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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Isaiah 52

Verses 1-6

Zion Raised From the Dust

Again the call of the LORD to Zion comes to awaken (Isaiah 51:17; Isaiah 51:9) and to clothe oneself with strength (Isaiah 52:1). That power is needed to trust in God. Jerusalem is called Zion here because God is now coming to His purpose in grace. It is now called the “holy city” because it is the city of the Holy One of Israel. Likewise, the call comes to Jerusalem to be clothed with beautiful clothes.

The power or strength of the redeemed is the power of God through redemption (cf. Judges 6:12-Nehemiah :; Psalms 84:5; Psalms 84:7). This will only become fully true in the end times, because since and also during Cyrus, their liberator from the power of Babylon, there has been no question of clothing with strength.

He still addresses the city. It is in a state of extreme desolation and covered with dust. She is powerless under the treatment of the enemy and deprived of her priestly and royal robes. Instead, she wears the chains of captivity around her neck (Isaiah 52:2). She must awaken. However, she must not only awaken, but also put herself in a position of calm dignity and authority; she must clothe herself with spiritual strength.

She will again become a festive city of the LORD. Strangers will no longer pass through her. The terrible invasion of the king of the North is now completed. Although they threaten Jerusalem again (Isaiah 37-38), they will be defeated just as they were then. No nation in the world will conquer Jerusalem again, for the LORD Himself will encamp round the holy city and defend it (Isaiah 27:2-Leviticus :).

This has not been fulfilled by the Medes and Persians and the following empires that have always ruled over Jerusalem during the “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). Babylon has sat as queen, but will be humbled to the dust, while Jerusalem will be raised from the dust to sit on the throne of glory. Jerusalem will break her chain.

Babylon is no longer mentioned here by name. First it is broken as a religious power. Then the political and religious power of the antichrist or the second beast are broken. Finally, the political power of the restored Roman Empire is definitively broken. The “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24) are then fulfilled and past.

The promises that follow in Isaiah 52:3-Joshua : stand, with their comfort, against the background of past misery. The people of the LORD are reminded that they have been sold “for nothing” (Isaiah 52:3). They have been given into the hands of the nations, without any benefit to the LORD. His only purpose is to bring them to repentance under His chastening rod. No money will be paid for their redemption. He will work their salvation by sovereign grace and omnipotent power. Their deliverance will come exclusively from Him. He will do so by chastising their enemy.

The liberation from the power of oppressive Egypt and Assyria are mentioned as illustrations (Isaiah 52:4). The question in Isaiah 52:5 has the meaning: ‘What advantage do I have in the midst of My people?’ The people “have been taken away without cause” and their oppressors continually blaspheme the Name of the LORD. This blasphemy will cease by the intervention of the LORD in power and majesty. His Name, so blasphemed by the nations, shall be revealed to His people (Isaiah 52:6).

His nature, His features and His power, represented by His Name, will be revealed to them in the day of their redemption. He makes Himself known as the ‘I am’, the faithful God of the covenant. His Self-revelation works that they will know the voice of their Redeemer (Isaiah 63:1). Then the prayer “hallowed be Your name” (Matthew 6:9) will be fulfilled.

In this way the Lord reveals Himself to us also in times of oppression and difficulty. He uses these circumstances as a means to increase our knowledge of Him, of His features, power and grace. When we ourselves are no longer capable of anything, He makes Himself known to us in His omnipotence. We are like Peter sinking into the water, calling upon the Lord and then learning to know the mighty power of the Lord’s arm and more than that.

Verses 7-10

Peace Announced

These verses contain the triumphant expression as a result of the news of the great salvation worked out for the people of the LORD before the eyes of all nations. Wars have ceased until the end of the earth. Peace will reign because God rules and the LORD returns to Zion. The feet of the messenger are lovely to see – not the sound of his footsteps, but the appearance of his feet – not only because of their resilient speed, but also because of the delight of the heart that gives character to their movement and the content of the message (Isaiah 52:7).

The remnant has fervently prayed for the coming of the LORD to redeem. Now that moment has finally arrived. The LORD has come, He is on the way to Zion. The mountains are the mountains of the land and especially those north of Jerusalem. They are the mountains that the LORD calls “My mountains” (Isaiah 49:11). What are natural obstacles become roads through which God’s heralds come.

He proclaims peace and salvation, which is completely different from the peace and security the world will proclaim under the influence of Satan (1 Thessalonians 5:3). There is talk of “peace,” “good news” and “salvation”. Peace with God through the blood of Christ instead of estrangement; the good news, which benefits rather than wrongs; salvation, not only salvation from judgment, but also continual preservation, forever instead of judgment and eternally lost. It is peace with God through the sacrifice of the cross and the peace of God in life with Him. There is also salvation, healing from all the consequences of sin. All destruction and injury caused by sin will be healed. That is the situation when God reigns as King.

These messengers of good news are also here today. The quotation of this verse in Romans 10 confirms this (Romans 10:15). In the quote ‘the mountains’ are omitted. The apostle rejoices that he was allowed to be such a messenger. It may also be our joy to share in that activity and its joy. The feet of someone who goes out with the gospel near or far are lovely in the eyes of Him Who died to be able to send out the message and the messenger.

