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Bible Commentaries

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Isaiah 51



Abraham our pattern to trust in Christ; in his promises, and righteous salvation: this is constant, but men are transitory, Isaiah 51:1-8.

A prayer of the godly in affliction, Isaiah 51:9-11.

The Lord’s answer, Isaiah 51:12-16.

He bewaileth Jerusalem, Isaiah 51:17-20.

The bitter cup taken from her, and given to her enemies, Isaiah 51:21-23.

Verse 1

Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness: now he turneth his speech again to the believing and godly Jews.

That seek the Lord; that make it your chief care and business to seek favour and help from God.

Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged; consider the state of Abraham and Sarah, when they procreated Isaac, from whom Jacob and all of you sprang; for so he explains the metaphor in the next verse. He compareth the bodies of Abraham and Sarah unto a

rock, or pit, or quarry out of which stones are hewed or digged, thereby implying that God in some sort actually did that which Christ said he was able to do, Matthew 3:9, even of stones to raise up children unto Abraham; it being then as impossible by the course of nature for Abraham and Sarah in that age to procreate a child, as it is to hew a living child out of a rock, or to dig one out of a pit of stone.

Verse 2

I called him from his own country and kindred to follow me to an unknown land, where I promised that I would multiply and bless him, as is particularly explained, Genesis 12:1-3.

Alone, Heb. one; either,

1. Him only of all his kindred; for though he carried some few of them with him, yet I called none but him. So this notes God’s singular favour to their progenitors above all the rest of the world. Or,

2. Him when he was alone or solitary, to wit, as to any issue; when he neither had nor was likely to have any child by Sarah. And this word alone seems to belong not only to this word wherewith it is joined, but also unto the two following words, especially if we consider the order of rite words in the Hebrew text, where they lie thus; for one (or alone, or when he was alone, or but one)

I called him, and blessed him, and increased him. Increased him into a vast multitude, when his condition was desperate in the eye of reason. And therefore God can as easily raise and deliver his church when they are in the most forlorn condition, and seem to be dead, and buried, and consumed, so that nothing but dry bones remain of them, as it is declared at large, Ezekiel 37:0.

Verse 3

For: so this comes in as a reason why they should look unto or consider that famous example of Abraham and Sarah, because they should find the like wonder wrought on their behalf. Or, Therefore, or for the sake of Abraham, my friend, and of that covenant which I made with him, and by which I promised to bless him and his seed for ever.

Shall comfort Zion; his church, which is frequently called by that name, both in the Old and New Testament.

He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord: although she shall be waste and desolate like a wilderness or desert for a time, yet she shall be restored, and be made as pleasant and flourishing as the garden of Eden was.

Verse 4

Hearken unto me, my people: seeing the Gentiles will hearken to me, as I have formerly told you, take heed that you Jews, whom I chose to be my peculiar people, do not reject my counsel, nor forsake your own mercies, as I fear you will do.

A law; a new law, even the doctrine of the gospel, which ought to have the force of a law with you, and I expect your obedience to it, no less than to my law delivered by Moses.

I will make my judgment to rest: judgment is here the same thing with law in the former clause, the word of God, which is frequently called judgment, as hath been observed again and again, or the evangelical doctrine, of which he saith that he will make it to rest, i.e. settle and establish it; whereby he may-possibly intimate the stability and perpetuity of this light in the church, that it shall not be like the light of the Mosaical dispensation, which was only to shine for a season, even until the time of reformation, Hebrews 9:10, when all those dark shadows were to vanish and give place to the Sun of righteousness, and to that kingdom and state that should never be moved, as we read, Daniel 2:44; Hebrews 12:26-28, and in many other places.

For a light of the people, Heb. of or to the peoples; not only to you Jews, but unto people of all sorts and nations, who shall receive and walk in that light which you will reject, and use all possible endeavours to extinguish.

Verse 5

My righteousness; my salvation, as it is expounded in the next clause, the redemption of all my people, both Jews and Gentiles, which is the effect of his righteousness; either his justice, or his faithfulness, or his mercy and goodness; for all these are called by the name of righteousness in Scripture, and all these contributed to the work of man’s redemption.

