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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Isaiah 51


An exhortation, after the pattern of Abraham, to trust in Christ, by reason of his comfortable promises, of his righteous salvation, and man's mortality. Christ, by his sanctified arm, defendeth his people from the fear of man: he bewaileth the afflictions of Jerusalem, and promiseth deliverance.

Before Christ 712.

THE second section of this discourse, containing the Messiah's consolation of his church, is divided into two parts. The first part contains a general consolation; the foundation whereof is laid in the origin of their nation, in Abraham and Sarah; Isaiah 51:1-3. The latter part contains a particular consolation; drawn, first, from the calling of the Gentiles, to be enlightened with the doctrine of the Messiah, Isaiah 51:4-5.; secondly, from the abolition of the old oeconomy, and the firm duration of the new, Isaiah 51:6.; thirdly, from the weakness and destruction of the enemies opposing the church, first, Jews, Isaiah 51:7-8.; secondly, Gentiles, and particularly the Romans; which should end in the foundation of the new oeconomy, Isaiah 51:12-16. An apostrophe of a chorus of believers is inserted in the midst, Isa 51:9-11 wherein they pray that the Messiah would exert the same power in procuring for his church the inheritance of the world, which he had formerly exerted in delivering it from Egypt, and procuring for it the inheritance of Canaan.

Verses 1-2

Isaiah 51:1-2. Hearken to me, &c.— The Messiah, about to comfort the true church remaining in the land of Judea, which consisted of a small number, called by him a little flock, and whom he had just before marked out as a small company fearing the Lord,—begins with a gracious address, calling them a company following after righteousness, seeking Jehovah, and demanding attention from them. He orders them to look to Abraham and Sarah, from whom they derived their original, who alone being called by God to enjoy the blessings of a new and higher dispensation, were increased by his remarkable blessing, and multiplied into an immense number; that they might understand hereby, that they, the true heirs of the blessing of Abraham, should enjoy the same privilege of the divine blessing: and this foundation of comfort being laid down, Isa 51:1-2 he immediately explains the purpose of the divine grace, whereby it was determined to place the church, formed of this seed, in a happy and prosperous state, abounding with all the goods of divine grace and true consolation, that they might exhibit a type of the blessing of Abraham and Sarah, Isaiah 51:3. The reader will easily discern that the third verse is figurative: in its primary sense referring to the state of Sion, after the restoration from Babylon; in its secondary and spiritual sense, to the redemption of the church by the Messiah, and the consequent blessings of grace. See chap. Isa 49:19 Isaiah 52:9.

Verses 4-5

Isaiah 51:4-5. Hearken, &c.— The prophet, continuing the discourse of the Messiah, explains particularly what he had expressed in general, and shews that the first benefit prepared for the comfort of the afflicted church is, the faith of the Gentiles, who were to be brought by the doctrine of the Gospel to the knowledge and worship of the true God; which is the sum and argument of these verses. See chap. Isaiah 42:4-6. Vitringa, instead of, I will make my judgment to rest, &c. reads, I will set my judgment, &c. Mine arms shall judge the people, refers to that vengeance which should accompany the establishment of the Gospel, and which was particularly visible in the punishment of the Jewish nation, when they were rejected, and the Gentiles chosen in their stead.

Verse 6

Isaiah 51:6. Lift up your eyes, &c.— The prophet here, as a second argument of consolation, foretels the abolition of the old oeconomy, and the establishment of the new. He speaks of the old oeconomy, or politico-ecclesiastical, under the figurative ideas of heaven and earth, so usual with the prophets, which are supposed to vanish and be destroyed, with all their inhabitants, while a new heaven, and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness, under the oeconomy of the Messiah, is here said to be established. See Vitringa. Instead of, shall die in like manner, we may read, shall die like an insect or a worm.

