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Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Isaiah 59

 

 

Verse 1

Kelley stated that this chapter "can be best understood when it is seen in its post-exilic setting!"[1] For once we wholly agree with the critical community that the prophecies of the chapter belong completely to the post-exilic community of the Jewish nation, a long, long time post-exilic, even to the times of the Son of God, the great intercessor mentioned in the closing part of this chapter standing for Jesus Christ our Lord, and impossible of any intelligent identification with anyone else. Of course, only the great eighth century prophet Isaiah was capable of writing such a marvelous description of the times of Jesus.

And it doesn't make the slightest difference, in one sense, who actually wrote this. Even if the critics could prove some Second Isaiah, or some Fourth Isaiah, wrote it (which of course is an outright impossibility); we are absolutely certain that it was written and published in the LXX, 250 B.C.; and that fact alone makes this chapter predictive prophecy at its best. We believe, of course, that Isaiah wrote it nearly eight hundred years before these conditions described here appeared in their full extent.

Isaiah 59:1-8 describe the discouragement and dissatisfaction which the Jews of the first century felt because of their economic and political situation. They were slaves of the Romans, not actually, of course, but politically dominated by the powerful Caesars on the Tiber River. They could not even appoint their own High Priest. Powerful units of the Imperial Roman Armies were stationed in Jerusalem itself, Capernaum, Caesarea, and other strategic locations in Palestine. They did not have their own governors, these being appointed from Rome; and the vassal kings who were the titular rulers, such as Herod the Great, all held their offices under the permission of Imperial Rome. The foreign despots who ruled the Jews were often bloody and cruel tyrants; and, as the New Testament mentioned, Pilate put down an uprising in Jerusalem, mingling the blood of Galileans with their sacrifices (Luke 13:1-3).

In that dreadful situation, the Jewish leaders wanted nothing either in heaven or on earth as passionately as they wanted the restoration of that scandalous old Solomonic empire; and they had dreams that when Messiah came he would mount a white horse and chase the Romans out of the country.

If they had had the slightest understanding of Isaiah, they would have known better, of course; but they remained in darkness. When they found that Jesus did not correspond to their idea of a Messiah, they contrived his crucifixion.

Many of the people had lost heart; and, "They had begun to doubt both the goodness and the power of God. They openly complained that God's hand was shortened, so that he could not save, and that his ear was dull so that it could not hear" (Isaiah 59:1; 50:2)."[2]

The wretched condition of the hardened Israel had at this point ripened into the total and complete apostasy of the Jewish nation. Paul drew upon the description in these first 8 verses in Romans 3:10-18, describing the universal sinfulness of mankind. The parables of Jesus in some instances stress the gross wickedness of the Jewish nation. The unjust Steward, the unjust Judge, and Wheat and the Tares may be cited as examples.

Isaiah 59:1-8

Isaiah 59:1-2 here give the Lord's answer to the complaining Jews; and the next six verses (Isaiah 59:3-8) give Jehovah's indictment of the hardened nation, then nearing the time of their destruction under the judgment of God.

"Behold, Jehovah's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, so that he will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue muttereth wickedness. None sueth in righteousness, and none pleadeth in truth; they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity. They hatch adders' eggs, and weave the spider's web: he that eateth of their eggs dieth; and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper. Their web shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works: their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; desolation and destruction are in their paths. The way of peace they know not; and there is no justice in their goings: they have made them crooked paths; whosoever goeth therein doth not know peace."

No better description was ever written of the Jewish leaders in their devices against the Lord Jesus Christ than is this one. First, the Lord gave Israel the reasons why the nation was not being blessed, why they were under the heel of the Romans, and all the rest of it. It was simply the diabolical wickedness of the Jewish nation itself.

But look at the way they treated Jesus: (1) they told many lies against him; (2) they suborned liars to swear against him in his trials; (3) they made haste to shed the innocent blood of Jesus whom their governor declared to be innocent; (4) they wove a web of intrigue to get Jesus murdered clandestinely (Matthew 26); (5) they bribed the soldiers who witnessed Jesus' resurrection to lie about it; (6) they pressed false charges against him before Pilate; (7) through their friend Herod Agrippa II, they planned the murder of the apostles (Acts 12); (8) their High Priest (of all people) conspired with forty murderers determined to murder Paul, all of the chief priests and elders taking part in it (Acts 23:11-15); (9) once, they even attempted to stone Jesus. This paragraph is a perfect picture of that wicked generation.

