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Thursday, September 28th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 52

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary

Verses 1-6

Chapter 52 The Call To Jerusalem - The Rise of the Servant.

The Third Call to Awake - Spoken To Zion/Jerusalem As The Redeemed Woman (Isaiah 52:1-12 ).

Yahweh Will Redeem His People (Isaiah 52:1-6 )

The drunken woman is no more. Now the new Zion, rising out of the old, is to put on her beautiful garments. She must clothe herself with the righteousness and salvation which has been provided by God. For it is He Who will provide her with the garments of salvation and cover her with the robe of righteousness as He welcomes her as the equivalent of His Bride (Isaiah 61:10; Isaiah 62:5; Isaiah 54:5; Ephesians 5:25-27). What she must do is put them on by responding to Him.

Isaiah 52:1-2

‘Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion.

Put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city.

For henceforth there will no more come to you

The uncircumcised and the unclean.

Shake yourself from the dust, arise,

Sit down, O Jerusalem,

Loose yourself from your neck bands,

O captive daughter of Zion.’

Note the double intensities. ‘Awake, awake, -- put on, -- put on.’ There is a sense of urgency here. Having had her cup of staggering taken from her hand she can now take the next step. She can arise, shake herself free of the dust, take off her chains, the chains of Assyria (Isaiah 52:4) and all others who will have come against her, and reclothe herself. She can be freed from her chains. For she is promised that none shall enter her again who is not within the covenant, and none who would defile God’s holy city. But she is to do it in righteousness. God will never accept an unrighteous bride.

Here we have described for us the pure city that can never be defiled. It is the city where nothing impure can enter in (Revelation 21:27). It is the everlasting city. In the ‘garments of beauty’ we are probably to see the high priestly garments of Exodus 28:2, ‘garments made for glory and for beauty’. She is probably here to be seen as not only reinstated but as becoming the holy nation, the kingdom of priests of Exodus 19:5-6.

‘There will no more come to you the uncircumcised and the unclean.’ Certainly the mention of circumcised refers to participation in God’s covenant. Only those who are ‘circumcised’ may enter. But to the prophets circumcision had in mind not only the physical act but the circumcision of the heart. What mattered was that the heart was made right, that God’s covenant was within their hearts and that they walked in His ways (Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 6:10; Jeremiah 9:26; Ezekiel 44:7; Ezekiel 44:9). Being clean meant being free from anything that could contaminate and make them unworthy to approach God. Thus the idea is that only those can enter who are true to the covenant and pure and undefiled. It is the prophet’s idea of spiritual perfection.

Note therefore the indication that all the Gentiles who flock to her will be circumcised, that is, bound by the covenant. That is why Paul stresses that all true Christians are circumcised with the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:11-13).

This picture of Jerusalem rising from the dust counteracts Isaiah 51:23, and is in direct contrast to the experience of proud Babylon. God’s enemy, Babylon, went from her throne into degradation, Jerusalem is raised from degradation to her throne. For in the end Babylon and all her beauty (Isaiah 13:19), and all that its stands for must go into the dust, and in the end God’s true people will all arise from the dust (Isaiah 26:19) to give Him glory and be made glorious.

There is no reason at all for to thinking that here Isaiah has the future Babylonian captivity in mind. It does not figure in his thinking for he is not aware of the full details of what is to come. He knows only of the captivity under Assyria, ruling Judah from Babylon, of a future invasion by Babylon to strip Jerusalem of all its treasures and its future kings, of the future punishment of Babylon for what it is, and then of the restoration of Jerusalem to full holiness (Isaiah 4:3), and final triumph.

The picture here is thus of Jerusalem, and of Jerusalem where she was, and what she will finally be. His final picture here is not of some particular time in history but of God’s saving action in the end when He will restore His own. We may certainly see it as accompanying and following the action of Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28 to Isaiah 45:13), and the rebuilding of the city and the Temple, for that is the first stage in her reinstatement, but no historical environment is specifically described there or here. And Isaiah is now looking beyond that to the final triumph. A Jerusalem into which no one who is literally uncircumcised can enter is hardly an earthly reality, and in no way can we see Isaiah as saying that all who are circumcised will enter it. It is quite clear that the circumcision of the heart is what is in mind, as Paul so clearly saw (Romans 2:25-29). The picture is in terms of Isaiah 4:3. So there is a sense in which the arising and dressing of Jerusalem takes us in Isaiah’s eyes to the end of time. For this is restored and purified Jerusalem, it is ideal Jerusalem, the holy city, now clothed in beautiful clothing with all chains removed, the place where only those united with God by covenant can come, where all that is impure is excluded. It is the final Paradise, God’s final intention for His people (Revelation 21:10 to Revelation 22:5).

