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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 60

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This chapter begins a discussion of the glorious state of the New Israel, that is, the Church of Jesus Christ, during the reign of Christ upon this earth, a reign that began on the first Pentecost after the Resurrection of the Son of God. For ages, this has been the accepted position of Christian commentators on this prophecy. As Lowth expressed it:

“The subject of this chapter is the great increase and flourishing state of the church of God, by the conversion and accession to it of the heathen nations; which is set forth in such ample and exalted terms as plainly show that, the full completion of this prophecy is reserved for future times.”(F1)

Barnes agreed with this, and called it, “A description of the Golden Age under the Messiah,” stating also that, “The description continues to the end of the next chapter.”(F2)

Some scholars, of course, disagree. Payne applied it to the nation of Israel, calling it, “Jerusalem’s future glory.”(F3) Henderson identified the chapter, “Mainly, with the future glory of the Jews.”(F4) All such interpreters have completely overlooked the “judicial hardening” of Israel (the literal nation) pronounced, not only by Isaiah, but by Christ himself, and quoted no less than four times in the New Testament.

Difficult as some of the questions that arise here may be, the traditional interpretation appears to be absolutely correct.

The light which suddenly bursts upon mankind in this chapter, “Will appear at a time when the nations dwell in darkness; and, in the midst of that distressing condition, Jehovah will arise upon Zion in the person of His Son; in Christ, the glory of God will be revealed.”(F5)

We agree with Jamieson who declared that, “The language is too glorious to apply to anything that has yet happened;”(F6) and this surely fits the application of some of the things related here to heaven itself. However, there are actually no words too glorious to apply to the Church of our Lord which was purchased with his own blood, and in which alone, men of Adam’s condemned descendants may be fully restored to fellowship with their Creator, and attain, at last, to eternal life in heaven. No words are too wonderful for that!

The division of the chapter naturally fails into five parts, very nearly the same length each, and which Rawlinson entitled: “(1) Zion’s brightness and increased numbers (Isaiah 60:1-4); (2) Zion’s immense wealth (Isaiah 60:5-9); (3) Zion’s reconstruction (Isaiah 60:10-14); (4) Zion’s prosperity (Isaiah 60:15-18); and (5) Zion’s crowning glories (Isaiah 60:19-22).”(F7)

The “Zion” of this chapter is by no stretch of imagination the hardened, blinded, and deluded Israel of the flesh. “Zion” here refers to the New Israel, the heavenly Jerusalem, which is our mother, and especially to the church of God in Christ.

Verses 1-3

“Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of Jehovah hath risen upon thee. For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but Jehovah will arise upon thee. And nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.”

“Arise, shine; for thy light is come” “This prophecy received its highest fulfillment at the coming of Christ, the true Light of the World, which was followed by a great ingathering of the nations to the church of God.”(F8)

We must not be deceived by the literal language of this chapter, “Which is that of the Old Testament ordinances and of the literal Jerusalem; it will need translating into the terms of the `Jerusalem above’ (Galatians 4:26)… and also of the radiant city of heaven (Revelation , 21).”(F9)

“Darkness shall cover the earth” The birth of Christ did indeed occur at a time of universal spiritual darkness of the human race. (1) The Gentile nations were sunk in the grossest and most shameful idolatry. (2) The Jewish nation was in no better position, despite their possession of God’s Law, which they had formalized and perverted; and by their transgression of it dishonored God, leading to the blasphemy of God on their account by the whole Gentile world (Romans 2:23-24). (3) The vain philosophy of the Greeks and Romans provided no relief from the awful darkness of that era.

“Nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” The religion of Jesus Christ dispersed the darkness that lay over the minds of men; and all nations turned to it. From that near-universal acceptance of Christ, the whole world was divided into B.C. and A.D.; and the holy light that came from the face of Christ was the “Star” that created what men call civilization; and when that Light is obscured, (Which may God prohibit), what is called “civilization” will disappear from the earth!

