Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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.LII.
(1) Awake, awake . . .—The repetition of the burden of Isa Ii. 9, 17, indicates, by a subtle touch of art, the continuity of thought. The call is addressed as before to Zion, as a castaway. It summons her to the highest glory. She is to put on the garments of beauty, which belong to her as the priestly queen of cities. (Comp. Exodus 28:2.) The alien and the impure shall no longer ride victorious through her streets, as in Isaiah 51:23. (Comp. Ezekiel 44:9, and the picture of the heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation 21:2.)
Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion.(2) Sit down . . .—As Jerusalem has risen from the dust, the “sitting” here implies a throne, and so stands in contrast with that of Babylon in Isaiah 47:1.
For thus saith the LORD, Ye have sold yourselves for nought; and ye shall be redeemed without money.(3) Ye have sold yourselves . . .—Literally, ye were sold. The people had complained that Jehovah had “sold them” into the hands of their enemies (Psalm 44:12). “Not so,” is the answer. “There was no real sale, only a temporary transfer, and therefore Jehovah can redeem you at His own pleasure. A comparison with Isaiah 43:3, shows how spiritual truths may present aspects that require the most opposite illustrations.
For thus saith the Lord GOD, My people went down aforetime into Egypt to sojourn there; and the Assyrian oppressed them without cause.(4) My people went down . . .—Stress is laid on the unprovoked character of the oppression in the case both of Egypt and the Assyrian invaders Sargon and Sennacherib. It is possible that Assyria may be used in its wider sense as including Babylon. If so, the fact tends to the conclusion that the book was written at a time when the kings of Assyria included Babylon in their titles. Probably, however, the prophet refers to the deliverance from the army of Sennacherib as a pledge of the deliverance from Babylon.
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) What have I here . . .?—i.e., What have I to do? As in Genesis 11:4, Jehovah is represented as deliberating after the manner of men. Again the people have been gratuitously, wantonly attacked; and their groans mingle with the taunting blasphemies of their conquerors. Has not the time come for Him to vindicate His outraged Majesty?
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) How beautiful . . .—The image is reproduced, with variations, from Isaiah 40:9. There Zion herself was the herald proclaiming the glad tidings; here the heralds are seen coming to Zion, to tell her that her God is verily reigning, and their feet are beautiful on the mountains like those of an antelope (Song of Solomon 2:8-9; Nahum 1:15).
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 . . .—The sentinels see the heralds from their watch-towers (Isaiah 21:6; Habakkuk 2:1), and sing out for joy, as they see, not only afar off, but “eye to eye,” the presence of the God who has become the King.
Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the LORD hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem.(9) Ye waste places of Jerusalem . . .—The history of the return of the exiles in Ezra 1, 3, seems a somewhat poor and prosaic fulfilment of the glorious vision; but it lies in the nature of the case, that the words of the prophet, contemplating the distant future, idealise that return, and connect it unconsciously, it may be, with another city than the earthly Jerusalem.
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) The Lord hath made bare . . .—The warrior preparing for action throws off his mantle, tucks up the sleeve of his tunic, and leaves his outstretched arm free.
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) Depart ye . . .—The command is addressed to the exiles in Babylon. They are not to plunder or carry off spoil that would render them unclean. They are to bring only “the vessels of Jehovah,” i.e., the gold and silver which had been taken from His temple, and which Cyrus restored by them (Ezra 1:7). In this case the bearers are the Levites. Commonly, however, the phrase is used of “armour-bearers,” and this meaning is given to it by many commentators, as pointing to the whole body of the people as filling that function for the great king (1Kings 14:27-28).
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) Ye shall not go out with haste . . .—The words contrast the exodus from Babylon with that from Egypt (Exodus 12:39; Deuteronomy 16:3). In the essential point, however, of Divine protection, the resemblance would be greater than the contrast. Jehovah would still be once more both the vanguard and the rear-guard of the great procession.
Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.(13) Behold, my servant . . .—There is absolutely no connection between Isaiah 52:12-13, absolutely no break between the close of Isa Iii. and the opening of Isaiah 53. The whole must be treated as an entirely distinct section (all the more striking, from its contrast to the triumphant tone of what precedes it), and finds its only adequate explanation in the thought of a new revelation made to the prophet’s mind. That may have had, like other revelations, a starting-point in the prophet’s own experience. He had seen partially good kings, like Uzziah and Jotham; one who almost realised his ideal of what a king should be, in Hezekiah. None of these had redeemed or regenerated the people. So far as that work had been done at all, it had been through prophets who spake the word of the Lord and were mocked and persecuted because they spake it. Something like a law was dawning upon his mind, and that law was the power of a vicarious suffering, the might of martyrdom in life and death. Did it not follow from this that that ideal must be wrought out on a yet wider scale in the great work of restoration to which he was looking forward? The Servant of the Lord, in all the concentric developments of the thought which the word implied, the nation, the prophetic kernel of the nation, the individual Servant identifying himself with both, must himself also be made perfect through suffering and conquer through apparent failure. Granting that such a law exists, it will be no wonder that we should find examples of its working both before and after the great fulfilment, in Isaiah himself, in Jeremiah, in the exiles of the captivity, in the heroes of the Maccabean struggle, in the saints and martyrs of the Church of Christ. It remains true that the Christ alone fulfils the idea of the perfect sufferer, as He alone fulfils that of the perfect King. Measuring Isaiah from a purely human stand-point, and by the standard of other poets, this manifold symbolism of “the Servant,” will hardly seem strange to the student of literature who remembers the many aspects presented by the Beatrice of Dante, the St. George and Gloriana of Spenser, the Piers Plowman of Langland.
Shall be exalted.—It is noteworthy that the phrase impressed itself, through the LXX., on the mind of the Christ in reference to His crucifixion (John 3:14; John 8:28; John 12:32), on that of the Apostles in reference to His ascension (Acts 2:33; Philippians 2:9). (Comp. Isaiah 6:1; Isaiah 57:15; Psalm 89:27.)
As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:(14) As many were astonied . . .—The words point to the correspondence of the supreme exaltation following on the supreme humiliation.
His visage was so marred . . .—The words conflict strangely with the type of pure and holy beauty with which Christian art has made us familiar as its ideal of the Son of Man. It has to be noted, however, that the earlier forms of that art, prior to the time of Constantine, and, in some cases, later, represented the Christ as worn, emaciated, with hardly any touch of earthly comeliness, and that it is at least possible that the beauty may have been of expression rather than of feature or complexion, and that men have said of Him, as of St. Paul, that his “bodily presence was weak” (2Corinthians 10:10).
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 words have been very differently rendered by, He shall cause to spring up, i.e., shall startle, He shall scatter, He shall fling away, or, Many nations shall marvel at him. On the whole, however, admitting the difficulty of the passage, the Authorised version seems preferable. The “sprinkling” is that of the priest who cleanses the leper (Leviticus 4:6; Leviticus 4:17), and this was to be done by Him who was Himself counted as a leper “smitten of God” (Isaiah 53:4). We may probably trace an echo of the words in the “sprinkling clean water” of Ezekiel 36:25, in the “blood of sprinkling,” of Hebrews 10:22; Hebrews 12:24. Here it comes as an explanation of the paradox that the Servant of Jehovah was to bring in “many nations” into the holy city, and yet that the “uncircumcised and unclean” were not to enter it (Isaiah 52:1).
The kings shall shut their mouths . . .—The reverence, as in Isaiah 49:7, Job 29:9; Job 40:4, is that of silent wonder at the change which has passed over the suffering Servant. Wisdom Of Solomon 5:1-5 presents an interesting parallel, the reference there being to the person of the ideal righteous sufferer. In that case, as in this, there was, so to speak, a transfiguration “beyond all that men looked for.”