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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Isaiah 51

 

 

Verses 1-3

God’s Call To His True People To Consider Abraham (Isaiah 51:1-3).

The first call goes out to ‘listen’. They are to hear His voice as He reminds them about Abraham, the man of faith, who is the father of all who have faith. He was blessed because of his faith (Genesis 15:6). Those who would be blessed must be blessed because of their connection with, and likeness to, faithful Abraham. And all has come from the one man to whom God had promised that he would become many.

Isaiah 51:1-2

“Listen to me you who follow after righteousness,

You who seek Yahweh.

Look to the rock from which you were hewn,

And to the hole of the pit from which you were dug.

Look to Abraham, your father,

And to Sarah, who bore you,

For when he was but one I called him,

And I blessed him and made him many.”

Isaiah now speaks to the believers in Israel, the faithful, those who follow after righteousness and seek Yahweh. To ‘seek’ does not mean try to find Him, but to seek to enter into all His fullness. They know Him and they want to enjoy Him more fully. He tells them to look to Abraham, their father, and to Sarah who bore them. They are now all seen as descendants of Abraham by faith, and within the line of promise through Sarah. He is the rock from which they were hewn, and if they look back they can see the hole in the quarry from which they were dug. They were dug out of him. Thus their position and privilege stems from Abraham.

This ‘descent’ was of course a descent through faith. The majority of them were not literally descended from Abraham. But they had all become linked in one way or anther with the family tribe of Abraham and the covenant with Yahweh. All who truly believe in Yahweh are thus sons of Abraham.

Coming in the midst of the Servant narratives this confirms our application of Isaiah 41:2-4; Isaiah 41:25; Isaiah 46:11 to Abraham. He was the one who came from the east and called on Yahweh and was blessed and made mighty. It was from him that they came. They were of his ‘stuff’, coming from Abraham who loved Him. Without the background there these words would have been of limited significance. It was because Isaiah has previously outlined his greatness and association with God that these words are so significant.

Both Isaiah 41:8 and this verse gain significantly from the background of Abraham’s call and activity. They are the many coming from the one, and associated with him as God’s Servant. They had entered the land in him. It was in him that they were called. It was in him that they were to be blessed. It was because Abraham, with Sarah their ‘mother’, was the called one who came and triumphed and defeated and trod down the enemy and divided the spoil (like a bird of prey) that he was so important. The land has become his through his descendants. The mention of Sarah is important because it limits the application of the illustration. It was only given to the spiritual ‘descendants’ of Abraham/Sarah, the children of promise.

It seems to us inconceivable that Isaiah would have introduced Abraham at these two vital points if he had not already provided us with a background to look to. He would not just assume that all Israel would recognise the greatness of Abraham without any reminder about it at all. His points are powerful exactly because he has previously portrayed that greatness. Without it Abraham is just introduced with no background.

But the stress on Abraham’s ‘oneness’ gives special significance to the previous reference to ‘the one’, the unique One, absent in Isaiah 50:2. Just as Abraham was called as one and became many, so the Servant is to be called as One and will be made many. God’s pattern is repeating itself. From the One will come the many.

Abraham was of course never literally ‘but one’. He came with his wife and his servants, and his herds and flocks. But he was ‘but one’ with regard to his position with God. Then all the others were irrelevant. It was one man and his God. It was from that relationship that the many were blessed. And thus is it to be with the Servant. From One Man and His God will come the promised blessing and the manifold seed and the division of the spoil (Isaiah 53:10; Isaiah 53:12), as with Abraham. So let them look back to Abraham to whom they trace their antecedents, and see that all that was promised in Abraham is now to be fulfilled in Yahweh’s greater Servant who is coming, the great Seed of Abraham.

Isaiah 51:3

“For Yahweh has comforted Zion.

He has comforted all her waste places,

And has made her wilderness like Eden,

And her desert like the Garden of Yahweh.

Joy and gladness will be found in it,

Thanksgiving and the voice of song.”

The blessing of Abraham is here described in the blessing of his seed, as though it were already accomplished. His being blessed was not just the blessing of having many seed, but of what that seed would enjoy. This is the ‘comfort’ to which Isaiah 40:1 referred. When God has completed His work all her wilderness and waste places will become like Eden, a new Paradise. The effects of the curse will have been removed. It will be made like the Garden of Yahweh. It will be filled with singing. And it is offered to ‘Zion’, God’s wayward people as symbolised by Jerusalem. If only they will they can respond and enjoy His blessing. The devastations of the past will be forgotten. The wilderness will become Paradise, and her people full of gladness and praise and song.

