52:1 Wake up! Wake up!
Clothe yourself with strength, O Zion!
Put on your beautiful clothes,
O Jerusalem, holy city!
For uncircumcised and unclean pagans
will no longer invade you.
Awake, awake – God’s people are to rouse themselves from a sense of worthlessness, having been defiled, v1, enslaved, v2, sold, v3, oppressed, v4, and mocked, v5 (Prior). Let them awake from their despondency, their distrust, their dullness (see MHC).
Previously, Isa 51:9, it was God who was urged to awake and put on his strength.
‘The Awake of this passage is a call to expectation and preparedness.’ (Prior) We have previously been told of Babylon’s fall into humiliation; now, conversely, we learn of Jerusalem’s rise in dignity, ‘to become a powerful queen, sacred minister, and independent woman’ (Goldingay).
‘Look at this solemn fact — the Church of the living God asleep! Here are they who have been quickened from the death of sin into newness of life, and who have been called to walk with the living God, asleep. The people who are summoned to work in the field of the world, and to labour in the vineyard of the kingdom of heaven, asleep. The only people who can reasonably be expected to be awake and wide-awake, are asleep. Asleep, not in healthful, seasonable, necessary slumber, but asleep in the slumber of the sluggard, or the sleep of the drunkard, or the torpor of one smitten by atrophy or by apoplexy, or of one in a fatal swoon.’ (S. Martin)
As causes of such sleep, Martin suggests: ‘the intoxicating draught of some sinful carnal pleasure, or the opiate of some false doctrine, or the quietude of sinful inertness, or the darkness of cherished ignorance, or the monotony of formality, or the syren music of false teaching.’
As consequences of this sleep, says Martin, ‘Zion doth not sympathize with the circumstances by which she is surrounded, she does not see the objects within range of her vision, she does not feel the influences which are moving and working around her, she does not meet the claims made for exertion, she does not enjoy her mercies, or take possession of her lawful inheritance.’
Garments of splendour – cf. Ex 28:2. This is a call (as Wiersbe points out) not only to wake up, but to dress up.
The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again – ‘The exclusion of the uncircumcised and the defiled should not be read as the product of a harsh nationalism but as a reminder that the alien had so often entered Jerusalem either to conquer or to pollute its worship or both (cf. Ps 79:1).’ (EBC) Goldingay thinks that these terms denote Israelites (for, he says, only Israelites can be ‘defiled’, and they could certainly be metaphorically ‘uncircumcised’).
‘This must be understood with a condition. If they keep close to God, and keep in with him, God will keep off, will keep out of the enemy; but, if they again corrupt themselves, Antiochus will profane their temple and the Romans will destroy it.’ (MHC)
The fact that Babylon is not mentioned by name in this chapter is an indication that the more distance future of God’s people is in view here.
Contrast the ‘nothing’ which characterises Zion in her own eyes and those of her enemies (powerless, naked, defiled, enslaved, worthless, oppressed, mocked) with the ‘much’ that she is and will be in the eyes of her Lord (strong, beautiful as a bride, regal as a queen, priceless).
52:2 Shake off the dirt!
Get up, captive Jerusalem!
Take off the iron chains around your neck,
O captive daughter Zion!
Shake off your dust – The days of your mourning are over, you are about to be restored in your beauty and splendour.
Rise up, sit enthroned – Arise from the dust, and sit in the place of honour and dignity.
Free yourself from the chains on your neck – They had long been in captivity; now they were about to be freed.
52:3 For this is what the LORD says:
“You were sold for nothing,
and you will not be redeemed for money.”
Sold for nothing – The idea of ‘worthlessness’ is prominent here. But it is evident too that if a succession of captors – Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon – had paid nothing for Israel and therefore never ‘owned’ her, she still belonged to the Lord. It is equally true that they can be redeemed wiothout any money changing hands.
‘The main object of these verses [3-5] is to rid the redemption metaphor of any notion of a commercial transaction.’ (NBC)
‘Sadly, as we all know, those who are treated as nothing eventually come to feel that they are nothing…and it is hard to awaken people to love and life and confidence again when they have sunk so low.’ (Prior)
Without money you will be redeemed – ‘Redemption is essentially a price-paying concept, so what does without money (lit. ‘not for money’) mean? Either without cost to you, or by some payment other than money. Someone else will pay—and the price will not be silver (1 Pet. 1:18–19).’ (Motyer)
Consider how costly, in monetary terms, most redemptions are. But God redeems his people for nothing..
This raises the question of how the payment will be made, and by whom. The next chapter will supply the answer.
