Tagged: Bible Studies

Revelation 4-5: Download the free study

If you’re a follower of this blog, you know that we’ve been slowly working our way through the Book of Revelation (and with great fear and trembling, especially since this is such a challenging piece of Scripture). We still have a long way to go. You can read the posts to date by clicking here.

Whether you’re a preterist, who sees the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the Christian era, a historicist, who views the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history, a futurist, who sees most of Revelation as yet unfulfilled, or an idealist, who sees Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil, there are important truths the Lord reveals to all of us in this book, and we would do well to approach Revelation with caution — and with great anticipation, knowing God will fulfill all His promises to us. We also should be comforted by the fact that Revelation is the only book in Scripture specifically promising a blessing to those who hear its prophecies and keep them.

With that in mind, and to make it easier to keep our notes together,we have captured a number of blog posts into single Adobe files (pdfs) that you may download, print and share. Click on the link below to capture notes on chapters 4-5. If you missed the link to notes on chapters 1-3, a link is provided as well.

Download the pdf: Revelation 4-5

Download Introduction to Revelation and chapters 1-3

What is the kingdom of heaven?

Following is chapter 1 of The Kingdom According to Jesus. You may order the entire study from a number of the nation’s leading booksellers.

The terms “kingdom of God,” “kingdom of heaven,” and “kingdom” (with reference to the kingdom of God/heaven) appear nearly 150 times in scripture. None of these references gives a simple, straightforward definition of the kingdom, and many passages appear to be contradictory. Yet the kingdom is the primary focus of Jesus’ teaching. Many of His parables describe the kingdom. The apostles preach the “gospel of the kingdom.” And end-times prophecy points us toward the day when God’s kingdom will come in its fullness.

So, what is the kingdom of heaven? Are the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God the same thing? Is the kingdom here already, or are we to wait for it? What does it look like? Who’s in the kingdom and who’s not? And what is required to enter the kingdom? We will explore these and other questions in this book, mostly through the lens of Jesus’ parables in Matthew on the kingdom of heaven. To begin, we need to understand what the Bible says the kingdom of heaven is – and is not.

What the kingdom of heaven is not

There are many incorrect views about the kingdom that have emerged over the years – among them, that the kingdom of heaven is:

  • An inward power; a purely subjective realm of God’s power and influence in our lives.
  • An apocalyptic realm – altogether future and supernatural – that God will install at the end of human history; it is by no means present or spiritual.
  • The church – either the ever-expanding church as the world is Christianized, ushering in the kingdom, or the true church hidden within professing Christianity.
  • The universe – all of God’s creation over which He is sovereign.
  • Heaven – in contrast to earth.

As we’ll see, none of these views holds up under a careful study of Scripture.

So … what is the kingdom of heaven?

The kingdom of heaven simply is God’s reign – His authority to rule. The following truths help us understand the kingdom in more practical terms:

  • The kingdom is God’s conquest, through Jesus Christ, of His enemies: sin, Satan, and death.
  • The kingdom comes in stages. It was foretold by Jewish prophets as an everlasting, mighty and righteous reign involving the nation of Israel and its coming King – the Messiah. It came humbly through the virgin birth of the Son of God and exists today as a “mystery” in the hearts of all believers. In the Second Coming, the kingdom will at last appear in power and glory. And after Christ’s millennial reign on earth, He will deliver the kingdom to the Father, having finally put away sin (it no longer is a reality to be dealt with), Satan (he will be cast into hell to be tormented night and day forever), and death (there is no longer physical or spiritual death).
  • The Bible describes this three-fold fact: 1) Some passages refer to the kingdom as God’s reign, rule, or authority; 2) some passages refer to the kingdom as the realm into which we may now enter to experience the blessings of His reign; and 3) some passages refer to the kingdom as a future realm that will come only with the return of Jesus. All three are true.
  • As all kingdoms must have a king, Jesus is King of the kingdom of heaven. As King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus is the eternal Son of God to whom, one day, “every knee should bow … and every tongue should confess …” (Phil. 2:10-11).
  • People enter the kingdom and become its citizens by faith in Jesus Christ.