That this is not all intended literally again comes out in the application. It is not really a city which is to be blessed, but a people, and those people of widespread nature. For never again could they all join together in a literal Jerusalem. There would not be room for so many. It would have to be a new Jerusalem of vast proportions, a heavenly Jerusalem as the New Testament declares (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 3:12), just as God would visit His people with a heavenly Temple (Ezekiel 40-48). It is a picture of the sublime. This is even more exemplified in the next summons.

Note that we find here an echo of Isaiah’s previous promises in the first part of his book. Compare Isaiah 12:3; Isaiah 33:20-21; Isaiah 35:10 (quoted in Isaiah 51:11); see also Isaiah 11:5-10; Isaiah 49:10.


Verses 1-23

Chapter 51 Exhortations To The People To Respond To God.

We now have here three remarkable calls to faithful Israel, ‘listen’ (Isaiah 51:1) - ‘attend’ (Isaiah 51:4) - ‘listen’ (Isaiah 51:7). They have heard the voice of the Servant (Isaiah 50:10), now it is open to them to respond. And how are they to appreciate the truth about the Servant? They are to look back to Abraham, and to recognise how when he was but one God blessed him and made him many, and then they are to recognise in this new Servant someone who is similar to Abraham, for in His purposes Yahweh is planning to make His people fruitful and bring His blessing on them too, and all this will be through the One who will become many.

Indeed His instruction will go out to the nations, along with His saving purposes, and the isles/coastlands will wait for Him and trust in His arm. The heaven will disappear like a waft of smoke, and the earth will grow old and become worn out, but His salvation will be for ever, and His righteous deliverance will not be done away with.

So those who know His word must stand firm and not be afraid. They must be ready to face the reproach of men without fear or dismay, for while the rebellious against God will be eaten up as by moths, those who experience His righteousness and salvation will endure for ever.

Here Isaiah makes clear that he recognises that earth and heaven will pass away, but that God’s people will go on for ever within His righteous, saving activity. Thus in each case those who do hear and listen can look forward to the everlasting kingdom.

In the passage a clear distinction is made between faithful Israel and the Servant. It is in the Servant that Yahweh’s saving work goes on, and the people receive it at His hands. They are to trust and not be afraid as they behold His powerful activity.

The call then goes up to Yahweh to awaken and reveal His mighty power. He who destroyed Egypt and all that it stood for, can equally make a way for his people to go forward in triumph. All will be joy and gladness, and all sorrow and sighing will flee away. And then the ransomed of Yahweh will return to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads.

The chapter then finishes with a description of Jerusalem that reveals its present state, but even this ends with the assurance of God’s deliverance .


Verses 4-6

God’s Or The Servant’s Call To His True People To Consider His Everlasting Salvation (Isaiah 51:4-6).

His people are not just to listen, they must also pay heed. They must ‘pay attention’ to His instruction which will come through His Servant as a light to the peoples (compare Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6; and see Isaiah 2:2-4). They must respond to the salvation that He brings, which is both for Israel and for the Gentiles.

Isaiah 51:4-5

“Attend to me, O my people,

And give ear to me, O my nation.

For instruction (a law) shall go forth from me,

And I will make my judgment to rest for a light to the peoples.

My righteousness is near, my salvation is gone forth,

And my arms will judge the peoples.

The isles will wait for me,

And on my arm they will trust.”

The difficulty here is to know whether these are the words of Yahweh or the words of the Servant. If the words are Yahweh’s then here God refers to the work that His Servant will do as if it were His own (which of course it is). If the words are the Servant’s then they outline His coming activity. His own people and nation are to see and consider. His Instruction will go forth (compare Isaiah 2:3; Isaiah 42:4), and His righteous teaching and requirements, revealed in His jurisdiction over them, will ‘rest’ for a light to the peoples (Isaiah 42:4; Isaiah 49:6). It is to be their permanent experience.

All are to learn from Him. For His righteous activity is about to happen (is ‘near’ in God’s timing) and His deliverance has, as far as He is concerned, already gone forth (compare Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 46:13; Isaiah 56:1; Isaiah 59:16). It is on offer if men will but receive it. Then His arms will judge the peoples, bringing about justice and righteousness (they will be ruled under His mighty arm). He will Himself rule over them with power. The distant isles and coastlands will wait for Him in ready obedience (Isaiah 42:4; Isaiah 60:9) and they will rely on His power, His mighty arm. The tenor behind this is reminiscent of previous words to the Servant (Isaiah 42:4; Isaiah 49:6), thus linking Him with the promises in Isaiah 2:1-4. We can now be in no doubt that the message of the Servant is for all nations, and that He will ensure that it reaches them.

