Isaiah 51:1-3 “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.
2 “Look 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.”
3 Indeed, 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.
“Listen to me…”
Isa. 36:16; 41:1; 46:3, 12; 48:12, 16; 49:1; 50:4; 51:1, 7; 55:2
The word for listen here is the Hebrew word: shema which means to hear, listen to, obey. It is a common Hebrew word and is used as the call to Israel to hear the voice of God as He speaks to them through Isaiah and pleads with them to listen to His voice:
Isa. 1:2, 10, 19; 6:8ff; 7:13; 18:3; 24:16; 28:12, 14, 23; 30:9, 21, 30; 32:3, 9; 33:13; 34:1; 37:17, 26; 39:5; 40:21, 28; 42:9, 18, 20, 23f; 43:9; 44:1, 8; 46:3, 12; 47:8; 48:1, 6, 12, 14, 16; 49:1; 50:4, 10; 51:1, 7, 21; 52:7, 15; 55:2, 3; 59:1f; 62:11; 64:3; 65:12, 24; 66:4f, 8, 19
The call to listen increases in intensity in the book of Isaiah. God calls His people to listen, they consistently refuse and the louder cries to listen begin to extend to the coastlands, and the nations begin to listen. The consistent lack of listening stands for the sin of the nation, that eventually causes God to say “I will not hear” (59:1-2; 65:12; 66:4-5). As you have hidden yourself from my voice (note the Garden of Eden imagery here), I will soon not hear yours.
The Motto of the nation of Israel is called the shema: Deuteronomy 6:4-5 4 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5 “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Here in Isaiah the prophet is calling the people back to their calling from God.
The word also can mean report or message. So the message of the Lord becomes the shema as well, the good news proclaimed by the messenger with beautiful feet (52:7) is “shema”. The free offer of mercy in 55:1-5, the everlasting covenant and faithful mercies shown to David is found in hearing the message, “shema shema” (hear the message) so to speak. The listening aspect to the message is the same emphasis that Jesus placed on the one who hears his words and acts on them (Matthew 7:24). The message and the obedience to the message is important. God is saying: I do not speak without demanding a response.
The prophet directs the seeker of righteousness back to his roots, which he calls the “rock from which you were hewn…” This direction is back to the heritage of Israel, namely the faith of Sarah and Abraham. This is the voice of God through Habakkuk 2:4 “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith. Abraham is the model of this faith, and Paul chooses this verse and Abraham as the model of faith for the believer (see Romans 1:17 and Romans 4). The believer in Judah is to remember the faith and endurance of Abraham as he faces questions about the faithfulness of God.
“Indeed the Lord will comfort Zion…”
Verse 3 reiterates the promises of God to His people. Comfort, security, joy, gladness and thanksgiving will be the reward of those who live by faith, hearing and listening to the message of God.
“Waste places” refers to the destruction and desolation brought about by the Assyrians and Babylonians in devastating the nation and land. It corresponds to the devastation of sin, alluded to by the phrase and promise to make her “wilderness like Eden.” God restores his people and is faithful to His promises. It is only in the Lord that true joy and gladness are found. The response of that joy and gladness is thanksgiving and song. Match up this passage with the promise of the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18-21: And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
God will call his people out of the waste places to fill the earth with His glory.
Isaiah 51:4-6 “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.
5 “My 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.
6 “Lift 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.
“Pay attention…Give ear to Me”
Different words are used here than in 51:1, 7, but the cry is the same. Listen to Me! What heartache we would spare ourselves if we just listened to the Lord.
The word for “law” is the Hebrew word “torah”. It’s foundational meaning is “teaching” and can refer to any context of instruction. Understanding the scope is helpful here. Often the word is translated “law” and can refer to the commandments given to Moses. We know the Torah as the first five books of Moses. But it is also refered to as simply the teaching of the principles as it is used in Proverbs, especially Proverbs 3:1: My son, do not forget my teaching, But let your heart keep my commandments. This was the promise of the coming Messiah/Servant: He would bring justice and establish the law, teaching us to obey the commandments. See Isaiah 2:3; 42:1-4; Deuteronomy 18:18; Micah 4:2.
“set my justice for a light to the peoples”
See Isaiah 42:6; 49:6. The theme of expansion and covenant fulfillment is heightened in the end of Isaiah. The plan of God hatched at creation: to multiply and fill the earth is seen as attaining fruition in the accomplishment of the Messiah of Israel. God’s justice (ultimately the cross of Christ) stands as a light to all the nations. How that has been fulfilled before our eyes in the last 2,000 years. The name of Christ and the banner of Christ is now flown around the world, not the world of the Bible only, but the globe as 21st century man knows it; a much broader expansion than Isaiah could ever have even imagined.
