Recap: Three Sections
The material in Septuagint (LXX) Isaiah from 51:9 through 52:15 divides into three sections.
Section 2: Two Main Ideas
When seeking to understand Scripture, readers will sometimes work from details to the main idea. But other times, certain passages of Scripture will yield their main ideas before readers fully understand all the details. This section belongs to the latter category.
I. Main Idea One: Our Children Cannot Save Us
The passage Septuagint Isaiah 51:17-51:23 appears to yield its main ideas readily. The first main idea is that Jerusalem’s children cannot save her, but God will.
A. Jerusalem’s Children Cannot Save Her
18 and there was none to comfort you of all the children whom you bore; and there was none to take hold of your hand, not even of all the children whom you have reared.
- The prophet most likely intends the name “Jerusalem” to mean the people of Jerusalem. And, Jerusalem’s people most likely refer to all the people in exile.
- Jerusalem had been a highly populated city. Twice in one verse the text states, “of all the children.” Apparently, the people of the city had produced lots of children.
- But these many children could provide neither “comfort” nor support for their parents while they were all in exile.
19 … who shall comfort you? 20 Your sons are the perplexed ones, that sleep at the top of every street as a half-boiled beet; they that are full of the anger of the Lord, caused to faint by the Lord God.
- Verse 19 ends with a rhetorical question, “Who shall comfort you?“
- Verse 20 answers the question, Surely not your sons. They are every bit as helpless and confused as you are. They, too, are experiencing the anger of the Lord. God’s anger has left them weak. They are unable to look after themselves, let alone you.
- Which reader can explain the image of “a half-boiled beet”? Without understanding much about its literary details, it seems safe to conclude that a half-boiled beet would not be useful for much.
Do We Rely Upon Our Children?
How often do we as parents rely upon our children (cf. Psalm 127:4-5)? Do we hope that they will achieve success where we have failed? Do we hope that they will love and comfort us in our old age? For the people of Jerusalem, the Lord God says, No, this will not happen. Your children are no better off than you are. They have nothing to give you.
New Testament Teachings
The New Testament accords well with Isaiah’s statements in this passage. For our own spiritual well-being, we cannot rely upon our children. Cutting that emotional cord of reliance is one of the most difficult tasks God requires of parents.
Romans 8:23 ESV for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
John 1:12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (ESV)
B. God Will Save His People
Nevertheless, God alone will himself save his people. This is God’s message throughout Isaiah.
22 thus says the Lord God that judges his people, Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of calamity, the cup of my wrath; and you shall not drink it any more. (Isaiah 51:22 LXE)
Application: When we as parents turn to the Lord, we hope and pray that our children will see our testimony and turn to the Lord also. But their turning cannot be the basis of our standing with God.
II. Main Idea Two: Temporal Discipline Is Better Than Eternal Wrath
The second main idea has two parts. The first is that God disciplines his people temporally. The second is that God’s temporal discipline ends.
DETAILS: GOD DISCIPLINES HIS PEOPLE
The passage provides much evidence that God strongly disciplines his people. Below are some of the phrases Isaiah writes.
- … Jerusalem, that have drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury: Isaiah 51:17 LXE
- … for you have drunk out and drained the cup of calamity, the cup of wrath: (ibid.)
- … there was none to comfort you … there was none to take hold of your hand Isaiah 51:18 LXE
- … your grief? downfall, and destruction, famine, and sword: Isaiah 51:19 LXE
- … they that are full of the anger of the Lord, caused to faint by the Lord God. Isaiah 51:20 LXE
- … you afflicted one, and drunken, but not with wine; Isaiah 51:21 LXE
- … the cup of calamity, the cup of my wrath Isaiah 51:22 LXE
- … of them that injured you, and them that afflicted you; who said to your soul, Bow down, that we may pass over: and you did level your body with the ground to them passing by without. Isaiah 51:23 LXE
DETAILS: GOD’S TEMPORAL DISCIPLINE ENDS
- Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, [!] Isaiah 51:17 LXE
- thus says the Lord God that judges his people, Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of calamity, the cup of my wrath; and you shall not drink it any more. Isaiah 51:22 LXE
- And I will give it into the hands of them that injured you, and them that afflicted you; Isaiah 51:23 LXE
Application: What Feelings Are We Left With?
Although scholars, and even some pastors, may say that “feelings” should play no role in interpreting Scripture, often our feelings concerning Scripture do indeed guide our decisions to take certain actions. This is God’s whole purpose. God speaks to us through Scripture because he wants us to respond to his call.
I don’t know about you, but this passage leaves me with feelings of great joy and relief. It’s like waking up from a very bad dream and finding out that it was just a dream. It’s the feeling one gets when after having suffered for a very long time, that suffering ends. It’s the feeling I get when God shows his loving forgiveness for me after I have sinned greatly.
The second main point of this passage in Isaiah (Septuagint Isaiah 51:17-51:23) is that God tells his people that his harsh discipline of them has ended. He wants them to awake and stand up. Begin living again, but do it differently this time. This is also God’s call in Jesus Christ.
Good News in Jesus Christ
God displays his great love and mercy when he disciplines his children. How so? God’s purpose in discipline is to bring his children the incomparable gifts of salvation and eternal life. Earthly discipline ends, but eternal separation from God (hell) will never end. Isaiah in this passage prepares his listeners to understand their need for the Servant. The Servant appears as Savior in Chapter 53.
Many New Testament passages expand upon Isaiah’s message of discipline that leads to saving grace.
Hebrews 12:9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (ESV)
2 Corinthians 7:1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God… 8 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it– though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (ESV)
Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (ESV)
Luke 13:5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (ESV)
Luke 17:4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (ESV)
Finally, the letter to the Hebrews echoes God’s intent in Isaiah.
Hebrews 3:15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (ESV)
And if anyone reading this has never turned to the Lord in the neediness of repentance, may the Lord grant you a softened heart to do so right now. Thank you, Lord, Amen.