Exhortations to trust the Messiah. (1-3) The power of God, and the weakness of man. (4-8) Christ defends his people. (9-16) Their afflictions and deliverances. (17-23)
Verses 1-3 It is good for those privileged by the new birth, to consider that they were shapen in sin. This should cause low thoughts of ourselves, and high thoughts of Divine grace. It is the greatest comfort to be made serviceable to the glory of God. The more holiness men have, and the more good they do, the more gladness they have. Let us seriously reflect upon our guilt. To do so will tend to keep the heart humble, and the conscience awake and tender. They make Christ more precious to the soul, and give strength to our attempts and prayers for others.
Verses 4-8 The gospel of Christ shall be preached and published. How shall we escape if we neglect it? There is no salvation without righteousness. The soul shall, as to this world, vanish like smoke, and the body be thrown by like a worn-out garment. But those whose happiness is in Christ's righteousness and salvation, will have the comfort of it when time and days shall be no more. Clouds darken the sun, but do not stop its course. The believer will enjoy his portion, while revilers of Christ are in darkness
Verses 9-16 The people whom Christ has redeemed with his blood, as well as by his power, will obtain joyful deliverance from every enemy. He that designs such joy for us at last, will he not work such deliverance in the mean time, as our cases require? In this world of changes, it is a short step from joy to sorrow, but in that world, sorrow shall never come in view. They prayed for the display of God's power; he answers them with consolations of his grace. Did we dread to sin against God, we should not fear the frowns of men. Happy is the man that fears God always. And Christ's church shall enjoy security by the power and providence of the Almighty.
Verses 17-23 God calls upon his people to mind the things that belong to their everlasting peace. Jerusalem had provoked God, and was made to taste the bitter fruits. Those who should have been her comforters, were their own tormentors. They have no patience by which to keep possesion of their own souls, nor any confidence in God's promise, by which to keep possession of its comfort. Thou art drunken, not as formerly, with the intoxicating cup of Babylon's idolatries, but with the cup of affliction. Know, then, the cause of God's people may for a time seem as lost, but God will protect it, by convincing the conscience, or confounding the projects, of those that strive against it. The oppressors required souls to be subjected to them, that every man should believe and worship as they would have them. But all they could gain by violence was, that people were brought to outward hypocritical conformity, for consciences cannot be forced.
Isaiah 51:1-23 . ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE FAITHFUL REMNANT OF ISRAEL TO TRUST IN GOD FOR DELIVERANCE, BOTH FROM THEIR LONG BABYLONIAN EXILE, AND FROM THEIR PRESENT DISPERSION.
1. me--the God of your fathers.
ye . . . follow after righteousness--the godly portion of the nation; Isaiah 51:7 shows this ( Proverbs 15:9 , 1 Timothy 6:11 ). "Ye follow righteousness," seek it therefore from Me, who "bring it near," and that a righteousness "not about to be abolished" ( Isaiah 51:6 Isaiah 51:7 ); look to Abraham, your father ( Isaiah 51:2 ), as a sample of how righteousness before Me is to be obtained; I, the same God who blessed him, will bless you at last ( Isaiah 51:3 ); therefore trust in Me, and fear not man's opposition ( Isaiah 51:7 Isaiah 51:8 Isaiah 51:12 Isaiah 51:13 ). The mistake of the Jews, heretofore, has been, not in that they "followed after righteousness," but in that they followed it "by the works of the law," instead of "by faith," as Abraham did ( Romans 9:31 Romans 9:32 , Romans 10:3 Romans 10:4 , 4:2-5 ).
hole of . . . pit--The idea is not, as it is often quoted, the inculcation of humility, by reminding men of the fallen state from which they have been taken, but that as Abraham, the quarry, as it were (compare Isaiah 48:1 ), whence their nation was hewn, had been called out of a strange land to the inheritance of Canaan, and blessed by God, the same God is able to deliver and restore them also (compare Matthew 3:9 ).
2. alone--translate, "I called him when he was but one" ( Ezekiel 33:24 ). The argument is: the same God who had so blessed "one" individual, as to become a mighty nation ( Genesis 12:1 , 22:7 ), can also increase and bless the small remnant of Israel, both that left in the Babylonish captivity, and that left in the present and latter days ( Zechariah 14:2 ); "the residue" ( Isaiah 13:8 Isaiah 13:9 ).
