By Sam E. Stone
John N. Oswalt emphasized the significance of this prophecy: “The tone of anticipation becomes more intense as God calls on Jerusalem to do the very opposite of what Babylon was required to do in chapter 47. Jerusalem is to go ‘put on your garments of splendor,’ ‘shake off your dust,’ and ‘sit enthroned.’” Not only Judah but the entire Gentile world would have occasion to rejoice!
In this series of “Servant Songs” (42–53), the prophet confirms God’s plan for the redemption of the nations. Today’s text provides an ideal lead-in to chapter 53 with its memorable picture of Jesus as the “Suffering Servant.” The term servant is also applied to Israel as a nation elsewhere (41:8, 9). It is through the suffering of the servant that salvation in its fullest sense is achieved—Christ delivered people from the prison of sin (52:13–53:12).
Isaiah 52:1, 2
The opening words of chapter 52 provide a striking contrast, noted James Burton Coffman. “This encouragement for Jerusalem was evidently designed to contrast with Isaiah 47:1-3, where Babylon is commanded to sit in the dust, without a throne, with all of her fine clothing removed, and doing the work of a slave; but here Zion is commanded to awake and put on beautiful garments, and sit on a throne.”
Other Bible scholars point out that our text represents the climax of God’s promises not to allow his people to remain alienated from himself. God will solve not merely physical captivity with the coming of his Servant; God will also fulfill the original mandate, making his people a holy nation to God (Exodus 19:5, 6). Zion will have new clothing that will become her strength. She will finally discard her habitual life of sin and idolatry. Once again Jerusalem will be “the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City” (Isaiah 1:26).
Isaiah returns to the theme of comfort from his earlier message (40:1-11). Here the prophet uses an effective illustration—the swift approach of a messenger bringing good news to the city. Many times in Israel’s history the people waited with anxiety and impatience for news from the field of battle. (A typical scene is recorded in 2 Samuel 18:25-27.) The herald’s responsibility was to announce the coming of the king. The apostle Paul quoted this passage in Romans 10:15, speaking of those who take the good news of the gospel to a waiting world (compare also Ephesians 6:15).
The heart of the message was, Your God reigns! (see also Psalm 93:1; 96:10; 97:1). God was returning as king to Zion (Jerusalem). Salvation was now complete. Significantly all nations would see this great event, and many would join in this time of rejoicing. John Oswalt noted, “The early Christians understood that their message about Jesus Christ was the ultimate ‘good news’ and they realized that the good news referred to in such Old Testament passages as this one found their ultimate meaning in Christ.”
Before people can appreciate fully the good news, they must understand clearly what is the bad news. Only those who recognize their sins and repent of them are assured of God’s forgiveness. John Wesley used to tell young preachers, “Preach the Law until they are convicted, then preach Grace until they are converted.”
Isaiah 52:11, 12
If Israel was to be a holy nation, the people were to touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure. James Coffman concluded, “The exhortation here was addressed to the Jews of 537 BC who were challenged to leave the prosperity they enjoyed, and the property they had acquired, and to choose instead a life of pioneering hardship in a return to Jerusalem, over a trackless desert, and confronted with all kinds of dangers.” The safety and purity of their souls depended upon their fleeing.
Christians today must be reminded that we have a similar responsibility (2 Corinthians 6:3-10). The “Suffering Servant” has paid the price for our sins. His punishment brings us peace (Isaiah 53:5). Now, freed from bondage, we must live for him!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.