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This chapter is intimately connected with the preceding, and, with that, constitutes one connected portion (see the analysis of Isaiah 51:0) This portion, however, extends only to Isaiah 52:13 of this chapter, where there commences a prophecy extending through Isaiah 53:1-12, relating solely to the Messiah, and constituting the most important and interesting part of the Old Testament. In this chapter, the object is to console the pious part of the Jewish community. The general topic is, the promise of a rich blessing, first at the deliverance from the captivity at Babylon, and then, in a more complete sense, at the coming of the Messiah. The chapter comprises the following topics:
1. Jerusalem, long in bondage, is called on to arise and shake herself from the dust, and to put on her beautiful garments Isaiah 52:1-2. She is addressed in accordance with language that is common in Isaiah, and the other prophets, as a female sitting on the ground, covered with dust, and mourning over her desolations.
2. Yahweh expressly promises to deliver his people from their captivity and bondage Isaiah 52:3-6. In stating this, he says Isaiah 52:3, that they had sold themselves for nothing, and should be redeemed without money; he appeals to the fact that be had delivered them from Egyptian oppression in former years, and that he was as able to deliver them now Isaiah 52:4; and he says Isaiah 52:5-6, that he would have compassion on them now that they were suffering under their grievous bondage, and would furnish them with the most ample demonstration that he alone was God.
3. The prophet, in vision, sees the messenger on the mountains that comes to proclaim restoration to Zion Isaiah 52:7-8. He speaks of the beauty of the feet of him who bears the glad message Isaiah 52:7; and says that when that messenger is seen bearing the glad tidings,’ the watchman’ should join in the exultation Isaiah 52:8.
4. Jerusalem, and all the waste and desolate regions of Judea, are called on to break out into singing at the glad and glorious events which would occur when the people of God should be again restored Isaiah 52:9-10.
5. In view of all this, the people are called on to depart from Babylon, and to return to their own land Isaiah 52:11-12. They were to go out pure. They were not to contaminate themselves with the polluted objects of idolatry. They were about to bear back again to Jerusalem the consecrated vessels of the house of Yahweh, and they should be clean and holy. They should not go out with haste, as if driven out, but they would go defended by Yahweh, and conducted by him to their own land.
6. At Isaiah 52:13, the subject and the scene changes. The eye of the prophet becomes fixed on that greater future event to which the deliverance from Babylon was preparatory, and the whole attention becomes absorbed in the person, the manner of life, and the work of the Messiah. This part of the chapter Isaiah 52:13-15, is an essential part of the prophecy which is continued through Isaiah 53:1-12, and should by no means have been separated from it. In this portion of the prophecy, all reference to the captivity at Babylon ceases; and the eye of the prophet is fixed, without vacillating, on the person of the Redeemer. In no other portion of the Old Testament is there so clear and sublime a description of the Messiah as is furnished here; and no other portion demands so profoundly and prayerfully the attention of those who would understand the great mystery of redeeming mercy and love.
Awake, awake - (See the notes at Isaiah 51:9). This address to Jerusalem is intimately connected with the closing verses of the preceding chapter. Jerusalem is there represented as down-trodden in the dust before her enemies. Here she is described under the image of a female that had been clad in the habiliments of mourning, and she is now called on to arise from this condition, and to put on the garments that would be indicative of gladness and of joy. The idea is, that the time had come now in which she was to be delivered from her long captivity, and was to be restored to her former prosperity and splendor.
Put on thy strength - Hebrew, ‘Clothe thyself with thy strength.’ The idea is, exert thyself, be strong, bold, confident; arise from thy dejection, and become courageous as one does when he is about to engage in an enterprise that promises success, and that demands effort.
Put on thy beautiful garments - Jerusalem is here addressed, as she often is, as a female (see the note at Isaiah 1:8). She was to lay aside the garments expressive of grief and of captivity, and deck herself with those which were appropriate to a state of prosperity.
The uncircumcised and the unclean - The idea is, that those only should enter Jerusalem and dwell there who would be worshippers of the true God. The uncircumcised are emblems of the impure, the unconverted, and the idolatrous; and the meaning is, that in future times the church would be pure and holy. It cannot mean that no uncircumcised man or idolater would ever again enter the city of Jerusalem, for this would not be true. It was a fact that Antiochus and his armies, and Titus and his army entered Jerusalem, and undoubtedly hosts of others did also who were not circumcised. But this refers to the future times, when the church of God would be pure. Its members would, in the main, be possessors of the true religion, and would adorn it. Probably, therefore, the view of the prophet extended to the purer and happier times under the Messiah, when the church should be characteristically and eminently holy, and when, as a great law of that church, none should be admitted, who did not profess that they were converted.
Shake thyself from the dust - To sit on the ground, to sit in the dust, is an expression descriptive of mourning Job 2:13. Jerusalem is here called on to arise and shake off the dust, as indicating that the days of her grief were ended, and that she was about to be restored to her former beauty and splendor.
Arise and sit down - There is an incongruity in this expression in our translation, which does not occur in the original. The idea in the Hebrew is not that which seems to be implied in this expression to arise and sit down in the same place, but it means to arise from the dust, and sit in a more elevated, or honorable place. She had been represented as sitting on the earth, where her loose flowing robes would be supposed to become covered with dust. She is here called on to arise from that humble condition, and to occupy the divan, or a chair of dignity and honor. Lowth renders this, ‘Ascend thy lofty seat,’ and supposes it means that she was to occupy a throne, or an elevated seat of honor, and he quotes oriental customs to justify this interpretation. Noyes renders it, ‘Arise and sit erect.’ The Chaldee renders it, ‘Rise, sit upon the throne of thy glory.’ The following quotation, from Jowett’s Christian Researches, will explain the custom which is here alluded to: ‘It is no uncommon thing to see an individual, or group of persons, even when very well dressed, sitting with their feet drawn under them, upon the bare earth, passing whole hours in idle conversation.