Verses 9-11

Isaiah 51:9-11. Awake, &c.— Rouse, rouse, &c. Rouse,—art thou not that which hewed down Egypt, which mortally wounded the crocodile or dragon? Isaiah 51:11. And the redeemed, &c. upon their head: joy and gladness shall attend them: sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Thus far the Messiah had addressed his believing people; but here the Holy Spirit exhibited to the prophet, according to the series of times and things, a fearful struggle of the church with the Roman empire, to continue a long time before the people of God should be entirely delivered from it: the Holy Spirit shews him in figure this spiritual Egypt in all its strength and power, with the Red Sea like a fortification opposing the church; that is, with the sanguinary persecutions which the saints were to undergo. About to console the church against this evil, (which consolation begins at the 12th verse,) a chorus of believers is here introduced, entreating God, that, as formerly, for the deliverance of his people from Egyptian bondage, he had given specimens of his power and justice in the destruction of his enemies and the salvation of his people; so now, at this time, he would exert his omnipotence, in destroying the spiritual Egypt of the Roman empire, and its power, and in drying this Red Sea; that is, in stopping the violence of those sanguinary persecutions, by which this empire defended its religious errors: to this votive apostrophe, contained in the 9th and 10th verses, an answer is adapted, Isa 51:11 teaching that God consented to the wishes of his saints, and would take care by his providence that his church should at length be placed in such a state, as to be able to enjoy the communion of his faith with the utmost liberty, security, and gladness. There can be nothing more sublime and elegant than the apostrophe in these verses.

Verses 12-16

Isaiah 51:12-16. I, even I, am he that comforteth, &c.— The apostrophe being finished, wherein the foundation of this consolation was laid; the thread of the discourse is resumed, and the consolation is continued, which seems more properly to belong to the Father in this place than to the Son; and the sum of the discourse is, to fortify the people of God against the fears and dangers threatened by the adversaries of the true religion, and the princes and chief of those adversaries, who endeavoured by every method to draw the confessors of the true religion from the faith, or at least by threats of the most grievous punishments, to draw them to a public denial of their faith. Vitringa renders the 14th verse, The captive exile shall soon be loosed; and he shall not die in the pit, neither shall his bread fail. That is, "When the fury of the oppressor, and the tyrannical persecutions spoken of in the preceding verses, are over, the persecuted and afflicted shall soon enjoy their liberty, and the consequences of it." The meaning of the next two verses is this: that all the greater commotions which are raised in the world, some of them immediately in opposition to the church of God, and, as it seems, about to overwhelm it, are subject to the Divine Power, and are appeased according to his wisdom and good pleasure: but, in the mean time, he takes, and will always take, such care of his church and its teachers, that, covered by his counsel and providence, they may be preserved to perfect the great work of the new oeconomy, prepared and designed for his glory. I have put my words in thy mouth, Isaiah 51:16, refers primarily to Christ, and secondly to Christ's mystical body; and therein to the pastors and teachers. See chap. Isaiah 59:21. Planting the heavens, and laying the foundations of the earth, refers to the same idea with that in Isaiah 51:6. The meaning is, perfecting the work of the new oeconomy. See chap. Isaiah 65:17 Isa 66:22 and Vitringa.

