The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah. The text is Isaiah 51:1-6 and can be divided into two sections. In verses 1-3, Isaiah points the people to the past, to what is behind to prepare them for what is ahead. It is Isaiah’s way of encouraging the people as they are struggling through difficult times with even more suffering on the horizon. In these verses, Isaiah invokes the Covenant in reminding the people of their father and mother, Abraham and Sarah. Because God has made the covenant and has remained faithful to it, they can be comforted and assured He will continue to follow the same path. In a sense, it is Isaiah showing them their guarantee given by the LORD.
The next three verses have a distinct “mission” character to them. In these verses Isaiah invokes the Torah—the teachings of the LORD—which will go forward to all peoples. The LORD will establish His justice and, along with His teachings, they will be a light to the Gentiles—all peoples.
The LORD will establish His justice and, along with His teachings, they will be a light to the Gentiles—all peoples.
In a way, Isaiah first reminds the people of who they are and then tells them why they are who they are; to bring the teachings and promises of the LORD to all people. This would have been a strange message for the audience addressed. The people of Israel and taken the Covenant and separation language to mean salvation and restoration was their exclusive property. So, Isaiah points to the Covenant and the real reason they have been set aside—to take the light of the Gospel to all peoples. The LORD’s desire that all would believe in Him and be saved is true for both the Old Testament and the New. This was scandalous to the people of Israel at the time.
Note the use of תוֹרָה “Torah” in verse 4. Most translations will render this as, “Law,” which is far from helpful. The most common use of Torah in the OT is as, “teaching; revelation; instruction; word.” The entire revelation of God is to go forth into all the world, not simply His “Law.”
51:1 רֹדְפֵי צֶדֶק “(Ro-de-fei Tze-dek) “ones pursuing righteousness”
מְבַקְשֵׁי יְהוָה. (me-vak-Shei Yah-weh) “ones seeking the LORD”
הַבִּיטוּ; (hab-Bi-tu) root: נבט (naw-bat) Hiphil: “to look with confidence; to consider”
חֻצַּבְתֶּם (chutz-tzav-Tem) root: חצב (khaw-tsab) Pual: “to be hewn out”
מַקֶּבֶת בּוֹר (mak-Ke-vet Bor) “excavation pit; quarry” lit.- the hole of the pit
נֻקַּרְתֶּם (nuk-kar-Tem) root: נקר (naw-kar) Pual: “to be dug; to be quarried out”
51:2 תְּחוֹלֶלְכֶם (te-cho-lel-Chem) root: חול (khool) Polel: “to bear; to bring forth”
51:3 חָרְבֹתֶיהָ (cha-re-vo-Tei-ha) from: חרבה (khor-baw) “waste places; ruins”
וְעַרְבָתָהּ (ve-ar-va-Tah) from: ערבה (ar-aw-baw) “wilderness; desert”
כְּגַן (ke-gan) from: גַן (gan) “garden”
שָׂשׂוֹן (sa-Son) “joy; jubilation; exultation”
וְשִׂמְחָה (ve-sim-Chah) “gladness; joy; jubilation”
תּוֹדָה (to-Dah) “song of praise; song of thanksgiving”
זִמְרָה (zim-Rah) “melody; song; joyous sound”
51:4 הַקְשִׁיבוּ; (hak-Shi-vu) root: קשׁב (kaw-shab) Hiphil: “to listen attentively; to give full attention”
וּלְאוּמִּי (u-le-um-Mi) from: לאם. (leom) “people; nation”
הַאֲזִינוּ (ha-a-Zi-nu) root: אזן (aw-zan) Hiphil: “to give ear; to listen to” It is easier to see the chiastic structure of this verse in the Hebrew.
אַרְגִּיעַ; (ar-Gi-a) root: רגע (raw-gah) Hiphil, imperfect: “to place; to establish” A strange word which, with מִשְׁפָּטִי (mish-pa-Ti), is best translated as: “I will establish my justice.”
51:5 קָרוֹב (ka-Rov) “near” As in, “near is my righteousness; my righteousness is near”
יָצָא (ya-Tza) “to go out; to go forth” As in, “my salvation goes forth”
וּזְרֹעַי (u-ze-ro) from: זרוֹע (zer-o-ah) “arm” Dual form: two arms.
אִיִּים (i-Yim) from: איi (ee) “distant shore; coastland; coastal islands” Indicates the far reaches. Sometimes used synonymously for “Gentiles” or “Nations.”
יְקַוּוּ> (ye-kav-Vu) root: קוה (kaw-vaw) Piel: “ to wait; to hope: to look expectantly”
יְיַחֵלוּן> (ye-ya-che-Lun) root: יחל (yaw-chal) Piel: “to wait; to hope for” These two verbs in the Piel indicate saving faith.
51:6 וְהַבִּיטוּ (ve-hab-Bi-tu) root: נבט (naw-bat) Hiphil: “to look”
כֶּעָשָׁן (ke-a-Shan) from: עשׁן (aw-shawn) “smoke”
נִמְלָחוּ (nim-La-chu) root: מלח (maw-lakh) Niphal: “to be torn to pieces; to be scattered; to vanish” This is a hapax legomenon.
תִּבְלֶה (tiv-Leh) root: בלה (baw-law) Qal: “to be worn out; to wear out”
כֵן (chen) A strange word that probably refers to a small insect like a gnat or lice.
תֵחָתe (te-Chat) root: חתתe (khaw-thath) Niphal (perhaps a Qal imperative—same meaning): “to be shattered; to be abolished; to be annihilated”.
Here is a possible sermon introduction following the theme of a “Lifetime Guarantee” as the people are reminded of their connection to the Covenant even amid ruin and impending disaster:
I was driving down the road listening to the radio the other day and the disc jockey told his listeners he was now going to play music to fill out warrantee cards by. This was right after Christmas and it made me wonder what I had done with all the warrantee cards that came with my gifts—probably went the same route as the wrapping paper. Then I began to ponder all of the guarantees we receive that are connected to these warrantees. Of course, the best is when you get a lifetime guarantee! However, many times I buy a product after I look at the guarantee. Then I know how long it will last. If it comes with a 90 day guarantee it will last 91 days—never fails! Years ago, car makers admitted that they had “planned obsolescence.” They did not expect their product to last forever, in fact, they built them so they would not last forever. That way you would have to buy another one! I believe that was when foreign car manufacturers started to make great inroads in our country.
Why don’t you fill out the warrantee cards? I don’t fill them out because I am skeptical. Too often I have seen the item burn out right after the warrantee expires. Or, if it breaks under warrantee I have to send it back to the company to be fixed. It takes 6-8 weeks to fix a 98 cent part and the postage is $37—that is not covered on the warrantee. Useless! I ignore the warrantee because I do not believe it!
In our text, the prophet Isaiah is looking around at his country. He saw the beauty of his land being destroyed—everything was in ruins. Things were not good—they were being wiped out by a foreign power. So what does the prophet do? He digs around in the kitchen drawer until he finally finds the guarantee—the warrantee card. He pulls it out and he shows it to God and then to God’s people.
I am not certain how the people reacted—but I do know how the LORD reacts. Isaiah shows this to the people to give them hope, but I do not know if that is how they received it. The guarantee Isaiah showed them was the promise, the Covenant the LORD made long ago with Abraham and Sarah. It is recorded in the Holy Scriptures and this is what it says: (read text)
That is a great guarantee… and our LORD who cannot lie, promised! And here is the lifetime warrantee: “But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.”
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Isaiah 51:1-6.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Isaiah Isaiah 51:1-6.