3. For--See for the argument,
the garden of the Lord--restoration of the primeval paradise ( Genesis 2:8 , Ezekiel 28:13 , Revelation 2:7 ).
melody--Hebrew, "psalm." God's praises shall again be heard.
4. my people--the Jews. This reading is better than that of GESENIUS: "O peoples . . . nations," namely, the Gentiles. The Jews are called on to hear and rejoice in the extension of the true religion to the nations; for, at the first preaching of the Gospel, as in the final age to come, it was from Jerusalem that the gospel law was, and is, to go forth ( Isaiah 2:3 ).
law . . . judgment--the gospel dispensation and institutions ( Isaiah 42:1 , "judgment").
make . . . to rest--establish firmly; found.
light, &c.--( Isaiah 42:6 ).
5. righteousness . . . near--that is, faithful fulfilment of the promised deliverance, answering to "salvation" in the parallel clause ( Isaiah 46:13 , 56:1 , Romans 10:8 Romans 10:9 ). Ye follow after "righteousness"; seek it therefore, from Me, and you will not have far to go for it ( Isaiah 51:1 ).
arms--put for Himself; I by My might.
judge--( Isaiah 2:3 Isaiah 2:4 , Psalms 98:9 ).
isles, &c.--( Isaiah 60:9 ).
arm--( Romans 1:16 ), "the power of God unto (the Gentiles as well as the Jews) salvation."
6. ( Isaiah 40:6 Isaiah 40:8 , Psalms 102:26 , Hebrews 1:11 Hebrews 1:12 ).
vanish away--literally, "shall be torn asunder," as a garment [MAURER]; which accords with the context.
in like manner--But GESENIUS, "Like a gnat"; like the smallest and vilest insect. JEROME translates, as English Version, and infers that "in like manner" as man, the heavens (that is, the sky) and earth are not to be annihilated, but changed for the better ( Isaiah 65:17 ).
righteousness--My faithfully fulfilled promise Job 4:18-20 ). Not that the moth eats men up, but they shall be destroyed by as insignificant instrumentality as the moth that eats a garment.
9. Impassioned prayer of the exiled Jews.
ancient days--( Psalms 44:1 ).
Rahab--poetical name for Egypt
dragon--Hebrew, tannin. The crocodile, an emblem of Egypt, as represented on coins struck after the conquest of Egypt by Augustus; or rather here, "its king," Pharaoh Psalms 74:13 Psalms 74:14 , Ezekiel 32:2 , Margin; Ezekiel 29:3 ).
10. it--the arm.
Art not Thou the same Almighty power that . . . ? dried the sea--the Red Sea ( Isaiah 43:16 , Exodus 14:21 ).
11. ( Isaiah 35:10 ).
Therefore--assurance of faith; or else the answer of Jehovah corresponding to their prayer. As surely as God redeemed Israel out of Egypt, He shall redeem them from Babylon, both the literal in the age following, and mystical in the last ages ( Revelation 18:20 Revelation 18:21 ). There shall be a second exodus ( Isaiah 11:11-16 , Isaiah 27:12 Isaiah 27:13 ).
singing--image from the custom of singing on a journey when a caravan is passing along the extended plains in the East.
everlasting joy--( Jude 1:24 ).
sorrow . . . flee away--( Revelation 21:4 ).
12. comforteth--( Isaiah 51:3 , Isaiah 40:1 ).
son of man--frail and dying as his parent Adam.
be made as grass--wither as grass ( Isaiah 40:6 Isaiah 40:7 ).
13. ( Isaiah 40:12 Isaiah 40:26 Isaiah 40:28 ), the same argument of comfort drawn from the omnipotence of the Creator.
as if . . . ready, &c.--literally, "when he directs," namely, his arrow, to destroy ( Psalms 21:12 , 7:13 , 11:2 ) [MAURER].
14. captive exile--literally, one bowed down as a captive ( Isaiah 10:4 ) [MAURER]. The scene is primarily Babylon, and the time near the close of the captivity. Secondarily, and antitypically, the mystical Babylon, the last enemy of Israel and the Church, in which they have long suffered, but from which they are to be gloriously delivered.
pit--such as were many of the ancient dungeons (compare Jeremiah 38:6 Jeremiah 38:11 Jeremiah 38:13 , Genesis 37:20 ).
nor . . . bread . . . fail--( Isaiah 33:16 , Jeremiah 37:21 ).