Europeans would require a chair, but the natives here prefer the ground. In the heat of summer and autumn, it is pleasant to them to while away their time in this manner, under the shade of a tree. Richly adorned females, as well as men, may often be seen thus amusing themselves. As may naturally be expected, with whatever care they may, at first sitting down, choose their place, yet the flowing dress by degrees gathers up the dust; as this occurs, they, from time to time, arise, adjust themselves, shake off the dust, and then sit down again. The captive daughter of Zion, therefore, brought down to the dust of suffering and oppression, is commanded to arise and shake herself from that dust, and then, with grace, and dignity, and composure, and security, to sit down; to take, as it were, again her seat and her rank, amid the company of the nations of the earth, which had before afflicted her, and trampled her to the earth.’
Loose thyself from the bands of thy neck - Jerusalem had been a captive, and confined as a prisoner. She is now called on to cast off these chains from her neck, and to be again at liberty. In captivity, chains or bands were attached to various parts of the body. They were usually affixed to the wrists or ankles, but it would seem also that sometimes collars were affixed to theneck. The idea is, that the Jews, who had been so long held captive, were about to be released, and restored to their own land.
Ye have sold yourselves for nought - You became captives and prisoners without any price being paid for you. You cost nothing to those who made you prisoners. The idea is, that as they who had made them prisoners had done so without paying any price for them, it was equitable that they should be released in the same manner. When their captors had paid nothing for them, God would suffer nothing to be paid for them in turn; and they should be released, as they had been sold, without a price paid for them. Perhaps God intends here to reproach them for selling themselves in this manner without any compensation of any kind, and to show them the folly of it; but, at the same time, he intends to assure them that no price would be paid for their ransom.
Ye shall be redeemed - You shall be delivered from your long and painful captivity without any price being paid to the Babylonians. This was to be a remarkable proof of the power of God. Men do not usually give up captives and slaves, in whatever way they may have taken them, without demanding a price or ransom. But here God says that he designs to effect their deliverance without any such price being demanded or paid, and that as they had gone into captivity unpurchased, so they should return unpurchased. Accordingly he so overruled events as completely to effect this. The Babylonians, perhaps, in no way could have been induced to surrender them. God, therefore, designed to raise up Cyrus, a mild, just, and equitable prince; and to dispose him to suffer the exiles to depart, and to aid them in their return to their own land. In this way, they were rescued without money and without price, by the interposition of another.
For thus saith the Lord God - In order to show them that he could redeem them without money, God reminds them of what had been done in former times. The numerous captives in Egypt, whose services were so valuable to the Egyptians, and whom the Egyptians were so unwilling to suffer to depart, he had rescued by his own power, and had delivered for ever from that bondage. The idea here is, that with the same ease he could rescue the captives in Babylon, and restore them to their own land without a price.
My people went down - That is, Jacob and his sons. The phrase ‘went down,’ is applied to a journey to Egypt, because Judea was a mountainous and elevated country compared with Egypt, and a journey there was in fact a descent to a more level and lower country.
To sojourn there - Not to dwell there permanently, but to remain there only for a time. They went in fact only to remain until the severity of the famine should have passed by, and until they could return with safety to the land of Canaan.
And the Assyrians oppressed them without cause - A considerable variety has existed in the interpretation of this passage. The Septuagint renders it, ‘And to the Assyrians they were carried by force.’ Some have supposed that this refers to the oppressions that they experienced in Egypt, and that the name ‘Assyrian’ is here given to Pharaoh. So Forerius and Cajetan understand it. They suppose that the name, ‘the Assyrian,’ became, in the apprehension of the Jews, the common name of that which was proud, oppressive, and haughty, and might therefore be used to designate Pharaoh. But there are insuperable objections to this. For the name ‘the Assyrian’ is not elsewhere given to Pharaoh in the Scriptures, nor can it be supposed to be given to him but with great impropriety. It is not true that Pharaoh was an Assyrian; nor is it true that the Israelites were oppressed by the Assyrians while they remained in Egypt. Others have supposed that this refers to Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans in general, and that the name ‘the Assyrian’ is given them in a large and general sense, as ruling over that which constituted the empire of Assyria, and that the prophet here refers to the calamities which they were suffering in Babylon. But the objection to this is not the less decisive.
It is true that Babylon was formerly a part or province of Assyria, and true also that in the time of the Jewish captivity it was the capital of the kingdom of which the former empire of Assyria became a subject province. But the name Babylonian, in the Scriptures, is kept distinct from that of Assyrian, and they are not used interchangeably. Nor does the connection of the passage require us to understand it in this sense. The whole passage is in a high degree elliptical, and something must be supplied to make out the sense. The general design of it is, to show that God would certainly deliver the Jews from the captivity at Babylon without money. For this purpose, the prophet appeals to the former instances of his interposition when deliverance had been effected in that way. A paraphrase of the passage, and a filling up of the parts which are omitted in the brief and abrupt manner of the prophet, will show the sense. ‘Ye have been sold for nought, and ye shall be ransomed without price.
As a proof that I can do it, and will do it, remember that my people went down formerly to Egypt, and designed to sojourn there for a little time, and that they were there reduced to slavery, and oppressed by Pharaoh, but that I ransomed them without money, and brought them forth by my own power. Remember, further, how often the Assyrian has oppressed them also, without cause. Remember the history of Sennacherib, Tiglath-pileser, and Salmaneser, and how they have laid the land waste, and remember also how I have delivered it from these oppressions. With the same certainty, and the same ease, I can deliver the people from the captivity at Babylon.’ The prophet, therefore, refers to different periods and events; and the idea is, that God had delivered them when they had been oppressed alike by the Egyptian, and by the Assyrians, and that he who had so often interposed would also rescue them from their oppression in Babylon.
Now, therefore, what have I here? - In Babylon, referring to the captivity of the Jews there. The idea is, that a state of things existed there which demanded his interposition as really as it did when his people had been oppressed by the Egyptians, or by the Assyrian. His people had been taken away for nought; they were subject to cruel oppressions; and his own name was continually blasphemed. In this state of things, it is inferred, that he would certainly come to their rescue, and that his own perfections as well as their welfare demanded that he should interpose to redeem them. The phrase, ‘what have I here?’ is equivalent to saying, what shall I do? what am I properly called on to do? or what reason is there now in Babylon for my interposition to rescue my people? It is implied, that such was the state of things, that God felt that there was something that demanded his interposition.
That my people is taken away for nought - This was one thing existing in Babylon that demanded his interposition. His people had been made captive by the Chaldeans, and were now suffering under their oppressions. This had been done ‘for nought;’ that is, it had been done without any just claim. It was on their part a mere act of gross and severe oppression, and this demanded the interposition of a righteous God.
