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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Isaiah 51


A.M. 3298. B.C. 706.

We have in this chapter the second section of the second discourse of the fifth part of this book, containing an assurance,

(1,) That God, who raised his church from nothing, will take care for her subsistence and comfort, Isaiah 51:1-3 .

(2,) That the righteousness and salvation designed for her, and offered in the gospel, are very near and sure, Isaiah 51:4-6 .

(3,) That the persecutors of the church are weak and dying creatures, Isaiah 51:7 , Isaiah 51:8 .

(4,) That the same almighty power, which wrought miracles for her on former occasions, is still engaged for her deliverance and protection, Isaiah 51:9-11 .

(5,) That God himself, the maker of the world, had undertaken both to comfort his people under, and deliver them out of their distress, Isaiah 51:12-16 .

(6,) That, however deplorable her case was, that of her persecutors should soon be worse, Isaiah 51:17-23 .

Verses 1-2

Isaiah 51:1-2. Hearken unto me, &c. Here again he addresses his discourse to the believing and godly Jews, whom he describes as following after righteousness That is, earnestly desiring and diligently pursuing the justification of their persons, the sanctification of their nature, and practical obedience to God’s law; for which blessings they sought the Lord That is, sought an acquaintance and reconciliation with him, the manifestation of his favour, and the communication of his Spirit. These, his true people, he exhorts to look unto the rock whence they were hewn, &c. To consider the state of Abraham and Sarah before God gave them Isaac, from whom Jacob and all his posterity sprang. He compares the bodies of Abraham and Sarah unto a rock, or pit, or quarry, out of which stones are hewn or dug; thereby implying, that God, in some sort, actually did that which John the Baptist 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 such an advanced age as they then were, to have a child, as it is to hew one out of a rock, or dig one out of a pit. For I called him alone Hebrew, אחד , one; that is, when he was but one single person, without child or family, I called him from his country and kindred to follow me to an unknown land, where I promised that I would multiply him exceedingly. And I blessed him, and increased him Namely, into a vast multitude, when his condition was desperate in the eye of reason. And therefore God can as easily deliver and raise his church when they are in the most forlorn condition, and seem to be consumed, dead, and buried, so that nothing but dry bones remain of them, as is declared at large, Ezekiel chap. 37.

Verse 3

Isaiah 51:3. For, &c. The prophet, in these words, seems to be giving a reason why they should look unto, or consider, that famous example of Abraham and Sarah; namely, because they should find the like wonder wrought on their behalf. Or the meaning may be, therefore, for the sake of Abraham and of that covenant which God made with him, and by which he promised to bless him and his seed for ever; the Lord shall comfort Zion His church, frequently, as we have seen, called by that name. He will make her wilderness like Eden Although she may be waste and desolate like a wilderness or desert for a time, yet she shall be restored and made as pleasant and flourishing as the garden of Eden was. The expressions are figurative, and, according to Vitringa, “in their primary sense, refer to the state of Zion after their restoration from Babylon; in their secondary and spiritual sense, to the redemption of the church by the Messiah, and the consequent blessings of grace.” See Isaiah 49:19; Isaiah 52:9.

Verses 4-5

Isaiah 51:4-5. Hearken unto me, my people Ye Jews, whom I chose to be my peculiar people, do not reject my counsel, which, I have told you, even the Gentiles will receive, nor forsake the mercies of which even they will partake. For a law shall proceed from me A new law, even the doctrine of the gospel. I will make my judgment to rest for a light Judgment is here the same thing with law in the former clause, the word of God, or the evangelical doctrine, of which he saith, that he will make it to rest, that is, 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 Mosaic dispensation, which was only to shine for a season, namely, 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. See Daniel 2:44; Hebrews 12:26-28. Of the people Hebrew, עמים , the peoples, not only you Jews, but people of all sorts and nations, who shall receive and walk in it. My righteousness is near My salvation, the redemption of all my people, Jews and Gentiles, which is the effect of my righteousness, of my justice, faithfulness, or mercy, which are all called by the name of righteousness in the Scriptures, and all contributed to the work of man’s redemption. My salvation is gone forth Shall shortly go forth; my eternal purpose of saving my people shall speedily be fulfilled; and mine arm, my power, shall judge the people Either, 1st, Shall destroy those who obstruct or oppose this work: or, rather, 2d, Shall subdue the Gentiles to my authority, and rule them by my Word and Spirit. The isles The remote countries of the Gentiles; shall wait upon me Shall expect this salvation from me, and from me only.