McGuiggan described the condition of the Jewish nation at the time prophesied here: "They think and act swiftly to do evil. The innocent seem to be their special target. They have crooked minds, practice crooked actions on crooked roads of their own crooked making; and anyone foolish enough to walk with them on that crooked path finds only restlessness and destruction (Isaiah 59:7,8)."[3] The apostle Paul's description of the same people at that same period agrees perfectly with this (Romans 2:17-29,3:1:19), the topic sentence of that entire portion of Romans is the declaration that, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you (the Jews)" (Romans 2:24).

The wickedness of the people of Israel had already been frequently mentioned by Isaiah; but God had commanded Isaiah to use a loud voice like a trumpet to reveal the sins of the house of Jacob; and this outline of their gross wickedness goes beyond other references to it. Here the final climax of the judicial hardening prophesied in Isaiah 6:6-12 seems to be in focus. As Henderson said. "The awful picture is applicable to that period of history immediately preceding the destruction of the Jewish polity by the Romans."[4] This is surely true, but the same conditions had prevailed for a half a millennium already when Vespasian and Titus destroyed the Jewish nation in 70 A.D. God indeed waited an additional forty years, thus giving the hardened Israel a chance to repent; but the nation had deserved that destruction for many years already when the blow finally fell.

Back in Isaiah 53:8, there is the question, "Who can describe his generation?" that is, the generation that crucified the Son of God. Indeed, it was an almost indescribable generation! The total corruption of the people took place; and even the Holy of Holies in the Temple itself was stacked full of dead bodies! Josephus devoted twenty full pages (beginning on p. 744) to a detailed description of the unbelievable wickedness that overwhelmed Judah and Jerusalem prior to the fall of the city to the Romans.[5]

In the next paragraph Isaiah identified himself with the sinful nation and confessed their sinfulness and depravity, thus, in effect, admitting that all of the hardships and disasters that had come upon Israel were fully deserved by them, due to their excessive wickedness.

Verse 9
"Therefore is justice far from us, neither doth righteousness overtake us: we look for light, but, behold, darkness; for brightness, but we walk in obscurity. We grope for the wall like the blind; yea, we grope as they that have no eyes; we stumble at noonday as in the twilight; among them that are lusty, we are as dead men. We roar all like bears, and moan sore like doves: we look for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far off from us. For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us; our transgressions are with us, and as for our iniquities, we know them: transgressing and denying Jehovah, and turning away from following our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood. and justice is turned away backward, and righteousness standeth afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and uprightness cannot enter. Yea, truth is lacking: and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey."

The meaning of these verses is simple enough. The thrust of the passage is that "We, the Jewish nation, are suffering the wretched consequences of our wickedness." Take it verse by verse. Isaiah 59:9 means `We wait in vain for deliverance from the cruel Romans.' Isaiah 59:10 means that, `We stumble around like blind men, unable to discern truth everyone but us can see.' Isaiah 59:11, `In our misery we groan like suffering animals.' Isaiah 59:12-13, `Our consciences are guilty and they burden us with condemnation.' Isaiah 59:14-15a, `Justice in our land is dead and truth is not available anywhere.'

Isaiah 59:10 is especially interesting, because the blindness of Israel to the reality of Messiah when he came was simply phenomenal. Mark 10:46ff has the story of the physically blind man screaming to high heaven for "Jesus thou Son of David (the True Messiah, properly addressed), (to) have mercy on us!" and the spiritually blind public trying to silence him! Also, the blind man (having then received his sight from Jesus) said, "Herein is the marvel, that ye know not whence he is, and yet he opened my eyes" (John 9:30)! Here are two New Testament examples of truth which blind men saw clearly but which were hidden to Israel. The hopelessness of a people so blinded and hardened and deluded by wickedness was expressed by Wardle: "No gleam of hope brightens our darkness. We grope like blind men along a wall instead of treading firmly; we stumble in broad daylight."[6]

Sin is described with an impressive vocabulary in this chapter. Muilenburg wrote that, "Few chapters in the Bible are so rich and diverse in their vocabulary of sin."[7]

Verse 15
"And Jehovah saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his own arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it upheld him. And he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a mantle. According to their deeds, accordingly he will repay, wrath to his adversaries, recompense to his enemies; to the islands he will repay recompense. So shall they fear the name of Jehovah from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come as a rushing stream, which the breath of Jehovah driveth. And a Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith Jehovah. And as for me, this is my covenant with them, saith Jehovah: my Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith Jehovah, from henceforth and forever."

