Isaiah 51:17-52:12 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. How is Jerusalem portrayed in Isaiah 51:17 (printed below?)

Awake, awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of Jehovah the cup of his wrath, you who have drained to the dregs the goblet of wine that makes men stagger. (Isaiah 51:17)

Jerusalem (representing the Old Testament people of God) is portrayed as a woman lying in the gutter in a drunken stupor. As the text indicates, she is not drunk with wine, but with the cup of God’s wrath—she has received the judgment of God for her sins; the Lord has caused her to drink the cup of His wrath in full measure. Thus, because of her sins and the consequence of those sins, she now finds herself in a disgraceful and pitiable condition.

2. What gracious command does the Lord give Jerusalem (see Isaiah 51:17 printed above under question #1?) What has He done for her (see Isaiah 51:22 printed below?)

This is what your Lord Jehovah says, your God who defends his people: See, I have taken out of your hand the cup of wine that made you stagger, the goblet of my wrath, you will never drink from it again. (Isaiah 51:22)

The Lord comes to Jerusalem in her deplorable condition and He issues the gracious command: “Awake, awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem” (verse 17a). In verse 22 the Lord declares, “See, I have taken out of your hand the cup of wine that made you stagger, the goblet of my wrath, you will never drink from it again.” God can justly do so because He has given that cup of righteous judgment to His own Son to drink on behalf of all who believe in Him (note Matthew 26:39)—Christ has drunk that cup for us, and we have drunk it in Christ (note Galatians 2: 20).

3. What is Zion (i.e.; the people of God) summoned to do in Isaiah 52:1a (printed below?)

Awake, awake, O Zion! Clothe yourself with strength! Put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city. (Isaiah 52:1a)

Zion has lay silent in a drunken stupor, but now she is commanded to put on her strength—she is able to do so because the Lord imparts His own divine strength to His people, enabling us to respond in obedience to His commandments (note Isaiah 40:29). Furthermore, Zion is commanded to put on her beautiful garments—the garments of righteousness that are in keeping with her identity as “the holy city.”

4. What further command does the Lord give Zion in Isaiah 52:2 (printed below?) Contrast this command with the command the Lord issues to Babylon (see Isaiah 47:1 printed below).

Shake the dust off yourself. Rise up and sit on your throne, O Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains around your neck, O captive daughter of Zion! (Isaiah 52:2)

Come down and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon! Sit on the ground without a throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans, for you shall no longer be called tender and delicate. (Isaiah 47:1)

At the command of the Lord, Zion is to throw off her chains and assume her place upon the throne. Whereas Babylon, representative of the secular kingdom of man, is commanded to evacuate the throne and sit in the dust (Isaiah 47:1), Zion, the people of God, is commanded to shake herself from the dust and occupy the throne. Note Revelation 3:21, a passage in which Christ declares to His people, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

5. In Isaiah 52:2b the Lord commands His people to throw off their chains—the chains that bond them and held them in captivity. But how can they heed this command? See Isaiah 52:5-7,10 (printed below)

Now therefore, what am I doing here, says Jehovah, seeing that my people have been taken away for no just reason? Those who rule over them howl with glee, declares Jehovah, and my name is continually blasphemed all day long. (6) Therefore, my people shall know my name. Therefore, on the day I act they shall know that I am the one who says, Here I am. (7) How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings good news of blessing, who proclaims salvation, who announces to Zion, Your God reigns! …(10) Jehovah will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations; all the ends of the earth will see the salvation provided by our God. (Isaiah 52:5-7,10)

This great transformation from bondage to freedom takes place solely by the power of the sovereign God who is the Lord of creation and history. The Lord beholds His people subjected to captivity by the Babylonian empire; their oppressors rule over them with glee and the Lord’s great Name is being blasphemed. Therefore the Lord will act (verse 5-6). The Lord declares, “My people shall know my name”—that is to say, when the Lord acts with sovereign, almighty power to release His people, they shall in that day know what it means that the Lord is God and that He is their God. The watchmen are posted upon the top of the walls, looking for and yearning for the coming of their Lord and Savior (verse 8). The watchmen now see messengers approaching with good news for Zion, good news of peace and salvation, and that message is summed up in the one great proclamation, “Your God reigns!” (verse 7). Because the Lord reigns He is able to fulfill all His promises and effect the release and restoration of His people.