Isaiah 52: "Wake up!"
Chapter 52 seems to be one of those disjointed chapters that jumps from age to age. Even with the help of a plethora of commentaries I had a hard time deciphering it. It helps for me to imagine that I am Isaiah standing in the middle of Babylon, shouting back in time to those not yet on their way.
That helps a little. But it doesn’t make it much easier for me to explain what I’ve learned. So hang with me. Imagine each set of verses as a puzzle piece, and at the end, they should fit together.
Back in 51:9, Isaiah prophesied that God’s people would cry out to Him, “Wake up and do what You've done before—deliver us!” In 51:17, Isaiah said, “Wake up, people! God is through chastising you; never again will you suffer His wrath.” And now, in chapter 52, he says, “Wake up, Zion. Get ready to be redeemed.”
Awake, awake, Zion, clothe yourself with strength! Put on your garments of splendor, Jerusalem, the holy city.
It’s time, he says, to show your true identity to a world that’s watching.
While studying, I found out that although my translation of verse 1 uses the words “clothe” and “put on,” Isaiah used the same Hebrew word for both. And here’s the cool part: it means “be who you really are.” Seriously.
So who is she?
She’s like a bride awakened on her wedding day, putting on her beautiful dress—that garment of splendor— to go and meet her man. The marriage covenant is all drawn up; the bills for the ring and the party have been paid. Now all that’s left for her to do is to walk down the aisle and say “yes.”
She’s like Aaron out in the wilderness, with clothes displaying the LORD’s beauty and honor. Going into the tabernacle he would put them on; coming out he would take them off. Exodus 28:36 says his garments made him “Holy to the Lord.” Holiness wasn’t a part of Aaron’s character (think “golden calf”) but in the clothes he wore.
So according to verse one, when Zion dresses herself in the LORD’s strength and splendor, she will no longer be a bunch of washed-up evacuees, but “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6)
No more mixture, no more compromise. Only those in covenant with the LORD will be allowed to enter the holy city. Jerusalem will be a place of purity, and His people will save themselves for him. (verse 11)
But there are things to be done before those garments can be donned.
Like: Wake up!!
God is done doing the shaking; it’s time for them to shake themselves.
“Shake off your dust;
rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem.
Free yourself from the chains on your neck,
Daughter Zion, now a captive.“ (verse 2)
Stop being passive! Take your place!
Now here’s where things get foggy (for me, anyway).
The LORD says, “You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed.” (verse 3)
If the children of Israel were sold for nothing, they must have been given away. But if they are to be redeemed without money, there must be something that will buy them back. Because redemption isn’t free.
So the question becomes, “with what, then?” and we’ll get back to that.
In the meantime, the LORD gives them a one-verse history lesson: He reminds them that when the children of Israel went to Egypt for food, they ended up as slaves. The Egyptians paid nothing for them.
When the king of Assyria demanded tribute and King Hezekiah said no, he came in with his troops and locked down the city. “Chastened, Hezekiah rushed to appease the Assyrian king. He ransacked the Temple to come up with a ransom and gave Sennacherib “all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord” (II Kings18:15). But Sennacherib wasn’t interested in money; he wanted Jerusalem itself.” -- www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/isaiah-prophet-counselor-saved-temple
Hezekiah’s treasure bought him nothing but a little bit of time.
And now, speaking from their future, the LORD asks, “What do I have here?”
The Babylonians are on the way. God’s people will be captive again.
“For my people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock,” declares the Lord. “And all day long my name is constantly blasphemed.”
Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon had all scoffed at God as a god who failed to keep His people from bondage. Yet when Egypt scoffed, God sent Moses (Exodus 3:10). When Assyria scoffed, God sent an angel (2 Kings 19:35). And when Babylon scoffed, God sent Cyrus (2 Chronicles 36:22).
But after Cyrus sent them home there came the Greeks and the Romans and the Arabs and the Crusaders, etc., etc., etc., and it seems Israel has never recovered. Yes, they have a piece of land, and yes, they have a name. They have a flag and a prime minister and a seat in the United Nations. But they don’t have a temple and they don’t have peace. All the things God has promised them seem to equate to nothing. So what was the purpose of it all?
“Therefore my people will know my name; therefore in that day they will know that it is I who foretold it. Yes, it is I.” It’s quite a leap from 5 to 6, but they are connected by the word “therefore.” Meaning, it is for that very reason—because Israel’s enemies will carry them away and blaspheme the name of their God—that His people will know who He is.
“Two things move the Lord…the misery of his people and the honour of His name.” Motyer, J. Alec, The Prophecy of Isaiah, pg. 418, InterVarsity Press.
Even though God called the Pharoah and Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar and others as tools to show His people His power, there is a time, He says, when His enemies will become “like a street to be walked on” (Isaiah 51:23) and He will have the last laugh (Psalm 2:4-6).
And in the meantime? Without money, Zion will be redeemed.
In times of war, messengers would run from the battle back home to tell their comrades how the battle was going (ex. 2 Samuel 18:24-26) and then the watchmen on the walls would relay the message to the rest of the city. Here is the message Zion’s end-time messengers will bring: “Your God reigns!” (verse 7)
The war has ended; righteousness has won. Cheers! Rejoicing! Celebration! But then something much greater than the bearer of good news appears: the King Himself is coming! The watchmen go crazy! They have not only the word of the one who ran ahead; they see the King with their own eyes; they see clearly who He is (verse 8). Now it’s time for those down in the bunkers, hiding behind the broken-down walls, to break out in singing: “The Lord has comforted his people; he had redeemed Jerusalem.” (verse 9)
The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God. (verse 10)
The only way to see the salvation of our God is to see what He has saved. So what will the nations see?
This time, they won’t see God’s people marched away from their homeland, but marching into the holy city, escorted by their God. (verse 12)
And in the meantime?
A savior will come to set them free, but not according to the wisdom of man. He will be lifted up, not with cries of exaltation, but on a cross for all to see. Beaten, disfigured, by all appearances, defeated. And then, delivered over to death. Yet, the prophet says, this is wisdom (verses 13-14). Because when all has been accomplished, he will rise in the power of the Spirit, ascend to the side of His father, and be exalted as the redeemer of Zion.
And so, the people of God will be redeemed without money, but at the price of the blood of Jesus.
Finally, verse 15 says he will “sprinkle many nations.” What does that mean???
Way back when, way out in the wilderness, when Moses came down from the mountain with the words of God, the children of Israel agreed, “Everything the LORD has said, we will do.” Moses took the blood of young bulls, sprinkled it on them and said, “This is the blood of the covenant the LORD has made with you.” (Exodus 24:7)
Over and over, year after year, the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer were sprinkled on them so they could remain His covenant people.
When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. (Hebrews 9:6-7)
Year after year, century after century.
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:11-14)
A one-man sacrifice for all of mankind? A one-time death for eternal life? This wisdom goes beyond the wisdom of man! Kings will be left speechless by it.
For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand. (verse 15)
And what, exactly, is that?
The apostle Paul knew.
I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” (Romans 15:20-21)
The apostle Peter knew, and he told us.
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18-19)
So now we know what the kings will know someday. When will they know it? We don’t know; verse 15 is one of those verses that is taking millennia to fulfill.
And in the meantime?
Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)
If that alone is what I learn, all of my studies will be worth it.