But unknown to Isaiah her clothing in beautiful garments will take a long time. It will commence not long after his time, it will advance at the first coming of Christ, and it will continue on through two thousand years and more. Once the king has come it will go on through the centuries. But at last she will be ready, clothed in the righteousnesses of the saints, as the bride of Christ, ready for the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-8).

Isaiah 52:3-6

‘For thus says Yahweh,

“You were sold for nothing,

And you will be redeemed without money.

For thus says the Lord Yahweh,

My people went down at first into Egypt to sojourn there,

And the Assyrians oppressed them without cause.

Now therefore what do I here, says Yahweh,

Seeing that my people is taken for nothing.

Those who rule over them do howl, says Yahweh,

And my name is continually all the day blasphemed.

Therefore my people will know my name,

Therefore they will know in that day that I am he who speaks.

Behold me.” ’

Note the connecting ‘for’. Jerusalem can be raised from the dust precisely because Yahweh has acted to redeem her.

There could be no clearer indication that Isaiah see Jerusalem’s two great enemies as having been Egypt, and as being at this time Assyria. He does not go beyond Assyria. (Overall rule by Babylon is simply not in mind). These are the nations to whom Israel was ‘sold’. But His people had not been dealt with fairly. They had only gone to Egypt to sojourn there. The Assyrians had had no cause to oppress them. Why then had they been taken into bondage? There had been nothing right about either bondage. They had been ‘sold for nothing’, for they had been ‘taken’. No price had been paid. It was theft. Neither Egypt nor Assyria had any rights over them. So Yahweh feels quite justified in redeeming her for nothing.

The fact that Yahweh used both Egypt and Assyria as His means of chastening His people does not alter the position. Yahweh may do what He will. But that provides no excuse for Egypt and Assyria. They did what they did because of their sinfulness, not because they were obeying Yahweh. We note again the two nations who are seen as oppressors at this stage.

And now the position is that those who rule over her ‘howl’. The verb usually indicates mourning and weeping and distress. However in Hosea 7:14 it probably indicates a howling of self-pleasing and self-gratification, possibly sexual. That may be the meaning here. They howl because they take advantage of them, because they get their enjoyment by misusing them. It is a howl of glee, of rapaciousness. Thus is calumny brought on the name of Yahweh for allowing His people to be treated in this way. Furthermore the thought may include that some of His people had joined in with the wild behaviour and had themselves blasphemed Yahweh in their enjoyment of it. All are guilty.

‘You will be redeemed without money.’ This must be taken strictly. Redemption demands a payment, but as she was bought without money she will be redeemed without money. Yahweh is too powerful to submit to demands for ransom. Yet she has to be redeemed, so if not by money, how? The question is left in suspense for it will be answered later (see chapter 53). For the freeness of their redemption compare Isaiah 55:1-2; Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 51:11 (where her current oppressors are to be dealt with in the same way as Egypt was).

The result of Yahweh’s redemption of them will be that His people will ‘know His name’ that is, thoroughly know and understand Who and What He is. And they will know Who has spoken to them, saying ‘Behold me.’ For they will see Him as He is. And from His saving action they will know that He is truly the faithful Kinsman Redeemer of His people, willing to pay any price for those on whom He has set His love.

Verses 1-12

Yahweh Is Called On To Awake and Reveal His Power and Israel Are To Awake To The Power And Holiness Of Their Redeeming God (Isaiah 51:9 to Isaiah 52:12 ).

God having given to His faithful people the commands to ‘listen -- attend -- listen’ the prophet now calls on Yahweh also to awaken on behalf of His people, for Him too there is a plea that He listen to the call of His people. It is then followed by a call to all His people to awake. Thus there is a threefold call to ‘awake, awake’, in Isaiah 51:9; Isaiah 51:17 and Isaiah 52:1, firstly to Yahweh and then to His people. The tension is now mounting. Note the constant use of repetition. ‘Awake, awake’ (three times). ‘Depart, depart’ (Isaiah 52:11). There is a sense of urgency. This will then be followed by the depiction of the cost of the salvation that is being offered to them in Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12, as the Servant’s destiny is described in full. The culmination of their deliverance is near.