The paradox of the kingdom

When we turn to the Scriptures, we find a perplexing diversity of statements about the kingdom, many of them focusing on the now-vs.-future aspects of the kingdom of heaven:

  • The kingdom is a present spiritual reality (Rom. 14:17); at the same time, it is a future inheritance that God will give His people when Christ returns in glory (Matt. 25:34).
  • The kingdom is a realm into which Christians have already entered (Col. 1:13); then again, it is a future realm we will enter when Christ returns (Matt. 8:11; 2 Peter 1:11).
  • The kingdom will be ushered in with great glory (Matt. 13:41-43, 24:30); yet, its coming is without signs (Luke 17:20-21).
  • The kingdom is present and at work in the world (Luke 13:18-21); still, Jesus tells Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
  • The kingdom is a present reality (Matt. 12:28) and a future blessing (1 Cor. 15:50-57).
  • The kingdom is an inner spiritual redemptive blessing (Rom. 14:17) that can only be experienced through the new birth (John 3:3); yet, it will involve world government (Rev. 11:15).
  • People enter the kingdom now (Matt. 21:31) and in the future (Matt. 8:11).
  • The kingdom is a gift God will give the redeemed in the future (Luke 22:29-30) and yet it must be received in the present (Mark 10:15).

How do we reconcile these seemingly contradictory teachings? Simply by setting aside our modern notion of a kingdom as a physical boundary over which a king rules. “The primary meaning of both the Hebrew word malkuth in the Old Testament and of the Greek word basileia in the New Testament is the rank, authority and sovereignty exercised by a king. A basileia may indeed be a realm over which a sovereign exercises authority; and it may be the people who belong to that realm and over whom authority is exercised; but these are secondary and derived meanings. First of all, a kingdom is the authority to rule, the sovereignty of the king.” (The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God by George Eldon Ladd, p. 19).

Certainly God’s kingdom has a realm – the believer’s heart today, the earth throughout the millennium, and the restored heavens and earth after sin, Satan and death are finally put away – but our understanding of the kingdom will advance more quickly if we remember that the kingdom first and foremost is God’s authority to rule.

The kingdom of heaven vs. the kingdom of God

The terms “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” are interchangeable. Only Matthew uses the term “kingdom of heaven,” possibly because his gospel is written to Jews who for fear of taking God’s name in vain used the word “heaven” when referring to God. Even more likely, Jews would be familiar with the phrase “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of the heavens,” while most Greeks would not. Therefore, Mark, Luke, and even Matthew on occasion (Matt. 19:23-24, for example) prefer the term “kingdom of God” to make the text more understandable to Greek readers.

Some commentators believe there is a distinction between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God. They say the kingdom of heaven refers to professing Christianity throughout the church age (Pentecost to the Rapture), while the kingdom of God spans across time and eternity. But this view does not hold up since some of Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of heaven in Matthew are recorded in other gospels as relating to the kingdom of God. We should not try to force a separate meaning on the kingdom of heaven just because Matthew preferred that term.

The “world” vs. the “age”

There are two Greek words translated “world” in older translations of Scripture: kosmos and aion. They are not the same, and translating both words as “world” obscures what God’s Word says about His kingdom. 

Kosmos refers to something in proper order or harmony. In its most common usage in Scripture, kosmos is the created universe. In contrast, aion designates a period of time and ought to be translated “age.” Matt. 12:32 is a good example of aion being translated “world” in the King James Version, when it should be translated “age:” “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him. But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the one to come” (HCSB).

When kosmos and aion are properly translated, we begin to see that God’s Word tells us about two ages: This Age (from the fall to the Second Coming of Christ), followed by The Age to Come. This Age is dominated by sin (Gal. 1:4), while The Age to Come will be characterized by righteousness. For a graphic depiction of this teaching, see the chart, “The Conflict of the Ages.”

