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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Isaiah 51

The subject of this chapter is the call to the faithful remnant to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus. They believe in the LORD and tremble at His word (Isa 66:2), but do not see that the Lord Jesus is their promised Christ, Messiah. Just as the conscience of the brothers of Joseph has been awakened by their stay in prison, so the conscience of this faithful remnant will be awakened.

For this purpose God uses three things we find in this chapter:
1. His word (Isa 51:1-8 in which they are called three times to listen).
2. The tribulation by the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth (Isa 51:9-16; Rev 13:1-10; 11-18).
3. The Assyrians, the king of the North (Isa 51:17-23).

The subject continues until Isaiah 52:12 and can be divided into seven sections. Each of these sections starts with an imperative, which is pronounced twice from the fourth section.
1. “Listen” (Isa 51:1) is related to the past
2. “Pay attention” (Isa 51:4) is related to the future
3. “Listen” (Isa 51:7) is related to the present
4. “Awake, awake” (Isa 51:9)
5. “Rouse yourself! Rouse yourself!” (Isa 51:17)
6. “Awake, awake” (Isa 52:1)
7. “Depart, depart” (Isa 52:11)

It begins with a threefold call to listen and pay attention to the word (Isa 51:1; 4; 7) that the LORD speaks to His people. In Isa 51:9 comes a fourth and first double call. This comes from the people and is addressed to God to save them from the two beasts. In Isa 51:17 the fifth call sounds, in which the LORD speaks again to His people to rouse themselves because of His anger by the king of the North. In the sixth call (Isa 52:1) the LORD speaks again to His people to awaken. The seventh time (Isa 52:11) is a kind of summary and climax with also a double call to depart. To this climax both chapters work towards.

The whole section relates to the time just before the end of exile. They must wake up and prepare to depart from Babylon and return to Jerusalem. Also here is the double bottom, in which we notice not only the immediate pre-fulfillment but also the final fulfillment related to the end time. Then Israel will return to the land from the nations and the enemies will be exterminated. They will enter the peace and joy of the realm. Besides the literal and prophetic explanation, there is also the practical application for us.

Verses 1-3

Example of Abraham and Sarah

The remnant is called to listen to the LORD (Isa 51:1). Listening is the hallmark of the faithful remnant. The Lord Jesus says of His sheep that they hear His voice (Jn 10:16; cf. Amos 3:12). In Revelation 2-3 it is said seven times: “He who has an ear (singular), let him hear.” It follows the example of the Savior Who Himself said: “The Lord GOD has opened My ear” (Isa 50:5). However, before the seed of the Word can germinate, the ground must be ploughed, that is to say, before they listen to the Word, they must first go through trouble and distress.

The LORD addresses Himself to the believing remnant among His people who pursue righteousness and seek Him. The unbelieving part is proud of heart and far from righteousness (Isa 46:12). The remnant is hungry and thirsty for righteousness. The Lord Jesus can say to them that they are “blessed” (Mt 5:6). This longing for righteousness comes from an inner connection with Christ, Who is the righteousness of God (1Cor 1:30).

In the realm of peace there is no need to pursue righteousness (Isa 32:1), but now there is. We have to do this in the time of decay in which we live and we are urged to do so (2Tim 2:22a). The faithful share in the spirit of faith by abstaining from earthly pleasures to pursue the objects of their desires.

Abraham is the rock in which the stones used to build the house of Israel have been hewn. Sarah is the quarry from which they were dug. The reference here is to the fact that Abraham and Sarah are loners. God has only called Abraham and was able to bless and multiply him. He can do this in the same way with the remnant, which also feels like a loner among the mass.

What is meant here as an encouragement to the people is abused by the unbelieving people to appropriate the land in disobedience (Eze 33:24). The remnant is now encouraged as a loner not to participate in the worship of the image of the beast that will be common at the time of the great tribulation. Only then can the LORD give His blessing.

For the believing remnant the reference to Abraham is also meaningful in another sense. It has to do with the old age and infertile state of the marriage of Abraham and Sarah. In that state the LORD has worked through His own supernatural power in response to the faith of Abraham (Isa 51:2; Rom 4:19-21). Israel originally looked so barren and desolate. This is the origin of the people of Israel, and the LORD calls them to remember this in the picture of the rock and the quarry. Just as the LORD did with the lonely Abraham and the barren Sarah, so will He do with the destroyed and lonely Zion (Isa 51:3).

The Lord Jesus was also a Loner on earth. He has pursued righteousness in a perfect way and fulfilled it, with the high point and at the same time the low point His work on the cross. The result is a tremendous fruit. An innumerable number of people have been saved by Him because He fell into the earth like the grain of wheat and died (Jn 12:24).

Just as joy has come to Sarah after a lengthy period of infertility, so after a long time of trouble and abandonment Israel will know joy and gladness again. The comparison with Eden also shows that it is about the future because Israel has never known such a situation, not even in the glory days of Solomon, let alone in the days of Isaiah.

