Isaiah 52:11
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.
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(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).




Isaiah 52:11

The context points to a great deliverance. It is a good example of the prophetical habit of casting prophecies of the future into the mould of the past. The features of the Exodus are repeated, but some of them are set aside. This deliverance, whatever it be, is to be after the pattern of that old story, but with very significant differences. Then, the departing Israelites had spoiled the Egyptians and come out, laden with silver and gold which had been poured into their hands; now there is to be no bringing out of anything which was tainted with the foulness of the land of captivity. Then the priests had borne the sacred vessels for sacrifice, now they are to exercise the same holy function, and for its discharge purity is demanded. Then, they had gone out in haste; now, there is to be no precipitate flight, but calmly, as those who are guided by God for their leader, and shielded from all pursuit by God as their rearward, the men of this new Exodus are to take their march from the new Egypt.

No doubt the nearest fulfilment is to be found in the Return from Babylon, and the narrative in Ezra may be taken as a remarkable parallel to the prophecy here. But the restriction to Babylon must seem impossible to any reader who interprets aright the significance of the context, and observes that our text follows the grand words of verse 10, and precedes the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 52:13 and of Isaiah 53:1 - Isaiah 53:12. To such a reader the principle will not be doubtful according to which Egypt and Babylon are transparencies through which mightier forms shine, and a more wonderful and world-wide making bare of the arm of the Lord is seen. Christ’s great redemption is the highest interpretation of these words; and the trumpet-call of our text is addressed to all who have become partakers of it.

So Paul quotes the text in 2 Corinthians 6:17, blending with it other words which are gathered from more than one passage of Scripture. We may then take the whole as giving the laws of the new Exodus, and also as shadowing certain great peculiarities connected with it, by which it surpasses all the former deliverances.

I. The Pilgrims of this new Exodus.

A true Christian is a pilgrim, not only because he, like all men, is passing through a life which is transient, but because he is consciously detached from the Visible and Present, as a consequence of his conscious attachment to the Unseen and Eternal. What is said in Hebrews of Abraham is true of all inheritors of his faith: ‘dwelling in tabernacles, for he looked for the city.’

II. The priests.

Priests and Levites bore the sacred vessels. All Christians are priests. The only true priesthood is Christ’s, ours is derived from Him. In that universal priesthood of believers are included the privileges and obligations of a. Access to God-Communion.

b. Offering spiritual sacrifices. Service and self-surrender.

c. Mediation with men.

Proclamation. Intercession. Thus follows d. Bearing the holy vessels. A sacred deposit is entrusted to them-the honour and name of God; the treasure of the Gospel.

III. The separation that becomes pilgrims.

‘Come out and be ye separate.’ The very meaning of our Christian profession is separation. There is ludicrous inconsistency in saying that we are Christians and not being pilgrims. Of course, the separation is not to be worked out by mere external asceticism or withdrawal from the world. That has been so thoroughly preached and practised of late years that we much need the other side to be put. There should be some plain difference between the life of Christians and that of men whose portion is in this life. They should differ in the aspect under which all outward things are regarded.

To a Christian they are to be means to an end, and ever to be felt to be evanescent. They should differ in the motive for action, which should, for a Christian, ever be the love of God. They should differ in that a Christian abstains from much which non-Christians feel free to do, and often has to say, ‘So did not I, because of the fear of the Lord.’ He who marches light marches quickly and marches far; to bring the treasures of Egypt along with us, is apt to retard our steps.

IV. The purity that becomes priests.

The Levites would cleanse themselves before taking up the holy vessels. And for us, clean hands and a pure heart are essential. There is no communion with God without these; a small speck of dust in the eye blinds us. There is no sacrificial service without them. No efficient work among men can be done without them. One main cause of the weakness of our Christian testimony is the imperfection of character in the witnesses, which is more powerful than all talk and often neutralises much effort. Keen eyes are watching us.