They that rule over them make them to howl - Lowth renders this, ‘They that are lords over them make their boast of it.’ Noyes renders it, ‘And their tyrants exult.’ The Septuagint renders it, ‘My people are taken away for nought: wonder ye, and raise a mournful cry’ (ὀλολύζετε ololuzete). Jerome renders it, ‘Their lords act unjustly, and they therefore howl when they are delivered to torments.’ Aben Ezra supposes that by ‘their lords’ here, or those who rule over them, are meant the rulers of the Jewish people, and that the idea is, that they lament and howl over the calamities and oppressions of the people. But it is probable, after all, that our translators have given the true sense of the text, and that the idea is, that they were suffering such grievous oppressions in Babylon as to make them lift up the cry of lamentation and of grief. This was a reason why God should interpose as he had done in former times, and bring deliverance.
And my name continually every day is blasphemed - That is, in Babylon. The proud and oppressive Babylonians delight to add to the sorrows of the exiles by reproaching the name of their God, and by saying that he was unable to defend them and their city from ruin. This is the third reason why God would interpose to rescue them. The three reasons in this verse are, that they had been taken away for nought; that they were suffering grievous and painful oppression; and that the name of God was reproached. On all these accounts he felt that he had something to do in Babylon, and that his interposition was demanded.
Therefore my people shall know my name - The idea in this verse is, that his people should have such exhibitions of his power as to furnish to them demonstration that he was God.
How beautiful upon the mountains - This passage is applied by Paul to the ministers of the gospel (see Romans 10:15). The meaning here seems to be this: Isaiah was describing the certain return of the Jews to their own land. He sees in vision the heralds announcing their return to Jerusalem running on the distant hills. A herald bearing good news is a beautiful object; and he says that his feet are beautiful; that is, his running is beautiful. He came to declare that the long and painful captivity was closed, and that the holy city and its temple were again to rise with splendor, and that peace and plenty and joy were to be spread over the land. Such a messenger coming with haste, the prophet says, would be a beautiful object. Some have supposed (see Campbell on the Gospels, Diss. v. p. 11, Section 3, 4), that the idea here is, that the feet of messengers when they traveled in the dust were naturally offensive and disgusting, but that the messenger of peace and prosperity to those who had been oppressed and afflicted by the ravages of war, was so charming as to transform a most disagreeable into a pleasing object.
But I cannot see any such allusion here. It is true that the feet of those who had traveled far in dry and dusty roads would present a spectacle offensive to the beholder; and it is true also, as Dr. Campbell suggests, that the consideration that they who were coming were messengers of peace and safety would convert deformity into beauty, and make us behold with delight this indication of their embassy. But it seems to me that this passage has much higher beauty. The idea in the mind of the prophet is not, that the messenger is so near that the sordid appearance of his feet could be seen. The beholder is supposed to be standing amidst the ruins of the desolated city, and the messenger is seen running on the distant hills. The long anticipated herald announcing that these ruins are to rise, at length appears. Seen on the distant hills, running rapidly, he is a beautiful object. It is his feet, his running, his haste, that attracts attention; an indication that he bears a message of joy, and that the nation is about to be restored. Nahum, who is supposed to have lived after Isaiah, has evidently copied from him this beautiful image:
Behold upon the mountains the feet of the joyful messenger,
Of him that announceth peace;
Celebrate, O Judah, thy festivals; perform thy vows;
For no more shall pass through thee the wicked one;
He is utterly cut off.
That publisheth peace - This declaration is general, that the coming of such a messenger would be attended with joy. The particular and special idea here is, that it would be a joyful announcement that this captivity was ended, and that Zion was about to be restored.
That bringeth good tidings of good - He announces that which is good or which is a joyful message.
That saith unto Zion, thy God reigneth - That is, thy God has delivered the people from their captivity, and is about to reign again in Zion. This was applied at first to the return from the captivity. Paul, as has been already observed, applies it to the ministers of the gospel. That is, it is language which will well express the nature of the message which the ministers of the gospel bear to their fellow-men. The sense is here, that the coming of a messenger bringing good news is universally agreeable to people. And it the coming of a messenger announcing that peace is made, is pleasant; or if the coming of such a messenger declaring that the captivity at Babylon was ended, was delightful, how much more so should be the coming of the herald announcing that man may be at peace with his Maker?
Thy watchmen - This language is taken from the custom of placing watchmen on the walls of a city, or on elevated towers, who could see if an enemy approached, and who of course would be the first to discern a messenger at a distance who was coming to announce good news. The idea is, that there would be as great joy at the announcement of the return of the exiles, as if they who were stationed on the wall should see the long-expected herald on the distant hills, coming to announce that they were about to return, and that the city and temple were about to be rebuilt. It was originally applicable to the return from Babylon. But it contains also the general truth that they who are appointed to watch over Zion and its interests, will rejoice at all the tokens of God’s favor to his people, and especially when he comes to bless them after long times of darkness, depression, and calamity. It is by no means, therefore, departing from the spirit of this passage, to apply it to the joy of the ministers of religion in the visits of divine mercy to a church and people. ‘Shall lift up the voice.’ That is, with rejoicing.
With the voice together shall they sing - They shall mingle their praises and thanksgivings. The idea is, that all who are appointed to guard Zion, should feel a common interest in her welfare, and rejoice when the Lord comes to visit and bless his people. The Hebrew here is more abrupt and emphatic than our common translation would make it. It is literally, ‘The voice of thy watchmen! They lift up the voice together; they sing’ - as if the prophet suddenly heard a shout. It is the exultling shout of the watchmen of Zion; and it comes as one voice, with no discord, no jarring.
