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Bible Commentaries

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

Isaiah 52

Verse 1

"The first twelve verses of this chapter are a continuation of the previous chapter; and there is no special reason for a break at this point."[1]; Isaiah 52:13-15 form an ideal introduction to Isaiah 53; which, taken together with the last three verses here, constitute the so-called Fourth Song of the Servant.

The first six verses here are a glorious address to Jerusalem, contrasting her with the state of Babylon, after the fall of that wicked city, and also a contrast with the closing verses of Isaiah 51, where Jerusalem appeared as a wretched woman in a state of drunkenness, staggering about in a hopeless condition with none, not even her sons, to help her.

Isaiah 52:1-2

"Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean. Shake thyself from the dust; arise, sit on thy throne, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bonds of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion."

"Jewish writers, supporting their obstinate and hopeless rejection of Christ as the Messiah, state that the uncircumcised here are the Christians, and that the unclean are the Turks!"[2] This shows the length to which unbelievers will go to support their infidelity. First, all Christians are indeed circumcised (Romans 2:29; Colossians 2:11). Above and beyond that truth is the fact that literal Jerusalem is certainly not "the holy city" of Isaiah 52:1. There has never been a single moment in all of human history when literal Jerusalem was actually "holy." Jesus indeed once referred to it as the "Holy City"; but the language was merely accommodative in recognition of the fact that the devout Jews so considered it.

Look at the facts: After Jerusalem was delivered from captivity in Babylon, it was a generation before the walls and the temple were restored; and after the quartering of Alexander the Great's empire, Jerusalem became a kind of buffer-state kicked about between Syria and Egypt. Antiochus Epiphanes took the temple, sacrificed a sow on the holy altar, forbade the reading of the Torah, and in other ways polluted and desecrated the literal Jerusalem; and eventually, another horde of "uncircumcised" people under Vespasian and Titus stormed and destroyed literal Jerusalem, deported 30,000 of its citizens to Egypt, put to death over a million of them and crucified 30,000 young men upon the walls of the city. Thus, it is clear enough that to make Jerusalem in this passage a place that the "uncircumcised" would never enter any more is to force the prophecy to prophesy a lie.

No! The Jerusalem here is that ultimate spiritual Jerusalem which the apostle John saw, "Coming down from God out of heaven" (Revelation 21:2).

This encouragement for Jerusalem was evidently, "Designed to contrast with Isaiah 47:1-3,"[3] where Babylon is commanded to sit in the dust, without a throne, with all of her fine clothing removed, and doing the work of a slave; but here Zion is commanded to awake and put on beautiful garments, and sit on a throne.

Verse 3

"For thus saith Jehovah, Ye were sold for naught; and ye shall be redeemed without money. For thus saith the Lord Jehovah, My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there; and the Assyrians have oppressed them without cause. Now therefore, what do I here?, saith Jehovah, seeing that my people is taken away for naught? They that rule over them do howl, saith Jehovah, and my name continually all the day is blasphemed. Therefore my people shall know my name: therefore they shall know in that day that I am he that doth speak."

The prophecies in these verses correspond exactly with what Isaiah had already written in Isaiah 45:13, and that the Lord would redeem them out of concern for his name in Isaiah 42:8, so where is there any evidence of another author? As noted in dozens of places, this corresponds exactly with that pattern of "here a little, there a little, line upon line," etc. which our prophet laid down in Isaiah 28:10,13.

