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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Isaiah 51

Verse 1


(1) Look unto the rock.—The implied argument is, that the wonder involved in the origin of Israel is as a ground of faith in its restoration and perpetuity. The rock is, of course, Abraham, the pit, Sarah.

Verse 2

(2) I called him alone.—Literally, as one. If so great a nation had sprung from one man (Hebrews 11:12), so would God out of the faithful remnant once more create a people. (Comp. Ezekiel 33:24, where the exiles arc represented as boastfully inverting the argument: “Abraham was one, and we are many; therefore we shall prosper, the chances are in our favour.”)

Verse 3

(3) He will make her wilderness like Eden.—Interesting as showing Isaiah’s acquaintance with Genesis 1-3. (Comp. Ezekiel 31:9; Ezekiel 31:16; Ezekiel 36:35; Joel 2:3.) “Paradise” has already entered into the idea of future restoration (Revelation 2:7).

Verse 4

(4) A law shall proceed.—“Law” and “judgment” include all forms of divine revelation, and specially the “glad tidings” which are the groundwork of the highest law. (Comp. Luke 1:77; Romans 1:17.)

Verse 5

(5) Mine arms shall judge the people.—Literally, the peoples, including Israel and the heathen. The work of judgment thus, as ever, comes first; after it the isles (i.e., far-off countries), as representing the heathen, shall be converted, and trust the very Arm that smote them.

Verse 6

(6) Shall die in like manneri.e., shall vanish into nothingness. Many commentators, however, render, shall die like gnats; shall live their little day and pass away; thus supplying a third similitude, in addition to the “smoke” and the “garment.” We are reminded once again of Psalms 102:26; and we may add, Matthew 24:35; 2 Peter 3:10.

Verse 7

(7) Ye that know righteousness.—Jehovah, through His Servant, speaks to the Israel within Israel, the Church within the Church. They need support against the scorn and reproach of men, and are to find it in the thought that the revilers perish and that Jehovah is eternal.

Verse 8

(8) The moth . . . the worm.—The two words in Hebrew have the force of an emphatic assonance—ash and sâsh.

Verse 9

(9) Awake, awake.—Who is the speaker that thus bursts into this grand apostrophe? (1) The redeemed and ideal Israel, or (2) the Servant of the Lord, or (3) the prophet, or (4) Jehovah, as in self-communing, after the manner of men, like that of Deborah in Judges 5:12. On the whole the first seems the preferable view; but the loftiness of poetry, perhaps, transcends all such distinctions. The appeal is, in any case, to the great deeds of God in the past, as the pledge and earnest of yet greater in the future. “Rahab,” as in Isaiah 30:7, Psalms 89:10, is Egypt; and the “dragon,” like “leviathan” in Psalms 74:13, stands for Pharaoh. (Comp. Ezekiel 29:3.) Cheyne quotes from Bunsen’s “Egypt,” vol. vi., an invocation to the god Ra, from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, “Hail, thou who hast cut in pieces the scorner and strangled the Apophis (sc. the evil serpent),” as a striking parallel.

Verse 11

(11) Therefore the redeemed.—Note worthy as being either a quotation by Isaiah from himself (Isaiah 35:10), or by the unknown writer of Isaiah from the earlier prophet. The assumption that it is an interpolation by a copyist rests on no adequate ground.

Verse 12

(12) I, even I.—The iterated pronoun emphasises the true grounds of confidence. If God be with us, what matter is it who may be against us? The enemies are mortal and weak; the Protector is the Eternal and the Strong.

Verse 13

(13) As if he were ready.—Better, as he makes him ready to destroy. The Authorised version unduly minimises the amount of danger. In the case contemplated by the prophet, the oppressor was the Babylonian monarchy, which he sees as already belonging to the past; but the words have, of course, a far wider application.

Verse 14

(14) The captive exile.—Literally, he that is bowed down, i.e., bound in fetters. The “pit,” as in the case of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38:6), is the underground dungeon, in which the prisoner was too often left to starve.

Verse 15

(15) But I am . . .—Better, Seeing that I am. The fact which follows is not contrasted with that which precedes, but given as its ground. The might of Jehovah is seen in the storm-waves of the sea. It is seen not less in the fall and rise of empires.

Verse 16

(16) And I have put my words in thy mouth . . .—Some interpreters assume, that while Isaiah 51:1? was spoken to the Jewish exiles, this, which reminds us of Isaiah 49:2, is addressed to the Servant of the Lord. Of these, some (Cheyne), struck by the apparent abruptness, assume it to be misplaced. There seems no adequate reason for adopting either hypothesis. The words are spoken to Israel, contemplated as in its ideal, as were the others to the actual Israel. It remains true, as ever, that that ideal is fulfilled only in the Servant.

That I may plant.—Noteworthy as the first intimation of the new heaven and the new earth, implying a restitution of all things, of which we find the expression in Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22.

Verse 17

(17) Awake . . .—The words present a strange parallelism to Isaiah 51:9. There they were addressed to the arm of Jehovah, and were the prelude of a glorious promise. Here they are spoken to Jerusalem as a drunken and desperate castaway, and introduce a painfully vivid picture of her desolation. They seem, indeed, prefixed to that picture to make it bearable. They are a call to Zion to wake out of that drunken sleep, and therefore show that her ruin is not irretrievable.

The dregs of the cup.—Literally, the goblet cup, but with the sense, as in the Authorised version, of the cup being drained.

Verse 19

(19) These two things . . .—The two things are amplified into four: (1) the two effects, and (2) the two causes.

Who shall be sorry for thee?—Better, Be sorry with thee, or who shall console thee? Even Jehovah is represented as failing, or seeming to fail, in finding a comforter for such affliction.

Verse 20

(20) As a wild bull . . .—Better, as an antelope. The picture explains that of Isaiah 51:17. The sons cannot help the mother, for they, too, have drunk of the same cup of fury, and lie like corpses in the open places of the city. (Comp. Lamentations 2:12.)

Verse 21

(21) Drunken, but not with wine . . .—Same phrase as in Isaiah 29:9.

Verse 22

(22) Thy Lord the Lord . . .—Note the emphatic combination of Adonai (or rather, in this solitary instance, of the plural Adonim used like Elohim) with Jehovah. Man’s necessity is once more God’s opportunity. He will plead for His people when none else will plead. The cup of trembling shall be taken from the hand of the forlorn castaway, and given to her enemies. (Comp. Jeremiah 25:15.)

Verse 23

(23) Thou hast laid thy body . . .—The image is startlingly bold; but our word “prostration,” as applied to the condition of a people, embodies precisely the same thought. (Comp. Psalms 129:3.) The previous words paint the last humiliation of Eastern conquest (Joshua 10:24).

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Isaiah 51". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.