Verse 17

Isaiah 51:17.— From hence to the 61st chapter, follows the third and most extensive discourse, in which the state of the church, from the times of the Maccabees, but particularly of Jesus Christ and his kingdom, is foretold, to the end of the world; yet so, that in describing the corrupt times of the church, (which is done in Isaiah 56-58) the depraved state of the church, which preceded the times of the Maccabees, is alluded to, and the phrases frequently taken from thence. The whole discourse may be divided into nine sections. The first, which is preparatory, is contained in ch. Isa 51:17 and ch. 52. The second in ch. 53; the third in ch. 54; the fourth in ch. 55; the fifth in 56; the sixth in 57; the seventh in 58 and Isaiah 59:15; the eighth in Isaiah 59:16-21.; the ninth in ch. 60: The occasion of the prophesy is taken from the preceding discourse, ch. Isa 49:1 wherein the mystery of the humiliation of the Messiah, his exaltation, and the calling of the Gentiles, being proposed, it seemed good to the Holy Spirit to take this occasion to speak of that mystery more at large; for it was of consequence to the church to have the events of the new oeconomy described, as in a picture, from its first beginning to its consummation; particularly to have clearly set forth, and preserved in the treasures of the prophetic word, the doctrine concerning the most bitter passion of the Messiah, the grand foundation of salvation, that there might not be left any objection for incredulity. This section may be divided into four parts, according to the four scenical periods observable in it. The first apostrophe is directed to the church, wherein it is commanded to raise itself up from its state of affliction; and here, first, the afflictions which the church had sustained are enumerated, Isaiah 51:17,—20; secondly, deliverance is promised from these evils, and leverage upon her enemies, Isaiah 51:21-23. The second apostrophe is directed to the same church, about the time of the approach of the Messiah's kingdom; wherein she is ordered to put on dress, to adorn herself agreeably to the state of an oeconomy of grace and liberty, ch. Isaiah 52:1-2. Secondly, the occasion of that exhortation or command is delivered; namely, the approaching redemption of the church, Isaiah 51:3. Thirdly, the reason of that command, and of the necessity of redemption, is explained from the condition of the church, detained a long time in captivity and servitude, corporal as well as spiritual, but now to be delivered by their God present with them, Isaiah 51:4-6. Next follows an exclamation of a prophetical or evangelical chorus; wherein is set forth the greatness and excellence of the blessing of the Gospel, to be promulgated through the whole world, by preachers appointed for that purpose: and here we have the exclamation itself, Isa 51:7-8 and an address to the renewed church, exhorting it to joy on account of this benefit, Isaiah 51:9-10. The third apostrophe is directed to the preachers of the Gospel; wherein, first, they are animated and excited to undertake this expedition, and are instructed concerning the manner of undertaking it, Isaiah 51:11-12; secondly, the basis and foundation of the kingdom of God, to be established among the Jews and Gentiles, is laid down; namely, the obedience unto death of the Messiah to his Father amidst the greater sufferings, and the exaltation which should follow it, Isaiah 51:13-15.

Verses 17-20

Isaiah 51:17-20. Awake, &c.— Rouse, rouse,—cup of reeling, and drained them out: Isaiah 51:18. There is none to lead her along among all the sons, &c.: Isaiah 51:19. Those two things are come unto thee, (who can sufficiently lament thee?) desolation and destruction; even famine and sword: How shall I comfort thee! Isaiah 51:20. Thy sons have fainted away: they lie, &c. as a stag in a net. Vitringa supposes that the ancient church, delivered from the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, and which was in immediate expectation of the kingdom of the Messiah, is here addressed. He describes this church figuratively, as intoxicated to the highest degree of stupidity by her enemies; compelled to drink the very dregs of the cup, that none of the wine might be lost; and at last left, more like a dead person than a living one, in the street, to be trodden upon by all, and her very sons, by whom she ought to be carried home, and refreshed with water, lying drunken also in the street, Isaiah 51:20. It is very plain that the Christian church cannot be here addressed, because the afflictions here specified were those of anger and punishment. See Acts 2:13; Acts 2:15.

Verses 21-23

Isaiah 51:21-23. Therefore hear not, &c.— To the church, lying in the condition above described, but soon to rise, soon to emerge from her afflictions, to be avenged of her enemies, and to be clothed with honour, the consolation in these verses is addressed, which have nothing difficult in them. We may just observe, that the horrid image in this whole apostrophe is worked up with all the colourings of terror, and this allusion to the vice of drunkenness is frequent in Scripture: the following passages will throw light on our prophet: Jeremiah 30:8; Jeremiah 30:11.Joel 2:19; Joel 2:19. Amos 9:14. We may read Isaiah 51:22. The cup of reeling or the intoxicating cup:—Thou shalt no longer drink of it. Last clause of Isaiah 51:23. And as the street to the passengers.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, This chapter may be considered in one sense as intended for the comfort of Israel in Babylon, but in its grand and more important sense refers to the Gospel dispensation.

1. The character of God's people is here described. Ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord; who earnestly embrace the righteousness of faith, seek the Lord in all his appointed ordinances, and desire to walk before him in all holy conversation and godliness.

2. Their duty is set before them: in general, to hearken to all God's words, and particularly to look back with humility on their low original, and with faith to trust God in the time of their deepest distress, who is as able to save them, and increase his church, as to deliver Abraham from his idolatrous country, and make him the father of many nations. Note; (1.) It is good for a child of God to be often remembering the hole of the pit, the state of nature and sin whence he hath been digged, to keep him ever humble before God. (2.) What God hath done of old for those who trusted, as Abraham, implicitly on his promise, should encourage us to follow their faith, and to hope for their blessing.

