they shall realize what the wisdom of God teaches, that the suffering servant will be exalted.

The point we learn about suffering here is that the suffering Servant prospers with God because he deals wisely. He has insight. This is the point the prophecy makes about the Servant’s sufferings—they are practical. He endures them, not for his own sake, but for some practical end of which he is aware and to which they will bring him. The suffering, which seems to be misfortune, is here seen as the Servant’s wisdom which will issue in his glory. The first stanza, then, gives us the general theme. In contrast to human experience God reveals in his Servant that suffering is fruitful, that sacrifice is practical. Pain, in God’s service, shall lead to glory.

It is this that is at odds with the world. What is success with God is often failure in the eyes of the world. Success with God may not include fame and fortune, health and happiness—as the world knows them. What is success? Success is knowing the will of God an doing it. The Servant knows that suffering is in God’s plan the way to glory.

II. “WHO HAS BELIEVED”—THE SUFFERING IS OFFENSIVE. (ISAIAH 53:1-3)

The second stanza begins to trace the development of the theme of suffering, first showing that it raises disbelief and thoughtfulness in the people who observe it.

A. THEY DID NOT BELIEVE THE REPORT (1).

If we paraphrase the first verse we would say something like, “No one ever imagined this.” The verse is expressed in the form of questions. The penitent would reflect on the suffering Servant and eventually come to realize God was at work. But that realization would take belief and revelation. For ages Israel did not believe such suffering was at the heart of God’s redemptive plan.

B. THE SUFFERING IS OBSERVED (2, 3).

The response to the suffering Servant is so true to life. On the one hand his beginnings were thought to be insignificant, and on the other hand his sufferings were offensive.

Verse two describes his beginnings: like a tender plant in a parched ground. His beginnings were unlikely. Who would have thought that a “carpenter’s son” out of Nazareth would figure prominently in the divine plan. There was nothing appealing or attractive in his appearance that would make Israel rally to him.

Verse three reports that he was despised, that is, looked down on, held in contempt, as well as rejected. His life was filled with grief and sorrows, so that men turned away their faces from him. In short, they did not “esteem him,” they didn’t think much of him, especially in his condition.

These words illustrate vividly a habit we all share, the habit of letting the eye cheat the conscience, of letting the sight of suffering blind us to the meaning. We dislike pain and suffering; we turn away from it, forgetting that it has a reason, a future, and a God. We look on things so superficially. We make snap judgments about suffering on the surface. Everyday we allow the dulness of poverty, the ugliness of disease, the futility of misfortune, the disappointment of failure, to prevent us for realizing that we share the responsibility for them. We allow suffering in others or ourselves to blind us to the fact of the reasons and purposes for sufferings. We consider the sufferer an unlucky person who is falling by the way. The truth is that suffering is part of God’s plan to remind us of the human predicament we share, to bring up out of ourselves in sympathy and patience, and to eventually fit us for glory. So it is reasonable that the suffering Servant himself share the suffering of the world to redeem the world.

III. “SURELY OUR GRIEFS”—THE SUFFERING IS VICARIOUS. (ISAIAH 53:4-6)

If people at first make rash observations about the suffering of God’s Servant, they are soon led in their conscience to realize its purpose. In this section they realize that the suffering is vicarious.

A. THE SERVANT’S SUFFERING IS PUNISHMENT (4).

The earliest and most common moral judgment, which people pass on pain, is that which is implied in its name—that is penal. People suffer because God is angry with them. That is what Job’s visitors concluded about his suffering. Here, Israel says, “We esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” That is, they saw the suffering Servant and thought God was striking him.

But now they knew they were wrong. The hand of God was indeed upon the Servant, and the reason was sin, yet the sin was not his, but theirs. Verse 4 makes this clear, and verses 5 and 6 amplify it.

lB. THE PUNISHMENT OF THE SERVANT WAS REDEMPTIVE (5, 6).

Note the parallelism of this fifth verse: “he was wounded for our transgressions” and “he was crushed for our iniquities.” The contrast is between “he” and “our.” All his suffering was because of our rebellions and sins.

The second set of expressions clarify the purpose of this vicarious or substitutionary suffering as redemptive: “The chastisement of our peace” and “by his stripes we are healed.” All interpreters of this verse agree that the peace, the healing, is ours in consequence of the chastisement and scourging. The pain was his in consequence of the sin that was ours—that is, the suffering was vicarious. And the pain brought spiritual healing and peace—that is, the suffering was redemptive.

That the suffering is vicarious and redemptive is confessed by Israel in verse 6: “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. The verse begins and ends with “all.” Substitutionary suffering of this Servant touches all who have sinned—and we know that that is all of us.

In every family, in every nation, the innocent suffer for the guilty. Vicarious suffering is not arbitrary or accidental; it comes with our growth, it is of the very nature of life. It is that part of the service of humankind, to which we are all born, and of the reality of which we daily grow more aware.

Vicarious suffering is not a curse. It is service—service to God. It proves to be a power where every other moral force has failed. This is very intelligible, because it is based on love. Any parents who have suffered and sacrificed for their children can understand the impulse.

But people argue that vicarious suffering is unjust. They forget, however, that there are two reasons people endure suffering in this world—justice and love. We often suffer because we ourselves are not innocent. We share the cause of pain in the world. This is justice. But to suffer in service to God is a demonstration of love. The epitome of this is the suffering Servant. Not only is his suffering vicarious—it is voluntary. Human experience feels it has found its highest and holiest form of love when the innocent is willing to take the blame for others. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” and greater spiritual service can no one do for others, than to suffer with them and for them that they might be healed spiritually.

But, of course, the suffering of this Servant far outdistanced human vicarious suffering (and it is here the nature of the Servant begins to unfold): his suffering removes sin. We may observe a Moses interceding for the sinful people, asking God to take his life so that wrath could be averted from those worshiping the golden calf. That is noble; it’s magnificent. But it cannot remove sin. God himself had to carry the sins of his people. What all vicarious suffering had failed to do in Israel’s experience, the suffering of our Lord accomplished. Centuries after this oracle was written our divine Lord came and fulfilled to the letter the words of this prophecy. His vicarious suffering would strike the heart into penitence and lift it to peace with God.

