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Isaiah 51

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Israel Exhorted The Lord Comforts  Zion Salvation For Abraham's Children Words of Comfort to Jerusalem The Blessings in Store For the Chosen People
51:1-3  (1-3) 51:1-2  (1-2) 51:1-3  (1-3) 51:1-2  (1-2) 51:1-3  (1-3)
  51:3  (3)   51:3  (3)  
51:4-8  (4-8) 51:4-6  (4-6) 51:4-8  (4-8) 51:4-6  (4-6) 51:4-8  (4-8)
  51:7-8  (7-8)   51:7-8  (7-8)  
        The Awakenings of Yahweh
51:9-11  (9-11) 51:9  (9) 51:9-11  (9-11) 51:9-11  (9-11) 51:9-11  (9-11)
  51:10-11  (10-11)      Yahweh, the Counselor
51:12-16  (12-16) 51:12-16  (12-16) 51:12-16  (12-16) 51:12-16  (12-16) 51:12-16  (12-16)
  God's Fury Removed God's Kingship (51:17-52:12) The End Of Jerusalem's Suffering The Awakening of Jerusalem
51:17-20  (17-20) 51:17-20  (17-20) 51:17-20  (17-20) 51:17-20  (17-20) 51:17-23  (17-23)
51:21-23  (21-23) 51:21-23  (21-23) 51:21-23  (21-23) 51:21-23  (21-23)  

 

READING CYCLE THREE

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. There is a series of imperatives which call on God's covenant people to awake spiritually and respond appropriately.

1. listen, pay attention, 51:1,4,7,21

2. awake, 51:9[thrice], 17[twice]

3. look, lift up your eyes, 51:1-2,6

This emphasis is continued in chapter 52.

B. The subject matter of this context is moved along by a series of rhetorical questions: 51:9-10,12-14; 52:5

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 51:1-3
1"Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,
Who seek the Lord:
Look to the rock from which you were hewn
And to the quarry from which you were dug.
2Look to Abraham your father
And to Sarah who gave birth to you in pain;
When he was but one I called him,
Then I blessed him and multiplied him."
3Indeed, the Lord will comfort Zion;
He will comfort all her waste places.
And her wilderness He will make like Eden,
And her desert like the garden of the Lord;
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
Thanksgiving and sound of a melody.

51:1 "Listen" This is the Hebrew word Shema (BDB 1033, KB 1570). It means "hear so as to do." The imperative is recurrent in Isaiah! This same word starts the famous monotheistic prayer of Deuteronomy 6:4-6.

▣ "you who. . ." This is speaking to the faithful covenant people (cf. 50:10). There are three descriptive phrases.

1. who pursue righteousness, v. 1

2. who seek the Lord, v. 1

3. who have the law in their hearts, v. 7

It is possible that "deliverance" (BDB 841, "righteousness") is parallel to YHWH in line 2, therefore, it may be a title, "The Righteous One." The "you who. . ." would speak of the faithful who

1. pursue God, line 1

2. seek God, line 2

 

▣ "the rock. . .the quarry" This refers to Abraham and Sarah (cf. v. 2) The geographical location of Abraham's call (i.e., Ur of the Chaldees) was the same as the location of the Babylonian captives (Channel Chebar). YHWH had promised to bless Abraham and his seed (cf. Gen. 12:1-3; 15:1-11; 18:18; 22:16-18).

51:2 "who gave birth to you in pain" This refers to normal childbirth (cf. Gen. 3:16).

▣ "I blessed him and multiplied him" YHWH promised two things:

1. to bless Abraham - BDB 138, KB 159, Piel imperfect

2. to multiply him - BDB 915, KB 1176, Hiphil imperfect

God promised Abraham a land and a seed. He was told his descendants would be like

1. dust of the earth (Gen. 13:16; 28:14; Num. 23:10) 

2. stars of the heavens (Gen. 15:5; 22:17; 26:4)

3. sand of the seashore (Gen. 22:17; 32:12

From Isaiah and Micah we learn that Abraham's family would be even larger than anyone dreamed. It will include believing "Gentiles and Jews" (cf. Rom. 2:28-29; 3:21-31; 4:1-25; Gal. 3:1-29; 6:16).

51:3 "the Lord will comfort Zion" The verb "comfort" (BDB 636, KB 688, Piel perfect) appears twice in line 1 and line 2. This is a recurrent theme of this section of Isaiah (cf. 40:1 [twice]; 49:13; 51:3 [twice],12,19; 52:9; 54:11; 61:2; 66:13 [thrice]). Its basic meaning in Piel is "to comfort," to "console." This means to bring the captivity to an end and restore them to the fertile Promised Land (cf. 40:1). This is a re-institution by God of the covenant of Deuteronomy 27-28.

