Category: Audio Files

Isaiah 61: The Garments of Salvation

LISTEN: Isaiah 61 podcast

READ: Isaiah 61 notes

STUDY: Isaiah 61 worksheet

Prologue

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 61 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.

Key verse:

Isa. 61:10 – I greatly rejoice in the Lord, I exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation and wrapped me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom wears a turban and as a bride adorns herself with jewels.

Quick summary:

Isaiah 61 reveals that “the Messiah, who ministered salvation at his first coming, will minister comfort for redeemed Israel at his second coming. Jesus read and applied 61:1–2 to his own ministry when he preached in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16–21). Jesus did not quote 61:2–3 in the synagogue at Nazareth because they will be fulfilled at his second coming. In the kingdom, redeemed Israel will realize its destiny to be a priestly nation” (Robert B. Hughes, J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, The Tyndale Reference Library, S. 268).

Take note:

In reference to Himself, Jesus quotes verses 1-2a in Luke 4:18-19. The Messiah’s mission is to “bring good news to the poor” … “to heal the brokenhearted” … “to proclaim liberty … and freedom” … and “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He stops in mid-sentence, however, after the word “favor,” showing that His work would be in two advents. In His first advent He does the work laid out in verses 1-2a. In His second advent, He will carry out the work mentioned in verses 2b-3, bringing judgment on unbelievers and great comfort to Israel.

The Trinity (Isa. 61:1-3)

All three persons of the triune Godhead are written of in verse 1: the Spirit, the Lord God, and the Messiah, signified by the personal pronoun “Me.” Three factors indicate that “Me” refers to Messiah, according to The Bible Knowledge Commentary. First, the association of the Holy Spirit with the anointing points to Jesus Christ. After being anointed with oil, Israel’s first two kings, Saul and David, are blessed with the Spirit’s ministry (1 Sam. 10:1, 10; 16:13). In a similar fashion, the Holy Spirit anoints Jesus to be Israel’s King (Matt. 3:16-17). The Hebrew word for Messiah means “the Anointed One,” and the Greek word “Christ” comes from the word chrio, to anoint.  Second, part of this passage is read by Jesus (Luke 4:18-19) to refer to Himself. And third, the mission of the Anointed One as spelled out in Isaiah. 61 is the earthly ministry of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1116).

Further, when the Messiah comes, He will transform the Jews’ sadness into joy. From a New Testament perspective, the grief of captivity in Egypt, the defeat of the northern kingdom at the hands of the Assyrians, the destruction and exile of the southern kingdom at the hands of the Babylonians, the Diaspora at the hands of the Romans, the Holocaust, and the yet-future trials of the Great Tribulation will become distant memories as God comforts and blesses the redeemed of Israel. Isaiah reports in advance all that the coming One will do for His people:

  • Comfort all who mourn
  • Provide for them
  • Give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes (a sign of mourning; see 2 Sam. 13:19; Esther 4:1; Dan. 9:3)
  • Give them festive oil (to soothe and brighten the spirits; see Ps. 23:5; 45:7; 104:15; Ecc. 9:8; Matt. 6:17; Heb. 1:9)
  • Give them splendid clothes instead of despair (bright garments are a sign of joy and acceptance)
  • Call them righteous trees planted by the Lord, displaying His splendor (Isa. 60:21)

Yes, days of judgment lie ahead. Yahweh will chasten and rebuke His own, but in so doing He will turn their feet away from idolatry and, in the last days, turn their hearts toward their Creator and King.

Israel Rebuilt (Isa. 61:4-9)

The Jews will return to their homeland after the Babylonian captivity and rebuild the temple and the cities. While these verses in some respects speak to this promise, the greater truth lies further in the future, after Messiah returns and ushers in the Millennial Kingdom. Israel will rebuild her ruined cities, even those buried beneath the rubble of antiquity. The nation will be so revered that “strangers” and “foreigners” will assist with farming and shepherding. Every Jew will know the Lord and, as a nation of priests, will deal personally with Him and even mediate on behalf of others. This was to be one of Israel’s ministries in the world (Ex. 19:6), but unfortunately she fell short and today awaits the empowerment by the Messiah to fulfill this ancient duty – one which the church will share (Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6).

