“Behold, my servant the Messiah shall prosper. He shall be exalted and extolled, and He shall be very strong.” -Targum Yonatan 2nd Century C.E.
The last verse of the previous chapter sets the context for the opening verses of chapter 52. In fact, devoid of the imposition of chapter and verse markings, this section of the scroll of Isaiah has a fluid continuity.
In his commentary on the scroll of Isaiah Iben Ezra writes, “All agree that this prophecy has reference to the time yet to come…” This is an allusion to the time of the King Messiah and is consistent with the view of the majority of our ancient rabbis and commentators.
Isa 52:1 Uriy uriy, An awaking (a laying bare, an eye opening, a rousing, an exposing) of Me, an awaking of Me, livshiy put on uzeich your strength, Tziyon (Zion: parched land); livshiy put on bigdiy tifarteich the garments of your beauty, splendour, glory, Yerushalayim (Jerusalem: Outpouring of Peace), iyr ha-kodesh the holy excited city; kiy for lo no more yosiyf will the increase yavo-vach come into you od perpetually (again) of the areil uncircumcised ve’tamei and the unclean.
“Reveal thyself, reveal thyself, put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the city of holiness: for the uncircumcised and the polluted shall pass no more through thee.” -Targum Yonatan (2nd Century CE)
The previous chapter concluded with Israel’s tormentors receiving the cup of God’s wrath, however, the last lines allude to the position Israel had been placed in by her tormentors: face down in the dust and trampled by her enemies. It is to captive Israel in torment that the opening words of chapter 52 are spoken.
The theme of awakening is carried over from the previous chapter, and added to it is God’s instruction for donning strength. The same call issued to HaShem (Isaiah 51:9) is now given to Jerusalem. HaShem was called upon to bear His strength in redemption of His people, now His people are called upon to don the strength of HaShem.
“Put on your strength Zion” Zion’s strength is her God, His Torah, and the redemptive promise for her future.
“Put on the garments of your beauty Jerusalem” Jerusalem is instructed to clothe herself with beauty. This is both an allusion to physical clothing donned after her release from captivity and to the restoring of her royal clothing under God’s promised Messianic King Who will reign on the throne of David. Additionally, the clothing that is most beautiful is the clothing of righteousness born of God. Thus, Jerusalem, the flood of peace, is called the holy city. She is purposed for holiness, for God has placed His Name upon her mount (Moriah, Zion, Ha-Makum, Har Beit etc.).
“Holy excited city” The Hebrew “iyr” (city) denotes excitement. Thus there is a sense of anticipation of the coming fulfilment of Jerusalem’s eternal holiness: though the context first points to the return of the exiles from Babylon.
“No more will the increase come into you perpetually of the uncircumcised and unclean” This does not mean that gentiles will never again enter Jerusalem. Rather it refers to the future end to the constant defilement of Jerusalem by invading gentile armies and the influence of pagan nations who pollute her with idolatrous worship and false practices. As is clear from the text, while in part these promises apply to the returning Babylonian exiles, they do not apply to Jerusalem’s ongoing historical condition. Until this day, many have continued to defile the holy city of God (Antiochus Epiphanes, Pompey, and the Romans, Ottomans etc.) At present the Temple mount is defiled by a pagan Temple to the false god Allah. Therefore, this prophecy applies in its fullness to a time yet future, that time when the New Jerusalem will descend from heaven and the present Jerusalem will merge with the new and be transformed into the holy city it was always purposed to become.
“ Every cooking pot in Jerusalem and in Judah will be holy to the Lord of hosts; and all who sacrifice will come and take of them and boil in them. And there will no longer be a merchant in the house of the Lord of hosts in that day.” -Zechariah 14:21
“Then you will know that I am the Lord your God,
Dwelling in Zion, My holy mountain.
So Jerusalem will be holy,
And strangers will pass through it no more.” -Joel 3:17 (NASB)
It is clear from the wider Scripture, that the uncircumcised of heart will not enter the eternal Jerusalem.
“Thus says the Lord God, ‘No foreigner uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, of all the foreigners who are among the sons of Israel, shall enter My sanctuary.’” -Ezekiel 44:9 (NASB)
Yochanan (John) writes concerning the New (eternal) Jerusalem:
“22 I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; 26 and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; 27 and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” -Revelation 21:22-27 (NASB)
Isa 52:2 Shake yourself from the dust, kumiy arise (of Me); sheviy sit, remain, dwell, abide, Yerushalayim (Jerusalem: Outpouring of Peace); loose the bonds from your neck, sheviyah captive Bat-Tziyon daughter of Zion.
“Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit upon the throne of glory, O Jerusalem; the chains of thy neck are broken, O captive congregation of Zion.” -Targum Yonatan (2nd Century CE)
“Shake yourself from the dust” Refers to the literal physical act of dusting oneself off after lying face down in the dust and being walked over. It also denotes the breaking of mourning (sitting shiva) and figuratively expresses freedom from that which defiles a person and from humility and oppression.
“Arise, sit” This apparent contradiction is in fact nothing of the sort. Captive Israel is to arise from her humiliation and oppression in the strength of HaShem (v.1) and having arisen in Him, to “remain (sit)” in Him, immersed in the flood of His peace (Jerusalem), both literal and figurative, physical and spiritual, temporal and eternal. The Targum links the former verse and the clothing of Jerusalem with glory (beauty) to the throne of Israel and Jerusalem’s central role in the ordination of the eternal King Messiah.
“Loose the bonds from your neck captive daughter of Zion” This, as Iben Ezra says, refers to Israel’s future:
“Thou wilt be no more under the dominion of another nation.” -Iben Ezra
Notice that Zion is to loose her own bonds. It is HaShem Who ultimately frees her from bondage (physical and spiritual), however, she must participate in her deliverance. Zion is to receive and practice the strength of HaShem. A bride does not become a wife unless she says “I betroth myself to you my husband.” Faith without works is dead.
The reference to the neck is important. The yoke that binds captives by the neck has significant figurative meaning to the Hebrew mind. A “yoke” is a figurative rabbinical term which denotes the teaching of a specific rabbi or instructor. This is why Yeshua said, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light”. Therefore, in the present passage Zion is required to intentionally release herself from the false teachings of her captors (Babylonians). Why? Because, were she to fail to do so she would be carrying her spiritual captivity back to Jerusalem with her. She is not a daughter of Babylon but rather a daughter of Zion. One might suggest in some instances, that we should have left the syncretised ideas of our Babylonian Talmud behind, releasing ourselves from those influences of our captivity that contradict the teaching of Hashem (Torah etc.).
The word play between sheviy (sit) and sheviyah (captive) offers itself easily to a drash on the subtle difference between sitting and remaining of one’s own free will and sitting and remaining by force. Only one Hebrew character separates the two, the character “Heh”. The word sheviyah is also related to shabah (take captive). Through the prophet HaShem instructs Jerusalem to arise from the dust of her oppression and the daughter of Zion is instructed to loose the bonds of her captivity. The dust is an allusion to mourning, which connects another Hebrew word shiva (seven), which denotes the Jewish practice of sitting for seven days of mourning following the death of a loved one (sitting shiva). In other words, the days of Jerusalem’s mourning are over, the captivity (sheviyah: forced remaining) of the daughter of Zion is to be transformed into the comfort of dwelling (sheviy), remaining of her own freewill.
Isa 52:3 For thus says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy): “Chinam For nothing, nimcartem you sold yourselves ve’lo and without ve’kesef money tigaeilu you will be redeemed.”
The idea that Israel sold herself into discipline as a result of her own sin is supported by Isaiah 50:1
“Thus says the LORD: “Where is your mother's certificate of divorce, with which I sent her away? Or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities you were sold, and for your transgressions your mother was sent away.”
Through a comparative irony, HaShem will redeem her without paying a cent to her captors. Why? Because the debt of her sin is not owed to her captors but to HaShem, Whom she has sinned against. This debt cannot be settled with money. Therefore, according to His promise HaShem will redeem Israel through His Servant King Messiah and a substitutionary atoning sacrifice. Debts can be paid and restitution made, but only blood has the power to bring about the remission (obliteration) of sin.
“‘I have stirred him up in righteousness, and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward,’ says the LORD of hosts.” -Isaiah 45:13
“knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Messiah, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” -1 Peter 1:18-19
HaShem gave Israel over to her own sin and she in turn gave herself over to a foreign power, in order that she might be disciplined and turn back to HaShem. In the interim no other people took Israel’s place as payment in kind. Consequently there would be no need of silver to purchase them from their captors, because their captors were not their legitimate owners, nor had they (or could they have) paid for that privilege.
