Isaiah 52 - Wake up you sleepy head

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The Messiah in Isaiah Bible Study

Isaiah 52 - Wake up you sleepy head

by I Gordon

Isa 52:1 Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city


The study today is about sleeping and waking up. Some would say I am well qualified to speak about the former but not so the latter. I would probably give partial agreement to such a comment but we are not talking about sleeping in the natural here! So you are not likely to find much discussion about counting sheep or drinking camomile tea in this study. What will we be looking at? Well, there are three main scriptures in this little part of Isaiah that speak about waking up. They are:

Awake, awake! Clothe yourself with strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days gone by, as in generations of old. Was it not you who cut Rahab to pieces, who pierced that monster through? Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made a road in the depths of the sea so that the redeemed might cross over? (Isaiah 51:9-10)

Awake, awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes men stagger. (Isaiah 51:17)

Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendor, O Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again. Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, O captive Daughter of Zion. (Isaiah 52:1-2)

Now based on these scriptures and others in the New Testament we are going to have a look for some answers to some pretty simple questions. Namely:

  1. What is spiritual sleep?
  2. Why do we fall asleep spiritually?
  3. What did Jesus say to prevent falling asleep?
  4. What will God do to awaken us from our slumber?

Does God Sleep?

From the three scriptures from Isaiah quoted above the first is directed to God where as the last two are directed to God's people. The context of the first scripture (Isaiah 51:9) is the future exile of Judah into Babylon. Not only was this event foretold before it came to pass, but the hearts and attitude of God's people during that time was also foretold. Simply put, they wanted God to 'wake up!' 'Awaken and act like you did in days gone by!' Now you can understand their desire to see God move in this terrible situation. I'm sure you have all had times where you felt as though God were asleep and you just long for Him to awaken from His slumber. That of course is what you 'feel'. But is it reality... does God sleep? Does He need to be awakened from a slumber? The answer, obviously, is that God does not sleep!

I lift up my eyes to the hills-- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip-- he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep . The LORD watches over you-- the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm-- he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. (Psalms 121:1-8)

So though the children of Israel spoke as if God needed to awaken, the problem isn't with Him... He hasn't dozed off! So let's look elsewhere...

God's reply... How about you wake up?

The second and third scriptures are straight from God to His people. And in so many words you can hear God saying 'Actually, it's not me that is asleep. You need to awaken. You need to rise up!' Now the application of these thoughts is what we will examine for it is far from just an Old Testament concept. Mankind since the time of the fall has always had a propensity to fall asleep spiritually. Even some of God's 'greats' have fallen into this trap. [1] There are many forces both within and without that do not want you to succeed as a Christian. And a slow choking of the life of God is generally the enemies preferred method.

Alright, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's just define a few terms:

What is spiritual sleep?

Well, maybe it is easier to first talk about spiritual renewal. What is a spiritual awakening, for that is what God was asking from His people in Isaiah. A spiritual awakening occurs when your eyes are opened through a fresh revelation of the greatness of God (and often after a fresh revelation of your own state) leading to an inward hunger to seek and follow and experience more of Him.

Spiritual sleep, which is obviously the opposite, is the process through which the heart grows cold to the things of God. The spiritual senses are dulled and the person of God and His relevance in your life no longer takes the place that it once did. Now I do not mean that a person in such a state necessarily stops 'going to church' or performing other 'religious' activities. No, no, no. More often than not, those things will continue. This shouldn't surprise for even in the natural a person can and does sleep walk and talk! It is quite possible that a person spiritually asleep will carry on with the normal outward routine though the heart and passion have long gone.

Why do we fall asleep spiritually?

There are lots of reasons but some of the common ones are:

  • Prolonged difficulties which has led to bitterness towards God.
  • A hardening of your heart by the deceitfulness of sin as Hebrews tells us about:
    But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13)
  • The slow 'choking' of worldliness as mentioned by Jesus in the parable of the sower:
    "And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Matt 13:22)

Often, as I said previously, it is a slow subtle drawing away that leaves us unaware of our true condition [2] . So be on guard as the Bible tells us!

So what should we do about it?

So then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. (1 Thessalonians 5:6)

Let's have a look at an example for the gospels and see what Jesus said about 'sleeping' and keeping alert.

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter. Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done." When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near , and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. (Matthew 26:36-45)

The story mentioned above occurred just shortly before Jesus was arrested and later crucified. It occurred at a time when Jesus, as He contemplated the cross, was at a point of extreme temptation and testing [3] . Having taken Peter, James and John into the garden with Him, He asked them to keep watch while He went away and prayed during this difficult time. A simple request don't you think? Yet what did they do? They fell asleep... and not just once! And if you think that is bad, I bet you do it as well!

Now they fell asleep physically but when Jesus saw them, He knew that what they really needed to be wary of was falling asleep spiritually. So what did Jesus tell them? I'll put them in RED like little warning signs for you!

  • 'Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation!'
    Firstly watch. Keep watch over yourself and your relationship with God. Keep watch over your heart and the affections that it is drawn to. Keep watch over your doctrine always remembering that there are swamps and marshes to the left and the right! Watch!

    Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)

    Secondly pray! Pray that the Lord will keep you. Pray that His strength will overcome temptation. Pray that you will have eyes to see and that spiritual sleep will not overtake you. Pray that you will not become bitter or hardened by sin. Pray!

    Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; (Colossians 4:2)
  • 'The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak!'
    This gives the reason for the urgent call to 'watch and pray' above! Why do we have to watch our heart? Because the flesh is weak. Why do we need to pray and bring God into the situation? Because the flesh is weak. Now the human spirit is often willing. How many times have you had a thought that you would like to have more or better 'quiet times' with God? And you thought you 'will' make it happen. Did it happen? The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak! So watch and pray!

  • 'Look... The hour is near!'
    In its context Jesus was telling them to be watchful, alert and sober for the hour that He had spoken about, the hour of his death, was at hand. Now was not a good time to be dozing off! For us, the message concerns not Jesus' death but His return. Keep watch for that hour is at hand! And, as Jesus warned, spiritual deception will rampant in the last days. Therefore don't fall asleep!

    " Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. " But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man." (Luke 21:34-36)

But what if we won't wake up?

In the natural there are several methods that can be employed to wake someone up. You generally start by calling their name. Should they not respond, a light shake is usually effective. Failing that, a vigorous shake or a bucket of water should do the trick. But what about God? How does He 'wake us up' from our spiritual slumber? Well, He too starts by calling our name. [4] But should no reply be given, God can also move on to the next stage and start a little 'shaking'. The Bible tells us that eventually, in the last days when the hearts of men are hardened to the thought of God, this shaking shall be on a global scale. [5] It is time for the church to wake up. [6] As we see these things unfold, let us understand the hour in which we live and be found alert. As the scripture says:

And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11-12)


Ok, let's finish by going back to the start. Read again the following command by God in the book of Isaiah:

Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendor, O Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again. Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, O captive Daughter of Zion. (Isaiah 52:1-2)

God is the one who provides His people with strength but He does ask that we put it on! So how can you put on your garments of splendour? Only by walking in a close relationship with Jesus Christ and by recognising that He is your strength and He is your beauty. There is a great need in this age and time for God's people to be sober and alert. So watch and pray! Realise your own weakness and propensity to fall into temptation for the 'spirit is willing but the flesh is weak'. Is there dust that you need to shake off? Do you need to awake and rise up? If so, tell the Lord about it first and foremost and believe His promise that He will shine upon you to be what you cannot be in yourself! Let me close with that:

For this reason it says, "Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you." Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:14-17)

[1]  Thinking specifically about King David actually... The man after God's own heart. I have spoken about this before but as a young Christian I heard a tape by Hal Lindsey entitled 'The peril of unconscious decay.' If ever there was a sermon 'title' that just stayed with me it was this one! There is something slightly troubling about that title... The peril of unconscious decay. Hmmm I like it. Anyway, the sermon was on the life of David and it has stuck with me ever since. He talked about David's sin with Bathsheba and how it didn't just suddenly happen. David had been slowly, and maybe even unconsciously, slipping away from his regular duties and his walk with God. There was a slow spiritual sleep settling upon him and his eyes were becoming heavy in regards to keeping His spiritual senses active. He stopped going out to battle with Israel, and even when he spotted Bathsheba it was when he had just got up out of bed... in the evening! Sin was deceptive. Spiritual sleep was taking place long before he fell into outward sins. But those obviously came. Given time in this state, this 'unconscious decay' slowly but surely led 'the man after God's own heart' into a little dabble here, a little dabble there and before long our beloved King was a murderer!

[2]  C. S. Lewis' wrote the 'Screwtape Letters' in which a senior devil speaks to a junior devil discussing various methods of tempting Christians. It is interesting in that it tells the story from their point of view. Thus when they talk about 'the Enemy' in the quote to come, they are actually speaking about God...

'We know that we have introduced a change of direction in his course which is already carrying him out of his orbit around the Enemy; but he must be made to imagine that all the choices which have effected this change of course are trivial and revocable. He must not be allowed to suspect that he is now, however slowly, heading right away from the sun on a line which will carry him into the cold and dark of utmost space.'

[3]  J. Vernon McGee writes: ' It is impossible for you and me to enter into the full significance of Gethsemane, but I think it was there that He won the victory of Calvary. Undoubtedly, He was tempted by Satan in Gethsemane as truly as He was in the wilderness.'

[4]  In fact God has been doing this since the fall of man.
'Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:9)

Good question! And one He does ask of all that are far from Him. But if there is no response then eventually there are other methods that can be used to wake up a sleeping world. As we shall see...

[5]  A very relevant verse for the world as a whole in these days:
'See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, "YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN." This expression, "Yet once more," denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain . Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:25-29)

[6]  When I first became a Christian I listened to Bob Dylan's 'Slow Train Coming' album quite a bit. I really liked it. One of the songs on that album is 'When ya gunna wake up?' Concerning society he sings 'Adulterers in churches, pornography in the schools. You got gangsters in power and law breakers making rules. When ya gunna wake up? When ya gunna wake up? When ya gunna wake up, and strengthen the things that remain?'

It is probably even more relevant in our time than in the late 70's when it came out. Well, just change 'gangsters in power' to 'banksters in power' and you'd be spot on!

Actually let me just finish this with a quote I came across recently. It was from Daniel Webster (a leading American statesman and senator in the 1800's). He said: 'If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering; but if we and our posterity neglect its instructions and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity.' Gulp!