15. divided . . . sea--the Red Sea. The same Hebrew word as "make to rest" ( Isaiah 51:4 ). Rather, "that terrify the sea," that is, restrain it by My rebuke, "when its waves roar" [GESENIUS]. The Hebrew favors MAURER, "that terrify the sea so that the waves roar." The sense favors GESENIUS ( Jeremiah 5:22 , 31:35 ), or English Version ( Isaiah 51:9 Isaiah 51:10 , which favors the special reference to the exodus from Egypt).
16. Addressed to Israel, embodied in "the servant of Jehovah" ( Isaiah 42:1 ), Messiah, its ideal and representative Head, through whom the elect remnant is to be restored.
put my words in thy mouth--true of Israel, the depository of true religion, but fully realized only in Israel's Head and antitype, Messiah ( Isaiah 49:2 , Isaiah 50:4 Isaiah 50:5 , 59:21 , Deuteronomy 18:18 , John 3:34 ).
covered . . . in . . . shadow of . . . hand--protected thee
plant--rather, "fix" as a tabernacle; so it ought to be rendered ( Daniel 11:45 ). The "new creation," now going on in the spiritual world by the Gospel ( Ephesians 2:10 ), and hereafter to be extended to the visible world, is meant ( Isaiah 65:17 , 66:22 ; compare Isaiah 13:13 2 Peter 3:10-13 ).
Zion--Its restoration is a leading part in the new creation to come ( Isaiah 65:17 Isaiah 65:19 ).
17. Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, &c.--( Isaiah 52:1 ).
drunk--Jehovah's wrath is compared to an intoxicating draught because it confounds the sufferer under it, and makes him fall ( Job 21:20 , Psalms 60:3 , 75:8 , Jeremiah 25:15 Jeremiah 25:16 , 49:12 , Zechariah 12:2 , Revelation 14:10 ); ("poured out without mixture"; rather, "the pure wine juice mixed with intoxicating drugs").
of trembling--which produced trembling or intoxication.
wrung . . . out--drained the last drop out; the dregs were the sediments from various substances, as honey, dates, and drugs, put into the wine to increase the strength and sweetness.
18. Following up the image in Isaiah 51:17 , intoxicated and confused by the cup of God's anger, she has none to guide her in her helpless state; she has not yet awakened out of the sleep caused by that draught. This cannot apply to the Babylonish captivity; for in it they had Ezekiel and Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, as "guides," and soon awoke out of that sleep; but it applies to the Jews now, and will be still more applicable in their coming oppression by Antichrist.
19. two--classes of evils, for he enumerates four, namely, desolation and destruction to the land and state; famine and the sword to the people.
who shall be sorry for thee--so as to give thee effectual relief: as the parallel clause, "By whom shall I comfort thee?" shows ( Lamentations 2:11-13 ).
20. head of all . . . streets--( Lamentations 2:19 , 4:1 ).
wild bull--rather, "oryx" [JEROME], or gazelle [GESENIUS], or wild goat [BOCHART]; commonly in the East taken in a net, of a wide sweep, into which the beasts were hunted together. The streets of cities in the East often have gates, which are closed at night; a person wishing to escape would be stopped by them and caught, as a wild animal in a net.
21. drunken . . . not with wine--( Isaiah 29:9 ; compare Isaiah 51:17 Isaiah 51:20 , here; Lamentations 3:15 ).
22. pleadeth . . . cause--( Psalms 35:1 , Jeremiah 50:34 , Micah 7:9 ).
no more drink it--( Isaiah 54:7-9 ). This cannot apply to Israel after the return from Babylon, but only to them after their final restoration.
23. ( Isaiah 49:26 , Jeremiah 25:15-29 , Zechariah 12:2 ).
Bow down that . . . go over--Conquerors often literally trod on the necks of conquered kings, as Sapor of Persia did to the Roman emperor Valerian ( Joshua 10:24 , Psalms 18:40 , Psalms 66:11 Psalms 66:12 ).