God’s special servant
‘My special Servant’
In the Book of Isaiah, the meaning of ‘my (that is, the *Lord’s) special Servant’ varies. Sometimes, ‘my special Servant’ identifies a person, such as Eliakim (Isaiah 22:20) or David (Isaiah 37:35) or Isaiah himself (Isaiah 20:3). Most of the verses that include ‘my special Servant’ appear in the second part of the Book of Isaiah (about 20 times). About half of these verses identify the ‘Servant’ as ‘Israel’. Several verses (42:1, 42:6, 52:13, 53:11) refer the name to *Messiah. The *New Testament identifies *Messiah as Jesus. (Take care; sometimes a verse may include more than one of these meanings at the same time!)
- Verses 1-7 provide the second of the ‘Servant Songs’ (see my notes at the beginning of Chapter 42 and the notes on 42:1).
The work of God’s Servant
v1 Listen to me, you foreign nations. Listen, you people that live in distant places. Before I was born, the *Lord called (appointed) me to be his special Servant. He named me even before my birth. v2 He made my words about God’s judgement to be as sharp as a sword. He hid me under the shadow of his hand. He made me like a sharp arrow that is ready to use. v3 He said to me, ‘Israel, you are my special Servant. In you I will display my great *glory.’
v4 But I thought, ‘I have worn myself out in vain. I have used my strength for no profit, for nothing.’ But then I told myself that my actions were in the *Lord’s care. The result of my work for God is safe in his hands.
Many *Israelites lived abroad. But here the reference is to foreign nations, rather than to *Israelites. Isaiah repeats the command to listen. This is to emphasise that the message is for foreigners.
- To ‘call’ does not mean to shout to gain attention. In the Bible, ‘call’ is a technical word. It means to appoint to a task. Isaiah’s ‘call’ came before he was even born. (See Jeremiah 1:4-5 for a similar thought).
‘Sword’ and ‘arrow’ are word pictures. The words show that Isaiah’s message from God will have a powerful effect on people’s lives. Like a sword or an arrow, Isaiah’s words will be sharp (clear, sudden and powerful). The *Lord has prepared Isaiah ahead of time to speak the sharp words of God’s judgement.
- The mere ‘shadow’ of a hand may seem strange ‘protection’. But with God, even his shadow is always sufficient (see Psalm 17:8). The shadow reminds God’s people that he is very close to each believer.
When God originally called Isaiah to speak for him, he had warned Isaiah about people’s reaction. People would not listen to Isaiah (see Isaiah 6:9-12). But Isaiah wisely realised that his own duty was to obey God. What happened as a result was not Isaiah’s responsibility (see Isaiah 40:4-8). It was God’s responsibility.
God’s plan is also for other nations
v5 Before I was born, the *Lord was making me his Servant. This was so that I should bring the *Israelites back to him again. The *Lord is giving me this honour. And he will provide strength for me to achieve the task. v6 And now the *Lord speaks again: ‘It is too small a task for you, as my Servant, merely to bring the *Israelites back from foreign countries. I also appoint you to be my light to the nations. You are to take the light of my power to save. Take that light to all the nations of the world.’
The first words are similar to those in Isaiah 43:1 and 49:1. But here Isaiah adds that the *Lord provides him with the necessary help.
The *Lord has an even greater task for Isaiah. He is to tell all nations that the *Lord can rescue every person from the result of an evil life.
- Similar words describe God’s double purpose for his special Servant and for Cyrus. God intends them to spread his ‘light’ to the whole world (see Isaiah 42:6). And to everybody in the world (see Isaiah 48:20).
- God’s ‘light’ is a word picture. It means a clear knowledge of God’s purposes.
God will rescue his people
v7 (These are the words of the *Lord. It is he who defends Israel. He is Israel’s Holy God. The *Lord is speaking to his Servant.)
‘Other people consider you to be of no value. Other nations hate you. Rulers make your people to become slaves. But the day is coming when even kings will stand in your honour. And princes will kneel in front of you. Because the *Lord remains true to his word. He is the Holy God of Israel. He has chosen you to be his special people.’
Much of what appears here will appear again in the 4th Servant Song (see Isaiah 52:13 to 53:12).
- There is a double meaning of ‘Servant’ in this verse. The name refers to the experience of the nation called Israel. But it also refers to the experience of *Messiah. (See my note at the beginning of this chapter).
- When Israel failed to carry out the *Lord’s purpose, *Messiah did so instead of Israel.
God will lead his people home
v8 The *Lord says, ‘My Servant, I intend to answer your cries for help. I have decided the time when I will help you. I will come to rescue you. I have also chosen you to take my promise of hope to other nations. You will again build your own country that enemies have ruined. Then people will return to possess the land. v9 You will tell prisoners that they are free. Those in darkness can come into the light. God’s people will be like sheep that find grass to eat. Those sheep find grass that is ready for them by the road. And even a bare hill will provide what God’s people need to eat. v10 They will not be hungry. They will not be without water to drink. Nor will the fierce sun hurt them with its heat. I who pity them will guide them to springs (fountains) of fresh water. v11 I will make a road for them over my hills. And I will prepare all the way for my people to travel. v12 See, they are coming from a great distance! Some from the north. Some from the west. Some from the country called Syene.’
v13 Shout for joy, you heavens! Cheer loudly, you earth! Sing a happy song of success, you mountains! Because the *Lord is comforting his people, because troubles have upset them.
To ‘answer’ means more than ‘use words’. ‘Answer’ includes action to provide practical help.
God’s people have a long journey to return to their own land. But all along the way, God will provide everything that they need (see Isaiah 41:17-20).
Syene is the area up the river Nile to the south (see Jeremiah 44:1). Today Syene is called Aswan.
The picture in words suggests that the people’s joy affects all that God has created (see my note on Isaiah 44:23).
The *Lord pities his people
v14 The inhabitants of *Jerusalem had been thinking, ‘The *Lord has left us. The *Lord has forgotten us.’
v15 ‘Certainly not! A mother can never forget the baby at her breast. She will not forget her love for the child that she has *borne. Even if that were possible, I, your *Lord, will certainly never forget you. v16 See, I have drawn a picture of you on my hands. So the walls of *Jerusalem that enemies ruined are always in my mind. v17 Those who will repair the great damage to *Jerusalem are in a hurry to come to you. Enemies knocked down and completely ruined your city. Those enemies will soon leave you. v18 Open your eyes. Look about you. All the members of your family are returning home. They are entering *Jerusalem together.’ The *Lord said that this would happen. ‘And I make another serious promise to you. As I live,’ says the *Lord, ‘you will proudly display all your sons as if they were precious stones. You will put them on yourself as if you were a bride.’
*Babylonian forces attacked *Jerusalem in 587 *BC. They ruined the city. They completely destroyed the Temple (see Isaiah 32:14). The *Lord’s promise to protect the city seemed to be without worth.
A picture in words emphasises that the *Lord has certainly not put *Jerusalem out of his mind.