The plural ‘arms’ is indicative of the many ways in which God will protect and care for His people (compare Isaiah 30:30; Isaiah 33:2; Isaiah 40:11; ), the singular ‘arm’ stresses His mighty power on their behalf (Isaiah 40:10; Isaiah 62:8).

Isaiah 51:6

“Lift up your eyes to the heavens,

And look on the earth beneath.

For the heavens will vanish away like smoke,

And the earth will grow old like a garment,

And those who dwell in it will die in the same way.

But my deliverance will be for ever,

And my righteousness will not be abolished.”

The description above can only apply to an eternal kingdom, for here earth and heaven are to pass away. In a dying world, death is to be the lot of all men, but His people are to enjoy everlasting deliverance and permanent righteous rule. Compare Isaiah 26:19. So Isaiah is making clear that all His promises have been pointing towards that which is above.

The call is to consider both heavens and earth. Smoke in the heavens was regularly seen when armies invaded, when stubble was burned or when there were fires in forests and bushland. But always the smoke eventually faded and disappeared. So will the heavens disappear in days to come, rapidly like thinning, wispy smoke. Similarly the earth will age like old clothing ages, to be thrown away. The thought, in parallel to what happens to the heavens, is that it too will come to an end. What is more all earth dwellers will die ‘in the same way’, that is, like old, tossed aside clothing (compare Isaiah 50:9; Isaiah 51:8).

‘But my deliverance will be for ever, and my righteousness will not be abolished.’ In contrast this is promising life, continuing existence in glory, in contrast with the wispy smoke and the death just described, confirming that this is the everlasting kingdom, and it is after earth and heaven have passed away. The thought is not analysed and expanded on but the thought is clear. It strongly confirms that Isaiah’s many pictures of the future state do have what we would call ‘Heaven’ in mind. Compare here Isaiah 25:8.


Verse 7-8

God’s Call To His People Not To Fear Men Or Their Reproaches Because They Will Fade Away While God’s People Will Go On For Ever (Isaiah 51:7-8).

Again, for the third time, He stresses the importance of ‘listening’. They are to observe His instruction from their hearts. For those who have His instruction in their hearts need fear nothing, because they are not living in the light of this world, but of eternity. The world will pass away, but His word and His salvation will never pass away.

Isaiah 51:7-8

“Listen to me, you who know righteousness,

The people in whose heart is my instruction (law).

Do not fear the reproach of men,

Nor be dismayed at their revilings (virulent insults).

For the moth will eat them up like a garment,

And the worm will eat them like wool.

But my righteous deliverance (righteousness) will be for ever,

And my salvation to all generations.”

The fact that there are three calls emphasise the threefold completeness of the message. All are concerned with righteousness. In the first they are people who follow after righteousness and seek Yahweh (Isaiah 51:1). In the second His righteousness is near to come (Isaiah 51:5). Here in the third the hearers ‘know’ righteousness. Thus His faithful people are in mind.

In the second His instruction went out to the nations to enlighten them, here He speaks to those in whose heart is His instruction. It may be that we are to see a progression from the people who look back to Abraham their father, to the nations who receive His instruction and light and come under His righteous jurisdiction, moving forward to a combination of these two as one people, conveying the idea of the reproach that they will face, and the triumph that will be theirs.

If that be so He addresses all His own as a people who know righteousness, they have heard it spoken of, they have come to an understanding of it, and they live it out in their experience. And through it they know the Righteous One. (To follow after righteousness is to seek Yahweh - Isaiah 51:1). For His instruction is within their hearts. They love His Law.

The command to them is then not to regard the reproaches of men (’enosh - weak and frail man), or their insults and vile words, for they are to recognise that the destiny of such people is to wear away, for like old clothing they will be eaten by moths and devoured by worms. In contrast the faithful will enjoy God’s everlasting righteous deliverance, and a salvation that goes on and on and on. They will enjoy the everlasting kingdom.

Note again the similarities with 50. 6, 9. But while for the Servant in chapter 50 it was the present endurance that was in mind, here it is the reception of His word and of His instruction, and the future glory of His own, both Israel and the nations, that is emphasised. The work of the Servant has resulted in Israel turning to God and the nations receiving His light (Isaiah 49:6). His task is seen as fulfilled.