The consciousness of our own impurity should send us to Jesus, with the prayer and the confidence, ‘Cleanse me and I shall be clean.’ ‘The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.’ ‘He hath loosed us from our sins and made us kings and priests to God.’

Isaiah 52:11-12. Depart ye, go ye out from thence — Out of Babylon into your own land, that there I may meet with you, and bless you, and perform those further and greater things for you which I have promised to do there. And this invitation was the more necessary, because God foresaw that a great number of the Jews would, upon worldly considerations, continue in those foreign countries in which they were settled, and would be very backward to return to the Holy Land. Touch no unclean thing — Carry not along with you any of their superstitions or idolatries. Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord — And especially you priests and Levites, who minister in holy things, and carry the holy vessels of the temple, keep yourselves from all pollution. Ye shall not go out by flight — But securely, and in triumph, being conducted by your great captain, the Lord of hosts. The God of Israel will be your rereward — So that none shall be able either to oppose you in your march, or to fall upon you in the rear.

52:1-12 The gospel proclaims liberty to those bound with fears. Let those weary and heavy laden under the burden of sin, find relief in Christ, shake themselves from the dust of their doubts and fears, and loose themselves from those bands. The price paid by the Redeemer for our salvation, was not silver or gold, or corruptible things, but his own precious blood. Considering the freeness of this salvation, and how hurtful to temporal comfort sins are, we shall more value the redemption which is in Christ. Do we seek victory over every sin, recollecting that the glory of God requires holiness in every follower of Christ? The good news is, that the Lord Jesus reigns. Christ himself brought these tidings first. His ministers proclaim these good tidings: keeping themselves clean from the pollutions of the world, they are beautiful to those to whom they are sent. Zion's watchmen could scarcely discern any thing of God's favour through the dark cloud of their afflictions; but now the cloud is scattered, they shall plainly see the performance. Zion's waste places shall then rejoice; all the world will have the benefit. This is applied to our salvation by Christ. Babylon is no place for Israelites. And it is a call to all in the bondage of sin and Satan, to use the liberty Christ has proclaimed. They were to go with diligent haste, not to lose time nor linger; but they were not to go with distrustful haste. Those in the way of duty, are under God's special protection; and he that believes this, will not hasten for fear.Depart ye, depart ye - This is a direct address to the exiles in their captivity. The same command occurs in Isaiah 48:20 (see the notes on that place). It is repeated here for the sake of emphasis; and the urgency of the command implies that there was some delay likely to be apprehended on the part of the exiles themselves. The fact seems to have been, that though the captivity was at first attended with every circumstance suited to give pain, and though they were subjected to many privations and sorrows in Babylon (see Psalm 137:1-9), yet that many of them became strongly attached to a residence there, and were strongly indisposed to return. They were there seventy years. Most of those who were made captive would have died before the close of the exile. Their children, who constituted the generation to whom the command to return would be addressed, would have known the land of their fathers only by report.

It was a distant land; and was to be reached only by a long and perilous journey across a pathless desert. They had been born in Babylon. It was their home; and there were the graves of their parents arid kindred. Some had been advanced to posts of office and honor: many, it is probable, had lands, and friends, and property in Babylon. The consequence would, therefore, be, that there would be strong reluctance on their part to leave the country of their exile, and to encounter the perils and trials incident to a return to their own land. It is not improbable, also, that many of them may have formed improper connections and attachments in that distant land, and that they would be unwilling to relinquish them, and return to the land of their fathers. It was necessary, therefore, that the most urgent commands should be addressed to them, and the strongest motives presented to them, to induce them to return to the country of their fathers. And after all, it is evident that but comparatively a small portion of the exile Jews ever were prevailed on to leave Babylon, and to adventure upon the perilous journey of a return to Zion.

