Everlasting salvation for Zion. 51:1-16
There are two parts to the passage before us: first, a poem of comfort, v1-8; and second, a promise of salvation, v9-16. A powerful enemy has overwhelmed God's people and they are filled with fear, yet, the message of the Lord is, "fear not." The Lord has acted with a mighty hand in the past to redeem his people and he will act this way again.
v1-8. A word to the elect people of God. This poem has three parts to it, each part introduced by the phrase, "listen to me." The Lord addresses his people: they are the faithful remnant "who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord"; they are "my people, my nation"; and they are those "who know what is right." To this people, who are broken by the enemy, the Lord gives three words.
i] Look to the past and observe how the Lord has blessed Abraham and made him a great Nation. The Lord is about to bless his people again and make them great, make them a wonder.
ii] Look about and observe. All is about to fade away; the day of salvation will soon dawn.
iii] Look into yourselves. Within the people of Israel there is a knowledge of God and of his will, but also a fear of the endless rush of circumstance. The troubles of this age are about to become dust in the face of an eternal salvation. So, where is the ground for fear?
v9-16. The cry of the elect is answered. This is the first of three poems which begin with "Awake, Awake", 51:9, 51:17, 52:1:
i] Awake O Lord, v9-11. The poem starts with an appeal to God; may he aid his people as he has done in the past. It was the Lord who broke Rahab (Possibly a reference to Egypt and Pharaoh, 30:1) and brought the people through the Reed sea. The address to God concludes with a statement of faith expressing a sure hope that the Lord will act on behalf of his people, that the kingdom will be restored and his broken people will enter it and share its eternal blessings.
ii] God now answers their cry for help, v12-16. "I am he who comforts you." There is no need to fear mere men who are like the grass. To fear man is to forget who God is. The oppressor cannot stand in the presence of the Lord. Salvation is near and the release of all God's people, bound and oppressed, is at hand. This can be depended on, for the Lord God is The Lord of Hosts - the almighty (15b, possibly "his name" rather than "my name"). The Lord controls the raging sea, he has given his people a word to be trusted, he has blessed his people, he is the creator of the Universe and the people of Zion are his people. The Lord can be trusted to save his people.
1. Isaiah 51:11 was once a popular scripture in song chorus. Who proclaims these words? Why? What do they mean?
2. In Isaiah 51:12-16, the Lord reveals what he is about to do for his broken people. Can you line up any of the images given in this passage with the ministry of Jesus? When Jesus fulfills something that is foretold in the Old Testament, what conclusion should we draw from it? cf. Luke.11:20.
3. Obviously, fear had become the master of the elect, vs.7,13-14. How does this passage serve to drive away fear? Is there an application in the passage for your own church?
In the parable of the Soils, Jesus spoke of the shallow soil where the seed grew for a time, but withered in the fullness of the sun. Such is like the person who receives the gospel with joy, but faced with trouble and persecution, quickly falls away.
We all face the daily grind of the Christian life. We dream of perfection, but our daily life is far from perfect. The struggle is primarily a spiritual one. Sure, we all get our fair share of the rough and tumble of circumstance, but in the end, the lot of most of us is luxurious compared to people in third world countries. No, it is the spiritual struggle that most affects us.
There is a sense where we can sit with Israel and view the demise of the kingdom. When we look at ourselves, we see that Christ does not reign in our lives. When it comes to our daily life, his kingdom is in ruins; fear seems to reign. So, on all matters of faith we compromise. We give reign to our personal desires for we are too afraid to give reign to the will of our Lord. When we look at our Christian community, we see that imperfection reigns here as well. Limited commitment to one another, status games ... all imply the ruin of the kingdom rather than the restoration of the building. Then, when we look at the world about us, we see little evidence of the reign of Christ. The power of organized society seems to daunt the little flock.
God's message to Israel was simple enough. They were not to focus on the "reproach of men". "Who are you to fear mortal men?" "Where is the wrath of the oppressor?" In the face of the living God, all that we see about us will be eaten up as a moth eats up a garment. In the day when it is no more, when "the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment", in that day, "the Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins." In that day, the Lord, who "laid the foundations of the earth", "who churns up the sea so that its waves roar", he will say to us, "you are my people."
We need to take on the perspective of the elect, 51:9-11. Faced with ruin, the people of Israel called on their mighty Lord to vindicate them. Then, having done that, they rejoiced in the hope of the coming kingdom. "The ransomed of the Lord will return; they will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads; gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away."
A recognition of the imperfection of the present moment need not lead to fear and falling away. Let us turn our eyes to Jesus - to the one who has brought us through the "depths of the sea" into the presence of the living God.
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