Isaiah 51 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Isaiah 51
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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.

(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.

Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.
(2) I called him alone.—Literally, as one. If so great a nation had sprung from one man (Hebrews 11:12), so would God out of the faithful remnant once more create a people. (Comp. Ezekiel 33:24, where the exiles arc represented as boastfully inverting the argument: “Abraham was one, and we are many; therefore we shall prosper, the chances are in our favour.”)

For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.
(3) He will make her wilderness like Eden.—Interesting as showing Isaiah’s acquaintance with Genesis 1-3. (Comp. Ezekiel 31:9; Ezekiel 31:16; Ezekiel 36:35; Joel 2:3.) “Paradise” has already entered into the idea of future restoration (Revelation 2:7).

Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people.
(4) A law shall proceed.—“Law” and “judgment” include all forms of divine revelation, and specially the “glad tidings” which are the groundwork of the highest law. (Comp. Luke 1:77; Romans 1:17.)

My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust.
(5) Mine arms shall judge the people.—Literally, the peoples, including Israel and the heathen. The work of judgment thus, as ever, comes first; after it the isles (i.e., far-off countries), as representing the heathen, shall be converted, and trust the very Arm that smote them.

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.
(6) Shall die in like manneri.e., shall vanish into nothingness. Many commentators, however, render, shall die like gnats; shall live their little day and pass away; thus supplying a third similitude, in addition to the “smoke” and the “garment.” We are reminded once again of Psalm 102:26; and we may add, Matthew 24:35; 2 Peter 3:10.

Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings.
(7) Ye that know righteousness.—Jehovah, through His Servant, speaks to the Israel within Israel, the Church within the Church. They need support against the scorn and reproach of men, and are to find it in the thought that the revilers perish and that Jehovah is eternal.

For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.
(8) The moth . . . the worm.—The two words in Hebrew have the force of an emphatic assonance—ash and sāsh.

Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?
(9) Awake, awake.—Who is the speaker that thus bursts into this grand apostrophe? (1) The redeemed and ideal Israel, or (2) the Servant of the Lord, or (3) the prophet, or (4) Jehovah, as in self-communing, after the manner of men, like that of Deborah in Judges 5:12. On the whole the first seems the preferable view; but the loftiness of poetry, perhaps, transcends all such distinctions. The appeal is, in any case, to the great deeds of God in the past, as the pledge and earnest of yet greater in the future. “Rahab,” as in Isaiah 30:7, Psalm 89:10, is Egypt; and the “dragon,” like “leviathan” in Psalm 74:13, stands for Pharaoh. (Comp. Ezekiel 29:3.) Cheyne quotes from Bunsen’s “Egypt,” vol. vi., an invocation to the god Ra, from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, “Hail, thou who hast cut in pieces the scorner and strangled the Apophis (sc. the evil serpent),” as a striking parallel.

Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?
Therefore the redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.
(11) Therefore the redeemed.—Note worthy as being either a quotation by Isaiah from himself (Isaiah 35:10), or by the unknown writer of Isaiah from the earlier prophet. The assumption that it is an interpolation by a copyist rests on no adequate ground.

I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass;
(12) I, even I.—The iterated pronoun emphasises the true grounds of confidence. If God be with us, what matter is it who may be against us? The enemies are mortal and weak; the Protector is the Eternal and the Strong.

And forgettest the LORD thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy? and where is the fury of the oppressor?
(13) As if he were ready.—Better, as he makes him ready to destroy. The Authorised version unduly minimises the amount of danger. In the case contemplated by the prophet, the oppressor was the Babylonian monarchy, which he sees as already belonging to the past; but the words have, of course, a far wider application.

The captive exile hasteneth that he may be loosed, and that he should not die in the pit, nor that his bread should fail.
(14) The captive exile.—Literally, he that is bowed down, i.e., bound in fetters. The “pit,” as in the case of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38:6), is the underground dungeon, in which the prisoner was too often left to starve.

But I am the LORD thy God, that divided the sea, whose waves roared: The LORD of hosts is his name.
(15) But I am . . .—Better, Seeing that I am. The fact which follows is not contrasted with that which precedes, but given as its ground. The might of Jehovah is seen in the storm-waves of the sea. It is seen not less in the fall and rise of empires.

And I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people.
(16) And I have put my words in thy mouth . . .—Some interpreters assume, that while Isaiah 51:1? was spoken to the Jewish exiles, this, which reminds us of Isaiah 49:2, is addressed to the Servant of the Lord. Of these, some (Cheyne), struck by the apparent abruptness, assume it to be misplaced. There seems no adequate reason for adopting either hypothesis. The words are spoken to Israel, contemplated as in its ideal, as were the others to the actual Israel. It remains true, as ever, that that ideal is fulfilled only in the Servant.

That I may plant.—Noteworthy as the first intimation of the new heaven and the new earth, implying a restitution of all things, of which we find the expression in Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22.

Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the LORD the cup of his fury; thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out.
(17) Awake . . .—The words present a strange parallelism to Isaiah 51:9. There they were addressed to the arm of Jehovah, and were the prelude of a glorious promise. Here they are spoken to Jerusalem as a drunken and desperate castaway, and introduce a painfully vivid picture of her desolation. They seem, indeed, prefixed to that picture to make it bearable. They are a call to Zion to wake out of that drunken sleep, and therefore show that her ruin is not irretrievable.

The dregs of the cup.—Literally, the goblet cup, but with the sense, as in the Authorised version, of the cup being drained.

There is none to guide her among all the sons whom she hath brought forth; neither is there any that taketh her by the hand of all the sons that she hath brought up.
These two things are come unto thee; who shall be sorry for thee? desolation, and destruction, and the famine, and the sword: by whom shall I comfort thee?
(19) These two things . . .—The two things are amplified into four: (1) the two effects, and (2) the two causes.

Who shall be sorry for thee?—Better, Be sorry with thee, or who shall console thee? Even Jehovah is represented as failing, or seeming to fail, in finding a comforter for such affliction.

Thy sons have fainted, they lie at the head of all the streets, as a wild bull in a net: they are full of the fury of the LORD, the rebuke of thy God.
(20) As a wild bull . . .—Better, as an antelope. The picture explains that of Isaiah 51:17. The sons cannot help the mother, for they, too, have drunk of the same cup of fury, and lie like corpses in the open places of the city. (Comp. Lamentations 2:12.)

Therefore hear now this, thou afflicted, and drunken, but not with wine:
(21) Drunken, but not with wine . . .—Same phrase as in Isaiah 29:9.

Thus saith thy Lord the LORD, and thy God that pleadeth the cause of his people, Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again:
(22) Thy Lord the Lord . . .—Note the emphatic combination of Adonai (or rather, in this solitary instance, of the plural Adonim used like Elohim) with Jehovah. Man’s necessity is once more God’s opportunity. He will plead for His people when none else will plead. The cup of trembling shall be taken from the hand of the forlorn castaway, and given to her enemies. (Comp. Jeremiah 25:15.)

But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee; which have said to thy soul, Bow down, that we may go over: and thou hast laid thy body as the ground, and as the street, to them that went over.
(23) Thou hast laid thy body . . .—The image is startlingly bold; but our word “prostration,” as applied to the condition of a people, embodies precisely the same thought. (Comp. Psalm 129:3.) The previous words paint the last humiliation of Eastern conquest (Joshua 10:24).

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