Isaiah 51 – Long-Game Salvation

Isaiah 51 Bible with Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Espresso Beans on zebra plate

Today’s ChocolateEndangered Species Dark Chocolate with Espresso Beans

Today’s PassageIsaiah 51

Okay, time to write. Salvation is a theme in this chapter. Let’s look at it.

First of all, it’s God’s salvation. He’s the one who brings it, he shows up with it, it belongs to him. And when it shows up, it’s accompanied by God’s righteousness. He says: “My righteousness is near, My salvation has gone forth, and My arms will judge the peoples” (51:5). Moreover, it lasts. Much like the bit we saw before, in which God’s word is contrasted with short-lived grass, we see that God’s salvation will outlive the sky and the earth.

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 will be forever,
And My righteousness will not wane. (51:6)

More crucially, though, God’s salvation will outlive individual humans. God compares them to garments, which moths and grubs make a meal of, but on the other hand, God offers something lasting: “But My righteousness will be forever, and My salvation to all generations” (51:8). Isaiah wants his contemporaries to know: you and I and everyone around us will one day die, but God will still be in the business of saving.

People may be short-lived compared to the everlasting God, but sometimes the dangerous people around us can obstruct our vision. They loom over us and cast intimidating shadows. So Isaiah asks: “Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies and of the son of man who is made like grass, that you have forgotten the Lord your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth?” (51:12-13). As the creator of all this stuff, God predates all of it, and he certainly predates any human being who might appear to pose a threat. God’s law and God’s righteousness are close to the heart of his salvation, and crucial to resisting fear of human power. Rewind a few verses, and Isaiah is speaking for God, admonishing his hearers: “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” (51:7). His countrymen are God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel!

There’s a whole litany of Jewishnesses throughout this chapter–yes, Spellcheck, I know “Jewishnessesisn’t in your dictionary, get off my case–and they’re all there to remind Isaiah’s hearers who they are. You’ve got Abraham and Sarah, parents of a nation against all odds (v.2, cf. Genesis 18), you’ve got God making a pathway through the sea to rescue his people from the Egyptians (v.10, cf. Exodus 14). And beyond the narrative elements of Jewishness, the reminders of Israel’s history, you’ve got other stuff like references to Eden (v.3). There’s a reference to Rahab in verse 9 that I don’t really understand, but I’ve got a post to finish here. The point is, Israel’s born the brunt of a bad time from the nations around them, their fortunes have taken a dive, there’s only a remnant of them left, but Isaiah’s still got a message for them. Remember who you are! Remember the God who saves and preserves you, generation after generation!

The chapter ends with a bit about Israel having drank the “the cup of the Lord’s anger” (51:17). Throughout Isaiah, we’ve seen the bad wine of drunkenness and recklessness (5:12, 2228:1-8), the sad wine of mourning in the desolate city (24:7-9), and the glad wine of rejoicing that comes from God’s vineyard (27:2-6). Now we’ve got the mad wine of God’s wrath. It reminds us that Israel’s suffering and afflictions are the consequences of their sin; they brought these things on themselves when they violated all the warnings we saw earlier in Isaiah, and God used the nations around them as agents of his anger. But now his anger is spent! His people have drank the cup dry: “The chalice of reeling you have drained to the dregs” (51:17). Soon enough, those afflicting Israel will have their turn to drink from God’s Rage Cup. He promises: “I will put it into the hand of your tormentors, who have said to you, ‘Lie down that we may walk over you’” (51:23). God will save.

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