The mystery of the kingdom

Finally, it’s important to understand that many of Jesus’ parables deal with the “mystery” of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13:11). The Greek word for mystery, or secret, is mysteria and means what we can know only by divine revelation. This has particular value in helping us understand the kingdom of heaven in this present age. The Jews were looking for a political and military kingdom based on their understanding of the Old Testament; they completely bypassed the prophecies in Isaiah 53 and elsewhere about the Suffering Servant and thereby rejected Jesus as Messiah.

And so the kingdom of heaven is here in the Person of Jesus. But the mystery of the kingdom is that it must first come without fanfare in the Lamb of God who, through His death, burial and resurrection, would take away the sin of the world. The kingdom will come in power and great glory one day when Jesus returns as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (see Rev. 19:11-16).

Catch the Kingdom at Walmart

I was grateful this morning to receive word from my good friend Phill Burgess at CrossBooks that Walmart.com is now carrying a select number of CrossBooks titles including The Kingdom According to Jesus: A Study of Jesus’ Parables on the Kingdom of Heaven. The book explores 17 parables of Jesus having to do with the kingdom of heaven and, I believe, is helpful in personal or group Bible study. Earlier this month, The Kingdom won a first-place award from the Baptist Communicators Association.

Check it out at Walmart.com.  The book also is available at CrossBooks, LifeWay Christian Stores, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. If you read the book, be sure to post a review. I’d very much like to hear your critique.

Isaiah 52: “Your God Reigns!”

Listen: Isaiah 52:  “Your God Reigns!” (mp3)

Read/Study: Isaiah 52: “Your God Reigns!” (pdf)

Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment Part 2: Historical Interlude Part 3: Salvation
Chapters 1-35 Chapters 36-39 Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

Chapter 52 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile and ultimate glory.

Key verse:

Isa. 52:7 – How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the herald, who proclaims peace, who brings news of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God Reigns!”

Quick summary:

God’s people are called to shake off the stupor of the Lord’s judgment and prepare for deliverance from Babylonian captivity – and ultimately for the coming of their King, the Messiah. The exiles will return to their homeland. Even more important, the whole world one day will proclaim to the Jews, “Your God reigns!” (v. 7). “While Christ reigns presently at the right hand of God the Father through the work of the Spirit on the earth, he will one day return visibly to rule his kingdom on earth. Paul used this verse in Romans 10:15 of the messengers who herald the ‘good news’ of salvation in Christ. The message was addressed to the Jews in Babylon, who would have to choose between economic security in Babylon and the hazards and hardships of returning to Judah” (Robert B. Hughes, J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, The Tyndale Reference Library, S. 267). The chapter closes with a summary of the Messiah’s work: His earthly ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and redemption.

Take note:

As H.L. Willmington notes, Isaiah encapsulates the work of the Messiah in the last three verses of the chapter:

  • His earthly ministry. “See, My Servant will act wisely; He will be raised and lifted up …” (v. 13; compare John 12:32).
  • His crucifixion. “Just as many were appalled at You – His appearance was so disfigured that He did not look like a man, and His form did not resemble a human being …” (v. 14).
  • His resurrection. “He will be … highly exalted” (v. 13b; compare Phil.2:8-11).
  • His redemption. “[S]o He will sprinkle many nations. Kings will shut their mouths because of them, For they will see what had not been told them, and they will understand what they had not heard” (v. 15). (The Outline Bible, S. Is 52:13-15)

Wake Up, Jerusalem (Isa. 52:1-6)

Jerusalem is urged to wake up. The people’s exile in Babylon is ending. What’s more, the city will be adorned in new clothes – no doubt a reference to the rebuilding of both the city and the temple. No longer will pagan conquerors trample her beneath their feet, for “the uncircumcised and the unclean no longer will enter you” (v. 1). While Jerusalem and the temple are indeed rebuilt, this message finds its complete fulfillment in the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of His kingdom. From a New Testament perspective, Jerusalem’s full exaltation will be experienced with the return of the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14; 19:11-16; 21:1-27).