To build something, normally takes much more time than to knock it down. But the *Lord declares that these busy builders will repair *Jerusalem very quickly. They will build the city even more quickly than the *Babylonians were able to destroy it. That would be most unlikely, of course. It is just a description to say that the builders will work extremely quickly.
The whole situation is changing very fast. The evidence is all round the city for people to see for themselves. The *Lord has carried out the things that he promised to do.
- In the original language, ‘As I live, says the *Lord’ is a special form of words. It emphasises that the promise afterwards is definite. Even as certainly as God always lives, so as certainly his promise is always true. (See Numbers 14:21 and Zephaniah 2:9. Also see Ezekiel 14:16, among very many other examples in that *Old Testament Book.)
*Jerusalem’s wonderful future
v19 Cruel enemies ruined *Jerusalem and they made the land a desert. But now you will not have enough space for its inhabitants. Those who destroyed your country will have gone. v20The children who were born during your time of despair will complain: ‘This place is too small for us. We need more space in *Jerusalem for all of us to live here.’
v21 You will tell yourself, ‘Someone must have *borne these children for me. I had lost my own children. I could have no more. I was in a foreign country. I was without a home. Someone must have brought up these children. I was completely alone. I cannot understand where these children came from.’
v22 (These are the words of the *Lord God.) ‘See, I will lift up my hand to the nations to attract their attention. I will signal to many people. They will carry your sons in their arms. They will lift your daughters onto their shoulders. v23 Kings will act as your fathers. Princesses will act as your mothers. They will humbly fall on the ground to give you honour. They will taste the dust at your feet. Then you will have clear evidence that I am the *Lord. I will never disappoint those who trust me.’
Judah’s enemies ate all the food that happened to be growing. But they did not bother about good agricultural practice. So they did not plough or sow. Soon the fields had no more value than a desert. The land would take several years to recover after the enemies left Judah.
In this verse, ‘children’ refers to *descendants of the original *exiles of the *tribe called Judah. The ‘time of despair’ means ‘when you were *exiles in the country called Babylon’.
The verse gives a picture in words to describe everybody’s happy surprise. Suddenly, a huge number of *refugees are coming back to *Jerusalem. It is so wonderful, after all that the people of God have suffered far away in a foreign land.
Foreign nations will now have a very different opinion about God’s people. And God’s people themselves will realise that the *Lord himself has brought it all about. Only he could have done it.
The *Lord is on our side
v24 Normally, nobody can take back the possessions that soldiers steal. Nobody can rescue the people whom fierce enemies lead away to be their prisoners. v25 But the *Lord declares, ‘These things will certainly happen. Rescue will come to prisoners whom soldiers have *seized. Even goods that a cruel man has stolen will come back to their owners. I myself will oppose those who oppose you. And I myself will rescue your sons. v26 I will oppose those people who were so cruel to you. They will tear apart their own bodies to eat as meat. They will be like drunks, but blood will flow instead of wine. I will force them to do these things. Then everybody will know that I am the *Lord. It is I who saves you. I am your rescuer, the Powerful God of Israel.’
The *Lord will take practical action to bring back the people’s original situation.
These are more pictures in words. These cruel men caused so much trouble for other people. But in the end, they will cause their own deaths. And the *Lord will use the situation to rescue his people.
Israel has refused to trust the *Lord
v1 This is what the *Lord says to the people from Israel: ‘You cannot produce any official notice of divorce. You have no evidence that I ever sent your mother away from me. You cannot prove that I sold you as slaves in order to pay some debt. No, you became slaves because of your wicked behaviour. And your mother had to go away because you frequently refused to follow my plans for you. v2 Nobody was there when I came. Nobody answered when I called. But I have the resources to buy you back. And I have the strength to rescue you. With just a word, I can make the sea dry. I can change rivers into a desert. And without water, the fish die. v3 I cover the skies with darkness. Even the sky seems to wear *sackcloth because my people are so sad.’
A husband in Israel could divorce his wife, if she did not remain true to him (see Deuteronomy 24:1-4). This was well-known. The Bible often refers to the *Lord’s relationship to Israel as that of husband and wife. And people could understand that picture in words. But the relationship had broken down, because Israel did not carry out its promise to obey the *Lord. However, there was no legal evidence that the *Lord had in fact divorced Israel.
- Nor had the *Lord sold Israel. This uses another picture in words. An extremely poor father, who was desperate to pay a debt, might sell his children to be slaves (see Exodus 21:7). The *Lord created the world and everything in it. He cannot owe anything to anyone!
- ‘Mother’ and ‘children’ form another picture in words, to refer to the entire nation of Israel. Israel had continued to refuse to obey the *Lord (see Isaiah 43:23-24). So he sent them all away to a foreign country where they were *exiles.
- The people could not blame God for their troubles. They themselves were responsible for their own evil deeds. Their troubles were the result of those evil deeds.
After many years as *exiles, nobody imagined that they would ever see their own country again. It was impossible. So, when the *Lord promised to bring the *exiles home, nobody believed him.
- But several times the *Lord told the people that they had a wonderful future (see Isaiah 12:3-6, 35:3-10, 49:22). And later, he will repeat this good news (see Isaiah 51:3, 60:10, 61:1-11).
- God reminds his people that he has done such ‘impossible’ actions in the past. For example, when he rescued his people from Egypt (see Exodus 10:21-22).
The Servant obeys the *Lord
Verses 4-11 provide the third of the ‘Servant Songs’ (see my notes at the beginning of Chapter 42 and the notes on 42:1).
v4 The *Lord God has given me a tongue (speech) that a teacher has trained well. So I will know how to speak words of comfort to those who are tired. He wakens me every morning. He prepares my ears to hear clearly. So I can listen carefully, like a student that a teacher has trained well. v5 The *Lord opened my ears. So I understood clearly what he wanted me to say. I did not hesitate to obey him. But I knew that I would suffer as a result. v6 I made my back bare to those who struck me. And I let them pull off the hair from my cheek. Nor did I hide my face from shame and insult.
Here ‘tongue’ is a picture word, to refer to the Servant’s authority to speak God’s message. The Servant qualifies to be God’s *messenger, because God has taught him what to say (see Jeremiah 1:9. Ezekiel 3:27).
Moreover, God had comforted his special Servant. So the Servant can also speak from personal experience (see Isaiah 40:1-2).
The Servant must listen carefully. That is, not only to hear God’s words, but also to understand God’s meaning.
The Servant was willing to suffer.
- To pull out the hairs of a man’s beard was not only painful. It was the traditional way to bring shame upon a man (see Isaiah 7:20; Isaiah 15:2; Nehemiah 13:25).
The Servant trusts the *Lord
v7 The *Lord God will help me. Therefore shame and insult cannot hurt me. That is why I make my face as hard as stone. I know that nothing and nobody can cause me shame. v8 My defender is near me. He will prove that I am innocent. Let my accuser dare to meet us in court. Let him bring his evidence against me. v9 The *Lord God will help me. Nobody will be able to say that I am guilty. See! Those who oppose me cannot succeed. They will become like old clothes that insects have eaten.
v10 But some people do give honour to the *Lord. And they obey the message that the *Lord’s Servant delivers to them. Life for them may seem like a walk in darkness. There is no light to guide them. Let such people continue to trust in the name (character) of the *Lord. Let them continue to place their complete confidence in their God.