The mention of “kings” coming to the brightness of the rising of that Light received a token fulfillment at the birth of Christ, when the “wise men” from the East (the “three Kings of Orient”) came with gifts of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh; but the ultimate fulfillment came when the wisest and greatest of earth believed on Him and received his word.

It should be noted, as Douglas observed, that the vocabulary of this passage is practically identical with Isaiah 9:2.(F10) As we shall see, this is a recurring phenomenon in this chapter, indicating the correctness of the title that author gave his book, “Isaiah One, and His Book One.”

Verses 4-9

“Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: they all gather themselves together, they come to thee; thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be carried in the arms. Then thou shalt see and be radiant, and thy heart shall thrill and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be turned unto thee, the wealth of the nations shall come unto thee. The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praises of Jehovah. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister unto thee; they shall come up with acceptance on mine altar; and I will glorify the house of my glory. Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows? Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, for the name of Jehovah thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel, because he hath glorified thee.”

Douglas pointed out vocabulary correspondence in Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 11:12; Isaiah 21:16-17; Isaiah 9:4; Isaiah 10:26; Isaiah 2:6-22; and in Isa. 23:1,6.10,18),(F11) with this paragraph. The same author pinpointed such correspondence throughout these last twenty-seven chapters with earlier chapters in Isaiah, making it a practical certainty that Isaiah is the author of the whole prophecy.

Kidner pointed out that the priestly terms of Isaiah 60:7 “preclude a literal interpretation of the chapter, because the New Testament reveals that there can be no return to a worship based upon such things as `rams… altar… and house,’ which are but a shadow of the good things to come (Hebrews 10:1).”(F12)

These verses undoubtedly depict the glorious wealth that shall characterize Christianity, an amazing truth evident in all generations. This very day, all over the world, let the Christian nations (however imperfectly they deserve the title) be compared with the nations that are in darkness, either because they never accepted the truth, or because they rejected it and reverted to their old ways; and the result is astounding. Compare Ethiopia, India, China, etc. with England, Western Europe, and North America; and behold the difference. Russia is indeed a great nation; but they rejected Christianity; and today, they are rapidly slipping backward into the impoverished state that always belongs to the rejection of Christianity. The United States is feeding them via the sale of 200,000.000 metric tons of wheat a year! To us, this remarkable passage speaks more of this colossal truth than of anything else.

This very year (1989-1990), Russia is authorizing the shipment of millions of Bibles into their nation. The new leadership, at last, seems to have discovered the cause of the nation’s failure and are attempting to remedy it.

Verses 10-14

“And foreigners shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee: for in my wrath I smote thee, but in my favor have I had mercy on thee. Thy gates also shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto thee the wealth of the nations, and their kings led captive. For that nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted. The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, the fir tree, the pine, and the box-tree together, to beautify the place of my sanctuary; and I will make the place of my feet glorious. And the sons of them that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee; and all they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet; and they shall call thee The City of Jehovah, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel.”

This paragraph speaks of the contrast between the punishment and desolation brought upon the Old Israel because of their wickedness, and the glorious prosperity and blessing to be inherited by the New Israel, contingent in the case of the New Israel as it was in the case of the Old upon their continuity in the way of righteousness; and, without any doubt, many of the blessings to be associated with the New Covenant have not yet been realized fully because of the constant tendency of the human race to sin and rebellion against God.

Just as God’s promise to Abraham of a posterity that would be as numberless as the stars of heaven was never fully realized because of the sins of the people, there must, in like manner, be many blessings of the Messianic Age that will fall short of God’s intentions because of man’s wickedness.

The building of walls and gates here could not possibly be construed as literal, because with gates that never closed night or day, walls would be useless. What is meant is that in the Lord’s Kingdom of Messiah, “God openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and none openeth” (Revelation 3:7).

People represented here as bowing down to the soles of the feet of the Old Israel is fulfilled in the person of the Ideal Israel, who is Jesus Christ. Since Christ is the New Israel, all of his followers being “in him” and part of him, all who worship Christ are, in that act, bowing down to Israel, not to the old wicked Israel, of course, but to Christ the True Israel. The Biblical confirmation of this principle is seen in Revelation 3:9.