Was Israel indeed redeemed without money? Yes indeed; as a matter of fact, Cyrus himself, their liberator paid many of the expenses himself. As Barnes noted:

"There is no way that Babylon could have been induced to surrender Israel; therefore God designed to raise up Cyrus, a mild, just and equitable prince; and to induce him to let the exiles depart, and to aid them in their return to their own land. Thus they were rescued without money and without price."[4]

"The fulfillment of this prophecy also continued the authority of God's holy word."<5a>

"Into Egypt to sojourn there ..." (Isaiah 52:4). "Israel went down into Egypt by invitation, but the sacred right of hospitality was basely violated."[5]

"Ye were sold for naught." (Isaiah 52:3). This is a reference to the sinful and illegal manner in which both Assyria and Babylon had inflicted their ravages upon the chosen people; and all of these things together, coupled with the arrogant contempt of the pagans for God's people, were challenges for, "God to live up to his covenant name, Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, and to demonstrate by Babylons overthrow his continuing sovereignty."[6]

"And now therefore, what do I here ...?" (Isaiah 52:5). These words do not refer to any alleged visit of God to Babylon, because his absence from fellowship with the captives was the very essence of their sorrow and discouragement. The words are a reference to what seemed like the idleness and unconcern of God in heaven for the terrible situation in which the captives languished. This is the basis of God's decision here to rescue them. "God must return to Jerusalem (the chosen people), because otherwise his gracious purpose would be frustrated; but in the present state of his people, God cannot continue in the achievement of his purpose; therefore Jerusalem (the righteous remnant) must rise from their humiliation."[7]

"They that rule over them do howl ..." (Isaiah 52:5). Some think the "howl" here means the cries of the oppressed captives; but our text clearly states that it is the rulers who "howl." The word suggests the howls of some animal exulting over its prey. "Their rulers, the Babylonians, do howl, speaking harshly to them, ridiculing their God, for his weakness, blaspheming his name."[8]

"My people shall know my name ... in that day ..." (Isaiah 52:6). Here again we find that expression used so frequently by Isaiah, almost always indicating the times of the New Covenant, including also an eschatalogical glimpse of the final judgment. "An Israel that knows God's name and responds to him when he says,' Behold me,' is an Israel in covenant with God and assured of deliverance."[9] This, of course, is the fundamental reason why the marvelous blessings throughout this latter portion of Isaiah are promised especially to the "righteous remnant," and to no other.

Verse 7

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, and publisheth peace, that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation, that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! The voice of thy watchmen! they lift up the voice, together do they sing; for they shall see eye to eye, when Jehovah returneth to Zion. Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem; for Jehovah hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. Jehovah hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God."

The apostle Paul applied this passage to the preaching of the Gospel (Romans 10:15); and the truth that Israel's God reigneth (Isaiah 52:7) is a reference to the same reality proclaimed "By John the Baptist, and by the Lord Jesus Christ himself, that, `The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand!'"[10] As regards the exact time when that reign of God (through Christ) began, it was upon that occasion when Jesus Christ declared that, "All authority in heaven and upon earth has been given unto me" (Matthew 18:18-20). Some people find it hard to harmonize the fact of God's current reign upon earth with the presence of much evil in the world; but all such doubts fail when it is realized that, at the very darkest hours in the history of the Old Israel, as in this chapter, while the people were languishing in captivity, God was reigning then; and God through Christ is reigning now! The most delusive notion ever entertained by mortals is that all men will, in some glorious tomorrow, submit to the Word of God. The reason that the vast majority of Adam's race are condemned to eventual destruction is due to the fact that God has given men the freedom of choice; and as Jesus said, "Broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many are they that enter in thereby" (Matthew 7:13). God will never rule in human hearts that reject his word, deny the Christ, and by choice prefer the service of Satan.

This reference to those "who bring good tidings and publish peace" is an oft recurring subject in Isaiah, as in Isaiah 40:9 and Isaiah 41:27, another signature declaring Isaiah as the author.

"Jehovah hath laid bare his holy arm ..." (Isaiah 52:10). When Isaiah wrote these words there were tremendous apparent contradictions in the contemporary situation that seemed to deny God's authority. Jerusalem was in ruins, her temple destroyed, its sacred vessels used for wine and debaucheries for the king of Babylon and his concubines. How could men believe that God reigned in a situation like that? But men of every age have been tempted by the same questions. "How can men believe that God is king when evil seems to be enthroned on every hand".'?[11] Isaiah here reveals the answer, namely, that God rules in the kingdoms of men (Daniel 4:25). God has control of all history, regardless of how the circumstances of any given generation may seem to contradict it.