The Servant concentrates his mind on the *Lord. That action gives the Servant the determination that he needs to carry on the *Lord’s work. That determination is the meaning of the word picture about stone.
The language of a court of law shows the Servant’s attitude. He has complete confidence in the *Lord’s judgement.
The attacks of those who oppose the Servant are too weak to succeed. Old clothes that insects have spoiled will fall to pieces. And the accuser’s arguments have no more substance than those old clothes.
The Servant stands firm. He has complete confidence in the *Lord. That encourages other people also to put their complete trust in the *Lord.
The fate of those who refuse to obey God
v11 ‘Carry on, you people who have started your own fire. Bring piles of wood! You have chosen your own way, not God’s way. Continue to walk by the light of your own fire. But I, the *Lord, have declared your certain fate. You will come to a terrible end.’
Some people refuse to listen to the *Lord’s servant. They want to live in whatever manner pleases him. They care only about themselves. These people would suffer a terrible punishment. The verse refers to their awful deaths.
- This verse may refer to the people whom the Roman army defeated in *AD 70. The Roman army completely destroyed the country called Judah. It was a terrible event. (The Roman army was the most powerful army in the world for many centuries.)
Abraham was your early relative
v1 ‘Listen to me,’ says the *Lord. ‘You desire to live in the right way. You come to me, your *Lord, for help. Think about the rock from which you came. In other words, think about the origin of the family to which you belong. v2 That family began with your early relative Abraham and his wife Sarah. Abraham was only one man when I called him. But then I so *blessed him that he had a very large family.’
‘Rock’ is a picture word, to mean ‘strong foundation’. (‘Foundation’ means a strong base that provides security.) ‘Rock’ is one of God’s names (see Deuteronomy 32:4; 32:15; 32:18).
- The next words in this verse explain the meaning as a reference to Abraham. He was a man of strong faith (trust) in God (see Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:8-12). God was Abraham’s strong foundation (his security and the base for his life). All God’s people should aim to live in a similar manner.
God gave Abram a new name, ‘Abraham’ (the name means ‘father of a crowd’). Abraham was already very old and he had no children. But God promised Abraham that he would still have a very large family (see Genesis 17:5).
*Jerusalem will again be beautiful
v3 Now the *Lord will surely comfort *Jerusalem. He will pity the places that enemies have ruined. He will make Jerusalem’s deserts like Eden, the Garden of the *Lord. Joy and great happiness will be there. And thanks and the sound of songs will be there.
The intention of the *Lord’s ‘comfort’ is to convince the *exiles that their future will be happy and peaceful.
- The state of the people’s relationship with God affects the state of the rest of the world that God created (see Isaiah 44:21-23; see also Colossians 1:20).
God will govern the world
v4 The *Lord says, ‘You are my special people. You are the nation that I chose. So listen carefully to what I say. My law will cause justice (fair judgements) to shine like a light for every nation in the world. v5 At the right moment, I will arrive suddenly to save them. That moment is near. I myself will rule the nations. Distant countries are waiting for me. They are expecting me to save them. v6 Look up to the sky. The sky could disappear like smoke. Look down to the earth. The earth could become like a piece of cloth that insects are eating. The inhabitants of the world could die like flies. But I will always be able to free the prisoner. My power to save will never end.
v7 Listen to me, you people who know about right judgements. Continue to keep my law safely in your hearts. Then you will not be afraid of the fierce words of those who hate you. Then you will not allow their evil plots to frighten you. v8 Because insects will eat them, as if they were mere bits of wool. But my triumph (total success) will last for always. And my power to save will continue until the end of the ages.’
In Hebrew, the language of the *Old Testament, the word ‘law’ is torah. The basic meaning of this Hebrew word is ‘to point’, as with a finger.
We are not to think of God’s law as merely a list of rules. God’s torah is his personal direction to each believer on how to live life.
- ‘Light’ is a picture word, to mean ‘a clear knowledge of God’s purposes’.
The heavens and the earth are not as permanent as they may seem.
- Here ‘smoke’ is a picture word, to mean something that has no substance. So it quickly blows away.
- Nothing in this life or in this world is permanent. But God makes an absolute promise to rescue people. A person’s continuous state of liberty and health of spirit are the results of God’s action.
- The phrase ‘free the prisoner’ does not merely mean someone who is in an actual prison. For example, ‘prison’ can be a word picture to mean the situation of a person with an evil habit. He or she is totally unable to escape from the practice.
For ‘law’, see my note on verse 4.
Call to God to act
v9 Awake, *Lord, awake! Dress yourself to act in strength! Awake, as you did in ancient times, when you destroyed Rahab. v10 You made a dry road through the deep waters of the sea to rescue your people from Egypt. v11 The *Lord will again save his people, as he did then. They will return to *Jerusalem with loud shouts of triumph (success). Their joy will be like a crown upon their heads. Happiness and delight will fill their hearts. No more sad days! No more cries of pain!
Isaiah uses the name ‘Rahab’ to refer to Egypt. That country was the enemy of the people of God in ancient times (see Exodus 14:30-31).
- Verse 9 seems to describe the *Lord as he awakes from sleep. Of course, this is picture language. The *Lord never sleeps (Psalm 121:4). In other words, he is never unaware of what is happening to his people. But he chooses the moment when he will act to save them. And then, to them, he seems to act as one who has just awoken (Psalm 78:65-66).
The *Lord will save you
v12 ‘I myself will comfort you,’ says the *Lord. ‘You need never be afraid of any man. He is only human. And, like the grass, he will die. v13 You must never forget the greatness of your *Lord. He created you for himself. He established the heavens and the earth. So do not live in terror of an angry enemy. Yes, he plotted to kill you. But now he has completely disappeared.v14 The prisoner who trembles in prison will soon have his freedom. He will not die and go to *Sheol. He will no longer suffer from hunger.’
Here ‘forget’ is more than a temporary failure of memory. It means that the people from Israel could neglect to give honour to their *Lord. But they have a special place in God’s love. So he will take great care of them. The God who created the world and everything in it has complete power (see Isaiah 43:1-2).
- The *Lord frequently reminds the *Israelites that they belong to him. Therefore there is no reason for them to be afraid of anything or anybody. (See, among many examples, Isaiah 41:10, 44:2, 51:7, 54:4).
God has all power
v15 ‘I am the *Lord your God. I so stir the sea that the waves roar. My name is “Commander of Heaven’s Armies”. v16 I have put my words in your mouth. I will keep you in safety under the cover of my hand. I am he who fixed the heavens in their place. I established the earth. And I again say to the citizens of *Jerusalem that you are my special people.’
The Book of Isaiah emphasises this special name for the *Lord over 60 times (see my note on Isaiah 44:6).