Despite the fact of this description of Jewish wickedness having a legitimate application to ages other than that of the Messiah:

"It quite appropriately describes the moral condition of the world that laid the foundation for the necessity of Divine intervention by the Messiah. Indeed, this final paragraph of the chapter undoubtedly refers to Him. No one can attentively read this passage and doubt it. This is a most beautiful description of the Redeemer, and of the effects of his coming."[8]

Jehovah's concern at the terrible, near hopeless, condition of mankind; and the statement in Isaiah 59:16 that he "wondered that there was no intercessor" falls short of expressing the fullness of God's concern. The word should be rendered, "He was appalled."[9] The utter hopelessness of mankind had reached such a state that it even appalled God.

"He put on righteousness as a breastplate ..." (Isaiah 59:17). God does not need, nor does He resort to physical armor. He would need such things like He needs a hole in His head! People who talk about the "Battle of Armageddon" should read their Bibles. There will be no "battle," that word being in the commentaries, but not in the Biblical description of Armageddon!

The apostle Paul evidently made this verse the foundation of his describing the panoply of the Christian's armor in Ephesians 6:13-19.

As Rawlinson noted, "The Isaianic anthropomorphism is far less gross than that of Homer, in whose writings the pagan gods actually put on armor, and took up sword and shield."[10] As Jamieson noted, the Christian's armor is like that of God's, except that, "We do not possess any `garments of vengeance, or cloak of zeal.' Vengeance belongs to God (Romans 12:19)."[11]

As frequently observed in all the prophets, the first advent and the second advent of Christ are often telescoped together in the vision of the sacred writers, mentioning characteristics of both in the single reference. Here, the vengeance upon God's enemies is an ear-mark of the last advent, not the first; but, in the sense that God's word is the judge of all men; and since Christ brought God's Word in the first advent, it does have an application.

"A Redeemer will come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob ..." (Isaiah 59:20). No passage in the Bible could more clearly distinguish the impenitent and disobedient transgressors of the hardened, deluded, and blinded Israel, and mark their exclusion from the blessings of the New Covenant, than does this verse. True, the Lord would come to Zion, but not to all the Jewish nation, only "unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob."

As Archer pointed out:

"Redeemer here is [~go'el], `kinsman-redeemer,' which involves a blood relationship (into which it would have been impossible for God to enter, except through the Incarnation of Christ)."[12]

Note the passages here which apply to Jesus Christ: (1) he is the one who is the covenant (Isaiah 35 prophesies the Christ who is the New Covenant, but the word `covenant' is not used); (2) the Spirit of God is upon him (Matthew 3:16f); (3) God put his words in Jesus' mouth (John 12:49,50); (4) Heaven and earth shall pass away but Jesus' words shall not pass away (1 Peter 1:24,25). These very things have already been stated many times in Isaiah, as in Isaiah 55:3; 42:6; 49:8; 54:10; 42:1; 61:1. The tremendous meaning here is that:

"There will always be a seed (a remnant) holding faithfully to God's Word, passing it on from one generation to the next. This promise has been fulfilled in the Christ who received his words from the Father, in the gospel, and in the true church of Christ."[13]

Cheyne correctly identified Isaiah 59:21 as, "A special word of promise to the True Israel,"[14] thus making that necessary distinction so vital in studying this prophecy, namely, that of always determining which Israel is meant.

Before leaving this chapter, it should be noted that Isaiah is here going forward with exactly what he promised in Isaiah 28:10,13, that is, "precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little and there a little, here a little and there a little." All of these themes, all of them, had previously been mentioned at least half a dozen times. This is true of practically everything in these final seventeen chapters; and this identifies them, absolutely, as the writings of Isaiah. This chapter affords a good example of what we mean. See the next paragraph.

The hardening of Israel was foretold in Isaiah 6:6-12; God's righteousness (his breastplate) appears in Isaiah 11:5; 42:6, etc.; sins hide God's face from the wicked as in Isaiah 8:17; the Redeemer here is mentioned in Isaiah 7:14; 9:7, etc.; the new covenant is gloriously prophesied in Isaiah 35. The deficiency of the spider web as a covering and the inability of the people to cover them with their works (Isaiah 59:6) is an echo of Isaiah 28:20 where the bed was too short and the blanket too narrow!

The application of this chapter to the period of Jesus' personal ministry is required by the references to the Repairer and the Restorer (Isaiah 58:12) and that of "The Redeemer" (Isaiah 59:20), bracketing, as it were, the whole chapter and identifying it with the times of Christ.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 59:1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". "http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/view.cgi?book=isa&chapter=059". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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