Verse 6

Isaiah 51:6. Lift up your eyes to the heavens Look up to the visible heavens above, which have continued hitherto, and seem likely to continue; and look upon the earth beneath Which seems as firmly established as if it would endure for ever. The heavens shall vanish away like smoke Which soon spends itself and disappears; and the earth shall wax old, &c. Shall decay and perish, like a worn-out garment. And they that dwell therein shall die in like manner Shall be dissolved, as the heaven and earth shall be, 2 Peter 3:11. But my salvation shall be for ever, &c. As it shall spread through all the nations of the earth, so it shall last through all the ages of the world, and, in its consequences, to all eternity.

Verses 7-8

Isaiah 51:7-8. Hearken, ye that know righteousness Who not only understand, but love and practise it; whose persons are justified, whose nature is renewed, and whose lives are subject to my laws. These seem to be distinguished from those who are spoken of ( Isa 51:1 ) as following after righteousness. These had attained what the others were only in pursuit of. The people in whose heart is my law Who are here opposed to the carnal Jews, that had the law written only on tables of stone. Compare 2 Corinthians 3:3; Hebrews 8:10. Fear ye not the reproach of men The censures of your carnal countrymen, who load their believing and godly brethren with a world of reproaches; but let not these things discourage you: for the moth shall eat them up, &c. Those that reproach you shall be easily and soon destroyed, and so God will avenge your cause upon them, and deliver you from their injurious treatment; and the worm shall eat them like wool Like a woollen garment, which is sooner corrupted by moths, or such creatures, than linen.

Verses 9-11

Isaiah 51:9-11. Awake, awake, &c. The prophet, by an elegant figure, addresses himself to God, to stir up and exert his power in behalf of his oppressed people, as he did in former times, when he delivered them out of the Egyptian bondage. Awake, as in the ancient days That is, act for us now as thou didst for our fathers formerly: repeat the wonders they have told us of. Art thou not it that cut Rahab Egypt, so called, here and elsewhere, for its pride or strength. And wounded the dragon Pharaoh, the Leviathan, as he is called, Psalms 74:13-14. Art thou not it that dried the sea Art thou not the same God, and as potent now as thou wast then? That made the depths a way for the ransomed, &c. For thy people, whom thou didst redeem and bring out of Egypt? Let thine arm be stretched out in our behalf; for it has done great things formerly in defence of the same cause, and we are sure it is neither shortened nor weakened. Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, &c. These words express the persuasion of the prophet, that as the Lord did these great things formerly, so he would certainly do the like again. See note on Isaiah 35:10.

Verses 12-13

Isaiah 51:12-13. I, even I, am he that comforteth you “They prayed,” says Henry, “for the operations of his power: he answers them with the consolations of his grace; which may well be accepted as an equivalent. I, even I, he says, will do it: he had ordered his ministers to do it, chap. 40:1; but, because they cannot reach the heart, he takes the work into his own hands; he will do it himself. And those whom he comforts, are comforted indeed.” Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid, &c. How unreasonable and distrustful art thou, O my church, how unlike to thyself! How unsuitable are these despondences to thy professions and obligations! Afraid of a man that shall die, &c. Of a weak, mortal, and perishing creature. And forgettest the Lord thy Maker Dost not consider the infinite power of that God who made thee, and who will plead thy cause; that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth And therefore hath all the hosts and all the powers of both at his command and disposal. And hast feared continually every day Hast been in a state of continual alarm and disquietude; because of the fury of the oppressor It is true there is an oppressor, and he is furious, designing, it may be, to do thee a mischief, and therefore it will be thy wisdom to be on thy guard against him: but thou art afraid of him, as if he were ready to destroy As if it were in his power to destroy thee in a moment, and he were just now going to effect his purpose, and there were no possibility of preventing it. And where is the fury of the oppressor? What is become of the power and rage of the Babylonians? Are they not vanished away? Are they not broken, and thou delivered? He speaks of the thing as already done, because it should certainly and suddenly be done.

Verses 14-16

Isaiah 51:14-16 . The captive exile hasteneth that he may be loosed From his captivity, and may return to his own country from which he is banished. And that he should not die in the pit Die a prisoner, through the inconveniences and hardships of his confinement; nor that his bread should fail The bread or provision allowed to keep him alive in prison. The general sense of the verse is, God is not slack, as you think, but makes haste to fulfil his promise, and rescue his captive and oppressed people from all their oppressions and miseries. And 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, inconstant, and unfaithful creature, but the words of the almighty, unchangeable, and faithful God; and therefore they shall be infallibly accomplished. This is spoken by God to his church and people, whom he addresses, 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 also of the people, as Isaiah 59:21; Deuteronomy 30:14. And have covered thee, &c. Have protected thee by my almighty power. That I may plant the heavens Bishop Lowth reads, To stretch out the heavens: and lay the foundations of the earth I have given thee, O my church, these promises, and this protection in all thy calamities, to assure thee of my 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 the language of Scripture, is termed the making of new heavens and a new earth, Isaiah 65:17; and Isaiah 66:22. And say unto Zion, Thou art my people That I may own thee for my people, in a more illustrious manner than I have done.

