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Deeper Commentary

Isaiah 51:1 Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness, you who seek Yahweh- Ponder the parallel between Is. 51:1 and 7: “Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord… hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness”. To know God’s righteousness is to seek / follow it; of itself, it inspires us to ambitiously seek to attain it. The Messianic servant addresses the exiles again, specifically those who were seeking Yahweh rather than seeking idols . God was willing to push forward His salvation plan even with a remnant, but there is no evidence there was even a remnant of repentant, faithful ones at the time of the restoration.

Look to the rock you were cut from, and to the hold of the pit you were dug from- The rock and pit were the feeble Abraham and Sarah (:2). The returning, repentant exiles could potentially have been the little stone cut out of the rocky mountain of Dan. 2, which would come to the eretz / land promised to Abraham and form the reestablished Kingdom of God. But they failed in this, and so Dan. 2 had a longer fulfilment. To liken Abraham and Sarah to a "pit" is strange, but GNB offers "quarry". The extra information of Dan. 2 is that they were cut out "without hands".

Isaiah 51:2 Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you; for when he was but one I called him, and I blessed him, and made him many-
Abraham was called before he had children, and his wife barren; but from that feeble beginning God made a new nation. The tiny remnant of exiles who were faithful should not therefore consider that they were too few to become the revived Kingdom of God in Judah. All the time we sense they had so many fears and such weak faith, and God through Isaiah is patiently addressing them and encouraging them. Ez. 33:24 records how the exiles turned this reasoning on its head; they argued that they were many, and so seeing Abraham was few and received the land, so they ought moreso to be given it. They missed the point, that the repentant remnant would be very small indeed. But even if they were just two people like Abraham and Sarah, who also lived far away from Judah to the east, they could still be multiplied and have the Abrahamic blessing fulfilled in them.

Isaiah 51:3 For Yahweh has comforted Zion; He has comforted all her waste places, and has made her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of Yahweh; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody-
The past tense is used to bring out how this potential was so certain of fulfilment- if they wanted it. The appeal of Is. 40 to "comfort" God's people was being repeated- but they had to accept it. I argued on Gen. 1,2 that the garden of Eden was the eretz promised to Abraham; Eden could have been restored in the reestablished Kingdom of God which was now possible if they listened in obedience and repentance (:4). Adam like Judah had been exiled eastward, but was now being recalled. Instead of the sadness associated with the curse and moral failure, there would instead have been joy.

Isaiah 51:4 Listen to Me, My people; and give ear to Me, My nation: for a law shall go forth from Me, and I will establish My justice for a light of the peoples-
The LXX better brings out the parallel between God's people and the Gentiles. A remnant from both groups were being invited to repent and join in with a new, multiethnic people of God in the restored Kingdom: "Hear me, hear me, my people; and ye kings, hearken to me: for a law shall proceed from me, and my judgment shall be for a light of the nations". This is the envisaged "law" going forth from Zion in the reestablished Kingdom (Is. 2:2-4), not the law of Moses, but a law which was to be "a light to the peoples". Ultimately this is the message of the Lord Jesus, the light of the world, the word / law made flesh.

Isaiah 51:5 My righteousness is near, My salvation is gone forth, and My arms shall judge the peoples; the islands shall wait for Me, and on My arm shall they trust-
The Kingdom could have come very quickly had the exiles repented. God was so eager to fulfill His saving plan. Hence LXX "My righteousness speedily draws nigh". His enthusiasm and almost impatience to save His people reflects an eternal aspect of His character, which encourages us that He is far from indifferent as to the outcome of His saving purpose with us. See on :14.

Note the parallel between righteousness and salvation. As Paul develops in Rom. 1-8, we are saved by the imputation of righteousness, justification by faith. But that is yet to be revealed, although it could have been "near" even in time for the exiles. They refused these wonderful things, but they are true for us too, as we await the soon revelation of the Lord Jesus at judgment day.