Verses 4-8

The Salvation of the LORD Is Near

The LORD addresses His people here with “My people” (Isa 51:4). By calling it like that, He encourages the believing remnant. Then the people are no longer called “Lo-Ammi”, which means “not My people” (Hos 1:9) and God’s judgment no longer rests upon it. The bond between Israel and the LORD has been restored. The covenant, that is to say, the new covenant, is now made on the basis of the price paid by the Mediator. Israel will realize this only later. After a look back to the past, God’s Word already makes them look to the future. These are vistas that you get when you climb a height through God’s Word. In these vistas the state of the realm of peace is unfolded before their eyes (Isa 51:5-6).

The section that begins with Isa 51:4 speaks of the times when the restoration of Israel will culminate in a blessing for the entire world and later in the disappearance of the whole world of the old creation. The law here is not that of Sinai, but stands for the teaching that God wants to give to the nations through Israel. In this way His righteousness is brought near to the nations and the nations will place their hope in His arm, which is His power, and no longer trust in their own power (Isa 51:5; cf. Isa 40:11). “My arms” that will judge nations may indicate the government of God that He will exercise through the glorified saints (Mt 19:28).

The power, “My arms”, which He has shown in the exercise of His judgment (Isa 51:9; Isa 52:10), He will use for blessing and salvation (Isa 40:10) for the remaining nations, even those who are far away. Not only will sin still exist in the realm of peace, but the whole of the old creation has been affected by it. The heavens must therefore vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment affected by the moth, and the inhabitants will die like mosquitoes (Isa 51:6; cf. 2Pet 3:13). None of this is fulfilled in the days of Cyrus. Those who are saved will never perish and God’s righteousness will endure forever.

For those who know God’s righteousness, the call follows not to fear the reproach of man (Isa 51:7), for these oppressors will perish as a garment consumed by the moth and the grub (Isa 51:8). The imagery shows that God uses small, despicable things to fulfill great plans. The order here is salvation and righteousness, while in Isa 51:6 the order is righteousness and salvation.

The faithful remnant will suffer tremendously under the power of the beast. But while people say: “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” (Rev 13:4), the LORD says: ‘They are only mortals, you need not fear them.’ Fear of people only disappears when we stand before the Lord.

Verses 9-10

Call for Intervention of the LORD

The preceding call to listen with the promise of salvation must have awakened in the hearts of the faithful a longing for the promised salvation (Isa 51:9). They know that the arm of the LORD can work it. That is why they call upon Him to awaken in order to come to their aid. Here they ask for the revelation of His arm (Isa 51:5), His power (Isa 53:1). Did not His arm knock down Pharaoh and his gang?

Rahab is not only a poetic name for Egypt, but is also the monstrous power behind Egypt (Psa 87:4; Psa 89:10). The dragon refers to Pharaoh as the instrument of satan. The LORD then delivered His people and dried up the sea as a way of escape (Isa 51:10). This remembrance of the deliverance in the past and the certainty of the deliverance in the future bring to the triple exclamation to the arm of the LORD to awaken. Rahab is a picture of the beast in the future (Rev 13:1-8) with the dragon (satan) in the background (Rev 12:3-5). But the LORD will help Israel (Rev 12:6).

It is good for the believer to remember the former mercies of the Lord. It is also necessary not only to occupy oneself with the past, but to let the power of hope do its cleansing work. This dual approach – of past and future – provides the power to pray, not only for deliverance, but above all for what serves the glory of God. This will provide an answer from God’s side that will far exceed the expectation of salvation.

Verse 11

The Secure Future for God’s People

What follows in this verse is scarcely surpassed in Scripture in the beauty of the language and in the benevolence of the assurance given to God’s people regarding their future. It all speaks gloriously of the millennial blessing that will be enjoyed by Israel. This prospect is magnified and strengthened by the review of the trials and sufferings in which they have been.

In the midst of the great tribulation, the remnant will sing in faith a song of praise, even before the enemy is broken. It is reminiscent of King Jehoshaphat singing a song of praise before the enemy is defeated by the LORD (2Chr 20:21-22) and of Paul and Silas singing a song of praise before the earthquake and salvation come (Acts 16:25-26). Thus it is with the even more glorious prospect that we may enjoy as members of the church. Our present experiences of deep trials and tribulation are relieved by hope, a hope that ‘softens every sorrow’.

Verses 12-16

The LORD Is for His People

These verses continue in another way the comfort given by the LORD. Many of His people are in fear of the oppressor (Babylon), and no doubt the oppression of the antichrist, the man of sin in the coming day (2Thes 2:3-4), in the time of “Jacob’s distress,” will have the same effect. At that time, this section seems to apply particularly. But if the man of sin is there, the LORD is also there with His comfort. That is why He speaks of Himself as “He who comforts you” (Isa 51:12). If so, why would they be afraid of a mortal man?

The tyranny of the antichrist will be short-lived. The LORD has always had His own manner and time for the deliverance of His earthly people. Fear is the cause of God being forgotten (Isa 51:13). Awareness of the presence and power of the LORD is the sufficient repellent of fear. Again and again the LORD reminds Israel that He is their Maker and that with His power He has extended the heavens and founded the earth. Why, then, should they always fear the threat of the oppressor, even when he is after their destruction?