The *Lord encourages his Servant. The *Lord will tell him exactly what to say. Jeremiah had a similar experience (see Jeremiah 1:9).
The end of *Jerusalem’s pain
The rest of chapter 51 contains pictures in words that describe *Jerusalem and its people. Isaiah’s words are describing a period about two centuries after his own life. It is 65 years since Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city. The present inhabitants have only known rule by foreigners.
*Jerusalem was like a guest who had lost all senses
v17 Awake, awake, inhabitants of *Jerusalem! Get up! You have completely drunk the *Lord’s full cup of anger. It made you an unconscious drunk.
The ‘cup of anger’ is a picture in words. It refers to the *Lord’s punishment of his people, because they refused to obey him.
- The punishment was severe. So the people felt like men who had swallowed too much alcohol.
*Jerusalem was like a mother who had lost her children
v18 There was nobody to guide you among all the sons that you had *borne. There was nobody in your family to lead you by the hand. v19 Two terrible troubles happened to you. War ruined your land. Your people starved. But there was nobody to offer you sympathy. v20 At the corner of every street your people fell, because they were so weak. They were like animals that a hunter’s net had caught. Your people suffered the absolute force of the *Lord’s anger.
The city of *Jerusalem was like a mother with many sons. That is, the city had very many inhabitants. But they had no leader to take responsibility. So when these troubles happened, the people suffered greatly. And nobody helped them.
*Jerusalem was like a prisoner who had lost all hope
v21 Listen to these words, you inhabitants of *Jerusalem who have suffered so greatly. You were all acting like drunks. As if you had swallowed too much wine. v22 Listen, the *Lord your God is your defender. He says, ‘I gave you that cup to drink because I was so very angry. But now I have taken it away. You will no longer have to drink the wine that made you unable to walk properly. v23 I will give that cup to enemies who forced you to lie down in the streets. They walked heavily on you as if you were dirt.’
The *Lord had severely punished his people because they refused to obey him. But now he had completed their punishment.
The *Lord had used certain enemies as his agents to punish his people. But those agents took advantage of *Jerusalem’s weakness. In other words, they wanted to gain personal benefit when God’s people were weak. So they were very cruel to God’s people. And God’s people suffered much more than God intended. (See the Book of Obadiah). The *Lord will punish wicked behaviour wherever he finds it (see Isaiah 10:5-15).
God will rescue *Jerusalem
v1 Awake, awake, inhabitants of *Jerusalem! Be strong and be great again! Inhabitants of the holy city of God, dress yourselves with beautiful clothes. The foreigners who ruined your city will never again enter its gates. v2 Inhabitants of *Jerusalem, get up from the dust and sit! Throw off the enemy’s chains that are about your neck.
v3 (This is what the *Lord says.) ‘When you became slaves, nobody paid anything for you. And now nobody will pay any money to free you. v4 Long ago in the days of Joseph, my people chose to live in Egypt. But later the *Egyptians acted cruelly towards my people. Some centuries later, the *Assyrians did the same. And for no reason. v5 And now in Babylon, the same thing has happened again. You are prisoners. But nobody paid any money to buy you. And every day those who rule over you insult my name. v6 But my people will learn what my name means. On the day that is coming, they will know my name. And they will know that I, the *Lord, have spoken. I am here. I am active. My people will know the power of my name.’
The call to ‘awake’ means ‘realise your true value to God’. He is giving you a new opportunity to take your proper place of honour.
To sit in the dust is a picture in words. It means that God’s people suffer shame and a state of no value. But now God’s people must rise and sit on the seat of honour. They are free from the chains of slaves.
God’s people had suffered from the evil behaviour of their enemies, first Egypt (see Exodus 1:8-16), then Assyria (see 2 Kings 15:29), then Babylon (see 2 Kings 24:14).
In the Bible, a ‘name’ is not only a word to identify one person from another person. A name informs us about that person’s character and strengths.
So the *Lord’s name is important. It informs us about his honour, character, authority and strength. God’s people will know the power of his name because he is acting on their behalf.
God’s good news
v7 How wonderful it is to see the *messenger who brings God’s message. He is hurrying over the hills! He is bringing good news. He is declaring God’s way to freedom. He is telling the inhabitants of *Jerusalem that the God of Israel is the King of all the nations. v8 Listen! Inhabitants of *Jerusalem, your *look-outs are calling out. Together they are shouting for joy. As the *Lord returns to *Jerusalem, they can see it with their own eyes.
The *messenger’s name does not appear. His name is not important. What matters is the message of good news (see Romans 10:15).
- Although God’s people are now prisoners in a foreign country, God controls the situation. The good news is that the *Lord is rescuing his people.
The *Lord is carrying out the things that he promised to do (see Isaiah 40:10-11).
The *Lord’s people come home from Babylon
v9 Inhabitants of *Jerusalem, enemies ruined your city. But now sing together a song of triumph (success). Because the *Lord is comforting his people. He is saving *Jerusalem from its enemies. v10 The *Lord is making his strong arm bare in the sight of the nations. In other words, he is showing them how powerful he is. The *Lord is rescuing his people. And everybody in the world will know it.
v11 Go from Babylon. Leave that place completely. And as you go, touch nothing that the *Lord has forbidden. Leave Babylon and all its wicked connections. You are taking back with you the things that belong to the *Lord’s *Temple in *Jerusalem. So keep yourselves holy. v12 But you do not need to leave in a hurry. Leave calmly. You will not be trying to escape. The *Lord God of Israel will lead you. And he will protect you on all sides as you travel.
The result of the enemy’s attack on *Jerusalem is a reality. But there is every reason to be happy, because the people can now rebuild their city in peace.
The *Lord’s ‘strong arm’ is a picture phrase for ‘his power to do things’.
Babylon’s ‘wicked connections’ refer to the *worship of *idols (see 2 Corinthians 6:14-17).
God’s people will leave in a calm manner. This will show their complete confidence in the *Lord. All the nations will notice their quiet attitude.
The *Lord’s Servant will suffer, but he will succeed
Verses 52:13 to 53:12 provide the fourth (4th) of the ‘Servant Songs’ (see my notes at the beginning of Chapter 42 and the notes on 42:1). References to this Song appear in the *New Testament more often than references to any other passage in the *Old Testament. This Song is often called ‘the gospel (good news) in the *Old Testament’.
- The subject of this Song moves from God’s Servant as a group (that is, the nation called Israel; see Isaiah 49:6-7) to a person (that is, *Messiah). The *New Testament identifies *Messiah as Jesus Christ.
(Note: These 15 verses form one of the most important passages in the entire Bible, for both *Jews and Christians. For many years there has been an enormous amount of discussion in books and articles about the real meaning of the passage. But all this work has failed to bring universal agreement. By these notes, I hope to give some general explanation to show what the Song is about.)
- The Song has three parts.
In Verses 52:13-15, the *Lord is speaking.
In Verses 53:1-9, the people reply.
