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Isaiah is the prophet of Salvation. He is also known as the truly "Universalist" prophet, by which is meant that He makes it clear that salvation is extended equally to all nations and not just to Israel. He lived to see the fall of Israel and the deportation of the Israelites to Assyria, and he prophesied of their "return" to God (through repentance). He is truly a "major prophet" whose prophecies greatly influenced the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.
Category - Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 51:1, 2 says,
1 “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek the Lord; look to the rock from which you were hewn and to the quarry from which you were dug. 2 Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who gave birth to you in pain; when he was but one, I called him, then I blessed him and multiplied him.”
This is another call to “return” to God. The prophet expects those “who pursue righteousness” in their hearts to “seek the Lord.” One might think that such exhortation would be directed at those who did NOT seek the righteousness of God. Were not those who “seek the Lord” already pursuing righteousness? It appears that the prophet was attempting to find those whom God had called but who had not yet truly responded to His Spirit.
Perhaps the Apostle Paul had this verse in mind when he wrote in Romans 11:7,
7 What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it; and the rest were hardened [or blinded].
As a nation, Israel sought or pursued righteousness, but they did not obtain it because their eyes were blinded. The righteousness they pursued was based on their own will and their own works, dating back to their Old Covenant vow in Exodus 19:8. Only those who sought God’s righteousness through the New Covenant would actually find it. These are the “chosen” ones, the remnant of grace—very few of the Israelites (Rom. 11:4, 5).
The prophet points back to Abraham, telling us that if we would pursue or seek the righteousness of God, we must “look to Abraham.” While Moses brought Israel the Old Covenant that was based on the will of man, Abraham brought New Covenant faith and righteousness to the remnant of grace. Abraham believed the promise of God, and it was counted to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:21, 22). This was not by the will of man but of God (John 1:13).
Those who seek true righteousness are to look to both Abraham and Sarah. Sarah is the New Covenant (Gal. 4:22, 23). It is not enough to have Abraham as one’s father; one must also be the son of Sarah. This is “the quarry from which you were dug.”
In the metaphor, Sarah is the “quarry” from which all New Covenant believers are brought to birth.
God called one man to bless the world through his descendants (“seed”), and Paul says, “be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7). Again, he says, “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29).
In other words, the children of Abraham are not those who claim genealogical descent in a physical way but instead are those who follow His example of New Covenant faith. Further, those who merely achieve Old Covenant faith will always fall short of the righteousness that they seek, for they must also be born of Sarah, the New Covenant.
Abraham’s seed originated in his own “household of the faith,” a term that Paul uses in Gal. 6:10,
10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
This is another way of saying “Abraham’s household,” which included 318 men of military age (Gen. 14:14), none of whom were physically descended from Abraham.
Two generations later, Jacob took the entire household to Egypt, and only 70 of them were actual family members (Exodus 1:5)—and that included his sons’ wives who had been procured from various other nations. By the time they left Egypt, all of those people had been fully integrated into one of the tribes, led by the grandsons of Jacob.
In the New Testament, we find this inclusionary policy continuing on another level. Hence, Paul fought for equal rights for the household of faith, regardless of each man’s genealogy. His goal was not to circumcise Greeks to make them Jews but to circumcise their hearts by New Covenant faith (Rom. 2:28, 29) to make them sons of God.
Paul learned this from Isaiah and the other prophets who interpreted the law. By such New Covenant faith, God would “comfort” His people. Isaiah 51:3 says,
3 Indeed, the Lord will comfort Zion; He will comfort [nacham, “breathe forcibly, sigh, groan”] all her waste places [chorbah, “desolate places, ruins, dried up places”], and her wilderness He will make like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and sound of a melody.
The prophet paints a picture of God sighing over the ruins. Just as God breathed life into Adam’s nostrils, so also does He breathe life into “Zion,” making it “like Eden” and restoring life, as well as “joy and gladness.” This is the work of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.
Isaiah 51:4, 5 continues,
4 “Pay attention to Me, O My people, and give ear to Me, O My nation; for a law [Torah] will go forth from Me, and I will set My justice [mishpat] for a light of the peoples. 5 My righteousness is near, My salvation [yesha] has gone forth, and My arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands will wait [kava, “wait expectantly in hope”] for Me, and for My arm they will wait expectantly [yachal, “tarry in hope].”
Recall from Isaiah 42:4 that the Messiah was not to be “disheartened” until He had “established justice in the earth, and the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.” Although the people would have to wait a long time to see this happen, the promise of God is sure, and He will succeed in the end.
The New Covenant is not based on the will of man, which opposes Him and tries to make Him fail. God’s will is stronger than man’s will, and therefore God is able to fulfill His promises fully and completely.
The law will go forth under the New Covenant, and the people will receive it as a revelation. The law is present in both covenants; the difference is that those living under the Old Covenant receive the law written externally (on stone or paper), whereas those living under the New Covenant have it written internally, where it is the wellspring of their nature.
As we will see shortly in verse 7, God was addressing “you who know righteousness, a people in whose heart is My law.” This refers to the righteousness that is obtained through New Covenant faith, described in Heb. 8:10, “I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts.”
In other words, their nature will conform fully with the righteous standard of the law, which is the expression of the nature of God Himself.
Again, the prophet recognizes Israel’s exile by calling their dwelling place “the coastlands,” or islands. The old land of Israel was not an island nor even a coastland, seeing that the Philistines, Canaanites, and Phoenicians lived along the coast.
Isaiah 51:6 says,
6 “Lift up your eyes to the sky, then look to the earth beneath; for the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants will die in like manner; but My salvation [Yeshua] will be forever, and My righteousness will not wane.”
This is referenced in Hebrews 1:10-12,
10 And, “You, Lord, in the beginning, laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands; 11 they will perish, but You remain; and they all will become old like a garment, 12 and like a mantle You will roll them up; like a garment they will also be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end.”
The heavens and the earth will “wear out,” but this will not stop the promise of God from being fulfilled, for He is righteous, and His word can be trusted. Whereas Isaiah 51:6 says of Christ, “My Yeshua will be forever,” Heb. 1:12 says, “Your years will not come to an end.”
This is also a veiled reference to the Old Covenant that is “becoming obsolete and growing old” and “is ready to disappear” (Heb. 8:13). A New World Order is coming, not as the world may envision, but as Christ will have it.
Isaiah 51:7, 8 says,
7 “Listen to Me, you who know righteousness, a people in whose heart is My law; do not fear the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings. 8 For the moth will eat them like a garment, and the grub will eat them like wool, but My righteousness will be forever, and My salvation [Yeshua] to all generations.”
Most people “know righteousness” on some level, but only those who have the law written on their hearts truly “know righteousness” as God sees it. Those who reject or discard the law, as if it were old and worn out do not truly have a revelation of the law, nor is it written on their hearts.
Likewise, those who view the law as an external rule being imposed upon their unwilling flesh do not truly “know righteousness” either. They must see the law as a revelation of the promises of God, rather than just commands imposed upon unwilling flesh. In this way, the law is transferred from stone tablets to one’s heart. “The law is spiritual” (Rom. 7:14).
As for the unrighteous, “the moth will eat them like a garment,” the prophet says. Such people are yet without faith and revelation. The old fleshly order of the “old man” continues to age and wear out until it dies altogether. Yet as it dies, there is a New Order that is gaining strength, pictured as the next generation, led by Yeshua Himself.
These are the people of the New Covenant, those who follow its Mediator, their “Salvation.” These are the overcomers who have looked to the rock from whence they were hewn. They are begotten by faith (Abraham) and birthed by the New Covenant (Sarah).