The command to stand up and shake off the dust (v. 2) means the people are to stop mourning. Dust on one’s head is an ancient sign of grieving (see Job 2:12). The people have been sold because of their sin (Isa. 50:1) but now are being redeemed “without silver” (v. 3), meaning they will pay nothing for their freedom because the Lord is graciously bringing them back. What a picture of our salvation from sin as Christ paid the price with His own blood to redeem us (Eph. 1:7). Our redemption is completely of God’s grace (Rom. 4:4-5; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7) but came at the cost of God’s own Son (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; 1 Cor. 6:20).

Yahweh briefly recounts the history of the nation in slavery. They have been slaves in Egypt. The northern kingdom has been conquered by the Assyrians, who also exact tribute from Judah before plundering the land and laying siege to Jerusalem. Now Babylon comes along. The Babylonians will destroy the capital city, level the temple and carry the people into exile, mocking them and blaspheming God along the way (v. 5). Through all this God remains faithful to His covenant promises, delivering His people time after time. One day the Jews will return to Him in belief. They will know His name – even better, they will know Him personally. They will know “on that day that I am He who says, Here I am” (v. 6).

Beautiful Feet (Isa. 52:7-10)

The defeat of the Babylonians at the hands of Cyrus is good news for the Jewish captives because it means they are set free. The Good News today is that Christ has come and set us free from the bonds of sin and death. The apostle Paul quotes Isaiah 52:7 to emphasize the glorious role of believers who herald the Gospel message: “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How welcome are the feet of those who announce the gospel of good things!” (Rom. 10:15).

Ultimately, the whole world will proclaim to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (v. 7; see also Ps. 93:1; Isa. 24:23). Even those who reject Christ as Savior one day will bend the knee and acknowledge Him as Lord (Phil. 2:10-11). Isaiah declares in verse 8 that “every eye will see when the Lord returns to Zion.” While this has an immediate fulfillment for the captives in Babylon, who will witness God’s work of restoring His people and their land, it appears to look further into the future as well. About the Jewish people Zechariah proclaims, “[T]hey will look at Me whom they pierced” (Zech. 12:10), and the apostle John records, “Look! He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, including those who pierced Him. And all the families of the earth will mourn over Him” (Rev. 1:7).

While Christ’s return will crush His enemies (see Rev. 19:11-21), it will cheer His followers. Isaiah tells us, “Be joyful, rejoice together, you ruins of Jerusalem! For the Lord has comforted His people; He has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has displayed His holy arm in the sight of all the nations; all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God” (vv. 9-10). In the New Bible Commentary, D.A. Carson points out three key factors in the news of Judah’s redemption: 1) the messenger, “whose lustre is that of his message;” 2) the watchmen, those who are looking for redemption, “otherwise the news will fall on deaf ears;” and 3) the event, “which is here none other but the Lord in action” (S. Is 52:1).

A Clean Break with Babylon (Isa. 52:11-12)

These verses depict a priestly procession, in contrast to the unceremonious departure of God’s people from Egypt (Ex. 12:33). They also stress urgency. After 70 years in exile, the people have become comfortable living among pagans. Isaiah’s words are intended to rouse God’s people to action. Taking a longer view, just as the Jews are urged to “go out from there,” “do not touch anything unclean,” and “purify yourselves,” the church in Rev. 18:4 is admonished to “come out” from Babylon the Great in the last days so she will not share in Babylon’s sins or suffer their consequences.

There is a personal message here as well. The more satisfied we are with the world and its ways, the less we behave like citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Just as the Jews initially are disoriented in Babylon – perhaps even horrified by its pagan ways – Christians naturally are uncomfortable in their first contact with the ways of the world. But as time goes on, as the senses adjust and the spirit is dulled, what was once reprehensible is now acceptable, perhaps even admirable. The flesh takes over. The Holy Spirit is grieved. And divine discipline is at the door.

