Comfort for God’s People
1. What bleak prospects lie ahead for Jerusalem and her inhabitants, yet what hope is there?
SEVENTY years—a normal human life span—that is how long the nation of Judah will be captive in Babylon. (Psalm 90:10; Jeremiah 25:11; 29:10) Most Israelites taken captive will grow old and die in Babylon. Think how humiliated they will be by the taunts and jeers of their enemies. Think, too, of the reproach that will be heaped upon their God, Jehovah, when the city on which he placed his name lies desolate for so long. (Nehemiah 1:9; Psalm 132:13; 137:1-3) The beloved temple, which was filled with God’s glory when it was dedicated by Solomon, will be no more. (2 Chronicles 7:1-3) What bleak prospects! But Jehovah, through Isaiah, prophesies a restoration. (Isaiah 43:14; 44:26-28) In chapter 51 of the book of Isaiah, we find further prophecies on this theme of comfort and reassurance.
2. (a) To whom does Jehovah, through Isaiah, address his message of comfort? (b) How do faithful Jews ‘pursue after righteousness’?
2 To those in Judah who incline their hearts toward him, Jehovah says: “Listen to me, you people who are pursuing after righteousness, you who are seeking to find Jehovah.” (Isaiah 51:1a) “Pursuing after righteousness” implies action. Those ‘pursuing righteousness’ will not merely claim to be God’s people. They will zealously strive to be righteous and to live in harmony with God’s will. (Psalm 34:15; Proverbs 21:21) They will look to Jehovah as the only Source of righteousness, and they will ‘seek to find Jehovah.’ (Psalm 11:7; 145:17) It is not that they will not already know who Jehovah is or how to approach him in prayer. Rather, they will endeavor to draw closer to him, worshiping him, praying to him, and seeking his direction in all they do.
3, 4. (a) Who is “the rock” from which the Jews were hewn, and who is “the hollow of the pit” from which they were dug out? (b) Why will remembering their roots bring comfort to the Jews?
3 However, those who truly pursue righteousness are comparatively few in Judah, and this may cause them to be fainthearted and despondent. So using the illustration of a quarry, Jehovah encourages them: “Look to the rock from which you were hewn out, and to the hollow of the pit from which you were dug out. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who gradually brought you forth with childbirth pains. For he was one when I called him, and I proceeded to bless him and to make him many.” (Isaiah 51:1b, 2) “The rock” from which the Jews were hewn is Abraham, a historical figure in whom the nation of Israel takes much pride. (Matthew 3:9; John 8:33, 39) He is the progenitor, the human source, of the nation. “The hollow of the pit” is Sarah, from whose womb came Israel’s ancestor Isaac.
4 Abraham and Sarah were beyond their procreative years and were childless. Yet, Jehovah promised to bless Abraham and “to make him many.” (Genesis 17:1-6, 15-17) By divine restoration of their procreative powers, Abraham and Sarah brought forth a child in their old age, and from him God’s covenant nation sprang. Thus Jehovah made that one man father of a great nation whose number turned out to be as uncountable as the stars in the heavens. (Genesis 15:5; Acts 7:5) If Jehovah could thus take Abraham from a distant land and form him into a mighty nation, he can certainly carry out his promise to free a faithful remnant from bondage in Babylon, restore them to their homeland, and once again form them into a great nation. God’s promise to Abraham was fulfilled; his promise to those captive Jews will also be carried out.
5. (a) Whom do Abraham and Sarah picture? Explain. (b) In the final fulfillment, who trace their origin to “the rock”?