52:4 For this is what the sovereign LORD says:
“In the beginning my people went to live temporarily in Egypt;
Assyria oppressed them for no good reason.
As is so often the case in Isaiah, there is an appeal to history in order to demonstrate that God can do again what he has done before.
52:5 And now, what do we have here?” says the LORD.
“Indeed my people have been carried away for nothing,
those who rule over them taunt,” says the LORD,
“and my name is constantly slandered all day long.
“Now what do I have here?” – or, “What was I doing here?” (Goldingay); the time has come for the Lord to end his time of puzzling inactivity, and resume the task he had set himself.
This verse offers three reasons why the Lord will redeem him people: they were taken away for nothing, they have been grievously oppressed, and the Lord is determined to uphold the honour of his own name (on this latter, see Isa 48).
The Lord calls them ‘my people’, and declares that his own ‘name’ is at stake in how they have been treated. ‘No one whom the Lord values so highly can be worthless, no matter what indignities they have suffered.’ (Prior)
“All day long my name is constantly blasphemed” – See Rom 2:24.
‘During the Captivity, God’s name was blasphemed because the enemy taunted the Jews and asked them why their great God did not deliver them (Pss. 115; 137).’ (Wiersbe)
‘The proud and oppressive Babylonians delight to add to the sorrows of the exiles by reproaching the name of their God, and by saying that he was unable to defend them and their city from ruin.’ (Barnes)
52:6 For this reason my people will know my name,
for this reason they will know at that time that I am the one who says,
‘Here I am.’ ”
In that day – when they return from exile.
52:7 How delightful it is to see approaching over the mountains
the feet of a messenger who announces peace,
a messenger who brings good news, who announces deliverance,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
‘Here [vv7-10] the prophet brings together a number of important themes, virtually identifying peace, salvation, and the kingdom of God, reminding us that Christ’s work secures these and every other blessing for God’s people. How fitting this is just prior to the fourth Servant Song (52:13–53:12), in which the sufferings of God’s Servant are described and their significance expounded!’ (EBC)
In these verse, we learn of (and look forward to) the reigning God (v7), the returning Lord (v8), and the redeeming Saviour (v9).
‘The application of v. 7 to the preaching of the gospel (by the apostle, Rom. 10:15) plainly intimates that that deliverance was a type and figure of the redemption of mankind by Jesus Christ.’ (MHC)
With his mind’s ear, the prophet has heard footsteps racing across the mountains. They belong to messengers, who bring tidings that the battle has been won.
‘He came to declare that the long and painful captivity was closed, and that the holy city and its temple were again to rise with splendor, and that peace and plenty and joy were to be spread over the land.’ (Barnes)
This passage has a number of connections with other Scriptures. The idea of the beauty of the messenger’s feet is picked up from (or by) Nahum (Nam 1:15). The declaration that ‘Your God reigns’ is reminiscent of Psa 98-99.
It had long seemed that God did not reign. But events will show that he does rule over all. In the NT, we learn the fuller truth that in Jesus God’s reign has come (cf. Mk 1:15). Goldingay says: ‘The restoration of the Judean community constituted a foretaste of the full implementation of Yahweh’s reign rather than its final implementation, and the same will be true of the coming of Jesus. The foretastes give grounds for believing that completion will come.’
If a herald bringing news of the end of Israel’s captivity caused such joy, how much more welcome should be the herald who tells the good news that God has made peace with humanity?
‘All events have their rise in the disposals of the kingdom of his providence and their tendency to the advancement of the kingdom of his grace. This must be applied to the preaching of the gospel, which is a proclamation of peace and salvation; it is gospel indeed, good news, glad tidings, tidings of victory over our spiritual enemies and liberty from our spiritual bondage. The good news is that the Lord Jesus reigns and all power is given to him.’ (MHC)
52:8 Listen, your watchmen shout;
in unison they shout for joy,
for they see with their very own eyes
the LORD’s return to Zion.
To the joyful tidings of the messengers is joined that glad response of the lookouts on the city walls. They have seen the victorious army returning, led by its all-conquering King.
When the Lord returns to Zion – When, and how, did this take place? The return of the exiles was certainly a fulfilment of prophecy (Jer 25:12; 29:10; cf. 2 Chr. 36:22; Ezra 1:1), Yet it was not all they had hoped for (Neh 9:32-36), prompting the belief that something bigger and better lay ahead (Isa 2:3; 65:18f; Jer 3:17; 33:16; Eze 48:35; Joel 3:17f; Mic 4:2; Hag 2:9; Zech 14:8). So, although at the close of the OT the exile is in one sense over, it is not clear that the Lord has ‘returned to Zion’ (cf. Eze 43:1-5).