Verse 17

Isaiah 51:17. Awake, awake God having awoke and arisen for the comfort of his people, here calls on them to awake, as afterward, Isaiah 52:1. This is a call to awake, not so much out of the sleep of sin though that also was necessary, in order to their being ready for deliverance, as out of the stupor of despondency and despair. Hebrew, התעוררי , rouse up thyself; come out of that forlorn and disconsolate condition in which thou hast so long been. When the Jews were in captivity they were so overwhelmed with the sense of their troubles that they had no heart left to mind any thing that tended to their comfort or relief; and therefore when the deliverance came, they are said ( Psa 126:1 ) to be like them that dream. The address may be applied to the Jerusalem, or Jewish Church, which was in the apostles’ time, which is said to be in bondage with her children, (Galatians 4:25,) and to have been under the power of a spirit of slumber, Romans 11:8. They are called to awake and mind the things that belonged to their everlasting peace, and then the cup of trembling should be taken out of their hands, peace should be spoken to them, and they should triumph over Satan, who had blinded their eyes, and brought stupor insensibly upon them. Stand up Upon thy feet, O thou who hast been thrown to the ground. Who hast drunk, &c., the cup of his fury Who hast been sorely afflicted; the dregs of the cup of trembling Which strikes him that drinks it with a deadly horror; and wrung them out Drunk every drop of it.

Verses 18-20

Isaiah 51:18-20. There is none to guide her, &c. When thou wast drunk with this cup, and couldest not direct or support thy steps, neither thy princes, nor prophets, nor priests, were able or willing to lead or uphold thee. These two things are come upon thee Those here following, which, although they be expressed in four words, yet may be fitly reduced to two things, namely, desolation by famine, and destruction by the sword. Who shall be sorry for thee Who is there left to take pity on thee, since thy children are all in as miserable a condition as thyself? See Isaiah 51:18; Isaiah 51:20. By whom shall I comfort thee What human means of comfort is there left for thee?

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 at the head of all the streets Dead by famine, or the sword of the enemy; as a wild bull in a net Those of them who are not slain are struggling for life. They are full of the fury of the Lord “The bold image of the cup of God’s wrath,” says Bishop Lowth, “often employed by the sacred writers, is nowhere handled with greater force and sublimity than in this passage. Jerusalem is represented in person, as staggering under the effects of it, destitute of that assistance which she might expect from her children, not one of them being able to support or lead her. They, abject and amazed, lie at the head of every street, overwhelmed with the greatness of their distress; like the oryx entangled in a net, in vain struggling to rend it and extricate himself. This is poetry of the first order, sublimity of the highest proof.”

Verses 21-23

Isaiah 51:21-23. Hear, thou drunken, but not with wine But with the cup of God’s fury, mentioned Isaiah 51:17. Thus saith the Lord That is, Jehovah; he that is able to help thee, and hath wherewithal to relieve thee; thy Lord That hath an incontestable right to thee, and will not alienate it; thy God In covenant with thee, and that hath undertaken to make thee happy; that pleadeth the cause of his people As their patron and protector, who, though he hath been angry with, and hath chastised thee, is now reconciled to thee, and will maintain thy cause against all thine enemies. I have taken out of thy hand the cup of trembling The bitter, intoxicating cup of my wrath; thou shalt no more drink it again No more lie under such judgments after thy prosperity in the latter days, Isaiah 52:1. But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee Compare Isaiah 49:26; Jeremiah 25:29; Revelation 18:6. Which have said to thy soul, Bow down, &c. Lie down upon the ground, that we may trample upon thee. “A very strong and most expressive description of the insolent pride of eastern conquerors, which, though it may seem greatly exaggerated, yet hardly exceeds the strict truth. See Joshua 10:24; Judges 1:7. The Emperor Valerianus, being, through treachery, taken prisoner by Sapor, king of Persia, was treated by him as the basest and most abject slave: for the Persian monarch commanded the unhappy Roman to bow himself down, and offer his back, on which he set his foot, in order to mount his chariot or horse, whenever he had occasion.” Bishop Lowth.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 51". Benson's Commentary. 1857.