Wake Up Call #1 — The Problem is Our Fear . . . Not God’s Failure — Isaiah 51:9-16

Before the new technology of alarms on our cell phones, when we would stay overnight in a motel, most of us probably took advantage of their wake up call service in the morning. You could always use the radio alarm clock in the room – but you just weren’t convinced of its reliability … so at least for myself I would put in that request for a wake up call at a certain time in the morning. If you were enjoying a good, sound sleep there was nothing more jarring than the ringing of that phone in the darkness of the motel room.

We have arrived at a section in the prophecy of Isaiah that is structured around 3 WAKE UP CALLS:   51:9; 17; 52:1

[follows directly after the 3 Calls to Pay Attention – Listen to God’s Word of Encouragement About the Past, Future and Present]

The first is addressed to the Lord Himself; the other 2 are addressed to the people of God – designated as Jerusalem and Zion. In each case the outline is the same:

  • Call to Action
  • Comforting Response from the Lord

Oswalt: Thus the thread of thought in the three segments is from question to affirmation: Will God, can God, really deliver us from our enemies (51:9-16); it is the enemies who will suffer now, not you (51:17-23); yes, God has delivered us from our enemies (52:1-12).

The tone is one of gentle and gracious encouragement from the Lord. We are building up to the great climax of that most famous chapter in the book of Isaiah – Chap. 53 which clearly describes the work of redemption by God’s Servant/Messiah – who came to suffer on our behalf and bear in his own body the punishment for our sins so that we could enjoy the blessings of God


I.  (:9-11) THE CALL TO ACTION – Directed to the Arm of the Lord — to Once Again Restore the Gladness and Joy of Redemption

A.  (:9a) Call for Strong Action

Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD;

Awake as in the days of old, the generations of long ago.

Young: implies that the arm has been lying asleep and inactive . . . idea of preparation for battle

Close to stepping over the line here in trying to stir the Lord into action

Yet this is often the cry of our hearts – we imagine that the Lord is slow to act and needs to be prodded by our cries; surely He has lost track of the difficulties that we are facing

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Ps. 121:3-4 – remnant had forgotten these verses – the Lord needs no Wake Up Call!


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Oswalt: One may believe quite sincerely that it is possible for God to do something about one’s situation, and even that he will do something, and yet at the same time be deeply troubled that he does not seem to do anything now.

Parunak: The phrase “put on strength” (as a garment) appears only three places: here, the third cry, and Ps 93:1, which also mentions the Lord’s power over the sea (a theme that is developed here).

Motyer: In the Bible the motif of “clothing” stands for character, ability and commitment . . . In other words, it is God’s character to take issue with his foes; he has the ability to do so, and he commits himself to the task.

The generations of long ago — Cf. song “Faith of Our Fathers

B.  (:9b-10) Reminder of Powerful, Supernatural Redemption from Egypt

1.  Power Displayed in Judgment – over Egypt

Was it not Thou who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon?

Sounds like imagery from some type of Super Hero movie flick of today

Speaks of power and violence and domination and supremacy

Beall: i.e., Egypt (see 30:7; Rahab is a powerful legendary sea monster used to represent Egypt here and in Isa 30:7; Job 9:13; 26:12; Ps 87:4; and 89:11; the word for “serpent” is a derivative of Pharaoh, and here refers to the Egyptian pharaoh)

Oswalt: just as a contemporary poet might allude to the Iliad or the Odyssey, utilizing imagery familiar to his hearers but that is hardly part of their belief system, so Isaiah uses the imagery of the well-known stories of creation to make his point.

Young: As God once delivered His people from the mighty power of Pharaoh, so now will He again deliver them from whatever powers stand in the way of their salvation.

2.  Supernatural Displayed in Redemption – at the crossing of the Red Sea

Was it not Thou who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep;

Who made the depths of the sea a pathway for the redeemed to cross over?

No matter how powerful the obstacles seem to us, the Lord can deliver as He did in the crossing of the Red Sea

The Lord can make a way – even where it seems like there is no way

“God Will Make A Way” – Don Moen lyrics

God will make a way
Where there seems to be no way
He works in ways we cannot see
He will make a way for me

He will be my guide
Hold me closely to His side
With love and strength for each new day
He will make a way, He will make a way

By a roadway in the wilderness, He’ll lead me
And rivers in the desert will I see
Heaven and Earth will fade but His Word will still remain
And He will do something new today

C.  (:11) Joyful Celebration of Restoration

1.  Joyful Return

So the ransomed of the LORD will return,

And come with joyful shouting to Zion;

And everlasting joy will be on their heads.

2.  Joyful Rest

They will obtain gladness and joy,

And sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Experience of Apostle PaulActs 16:25 – joyfully singing from behind the bars of the prison in Philippi – demonstrates to us that God intends for believers to already experience this gladness and joy; our lives should not be characterized by sorrow and sighing – although this life does throw at us things that hurt and cause suffering

Beall: This verse is nearly identical to Isa 35:10, also a clearly millennial context.