Perhaps this is why the New Testament writers so often implore Christians to guard their hearts. “I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh,” writes the apostle Paul (Gal. 5:16). “And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit, who sealed you for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). Finally, Peter warns that believers, although secure in their salvation, still live in dangerous times: “Be sober! Be on the alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Suffering and Exaltation (Isa. 52:13-15)

Two key points are made in verse 13. First, the Servant will act wisely, carrying out the Lord’s will. Jesus confirms this as the reason He is sent to earth. He is in constant communication with the Father, desires to glorify Him in all things, and is obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8). Second, the Servant will be “raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” Jesus declares that if He is lifted up from the earth He will draw all people to Himself, a reference to His death on the cross (John 12:32). But following His death and resurrection, He is exalted to the Father’s right hand (Phil. 2:9; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22).

Verses 14 and 15 present a stunning contrast between the Servant in His first and second comings. Many will be “appalled” – awestruck or astonished – at the Servant. In his earthly ministry, He is not the attractive king they expect. Further, in the events leading up to His crucifixion, His appearance is so disfigured that He does not resemble a human being. But when He returns and establishes His kingdom on earth “He will sprinkle many nations” (v. 15). This is associated with cleansing by the priest under the Mosaic Law (Lev. 4:6, 8:11, 14:7). Although disregarded, the Servant actually provides what the nations need most: cleansing from sin (John 1:29; Heb. 10:14). As a result, the kings will shut their mouths. At the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior (Titus 2:13), the world’s rulers will have nothing to say.

Closing Thought

Warren Wiersbe writes: “Many people have been tortured and killed in an inhumane way, but knowing about their suffering does not touch our conscience, though it might arouse our sympathy. Our Lord’s sufferings and death were different, because they involved everybody in the world. The Gospel message is not ‘Christ died,’ for that is only a fact in history, like ‘Napoleon died.’ The Gospel message is that ‘Christ died for our sins’ (1 Cor. 15:1–4, italics mine). You and I are as guilty of Christ’s death as Annas, Caiaphas, Herod Antipas, and Pilate. Now we see why people are astonished when they understand the message of the Gospel: This Man whom they condemned has declared that they are condemned unless they turn from sin and trust Him. You cannot rejoice in the Good News of salvation until first you face the bad news of condemnation. Jesus did not suffer and die because He was guilty, but because we were guilty. People are astonished at this fact; it shuts their mouths” (Be Comforted, S. Is 52:13).

Isaiah 51: Jerusalem’s Wakeup Call

Listen to Podcast: Isaiah 51 – Jerusalem’s Wakeup Call

Read: Isaiah 51 – Jerusalem’s Wakeup Call

Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment Part 2: Historical Interlude Part 3: Salvation
Chapters 1-35 Chapters 36-39 Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

Chapter 51 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile and ultimate glory.

Key verse:

Isa. 51:6 – Look up to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and its inhabitants will die in like manner. But My salvation will last forever, and My righteousness will never be shattered.

Quick summary:

Having introduced the Servant, Isaiah now reassures the Jewish captives that one day they will be free. His message also foreshadows the coming of Messiah and the final liberation of the faithful in God’s everlasting kingdom. H.L. Willmington summarizes: “Isaiah urged his hearers to give their full attention to his important message: They were to ‘listen’ (51:1, 4, 7), ‘wake up’ (51:17; 52:1), and then respond by immediately leaving sinful Babylon (52:11–12). Just as God had blessed Abraham, he would ‘comfort Israel’ (51:1–3), making its wilderness ‘as beautiful as Eden’ (51:3; see 29:17–24). He would bring everlasting salvation and justice to all people (51:4–8). Isaiah called on the Lord to bring about a second Exodus, as the nation he had led out of Egypt would now be led out of Babylon (51:9–11; see 63:11–14). He also looked further into the future, to the ‘everlasting joy’ of the Millennium (see 35:10). The Lord agreed that he, who had created all things, could certainly free his people from exile (51:12–16). He would soon transfer his wrath from Israel to their oppressors (51:17–23)” (Willmington’s Bible Handbook, Tyndale House Publishers, 1997, S. 371).

