God has returned in Glory to Jerusalem across the desert (vss. 3-5) and the oppressing powers are but grass before his breath-Spirit (vss. 6-8). Now a female messenger announces the entrance of God the King into his city bringing returned exiles as his reward.
It is hard to tell here if the herald is Zion herself, which would explain why it is a she (מבשרת), or someone else. Shalom Paul (Isaiah 40-66, Eerdmans Critical Commentary) thinks the herald is Rachel and that the passage alludes to Jeremiah 31:15-16. Rachel wept in Jeremiah’s prophecy as she watched her children pass near her burial site on their way to exile. If Paul is right, the lady herald is Rachel rejoicing in their return. Some others take the lady herald to be Zion, jubilant that her people are returning.
עַל הַר־גָּבֹהַ עֲלִי־לָךְ מְבַשֶּׂרֶת צִיּוֹן
הָרִימִי בַכֹּחַ קוֹלֵךְ מְבַשֶּׂרֶת יְרוּשָׁלִָם
אִמְרִי לְעָרֵי יְהוּדָה
On a high mountain, get yourself up, Lady-Herald of Zion;
Raise your voice in strength, Lady-Herald of Jerusalem;
Raise it, do not fear.
Say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!
הִנֵּה אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה בְּחָזָק
יָבוֹא וּזְרֹעוֹ מֹשְׁלָה לוֹ
הִנֵּה שְׂכָרוֹ אִתּוֹ
“Behold, the Lord Hashem comes in strength;
His arm rules for him;
Behold, his reward is with him
and his remuneration before him.
כְּרֹעֶה עֶדְרוֹ יִרְעֶה
בִּזְרֹעוֹ יְקַבֵּץ טְלָאִים
Like a shepherd he tends his flock;
With his arm he gathers lambs;
On his chest he carries;
He leads nursing ewes.
A few translation notes:
מְבַשֶּׂרֶת צִיּוֹן could be “herald Zion,” a way of personifying the city as a messenger of good news. Yet the normal use of the construct form would make this “herald of Zion,” referring to someone who brings a message to Zion. The word herald is feminine here, whereas it is masculine in all other Isaianic references (41:27; 52:7). Thus I have rendered it “Lady-Herald.” Shalom Paul’s theory that it is Rachel who brings the good news is explained below concerning vs. 10.
“The Lord Hashem,” is my way of rendering אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה. The usual Jewish practice is to read the divine Name as Adonai, but Isaiah makes frequent use of the actual word Adonai. When reading אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה the Jewish custom is to say Adonai Elohim. The inaccuracy of this custom bothers me and so I prefer to use Hashem for the divine Name.
“His arm.” It was tempting to translate וּזְרֹעוֹ “and his might,” but this could cause readers to miss the poetic contrast between God’s victorious arm in vs. 10 and his tender arms holding his people like lambs in vs. 11.
שְׂכָרוֹ אִתּוֹ and פְעֻלָּתוֹ לְפָנָיו. “His reward is with him” and “his remuneration is before him.” Shalom Paul detects here an allusion to Jeremiah 31:16. God tells Rachel “there is a reward for your work” יֵשׁ שָׂכָר לִפְעֻלָּתֵךְ. The words for reward and work (remuneration) are in both passages. This is strengthened by the connection between Jeremiah 31:10 and Isaiah 40:11 (see below).
“Nursing ewes” is from עול “nurse, suckle.” עָלוֹת is a feminine plural participle, “the ones nursing.” עול is a verbal root sometime called hollow, since middle vavs and yods often disappear in conjugated forms.
After a battle, messengers would go out to the towns affected by war and give the news, good or bad. The people would wait for the message in such times restlessly, since their very existence and safety depended on hearing good news. This messenger says King Hashem is arriving with compensation, a reward to make up for Judah’s suffering in exile. The good news is the return of Hashem, who previously had abandoned the city (Jeremiah, Lamentations) and is now filling it again with his Radiant Glory.
“Raise it, do not fear.” In First Isaiah there is a theme of quiet trust in God, which finds perhaps its highest point in 26:3, “A confident mind you protect in peace, in peace because it is trustful in you.” Similarly in Second Isaiah there is a theme of quieting the fears of the exiles about the road home. It is painful to hope for a return and then face disappointment if it does not happen. Here the Lady-Herald is told not to be afraid to proclaim, to believe.
“Behold your God!” The return of exiles into the city is equated with God himself returning. The restoration of the covenant, of the people of Israel being in the land, is like God’s return to Jerusalem.
“His reward is with him.” Lord Hashem is arriving with recompense to Israel for its suffering. The joy to come will be remuneration for the pain that was.
“Like a shepherd.” See also Ezekiel 34:12 (“As a shepherd seeks out his flock …” JPS) and Jeremiah 31:10 (“He who scattered Israel … will guard them as a shepherd his flock,” JPS).
“With his arm he gathers” forms a contrast to “his arm rules for him” in vs. 10. God is a warrior king as well as a shepherd.