For they shall see eye to eye - Lowth renders this, ‘For face to face shall they see.’ Noyes, ‘For with their own eyes shall they behold.’ Jerome renders it, Oculo ad oculum - ‘Eye to eye.’ The Septuagint renders it, Ὀφθαλμοὶ πρός ὀφθαλμοὺς, κ.τ.λ. Ophthalmoi pros ophthalmous, etc. ‘Eyes shall look to eyes when the Lord shall have mercy upon Zion.’ Interpreters have been divided in regard to its meaning. The sense may be, either that they shall see face to face, that is, distinctly, clearly, as when one is near another; or it may mean that they shall be united - they shall contemplate the same object, or look steadily at the same thing. Rosenmuller, Gesenius, Forerius, Junius. and some others, understand it in the former sense. So the Chaldee, ‘For they shall see with their own eyes the great things which the Lord will do when he shall bring back his own glory to Zion.’ The phrase in Hebrew occurs in no other place, except in Numbers 14:14, which our translators have rendered, ‘For thou, Lord, art seen face to face.’ Hebrew, ‘Eye to eye;’ that is, near, openly, manifestly, without any veil or interposing medium.
The expression, ‘face to face,’ meaning openly, plainly, manifestly, as one sees who is close to another, occurs frequently in the Bible (see Genesis 32:30; Exodus 33:11; Deuteronomy 5:4; Deuteronomy 34:10; Judges 6:22; Proverbs 27:19; Ezekiel 20:35; Act 25:16; 1 Corinthians 13:12; 2 John 1:12; 3 John 1:14). So the phrase, ‘mouth to mouth,’ occurs in a similar sense Numbers 12:8. And there can be but little doubt, it seems to me, that this is the sense here, and that the prophet means to say, that the great and marvelous doings of Yahweh would be seen openly and manifestly, and that the watchmen would thence have occasion to rejoice. Another reason for this opinion, besides the fact that it accords with the common usage, is, that the phrase, ‘to see eye to eye,’ in the sense of being united and harmonious, is not very intelligible. It is not easy to form an image or conception of the watchman in this attitude as denoting harmony. To look into the eyes of each other does not of necessity denote harmony, for people oftentimes do this for other purposes. The idea therefore is, that when Yahweh should bring back and bless his people, the watchmen would have a full and glorious exhibition of his mercy and goodness, and the result would be, that they would greatly rejoice, and unitedly celebrate his name. According to this interpretation, it does not mean that the ministers of religion would have the same precise views, or embrace the same doctrines, however true this may be, or however desirable in itself, but that they would have an open, clear, and bright manifestation of the presence of God, and would lift up their voices together with exultation and praise.
When the Lord shall bring again Zion - Zion here denotes the people who dwelt in Jerusalem; and the idea is, when the Lord shall again restore them to their own land. It is not a departure from the sense of the passage, however, to apply it in a more general manner, and to use it as demonstrating that any signal interposition of God in favor of his people should be the occasion of joy, and shall lead the ministers of religion to exult in God, and to praise his name.
Break forth into joy - Jerusalem, at the time here referred to, was lying waste and in ruins. This call on the waste places of Jerusalem to break out into expressions of praise, is in accordance with a style which frequently occurs in Isaiah, and in other sacred writers, by which inanimate objects are called on to manifest their joy (see the notes at Isaiah 14:7-8; Isaiah 42:11).
For the Lord hath comforted his people - That is, he does comfort his people, and redeem them. This is seen by the prophet in vision, and to his view it is represented as if it were passing before his eyes.
He hath redeemed Jerusalem - On the meaning of the word ‘redeemed,’ see the notes at Isaiah 43:1-3. The idea here is, that Yahweh was about to restore his people from their long captivity, and again to cause Jerusalem to be rebuilt.
The Lord hath made bare his holy arm - That is, in delivering his people from bondage. This metaphor is taken from warriors, who made bare the arm for battle; and the sense is, that God had come to the rescue of his people as a warrior, and that his interpositions would be seen and recognized and acknowledged by all the nations. The metaphor is derived from the manner in which the Orientals dressed. The following extract from Jowett’s Christian Researches will explain the language: ‘The loose sleeve of the Arab shirt, as well as that of the outer garment, leaves the arm so completely free, that in an instant the left hand passing up the right arm makes it bare; and this is done when a person, a soldier, for example, about to strike with the sword, intends to give the arm full play. The image represents Yahweh as suddenly prepared to inflict some tremendous, yet righteous judgment, so effectual “that all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God.”’ The phrase ‘holy arm,’ seems to mean that God would be engaged in a holy and just cause. It would not be an arm of conquest, or of oppression; but it would be made bare in a holy cause, and all its inflictions would be righteous.
And all the ends of the earth - For an explanation of the phrase ‘the ends of the earth,’ see the notes at Isaiah 40:28. The meaning here is, that the deliverance of his people referred to would be so remarkable as to be conspicuous to all the world. The most distant nations would see it, and would be constrained to recognize his hand. It was fulfilled in the rescue of the nation from the captivity at Babylon. The conquest of Babylon was an event that was so momentous in its consequences, as to be known to all the kingdoms of the earth; and the proclamation of Cyrus Ezra 1:1-2, and the consequent restoration of his people to their own land, were calculated to make the name of Yahweh known to all nations.
Depart ye, depart ye - This is a direct address to the exiles in their captivity. The same command occurs in Isaiah 48:20 (see the notes on that place). It is repeated here for the sake of emphasis; and the urgency of the command implies that there was some delay likely to be apprehended on the part of the exiles themselves. The fact seems to have been, that though the captivity was at first attended with every circumstance suited to give pain, and though they were subjected to many privations and sorrows in Babylon (see Psalms 137:1-9), yet that many of them became strongly attached to a residence there, and were strongly indisposed to return. They were there seventy years. Most of those who were made captive would have died before the close of the exile. Their children, who constituted the generation to whom the command to return would be addressed, would have known the land of their fathers only by report.
It was a distant land; and was to be reached only by a long and perilous journey across a pathless desert. They had been born in Babylon. It was their home; and there were the graves of their parents arid kindred. Some had been advanced to posts of office and honor: many, it is probable, had lands, and friends, and property in Babylon. The consequence would, therefore, be, that there would be strong reluctance on their part to leave the country of their exile, and to encounter the perils and trials incident to a return to their own land. It is not improbable, also, that many of them may have formed improper connections and attachments in that distant land, and that they would be unwilling to relinquish them, and return to the land of their fathers. It was necessary, therefore, that the most urgent commands should be addressed to them, and the strongest motives presented to them, to induce them to return to the country of their fathers. And after all, it is evident that but comparatively a small portion of the exile Jews ever were prevailed on to leave Babylon, and to adventure upon the perilous journey of a return to Zion.