The watchmen in Isaiah 52:8 who raise their voices are the prophets, like Isaiah, who look into the distance like from a watchtower. Usually watchmen raise their voices to warn, but now they begin to sing. The watchmen also have no difference of opinion about what they see, but are unanimous about it. They see how the LORD comes to His people, they see it becoming light.

They are to be distinguished from the messenger of the previous verse who proclaims the news of the kingdom when Christ has come. These faithful watchmen, seeing future events from afar, are referred to in 1 Peter 1 (1 Peter 1:10-2 Kings :; cf. Isaiah 21:8; Isaiah 21:11; Habakkuk 2:1-Leviticus :). The day will come when they will see with their own eyes the return of the LORD to Zion. They will see how the LORD restores Zion, they will stand face to face with this work (cf. Numbers 14:14). No wonder they will burst into song of joy.

In Isaiah 52:9 the ruins of Jerusalem are called upon to do the same. The language is vivid, it shows the glory of the restoration after the long period of destruction. There is a twofold reason for this: God’s Word and God’s work (cf. Luke 24:19; Acts 7:22), the word of comfort and the work of liberating power. Comfort and deliverance are the continual ministry of the Holy Spirit in our sorrow and afflictions, our trials and dangers: comfort in the midst of them and redemption out of them. We may rejoice in the comfort of and trust in liberation.

Isaiah 52:10 is a retrospective from a future fulfillment. It is the picture of a battle, in which all the covering of His arm has been removed to use it in its full force. The arm of the LORD is bare to redeem the remnant by judging both Assyria and Babylon. The foolish misconceptions of the nations about God will be nullified. Their refusal to acknowledge the Son of God will be vigorously repressed by His personal intervention. Thus they will witness the salvation of the God of Israel.

Verses 11-12

Call to Leave Babylon

These verses are about a different side of circumstances and deal with the release of the exiles. The previous six calls have worked towards this call. God’s people are commanded to leave the terrain of their exile (cf. Isaiah 48:20). The commanding language refers to Babylon, but Babylon stands for more than just the city. It also speaks of terrible idolatry caused by the beast of the Roman empire and the antichrist, as the connection shows (Isaiah 2:8-1 Samuel :; Revelation 13:12-Ezra :).

God’s people are commanded not to touch anything unclean at departure. They must not take anything of Babylon with them. What they must take with them are “the vessels of the LORD” that have been brought to Babylon. This refers to the return by order of Cyrus and the return of the objects taken away by Nebuchadnezzar (Ezra 1:7-1 Kings :). Unlike their fleeing from Egypt, their departure from Babylon will not take place in haste or as a run (Deuteronomy 16:3). It is more of a victory march. Their entry into the realm of peace will be even more so.

Their attitude will speak of being perfectly ready to resume the service of worship of the LORD in His temple. For that absolute purity is required. However, they will need His guidance and protection and they will be assured of that. The Messiah Himself will guarantee it. He gives the promise: “For the LORD will go before you, and the God of Israel [will be] your rear guard.”

This all has a direct message for those who, being objects or vessels themselves, are set apart to be used by the Lord (2 Timothy 2:21). They have the holy responsibility “to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27) and also that they “cleanse” themselves “from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).

It also applies to the Babylon of the end time (Revelation 18:4). It is the things that come to us from professing Christianity and with which we should not defile ourselves by opening up for worldly elements in order to introduce them into the church.

Verses 13-15

High and Lifted up

Here begins a totally new section. The division into chapters is not well done here. Isaiah 53 must begin with Isaiah 52:13 of this chapter. The last three verses of Isaiah 52 and whole Isaiah 53 contain one great theme: the suffering, rejected, reconciling and exalted Servant of the LORD. This whole part forms the heart of the second great part of the book of Isaiah. It is right in the middle of it.

We can say that in this section we enter, as it were, the holy of holies. This makes it even more necessary than otherwise to approach this part with great reverence and deep awe and take it in (cf. Exodus 3:5; Joshua 5:15). In the heart of this section the LORD reveals His heart. And Who else is the heart of God other than the Lord Jesus, Who was and is always in the Father’s womb? The Lord Jesus has come to declare Him in grace to sinful people (John 1:18). In this section it is about Christ and His work and its glorious consequences, both for God and for us.

This is also the fourth and last song or the last prophecy about the Servant of the LORD. In the previous three songs or prophecies we have seen that the Servant is the Chosen One of God (Isaiah 42:1-1 Samuel :), the Rejected One of Israel (Isaiah 49:1-1 Chronicles :) and the dependent and obedient Servant (Isaiah 50:1-1 Kings :). Now the covering is taken away from Israel (2 Corinthians 3:16) and the arm of the LORD is revealed.

The chosen and rejected Servant, obedient to the death of the cross, turns out to be the Guilt Offering for Israel! He dies as the substitute offering for Israel. His blood is the blood of the new covenant. What Israel meant for evil with the rejection of Christ, the LORD has turned for the better. The Servant appears to have been sent by God “to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).