IV. “OPPRESSED HE HUMBLED HIMSELF”—THE SUFFERING IS ACCEPTED. (ISAIAH 53:7-9)

If the third stanza confessed that it was for the sins of the people the Servant suffered, the fourth stanza declares that he himself was sinless, and yet silently submitted to all which injustice laid on him.

A. THE SUFFERING SERVANT IS SILENT (7).

What is so remarkable is that although he was afflicted and oppressed, he did not open his mouth. Such a thing is almost unheard of in the Old Testament. No one else could remain silent under pain. In the Old Testament sufferers broke out into one of two voices—the voice of guilt or the voice of doubt. The sufferer is either confessing his sin which the suffering has called to his attention or, when he feels no guilt, he is protesting his suffering, challenging God in argument. David, Jeremiah, Job, and countless others, including us we must confess, are not silent under pain. We confess that we deserve it, or complain that we do not.

Not so with the suffering Servant. He did not open his mouth, but was silent like a sheep led to the slaughter. Why was this Servant the unique sample of silence under suffering? Because he knew the truth. It had been said of him in 52:13: “My servant shall deal wisely.” He knew what he was about. He had no guilt of his own, and no doubts of God. He knew that is was not punishment he was enduring for himself, but that it was a service he was performing—a service laid on him by God, a service for man’s redemption, a service sure of results that were glorious. If anything will enable a person to accept silently his suffering it is this—the knowledge that the suffering was service to God.

B. THE SUFFERING SERVANT IS INNOCENT (8, 9).

The prophet reports that the Servant was innocent. He had done no violence; no guile was found in him. Yet he was taken to judgment by tyrannical powers. It was judicial murder. And when they considered that he was lawfully put to death, they consistently gave him a convict’s grave. On this note the stanza ends. He was innocent, but he willingly submitted to the oppression, an oppression that carried him to an ignominious burial. From all appearances, an innocent man’s life ended fruitlessly. But nothing could be further from the truth.

V. “THE LORD WAS PLEASED”—THE SUFFERING WAS EFFICACIOUS. (ISAIAH 53:10-12)

It appeared to many that the death of this Servant was an awful tragedy. It was utterly a perversion of justice. Surely here passed into oblivion the fairest life that ever lived. People might see and say, God forsakes his own. On the contrary, the fifth stanza begins, God’s will and pleasure was in it.

A. THE SUFFERING WAS GOD’S WILL (10).

“It pleased the LORD to bruise him” begins the theological explanation of the suffering. The verb “pleased” does not mean enjoyment. It basically means that God willed the suffering. It is that kind of pleasure. This is the one message which can render any pain tolerable—God willed it—it is his pleasure. Thus, any that God calls to suffer for his service should make it their purpose to do his will, to please him. Therein is success with God.

B. THE SUFFERING WAS FOR OUR JUSTIFICATION (10B, 11).

This suffering was efficacious, that is, it was powerful to effect its intended results: the justification of sinners. God made this Servant a sin (guilt) offering for many, so that by their knowledge of him they might be justified. In the Upper Room Jesus alluded to this passage by saying that the cup was His blood of the New Covenant “poured out for many.” That brought the remission of sins. So the effect of the suffering of our Lord is full atonement. Paul says that he made him to be sin (here, “sin offering”) for us that we might become righteous (here, “justify”) (2 Cor. 5). For those of us who have come to know him by faith this suffering will receive eternal praise. We, the guilty sinners, have been declared righteous before God.

C. THE SUFFERING WILL LEAD TO EXALTATION (11, 12).

With this note the passage comes full circle. God was satisfied, yea, pleased with the obedient suffering of the Servant, whom we know to be our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Because he bore the sins of many, that is, because he made “intercession” for sinners in his self-sacrificing love, God appointed him to honor and glory. Using military terminology Isaiah declares that the Lord will divide the spoil.

And so it was at this point, according to the prophecy, that the Servant, though brought so low, was nearest his exaltation; though in death, yet nearest life, nearest the highest kind of life, the “seeing of a seed,” the finding himself in others; though despised, rejected, and forgotten of men, most certain of finding his place of exaltation with God. Before him every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord.

salvationConclusion

Isaiah, then, presents us with a picture of the ideal suffering Servant. He does not identify the Servant in his prophecy, but we who know the Lord Jesus Christ can see that it is He. The suffering of our Lord corresponds to the letter with the picture Isaiah draws. Nothing else can. The suffering of Jesus was vicarious in a way that no other has or ever could be—he took our sins on himself and made full atonement for them. While we were yet sinners, he died for us. He himself knew no sin, but suffered, the just for the unjust, that we, sinners, might become righteous before God.

Jesus knew full well the purpose of his suffering, and willingly submitted to it as his service to God the Father in order to provide for us salvation. There is no peace with God apart from the chastisement that he, the sinless Son of God, bore. We have no healing for our souls, no removal of our sins, no justification before God, apart from the penal suffering of Christ, the substitutionary death in which he took our sins upon himself. That is why the church worships and serves him—he brought to us eternal life. This 53rd chapter of Isaiah prophesied it, and Jesus fulfilled the prophecy in the fullness of time.

But in addition to this truth, there is an additional application, a secondary application that flows from this. Once we trust Christ as our Savior, we are made members of his mystical body, and are therefore called to follow him. It is the will of God that we demonstrate the same type of sacrificial love that he had. If we are to love one another in Christ, we must realize that it will cost something. If we are to bear one another’s burdens, it will mean that we will have to put ourselves out for others, to suffer with them, to give of our time, our talents, and our finances. We are called to a life of self-sacrificing love for others. And Christ shows us what that should look like.

The Lord may call on us to suffer and even perhaps to die. If that should be his will, then we must seek to suffer and to die well. It is far more important for us to do his will, to please him, than to have a comfortable, carefree life.

If we Christians have learned to see in sufferings the purpose of God, and in vicarious suffering God’s most holy service; if patience and self-sacrifice have come to be part of our spiritual life—the power to make this change in our faith has been Christ’s example. To submit to God’s will and to sacrifice self are the hardest things for us to do; to accept suffering and death without complaint or doubt demands a living faith that sees suffering and death as a prelude to glory. But if we submit to God’s will and sacrifice self for others, or for the building up of the faith of others, we shall then be living out the love of Christ in this world, and please our heavenly Father.