Touch no unclean thing - Separate yourselves wholly from an idolatrous nation, and preserve yourselves pure. The apostle Paul 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 has applied this to Christians, and uses it as expressing the obligation to come out from the world, and to be separate from all its influences. Babylon is regarded by the apostle as not an unapt emblem of the world, and the command to come out from her as not an improper expression of the obligation to the friends of the Redeemer to be separate from all that is evil. John Revelation 18:4 has applied this passage also to denote the duty of true Christians to separate themselves from the mystical Babylon - the papal community - and not to be partaker of her sins. The passage is applied in both these instances, because Babylon, in Scripture language, is regarded as emblematic of whatever is oppressive, proud, arrogant, persecuting, impure, and abominable.
That bear the vessels of the Lord - That bear again to your own land the sacred vessels of the sanctuary. It is to be remembered that when the Jews were taken to Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar carried there all the sacred utensils of the temple, and that they were used in their festivals as common vessels in Babylon 2 Chronicles 36:18; Daniel 5:2-5. These vessels Cyrus commanded to be again restored, when the exiles returned to their own land Ezra 1:7-11. They whose office it was to carry them, were the priests and Levites Numbers 1:50; Numbers 4:15; and the command here pertains particularly to them. They were required to be holy; to feel the importance of their office, and to be separate from all that is evil. The passage has no original reference to ministers of the gospel, but the principle is implied that they who are appointed to serve God as his ministers in any way should be pure and holy.
For ye shall not go out with haste - As if driven out, or compelled to flee. You shall not go from Babylon as your fathers went from Egypt, in a rapid flight, and in a confused and tumultuous manner (see Deuteronomy 16:3). The idea here is, that they should have time to prepare themselves to go out, and to become fit to bear the vessels of the Lord. It was a fact that when they left Babylon they did it with the utmost deliberation, and had ample time to make any preparation that was necessary.
For the Lord will go before you - Yahweh will conduct you, as a general advances at the head of an army. The figure here is taken from the march of an army, and the image is that of Yahweh as the leader or head of the host in the march through the desert between Babylon and Jerusalem (see the notes at Isaiah 40:3-4).
And the God of Israel will be your rereward - Margin, ‘Gather you up.’ The Hebrew word used here (אסף 'âsaph) means properly to collect, to gather together, as fruits, etc. It is then applied to the act of bringing up the rear of an army; and means to be a rear-ward, or guard, agmen claudere - as collecting, and bringing together the stragglers, and defending the army in its march, from an attack in the rear. The Septuagint renders it, ‘The God of Israel is he who collects you’ (ὁ ἐπισυνάγων ὑμᾶς ho episunagōn humas), that is, brings up the rear. The Chaldee, ‘The God of Israel will collect together your captivity.’ Here the chapter should have closed, for here closes the account of the return of the exiles from Babylon. The mind of the prophet seems here to leave the captive Jews on their way to their own land, with Yahweh going at their head, and guarding the rear of the returning band, and to have passed to the contemplation of him of whose coming all these events were preliminary and introductory - the Messiah. Perhaps the rationale of this apparent transition is this.
It is undoubtedly the doctrine of the Bible that he who was revealed as the guide of his people in ancient times, and who appeared under various names, as ‘the angel of Yahweh,’ ‘the angel of the covenant,’ etc., was he who afterward became incarnate - the Saviour of the world. So the prophet seems to have regarded him; and here fixing his attention on the Yahweh who was thus to guide his people and be their defense, by an easy transition the mind is carried forward to the time when he would be incarnate, and would die for people. Leaving, therefore, so to speak, the contemplation of him as conducting his people across the barren wastes which separated Babylon from Judea, the mind is, by no unnatural transition, carried forward to the time when he would become a man of sorrows, and would redeem and save the world. According to this supposition, it is the same glorious Being whom Isaiah sees as the protector of his people, and almost in the same instant as the man of sorrows; and the contemplation of him as the suffering Messiah becomes so absorbing and intense, that he abruptly closes the description of him as the guide of the exiles to their own land.
He sees him as a sufferer. He sees the manner and the design of his death. He contemplates the certain result of that humiliation and death in the spread of the true religion, and in the extension of his kingdom among men. Henceforward, therefore, to the end of Isaiah, we meet with no reference, if we except in a very fcw instances, to the condition of the exiles in Babylon, or to their return to their own land. The mind of the prophet is absorbed in describing the glories of the Messiah, and the certain spread of his gospel around the globe.
Notes on Isaiah 52:13-15 and Isaiah 53:1-12
The most important portion of Isaiah, and of the Old Testament, commences here, and here should have been the beginning of a new chapter. It is the description of the suffering Messiah, and is continued to the close of the next chapter. As the closing verses of this chapter are connected with the following chapter, and as it is of great importance to have just views of the design of this portion of Isaiah, it is proper in this place to give an analysis of this part of the prophecy. And as no other part of the Bible has excited so much the attention of the friends and foes of Christianity; as so various and conflicting views have prevailed in regard to its meaning: and as the proper interpretation of the passage must have an important bearing on the controversy with Jews and infidels, and on the practical views of Christians, I shall be justified in going into an examination of its meaning at considerably greater length than has been deemed necessary in other portions of the prophecy. It may be remarked in general:
(1) That if the common interpretation of the passage, as describing a suffering Saviour, be correct, then it settles the controversy with the Jews, and demonstrates that their notions of the Messiah are false.
(2) If this was written at the time when it is claimed by Christians to have been written, then it settles the controversy with infidels. The description is so particular and minute; the correspondence with the life, the character, and the death of the Lord Jesus, is so complete, that it could not have been the result of conjecture or accident. At the same time, it is a correspondence which could not have been brought about by an impostor who meant to avail himself of this ancient prophecy to promote his designs, for a large portion of the circumstances are such as did not depend on himself, but grew out of the feelings and purposes of others. On the supposition that this had been found as an ancient prophecy, it would have been impossible for any impostor so to have shaped the course of events as to have made his character and life appear to be a fulfillment of it. And unless the infidel could either make it out that this prophecy was not in existence, or that, being in existence, it was possible for a deceiver to create an exact coincidence between it and his life and character and death, then, in all honesty, he should admit that it was given by inspiration, and that the Bible is true.
