Isaiah 51:1
Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
LI.

(1) Look unto the rock.—The implied argument is, that the wonder involved in the origin of Israel is as a ground of faith in its restoration and perpetuity. The rock is, of course, Abraham, the pit, Sarah.

Isaiah 51:1-2. Hearken unto me, &c. — Here again he addresses his discourse to the believing and godly Jews, whom he describes as following after righteousness — That is, earnestly desiring and diligently pursuing the justification of their persons, the sanctification of their nature, and practical obedience to God’s law; for which blessings they sought the Lord — That is, sought an acquaintance and reconciliation with him, the manifestation of his favour, and the communication of his Spirit. These, his true people, he exhorts to look unto the rock whence they were hewn, &c. — To consider the state of Abraham and Sarah before God gave them Isaac, from whom Jacob and all his posterity sprang. He compares the bodies of Abraham and Sarah unto a rock, or pit, or quarry, out of which stones are hewn or dug; thereby implying, that God, in some sort, actually did that which John the Baptist said he was able to do, (Matthew 3:9,) even of stones to raise up children unto Abraham; it being then as impossible, by the course of nature, for Abraham and Sarah, in such an advanced age as they then were, to have a child, as it is to hew one out of a rock, or dig one out of a pit. For I called him alone — Hebrew, אחד, one; that is, when he was but one single person, without child or family, I called him from his country and kindred to follow me to an unknown land, where I promised that I would multiply him exceedingly. And I blessed him, and increased him — Namely, into a vast multitude, when his condition was desperate in the eye of reason. And therefore God can as easily deliver and raise his church when they are in the most forlorn condition, and seem to be consumed, dead, and buried, so that nothing but dry bones remain of them, as is declared at large, Ezekiel chap. 37.

51:1-3 It is good for those privileged by the new birth, to consider that they were shapen in sin. This should cause low thoughts of ourselves, and high thoughts of Divine grace. It is the greatest comfort to be made serviceable to the glory of God. The more holiness men have, and the more good they do, the more gladness they have. Let us seriously reflect upon our guilt. To do so will tend to keep the heart humble, and the conscience awake and tender. They make Christ more precious to the soul, and give strength to our attempts and prayers for others.Hearken unto me - That is, to the God of their fathers, who now addresses them. They are regarded as in exile and bondage, and as desponding in regard to their prospects. In this situation, God, or perhaps more properly the Messiah (compare the notes at Isaiah 1), is introduced as addressing them with the assurances of deliverance.

Ye that follow after righteousness - This is addressed evidently to those who sought to be righteous, and who truly feared the Lord. There was a portion of the nation that continued faithful to Yahweh. They still loved and worshipped him in exile, and they were anxiously looking for deliverance and for a return to their own land.

Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn - To Abraham the founder of the nation. The figure is taken from the act of quarrying stone for the purposes of building; and the essential idea here is, that God had formed the nation from the beginning, as a mason constructs a building; that he had, so to speak, taken the materials rough and unhewn from the very quarry; that he had shaped, and fitted them, and moulded them into an edifice. The idea is not that their origin was dishonorable or obscure. It is not that Abraham was not an honored ancestor, or that they should be ashamed of the founder of their nation. But the idea is, that God had had the entire moulding of the nation; that he had taken Abraham and Sarah from a distant land, and bad formed them into a great people and nation for his own purpose. The argument is, that he who had done this was able to raise them up from captivity, and make them again a great people. Probably allusion is made to this passage by the Saviour in Matthew 3:9, where he says, 'For I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.'

The hole of the pit - The word rendered 'hole' means such an excavation as men make who are taking stones from a quarry. It expresses substantially the same idea as the previous member of the verse. This language is sometimes addressed to Christians, with a view to produce humility by reminding them that they have been taken by God from a state of sin, and raised up, as it were, from a deep and dark pit of pollution. But this is not the sense of the passage, nor will it bear such an application. It may be used to denote that God has taken them, as stone is taken from the quarry; that he found them in their natural state as unhewn blocks of marble are; that he has moulded and formed them by his own agency, and fitted them into his spiritual temple; and that they owe all the beauty and grace of their Christian deportment to him; that this is an argument to prove that he who had done so much for them as to transform them, so to speak, from rough and unsightly blocks to polished stones, fitted for his spiritual temple on earth, is able to keep them still, and to fit them for his temple above. Such is the argument in the passage before us; and such a use of it is, of course, perfectly legitimate and fair.