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The Suffering Servant

For this important chapter it will be helpful to work through the passage first and observe the material to be interpreted. So the notes will first offer the findings of these observations and then draw them together into an exposition.

Exegetical Notes

13 Behold, my Servant shall prosper;

he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.

The verb yaskil (pronounced yas-keel; s.v. sakal) calls for the most attention here; the word is from the wisdom vocabulary. Some versions translate it “prosper” and some “deal wisely”; it means both. The Servant will have been wise in life so that in the final analysis He prospers with God. I should think that the context of this verse would be looking at the final aspect—”prosper” or “be successful.” The word needs some study, but given the many words and ideas in this passage that need study, I would not spend a great amount of time on it.

14 Like as many were astonished at you

(his visage was so marred more than any other man,

and his form more than the sons of man),

The verse requires no special attention, which is good because the passage has much that does. The parenthesis offers a nice parallelism to underscore how the suffering disfigured him.

15 so shall he startle many nations

kings shall shut their mouths at him;

for that which had not been told them shall they see,

and that which they had not heard shall they understand.

Here the main difficulty is the first verb, translated “startle” here, but “sprinkle” in some Bibles. The latter is the reading in the Vulgate and in Aquila and Theodotian, carrying the sense of purify by his life—blood, that is. But there are several things problematic with that view. The verb nazah is used throughout the Law for “spread, splatter, sprinkle”; but as Delitzsch shows in his commentary it always has the liquid as the object, and never the object of the sprinkling (see Lev. 16:19 and Num. 19:18). Moreover, that rendering is competing against the context which describes the amazement of leaders at the exaltation of the Lord. The reading “startle” is better (but note the Greek which has “many nations shall tremble”). With all due respect to Young’s commentary, I do not think that the Greek translation can be easily discarded. The Hebrew term is difficult. The idea of the word, supported by the cognate in Arabic, is to “leap up”; then in the causative, “cause to leap, spurt, splatter.” So here the idea may simply be “start (or startle) with astonishment.” To see a sprinkling here in order to suggest Gentile conversions and purifications is out of harmony with the stanza, and certainly not well founded with such a problematic verb.

The point of the passage is that kings will be absolutely amazed to discover that this one actually is the King of Glory. The idea of “shut their mouths” is a metonymy of effect (or adjunct) for the surprise that they will have.

Note that in this verse we have the second use of “many” (rabbim) in the passage. Keep track of this, starting with verse 14, for it will be important for Christology at the end of the song.

1 Who has believed our report?

and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

The question is rhetorical—who could have imagined such a thing, and who would have believed what we would say. The question (erotesis) expresses amazement over the matter, as if to say no one, or very few, believed it.

Note that Paul quotes this verse in Romans 10. His argument is wonderfully contextual. In the chapter he speaks of his desire that Israel might be saved. He then shows that the Gospel is in Deuteronomy. The message is that if anyone calls on the name of the LORD he will be saved. How can they hear? The messengers will bring good tidings—this was from Isaiah 52, our last study. But not many believed, Paul says, and so then quotes this verse to show that.

The “arm of the LORD” again is anthropomorphic for divine power. Who could have divined such a unique manifestation of God’s power as that which this song describes, that the Son of Man who was rejected and crucified would triumph in this as King of Glory!

2 For he grew up before him as a tender plant,

and as a root out of a dry ground;

he has no form nor comeliness,

and when we see him, there is no beauty

that we should desire him.

“Before him” means that the growth and the development of the Servant was with full awareness of and by the divine will of God.

The first half of the verse uses two similes to capture the idea of simplicity. The “tender plant” in the simile is actually a “sucker” from the stock. The “dry ground” could at first describe the troubled existence of the people under Gentile domination, or perhaps the effects of such devastation that left the land and the people unprofitable—not flourishing and rich and healthy. There was nothing appealing here if one were looking for a man who was “every inch a king.”

3 He was despised and rejected of men,

a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;

and as one from whom men hide their face he was despised,

and we esteemed him not.

The verb “despised” (bazah) occurs twice in this verse. It means to look down the nose with contempt; it means to consider something worthless and of no value, and then treat it accordingly.

The genitive “sorrows” needs to be classified—what is “a man of sorrows”? It probably is an attributive genitive, “sorrows” modifying the kind of man he was, a man filled with sorrows, a sorrowful man. “Acquainted” sounds like a polite understatement; but the Hebrew language uses the verb “to know” to say that he has the experiential knowledge of grief (holi [pronounced khuh-lee] is “sickness, grief”).

The last line of the verse uses the verb hasab [khah-shav], “to reckon, account, consider.” It is the main verb in Psalm 32 for God’s not reckoning sin to us; and in Genesis 15:6 it is used for reckoning righteousness to the believer Abram. Here the people confess, “we” did not consider him”—we wrote him off as a poor wretch, we did not give him a second thought, we made no note of him. Someone this ordinary (v. 2) and this despised (v. 3) could hardly be significant—they say. What an irony in the word in Scripture—we are worthless and God reckons us righteous; the suffering Servant appeared worthless, and they did not reckon him—they wrote him off.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows;

yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God,

and afflicted.

The lines are chronologically reversed: we did think that God was punishing him, and now we know he was—but for our sins.

“Griefs” and “sorrows” are repeated here now from the last verse; this means that they were our griefs and our sorrows that were transferred to him, with which he was acquainted. “Esteem” is repeated here as well; in the last verse “we did not esteem him” but in this verse “we esteemed him” punished by God. The three verbs of the penal nature of the suffering are “strike” (naga’), “smite” (nakah) and “afflict” (‘anah in the Piel/Pual).

5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,

he was bruised for our iniquities;

the chastisement of our peace was upon him,

and with his stripes we are healed.

This verse calls for a clear definition of each of the key words. For him are the “wounds” (meholal) and also the “bruises” (medukka’), “chastisement” (musar) and “stripes” (haburah). These are all punishing blows.