Verse 11

"Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; cleanse yourselves, ye that bear the vessels of Jehovah. For ye shall not go out in haste, neither shall ye go by flight; for Jehovah will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rearward."

Compare this with Isaiah 48:20, where the instructions for Israel contained the word "flee." Thus we have again that oft-repeated Biblical characteristic of repeating sacred records, or instructions, with additional and supplementary material, conforming to Isaiah 28:10,13, such characteristics being not only true of the pattern throughout all the Bible, but especially suggestive of the writings of Isaiah, and having the utility here of another signature identifying the whole prophecy as belonging to Isaiah. The critics have no answer at all by which they could hope to deny this. The additional material here is the fact that "flee" did not mean to leave in haste, as in the first exodus, but merely to "get out of the place as soon as possible."

The exhortation here was addressed to the Jews of 537 B.C., who were challenged to leave the prosperity they enjoyed, and the property they had acquired, and to choose instead a life of pioneering hardship in a return to Jerusalem, over a trackless desert, and confronted with all kinds of dangers. Unfavorable as such a prospect must have appeared to all of them, "The safety and purity of their souls depended upon their fleeing"[12] from the polluted society of Babylon and the seduction of its pagan culture.

"Depart ye, depart ye ..." (Isaiah 52:11). This command also has its application for Christians of all generations. They should remember the danger to Lot who pitched his tent toward Sodom and who lived to regret it; and whose posterity provided armies of enemies for the people of God. Christians today have the same duty "to separate themselves from the mystical Babylon, from all that is evil, Revelation 18:4."[13]

"Not with haste ..." (Isaiah 52:12). This means that the captives in Babylon would not be escaping refugees, as were their forefathers in the Exodus from Egypt, for they would enjoy the patronage and safe-conduct of the Persian Emperor."[14]

"Cleanse yourselves, ye that bear the vessels of Jehovah ..." (Isaiah 52:11). "From this, we must understand those vessels which Nebuchadnezzar carried off from the temple (2 Kings 25:14-16, and Daniel 5:1-4); and which the Jews received upon their return from Babylon when the vessels were restored to them by Cyrus."[15]

It is agreed by all scholars that the logical end of Isaiah 52 occurs fight here, and that the last three verses form a logical introduction to the magnificent Fourth Song of the Servant, which extends through the following Isaiah 53.

Long usage, however, makes it proper to retain the common chapter divisions.

Verse 13


"Behold, my servant shall deal wisely; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. Like as many were astonished at thee, this visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men, so shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they understand."

Here is the introduction to the several revelations in this Great Passional, as it was called by Rawlinson. (1) The superlative exaltation of The Servant; (2) the marred visage of the Servant brought on by his extensive suffering; (3) the sprinkling of all nations, a reference to the incredible success of his kingdom; and (4) the patronage of kings, and the adherence of the great men of the earth to his teachings, are all subjects that are treated in Isaiah 53.

As Rawlinson said, "Some would attach these verses to Isaiah 53, but that is not necessary. These verses are complete in themselves and form a link to the following chapter."[16]

"He shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high ..." (Isaiah 52:13). This places the emphasis of this presentation of the Servant where it belongs, namely, upon the exaltation of Christ, not merely upon his sufferings. Instead of viewing these passages as an account of Jesus' sufferings, we should rather see the picture of His Marvelous Victory and Exaltation Through Suffering. The best comment ever made upon this verse is that of Paul:

"(Christ) emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth. and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. See Philippians 2:7-11."

The significant thing, is that by means of his terrible sufferings, Christ attained to his glorious victory and exaltation to the right hand of the Majesty on high.

