9 Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?
10 Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over? (Isaiah 51:9-10)
There is a lot going on these verses. First, we have to deal with some phrases that can confuse us.
Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab,
and wounded the dragon?
Who is this Rahab? For a long time I wondered about this until I figured out that Isaiah must have been using the name “Rahab” to remind his listeners of the story of the harlot Rahab (she’s the one that hid the Israelite spies who were on a reconnaissance mission to Jerico). But this can confuse us even more because in that story, Rahab is considered one of the good guys. The other thing we need to remember is that often in the scriptures prophets used the image of the harlot as a type to symbolize the infidelity of the covenant people to God. “Thou [O Lord] hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm” (Psalms 89:10). “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid” (1 Cor. 6: 15-16). Those who are unfaithful to God’s covenant are those who are going apostate, so as readers we should associate mentions of harlotry with apostasy from the gospel.
What is the dragon Isaiah refers to? I suspect that it is yet another way to refer to Satan. The phrase “wounding the dragon” was to remind the people of God’s promise in the Garden of Eden to put enmity between Satan and the seed of the woman. “[the seed of the woman] shall bruise [Satan’s] head” (Genesis 3:5). Wounding the dragon is an alternate way of saying that. To crush Satan’s head is a great way of symbolically saying that the thoughts/desires/temptations from Satan would be destroyed. If it is hard to see how a snake in the Garden of Eden could be equated with Isaiah’s much more fearsome term of “dragon”, we need only consider how much sin has grown in the world since Adam. Satan is no little garden snake now; his power has grown in proportion that mankind has listed to obey him. The only way we wound him is by repenting through the Atonement of Christ and by following God’s commandments.
Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep;
that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?
Here Isaiah is making reference to the great miracle of Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea to try to remind the “arm of the Lord” to put on strength and get to work.
The odd thing about these verses though, is that it seems odd for Isaiah to address these verses to the Lord. If we read it that way, it makes it seem like Isaiah trying to provoke the Lord into doing miracles like were done in days of yore.
Then I realized that there was another way to read “arm of the Lord”, and it was suggested to me by the talk Elder Uchtdorf gave in conference about how we are the Lord’s hands. It seemed to me that Isaiah was speaking specifically to priesthood holders everywhere and at every time. The priesthood is responsible for cleansing the church of apostasy (cutting off Rahab) and administering the saving ordinances that allow mankind to put off the natural man and be born again (wounding the dragon). The priesthood (specifically the bishop) is also responsible for hearing confession and guiding people through the repentance process (which also wounds the dragon). The priesthood was the power by which Moses the prophet parted the Red Sea and led Israel through on dry ground. Isaiah was calling on the priesthood to put on the strength of the Lord and reminding them of the great things that the priesthood had done in the past.
Thus, we can see these verses in several ways. For those in Isaiah’s day, his words were a call to the priesthood to be strong in their holy offices. In terms of the restoration of the gospel, Isaiah’s words can be read as a prophecy of the restoration of priesthood authority to the earth. No longer would the priesthood sleep in the dust of death; resurrected beings—Peter, James, and John—would awake and arise and ordain mortal men with this same heavenly power and authority that they had. Finally, in terms of today, it is a wake-up call to priesthood holders everywhere to awake from their apathy and stand with valor in their office with the same powers as were used anciently.