People who try to find the rebuilding of the walls and gates of literal Jerusalem here should note that, “Nehemiah commanded, “Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun be hot; and while they stand on guard, let them shut the doors, and bar ye them” (Nehemiah 7:3). The gates mentioned here were never shut, either day or night.

Verses 15-18

“Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, so that no man passed through thee, I will make thee an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations. Thou shalt suck the milk of the nations, and shall suck the breast of kings; and thou shalt know that I, Jehovah, am thy Saviour, and thy Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. For brass I will bring gold, and for iron I will bring silver, and for wood brass, and for stones iron. I will also make thy officers peace, and thine exactors righteousness. Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, desolation nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise.”

The glories of the future Israel revealed in these chapters (Isaiah 60-61) should have been infinitely comforting to the captives in Babylon; because they emphasize a number of great principles. (1) God is not unmindful of the welfare of his people, and all of their humiliation and suffering shall be made up to them (if they are faithful) a thousand-fold. (2) Nothing can thwart the eternal purpose of God. Satan indeed may win victories over any given generation, but God is forever winning the Great War against evil. (3) The walls that have been destroyed will be rebuilt. (4) Those who have hated God’s people will return, along with their seed, to adore and honor them. (5) God’s judgment against the wicked will take place dramatically before the eyes of the whole world.

Note the correspondence of Isaiah 60:17 with Isaiah 9:9-10, and with later verses in that chapter. Also, Isaiah 60:18 is but a restatement in different words of Isaiah 26:1-3. Isaiah is doubtless the author of both passages, and of the whole prophecy.

Verses 19-22

“The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but Jehovah shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself; for Jehovah will be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended. The people also shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified. The little one shall become a thousand, and the small one a strong nation: I, Jehovah, will hasten it in its time.”

That wonderful tomorrow when God’s people will no longer have need of sun or moon for light, when God’s glory shall be the light, and the Lamb of God the Lamp of the New Jerusalem, when all mourning is ended and eternal joy will prevail, that great condition will be realized, not upon earth, but in heaven. And when shall this occur? God states in Isaiah 60:22 that, “He will hasten it in its time.” The time is not known to men in our generation.

One thing stands out starkly enough, “Only the righteous, i.e., only those who are the shoot of God’s planting, and the work of his hands will participate in Zion’s glorious future.”(F13) Isaiah 60:21 emphasizes this truth.

It is clear enough that Revelation 21 is based upon the promises of this chapter; and there also we read the identity of the Zion mentioned here. It is the New Jerusalem; it is The Bride, the Lamb’s Wife; it is the Holy City Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

There are many things men cannot know about heaven. The eventual activity of the saints of God in heaven is not revealed in the Bible. We do not know if the Holy City promised here and in Revelation 21-22 is the same as the New Heavens and the New Earth promised by Christ and the apostles. Although Christ promised to destroy our earth by fire at the end of the age, we do not know if this is a cosmic destruction that shall remove our earth from its orbit, or a refurbishing of it, as in the case of the flood. Either condition would fit the word “destroy.” Many believe that our earth will be destroyed in a cosmic sense.

Some have built up speculations about what they call the Millennium; but all of the Biblical passages bearing upon the reign of Christ show that, (1) it is in progress now (Matthew 28:18-20); (2) the second advent will not be the beginning of the reign of Christ, but the end of it (1 Corinthians 15:25-28); (3) there is no such thing as a rapture that shall allow God’s people to escape the great tribulation (Acts 14:22); (4) the general resurrection will be the occasion of the final judgment (Matthew 25); (5) Christ’s reign on the throne of David refers to his resurrection, and not to his return to literal Jerusalem (Acts 2:31). (6) The so-called `Great Tribulation’ is the current dispensation (Revelation 7; Revelation 14). For these and many other valid reasons, we cannot agree that any of this chapter refers to what some call “The Millennium.” (For a more complete discussion of this subject, see my article on “Millennium” in Vol. 12 of my New Testament Series of Commentaries (Revelation), pp. 448-454.)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 60". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/isaiah-60.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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