Verses 7-12

The Proclamation of the Good News of Yahweh’s Deliverance; The Message Is To Be Taken To The World (Isaiah 52:7-12 ).

Isaiah is so confident that God will deliver His people, that he already visualises God’s Servant (the Messiah and His true followers) going out onto the mountains of the world to take good news to the ‘Zion’ among the peoples (compare Isaiah 49:11), telling them that God reigns.

The parallels between these verses and Isaiah 2:2-4 should be noted. Here he is explaining in more detail how Isaiah 2:2-4 will come about. In Isaiah 2:2 the mountain of Yahweh’s house will be established as the highest of the mountains. Here the Servant will be exalted, lifted up and be very high (Isaiah 52:13). In Isaiah 2:2 the mountains represent the nations. Here the Good News is taken out into the mountains of the nations. In Isaiah 2:2 God’s Instruction goes out from Zion, and Yahweh’s word from Jerusalem, here those who go out ‘from thence’ (i.e. Jerusalem - Isaiah 52:11 with Isaiah 52:9) are to go out as His pure people bearing the vessels of Yahweh (Isaiah 52:11) so that they may sprinkle the nations (Isaiah 52:15) with God’s means of purification (Numbers 19:17-18), so that all the ends of the earth might see the salvation of God (Isaiah 52:10) because Yahweh has bared His holy arm before all nations in His redeeming work through His Servant (Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12; compare Isaiah 40:10, ‘His arm will rule for Him’). And yet it is to happen in such a way that who could have seen in this the arm of Yahweh? - Isaiah 53:1).

Isaiah 52:7

‘How beautiful on the mountains,

Are the feet of him who brings good news,

Who publishes peace,

Who brings good news of good,

Who publishes salvation.

Who says to Zion,

“Your God reigns.”

As we have already seen the mountains represent the nations (Isaiah 2:2). The feet that bring good tidings are always beautiful, in whatever state they may be. Men will kiss such feet. But this man is not seen as running from anywhere. He is coming from God. The mountains are the mountains of the world (Isaiah 49:11). The comparison simply brings out how glorious is the bearer of good news. Even his dusty, tired feet are beautiful because of the wonderful new that he bears. “The Kingly Rule of God is at hand” (compare Matthew 4:17 and parallels). ‘Your God reigns.’

This can only be speaking of the Servant. He is the One Who comes to bring good news of good to the poor and afflicted (Isaiah 61:1; compare Isaiah 40:9, ‘good tidings -- good things’), to publish peace (Isaiah 49:6), to bring good news of good (Isaiah 42:6-7; Isaiah 49:9-10), who publishes salvation (Isaiah 49:6 b, Isaiah 49:8), who declares ‘The Kingly Rule of God is at hand’ (Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 42:4; Mark 1:15). And along with Him will be His servants who will also go with the Good News to the world. They too will be part of the corporate Servant of which He is the main constituent. The promise to Abraham (Isaiah 41:8) will be fulfilled through his seed.

The commentary on these verses is found in the Gospels, as the Bearer of Good News came over the mountains of Israel declaring that ‘the Kingly Rule of God is at hand’ (Mark 1:15), and then went on over the mountains of the world until the message reached Rome (Acts 28:31). Israel would yet wait a long time for their Bearer of Good News to come, but it would be well worth waiting for, for His message would be for the whole world, a light to lighten the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 51:4) and to be the gory of His people Israel (Luke 2:32).

‘Your God reigns.’ Compare Psalms 22:28; Psalms 47:8; Psalms 93:1; Psalms 97:1; Psalms 99:1. This became a central theme of Israel’s worship, indeed probably was already among the faithful. It became more and more their hope once the Davidic kinship had failed. Yahweh would reign in His everlasting kingdom, with the coming David, His servant, as His regent king (Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 37:24-28). Compare Isaiah 40:9 where this proclamation is initially to the cities of Judah. As is apparent all the way through the chapter Jerusalem and Judah are the context of these words. Isaiah 52:8

‘The voice of your watchmen,

They lift up the voice, together do they sing,

For they will see eye to eye,

When Yahweh returns to Zion.