Isaiah 51:6 Lift up your eyes to the skies, and look on the land beneath; for the skies shall vanish away like smoke, and the land shall wax old like a garment; and those who dwell therein shall die in the same way: but My salvation shall be eternal, and My righteousness shall not be abolished-
This is parallel in reference to Is. 50:9: "Behold, all they shall wax old as a garment, the moth shall eat them up". The "they" are any possible adversaries who might bring charges against us. This had particular relevance to all the adversaries to the rebuilding of Jerusalem. With Yahweh justifying the returned exiles, the court room was effectively empty of adversaries, all charges were to be seen in the perspective of God's ultimate justification of His people (see on Is. 50:8). These words are also found in Job 13:28, where it is God who consumes them, as it were manifesting Himself in a tiny moth. We find the same ideas here in Is. 51:6, where the "they" is the 'heavens and earth' of any system, be it Persia / Babylon or an unbelieving Jewish system, which is adversarial to God's people and purpose. The contrast is with how the clothing of Israel in the wilderness did not "wax old" (s.w. Dt. 8:4; 29:5; Neh. 9:21). The exodus and journey to the promised land is repeatedly alluded to in Isaiah as a pattern for the exiles to follow in returning to Judah, and for us in our exodus from this world and journey towards the Kingdom.

Isaiah 51:7 Listen to Me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is My law-
This is addressed to the righteous minority amongst the exiles, who although they couldn't fully obey the law in exile, still had it in their hearts. And if they entered the new covenant, the Spirit would write that law in their hearts (Jer. 31:33). But instead, the returned exiles refused to have the law in their hearts (Zech. 7:12), and so these things are reapplied to Gentiles who are willing to have the essence of Divine law in their hearts (Rom. 2:15).

Don’t fear the reproach of men, neither be dismayed at their insults- See on :1,6. As explained on Is. 50:8, we need not fear insults nor false accusation from men because we shall ultimately be justified, and even now have righteousness imputed to us. This had particular relevance to the returned exiles. "Reproach" is s.w. Neh. 1:3; 2:17; 4:4; 5:9 about the reproach of the Gentiles against the partially rebuilt Jerusalem. Is. 51:3-11 is clearly in a restoration context. This passage seems to have foreseen the lagging of spirit in Zerubbabel and the builders, and the need to encourage them that a second group of exiles ought to have come with Nehemiah with great joy. A few came, but this yet further opportunity was again not realized by the returnees. See on :11.

Isaiah 51:8 For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool-
These words are also found in Job 13:28, where it is God who consumes them, as it were manifesting Himself in a tiny moth, and also as a "worm". See on :6.

But My righteousness shall be forever, and My salvation to all generations- Note the parallel between righteousness and salvation. As Paul develops in Rom. 1-8, we are saved by the imputation of righteousness, justification by faith. But that is yet to be revealed, although it could have been "near" even in time for the exiles. They refused these wonderful things, but they are true for us too, as we await the soon revelation of the Lord Jesus at judgment day. Keeping this hope in view means we shall ultimately have nobody and nothing charged against us, there will be no legal adversary in court with us at the last day. And this means that we handle accusation, both justified and false, "the reproach of men" (:7) in that perspective. And yet it is criticism and the shame which arises from it which can psychologically and spiritually destroy people in this life.

Isaiah 51:9 Awake, awake, put on strength, arm of Yahweh-
This and :10 are perhaps God's hopeful imagination of how the exiles would pray to Him; the kind of Divine fantasy which Hosea had about the repentance of Gomer and her return to him which he imagined to the point of fantasizing about. LXX "Awake, awake, O Jerusalem, and put on the strength of thine arm", repeated in :17. The exiles are called "Jerusalem". They called themselves this (Is. 48:2); but they needed to do more than such merely external, legalistic, ritualistic identification of themselves with a name and culture. And that is an abiding challenge for God's people today. They had to "awake", to allow God's Spirit to act upon their hearts to "stir up" their spirits (s.w. 1 Chron. 5:26; 2 Chron. 21:16), just as He had stirred up the spirit of Cyrus to let them return (s.w. 2 Chron. 36:22). The spirit of the exiles was likewise awoken or stirred up to return (s.w. Ezra 1:5). Isaiah tragically concluded that there were so few who would 'stir up themselves' (Is. 64:7). God had given them the potential to be 'stirred up' in their hearts and minds to leave Babylon and return- but they wouldn't respond. And today, the same happens. God is willing to change hearts, to stir up materialistic and complacent spirits- but because we're not robots, we have to respond.     