Touch no unclean thing - Separate yourselves wholly from an idolatrous nation, and preserve yourselves pure. The apostle Paul 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 has applied this to Christians, and uses it as expressing the obligation to come out from the world, and to be separate from all its influences. Babylon is regarded by the apostle as not an unapt emblem of the world, and the command to come out from her as not an improper expression of the obligation to the friends of the Redeemer to be separate from all that is evil. John Rev 18:4 has applied this passage also to denote the duty of true Christians to separate themselves from the mystical Babylon - the papal community - and not to be partaker of her sins. The passage is applied in both these instances, because Babylon, in Scripture language, is regarded as emblematic of whatever is oppressive, proud, arrogant, persecuting, impure, and abominable.

That bear the vessels of the Lord - That bear again to your own land the sacred vessels of the sanctuary. It is to be remembered that when the Jews were taken to Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar carried there all the sacred utensils of the temple, and that they were used in their festivals as common vessels in Babylon 2 Chronicles 36:18; Daniel 5:2-5. These vessels Cyrus commanded to be again restored, when the exiles returned to their own land Ezra 1:7-11. They whose office it was to carry them, were the priests and Levites Numbers 1:50; Numbers 4:15; and the command here pertains particularly to them. They were required to be holy; to feel the importance of their office, and to be separate from all that is evil. The passage has no original reference to ministers of the gospel, but the principle is implied that they who are appointed to serve God as his ministers in any way should be pure and holy.

11. (Isa 48:20; Zec 2:6, 7). Long residence in Babylon made many loath to leave it: so as to mystical Babylon (Re 18:4).

ye … that bear … vessels of the Lord—the priests and Levites, whose office it was to carry the vessels of the temple (Jer 27:18). Nebuchadnezzar had carried them to Babylon (2Ch 36:18). Cyrus restored them (Ezr 1:7-11).

be … clean—by separating yourselves wholly from Babylonian idolaters, mystical and literal.

Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence; make haste, O ye banished Jews, to depart out of Babylon into your own land, that there I may meet with you, and bless you, and perform those further and greater things which I have promised there to do for you. And this invitation was the more necessary, because God foresaw that a great number of the Jews would upon worldly considerations continue in those foreign countries in which they were settled, and be very backward to return to the Holy Land.

Touch no unclean thing; and when you go thence, take heed that you carry not along with you any of their superstitions or idolatries; but purify and prepare yourselves, that so God may return to you in mercy, when you return into your own land.

Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord; and especially you priests and Levites, whose office it is to minister in holy things, and to carry back the holy vessels of the temple, keep yourselves from all pollution.

Depart ye, depart ye,.... Not from Jerusalem, as some, for that is now said to be redeemed, and its waste places made joyful; but Babylon, even mystical Babylon. The Targum is, "be ye separated, be ye separated": and so the apostle, 2 Corinthians 6:17. It denotes a separation from the idolatrous church of Rome; and the exhortation is repeated, to hasten the thing, to urge the necessity of it, and point at the danger of delaying it; and it may be it may respect a two fold separation, one that has been already at the time of the Reformation, and another that will be just before the destruction of Babylon, Revelation 18:4,

go ye out from thence: not only protest against the false doctrines, idolatries, and superstitions of that apostate church, but entirely relinquish her communion:

touch no unclean thing; have no fellowship with her in any of her unclean and idolatrous actions, and bring none of her abominations along with you. It was the fault of the first reformers from Popery, that they brought so many of the impurities of the church of Rome along with them, which are retained to this day; in this last separation, care is to be taken, and will be taken, that those that come out keep clear of all her defilements; see Revelation 14:4,

go ye out of the midst of her; which signifies much the same as before, and is repeated again and again, to show the importance of it:

be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord; not the vessels of the Lord's sanctuary, as the Targum, restored by Cyrus to the Jews, at their return from the Babylonish captivity, Ezra 1:7, and so Jarchi interprets it of the priests and Levites that bore the vessels of the Lord in the wilderness; but Kimchi of the mercies and kindnesses of the Lord; Aben Ezra of the law: but it may much better be understood of the ministers of the Gospel, and of the treasure of the Gospel which they have in their earthen vessels; or the name of the Lord, which they are chosen vessels to bear and carry in the world; who ought to be pure from false doctrine, superstitious worship, and an evil conversation: though it may be applied to every Christian, since all true believers are priests under the Gospel dispensation; and as they bear the whole armour of God, and it is their duty to attend all the ordinances of the Gospel, they ought to have their conversation as becomes it. In Zohar (p), these vessels are interpreted of the righteous, brought as a gift to the King Messiah.