Isa 52:4 For thus says Adonay the Lord (Master) HaShem (YHVH: Mercy): “Mitzrayim yarad amiy To the Egyptians (double distress) went down My people varishonah in the first(born) lagur to sojourn sham there, ve’ashur and the Assyrian (a step) be’efes for nothing ashako oppressed them (him).
The allusion to the first born of HaShem’s people can be applied both to Jacob and to Israel as a whole. It is Adonay the Master, YHVH the proper Noun and His mercy, that reminds Israel of her respite from famine. Jacob went down to Israel through the hand of God upon Joseph (a type for Messiah). Thus, HaShem reminds Israel that from before her captivity He had already made way for her deliverance. Subsequently, Pharaoh and the Assyrian ruler had made them captives: again without legitimate purchase, and again as a result of HaShem’s giving them over to discipline.
HaShem delivered Israel from the Assyrians (Pul, Tiglathpileser, Shalmaneser, Sennacherib) who were in turn defeated by the Babylonians (Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon) and so on. History is saturated with the cycle of discipline and redemption, awaiting its final fulfilment in the future at the redemption of the entire nation of Israel (ethnic, religious) [Romans 11:24-26].
Isa 52:5 Now what have I poh here,” neum declares HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), “Kiy for lukakh taken away amiy My people chinam for nothing? Their rulers wail,” neum declares HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), “and continually kol-ha-yom all the day shemiy My name is minoatz despised, spurned.
There is some debate over where “poh” (here) is. However, the nearest previous subject is the oppression of Israel: thus, “here” is where Israel is. God is always with His people. This is further supported by the allusion to Jacob’s sojourn in Egypt.
“I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will close your eyes.” -Genesis 46:4
“Their rulers wail” Is in reference to the princes and prophets of Israel in her captivity. Iben Ezra notes that her wailing rulers are like those who speak in riddles and points to those who use proverbs (Numbers 21:27) in support of his assertion. Moshlayv (Rulers) and Ha-mishliym (The proverbs) being closely related Hebrew terms.
We note that the latter clause states that HaShem’s Name is blasphemed as a result of the oppression of His people. In other words, Israel’s captors are strutting about promoting their gods and proclaiming them victors over the God of Israel. Hashem will not allow this to stand.
‘“20 When they came to the nations where they went, they profaned My holy name, because it was said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord; yet they have come out of His land.’ 21 But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where they went. 22 ‘Therefore say to the house of Israel,’ Thus says the Lord God, ‘It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. 23 I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight.’” -Ezekiel 36:20-23 (NASB)
Speaking against Sennacherib the king of Assyria HaShem says:
“Whom have you reproached and blasphemed?
And against whom have you raised your voice
And haughtily lifted up your eyes?
Against the Holy One of Israel!” -Isaiah 37:23 (NASB)
Rav Shaul (Paul the Apostle) uses this verse to make a drash on Israel’s having boasted in the Torah while breaking the Torah (Romans 2:23-24). Thus, he makes the point that it is because of Israel’s sinful hypocrisy that she sold herself into oppression and as a result God’s Name was blasphemed among the gentiles. This doesn’t oppose the context and meaning of Isaiah 52:5, rather it expounds upon it in order to teach a comparative truth.
Isa 52:6 Lachein Therefore yeida amiy My people will know shemiy My name. Lachein Therefore ba-yom in the day ha-hu the he (will know), kiy because Aniy I hu am He ham’dabeir that speaks; Hineiniy Behold, pay attention, now, be prepared, receive.”
“Therefore” means, because of the blaspheming of My Name by gentiles as a result of the oppression of My people (Israel).
“My people will know My Name” HaShem (YHVH) will minister to His people the knowledge of His person, character, attributes and the present reality of His countenance. His Name (YHVH) denotes Mercy. His Name is the sum title of all that He is. Thus, He will make way for His people to be intimately related to Him.
“Therefore” means, because My people will know My Name (Sum representation of My Person: that is, Yeshua [Colossians 1:15-23])
“In the day he (Israel), because I am He that speaks” In the day that Israel is redeemed through Messiah, she will realise that she is speaking to God face to face, Imanu (with us) God (El). Thus, “Behold, pay attention, now, be prepared, receive.” Israel must prepare herself to receive her King.
