Isaiah 51 – Listen and Awake
A. “Listen to Me.”
1. (1-3) Listen: The LORD’s past faithfulness is a promise of future blessing.
“Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness,
You who seek the LORD:
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
And to the hole of the pit from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father,
And to Sarah who bore you;
For I called him alone,
And blessed him and increased him.”
For the LORD will comfort Zion,
He will comfort all her waste places;
He will make her wilderness like Eden,
And her desert like the garden of the LORD;
Joy and gladness will be found in it,
Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.
a. Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness: The LORD here speaks to His people, but His people have had trouble listening to Him. So, three times in this chapter, the exhortation is given: Listen to Me.
b. Look to the rock from which you were hewn…. Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you: God counsels His people to look at His work in His people in days past. This is one of the great glories of God’s word to us; it tells us how God has dealt with His people and gives us faith and guidance for His work in our lives – if we will listen to Him.
i. As Isaiah spoke to them here, God’s people were in a discouraging place. They felt defeated, and the prophet told them to look at God’s work in and through His people in days past.
ii. “Once a Christian gets eaten up with discouragement and unbelief it takes a great deal to shake him out of it. Those two emotions are the masterstrokes of Satan. So long as the child of God maintains an attitude of praise and trust in the Lord, then he is invincible. Once the devil gets him discouraged, that poor man is really going to take a knocking!” (Redpath)
c. For I called him alone, and blessed him and increased him: Abraham was one man, from one simple family. Yet God called him alone and increased him. This should remind His people today that God does not need many people to do a great work. He can bless and increase one man alone. Isaiah wanted God’s people – in view here are the returning exiles from Babylon, and those of Israel’s ultimate regathering – to not be discouraged of their small numbers but realize that just as He did great things with Abraham and Sarah, He can do great things through them.
d. For the LORD will comfort Zion…He will make her wilderness like Eden…Joy and gladness will be found in it: Remembering Abraham and Sarah should give them hope for this promise. The promise seems too good to be true, but by faithfully remembering God’s work in people like Abraham and Sarah, they would have the faith to believe God’s promise to them today.
i. This shows how we can benefit through God’s work in the lives of others. When we hear of what God has done and is doing in the lives of others, it can build our faith for God’s work in our own lives.
e. He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD: This reminds us that though these promises had a near fulfillment in the return from Babylon’s captivity, their ultimate fulfillment is in a regathered, blessed, and saved Israel in the millennium.
2. (4-6) Listen: The LORD’s salvation and righteousness are forever.
“Listen to Me, My people;
And give ear to Me, O My nation:
For law will proceed from Me,
And I will make My justice rest
As a light of the peoples.
My righteousness is near,
My salvation has gone forth,
And My arms will judge the peoples;
The coastlands will wait upon Me,
And on My arm they will trust.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
And look on the earth beneath.
For the heavens will vanish away like smoke,
The earth will grow old like a garment,
And those who dwell in it will die in like manner;
But My salvation will be forever,
And My righteousness will not be abolished.
a. I will make My justice rest as a light of the peoples: When the LORD ultimately regathers, blesses, and saves Israel, He will also shine forth His justice to all the world – to Israel (My nation) and to all the nations (the peoples).
b. For the heavens will vanish away like smoke, the earth will grow old like a garment: These are references to phenomena surrounding the Second Coming of Jesus (Matthew 24:35, 2 Peter 3:7-10, Revelation 6:12-17). This is ultimately when the justice of the LORD will be displayed to Israel and all nations.
i. The judgment of the LORD isn’t only evident in creation, but also upon humanity: Those who dwell in it will die in like manner.
c. But My salvation will be forever, and My righteousness will not be abolished: Those tied to the earth (not to heaven) will be cast away, and even the earth will vanish away. But never the righteousness or salvation of God. They remain and are more permanent than even the heavens and the earth. We don’t have to be afraid that God will change His character (My righteousness) or His mind about us (My salvation). This is something to listen to.