On our side are the “transgressions” (pesha’im) and “iniquities” (‘awonot) that caused his sufferings. And also on our side are the benefits of “peace” (shalom) and “healing” (rape’ [rah-fay]). The word “peace” is an objective genitive—the chastening produced or brought the peace.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray,

we have turned every one to his own way;

and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Here is the confession required of anyone seeking salvation; and it is required of Israel to find salvation in Christ today. The verses use the simile of sheep that go astray, meaning people who turn away from God and sin. “Go astray” means “to wander aimlessly.”

The verb “has laid” on him is the verb paga’ (hipgia’); this verb will be an important one to study because it will be repeated at the end of the song as the summation—”he made intercession” for the transgressors. It is a word that means “to intercede, interpose.” In places in the Bible it is used to describe prayer, an intercession that is burdensome. But here it is substitutionary suffering that will divert the punishment—interposed.

The allusion of the verse is to the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16. In that event the sins of the people were placed on the Scapegoat. In fact, many have seen this passage not only as a prophecy of the suffering of Jesus, but the national confession of sin by Israel on the Day of Atonement—to be fulfilled at the end of the age when all Israel will be saved.

7 He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted

he opened not his mouth;

as a lamb that is led to the slaughter

and as a sheep that is dumb before its shearers,

so he opened not his mouth.

iThe idea “opened not his mouth” is a metonymy of cause—he did not complain or protest; neither did he confess sin (which people often have to do when they suffer)! This idea is then developed by the simile of a lamb silently going to its death—he did not open his mouth. The suffering was willingly accepted.

8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away

and as for his generation

who considered that he was cut off

from the land of the living

for the transgression of my people

to whom the stroke was due?

The verse are now beginning to get longer as the song continues. The verse has some difficult Hebrew in it. But the general idea is that his death was unjust in the way that it was carried out (perhaps a hendiadys, “by oppressive judgment”), and that it was for the “rebellions” of other people.

9 And they made his grave with the wicked

and with a rich man in his death;

although he had done no violence,

neither was any deceit in his mouth.

The “wicked” (resha’im) are those who are not members of the covenant and who are guilty, deserving to die. To say “he made (literally, “he gave”) his grave with the wicked” is a metonymy of effect or adjunct—he died with wicked criminals. The “rich” would be seen here as the oppressors since the parallelism works with the “wicked.”

“Violence” is hamas (khah-mas), social injustices, oppression, general public evil. There was no crime by him that deserved death. Moreover, there was no “guile/deceit” (mirmah) in his mouth—he spoke the truth, concealing nothing that should be confessed or brought to light, and expressing no deception or revenge.

10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him;

he has put him to grief;

when you shall make his soul an offering for sin,

he shall see his seed,

he shall prolong his days,

and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in the land.

The word “pleased” is hapes (khah-fates); it does not signify that God received some morbid pleasure out of the afflicting of pain; rather, it simply means that this act of sacrifice was the will of God, it was what he desired to be done. The word is repeated at the end of the verse.

The word for “grief” is again repeated in this verse.

The key word that needs to be studied here is ‘asham, the “offering for sin.” This is the reparation offering of Leviticus 5; it takes care of the sin and guilt and also makes reparation or restitution for what was wronged, lost, defrauded, or spoiled by sin. Here is the first place where one of Israel’s sacrifices is applied to a person, the Servant of the LORD. The word interprets all the previous intimations of vicarious, substitutionary, redemptive suffering. It opens the way for John the Baptist to say, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

11 He shall see of the travail of his soul,

and shall be satisfied;

by the knowledge of him shall my righteous servant

justify many,

and he shall bear their iniquities.

The teaching of justification through the personal knowledge of and belief in this Servant is now stated clearly. The term “justify” is a declarative use of the Hiphil of the verb sadaq (tsah-dak), meaning he will declare righteous (not make righteous), as he himself is righteous (Peter: He is just and the justifier).

Note the repetition of the word “many” here and in the next verse. Jesus in the Upper Room alludes to this passage in the eucharistic sayings about his blood being poured out for the remission of the sins of many. (For a discussion of what he meant by “many,” see Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Sayings of Jesus).

12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great,

and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;

because he poured out his soul unto death,

and he was numbered with the transgressors;

yet he bore the sin of many

and made intercession for the transgressors.

In this passage I would stress the verb “made intercession” (discussed above). Theologians have correctly used the theme of interposing of the blood of Christ for salvation, his blood/wounds pleading for us. Here is a hymn: “Five bleeding wounds he bears, for me to intercede; they pour effectual prayers, they strongly pleads for me; forgive him, O, forgive they cry, nor let that ransomed sinner die, nor let that ransomed sinner die.”

I think that the song ends where it began, with the exaltation of the suffering servant. There is the hint in here of the conquering hero who divides the spoil and gives gifts to his people. His honor comes because he bore the sins of many—the center of the Christian faith.

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The Announcement of Comfort to the Redeemed

This section continues the theme of the last chapter, making the link with the repetition of the call “awake” (51:17 and 52:1). Now the LORD calls Zion to awake from her sleep because He will not allow His name to be blasphemed any longer (1-6); in fact, heralds announce to Zion that God has come to reign (7-8), prompting the call for Jerusalem to rejoice because God has brought salvation (9-10). The section closes when the righteous are exhorted to come home because the LORD will protect them (11-12).

There are a number of ways that this passage could be outlined. For ease in the arrangement, I shall break up the first part into two sections:

the call to exchange degradation for rightful dignity (1,2) and

the reason for the call (3-6); then I shall combine verses 7-10 for

the heralds and the rejoicing (7-10), and the finally,

the concluding call (11,12) will parallel the beginning call.

Exposition

I. GOD CALLS HIS PEOPLE TO EXCHANGE THEIR DEGRADED CONDITION FOR THEIR POSITION OF RIGHTFUL SERVICE (52:1,2).

The prophet, speaking the Word of the LORD, calls for the people to respond to the call of God. The primary audience, of course, would be the exiles in Babylon who are called to step out in faith and return to their land and their service (and as we said before, Isaiah probably thought his immediate audience would go into exile and then need these words to encourage them and to call them home). Announcing such an oracle would have the impact of warning and encouragement on the immediate (eighth century) audience would be warning and encouragement—warning not to get themselves into the predicament of an exile and have to face all of this, and encouragement that if and when they did a remnant would return (as the message based on the name of the prophet’s child early declared). In other words, no matter how bad the invasion and exile might be, there was a future for Israel—they should expect to return to the land.