Isa 52:7 Mah-navu What beauty al-hehariym upon the mountains ragleiy the feet of him who mevaseir brings news, mashmiya who publishes shalom peace, wholeness, wellbeing, who mevaseir tov brings good news of happiness, mashmiya who publishes yeshuah salvation, omeir saying le’tziyon to Zion, “Malakh Elohayich Your God reigns.”
“How beautiful upon the mountains of the land of Israel are the feet of him that brings good tidings, that publishes peace, that publishes salvation, saying to the congregation of Zion, The kingdom of thy God is revealed.” -Targum Yonatan (2nd Century CE)
“What beauty on the mountains, the feet of him who brings news” As interpreted by the Targum, the mountains are specifically the mountains of Judea (Israel). These words are addressed to Jerusalem, therefore, the mountains are those approaching Jerusalem, and specifically the mountains to the north of Jerusalem.
“Him” is applied generally to all who bring good news of Hashem to the people of Israel.
Rav Shaul (Paul the Apostle) applies this as a drash to all who are sent out to share the good news of the Gospel:
“And how shall they proclaim unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who proclaim good news of good things!’” -Romans 10:15 (TLV)
However, ultimately “Him” refers to the King Messiah Yeshua, after all, the nearest subject is in the latter clause of the previous verse, that subject being God Himself:
“I am He that speaks; Behold, pay attention, now, be prepared, receive.”
“Who publishes peace, wholeness, wellbeing,” The Hebrew mashmiya is from the root shama (hear), and means that the messenger of good news will cause the hearing of it to result in peace, wholeness and well-being.
“Who brings good news of happiness” The good news is not only published, it is also brought near, and in the bringing of it there is true happiness, the fruit of true freedom.
“Who publishes salvation” The messenger also proclaims Salvation Himself (Yeshua the King Messiah). Thus, the messenger is both the forerunner (Elijah, John) and the Messiah Himself.
“Saying to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” God is King regardless of belief or appearances. God is King, God was King, God will be King everlasting. This proclamation made by many messengers will one day be made by The Messenger, the King Messiah Yeshua and will culminate in the ceasing of all appearances to the contrary. By far the majority of our ancient Rabbis and commentators agree that this verse speaks of the King Messiah and His reign (Vayikra Rabba, sect. 9. fol. 153. 2. Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 11. 4. Yalkut Simeoni in Psal. xxix. 11. Menasseh Ben Israel, Nishmat Chayim, fol. 41. 2.).
Isa 52:8 Kol A voice tzofayich of your watchmen--naseu they lift up, bear up, carry, take up kol a voice yachdav together (as one) yeraneinu they overcome (cry out); kiy because ayin be-ayin eye to eye yiru they see be’shuv in the return of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) to Tziyon (Zion: parched land).
The watchmen on Jerusalem’s walls are the first to see and hear the news of the messenger. This is literally and historically true while at the same time being figuratively true of all who wait on and look for the coming of the forerunner Elijah and the heralding of the King Messiah. This was first fulfilled at the first coming of Yeshua through the forerunner John, who came in the spirit of Elijah. Subsequently it will be completed at the second coming of the King Messiah, who, according to Scripture (Malachi 3:23) will be heralded by Elijah himself (We note that Elijah did not die but was lifted up in a fiery chariot between realms).
“The voice of thy rulers! They are lifting up their voice, together they offer praise; because with their eyes they see the mighty works which the Lord shall do, when He shall return His Shekinah to Zion.” -Targum Yonatan (2nd Century CE)
It is therefore, the job of the watchmen to cry out together and lift up their collective voices as a sign and to overcome together. We note that the watchmen are a collective and can be seen as both the literal spiritual watchmen of Israel (ethnic, religious) and as a figurative allusion to the spiritual watchmen of the body of Messiah followers both Jew and gentile. We are therefore reminded of the words of Yeshua via John:
“And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” -Revelation 12:11 (NASB)
“because eye to eye they see in the return of HaShem to Zion” The watchmen see eye to eye in agreement, they also see God Himself eye to eye or face to face. It is in the sight they have received from the messenger that they are able to behold the return of HaShem Himself to Zion, the land and the people. This is also the reason they cry out in unity, hence “because” meaning because of the previous clause.