In verses 5 – 8 Isaiah gives us a comparison of eternal and lasting things vs. things that will pass away. This follows the theme of trust and faithfulness. The people who oppress will fade, the God who promises is faithful and eternal. The sky and earth (the most stable things we perceive) are not eternal, only God is eternal: his salvation and righteousness transcend the temporal sphere, extending beyond even this generation to “all generations.” (Hebrews 1:10).
Isaiah 51:7 – 8 “Listen 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. 8 “For 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.”
“listen to me” see verse 1
“A people in whose heart is My law”
Jeremiah 31:31- 34; Ezekiel 36:26-29; Isaiah 11:9; 54:13; Jeremiah 24:7 Habakkuk 2:14; John 6:45 1 John 2:20; Romans 11:27.
This universal knowing also fits in with the universal filling of the earth with the glory of God. The writing of the law of God on the hearts of men corresponds with the forgiveness of sins, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the expansion of the kingdom beyond the physical boundaries of the nation of Israel, the decentralization of the temple of God, the multiplication of the temple in the reproducing of the saints and the expansion of the church. In this way, God has filled the earth, and is continuing to fill the earth with His glory. It is by the overcoming of sin and the proclamation of the message of the gospel that the nations are hearing the word and coming to faith.
Isaiah 51:9-11 Awake, 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?
10 Was 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?
11 So 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.
See 51:17; 52:1, 11
51:9: The call is to God, “Awake and bring your judgment upon the oppressors of your people”
51:17: The call is to Jerusalem, “Awake, embrace the discipline of the Lord, and He will redeem”
52:1: The call is to Zion, “Awake, fulfill the mandate, proclaim my glory to the nations”
52:11: Depart, depart, The call to God’s people to leave Jerusalem
This passage serves as a call to God to rise up and act against the oppressors of His people. “Rahab” in verse 9 is a description of Egypt (see Isaiah 30:7 and the connections to Psalm 74:12-14; 87:4; 89:9-10). Rahab also can mean “sea monster” and the reference here points to the one who controls the sea (dividing it for His people to cross) and all that is within the sea, ie the sea-monsters. Like all of us, ancient man feared what he could not see; the creatures of the dark. A fear of the sea included a fear of the things that lurked beneath the sea. In the redemption battle, the serpent/dragon imagery (Isaiah 27:1, 2ff.) is again used to describe the saving work of Christ on behalf of his people (Revelation 12:3; 13:1; 17:1, 15).
“The ransomed of the Lord”
Isaiah 35:10, actually the whole of chapter 35 speak of the redemption of the ransomed, those purchased by God in redemption (see Exodus 15:16; Psalm 74:2; Acts 20:28; Revelation 5:9; 14:3, 4). Redemption is compared to payment to release captives from bondage and slavery. The work of Christ is a work of transference: we are rescued from the kingdom of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of His beloved son (Colossians 1:13-14). We have been bought with a price Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6 and as the temple of God we should glorify him in our bodies!
Isaiah 51:12 -13 “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,
13 That 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?
The comparison between the eternal God and His eternal promise and salvation and the temporal man and his oppression continue. The question is the same as the statement Jesus makes in Luke 12:5 “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!
The picture of God switches here from judge/savior to creator. He is the one who created the heavens and the earth – don’t forget Him when these short lived oppressors have their way. Remember, it is only for a time (Romans 8:18).
Isaiah 51:14 – 16″The exile will soon be set free, and will not die in the dungeon, nor will his bread be lacking. 15 “For I am the LORD your God, who stirs up the sea and its waves roar (the LORD of hosts is His name). 16 “I 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.'”
The promise of redemption for the exile and captive. God will supply, God will save.
“I have put My words in your mouth”
Just one chapter back we read the words: The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of disciples.”
Isaiah 59:21 “As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from now and forever.” These words are eternal, the message of salvation. Ultimately they refer to the “logos” that is Christ, who is the word.
Deuteronomy 18:18 ‘I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.
John 17:8 for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me.
This corresponds with the law written on the heart.
“…have covered you with the shadow of My hand”
See Exodus 33:22; Isaiah 49:2,16; Psalm 91:1; John 10:28
“to establish the heavens, to found the earth, and to say to Zion, ‘You are My people.'”
This verse needs an explanation. God is clearly the one responsible for the making of the heavens and earth (Isaiah 40:22; 42:5; 44:24; 45:12). Here the words are in the mouth of another, certainly not Isaiah, but again a reference to the eternal Word, Jesus Christ who is particularly involved with the creation of the heavens and the earth (Colossians 1:16) and who calls those who are His people; from the calling of the disciples in the gospels to the calling of believers (John 6:44 10:27).
Again, this all fulfills the creative purpose of God as outlined nicely by Isaiah 45:18 For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited), “I am the LORD, and there is none else.