In Verses 53:10-12, the *Lord speaks again.
v13 ‘My Servant will achieve success in his task. And I will reward him with great honour. v14 But many people had a great shock because of him. They saw what happened to him. His *appearance was so awful that he hardly seemed to be human. v15 It will astonish many nations to see my Servant now. Even kings will be silent in front of him. Because they will have seen something that nobody had ever mentioned. They now understand something that they had never heard before.’
The shock that astonished people was to see the Servant’s terrible experience of pain. It was so very different from what they expected as a ‘great honour’.
The Servant suffered awful injuries and insults. It was the only way to obtain God’s good purpose for other people. But people had never even heard of such an event. They never supposed that someone would suffer so greatly for such a reason.
The Servant was himself not noticeable
v1 Nobody would believe what we have just heard. God’s Servant is God’s arm. Nobody could have guessed that God would work like this. v2 The *Lord’s Servant grew up in front of him like any other young man. Even as naturally as any tree or plant can grow even in poor soil. His *appearance had no special qualities to attract attention. There was nothing to make us admire him personally.
God’s ‘arm’ is a picture word, to mean ‘God’s great power’.
God chooses how he will work. And often, he works in a manner that people do not expect. His Servant was someone who was not impressive. People did not even realise that God had appointed the Servant for a special task.
- The early life of Jesus was in a village called Nazareth (see Luke 2:39, 2:51). Nazareth was not well-known (see John 1:46). The name ‘Nazareth’ does not appear in the *Old Testament or in any other early *Jewish records. There was nothing special about where Jesus was living. Isaiah writes about ‘poor soil’ as a picture in words of this fact.
- As a boy and then a youth, Jesus’ body grew naturally. But he grew ‘in front of him’ (that is, ‘in front of God’). So God was quietly taking special care of him.
- In those early days, there was nothing unusual about Jesus to attract public attention (see Matthew 13:55). Jesus was about 30 years old (see Luke 3:23), when he left Nazareth to begin his work for God (see Matthew 4:13, Luke 4:16-30).
The Servant’s heavy task
v3 The Servant would be lonely. People would turn away from him. And he was someone who would suffer greatly with terrible pain. That is why we would not even look at him. We did not think that he was of any value. v4 God’s Servant carried the weight of our illnesses. In other words, it was our pain that he suffered. But we thought that he had brought the troubles on himself. And so God was punishing him. We believed that God had struck him. And that God made him ashamed. v5 But he suffered such injuries because we had refused to obey God’s instructions. And therefore we had been living evil lives. But God’s Servant suffered on our behalf. So God makes us healthy and whole in his *sight. v6 We had all wandered like sheep. We had chosen to go our own way, not God’s way. We deserved punishment. But God has given the punishment to his Servant to suffer.
There was a common belief about people who were suffering. Other people thought that those people were suffering because of their *sins. So God was punishing them.
The Servant’s work gave us wonderful benefits that we could never achieve by our own efforts (see Matthew 8:17, 1 Peter 2:24).
The reason for the Servant to suffer was because of *sins. But the *sins were not his own. The *sins were ours. The Servant did not deserve the punishment. We ought to have suffered that punishment. But his pain frees us from punishment.
The Servant was ready to die
v7 God’s Servant suffered cruelly. But he was willing to accept our punishment. He did not open his mouth to complain. Like a sheep that men take away, to kill or just to remove its wool, so God’s Servant was silent. v8 They *seized God’s Servant. He had nobody to protect him. And nobody to speak on his behalf in court. Nobody cared about his fate. Nobody realised that he would die for our *sins. v9 He died in the company of criminals. But a rich man’s grave was where men buried him. He had *broken no law. He had spoken no lie.
The experiences of the Servant were similar to the experiences of Jesus. The Servant was silent (see Matthew 26:63). Men took him by force (see Matthew 26:50). Nobody supported him in court (see Matthew 26:56). He died with criminals (see Luke 23:33). His grave belonged to a rich man (see Luke 23:53). He had not *broken God’s laws (see Luke 23:47).
The result of the Servant’s work
v10 ‘It was my intention to load my innocent Servant with such pain. The Servant’s death became a perfect *sacrifice, so that I am able to forgive guilty lives. My Servant will have a vast number of children to benefit from what he has done. He himself will have life that goes on. And I will have carried out my purpose by my Servant. v11 My Servant achieved much when he suffered. And he will see all that his work achieved. Then he will know complete satisfaction. My Servant’s experience will make many right with God, because my Servant has accepted all their *guilt. v12 Therefore I will give great honour to my Servant who proved by his life to be great. My Servant suffered death and he offered himself to stand with wicked people. Their *guilt was like a heavy weight that he himself took completely. And he prayed on their behalf that God would forgive them.’
The idea of one death for the benefit of many was the essential principle in Israel’s system of *sacrifice (see Leviticus chapter 16). In that system, a priest *sacrificed an animal on the *altar to repair people’s relationships with God. Wicked behaviour breaks relationships with God (see Isaiah 59:2).
- *Sacrifices stopped in *AD 70, when the Romans destroyed the *Temple.
Many will come to belief in God because of the Servant’s *sacrifice (see Matthew 26:28, Colossians 1:19-22). After the Servant’s *sacrifice, his life ‘goes on’. Both the *Old Testament and the *New Testament teach that *Messiah will live always (see Isaiah 9:7, Hebrews 7:25). And God’s purpose will be complete (see Ephesians 3:9-11, Hebrews 2:9).
The *Lord will enjoy the success of his Servant’s work (see John 17:1-10, Revelation 7:9-17)).
The Song ends as it began. God will give great honour to his Servant, who has obeyed him totally.
- As the Servant who obeyed (see Matthew 26:42), Jesus will have his permanent reward (see Ephesians 1:20-23, Philippians 2:9-11). As he was dying, he prayed for his enemies (Luke 23:34). And in heaven he will continue to pray for those who have trusted him (Hebrews 7:25).
Chapters 54 and 55
The subject of these two chapters is the *Lord’s promises to the city called *Jerusalem. God promises a great future for both the city and its inhabitants.
The number of God’s people will increase vastly
v1 (The *Lord speaks) ‘Sing for joy, you women who never had a husband! Shout for joy, you wives that never gave birth to a child! Any wife whose husband has left her is very lonely. But even she will have a much larger family than a wife whose loyal husband still lives with her.
v2 Make your tent larger. Spread its curtains wider. Put no limit on space. Make the ropes (strings) of the tent longer. And fix them firmly to the ground with pegs (small pieces of wood). v3You will extend your boundaries on all sides. And your descendants (later relatives) will get back the land and the towns that foreigners occupied.’
Isaiah uses the word picture of a ‘woman’ to refer to *Jerusalem and its inhabitants.
- In earlier chapters, Isaiah had referred to *Jerusalem as a ‘woman’ that was without the benefit of children. There were several possible reasons why a woman should feel very sad. Her family might be *exiles (see Isaiah 49:21). Or her husband had divorced her (see Isaiah 50:1). Or there was no family to provide for her (see Isaiah 51:18). Or that the woman herself could not have children (see Deuteronomy 7:14).
