Isaiah 51:17-53:9

It is worthy of note that in the passage before us there are three calls to hearken and three to awake. Those called upon to hearken in the early part of the chapter-verses 1, 4, 7-are those who "follow after righteousness . . . that seek the Lord;" those acknowledged as "My people;" and those, "that know righteousness . . . in whose heart is My law." The emphasis clearly is on righteousness, for nothing that contravenes that is going to stand.

The first call to awake is addressed to the "Arm of the Lord." (Verse 9), for all is dependent upon Him. When the hour strikes for Him to awake and put on strength, there will be witnessed the awakening of Jerusalem, as indicated in verse 17, and again in the first verse of Isaiah 52. The awakening that will come to pass will not be merely a political or national one, but will rather involve a deep spiritual work, as is made plain when chapter 52 is reached. It will come to pass only when Jerusalem shall have suffered to the full the chastising government of God, having drunk to the dregs the cup of His fury and of their trembling.

So first of all, in the closing verses of Isaiah 51, we get a recital of the effect of these disciplinary dealings, and then the declaration of how God will reverse the process, and chastise those who inflicted judgment upon Israel. But there will have been not only the sword of their enemies afflicting them but also famine, which comes from the hand of God. Under the affliction they are depicted as "drunken," but it is added, "not with wine." When the Arm of the Lord awakes on their behalf, the hour of their deliverance will strike, and the "cup of trembling" be taken out of their hands and put into the hands of their oppressors.

Then it is that Zion and Jerusalem not only will awake but also will put on strength, as the first verse of chapter 52 says. The language is figurative but quite clear in its import. At last holiness will mark the city and all that defiles be outside. It will be like a resurrection from the dust of death, and a release from the bands of captivity. They had sold themselves by their idolatry and sin, and gained nothing by it. Now they are to know redemption, but not by a money payment, as was customary in the days of slavery. The price of their redemption is unfolded when we come to Isaiah 53.

In verse 4, Egypt and Assyria are mentioned. In Daniel 11, these are referred to as "the king of the south," and "the king of the north," and at the present time these two powers are coming into prominence. They are noted by God, and from them Israel will be redeemed; but only when the prediction of verse 6 comes to pass.

When owned as "My people," they will have come really to know Jehovah. He will present Himself to them as, "I am He . . . behold it is I." Darby's New Translation informs us that we have here the same expression as in chapter 41: 4, and it might be translated, "I the Same." All their long centuries of sin and defection have not altered His nature and character in the slightest degree. What He was to them at the outset, that He is to them still.

They will discover too that the Messiah, whom they crucified, is "the SAME, yesterday, and today, and for ever;" and then the glorious tidings of verse 7 will be announced. To Zion it will be said, "Thy God reigneth," and in the light of the New Testament we well know the Person in the Godhead who will actually ascend the throne. Then at last there will be the peace, the good, the salvation, of which this verse speaks. The feet of him who shall herald such news will be beautiful indeed. As Christians we know these things already in a spiritual way, and the heavenly regions, rather than Jerusalem and its mountains, are our place But though that is so, let us rejoice in the coming deliverance of Zion, and the beauty of the One who is going to accomplish it.

The verses that follow state the happy effects that will be seen when in the Person of the once rejected Messiah God is reigning in Zion. Watchmen usually lift up the voice to warn but now it will be to sing, and moreover there will be no disharmony for they will agree in what they see. And indeed the joyful song will be universal, breaking forth even in "waste places of Jerusalem." It will be a song based upon the redemption wrought for them by the Lord.

It is remarkable how throughout the Scriptures singing is recorded as the response to redemption. Though songs are mentioned as something that might have taken place, in Genesis 31: 27, the first actual record of singing is in Exodus 15, when Israel had been redeemed out of Egypt Then in Psalm 22, where the death of Christ for our redemption is prophesied, the first result mentioned is a song, though the word does not actually occur in the Psalm. It does occur however in Hebrews 2: 12, where the Psalm is quoted. Again, just after the verses before us, we get the wonderful prophecy of the death of Christ in Isaiah 53; and the very first word of Isaiah 54 is, "Sing."

In verse 9 of Isaiah 51, the Arm of the Lord was called upon to awake: in verse 10 of our chapter it has awakened, and the mighty effect of the awakening has been unveiled in the eyes of all the nations. Not only Israel but all men will see the salvation of God come to pass.

Verses 11 and 12 stand by themselves and reveal another effect of this great work of God. Hitherto defilement had marked the people, whether personal or caused by lack of separation from defiling things. The double cry of "Depart," indicates urgency. Neither Israel nor we, who are Christians, are to traffic in unholy things. Separation is essential, for as Titus 2: 14 tells us, Christ "gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity." This we have to learn, and Israel too will learn it in the coming day.

