Isaiah 51
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.

Isa 51:1-23. Encouragement to the Faithful Remnant of Israel to Trust in God for Deliverance, Both from Their Long Babylonian Exile, and from Their Present Dispersion.

1. me—the God of your fathers.

ye … follow after righteousness—the godly portion of the nation; Isa 51:7 shows this (Pr 15:9; 1Ti 6:11). "Ye follow righteousness," seek it therefore from Me, who "bring it near," and that a righteousness "not about to be abolished" (Isa 51:6, 7); look to Abraham, your father (Isa 51:2), as a sample of how righteousness before Me is to be obtained; I, the same God who blessed him, will bless you at last (Isa 51:3); therefore trust in Me, and fear not man's opposition (Isa 51:7, 8, 12, 13). The mistake of the Jews, heretofore, has been, not in that they "followed after righteousness," but in that they followed it "by the works of the law," instead of "by faith," as Abraham did (Ro 9:31, 32; 10:3, 4; 4:2-5).

hole of … pit—The idea is not, as it is often quoted, the inculcation of humility, by reminding men of the fallen state from which they have been taken, but that as Abraham, the quarry, as it were (compare Isa 48:1), whence their nation was hewn, had been called out of a strange land to the inheritance of Canaan, and blessed by God, the same God is able to deliver and restore them also (compare Mt 3:9).

Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.
2. alone—translate, "I called him when he was but one" (Eze 33:24). The argument is: the same God who had so blessed "one" individual, as to become a mighty nation (Ge 12:1; 22:7), can also increase and bless the small remnant of Israel, both that left in the Babylonish captivity, and that left in the present and latter days (Zec 14:2); "the residue" (Isa 13:8, 9).
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.
3. For—See for the argument, see on [837]Isa 51:2.

the garden of the Lord—restoration of the primeval paradise (Ge 2:8; Eze 28:13; Re 2:7).

melody—Hebrew, "psalm." God's praises shall again be heard.

Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto 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.
4. my people—the Jews. This reading is better than that of Gesenius: "O peoples … nations," namely, the Gentiles. The Jews are called on to hear and rejoice in the extension of the true religion to the nations; for, at the first preaching of the Gospel, as in the final age to come, it was from Jerusalem that the gospel law was, and is, to go forth (Isa 2:3).

law … judgment—the gospel dispensation and institutions (Isa 42:1, "judgment").

make … to rest—establish firmly; found.

light, &c.—(Isa 42:6).

My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust.
5. righteousness … near—that is, faithful fulfilment of the promised deliverance, answering to "salvation" in the parallel clause (Isa 46:13; 56:1; Ro 10:8, 9). Ye follow after "righteousness"; seek it therefore, from Me, and you will not have far to go for it (Isa 51:1).

arms—put for Himself; I by My might.

judge—(Isa 2:3, 4; Ps 98:9).

isles, &c.—(Isa 60:9).

arm—(Ro 1:16), "the power of God unto (the Gentiles as well as the Jews) salvation."

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 they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.
6. (Isa 40:6, 8; Ps 102:26; Heb 1:11, 12).

vanish away—literally, "shall be torn asunder," as a garment [Maurer]; which accords with the context.

in like manner—But Gesenius, "Like a gnat"; like the smallest and vilest insect. Jerome translates, as English Version, and infers that "in like manner" as man, the heavens (that is, the sky) and earth are not to be annihilated, but changed for the better (Isa 65:17).

righteousness—My faithfully fulfilled promise (see on [838]Isa 51:5).

Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings.
7. know righteousness—(See on [839]Isa 51:1).
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.
8. (See on [840]Isa 50:9; Job 4:18-20). Not that the moth eats men up, but they shall be destroyed by as insignificant instrumentality as the moth that eats a garment.
Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?
9. Impassioned prayer of the exiled Jews.

ancient days—(Ps 44:1).

Rahab—poetical name for Egypt (see on [841]Isa 30:7).

dragon—Hebrew, tannin. The crocodile, an emblem of Egypt, as represented on coins struck after the conquest of Egypt by Augustus; or rather here, "its king," Pharaoh (see on [842]Isa 27:1; Ps 74:13, 14; Eze 32:2, Margin; Eze 29:3).

Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?
10. it—the arm.

Art not Thou the same Almighty power that … ? dried the sea—the Red Sea (Isa 43:16; Ex 14:21).

Therefore the redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.
11. (Isa 35:10).

Therefore—assurance of faith; or else the answer of Jehovah corresponding to their prayer. As surely as God redeemed Israel out of Egypt, He shall redeem them from Babylon, both the literal in the age following, and mystical in the last ages (Re 18:20, 21). There shall be a second exodus (Isa 11:11-16; 27:12, 13).

singing—image from the custom of singing on a journey when a caravan is passing along the extended plains in the East.

everlasting joy—(Jude 24).

sorrow … flee away—(Re 21:4).

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;
12. comforteth—(Isa 51:3; Isa 40:1).


son of man—frail and dying as his parent Adam.

be made as grass—wither as grass (Isa 40:6, 7).

