William Kelly Major Works Commentary
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.Isaiah Chapter 52
Isaiah 52:1-12Thirdly, Zion is now called on. "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. Shake thyself from the dust; arise, sit thee down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion. For thus saith Jehovah, Ye were sold for naught; and ye shall be redeemed without money. For thus saith the Lord Jehovah, My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there: and the Assyrian oppressed them without cause. Now therefore, what have I here, saith Jehovah, that my people is taken away for naught? their rulers make them howl, saith Jehovah, and my name continually all the day [is] blasphemed. Therefore my people shall know my name: therefore [they shall know] in that day that I [and He that saith, Beholds [it is] I" (vv. 1-6). The days of Egypt and of Assyria should never return: no more the oppressor should be known. Jehovah's people shall know His name, Himself as revealed in it, as unchangeable in His mercy to them as in His own being.
Beautiful then in their eyes, as in His, are the feet of him that brings good tidings and publishes peace. Before (Isaiah 40:9) the cities of Judah were told, "Behold your God." Now Zion hears, "Thy God reigneth!" The watchmen lift up their voice, singing, not warning; the very wastes of Jerusalem, so long forsaken, sing together in their irrepressible joy. "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! The voice of thy watchmen! they lift up the voice, together do they sing; for they shall see eye to eye when Jehovah bringeth again Zion. Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem; for Jehovah hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. Jehovah 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" (vv. 7-10).
Lastly, the strain closes with the peremptory call to act consistently with the holiness of Jehovah and of His sanctuary. "Depart, depart, go out from thence, touch no unclean [thing]; go out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of Jehovah" (v. 11). Babylon is pointedly dropped: a larger sphere is meant. It should not be, as of old, in haste or in anxiety, however they were guided and delivered then. The greatest triumphs of their fathers fade in the glorious intervention of Jehovah which the children now know. "For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight; for Jehovah will go before you, and the God of Israel [will be] your rearward" (v. 12). It is in truth and in its fullest display the day of Jehovah, when Israel for ever leave the unclean Gentiles, henceforth to be a richer blessing to them than their evils had been a snare and ruin to Israel.
Now that Zion is thus summoned to awake out of ruin and suffering and degradation through her sins, and is by grace bidden to rise and stand forth in the righteousness and beauty Jehovah puts on her, the end of the chapter introduces once more and more fully than ever Him through Whom so blessed a change could come to pass. But it also, to make it adequate, demands that His vicissitudes should be set out distinctly; and this was the more needful, because it seemed unaccountable that One, so infinitely worthy and glorious, should have passed through them, when one thought either of Jehovah on the one hand, or of the Jewish people on the other. This demand gives rise, therefore, to the opening out of the great hidden necessity for Messiah's atoning sufferings, if the divine nature were to be vindicated respecting sin and Israel (or any others) were to be purged and blessed. As we of the church behold Christ glorified on high in answer to His cross, so will Israel see Him set on the summit of earth's universal glory for the same reason.
Isaiah 52:13-15The section, of which this passage is the preface, assumes the truth already before us in chap. 1, pursues it farther and more profoundly, and thus completes the foundation of all that follows. It embraces all the nest chapter which forms part of it and is of the profoundest interest and importance.
The elder Jewish interpreters did not contest the application to the Messiah. Thus Jonathan Ben Uzziel expressly speaks to this effect in the Chaldee paraphrase (given in the Antwerp, Paris, and London Polyglotts). So the Talmud Babyl. (in Tr. Sanhedrim, cap. helek, fol. 98) applies to the Messiah, Isaiah 53:4. Again, the book of Zohar confirms this in the comment on Exodus (fol. 95 col. 3), and the Mechilta (according to the Jalkut Shimoni, part 2. fol. 90, col. 1) is no less distinct, as even Aben Ezra, Abarbanel, and other distinguished men among their later authors confess. I am indebted to another (who has supplied some of these references) for the striking fact that even now, in the prayers of the synagogue used universally, there is the clearest witness to the same truth. For instance, at the Passover they pray in these terms: "Hasten and cause the shadows to flee away. Let him be exalted and extolled and be high, who is now despised. Let him deal prudently and reprove and sprinkle many nations." Again, in the prayers for the day of Atonement, there is as plain an allusion to the righteous Anointed bearing the yoke of iniquities and transgression, wounded because of it, and men (or Israel at least) healed by His wound. The translator (D. Levi) tries to turn part of the prayer aside to Josiah, as do some of the Rabbis; but the prayer expressly alludes to the Messiah in one of these references to Isaiah 53 just cited, even according to the same person.
The more modern writers, who dread the ancient application of the prophecy to the Messiah by their fathers, have invented a double means of escape, either by applying it to some distinguished man like Josiah or Jeremiah, or to the Jewish people elsewhere styled "My servant" in the prophecy. But in vain. This section is so punctually and exclusively applicable to our Lord that these efforts only prove the will of unbelief and its failure. In the beginning of chap. 49. we have already seen Christ, the Servant substituted for Israel who had been altogether wanting. We have seen in chap. 1. that the godly Jews are exhorted to obey the voice of this Servant of Jehovah, humbled though He has been among men, but vindicated of God, and indeed He Himself is God.
