Where we are:
|Part 1: Judgment||Part 2: Historical Interlude||Part 3: Salvation|
|Chapters 1-35||Chapters 36-39||Chapters 40-66|
When this takes place:
Chapter 59 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile and ultimate glory.
Isa. 59:15b-16 – The Lord saw that there was no justice, and He was offended. He saw there was no man – He was amazed that there was no one interceding; so His own arm brought salvation, and His own righteousness supported Him.
Israel’s sins have separated them from God. Isaiah describes their sins – inequity, injustice, violence, corruption – and, speaking for the people, acknowledges their guilt. Their sins have left them blind and hopeless. The Lord will judge their sins but, as always, offers hope to those who repent. “Indeed, the Lord’s hand is not too short to save, and His ear is not too deaf to hear,” Isaiah writes in verse 1.
Isaiah draws a sharp contrast between the Lord’s faithfulness and Israel’s wickedness:
- “The Lord’s hand is not too short to save” (v. 1) vs. “your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity” (v. 3).
- The Lord’s “ear is not too deaf to hear” (v. 1) vs. “your sins have made Him hide His face from you so that He does not listen” (v. 2).
- God “put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head; He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and He wrapped Himself in zeal as in a cloak” (v. 17) vs. “They … weave spider’s webs…. Their webs cannot become clothing, and they cannot cover themselves with their works. Their works are sinful …” (vv. 5-6).
- “He will repay according to their deeds” (v. 18) vs. “they rush to shed innocent blood … ruin and wretchedness are in their paths … there is no justice in their ways” (vv. 7-8).
Ultimately, the Redeemer will come to Zion and set things right. While He tarries, the people are called to repent of their sins and return to the Holy One of Israel.
Israel’s Sin (Isa. 59:1-11)
Isaiah begins by reminding the people that the Lord could save them in spite of their difficult circumstances. He is powerful enough; His “hand” or “arm” is not too short to save. And He is caring enough; His “ear” is not too deaf to hear. The problem is that the people are so entrenched in wicked behavior that the Lord chooses not to rescue them or hear their cries until they have passed under the rod of judgment and turned from their evil ways. Their iniquities have “built barriers” between them and God, and their sins have caused Him to “hide His face” from them so as not to listen to their pleadings (v. 2). Sin always damages our relationship with God, and when we protest that He doesn’t hear our prayers we fail to realize that the problem lies with us, not with Him.
Take note of Isaiah’s listing of the people’s sins:
- Their hands are defiled with blood, and their fingers with iniquity (v. 3a)
- They speak lies and mutter injustice (3b)
- They are dishonest, trusting in empty and worthless words (v. 4a)
- They conceive trouble and give birth to iniquity (4b)
- Their feet run after evil and they rush to shed innocent blood (7a)
- Their thoughts are sinful (7b)
- Ruin and wretchedness are in their paths (7b)
- They have not known the path of peace (8a)
- There is no justice in their ways (8a)
- They have made their roads crooked so that no one walking on them will know peace (8b)
Warren Wiersbe writes, “The people lifted their hands to worship God, but their hands were stained with blood. God could not answer their prayers because their sins hid His face from them…. Isaiah compared the evil rulers to pregnant women giving birth to sin (59:4; Ps. 7:14; Isa. 33:11), to snakes hatching their eggs, and to spiders weaving their webs (Isa. 59:5–6). What they give birth to will only destroy them (James 1:13–15), and their beautiful webs of lies can never protect them” (Be Comforted [An Old Testament Study], S. Is 56:9).
The reference to vipers’ eggs in verse 5 illustrates the fact that God’s people are entertaining evil, even fostering it, rather than crushing it in gestation. As a result, the evil hatches into a dangerous creature that destroys those who thought they could control it. The New Testament offers similar warnings to Christians about courting temptation and tolerating sin. The apostle Paul urges the church at Corinth to “purge” the “old leaven;” that is, to rid the church of pagan influences and the contamination of those living openly in sin (1 Cor. 5:7 KJV). James writes about the nefarious way sin works its way from our thoughts into our deeds unless we hold it in check: “But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15). And the writer of Hebrews exhorts us to “encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception” (Heb. 3:13).