Verses 9-12

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 9-16

The First Call to Awake - Spoken To The Arm Of Yahweh (Isaiah 51:9-16).

Note that each call to awake is followed by Yahweh speaking to His people. It is a cry for Yahweh to awaken and act on behalf of His people.

Isaiah 51:9-11

‘Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of Yahweh.

Awake as in the days of old, the generations of ancient times.

Are you not it that cut Rahab in pieces, that pierced the monster?

Are you not it that dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep,

Who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over?

And the ransomed of Yahweh will return and come with singing to Zion,

And everlasting joy will be on their heads,

They will obtain gladness and joy,

Sorrow and sighing will flee away.’

Isaiah )or the remnant of Israel) reply to Yahweh’s wakening call and in turn call on the arm of Yahweh to awake and put on its strength (compare Isaiah 40:10; Isaiah 52:10; Isaiah 62:8). It is a cry for God to reveal His power as He has done in the past. To once more act as He did of old. For it was then that His mighty arm cut Rahab in pieces and pierced the monster. Here Egypt is vividly described in terms of a mythical monster as defeated by Yahweh (compare Isaiah 30:7; Psalms 89:10), but contained within it is the thought that no gods can stand before Yahweh. Then He dried up the sea, the mighty deep, and made a way for His redeemed people to pass through. (The excessive description of the Reed Sea comes from the myths which surrounded Rahab. He was seen as a monster of the deep). Now the cry is that He might do it again. He redeemed them then, so let Him now enable His redeemed people to return to Him and come with singing to Zion. This includes all His people who are redeemed, not just those in exile. All are to unite in returning to Him and coming to Zion (compare 35). The whole idea is of coming into His presence and becoming one with Him.

‘And everlasting joy will be on their heads. They will obtain gladness and joy. Sorrow and sighing will flee away.’ These words are cited almost exactly from Isaiah 35:10. The same words are here repeated emphasising the fulfilment of his prophecy soon to come. This is more than the earthly Zion, for here they will findeverlastingjoy. All will be gladness and joy. There will be no more sorrow and sighing, it will simply take to its heels and flee. It is the Paradise of Isaiah 51:3, the place of everlasting deliverance (Isaiah 51:6).

Yahweh then responds to the plea, speaking to His faithful ones in their weakness and fear.

Isaiah 51:12-13

“I, even I, am he who comforts you (masculine plural).

Who are you (feminine singular) that you (feminine singular) are afraid of man who will die,

And of the son of man who will be appointed to be made as (‘is given as’) grass,

And have forgotten Yahweh your (masculine singular) Maker,

Who stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundation of the earth,

And you (masculine singular) fear continually all the day,

Because of the fury of the oppressor, when he makes ready to destroy?

And where is the fury of the oppressor?”

Note the strength behind the reply. ‘I, I’ parallels the repetition in ‘awake, awake’. God wants them to recognise, that His reply is consonant with their concern.

The change from masculine to feminine and back again is puzzling under any explanation. It may arise from the fact that ‘who are you that you are afraid of man who will die’ was a well known saying and has been quoted verbatim without changing the ‘person’, with Isaiah knowing that it will be recognised, or it may be asking, ‘why are you behaving like a lot of women before frail man?’ Some see it as referring to Zion, Yahweh’s daughter, but why then is it followed by a masculine?

Whichever way it is the basic question is why they are terrified of frail mortal man (’enosh), the son of man who will wither and perish like the grass.

So Yahweh’s reply is that He is indeed there as the One Who will comfort them all, that is Who will act on their behalf with His strength, and will protect them. Why then is each one so afraid? They are not such as should fear man who keeps on dying and has been appointed to wither like grass. But they do fear because they have forgotten Yahweh Who made them, the same One Who by His mighty power stretched out the heavens and laid the foundation of the earth.

‘Yahweh your Maker, who stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundation of the earth.’ The contrast is powerful; weak, frail man who is like grass and Yahweh, the great Creator Who made the world, the grass, man and all that is in it.

So how foolish they are to fear the oppressor continually all the day because of his fury and intention to destroy. For where is his fury? From now on it will be as nothing, because Yahweh is at work.

Isaiah 51:14

“The one who cowers will speedily be set free,

And he will not die and go down into the pit,

Nor will his bread fail.”

