Come Home and After Babylon Look for the Messiah

Isaiah 50-52


 The next 3 chapters continue the mixed theme introduced in chapter 49. where graphic pictures of the Messiah restoring the tribes of Israel to Zion and calling the Gentiles to join the same are given. These are mixed with the confident view that there will be an end of the Babylonian captivity. The remarkable verses there (49:6, 8) which contain the Nazarene word and the name of Jesus in the same context will be repeated in 52:7. Chapter 49, thus, is a bridge between the chapters (40-48) which promised deliverance from the Babylonian captivity by Cyrus and these three chapters which mix appeals to a reluctant nation to return from Babylon and pictures of the nature of the Messiah and his future mission. The allusions to the return from Babylon are not finished yet and will be mentioned more than once in the following three chapters and in fact is the background of all that appears in 50-52. Thus the coming of the Messiah is predicted to be coming after the return and restoration of the nation from Babylon.

On this account there is controversy among commentators who are easily misled into conclusions that are at best mistaken although some are purposeful with a degree of ridicule for the faithful. This because the three following chapters appear to be fragmentary and some critics assign different authors to each of the fragments. Of course such scholarship is open to question and controversy reigns among that class of investigators, none agreeing with his fellows. The material does appear fragmentary, reciprocating abruptly between the need to return from Babylon and the special characteristics of the Messiah. This fragmentary character is a stumbling block to those who can not and some who will not see the unity of Isaiah.

There is an easy answer to the style thus described as it has already been used in the section on the loss of the Ten Tribe nation of Israel to the Assyrians. It was Isaiah's style there to reciprocate between descriptions of the coming invasion of Assyria and the later visitation of the Messiah, this was particularly emphasized in our commentary on chapter 9 but is a characteristic of all the chapters 7 through 12. Thus here, because there is a parallel between the return of the nation from Babylon to the new Zion of the second commonwealth and the later call of the Gentiles into the new Zion of the New Covenant by the Messiah (which has already been noticed and called the first and second return to Zion in chapter 11) then the same style is repeated here drawing contrasts between the Babylonian captivity and the person and ministry of the Messiah. This obvious style of Isaiah should not escape the careful reader of Isaiah. The contrast here is all the more remarkable because both events were in the distant future when Isaiah wrote. It is this miraculous preview of the future that has been the stumbling block to commentators whom it is not unkind to call unbelievers. They insist that the information here had to be written after the Babylonian captivity. The same commentators usually deny the personal nature of the Messiah and opt for messianic nationalism.

 Chapter 50 starts with a description of the captive nation and the cause of their condition of alienation from their God and culture. The nation (not the leaders only) had become personally responsible for their alienation by the time of the reign of Josiah whose reform was successful for himself but failed to restore faith in the population. This personal responsibility will be impressed and argued through verse 2 of the next chapter (51). 51:3 will begin the promise of comfort and restoration and urging to leave Babylon and return. The imperative to return is in chapter 52:2. Thus there is a pleading and appeal to return as well as a command to "straighten up and fly right," or "get your shoes on" and get moving in the following verses. Mixed in the general background of the need to return to Zion is the description of the anticipated Messiah. The first section depicting the Messiah is in 50:4-9 and then a return to appeal to trust God and return from Babylon will be the next fragmentary theme with the reciprocal return to each subject repeated.

 As an example of shortsighted commentary, (while I hesitate to denigrate the usually helpful Pulpit Commentary, from which the following is copied,) I submit the following from the exposition of chapter 50 which illustrates to me what is very shallow scholarship indeed:


"This chapter seems to be made up of short fragments , which the collector, or collectors, of Isaiah's writings regarded as too precious to be lost, and which they consequently here threw together, though in reality they were detached utterances and are not even connected in subject.-matter."

The preceding author simply missed seeing the style of Isaiah's writing and the unity of the book which follows perfectly in order from first to last. This order is not readily apparent but the careful reader is rewarded with seeing the genius of the writer and to the seeker, the style is obvious when it is pointed out to him. It is not thrown together by unknown collectors but was designed by a literary genius with the help of inspiration. It should be noted that Isaiah wrote his prophecies during the reign of four different kings. So that the visions came over a long period of years at different times and not in the specific order in which we find them now. Thus the "collector," Isaiah himself, had to give a final arrangement of them. When this arrangement is understood it declares an inspiration and revelation in itself as well as being a demonstration of literary genius.

 Isaiah 50

 1. Thus says the LORD, Where is the bill of your mother's divorce, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have you sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away. 2 Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stink and die for thirst, because there is no water. 3 I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering.

