Isaiah 51-54

Good morning! Today we approach the end of Second Isaiah with chapters 51-54. We read more vivid promises of God to rescue and redeem the people from Babylon, but what I find most intriguing is the extended treatment of the “suffering servant” in Isaiah 53.

First the promises, given to us in Isaiah 51-52. This section of the prophet hearkens back repeatedly to Genesis stories for reminders of divine care. The abundance Abraham and Sarah experienced with God’s blessing will be the Hebrew experience as well. God’s promised deliverance will endure even if the earth vanishes, and even if enemies bring great reproach. Though Israel is drunk and disoriented with calamity (at God’s hand according to Isaiah), God will give the cup of wrath to its enemies instead. Then in chapter 52, the prophet enters into a full-throated promise of deliverance. Dusty Jerusalem will be restored to its heyday again, and intruders like the Assyrians and Egyptians will be cast out of it forever. Even the feet of the messenger who announces the peace of God are beautiful, and salvation will be visible for all. Imagine what it was like behind the Iron Curtain when the Berlin Wall fell—this sort of jubilation and dancing in the streets is what Isaiah’s liberation feels like.

In chapter 53, we return to the unnamed servant that second Isaiah has mentioned repeatedly. This time we get a sense of what the fight for liberation costs him. I’m trying to imagine who Isaiah might have been describing in his own time: perhaps this ruler was a revolutionary fighter who stopped at nothing to secure freedom. That said, these verses are very hard to read outside of the Christian sense of them as prophecies for the theology of substitutionary atonement in Jesus Christ. (Such theology teaches that God puts the full sins of the world on Jesus, then has Jesus crucified as a substitute for humankind. I don’t subscribe to this understanding, but that’s a conversation for when we get into the Christian Scriptures.) I’d be very curious to see how our Jewish siblings understand these passages, especially in their original context of the Babylonian exile.

We close out with one more tidbit of deliverance promised in Isaiah 54. Salvation will be shocking in its surprise, like dozens of children to a barren woman. Though God’s care was momentarily removed from Israel, God promises steadfast love and peace from now on. It will be like Noah and his family, once tossed about on the waves of adversity but now reassured that God will never again cause such calamity. Happy reading!

Read Isaiah 51-54.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Isaiah 55-60. Thanks for reading!

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