5 The symbolic quarrying of Isaiah 51:1, 2 likely has a further application. Deuteronomy 32:18 calls Jehovah “the Rock” who fathered Israel and “the One bringing [Israel] forth with childbirth pains.” In the latter expression, the same Hebrew verb is used as that which appears at Isaiah 51:2 with regard to Sarah giving birth to Israel. Hence, Abraham stands as a prophetic type of Jehovah, the Greater Abraham. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, well pictures Jehovah’s universal heavenly organization of spirit creatures, represented in the Holy Scriptures as God’s wife, or woman. (Genesis 3:15; Revelation 12:1, 5) In the final fulfillment of these words of Isaiah’s prophecy, the nation that springs from “the rock” is “the Israel of God,” the congregation of spirit-anointed Christians, which was born at Pentecost 33 C.E. As discussed in previous chapters of this book, that nation underwent Babylonish captivity in 1918 but was restored in 1919 to a state of spiritual prosperity.—Galatians 3:26-29; 4:28; 6:16.
6. (a) What lies ahead for the land of Judah, and what restoration will be called for? (b) Isaiah 51:3 reminds us of what modern-day restoration?
6 Jehovah’s comfort for Zion, or Jerusalem, includes more than just a promise to produce a populous nation. We read: “Jehovah will certainly comfort Zion. He will for certain comfort all her devastated places, and he will make her wilderness like Eden and her desert plain like the garden of Jehovah. Exultation and rejoicing themselves will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of melody.” (Isaiah 51:3) During the 70 years of desolation, the land of Judah will revert to a wilderness, overrun with thornbushes, brambles, and other wild vegetation. (Isaiah 64:10; Jeremiah 4:26; 9:10-12) So in addition to the resettling of Judah, the restoration will have to include the restoring of the land, which will be converted into an Edenic garden with well-watered productive fields and fruitful orchards. The ground will appear to rejoice. Compared with its desolate condition during the exile, the land will be paradisaic. The anointed remnant of the Israel of God entered just such a paradise in a spiritual sense in 1919.—Isaiah 11:6-9; 35:1-7.
Reasons for Confidence in Jehovah
7, 8. (a) What does Jehovah’s call to give ear to him mean? (b) Why is it important that Judah pay heed to Jehovah?
7 Calling for renewed attentiveness, Jehovah says: “Pay attention to me, O my people; and you national group of mine, to me give ear. For from me a law itself will go forth, and my judicial decision I shall cause to repose even as a light to the peoples. My righteousness is near. My salvation will certainly go forth, and my own arms will judge even the peoples. In me the islands themselves will hope, and for my arm they will wait.”—Isaiah 51:4, 5.
8 Jehovah’s call to give ear to him means more than just hearing his message. It means paying attention with a view to acting on what is heard. (Psalm 49:1; 78:1) The nation must appreciate that Jehovah is the Source of instruction, justice, and salvation. He alone is the Source of spiritual enlightenment. (2 Corinthians 4:6) He is the ultimate Judge of mankind. The laws and judicial decisions that emanate from Jehovah are a light to those who allow themselves to be guided by them.—Psalm 43:3; 119:105; Proverbs 6:23.
9. Besides God’s covenant people, who will benefit from Jehovah’s saving acts?
9 All of this is to be true with regard not only to God’s covenant people but also to rightly disposed people everywhere, even on the most distant isles of the sea. Their confidence in God and in his ability to act in behalf of his faithful servants and to save them will not be disappointed. His might, or power, represented by his arm, is sure; it cannot be stayed by anyone. (Isaiah 40:10; Luke 1:51, 52) Similarly today, the zealous preaching work of the remaining members of the Israel of God has led millions, many from remote islands of the sea, to turn to Jehovah and put faith in him.
10. (a) What truth will King Nebuchadnezzar be forced to learn? (b) What “heavens” and “earth” will be brought to an end?