(3) A correct exposition of this will be of inestimable value in giving to the Christian just views of the atonement, and of the whole doctrine of redemption. Probably in no portion of the Bible of the same length, not even in the New Testament, is there to be found so clear an exhibition of the purpose for which the Saviour died. I shall endeavor, therefore, to prepare the way for an exposition of the passage, by a consideration of several points that are necessary to a correct understanding of it.
On this point there will be, and can be, no dispute among Jews and Christians. The general argument to prove this, is the same as that which demonstrates that Isaiah wrote at all before that time. For a view of this, the reader is referred to the Introduction. But this general argument may be presented in a more specific form, and includes the following particulars:
(1) It is quoted in the New Testament as part of the prophetic writings then well known (see Matthew 8:17; John 12:38; Acts 8:28-35; Romans 10:16; 1 Peter 2:21-25). That the passage was in existence at the time when the New Testament was written, is manifest from these quotations. So far as the argument with the infidel is concerned, it is immaterial whether it was written 700 years before the events took place, or only fifty, or ten. It would still be prophecy, and it would still be incumbent on him to show how it came to be so accurately accomplished.
(2) It is quoted and translated by writers who undoubtedly lived before the Christian era. Thus, it is found in the Septuagint, and in the Chaldee - both of which can be demonstrated to have been made before Christ was born.
(3) There is not the slightest evidence that it has been interpolated or corrupted, or changed so as to adapt it to the Lord Jesus. It is the same in all copies, and in all versions.
(4) It has never even been pretended that it has been introduced for the purpose of furnishing an argument for the truth of Christianity. No infidel has ever pretended that it does not stand on the same footing as any other portion of Isaiah.
(5) It is such a passage as Jews would not have forged. It is opposed to all their prevailing notions of the Messiah. They have anticipated a magnificent temporal prince and a conqueror: and one of the main reasons why they have rejected the Lord Jesus has been, that he was obscure in his origin, poor, despised, and put to death; in other words, because be has corresponded so entirely with the description here. No passage of the Old Testament has ever given them greater perplexity than this, and it is morally certain that if the Jews had ever forged a pretended prophecy of the Messiah, it would not have been in the language of this portion of Isaiah. They would have described him as the magnificent successor of David and Solomon; as a mighty prince and a warrior; as the head of universal empire, and would have said that by his victorious arms he would subdue the earth to himself, and would make Jerusalem the capital of the world. They never would have described him as despised and rejected by people, and as making his grave with the wicked in his death.
(6) Christians could not have forged and interpolated this. The Jews have always jealously guarded their own Scriptures; and nothing would have so certainly excited their attention as an attempt to interpolate a passage like this, furnishing at once an irrefragable argument against their opinions of the Messiah, and so obviously applicable to Jesus of Nazareth. It is, moreover, true, that no Jewish writer has ever pretended that the passage has either been forged, or changed in any way, so as to accommodate it to the opinions of Christians respecting the Messiah. These remarks may seem to be unnecessary, and this argument useless, to those who have examined the authenticity of the sacred writings. They are of use only in the argument with the enemies of Christianity. For, if this passage was written at the time when it is supposed to have been, and if it had reference to the Lord Jesus, then it demonstrates that Isaiah was inspired, and furnishes an argument for the truth of revelation which is irrefragable. It is incumbent on the unbeliever to destroy all the alleged proofs that it was written by Isaiah, or, as an honest man, he should admit the truth of inspiration and of prophecy, and yield his heart to the influence of the truth of the Bible. In general, it may be observed, that an attempt to destroy the credibility of this portion of Isaiah as having been written several hundred years before the Christian era, would destroy the credibility of all the ancient writings; and that we have as much evidence that this is the production of Isaiah, as we have of the credibility or the authenticity of the writings of Homer or Herodotus.
Behold, my servant - The word ‘behold.’ indicates here that a new object is pointed out to view, and that it is one that claims attention on account of its importance. It is designed to direct the mind to the Messiah. The point of view which is here taken, is between his humiliation and his glorification. He sees him as having been humbled and rejected Isaiah 52:14-15; Isaiah 53:2-10; about to be exalted and honored Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53:10-12. The word ‘servant’ refers to the Messiah. Compare the notes at Isaiah 49:5, where the word ‘servant’ is applied also to the Messiah. It means that he would be employed in doing the will of God, and that he would submit to him as a servant does to the law of his master.
Shall deal prudently - Margin, ‘Prosper.’ The word שׂכל s'âkal, is used in a twofold signification. It means either to act wisely, or to be prosperous. In this latter sense it is used in Joshua 1:7-8; 2 Kings 18:7; Jeremiah 10:21; Proverbs 17:8. It is not easy to determine what is the meaning here. Jerome renders it, intelligent - ‘Shall be wise or prudent.’ The Septuagint renders it, Συνήσει ὁ παῖς μοῦ Sunēsei ho pais mou - ‘My servant shall be intelligent.’ The Chaldee renders it, ‘Behold my servant the Messiah shall prosper’ (יצלח yatslach). The Syriac retains the Hebrew word. Jun. and Tremell. render it, ‘Shall prosper;’ Castellio, ‘Shall be wise.’ Lowth renders it, ‘Shall prosper;’ and in this Gesenius and Noyes concur. Hengstenberg proposes to unite the two meanings, and to render it, ‘He shall reign well,’ as indicative of the prosperous and wise government of the Messiah. It seems to me that the parallelism requires us to understand this not of his personal wisdom and prudence, but of the success of his enterprise. This verse contains a summary statement of what would occur under the Messiah. The general proposition is, that he would be ultimately successful, and to this the prophet comes Isaiah 53:12. He here sees him in affliction, humble, rejected, and despised. But he says that this was not always to be. He would be ultimately exalted. It is on this that he fixes the eye, and it is this which cheers and sustains the prophet in the contemplation of the sufferings of the Messiah.
