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Isaiah 52:9

"Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem". ESV. My emphasis.

Barnes notes on the Bible has:

"The idea here is, that Yahweh was about to restore his people from their long captivity, and again cause Jerusalem to be rebuilt."

My comment: If the waste places of Jerusalem being restored is what is initially being described here, in what sense did Jerusalem need redeeming? Could there have been restoration without redemption?

What has been redeemed? How was this redemption achieved, and be achieved in the past? ["he has"].

Leviticus 25:25 "gaal" has an element of payment.

3 Answers 3

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The issue of payment is clearer in 53:3

 For nothing you were sold,
     without money you shall be redeemed.

My reading is that--as shown in v. 3--it is a future event, even though described in the past tense in v. 9. The prophet (whether one thinks of the historical Isaiah writing more than a century previously or Second Isaiah writing as the Exile was ending), calls Israel to rejoice because of her coming liberation from captivity. His use of the past tense emphasizes the certainty of the event from God's perspective, which is beyond time.

How was the redemption achieved: here the prophet portrays it as God's free gift. Elsewhere, he describes it in terms of Israel enduring punishment for sin, which has provoked God to wrath. After a certain period of Israel's penance, God is moved to forgive. This is expressed poignantly in Is. 54:

6 The Lord calls you back,
    like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit,
A wife married in youth and then cast off,
    says your God.
7 For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with great tenderness I will take you back.
8 In an outburst of wrath, for a moment
    I hid my face from you;
But with enduring love I take pity on you,
    says the Lord, your redeemer.

Conclusion: What has been redeemed? Israel, especially Jerusalem, from Babylonian captivity. How was this redemption achieved? By God's grace, after a period of suffering and repentance. Although the prophet describes this in the past tense, he is referring to a occurrence in the future, when the Jews returned to Jerusalem.

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  • Were the sins that took Israel into captivity redeemed not by money but [Hebrews 9:15] "a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant"? And "he has redeemed" emphasising the timelessness of the cross?
    – C. Stroud
    May 12, 2023 at 22:21
  • that question gets into a matter of theological opinion based on Christian doctrine. It can certainly be interpreted that way, but it's not there in the text itself. May 13, 2023 at 2:14
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The operative verb here in Isa 52:9 is גָּאַל (ga'al) = redeem, or act as a kinsman-redeemer. The word features prominently in the story of Ruth 2:20, 3:9, 12, 13, 4:1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 14.

BDB defines this verb as: "redeem, act as a kinsman", ie, in:

  • redeeming from bondage, Lev 25:48, 49
  • redeeming a field, Lev 25:26, Ruth 4:46 (see above)
  • claim as a kinsman, Job 3:5

However, in Isa 52:9 we have the LORD acting as the Kinsman-Redeemer. The language here appears to allude to its earliest uses in the Torah:

  • Gen 48:16 [Jacob speaking] the angel who has redeemed me from all harm—may He bless these boys. And may they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they grow into a multitude upon the earth.”
  • Ex 6:6 - Therefore tell the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.
  • Ex 15:13 - [part of the song of Moses praising God] With loving devotion You will lead the people You [the LORD] have redeemed; with Your strength You will guide them to Your holy dwelling.

The OT frequently speaks of the LORD being the One and only Redeemer of His people:

  • Isa 43:1, 14 - Now this is what the LORD says— He who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine! ... Thus says the LORD your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “For your sake, I will send to Babylon and bring them all as fugitives, even the Chaldeans, in the ships in which they rejoice. ... Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who by Myself spread out the earth,
  • Jer 50:34 - Their Redeemer is strong; the LORD of Hosts is His name. He will fervently plead their case so that He may bring rest to the earth, but turmoil to those who live in Babylon.
  • Ps 130: 7, 8 - O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is loving devotion, and with Him is redemption in abundance. And He will redeem Israel from all iniquity.

Note that the Jews of Jesus' time were expecting Jesus to be that Redeemer (mistakenly, in a political sense) as recorded in Luke 24:21 -

But we were hoping He was the One who would redeem Israel. And besides all this, it is the third day since these things took place.

In Isa 52:9, the LORD promises to redeem again [after redeeming from Egypt] for Judah and Jerusalem following the Babylonian captivity. The NT appears to allude to Messiah, Jesus, as the גָּאַל (ga'al) = kinsman-redeemer:

  • Gal 3:13 - Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it has been written: "Cursed is everyone hanging on a tree"--
  • Gal 4:5 - that He [Jesus] might redeem those under the Law, so that we might receive the divine adoption as sons.
  • Titus 2:14 - [Jesus] who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all lawlessness and might purify to Himself a people specially chosen, zealous of good works.
  • 1 Peter 1:18 - knowing that you were redeemed from your futile manner of life handed down from your fathers, not by perishable things--by silver or by gold
  • Rev 5:9 - And they are singing a new song, saying, "Worthy are You [the Lamb, Jesus] to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slain, and You purchased [ie, redeemed] to God by Your blood, out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,

Jesus is uniquely qualified to redeem sinners, ie, act as the kinsman-redeemer, because the NT portrays Jesus as "our brother", Heb 2:11-13, 17, Ps 22:22, Isa 8:17, 18, Matt 12:48, 49, John 20:17, Rom 8:29.

Thus, Isa 52:9 is a pivotal text which points back to the LORD being Israel's (and Jerusalem's) redeemer, as well as forward to the coming Messiah as Israel's redeemer. See Luke 24:21 as quoted above.

In Isa 52:9, "Jerusalem" stands for all the Jews, ie, Judah, and by extension, all Israel. See Ezra 1:1-4.

ANNEX - Timing

The above answer deliberately avoids the controversial question of whether Isaiah was written before, during or after the Babylonian captivity; especially Isa 40-66. There are three possibilities:

  • If Isa 52 was written before the captivity (ie, the 8th cent BC) then Isa 52 is a promise to redeem Israel from the prophesied captivity earlier in the same book. The "past tense" (Hebrew Qal-perfect) is typical of OT prophecies - future events are written as though they have already happened.
  • If Isa 52 was written during the captivity (ie, in the 6th cent BC) then Isa 52 is a promise to redeem while the people are still captive. The "past tense" (Hebrew Qal-perfect) is typical of OT prophecies - future events are written as though they have already happened.
  • If Isa 52 was written after the captivity (ie, in the 5th or 4th cent BC) then the text rehearses what God has already accomplished.

My personal preference is that all of the book of Isaiah was written when the prophet Isaiah lived, ie, in the 8th century BC.

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What had Jerusalem been redeemed? The answer is 'its holiness'.

Let's read two verses (Isaiah 52:7-8 NIV) before it

7 How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.

It told Jerusalem was once again holy for God returned and reigned. A metaphor that our soul was redeemed with our old-self destructed.

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