Break forth into joy,

Sing together you waste places of Jerusalem,

For Yahweh has comforted his people,

He has redeemed Jerusalem.

Yahweh has made bare his holy arm,

In the eyes of all the nations,

And all the ends of the earth will see,

The salvation of our God.’

All the watchmen will rejoice when they see God accomplishing His deliverance. The celebration is of the return of Yahweh to Zion, which He had deserted when He handed them over to the nations. He had ceased to be with His people. (It has nothing to do with exile here. The people are still in Jerusalem. It is Yahweh Who has gone). That is why He would allow Jerusalem and the Temple to be laid waste (Isaiah 43:28; Isaiah 44:28). But now in the coming of the Servant they see the return of Yahweh. And all the watchmen in Jerusalem will cry out and sing, all seeing eye to eye. One eye will look into another and there will be full mental contact (compare Jeremiah 32:4) and each will be aware of what the other is thinking. There will no longer be disunity, no longer two nations, no longer rival factions. They will all be one under the Servant.

Note the emphasis on the watchmen. There were many who watched for the coming of Jesus. But they were not the sentries, they were mainly the meek and the lowly (Luke 2:25; Luke 2:38), including initially of course the prophets. And when they heard of His coming they rejoiced.

The waste places of Jerusalem, that is, both broken down houses and what had once been surrounding fields which have gone to waste under siege (compare Isa 39:30-31), will break forth into joy and sing together, for all will be united when Yahweh comes, and the song will be of Yahweh’s redemption of Israel, and of the comfort and strength He has brought to His people. But the emphasis is not on physical restoration. That is but the symbol of Israel’s state. Isaiah constantly uses physical descriptions with deeper truths in mind. He is a prophet not a recorder. Jerusalem’s problem was that its heart was laid waste, that its morals were wanting. It was filled with weeds. It desperately needed restoration. And now Yahweh has come to restore (compare Isaiah 40:3 where it all begins with a voice from the wilderness - compare Matthew 3:3; Luke 3:4-6).

‘For Yahweh has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem.’ Thus are fulfilled the many promises in Isaiah of comfort (Isaiah 40:1; Isaiah 49:13; Isaiah 51:3; Isaiah 51:12) and redemption (see Isaiah 1:27; Isaiah 29:22; Isaiah 35:9; Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 43:4; Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 44:22-24; Isaiah 47:4; Isaiah 48:17; Isaiah 48:20; Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 49:26; Isaiah 50:2; Isaiah 51:11; Isaiah 52:3). And it is all through the Servant (Isaiah 53:1-12).

But the message is not only to His people. All the nations will see what Yahweh has done, they will see the delivering power of God. Thus will be fulfilled the promise of Isaiah 2:2-4, and the nations will flock to Yahweh (Isaiah 2:2-4; compare Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 49:23; Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 60:4-14), and His instruction and word will go out from Jerusalem into all the world (Isaiah 52:10; Isaiah 2:3-4; Isaiah 11:9). The Servant will have restored His people to Him, and given His light to the Gentiles and been their salvation (Isaiah 49:6-7; Matthew 12:17-21).

To Isaiah this was all one vision. It was not for Him to know the long (from earth’s point of view) and complicated process that would bring it all about.

‘Laid bare His holy arm.’ The picture is delightful. All strong men like to bare their arms to reveal their muscles, and here Yahweh reveals His muscles to all men. They are permitted to see His power in action. This arm is the arm of the Mighty One in Isaiah 40:10. But as Isaiah 53:1 reveals it is exerted in a way beyond the understanding of men.

Isaiah 52:11-12

‘Depart, depart, go out from there.

Touch no unclean thing.

Go out of the midst of her, be pure,

You who bear the vessels of Yahweh.

For you will not go out in haste,

Nor will you go out by flight,

For Yahweh will go before you,

And the God of Israel will be your rear guard.’

Now that the messenger has come with the Good News there is an immediate response. The Good News must be passed on, and immediate preparations are to be made for the departure of messengers to the world. (Isaiah 2:3 - There is absolutely no reason at all to see here any reference to Babylon. We are still in a context of Assyria and Egypt - Isaiah 52:4; And Jerusalem is redeemed not re-inhabited - Isaiah 52:9. There is not an exile in sight).