Awake, as in the days of old, the generations of ancient times. Isn’t it You who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the monster?- If they allowed themselves to be 'awoken' or 'stirred up', then Yahweh would likewise awake for them and act miraculously as He had at the time of the exodus from Egypt. But they would not be stirred up, and so the stirring up or awaking of Yahweh's arm had a longer term application. The arm of the Lord- a title of Christ- is described as awaking (cp. Christ's resurrection), and as being "It which hath dried the (Red) Sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made a way for the ransomed to pass over" (Is. 51:9,10). This is describing the work of Christ in language applicable to the Angel of the Exodus who brought Israel through the Red Sea.

Marduk killed Tiamat in the waters and cut him in pieces. This is one of many mocking allusions to Marduk, showing Yahweh’s supremacy over him. See on Is. 40:25. Marduk was formed- but Yahweh had no god before Him and will have none after Him (Is. 43:10). Marduk had a counsellor, Ea, called in the inscriptions “the all-wise one”. But Yahweh has all wisdom and has no such counsellor (Is. 40:13,14; Is. 41:28). All this reference to the Marduk cult was in my opinion not merely a pointless mockery and poking of fun at the Persian culture. It was a very real appeal to the Jewish exiles to quit it, to come out and be separate; remember again and again that Mordecai [and perhaps Esther too] had adopted names reflective of the Marduk cult.

Yahweh "Trod on the back of Sea", i.e. the supposed Satan figure called "Sea" (Job 9:8; Dt. 33:29; Amos 4:13; Mic. 1:3; Is. 63:3). Even if such a being existed, he had been destroyed for good by Yahweh at the Red Sea. "You split Sea... cut Rahab in pieces... didst pierce the dragon" (Ps. 78:13; Neh. 9:11;Is. 51:9-11). Thus the splitting of the Red Sea was understood as a splitting of the Satan figure or god known as "Sea". All this was what Moses had in mind when he sought to explain to his people what had happened at the Red Sea- even if there were such a being as the "Sea" god of evil, Yahweh their God had totally destroyed him and split him into pieces. And the real 'satan' was Egypt, real men on a real earth who posed a danger to Israel.

Isaiah 51:10 Isn’t it You who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over?-
Yahweh had promised that He would lead His people on that wilderness journey from Babylon to Zion just as He had earlier led His people from Egypt to the same promised land. Jer. 31:2 had encouraged them that Israel “found grace in the wilderness” before, and they would do again, “When I go to cause [Israel] to go to their place of rest” (RV). God had promised in Jer. 31:9 that He would bring Israel on their journey from Babylon to Judah along the fertile crescent- He would “cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble”.  This is why Isaiah’s prophecies of the restoration from Babylon are shot through with allusion to the exodus and wilderness journey (e.g. Is. 43:2; 51:10; 63:11).

The allusion is not only to the exodus, but to creation itself. The present world was created by a re-organization of things which existed in some form before. This means that when our own lives, or the collective life of God’s people, appears to be in chaos- then we can in faith reflect that God has brought beautiful order out of chaos, and He can likewise powerfully bring order to what seems hopeless. This is the context of the creation allusions in the laments of Ps. 74:12-17; 89:10-15; Is. 51:9 etc.

Isaiah 51:11 The ransomed of Yahweh shall return, and come with singing to Zion; and everlasting joy shall be on their heads. They shall obtain gladness and joy; sorrow and weeping shall flee away-
Isaiah had repeatedly prophesied that Judah would come with joy to Zion, and would continue there with an everlasting joy. But the records give little indication that they were joyful; Neh. 8:9,10 shows Nehemiah encouraging them to be joyful, because “the joy of the Lord is your strength”. They didn’t want to have all joy and peace through believing; and so the Kingdom of joy didn’t come. They didn’t live the Kingdom life of joy, and so they didn’t possess or experience the Kingdom. The lowness of their petty concerns deprived them of it. 

