The Word Made Fresh
1Listen to me, you who search for righteousness and seek the LORD.
Look to the stone from which you were carved.
Look to the quarry from which you were removed –
2your father Abraham and your mother Sarah.
Abraham was alone when I called him,
but I blessed him and gave him many descendants.
3It is certain that the LORD will comfort Zion
and have compassion on all her ruins.
God will make her barren lands like Eden,
and her desert like the LORD’s garden.
Joy and gladness will belong to her
with thanksgiving and singing voices.
4Listen to me, for you are my people.
Pay attention, for you are my nation.
A lesson will go from me
and my justice will be a light to the nations.
5I will quickly bring my deliverance to you,
for my salvation is being sent
and my arms will be the ruler of the people.
The coastlands are waiting for me,
hoping in the strength of my arm.
6Look up to the skies, and to the ground under you.
The heavens will disappear like smoke
and the ground will wear out like an article of clothing,
and its inhabitants will die as well.
But my salvation will last forever,
and my saving acts will never end.
7Listen to me, you who know what is right.
Those of you who keep my word in your hearts,
don’t be afraid when others are against you
or dismayed when they trouble you.
8They will be devoured like a moth eats cloth,
and like a worm eats wool.
But my rescue will be everlasting
and my salvation for the generations yet to come.
9Awake! Awake! The arm of the LORD will be clothed with strength
as in olden days for the generations long gone.
Were you not the One who cut Rahab to pieces
and pierced the hide of the dragon?
10Weren’t you the One who dried up the waters of the deep sea?
Weren’t you the One who made a way through its depths
to enable your redeemed to cross over?
11Those whom the LORD has ransomed
will come to Zion singing.
Joy that never ends shall be with them,
and they will possess gladness and delight.
Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
12I, yes, I will comfort you.
Why then should you be afraid of mortals who shall certainly die?
Why be afraid of someone who will fade like the grass?
13Have you forgotten the LORD who made you?
Have you forgotten the One who spread the skies overhead
and laid the earth’s foundations?
You are always afraid of the fury of those who would oppress you
and are determined to destroy you,
but where is the wrath of those oppressors?
14Those who are oppressed will be quickly set free.
They shall not die and go down to the grave,
and they shall not lack bread to eat,
15because I am the LORD your God,
the One who stirs the sea to make its waves roar.
The LORD Almighty is my name.
16I have taught you what to say,
and I have protected you with my own hand.
I stretched out the skies above
and the ground beneath,
and I have said to Zion, “You are my people.”
17So, arise! Rouse yourselves!
Stand up, Jerusalem, for you have drunk from the LORD’s hands.
You have quaffed the cup of God’s anger.
You have drunk every drop from the bowl that makes people
18No one is left among all the children she bore to guide her.
No one is there to take her hand among all the children she raised.
19These things have befallen you. Who will grieve with you?
You have suffered devastation and destruction,
famine and sword. Who now will bring you comfort?
20Your children have fainted, and lie at the head of every street
like antelopes trapped in nets.
They are full of God’s anger and rebuke.
21So, listen to this, you wounded ones.
Listen, you who are drunk, though not with wine:
22This is what your Sovereign says,
the LORD your God who pleads your cause –
“Look, I have taken the cup of stumbling from your hands.
You shall drink no more from the cup of my anger.
23I will give it instead into the hands of your tormentors
who have told you to bow down so they could walk on you.
And you made your back like the ground
and the street for them to walk on.”
1-3: “Listen to me” is a frequent injunction in Isaiah (41:1, 46:3, 46:12, 48:12, 49:1) that reaches a crescendo in Chapter 51 (verses 1, 4, and 7). Isaiah is insisting, demanding that that they pay attention. Listen, Abraham and Sara are a good example of what the LORD is capable of doing. Restoration is coming!
4-6: “Listen to me” is repeated, but notice the change in speaker from prophet’s voice in verses 1-3 to God’s voice in verses 4-8. Isaiah goes from speaking for God to letting God speak through him. Salvation for God’s people is on the way. Verse 6 sounds apocalyptic but is instead simple poetic exaggeration in an attempt to describe the unforeseeable and impossible sounding changes God is planning to bring about.
7-8: “Listen to me.” What God is going to do is hard to believe but believe it even though others will ridicule you. They (and their attitude) will soon be gone but God’s salvation will remain.
9-11: Now the prophet resumes speaking, begging God to act, remembering how God defeated Rahab the dragon (an ancient image of the chaos that was thought to rule existence before God brought about creation) and divided the (Red) sea so the people could cross over into freedom. A God who can do those things can surely be depended on to bring about new life for God’s people.
12-16: God again is the voice, telling them they need not fear mere mortals (like Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, and their ilk, for example), but to rely on God. Remember, God is saying that the LORD created the heavens and the earth and that the LORD called them to be God’s own people.
17-20: Isaiah speaks now, trying to rouse the people. They have “drunk to the dregs” the cup of God’s wrath, suffering the full extent of the punishment God ordained for them. They have suffered as much as they can suffer, as much as they will suffer.
21-23: Now the prophet again allows God’s voice to speak through him. God says that they have suffered as much as they need to suffer, and now it is time for their enemies to experience God’s wrath.
I imagine that a lot of us have difficulties with the idea that God would summon another nation to punish Israel and then, once the punishment is complete, turn on the very instrument God had summoned for doing exactly what they were summoned to do. But, remember that all of this is necessary to set the stage for what will happen nearly a thousand years ahead – the birth of a baby in Bethlehem.