So those who fear should not fear, for as they cower in their fear they will be set free (and should not therefore be cowering). Not for them to go down into the grave. They are awaiting God’s great deliverance. Indeed even their bread will not fail. For God is with them. This may have in mind the faithful among the exiles around the world, or it may simply indicate His people’s position as being like prisoners cowering in their cells, afraid and under the authority of outsiders, fearful of death or of not receiving sufficient food. The assurance is not that no one will suffer in the near future, but that all may recognise that in the final outcome they will prosper. We must keep in mind here Isaiah 25:6; Isaiah 26:19; Isaiah 53:10-12.

Isaiah 51:15-16

“For I am Yahweh your God,

Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar.

Yahweh of hosts is his name.

And I have put my words in your mouth,

And have covered you in the shadow of my hand,

That I may plant the heavens,

And lay the foundations of the earth,

And say to Zion, ‘You are my people’.”

And the reason why they need not fear is because Yahweh is their God, and it is He Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar. It was He Who stirred up the sea when they were redeemed from Egypt, and made the waves roar against their enemy. And He still has the same power, so that it is clear that they need fear no one. He is Master of the waves.

This continues the thought of Isaiah 51:9-10. He is the Master of the deep as revealed by His victory over Rahab/Egypt, but here the thought is not so much of His redeemed walking through the sea, but of Him as making the waves roar to defeat their enemies. For He is Yahweh of hosts, the God of battle.

‘And I have put my words in your mouth, and have covered you in the shadow of my hand.’ As His true and redeemed people they too will assist in the fulfilling of the Servant’s task. For God will put His words in their mouth (the tense indicating that it is already seen as certain and complete) and has brought them under His protection so that they might carry His words everywhere (Isaiah 2:2-4).

The shadow of His hand parallels the Servant’s protection in Isaiah 49:2. There it was connected with His sword. So here ‘my words in your mouth’ are probably to be seen as the equivalent of their receiving their sword with the protecting hand of Yahweh over them. It will be like the shadow of a tree protecting from the sun, although much more effective and substantial, protecting from all that can harm. They share the Servant’s weapons.

‘That I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say to Zion, ‘You are my people’.’ Thereby He will plant the heavens, lay the foundations of the earth, and be able to claim Zion finally as His true people. The new heavens and the new earth and the new Jerusalem are already envisaged (Isaiah 65:17-18), brought in by the activity of His Servant. ‘Plant’ and ‘lay the foundations’ are both indications of beginning a new thing. Note how Zion is no longer Jerusalem but represents His people.

We saw in Isaiah 51:6 that the heavens were to disappear in a similar way in which smoke disperses, and that the earth would grow old and worn, and that all in it would die. But here we have the consequence for the true people of God. New heavens will be planted, a new earth will be founded. And then His people will have full recognition for what they are. All this is the literal truth.


Verses 17-23

The Second Call To Awake - Spoken to Distressed Jerusalem (Isaiah 51:17-23).

These words are spoken in view of Yahweh’s previous ‘awaking’ (Isaiah 51:9) and are to stir up Israel to respond, having drunk sufficiently of God’s anger against their sins. Again it is followed by a word of assurance and promise from Yahweh. He will remove that which is causing her distress and her dreadful condition, and will pass it over to her enemies.

Isaiah 51:17

‘Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem,

Who has drunk at the hand of Yahweh the cup of his fury.

You have drunk the bowl of the cup of staggering,

And have drained it.’

Their position is first stated. They (represented as Jerusalem) had been under His wrath and made to drink of the cup of His fury, the cup that had rendered them helpless and unable to cope for themselves, so that they have staggered and collapsed. But now they have drunk it and drunk it to the full, so that His anger against their sin is over. The cup represents all the historical events that have come on them leaving them destitute and helpless, the consequence of God’s anger over the continual sin and rebellion that had finally become too much. ‘The cup of staggering’ does not just refer to being drunk, but to having come to such a drunken state that is impossible to recover. They have reached the final stages of delirium.

We can contrast the Lady Babylon on her throne, who was dragged down to her dreadful state (chapter 47) without hope, with this drunken helpless woman who is to be dragged up from her dreadful state by God’s rescue mission. When Babylon drags men and women down, God can lift them up again. God’s power works both ways.

So now they are to ‘stand up’. Note that while Yahweh’s arm was to ‘put on strength’ on awakening (Isaiah 51:9), all that is required of Jerusalem is that they ‘stand up’, that they stagger to their feet. All that is required is that they stand and see the salvation of Yahweh. Yahweh will do the rest.

