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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 52



The same call, Awake, awake, (as at Isaiah 52:9, in the preceding section,) is to Zion, or to Zion-Jerusalem; Zion as representing a redeemed people delivered to their old Jerusalem home. The scene is changed. She is not now addressed as a prostrate, stupified woman in Babylon, but as a gloriously-renewed community, and hidden now to intense arousement (out of her stupefaction) to hope and to high cheer as to the future. The scene is Jerusalem, and the representation is that of the grandest revival throughout the spiritual Israel.

Verses 1-2

1, 2. Put on… strength Not splendour, (Gesenius,) but “strength,” imparted through conscious union with Jehovah.

Beautiful garments Rather, garments of beauty, giving the prominence really due to the latter noun, itself alone expressing the intended chief thought, which is holy character; “garments” being the embellishments with which the character is set off. Such character the people of Jerusalem are assumed now to possess, and to have no further association with the uncircumcised and the unclean, who have already had too much to do with defiling the purity of Israel.

Shake… from the dust A contrast is here intended with the description of Isaiah 47:1. Zion has long been a captive seated on the ground, clothed with sackcloth, and dust on her head; but she is now bidden to shake off the dust of her captivity, and to stand or sit in her complete freedom.

Bands of thy neck The Hebrew text is expressive:

Loosed are the bands, or chains, which held thee in slavery; arise, and be at energetic work.

Verses 3-6

3-6. Shall be redeemed without money As the Babylonians paid no price for Israel, so they shall receive none for her return. God punishes injustice all round. His people, long time ago, went down to Egypt ostensibly to stay only till provision for their families should be obtainable in their own country. And because Egypt unjustly enslaved them, God overthrew the Egyptian king and his hosts. Equally, without cause, the Assyrian also became the oppressor of Israel.

Now… what have I here That is, in the matter of remuneration to the Assyrio-Babylonian. On his part he carried Israel away unjustly, and cruelly treated her. Yet now these oppressors howl and rail at Jehovah for reclaiming his own with no offer of pay. Israel, indeed, was at fault, but not against the Babylonians. She sold herself to captivity, but this injury was toward God, for he had the exclusive right to ownership in her. The honour of Jehovah himself demanded her restoration without price, for she was sold for nothing; he had in return for her just nothing, except infamy upon his holy name. Because the desolation of Jerusalem for so long a time has been an injury to him, to his honour, he will now (Isaiah 52:6) reveal his name.

My people shall know my name Whether he is thought of as El, or Elohim, or Jehovah, in each, or in all together, his name signifies the absolute, eternal, peaceful One, sole Creator and Ruler of all things.

In that day The day when his Jerusalem-Zion and her people shall be completely restored, historically and spiritually, these wicked oppressors and all the oppressed shall know, and my people emphatically shall know, that I am he that doth speak. That is, that He who promised redemption is now present as the true and omnipotent One to carry it into effect.

Verse 7

7. The scene changes here in Jerusalem, and the prophet represents the watchmen on the lookout toward Babylon, as if expecting what, in an instant they see, namely, the swiftly coming messenger on the distant Judean hills. Then the exclamation: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet, etc. The joyful expectation, now sure to be soon realized, is what gives the word “beautiful” its meaning. Glad tidings borne by any one, however ugly, makes the bearer an agreeable object. In this scene the message brought was the oncoming of the returning exiles to their spiritual Jerusalem. Figuratively, this verse applies to a glorious religious prospect in any period.

Verse 8

8. Thy watchmen… lift… voice Watchtowers along the line are here supposed, on which runs, from one to the other, the shouts of the coming caravans.

They shall see eye to eye This means, that so near to each other are the watchmen that they all in succession see face to face, not only of one another, but also of the exile columns as they advance and pass on their way. Other explanations are given of this phrase, but the scene is one of poetic movement, and no other explanation seems so well to fit it.

Verse 9

9. Break forth into joy, sing The scene again shifts. Zion is restored. Her exiles are home again. They are bid to break forth into joyful song, because what has been heretofore a word of consolation is now an act of consolation; and jubilee shouting is now the appropriate thing.

Verse 10

10. The Lord… made bare his… arm As conqueror, Jehovah has effectually wrought deliverance, to which all nations are witnesses; and his salvation through Messiah is now to be published and embraced as far as to the ends of the earth, and to all ages unto the end of the world. The salvation of our God is the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This salvation is for all.