The wealth of nations will come to Israel (see also Isa. 60:5, 11). But even more important, the Lord, seeing that Israel’s shame is “double,” will bless the nation will a double portion (v. 7). The “double” refers to the inheritance the first-born son in a family receives from his father’s estate (Deut. 21:17). Just as the eldest son is given special honor, Israel, as the Lord’s firstborn (Ex. 4:22), will be exalted among the nations, resulting in “eternal joy.”

“I will faithfully reward them,” Yahweh promises in verse 8, “and make an everlasting covenant with them.” This is the New Covenant spoken of by Jeremiah (32:40), Ezekiel (16:60; 37:26) and the writer of Hebrews (13:20). It’s also the covenant Jesus established through His blood (Matt. 26:28). Salvation is of the Jews (John 4:22) but offered freely to all (John 3:16; 5:24). In these ways – God’s blessing the nation of Israel and sending His Son, a Jew, to bear the sins of many – “[a]ll who see them [the Jews] will recognize that they are a people the Lord has blessed” (v. 9).

Some may see these verses as relegating the Gentiles to perpetual servility, but such a view mistakes metaphor for fact, according to D.A. Carson, who writes. “Under the figure of a priestly Israel served by foreigners (5–6) and enriched by its former plunderers (7–8), the reality is the people of God (whose status is not national; cf. 1 Pet. 2:10; Rev. 7:9), vindicated and enjoying their full inheritance as kings and priests (1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:6), while the pride of man is humbled and his power harnessed” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 61:5). There is no doubt that Christ’s finished work at Calvary, and the ensuing work of the Holy Spirit,  make Jews and Gentiles alike joint-heirs with Jesus of God’s kingdom (Rom. 8:14-17).

A Remnant Rejoicing (Isa. 61:10-11)

Notice two metaphors for righteousness in these verses. First, “the garments of salvation.” The prophet exults that the Lord “has clothed me with the garments of salvation and wrapped me in a robe of righteousness” (v. 10). This image is carried into the New Testament to depict the justification of believing sinners, who are clothed in the righteousness of Christ (see, for example, Rev. 3:5; 7:9-17; 19:6-8, 14; and note the parable of the wedding banquet in Matt. 22:1-14, in which a wedding guest is cast out for refusal to put on the appropriate attire provided by the king, symbolic of Christ’s righteousness). Isaiah also makes reference to the turban worn by the high priest and the jewels worn by a bride – garments of special meaning that are worn with great joy. “Such is the beauty of God’s grace in those that are clothed with the robe of righteousness, that by the righteousness of Christ are recommended to God’s favour and by the sanctification of the Spirit have God’s image renewed upon them; they are decked as a bride to be espoused to God, and taken into covenant with him; they are decked as a priest to be employed for God, and taken into communion with him” (Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 61:10).

The second metaphor Isaiah uses for righteousness is growing plant life. “For as the earth brings forth its growth, and as a garden enables what is sown to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations,” he writes in verse 11. Just as God’s common grace – which includes seed, soil, water and sun – causes crops to spring up and sustain His creatures, so His saving grace will cause the believing Jewish remnant to proclaim righteousness and praise to all the nations. This promise is for the church as well. “Though it may sometimes be winter with the church, when those blessings seem to wither and do not appear, yet the root of them is fixed, a spring-time will come, when through the reviving beams of the approaching Sun of righteousness they shall flourish again” (Matthew Henry, S. Is. 61:10).