By the time we teach the NT, then, we find godly Jews who are still waiting for the ‘consolation of Israel’, and the ‘redemption of Jerusalem’, Lk 2:25, 38. Such waiting included a Messianic hope, that ‘Jerusalem would one day welcome her long-awaited king (Zech. 9:9), a new branch from David’s line (Jer. 33:15–16); at that time the city’s people would be cleansed and her temple visited (Mal. 3:1–4), and God’s Spirit would be poured out (Joel 2:28–32).’ For the NT writers, these prophecies had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and it is no accident that his life and ministry were bound up so closely with Jerusalem associated as it was with ‘the presence of the divine Name, the throne of the true King, the place of true sacrifice, the centre of Israel’s life and the focus of its eschatological hope.’ (P.W.L. Walker, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, art. ‘Jerusalem’, on which the following remarks are also based)
It is deeply ironical, of course, that Jesus goes to Jerusalem, not to be welcomed as Messiah, but to be rejected and to die, Mk 8:31. He had longed to gather its children together, Lk 13:34; but instead it would be besieged by the Roman armies, Lk 19:43, ‘because you did not recognise the time of God’s coming to you’, Lk 19:44. The city has missed its moment of destiny.
The cleansing of the temple points forward to the destruction of the temple (Mk 11:15-17 etc.). Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, Mt 1:23, who nevertheless pronounces that the temple (previously the focus of God’s Shekinah presence) will be left desolate, Mt 23:38. He provocatively spoke of his own body as a ‘temple’, Jn 2:19; cf. Mt 26:61; 27:40. But if the risen Jesus is the temple, what then has become of the physical temple?
According to John 1:14; 2:21 Jesus is the true embodiment of the temple. Jerusalem epitomises ‘the world’ in its hostile response to God’s light and truth, Jn 1:11.
Elsewhere in the NT, Heb 7-10 sees the temple sacrifices fulfilled in Christ, and Heb 13:13f directs us away from the earthly Jerusalem to focus our attention on the heavenly Jerusalem, Heb 12:22. Whereas Luke (and the other Gospels) tells the story of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, in Acts Jerusalem is gradually left behind, and there is a critique of the temple and its hierarchy, Acts 7:2-53. Although Paul visited Jerusalem on several occasions, he considered the present Jerusalem to be ‘in slavery with her children’, Gal 4:25. Jerusalem had indeed been the place of Christ’s redeeming work, Rom 9:33; 11:26, but Paul too would focus his readers’ attention on ‘the Jerusalem above’, Gal 4:26. Revelation regards the physical Jerusalem, where ‘the Lord was crucified’ as comparable to Sodom and Egypt, Rev 11:8. The focus is on the new Jerusalem, Rev 3:12; 21:2.
In summary, we may say that the physical city of Jerusalem has lost its status as the ‘holy city’. Christ in his own person is now the locus of God’s presence, and his death the fulfilment of the temple sacrifices. The temple’s dividing wall between Jew and Gentile has been broken down, Eph 2:14. God by his Spirit is present with his people throughout the world, and they worship him, not in Jerusalem, but ‘in spirit and in truth, Jn 4:21,24. This anticipates the worship in the New Jerusalem, in which there is no temple, Rev 21:22.
52:9 In unison give a joyful shout,
O ruins of Jerusalem!
For the LORD consoles his people;
he protects Jerusalem.
The very ruins of the city sing for joy.
Oswalt (NIVAC) comments on the joy of redemption as reflected in this passage (vv7-12): the message is accepted as ‘good news’ precisely because the people of the besieged city knew that they were in peril. If they had not realised their danger, they would not have received the report of God’s breaking through the enemy lines as ‘good news’ at all. Those who think they are well see no need for a physician.
52:10 The LORD reveals his royal power
in the sight of all the nations;
the entire earth sees
our God deliver.
What has already been glimpsed in vision, vv7-9, will soon take place in history.
All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God – See Lk 3:6.
52:11 Leave! Leave! Get out of there!
Don’t touch anything unclean!
Get out of it!
Stay pure, you who carry the LORD’s holy items!
Depart, depart – the outcome of the ‘awake, awake’ of v1. ‘The people of God are to keep alert because their salvation is near. They are to live as those who are expecting the Lord at any moment, as travellers who are packed and ready for the last leg of their journey home. That is how is had been on the night the Israelites left Egypt: they ate the Passover with their cloaks tucked into their belts, their sandals on their feet, and their staffs in their hands [Ex 12:11]. They were not delivered yet, but they were sure they would be – soon.’ (Prior)
This summons repeats that of Isa 48:20. The implication is that there might have been some reluctance on the part of the Israelites to leave Babylon. The captivity lasted 70 years, and so to most of the people their homeland was unknown. It was far distance, and could only be reached by an arduous and perilous journey. Babylon had become their home: they built their homes and cultivated their crops here. Many would have been reluctant to leave the known for the unknown.
