Isaiah 51:1-16 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. What is Zion’s present condition, but what does the Lord promise He will do for Zion (see verse 3 printed below?) Note: Zion is here a reference to the city of Jerusalem and the whole land of Israel.

Jehovah will comfort Zion, he will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her wilderness like Eden and her desert like the garden of Jehovah. Joy and gladness shall be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing. (Isaiah 51:3)

The city of Zion (Jerusalem) lies in ruins and the land of Israel has been reduced to an almost uninhabited wilderness. Isaiah here is envisioning the condition of the land of Israel at the time when God’s people were taken away into the Babylonian exile. Isaiah then looks beyond that ordeal to the time of their deliverance and restoration to the Promised Land, the time when the Lord will comfort Zion and restore her. Note: Isaiah views that restoration from the Babylonian captivity as a type, or living model, of the final restoration of the redeemed to the Lord in a renewed creation, the full and final manifestation of the kingdom of God, the ultimate Zion. Note, also, that the things God will do for Zion (His dwelling place and that of His people) are expressed in the past tense as accomplished facts, thereby expressing the certainty of God’s covenant faithfulness to His people.

2. The Lord addresses His people as they find themselves to be the terrified captives of Babylon. What does He instruct them to do (see verses 1-2 printed below?) Note: Isaiah 51 looks into the future, from Isaiah’s perspective, to the time when the people of God found themselves in the Babylonian exile.

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek Jehovah. Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn. (2) Look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When he was only a single individual I called him; I blessed him and caused him to multiply. (Isaiah 51:1-2)

These Old Testament people of God are instructed to look back to their physical and spiritual forefather, Abraham (verses 1b-2a). They are to consider their spiritual forefather in order that they may renew their confidence in the Lord, being reminded of His faithfulness and power (verse 2b). They are being reminded of the fact that the Lord protected Abraham, preserved him, provided for him, and fulfilled His promises to him. Just as the Lord watched over Abraham and fulfilled His promises to him, so shall the Lord do the same for Abraham’s spiritual descendants—those who, like Abraham, pursue righteousness and seek Jehovah (verse 1a).

3. How are God’s people described in verse 7 (printed below) and what is happening to them?

Listen to me, you who are acquainted with righteousness—the people who have my law in their heart: Do not fear the reproach of men, nor be alarmed by their reviling (Isaiah 51:7)

In verse 7 the Lord is again addressing those who “are acquainted with righteousness—the people who have my law in their heart.” Here is true conversion to Christ, characterized by a deep affinity with and affection for the righteousness of God. This affinity with Christ and His righteousness causes them to encounter “reproach” (scorn and censure) and “reviling” (verbal abuse) at the hands of sinful men. This in turn tempts them to become fearful and dismayed—to experience a loss of ability to carry on because of terror or anxiety or great perplexity. But the Lord’s counsel and command is: “Do not fear the reproach of men, nor be alarmed by their reviling.”

4. Of what two things does the Lord remind His faithful people who find themselves attacked by the world? See verse 8 (printed below)

…they will become like a moth-eaten garment and the worm will devour them like wool. But my righteousness shall last forever and my salvation shall remain through all generations. (Isaiah 51:8)

In verse 8 the Lord reminds us that, on the one hand, we are not to overestimate the forces aligned against us, for we are told that “they will become like a moth-eaten garment and the worm will devour them like wool”—that is to say, they shall disintegrate before the presence and the power of Almighty God, they cannot survive to perpetuate their evil against us. On the other hand, we must not forget the everlasting righteousness of the Lord our God: a righteousness that shall prevail against evil, a righteousness that shall uphold us in the face of evil and cause us to prevail—in His righteousness the Lord shall not forsake us, He will cause us to share in His eternal salvation.

5. On behalf of all God’s people, how does Isaiah respond to the Lord’s words recorded in verse 8? See verse 9-11 (printed below)

Awake, awake! Clothe yourself with strength, O arm of Jehovah! Awake, as you did in days gone by, as you did in the generations of long ago. Was it not you who chopped Rahab to pieces? Was it not you who thrust through that monster with a sword? (10) Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep? Was it not you who turned the depths of the sea into a roadway so that the redeemed could pass through it? (11) Those who have been ransomed by Jehovah will return; they will enter Zion with singing, and everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them; sorrow and sighing will flee away. (Isaiah 51:9-11)

Being reminded of the promise of the Lord, Isaiah is encouraged to call upon the Lord in prayer, exhorting the Lord to fulfill all that He has spoken: “Awake, awake! Clothe yourself with strength, O arm of Jehovah!” (verse 9a) Isaiah now proceeds to remind the Lord of His past works of power and grace on behalf of His people (verses 9b-10): Egypt had shown itself to be an insolent, arrogant nation (“Rahab”), a great demonic monster; but the Lord slew that monster and cut it into pieces (verse 9b). The Lord demonstrated Himself fully capable of removing the obstacles that stood in the way of His people and making a way for their salvation—verse 10 is a reference to the Lord miraculously parting the waters of the Red Sea at the time of the Exodus. In verse 11 the plea for the Lord to rise up in power now turns into a prayer of praise: Isaiah expresses his confidence that the Lord will come to the rescue of His people and bring them safely to Himself.