Closing Thought

Warren Wiersbe writes: “The background of this passage is the ‘Year of Jubilee’ described in Leviticus 25:7ff. Every seven years, the Jews were to observe a ‘sabbatical year’ and allow the land to rest. After seven sabbaticals, or forty-nine years, they were to celebrate the fiftieth year as the ‘Year of Jubilee.’ During that year, all debts were canceled, all land was returned to the original owners, the slaves were freed, and everybody was given a fresh new beginning. This was the Lord’s way of balancing the economy and keeping the rich from exploiting the poor. If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, you are living today in a spiritual ‘Year of Jubilee.’ You have been set free from bondage; your spiritual debt to the Lord has been paid; you are living in ‘the acceptable year of the Lord.’ Instead of the ashes of mourning, you have a crown on your head; for He has made you a king (Rev. 1:6). You have been anointed with the oil of the Holy Spirit, and you wear a garment of righteousness (Isa. 61:3, 10)” (Be Comforted [An Old Testament Study], S. Is 61:1).

Isaiah 60: Everlasting Light

LISTEN: Isaiah 60 podcast

READ: Isaiah 60 notes

STUDY: Isaiah 60 worksheet

Prologue

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 60 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.

Key verses:

Isa. 60:19-20 – The sun will no longer be your light by day, and the brightness of the moon will no longer shine on you; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your splendor. Your sun will no longer set, and your moon will not fade; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and the days of your sorrow will be over.

Quick summary:

There is a marvelous future in store for Israel during the millennial kingdom. The believing remnant of Jews, as well as believing Gentiles with their great wealth, will come to Jerusalem to live and worship. Righteousness will prevail. War will cease. The city gates will be open, welcoming all foreigners. Israel’s former enemies will flock to the Holy Land, pay homage to the Jews and work for them. God Himself will be Jerusalem’s source of light, an abiding reminder that “I, the Lord, am your Savior” (v. 16).

Take note:

The Lord’s promise to be Israel’s “everlasting light” (vv. 19-20) is repeated in the book of Revelation:

  • Rev. 21:23-26 – The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because God’s glory illuminates it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.  Each day its gates will never close because it will never be night there. They will bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.
  • Rev. 22:5 – Night will no longer exist, and people will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever.

God’s Glory in Israel (Isa. 60:1-3)

The Lord’s redeeming work will result in unique blessings for Israel, which in turn will attract the nations of the world. When Messiah comes and sits on the throne of David, His glory will shine throughout the land, piercing the spiritual darkness into which the world has fallen (see Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13; 1 Peter 2:9). “Nations will come to your light,” Isaiah writes, “and kings to the brightness of your radiance” (v. 3).

The Lord has chosen both the nation of Israel and the church to be bearers of His light – Israel first, and then the church, and finally both together. Israel fails, falling into idolatry and rank wickedness, which the Lord judges in Isaiah’s day through the Assyrians, and later through the Babylonians and the Romans, until the Lord temporarily sets aside Israel as the torch bearer of His kingdom in favor of the church. But the church will not fare much better, falling prey to false doctrines and spiritual coldness; even Jesus asks if the Son of Man will find faithfulness among His people on the earth at the time of His return (Luke 18:8).

Thankfully, God is gracious, patient, merciful, and true to His promises. Even in the darkest days for Israel and the church, the Lord preserves a faithful remnant, and at Christ’s return both the nation of Israel and the church reflect the glory of His presence. The praise goes, not to God’s people, but to the Lord Himself, who has chosen, called and redeemed His own. Like the moon, which has no light source but reflects the sun’s rays, God’s people reflect the glory of their Creator and Savior.

The Nations’ Wealth in Israel (Isa. 60:4-9)

These verses seem to describe the Millennium, when Israel is secure in her borders, spiritually revived and worshiping in a rebuilt temple. The people are urged to raise their eyes and witness the influx of Jews and Gentiles, who bring their wealth and a fervent desire to worship the Lord in Jerusalem. They come from great distances, and their caravans cover the land (v. 6). The prophets Haggai and Zechariah make similar references to this coming time:

  • Haggai 2:7-9a: “I will shake all the nations so that the treasures of all the nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,” says the Lord of Hosts. “The silver and gold belong to Me” – the declaration of the Lord of Hosts. “The final glory of this house will be greater than the first,” says the Lord of Hosts.
  • Zech. 14:14: Judah will also fight at Jerusalem, and the wealth of all the surrounding nations will be collected: gold, silver, and clothing in great abundance.

