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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Isaiah 52

Verses 1-15

Isaiah 52:1 . There shall no more come to thee the uncircumcised. The temple being often profaned after the captivity, this prophecy must have an ultimate reference to the glory of the church in the latter day. Isaiah 60:0. Micah 4:0. Against the true church the gates of hell shall not prevail.

Isaiah 52:4 . My people went down aforetime into Egypt and the Assyrian oppressed them without cause. Egypt is called Assyria, as in Ezekiel 31:3, because the Assyrian cruelties were now become proverbial.

Isaiah 52:7 . How beautiful upon the mountains were the feet of the messengers who brought tidings of the fall of Babylon, and of the liberation of the people from their long captivity.

Isaiah 52:12 . Ye shall not go out [of Babylon] with haste, as your fathers did out of Egypt, but with gifts, with riches and protection. The literal accomplishment of this promise is very impressive. The Persian court liberated the captives with counsel, and restored all the vessels of gold and silver which the Chaldeans had brought away from the temple. The Messiah speaks here of future things without a veil, for the consolation of his people. The chapter should end here, that the grand scenery of character which follows might not be disturbed.


(From Isaiah 52:13 to the end of chap. 53.)

The subject which now opens to us, presents a character of the highest interest. His wisdom surpassing all science, his doctrine veiling with obscuration the philosophy of this world; the dignity of his descent, the contempt of his nation, the tragic circumstances of his death, the glory and triumph of his resurrection from the dead, the ultimate conversion of the world by his doctrine, prepare the mind for the question of the noble Eunuch, I pray thee, of whom spake the prophet this; of himself, or of some other man?

As this prophecy converted thousands of Jews to the faith of Christ, and as it is still a grand pillar of truth in the church, it claims the calmest study of the mind. The Massora or convocation of learned Jews also, knowing its force, have set themselves to divert its meaning. They apply it to king Josiah, who did not die patiently like a sheep, as the Saviour is said to have done: on the contrary, he died in armour, being killed with an arrow, fighting with Pharaoh Necho in the fields of Megiddo. But as Josiah was not humbly born, as he did not live again, but on the contrary, both his family and kingdom faded away; others apply the prophecy to the sorrows and sufferings of Jeremiah; an argument equally fatal to the infidel cause, for Jeremiah did not die in the dungeon. Jeremiah received special care and attention from the Chaldeans. Jeremiah died in Egypt, and we know of no gentile nations converted by his doctrine. What clearer proofs can we have of a lost cause than defences so preposterous, and arguments so futile?

Against these allegations let us hear Isaiah, speaking for his God. His transition from the liberation of the people from Babylon to that of our redemption by Christ, is a climax natural, easy, and sublime.

Isaiah 52:13 . Behold my Servant. The minister of all my pleasure, in whom my soul delighteth. He shall uphold mine elect, he shall bring forth judgment to the gentiles, he shall publish peace to the heathen; by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many. Thus to accomplish the Father’s pleasure, he humbled himself to assume the form of a servant, and go a victim to the altar, thinking it no robbery to be equal with God.

My servant shall deal prudently. He appeared as a humble prophet, preaching righteousness, calling himself the Son of man; which indeed was also his title as the second Adam, the Son of God. He blew no trumpet, but silently laid the foundation of his holy temple with fair colours, and her stones with sapphires and costly gems. He called Andrew, Peter, James, and John, and others in the course of his work, to build his church without consulting the princes of this world; and gave them plenary powers to subjugate the world to the empire of their Lord. Had he said, I am the Messiah, it would have excited war and revolt against the Romans, it being the common faith of the Hebrews, that the Messiah must reign in Jerusalem on the throne of David, and subdue the world to his sceptre. I find a note here. “Behold my servant, זהמלךְ המשׂיח . This is the king Messiah, who shall be extolled and exalted. He shall be elevated above Abraham, and shall be more eminent than Moses, and shall be far above ministering angels.” Yalhut Simeoni, p. 2. fol. 53.

Isaiah 52:14 . Many were astonished at him, that he who surpassed all men in sublimity of wisdom, in the glory of his works, should be despised and rejected of men. That the Hope of Israel, the Light of the gentiles, should be marred in visage more than any man; that he should “give his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair.” That he who had done so many good deeds should be mocked, crucified, and slain! The extreme of glory and of opprobrium seemed to unite in his person.

Isaiah 52:15 . He shall sprinkle many nations. Rain, in figurative language, denotes doctrine, knowledge, instruction. “He shall come down as rain on the mown grass, and as the showers that water the earth Give ear, oh ye heavens, and I will speak: hear, oh earth, the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew; as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as showers upon the grass.” Deuteronomy 32:1-2. Psalms 72:6.

But sprinkling, in the Hebrew law, was illustrative of evangelical glory. The priest sprinkled the blood of the red heifer seven times before the tabernacle, to make atonement for the nation, and take away sin. He sprinkled the waters of purification, made from the ashes of this victim. Numbers 19:0. These were figurative of the sanctifying graces promised to the church in the new covenant. “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your defilement, and from all your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give unto you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” Ezekiel 36:25-26. In the cleansing of the leper, the sprinkling of oil followed the sprinkling of blood, and in the same manner seven times before the Lord. Leviticus 14:16. All these offices the Saviour sustains for men. He cleanses us with his blood, he sanctifies us by his Spirit, he anoints us to be kings and priests by the unction from above. Thus “there are from the beginning, three that bare record on earth, the Spirit or unction, the water, and the blood. And three that bare record from heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost.” 1 John 5:7-8.