“The return of Hashem to Zion” does not mean He has ever truly left Zion, rather it refers to a manifest return of His presence. This is why the Targum renders the phrase “when He shall return His Shekinah to Zion.” Shekhinah being a post Biblical Hebrew word denoting the manifest feminine presence of God’s Spirit or the Kavod HaShem, the glorious tangible presence of God, usually seen in the physical as cloud and fire. Of course in addition to this God is returning to Zion as Imanuel (God with us) the King Messiah Yeshua.
“14 and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O Lord, are in the midst of this people, for You, O Lord, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night.” -Numbers 14:14 (NASB)
Our ancient rabbis and commentators attribute this portion of Isaiah 52 to the time of the Messiah’s reign and the resurrection of the dead at the end of days (Pesikta in Kettoreth Hassammim in Targ. in Numb. fol. 25. 4. T. Bab. Sanhedrhin. fol. 91. 2.)
Isa 52:9 Pitzchu Break out ranenu overcoming (crying out) yachdav together (as one), you waste places of Yerushalayim (Jerusalem: Outpouring of Peace), for nicham HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has comforted amo His people; He has ga’al redeemed Yerushalayim (Jerusalem: Outpouring of Peace).
“Break out overcoming (crying out) together (as one), you waste places of Jerusalem” Once again in light of the strength afforded them by Hashem and of the return of the captives and of the presence of HaShem to the city, the inhabitants of Jerusalem are instructed to exercise their new found strength and freedom by breaking free from their bonds both physical and spiritual. They are to do this yachad, as one, together, for part of their strength is in their unity under Hashem and through His Messiah.
“HaShem has comforted… He has redeemed” past tense. We note that HaShem has comforted His people Israel, and that He has redeemed the people of Jerusalem. This can be understood in terms of God’s eternal perspective and the Messiah sacrificed before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). Thus, Hashem sees complete outside of time and space what is yet to be completed within time and space. Alternatively we can understand it to mean that HaShem has worked in and through Israel’s suffering, oppression and discipline, and has been a comfort to her, redeeming her in the midst of her humiliation and fallenness.
Isa 52:10 Chasaf HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has made bare et-zeroa kadesho His holy arm le’eiyneiy before the eyes col-hagoyim of all the nations, verau col-afseiy aretz and all the ends of the earth (land) will see et yeshuat the salvation Eloheiynu of our God.
“As a warrior is accustomed to make bare his right arm up to the shoulder, that he may fight without encumbrance (exsertare humeros nudamque lacessere pugnan, as Statius says in Theb. i. 413).” -Commentary on Isaiah by Kiel & Delitzsch
The figure of the hero who slays the enemy with his arm made bare is here applied to Hashem and His redemptive work on Israel’s behalf. We note that His arm is “holy” that is, set apart. The arm and in particular the right arm is one of the Hebrew representations of ultimate strength in action. This arm of Hashem can also be applied as a metaphor for the work of the Messiah and is seen as being “holy” set apart before the eyes of the nations, particularly those who have come against His people Israel (ethnic, religious). The redemption and salvation of Israel (ethnic, religious) is to be a sign for all the nations of the earth. The Salvation the nations see is that of Eloheiynu our (Israel’s) God (YHVH). Make no mistake, the Gospel message is a universal message of Salvation, but the God of the Gospel is a tribal God, El Eloheiy Yisrael (God the God of Israel).
Isa 52:11 Suru suru Depart, depart, tzeu go out misham from there; tamei al-tigau touch (reach out for) no unclean (impure) thing; tzeu go out from the midst of her; hibaru purify yourselves, nose’ei you who bear, lift up, carry keleiy the vessels, implements, utensils of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy).
“Separate yourselves, separate yourselves, go ye out from thence, do not come near the unclean; come forth from the midst of her: those that carry the vessels of the house of the sanctuary of the Lord have been chosen.” -Targum Yonatan (2nd Century CE)
The Targum renders the text in a familiar way, reminiscent of the Revelation of Yeshua to John.
“I heard another voice from heaven, saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues…’” -Revelation 18:4 (NASB)
According to R Moses Hakkohen these words are addressed to the exiles in Babylon, while Iben Ezra believes they are addressed to all those Jews who remain dispersed throughout the nations. Both perspectives are valid. The historical context allows for R Moses Hakkohen’s view and the yet future fulfilment of the Messianic aspects of the prophecy allow for the view of Iben Ezra.