Examples of the wealth to be brought are gold, silver, incense, flocks and rams. They come from nations at the edge of the world known to the people in Isaiah’s day, spanning from the Arabian Peninsula to Europe. Some of the wealth will be used as offerings, and some will be used to adorn the temple.

The sight of this great migration of people and abundance of wealth will cause the Jews to be “radiant” and their hearts to “tremble and rejoice” (v. 5). Brought in haste, this wealth will be to honor the Lord. Note how Isaiah documents this purpose: The people will “proclaim the praises of the Lord” (v. 6) and “honor the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel” (v. 9).

The Nations Acknowledge Israel (Isa. 60:10-14)

As Yahweh pours out His blessings on the nation, Israel will be the epitome of the world’s political, religious, economic and social structures. “Although I struck you in my wrath,” the Lord reminds the people, “yet I will show mercy to you with My favor” (v. 10b). Foreigners and their kings will help rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. The flow of wealth into Israel will be steady. The gates of the city “will always be open” (v. 11), and kings will lead endless processions, with vessels laden with riches, into the vibrant capital of the revived nation. Furthermore, the Lord promises to annihilate any nation that raises its hand against His chosen people, assuring them of prosperity and peace. For Jews who survived the Assyrian onslaught on Judah and who now understand that defeat and exile at the hand of the Babylonians lie in the near future, these promises of God’s faithfulness serve as a soothing balm that enables them to endure the dark days ahead.

The finest wood from Lebanon – pine, fir and cypress – will adorn the temple, which the Lord calls “My sanctuary” and “My dwelling place” (v. 13). Israel’s oppressors – the enemies who for centuries have surrounded them and sought their destruction – will enter Jerusalem reverently, calling it “the City of the Lord” and “Zion of the Holy One of Israel” (v. 14). Warren Wiersbe notes, “Some people ‘spiritualize’ these promises and apply them to the Gentiles coming to Christ and His church today, but that is not the basic interpretation. Isaiah sees ships and caravans bringing people and wealth to Jerusalem (60:5–7); and the nations that refuse to honor the Lord and His city will be judged (v. 12). Even Israel’s old enemies will submit and help to serve the Lord (vv. 10, 14)” (Be Comforted, An Old Testament Study, S. Is 60:1).

Matthew Henry lends insight into this passage: “The people of the Jews, after their return out of captivity, by degrees became more considerable, and made a better figure than one would have expected, after they had been so much reduced, and than any of the other nations recovered that had been in like manner humbled by the Chaldeans. It is probable that many of those who had oppressed them in Babylon, when they were themselves driven out by the Persians, made their court to the Jews for shelter and supply and were willing to scrape acquaintance with them. This prophecy is further fulfilled when those that have been enemies to the church are wrought upon by the grace of God to see their error, and come, and join themselves to it” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 60:9).

Righteousness in Israel (Isa. 60:15-22)

In the closing verses of this chapter, the Lord describes the wonders He has in store for His people. Israel no longer will be forsaken but will become “an object of eternal pride, a joy from age to age,” enriched by the Gentile nations and nursed like a favored child (v. 15). Just as Yahweh makes His power known in judgment, He makes His presence felt in blessing: “[Y]ou will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob” (v. 16). As in the days of King Solomon (1 Kings 10:21, 27), precious metals will be plentiful and peace will be the order of the day.

Isaiah 59: The Redeemer Will Come

READ: Notes for Isaiah 59

STUDY: Worksheet for Isaiah 59

Prologue

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.

Key verses:

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.

Quick summary:

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.

Take note:

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.

Closing Thought

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).

Isaiah 58: The Fasting God Chooses

LISTEN: Isaiah 58 podcast

READ: Isaiah 58 study notes

STUDY: Isaiah 58 worksheet

Prologue

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 58 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.

