31 January 2012

Isaiah 52:1-12

"All the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God." (v. 10)


Monday's reading looked back through time to recall the mighty acts of God. Today, Isaiah's vision sweeps across the earth, recognising the contrast between Zion (as the home of God's people) and other areas, where they are far from home and God's name is not honoured. But God's dynamic restoration of God's people will make salvation known right across the world.

The passage falls into four sections:

  • The very first words are the same as those Israel addressed to God (Isaiah 51:9) - God is challenging Israel to awake, just as they have challenged God . And when they awake and rise up, they will no longer be captives.
  • The second section (verses 2-6) lists the places where they have suffered in exile: Egypt, Assyria and, by implication, Babylon too. God's name, reputation, and honour, are all defamed through the humiliation of the people; so by restoring the people, God's own glory will be restored too. There will be no bargaining (verse 3); the oppressors will send them home through the influence of God's power (Ezra 1:3).
  • The lovely images of the third section (verses 7-10) are well-known. They set us in the shoes of watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem - who is that coming? It is the Lord (verse 8)! Then we are on the outside, far away at the ends of the earth, looking towards Jerusalem - who has come? It is the Lord (verse 10)! There is a beauty even to the feet of the messenger of peace and salvation (verse 7); how much more wonderful is the sight of the Lord, rolling up his sleeves to defend his people (verse 10). No wonder all the world is amazed!
  • The last section (verses 11-12) reflects Israel's joy that they are coming into the presence of the Lord. This is a new exodus (verse 11), but unlike the first exodus (Exodus 12:32-34), there is no need for rush or hurry (verse 12). Instead, they can ensure that no-one affected by uncleanness enters the Lord's presence.

It is unlikely that a triumphant return ever actually took place - the historical evidence suggests a much more piecemeal process, and the temple was never quite the same after the exile. But there is still huge power to move and exalt in the vision of God, returning with his people, so that all the ends of the earth see salvation.


To Ponder

Some scholars suggest that exile is a good metaphor for the condition of the Church in the West today. How far do you agree with this?

What "beautiful garments" (v. 2) would you put on to celebrate the Lord's return?

Bible notes author

The Revd Caroline Wickens

Caroline is a Methodist presbyter, currently serving as superintendent of the Dudley and Netherton Circuit just outside Wolverhampton. She is married to Andrew, an Anglican priest, and has two teenage children.