10 Jehovah next refers to a truth that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon will have to learn. Nothing in heaven or on earth can stop Jehovah from carrying out his will. (Daniel 4:34, 35) We read: “Raise your eyes to the heavens themselves, and look at the earth beneath. For the very heavens must be dispersed in fragments just like smoke, and like a garment the earth itself will wear out, and its inhabitants themselves will die like a mere gnat. But as for my salvation, it will prove to be even to time indefinite, and my own righteousness will not be shattered.” (Isaiah 51:6) Although it is against the policy of the Babylonian monarchs to allow captives to return home, Jehovah’s saving of his people will not be thwarted. (Isaiah 14:16, 17) The Babylonian “heavens,” or ruling powers, will be broken in defeat. The Babylonian “earth,” the subjects of those ruling powers, will gradually come to an end. Yes, even the greatest power of the day cannot stand against Jehovah’s might or prevent his acts of salvation.
11. Why is the complete fulfillment of the prophecy that the Babylonian “heavens” and “earth” would be brought to an end encouraging to Christians today?
11 How encouraging it is for Christians today to know that these prophetic words were completely fulfilled! Why? Because the apostle Peter used similar expressions regarding a yet future event. He spoke of the rapidly approaching day of Jehovah, “through which the heavens being on fire will be dissolved and the elements being intensely hot will melt!” Then he said: “There are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell.” (2 Peter 3:12, 13; Isaiah 34:4; Revelation 6:12-14) Although the mighty nations and their lofty starlike rulers may stand in defiance of Jehovah, in his due time they will be brought to nothing—crushed as easily as a mere gnat. (Psalm 2:1-9) Only God’s righteous government will rule forever, over a righteous human society.—Daniel 2:44; Revelation 21:1-4.
12. Why should God’s servants not be fearful when they are vilified by human opponents?
12 Speaking to the “people who are pursuing after righteousness,” Jehovah now says: “Listen to me, you the ones knowing righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law. Do not be afraid of the reproach of mortal men, and do not be struck with terror just because of their abusive words. For the moth will eat them up just as if a garment, and the clothes moth will eat them up just as if wool. But as for my righteousness, it will prove to be even to time indefinite, and my salvation to unnumbered generations.” (Isaiah 51:7, 8) Those trusting in Jehovah will be vilified and reproached for their courageous stand, but this is not something to be feared. The reproachers are mere mortals who will be ‘eaten up,’ just as a woolen garment is consumed by a moth.a Like faithful Jews of old, true Christians today have no reason to fear any who oppose them. Jehovah, the eternal God, is their salvation. (Psalm 37:1, 2) Reproach from God’s enemies stands as evidence that Jehovah’s people have his spirit.—Matthew 5:11, 12; 10:24-31.
13, 14. What is pictured by the expressions “Rahab” and “the sea monster,” and how is it ‘broken in pieces’ and “pierced”?
13 As if calling Jehovah to action in behalf of His captive people, Isaiah says: “Awake, awake, clothe yourself with strength, O arm of Jehovah! Awake as in the days of long ago, as during the generations of times long past. Are you not the one that broke Rahab to pieces, that pierced the sea monster? Are you not the one that dried up the sea, the waters of the vast deep? The one that made the depths of the sea a way for the repurchased ones to go across?”—Isaiah 51:9, 10.
14 The historical examples of which Isaiah speaks are well chosen. Every Israelite knows of the nation’s deliverance from Egypt and passage through the Red Sea. (Exodus 12:24-27; 14:26-31) The expressions “Rahab” and “the sea monster” refer to Egypt under her Pharaoh who opposed Israel’s Exodus from Egypt. (Psalm 74:13; 87:4; Isaiah 30:7) With its head at the Nile Delta and its elongated body stretching hundreds of miles up the fertile Nile Valley, ancient Egypt resembled a monstrous serpent. (Ezekiel 29:3) But this monster was cut to pieces when Jehovah poured out the Ten Plagues upon it. It was pierced, sorely wounded, and enfeebled when its army was destroyed in the waters of the Red Sea. Yes, Jehovah showed the power of his arm in his dealings with Egypt. Will he be any less ready to fight for his people exiled in Babylon?
15. (a) When and how will the grief and sighing of Zion flee away? (b) When did grief and sighing flee away for the Israel of God in modern times?
