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Deeper Commentary

Isaiah 52:1 Awake, awake, put on your strength, Zion-  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.

Put on your beautiful garments, Jerusalem, the holy city- The implication is that she was about to be married to Yahweh.

For henceforth there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean- But the uncircumcised did come and live in the temple and marry the Jews. And Ezra and Nehemiah covered themselves with sackcloth in mourning because of these things. And thus they showed that this prophecy could not be fulfilled at their time. Tobiah the Ammonite was given a chamber in the temple for him to use as an office for undermining God’s people (Neh. 13:7). This precluded the fulfilment of the restoration prophecies. There were to be “holy chambers” in the temple for the Levites (Ez. 46:19 and very often in Ezekiel 40-48). The uncircumcised Gentiles were not to be brought into the sanctuary (Ez. 44:7). It was God’s intention that when Judah returned from Babylon, the uncircumcised would not come into Zion (the temple), and the Kingdom would be established (Is. 52:1,11). There was to be no Canaanite in the house of Yahweh (Zech. 14:21).

Isaiah 52:2 Shake yourself from the dust! Arise, sit up, Jerusalem!-
God's psychological stirring up of the exiles (:1) depended upon them being open to this- hence the verbs here suggest proactive action by the exiles themselves- shaking themselves, arising and sitting up. "Arise" is the word used often of the 'rising up' of the exiles to rebuild Jerusalem (Ezra 1:5; 3:2; 9:5; Neh. 2:18; 3:1). This was a fulfilment of the command to "Arise... Jerusalem!" (Is. 51:17; 52:2; 61:4). But this 'arising' was to be associated with the dawning of Zion's light in the form of Yahweh's glory literally dwelling over Zion (Is. 60:1). This didn't happen at the time, because the appearance of 'arising' by the exiles was only external and wasn't matched by a spiritual revival. The word for "sit up" is in fact used of how both Ezra and Nehemiah "sat down" in grief at the apostasy of the Jews (Ezra 9:3; Neh. 1:4).  

Release yourself from the bonds of your neck, captive daughter of Zion!- The Jews didn’t perceive the soft life of Babylon as chains around their necks, and so they didn’t loose themselves and leave. See on Is. 51:14. The same words are used in Is. 58:6 of how the exiles refused to release the bonds they had placed upon their brethren. And yet they were themselves in bondage, needing release, if only they would realize their true position. But God was simply so positive about His people- Is. 51:14 appears to be a descriptive statement about the Jews, but in reality it wasn’t true: “The bound down one hastens to be loosed”. Sadly, they didn’t respond to the exhortation to loose themselves from the bands upon them (Is. 52:2). They preferred to stay in bondage, as so many do today, despite God willing them to seek release as He did with the exiles.

Isaiah 52:3 For thus says Yahweh, You were sold for nothing; and you shall be redeemed without money-
They were "sold for nothing" in that God had no personal benefit from the exile of His people; He did this to them for their spiritual benefit, not for any gain for Himself. Their redemption likewise would be according to His grace, and not because of any transaction between God and man. This was reflected in the way Cyrus commanded the Jews to return and provided all that was materially required to rebuild the temple, but "not for reward", for no personal benefit (Is. 45:13).

Isaiah 52:4 For thus says the Lord Yahweh, My people went down at the first into Egypt to live there: and the Assyrian has oppressed them without cause-
If we take this translation, then this is amazing grace; for the prophets are full of reasons / causes as to why Israel were oppressed by Assyria. But God is prepared to impute righteousness to them to such an extent that this is seen as having been "without cause". But GNB is worth considering: "When you went to live in Egypt as foreigners [in disobedience, at the time of Jeremiah, with him pleading with them not to], you did so of your own free will; Assyria, however, took you away by force and paid nothing for you. And now in Babylonia the same thing has happened: you are captives, and nothing was paid for you".

Isaiah 52:5 Now therefore, what do I do here, says Yahweh, seeing that My people are taken away for nothing? Those who rule over them mock, says Yahweh, and My name continually all the day is blasphemed-
See on :4. LXX "And now why are ye here?" would suggest that the Jews ought to have already returned. The Babylonians didn't so much mock them, as their God. They were not unpopular in Babylon, and they were popular under Persian rule, as the book of Esther makes clear. They should not only have left Babylon, but quit worshipping the local idols and shown what Yahweh worship was really about; and He would have acted in a wondrous way to restore His Kingdom. But their impenitence precluded that from happening, and so the restoration project of Yahweh didn't work out as planned, and so His Name was blasphemed. This verse seems to be behind
 the mention in Rom. 2:24 that God's Name was blasphemed amongst the Gentiles because of Jewish impenitence and refusal to accept Messiah. Hence this prophesy continues to state that He would reveal His Name to His people as it is in His Son, and then they would ultimately accept Him and thus the blasphemy of God’s Name would cease.

