Isaiah 52
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.
Ch. Isaiah 52:1-2. Here the prophet’s imagination takes a higher flight. The cup of indignation having finally passed from her hands, Jerusalem is summoned to shake off her stupor, and array herself in garments befitting her dignity as the bride of Jehovah. The description is influenced by the contrast (evidently intentional) to the taunt-song on the “daughter of Babylon” (ch. Isaiah 47:1 ff.).

put on thy strength] Cf. ch. Isaiah 51:9.

the holy city] as ch. Isaiah 48:2.

for … there shall no more come &c.] Note the correspondence with Isaiah 47:1; Isaiah 47:5.

the uncircumcised and the unclean] i.e. not foreigners generally (as Joel 3:17), as if the passage expressed the exclusiveness of later Judaism, but the “destroyers” and “wasters” who at present desecrate her soil; see on Isaiah 49:17. Cf. Nahum 1:15; Zechariah 9:8.

2. arise and sit down] The meaning might be, “arise from the dust, and sit on thy throne,”—a contrast to Isaiah 47:1.

loose thyself … neck] Better perhaps loose for thee the bonds &c.; the reflexive verb having the same force as an ethical dative. The alternative rendering of R.V. marg. “the bands of thy neck are loosed” represents the Hebrew consonantal text. The Qerê, however, is here supported by the Ancient Versions, and is undoubtedly to be preferred.

Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion.
For thus saith the LORD, Ye have sold yourselves for nought; and ye shall be redeemed without money.
3. Ye have sold yourselves] R.V. Ye were sold; See on ch. Isaiah 50:1; cf. Psalm 44:12.

redeemed without money] Cf. ch. Isaiah 45:13. Jehovah gained nothing by delivering Israel into the hand of its enemies, and He asks nothing as the price of its redemption.

3–6. There is here a sudden change both in form and subject. The rhythmic structure of the preceding verses gives place to prose, and the figure of Jerusalem arising from the dust is altogether abandoned. Jehovah is represented as deliberating with Himself on the religious situation, so injurious to His honour, brought about by the unprecedented calamities of His people (Isaiah 52:4-5), and as resolving to end it by their deliverance (6). It is doubtful if the passage was the original sequel to Isaiah 52:1-2.

For thus saith the Lord GOD, My people went down aforetime into Egypt to sojourn there; and the Assyrian oppressed them without cause.
4. For aforetime render with R.V. at the first, at the outset of its history.

without cause] i.e. probably, “for nought,” without having acquired any right over Israel by services rendered to Jehovah. The meaning can hardly be that Israel suffered innocently.

Now therefore, what have I here, saith the LORD, that my people is taken away for nought? they that rule over them make them to howl, saith the LORD; and my name continually every day is blasphemed.
5. Now therefore] Rather, But now, accentuating the gravity of the present situation. Exile and oppression were indeed no new experiences for Israel (Isaiah 52:4), but no such overwhelming disaster as this had ever befallen it hitherto.

what have I here &c.] The sentence may be variously understood. The main idea obviously is that the state of things described in what follows is not to be endured, being inconsistent with the honour of Jehovah. The formula “What is there to me?” expresses a strong sense of incongruity between what is and what ought to be (see Isaiah 3:15, Isaiah 22:1; Isaiah 22:16), and we may render either, “What am I about (Isaiah 22:1) here (in Babylonia)?” or, more generally, “What do I find here?” i.e. in the existing position of affairs, as contrasted with the historic parallels in Isaiah 52:4. The last is perhaps to be preferred. The meaning can hardly be, “What have I to do here (ch. Isaiah 22:16) now that my people is taken away?”

that (better for) my people is taken away] destroyed outright (ch. Isaiah 53:8).

they that rule over them (the Chaldæans) make them to howl (R.V. do howl)] The R.V. rightly avoids the causative sense of the verb, which has no support in usage. On the other hand, it is nowhere else used of a shout of exultation, as it must be here; comp. with Gesenius and others, “laetis ululare triumphis” (Lucan, 6, 261). In Syriac also the word appears occasionally to undergo a similar modification.

my name … is blasphemed] lit. despised. (The form should probably be pointed as part. Pual.) The meaning is that the calamities of Israel were attributed by the heathen to the impotence of their God, and thus the majesty of Jehovah was impaired,—a thought frequently expressed by Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 36:20 &c.). The words are cited in Romans 2:24.

continually all the day] (R.V.), as ch. Isaiah 51:13.

