Isaiah 51: The Cup of Trembling

Despite His anger at them, God is preparing His people for coming grace and salvation. This anger and punishment will instead be given to the nations that have mistreated Israel.

Verses 1-8

God is calling out Israel in a way that resonates with them. They know from their cultural history that God brought them out from desolation and saved them from misery. The names of Abraham and Sara would speak to them on a familial and cultural level. Ideally, the people will have been familiar with how God blessed Abraham. God is asking them to remember His past performance. He also calls into doubt why they disbelieve now.

Just like God blessed Abraham and Sara and brought them out of desolation, He will do the same for Israel. Zion (Israel) will be comforted and all of its deficiencies will be alleviated. In addition to God telling the people to listen to Him, He also makes the following proclamations, statements and warnings about the future:

– Law will proceed from God

– God’s justice will be as a light to the people

– God’s righteousness is near

– God’s salvation has been sent

– God will judge the people

– The people will wait for God

– The people will trust in His judgment

These things can be understood on a grand scale together. Can we look at these statements in terms of Cyrus’ coming physical salvation of the faithful remnant as well as Christ coming to spiritually save all mankind? Yes. But these verses also suggest something deeper. The mentions of judgment and the fate of the earth bring Judgment Day to mind. Examine verse 6:

“Lift up your eyes to the heavens, And look on the earth beneath. For the heavens will vanish away like smoke, The earth will grow old like a garment, And those who dwell in it will die in like manner; But My salvation will be forever, And My righteousness will not be abolished.”

This first passage ends in verse 7 with another entreaty for God’s righteous to listen, as well as the admonition not to fear the insults of men.

The “arm” of God makes a few appearances in this chapter. It is interesting because it is used to represent God interacting with His people and with the world, not unlike how we use our arms to interact with the world. In this chapter, God’s arm is mentioned as the following:

– Instrument of justice

– Place of support

– Strong enforcer

– Defeater of threat

Verses 9-16

This group of verses recognizes that God has allowed His people to languish in sin and suffering at the hand of other nations. But now, it is time to act. God is declaring His power from the beginning as proof that He will save them in the future. The Rahab mentioned here is not the same harlot Rahab from the book of Joshua that saved the messengers. This mention of Rahab is in reference to a Canaanite myth about a serpent named Rahab that resisted God’s creation of the universe (note the absurdity of this myth: how could a serpent exist if God had not yet created the universe?). Suppose that this mythical serpent Rahab did exist: God defeated it. He is calling their bluff that this was an actual creature and confirming that He created the universe despite it. Also, God brought Israel out of Egypt through the Red Sea. Just as He was victorious in these two examples, God will be victorious in achieving His place to save the righteous in the future.

God reveals that the righteous remnant will return to Jerusalem with joy and singing and without sorrow and sighing.

This section of verses shows us that God will comfort Israel and that fear in fleeting man is not justified. God is the Creator and God will destroy the oppressor for the sake of His people, in whatever form the oppressor takes. The righteous that God will save will not need to fear that they will not escape or that they will go hungry; God is all powerful and He will protect and save them!

Verses 17-23

The concluding verses of this chapter paint a picture of how God had punished Israel because of their waywardness, but is now ready to save and guide them. On the other hand, this punishment, or the “cup of trembling,” will now be given to those nations that have abused Israel.

Israel had been in the midst of desolation, destruction, famine, violence and and the lack of a competent and godly leader. Their state was one of drunkenness from the cup of trembling, meaning that God had punished them in abundance. His grace, just a peek of which we witness here, is present and manifests symbolically as a transfer of the cup of trembling:

“But I will put it into the hand of those who afflict you, Who have said to you, ‘Lie down, that we may walk over you.’ And you have laid your body like the ground, And as the street, for those who walk over.”” Isaiah 51:23

This chapter, although dark, provides us with hope. Because despite His anger and the neglect of His name, God has still chosen to save. It is an easy application for us to make today: despite our sins and fickle hearts, God still chooses to save us through His Son Jesus Christ.

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