Go out from there! – Babylon is described as ‘there’, rather than ‘here’, indicating to some that the prophet was speaking from Judah, not from Babylon. ‘But,’ remarks Prior, ‘there is more to be left behind than Babylon; there is the whole ambience of worldliness and estrangement from God that it represents.’ (Prior, who notes that Paul alludes to this passage in order to summons us to step out of darkness and into the light of our vocation as the holy people of God, 2 Cor 6:14-18).
Touch no unclean thing…be pure – ‘negative and positive holiness, separation from and to’ (Motyer). Cited in 2 Cor 6:17f and Rev 18:4 with reference to the Christian obligation to be separate from the world and its influences. Barnes: ‘The passage is applied in both these instances, because Babylon, in Scripture language, is regarded as emblematic of whatever is oppressive, proud, arrogant, persecuting, impure, and abominable.’
‘Behind the literal departure from Babylon, Rev. 18:4 sees a greater movement, the withdrawal of the church from the embrace and judgment of the world, ‘so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues’.’ (NBC)
The vessels of the Lord – These were the temple items that Nebuchadnezzar had removed when the exile began. Cyrus commanded them to be restored, Ezra 1:7-11.
52:12 Yet do not depart quickly
or leave in a panic.
For the LORD goes before you;
the God of Israel is your rear guard.
They will leave with dignity and decorum, the Lord leading and protecting them. It is not merely a hurried flight but a procession (Goldingay).
The Suffering and Glory of the Servant, 13-53:12
Wright notes: ‘When we read Isaiah 40– 55 as a whole, we find that the motif of redemptive suffering in chapter 53 is new. Up to this point in the poem there is the promise of redemption from suffering, on the one hand, and the strange vocation of suffering for the “servant,” on the other. But only in the final poem (52: 13– 53: 12) are the two brought together.’ (The Day the Revolution Began)
The Lord Will Vindicate His Servant
52:13 “Look, my servant will succeed!
He will be elevated, lifted high, and greatly exalted—
52:14 (just as many were horrified by the sight of you)
he was so disfigured he no longer looked like a man;
‘From the great homecoming we turn to the solitary figure whose agony was the price of it.’ (NBC)
‘The poem, unusually symmetrical, is in five paragraphs of three verses each. It begins and ends with the Servant’s exaltation (first and fifth stanzas); set within this is the story of his rejection in sections two and four, which in turn form the centrepiece (vv4-6) where the atoning significance of the suffering is expounded. God amd man, reconciled, share the telling (see the ‘me’ and ‘I’ of the outer sections, and the ‘we’ and ‘our’ of 52:1-6′ (Kidner, NBC)
- Prosperity after suffering, 52:13f.
- Fame after neglect, 52:15.
- Springs from a decayed family, 53:2.
- An object of contempt, vv2f.
- Unparalelled afflictions, vv3f.
- Expiatory suffering, vv4-6.
- Patient suffering, v7.
- Buried in dishonour, yet among the rich, v9.
- Subsequent life and honour, v10.
- Many willing followers, v11.
- Great reward, v12.
Exalted…extolled…very high – This could be spelt out in terms of Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and session.
How reassuring this promise of exaltation coming, as it does, just before a prediction of utter shame and suffering. Cf Heb 12:2.
52:15 his form was so marred he no longer looked human—
so now he will startle many nations.
Kings will be shocked by his exaltation,
for they will witness something unannounced to them,
and they will understand something they had not heard about.
Sprinkle – or ‘startle’ (so RSV, following LXX): this would give the sequence, ‘startled – silenced – convinced’ (NBC). But ‘sprinkle’ would also suit the context, with its emphasis on sacrificial cleansing.
‘His exaltation gives him complete supremacy over all; and kings will fall silent in his presence, astonished, over-awed, deeply respectful (cf Job 29:7-10), and eager perhaps to see and hear rather than themselves to speak in the presence of such an unprecedented revelation’ (Grogan).
This phrase has priestly-sacrificial overtones, cf Ex 29:20-21; Lev 16:14-15. The Servant’s sacrificial work is applied, not just to Israel, but to ‘many nations’.
This verse is applied by Paul in Rom 15:21 to the preaching of the gospel in virgin and largely Gentile territory.