3. (7-8) Listen: Fear God, not man.
“Listen to Me, you who know righteousness,
You people in whose heart is My law:
Do not fear the reproach of men,
Nor be afraid of their insults.
For the moth will eat them up like a garment,
And the worm will eat them like wool;
But My righteousness will be forever,
And My salvation from generation to generation.”
a. Listen to Me…Do not fear the reproach of men: Knowing the permanence of the righteousness and salvation of the LORD, and the passing nature of the wicked (For the moth will eat them up like a garment), we should listen to God, and not be afraid of men.
i. I cannot imagine a true man saying, ‘I love Christ, but I do not want others to know that I love him, lest they should laugh at me.’ That is a reason to be laughed at, or rather, to be wept over. Afraid of being laughed at? Oh sir, this is indeed a cowardly fear!” (Charles Spurgeon, The Secret of Love to God)
ii. “Yet you are a coward. Yes, put it down in English: you are a coward. If anybody called you so you would turn red in the face; and perhaps you are not a coward in reference to any other subject. What a shameful thing it is that while you are bold about everything else you are cowardly about Jesus Christ. Brave for the world and cowardly towards Christ!” (Charles Spurgeon, Cheer for the Worker, and Hope for London)
b. But My righteousness will be forever, and My salvation from generation to generation: Knowing that the righteousness and salvation of the LORD are permanent and the opposition and mocking of the wicked are temporary, we should stand strong in faith. This is something to listen to.
B. “Awake, awake!”
1. (9-16) Wake up to the power and greatness of the LORD.
Awake, awake, put on strength,
O arm of the LORD!
Awake as in the ancient days,
In the generations of old.
Are You not the arm that cut Rahab apart,
And wounded the serpent?
Are You not the One who dried up the sea,
The waters of the great deep;
That made the depths of the sea a road
For the redeemed to cross over?
So the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
And come to Zion with singing,
With everlasting joy on their heads.
They shall obtain joy and gladness;
Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
“I, even I, am He who comforts you.
Who are you that you should be afraid
Of a man who will die,
And of the son of a man who will be made like grass?
And you forget the LORD your Maker,
Who stretched out the heavens
And laid the foundations of the earth;
You have feared continually every day
Because of the fury of the oppressor,
When he has prepared to destroy.
And where is the fury of the oppressor?
The captive exile hastens, that he may be loosed,
That he should not die in the pit,
And that his bread should not fail.
But I am the LORD your God,
Who divided the sea whose waves roared—
The LORD of hosts is His name.
And I have put My words in your mouth;
I have covered you with the shadow of My hand,
That I may plant the heavens,
Lay the foundations of the earth,
And say to Zion, ‘You are My people.’”
a. Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD: Here, the faithful believer calls out to the LORD, looking to Him for salvation. They know of God’s great works in the past (Awake as in ancient days) but ask God to act on their behalf now.
i. Curiously, though it is phrased this way (and rightfully so), it is really more of a wakeup call to faith for the believer than an attempt to wake up God. Psalm 121:4 reminds us, Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. Yet it is still wonderful for the believer to call upon the LORD this way because it awakens our faith.
b. Are You not the arm that cut Rahab apart, and wounded the serpent? Among God’s great works remembered is His defeat of Rahab. But when did God cut Rahab apart, and wound a serpent? The name Rahab means pride, and ever since the Garden of Eden, the serpent has been associated with Satan (Genesis 3:1-6). This speaks in poetic terms of God’s victory over Satan, as it does also in Psalm 89:10.
c. So the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing: With every enemy defeated, and every obstacle taken care of, God’s people are restored. This is another promise with both a near and an ultimate fulfillment.
d. Who are you that you should be afraid of a man who will die: With promises this glorious, and a God this mighty, we have no reason to fear man. Man can never undo God’s plan for our lives. Compared to the great power of God, they are like grass.