We know what the oracle meant in Old Testament times; but what does it mean for us today? For the modern application the message could be applied on several levels: (1) just as there would have been unbelievers in Babylon who would come to faith at this call, so too today people might respond to the message (this or any message about the future fulfillment of the promises) and leave their bondage and sin and find themselves in the service of the LORD; (2) Christians who have been living under the oppression of the world (largely due to sin) and being conformed to the world may need to separate themselves and be useful in God’s service; and (3) believers need to watch and be ready for the coming of the LORD, for the passage may be again a picture of the LORD’s calling His people out of the bondage of this world to service above in the final redemption.

Verse 1 employs several figures in the call for an appropriate response of faith by the people. The addressee here is “Zion”—hence the feminine forms of the verbs. “Zion” is the mountain on which the temple once stood; so here it is a metonymy of subject for the people of the land who center their attention on Jerusalem. It is possible the prophet is addressing the exiles still; but it is interesting that the provenance of his oracles now shifts to the focus in the land of Israel.

The first figure is “Awake”; this is an implied comparison, comparing the waking up from sleep with responding by faith to God’s Word. The idea of “awake” has been used previously in chapter 50 for responding to the Word of God, as well as in chapter 51 for the unfaithful to wake up. Here the word is repeated; the figure of repetition is used to urge the immediate response of the people.

“Put on” (libsi [liv-she], s.v. labas [lah-vash]) is another comparison, linking the ideas of putting on clothes with acting by faith (compare Ephesians 6 with its “put on the whole armor of God”). The idea means to make full use of something. Here that “something” is “strength” (‘oz [oze]), probably a metonymy of effect, the cause being the power of God that will give the believers the strength to do what needs to be done (recall the renewing of strength in Isaiah 40). So the point is that by faith they must respond to the Word of God and trust God to enable them to return to the land.

They are called to put on their “beautiful garments.” The expression recalls the festive robes of the priests (cf. Exod. 19:14 and 28:40). Rather than be in the estate of the slave (47:1), the people will be restored to their dignified state of a holy nation and a kingdom of priests (see Zech. 3 which symbolizes this restoration by having the filthy garments removed from the priest (who signifies the nation) and clean robes and a new miter or turban given to him (which signifies the renewal to spiritual service after the exile).

The explanation given in the verse is that from this time on the un-circumcised and the unclean (probably referring to the Babylonian invading armies among others) will not plunder the temple and the state and desecrate them. Of course, this promise is contingent upon their putting on the strength by faith. Unfortunately, very soon after their return the people lapsed into sin, necessitating the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, and even Malachi. Consequently, the un-circumcised and unclean (Seleucids, Romans, and others) did again enter and plunder. Thus, the promise of the restoration to the land and to service must await the end of the age. All the prophets continued to hold out such glorious promises; and the people had the opportunity to fulfill it, to be that generation. But as each generation failed, the people knew that their time wasn’t it—they looked for another.

Further references: for the un-circumcised Babylonians, see Ezek. 44:9; for “put on” metaphor terminology, see Isa. 11:5 and 51:9; for the ultimate spiritual fulfillment of this promise that nothing unclean will enter the holy city, see Rev. 21:2,10.

Verse 2 calls for the people to depart from their bondage. “Shake yourself from the dust” is a call to end their mourning. It could be taken as an implied comparison; but if there actually were periods of mourning where real dust was applied, then metonymy of adjunct would work very well. Haggai, Zechariah, and Ezra all address the issue of whether or not the fasts from Babylon were still to be mourned when they were back in the land. So I would prefer the latter figure. The expression “Loose yourself from the bonds of your neck” would be hypocatastasis, comparing being in stocks and bondage with the general idea of exile. They were not actually in such neck-bonds.

Now the people are referred to as the “captive daughter of Zion” rather than merely “Zion.” Since cities and locations are usually feminine in Hebrew, the people from Zion could easily be referred to as a daughter (collectively). The implied comparison is meant to indicate that this is the nation from Zion/Judah, what Judah produced.

II. THE LORD WILL VINDICATE HIS NAME BY DELIVERING HIS PEOPLE FROM BONDAGE (52:3-6).

In these verses we have the reason for the LORD’s call for the people to respond by faith—there is nothing to prevent the LORD from reclaiming His people.

Verse 3 introduces the idea that when Israel went into bondage she went because of her own sin, and not because the LORD sold her for a price. Because no price was paid as Israel sold herself for nothing, no price was required to redeem her. Israel was still God’s possession. Verse 3 introduces this theme in a soliloquy of the LORD: Israel was not sold to Babylon for compensation, and so she will be redeemed without money. The adverb hinnam ([khin-nahm], s.v. hanan [khah-nan]) means “free, without cost, for nothing, for nought, gratis”; it is etymologically related to the word for “grace” (hen [khane]) and so provides a nice illustration of the meaning of grace as “freely” or “gratuitously, without a cause.” But here the adverb simply means “for nothing, for no cost.”

Verse 4 provides two illustrations for the people. The nation had gone down into Egypt, and had been invaded by Assyria—in both cases they were in similar bondage, but in both cases the LORD had not been through with them.

The LORD’s reasoning continues in verse 5 as the subject comes back to Babylon—now “what am I about in Babylon?” is what the LORD says. The critical problem in this verse is the verb yehelilu (yeh-hay-lee-loo). The old translations took it as a causative idea: “make them shout,” meaning that the Babylonians made the Israelites praise their gods. All we know, though, is that they taunted them to sing the songs of Zion (Ps. 137). The more recent translations take the verb as an intensive or plural use of the stem, referring to the wild shouts of exclamation with which the Babylonian rulers praised their gods for the victory over Israel. This makes better sense with the last part of the verse, that the name of the LORD was being blasphemed. This means then that the LORD’s character was being brought into contempt, and His works credited to someone else (compare the New Testament idea of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, meaning that the works of Jesus were credited to the power of the evil one).