II.  (:12-16) COMFORTING RESPONSE FROM THE LORD – Don’t Fear Man But Remember Your Maker Who Will Deliver You

A.  (:12a) Divine Source of Comfort

I, even I, am He who comforts you.

Repetition of the personal pronoun responds to the twofold “Awake, Awake

Young: This is in reality the basic theme of the entire prophecy.

This statement by itself should be enough to comfort God’s people

1 Cor. 2 — key passage on how God comforts us so we are equipped to comfort others

B.  (:12b-14) Exposure of the False Foundations of Our Fears

1.  (:12b-13a) Three Drivers of the Fear of Man

 a.  (:12) Overlooking the Impermanence of Man

Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies,

And of the son of man who is made like grass;

Young: to violate this command [to fear not] is to be presumptuous, to assume that God’s command is without meaning. Furthermore, it is to attribute to man a power and ability that he does not possess.

Chuck Smith: Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid of those that kill your body, and after that have no power. But rather fear Him, that after the body is killed has power to cast your soul into Gehenna; yea, I say unto you, “Fear ye Him“” ( Luke 12:4-5 ). The Bible says, “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoso will put his trust in the Lord shall be saved” ( Proverbs 29:25 ). And again, why should you fear man who is going to die himself? Son of man whose life is as the grass of the field which today is and tomorrow is dried and cast into the oven?

Man is not in control; cannot carry out his threats regarding your future destiny

Contrast with the permanence of the Word of God

Example of Elijah1Kings 19:3 – fleeing before the death threat of Queen Jezebel

1 Kings 21:23 – death of Jezebel prophecied; fulfilled – 2 Kings 9:33-37

b.  (:13a) Forgetting the Supremacy of Your Creator God

That you have forgotten the LORD your Maker,

Who stretched out the heavens,

And laid the foundations of the earth;

c.  (:13b) Overestimating the Bluster of Your Oppressors

That you fear continually all day long because of the fury of the oppressor, As he makes ready to destroy?

Oswalt: The implication of the question in v. 12 is made explicit here: to live in fear of humans is to have effectively forgotten God. This is the problem. It is not that God has forgotten his people (49:14); it is that they have forgotten him. This is the problem of Ahaz, and it will be the problem of the exiles, as it is that of the church today. It is easy to say certain theologically correct things, such as that he is both the world’s and our maker, that he is the one who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth, while giving the lie to those fine words by our continually living as though he can do nothing to prevent humans from doing ultimate harm to us. This is a call to live out the reality of our confession, to make creed and behavior coinhere. If God is the creator, then we need not fear the anger of any oppressor, no matter how horrifying his or her plans are. None of this is to deny the horror, the pain, the degradation of oppression. This is not an exercise in self-delusion (imagine you are not being oppressed and you won’t be!). Rather, it is a call to focus on a larger reality. If the oppressor fills my horizon, then I have only one option: be ruled by fear and hatred. But if a larger reality fills my horizon, then where is the anger of the oppressor? If we know that it is God who holds our ultimate destiny, then the oppressor no longer holds power over us. Yes, oppressors may hurt us, even kill us, but they do not have the power to make us fear them or hate them. God is the ruler over all.

2.  (:13b-14) Imagined Threats Have No Substance

 a.  Wrath Evaporates

But where is the fury of the oppressor?

b.  Dangers Not Realized

The exile will soon be set free,

and will not die in the dungeon,

nor will his bread be lacking.

Young: The root meaning is to stoop, and the participial form here therefore means, one stooping, bending, as though under a burden. Possibly therefore it refers to those who sit in prison bent over, and so may be rendered in English by prisoners. Although the Hebrew is anarthrous (for this is poetic language), in English we may render, The prisoner hastens to be delivered.

C.  (:15-16) Two Encouragements Regarding God’s Protection and Provision of His People

1.  (:15) Sovereignty of God’s Control

For I am the LORD your God, who stirs up the sea and its waves roar

(the LORD of hosts is His name).

2.  (:16) Security of God’s Care – Administered by His Servant/Messiah

And I have put My words in your mouth,

and have covered you with the shadow of My hand,

to establish the heavens,

to found the earth,

and to say to Zion, ‘You are My people.’

  • Communicating the Mind of God
  • Creating New Heavens and New Earth
  • Continuing the Covenant Relationship

Young: the means employed [for God to deliver His people] = the revelation of God . . . in light of the nature of the work to be accomplished, it seems best to regard the One in whose mouth God places His words as the Messiah Himself, the One who is to plant the heavens and found the earth and bring a message of comfort to Zion.

Speaking here of the Servant

Oswalt: the segment began with an appeal to God’s mighty work in the past, both in creation and in redemption (vv. 12-13a). Then the move was to the present with its assurance that it is possible to live in confidence (vv. 13b-15). Now at the end of the segment, we move to the final state of the cosmos and of the people that God has made. . . for the cosmos is to be remade (65:17), and the people of whom it was said “not my people” shall be called “my people” (Hos. 2:23; Isa. 65:19). How is that to happen? It is to happen through the word of the Servant/Messiah.

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