And forgettest the LORD thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; 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?
13. (Isa 40:12, 26, 28), the same argument of comfort drawn from the omnipotence of the Creator.

as if … ready, &c.—literally, "when he directs," namely, his arrow, to destroy (Ps 21:12; 7:13; 11:2) [Maurer].

The captive exile hasteneth that he may be loosed, and that he should not die in the pit, nor that his bread should fail.
14. captive exile—literally, one bowed down as a captive (Isa 10:4) [Maurer]. The scene is primarily Babylon, and the time near the close of the captivity. Secondarily, and antitypically, the mystical Babylon, the last enemy of Israel and the Church, in which they have long suffered, but from which they are to be gloriously delivered.

pit—such as were many of the ancient dungeons (compare Jer 38:6, 11, 13; Ge 37:20).

nor … bread … fail—(Isa 33:16; Jer 37:21).

But I am the LORD thy God, that divided the sea, whose waves roared: The LORD of hosts is his name.
15. divided … sea—the Red Sea. The same Hebrew word as "make to rest" (Isa 51:4). Rather, "that terrify the sea," that is, restrain it by My rebuke, "when its waves roar" [Gesenius]. The Hebrew favors Maurer, "that terrify the sea so that the waves roar." The sense favors Gesenius (Jer 5:22; 31:35), or English Version (Isa 51:9, 10, which favors the special reference to the exodus from Egypt).
And I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people.
16. Addressed to Israel, embodied in "the servant of Jehovah" (Isa 42:1), Messiah, its ideal and representative Head, through whom the elect remnant is to be restored.

put my words in thy mouth—true of Israel, the depository of true religion, but fully realized only in Israel's Head and antitype, Messiah (Isa 49:2; 50:4, 5; 59:21; De 18:18; Joh 3:34).

covered … in … shadow of … hand—protected thee (see on [843]Isa 49:2).

plant—rather, "fix" as a tabernacle; so it ought to be rendered (Da 11:45). The "new creation," now going on in the spiritual world by the Gospel (Eph 2:10), and hereafter to be extended to the visible world, is meant (Isa 65:17; 66:22; compare Isa 13:13; 2Pe 3:10-13).

Zion—Its restoration is a leading part in the new creation to come (Isa 65:17, 19).

Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the LORD the cup of his fury; thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out.
17. Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, &c.—(Isa 52:1).

drunk—Jehovah's wrath is compared to an intoxicating draught because it confounds the sufferer under it, and makes him fall (Job 21:20; Ps 60:3; 75:8; Jer 25:15, 16; 49:12; Zec 12:2; Re 14:10); ("poured out without mixture"; rather, "the pure wine juice mixed with intoxicating drugs").

of trembling—which produced trembling or intoxication.

wrung … out—drained the last drop out; the dregs were the sediments from various substances, as honey, dates, and drugs, put into the wine to increase the strength and sweetness.

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.
18. Following up the image in Isa 51:17, intoxicated and confused by the cup of God's anger, she has none to guide her in her helpless state; she has not yet awakened out of the sleep caused by that draught. This cannot apply to the Babylonish captivity; for in it they had Ezekiel and Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, as "guides," and soon awoke out of that sleep; but it applies to the Jews now, and will be still more applicable in their coming oppression by Antichrist.
These two things are come unto thee; who shall be sorry for thee? desolation, and destruction, and the famine, and the sword: by whom shall I comfort thee?
19. two—classes of evils, for he enumerates four, namely, desolation and destruction to the land and state; famine and the sword to the people.

who shall be sorry for thee—so as to give thee effectual relief: as the parallel clause, "By whom shall I comfort thee?" shows (La 2:11-13).

Thy 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 thy God.
20. head of all … streets—(La 2:19; 4:1).

wild bull—rather, "oryx" [Jerome], or gazelle [Gesenius], or wild goat [Bochart]; commonly in the East taken in a net, of a wide sweep, into which the beasts were hunted together. The streets of cities in the East often have gates, which are closed at night; a person wishing to escape would be stopped by them and caught, as a wild animal in a net.

Therefore hear now this, thou afflicted, and drunken, but not with wine:
21. drunken … not with wine—(Isa 29:9; compare Isa 51:17, 20, here; La 3:15).
Thus saith thy Lord the LORD, and thy God that pleadeth the cause of his people, Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again:
22. pleadeth … cause—(Ps 35:1; Jer 50:34; Mic 7:9).

no more drink it—(Isa 54:7-9). This cannot apply to Israel after the return from Babylon, but only to them after their final restoration.

But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee; which have said to thy soul, Bow down, that we may go over: and thou hast laid thy body as the ground, and as the street, to them that went over.
23. (Isa 49:26; Jer 25:15-29; Zec 12:2).

Bow down that … go over—Conquerors often literally trod on the necks of conquered kings, as Sapor of Persia did to the Roman emperor Valerian (Jos 10:24; Ps 18:40; 66:11, 12).

A Commentary, Critical, Practical, and Explanatory on the Old and New Testaments by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown [1882]

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