3. In the way of duty God will meet them with his consolations. The Lord shall comfort Zion, his church, and every member of it, with the discoveries of his love. He will comfort all her waste places, where, through the ravages of persecution, few faithful remained; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; so flourishing and fruitful; and this will yield matter of abundant consolation to the saints, as well as glory to God: joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody. Note; (1.) It is matter of greatest joy to the soul, when God is pleased to change its desert state of nature, and, by his grace renewed, to make it flourish as the garden of Eden. (2.) The tribute of praise is the least we can render for the mercies that we continually receive from God.

2nd, God promises to comfort his church, and we have here abundant ground of consolation set before us, from the views of the transcendent glory of God our Saviour.
1. We are told who they are that have an interest in him: My people, my nation, that generation of faithful Jews and Gentiles incorporated, that make one body, of which Christ is the living head; ye that know righteousness, in whose heart is my law; faith working by love, and engaging a willing obedience to all God's commandments. Reader, is this thy case?

2. A repeated and solemn call is given to these, to hear him who speaketh from heaven, and brings to men the knowledge of salvation. Note; They who would know God's mind and will, must be attentive to his word.

3. The glad tidings that Christ brings are delivered.
[1.] A law shall proceed from me, the law of the Spirit of Life, the Gospel; and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people; his word shall gain a firm establishment, and be not merely the light of Israel, but of the ends of the earth.

[2.] In this Gospel, one grand object is the great atonement wrought out by the Redeemer in behalf of fallen man—the meritorious cause of the salvation, which is, in consequence thereof, bestowed upon them that believe.
[3.] This atonement is near, and this salvation is gone forth; openly preached in the word of the Gospel, and is near to every sinner, from whom no previous qualifications are required, except a consciousness of guilt—whenever he receives God's record as true, that moment he becomes entitled to the salvation promised.

[4.] Mine arm shall judge the people; either the arm of the Lord shall be revealed to them in mercy, and they shall trust in it, as will be the case of those who embrace the proffered salvation; or he will visit those who neglect so great a mercy, and punish them for their unbelief.

[5.] This atoning merit of the Redeemer shall be eternal: it is not only free for all nations, but enduring through all ages. The heavens will decay, and the earth be destroyed, but this will abide unchangeably the same.
[6.] They need not fear the reproaches and revilings of men, who have an interest in this infinite merit and this salvation: they are to expect their cross; but it is their glory, not their shame.
[7.] Christ will silence and destroy shortly all their enemies; and when, through the ages of eternity, his glorified saints shall be rejoicing in consummate bliss, they who have rejected it must lie down in torment, where their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched.
3rdly, God had promised to bring near his salvation; the church immediately in prayer cries to him to hasten it in his time.
1. His people pray that he would awake, and put forth his mighty power for their salvation: not that he ever sleeps or slumbers; but, when the faithful are diminished and brought low, he seems to forget their distresses. Confident of his power, they plead their former experience of it, when in the plagues of Egypt he made bare his arm, and, in the deliverance of Israel from that house of their prison, wrought such miracles on their behalf. Confident of his love, they promise themselves a speedy answer; that he will bring them to Zion with songs, banish their sorrows, and crown them with everlasting joy. This may refer to the restoration of the Jews from Babylon, or the church of Christ, when Babylon mystical is fallen. And it is applicable to every faithful soul, which here, beset with enemies, is driven to God in continual prayer for help and succour, through grace is enabled to triumph over all difficulties, and in death goes to the heavenly Zion, where all the tears of the saints will be for ever wiped away, their sorrows be eternally banished, and joy unspeakable and full of glory glow in their bosom; while amid the enraptured hosts of saints and angels they join in the everlasting songs of a Redeemer's praise.

2. God, whose ears are ever open to the prayers of his people, answers them to their utmost satisfaction: I, even I, am he that comforteth you; and when he, who is the fountain of mercy, and the God of all consolation, gives such an assurance, what can we need more?