Take note:

Calling on His people to observe the heavens and the earth, the Lord contrasts the fleeting nature of this sinful and fallen world with His everlasting salvation. Yahweh declares:

  • “… the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and its inhabitants will die in like manner.” The psalmist notes this in Ps. 102:25-26: “They (the heavens and the earth) will perish … all of them will wear out like clothing. You will change them like a garment, and they will pass away.” So does Jesus in Matt. 24:35 (“Heaven and earth will pass away …”) and Peter in 2 Peter 3:10 (“… the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed”).
  • “But My salvation will last forever, and My righteousness will never be shattered.” This is a theme repeated often in both the Old and New Testaments. The psalmist, for example, writes, “All that He does is splendid and majestic; His righteousness endures forever” (Ps. 111:3). The apostle Paul notes, “salvation … is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10), and the writer of Hebrews adds, “He (Jesus) became the source of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9).

Patriarch and Promise (Isa. 51:1-8)

The believing remnant in Israel is to remember Abraham and receive encouragement. Though present circumstances are bleak, the future is bright for those who trust in God. The people are to look back to Abraham and Sarah, the “rock from which you were cut” and “the quarry from which you were dug” (v. 1). Abraham is but a single person when God calls him, yet he becomes the father of the Jewish race and the one through whom the promised Messiah comes. Abraham and Sarah waited many years for the child God promised them. Still, the Lord was faithful and gave them Isaac. The long wait glorified God because Sarah conceived long after her supposed child-bearing years. In like manner, the faithful remnant of Judah must believe than when the Lord has finished using the Babylonians to chasten His chosen people, He will deal with wicked Babylon and restore the Israelites to their homeland. Just as Yahweh made Sarah’s barren womb fruitful, He will turn Judah’s wasted homeland into a blossoming treasure once again. “For the Lord will comfort Zion,” the people are told in verse 3. “He will comfort all her waste places, and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord.”

Next, the believers in Judah are urged to look forward. The Lord’s justice will extend beyond Judah’s borders and reach the whole world. His people will be vindicated – not because of their goodness but because of God’s greatness. Notice the Lord’s use of the personal pronoun in verses 4-6: “My people,” “My nation,” “My justice,” “My righteousness,” “My salvation,” “My arms,” “My strength.” “This is the grace of God, doing for His people what they did not deserve and what they could not do for themselves” (Warren Wiersbe, Be Comforted [An Old Testament Study], S. Is 51:1).

Finally in this section, the Lord admonishes the people to look within, where they will find either fear or faith. Throughout the book, Isaiah calls on the people to trust God, who overcomes their fears. “You are to regard only the Lord of Hosts as holy. Only He should be feared; only He should be held in awe,” the people are warned in Isa. 8:13. Later, they are told the day is coming when they will declare, “God is my salvation. I will trust [Him] and not be afraid. Because Yah, the Lord, is my strength and my song, He has become my salvation” (Isa. 12:2). Isaiah tells his fellow countrymen that the moth will devour the enemy like a garment and the worm will eat them like wool. Moths and worms do their work slowly and secretly, but effectively nonetheless. While the Jews couldn’t see it, the seeds of destruction already were being sown in Babylon, and the pagan nation that God would use to chasten His people one day would be punished for their rebellion against Yahweh and His chosen ones. Meanwhile, the Lord’s salvation and righteousness will endure forever.