Verse 6 repeats the main motivation for the reunion of Israel in her land—that they might know my name—the same idea expressed in Exodus 3 and 6 for the Exodus. By His great deliverance of Israel from bondage the LORD would make His people know His name. Here the meaning of the verb “know” must have the same idea it had in Exodus 3 and 6, “to experience the meaning” of the name. They will be convinced that Yahweh is the one and only God, and that He indeed does speak. He is not like false gods; He is actively at work to bring about His will. The fulfillment of the covenant promises of the LORD will vindicate His reputation and prove that He is completely trustworthy. All the blaspheming and mocking will be suddenly silenced.

III. THERE WILL BE GREAT JOY OVER THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE GLAD TIDINGS (52:7-10).

A. GOOD NEWS WILL BE WELCOMED BY THE PEOPLE (7, 8).

Verse 7 is one of the better known verses in this section of the book, thanks to its citation in Romans 10:15 (see also Nah. 1:15). Paul in that section of Romans is talking about the nation of Israel, its ultimate salvation at the end of the age as a fulfillment of the promises, and the basis of that restoration in Christ’s death. So the ultimate meaning of this passage in Isaiah concerns the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even though the immediate context refers to news of Israel’s deliverance from exile. But the parallel ideas are obvious. Here is another example of how the “near view” of a prophecy is but a shadow or preview of the “far view” (compare Psalm 118 and the prophecy of the “stone which the builders rejected” which in the Old Testament refers to Israel overlooked by empires, but in the New Testament signifies Christ rejected by the leaders).

The exclamation in verse 7 (“How beautiful”) is a form of erotesis for exclaiming or declaring the prospect in the form of a question. The prophet transports himself to the future in thought and sees the people in Jerusalem (in ruins of course) joyfully welcoming the returning exiles with the exclamation that “God reigns.” The basic theological point of verse 7 is the announcement of the good news of SALVATION (i.e., deliverance from bondage in exile). The cause of that salvation is God’s power over the nations (“God reigns”); the effect of that deliverance is peace and prosperity (“peace” and “good news”). Those who come to Zion with the good news—the returning exiles—are the welcomed messengers. Their feet are beautiful, meaning their coming is wonderful. “Feet” could be taken as synecdoche or metonymy (there is often a thin line between the two figures); the latter would work better to represent the whole person who comes with the good news.

The point of the verse is that the people will welcome the approach of the messenger who can declare that God is about to fulfill His promise of redemption. The same point applies to today’s preaching of the Gospel that announces there is a day of redemption coming.

Verse 8 carries the same theme further with a description of the watchmen calling and singing to one another when they make eye contact to confirm the coming home of the exiles. There is no reason not to take the “watchmen” literally in this passage; there would have always been such watchers, whether to safeguard whatever domains were there, or whether the Levites waiting for the dawn in the eastern skies so that they could begin the early morning sacrifice.

This verb sapah (tsah-fah), from which we have “watchers,” is used figuratively for the prophets in Hosea 9:8; Jeremiah 6:17; Ezekiel 3:17, 33:7; and Isaiah 56:10. But I doubt that that is the best meaning for this context, for the verse talks about the watchmen seeing the return. Besides, Brown, Driver, and Briggs do not list this passage with that meaning for “watchers.”

B. PEOPLE SHOULD BREAK FORTH INTO PRAISE BECAUSE OF THE LORD’S SALVATION (9, 10).

Verse 9 is a call to praise the LORD for this great deliverance. People are called to praise because the “desolate places” are no longer such—in fact, waste or desolate places are being called to sing. I would take this as metonymy of subject, meaning that the people who live in the waste places (which are now no longer waste places) will sing for joy. The reason?—the LORD has “comforted” and “redeemed” His people (these two words being major themes for this section of the book). So in the future when the exile is over and the rebuilding begins, people will forget their desolation and rejoice in the power of the LORD.

Verse 10 uses a bold anthropomorphism to express the dominant power of God—”He has made bare His holy arm.” It is the idea of pushing back the mantel and exposing the arm for action. “Holy” arm means that His power is unique, incomparable. There is no “arm” like His, no power like His. It will be a mighty salvation.

God's armIV. GOD CALLS HIS PEOPLE TO RESPOND TO HIS DELIVERANCE WITH PURITY AND CONFIDENCE (52:11, 12).

Now, in a slight inclusio with the initial “awake, awake” we have the final “depart, depart.” Verse 11 records an address to the exiles that comes from Jerusalem (“from thence” shows that the speaker is not in Babylon), suggesting again the transporting of the prophet in his vision. Since the LORD is present in the march to the holy land, the people must be pure. They must not be defiled by unclean things. After all, they are to be restored as the kingdom of priests. If they truly believe in the LORD, they will separate from the world and follow the LORD’s call to a renewed spiritual service. Thus it is with every kind of deliverance.

The prophet holds out for them the promise of divine protection. Unlike the exodus from Egypt, they will not have to go in haste, or by flight, because the LORD will lead them in the way and be their rearguard as well. Compare this text to the ending of Isaiah 40.

Conclusion

So there is in this passage the dominant theme of the joyful departure from bondage of the exiles to the holy city. Because the promise was about to be fulfilled, the people were to purify themselves and be confident in the sovereignty of their God. Their restoration and renewal was imminent; but that new beginning was but a foretaste of the great eschatological redemption at the end of the age. For this connection compare the use of “God reigns” in Isaiah 52:7 with the several enthronement psalms where “the LORD reigns” is the cry at the end of the age.

In general, one could use this passage to teach that the LORD sovereignly reigns over the world and so people can trust in His word and obey His commands. While this would be a legitimate use, the passage has a more specific point to make, and we must always be as specific as possible. The chapter is specifically about God’s people heading for home to renew their spiritual service of the LORD. And so one basic and crucial application today would be in line with the way that Paul uses the passage. The whole chapter can be seen as a type, a picture, of God’s plan of salvation that culminates at the end of the age. It portrays a call to people who are in bondage to sin to leave their bondage because the LORD offers them redemption, deliverance; and they can depart for the Holy City, the heavenly Jerusalem now, where no unclean thing will enter. The destination of Zion becomes a symbol of the ultimate fulfillment of the promises. The LORD will redeem His people from all evil and purify His name from blasphemy and mocking. The reason for the great salvation with all its good news and the basis for the praise of the saints is that God reigns. So the wonderful news of the Gospel announces salvation; it is entered by faith now and realized fully at the end of the age. Those who respond by faith to the call of God begin their pilgrimage to the holy city; they themselves become bearers of the good news.