CHAPTER 51

Isa 51:1-23. Encouragement to the Faithful Remnant of Israel to Trust in God for Deliverance, Both from Their Long Babylonian Exile, and from Their Present Dispersion.

1. me—the God of your fathers.

ye … follow after righteousness—the godly portion of the nation; Isa 51:7 shows this (Pr 15:9; 1Ti 6:11). "Ye follow righteousness," seek it therefore from Me, who "bring it near," and that a righteousness "not about to be abolished" (Isa 51:6, 7); look to Abraham, your father (Isa 51:2), as a sample of how righteousness before Me is to be obtained; I, the same God who blessed him, will bless you at last (Isa 51:3); therefore trust in Me, and fear not man's opposition (Isa 51:7, 8, 12, 13). The mistake of the Jews, heretofore, has been, not in that they "followed after righteousness," but in that they followed it "by the works of the law," instead of "by faith," as Abraham did (Ro 9:31, 32; 10:3, 4; 4:2-5).

hole of … pit—The idea is not, as it is often quoted, the inculcation of humility, by reminding men of the fallen state from which they have been taken, but that as Abraham, the quarry, as it were (compare Isa 48:1), whence their nation was hewn, had been called out of a strange land to the inheritance of Canaan, and blessed by God, the same God is able to deliver and restore them also (compare Mt 3:9).Abraham our pattern to trust in Christ; in his promises, and righteous salvation: this is constant, but men are transitory, Isaiah 51:1-8. A prayer of the godly in affliction, Isaiah 51:9-11. The Lord’s answer, Isaiah 51:12-16. He bewaileth Jerusalem, Isaiah 51:17-20. The bitter cup taken from her, and given to her enemies, Isaiah 51:21-23.

Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness: now he turneth his speech again to the believing and godly Jews.

That seek the Lord; that make it your chief care and business to seek favour and help from God.

Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged; consider the state of Abraham and Sarah, when they procreated Isaac, from whom Jacob and all of you sprang; for so he explains the metaphor in the next verse. He compareth the bodies of Abraham and Sarah unto a

rock, or pit, or quarry out of which stones are hewed or digged, thereby implying that God in some sort actually did that which Christ said he was able to do, Matthew 3:9, even of stones to raise up children unto Abraham; it being then as impossible by the course of nature for Abraham and Sarah in that age to procreate a child, as it is to hew a living child out of a rock, or to dig one out of a pit of stone.

Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness,.... After having declared the doom of the wicked, and those that trust to their own righteousness, the Lord returns to them that fear him, whom he describes as such that "follow after righteousness"; not the righteousness of the law, it is the character of carnal Israel to follow after that; nor is that attainable in the way it is pursued by such; nor is there any justification by it; nor is following that consistent with seeking the Lord, in the next clause: but the righteousness of Christ is meant; not his essential righteousness as God; nor the righteousness of his office as Mediator; but that which consists of his active and passive obedience; of which he is the author and giver, and is in him as its subject: this is what is commonly called imputed righteousness, an evangelical one, the righteousness of faith, and is justifying: "following after" this supposes a want of one; a sense of that want; a view of this as out of themselves, and in another; a love and liking of it, and a vehement desire for it; and what determines to an eager pursuit of it are its perfection, suitableness, and use: now such persons are called to hearken to the Lord; to the Word of the Lord, as the Targum; to Christ, to his Gospel, and to his ordinances, particularly to what is after said:

ye that seek the Lord: the Lord Christ, for life and salvation; for righteousness and strength; for more grace from him; a greater knowledge of him, and of doctrine from him, as the Targum; and more communion with him; that seek his honour and glory in the world, and to be for ever with him; who seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; that seek him where he may be found, affectionately and sincerely, carefully, diligently, constantly, and for everything they want:

look unto the rock whence ye are hewn; which is in the next verse interpreted of Abraham; so called, not so much for the strength of his faith, as for his old age; when he looked like a hard dry rock, from whom no issue could be expected; and yet from hence a large number of stones were hewn, or a race of men sprung:

and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged; that is, to Sarah, who was for a long time barren, whose womb was shut up, but afterwards opened; and from whom, as from a cistern, (to which a wife is sometimes compared, Proverbs 5:15) flowed the waters of Judah, Isaiah 48:1 or the Jewish nation. Jerom thinks Christ is meant by both, the Rock of ages, in whom is everlasting strength; to whom men are to look for salvation, righteousness, and strength; and out of whose pierced side flowed blood and water: and in this sense he is followed by Cocceius, who interprets the rock of Christ, the Rock of salvation; out of whose side flowed the church, as out of the hole of a pit or cistern.

