The Word Made Fresh
1Wake up! Put on your strength, Zion!
Dress in your most beautiful clothes, Jerusalem, holy city.
The uncircumcised and the unclean shall enter you no more.
2Shake the dust off yourself and arise, Jerusalem!
Take the rope from your neck, captive daughter Zion!
3This is what the LORD says:
“You were sold for nothing,
and you will be bought back without money.”
4The LORD says, “Long ago my people went to Egypt
and lived there as aliens.
The Assyrian, too, has oppressed them needlessly.
5What am I doing here therefore,” says the LORD,
“since my people have been taken away without reason?
Their leaders squawk continually,
and my name is drug through the mud.
6So, my people shall know who I am.
They shall know my name, and they shall know that it is I
who speaks. Here I am.”
7How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet
of the one who announces peace,
who brings good news and announces salvation,
and who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
8Listen! Your watchmen raise their voices and sing together joyfully,
for, right before them, they see the LORD’s return to Zion.
9The ruins of Jerusalem will sing loudly together,
for the LORD has comforted the people
and redeemed Jerusalem.
10The LORD has bared a holy arm in the sight of the nations,
and every corner of the earth shall see our God’s salvation.
11Leave! Leave! Get away from there! Don’t touch any unclean thing.
Leave it all, and you who carry the sacred vessels, purify yourselves.
12You won’t have to leave in haste or run in flight.
The LORD will lead you. The God of Israel will guard your rear.
13Look, and see that my servant shall be prosperous,
and shall be revered and lifted high.
14There were many who were surprised when they saw him:
so disfigured was his appearance, beyond human recognition,
and so marred was his form beyond human likeness.
15Many of the nations will be shocked to see him,
and kings will close their mouths because of him,
because they will see something they have never seen before,
and contemplate something they had never heard of.
1-2: At 51:9 the prophet exhorted God to awake; now he exhorts the city folk to awake and get dressed, for their foreign oppressors (the “uncircumcised and unclean”) will oppress them no more.
3-6: Scholars don’t know what to do with these verses. Most see them as an intrusion of material from somewhere else. I, however, am not considered a scholar, so I offer this observation: The preceding sections have poetically described God’s plan of redemption for Jerusalem. The following sections will poetically describe the unfolding of that redemption. These four verses allow the reader to see what is happening in the light of God’s overall relationship with Israel from their slavery in Egypt to their oppression at the hands of the Assyrians to the time foretold when the rulers of those foreign powers are defaming the name of the LORD. God is determined that the people brought out from Egypt will see that their fate is and always has been in God’s hands.
7-10: From the walls of Jerusalem the sentinels see the messenger approaching to bring news of God’s reinstituted rule.
11-12: Now the scene shifts to Babylon, the place of exile, and we see the people leaving Babylon for Jerusalem, some of them with the sacred temple vessels in their care. This is a new exodus: the conveying of the sacred vessels is parallel to the priests carrying the tabernacle through the wilderness as Moses led them to the Promised Land.
13-15: The fourth “servant song” has the servant (probably intended by Isaiah to represent Israel), marred and disfigured by long suffering, lifted up and restored to a place of honor among the nations. Christians, of course, have seen here a description of Christ, brutalized and then lifted up. The story of Jesus in the gospels is not unlike the story of Israel in the Old Testament.
God’s promises are always fulfilled, but sometimes their fulfilment is a long way off in the future. Patience is a godly virtue.