My salvation is gone forth; shall shortly go forth; my secret and eternal purpose of saving my people shall speedily be fulfilled.

Mine arms shall judge the people; either,

1. Shall destroy those people who obstruct or oppose this work. Or rather,

2. Shall subdue the Gentiles to mine authority, and rule them by my word and Spirit; which agrees best with the following clause.

The isles; the remote countries of the Gentiles, as Isaiah 41:1; Isaiah 42:4, and elsewhere.

Shall wait upon me; shall confidently expect and hope for this promised righteousness and salvation from me, and from me only, and not from idols, as they have done, nor by any other way.

Verse 6

The heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment; the heavens and earth shall pass away, either,

1. Simply, and by a substantial corruption or annihilation, which is yet to be understood comparatively or conditionally, that these should sooner vanish into nothing than God’s promised salvation should not be accomplished; as when it is said, Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away, Matthew 24:35. It is thus expounded, It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than (for) one tittle of the law to fail. Or,

2. In regard of their present state, and properties, and use, as smoke is here said to vanish, although the substance of it be not destroyed. They that dwell therein shall die in like manner; as they shall be dissolved, as we read, 2 Peter 3:11, and death is nothing else but a dissolution.

Verse 7

That know righteousness; that love and practise it, as knowing is commonly used.

In whose heart is my law; who are tacitly opposed to the carnal Jews that had the law written only in tables. Compare 2 Corinthians 3:3; Hebrews 8:10.

The reproach of men; the censures of the carnal Jews. who will lead their believing and godly brethren with a world of reproaches: but let not these things discourage you.

Verse 8

The moth shall eat them up; your reproachers shall be easily destroyed, and so God will revenge your cause upon them, and deliver you from their reproaches.

Like wool; like a woollen garment, which is sooner corrupted by moths or such creatures than linen.

Verse 9

Awake, awake, thou who hast carried thyself like one asleep, and unconcerned for thy people, and unable to save them. The prophet having foretold what great things God would do for his church, and longing for the accomplishment of them, and knowing that prayer was one means by which God fulfils his promises, he poureth forth his prayer to God in his own name, and in the name of God’s people.

Put on strength; clothe and adorn thyself with mighty works; put forth thy strength.

That hath cut, Heb. hewed, with thy sword, Rahab; Egypt, so called here, and Psalms 87:4; Psalms 89:10, either from its pride or strength, or from the shape and figure of that land. The dragon; Pharaoh, so called Psalms 74:13; Ezekiel 29:3; Ezekiel 32:2.

Verse 10

Art thou not it which hath dried the sea? art not thou the same God, and as potent now as then thou wast?

For the ransomed; for thy people, whom thou didst redeem and bring out of Egypt.

Verse 11

Therefore; or, So; Heb. And. This verse contains an answer to the prophet’s prayer. It is true, I did these great things, and I will do the like again.

Everlasting joy shall be upon their head, like a crown of glory. But for the accomplishment of this magnificent promise we must needs look beyond their return from Babylon into their own land, when they met with many discouragements, and troubles, and calamities, and extend it unto the coming of Christ, by whom these great things were procured and actually conferred upon his people.

Verse 12

Who art thou? how unreasonable and distrustful art thou, O my church! how unlike to thyself! how unsuitable in these despondencies unto thy own professions and obligations!

Of the son of man which shall be made as grass; of a weak mortal and perishing creature.

Verse 13

And forgettest the Lord thy Maker; and dost not consider the infinite power of that God who made thee, and who will plead thy cause.

As if he were ready to destroy; as if it were in his power to destroy thee in a moment.

Where is the fury of the oppressor? what is become of the power and rage of the Babylonians? Is it not all gone? Are not they broken, and thou delivered? He speaks of the thing as if it were already done, because it should certainly and suddenly be done. Where is it? It is no where, it is quite lost and gone, as this phrase is frequently used, as Psalms 42:3; Zechariah 1:5; 1 Corinthians 15:55.