“Depart, depart, go out from there” The repetition of “Depart” denotes immediacy and the established nature of the freedom to come. We also note that the prophet says “there”, meaning that Isaiah is writing from within the land of Israel, probably from Jerusalem concerning exiles that are elsewhere in Babylon, thus, “there”.
This escape is in part concerning the liberation of the Babylonian exiles:
“Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea, declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it, send it out to the end of the earth; say, ‘The LORD has redeemed his servant Jacob!’” -Isaiah 48:20
When they go out from Babylon (or any future captivity that has resulted from their sin), they are instructed not to touch anything unclean, be it literal or figuratively unclean. They are to keep the ritual purity of the Torah and leave behind them those idolatrous possessions of their captors that they might have kept from their stay in captivity. They were to leave their captivity as a holy procession, morally as well as corporeally pure. Those who bear the vessels of HaShem, (the vessels of the temple), are to purify themselves according to the requirements of the Torah.
This prophecy, was fulfilled in part when Cyrus ordered the temple vessels, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought to Babylon, to be restored to the returning exiles.
“ 7 Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the LORD that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. 8 Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. 9 And this was the number of them: 30 basins of gold, 1,000 basins of silver, 29 censers, 10 30 bowls of gold, 410 bowls of silver, and 1,000 other vessels; 11 all the vessels of gold and of silver were 5,400. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up, when the exiles were brought up from Babylonia to Jerusalem.” -Ezra 1:7-11
The Jewish commentator Yarchi sees the present text as referring to the priests and Levites that bore the vessels of the Lord in the wilderness. Kimchi interprets it of the mercies and kindnesses of the Lord.
Iben Ezra names “The Israelites who are the bearers of the Torah” as those “who bear the vessels of the LORD.”
The Zohar understands the vessels of the Lord figuratively as representing the righteous, brought as a gift to the King Messiah (Zohar, In Exod. fol. 87. 4.)
Isa 52:12 For you will not go out ve’chipazon in haste, trepidation and you will not go in flight, for HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) lifneiychem will go before your faces, and guarding your rear will be Eloheiy Yisrael the God (Judge) of Israel.
“For you will not go out in haste and you will not go in flight” Unlike her escape from Egypt which was undertaken in haste, Israel’s escape from Babylon will be conducted with calm assurance and preordained order.
“HaShem (YHVH) will go before your faces, and guarding your rear will be Eloheiy Yisrael the God (Judge) of Israel.” Like the escape from Egypt, HaShem will be present in a manifest and tangible way as the guide going before them and as the rear guard protecting their rear. This is an allusion to the Malakh HaShem (Angel of the Lord) Who was manifest in the cloud and fire that lead and guarded Israel on her journey out of Egyptian bondage. This relates to the sight that is seen by the watchmen as they behold first the messenger and then HaShem Himself coming on the mountains of Judea before the returning captives (52:7-8).
Isa 52:13 Hineih Behold, now, pay attention, My servant will yaskiyl act wisely (with understanding); he will yarum be high ve’nisa and lifted up (like a banner), vegavah meod and will be exceedingly high.
Most commentators agree that this verse begins a new prophetic address that continues through 53:12. The present chapter markers do a disservice to the modern English reader.
In the present verse and the portion of Isaiah that follows the prophetic work reaches the crescendo of its Messianic vision. The Servant King Messiah (much to the chagrin of many modern Jewish and liberal Christian theologians) is clearly illuminated in the precise descriptions of His life and His ministry of suffering and resurrection.
This portion of Isaiah has been contested for almost two thousand years by Jewish and Christian scholars over the question of whether this passage refers to the Servant King Messiah or to Israel who suffer innocently for the sin of the nations.
The Ethiopian eunuch asks Philip (Disciple of Messiah) ‘“Please tell me, who is the prophet talking about—himself or someone else?’ 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he proclaimed the Good News about Yeshua.” -Acts 8:34-35 (TLV)
Prior to the 11th Century CE the majority of Jewish commentators and rabbis interpreted Isaiah 52:13-53:12 as referring to the suffering Servant of God, the King Messiah, a view still held to this day by many Orthodox Jews (they simply disagree as to Who Messiah is). However, beginning at the end of the 11th Century CE Jewish commentators began to assert that Isaiah was referring to Israel who suffers innocently for the sins of the nations. This divergent view is largely due to the increased persecution of Jews by so called Christians (Crusaders etc.). As a result of this persecution and the zealous proselytizing of some, the Jewish community began to seek polemic arguments against the interpreting of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 as referring to Yeshua as the King Messiah of Israel.