Joseph’s brothers did not realize that the mighty viceroy of Egypt and their rejected brother is one and the same person. Thus, Israel does not recognize that the bare, mighty arm of the LORD and the rejected Jesus of Nazareth is one and the same Person. So blind are they as the servant of the LORD. A veil lies over their faces. But the perfect Servant has come to heal the blind servant, to remove the veil from their faces.

Just as Joseph reveals himself to his brothers in holy seclusion without strangers (Genesis 45:1), so the Servant will make Himself known to the faithful remnant. Like Thomas, a picture of the remnant, they will recognize Him by His wounds and bow down before Him and declare: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

The fifteen verses of this section have been written in the form of a poem, consisting of five stanzas of three verses each. These five stanzas are written in a so-called chiasm, a mirror technique to emphasize the middle part:
1. the glorification of the Servant (Isaiah 52:13-Ezra :).
---2. the suffering of the Servant (Isaiah 53:1-Leviticus :)
------3. atonement by the Servant (Isaiah 53:4-Joshua :)
---4 the suffering of the Servant (Isaiah 53:7-1 Samuel :)
5. the glorification of the Servant (Isaiah 53:10-2 Kings :)
a. Stanza 1 and 5 are about the glorification of the Servant;
b. stanza 2 and 4 are about the suffering of the Servant;
c. the middle stanza (3) is about atonement by the Servant.

The LORD begins with the words “behold, My servant” (Isaiah 52:13). All attention is directed toward Him (cf. Matthew 25:6). It is not about Israel, but about the Messiah. The connection with what immediately preceded this is striking, even if it is in the form of a great contrast. In the foregoing, the liberation from Babylonian exile is in the foreground, with the future and final liberation behind it. Liberation, however, can only be effected by the servant of the LORD, regardless of whether it concerns the Jew or the heathen. No fulfillment of any prophecy is possible without the Lord Jesus and His work on the cross.

That is why God calls upon us to look at Him, first in His prosperous action and then in His exalted position (Isaiah 52:13). After that, there is a brief mention of His humiliation in anticipation of the coming revelation in power and glory (Isaiah 52:14-Ezra :). This is all, in a compact form, the theme on which after this introduction will be elaborated in the next twelve verses.

“Behold, My servant will prosper” (Isaiah 52:13). There are two meanings of the word “prosper”. The first is wisdom – a characteristic of which is prudence – and the second is prosperity or success. A complete representation of the text can be: ‘Shall act wisely, resulting in prosperity.’ This describes in a compact way His life on earth up to and including the cross, in everything He says and does, with the prosperous consequences that are inextricably connected to it. He maintains His testimony without surrendering His life until the appointed hour is there. Never is there greater prosperity attached to any action than to the surrendering of His life as a willing and reconciling sacrifice (cf. Isaiah 53:10).

“He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted” (Isaiah 52:13). The consequence of His wise and prosperous action is that God has exalted Him greatly. There are three stages in that exaltation: His resurrection, His ascension and His glorification at God’s right hand (Acts 2:33; Philippians 2:9; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 1:13).

In Isaiah 52:14 the form of a speaking about changes into a speaking to and then again into a speaking about. The cause of amazement and dismay is the fact of His being marred. This determines the atrocities that have been inflicted on Him after His imprisonment. His face and his body have been treated in an unparalleled horrible way. The soldiers struck Him with a fake scepter on His face and on His forehead crowned with spines, until He was no longer recognizable. The inflicted flogging ripped the flesh from both His back and His chest.

This was the Lord Jesus as He was brought out by Pilate and shown to the people to arouse and cultivate their pity that they would not ask for more of His blood. That was in vain. It made their disgust of Him and the call for His blood even greater. His appearance was so completely different from what they had expected from the Messiah, that they looked at Him with dismay. So they stared at Him (Psalms 22:17).

While Israel so rejected Him, in the coming day the contempt of the heathen peoples through Pilate will turn into amazement and dismay at His power and glory. The “thus” of Isaiah 52:15 corresponds to the “just” of Isaiah 52:14. The amazement will be so great that kings will be overwhelmed by speechlessness, dumbfounded by what they see and what they have never heard of. The horror at His suffering will be far surpassed by the horror at His glorification. The “sprinkling” of “many nations” refers to the blessing that comes from His humiliation.

These verses express twice great amazement and dismay: first about the horrible humiliation of the Messiah, then about His awe-inspiring glorification. Now those in power still have their mouths full of boasting (Psalms 2:1-Leviticus :). Then they will hear the reality and meaning of this amazing revelation. They will see that the people plagued and oppressed by them are the people chosen and loved by God under a King Who has laid His glory upon those people. When they will see and hear it, they will also believe with all their hearts.

However, this verse does not only refer to the future. Paul applies it to the preaching of the gospel in the time between the cross and the second coming, that is the period in which we live now. He quotes this verse to make the gospel known in ever more distant places and to extend his missionary journeys to areas where the gospel has not yet been preached (Romans 15:20-Ecclesiastes :).

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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Isaiah 52". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/isaiah-52.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.