Isaiah also compares the people’s works to spiders’ webs (vv. 5-6). This is not a reference to being entrapped by sin, but to the manner in which God sees through their empty worship and vain works like one sees the nakedness of a person clothed only in spiders’ webs. We deceive ourselves when we live the lie of self-righteousness.
In Isa. 59:9-11, the prophet summarizes the consequences of the people sins: “Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We hope for light, but there is darkness; for brightness, but we live in the dark. We grope along a wall like the blind; we grope like those without eyes. We stumble at noon as though it were twilight; we are like the dead among those who are healthy. We all growl like bears and moan like doves. We hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us.”
Israel’s Supplication (Isa. 59:12-15a)
In these verses the prophet, using first-person plural pronouns, identifies with the people and confesses their sins. “For our transgressions have multiplied before You, and our sins testify against us,” he writes in verse 12. He acknowledges that Judah’s sins cleave to the people, and the people are well aware of them. This admission proves a deeper level of guilt because the people, who know how to live justly, are engaged in willful rebellion against God. Isaiah goes so far as to spell out the types of sins his fellow countrymen embrace: transgression and deception against the Lord; turning away from following God; speaking oppression and revolt; conceiving and uttering lying words from the heart; turning back justice; keeping righteousness at arm’s length; and keeping truth and honesty from the public square.
Isaiah laments in verse 15a, “Truth is missing, and whoever turns from evil is plundered.” D.A. Carson comments, “Perhaps the most revealing touch is the victimizing of the decent man, the only one out of step … not only public justice has warped, but public opinion with it” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 4th ed., S. Is 59:1).
Israel’s Savior (Isa. 59:15b-21)
Because of the people’s depraved condition, no one but Yahweh is able to save. The Lord sees injustice and takes it personally – He is “offended” (v. 15b). He sees there is no one interceding on the people’s behalf, so “His own arm” brings salvation (v. 16). It is good for us to be reminded that salvation is of the Lord. Men and women are incapable of pulling themselves up by the boot straps, making themselves acceptable to God, paying their own sin debt and securing a place in His kingdom. It is only when they cry out, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” as the tax collector does in Luke 18:13, that the Lord reaches down and delivers them from wrath. Those who bring anything of their own to the foot of the cross, and declare their works worthy of eternal life, trample on the blood of Jesus, which alone can save.
God goes forth like a warrior to fight for His people. He puts on righteousness like a breastplate and a helmet of salvation on His head (v. 17a). His other garments are vengeance and zeal, and He repays His enemies with fury and retribution. In the immediate context, God is standing up for His righteous remnant, punishing even those, like the Assyrians and Babylonians, He has used as instruments of judgment against Judah. In the broader context, the Lord assures us that He fights for us in the unseen realm and will come one day to establish His justice throughout the whole earth. The New Testament personalizes this concept by telling us how Christ equips us to fight spiritual battles. The apostle Paul notes in Eph. 6:13-17: “This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.”
In every case, the Lord is in control. He wins battles for us, or through us. And the result is that people will acknowledge Him: “They will fear the name of the Lord in the west, and His glory in the east; for He will come like a rushing stream driven by the wind of the Lord. The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those in Jacob who turn from transgression” (Isa. 59:19-20). When Messiah returns in judgment, He will pour His Spirit on believing Israelites and instill His words within them. With this promise of future hope, the nation is called to repentance.
Matthew Henry writes: “There shall be a present temporal salvation wrought out for the Jews in Babylon, or elsewhere in distress and captivity. This is promised as a type of something further. … There shall be a more glorious salvation wrought out by the Messiah in the fullness of time, which salvation all the prophets, upon all occasions, had in view. We have here the two great promises relating to that salvation: (1) That the Son of God shall come to us to be our Redeemer … (2) That the Spirit of God shall come to us to be our sanctifier” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 59:16).