Prayer and Protection (Isa. 51:9-16)

Verses 9-11 may be read as a prayer of the righteous remnant, calling on God to rise up and deliver His people as He did in the Exodus. The questions beginning, “Wasn’t it you …?” are rhetorical affirmations of God’s great acts in history and express the people’s confidence in the His continuing sovereignty:

  • “Wasn’t it You who hacked Rahab to pieces, who pierced the sea monster?” (v. 9). This is a reference to Egypt. “In Ugaritic literature Rahab was the name of a female sea monster associated with Leviathan. Perhaps the hippopotamus, an animal that often sits in the water of the Nile doing nothing, represents that mythical water beast. Understandably Rahab came to be a poetic synonym for Egypt (and also for a demon behind Egypt) when God overpowered the Egyptian soldiers in the sea at the Exodus” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, 1:1080).
  • “Wasn’t it You who dried up the sea … who made the sea-bed into a road for the redeemed to pass over?” (v. 10). Just as the Lord enabled the Jews to cross the Red Sea on dry ground and then drowned the pursuing Egyptian armies (Ex. 14:21-31), He would allow His people to return to their homeland in a new exodus. Their response would be singing, joy and gladness (v. 11).

In verses 12-16 the Lord personally assures the Israelites He will protect them. He provides comfort now, even though His people are on the cusp of divine discipline, and urges them to remember that the God who laid the foundations of the earth is able to carry them through exile in Babylon and restore them to their homeland. Why should God’s people fear human enemies, who are as frail as grass, when the Lord of the universe is on their side? Though they deserve the chastening they are about to receive, Yahweh has not abandoned His purpose for them. He has established the Jews as His unique people. He invested His word in them. He promised to bless all mankind through them with the coming Messiah. He will not forget His promises or forsake His people.

Matthew Henry reminds us that there is a message here for the church: “The people whom Christ has redeemed with his blood, as well as by his power, will obtain joyful deliverance from every enemy. He that designs such joy for us at last, will he not work such deliverance in the mean time, as our cases require? In this world of changes, it is a short step from joy to sorrow, but in that world, sorrow shall never come in view. They prayed for the display of God’s power; he answers them with consolations of his grace…. Happy is the man that fears God always. And Christ’s church shall enjoy security by the power and providence of the Almighty” (Matthew Henry Concise, Bible Navigator, v. 12).

Proclamation and Punishment (Isa. 51:17-23)

Earlier in this chapter, the remnant – or the prophet – asks the Lord to wake up and do something about the plight of the Jews. But beginning in verse 17, it is the people of Jerusalem who are roused from their sleep because the Lord is about to do something: He is bringing their calamity to a close. In exile in Babylon, the people “have drunk the cup of His fury” all the way to the dregs (v. 17). That is, they have experienced the full weight of His wrath. In the leveling of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians, the people endured “devastation and destruction [to the land], famine and sword [to the people]” (v. 19). Even the children “lie at the head of every street like an antelope in the net” (v. 20). When God’s judgment falls upon an entity – a family, city, or nation, for example – no one in that entity is exempted from His divine rod. While some argue that this is unfair, or even that it reveals an unloving God, there are several biblical truths to keep in mind: 1) God knows everything, including what would happen if He didn’t put a stop to an entity’s evil; 2) God’s wrath falls only after His mercy has been soundly and repeatedly rejected; and 3) God will judge every individual one day, and the youngster whose life is cut short because of her parents’ sins will be compensated in eternity for what was lost in time.

For the remnant living in Babylon, however, there is good news: “Look, I have removed the cup of staggering from your hand; that goblet, the cup of my fury. You will never drink it again” (v. 22). And for the Jews who could not imagine how the Holy One of Israel used the pagan and brutal Babylonians as His instrument of judgment, the Lord now tells them that the Babylonians’ day of reckoning has come. “I will put it [the cup of His fury] into the hands of your tormentors,” the Lord says in verse 23. The Babylonians, who had walked over the Jews’ dead bodies in Jerusalem, would now experience similar horrors at the hands of the Persians.

Closing Thought

When we hear of persecuted and martyred Christians around the world, we should take comfort in God’s promise that those who oppress His people will experience His wrath. Matthew Henry comments: “How justly God will reckon with those who have carried it so imperiously towards his people: The cup of trembling shall be put into their hand. Babylon’s case shall be as bad as ever Jerusalem’s was. Daniel’s persecutors shall be thrown into Daniel’s den; let them see how they like it. And the Lord is known by these judgments which he executes” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 51:17).