15 Now looking ahead to Israel’s deliverance from Babylon, the prophecy continues: “Then the redeemed ones of Jehovah themselves will return and must come to Zion with a joyful outcry, and rejoicing to time indefinite will be upon their head. To exultation and rejoicing they will attain. Grief and sighing will certainly flee away.” (Isaiah 51:11) However sad their situation may be in Babylon, those who seek Jehovah’s righteousness have glorious prospects. The time will come when grief and sighing will be no more. A joyful outcry, rejoicing, exultation—these will be heard from the lips of the redeemed, or ransomed, ones. In the modern fulfillment of those prophetic words, the Israel of God was released from Babylonish captivity in 1919. They returned to their spiritual estate with great rejoicing—rejoicing that has continued down until today.
16. What price is paid in order to redeem the Jews?
16 What will be the price of the redemption of the Jews? Isaiah’s prophecy has already revealed that Jehovah gives “Egypt as a ransom for you, Ethiopia and Seba in place of you.” (Isaiah 43:1-4) This will take place later. After conquering Babylon and releasing the Jewish captives, the Persian Empire will conquer Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba. Those will be given in place of the Israelites’ souls. This is in harmony with the principle stated at Proverbs 21:18: “The wicked is a ransom for the righteous one; and the one dealing treacherously takes the place of the upright ones.”
17. Why is there no need for the Jews to fear the rage of Babylon?
17 Jehovah further reassures his people: “I—I myself am the One that is comforting you people. Who are you that you should be afraid of a mortal man that will die, and of a son of mankind that will be rendered as mere green grass? And that you should forget Jehovah your Maker, the One stretching out the heavens and laying the foundation of the earth, so that you were in dread constantly the whole day long on account of the rage of the one hemming you in, as though he was all set to bring you to ruin? And where is the rage of the one hemming you in?” (Isaiah 51:12, 13) Years of exile lie ahead. Still, there is no reason to fear the rage of Babylon. Although that nation, the third world power of Bible record, will conquer God’s people and seek to ‘hem them in,’ or block their way of escape, faithful Jews know that Jehovah has foretold the fall of Babylon at the hand of Cyrus. (Isaiah 44:8, 24-28) In contrast to the Creator—the everlasting God, Jehovah—the inhabitants of Babylon will perish as grass that withers under the sun’s intense rays during the dry season. Then where will their threats and rage be? How unwise it is to fear man and forget Jehovah, the one who made heaven and earth!
18. Although his people will be prisoners for a time, what assurances does Jehovah give them?
18 Although Jehovah’s people will be captive for a while, “stooping in chains,” as it were, their release will be sudden. They will not be exterminated in Babylon or die of starvation as prisoners—rendered lifeless in Sheol, the pit. (Psalm 30:3; 88:3-5) Jehovah assures them: “The one stooping in chains will certainly be loosened speedily, that he may not go in death to the pit and that his bread may not be lacking.”—Isaiah 51:14.
19. Why can faithful Jews have complete confidence in Jehovah’s words?
19 Still comforting Zion, Jehovah continues: “But I, Jehovah, am your God, the One stirring up the sea that its waves may be boisterous. Jehovah of armies is his name. And I shall put my words in your mouth, and with the shadow of my hand I shall certainly cover you, in order to plant the heavens and lay the foundation of the earth and say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’” (Isaiah 51:15, 16) The Bible repeatedly mentions God’s ability to extend his power over the sea and to control it. (Job 26:12; Psalm 89:9; Jeremiah 31:35) He has total control over the forces of nature, as he displayed when he delivered his people from Egypt. Who can be compared, even in the smallest way, to “Jehovah of armies”?—Psalm 24:10.
20. What “heavens” and “earth” will come into existence when Jehovah restores Zion, and what comforting words will he utter?
