Isaiah 51 Listen, Awake
(51-53 will also go together)
Isaiah 51 starts with the words “Listen to me.” There is a call for attention. Something important is about to be said and the message is to the children of Abraham who have a responsibility to fulfill their covenant oaths of bringing God’s covenant loyalty into the whole world. Verses 1-3 are a reminder for the people of Israel to pay attention, listen, there is comfort coming. God hasn’t abandoned his people. The remnant remains.
Verses 4-6 repeat the words “Listen to me.” God’s instruction for salvation and righteousness is about to come forth. That is prophecy, by the way. We often think of prophecy as foretelling. Often it is. But prophecy is always forth telling. It is when the word of God comes into the world through the vessel of His choosing. Pay attention because the Lord is about to speak, through Isaiah, words of hope for a world that needs to be saved. That salvation will come to the world through the children of Abraham, and particularly through the remnant in the form of a servant. There is a really interesting imagery happening here too. When it says lift up your eyes to the heavens the perspective changes. It is like God is saying take your eyes from their limited place on earth and look from heaven at what I am doing. I get the image in my imagination of being able to take my eyes from my head and lifting them into heaven so I can look at what is happening from where God sees it. That’s the only way to see that God’s salvation lasts forever and that His plans are unfailing.
Verses 7-8 changes the way he asks us to pay attention. The words are not listen to me, but hear me. Shimu or “Shama” is the word. Sim’u elay. This would remind any Israelite of Deuteronomy 6 Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Shema Israel. What is the instruction that they have taken to heart? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” The remnant are people who love God and practice Shema. It is because of the love of God that his salvation and righteousness lasts forever (bound by blood covenant which will be important to think about as we move forward.)
51:1-52:12 Awake Awake and the Arm of the Lord are two connected themes in Isaiah
51-53. The word “Awake, awake” show up in 51:9,17, and 52:1. What is being called upon to awaken? There is a direct connection to awakening and the arm of the Lord which first shows up in 51:5.
Verses 9 – 11 expands on the arm of the Lord. In 51:5 The Arm of the Lord is connected to God’s justice and righteousness. Here in verse 9 the arm of the Lord is to “clothe yourself with strength.” The arm of the Lord isn’t an arm. It is a person. It is the servant. The dichotomy of the servant begins here because the arm of the Lord is clothed in strength, but we will soon see that the servant will suffer and die. The strength of the Lord isn’t like the strength of mortals. He is making a love relationship that lasts beyond death. Think about why Jesus had to rise from the dead. You can’t be in a blood covenant relationship with someone who is dead. The servant will show strength far beyond what we expect. Yes, he will be mighty like in the old days. But that is nothing compared to how he will show true might in his life, death, and resurrection and in the end of days.
Verses 12-16 clue us in that we always under-imagine God’s power. I think it was CS Lewis who said (I paraphrase) that our problem isn’t that we’re too imaginative, but that we aren’t imaginative enough. We always try to dictate God’s limits to Him. He has to remind us that He has no limits and that we can trust Him for life and salvation.
Verses 17 – 23 reprises “Awake, awake.” This time Jerusalem, which earlier in Isaiah had a problem with drunkenness, isn’t being called upon to wake up from a binge. It is exhausted from the judgments that have been poured out upon it. Jerusalem had to drink from the cup in God’s hand, but it wasn’t alcohol (which was a symptom of their sinfulness and pride). It was the judgment that they couldn’t avoid. Now, God promises to remove that cup from them and give it to their enemies.