There was great joy at the time of the first Purim in Esther's time when sorrow was turned to joy (s.w. Esther 9:22), but the people did not return. The restoration was intended to be the time when sorrow was turned to joy (Jer. 31:13 s.w.). But as we can, they forgot the price aid for their ransom and remained in slavery. And those who did return didn't do so with the voice of joy, but with nervousness and then complaining about the famine, bad harvests and diseases they and their crops were smitten with on returning. The eternal joy spoken of here will come true only at the return of the Lord Jesus. Joy by its nature is temporal in this life, because of our emotional structure; we cannot maintain such experiences of joy in a permanent sense. But this is the wonderful nature of salvation. "Sorrow and sighing" is the same phrase used about David's feelings because of his sin with Bathsheba (Ps. 31:10). As noted throughout Is. 35, the essential theme is of internal spiritual transformation, and no longer experiencing the effects of sin; for that is the greatest "joy". The exiles refused all these things, and so they are reapplied to the final removal of sorrow and sighing at the return of the Lord Jesus (Rev. 21:3,4).

Isaiah 51:12 I, even I, am He who comforts you-
God is not distant; the God of the cosmos was eager to personally draw near to the hearts ("comfort") of the exiles. But they refused.

Who are you, that you are afraid of man who shall die- Is. 40:6-8 has the same basic message of comfort through the message of human mortality and weakness. For it is our fear of others, of their opinions and judgments, which causes so much discomfort to so many. And so here too, the mortality of humanity is used as a comfort to the downtrodden people of God. Because man is mortal... don't fear man, but rather God. And this is to be a comfort to us. God chose His message of comfort to be simply: "Man is mortal!". But the exiles and the potential "servant" figure feared men, perhaps one particular ruler of Persia or Babylon, whom he thought would not allow their restoration; see on :16; Is. 52:13. They feared him rather than God, and so they didn't flee Babylon as asked. But then God removed Belshazzar and Cyrus gave the decree for them to return. And they refused even that. But all their possible excuses for not responding to the call of the Gospel are dealt with in Isaiah's prophecies; and mankind today is likewise without excuse for not responding.

And of the son of man who shall be made as grass- In Hebrew thought, “the Son of man” meant an ordinary, mortal man (Is. 51:12). Several times we are reminded that “God is not a man” (Num. 23:19; Hos. 11:9); yet Christ was clearly “the Son of man” or, as he is often called in the New Testament, “the man Christ Jesus”. The Greek text calls him “son of anthropos”, i.e. of mankind, rather than “son of aner” [husband, man].

Isaiah 51:13 And have forgotten Yahweh your Maker, who stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and fear continually all the day because of the fury of the oppressor, when he makes ready to destroy; and where is the fury of the oppressor?-
LXX "because of the wrath of him that afflicted thee: for whereas he counseled to take thee away, yet now where is the wrath of him that afflicted thee?". In the Isaiah context, this is clearly a reflection upon the boast of the Assyrians that they would take Zion into captivity in their land. The exiles were intended to remember this and to realize that the apparent strength of Babylon and its leadership was not going to hinder their restoration (see on :12).

Time and again, Isaiah’s restoration prophecies told Judah that they should not fear, as Yahweh would mightily be with them in their work (Is. 41:10,13,14; 43:1,5; 44:2,8,11; 54:7,14; 59:19). But Judah feared the surrounding nations- Ezra and Nehemiah are full of this theme (Ezra 3:3). Nehemiah refused to be put in fear by the Samaritan opposition because of his faith in Isaiah’s promises (Nehemiah 6:14). And Isaiah further spoke to Judah’s heart in Isaiah 51:12,13: “I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass; And forgettest the LORD thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations [s.w. re. the foundation of the temple being laid] of the earth [‘heaven and earth’ often refers to the temple]; and hast 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?” (AV). The fact they did fear meant that they had forgotten Yahweh who was so eager to re-establish their Kingdom.

Isaiah 51:14 The captive exile shall speedily be freed-
Again we note how "speedily" the deliverance and reestablishment of the Kingdom could have happened. The Kingdom was indeed very "near"; see on :5.