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The LORD Can and Will Help Those Who Trust Him

This chapter can easily be divided into three sections: verses 1-3 form the assurance of the LORD’s help, verses 4-9 are the third Servant Song, and verses 10-11 the final exhortation. The question raised by the commentaries is whether or not these sections belong together as a flowing argument. It seems to me that the unit does work; moreover, even if they were originally different pieces they have been placed together in this section because their themes go together. Some expositors prefer to work only with verses 4-9 because it is one of the Servant Songs. That is fine; but the context it is now in must contribute something to the argument of the Song, and so must be covered anyway.

Exposition

I. THE LORD’S ASSURANCE TO ISRAEL: THERE IS NO VALID OBSTACLE TO THEIR REDEMPTION (50:1-3).

This short section is an address to the exiled Israelites who are slow to respond to the LORD’s calls because they have come to believe that the ties they had with the mother land had been irretrievably broken. The message assures them that they are redeemable (meaning that they still have a covenant relationship with the LORD).

Verse 1 asks a series of rhetorical questions, each one of them expecting a negative answer. There was no bill of divorcement—they still belonged to the LORD; there was no bill of sale—they were never given up. In Israel, if there was a bill of divorcement given, the person was free to remarry; but the LORD gave no such bill to Israel, or to the preceding generation. The nation—that generation—was temporarily put away; but there was no divorce. So the image is an implied comparison between the idea of a divorce and the LORD’s disowning Israel. He sent the nation into exile to purge those who were not His people; but Israel still belonged to Him.

Likewise, if a man sold (into employment) children to help pay off a debt, they would be permanently lost to him. But God had no such debt; neither was He forced to sell Israel into the hands of a creditor (cf. 52:3). The nation was His possession; but He would bless only that generation of the nation that was faithful.

Rather, that wicked generation of Israelites sold themselves because of sin; and such sin the LORD could cancel by His grace. But the “nation” was not cast off forever. There would always be a remnant of God’s people, and with revival there would be a faithful generation.

Verse 2 assured them that the LORD was fully able to redeem, although they were slow to respond. “When I came” may refer to the LORD’s intervention to deliver them through Cyrus, or when He announced that He was going to do it; when the LORD did this, there was no immediate response of faith. The verse suggests that they were not convinced that the LORD could or would do this, and so were slow to get their hopes up. They had interpreted the exile to mean that the LORD cast them off, or was not able to protect them.

Again, the LORD used rhetorical questions, expecting negative answers. “Is my hand shortened that it cannot redeem?” His hand was by no means shortened that it could not redeem. To make the point, the LORD alludes to past acts of deliverance. The references are to miracles beginning with the Exodus, the drying up of the sea, the provision of wilderness water, or unnatural droughts that brought death. The main idea of them all seems to focus on the crossing of the Sea on dry ground to deliver them from Egypt. The two key words for study in this claim of God’s ability to deliver are nasal (pronounced nah-tsal) and padah (pah-dah).

Verse 3 probably refers to the darkening of the skies with storm clouds (clothing and sackcloth being implied comparisons); but there may again be a reference to the plague of darkness in Egypt, or the darkness at Sinai. The LORD was claiming sovereignty over the elements of nature to show that all power in heaven and on earth belonged to Him.

So this first section is rather short but its point is clear enough. God was fully able to redeem His people with as great a deliverance as the Exodus. Moreover, God was fully willing to do this because He had not cast them off altogether, but had sent them into exile for their sins (purging the unbelievers for the land). God can both forgive sinners and deliver them from bondage.

II. THE SONG OF THE SERVANT: ALTHOUGH REJECTED, THE SERVANT LEARNED TO COMFORT THE WEARY BECAUSE GOD WAS ON HIS SIDE (50:4-9).

A. THE LORD PREPARED THE SERVANT TO TEACH (4, 5).

The song seems to be made up of three quatrains: it records the soliloquy of the Servant about his experiences in the past and his hopes for the future.

Verse 4 begins the words of the Servant: in order to teach God had equipped him with a trained faculty of speech. He says, “The LORD gave me the tongue (metonymy of cause) of them that are taught, in order that I might know how to sustain with words them that are weak.” The meaning of “sustain” is problematic here; some suggest “to answer,” “to revive,” or “to feed.” The Greek reads “how to speak a word in due season.”

The question of who the weary are depends in large measure on who the Servant is. If the Servant is the nation of Israel, or the remnant, then the weary would be the pagan nations (including unbelievers of Israel) who are weary of their darkened existence. If the Servant is typological for the Messiah, then in that case the weary would be any people who were tired of their bondage to sin. Jesus would welcome the weary to Himself, for He could give them rest (Matt. 11:28).

The latter part of the verse says that the LORD wakens his ear (metonymy of cause, the instrument of hearing and obeying). The LORD gives revelation to him continuously, morning by morning. The simile is a comparison with those who are taught—the servant is made ready to receive the Word every day of his life.

Verse 5 is, according to some, a needless duplication with only the latter part of it belonging here. But their view misunderstands Hebrew rhetoric. The verse begins with a little different way of saying that the LORD has prepared him to obey—he opened my ear (see Ps. 40). God prepared him to hear and respond. The conclusion is that the Servant was not disobedient to hear the message and to teach it (contra Jonah). “I was not rebellious” (mariti [pronounced mah-ree-tee]) and did not turn away “backward.”

B. THE LORD HELPED THE SERVANT ENDURE THE SUFFERINGS (6, 7).

Verse 6 introduces the second quatrain. The verses do not fit the suffering of the nation as well as one might expect because it presents suffering as an act of loyalty to God. If the immediate reference is to Israel, then the Servant might have to be considered to be the remnant of true believers who suffered on behalf of the whole nation, for the whole nation was far from loyal.

“I gave my back to the smiters” starts the report. The words are those of a martyr who willingly accepted the strokes and the abuse. The image of a man being beaten, his beard plucked out, of being spat upon, figuratively works for Israel or a remnant of Israelites (personification), and perhaps of the prophet, but becomes literally true in Jesus Christ.