Therefore my people shall know my name: therefore they shall know in that day that I am he that doth speak: behold, it is I.
6. The contempt thus brought on His name is the crowning motive of Jehovah’s interposition,—another point of affinity with Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 36:21).

my people shall know my name] i.e. shall know by experience what My name imports; comp. “shall know that I am Jehovah,” in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 20:42; Ezekiel 20:44 and often). The second therefore, followed by no new verb, is both superfluous and difficult and should probably be omitted, with LXX.

that I am he that doth speak: behold, it is I] The last words “behold me” are hardly to be taken as obj. of the verb “speak”; they simply repeat the sense of the preceding clause: “They shall know that it is I who speak; here am I” (cf. Ezekiel 5:13).

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!
7. Describes, in vivid pictorial imagery taken from ch. Isaiah 40:9, the arrival in Jerusalem of the first tidings of the deliverance from Babylon and the establishment of the kingdom of God. Part of the verse occurs in Nahum 1:15.

of him that bringeth good tidings] The měbassçr (see on Isaiah 40:9 and cf. Isaiah 41:27) is one of the prophet’s dramatis personœ, occupying a position somewhat analogous to that of “the fugitive” in the Book of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 24:26 f., Ezekiel 33:21 f.). He is the “evangelist,” the herald of salvation whose single function is to announce to Zion the speedy advent of her God. He is an ideal creation of the writer’s mind, and the conception fluctuates between that of an individual (as here and Isaiah 41:27) and of a company (in Isaiah 40:9). In St Paul’s application of the figure (Romans 10:15) it becomes a type of the gospel ministry.

Thy God reigneth] Rather, thy God hath become king, has established His everlasting kingdom (cf. ch. Isaiah 24:23; Psalm 93:1; Psalm 97:1).

7–12. The return of Jehovah to Zion.

Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the LORD shall bring again Zion.
8. Thy watchmen … sing] Render, Hark, thy watchmen! they lift up the voice, together do they sing (see R.V.). Although the prophets are often called “watchmen” (ch. Isaiah 56:10; Habakkuk 2:1; Jeremiah 6:17; Ezekiel 33:2 ff.) there is no reason to suppose that they are referred to here. Prophets are no longer required after the herald of salvation has arrived and Jehovah Himself is at hand. The word is used in its ordinary sense of the watchmen posted on the city walls, who are naturally represented as the first to see and announce the actual approach of the King.

for they shall see &c.] Rather, for eye to eye do they look upon Jehovah’s return to Zion. The expression eye to eye occurs only once again, in Numbers 14:14, where Jehovah is said to be “seen eye to eye” in Israel; i.e. He is visibly present there (cf. Jeremiah 32:4, “his eyes shall look on the eyes of Nebuchadnezzar”). The idea here must be similar; Jehovah shall be seen in person when He comes to Zion, as closely and clearly as when two men look one another in the face. The phrase certainly has not in Hebr. the sense of harmony and unity which it has come to bear in English. But it can hardly mean merely that the watchmen shall form a dense throng, looking each other in the face! That is a thought quite irrelevant in the context.

Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the LORD hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem.
9. Break forth into joy, sing …] Render, Break forth into singing (lit. “Break forth, sing”). Cf. Isaiah 44:23.

the Lord hath comforted his people] Isaiah 51:3.

The LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
10. Here (if not already in Isaiah 52:9) the prophet withdraws his gaze from the future, and describes Jehovah as preparing Himself for the conflict which leads to the joyous scene of Isaiah 52:7 f.

hath made bare his holy arm] throwing back the sleeveless upper garment from the right shoulder, in readiness for action: δεξιὸν ὦμον γυμνὸν ἔχων ἐν τῇ μάχῃ (Arrian, Alex. 5. 18, quoted by Dillmann). See the contrasted metaphor in Psalm 74:11. his holy arm means “His divine arm” (Psalm 98:1). The “arm” of Jehovah, as ch. Isaiah 51:9 (cf. also Isaiah 53:1).

shall see the salvation (i.e. the deliverance or “victory”) of our God] a different idea from that of Isaiah 45:22.

Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD.
11, 12. A summons to the exiles to prepare for their departure from Babylon (cf. Isaiah 48:20-21). These are to accompany Jehovah in his triumphal “return to Zion” (see on ch. Isaiah 40:10-11).

go ye out from thence] from Babylon; “in this section (Isaiah 52:7-12) the prophet places himself in spirit at Jerusalem” (Cheyne).

touch no unclean thing] They are to “purify themselves” (see below) as those who take part in a religious procession. The stress laid on ceremonial purity in this verse is an exceptional feature in the prophecy.

be ye clean (cleanse yourselves ye) that bear the vessels of the Lord] As in the exodus from Egypt, the priests bearing the sacred utensils march at the head of the procession. Some have rendered “ye that are Jehovah’s armour-bearers” (so Cheyne, formerly), a military figure suggested by the Hebrew phrase, but perhaps a little far-fetched in the context.

For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the LORD will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward.
12. Unlike the former exodus, the departure is to take place deliberately and in perfect security, without haste (Exodus 12:11; Deuteronomy 16:3), a representation differing somewhat from Isaiah 48:20.

the Lord will go before you] Exodus 13:21 f., &c.

will be your rereward] your rear guard; see Exodus 14:19.

Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.
13. my servant shall deal prudently] A more appropriate rendering is that of R.V. marg. my servant shall prosper, i.e. his career shall be crowned with complete success. The primary idea of the verb used is no doubt “wisdom” (not mere shrewdness, however, rather “insight,” see Genesis 3:6; Isaiah 44:18), but it also includes the success which is the normal result of wise action, and sometimes this secondary idea almost supplants the original meaning (Joshua 1:7 f.; 1 Samuel 18:5; 1 Samuel 18:14 f. etc.). This sense seems to be required here by the parallelism with the next line, for there is nothing in the whole prophecy to justify us in regarding the Servant’s elevation as the effect of his wisdom. The verse is “a simple prediction of the exaltation awaiting the Servant, in contrast with his past sorrows and abasement” (Davidson).

he shall be exalted and extolled] or “high and lifted up.” The same combination used of Jehovah in ch. Isaiah 57:15; of His throne in Isaiah 6:1.

14, 15 must be read as a single compound sentence. The protasis is the first line of Isaiah 52:14 (“According as many were astonied at thee”); the corresponding apodosis follows in Isaiah 52:15 (“so shall he sprinkle &c.”), the intervening clauses being a parenthesis suggested by the word “astonied.”

as many were astonied at thee] The word “astonied” expresses the blank amazement, mingled with horror, excited in the minds of beholders by the spectacle of the Servant’s unparalleled sufferings (cf. 1 Kings 9:8; Jeremiah 2:12; Jeremiah 18:16). It is natural to suppose that the “many” here referred to are the same as the “many nations” who witness the Servant’s subsequent exaltation (Isaiah 52:15), but the point is not to be pressed, and on the hypothesis that the Servant is an individual Israelite, the spectators of the Servant’s abasement could hardly be the nations of the world. Instead of “thee” the Targ. and Pesh. seem to have read “him,” thus avoiding an embarrassing change of person. The LXX., on the other hand, preserve the 2nd pers. throughout Isaiah 52:14. The change of person may no doubt be explained as caused by the parenthesis, but it is awkward nevertheless, and almost misleading, and many commentators prefer to alter the text in accordance with the Targ.

his visage was so marred, &c.] Render:

so marred from that of man was his aspect,

and his form from that of the sons of men

The sentence is inserted parenthetically to explain the repugnance felt by all who beheld the Servant in his former abject condition. The meaning is that he was so disfigured by disease (see ch. Isaiah 53:3) as to be no longer human in appearance. The word for “marred” is pointed as a noun (not found elsewhere): “a marred object.” A participle (moshḥâth) would read more naturally after the adverb “so,” although the punctuators must have had some reason for avoiding the more obvious form.

13–15. Jehovah utters a brief but pregnant announcement of the brilliant destiny in store for His Servant. Known to many in his misfortunes as an object of aversion and contempt, he shall suddenly be revealed in his true dignity; and the unexpected transformation will startle the whole world into astonishment and reverence. The verses form a prelude to ch. 53, being a summary of what is there described in detail; and they indicate what is the main idea of the whole passage, viz. the unexampled contrast between the present (and past) degradation and the future glory of Jehovah’s Servant.

