Isaiah 51:1-16 The LORD Comforts Zion.
Those who sought the LORD were called upon to listen, to take heed to their true beginnings as the people of the LORD, to Abraham and Sarah not so much ethnically, but to that covenant made with Abraham, and of that righteousness he had by faith (vv. 1-2 Cf. Gen. 12:1; 13:10; 24:35; Ezek. 33:24; Rom. 4:1-4; 9:30-33; Heb. 11:11). This covenantal bond is the only comfort for the LORD’s people, a covenant which also encompasses the whole created order, restoring the earth to an Edenic garden state (v. 3ab Cf. 40:1). “Joy and gladness will be found in it, thanksgiving and the voice of melody” (v. 3c Cf. Ps. 102:13; Joel 2:3). Part of the reason for this joy is that through the law the LORD’s justice will rest “as a light of the peoples” (v. 4). The law would be the standard of justice for all peoples!
This echoes how Isaiah began this book. “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (2:4). The church of Jesus Christ, the Servant of the LORD, is the new temple of the LORD, and Zion on which the city of Jerusalem also rests, is his messianic kingdom (Cf. Heb. 12:22-24). The whole of scripture must be proclaimed, taught, and followed by the church to all peoples, that the Lord’s kingdom would come, that his will would be done on earth as it is in heaven-this includes the law, the whole of the law! By this law the nations of the earth would not only have the true standard of justice, but it would also be that standard by which all will be judged (v. 4a). However, it is that promise given in the garden, and reiterated through Abraham, that the Lord through his covenant would establish peace (v. 4b).
His salvation has gone forth, this coming before judgment, that the remnant of all peoples might through faith claim the Servant’s righteousness as their own, and escape the judgment to come (v. 5 Cf. 46:13; 60:9; Ps. 67:4; Rom. 1:16-17). The heavens and the earth spoken of here are referring to the old covenant administration which would come to an end with the coming of the Servant (Cf. 65:17; Mt. 24:35). However, though administered differently in the new covenant, it would be the same salvation of justification by faith. “My salvation will be forever, and My righteousness will not be abolished” (v. 6 Cf. 45:17). It is heresy to suggest that the saints under the old covenant administration were not justified by faith the same as those under the new covenant.
The NT defense for justification by faith is based upon the scriptures of the old covenant. The Christian must keep in mind what Jesus said concerning the law and the prophets at Matthew 5:17-20, that he did not come to abolish but to fulfill. The law continues as noted above, however, so does the way of salvation, the Lord’s righteousness as ours by faith. This is the righteousness that “exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.” The Lord and the new testament witnesses laboured to show that far from departing from the way of salvation under the old covenant administrations, like the scribes and Pharisees did with their teachings and tradition, they argued that Christ came to fulfill that salvation by grace through faith, as the one whom the saints looked ahead to by faith.
Those who are clothed with the LORD’s righteousness have the law in their hearts, therefore they need not fear the reproach of men (v. 7 Cf. Jer. 31:33; Mt. 5:11-12; Acts 5:41; Heb. 10:16). “The remnant who have escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward” (37:31). This was grounded on a way of salvation by grace through faith “from generation to generation” (v. 8). This salvation goes back to “ancient days,” the covenant of grace initiated with our first parents spoken of at Genesis 3:15, where the coming Seed would wound the serpent and his seed (v. 9). This Servant Seed is the one who dried up the sea, “for the redeemed to cross over” (v. 10, 14-15). Even as he redeemed them out of the bondage of Egypt, he would also redeem from their exile (v. 11a Cf. 35:10; Jer. 31:10-12).
Ultimately the Redeemer of his people through the generations, has redeemed all of us from our sin, both that which we committed in Adam, and that which we also commit ourselves. All the people of God throughout the generations will “come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (v. 11b). The LORD alone is our comfort, and he upbraids all who therefore fear men (v. 12 Cf. 40:6-7; Ps. 118:6; II Cor. 1:3). Those who fear men forget that their Redeemer is also the Creator and sovereign over the whole of creation, including history (v. 13 Cf. 17:10; Dt. 6:12; 8:11). Isaiah, like the prophets of old, spoke what the LORD had given them to say, under his cover (v. 16 Cf. 49:2; 59:21; Ex. 33:22; Dt. 18:18).