Isaiah 52:6 Therefore My people shall know My name. Therefore they shall know in that day that I am He who speaks; behold, it is I-
See on :5. The lament in :5 that God's Name was blasphemed may refer to blasphemy by the exiles, in that they bore His Name but worshipped idols. In the day of restoration, they would "know" the Name in truth which they had before blasphemed or caused to be blasphemed, and not just as a word or culture they adhered to. Knowing God's Name is paralleled to knowing that He really speaks and His saving purpose expressed in that word is Him. "It is I", "the word was God", that word which for the exiles was all about their certain salvation in His Kingdom, was the essence of God. He is all about saving, and so His Son was rightly named 'Yah's salvation'.

Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful on the mountains-
This may refer as an intensive plural to the great mountain, of Zion. For it is Zion, the temple mount, which is addressed with the news that "Your God reigns".

Are the feet of him who brings good news- The future reestablished Kingdom is called “good things” in Is. 52:7 (quoted in Rom. 10:15) and Jer. 8:15. All things work together for good (Rom. 8:28) doesn’t mean that somehow everything will work out OK for us in this life- for so often they don’t. We are asked to carry the Lord’s cross, to suffer now and be redeemed in glory later at His return, in the “good things” of the Kingdom.

Who publishes peace, who brings good news of good, who publishes salvation- The "peace" in view is peace with God after all Israel's conflict with Him.

Who says to Zion, Your God reigns!- The enthronement of Yahweh in Zion could have happened at the time of the restoration. So much potential was disallowed by Judah's lack of faith, vision and repentance. And so these things are applied to the Lord Jesus, who is presented here as both the herald of the king and also the king. But all that is true of Him, the servant named "Israel", is true of all those in Him. Isaiah’s description of the beauty of Christ’s heralding or preaching in Is. 52:7 is quoted by Paul concerning every preacher of the Gospel (Rom. 10:15); the “he” of Is. 52 is changed to “them” in Rom. 10. And Paul is quoting this Old Testament prophecy about Jesus to prove that we are all “sent” to preach the Gospel. The validity of our commission to preach is quite simply that Jesus Himself preached; in this way we are all personally “sent” to preach, simply because He was sent to preach. As the Father sent Him, so He sends us.

The whole latter part of Isaiah is full of descriptions of this preaching to Israel, appealing to them to repent, humble themselves, quit their materialism and idolatry, and accept the Lord Jesus as Messiah (e.g. 55:1-5). The preaching of Is. 52:7 is the "report" concerning Christ's cross of Is. 53:1; the message of "peace" of Is. 52:7 is the Gospel of peace with God through the sacrifice of Christ (Is. 53:5). And Isaiah 40 expands this message to include the mortality of man and the primacy of God's word. All these things are distinctive Bible doctrines; it is surely we who ought to be making this witness!


In Rom 15:21, Paul justifies his preaching by quoting from part of the suffering servant prophecy in Is. 52 / 53. That whole passage is set in a context of explaining “how beautiful are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings… all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Is. 52:7,10 AV). The preaching of good tidings and the declaration of God’s salvation was through the crucifixion. Paul quotes Is. 52:15: “To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand”. This was Paul’s justification for taking the Gospel to where Christ has not been named. Note in passing how the Lord Jesus sees us as “beautiful” in our witness to Him (as in Song 7:1). Yet further into Is. 53, so much else jumps out at us as appropriate to Paul’s preaching: “Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high [cp. Paul knowing how to be exalted and abased, themes that occur in Is. 53 about Jesus’ death]. As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man [cp. Paul’s thorn in the flesh?], and his form more than the sons of men: So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for [that] which had not been told them shall they see; and [that] which they had not heard shall they consider”. Paul appeared before Agrippa, Festus, and one or two Caesars, with a visage marred by his evangelistic sufferings.