Verse 7 introduces us to the major theme of this chapter: the LORD Yahweh will help me (ya’azor). This word “help” means that the LORD did for the Servant what he could not do for himself. The result of divine help was that he was not confounded, but set his face like a flint, the simile indicating his determination was unflinching. There would be no denial or suppression of the truth through the suffering, for God was enabling the Servant to endure triumphantly.

C. THE LORD’S HELP WOULD VINDICATE THE SERVANT (8, 9).

Verses 8 and 9 again use rhetorical questions that require negative answers. Who is the adversary who contends with the Servant, or who condemns the Servant? Suffering was usually a sign of guilt, a condemnation. But the Servant is convinced that by the deliverance from exile the LORD would justify him (masdiqi [pronounced mats-dee-kee], from sadaq [tsah-dak]). So the wording: “He is near who justifies me; who then will contend with me?” The LORD who is near at hand (to deliver) will justify or vindicate those who are delivered. When God delivers the sinner, no one can condemn successfully, for the charges have been dismissed. Part of this verse was quoted by Paul in Romans 8:33.

The motif of the LORD helping the Servant is repeated in verse 9. If the LORD will help us, then who condemns us? This the grand theme of all of God’s acts of redemption, for redemption from bondage is accomplished through forgiveness.

The last part of verse 9 refers to Israel’s oppressors: they shall grow old and wear out like (simile) garments. The last line is an implied comparison, built off the simile—they will be old and moth-eaten.

III. HORTATORY ADDRESS: THE PEOPLE SHOULD OBEY THE TEACHER-SERVANT RATHER THAN REMAIN IN THEIR DESTRUCTIVE WAYS (50:10, 11).

These two verses change abruptly the flow of the passage, for now the address is given to people to respond to the message that the Servant had to teach. Two groups are addressed, those who would walk by faith in the LORD and find deliverance eventually, and those who were faithless and doomed (Isa. 66:5).

A. TRUST IN THE NAME OF THE LORD (10).

The first group are those who fear the LORD and obey the voice of the Servant. The Servant is not now the speaker in the first person, but is referred to in the third person. In historic times the faithful remnant would call to those who walked in darkness (see the imagery in Isa. 9) that if they feared the LORD they could trust in His Name. If they were living under oppression because of sin and had no other hope, they should trust the LORD.

Of course, as a type the passage works well with the fulfillment, Jesus Christ, the true Seed, whose message to those in darkness was to be believed.

The exhortation is that they trust the name of the LORD. The “name of the LORD” is a metonymy that refers to God’s attributes—what He is able to do. The idea of trusting (from batah [pronounced bah=tack]) here refers to total reliance on the LORD for safety and security (see the parallel clause “and stay upon his God”). The verb “trust” carries the idea of complete confidence and dependance. It comes with throwing oneself on the mercy of the court.

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B. OR, PERISH IN SORROW (11).

There are those who are faithless, who kindle fire and gird themselves with firebrands. The implied comparison concerns evil workings against other people they seek to destroy and their own devices for their false worship. One thinks of the firey darts in Ephesians 6:16. Fitting themselves with fire darts could refer to weapons, figuratively to words, or pagan forms of religion (so a choice between metonymy and hypocatastasis). But the people and their actions described here are obviously antagonistic to the LORD and the true faith, and therefore to His people.

The prophet calls for their destruction as they walk into their own evil. The verb used is an imperative; but it conveys the suddenness and certainty of the point—their devices will be for their own destruction (so “walk” is a metonymy). Talionic justice is a major theme throughout the Old Testament.

The words of the LORD conclude the verse: “This you shall have from my hand; you shall lie down in sorrow”—literally, a place of pain (see Genesis 3). “Lie down” is metonymical, for it means in the grave—they will die. But they will not have a peaceful repose as the righteous. Their death will be in pain.

Conclusion

So this passage, if taken as a unit, makes it clear that there is no reason whatsoever to hinder the LORD’s delivering His people from bondage. The people have suffered for their sins and are weary and discouraged. So the LORD sends a Servant to comfort them, one who was able to endure the suffering for the people because of the LORD’s sustaining power. This Servant would then be able to call the people to faith in the LORD, for therein was the only way to deliverance because the LORD would judge the wicked by their own devices. Moreover, the people would see that suffering did not necessarily mean rejection by the LORD, for He suffered in the service of the LORD.

In the Old Testament period the “Servant” role might well have been fulfilled by the prophet, or the schools of the prophets, if not the core of the believing remnant. The LORD sustained them through the suffering to encourage the whole nation to trust the LORD.

But more importantly, the passage is prophetic of the Messiah’s work, as indeed the Servant Songs are as a whole. Jesus declared that He was the Servant; He was the Son of Man who came to serve and not to be served, to give His life a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28).129 The idea of “serve” and “ransom” and “many” are all from the servant songs (we shall see the latter two in Isaiah 53). So on the physical-spiritual level of the New Testament, people who were in bondage to world powers as well as (and because of) their sins were burdened and discouraged and without hope. Jesus came and took all the sins and sorrows of the world on Himself, calling for people to trust in Him to find rest for their souls, to learn of Him. So in this passage the emphasis on the Servant’s learning and teaching of the weary, His obedience, His suffering at the hands of smiters who plucked His beard and spat on Him, His confidence in the God Almighty, and His setting His face like flint to do the will of the Father, not fearing human opposition—all are clearly prophetic of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, the conclusion reverses the negative opinions expressed in the first section. If people who are walking in darkness (see Isa. 9) fear God, then they should trust in the name of the LORD. This is the point that Paul makes in Romans 10:9,10: there is no difference, for today it is the same truth for Jews and Gentiles alike, that if they call on the name of the LORD they shall be saved. Of course, his treatise to the Romans has been arguing that by “Lord” he means “Yahweh” of the Old Testament—that Jesus is Yahweh God. So the logic is obvious—if you do not believe in Jesus, you are rejecting God—Yahweh—and cannot and will not escape judgment.

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Filed under Daily Biblical Studies for the Soul Text, Studies in The Book of Isaiah