INTRODUCTION

Yahweh promises to comfort Zion, but when Yahweh brings comfort He doesn’t just sooth pain. He changes Zion’s condition (Isaiah 51:3, 12, 19). He comforts by bringing His righteousness, which is His salvation.

THE TEXT

“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 . . . .” (Isaiah 51:1-23).

HEAR, AWAKE

In chapters 51-52, Yahweh issues a series of calls. Three times He calls Zion to listen (51:1, 4, 7). Two of these (vv. 1, 7) use the Hebrew word shama , a reminder of Israel’s confession of the one God (Deuteronomy 6). Then three times there is a call to wake. Each time the verb is doubled: “Awake! Awake!” (51:9, 17; 52:1). Zion first calls on Yahweh to awake from His slumber (v. 9); then Yahweh calls Zion from the sleep of death (see “arise,” v 17).

ONE MULTIPLIED

Yahweh is still answering Zion’s complaint that her children have been sold off (cf. 49:14; 50:1). It’s true that Zion is emptied but Yahweh points her back to her ancestors, Abraham and Sarah. Abraham was only one man with a barren when Yahweh called him, but he became a great multitude (51:2). God can raise the seed of Abraham from dead wombs; he can raise up Abraham from stones (v. 1; cf. Matthew 3:9). Zion is mourning, but Yahweh promises to comfort her by turning her wilderness into Eden (v. 3).

MY RIGHTEOUSNESS, MY SALVATION

Zion wants justice, and Yahweh promises that He is bringing justice. For Isaiah, justice (righteousness) is not opposed to salvation. Three times, he identifies the two (vv. 5, 6, 8). God’s righteousness is a saving righteousness; He saves by doing justice, establishing justice is salvation. God’s righteousness is coming near, and soon His justice will be light to the nations (v. 4). Even though heaven and earth vanish, His righteousness will remain (v. 6, 8). Yahweh’s display of saving righteousness will be like a new exodus, when Yahweh defeated the sea monster Rahab, dried up the sea, and made a path for the redeemed to return to Zion (vv. 9-11). Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel from exile will demonstrate His justice before all the nations.

THE CUP

Since Yahweh is the one who comforts Zion, she doesn’t need to be afraid of her human enemies. Men are like grass, which spring up but wither (v. 12; cf. Psalm 37). Zion’s Protector and Savior, on the other hand, is the Creator who stretched heaven and laid the foundation of the earth and who makes the sea roar (Isaiah 51:13-15). It’s true that Zion has drunk the cup of the Lord’s anger that makes her reel (v. 17; cf. Psalm 75; Jeremiah 25). She stumbles around drunk, and none of her sons are available to guide her (v. 18) because they have all fallen before famine and sword (vv. 19-20). But she’s had enough; the Lord is cutting her off. He takes the cup from her hand, and He gives it to her enemies instead (vv. 21-22). They will reel, stumble, and fall, while Zion will get dressed for a second wedding (52:1).

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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