And he shall not die and go down into the pit, neither shall his bread fail- See on Is. 52:2. The exiles failed to discern that in spiritual terms Babylon was a prison cell from which the righteous should seek to hasten out of, to flee from; to shake off the yoke it put upon their necks (Is. 51:14; 52:2). Yet all they saw was a nice, comfy life, and they thought they were doing their bit by giving some silver and gold to those who wanted to return and build the temple, a desire which they would all have soberly nodded in agreement with as being ‘a great work’ (what similarities with ourselves?). Those who did return satisfied themselves with a small temple, disregarding the instructions which Ezekiel had given them in Babylon, they lacked the faith to believe that Yahweh would be a wall of fire around them and instead built their own wall, and got on with building their own ceiled houses (as Haggai lamented) rather than Yahweh’s house, marrying the local women, extorting wealth even from each other and enslaving their less fortunate brethren, trading on the Sabbath, allowing the local Arab leaders chambers even in the temple...and so the Kingdom prophecies were deferred. The process that could have brought about Yahweh’s establishment of His Kingdom seems to have been centered around an attack from the surrounding nations, aimed against the wonderful new temple Judah were supposed to have built, which would be destroyed by Yahweh who dwelt in that temple [‘Zion’].

Is. 51:14, speaking of the call to Judah to leave Babylon, sounds as if they were  willing and eager to leave that spiritually dreadful place. But the reality was that Judah didn’t hasten to be loosed, they preferred the Babylon life, and didn’t perceive it for the spiritual pit that was killing them which it was. Most of them chose to remain there. So this passage is therefore a prophecy, a command, about how God wanted Judah to respond.

Isaiah 51:15 For I am Yahweh your God, who stirs up the sea, so that its waves roar: Yahweh of Armies is His name-
The roaring of the waves is applied here to Yahweh's victory at the roaring Red Sea, implying that this invasion is going to be destroyed as the Egyptians were. This didn't happen at the Babylonian invasion, although potentially it could've done had Judah repented. Is. 17:12 uses the phrase about the judgment upon Syria and Israel (and probably Judah is also in view here (see on Is. 17:5), with the rushing of waters  representing the various nations in the Assyrian or Babylonian confederacy. But this strange rush of nations against them would be strangely stopped (Is. 17:13), by grace. "The roaring of the seas" is the term used for the Babylonian invasion of Judah (Jer. 5:22; 6:23). What began in Is. 17 as a prophecy of judgment against Syria and Israel at the hands of the Assyrians now morphs into judgment against Judah at the hands of the Babylonians; see on Is. 13:1.

There is Angelic reference here: "The Lord of Hosts (of Angels) is His Name... I have put My words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand (an Angelic phrase- for the Angel hid Moses in the shadow of His hand), that I may... say unto Zion, Thou art My people" (Is. 51:15,16).

Isaiah 51:16 I have put My words in your mouth, and have covered you in the shadow of My hand-
This would be achieved if they accepted the Spirit, part of the package offered in the new covenant (Is. 59:21). His words would be written in their hearts too. Having Divine words put in the mouth meant they were to be as Aaron and Moses before Pharaoh (s.w. Ex. 4:15); for it was also Moses who was covered in the shadow of Yahweh's hand as He passed by. See on Is. 52:13. Remember that they were bidden flee Babylon before she fell to the Medes. The servant figure need not have feared the king of Babylon, he was intended to go to him and plead as Moses "let My people go". But the exiles feared men, perhaps one particular ruler of Persia or Babylon, whom they thought would not allow their restoration; see on :12. They feared him rather than God, and so they didn't flee Babylon as asked.   


That I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and tell Zion, ‘You are My people’- LXX renders this in the future tense: "I will put my words into thy mouth, and I will shelter thee under the shadow of mine hand, with which I fixed the sky, and founded the earth: and the Lord shall say to Sion, Thou art my people". But the confusion of tenses is because this is what Yahweh had already done for His people; He was about to make a new creation, with all the excitement of the creator; but they didn't want to be recreated. They had to realize that potential. And it's the same for us, called to leave Babylon and participate in the reestablished Kingdom of God.

As God longed to pronounce the words “You are my people” to them (Hos. 2:25), so here Isaiah speaks of how at the restoration God wished to use that very phrase to returned Judah; see on Is. 1:26. Hosea / God speak in the most shocking terms- “I will sow her… in the land” (Hos. 2:25). This means, bluntly, they would have sex, in the land of God. But the Jews in Babylon just plain weren’t interested in returning to the land. They preferred to remain there where they were, and ‘worship’ God, criticizing others for their apostasy, but not really come back to Him with any passion. God wished that once again He would be with them in the wilderness as He was at the beginning of their national relationship, and then enter a new covenant with them, the joy of which would result in the physical transformation of the planet.