Kings shall shut their mouths, when he speaks; doctors and sages shall be silent. The sublime, the hidden mysteries of our redemption shall they then consider. The schools have done nothing for the world. Their mythology, though retaining faint rays of patriarchal revelation, is full of abominations. Their moral codes are stained with impurity, their hopes of the future are all involved in clouds. But in Christ, when the mediatorial plan was revealed; the glory of his person, the dignity of his sacrifice, the efficacy of his grace in the regeneration and the glory of his kingdom; the judgment of man was gained by truth, and the heart was vanquished by grace. Here all is perfection, all is worthy of a God. Here hoary idolatry shrinks from the contrast; she hides her face, and retires to the groves; she is chased with her bloody rituals to the shades of gentile darkness. Kings in primitive society were numerous, till swallowed up in empires. Men who excelled in science are called princes, as Homer, Pythagoras, and Plato. Tres viri omnis doctrinæ et ingenii principes. ASCHAMUS.


The subject, to Isaiah 52:12, is here continued from the preseding chapter, which should be read in connection. Zion is a second time exhorted to awake, to arise and shine, for the Lord whose perfections have just been mentioned, was come to build her waste places, and to dwell and walk in her for ever, so that the profane heathen, unclean and uncircumcised, should no more put their unhallowed feet in the courts of the house of the Lord. To this Zion, the evangelical Zion, the believing Hebrews did come on the day of pentecost; and they are called the general assembly, and church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. After the gentile world shall in great measure be converted, the Jews, under this long and portentous dispersion of the Romans, shall be brought in: and then how beautiful will be the feet of the messengers who bring glad tidings to Zion, of holiness, never to be polluted by the heathen. Critics in general interpret this passage of the messengers from Babylon, bringing Cyrus’s proclamation for the rebuilding of the city and temple of Jerusalem; but there was at that time no Jerusalem, no watchman to see them coming, and no cities of Judah to participate in Zion’s joy. All were in ruins, all was waste, that the land might enjoy her sabbaths; and therefore for the sake of accommodation only can this text be understood of Babylon. In the apostles and heralds of the gospel, we see its true completion. They showed the arm of the Lord made bare in the destruction of his enemies, the unbelieving Jews, and Roman princes; they published his salvation to the ends of the earth, by emancipating believers from sin and darkness, and by filling the church with glory and joy.

From Isaiah 52:13 to the end of chap. 53., a new personage is introduced, and his characters are highly tragic, deeply pathetic, and unspeakably glorious. The grand question then will be, who is he? Here the modern rabbins look embarrassed, like the four atheists in the frontispiece of Dr. Cudworth’s intellectual system, when confounded with the superior arguments of Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, and Pythagoras. They seem neither to like themselves, nor one another. The illustrious prince who was to deal prudently, to be marred in his visage, to be led as a lamb to the slaughter, and to divide the spoil with the mighty, was, says one, Jeremiah the prophet! Another, finding that the characters do not agree, says it was Josiah. Other rabbins vainly try to apply these tragic predictions to good men in general. Some to the nation of the Jews, others to Zerubbabel, to Ezra, or even to Abraham, as also the hundred and tenth Psalm. One grand cause of their confusion is, that both the Chaldee and the Talmud have applied the fourth verse of the fifty third chapter expressly to the Messiah. Similar testimonies of ancient Rabbins may be seen in Poole’s Synopsis; consequently, the new testament writers have broad ground to do the same, and to do it with a wisdom which none of the learned Jews can gainsay or resist. Hence, the personage here introduced, is no other than the Lord Christ. He is called the Lord’s servant by way of eminence, because he was the cheering theme of prophecy from the beginning: he was the expectation of his country, and the hope of all the earth. Cyrus is mentioned by one name; but the names and perfections of the Messiah are without number. He is not only called the Lord’s servant, but his elect, in whom his soul delighteth, which titles highly accord with the voice from the excellent glory, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. He is introduced with admiration: Behold, my servant shall deal prudently. In the fortieth chapter the evangelical messengers say to the cities of Judah, Behold your God. The angel said to the shepherds, Behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy. And John the baptist said, Behold the Lamb of God.

We may here observe that it is said of the Lord’s servant, he shall deal prudently; and he did so in his doctrine, in his private conduct, and in his administration. But critics mostly read, “He shall deal prosperously,” which best agrees with his being very highly exalted; and Jesus was indeed exalted far above all the persons to whom the unbelieving rabbins would refer the prophecy.

The multitude were astonished at his doctrine, at his miracles, and at his resurrection. But most of all, that a man crucified should be magnified as Lord of the universe, and the Saviour of the world. He sprinkled many nations by his word, his Spirit, and his grace, when the gospel was first propagated: Isaiah 59:20-21. The blood of the covenant was sprinkled on the conscience, and the laver of baptism was approached for the removal of sin. Kings also, forgetful of poets and philosophers, shut their mouths, that they might listen to the sublimer gospel of Christ, and be edified by the wisdom from above; a wisdom which is pure, peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated; full of mercy and good fruits, and making the simple in heart wise unto eternal life.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 52". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.