And if they or we should feel that to depart thus from iniquity is sure to cost us much, we need nevertheless have no fear about it. In our passage verse 12 gives Israel the needed assurance. God will be their Defender, and cover their rear as they depart from the evil. A similar assurance is given to us in 2 Corinthians 6: 17, 18, where God in His Almightiness and Majesty declares He will own as His sons and daughters the saints who are separate from the world and its evils.

With verse 13 there begins the central chapter of the last 27. As before pointed out, the 27 divide into three sections of 9 chapters; each section ending with solemn judgment upon the wicked - (Isa. 48: 22; Isa. 57: 21; Isa. 66: 24). In this central chapter of the central section we reach the supreme height of the prophecy, and are at once confronted with one of the greatest of the Divine paradoxes, since at the same time we touch the deepest depths, into which the Messiah descended for our sakes.

In Isaiah 49 Jehovah's Servant was presented as apparently failing in His mission to Israel, and yet glorious in the eyes of God. Now His public exaltation and glory are declared, since He has acted with such great prudence, or wisdom; and in 1 Corinthians 1: 23, 24, we are told that "Christ crucified" is not only the power but also "the wisdom of God." His exaltation shall be definitely related to His previous humiliation. "As many were astonished" at the depth of His suffering and degradation; "So . . . the kings shall shut their mouths at Him," silent and ashamed. Some translate "astonish" instead of "sprinkle." If, however the word "sprinkle" be retained, we should connect it with the use of that word in Ezekiel 36: 25, where it clearly has the force of an act of blessing toward Israel.

The general force of these three verses that conclude our Isaiah 52, is perfectly clear. This meek and lowly Servant of Jehovah, who descended to such unheard of depths of humiliation, is going to come forth in a power and splendour that will astonish all mankind. His exaltation in the heights shall be commensurate with the depths into which He went. Now, who believes that?

This is exactly the question with which Isaiah 53 opens. This being the prophetic report; who believes it? And further; who recognizes that the suffering Servant and the glorious Arm of Jehovah are one and the same Person? We must underline in our minds the last word of verse 1, for we should never have discerned it had not a revelation been made. A parallel thought occurs in Matthew 16: 17, where Peter's recognition and confession of Christ as "the Son of the living God," was declared by our Lord to be the fruit of revelation from the Father. That revelation- whether we express it as given in Isaiah or in Matthew-has come, we trust, to every one of our readers, and a thrilling revelation it is. The chapter proceeds to show that the rejection and death of the humbled Servant does not in any way contradict the predictions of His coming glory as the Arm of the Lord, but is rather the great foundation on which it is securely based.

Verse 2 presents Him to us in two ways. First, as He was in the eyes of God. Mankind in general, and Israel in particular, had proved themselves to be "dry ground," quite unproductive of anything that was good; yet out of this there sprang up this "tender plant," which drew its life and nourishment from elsewhere. The Lord Jesus truly sprang out of Israel, through the Virgin Mary His mother, but the excellence of His holy Manhood was due not to her but to the action of the Holy Spirit of God.

But second, He is presented as He was in the eyes of men. He had "no form nor lordliness," (New Trans.), nor the kind of beauty that men admire and desire. Some haughty, imperious man of imposing appearance would have caught the popular fancy; but instead of this He was "a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief," as verse 3 says. Being who He was, such a One as He could not be otherwise, as He entered and walked through a ruined creation with all its degradation and woe. This men did not understand, since they were insensible to their own degradation, and consequently they despised and rejected Him, as the prophet here predicts.

How do we Christians go through the world today? Let us challenge our hearts. The world today is in principle what it was then. Here and there more polish may be seen on the surface, but on the other hand the population of the earth has increased enormously, and so its miseries have multiplied. Hence, as the Apostle has told us, "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Rom. 8: 22), and we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, are involved in it and groan within ourselves. Now groans are the expression of sorrow. He, who today most largely enters into heaven's joys, will most keenly feel earth's sorrows.

The language here is remarkable. The prophet is led to predict the rejection of Christ in words that will express the feelings of a godly remnant of Israel in the last days, when Zechariah 12: 10-14, is fulfilled. Then they will say, "we hid as it were our faces from Him . . . we esteemed Him not." Identifying themselves with the sin of their "forefathers, they will confess, not that the forefathers did it, but that we did it. This will be a genuine repentance.

Moreover their eyes will be opened to see the real meaning of His death, as verses 4 and 5 show. In the days of His flesh men observed His sorrows and His grief, and deduced from them that He was disapproved of God and therefore afflicted by Him. Now the real truth of it all bursts upon their hearts. They will discover what has been revealed to us, as recorded in the Gospel: He exerted His miraculous power with such sympathetic effect in the healing of men's bodies, "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses" (Matt. 8: 17).