The 2nd Century CE Targum Yonatan (an Aramaic Jewish paraphrase) understands Isaiah 52:13 to be referring to the promised King Messiah:
“Behold, my servant the Messiah shall prosper. He shall be exalted and extolled, and He shall be very strong.” -Targum Yonatan 2nd Century CE
The Babylonian Talmud (codified in the 6th Century CE) also interprets this portion of Isaiah Messianically:
“The Messiah—what is his name? …The Rabbis say, ‘the Leprous one’: Those of the house of Rabbi say, ‘the sick one’, as it is said, ‘surely he has borne our sickness.’” -Sanhedrin 98b, Babylonian Talmud
The Midrash Rabbah on Ruth 2:14:
“He is speaking of the King Messiah: ‘Come hither draw near to the Throne; and eat the bread,’ that is the bread of the kingdom: ‘and dip thy morsel in the vinegar.’ This refers to his chastisements, as it is said, ‘But he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.’”
A later Midrash Yalkut Shimoni says:
“‘Who are you, O great mountain?’ (Zech. 4:7). This refers to the King Messiah, and why does he call him ‘the great mountain’? Because he is greater than the patriarchs. As it is said, ‘My servant shall be high and lifted up and lofty exceedingly’ (ref. Isa.52:13) He will be higher than Abraham, who says, ‘I raise high my hand unto the Lord’ (Gen. 14:22). Lifted up above Moses, to whom it is said, ‘Lift it up unto thy bosom’ (Num. 11:12): Loftier than the ministering angels, of whom it is written: ‘Their wheels were lofty and terrible’ (Ezk. 1:18).” -Midrash Yalkut Shimoni
In spite of the modern Jewish and liberal Christian opposition to the Messianic interpretation of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the ancient Jewish tradition has been preserved even to the present day in the liturgy for Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) in a prayer attributed to Eliezer Ha-Kallir (8th Century CE).
“The Messiah our righteousness has turned from us. We are alarmed, we have no one to justify us. Our sins and the yoke of our transgressions He bore. He was bruised for our iniquities. He carried on His shoulders our sin. With His stripes we are healed. Almighty God, hasten the day that He might come to us anew; that we might hear from Mt. Lebanon (Mt Whiteness, purity: The Temple Mount) a second time through the Messiah.”
–Oz M’lifnai B’reshit, Services for the Day of Atonement, Hebrew Publishing Co., 1928
Some of our ancient Rabbis struggled to understand the divergent elements of Isaiah 52:13-53:12. As a result the two Messiah theory developed. Mashiach Ben Yosef, the suffering Messiah (Isaiah 50:5-7 & 53). Mashiach Ben David, the triumphant King Messiah who subdues the nations and establishes his Messianic kingdom (Psalm 2 & 110). Messiah Ben Yosef is said to die in the battle against Edom (figuratively Rome): he is followed by Messiah Ben David, who establishes His kingdom of righteousness after defeating the gentile nations. The irony of this interpretation is that the two Messiah figures accurately divide the ministry of the living Messiah Yeshua, Who came first as the suffering Servant (Ben Yosef) and will come again as the victorious King (Ben David).
The Brit Ha-Chadashah (NT) solves the question of divergent themes by revealing the advent of the King Messiah and subsequently describing His second coming (Mt. 23:29; John 14:3; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:14-17 etc.)
Rabbi Moshe Kohen Iben Crispin (13th Century) complained that those who interpret Isaiah 53 as referring to Israel were doing violence to the p’shat (plain meaning) of the text:
“Having inclined after the stubbornness of their own hearts and their own opinion. I’m pleased to interpret the Parasha (portion) in accordance with the teaching of our Rabbis, of the King Messiah…and adhere to the literal sense. Thus I shall be free from forced and far-fetched interpretations of which others are guilty.”
None the less, sadly the dominant modern Jewish scholarship view is that of the collective Servant, Israel. Regardless, those who follow Yeshua the King Messiah are given the clear direction of the Brit Ha-Chadashah (NT), which not only supports but also illuminates and affirms the Messianic view of Isaiah 53.