Hearken to me, {a} ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD: look to the {b} rock from which ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from which ye were dug.

(a) He comforts the Church, that they would not be discouraged for their small number.

(b) That is, to Abraham, of whom you were begotten, and to Sarah of whom we were born.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1. ye that follow after (lit. “pursue”) righteousness] “Righteousness” here means, not “salvation” (as in Isaiah 51:5-6; Isaiah 51:8), but righteousness in conduct, a way of life in accordance with the will of God (as Isaiah 51:7); cf. Proverbs 15:9; Romans 9:30 f.

look unto the rock &c.] The ancestors of the nation are compared to a quarry, the Israelites to the stones hewn from it,—a peculiar image found nowhere else. The word for hole does not occur again in the O.T.; but a noun from the same root is found in the first line of the Siloam Inscription with the sense of “perforation” or “excavation.”

1–3. The opening exhortation alludes to a difficulty naturally arising in the minds of believing exiles, viz., that they were too few in number to inherit the glorious promises made to them. This is removed by pointing to the marvellous increase of the nation from a single patriarchal family. There is a curious coincidence between this passage and Ezekiel 33:24, where a parallel line of reasoning, on the part of the ungodly remnant left in the land of Canaan, is denounced by the prophet as impious. The history of Abraham and the religious lessons to be drawn from it must have been familiar in the age of the Captivity.

Ch. Isaiah 51:1-16. Encouragements addressed to true Israelites

The strain of consolation, which was interrupted by the soliloquy of the Servant at ch. Isaiah 50:4, is now resumed, and is continued till we reach the fourth and last of the Servant-passages, Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12. Throughout this long passage (Isaiah 51:1 to Isaiah 52:12) the prophet’s thoughts are occupied with the near prospect of deliverance, and his high-strung emotion finds vent in a series of short impassioned oracles, mostly of a lyrical character. These may be divided into two groups, each consisting of three oracles. While those of the second group (Isaiah 51:17 to Isaiah 52:12) are addressed to the prostrate and desolate Zion, the first (Isaiah 51:1-16) contains words of cheer to the faithful but timid hearts in whom the prophet’s message had found an entrance. This section shews some points of contact with the preceding descriptions of the Servant, and the line of thought was probably influenced by the last of these, in Isaiah 50:4-9. The contents of the section are as follows:—

i. Isaiah 51:1-8. A glowing and animated appeal to the believing exiles to put away the fears and misgivings which hinder their full acceptance of the promise of salvation. The thrice-repeated “Hearken to me” (see, however, on Isaiah 51:4) indicates a division into three strophes. (1) The first draws a lesson of encouragement from the example of the solitary patriarch Abraham, who by the blessing of Jehovah became the progenitor of a great nation. Let the true-hearted believers, therefore, take courage, in spite of the fewness of their number, for the same blessing rests on them, and will transform the waste places of Zion into a scene of joy and gladness (Isaiah 51:1-3). (2) The next strophe directs the hope of the loyal Israelites to the glorious future that belongs to those who wait for Jehovah’s salvation; though heaven and earth pass away that world-wide salvation is imperishable and eternal (Isaiah 51:4-6). (3). The last strophe, re-echoing one of the voices of the Prologue (Isaiah 40:6-8), reminds the exiles that the reproach they fear is that of frail and short-lived mortals, while the salvation they hope for endures for ever.

ii. Isaiah 51:9-10. Here for a moment the prophetic discourse is interrupted by a magnificent apostrophe to the “arm” of Jehovah. The speakers are most probably those to whom the previous words were addressed. As if all their doubts had been swept away by the impressive appeals to which they have listened, their impatience breaks forth in this impetuous challenge to Jehovah to reveal His power as in the days of old. (Isaiah 51:11 has been inserted from ch. Isaiah 35:10.)

iii. Isaiah 51:12-16. The Divine voice is again heard (in answer to the people’s prayer). Since their comforter is Jehovah Himself, the Creator of heaven and earth, how unreasonable is their craven fear of their cruel oppressors! (Isaiah 51:12-13). Towards the close, however, the connexion becomes very obscure (see the notes).