Key verses:

Isa. 58:6-8 – Isn’t the fast I choose: To break the chains of wickedness, to untie the ropes of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and to tear off every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe the naked when you see him, and to not ignore  your own flesh and blood? Then your light will appear like the dawn, and your recovery will come quickly. Your righteousness will go before you, and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard.

Quick summary:

Isaiah takes to task those who go through the motions of religious observance while at the same time committing sins and promoting corruption. The kind of worship pleasing to God includes a desire to live an upright life and to help the poor and oppressed. It also means setting aside the Sabbath as a time to worship God and delight in Him rather to pursue worldly pleasures.

Take note:

The poor and oppressed are always close to the Lord’s heart. Consider these passages of Scripture:

  • Deut. 24:14-15 – Do not oppress a hired hand who is poor and needy … You are to pay him his wages each day before the sun sets, because he is poor and depends on them. Otherwise he will cry out to the Lord against you, and you will be held guilty.
  • Prov. 14:31 – The one who oppresses the poor insults their Maker, but one who is kind to the needy honors Him.
  • Jer. 5:28 – They have become fat and sleek. They have also excelled in evil matters. They have not taken up cases, such as the case of orphans, so they might prosper, and they have not defended the rights of the needy.
  • Amos 2:6-7 – The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing Israel for three crimes, even four, because they sell a righteous person for silver and a needy person for a pair of sandals. They trample the heads of the poor on the dust of the ground and block the path of the needy…
  • Luke 1:52-53 – He has toppled the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly. He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.

Fruitless Fasting, Pointless Praying (Isa. 58:1-5)

The Lord instructs Isaiah to proclaim loudly (literally “with throat”) the sins of the nation. He is not to “hold back” but is to raise his voice “like a trumpet” so that all the people of Judah know that God sees and judges their transgressions. Verse 2 describes the outward righteousness of the people as they go to the temple, obey God’s laws, fast, and appear eager to serve the Holy One of Israel. But the Lord, who sees the heart (1 Sam. 16:7), is not impressed with the external trappings of religious rituals. Remember what He tells His people in chapter 1: “What are all your sacrifices to Me? … I have had enough of burnt offerings and rams and the fat of well–fed cattle; I have no desire for the blood of bulls, lambs, or male goats…. Stop bringing useless offerings. I despise [your] incense…. I hate your New Moons and prescribed festivals. They have become a burden to Me; I am tired of putting up with [them]. When you lift up your hands [in prayer], I will refuse to look at you; even if you offer countless prayers, I will not listen” (Isa. 1:11-15). Quoting Isa. 29:13, Jesus offers a similar rebuke to the religious leaders of His day: “These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. They worship Me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commands of men” (Matt. 15:8-9).

These are important passages that speak to Christians today. Is our worship a humble response to God’s grace, or is it a self-centered effort to draw attention to us or to curry God’s favor? Warren Wiersbe notes, “When we worship because it is the popular thing to do, not because it is the right thing to do, then our worship becomes hypocritical” (Be Comforted: An Old Testament Study, S. Is 56:9). The Jews are commanded to observe only one fast per year, on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29-31), but they are permitted to fast personally at other times. Somehow, the permission to fast devolved into a contest among God’s people to gain His attention. Now they complain that the Lord hasn’t “seen” or “noticed” their fasting. They are showing off their “piety” to God while engaged in pugilistic activities among themselves.

Wiersbe summarizes: “True fasting will lead to humility before God and ministry to others. We deprive ourselves so that we might share with others and do so to the glory of God. If we fast in order to get something for ourselves from God, instead of to become better people for the sake of others, then we have missed the meaning of worship. It delights the Lord when we delight in the Lord” (S. Is 56:9).

True Worship (Isa. 58:6-14)

Fasting is meant to encourage believers to respond positively to God’s commands. As they deprive themselves of certain physical needs – food, sleep, or sexual relations, for example – they are better able to see the weakness of their flesh and to hear God’s voice. Although the citizens of Judah are fasting, they are neglecting the clear instructions from the Lord to care for the less fortunate among them and to treat them as members of their own family who at one time had been slaves in Egypt. In others words, they are missing the point. Fasting should result in self-denial, not self-indulgence. When believers share with others it serves as a reminder that all they own ultimately belongs to God.