He shall be exalted - In this part of the verse, the prophet combines the verbs which denote elevation or exaltation. The idea is, that he would be exalted to the highest pitch of honor. The word ‘exalted,’ with us, is often synonymous with praise; but here it means, he shall be elevated (נשׂא nâs'â'), or lifted up. The reference here is, undoubtedly, to the fact that the Redeemer would be greatly honored on earth as the Prince and Saviour of the world Isaiah 53:12, and that in view of the universe he would be elevated to the highest conceivable rank. This is described in the New Testament by his being placed ‘at the right hand of God’ Mark 16:19; by the fact that ‘angels and authorities and powers are made subject unto him’ 1 Peter 3:22; by the fact that God has ‘set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named’ Ephesians 1:20-22; and by the fact that he will return in great glory to judge the world Matthew 25:0. The idea is, that as he was the most despised among people, so he would yet be the most honored; as he had voluntarily assumed the lowest place for the redemption of people, so he would be exalted to the highest place to which human nature could be elevated.
As many were astonished at thee - This verse is closely connected with the following, and they should be read together. The sense is, ‘as many were shocked at him - his form was so disfigured, and his visage so marred - so he shall sprinkle many nations.’ That is, the one fact would correspond with the other. The astonishment would be remarkable; the humiliation would be wonderful, and suited to attract the deepest attention; and so his success and his triumph would correspond with the depth of his humiliation and sufferings. As he had in his humiliation been subjected to the lowest condition, so that all despised him; so hereafter the highest possible reverence would be shown him. Kings and nobles would shut their mouths in his presence, and show him the profoundest veneration. A change of person here occurs which is not uncommon in the Hebrew poets. In Isaiah 52:13, Yahweh speaks of the Messiah in the third person; here he changes the form of the address, and speaks of him in the second person.
In the following verse the mode of address is again changed, and he speaks of him again in the third person. Lowth, however, proposes to read this in the third person, ‘As many were astonished at him,’ on the authority of two ancient Hebrew manuscripts, and of the Syriac and Chaldee. But the authority is not sufficient to justify a change in the text, nor is it necessary. In the word rendered ‘astonished’ (שׁממוּ shâmmû), the primary idea is that of being struck dumb, or put to silence from sudden astonishment. Whether the astonishment is from admiration or abhorrence is to be determined by the connection. In the latter sense, it is used in Jeremiah 18:16; Jeremiah 19:8. Here it evidently refers to the fact that he was disfigured, and destitute of apparent beauty and attractiveness from his abject condition and his sufferings. They were struck with amazement that one so abject, and that had so little that was attractive, should presume to lay claim to the character of the Messiah. This idea is more fully expressed in the following chapter. Here it is stated in general that his appearance was such as to excite universal astonishment, and probably to produce universal disgust. They saw no beauty or comeliness in him (see Isaiah 53:2). This expression should also be regarded as standing in contrast with what is added in Isaiah 52:15. Here it is said they were amazed, astonished, silent, at his appearance of poverty and his humiliation; there it is said, ‘kings should shut their mouths at him,’ that is, they would be so deeply impressed with his majesty and glory that they would remain in perfect silence - the silence not of contempt, but of profound veneration.
His visage - מראהוּ mare'ēhû. This word denotes properly sight, seeing, view; then that which is seen; then appearance, form, looks Exodus 24:17; Ezekiel 1:16-28; Daniel 10:18. Here it means, his appearance, his looks. It does not necessarily refer to his face, but to his general appearance. It was so disfigured by distress as to retain scarcely the appearance of a man.
Was so marred - (משׁחת mishechath). This word properly means destruction. Here it means defaced, destroyed, disfigured. There was a disfiguration, or defacement of his aspect, more than that of man.
More than any man - (מאישׁ mē'iysh). This may either mean, more than any other man, or that he no longer retained the appearance of a man. It probably means the latter - that his visage was so disfigured that it was no longer the aspect of a man. Castellio renders it, Ut non jam sit homo, non sit unus de humano genere.
And his form - (תארו to'ărô). This word denotes a form or a figure of the body 1 Samuel 28:14. Here it denotes the figure, or the appearance, referring not to the countenance, but to the general aspect of the body.
More than the sons of men - So as to seem not to belong to people, or to be one of the human family. All this evidently refers to the disfiguration which arises from excessive grief and calamity. It means that he was broken down and distressed; that his great sorrows had left their marks on his frame so as to destroy the beautiful symmetry and proportions of the human form. We speak of being crushed with grief; of being borne down with pain; of being laden with sorrow. And we all know the effect of long-continued grief in marring the beauty of the human countenance, and in bowing down the frame. Deep emotion depicts itself on the face, and produces a permanent impression there. The highest beauty fades under long-continued trials, though at first it may seem to be set off to advantage. The rose leaves the cheek, the luster forsakes the eye, vigor departs from the frame, its erect form is bowed, and the countenance, once brilliant and beautiful, becomes marked with the deep furrows of care and anxiety.
Such seems to be the idea here. It is not indeed said that the sufferer before this had been distinguished for any extraordinary beauty - though this may not be improperly supposed - but that excessive grief had almost obliterated the traces of intelligence from the face, and destroyed the aspect of man. How well this applies to the Lord Jesus, needs not to be said. We have, indeed, no positive information in regard to his personal appearance. We are not told that he was distinguished for manliness of form, or beauty of countenance. But it is certainly no improbable supposition that when God prepared for him a body Hebrews 10:5 in which the divinity should dwell incarnate, the human form would be rendered as fit as it could be for the indwelling of the celestial inhabitant. And it is no unwarrantable supposition that perfect truth, benevolence, and purity, should depict themselves on the countenance of the Redeemer; as they will be manifested in the very aspect wherever they exist - and render him the most beautiful of human beings - for the expression of these principles and feelings in the countenance constitutes beauty (compare the notes at Isaiah 53:2). Nor is it an improbable supposition, that this beauty was marred by his long-continued and inexpressibly deep sorrows, and that he was so worn down and crushed by the sufferings which he endured as scarcely to have retained the aspect of a man.
So - (כן kên). This word corresponds to ‘as’ (כאשׁר ka'ăsher) in the former verse. ‘In like manner as many were astonished or shocked at thee - so shall he sprinkle many nations.’ The one is to be in some respects commensurate with the other. The comparison seems to consist of two points:
1. In regard to the numbers. Many would be shocked: many would be sprinkled by him. Large numbers would be amazed at the fact of his sorrows; and numbers correspondently large would be sprinkled by him.
