Scripture reading – Isaiah 51; Isaiah 52

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Our study of the messianic prophecies of Isaiah continues with Isaiah 51 and Isaiah 52. The Messiah, the LORD Jesus Christ Himself, speaks throughout both chapters.


Isaiah 51

Isaiah 51 opens with three admonitions from the LORD: “Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness” (Isaiah 51:1-3), “Hearken unto me, my people” (Isaiah 51:4-6), and “Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness” (Isaiah 51:7-8). “Hearken” means to wake up or listen up. So, the LORD sent a message through His prophet Isaiah that it was time for the “righteous” to wake up and listen!


What was the LORD commanding His people to hear?

Hearken: Remember the Past (Isaiah 51:1-3)

Those who “follow after righteousness… [and] seek the LORD” were urged to look back and remember. “Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, And to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. 2Look unto Abraham your father, And unto Sarah that bare you: For I called him alone, And blessed him, and increased him” (Isaiah 51:1-2).

The “rock” and the “hole of the pit” (Isaiah 51:2) from where the LORD had found and taken Israel referred to Abraham and Sarah (Isaiah 51:2), for they were the ancestors through whom all the people of Israel descended (Genesis 12-25).

Hearken: Remember the Past (Isaiah 51:1-3)

Why was it necessary for God’s people to remember the past? Because the past proved the LORD’s faithfulness. Though the years of captivity would be dark, the people only needed to look to the past to know the LORD would perform all He promised. They could take “comfort” (Isaiah 51:3); though Babylon would waste Zion, the LORD promised the wilderness would one day bloom like the Garden of Eden, and her deserts become “like the garden of the LORD” (Isaiah 51:3b).

Where there had been sorrow and afflictions, there would be “joy and gladness… thanksgiving, and the voice of melody” (Isaiah 51:3c). God’s faithfulness in the past proved He would bless His people,

Hearken: Look to the Future (Isaiah 51:4-6)

I believe the Millennial Kingdom is the setting of Isaiah 51:4-6. Here the LORD foretold the day when “a law shall proceed from” Him; His judgment will serve as “a light of [for] the people (Isaiah 51:4). In that day, the LORD’s “righteousness is near” [literally, fixed or established], and His “salvation is gone forth” (Isaiah 51:5a). The LORD will judge the earth, and the “isles” (nations) will “wait upon…and trust” Him (Isaiah 51:5b).

On that day, the temporal nature of this world that was corrupted by sin shall perish, “for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, And the earth shall wax old like a garment” (Isaiah 51:6b). All sinners will “die in like manner (Isaiah 51:6c).

Two things that will never perish are the LORD’s “salvation” and His “righteousness” (Isaiah 51:6c). His “salvation shall be for ever, and [His] righteousness shall not be abolished” (Isaiah 51:6d).

The Cry of the Captivity (Isaiah 51:9-11)

Hearken: The Righteous Look Within (Isaiah 51:7-8)

The third admonishment is undoubtedly a comfort to people of faith, for it was addressed to those who “know righteousness…in whose heart is [God’s] law” (51:7a). They were admonished: “Fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings [abuses]” (51:7).

Friend, I don’t remember when righteousness was more reviled than it is today. Some reading this Bible study may be tempted to fear the reproaches of those who revile your faith. You might go to work, school, or another public setting, and there you will find the lost are emboldened when you are silent. To you, the LORD commands, “Fear ye not…neither be ye afraid” (Isaiah 51:7).

Why should we not fear the reproaches and scorn of others? Their taunting and curses are temporal (like a garment the moth eats and “the worm that eat [garments] like wool” (Isaiah 51:8).

The Cry of the Captivity (Isaiah 51:9-11)

Isaiah prophesied the Jews of the captivity would cry to the LORD for deliverance, saying, “Awake, awake [wake up], put on strength, O arm of the Lord; Awake, as in the ancient days” (Isaiah 51:9). God’s people remembered how He dried up the Red Sea for Israel to flee Egypt, therefore they cried to the LORD to make a way for them to return home (Isaiah 51:9-10).

Isaiah prophesied, “Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, And come with singing unto Zion; And everlasting joy shall be upon their head: They shall obtain gladness and joy; And sorrow and mourning shall flee away” (Isaiah 51:11).

The Awakening of Jerusalem (Isaiah 51:17-23)

The Compassion of the LORD (Isaiah 51:12-16) 

Isaiah prophesied that the LORD promised to Israel, “I, even I, am he that comforteth you” (Isaiah 51:12). Understanding the LORD is compassionate, Israel had no reason to “be afraid of a man that shall die, And of the son of man which shall be made as grass” (Isaiah 51:12). The God of Israel was the Creator (“thy Maker”), Who “stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth” (Isaiah 51:13).

Though they suffered the scorn and affliction of Babylon, the Jews were reminded that the LORD promised to deliver them (Isaiah 51:14). It was He “that divided the sea” (Isaiah 51:15) and put His words in the mouth of His prophet (Isaiah 51:16a). It was He who planted the stars in the heavens and laid the “foundations of the earth,” and said to the people of Zion (Jerusalem), “Thou art my people” (Isaiah 51:16).


The Awakening of Jerusalem (Isaiah 51:17-23)

 Jerusalem was eventually destroyed, and the people staggered in their afflictions as they drank the “cup of [the LORD’s] fury” (51:17). Bearing the weight of her sins, Isaiah prophesied that no one would come to Jerusalem’s aid (Isaiah 51:18). The prophet foretold the tragic state of Jerusalem’s fall: “Desolation, and destruction, and the famine, and the sword” (Isaiah 51:19). The inhabitants of the city would be weakened by famine, and like “a wild bull [ensnared] in a net,” incapable of saving themselves from “the fury of the LORD, the rebuke of thy God” (Isaiah 51:20).

Jerusalem would fall, not by drunkenness, but by the fierce wrath of God (Isaiah 51:21). Nevertheless, the LORD promised He would not forsake His people. Babylon would one day suffer the sorrows with which she had afflicted Jerusalem, and that great city would be humiliated and marched underfoot by her conquerors (Isaiah 51:23).

A stunning prophetic portrait of the Messiah’s character and a description of His physical suffering.

Isaiah 52

With the summons, “Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion” (Isaiah 52:1), the Jews were urged to look past the siege and destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity years in Babylon. 

Isaiah 52:1 portrayed the stirring of the Jews to return to their homeland and the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem (“Zion” is one of the hills upon which Jerusalem was built – Isaiah 52:1).  After suffering years of captivity, it was prophesied that the Jews would rejoice as they departed Babylon to return home, with the promise, “the LORD will go before you; and the God of Israel” will receive you  (Isaiah 52:7-12). 

I believe Isaiah 52:13-14 was a stunning prophetic portrait of the Messiah’s character [“my servant”] and a description of His physical suffering. Here we read, “His visage [appearance; face] was so marred [disfigured] more than any man, and His form [appearance] more than the sons of men” (Isaiah 52:14b). Isaiah 53 continued the prophetic record of the suffering of Christ and His rejection by those He came to redeemed (Isaiah 53:1-3).


Closing thoughts –

Tomorrow’s Bible study (Isaiah 53-54) will transport us from Isaiah’s messianic prophecies before the fall of Jerusalem to Christ’s sufferings and death on the Cross. I close with the words of the hymn, “He was Wounded For Our Transgressions.” 

“He was wounded for our transgressions
He bore our sins in His body on the tree
For our guilt He gave us peace
From our bondage gave release
And with His stripes and with His stripes
And with His stripes our souls are healed.”

Copyright © 2024 – Travis D. Smith 

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