Isaiah 51-55:–seeing the overall picture as we stitch together the fabric of individual chapters
As we consider these later chapters of the book of Isaiah, which together picture God’s promised deliverance and the saving of His believing people centered in the figure of the coming Savior or Messiah, we need to remember that when the Bible was originally written it was not done so in its present chapter form. Such divisions were added later, and they can, if we aren’t careful; serve rather to somewhat disconnect our overall understanding of the text; which I think is the case here, instead of being beneficial to the understanding of the text. So let’s try and see the overall picture as we stitch together the fabric of the individual chapters.
This first chapter, Isaiah 51, serves to set the stage for those to follow. It is as the first sounding notes of a great symphony; a symphony of God’s making. God, the Father, is setting the stage, setting the mood for what is to come. Here we find Him making three astounding declarations: 1. His salvation is near 2. This salvation, deliverance, and victory will last forever 3. As a result, those redeemed will receive everlasting joy. Let’s look at these declarations very briefly; as taken together they constitute quite a claim:
My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth…– Isaiah 51:5
But the deliverance I bring will last forever; my victory will endure for all time.” –Isaiah 51:8
Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.—Isaiah 51:11
In the following chapter; Isaiah 52, the Lord begins by picturing his people as in a captive state; as slaves, but as slaves of their own making.– And just so, sin enslaves the sinner, nothing is gained from sin, save its bondage. He repeats this imagery twice, ultimately declaring that these slaves would be freed.
Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion.
For thus saith the Lord, Ye have sold yourselves for nought; and ye shall be redeemed without money.
Now therefore, what have I here, saith the Lord, that my people is taken away for nought? they that rule over them make them to howl, saith the Lord; and my name continually every day is blasphemed.
Therefore my people shall know my name (Isaiah 52: 2, 3, 5 & 6)
And then he begins to describe the means by which He plans to fulfill the things He is declaring when he proclaims:
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth (Isaiah 52:7)
And from this succinct mention of the future gospel of peace, of good tidings, of published salvation, and just prior to the tragic figure of the Suffering Messiah, described famously and elegantly in Isaiah 53, He gives us the first direct picture of His coming Messiah:
Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.
As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men: (Isaiah 52: 13, 14)
We now come to Isaiah chapter 53, famously referred to as ‘The Suffering Messiah’, which, I think you’ll agree is one remarkable text. It is amazing to me the form and manner in which this text is recorded and I think the best way to grasp it is by first of all simply reading the chapter completely through. Notice that the 1st part of the chapter (vs. 1-9) is written as if we (God’s people) are speaking the text. Then in verses 10-12 the text switches to God as the speaker, explaining why He allowed His Messiah to suffer such an ordeal.
I get the impression that the Holy Spirit inspired the prophet Isaiah to record it in this manner so as to make it easier for the reader (us) to identify with its message, to make it easier for each to put him or herself in the place of the speaker and to ‘own up’, in a sense, to the crime, own up to the sin.
Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
So states Isaiah 53:10; which is as the intersecting of God and human will. The first part of the verse sounds as if it could be spoken by either God or us, ‘Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief’, but then the second part of the verse, ‘when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin…’ is definitely the Lord speaking to us. It’s indicative of what the Lord has accomplished through Christ. And as God and His people speak and declare it in unison, it is the great intersection of God and humanity (The Cross) portrayed so perfectly in just this one verse.
And by the time we come to Isaiah chapter 24, the sacrifice, suffering, and atonement of Christ has been accomplished, prophetically speaking. The promised victory for all of mankind has been won. Now the Spirit breaks forth in text with the exhilaration of this victory. The chapter begins:
Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child (Isaiah 54:1)
This joyous beginning verse is accompanied throughout the rest of the chapter by a profusion of powerful and victorious active verbs: enlarge, stretch forth, spare not, lengthen, strengthen, break forth, etc.; all denoting, adding to, the triumphant note of victory.
Isaiah chapter 55 continues in this same triumphant tone. Now that salvation has been accomplished on the cross; prophetically speaking, the Lord can freely and openly proclaim His mercy and He does so here to ‘all’ people: You can almost taste the refreshment of the waters.
Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. (Isaiah 55:1-3)
Here is God extending mercy to all people. The Holy Spirit is bubbling over with enthusiasm of the prophesied portrayal of the accomplished event. Previously such mercy had been foretold, foreshadowed and alluded to, now; at least in this prophetic vision of accomplishment, all is complete and the Spirit blazes forth in such a powerful message of freedom and love.
Notice in the text when it’s declared, ‘hear and your soul shall live’; what an incredible declaration this is. All we have to do is open up and receive, believe. And just as God swore unto David His sure mercies, He now extends those same sure mercies to whoever will hear and receive.
Got the picture? If not, pray and ask God to help you see what He so exuberantly is revealing to you.