2. In the effects. Many would be struck dumb with amazement at his appearance; and, in like manner, many would be struck dumb with veneration or respect. He would be regarded on the one hand as having scarce the form of a man; on the other, even kings would be silent before him from profound reverence and awe.
Shall he sprinkle many nations - The word rendered here ‘sprinkle’ (יזה yazzeh) has been very variously rendered. Jerome renders it, Asperget - ‘Shall sprinkle.’ The Septuagint, ‘So shall many nations express admiration (θαυμάσονται thaumasontai) at him.’ The Chaldee, ‘So shall he scatter,’ or dissipate (יבדר yebaddar) ‘many people.’ The Syriac renders it, ‘Thus shall he purify,’ cleanse, make expiation for ‘many nations.’ The Syriac verb used here means to purify, to cleanse, to make holy; and, in aph., to expiate; and the idea of the translator evidently was, that he would purify by making expiation. See the Syriac word used in Luke 3:17; Acts 11:9; Acts 24:18; Hebrews 9:22; Hebrews 10:4. Castellio renders it as Jerome does; and Jun. and Tremell., ‘He shall sprinkle many nations with stupor.’ Interpreters have also varied in the sense which they have given to this word. Its usual and proper meaning is to sprinkle, and so it has been here commonly interpreted. But Martini, Rosenmuller, and Gesenius suppose that it is derived from an Arabic word meaning to leap, to spring, to spring up, to leap for joy, to exult; and that the idea here is, that he should cause many nations to exult, or leap for joy. Parallel places, says Gesenius, occur in Isaiah 49:6-7; Isaiah 51:5. Against the common interpretation, ‘to sprinkle,’ he objects:
1. That the verb could not be construed without the accusative, and that if it means that he would sprinkle with blood, the word blood would be specified.
2. That the connection is opposed to the idea of sprinkling, and that the antithesis requires some word that shall correspond with שׁמם shāmam, ‘shall be astonished,’ and that the phrase ‘they shall be joyful,’ or ‘he shall cause them to exult with joy,’ denotes such antithesis.
To this it may be replied, that the usual, the universal signification of the word (נזה nāzâh) in the Old Testament is to sprinkle. The word occurs only in the following places, and is in all instances translated ‘sprinkle’ Exodus 29:21; Leviticus 5:9; Leviticus 6:6-17, Leviticus 6:27; Leviticus 8:11, Leviticus 8:30; Leviticus 14:7, Leviticus 14:16, Leviticus 14:27, Leviticus 14:51; Leviticus 16:14-15, Leviticus 16:19; Numbers 8:7; Numbers 19:4, Numbers 19:18-19, Numbers 19:21; 2 Kings 9:33; Isaiah 63:3. It is properly applicable to the act of sprinkling blood, or water; and then comes to be used in the sense of cleansing by the blood that makes expiation for sin, or of cleansing by water as an emblem of purifying. In Ezekiel 36:25, the practice of sprinkling with consecrated water is referred to as synonymous with purifying - though a different word from this is used (זרק zâraq), ‘and I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean.’ If the word used here means ‘to sprinkle,’ it is used in one of the following significations:
1. To sprinkle with blood, in allusion to the Levitical rite of sprinkling the blood of the sacrifice, meaning that in that way sin would be expiated and removed Leviticus 14:51; Leviticus 16:14; Hebrews 9:19; Hebrews 10:22; or,
2. By an allusion to the custom of sprinkling with water as emblematic of purity, or cleansing Numbers 8:7; Numbers 19:18; Ezekiel 36:25. If used in the former sense, it means, that the Redeemer would make expiation for sin, and that his blood of purifying would be sprinkled on the nations.
If in the latter, as is most probable, then it means that he would purify them, as objects were cleansed by the sprinkling of water. If in either sense, it means substantially the same thing - that the Redeemer would purify, or cleanse many nations, that is, from their sins, and make them holy. Still there is a difficulty in the passage which does not seem to be solved. This difficulty has been thus expressed by Taylor (Concord.): ‘It seems here to have a special meaning, which is not exactly collected from the other places where this word is used. The antithesis points to regard, esteem, admiration. So shall he sprinkle, engage the esteem and admiration of many nations. But how to deduce this from the sense of the word I know not.’ It was to meet this difficulty that Martini, Rosenmuller, and Gesenius, propose the sense of leaping, exulting, filling with joy, from the Arabic. But that signification does not accord with the uniform Hebrew usage, and probably the sense of purifying is to be retained. It may be remarked that whichever of the above senses is assigned, it furnishes no argument for the practice of sprinkling in baptism. It refers to the fact of his purifying or cleansing the nations, and not to the ordinance of Christian baptism; nor should it be used as an argument in reference to the mode in which that should be administered.
The kings shall shut their mouths at him - Or rather, kings. It does not refer to any particular kings; but the idea is, that he would be honored by kings. To shut the mouths here indicates veneration and admiration. See Job 29:9-10, where reverence or respect is indicated in the same way:
The princes refrained talking,
And laid their hand upon their mouth:
The nobles held their peace,
And their tongue cleaved to the roof of their mouth.
See also Micah 7:16; compare Job 5:16; Psalms 107:42.
For that which had not been told them - In this part of the verse a reason is given for the veneration which kings would evince. It is, that they should receive intelligence of this wonderful exaltation of the messenger of God which had not before been made known to them as it had been to the Jews. Or, in other words, the great mystery of the incarnation and redemption would contain truths and wonders which they had not contemplated elsewhere. No such events would have occurred within the range of their observation; and the wonders of redemption would stand by themselves as unparalleled in all that they had heard or seen. What is here predicted has been fulfilled. The mystery of the incarnation and the atonement; the sufferings and the death of the Redeemer; his exaltation and his glory, are events which are unparalleled in the history of the world. They are events suited in their nature to excite the profoundest admiration, and to induce kings and nobles to lay their hand on their mouth in token of veneration. No monarch on earth could have evinced such condescension as did the Son of God; none has been elevated to so high a rank in the universe as the Redeemer. That the Son of God should become a man; that his visage should be so disfigured by grief as to have scarcely the aspect of a human being; that he should suffer and die as he did; and that he should be exalted as he is over this whole world, and have the most elevated place in the universe at the right hand of God, are all events suited to excite the profoundest admiration.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 52". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29