‘Depart, depart, go out -- go out.’ All is hustle the message is so vital (for ‘go out’ compare Isaiah 55:12). Now at last true Israel is to fulfil its calling as the holy nation, the kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:5-6). They will become those who truly ‘bear the vessels of Yahweh’. They will take to the nations God’s instruction and call them to the true sacrifice, seen in Isaiah’s terms as the taking out of the waters of purification with which to sprinkle the nations (Isaiah 52:15; Numbers 19:17-18; Ezekiel 36:25-28). They are to stream out from Jerusalem to the world (Isaiah 2:3), ensuring that they themselves keep ‘pure’ and have nothing to do with what defiles. They are to proclaim the One Who will ‘sprinkle’ many nations (Isaiah 52:15). The verb is not the usual one for being ‘clean’ when related to priestly functions. It is the word used of the ‘polished’ arrow of the Servant in Isaiah 49:2. Thus the thought is very much of spiritual fitness for the task that lies ahead, the task of the Servant, for they must remember that they are crucially those whose responsibility it is to bear the vessels of Yahweh to the nations, that is, they are to be the means of God’s blessing and deliverance to the nations.

‘Be clean.’ This looks back to Isaiah 52:1. The ideal Jerusalem was now the city of the ‘clean. So as these men of cleanness go out with the vessels of Yahweh they are to avoid all that is unclean. They are to retain their ‘Jerusalem cleanness’. Uncleanness in one way or another is a theme of Isaia, see Isaiah 6:5; Isaiah 35:8; Isaiah 52:1; Isaiah 61:6.

The vessels of Yahweh.’ These are a symbol of all that the Temple meant, of all the Temple paraphernalia. They are the means by which the sacrifices were applied, by which the ordinances were fulfilled. All that was holy to Yahweh was carried in these vessels (compare Isaiah 66:20). They are the means of conveying holy things (Isaiah 66:20). The idea here is that they will carry the benefits of the self-sacrifice of the Servant (Isaiah 53:1-12) out to the world. To be a ‘bearer of the vessels of Yahweh’ is to be one who is greatly privileged, one who carries out the priestly functions. That had always been God’s purpose for faithful Israel (Exodus 19:5-6; compare Isaiah 66:21) And one of the duties of such was to explain God’s word to those who would receive it.

So they bear to the world the news of God’s provision for men that they might be reconciled to Him, and call on them to participate and have their part in Him. They take God’s deliverance to the world (see Isaiah 51:4-5). This unusual use here conjoined with Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12 cannot be accidental. For we are now to read of a sacrifice that replaces all sacrifices. The sacrificial offering of the Servant. This will be applied by His ‘sprinkling many nations (Isaiah 52:15), presumably with the waters of purification which have as it were received His ashes (Numbers 19:17), and contained in the vessels of Yahweh.

We can compare here also how the Gentiles who restore God’s exiles to Himself are seen as bearing the vessels of Yahweh, the litters that carry His true people because they are holy (Isaiah 66:20). So the vessels of Yahweh are what carry holy things.

And they will not go with haste and flee as they did from Egypt, and as men fled from Babylon (Isaiah 48:20). This is not an escape from the world of nations, that is something that is now behind them. This is a triumphant and glorious departure from Zion (‘from there’). We can compare Isaiah 55:12 where the same verb ‘go out’ is used. See also Isaiah 2:3. It is a going forward to the nations with God in attendance with them. They will go forward firmly and deliberately, triumphantly and gloriously, and Yahweh will go before them and protect them from behind (Exodus 14:19), as He did in their time of need. They will enjoy His full protection and presence. Compare here Isaiah 58:8, ‘your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of Yahweh will be your rearward’ where it is to be the result of their ‘good living’. This privilege was given to them at the Exodus, how much more so now that the exodus is reversed as they go out from Jerusalem to the world with the message of God’s salvation.

NOTE on ‘You who bear the vessels of Yahweh’ (compare Numbers 1:50-51 where the same verb and noun are used) .

In Isaiah 52:1 Zion is to put on the ‘garments of beauty’ of the priesthood (Exodus 28:2), and in Isaiah 52:14 the Servant ‘sprinkles’ many nations. Again a responsibility of the priests. It is clear therefore that priestly functions are very much in mind in this section. ‘Israel’, the new refined Israel (Isaiah 49:3), are to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:5-6), going out with the Instruction of Yahweh (Isaiah 2:3), and taking the water of purification to the peoples (Isaiah 52:15; Ezekiel 36:25-28).

