Isaiah has been prophesying to the people explaining why they can put their hope and trust in the Lord during their time of suffering and disaster. God is proving to his people that they are not forgotten. God will send the Servant to be light to the nations, reconciling the peoples to him. The Servant will be disgraced by the people but vindicated by the Lord. God continues to offer messages of hope describing what his future kingdom and people of that kingdom will be. This becomes instructive for us since we are the people of God in that kingdom now. So the promises given are the hope we have in the Lord. In these two chapters God is going to give three promises, two pictures of comfort, and a call to action.
Promise 1: God Will Restore (51:1-3)
The three promises are delineated by the three calls for the people to listen to the Lord. Isaiah 51:1, 4, 7 all begin calling for the people to listen to what God has to say. The first promise is that the people must be comforted by looking at how God is able to restore. In verse 2 God tells the people to look at what he did for Abraham. Abraham was only one person and it was physically impossible for him to have a child. But God turned that one person into a mighty nations with thousands of descendants. God tells the people to not forget the miracles that he is able to accomplish on their behalf. When God determines to do something, nothing can stop him. Even the obstacle of Abraham and Sarah being too old to have children is not an obstacle at all. Therefore, it is no obstacle to God to restore the covenant to his people.
Promise 2: God Will Teach The World (51:4-6)
The second promise is that God will instruct the world. God’s revelation and instructions would not be limited to the physical nation of Israel any longer. Rather, God would reveal his laws and teach his ways to the whole world. Everything else can pass away around them, but God’s faithfulness (righteousness) and salvation to the world will not vanish or disappear.
Promise 3: God Will Give Lasting Salvation (51:7-8)
The third promise is that those who have the teachings of the Lord in their hearts will experience lasting salvation. God is faithful to his people and he has promised salvation to those who know him. What glorious promises God has given that we can find our hope in today! God would restore his covenant so that he would have a covenant people who would belong to him and he would bless. God would teach the world so that those who could belong to this covenant would not be Jews only, but anyone who listened to God’s instructions and put their instructions in their hearts. This is a picture of the true people of God. We have hope in salvation knowing that we have put the teachings of God in our hearts and made active those teachings in our lives.
Prayer and Response (51:9-16)
Between the three promises of God and the two comforts for his people, we read a prayer to God (51:9-11) and a response from God (51:12-16). It appears that Isaiah, speaking on behalf of the people, is calling for the Lord to act now based on those very promises. The call is for the arm of the Lord to be awaked. The arm of the Lord is a symbol of God’s power (cf. Exodus 6:6, Deuteronomy 4:34). As God destroyed Egypt (Rahab is a symbol in the Old Testament for any group of people who oppose God) and set his people free from slavery, so do it again so “the ransomed of the Lord will return and come to Zion with singing.”
God responds that there is no reason for his people to fear others. Never forget the power of God who has chosen you to belong to his covenant. God will destroy the wrath of your oppressors. God says that he has covered his people in the shadow of his hand. But then the most beautiful words. God says to Zion, “You are my people.” The bunch of sinners are allowed to hear the gracious words from God, “You are my people.” This transitions the reader into the three comforts God gives to his people. These are statements so that his people will have hope and know that they truly are God’s people.
Comfort 1: God’s Wrath Has Ended (51:17-23)
The two comfort declarations are delineated by the call to wake up (51:17, 52:1) and then there is a call to go (52:11). The first comfort is that God has decreed an end to God’s wrath.
Thus says your Lord, the LORD, your God who pleads the cause of his people: “Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more; and I will put it into the hand of your tormentors, who have said to you, ‘Bow down, that we may pass over’; and you have made your back like the ground and like the street for them to pass over.” (Isaiah 51:22–23 ESV)
This is a great truth for us to recognize and consider. The only escape that can be found from the wrath of God is in the mercy of God. The only reason we are able to escape God’s wrath is because he says that there is mercy to be received. There is nothing we can do to move ourselves away from the condition of deserving the wrath of God. God does not turn his wrath away from Israel because of their righteousness. The people are steeped in wickedness. Rather, God simply provides mercy. Comfort is found, not by looking at ourselves for all that we do reminds us of how the wrath of God is deserved, by looking at the Lord who decrees mercy on those who do not deserve mercy. The more we try to look at our actions for comfort, the more we will be discomforted. But when we look to the God of all comfort, only then are we able to have hope of mercy for our sinful condition.