Isaiah 52:8 The voice of your watchmen! They lift up the voice, together do they sing; for they shall see eye to eye-
GNB perhaps gives the sense: "Those who guard the city are shouting, shouting together for joy. They can see with their own eyes the return of the LORD to Zion". Is. 4:5,6, Ez. 48:35 and other passages suggest the literal dwelling of Yahweh in Zion, such as will happen at the establishment of the Kingdom when we shall see His face, and God Himself shall dwell amongst us (Rev. 22:4). Such wonderful potentials were wasted by the exiles. For this could have happened then in some sense. This
is a prophecy embedded between verses which speak of the command for Judah to leave Babylon: “Loose thyself from the bands… depart ye, go ye out from thence” (Is. 52:2,11). But most of them preferred to remain. Who are the watchmen? Surely they are the Angels, who potentially prepared the way for Judah to leave Babylon. Had the people of Judah followed the cherubim Angels above them and all returned to Zion, they would have as it were seen the Angels eye to eye, sung together with the Angels at the new creation of Zion… and God’s eyes are the Angels, so in that sense Judah would have seen eye to eye with God. But they didn’t utilize what God had prepared; they lazily preferred to stay within their comfort zones by remaining in Babylon. In our experience in Christ, the same is all true, day by day. The way is set up for us, and if we bravely and boldly go in the way which the Angels have prepared, the way God intends, then we will have the experience of truly walking with the Lord, singing with His Angels, seeing eye to eye, in foretaste of the final day when we shall finally see Him face to face. See on Ezra 8:21.

When Yahweh brings Zion back- Time and again, Jeremiah had prophesied how Yahweh would bring again His people and the vessels of the temple back to the land (Jer. 28:3,4,6; 30:3,18; 31:23); and this all had a fulfilment in the return from captivity under Ezra and Nehemiah. It was then that in some sense Yahweh ‘brought again Zion’ (Is. 52:8). The same word is to be found in Ez. 38:8 and Ez. 39:27, where again, the invasion is to happen once Judah had been ‘brought again’ from captivity. Judah returned, and yet they didn’t rebuild the temple as they were commanded. Therefore the invasion didn’t come, and therefore the Kingdom wasn’t then established. As if knowing this, Hos. 6:11 had prophesied [otherwise strangely] that Judah would reap their punishment, when they returned from captivity. They returned [s.w. ‘bring again’], but not to the Most High (Hos. 7:16). Joel 3, however, speaks from the perspective that Judah would be ‘brought again’ from Babylon under Ezra; and then Joel 3:2 “I will also gather all nations... and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land”. This applies therefore to the last days.

Isaiah 52:9 Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem; for Yahweh has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem-
The broken down wastes of Jerusalem suddenly bursting into joy suggests an immediate, in a moment transformation; rather than slow and partial rebuilding with many obstacles and difficulty shifting the rubble, as was experienced at the restoration. Such a rebuilding of the waste places as envisioned here would suggest miraculous Divine intervention and activity. It will finally come true when the heavenly Jerusalem and Zion descend from above, ready built, onto the site of Zion; as seen in the final visions of Revelation.

Isaiah 52:10 Yahweh has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God-
The past tense is used because this outcome was so certain- but it still depended upon the repentance and faith of the exiles. Had they returned, supported with the same kind of miraculous manifestations as seen at the exodus, then "the nations" amongst whom they were scattered, the 127 provinces of Persia, would have seen God's arm revealed. The ends of the eretz were specifically those areas on the borders of the eretz promised to Abraham, which is where they had been taken into captivity.

But this didn't happen. And so the arm of Yahweh which brings salvation is revealed now to the nations through the work of the Lord Jesus (Is. 53:1). We can reflect how an omnipotent God could have achieved salvation in a less painful way than He did- but He made bare His arm in the death of the cross (Is. 52:10), i.e. He expended Himself greatly. The same idea is present when we read of Yahweh paying a price for the redemption of His people from Egypt. He didn’t pay the Egyptians anything, but the figure is used to express the extensive effort He was involved in for His people.


Isaiah 52:11 Depart, depart, go out from there, touch no unclean thing! Go out of the midst of her! Cleanse yourselves, you who bear the temple vessels of Yahweh-
See on :1. “Come out from among them and be separate” (2 Cor. 6:17) is picking up the language of Is. 48:20; 52:11; Jer. 50:8; Zech. 2:7 concerning the return of the exiles from Babylon. The edict of Cyrus for the Jews to return to the land was reapplied to God’s command to us to leave the spirit of Babylon, the Gentile world, and go up to do His work. The returned exiles are us.
Ez. 40:42 speaks of the vessels to be used in the temple [AV “instruments”] with the same word used for the temple vessels which were brought up out of Babylon back to Judah, in fulfilment of several of Isaiah’s ‘Kingdom’ passages (Ezra 1:6-11; 8:25-33 cp. Is. 52:11; 66:20). The restoration of the kingdom could potentially have happened at the time of Ezra. LXX "separate yourselves, ye that bear the vessels of the Lord" was not really obeyed by the Levites and priests at the time of the restoration, because Malachi as well as Ezra and Nehemiah often mention their lack of separation from the peoples of the land, even intermarrying with them.  