Thus this phrase ties in with these references. It may not necessarily be saying that the literal vessels are actually taken to the nations. The vessels may well be metaphorical (compare Isaiah 66:20) and to be seen as bearing the message that they take. Or it may simply be defining the status of those going out, that they are ‘the bearers of the vessels of Yahweh’, i.e. ‘God’s priests’. But if the Servant is to ‘sprinkle many nations’ (Isaiah 52:15) He must in some way be ‘bearing a vessel of Yahweh’, at least symbolically, for that is how sprinkling took place. Of course the sprinkling is equally as symbolic as the vessels. We can compare Ezekiel 36:25 where the sprinkling is of ‘clean’ water, that is the water of purification (Numbers 8:7) or separation (Numbers 19:9; Numbers 19:13; Numbers 19:20-21) but as symbolising the pouring out of the Spirit. That would then make the vessels of Yahweh symbolic. But either way it would seem that the idea is that the benefits of His sacrifice (Isaiah 53:10) are to be taken out and offered to the whole world. This would tie in with Isaiah 2:2-3 where the nations come to the mount of Yahweh, while the instruction goes out from Jerusalem to the world.

While we cannot suggest here that Isaiah in any way has in mind ‘the cup of blessing’ which in multiplied form (1 Corinthians 10:16) would be taken out from Jerusalem to the world, as the new congregation of Israel was being formed by the establishment of Christ’s ‘congregation’ around the world, and would partake of the cup of the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:21). But the idea is the same. Zion, having drunk of the cup of God’s anger (Isaiah 51:17), now takes out from Jerusalem the vessels of blessing for all the world, and Jesus may well have had these verses in mind.

The attribution of these verses to the return from Babylon is extremely unlikely. There is nothing in this section remotely connected with that. Why then should such a reference be introduced so oddly here? All the emphasis is on the preparation of Zion in order that she might be the Servant of Yahweh, so that the Servant might be seen by the world and experience His priestly activity (Isaiah 52:15). And the departure mentioned here bears no resemblance to the earlier description of the departure of people from Babylon in Isaiah 48:20 (whatever that means). To bring Babylon in here is totally to ignore the context. There men were called on to flee. Here they will specifically not flee.

End of note.

Verses 13-15

The Servant of Yahweh Revealed (Isaiah 52:13-15 ).

In Isaiah 50:9 we left the Servant preparing for His court battle where He expected, after his period of humiliation and ill-treatment, to meet up with His adversaries and be vindicated by Yahweh. Here we find the conclusion of the case. The Servant is humiliated, tried and finally vindicated and lifted up to the throne of Yahweh. For ‘high’ and ‘lifted up’ compare Isaiah 6:1. This can only have in mind the One Who was the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) for He alone was worthy to be raised to the throne of Yahweh.

So following as it does the command to Zion to go out to the nations with God’s word we are justified in seeing in these verses the content of that word, the exaltation of the coming Davidic king Who would be born into a background of poverty and need (Isaiah 7:14-16), but His exaltation would only come after facing deep humiliation for the sins of many.

The continuation of the song in chapter 53 makes it quite clear that the Servant here is primarily not Isaiah and Israel, for in chapter 53 Isaiah speaks of ‘we’ in contra-position to the Servant and ‘we’ regularly denotes, in Isaiah, the prophet as conjoining himself with Israel.

Isaiah 52:13-15

“Behold, my servant will deal wisely,

He will be exalted and lifted up and be very high.

In the same way as many were astonished at you,

(His appearance was so marred more than any man,

And his form more than the sons of men),

So will he sprinkle many nations.

Kings will shut their mouths at him,

For that which has not been told them will they see,

And that which they have not heard they will understand.”

‘Behold, my servant.’ Compare Isaiah 42:1. In Isaiah 42:1 He was upheld. Here He is uplifted. But here also He first ‘deals wisely’, which summarises Isaiah 42:1-4 and Isaiah 49:2-3. He will be upheld in His service and will carry out His appointed task of bringing righteousness to the world with wisdom and forethought, and bring it to a satisfactory end, and then He will be uplifted.

We may also see the ‘behold’ as following the ‘listen -- attend -- listen -- awake -- awake -- awake’ of Isaiah 51:1; Isaiah 51:4; Isaiah 51:7; Isaiah 51:9; Isaiah 51:17; Isaiah 52:1). Thus the message to His people is, ‘Listen, awake, behold.’