But if verse 4 is their confession of the truth concerning His wonderful life of sympathetic and sorrowful service, verse 5 gives the confession they will make as the true meaning of His death dawns upon them. They discover that He died as a Substitute, and it was even for themselves. This discovery we all make today as we believe the Gospel. The word, substitution does not occur in this verse, but the truth that word expresses does occur four times in this one verse, and it occurs ten times in this one chapter.

Now here is a remarkable fact:- as printed in our English Bibles, verse 5 is the central verse of this chapter, which really begins with verse 13 of Isaiah 52 It is therefore the central verse of the central chapter of the central section, of this latter part of Isaiah. And without a doubt it predicts truth which is absolutely central to our soul's salvation, and in our soul's experience. The transgressions, the iniquities were mine,each of us has to say, but the wounding, the bruising were not mine but His. The peace, the healing are mine, but the chastisement, the stripes that procured them, were not mine but His. In all this He was my Substitute.

This thought is again emphasised in verse 6, and it is made plain that His substitutionary work was the fruit of an act of Jehovah, for He it was who laid our sins upon Him. In these verses, we must remember, the "we" and the "us" are those who believe, whether ourselves today or the godly remnant of Israel presently. And those who believe are those who have first confessed their sinnership; all going astray like lost sheep, though the way we took may have differed in each case. Sin is lawlessness; the doing of our own will, regardless of God's will, and the going of our own way independently of Him.

In verses 7-9, we have a series of remarkable prophecies, all of which were fulfilled on the very day of our Lord's death. Indeed it has rightly been pointed out that at least 24 Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the 24 hours that comprised that day of all days, when the Son of God bowed His head in death.

Verse 7 emphasises His silence before His accusers. When men are oppressed and afflicted unjustly, to protest is natural and most usual, so His silence was contrary to all experience, and it is noted in the Gospels - Matthew 27: 11-14; Mark 15: 3, 4; Luke 23: 9; John 19: 9. Truly a sheep is dumb before the shearers, as anyone may observe today if they stand and watch the shearers at work, but He was not like a sheep being sheared but rather like a lamb led to the slaughter. He was indeed "the Lamb of God," as John the Baptist proclaimed, yet no word of protest escaped His lips.

Then further, "He was taken from prison [oppression] and from judgment," for it is still what men did to Him that is before us in these verses. If we turn to Acts 8: 26-40, we find that the Ethiopian had in his reading of Isaiah reached exactly this point, when Philip intercepted him in his chariot. He was doubtless reading from the Septuagint version in Greek, which renders it, "in His humiliation His judgment was taken away." It was so indeed, for the trial of our Lord, resulting in His condemnation and crucifixion, was the most atrocious mis-carriage of justice the world has ever seen. A legal expert has surveyed the evidence of the Gospels, and stated that every step taken by His accusers and judges, whether Jews or Gentiles, was irregular and unjust.

And the prophetic declaration of the result is, "He was cut off out of the land of the living," or as the Ethiopian read it, "His life is taken from the earth." Hence the prophet says, "Who shall declare His generation?" and to this question men would unanimously reply that, His life being taken, no generation was possible. When we reach verse 10 of our chapter we shall find the answer which Jehovah gives to this question, and it is a very different one, inasmuch as He was cut off and stricken not for Himself but for the transgression of those whom Jehovah calls "My people." We have left the verses which give confessions which godly Israelites, and ourselves also, have to make, for oracular statements made by the prophet in the name of Jehovah.

So also in verse 9 we hear the voice of the Lord, declaring how He would overrule the circumstances connected with His burial:-"Men appointed His grave with the wicked, but He was with the rich in His death." (New Trans.) And so it came to pass. He was crucified between two wicked men, though one of them was gloriously saved before he died; and if men had had their way they would have flung His sacred body with those of the thieves in a common grave, but by the intervention of Joseph of Arimathea this was prevented, and His body lay in the new tomb belonging to Joseph. God always has the needed man for His work. Joseph was born into the world to fulfil that one line of Scripture! That one act covers all that we know of Joseph. In doing it He served the will of God.

In the margin of our reference Bibles we are told that in the Hebrew the word "death" is really in the plural-"DEATHS." It is what has been called the plural of majesty. Though crucified between two thieves, His death was MAJESTIC-ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands of deaths rolled into one.

By Joseph's act the prophecy of Psalm 16: 10 was also fulfilled. The Holy One of God was not suffered to see corruption. He had done no violence nor was there deceit, or guile in His mouth. Violence and corruption are the two great forms of evil in the earth. Both were totally absent in Him. Without corruption in His Person and life, there was no touch of it in His death or His burial. Thus far we have seen how God overruled the purposes of wicked men. In the remaining verses we are to see what God Himself achieved in His death and the mighty results that are to follow for Him and -blessed be God:-also for us, who believe in His name.