Right here is the reason that we know that these songs of the Servant were not produced by the Hebrew people, but given of Almighty God through Isaiah. The conception of a suffering, humiliated, chastised, rejected, crucified Saviour was contrary to absolutely everything that the Jews desired; and when the Christ came, it was his faithful adherence to the pattern laid down here that caused their rejection and their clamoring for his death.

Paul's remarks quoted above, "Suggest Psalms 89:27 where Jehovah said of the Messiah, `I also will make him the Firstborn, supreme above the kings of the earth.'"[17]

Jamieson remarked that, The genuineness of this passage is certain; "Because the Jews would not have forged it, since it is opposed to their notions of a Messiah; and the Christians could not have forged it",[18] because the prophecy of Isaiah that contains it has never been in the custody of Christians. The Jews, enemies of Christianity, were "our librarians," as stated by an apostle (Romans 3:2).

As Lowth stated, "From Isaiah 40 to the end of the prophecy, three great deliverances make up the theme, all of them closely connected,"[19] namely, (1) the deliverance of the Jews from Babylon, (2) the deliverance of the Gentiles from their ignorance and idolatry, and (3) the deliverance of all mankind from the captivity of sin and death. But here in this Servant Song the third of these, the Great Deliverance, is in focus. Kidner's comment is, "Here we turn to the solitary figure whose agony was the price of it. We are at the heart of the book, the very center of its whole pattern of sin and righteousness, grace and judgment."[20] Kelley was also impressed with accolades given to this portion of the Sacred Scriptures:

"This Servant Song has been described as the most influential poem in any literature, the highest peak of Old Testament revelation, and the heart of the Old Testament. If it were to be taken out of the Old Testament, it could. be almost completely reconstructed from the quotations taken from it in the New Testament."[21]

Homer Hailey was impressed with the fact that the outline of Isaiah 53, which appears here in Isaiah 52:13-15, mentions the great themes in the reverse order of their treatment in the following chapter. "Here exaltation is followed by suffering; and in Isaiah 53, the suffering is followed by exaltation."[22] This is a significant perception by Hailey, because exactly the same phenomenon occurs in other portions of the Bible, as for example, in the prophecy of Revelation where the great enemies of mankind, (1) Satan; (2) persecuting godless government; and (3) apostate religion are introduced in Isaiah 12-13 in the reverse order of the record of their destruction prophesied in successive chapters!

"This visage was so marred ..." (Isaiah 52:14). "We know that this was to be the result of his maltreatment at the hands of Pilate's soldiers."[23] They were the ones who mocked him, platted the crown of thorns, and were the instruments of his brutal scourging.

"So shall he sprinkle many nations ..." (Isaiah 52:15). We find no objection whatever to the translation "sprinkle all nations," which to us seems far more appropriate than "startle all nations." As a matter of fact, before any man shall ever be saved, he must have his heart sprinkled from an evil conscience, and his body washed in pure water" (Hebrews 9:22), the same being twin references to faith in Christ through knowledge of Christ's sufferings and the consequent repentance and also to Christian baptism which constitutes the ceremonial gateway into the Christian religion. We are "baptized into Christ." (Galatians 3:17). We still wonder why so much controversy has been stirred up over this translation. Of course, the passage has no reference whatever to any "alleged form" of baptism. Christ and all the apostles were immersed; and sprinkling as a "baptism" was never known until centuries after the founding of the Church.

"Kings shall shut their mouths at him ..." (Isaiah 52:15). "Here Yahweh announces that his Servant Israel (the New Israel, Christ) shall be raised to a position so glorious, that even as many were appalled at his pitiable sight, so nations shall do him homage and kings shall be reverently silent in his presence, beholding so wonderful, so unheard-of a transformation."[24]

"That which had not been told them...and that which they had not heard ..." (Isaiah 52:15). This means that, "Men, even kings, will learn the facts of Christ's humiliation, sufferings, death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, events which had never even entered into the hearts (imaginations) of men, and of which, therefore, no tongue had ever spoken."[25]

Copyright Statement
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 52". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.