Isaiah 51 v9-16

The Lord Gives Further Pictures for Assurance

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Shakespeare is credited with not only creating many masterpieces but expanding the English languages in the use of metaphors and colorful idioms. He coined phrases that are still in use today such as “good riddance,” “seen better days,” “wild goose chase,” and “vanish into thin air.” Why do you suppose people enjoy such illustrative language? God once again, as in the first part of this chapter gives reminders of his past accomplishments to assure his people that he will act to bring about what he promised. This section is also filled with poetic imagery to depict his works of salvation. It helps impress his point upon us.

A) Find what conveys the following poetic devices

B) Explain the point Isaiah is highlighting with each one.

C) Identify ways the same point rings true for you today.

51:9a Apostrophe: addressing an inanimate thing or a person not present.

  • A) “You arm of the Lord” God’s arm, i.e. his strength and power did things in the past and it calls on his arm to “wake up, awake as in days of old, clothe yourself with strength” as if it were sleeping right now.
  • B)  Isaiah is highlighting that God has shown the strength of his arm and he will soon do it again.
  • C) It may feel like God is not acting for you right now, but “sleeping.” Yet he will soon carry out amazing wonders just as he did in the past.  He will come again to judge the world, raise the dead, and give everlasting life, and make all creation new.  This will happen when the Son of God returns in glory.

51:9b Antonomasia: using a nickname or different name to refer to something. (Use the parallelism of the verse and Isaiah 30:7, 51:10, and Ezekiel 29:3 to identify “Rahab.”)

  • A) Rahab is used by Job to refer to a monster that symbolizes the power of the sea and thus also powerful nations. It was used by the Psalms to refer to the nation of Egypt which God subdued and drowned in the sea. (Job 9:13, Job 26:12, Ps 87:4, Ps 89:10) Rahab is probably a poetic name for Egypt here.  (Psalm 87:4, Isaiah 30:7, and Ezekiel 29:3; 32:2.) 
  • B) Isaiah is highlighting that Egypt was a mighty nation, but God destroyed her in the exodus events. God promises he will indeed deliver them from the hand of their enemies. 
  • C) We might feel that the powerful nations today are unstoppable like the raging of the sea or terrible monster, but God has shown he is over even the mightiest of nations. We take comfort in that truth.

51:10 Rhetorical Question: a question asked in order to create a dramatic effect or to make a point rather than to get an answer.

  • A) The Lord literally did these things when he rescued his people from Egypt.
  • B) Yes! Of course it was the Lord. It was a miracle! These things can’t happen by chance or accident.
  • C) Rhetorical questions abound in Scripture because we are prone to forget the obvious answers. Example: If someone is feeling guilty you can ask, “Didn’t Jesus forgive the worst of sinners?” or if someone is afraid of dying, “Didn’t Jesus rise to life just as he promised?”  Yes!  How can we forget!

51:11 Personification: a type of metaphor which gives human characteristics or depicts actions done by inanimate objects, or abstract ideas. Find three in this verse.

  • A) “everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”
  • B) It creates vivid imagery for what would otherwise be abstract. The picture is clear: joy will surround them and sorrow will be gone.
  • C) When God fulfills his promises it will be absolute joy without any sorrow. This is the picture he gives all believers for the joys of eternal life. These pictures can help us visualize what eternal life will feel like.

51:12 Metaphor: a figurative comparison between two unlike things, usually by saying that one thing is another thing.

  • A) “human beings are but grass” This is also an internal allusion to a metaphor and theme in Isaiah. Recall Isaiah 40:6-7.
  • B) The point of illustration is how weak and short lived the strength of mankind really is.
  • C) We ought not to fear or find comfort in mere mortals, but in God alone. He is everlasting. People are short-lived and limited in strength.

51:13 Anthropomorphism: literary device that gives human traits to a non-human character or divine being.

  • A) The phrase “stretched out the heavens” is found in poetry books like Job, 2 Samuel, many Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah.  However, it does not occur at all in the Pentateuch. Some try to use this for explaining that Scripture describes the current cosmological expansion of the universe. But the intent seems rather to focus on the very act of creation itself is like God putting up a tent.  The Hebrew verb is used for general stretching out and also for tent pitching ( cf. Gn 12:8; 26:25; 35:21 ) Psalm 104:2 “The LORD … stretches out the heavens like a tent.” Finally, this fits parallelism “laid the foundations”
  • B) For God the task of all creation is as simple and effortless as it is for you in pitching a tent. He did all this by the power of his Word. Therefore, don’t fear that he lacks power!
  • C) Ever live in terror because of those who oppress you? Just look at the amazing power of the Creator in his relatively effortless acts of creation. He is on your side!

51:14 Alliteration: a poetic technique in which the initial consonant sounds of words are repeated in close succession. Example “All alliteration is absolutely amazing!”

Hebrew for this verse: מִהַ֥ר צֹעֶ֖ה לְהִפָּתֵ֑חַ וְלֹא־יָמ֣וּת לַשַּׁ֔חַת וְלֹ֥א יֶחְסַ֖ר לַחְמֽוֹ׃

Note the NIV attempts to capture some alliteration here: “…soon be set free; they will not die in their dungeon.” While it doesn’t change the meaning of the verse, alliteration does have some value. Discuss the pros and cons of translations trying to capture some of the alliteration in Isaiah’s prophecies. 

  • A) Not all translations employ alliteration to match the Hebrew. Instead, they often favor conveying more accurate meanings instead. Note: some translations may also employ alliteration when the Hebrew does not. Your translation might not have any alliteration here but the Hebrew often has it.
  • B) This poetic device reminds us that the Scriptures are meant to be read and heard and dedicated to heart. Compare the NIV translation “will not die in their dungeon” with other translations. One reads easier in English, the other aims to capture the original words closer without the original poetic flow.
  • C) It is okay to select a Bible for its poetic qualities. Just remember that is the purpose of the translation you chose. One translation (which employs more alliteration) might be more memorable in the English and easier to hear and retain. But the other (with less alliteration) might be better for use as a study bible.

51:15-16 Find at least four more poetic images or devices in these verses and share what each emphasizes and identify what truths you can also apply for yourself today.

  • 1) “stirs up the sea so its waves roar” (Like the disciples amazed at the calming of the storm we take comfort his God’s omnipotence even over nature.)
  • 2) “placed my words in your mouth” (a double metaphor, but God literally does give us the words we need to witness to the truth, especially as he promises to supply the gospel to those who will boldly share it in desperate times.)
  • 3) “with the shadow of my hand I have covered you” (a great and comforting picture of protection from God’s own hand. Think of the blood-stained hands of Christ on the cross and his resurrected hands blessing his disciples as he ascended into heaven.)
  • 4) “planted the heavens, laid the foundations” (The universe is God’s design and his “garden.” he is the powerful creator. We, as his redeemed people, are part of that design!)
  • 5) “I who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’” (Zion= picture of the Church. Those who God calls his own are by his decree his own!  God calls us his own.)
  • 6) Anaphora and Epistrophe (may not come across in all translations, but the Hebrew includes “I” at the start of many of these phrases (Anaphora: repeating words at the start of phrases) And the Hebrew second masculine singular suffix “you” or the second person masculine singular pronoun “you” as the direct object, all placed at the end of the phrases. (Epistrophe: repeating words at the end of phrases.)

Review Isaiah 51:9-16

It is easy to fear those who hold sway over our situation and lose sight of who is ultimately in control. Share what affirmations give you the most comfort in this section.

  • There are many poetic and memorable pictures here to comfort God’s people when they are afraid.