Fasting in the Old Testament normally lasts from sunrise to sunset. It is religious in purpose and is undertaken for a variety of reasons: to express grief (1 Sam. 31:13), to demonstrate one’s seriousness when appealing to God (Ezra 8:23), to indicate repentance (Jonah 3:5-10), and to honor the solemnity of the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29-31). Later generations will add commemorative days to the religious calendar and remember them with fasting (Zech. 8:19). In the days of Jesus, the Pharisees fast each Monday and Thursday (Luke 18:12). Jesus condemns the dirtying of the face to show others than one is fasting, but He does not denigrate the practice. In fact, Jesus appears to have fasted often, including the 40 days before His public ministry (Luke 4:1-2). “Isaiah’s point is that fasting as an expression of piety is of far less concern to God than a righteous lifestyle. Spirituality is shown by the loving quality of our personal relationships (Isa. 58:4) and by our commitment to social justice and to helping the poor and oppressed (Isa. 58:6–7), not by fasting” (Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 442).

If the people have an inner righteousness, as opposed to a hypocritical outer righteousness, it will be revealed in acts of charity and justice honored by God. The blessings promised to Israel for obedience are spelled out in Deut. 28:1-14 and include:

  • Exaltation above the nations of the earth
  • Blessings in the city and the country (the entire nation will be blessed)
  • Blessings for descendents
  • Productive soil, livestock and herds
  • Abundant rain and food
  • Victory over enemies
  • Blessings in “everything you do”
  • Establishment as God’s holy people
  • Holding the surrounding nations in awe
  • Many children and animals
  • Being a lender to nations but not a borrower

In Isaiah 40, the Lord promises to reward obedience with light (often a picture of blessing), healing (spiritual restoration), righteousness (high standards), protection from trouble and answered prayer (vv. 8-10). Further, He will give His people guidance, satisfaction, strength, fertility and physical restoration. These are special blessings promised to Israel as God’s chosen people, who are to be a shining testimony of the one true God’s power, wisdom and grace.

For believers today, it’s important to avoid carrying these promises to Israel over into the church. Some Christian leaders today have adopted an entitlement mentality that says in effect, “Because I am a child of the King, and am a joint-heir with Jesus, I may claim my inheritance now – with health, wealth and worldly success.” While this is an attractive point of view to believers who live in a sinful and fallen world, the New Testament nowhere promises Christians a cushy life. Quite the contrary, the Apostles experienced intense persecution, and many suffered martyrs’ deaths. Further, Paul wrote in no uncertain terms that “all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). Even so, believers should take heart because our treasure is in heaven and Jesus promises to compensate us for faithfulness with everlasting rewards (see Matt. 6:19-21; Rev. 22:12-14).

Closing Thought

Trent C. Butler writes: “If ritual fasting was simply boosting one’s own religious ego, what was the key to divine blessing? What was acceptable to the Lord? God called for concrete action, helping others in need. Again the emphasis is on overcoming injustice with righteous acts. God does not want anyone under someone else’s yoke. Here is the beginning of the fight against slavery of every kind. God hates oppression. He wants his people to set oppressed people free. God’s people are dedicated to providing the basic needs of life to those who do not own them. We feed the hungry and provide shelter for the poor, homeless wanderer. We clothe those who cannot afford proper clothing, and we make sure we take care of our own flesh and blood” (Holman Old Testament Commentary: Isaiah, p. 334).

Isaiah 57: No Peace for the Wicked

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Prologue

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 57 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.

Key verse:

Isa. 57:13 – When you cry out, let your collection [of idols] deliver you! The wind will carry all of them off, a breath will take them away. But whoever takes refuge in Me will inherit the land and possess My holy mountain.