The picture is vivid, Jerusalem slumped like a dishevelled woman by the wayside, drunk, prone and helpless, and now being exhorted to pull themselves together and stand up because God is about to act. For without God her situation is hopeless as we will now see.

Isaiah 51:18-20

‘There is none to guide her among all the sons that she has borne,

Neither is there any who takes her by the hand of all the sons that she has brought up.

These two things are befallen you, who will bemoan you?

Desolation and destruction, even the famine and the sword.

How shall I comfort you? Yours sons have fainted.

They lie at the top of all the streets, like an antelope in a net.

They are full of the fury of Yahweh, the rebuke of your God.’

But what hope is there for her if she stands up? There is no one to take her by the hand and lead her. She has had many sons, the people of Jerusalem and Judah, those who had claimed that they were the people of God, but they cannot help her. For they themselves have fainted away, having become hopeless drunkards, and having collapsed at the road heads, unable to get home. They are like an antelope caught in a net, thrashing about and not free to do anything, a permanent victim with no hope of recovery. For they too are under the heavy hand of Yahweh because of their sins, they are still surfeited with Yahweh’s fury, God’s rebuke.

And she has faced two things, desolation and destruction in terms of dire famine and sword (no mention of exile). This is what has actually caused her state, continual bouts of famine and invasion. But there is none to bemoan her for they are all taken up with their own deep problems. With her sons in the condition that they are, how is God to comfort her?

The aim is to demonstrate how totally helpless she is, so that from an earthly point of view God can find her no comfort. Her position is totally hopeless. What on earth can she do? The answer is, nothing.

However, there is an answer, and God will provide it. But before that answer is produced the truth must be out.

Isaiah 51:21

“Therefore hear now this, you afflicted and drunken, but not with wine.”

Here is the truth of the matter. Her drunkenness is not due to wine, it is due to that which has brought on them God’s wrath and rebuke, His fierce anger (Isaiah 51:20). It is due to sin. It is due to an oversurfeit of wickedness and rebellion against God. And it results in their not being aware of Yahweh’s words (Isaiah 29:9-10). This is why no one can help her, for her sins are too deep-dyed.

Isaiah 51:22

“Thus says the Lord Yahweh,

And your God, who pleads the cause of his people.

See, I have taken out of your hand the cup of staggering,

Even the bowl of the cup of my fury.

You will no more drink it again.

And I will put it into the hand of those who afflict you,

Who have said to your inner heart, ‘Bow down that we may go over’.

And you have laid your back as the ground,

And as the street to those who go over.”

Indeed her full humiliation is now described. As a drunken woman in the street those who had afflicted her had taunted her and told her to lie there while they walked all over her, and she had done as she was bidden. She had become the lowest of the low, the drunken plaything of drunkards. Everyone walked over her. This scene of a misused, drunken woman is played out in many drinking places around the world. It is a sign of the world’s sinfulness.

But now Yahweh steps in, the One Who makes the plea for the cause of His people, their judge. He will take the cup from her hand, the cup that is causing her all the trouble, and give it to those who afflict her. She will be released from her problem, and it will be laid on others. She has Yahweh’s promise that she will be made free. It remains for the next verses to reveal how this will come about.

‘The Lord Yahweh.’ Unusually, in this phrase ‘Lord’ is in the plural. Perhaps the idea is to bring out that He is not only her Sovereign Lord, but also her ‘lord’ as her husband or parent (Isaiah 54:5) He is acknowledging responsibility for her. Or it may be placing great stress on Lord, a plural of intensity.

We note here a typical Isaianic reversal. In Isaiah 51:17 it was ‘the cup of His fury -- the bowl of the cup of staggering’, here it is ‘the cup of staggering -- the bowl of the cup of His fury.’ Fury begins and ends the situation, resulting in the staggering.

‘You will no more drink it again.’ Isaiah thus has the final everlasting kingdom in mind. The cup will then be given to those who take part in the final judgment.

Who then is Jerusalem in this sad picture? As with all illustrations we must not press too closely. In one sense it is all Israel, for all will be welcomed if they come. Certainly they are all drunk and have drunk of the cup of His fury. But in the finality it is those who will respond and will come to Yahweh, and listen to the voice of His Servant. It is only they who can be sure that the cup of Yahweh’s fury has been taken from them. It is only they who can stand rightly and recover to walk again. And certainly it is they who are spoken of in the next verses. It is the holy seed who come from the remnant who are left (Isaiah 6:13).

 


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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 51:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-51.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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