Comfort 2: You Are Holy (52:1-10)
The second comfort is God decreeing that Zion is no longer polluted and defiled. Awake and wear your beautiful garments. The imagery is similar to Zechariah 3 where Joshua as the high priest representing Israel is now given clean clothes rather than the filthy clothes stained with sins. The imagery sounds like the saints in the book of Revelation who are wearing white robes because they have overcome with the Lamb. This is a God-given holiness, not an intrinsic holiness. God is cleaning his people up from the mess of their sins and setting them free. God has no trouble setting his people free. They went into slavery without price. God will redeem them without cost. God saved his people from Egypt and saved them from Assyria (think of the angel of the Lord saving Jerusalem from the 185,000 soldiers of Assyria). Babylon is nothing before God.
In fact, the salvation of his people is so determined by the Lord that verses 7-10 pictures the messengers going out with the good news of salvation. The news is that the salvation is already accomplished (even though it had not occurred yet). But this is another instance of prophetic certainty. God has determined that salvation will come so it will come. God pictures the message of deliverance going throughout the earth, declaring the good news of peace. Notice what the message of the gospel is: “Your God reigns.”
Now it is easy to read this and think that this is about Israel’s release from Babylon. But listen to what the apostle Paul says in Romans 10:13-17.
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:13–17 ESV)
The good news is not release from Babylon. The good news is that your God reigns. Now God’s wrath has ended and we are declared holy as his people. That is the proclamation that must be advanced throughout the earth. As Paul says: how can people believe if they do not hear this message that God reigns? And how can they hear without someone preaching? And how are they going to preach unless people are sent. Therefore, faith comes from hearing the message of Christ for Christ is the answer to how God’s wrath has ended and we are declared holy. Our comfort and strength are in this gospel message.
Notice what the people are doing when they receive this message. They are breaking out with singing (52:8-9) because God has comforted his people. God has redeemed his people. God reigns and has acted on behalf of his sinful creation. Isaiah predicted it with certainty. The apostle Paul says that we see the fulfillment of these prophetic words in Jesus, not in the return to Babylon. In Jesus, God has shown his holy arm to the world and has sent salvation to the ends of the earth (52:10). We have been set free. We are to constantly rejoice in that message and then send that message out because others cannot believe unless they hear the message of Jesus proclaimed.
Go Out In Freedom (52:11-12)
The final two verses of this declaration of hope describes what we are to do now that we have been set free through Jesus from our sins. The call is for his people to live in holiness. God has set you apart and purified you to belong to him. The last thing we are to do is go back into our sinful ways that enslaved us. We have been purified and set apart to walk away from the ways of the world. Do not act like the world. Do not think like the world. Do not look like the world. The apostle Paul used this prophecy when he wrote to the Corinthians.
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14–18 ESV)
God has called us to be light. We must live like our calling and not go back to the world of darkness. Purify yourselves (52:11). Look at verse 12 for it is an amazing picture. When God’s people were to leave Egypt, they were to leave in haste (cf. Exodus 12:11). Not so with our exodus. Our exodus is not like then with a physical nation chasing us out of the land. So there is no need for haste. But notice what we do have from that exodus in our exodus from sin. The Lord will go before us and will be our rear guard. This is what God did for his people in the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 14:19). God lead them and protected them from behind. God is leading us and protect us spiritually as we go. So the pilgrimage life as begun. We are not acting like the world but are walking to the goal of the promised land with God leading us and protecting us, proclaiming the good news that our God reigns as we go. Take comfort. God’s wrath has ended. You are set apart for a holy life. Live as children of light with the confident hope that we are his children, secure in his grace.