▣ "waste places. . .wilderness. . .desert like the garden of the Lord" Physical beauty and fruitfulness are a sign of God's blessing (cf. Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-29). The mentioning of Eden implies not only abundance but fellowship with a present God! Eden was a sanctuary of God (cf. John H. Walton, ANE Thought and the OT, p. 124).

SPECIAL TOPIC: EDEN

▣ "Joy and gladness. . .thanksgiving and sound of a melody" This reflects a happy social life, which is also a sign of God's blessing.

51:4-8 Notice the number of times in English that the personal pronouns appear (i.e. "Me," "My," "I").

51:4 Notice the parallelism of lines 1 and 2. The imperatives:

1. pay attention - BDB 904, KB 1151, Hiphil imperative 

2. give ear - BDB 24, KB 27, Hiphil imperative

Lines 3 and 4 are also parallel. Notice again YHWH's teachings (Torah, BDB 435) are meant to bless:

1. Israel

2. the world (cf. 42:6; 49:6; 60:1,3); notice the plural "peoples" in 51:5b and "coastlands" in 51:5c; they wait expectantly for YHWH's Servant

 

▣ "law. . .justice" These two nouns are also parallel. They speak of YHWH's truth and will for mankind that is now available to all (i.e., Scripture, revelation).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 51:4-8
4"Pay attention to Me, O My people,
And give ear to Me, O My nation;
For a law will go forth from Me,
And I will set My justice for a light of the peoples.
5My righteousness is near, My salvation has gone forth,
And My arms will judge the peoples;
The coastlands will wait for Me,
And for My arm they will wait expectantly.
6Lift up your eyes to the sky,
Then look to the earth beneath;
For the sky will vanish like smoke,
And the earth will wear out like a garment
And its inhabitants will die in like manner;
But My salvation will be forever,
And My righteousness will not wane.
7Listen to Me, you who know righteousness,
A people in whose heart is My law;
Do not fear the reproach of man,
Nor be dismayed at their revilings.
8For the moth will eat them like a garment,
And the grub will eat them like wool.
But My righteousness will be forever,
And My salvation to all generations."

51:5 "My righteousness is near, My salvation has gone forth" The verb (BDB 422, KB 425) is a Qal perfect. This line of poetry is paralleled in 46:13. YHWH is ready to act in and through His Servant.

Verse 5 addresses the spiritual hunger of the Gentile nations. Israel must be warned of complacency. Many Judeans returned to Palestine trusting God but many more did not!

Those who hunger for God will find Him available. Those who do not will find Him a Judge!

▣ " My arms" This is anthropomorphic language like v. 9; 52:10. God does not have a body. This is a metaphor of God's activity in history. See Special Topic at 41:2.

"the peoples" See full note at 45:22.

51:6 "the sky will vanish like smoke" Heaven and earth were the ancient witnesses but even they will pass away (cf. 65:17; 66:22; II Pet. 3:10).

NASB
(footnote),
NKJV, NRSV"gnats"
TEV, REB"flies"
NJB"vermin"
JPSOA"as well"

This is a very difficult phrase. This term in the plural is often translated "gnats" (BDB 485 I).

▣ "My salvation shall be forever" The last two lines are parallel. The eternality of God is compared to the finitude of humanity and his world (cf. v. 12; 40:6-8; Job 14:1-2; Ps. 90:5-6; 103:15-18; Matt. 24:35; Heb. 1:10-12; I Pet. 1:24-25).

51:7 "Listen" This is another call to attention (cf. v. 1).

▣ "you who. . ." Notice how God's people are characterized.

1. you who know righteousness, v. 7a

2. a people in whose heart is My law, v. 7b (cf. Jer. 31:31-34)

In light of the knowledge they

1. do not fear - v. 7c, BDB 431, KB 432, Qal imperfect used in as jussive sense

2. do not be dismayed - v. 7d, BDB 369, KB 365, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

 

▣ "A people in whose heart is My law" In the writings of Moses this idiom of intimate and constantly available truth is used (cf. Deut. 6:6). It also occurs in Wisdom Literature (cf. Pro. 3:3; 7:3; Ps. 37:31; 40:8), as well as Prophetic Literature (cf. Isa. 51:7; Jer. 17:1).