[1.] He comforts them under their fears. Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die? &c. However the oppressors threatened, the greatest before God were but dying worms, and frail as the withering grass; and therefore their continual fears were groundless and unreasonable; nay, they were dishonourable to God, and shewed a forgetfulness and distrust of his almighty power and grace. Note; (1.) A sense of the vanity of man will greatly tend to deliver us from the fear of offending in the way of our duty; for what is the wrath of a dying worm, compared with the favour of the living God? (2.) We often create ourselves needless disquiet, and tremble at consequences and events which never come to pass. (3.) The causes of all tormenting fear is our unbelief. One thought of God, with fixed dependence upon him, would bear us above all frowns and threatenings.

[2.] He will loose them from their bonds. The captive exile hasteneth that he may be loosed: it is a natural desire, and he is solicitous for the time to come; and that he should not die in the pit, the house of his prison; nor that his bread should fail, and he die with hunger. And such might be the fear of some of the Jews in Babylon, and is the case of timid believers at times, when under temptation they are ready to despair of themselves; but I am the Lord thy God, that divided the sea, whose waves roared; as when he once opened a way for his ransomed to escape out of Egypt, so will he from Babylon; and thus shall all his captive exiles, all faithful souls, be set free, whatever spiritual bondage for a time they may endure: the Lord of Hosts is his name, and therefore able to accomplish all his promises.

[3.] He will fulfil his word to the uttermost in the establishment of his church. I have put my words in thy mouth; Christ, the great prophet, being authorized and sent of the Father to publish the Gospel: and have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand; protected him, and his ministers commissioned by him to preach his word, with whom God is to the end of the world, maintaining them against all opposition; that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth; the Gospel church, bright as the heavens in purity of doctrine and worship; and strong as the foundations of the earth, against which the gates of hell can never prevail: and say unto Zion, Thou art my people; the spiritual Zion, where Jews and Gentiles, all the faithful, incorporated together, become one fold under one shepherd.

4thly, Jerusalem here appears sunk under her calamities into the stupor of despair; or, like Ezekiel's dry bones, in a state of death.
1. God calls aloud, Awake, Awake! and his voice can raise the dead, and rouse the soul from the depths of despair. Deplorable indeed was her case: for grievous provocations she had been made to drink the cup of fury and trembling to the dregs. Most aweful judgments had been poured upon her, and like one intoxicated with wine, weak and feeble, she became an easy prey to the invader. None of all her sons was able to help or support her; king, priest, and prophet had failed. Two things had come upon her, a state of abject misery, and not a friend to comfort her. Famine, desolation, destruction, and the sword, had cut off all ranks, and the few who were left, though despairing, were furious; though fainting with hunger, impatient under God's rebukes, and quarrelling with his providences, instead of meekly humbling themselves for their sins. Note; (1.) If judgment thus begin at the house of God, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear? (2.) When we have been unfaithful to God, let it not be thought strange, if our nearest relatives prove unfaithful to us. (3.) None can comfort the soul against which God rises up in displeasure. (4.) Too many under God's visitations, instead of being abashed by them, madly quarrel with his providences. (5.) They but entangle themselves the more, and add to their plagues, who struggle in his net.

2. God's compassions toward them are still manifested: though they deserve wrath to the uttermost, in the midst of judgment he remembers mercy. Therefore hear now this, thou afflicted, and drunken, but not with wine; stupified with the weight of calamities, and an object of God's pity. Thus saith thy Lord the Lord, and thy God, who, notwithstanding all provocations, hath not utterly cast them off; that pleadeth the cause of his people, to the confusion of their enemies; Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; the punishment inflicted is enough; thou shalt no more drink it again; the sin forgiven, the curse shall be removed; and I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee; of the Babylonian, and, in future time, of Babylon mystical; which have said to thy soul, Bow down, that we may go over; not only enslaving their bodies, but tyrannizing over the souls of men, the distinguishing mark of the antichristian church, who set up an infallible head, and require implicit obedience: and thou hast laid thy body as the ground, and as the street to them that went over; reduced to the most abject state of distress, see Revelation 11:2.; but now the time is come to vindicate their quarrel, and execute judgment on their oppressors. Note; (1.) It is often the case of God's people to be in tribulation. (2.) However the cause of godliness may be oppressed, it will appear triumphant at the last. (3.) They who have been persecutors of God's people, will find him the avenger of their wrongs.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 51". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.