Verses 1-2: Bill of divorce: The question puts the responsibility of the alienation and captivity of the Nation from God squarely on the inhabitants of the nation. They can not produce such a document since God did not put them away, they alienated themselves. Neither will there be found a bill of sale with YHWH's name on it since he did not sell them.

 Verse 2: no man: The seeking of God for his people and pleading with them to trust in him as able to deliver them is emphasized by his desire to deliver them but as yet they have not responded.

 4. The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakens morning by morning, he wakens my ear to hear as the learned. 5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away. 6 I gave my back to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from insult and spitting. 7 For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed. 8 He is near that justifies me; who will contend with me? let us stand together: who is my adversary? let him come near to me. 9 Behold, the Lord GOD will help me; who is he that shall condemn me? lo, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up.

Verses 4-9: The Messiah is insulted but an overcomer and not ashamed: The beginning of word pictures of the paradoxical nature of the Messiah is seen here; he is given great wisdom and is intimate with YHWH who will deliver him from every obstacle at the same time he is more than humbled, he is humiliated... hair pulled from his face and spit upon and beaten. As in other visions of Isaiah he often fills out the historical narratives with details not mentioned in them. The most notable place this is done is in chapters 10:28 to 34; chapter 22; and chapters 28 to 33 in which Isaiah gives many details of the siege of Jerusalem not found in the historical narratives in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles and Isa 36, and 37 Here Isaiah fills in details of the sufferings of Jesus not mentioned in the Gospels.

 10. Who is among you that fears the LORD, that obeys the voice of his servant, that walks in darkness, and has no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God. 11 Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who surround yourselves with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that you have kindled. This shall you have from my hand; you shall lie down in sorrow.

Verses 10-11: Contrast those trusting in God with those who are self confident: There is light to the one who trusts in God but there will be no lasting light to the one who creates his own light. The one who turns his back on God to find his own light is bound for sorrow. There is a similar verse in 8:22. "And they shall look unto the earth; and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish; and they shall be driven to darkness."

Isaiah 51

 1. Listen to me, you that follow after righteousness, you that seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from which you were dug. 2 Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah that bore you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.

Verse 1: Listen to me: The appeal to reason with God and reconsider the past and the promises of God and which have been fulfilled and those that are yet to be fulfilled is strongly put forward here. "Listen to me" as an appeal is repeated three times here and in the following verses (1, 4,, and 7)

3 For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody. 4. Listen to me, my people; and give ear to me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people. 5 My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and my arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on my arm shall they trust. 6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and her inhabitants shall die in the same way: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished. 7 Listen to me, you that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear not the reproach of men, neither be afraid of their revilings. 8 For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.

The continuation of the promises of God that He still has wonders in store for the nation are mingled with appeals to His ability to accomplish the things in them that He has promised. The appeals are seen in Listen to me; Lift up your eyes, fear not, look upon the earth, give ear O my nation. He will make , He will comfort,, joy and gladness shall be found. There must have been great reluctance on the part of the captive nationals to return to Zion to require such pleading on God's part.

 9. Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old; are you not he that has cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? 10 Are you not he which has dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that has made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?

Verse 9: he that has cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon: The personification of the Pillar of Fire is continued here as in other places where the pre-existence to the Messianic appearances is couched in poetic hyperbole. "He cut" etc. is "it" in the KJV because the pronouns are feminine. Thus "she cut" referring to the Shekina Pillar (although pillar and cloud are masculine). Without doubt it is the Pillar to which reference is made but the gender does not fit. Thus this may be a mystical reference to what or who was in the Pillar which the Rabbis called "Shekinah" a feminine word referring to the "Presence" of YHWH among his people. For more on Shekinah as a feminine word see the Qumran feminine pronoun used in this verse.

The dragon The word is "Taniyn" not "Leviathan" and therefore not a reference to Satan. It is likely a continuation of the poetic figures referring to Egypt. The word is variously translated "sea monster" in Lam 4:3 and "whale" in Job 7:12 (and 2 other places where the monster is described as living in the sea) and dragon in Jer. 51:34 and at least 8 other references. Isa 43:20 indicates the "dragons" live in rivers and marshes giving some credibility to those who identify the "Taniyn" with crocodiles, the symbol of Egypt.
Rahab is not the same word as Rahab (or Rachab) the harlot, they are spelled differently. This word, Rahab means pride or arrogance and is a synonym for Egypt. Ps. 87:2 referring to the nations among whom Israel has sojourned in verse 4 mentions Rahab and Babylon. Rahab meaning Egypt. In speaking of Egypt in Isa. 30:7 the word is translated "strength" or pride. Isaiah's use of play on words linking Rahab to Egypt is obvious there.