‘He will be exalted and lifted up and be very high.’ The first two verbs both indicate being lifted up. There is probably intended to be a progression. We could translate ‘raised and lifted up and made very high’. He will be raised from among men, then He will be lifted up further, then He will be set ‘very high’. Elsewhere in Isaiah it is Yahweh Who is ‘raised and lifted up’ (Isaiah 6:1; Isaiah 57:15 - same verbs - compare Isaiah 33:10). Earlier we have seen the Davidic king described as the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6), which again were God-like titles, indicating also His lifting up. The two are surely therefore to be seen as parallels. This exactly describes a similar idea to that in the New Testament where we read that Jesus, having been raised from the dead, was set at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55; Romans 8:34; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 10:12). Nothing could be higher than that.

But this exaltation is to follow a period of humiliation (compare Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 50:6), when men will be astonished at Him because His face and appearance will be so marred, and His body will be so wasted, that men could not have believed it if they had not seen it. The thought here is of bearing the consequences of sin as in Isaiah 1:5-6 (compare Jeremiah 5:3), so that He is like a sick and wasted man (compare Isaiah 1:5), so dreadful to the sight that men cannot look at Him, and they say of Him, is this really a human being? (His form more than the sons of men’). The intention is to bring out the extreme depths of His suffering (compare Isaiah 50:3-8). That this would be the appearance of Jesus on the cross is unquestionable. The sight of the crucifixion of a bloodstained maltreated victim was excruciating. Under the justice of those days the transition from a healthy man to a crumpled, broken, wasted wreck did not take long. And Jesus was not only bearing that but was also engaged in a battle with the forces of darkness that tore at His inner soul.

‘Many were astonished (appalled) at you.’ That is, because of the awfulness of what He suffered. The use of ‘many’ in this way is restricted to this section from Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12 in Isaiah. It is in contrast with ‘the One’ being referred to. In the end ‘the many’ refers to the faithful among the rebellious people of God, those who respond to Him having recognised that they have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6). It is those who are justified through what the Servant accomplishes and whose sins He bears (Isaiah 53:11-12), thus bringing out His uniqueness as separate from them and acting on their behalf.

‘So will He sprinkle many nations.’ The verb would normally signify ‘sprinkle’ (cause to spurt) although, on the basis of the Arabic, ‘startle’ (cause to leap’) has been suggested as an alternative, but even in the Arabic it is not really used in this sense. The meaning ‘sprinkle’ is thus paramount in the Old Testament. The connection must then be - ‘as many were astonished at Him -- so will He sprinkle many nations, kings will shut their mouths at Him.’ They were astonished at His appearance, they were even more astonished when He sprinkled many nations. The movement from sacrificed offering to atoning priest, from Lamb of God to great High Priest took all by surprise.

In the sprinkling of many nations we see the priestly work of the Servant hinted at, as in Isaiah 52:1; Isaiah 52:11-12. Here it is ‘the priest’ Himself (the High Priest) Who is at work. His followers will then take what He has done, in making atonement and establishing the new covenant, out to the world in ‘the vessels of Yahweh’. Sprinkling was the means of application of the sacrificial blood to the people in establishing the covenant (Exodus 24:6-8), and of the water of purification with which God would sprinkle His people to thoroughly cleanse them from all their iniquity and give them a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:25; Numbers 8:7). There too ‘the vessels of Yahweh’ (compare Exodus 24:6; Numbers 19:17) were used to apply the sacrificial blood and the purifying ‘water of purification’ that contained the ashes of a heifer (which Ezekiel uses as a symbol of the Holy Spirit - Ezekiel 36:25). So the Servant is both king and priest, bringing the nations into the covenant through the offering of blood and purifying and revivifying them.

‘Kings will shut their mouths at him, for that which has not been told them will they see, and that which they have not heard they will understand.’ That kings will shut their mouths at Him stresses His own royalty. It is fellow-kings about whom kings receive reports. And they will be astounded because they will see something outside what has been reported to them, and understand what has not been told to them. They will see through the reports to the remarkable account of His deep humiliation followed by His rise to supreme glory and royalty, and learn what this Servant of Yahweh has done, not only for His own people but also for the world.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 52". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/isaiah-52.html. 2013.
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