Isaiah 52:12 For you shall not go out in haste, neither shall you go by flight: for Yahweh will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your vanguard-
Although the exodus from Egypt was in many ways a pattern for the exiles to leave Babylon, in distinction from then, they would not "go out in haste" (s.w. Dt. 16:3). They would not be persecuted in Babylon, leading them to flee. Rather they were to "flee" from Babylon spiritually (Is. 48:20) of their own volition and desire. After the decree of Cyrus,
they went with the King's blessing and not in panic. The promise that Yahweh would go before and behind them suggests that He would be even more present with them than He was with the Israelites who left Egypt, for He went before them but not also behind them. Such a visible accompaniment of the exiles back to Zion was potentially possible. 

Isaiah 52:13 Behold, My servant shall deal wisely, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high-
This continues the allusions to the exodus in :12 and throughout the servant songs. Moses was the great servant of Yahweh, and he "was very great" in the eyes of the Egyptians and their leaders (Ex. 11:3). The servant figure had been intended to come before the king of Babylon as Moses came before Pharaoh, to demand freedom for God's people, and then to lead them out of Babylon back to Judah, accompanied by Divine miracles, signs and logistical provision just as Israel had on their wilderness journey (Is. 51:12,16). The potential servant figures at the time of the restoration failed in this, and so the prophecies are reapplied to the Lord Jesus and His mediation for us on the cross, leading His people thereby out of Babylon into the restored Kingdom.

Clearly a Messiah figure could have arisen at the restoration: "And their leader shall be one of them, and their ruler shall come forth from their midst; and I will bring him near, and he shall approach me; for who would dare to risk his life to approach me?' declares the LORD” (Jer. 30:18-21 NAS). This leader who would come close to God in mediation would be willing to give his life to enable this. This must be connected with how Is. 53, describing Messiah’s death, is actually in a restoration context (beginning in Is. 52). Could it not be that a Messiah figure could have arisen and died a sacrificial death to bring his people to God? Daniel 9 likewise associates the rebuilding of Zion with the death of “Messiah the prince” to reconcile Israel to God- perhaps potentially possible within a literal 70 week period from Cyrus’ decree? Ezra’s prayer of Ezra 9 is full of reference to Daniel 9, as if he saw it as capable of fulfilment then.

The glory "high and lifted up" which Isaiah saw in Is. 6:1 is more specifically defined here in Is. 52:13 where "high and lifted up" is used of the exaltation of the suffering servant, the Messiah figure who could have been Hezekiah, had he responded rightly to his sufferings. But after God's attempts to reapply it to Zerubbabel and others, it came to full term in the suffering of the Lord Jesus. Is. 6:10 is quoted in John 12, with the information that "these things said Isaiah, because he foresaw his glory, and he spoke about him" (Jn. 12:41). The hour of glory was the hour of crucifixion. The son of God, naked, covered in blood and spittle... was the Son of man glorified. And likewise when we are fools for Christ’s sake, then we know His glory. John 12:37-41 tells us that Isaiah 6 is a vision of the Lord Jesus in glory; and in this passage John quotes both Isaiah 6 and 53 together, reflecting their connection and application to the same event, namely the Lord's crucifixion. So it is established that Is. 6 is a vision of the crucified Lord Jesus, high and lifted up in glory in God's sight, whilst covered in blood and spittle, with no beauty that man should desire Him. The point is, when Isaiah saw this vision he was convicted of his sinfulness: "Woe is me, for I am undone...". And yet the same vision comforted him with the reality of forgiveness, and inspired him to offer to go forth and witness to Israel of God's grace. Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord "high and lifted up", with the temple veil torn (Is. 6:4 cp. Mt. 27:51), and was moved to realize his sinfulness, and vow to spread the appeal for repentance (Is. 6:1,5). The high, lifted up Lord whom he saw was He of Is. 52:13- the crucified Lord. And yet Isaiah saw Him enthroned in God's glory, as it were on the cross. What was the nadir of shame in the eyes of men was the acme of exaltation in God's eyes. So John links the visions of Is. 6 and Is. 52/53 as both concerning the crucifixion (Jn. 12:37-41); there the glory and essence of God was revealed supremely. Jn. 12:38-41 draws a parallel between being converted, and understanding the prophecies of the glory of the crucified Christ. To know Him in His time of dying, to see the arm of Yahweh revealed in Him there, is to be converted.  