Verse 9: Arm of the Lord: Arm of the LORD is a phrase that is used exclusively to refer to the Messiah. The metaphor is used in no other context, It is plain in verse 10 that the "Arm of the Lord" is not the nation. They did not dry up the Red Sea and lead them across on dry ground. The Arm of the Lord is the personage that has been present in all this and is promised to lead them again back to Zion. This picture of the mystic pillar of fire and cloud is here personified. The Psalms place the Messiah in the events of Sinai. This verse does the same. Interestingly enough this phrase is only used 2 times in the O.T. both times by Isaiah, here and in 53:1 where the "arm of the LORD" is called "he." (The phrase shows up in one other verse in the NIV translation in 59:1 but is an error due to the loose method of translation adopted by NIV scholars, Isaiah is careful to use a different metaphor there since it is not a messianic reference. The actual construction there is "yad YHWH" (the LORD's hand) not "zeroah YHWH" (arm of the LORD) The phrase was recognized as one referring to the person of Jesus by John in his Gospel (12:38) where he quotes Isa 53:1. His application is that although Jesus had done so many miraculous signs the unbelief of the Jews was the fulfillment of prophecies of Isaiah. See also Isaiah 59:16 which is a messianic reference using "his arm." Compare also 40:10 and especially 48:14 where the arm of the LORD is the one who was present in the creation and was sent by YHWH and His Spirit.

 11 Therefore the redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing to Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away. 12 I, even I, am he who comforts you: who are you, that you should be afraid of a man who will shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass; 13 And you forget the LORD your maker, who has stretched out the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and you have feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy; and where is the fury of the oppressor?

Verse 11: Shall return: The promise is for those of Babylon who are to return to rebuild the nation and yet can be extended to any of the calls to restore Zion, nationally or personally.

 14 The captive is anxious to be loosed, that he should not die in the pit, nor that his bread should fail.

 Verse 14: The captive is anxious: This is an appeal to the nature of suffering. Those who are exercised thereby have an advanced desire for it to be over but unfortunately trials and anxious periods are not always short lived. The appeal here is given so that the sufferer will know that the time is extended but the resulting glory in the future is sure. But is it human nature to be anxious and those who lack faith give up. Don't give up, the promises of God will be realized in due time just as the former promises which seemed so remotely in the future were reached and are now in the past so those promises due to those now living have the same assurance of a completion of the things God has promised.

 15 But I am the LORD your God, that divided the sea, whose waves roared: The LORD of hosts is his name. 16 And I have put my words in your mouth, and I have covered you in the shadow of my hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say to Zion, You are my people. 17. Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which have drunk at the hand of the LORD the cup of his fury; you have drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out. 18 There is none to guide her among all the sons whom she has brought forth; neither is there any that takes her by the hand of all the sons that she has brought up. 19 These two things are come to you and who shall comfort you? desolation and destruction, and famine and sword: by whom shall I comfort you? 20 Your sons have fainted, they lie at the head of all the streets, as a wild bull in a net: they are full of the fury of the LORD, the rebuke of your God. 21 Therefore now hear this, you are afflicted and drunk, but not with wine: 22 Thus says your Lord the LORD, and your God that pleads the cause of his people, Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; you shall not drink it anymore again: 23 But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict you; who had said to your soul, Bow down, that we may walk over you: and you laid your body as the ground, and as the street to them to walk over you.

Isaiah 52

 1. Awake, awake; put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for from now on there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean. 2 Shake yourself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem: loose yourself from the bands of your neck, O captive daughter of Zion.

 Verses 1 and 2: Sit down: Hebrew shviy fem. imperative. From yashav to sit. "down" is implied, it could just as well be "sit up!" The words here are all imperatives. Awake! put on! shake yourself! arise! return! loose your self! They are feminine imperatives and so they are addressed to Zion in captivity. The sequence "arise, sit down" is not fitting. So there is much scholarly discussion about this word "sit" (shviy)  which has the identical configuration as the masculine word for captivity. The imperatives are all feminines in these 2 verses. And the feminine form for captivity (shviyah)  is used in the same verse in "captive daughter" That should exclude the misidentification of this as a word for captivity. So are we stuck with "sit" of which shviy is the proper fem. imperative form? It is to be remembered that the original text of Hebrew is unpointed, that is no vowels. The feminine imperative word for "return" is (shuviy)  and the waw can drop out leaving the feminine imperative form pronounced the same (shuviy)  which without the pointing is identical to the word we are discussing. An example of both the forms is found in Jer. 31:21 in fact used 2 times, the first with waw and the second without waw as shown. There are many suggestions for a different reading for sit made by commentators some of which are quite far fetched options. It is remarkable to me that this obvious solution has not been suggested. The imperative command is more likely "return!" rather than "sit down!"