Quick summary:

To their ignorance and moral blindness (Isa. 56:9-12), Judah’s leaders have added idolatry and immorality. Yet the Lord refuses to give up on them. If any of these backsliders trusts the Lord and humbles himself, the Lord will heal him and lead him. The promise of peace, however, is balanced by a stern warning: “But the wicked are like the storm-tossed sea, for it cannot be still, and its waters churn up mire and muck. There is no peace for the wicked …” (vv. 20-21).

Take note:

Verse 15 is a remarkable passage. The “High and Exalted One” lives in “a high and holy place,” yet He also dwells with “the oppressed and lowly of spirit.” How can this be? First, consider that God is like none of His creatures. He is above all things, and in contrast to the idols that the people of Judah worship in vain, His eyes are too pure to look on evil, and He can’t tolerate wrongdoing (Hab. 1:13). He is the uncontested master of the universe and has the right to judge all things. He is higher than the highest; higher than the nations and the heavens (Ps. 113:4). At the same time, He is accessible to those who humble themselves before Him and is especially kind toward the faithful who suffer oppression. What will the Lord do for these people? “He will give them reviving joys and hopes sufficient to counterbalance all the griefs and fears that break their spirits. He dwells with them, and his presence is reviving” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 57:13).

The Righteous Perish (Isa. 57:1-2)

The chapter begins with a bleak assessment of the situation in Judah, where the leaders are so corrupt and the social and spiritual fabric so torn that the righteous must die to find peace. Isaiah suggests that many of the righteous will die, mercifully, before the Babylonian invasion and therefore be spared the consequences of the nation’s depravity.

Warren Wiersbe comments: “God permitted the unrighteous leaders to live and suffer the terrible consequences of their sins, but the righteous people died before the judgment fell. The godly found rest and peace; the ungodly went into Captivity, and some of them were killed. Rebellious people do not deserve dedicated spiritual leaders. When His people reject His Word and prefer worldly leaders, God may give them exactly what they desire and let them suffer the consequences” (Be Comforted, An Old Testament Study, S. Is 56:9).

The Pagans Denounced (Isa. 57:3-13)

Judah and Jerusalem are polluted with idols in the days leading up to the Babylonian captivity. Although King Hezekiah and King Josiah are godly leaders who destroy the high places and campaign against Judah’s slide toward destruction, the people are determined to indulge in paganism. Isaiah and Jeremiah preach passionately about the consequences of abandoning God, but their message ultimately falls on deaf ears.

The Lord likens idolatry to sexual immorality, which often is a part of pagan practices. The people are called “sons of a sorceress, offspring of an adulterer and a prostitute!” (v. 3). In public and in private, the citizens of Judah are inflamed with lust for their false gods. In the groves under green trees, they visit the shrine prostitutes. In the valleys, they offer their children as sacrifices (Hezekiah’s apostate son, Manasseh, would burn his own son as a sacrifice to Molech – 2 Kings 21:6). Under cliffs and among the smooth stones of the wadis, they worship gods who cannot hear them or help them. On the mountaintops and behind closed doors, they persist in idolatry and immorality. The Lord pulls no punches in confronting the people. He calls them “rebellious children” and a “race of liars” (v. 4).

The people also are guilty of consorting with foreign leaders and trusting them for protection. “You went to the king with oil and multiplied your perfumes,” the Lord says; “you sent your envoys far away and sent [them] down even to Sheol. You became weary on your many journeys, [but] you did not say ‘I give up!’” (vv. 9-10a).  The Israelites even embrace the paganism of their foreign allies in order to curry their favor. All the while they are hedging their bets, retaining a cursory acknowledgement of the God of Israel. On their doorposts and gates they write the laws of God as He instructed them to do (Deut. 6:9, 11:20), but inside they worship idols “in secret,” a duplicitous religious practices that God finds detestable (Deut. 27:15). In the end, the Lord describes their religious pluralism as a lie; it is neither faithful to God nor true to paganism. As a result, their actions will bring God’s judgment and their idols will provide no comfort.