51:8 "moth. . .grub" Several animals are mentioned in this context (cf. v. 6 [NASB footnote], "gnats"). In 14:11 and 66:24 "worms" are used as a symbol for death and destruction. Nature takes away instead of giving!

▣ "My righteousness. . .My salvation" These were parallel in v. 5 also. There they went forth but here they remain forever. See Special Topic at 45:17. What a contrast between the fate of unbelievers and believers!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 51:9-11
9Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord;
Awake as in the days of old, the generations of long ago.
Was it not You who cut Rahab in pieces,
Who pierced the dragon?
10Was it not You who dried up the sea,
The waters of the great deep;
Who made the depths of the sea a pathway
For the redeemed to cross over?
11So the ransomed of the Lord will return
And come with joyful shouting to Zion,
And everlasting joy will be on their heads.
They will obtain gladness and joy,
And sorrow and sighing will flee away.

51:9 "Awake, awake" This triple imperative (BDB 734, KB 802, Qal imperative) calls for action: (1) action on God's part, v. 9 and (2) action on Israel's part, v. 17 (cf. 52:1,11).

▣ "awake as in the days of old" This is an allusion to YHWH's activity in the Exodus (cf. Exod. 6:6; Deut. 4:34; 5:15; 26:8).

▣ "Rahab. . .dragon" This word (KB 1193) has three usages.

1. mythical sea monster - Isa. 51:9; Job 9:13; 26:12; Ps. 74:13; 89:10; 148:7

2. metaphor for Egypt based on the twisting Nile River - Isa. 30:7; Ps. 87:4; Ezek. 29:3

3. "the proud" (NASB, BDB 923) or enemies of YHWH - Ps. 40:4

Number 1 is also designated by the term "dragon" (BDB 49) in Job 7:12.

51:10 "the depths" This was also a mythological term used in the Sumerian and Babylonian creation accounts. In the Bible it is not a god (cf. Gen. 1:2) but depth of water - tiamat (BDB 1062, 63:13).

▣ "a pathway for the redeemed to cross" This is an obvious allusion to the splitting of the Red Sea during the Exodus from Egypt (cf. Exodus 14,15).

51:11 As God delivered His people from Egyptian bondage, so will He deliver His people from Assyrian and Babylonian exile! The descendants of Abraham will return to the Promised Land.

▣ "everlasting joy" The term "everlasting" is 'olam (BDB 761). See the Special Topic at 45:17. Isaiah uses it often to describe the new age.

1. everlasting covenant, 24:5; 55:3; 61:8

2. YHWH an everlasting Rock, 26:4

3. everlasting joy, 35:10; 51:11; 61:7

4. the Everlasting God, 40:28

5. an everlasting salvation, 45:17

6. everlasting lovingkindness (Hesed), 54:8

7. everlasting sign, 55:13

8. an everlasting name, 56:5; 63:12,16

9. an everlasting light, 60:19,20

A negative-oriented use related to the eternal punishment of the wicked is found in 33:14, "an everlasting burning." Isaiah often uses "fire" to describe God's wrath (cf. 9:18,19; 10:16; 47:14), but only in 33:14 is it described as "everlasting."

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 51:12-13
12"I, even I, am He who comforts you.
Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies
And of the son of man who is made like grass,
13That you have forgotten the Lord your Maker,
Who stretched out the heavens
And laid the foundations of the earth,
That you fear continually all day long because of the fury of the oppressor,
As he makes ready to destroy?
But where is the fury of the oppressor?"

51:12 "man. . .the son of man" This is an Hebraic way of referring to a human being (cf. Ps. 8:4; Ezek. 2:1). It became a later title for Jesus because it affirmed His humanity and because of Dan. 7:13, His Deity.

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE SON OF MAN (taken from notes in my commentary on Daniel 7:13)

▣ "who dies. . .like grass" The parallelism emphasizes the frailty and limited life of humans (cf. 40:6,7; Job 14:1-2; Ps. 90:5-6; 103:15; I Pet. 1:24). This context, like I Pet. 1:24-25, contrasts the power and eternality of God with that of His creation (i.e., YHWH as creator in v. 13).

51:13 This may be a veiled allusion to the idolatry of God's people in worshiping Ba'al as creator, giver of life and fertility instead of YHWH. Their idolatry is what caused their exile and the actions of the oppressor which God allowed.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 51:14-16
  14"The exile will soon be set free, and will not die in the dungeon, nor will his bread be lacking. 15For I am the Lord your God, who stirs up the sea and its waves roar (the Lord of hosts is His name). 16I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of My hand, to establish the heavens, to found the earth, and to say to Zion, 'You are My people.'"