- But now the situation has completely changed. The ‘much larger family’ refers to a huge increase in the inhabitants of *Jerusalem.
The soft sides (walls) of the tent are called ‘curtains’. This refers to the manner that the walls of ancient tents hung down. They hung straight down from beams or ropes (strings) like curtains. Tents were usually square structures, and not like many modern tents.
- The people are to spread the curtains further apart, so that the tent becomes bigger. Here ‘curtains’ is a picture word for the walls of *Jerusalem. The city will need new outer walls to include the many new houses.
While the people from Israel were *exiles in Babylon, foreigners took their property. Now the *Israelites will get it back.
The *Lord’s love for Israel
v4 ‘Do not be afraid. You will not know shame again. Do not worry. You will no longer remember the shame of your youth. Nor will you continue to feel miserable because you have lost your husband. v5 I am your maker. And I am your husband. My special name is ‘Commander of Heaven’s Armies’. I am the Holy God of Israel. I will defend you. I am the God of all the earth. v6The people from Israel were like a wife whose husband had left her. Your heart was so sad. Now I have called you back to myself.’ Your God says, ‘I rejected (turned against) you when you were like a young bride. v7 For a brief moment, I left you. But I pity you with great love. So now I will take you back to myself. v8 In a moment of anger, I hid my face from you. But I pity you. Therefore with love without end I will take you back.’ So declares the *Lord your rescuer.
v9 ‘I will act as I did in the days of Noah. At that time I made a serious promise that I would never again flood the earth. So now, I promise that I will never again be angry with you. Nor will I cause you to feel terror. v10 The mountains may shake. The hills may tremble. But my great love for you will never end. My agreement of unity with you will always continue.’ This is what the *Lord declares, because he pities you.
The Book of Isaiah emphasises the *Lord’s special name, ‘Commander of Heaven’s Armies’, over 60 times (see my note on Isaiah 44:6).
In this verse, ‘husband’ continues as a word picture for ‘*Lord’. Israel’s ‘shame’ (verse 4) was their failure to obey their *Lord in earlier days. That failure interrupted Israel’s communication with the *Lord. That is, in a word picture, Israel’s ‘husband’ (the *Lord) left her (Israel).
The *covenant relationship between the *Lord and his people was permanent (see Psalm 105:8-10). The temporary interruption did not mean that the relationship had ended. In fact, the *Lord himself had sent the people from Israel to Babylon as *exiles.
For the Noah incident, see Genesis 9:11-15 and Matthew 24:37-38.
The future *Jerusalem
v11-12 ‘Inhabitants of *Jerusalem, you have suffered so much. And nobody came to help you. Look, I will use a variety of precious stones to build again the foundations (firm base) of your city. And I will use many other precious stones to build your *look-outs and gates and walls. v13 I myself will teach your children. And they will greatly benefit in their lives because of my help. v14 Government in the city will be fair. And the authorities will deal equally with all the inhabitants. Your enemies will remain at a distance. You will live without fear of attack. v15 If any enemy does come to attack you, I have not sent that enemy. The attack will completely fail, because I am defending you.
v16 I create the skilled man who manufactures weapons (military arms) for soldiers to use. And I also create armies that use those weapons to kill and to destroy. v17 But on the special day that is coming, no weapon will succeed against you. And you will receive fair judgements in court against every lie. These are my special gifts to the servants of the *Lord.’ The *Lord himself has spoken.
These verses refer to the distant future (see my note on chapters 40 to 66, at the beginning of chapter 40).
The verses describe the repair of *Jerusalem after the *Babylonians had ruined it. The city will be more magnificent than ever before. But there is no reference to the *Temple.
The purpose of the precious stones is to reflect the beauty of the city (see Revelation 21:2 and 21:10-27).
The *Lord will personally provide peace and security for his people. This promise refers both to a military attack and to an attack in words.
The *Lord controls arms and armies.
The *Lord’s invitation
v1 ‘Come, all you who are desperate to drink. Here is water! Come, even if you have no money. Buy grain! You need no money. Eat all that you want. Come, buy wine and milk. It is all free!v2 You spend your money. But you do not get proper food with it. You work hard to earn your wages. But you waste your money on things that give you no satisfaction. Now, listen to me! Obey what I say! Then you will enjoy the best food to eat. You will know complete satisfaction.
v3 Listen to me! Come to me! Obey me! Then you will truly live. And I am ready to make a *covenant with you, like the *covenant that I made with David. It is a *covenant to promise you people my great love and sympathy. And that *covenant will be permanent. It will last for always. v4 Remember also that I appointed David to be a witness to foreign nations. I made him their ruler. v5 See! You too will call nations that you do not yet know. And nations that have not known you, will hurry to you without delay. They will come because the *Lord your God, the Holy God of Israel, has made other nations respect you.’
The word pictures of familiar things to eat and to drink show God’s great care for his people. His free gifts truly satisfy what people need.
The *Lord will repeat the *covenant that he made with David long ago (see 2 Samuel 7:8-12 and Psalm 89:33-37). This time the *covenant will not be with David’s family (see 2 Samuel 7:16), but with the whole nation called Israel.
David’s extraordinary defeat of much greater armies was evidence to the nations of the power of David’s God (see Psalm 18:43-45).
God’s words are powerful
v6 Search for the *Lord while you have the opportunity to find him. Call to him while he is near. v7 Let wicked people give up their bad way of life and their evil plots. Let them return to the *Lord and he will pity them. Return to our God, because he forgives generously.
v8 The *Lord declares, ‘My plans are not your plans. Neither are your ways my ways. v9 As the sky is so much higher than the earth, so my ways are much higher than your ways. My plans are so much higher than your plans. v10 Rain and snow come down from the sky. But they do not go back again before they have watered the ground. That helps the ground to grow corn. And so the ground provides seed for people to sow and bread for them to eat. v11 So it is with the word that I speak. My word will not return to me without any result. My word will perform my plan. It will carry out my purpose.’
God is not a distant God. People can easily reach him. He is close to them. He hears their prayers.
God tells evil people to repent, that is, to stop their wicked practices and plots. And to return to God and to live in his way. Then God will forgive them completely.
God’s plans are totally different in nature from human plans. There is no certainty that human plans will succeed. But there is no doubt that God will carry out his plans perfectly.
God uses ‘sky’ and ‘earth’ as picture words to show how different are God’s actions from human actions.
- The sky is far above the earth. And God’s plans are much more wonderful than any human plan.
God’s kind purposes are for the benefit of all people. That is why he carries out his purposes.
- See Isaiah 40:8 for another passage about the nature and effect of God’s word.
God’s people will have great joy
v12 You are leaving behind your life as slaves and prisoners in a foreign country. This is because you have turned back to God. So he is leading you home to freedom. You are full of joy because of what God has done. The whole of nature about you will share your delight. Mountains and hills will sing. All the trees that you pass on the way home will clap their hands. v13 No more *thorn-bushes! Such plants of little value used to struggle to remain alive in the desert. Instead God will cause beautiful and useful trees to grow richly. This wonderful change will always be evidence of God’s great power and love for you.