Ch. Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12. The Servant’s Sacrifice and His Reward

This is the last and greatest, as well as the most difficult, of the four delineations of the Servant of Jehovah, and in several respects occupies a place apart. In the previous passages the Servant has been described as the ideal prophet or teacher, conscious of a world-wide mission in the service of God, which he prosecutes amid discouragement and persecution with inflexible purpose and the unfaltering assurance of ultimate success. There has been no hint that his activity was interrupted by death. Here the presentation is quite different. The conception of the Prophet is all but displaced by that of the Man of Sorrows, the meek and patient martyr, the sin-bearer. The passage is partly retrospective and partly prophetic. In so far as it is a retrospect there is no allusion to the prophetic activity of the servant; it is only after he has been raised from the dead that he is to assume the function of the great religious guide and authority of the world. But the most striking feature of the passage is the unparalleled sufferings of the Servant, and the effect they produce on the minds of his contemporaries. The tragedy of which they have been spectators makes an impression far more profound and convincing than any direct teaching could have done, compelling them to recognise the mission of the Servant, and at the same time producing penitence and confession of their own sin. The whole conception here given of the Servant of the Lord makes the prophecy the most remarkable anticipation in the Old Testament of the “sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.”

The passage may be divided into three parts:—

(1) An introduction, briefly stating the import of all that follows,—the coming exaltation of the Servant in contrast to his past abasement (Isaiah 52:13-15).

(2) A historical review of the Servant’s career, as he had appeared to his contemporaries in the days of his humiliation (Isaiah 53:1-9).

(3) An announcement of the glorious future and the astonishing success in store for him as the reward of his obedience unto death (Isaiah 52:10-12).

The middle section may be further subdivided into three strophes, yielding an arrangement (recognised by most commentators) of the whole in five strophes of three verses each.

As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:
So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
15. so shall he sprinkle many nations] The verb rendered “sprinkle” means elsewhere to “scatter (a liquid) in small drops,” and its usage is confined to the ceremonial act illustrated by Leviticus 4:6; Numbers 19:18 f. etc. This is the sense intended by the A.V. and the ancient authorities (Aquila, Theodotion, Vulg.) which it follows; the antithesis suggested being that as the Servant had been shunned by many as unclean, so he shall (metaphorically) “sprinkle” them, i.e. make them clean. But this interpretation imports into the passage ideas which are not expressed, and is besides inadmissible on grammatical grounds; i.e. the verb always means to sprinkle (a liquid), not to besprinkle (a person or thing). The only rendering at all compatible with the ceremonial use of the word would be that of the Targ.: “so shall he scatter many nations,” where the nations are actually, by a most unnatural metaphor, compared to spirting drops of water. To reach a satisfactory sense it is only necessary to assume that the Hebrew verb had a wider range of meaning than is represented in the O.T. It might be causative of a verb (found in Arabic) meaning to “spring” or “leap,” just as the English “sprinkle” is perhaps etymologically the causative of “spring.” We may thus render with R.V. marg. so will he startle many nations, i.e. “cause them to spring” in surprise, or (better) “cause them to rise up suddenly” in reverential admiration. Cf. ch. Isaiah 49:7 and Job 29:8 (“The aged arose and stood up”). Most modern writers agree in this explanation, although some have recourse to emendation of the text. The LXX. expresses the same general idea (θαυμάσονται ἔθνη πολλά, “many nations shall marvel”).

kings shall shut their mouths because of him (R.V. marg.)] Comp. again Job’s touching description of the respect paid to him in the days of his prosperity: “The princes refrained talking, and laid their hand on their mouth. The nobles held their peace, and their tongue cleaved to the roof of their mouth” (Isaiah 29:9 f.). The art. before “kings” should be omitted (as in R.V.).

for that which had not been told them &c.] The meaning is either that the exaltation of the Servant is an event of which they had received no announcement beforehand, or that it is one the like of which had never been known. If the reference be to the coming elevation of Israel, either sense would be suitable; if on the other hand the resurrection of an individual be predicted, the second would be more appropriate.

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