Read/Study: Isaiah 52: “Your God Reigns!” (pdf)
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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 means “salvation of the Lord.”
Isaiah prophesied in Judah during the reigns of four kings, a period of about 60-70 years during which Samaria was captured, Israel was carried away (722 – 721 B.C.), and Judah was invaded (701 B.C.). He was a contemporary of Hosea and Micah.
Isaiah’s messages hearken back to the eternal counsels of God and the creation of the universe (see 42:5) and gaze forward to God’s creation of new heavens and a new earth (65:17; 66:22). While there are many important prophecies concerning Jerusalem, Israel and Judah, Isaiah’s predictions encompass all the nations of the earth (see 2:4; 5:26; 14:6, 26; 40:15, 17, 22; 66:18).
His Messianic focus
Isaiah foretells the Messiah’s birth (7:14; 9:6); His deity (9:6-7); His ministry (9:1-2; 42:1-7; 61:1-2); His death (52:1 – 53:12); and His future reign on earth (chaps 2; 11; 65).
Isaiah “was the greatest of the writing prophets,” according to The New Scofield Study Bible. “No other prophet has written with such majestic eloquence about the glory of God…. Of all the O.T. prophets, Isaiah is the most comprehensive in range. No prophet is more fully occupied with the redemptive work of Christ. In no other place, in the Scriptures written under the law, is there so clear a view of grace” (p. 924).
The kings of Judah
Chronologies for the Hebrew kings vary between one and 10 years depending on the source consulted. Here are the dates according to E.R. Thiele in The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983): Uzziah/Azariah – 792-740 B.C.; Jotham (co-regent until Uzziah’s death) – 750-732 B.C.; Ahaz – 735-716 B.C.; Hezekiah – 716-687 B.C.
Uzziah and Jotham
Isa. 1:1 tells us the prophet’s ministry began during the time of Uzziah and his son Jotham. It is likely that Isaiah began late in Uzziah’s reign, after he had attained substantial wealth and military success, perhaps between 750-740 B.C. At this time Jotham was coregent and running the country because Uzziah was leprous and therefore secluded. Uzziah’s success early in his kingship was due to his willingness to listen to the prophet Zechariah, who taught him God’s ways. As a result, Uzziah is listed as one of Judah’s kings who “did what was right in the Lord’s sight” (2 Chron. 26:4-5). But his legacy began a downward spiral when he arrogantly entered the temple in Jerusalem and burned incense to God, despite warnings from 80 priests. As a result, God struck Uzziah with leprosy (2 Chron. 26:16-20) and his son Jotham ruled as coregent for about 10 years until Uzziah died around 740 B.C.
Religious life in Judah deteriorated significantly during the reign of Azah, who “did not do what was right in the Lord’s sight … he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and made cast images of the Baals. He burned incense in the Valley of Hinnom and burned his children in the fire, imitating the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had dispossessed before the Israelites” (2 Chron. 28:1-3). His lack of faith in God was illustrated graphically when he failed to trust God despite the promise of military victory (Isa. 7:1-9).
Hezekiah was a great religious reformer, a man of faith who led his armies to trust in God for deliverance (2 Chron. 32:6-8), and who did so himself when he asked God to deliver the Jews from the Assyrians (2 Chron. 32:20-21). In the first year of his reign, he repaired the temple, consecrated priests, renewed the nation’s covenant with God, removed pagan elements his father brought into the temple area, and restored worship (see 2 Chron. 29:3-11, 15-36). Although he later was puffed up with pride for a time, he quickly repented, and God blessed him with great riches (2 Chron. 32:27-29).
The prophet Isaiah
It’s difficult to get a full picture of the prophet because his writings reveal very little about his personal life. We do know that Isaiah identifies his father as Amoz, who may have been a scribe in the king’s court. Jewish tradition suggests that Amoz was the brother of King Amaziah, the father of Uzziah, but there is no way to substantiate this. Isaiah’s wife is called a prophetess (8:3), but there is no record of her prophetic messages, so it’s possible the term simply identifies her with Isaiah. Isaiah and his wife have at least two sons (7:3; 8:3), but little is known of them.
A high point in Isaiah’s ministry comes in chapter 6 when he meets with God. He despises his uncleanness and confesses his sinfulness as he catches a glimpse of the glory of God (6:1-4). He then confesses the sins of the people of Judah and responds to the divine call to take God’s message to the people (6:6-8). Gary V. Smith comments, “Isaiah did not know the nature of the mission God designed for the one being sent, the length of the responsibility, where this person must go, the message that must be spoken, or the difficulty of the task that must be accomplished. Nevertheless, Isaiah immediately volunteered. He did not make excuses or question God’s plan like Moses or Jeremiah (Exod. 3:11; 4:1, 10; Jer. 1:6) but gladly offered to serve God” (The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Isaiah 1-36, p. 36).
It is important to note that Isaiah is sent to bring hardness to the hearts of the people of Judah (6:9-10). The Lord states plainly that the future is dark for His people, but there is hope (6:11-13). This is illustrated in Isaiah’s encounter with Ahaz in chapter 7. God instructs Isaiah to bring the wicked and wildly outnumbered king hope of God’s deliverance in the upcoming Syro-Ephraimite War. Rather than trusting God, however, Ahaz hardens his heart and refuses to invite God to grant a sign (7:10-13).
Isaiah obediently serves the Lord even when the assignments seem bizarre. For example, he is told to go naked in public for parts of three years (20:2). This symbolizes what would happen to the inhabitants of Judah if taken captive in war; normally, war captives are stripped in shame. It isn’t known whether Isaiah explains his behavior to anyone in self defense, but the Lord calls Isaiah “my servant,” “a sign,” and “portent.” The impact of Isaiah’s ministry is felt far beyond the scope of his lifetime. He is quoted directly in the New Testament more than 65 times, far more than any other Old Testament prophet, and is mentioned by name more than 20 times.
Through a literary device known as “prophetic foreshortening,” Isaiah predicts future events without laying down exact sequences of the events or the time intervals separating them. For example, as John MacArthur writes, “nothing in Isaiah reveals the extended period separating the two comings of the Messiah (cf. Is. 61:1, 2; Luke 4:17-22). Also, he does not provide as clear a distinction between the future temporal kingdom and the eternal kingdom as John does in Revelation 20:1-10; 21:1-22:5. In God’s program of progressive revelation, details of these relationships awaited a prophetic spokesman in a later time” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 757).
In summary, Isaiah the person is known primarily through what he says, not what he does. His speeches focus on Judah’s wrong political policies as reflections of their lack of trust in God. In ways similar to Joel, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum and Zephaniah, Isaiah offers little biographical information about the prophet. Many of the Lord’s prophets seem intentionally to downplay themselves in order to lift of God and His message.
Tradition has it that Isaiah met his death under King Manasseh by being cut in two with a wooden saw (see Heb. 11:37).
An outline of study
Commentators approach the book of Isaiah in different ways, but generally we will pursue this simple outline:
- I. Judgment: Chapters 1-35
- II. Historical Interlude: Chapters 36-39
- III. Salvation: Chapters 40-66