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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 59

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 1

The people were complaining that God was not answering their prayers (cf. Isaiah 58:1-3). Isaiah assured them that His silence was not due to His inability to help them (a shortened hand) or to His disinterest in them (an insensitive ear).

Verses 1-8

Isaiah’s evidence 59:1-8

"This passage describes the appalling moral breakdown of Jewish society-which perfectly accords with what we know of the degeneracy of Manasseh’s reign." [Note: Archer, p. 650.]

The prophet resumed his accusations against God’s people (cf. Isaiah 58:1-5).

Verses 1-15

What Israel did 59:1-15a

As mentioned above, this second segment of the section dealing with the relationship of righteousness and ritual (chs. 58-59) deals with the inability of God’s redeemed people to produce righteous behavior in their own strength. Chapter 57 dealt with their inability to break with idolatry in their own strength.

"In chapter 57 he [Isaiah] condemned adulterous paganism, in chapter 58 hypocritical fasting, while here it is chiefly injustice that calls forth his condemnation. Each of these chapters speaks about prayer. In chapter 57 it was not answered because it was not addressed to the true God (Isaiah 57:13); in chapter 58 because the petitioners are hypocrites (Isaiah 58:4); while here in Isaiah 59:1-2, it is because of their sins and particularly, as later verses indicate, their injustice." [Note: Grogan, p. 325.]

Verse 2

Rather the problem was with them, not Him. It was their sins that had separated them from their holy Lord (cf. Genesis 3:6; Genesis 3:16; Jeremiah 5:2-6; Habakkuk 1:13; 1 John 1:6).

The evidence to support Isaiah’s indictment follows.

Verse 3

Violence and bloodshed among God’s people were signs of their sinfulness. Lies and deception were others.

Verse 4

Justice was not coming out of the courts, but legal maneuvering and loopholes had taken the place of straightforward decisions. The people were using and abusing the legal system for their own ends rather than allowing it to sit in judgment on their actions. They were trying to confuse the issues and lie their way out of their responsibilities. Instead of conceiving the truth that would issue in righteousness, they were conceiving mischief that would bear iniquity (cf. Job 15:35; James 1:15).

Verses 5-6

The results of such a society are serpents’ eggs and spider webs. Instead of receiving nourishment from the eggs, the eggs either poison or, if hatched, fatally attack the eater. Instead of receiving warmth from the beautifully woven web, the web fails to clothe and instead entangles its wearer. This was because the work the people expended to secure food and clothing was self-centered. People even resorted to physical violence to get what they wanted for themselves. Such a society promises much but delivers little, and what it does deliver turns around and kills it.

Verses 7-8

Instead of running from evil, God’s people were running to it, even hastily shedding innocent blood to secure their ends (cf. Romans 3:15-17). Again Isaiah used "way" to describe the moral life. Their hands and feet only manifested what was in their hearts, however. Their imaginations and thought processes were corrupt. All human ways are utterly futile apart from the Lord’s intervention. Note the repetition of "iniquity" four times in Isaiah 59:3-4; Isaiah 59:6-7.

"His highways are peace and redemption (Isaiah 11:16; Isaiah 19:23; Isaiah 35:8; Isaiah 40:3; Isaiah 49:11; Isaiah 62:10), but the human highways are destruction and confusion (Isaiah 7:3; Isaiah 33:8; Isaiah 36:2; Isaiah 59:7). In his way there is guidance and confidence (Isaiah 2:3; Isaiah 30:12), but in our ways there is discord and strife (Isaiah 3:12; Isaiah 8:11; Isaiah 57:17; Isaiah 65:2)." [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66, p. 516.]

Verse 9

Because they had denied justice and righteousness to others, the Israelites had not experienced justice or righteousness themselves, from the hands of God or men.

"Justice is not ’the just society’ as such but the rule of God which will set everything to rights; righteousness has the same meaning as in Isaiah 56:1, the coming act of God in which he will vindicate and display his righteousness and fulfil [sic] all his righteous purposes." [Note: Motyer, p. 486.]

They had hoped for a bright future in view of God’s promises, but their present condition was dark. They had expected to walk in the brightness of His presence, but they were groping in gloom because He had withdrawn the light of His presence from them (cf. Isaiah 58:10).

Verses 9-15

Israel’s confession 59:9-15a

Isaiah, speaking for the sinful Israelites in captivity (cf. Isaiah 6:5), first acknowledged the consequences of their behavior (Isaiah 59:9-11) and then confessed their guilt (Isaiah 59:12-15 a).

Verse 10

All the parallel descriptions in this verse stress the hopelessness and vulnerability of the Israelites due to their natural blindness to God’s ways (cf. Isaiah 6:10; Isaiah 8:16-17; Isaiah 42:7; Deuteronomy 28:29).

"They are ’blind’ as to vision and clarity for guiding life, ’stumbling’ as to constancy and stability of life, ’dead’ as to vitality and ’get-up-and-go’." [Note: Ibid., p. 487.]