 3 For thus says the LORD, you have sold yourselves for nothing; and you shall be redeemed without money. 4 For thus says the Lord GOD, My people went down in old time into Egypt to sojourn there; and the Assyrian oppressed them without cause. 5 Now therefore, what have I here, says the LORD, that my people is taken away for nothing? they that rule over them make them to howl, says the LORD; and my name is blasphemed continually every day. 6 Therefore my people shall know my name: therefore they shall know in that day that I am he that speaks: behold, it is I.

 7. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace; who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation; who says to Zion, Your God reigns!

Verse 7: This is one of the five verses in Isaiah where the name of Jesus which is "salvation" (yeshuah)  in Hebrew, stands alone with out suffixes or prefixes. "How beautiful are the feet... of him who announces Jesus!" Isa. 49:6 and 8 is even more interesting in context. Other verses are 26:1 and 59:17; and 60:18. It is extraordinary that in 3 of these 5 verses the word Nazar  or Nazarene is in the context of the verses where Jesus name (salvation) stands alone.

 Isaiah 52:7

The literal word for word translation of this verse is: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one announcing peace, proclaiming good news (Gospel), announcing Jesus, saying to Zion your God reigns.

 8 Your watchmen shall lift up their voice; with their voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the LORD shall restore Zion. 9 Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem: for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The LORD has made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. 11 Depart, depart, go out from there, touch no unclean thing; go out of the midst of her; be clean, you that bear the vessels of the LORD. 12 For you shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the LORD will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your reward.

Verses 8-12: When the LORD shall restore Zion: Still the theme of the section beginning with chapter 50 to the end of 52.. The captives are urged to return to Zion which is spoken of as a completed fact and as a future event at the same time: not go out with haste, nor go by flight: The circumstances of the return are well known. The decree of Cyrus in 536 BC was not coerced but was a part of his policy to undo the forced evacuation of captured lands which had been the policy that the Babylonians had learned from the Assyrians. Cyrus inspected the prophecies about himself and concluded that YHWH wanted him to restore the Jewish nation and the Temple at Jerusalem. Thus the return to Zion of the second commonwealth was indeed led by YHWH. The abruptness of the change from the joy of the return to Zion to the immediate introduction of the suffering Messiah that follows in the next verse is commented on in the introduction to chapter 50 which should be read in conjunction with this and the next verses where it is explained that the "fragmentary" abruptness of speaking of first of the Babylonian return and then of the special nature of the Messiah is a part of Isaiah's style of writing.

 13. Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. 14 Just as many were astonished at him; because his visage was marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men: 15 So shall he startle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which they were not told shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.

Verses 13-15: My Servant: The Messiah's paradoxical suffering which will startle kings for generations to come is again placed after the promise of a restoration of the nation and return from captivity. As explained previously. the two events, the return from Babylon and the coming of the Messiah both accomplish ingatherings into Zion. In chapter 11:11 these two events are called the first and the second recovery of the remnant.. Thus they are paired in a number of places in the book of Isaiah and here the switch back and forth from the return from Babylon to the messianic mission are paired in these chapters but beginning with verse 13 the short term, seemingly fragmentary, pairing will end, as the return from Babylon is held in abeyance until chapter 54, and this description of the sufferings of the Messiah described again here reaches its crescendo in the next chapter which is the crowing chapter of Isaiah's prophecies about the suffering Messiah.

 Verse 13 should actually be the beginning of chapter 53 which continues the description of the characteristics of the suffering Messiah introduced here. An appraisal of all the verses dealing with the "coming one" will justify the conclusion of most pre-christian era Rabbis, that the Messiah was to be a person. Even after the time of Jesus Christ the rabbinical writings looked for a person, not the nation itself, to fulfill the messianic promises. This can be seen especially in the Isaiah Targum which is a rabbinical product of scholars both before and after the birth of Christ.

*(Please note that as in other Isaiah files some Bible verse links do not work while those that point to other verses and comments within Isaiah do. The Bible links out side Isaiah are not on line. They do work in the CD version of the commentary whch also contains other supporting images not found on line.)

Return to Moellerhaus Home Page

Return to Commentary Directory