Isaiah 52:14 Just as many were astonished at you (his appearance was marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men)-
see on Gen. 39:6; Job 17:7,8. We are to be “conformed to the image of [God’s] son" (Rom. 8:29)- to share His morphe, which was so marred beyond recognition that men turned away in disgust (Is. 52:14 cp. Phil. 2:7). The mind that was in Him then must be in us now (Phil. 2:5). This is proof enough that His "form" was not His essential nature. It is a form which we can share and reflect. The mixture of the Divine and human in the Lord Jesus is what makes Him so compelling and motivational. He was like us in that He had our nature and temptations; and yet despite that, He was different from us in that He didn't sin. Phil. 2 explains how on the cross, the Lord Jesus was so supremely "in the likeness of men"; and yet the same 'suffering servant' prophecy which Phil. 2 alludes to also makes the point that on the cross, "his appearance was so unlike the sons of Adam" (Is. 52:14). There was something both human and non-human in His manifestation of the Father upon the cross. Never before nor since has such supreme God-likeness, 'Divinity' , if you like, been displayed in such an extremely human form- a naked, weak, mortal man in His final death throes.

There, on the cross, the Lord Jesus was the form of God, equal with God in that sense, the only begotten Son. And yet on the cross His form was marred more than that of any man, He finally had no form that could be desired (Is. 52:14; 53:2). And yet this was the form of God. He  was contorted and marred more than ever, there was no beauty in Him that men should desire Him, in those hours in which His Son suffered there. The Lord Jesus then had the form of God, although in His mind He had taken the form of a servant. The Lord made Himself a servant in His mind; He looked not on His own things, but on those of others (Phil. 2:4,7). This is the context of Philippians 2; that we should have the mind of Christ, who disregarded His own status as Son of God and humbled Himself, even to death on the cross, so that we might share His status. His example really is ours, Paul is saying.

He was ‘lifted up’ in crucifixion and shame; and yet ‘lifted up’ in ‘glory’ in God’s eyes through that act. We read in Is. 52:14 that His face was more marred, more brutally transmogrified, than that of any man. And yet reflecting upon 2 Cor. 4:4,6, we find that His face was the face of God; His glory was and is the Father’s glory: “The glory of Christ, who is the image of God… the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. Zenon Ziolkowski (Spor O Calun) discusses contemporary descriptions of the faces of the crucified, including Jehohanan the Zealot, whose crucifixion Josephus mentions. Their faces were renowned for being terribly distorted by pain. The Lord's face was marred even more than that of any other, so much so that those who saw Him looked away (Is. 52:14 AV). This prophecy may suggest that for the Lord, the crucifixion process hurt even more.


Isaiah 52:15 So shall he sprinkle many nations-
Perhaps alluding to the ritual of sprinkling blood upon the leper to pronounce him clean (s.w. Lev. 14:7).
Men from all nations were in prospect sprinkled by His blood; and therefore we must extend the knowledge of this to all men, both in our collective and personal witness. Lk. 24:48 simply comments that the disciples were witnesses to the resurrection and the fact that forgiveness and salvation was therefore potentially available to all men. The parallel records in Mt. and Mk. say that they were told to go out and witness to the resurrection world-wide. Putting them together it is apparent that if we are truly witnesses of the resurrection in our own faith, then part and parcel of this is to take this witness out into our own little worlds. If we believe in the resurrection of Jesus, we will preach it world-wide. He died and rose as the representative of all men; and therefore this good news should be preached to all kinds and all races of people.


Kings shall shut their mouths at him- As explained on :13, the servant was to witness before kings, and stun them into silence if they had any objection to the idea of the salvation of God's people. But "shut their mouths" may also imply repentance by these "kings". I suggest this because the whole reason for the Law of Moses was “so that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19). Paul is quoting here from Ps. 63:11: “the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped”. He’s reasoning that because we’re all sinners, we’re all liars- for untruth is the essence of sin. We are not being true to ourselves, to God, to His word, to our brethren… we profess covenant relationship with God, to be His people, and yet we fail to keep the terms of that covenant. And the Law of Moses convicted all God’s people of this, and in this way led them to the need for Christ. Yet Is. 52:15 prophesied that the crucified Jesus would result in men shutting their mouths. The righteousness and perfection displayed there in one Man, the very human Lord Jesus, has the same effect upon us as the Law of Moses- we shut our mouths, convicted of sin.

For that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they understand- Paul read “…for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider” (Is. 52:15) as a prophecy which required him to fulfill it, by taking Christ to those who had not heard (Rom. 15:21). It was because they of themselves would not "consider" / 'understand' (s.w. Is. 1:3) that they were psychologically confirmed in their attitudes and blinded so that they would not understand / consider (Is. 6:9,10). And so God operates to this day. It was the suffering of the servant, the Lord Jesus upon the cross, which was designed to as it were jolt them into considering / understanding (s.w. Is. 52:15). So GNB "They will see and understand something they had never known".