Verses 1-8. - AN ADDRESS TO FAITHFUL ISRAEL, SUGGESTING TOPICS OF COMFORT. The address consists of three nearly equal strophes or stanzas, each commencing with a call, Shim'u elai, "Hearken unto me," or Haqshibu elai, "Attend to me." The prophet appears to be the speaker, and to address himself to the more faithful portion of the people. Verse 1. - Ye that follow after righteousness; i.e. "ye that endeavour to lead righteous lives" (comp. ver. 7). Ye that seek the Lord. And do not "seek after idols," as too many of the exiles did (Isaiah 40:19; Isaiah 41:7; Isaiah 44:9-20; Isaiah 46:5-8, etc.). Look unto the rock... the hole; i.e. look back at your past history, especially at the early beginnings of it. Consider from what a slight and poor commencement - an aged man and a barren woman (ver. 2) - ye were raised up to be God's people, a numerous nation, a multitude like the sand of the sea. How came this result about? Was it not simply by the blessing of God? Isaiah 51:1The prophetic address now turns again from the despisers of the word, whom it has threatened with the torment of fire, to those who long for salvation. "Hearken to me, ye that are in pursuit of righteousness, ye that seek Jehovah. Look up to the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hollow of the pit whence ye are dug. Look up toe Abraham your forefather, and to Sara who bare you, that he was one when I called him, and blessed him, and multiplied him. For Jehovah hath comforted Zion, comforted all her ruins, and turned her desert like Eden, and her steppe as into the garden of God; joy and gladness are found in her, thanksgiving and sounding music." The prophecy is addressed to those who are striving after the right kind of life and seeking Jehovah, and not turning from Him to make earthly things and themselves the object of their pursuit; for such only are in a condition by faith to regard that as possible, and in spirit to behold that as real, which seems impossible, and in spirit to behold that as real, which seems impossible to human understanding, because the very opposite is lying before the eye of the senses. Abraham and Sarah they are mentally to set before them, for they are types of the salvation to be anticipated now. Abraham is the rock whence the stones were hewn, of which the house of Jacob is composed; and Sarah with her maternal womb the hollow of the pit out of which Israel was brought to the light, just as peat is dug out of a pit, or copper out of a mine. The marriage of Abraham and Sarah was for a long time unfruitful; it was, as it were, out of hard stone that God raised up children to Himself in Abraham and Sarah. The rise of Israel was a miracle of divine power and grace. In antithesis to the masculine tsūr, bōr is made into a feminine through maqqebheth, which is chosen with reference to neqēbhâh. to חצּבתּם we must supply ממּנּוּ ... אשׁר, and to נקּרתּם, ממּנּה ... אשׁר. Isaiah 51:2 informs them who the rock and the hollow of the pit are, viz., Abraham your forefather, and Sarah techōlelkhem, who bare you with all the pains of childbirth: "you," for the birth of Isaac, the son of promise, was the birth of the nation. The point to be specially looked at in relation to Abraham (in comparison with whom Sarah falls into the background) is given in the words quod unum vocavi eum (that he was one when I called him). The perfect קראתיו relates the single call of divine grace, which removed Abraham from the midst of idolaters into the fellowship of Jehovah. The futures that follow (with Vav cop.) point out the blessing and multiplication that were connected with it (Genesis 12:1-2). He is called one ('echâd as in Ezekiel 33:24; Malachi 2:15), because he was one at the time of his call, and yet through the might of the divine blessing became the root of the whole genealogical tree of Israel, and of a great multitude of people that branched off from it. This is what those who are now longing for salvation are to remember, strengthening themselves by means of the olden time in their faith in the future which so greatly resembles it. The corresponding blessing is expressed in preterites (nicham, vayyâsem), inasmuch as to the eye of faith and in prophetic vision the future has the reality of a present and the certainty of a completed fact. Zion, the mother of Israel (Isaiah 50:1), the counterpart of Sarah, the ancestress of the nation-Zion, which is now mourning so bitterly, because she is lying waste and in ruins - is comforted by Jehovah. The comforting word of promise (Isaiah 40:1) becomes, in her case, the comforting fact of fulfilment (Isaiah 49:13). Jehovah makes her waste like Eden (lxx ὡς παράδεισον), like a garden, as glorious as if it had been directly planted by Himself (Genesis 13:10; Numbers 24:6). And this paradise is not without human occupants; but when you enter it you find joy and gladness therein, and hear thanksgiving at the wondrous change that has taken place, as well as the voice of melody (zimrâh as in Amos 5:23). The pleasant land is therefore full of men in the midst of festal enjoyment and activity. As Sarah gave birth to Isaac after a long period of barrenness, so Zion, a second Sarah, will be surrounded by a joyous multitude of children after a long period of desolation.
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