Isaiah 51:17 Awake, awake, stand up, Jerusalem-
The exiles are called "Jerusalem". They called themselves this (Is. 48:2); but they needed to do more than such merely external, legalistic, ritualistic identification of themselves with a name and culture. And that is an abiding challenge for God's people today. They had to "awake", to allow God's Spirit to act upon their hearts to "stir up" their spirits (s.w. 1 Chron. 5:26; 2 Chron. 21:16), just as He had stirred up the spirit of Cyrus to let them return (s.w. 2 Chron. 36:22). The spirit of the exiles was likewise awoken or stirred up to return (s.w. Ezra 1:5).

God 'stirred up' the spirit of Cyrus and also of the Jews who returned (Ezra 1:1,5). Isaiah uses the same Hebrew term to describe how Israel's saviour would be "raised up" [s.w.]- Is. 41:2,25; 45:13. And yet Isaiah pleads with Zion, i.e. the faithful, to indeed be stirred up- Is. 51:17; 52:1 appeals to Zion to "Awake!"- the same word translated "stirred up". But Isaiah tragically concluded that there were so few who would 'stir up themselves' (Is. 64:7). God had given them the potential to be 'stirred up' in their hearts and minds to leave Babylon and return- but they wouldn't respond. And today, the same happens. God is willing to change hearts, to stir up materialistic and complacent spirits- but because we're not robots, we have to respond. And yet, God's grace still shines through.

Yahweh would "stir up" Cyrus (s.w. Is. 41:2,25; 45:13), so this could have been fulfilled through that stirred up "mighty man" of Is. 42:13. But he failed. The "mighty man", the gibbor, therefore became reapplied to the Lord Jesus (Is. 9:6 s.w.). But He will act through the stirring up of a repentant Judah (s.w. Is. 51:9,17; 52:1), seeing that no man would be 'stirred up' (s.w. Is. 64:7). All the potential candidates had refused the Divine nudges to be stirred up.

That has drunk at the hand of Yahweh the cup of His wrath; you have drunken the bowl of the cup of staggering, and drained it- Taking the cup of wine is a double symbol: of blessing (1 Cor. 10:16; 11:25), and of condemnation (Ps. 60:3; 75:8; Is. 51:17; Jer. 25:15; Rev. 14:10; 16:19). Why this use of a double symbol? Surely the Lord designed this sacrament in order to highlight the two ways which are placed before us by taking that cup: it is either to our blessing, or to our condemnation. Each breaking of bread is a further stage along one of those two roads. Paul realized this in pleading with the Corinthians to examine themselves before taking the emblems. He saw the ceremony and our self-examination there as a kind of foretaste of the judgment (1 Cor. 11:29-32). If they wanted to accept it, judgment was over and done. But they didn't, and so they were to many times more drink it.

Isaiah 51:18 There is none to guide her among all the sons whom she has brought forth; neither is there any who takes her by the hand among all the sons whom she has brought up-
The LXX renders this in the past tense: "and there was none to comfort thee of all the children whom thou borest; and there was none to take hold of thine hand, not even of all the children whom thou has reared". Now Isaiah returns to the reality- that they would not respond to the call, and would have no servant figure who could in the spirit of Moses ask the king of Babylon to let them go; see on :16.

Zerubbabel, the ‘shoot out of Babylon’ as his name means, could have been the promised Messianic shoot out of the withered stem of Jesse. He could have been the Messianic shoot out of the dry ground of Babylon (Is. 53:2) who would accompany the return of the temple vessels from Babylon (Is. 52:11). But he disappears strangely out of the record. Thus the events of Nehemiah 8, where the Feasts of Trumpets, Atonement and Tabernacles as well as the dedication of the wall are all recorded, make no mention of the High Priest or Zerubbabel officiating. He, Joshua and indeed anyone who could have taken their place somehow didn’t rise to the occasion. And so Is. 51:17,18 lamented, prophetically: “Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the LORD the cup of his fury [at the end of the 70 years captivity]... [but] There is none to guide her among all the sons whom she hath brought forth; neither is there any that taketh her by the hand of all the sons that she hath brought up”. It was the responsibility of the priests and religious leaders to "gently lead" the exiles back to their God and their land, but they failed in this (Is. 59:18 s.w.); and so because their was none to guide / gently lead (s.w.), God Himself had to intervene and do this through His Son (Is. 40:11; 49:10).  