The state of the people of God’s relationship with the *Lord also affects all that he has created. The negative effect appeared as early as the events soon after God created the world (see Genesis 3:17-18).
It is not just the people themselves who sing on their journey home. Isaiah describes how mountains, hills and even trees join in. The people now have a right relationship with God. And this fact affects everything that surrounds them.
God’s people will include all nations
v1 (This is what the *Lord says to his people.) ‘Be honest. Be fair. Do what is right. Very soon I am coming to save you. My action will be plain for all to see.
v2 Happy are those people who do not use my holy *Sabbaths for wrong purposes. And happy too are people who avoid all evil actions. v3-4 A foreigner who has joined the *Lord’s people may also *worship the *Lord with his people. So also may a *eunuch who *keeps my holy *Sabbaths. And who pleases me by his life and obeys the instructions in my law. v5 I will give him a name in my *Temple in *Jerusalem. That name will be far greater than the honour of a family that has many sons and daughters. And that name will last for always. It will never disappear.
v6 I am speaking about foreigners who have joined themselves to my special people. These foreigners love the *Lord’s name and they *keep his holy *Sabbaths. They have accepted his *covenant and his promises. v7 I will bring them to my holy mountain in *Jerusalem. And I will fill them with joy in my *Temple where my people pray to me. I will accept their gifts upon my *altar. For that reason my *Temple will be called “The House for Prayer for the benefit of all the nations”.’
v8 This is the message from the *Lord God. He is gathering together his people who were prisoners in a foreign country. ‘I am also adding many other people to their number.’
All will see that the *Lord *keeps his promise to rescue his people.
To be born as a *Jew is to be a member of the *Lord’s *covenant people. But the responsibilities of that membership include the need to obey the *Lord. That is much more important to God than someone’s birth as a *Jew.
The *Sabbath is a new subject in the Book of Isaiah (see Isaiah, chapter 56:2; 56:4; 56:6; also 58:13 and 66:23).
- After the *exile, ‘to keep *Sabbath’ was an important mark of membership in God’s people (see Ezekiel 20:12; 20:20; also Ezekiel 22:26).
In particular, God’s people were not to do any work on the *Sabbath. This copied God’s own decision not to work on the day after he had created the world (see Genesis 2:2 and Exodus 20:8-11).
- The first Christians replaced the *Sabbath (Saturday) by Sunday, the first day of the week. This was to mark the new situation that the *resurrection of Jesus had brought about (see Matthew 28:1, Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2).
Jesus used the word ‘*eunuch’ to describe one who does not marry, so as to be free to serve God (see Matthew 19:12).
- Isaiah 54:1-3 contains a similar promise for women without children. Men and women do not need to have families in order to receive a relationship with God. and that relationship with God will satisfy completely.
- This promise for *eunuchs was very special. Under the laws of Moses, a *eunuch could not join God’s people during public *worship (Deuteronomy 23:1). And a *eunuch could not enter the *Temple area. But now, God promises a new relationship with people. Because of that new relationship, foreigners may join the *Lord’s people. And, because of that relationship, a *eunuch too can know a complete relationship with God.
The *Jews considered that to have a large family was a sign of God’s pleasure (see Psalm 127:3-5).
- In the original language, the word ‘honour’ here translates the very common word for ‘open hand’. This meaning suggests that God gives generously and without limit as the reward for people’s trust.
- The word ‘name’ here means a great honour.
Jesus refers to the *Temple as the ‘House for Prayer for all nations’ (see Mark 11:17).
Israel’s leaders are guilty
v9 Some other people are also coming from foreign countries. And they are coming like wild animals from the forest that are hungry for food. The *Lord says to them, ‘Come and eat! v10The *look-outs for my people are neglecting their duty. They are acting as if they were blind. They are like dumb dogs that cannot bark. They only want to lie down and to dream. They love to sleep. v11 They are like greedy dogs that never have enough. They ought to be *shepherds to look after God’s people, as a *shepherd looks after his sheep. They do not understand their responsibilities. They all do as they wish. Each man looks after his own affairs. v12 “Come,” they say, “let us have a party with lots of wine. Let us fill ourselves with strong drink until we are all drunks. And tomorrow we can do it again. We will really enjoy ourselves!” ’
God has invited the foreigners to ‘eat’ Israel’s leaders. In the *Old Testament, ‘eat’ is often a picture word to mean ‘destroy’ or ‘kill’.
Israel’s leaders do not lead. They are unable to see what is happening in society. The leaders are like dogs that are too lazy to bark in order to warn their owners of trouble.
Rulers were often called ‘*shepherds’, because it was their duty to take care of their people (see 2 Samuel 24:17; 1 Kings 22:17; Ezekiel 34:2)
God’s loyal people may suffer
v1 Sometimes good people die young. So do some holy people. Nobody cares about them. And nobody stops to think why they die early. The reason is that God is saving them from evil days in the future. God knows that those days are coming. v2 So good people who die early will be able to rest quietly.
Josiah, king of Judah, is one example (see 2 Kings 22:19-20). See also 1 Kings 14:12-13 and 1 Corinthians 10:13.
Wicked behaviour brings punishment
v3 ‘But you evil people, listen! You have *broken your serious promise to respect and to serve the *Lord. No, you prefer *idols that you yourselves have created. They make no demands upon you to live the good life that pleases the *Lord. You do whatever you like, without fear of painful results. v4 You do not realise that you are laughing at the *Lord. It is the real and only God that you are insulting. You prefer *idols. To trust gods like that is to believe lies. v5 You love to *worship the local gods where you are living. Their religion allows you to have sex with anybody that you choose, beneath the shade of green trees. And to satisfy another local god (called Molech), you kill your children as human *sacrifices, down in the valleys and under rocky slopes.
v6 Water in the river has shaped some stones like living figures. They look so real that you people from Israel have chosen them to be your gods, in place of the *Lord. You have poured wine on them and you have brought them gifts of corn. Such acts bring me no pleasure. v7 You have offered *sacrifices to your *idols on the tops of mountains. It is as if you have made your bed there. You are giving your love to *idols. And so you are not giving your love to me, although I am your *rightful *Lord. v8 You are guilty of the same wicked behaviour at home. You have set up your *idols behind the doors. So, even in private, you are giving your love to false gods. Instead of giving your love to me, although I am your *rightful *Lord. Yes, you opened wide the sheets on your bed. There, you had sex with those whom you loved. And you saw their naked bodies.
v9 You make yourselves attractive with pleasant oils to go to *worship the god called Molech. To find more gods to *worship, you send *messengers to distant places. You even ask for advice from *Sheol. You will do anything and you will go anywhere to avoid the demands of the holy *Lord God. v10 Many journeys make you tired. But you will not give up. And you find new strength to carry on your efforts.
v11 You must have been very afraid of someone or something. Perhaps that is why you were not loyal to me, your *rightful *Lord. You did not remember how I saved you in the past. In fact, you did not even think about me. Perhaps it is because I have been too gentle with you. So you have no fear of me. v12 You think that your deeds are right. But I will show that your behaviour has no value whatever. Your deeds will not benefit you. v13 Your *idols will not be able to save you when you are in trouble. The wind will carry off every one of those *idols. Even a light wind is enough to blow them away. How sad! But the person who really trusts me will take possession of the land. And I will give him my holy hill.’