Verse 14

God is not slack, as you think, but maketh haste to fulfil his promise, and to rescue his captive and oppressed people from all their oppressions and miseries.

Verse 16

I have put my words in thy mouth; these great and glorious promises which are in thy mouth are not the vain words of man, a weak, and inconstant, and unfaithful creature, but the words of the almighty, unchangeable, and faithful God, and therefore they shall be infallibly accomplished. These words are manifestly spoken by God, either,

1. To Isaiah, by whom these promises were delivered. Or,

2. To Christ, of whom and to whom many things are said in this prophecy, as we have already seen, and will further appear. And such abrupt and sudden apostrophes to persons not mentioned in the foregoing words are not unusual in this prophecy, as hath been observed. Or rather,

3. To Israel, to God’s church and people, to whom he speaks both in the foregoing and following verses. For God’s word is frequently said to be

put into the mouths, not only of the prophets, but of the people also, as Isaiah 59:21; as also Deuteronomy 30:14; Joshua 1:8, &c.

Have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand; have protected thee by my almighty power. See the same phrase Isaiah 49:2.

That I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth; I have given thee these promises and this protection in all thy calamities, to assure thee of any care and kindness to thee, and that I will reform thee in a most glorious manner, and bring thee unto that perfect and blessed estate which is reserved for the days of the Messiah, which in Scripture phrase is called a making of new heavens and a new earth, Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13, and elsewhere.

And say unto Zion, Thou art my people; that I may own thee for my people, in a more illustrious manner than ever I have done.

Verse 17

Awake; either,

1. Out of the sleep of security. Or,

2. Out of the sleep of death. Heb. Rouse up thyself; come out of that forlorn and disconsolate condition in which thou hast so long been. This sense suits best with the following words. Stand up upon thy feet, O thou who hast fallen, and been thrown down to the ground.

Which hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury; which hast been sorely afflicted; for so this metaphor is used. Psalms 75:8; Jeremiah 25:15, &c.; Jeremiah 49:12.

The cup of trembling; which striketh him that drinketh it with a deadly horror.

Wrung them out; drunk every drop of, it. See Poole "Psalms 75:8".

Verse 18

When thou wast drunk with this cup, and not able to go, neither thy princes, nor prophets, nor priests were able or willing to lead and support thee.

Verse 19

These two things; either,

1. Those which were now mentioned:

1. That she was drunk with the cup of God’s wrath, Isaiah 51:17.

2. That she had none to support or comfort her in that condition, Or,

2. Those which here follow, which although they be expressed in four words, yet they may fitly be reduced to two things, the desolation or devastation of the land, and the destruction of the people, by famine and sword. So

famine and

sword are not named as new evils, but only as the particular ways or means of bringing the

destruction there mentioned; and the words may be thus rendered, desolation and destruction, even (this Hebrew particle being oft taken expositively, whereof many instances have been given) famine (or, by famine) and sword. Or two, nay be put indefinitely for many, as double is put for abundantly more, Job 11:6; Isaiah 40:2; Isaiah 61:7; Zechariah 9:12, and elsewhere. By whom shall I comfort thee? I cannot find any man who is able to comfort and relieve thee.

Verse 20

Thy sons have fainted; they are so far from being able to comfort thee, as was said, Isaiah 51:18, that they themselves faint away for want of comfort, and through famine.

They lie dead by famine, or the sword of the enemy,

at the head of all the streets; where men enter in or go out of the streets, where the enemy found them either opposing their entrance, or running out of them to make an escape.

As a wild bull in a net: those of them who are not slain are struggling for life; and although they murmur at God, and fight with men, yet they cannot prevail or escape.

Verse 21

But with the cup of God’s fury, mentioned Isaiah 51:17

Verse 22

Thy God that pleadeth the cause of his people; who though he hath fought against thee, is now reconciled to thee, and will maintain thy cause against all thine adversaries.

Verse 23

Bow down, that we may go over; lie down upon the ground, that we may trample upon thee, as conquerors. used to do upon their conquered enemies. See Joshua 10:24; Psalms 110:1.

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Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Isaiah 51". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.