The oppressor, Babylon, will soon be defeated by Cyrus, the Persian. Then the prisoners will be set free (Isa 51:14). This is the imminent deliverance from the Babylonian exile. This prophecy will also have its ultimate fulfillment when the Jews will be delivered in the future from the suffering of the nations because of the beast and the antichrist and they will return to their land in acknowledgment of their Savior Messiah. Here again we can see Cyrus as a picture of Christ Who will come as Victor.

The LORD shows that He has the power to do this by pointing out that He raises the sea that therefore is in His power (Isa 51:15). It is the picture of the sea of nations raging against His people, which also refers to the coming of the beast out of the sea (Rev 13:1). Like the literal sea, He can also silence the nations (Psa 65:8; Isa 17:12-13). In the end time, the Lord Jesus will judge all nations and silence them through His personal intervention at His appearance.

Isa 51:16 tells how the Jews will become the messengers of the LORD. They will proclaim the gospel of the kingdom (Mt 24:14). He has put His words in their mouths – prophetically the perfect tense is used here (cf. Mt 10:19-20). The result of their preaching can be seen in the conversion of many Jews (Rev 7:1-8) and many of the nations (Rev 7:9-17).

He will cover them with the shadow of His hand, as He did with the Messiah (Isa 49:2). He does not only do this to protect them, but also to make them fit for the purpose that He has in mind. That purpose is to bring heaven and earth into a state where His kingdom of righteousness and peace can be established and His people will truly be His people. Then the forces of nature, both of heaven and of earth, will no longer be used to carry out the Divine judgments, as has so often been the case and will still be before the Lord appears in glory.

The messenger of the gospel of grace proclaimed today may apply these words to himself in the certainty that the Lord will also put His words in his mouth. He is a messenger of the Lord with the message of the Lord. “To establish the heavens” means that a state of heavenly blessing is being worked upon. This happens when the gospel is accepted. “To found the earth” means laying a foundation of righteousness on which the life of faith can develop.

The testimony of the messenger is only reliable and effective if he clings to the truth of Scripture. Also, the bringer of the gospel may know himself under His protection, covered under the shadow of His hand.

Verses 17-23

End of the Suffering of God’s People

This last section of the chapter describes, in vivid language, the consequences of the judgments on the people by the invasion of the king of the North. This is the result of their persistent rebellion against God, culminating in the rejection of Christ. The people call upon the LORD to awaken and act (Isa 51:9), in response to which the LORD calls upon His people to awaken from the sleep of their sin.

The people need to wake up and ask themselves why these things happened to them. After 2,000 years of suffering, with the low point in the Nazi extermination camps, they have returned to the land. Another low point is the future king of the Jews, the antichrist. He will introduce the most terrible idolatry into the land. Finally, the people will be attacked by a coalition led by the king of the North with several islamic countries as allies. This attack will again cost Israel millions of people (Zec 13:8).

Jerusalem is presented as a woman lying on the ground in an intoxicated state, having drunk the cup of the wrath of the LORD. Not one of her sons is able to guide her, take her by the hand, raise her up (Isa 51:18). It is the time of Jacob’s distress. In a short time two thirds of the people, that is the ungodly mass, will perish (Zec 13:8). The prophet sees no possibility of comforting her in the devastation, destruction, hunger, and sword that have come upon her (Isa 51:19). In this a twofold suffering has come upon her: loss of possession by devastation and destruction, and loss of life by hunger and sword.

This is also how it goes with the church of God under the discipline that He has to bring upon her. Her spiritual goods, such as knowing her spiritual blessings, are taken away from her. Also the spiritual life disappears, there is no growth, no increase, there are no new conversions. In this situation it is important to recognize God’s hand in this.

The sons of Jerusalem lie powerless, incapable of helping, just like an antelope is exhausted by the vain fight to be released from the hunter’s net in which she is imprisoned (Isa 51:20). Deliverance can only come from God. In His pity and mercy He promises to give it (Isa 51:21-23). He reminds them that they are His people and He describes Himself as their Advocate, defending their cause (Isa 51:22).

He will also deal with the nations He has used and will use as a disciplinary rod for His people. Those peoples have exceeded the limits of the power that have been set for them. They have allowed themselves to be used in the service of the enemy in order to let his wrath come upon God’s people. Therefore God will give the cup of His wrath to those nations to drink (Isa 51:23). They have thought to trample the people like dust on the streets. God will turn that situation around and bring man’s pride to complete humiliation. This will happen in the future when satan’s attempts to destroy Israel have reached their climax.

For this Israel will first – just like the prodigal son (Lk 15:17-19) – have to come to terms with themselves and with the LORD. They must – just like Isaiah – see themselves in the light of a three times holy God (Isa 6:2-5), before the LORD will be able to use them – just like Isaiah – as a servant in the future. They must – just like Joseph’s brothers at the time with respect to Joseph – come to acknowledgment that the suffering has come from what they have done to Christ. Only then will they – like Joseph’s brothers at the time – discover that God has turned their sin of rejecting Christ for good in order to save a great people (Gen 50:20).

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Isaiah 51". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.