While there is an intrinsic connection between the Messiah and the people of Israel (ethnic, religious), it is entirely dishonest to interpret Isaiah 53 of Israel the people. In my commentary on Isaiah 53 I will further expound on this. For the follower of Messiah Yeshua, the only possible interpretation of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is that it describes the Servant King Messiah Yeshua. Those liberal Christian Theologians who interpret the text of the people of Israel as a whole defile their own misguided faith and at the same time prevent their Jewish hearers from receiving the King Messiah Yeshua. This in my opinion is vindictive of the most heinous form of antisemitism.
In Isaiah 52:13-15 HaShem introduces His faithful Servant and proclaims that the Servant will accomplish the purposes of God and in the future will be highly exalted.
This section is a prelude to the prophecy of Isaiah 53. It opens with the Hebrew “Hineih” which is regularly used by Isaiah to draw attention to something of great importance. In this case, the illumination of the identity and function of the Servant.
As mentioned previously, the question of the Servant’s identity is foremost in the mind of interpreters. It is clear from the Hebrew text that an individual is being referred to, and that this is a literal individual and not a figurative or poetic individual. In accordance with Rabbinical interpretive method a remez (hint), drash (comparative) or sod (mystery) must submit to the p’shat (plain) meaning. Any interpretation of the present text that sees a corporate entity as the servant is in violation of the rabbinic interpretive method.
“Behold, now, pay attention, My servant will act wisely (with understanding);” The wise actions of the Servant denote rule, dominion.
“he will be high and lifted up (like a banner), and He will be exceedingly high.” The three references to elevation show a progression of ministry. Messiah will be lifted above all powers and authorities.
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,” -Philippians 2:9
“Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” -Acts 2:33
“He worked in Messiah when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” -Ephesians 1:20-23
The first two Hebrew verbs used “high and lifted up”, are the same as those previously used by Isaiah in reference to HaShem (YHVH), Who he saw “high and lifted up” (Isa. 6:1).
Isa 52:14 When many were shamemu astonished, appalled at you— thus mishchat he was so marred (disfigured) mei’iysh more than any man, mareihu his appearance (the sight of him), (beyond human semblance), ve’to’aro and his form (figure, shape) mibeneiy beyond that of the children of adam mankind (a man)--
Here HaShem addresses the Servant directly in the second person. This is said in the past tense, the Hebrew shameu expresses a sort of devastated awe at the transformation of the Servant from a marred and disfigured human being to the high, lifted up and exalted Servant of the previous verse. This in itself is an allusion to the death and resurrection of the King Messiah Yeshua.
“Thus he was so marred (disfigured) more than any man, his appearance (the sight of him), (beyond human semblance), and his form (figure, shape) beyond that of the children of mankind.” This second clause is a parenthetical sentence that describes the reason for the devastated awe of those who look upon the Servant.
Isa 52:15 Thus yazeh he sprinkles, spatters (startles) goyim rabiym many nations. On account of him melachiym Kings will shut their piyhem mouths, for that which has not been supar recounted, related, told lahem to them they see, va’asher and that which they have not shameu heard hitbonanu they will discern, consider, understand.
“Thus he sprinkles, spatters (startles) many nations.” The verb yazeh from nizeh (to sprinkle) is used in the Tanakh (OT) to describe the ritual cleansing of a leper by the means of sprinkling of the blood of a sacrifice over water (Lev. 14:7), and the sprinkling of the veil of the Mishkan (Tent of Meeting) [Lev. 4:6]. It is therefore interesting to note the Talmudic assertion that one of the names of the King Messiah is “Nagua”-Leprous one (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 98b). This is based on Isaiah 53:4, 8. The idea being that the Servant of HaShem, who was once shunned by Israel and the nations as a leper, now brings cleansing to Israel and the nations through His own substitutionary sacrificial blood.
“On account of him Kings will shut their mouths, for that which has not been recounted, related, told to them they see, and that which they have not heard they will discern, consider, understand.” The shutting of the mouth is an involuntary response of the body to an outside expressions of power that results in a person being overcome by intense and immediate awe.
The Servant’s transformation from disfigured man to Ruler above the angels will inspire silent awe, both at His first coming and resurrection and at His return. Additionally, many kings throughout history to date having heard the news of the Gospel and the King Messiah Yeshua, have responded in silent awe and repentance. Sadly, the shut mouths of those kings who remain in power at the end of the age will be mouths silenced by the terror of knowing that they have resisted God’s Servant King Messiah and have been found wanting.
“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.” -Zephaniah 3:17
Copyright 2019 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.