e. You forget the LORD your Maker…You have feared continually every day: The two go together. We will only live in fear continually every day if we forget the LORD. When we forget the LORD, we forget His tender love and care for us: I have covered you with the shadow of My hand…and say to Zion, “You are My people.” This is something to be awake to.
i. The phrase I have covered you with the shadow of My hand reminds us of how God covered Moses with His hand, as Moses hid in the rock and the LORD made His glory to pass before Moses (Exodus 33:17-23).
ii. The LORD would shelter and protect His people the same way. Nothing comes to us unless it has first passed through His counsel. “Ask the question again, ‘Where is the fury of the oppressor?’ And the answer comes, it is under the control of God. Even Satan, your fiercest foe, – God created him, God governs him, God can do with him just as he pleases. Then as to that poverty of which you are afraid, it will not come unless God permits it; and if it does come, the Lord can alleviate it.” (Spurgeon)
2. (17-23) Wake up to the reality of God’s wrath.
Stand up, O Jerusalem,
You who have drunk at the hand of the LORD
The cup of His fury;
You have drunk the dregs of the cup of trembling,
And drained it out.
There is no one to guide her
Among all the sons she has brought forth;
Nor is there any who takes her by the hand
Among all the sons she has brought up.
These two things have come to you;
Who will be sorry for you?—
Desolation and destruction, famine and sword—
By whom will I comfort you?
Your sons have fainted,
They lie at the head of all the streets,
Like an antelope in a net;
They are full of the fury of the LORD,
The rebuke of your God.
Therefore please hear this, you afflicted,
And drunk but not with wine.
Thus says your Lord,
The LORD and your God,
Who pleads the cause of His people:
“See, I have taken out of your hand
The cup of trembling,
The dregs of the cup of My fury;
You shall no longer drink it.
But I will put it into the hand of those who afflict you,
Who have said to you,
‘Lie down, that we may walk over you.’
And you have laid your body like the ground,
And as the street, for those who walk over.”
a. Awake, awake! Stand up, O Jerusalem: This wakeup call is directed right at Jerusalem. God’s people sometimes spiritually “fall asleep” and need to be awakened. Romans 13:11-12 says, And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.
b. You who have drunk at the hand of the LORD, the cup of His fury: A common picture of judgment in the Old Testament is the cup of God’s wrath or fury. The idea is that God gives a cup “full” of His wrath to those who are under judgment, and they must drink it. Here, God calls Jerusalem to remember that they have drunk at the hand of the LORD, the cup of His fury when they experienced God’s judgment through the Babylonians.
i. If possible, the image is even strengthened: You have drunk the dregs of the cup of trembling, and drained it out. Not only did Jerusalem drink the cup, but they also drained it – drinking down to the dregs at the bottom of the cup. They had experienced desolation and destruction, famine and sword, and this was God’s cup for them.
ii. This powerful image was in the mind of Jesus when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before His crucifixion. When He prayed, Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done (Luke 22:42), He had in mind the cup of God’s wrath He was about to drink – to the dregs – at the cross.
c. See, I have taken out of your hand the cup of trembling, the dregs of the cup of My fury; you shall no longer drink it: The LORD knows when to give the cup, and when to take it from His people. Now is time for their redemption and for the shame of their enemies, so the LORD promises, I will put it into the hand of those who afflict you. We should always be awake to God’s timing and loving promises.
i. “When faith is weak men are in a dreadful hurry, but strong faith does not judge the Lord to be slack concerning his promise. As God achieves his purpose with infinite leisure, he loves a faith that is patient and looks not for its reward this day or the next. ‘He that believeth shall not make haste’: that is to say, he shall not be ashamed or confounded by present trials so as to rush upon unbelieving actions. Faith leaves times and seasons with God to whom they belong.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Who have said to you, “Lie down, that we may walk over you”: This “barbaric practice…is well documented in the ancient Near East, featured especially, but not exclusively, in Assyrian inscriptions” (Grogan). But God will give this humiliation to those who humiliated His people.
(c) 2021 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org