The Lord’s patience with the Israelites is seen by some as silence, or perhaps abandonment, or even worse, as tacit approval of their idolatry. But He will be silent no longer. “I will expose your righteousness,” He declares in verse 12. The outward righteousness of His people will be exposed for what it is: empty religious ritual. And when His judgment falls, He invites them to call upon their idols for salvation: “When you cry out, let your collection [of idols] deliver you! The wind will carry all of them off, a breath will take them away” (v. 13a). Even so, there is hope, for the God of Israel remains merciful: “But whoever takes refuge in Me will inherit the land and possess My holy mountain” (v. 13b).

The Contrite Comforted (Isa. 57:14-21)

The Lord draws a sharp contrast between Himself and His people in order to reveal His holiness and their sinfulness. While the people are two-faced liars, intoxicated with idolatry, He is “the High and Exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy” (v. 15a). That reality should bring the Israelites to their knees in fearful repentance, just as the Law should cause every person to see his or her wretchedness in the light of God’s perfection. The purpose of the Law is not to save us but to make us aware of our sinfulness. As the apostle Paul writes in Rom. 3:20, “for through the law [comes] the knowledge of sin.” But God doesn’t leave us in this hopeless state. He sends His Son, who lives a sinless life and fulfills the law, then dies in our place on the cross, conquering sin and death on our behalf. Therefore Paul proclaims a few verses later, “For we conclude that man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (Rom. 3:28). The message to the Israelites of Isaiah’s day, and to us, is that Holy God desires a relationship with sinful people, who are forgiven of their sins and made holy by God’s grace. Those who persist in idolatry – whether it’s the worship of a stone pillar or the determination to live a self-indulgent life independently of God – will find themselves outside the security and protection of the one true and living God.

The Lord reacts decisively to sin. “Because of his sinful greed I was angry, so I struck him; I was angry and hid,” He says of the self-righteous in verse 17. Yet Yahweh’s heart is tender and His mercy is evident. “I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and comfort him and his mourners,” He promises in verse 18, foreseeing repentance. God’s gracious act of redemption produces a natural response in His people; it creates “words of praise” (v. 19).

The exhortation to prepare a road for the people of faith in verse 14 harkens back to Isa. 40:3-5, which speaks of a road being prepared for the Lord. But now the people are walking to the Lord. Even though He is majestic, exalted and holy, He desires fellowship with His people and invites them into His presence. All of this is possible, not because men and women have merited God’s favor, but because an infinitely compassionate God sent His Son to invade Satan’s kingdom and rescue believing sinners from death and hell. The praises that flow naturally from the lips of the redeemed produce a glorious habitation for the Redeemer.

The wicked, on the other hand, will never experience peace. Like the storm-tossed seas, they will find rest elusive and will never stand with the redeemed upon the calm sea of glass before the throne of God in heaven (Rev. 4:6, 15:2). Their sinful activities “churn up mire and muck” (v. 20), a stark contrast to the cool, clear living water Messiah offers (John 4:10-13, 7:37-39; Rev. 7:17). The question to all people today is: Which water do you prefer – the murky, churning waters of a self-centered life, or the clear, cool, satisfying waters of a Spirit-led life?

Closing Thought

Matthew Henry writes: “The wicked … are always like the sea in a storm, for they carry about with them, [1.] Unmortified corruptions. They are not cured and conquered, and their ungoverned lusts and passions make them like the troubled sea when it cannot rest, vexatious to all about them and therefore uneasy to themselves, noisy and dangerous…. [2.] Unpacified consciences. They are under a frightful apprehension of guilt and wrath, that they cannot enjoy themselves; when they seem settled they are in disquietude, when they seem merry they are in heaviness; like Cain, who always dwelt in the land of shaking. The terrors of conscience disturb all their enjoyments, and cast forth such mire and dirt as make them a burden to themselves…. My God hath said it, and all the world cannot unsay it, That there is no peace to those that allow themselves in any sin. What have they to do with peace?” (S. Is 57:17).