Verse 11

11. Depart ye, depart ye, etc. The language here is of high poetic scope, and though allusive of departure from the old Babel-home, from analogy with chap. Isaiah 48:20, yet the reference must be general. The renewed and cleansed in every age, and from every den of capture, whether Sodom, Egypt, or Babel, must betake themselves away, away, for so Alexander, following Gesenius, translates the words, and so St. Paul applies them, 2 Corinthians 6:17-18.

Touch no unclean thing Not the slightest memento. Probably the returning exiles were all natives of Babylon. Utter renunciation of things belonging to that polluted land was, however, only all too appropriate.

Bear the vessels of the Lord It is known that Nebuchadnezzar took away from Jerusalem all the golden service-vessels from the temple, and that Cyrus ordered their return. See 2 Chronicles 37:18; Daniel 5:2-5; Ezra 1:7-11. The application of these words to ministers of the Gospel has no original warrant except as being secondarily very apt.

Verses 11-15

Sec. 3. MESSIAH AND THE GOSPEL, Isaiah 52:11 to Isaiah 55:13.

Thus far in this chapter is treated the case of an exalted Church passing, step by step, through suffering and deliverances into the purity of the typical holy Zion; from this point the view is turned again to the “Servant” of Jehovah, through whom the prophet has seen the Church to be redeemed. The portrait of a suffering servant is here filled out in detail, as a side-piece (Delitzsch) to the liberation and deliverance of Zion-Jerusalem already just depicted. He has conducted his people through suffering to glory.

This picture is to show, not only that Messiah’s earthly pathway, as our Mediator, is to be through intense, but voluntary, suffering, but also that it is in his heart also to suffer for and instead of, as well as with, his people.

Verse 12

12. Ye shall not go out with haste, nor… by flight As went Israel from Egypt in earlier history. This is but an illustrative allusion. The present redeemed Israel has matured to high and blessed trust in Jehovah, who is near to them, who is both before them and their rear-guard to protect. They have nothing to fear, and they may possess themselves in perfectly peaceful calmness. How true to the case of the sanctified Christian as compared with his earlier experiences. God is consciously present to protect in every emergency.

Verse 13

13. This verse states his career in terms undeniably generic.

My servant shall deal prudently Or, he shall act wisely. Coming from the bosom of Jehovah to redeem the race, he knows its condition and the means to recover it to himself. He will not infringe upon its moral liberty, yet he will institute a system all his own, but open to the free action of men toward him, to own him as their Saviour and King. And this shall result in his exaltation.

He shall be exalted and extolled He will, through results of his mediatorial work, be raised to supreme dignity, or, more specifically, be raised high exceedingly.

Verses 14-15

14, 15. The more specific details of his condition follow in these verses. The prophecy concerning him begins in the protasis, (Isaiah 52:14,) as an address, first to him, but passes in the apodosis (Isaiah 52:15) at once to remarks concerning him, a change quite common with Isaiah when under intense emotion.

Many were astonished at thee The appearance of such humility in the Messiah when he should come is, as the prophet foresees, to be a marvel and an astonishment to the Jews. He is wholly to disappoint carnal minds, who look for outward signs of royalty.

His visage was so marred This is an explanatory parenthetic sentence, giving reasons for the astonishment expressed in the first words, or protasis. “Marred,” not from injury as yet inflicted by man, but from sadness on account of man, more serious (and almost terror-struck) than any man is accustomed to exhibit. Part of this, namely, low birth, poverty, etc., was chosen, and partly, it was from ill treatment of man in refusing him as the true Messiah; also from unrelieved sensitiveness at the guilt of the world’s sins. These were sufficient to render his aspect that of a burdened, wearied man. Men of carnal ambitions reasoned thus: Was the Messiah to be of this appearance? Could the Messiah of Isaiah, pictured as a man of greatness, beauty, glory, be so disfigured? What more astonishing! Isaiah 52:15 silently admits it to be even so, yet declares (apodosis) so shall he sprinkle many nations. And this shall be the greater wonder (Septuagint) to many. That is, he shall rain his grace of purification upon them. Reacting mercy shall close the mouths of kings from uttering scorn of him, lowly though he be, deformed by suffering though he appear. For in even this, men shall discover more beauty and glory than ever prophetic words had revealed. By very reason of immaculate purity thus discovered, and of truth, goodness, and saving power, they shall see in him greatness in all dimensions far beyond the conceptions which prophetic words had shaped for them.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 52". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.