20 The Jews remain God’s covenant people, and Jehovah assures them that they will return to their homeland, to live once more under his Law. There they will rebuild Jerusalem and the temple and resume their responsibilities under the covenant that he made with them through Moses. When the land begins to be repopulated with the repatriated Israelites and their domestic animals, “a new earth” will come into existence. Over it will be placed “new heavens,” a new governmental system. (Isaiah 65:17-19; Haggai 1:1, 14) Jehovah will again say to Zion: “You are my people.”
A Call to Action
21. What call to action does Jehovah issue?
21 Having reassured Zion, Jehovah issues a call to action. Speaking as if she had already reached the end of her sufferings, he says: “Rouse yourself, rouse yourself, rise up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk at the hand of Jehovah his cup of rage. The goblet, the cup causing reeling, you have drunk, you have drained out.” (Isaiah 51:17) Yes, Jerusalem must rise up from her calamitous condition and recover her former position and splendor. The time will come when she will have drained the symbolic cup of divine retribution. There will be nothing left of God’s anger toward her.
22, 23. What will Jerusalem experience when she drinks the cup of Jehovah’s anger?
22 Nevertheless, while Jerusalem is being punished, none of her inhabitants, her “sons,” will be able to prevent what is happening. (Isaiah 43:5-7; Jeremiah 3:14) The prophecy says: “There was none of all the sons that she brought to birth conducting her, and there was none of all the sons that she brought up taking hold of her hand.” (Isaiah 51:18) How she will suffer at the hands of the Babylonians! “Those two things were befalling you. Who will sympathize with you? Despoiling and breakdown, and hunger and sword! Who will comfort you? Your own sons have swooned away. They have lain down at the head of all the streets like the wild sheep in the net, as those who are full of the rage of Jehovah, the rebuke of your God.”—Isaiah 51:19, 20.
23 Poor Jerusalem! She will endure “despoiling and breakdown” as well as “hunger and sword.” Unable to guide her and keep her on her feet, her “sons” will stand by helpless, emaciated, not strong enough to repel the Babylonian invaders. Conspicuously, at the head, or corner, of the streets, they will lie faint, weak, and exhausted. (Lamentations 2:19; 4:1, 2) They will have drunk the cup of God’s rage and will be as powerless as animals caught in a net.
24, 25. (a) What will not be repeated for Jerusalem? (b) After Jerusalem, who will be next in line to drink the cup of Jehovah’s anger?
24 But this sad situation will come to an end. Isaiah comfortingly says: “Therefore listen to this, please, O woman afflicted and drunk, but not with wine. This is what your Lord, Jehovah, even your God, who contends for his people, has said: ‘Look! I will take away from your hand the cup causing reeling. The goblet, my cup of rage—you will not repeat the drinking of it anymore. And I will put it in the hand of the ones irritating you, who have said to your soul, “Bow down that we may cross over,” so that you used to make your back just like the earth, and like the street for those crossing over.’” (Isaiah 51:21-23) After disciplining Jerusalem, Jehovah is ready to act with pity and to show a forgiving spirit toward her.
25 Jehovah will now turn his anger away from Jerusalem and direct it toward Babylon. Babylon will have razed Jerusalem and humiliated her. (Psalm 137:7-9) But Jerusalem will not have to drink from such a cup again at the hands of Babylon or her allies. Instead, the cup will be taken out of Jerusalem’s hand and given to those who rejoiced at her disgrace. (Lamentations 4:21, 22) Babylon will go down, dead drunk. (Jeremiah 51:6-8) Meanwhile, Zion will rise! What a reversal! Truly, Zion can be comforted by such a prospect. And Jehovah’s servants can be assured that his name will be sanctified through his saving acts.
a The moth referred to here is evidently the webbing clothes moth, particularly in its destructive larval stage.
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Jehovah, the Greater Abraham, is “the rock” from which his people were “hewn out”
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Opponents of God’s people will disappear, like a garment eaten by moths
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Jehovah has shown his power to control the elements
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The cup from which Jerusalem will have drunk is to be passed to Babylon and her allies