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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Isaiah 61

Verses 1-11

“You Shall Be ... Ministers of Our God” (61:1-11)

The poem in this chapter is best known for the first three verses, part of which Jesus read in the synagogue in Nazareth and then applied to himself (Luke 4:16-19). How the prophet meant them to be understood is not entirely clear in the present context. Does the first verse, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted . . .” refer to the prophet himself or is this another servant poem comparable to those in chapters 42, 49, 50, and 53? The concept of the Spirit of the Lord coming upon a prophet in order to inspire him and make him capable of performing his mission is a common feature of the prophetic self-consciousness. During the monarchy the office of the prophet was successor to the leadership designated by the gift of the Spirit in the days of the tribal league. By his Spirit God raised up the prophets to see to it that his word was heard by both king and people. It was when the Spirit of the Lord came upon a prophet that he prophesied (Numbers 11:26-29; Numbers 24:2-3; 1 Samuel 10:6; 1 Samuel 10:10). It is commonly thought that the pre-exilic prophets whose works are preserved in the Scripture generally avoided the use of the term “spirit” in connection with their own missions, because of its close association in the popular mind with the false prophets and ecstatic activity. Nevertheless, it is certain that the prophets were conceived as men empowered by the Spirit of God (see also Micah 3:8). Furthermore, while the word “anoint” is not generally associated with the office of prophecy, Psalms 105:15 could be interpreted as applying the term to the prophets, though it is more probable that even there it may refer to the anointed leaders of the nation, either the kings alone or the kings and the priests.

It appears that a stronger case can be made for the supposition that the passage is referring to Israel as God’s Servant. Note that verse 10 within the same poem may also refer to the Servant who has been clothed “with the garments of salvation.” That the Servant is empowered by God’s Spirit has already been affirmed in 42:1. The association of the act of anointing with the coming of the Spirit is to be noticed not only in the anointing of Saul (1 Samuel 10:1-12) but also in the anointing of David as king (1 Samuel 16:13; 2 Samuel 23:1-2). Whether the word “anointed” is applied to the prophet or to Israel as the Servant of the Lord, this is in either case an extended use of it, as is also true of its use in 45:1 (see comment). That the Servant People have a prophetic role to play in the world as God’s messengers and spokesmen has already been made clear in the preceding servant poems in chapters 40-55. Most convincing, however, is the fact that the task of the Servant in the preceding poems is precisely what it is specified to be in these verses: to bring the gospel of God’s salvation to the afflicted, to set captives at liberty, and to bring comfort and joy to all who are in trouble, to the end that God may be glorified. In verse 2, the phrase “the day of vengeance of our God” should be translated “the day of salvation of our God,” because whether the Hebrew word is translated as God’s just punishment of the wicked or his salvation of the needy depends entirely upon the context ( see comment on 47:3 ).

Verse 6 suggests in a new way the mission of Israel to the world. They are to be “the priests of the Lord” and “the ministers of . . . God” (compare Exodus 19:6). As the religious teachers of all mankind they will no longer have to suffer poverty and distress.

Verses 8-9 declare God’s intention to make an everlasting Covenant with Israel, one that will relate him evermore to his people (see comment on 55:3; 59:21). In the final verses of the poem the Servant is heard to reply to God’s promise: he acknowledges God’s salvation, declaring that what is to happen with Israel is the work of the Lord in causing “righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations” (vss. 10 - 11 ).

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Isaiah 61". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/isaiah-61.html.