*Canaanite religion often involved certain green trees as places to *worship the local gods (see Hosea 4:12-13). Because the trees were growing strongly, they must be full of life. So people began to think that to *worship a green tree was to share in its life. Such *worship provided an easy excuse for people to have plenty of sex among themselves. It was a part of their religion!
- The Bible often uses this behaviour as picture language for the *worship of false gods. Because of this sex, people were not loyal to their husbands and wives. Instead they gave themselves to other people. That behaviour was wicked. Their *worship of false gods was like that for several reasons. The people should have loved the *Lord God. But they were not loyal to him. Instead they gave themselves to false gods. This behaviour was also wicked. So the *Lord was like a husband whose wife left him to be with another man (Hosea 1:2).
- The *Canaanite god called Molech demanded child *sacrifice. Molech was among the many gods that Solomon collected (see 1 Kings 11:7; see also Acts 7:43). Josiah forbade such *worship (see 2 Kings 23:10).
- Long ago, the *Lord had forbidden the *worship of *idols (see Exodus 20:4). People must *worship only the *Lord (see Exodus 20:3).
Such stones seem special. So people began to *worship them as local gods. People could look at a stone god. They thought that such gods were attractive. They preferred these stone gods instead of the *Lord God. Nobody has ever been able to see him! (see John 1:18).
This is not an actual bed on the top of a mountain. The expression is a picture word for the wicked practice of sex with anybody that you choose.
Whether sex takes place in public or inside, it makes no difference. People cannot hide their evil activity from God.
People’s efforts to satisfy their desire for sex for the wrong reasons will always fail.
For Isaiah’s opinion about people who are foolish enough to love *idols, see Isaiah 44:9-20.
God helps those who trust him
v14 The *Lord gives the command: ‘Repair the road! Remove the rocks and stones! Prepare the way for my people’s return from foreign countries.’ v15 The high and holy God, who lives for always, says this: ‘I live in the high and holy place where those with humble spirits also have a home. I will fill their hearts with courage and with new hope for the future. v16 I will not always accuse nor continue to be angry. Otherwise people could not remain alive. But these are the people to whom I gave life! v17 I was angry with them because of their evil behaviour and greedy practices. So I punished them. Then I left them totally. But still they continued to follow their own desires.
v18 I have seen how they have been living. But I am ready to cure them. I will lead them and I will help them. And I will comfort those among my people who are sorry for their behaviour. v19I offer them the opportunity to have a calm and quiet heart. It is for all who are near. And it is for all who are far away. I will cure them. v20 But this is not for those who decide to continue their wicked behaviour. Such people are like the angry (strong) waves of the sea that continuously stir up rubbish and dirt.’ v21 The *Lord declares that a quiet heart will never be theirs.
Here ‘way’ is a picture word, to mean ‘people’s way (manner) of life’. Rocks and stones may cause a person to trip and to fall on a journey. The *Lord orders their removal. These ‘rocks and stones’ mean anything that would spoil a person’s relationship with the *Lord. In particular, this means the complete removal of *idol *worship, because this turns people away from the *Lord (see Ezekiel 3:20 and 7:19-20).
- *Exiles who were returning home from Babylon would have seen a great deal of *idol *worship there.
There is no room in heaven for proud people. Courage and certain hope are God’s free gifts. People cannot earn them.
The people’s punishment was to become *exiles in Babylon, far away from their own land.
People must choose whether to put their complete trust in the *Lord, or to continue to follow their own desires. But people will never know real satisfaction if they do not put their complete trust in the *Lord.
AD ~ years after the birth of Christ.
altar ~ special stone on which priests burned animals as gifts to God (or, to a false god).
appearance ~ what other people see when they look at a person.
Assyrian ~ a person from the country called Assyria, or anything that has a relationship with the country called Assyria.
Babylonian ~ a person from the country called Babylon; or anything that has a relationship with the country called Babylon.
BC ~ ‘Before Christ’ (for dates before the birth of Jesus Christ).
bless ~ to do good things for a person.
borne ~ given birth to.
break ~ not to obey a law; not to perform a promise.
Canaan ~ original name of the land that God gave to his people.
Canaanite ~ anything that has a relationship with the land called *Canaan.
covenant ~ special personal agreement that the *Lord made with Israel (see Exodus chapter 24).
descendant ~ a later member of an earlier family.
Egyptian ~ a person of the country called Egypt, or anything that has a relationship with the country called Egypt.
eunuch ~ man who is unable to be a father.
exile ~ someone that an enemy takes away to a foreign country.
glory ~ the splendid beauty and wonderful light of God’s most holy character.
guilt ~ the fact that a person is responsible for evil deeds; the state of a person who deserves punishment for evil deeds.
idol ~ home-made image of a god.
Israelites ~ *Jews; people who belong to the 12 *tribes of Israel.
Jerusalem ~ at the time of David and Solomon, the capital of the country called Israel. During the time of Isaiah, Jerusalem was the capital of the country called Judah.
Jews ~ people who belong to the countries called Judah and Israel; people who belong to the 12 *tribes of Israel.
Jewish ~ anything that has a relationship with the people called *Jews or *Israelites.
keep ~ to obey a law; to perform a promise.
look-out ~ someone whose job is to watch for danger; the place where that person waits whilst on duty.
Lord ~ God’s name in the Bible; in the original language, it means ‘head over all’ and ‘God always’.
messenger ~ a person who carries a message on behalf of the sender.
Messiah ~ *Old Testament title for Christ.
New Testament ~ the final part of the Bible. It contains 27 books from the time of the first Christians.
Old Testament ~ the first part of the Bible. It contains 39 books, all from before Jesus was born.
prophet ~ a person that God appoints to speak on his behalf.
refugees ~ people who have had to leave their homes, especially during a war.
resurrection ~ when a dead body becomes alive again.
rightful ~ a word that emphasises the rank or authority that someone ought to have.
Sabbath ~ the seventh day of the week, when people were to rest from work (see Exodus 20:8-11).
sackcloth ~ dress of rough material that people wore to show that they were very sad.
sacrifice ~ to offer a gift of value to God (or, to a false god).
seize ~ to take a person as a prisoner or a slave.
Sheol ~ the place where *Jews thought that dead people went.
shepherd ~ someone who looks after sheep.
sight ~ opinion.
sin ~ behaviour that *breaks God’s laws; not to obey God.
Temple ~ special building in *Jerusalem where *Jews praised God and offered him prayers and gifts.
thorn-bush ~ bush with sharp points.
tribe ~ group of the later family of one father.
worship ~ to praise God (or a false god) and to pray to him.
© 2007 Wycliffe Associates (UK)
This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).
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