For the Love of God, Volume 2/June 20
From Gospel Translations
Deuteronomy 25; Psalm 116; Isaiah 52; Revelation 22
WE MAY USEFULLY DIVIDE Isaiah 52 into three unequal parts.
(1) In the first six verses, the tone is of tender reassurance. So much that has happened to Israel (even though her sin has brought it on) has crushed her. She has been “sold for nothing” (52:3) and “taken away for nothing” (52:5); she has been defiled (52:1), chained (52:2), “oppressed” (52:4), and mocked (52:5). But now she is to wear “garments of splendor” (52:1) and “sit enthroned” (52:2) like a queen in Jerusalem. Though she was sold for nothing, in God’s eyes she is still beyond price (52:3). God still calls Israel “my people” (52:4). Moreover, he attaches his own name to what has happened to them: his name has been “constantly blasphemed” (52:5). Now they can take comfort: the God who foretold their destruction has foretold their restoration (52:6).
What is striking about this list of opposites—the crushing defeat and denigration of Israel on the one hand, and the rapturous categories that the Sovereign Lord uses of her on the other—is that the first set is generated (according to the running argument of the book) by Israel’s own sin, while the second set is generated by God’s gracious goodness and faithfulness in pursuing her and delivering her from the punishment that he himself has imposed.
(2) In the next four verses (52:7-10) the good news that God is reversing the sanctions imposed on Israel is to be carried to the ends of the earth. Not only are the ruins of Jerusalem commanded to burst into songs of joy, but “[t]he LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God” (52:9-10).
(3) The last two verses (52:11-12) call on the exiles to depart, to leave their captivity behind. At the historical level, of course, this could not happen until Cyrus granted his permission. But Isaiah’s prophecy must have stirred anticipation and helped to prepare the people. The language itself is redolent of the Exodus, but the difference in emphasis is striking. When the Israelites left Egypt they were told to bring with them whatever they could get from the Egyptians—valuable jewelry and clothing. Here, however, the people are warned not to touch anything, but to come out “from there” and be pure. This suggests that the ultimate goal is not geographical Jerusalem, but the new Jerusalem, and what must be left behind is more than Babylon, but all that Babylon represents. That reflection enables us to understand how and why Paul uses this passage in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, and how we should use it today.