51:14 These are descriptions of people in prison who will be set free, although the term "pit" (BDB 1001, KB 1472) can refer to

1. the grave or Sheol - Job 33:22,24,28; Ps. 16:10; 49:9

2. here the parallelism suggests "prison"

 

51:15 Like vv. 9-11 this verse is an allusion to YHWH freeing His people from Egypt. Also, like vv. 9,10, there is a veiled reference to Genesis 1, where YHWH divides and controls the waters. See full note at v. 10.

▣ "(the Lord of hosts is His name)" The term "hosts" can be used in two ways:

1. YHWH as creator and controller of the stars and planets

2. YHWH as military commander of the angels

In a sense both possibilities are a reaction to Babylonian astral worship that turned the heavenly bodies into gods. See Special Topic: The Names For Deity at 40:3.

51:16 There are three Qal infinitives in this verse.

1. to plant (BDB 642, KB 694)

2. to found or establish (BDB 413, KB 417)

3. to say (BDB 55, KB 65)

In context this verse should relate to the redeemed of returning Israel. However, the infinitives are too powerful for human beings to accomplish. Therefore, it must refer to "the Servant," God's special Israelite, who will accomplish what Israel could not. There is a movement in chapters 40-53 of the title "the Servant" from national Israel, 41:8-9; 42:1,19; 43:10, to an "individual," 49:1-7 and 52:13-53:12.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 51:17-20
17Rouse yourself! Rouse yourself! Arise, O Jerusalem,
You who have drunk from the Lord's hand the cup of His anger;
The chalice of reeling you have drained to the dregs.
18There is none to guide her among all the sons she has borne,
Nor is there one to take her by the hand among all the sons she has reared.
19These two things have befallen you;
Who will mourn for you?
The devastation and destruction, famine and sword;
How shall I comfort you?
20Your sons have fainted,
They lie helpless at the head of every street,
Like an antelope in a net,
Full of the wrath of the Lord,
The rebuke of your God.

51:17-20 YHWH is encouraging His people to shake off His finished judgment and prepare to return to Jerusalem!

51:17 "Rouse yourself! Rouse yourself! Arise, O Jerusalem" These are three imperatives in a row for emphasis.

1. rouse - Hithpolel or Hithpael (BDB 734, KB 802)

2. repeated

3. arise - Qal (BDB 877, KB 1086)

 

▣ "the cup. . .the chalice" These two are parallel and refer to the idiom of judgment as a cup of strong drink to make one stagger and fall (cf. 29:9; 63:6; Job 21:20; Ps. 60:3; 75:8; Jer. 25:15-16; Lam. 4:21; Ezek. 23:32-34). Also note its usage in the NT.

1. of Jesus as sin bearer - Matt. 20:22; 26:38-42; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42; John 18:11

2. worshipers of the beast - Rev. 14:10; 16:19; 19:15

 

51:19 Notice what has happened to the covenant people and now is happening to Babylon.

1. devastation (BDB 994)

2. destruction (BDB 991)

3. famine (BDB 944)

4. sword (BDB 352)

There is no one to comfort Babylon; there is One to comfort Abraham's seed (cf. vv. 3,12; 40:1).

51:20 When Assyria and Babylon invaded a town they killed the old, young, and powerful at a prominently visible location (i.e., "the head of every street"). Now this evil act is being done to them.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 51:21-23
21Therefore, please hear this, you afflicted,
Who are drunk, but not with wine:
22Thus says your Lord, the Lord, even your God
Who contends for His people,
"Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of reeling,
The chalice of My anger;
You will never drink it again.
23I will put it into the hand of your tormentors,
Who have said to you, 'Lie down that we may walk over you.'
You have even made your back like the ground
And like the street for those who walk over it."

51:21-23 God promises to take the judgment of His cup, which has devastated Israel and Judah and now give it to their tormentors. Assyria and Babylon will reap exactly what they sowed (cf. 17:10; 32:19; Gal. 6:7-10)! God is in charge of time and history!

51:23 "walk over you" This treading on the defeated dead is depicted on Egyptian wall art (cf. IVP Bible Background Commentary, p. 633).

1. "lie down" - Qal imperative (BDB 1005, KB 1457)

2. "walk over you" Qal cohortative (BDB 716, KB 778)

 

Related Topics: Bible Study Methods