(p) In Exod. fol. 87. 4.

{k} Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from there, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that {l} bear the vessels of the LORD.

(k) He warns the faithful not to pollute themselves with the superstitions of the Babylonians, as Isa 48:20, 2Co 6:17.

(l) For the time is at hand that the priests and Levites chiefly (and so by them all the people, who will be as the Levites in this office) will carry home vessels of the temple which Nebuchadnezzar had taken away.

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.

Verse 11. - Go ye out from thence; i.e. "from Babylon" - the standpoint of the prophet in the present chapter being Jerusalem. When the time came, earnest exhortations to depart would be found not superfluous, for there would be an indisposition on the part of some to quit their possessions, and of others to affront the perils of the way. Touch no unclean thing. Bring with you none of the Babylonian idols, none of the Babylonian charms, spells, and the like (see the comment on Isaiah 47:9). Be ye clean; rather, purify yourselves. The departing captives generally are called upon to avoid polluting themselves with the unclean things of Babylon; but for those who bear the vessels of the Lord this negative purity is insufficient. They are for-really to purify themselves (2 Chronicles 29:34) before undertaking their sacred office. By "the vessels of the Lord" we must understand those which Nebuchadnezzar carried off from the temple (2 Kings 25:14-16; Daniel 1:2), and which, on the return of the Jews from captivity, were restored by Cyrus (Ezra 1:7-11) and Artaxerxes (Ezra 8:25-34). Isaiah 52:11This salvation in its immediate manifestation is the liberation of the exiles; and on the ground of what the prophet sees in spirit, he exclaims to them (as in Isaiah 48:20), in Isaiah 52:11, Isaiah 52:12 : "Go ye forth, go ye forth, go out from thence, lay hold of no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her, cleanse yourselves, ye that bear the vessels of Jehovah. For ye shall not go out in confusion, and ye shall not go forth in flight: for Jehovah goeth before you, and the God of Israel is your rear-guard." When they go out from thence, i.e., from Babylon, they are not to touch anything unclean, i.e., they are not to enrich themselves with the property of their now subjugated oppressors, as was the case at the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:36). It is to be a holy procession, at which they are to appear morally as well as corporeally unstained. But those who bear the vessels of Jehovah, i.e., the vessels of the temple, are not only not to defile themselves, but are to purify themselves (hibbârū with the tone upon the last syllable, a regular imperative niphal of bârar). This is an indirect prophecy, and was fulfilled in the fact that Cyrus directed the golden and silver vessels, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought to Babylon, to be restored to the returning exiles as their rightful property (Ezra 1:7-11). It would thus be possible for them to put themselves into the right attitude for their departure, since it would not take place in precipitous haste (bechippâzon), as the departure from Egypt did (Deuteronomy 16:3, cf., Exodus 12:39), nor like a flight, but they would go forth under the guidance of Jehovah. מאסּפכם (with the ē changed into the original ı̆) does not man, "He bringeth you, the scattered ones, together," but according to Numbers 10:25; Joshua 6:9, Joshua 6:13, "He closes your procession," - He not only goes before you to lead you, but also behind you, to protect you (as in Exodus 14:19). For the me'assēph, or the rear-guard of an army, is its keystone, and has to preserve the compactness of the whole.

The division of the chapters generally coincides with the several prophetic addresses. But here it needs emendation. Most of the commentators are agreed that the words "Behold my servant," etc. (hinnēh yaskı̄l ‛abhdı̄) commence a new section, like hēn ‛abhdı̄ (behold my servant) in Isaiah 42:1.

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