Isaiah 51:19 These two things have happened to you; who will bemoan you? Desolation and destruction, and the famine and the sword; how shall I comfort you?-
God was eager to personally comfort them, but they refused. Hence this rhetorical question. The primary reference is to God seeking to comfort them over the desolation of Judah by the Babylonians. But also in view may be the withholding of agricultural blessing after the restoration which occurred several times- in Neh. 5:2,3 (as prophesied here in Is. 51:19), in Haggai’s time, and later in Malachi 3:10,12; when the restored Zion could have been as the garden of Eden, i.e. paradise restored on earth (Is. 51:3). Here we see frightening similarities with ourselves. We know, but often don’t do. We sense this cycle of failure, crying out for mercy, receiving it, failing again, crying for mercy, receiving it, failing again...we see it in Israel, in our brethren and those around us, and in ourselves. We can expound it, lament it, feel the shame and tragedy of it all...and yet continue to have a part in it. Eventually, the people stayed in this groove so long that they degenerated into how they were at the time of Malachi- self-righteous, with no sense of failure any more, living self-centered lives of petty materialism, earning wages as they did in Haggai’s time, to put into pockets with holes in, life without satisfaction, achieving nothing, passively angry. This is what Malachi clearly portrays. It’s a terrible picture, and one which we can sail dangerously close to identifying with.

Isaiah 51:20 Your sons have fainted, they lie at the head of all the streets, as an antelope in a net; they are full of the wrath of Yahweh, the rebuke of your God-
God recognizes here that He is not unaware of the desolation of Jerusalem. He uses the language of Lamentations to describe the scenes. He is not the judge who hands out judgments and sentences with no personal comprehension of what they involve. But these judgments had been legitimate; but they were now over, if they wanted them to be (:21,22).

Isaiah 51:21 Therefore hear now this, you afflicted and drunken, but not with wine-
They had drunk the cup of judgment (:17,20), but not the wine of final condemnation. Isaiah's prophecies continually emphasize that God is fully aware of their "affliction", and would have mercy upon them in it (Is. 49:13; 54:11; 66:2 s.w.).

Isaiah 51:22 Thus says your Lord Yahweh, and your God who pleads the cause of His people, Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of staggering, even the bowl of the cup of My wrath; you shall no more drink it again-
Babylon fell so that Persia would take over the administration of the 127 provinces where the Jews were scattered, and would allow them to return to Judah (Is. 43:14). The cup of judgment which Judah drunk for 70 years was passed to Babylon. This accounts for Isaiah’s repeated and detailed emphasis on the coming fall of Babylon for Judah / Israel’s sake (e.g. Isaiah 47). They had been asked to flee Babylon before that, but when they didn't, God still worked with them; now reasoning as if their cup of judgment had passed to Babylon (:23), and they were now free to leave Babylon. Although they had sinned, Yahweh showed His gracious love for His people by bringing down Babylon so that they might leave (Is. 48:14). “For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee [Cyrus] by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me “ (Is. 45:4). Likewise the iron curtain came down to allow preachers of God’s Truth to take it to those once in darkness. And English has become the lingua-franca of the world, enabling Christian preaching to now penetrate societies literally world-wide. See on Ezra 2:1.

Isaiah 51:23 And I will put it into the hand of those who afflict you, who have said to your soul, ‘Bow down, that we may walk over you;’ and you have laid your back as the ground, and as the street, to those who walk over
- See on :22. There were yet to be many times when the Gentiles would trample Zion underfoot. Here and in :22 is envisioned a time when this would never happen again. The Babylonian treading down of Jerusalem could have been the last time. But that potential was spurned by the exiles. And so there shall come one final time in the last days when Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles (Lk. 21:24), when these prophecies will come to their final term.