The three closing verses of 52 open the new and full view of Messiah suffering and exalted in connection with Israel; for this last qualification needs to be borne in mind, lest man should look for that which it is no part of the Spirit's work here to reveal. The union of Jew and Gentile in one body, as well as Christ Head over all things to it, His church, is, as the apostle tells us, a mystery, that is, a secret not revealed in Old Testament times (Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 3:1-11). Many points true of the church and the Christian are revealed in this prophecy as in others; but nowhere is heavenly union mentioned until after Christ's rejection and ascension, and is not fully made known till the apostle Paul was entrusted with the administration of it.
The exalted Messiah of Israel is then before us, who erst was covered with shame and bent to such humiliation as was never before nor since the portion for any son of man. Hence many were dumb through astonishment, or rather perhaps abhorrence - "shocked" at Him: they had looked for Messiah far otherwise. His lowly mien and surroundings of life and labours first disappointed; His meek acceptance of insult and suffering next drew out all their malice and aversion.
"So shall He sprinkle many nations." The Septuagint translates, "So shall many nations regard him with admiration" that is, it would seem, in contrast with Jewish vexation and hatred; but this supposes a different verb in their Hebrew copies, though differing only very slightly in form. Some of the ablest Jewish critics take it as meaning that the Messiah will drop the word in that manner and so teach if not refresh many Gentiles. Certainly what is said of kings implies a reverent and subject silence before Him. Thus ver. 15 may be considered to stand in antithesis to ver. 14: the one presenting the bitter unbelieving disappointment of the chosen; the other the beneficent dealing with the Gentiles, so that their kings are mute with awe in His presence. This accordingly cannot, save generally, apply at this time, but joins on the effects of His advent in glory in contrast with the days of His flesh (ver. 14), and in unison with the opening words of ver. 13. The apostle only uses the principle of the last words (ver. 15) for his own going out with the gospel where no other had preceded, and no sound of Christ might have yet reached (Romans 15:21); but he in no way treats this as the fulfilment of that oracle.
"Behold," says God now through His prophet, "my servant will deal prudently [or rather, prosper], he shall be exalted and extolled and be very high. As many were astonished 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; 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" (vv. 13-15). What can be less congruous with this prophecy than the facts of Josiah, Jeremiah, or the Jewish people? Neither the king nor the prophet had any such destiny as could be fairly brought into this remarkable contrast of, first, deep shame, then wide and lofty glory before subject nations and kings. And though it is true, as we have often noticed in this prophet, that "my servant" sometimes applies to Israel, there are always definite contextual marks which render the decision by no means difficult or doubtful. This is made evident and certain from chapter 53, where there is the most obvious distinction between the Individual in question and the people who esteemed Him not. For He bore their griefs and carried their sorrows, yea, was wounded for their transgressions, and brought healing to them by His stripes when bruised for their iniquities. To identify this suffering One with the people from whom and for whom He thus suffered, and to whom He afterwards brings such signal blessing, is the grossest confusion on the face of the matter. But let us turn to the wondrous words of our God from these unbelieving and biased vagaries of men.
*This phrase has tormented the critics. The fathers in general apply it to the spiritual work of Christianity; the ancient Jews for the most part to the judicial effect of Messiah's kingdom in dispersing or casting away the Gentiles. Some of the old versions took the word as expressive of amazement. Gesenius (in his Thes) comes pretty much to the same thing considering the word to mean the effect in starting from their seats those who suddenly see some great personage when it was least expected. But "sprinkling" Is the literal meaning however we may apply it. Some think it simpler to take it that He, Jehovah, will sprinkle many nations on Him the Messiah. But it is hard to see the superior propriety of such a sense to the common view that the very humiliation for the gracious work of redemption then achieved answers the surprise of many of old at the cleansing of many nations by-and-by.
The humiliation of the Messiah ran so counter to every preconceived thought and wish of the Jew that one can readily understand the advantage which Satan found in urging on the people, leaders and all, to their fatal unbelief and rejection of Him. But there was a deeper ground of aversion in the heart than disappointment in their national ambition, and this charge of dislike to His Person takes in man universally, and not Israel only: "For he was despised and left alone of men." They shrank from One Who sounded and laid bare man's iniquities and enmity to God, Himself the perfection of obeying God and loving man. Hence, notwithstanding the attractiveness of moral beauty and lowly grace, with power that proved itself superior to all the sickness and misery of man, there arose the hatred that grew more intense and deadly as He brought in God to deal with their conscience. To interpret what is predicted of Him as being the state of "that wicked generation" is beyond measure absurd.
It is not here the remnant of the Jews distinguished from the mass by hearkening to the voice of Jehovah's Servant, as in Isaiah 50:10, but many nations and kings in astonishment at His exaltation Who was once so humbled. The inspired word puts every thing and every one in the just place.
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.
For thus saith the Lord GOD, My people went down aforetime into Egypt to sojourn there; and the Assyrian oppressed them without cause.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the LORD hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed 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.
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.
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.
Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.
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.