Verse 11

They could not even articulate their grief but simply growled and moaned like angry bears and pitiful doves (cf. Mark 7:34; John 11:38; Romans 8:22-23). This lament closes as it began, with an admission that justice and salvation were far from God’s people.

Verse 12

The reason justice and salvation were far away was the Israelites’ multiplied transgressions, sins, and iniquities. But they had finally acknowledged their condition (cf. Psalms 51:5). Therefore, hope was now possible, that God would step forward and deliver them (cf. 1 John 1:9).

"Hatred of the consequences of sin and its destructive effects on one’s own life are not necessarily evidence of true repentance. It is when we face sin as rebellion against the holy God who loves us that we begin to see it, in some degree, as he sees it." [Note: Grogan, p. 326.]

Verse 13

The people acknowledged sins against God and against other people. They also admitted sins of omission and sins of commission, sins of action and sins of attitude, sins of the mouth and sins of the hands.

Verse 14

These are the reasons justice and righteousness stood far removed from the people. Truth had collapsed, so uprightness could not enter the company of the redeemed (cf. Isaiah 1:21-23).

Verse 15

Though Israel was blind (Isaiah 59:10), the Lord saw. He saw the true state of His people, as He sees everything. He saw that there was no justice in Israel or for Israel (Isaiah 59:9-15 a).

Verses 15-21

What God would do 59:15b-21

This is the third and last pericope, parallel to Isaiah 57:14-21, which announces that God would deliver His people from the sin that plagued them as redeemed people (cf. Isaiah 6:5). The section also closes the part of Isaiah that deals with the recognition of human inability (chs. 56-59).

"This is the ultimate development of the Divine Warrior motif in the Bible: God comes to destroy the final enemy of what he has created: not the monster Chaos, but the monster Sin." [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66, p. 527.]

Verse 16

God also saw that there was no human being who could mediate between Himself and His people, who could appeal effectively to Him for them (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1). Aaron and Phinehas had done this for Israel in the past (Numbers 17:12-13; Numbers 25:7). So God Himself acted in power to deliver them, in faithfulness to His promises.

"In saying that God was astonished the prophet does not mean that God had been ignorant of the situation until He saw it and then this sight brought astonishment to Him. Rather, the language speaks of a genuine astonishment, which would express itself in displeasure and yet in compassion for His own to such an extent that He Himself acts." [Note: Young, 3:438.]

"Man’s failure to avail himself of God’s gracious provision to have a share in the restraint of wickedness and the promotion of righteousness through the ministery [sic] of intercession is a definite cause for divine astonishment." [Note: D. Edmond Hiebert, Working with God: Scriptural Studies in Intercession, p. 89.]

Verse 17

As a warrior preparing for battle, the Lord made ready to defend His people (cf. Ephesians 6:13-17).

"No weapon is mentioned, neither sword or bow; for His own arm procures Him help, and this alone." [Note: Delitzsch, 2:405.]

Verse 18

God would take vengeance on His enemies and on those forces that opposed His people. He would pay them back according to their dealings. While the context refers to deliverance from sin in a general sense, the reference to the coastlands suggests that the Lord will also defend and deliver Israel from Gentile opponents (at His second coming). Ultimately, of course, the Lord will subdue every enemy of His.

Verse 19

God’s deliverance of His people will result in the whole world fearing Him for this display of His glory. His coming deliverance would be swift and forceful (cf. Revelation 6:15-17; Revelation 16:17-21). Water rushing down a wadi may be in view.

Verse 20

God would redeem His people, as the next of kin came to save the helpless widow. But it is His people who have turned away from their transgressions that He saves (cf. Romans 11:25-27). They will have given up on their ability to deliver themselves, or to secure deliverance from another source, and will have turned to the Lord (cf. Isaiah 55:6). That is the picture of "Jacob" that Isaiah gave in the preceding verses (Isaiah 59:9-15 a; cf. Isaiah 58:1; Isaiah 58:14). Repentance in the sense of forsaking sin, apart from faith, is not a condition for deliverance from sin’s penalty, but God only delivers believers from the power of sin who seek Him for deliverance.

Verse 21

In closing, God promised with a covenant promise that He would not withdraw His Spirit or His Word from His people on whom He would place them (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-40). This is a reference to the New Covenant. The Spirit would abide on His people forever, and His Word would remain in their mouths so they could be the witnesses to Him that He created them to be. Since this has not yet happened, it appears that it will happen at the Lord Jesus’ second advent (Isaiah 59:18).

There is debate about whether the Lord has already given His Spirit permanently to all His people, but there is no question that He has not yet made His people the witnesses that they should be. He has given the Spirit to Christians, but not to all Israelites (cf. Joel 2:29). Christians are relatively ineffective witnesses now, but Israel will be a faithful witness in the Millennium (Jeremiah 31:33-34; Ezekiel 36:27 b). Israel will witness to the greatness of Yahweh and will draw the nations to Him (cf. Isaiah 2:2-3; Isaiah 60:1-3). This is the purpose for which He will redeem them.

"The true people of God will ever be a witnessing people, faithfully proclaiming the truth of the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit." [Note: Archer, p. 650.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 59". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/isaiah-59.html. 2012.
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