Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, July 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
We are taking food to Ukrainians still living near the front lines. You can help by getting your church involved.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 59

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


Chapter 59 The Sad State of the People; The Arrival of The Mighty Warrior and Redeemer.

In view of what has been said Isaiah now stresses that the delay in deliverance is not due to any deficiency in Yahweh. Rather it is due to the behaviour of the people. This chapter thus continues to deal with the sad state of God’s supposed people. They want, and claim, the blessings but they do not want to have to fulfil God’s demands. Indeed their sinfulness is so bad that the future of blessing is being delayed. Deliverance is becoming far off. It then moves on to a picture of God as a mighty warrior coming to remedy the situation through judgment and sovereign mercy, (by means of His Servant), Who will be endued with the Spirit of Yahweh and bring in His mouth the words of Yahweh which Yahweh has placed there. It is only God’s sovereign action that can remedy the situation.

Verses 1-15

Judah/Jacob In Its Sin (Isaiah 59:1-15 a).

Isaiah 59:1

‘Behold Yahweh’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save,

Nor 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, that he will not hear.’

‘Why does God not fulfil His promises by making sure to them their inheritance?’ they ask. ‘Why does He not act with a mighty hand?’ It is not because He cannot save. It is not that the strength and ability of His hand is in any way diminished. It is not because He is not willing, under the right conditions, to hear. For there is no want of power in Him. He has not become incapable or deaf. He is still the same powerful Deliverer that He was in ancient times. He still has the same willingness to respond as He has always had.

It is rather their behaviour which is the problem. It is their iniquities, the outward expression of their deep inward sinfulness, that have brought this great gulf of separation between them and God. It is their sins, the things that they do and fail to do, contrary to His demands, that have made Him turn away His face and not listen to them. And these will shortly be described in full. That is why He is alienated from them, why He is angry with them, why the relationship between them has been destroyed. Let these be put right and then things will change.

Isaiah 59:3-4

‘For your hands are defiled with blood,

And your fingers with iniquity,

Your lips have spoken lies,

Your tongue utters wickedness.

None calls in righteousness,

And none pleads in truth,

They trust in what is empty and speak lies,

They conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity.’

In the last chapter they had claimed that they sought justice along God-given paths. Here is Isaiah’s verdict on their claims. It was true that they appeared to use the outward means that suggested that they wanted to be righteous, but it was all based on deceit. Like all ancient societies Judah/Jacob had lines of authority going right down from the king to the parents of a household. Each would in its own way hold its courts and tribunals and reach its verdicts, whether formally or informally. (‘Leaders of thousands, leaders of hundreds, leaders of tens’ - compare Deuteronomy 1:15). Thus the forensic language must not make us think of just major crime. All lived under restrictions and could be called to account, from the highest to the lowest. And all those with authority, from king to parent, were called on to decide justly.

The truth was that the hands of the people were morally dirty, they were defiled. They were bloodstained with the blood of the innocent. How many had died or been scourged under false accusation? How many deaths and injuries had resulted from their careless attitudes, behaviour, indifference, and neglect? How many had died of hunger and poverty while they feasted? How many had been beaten and left bleeding, or even bleeding in heart, beyond what was reasonable?

And their fingers were stained with the sins which resulted from a wicked heart, and the consequences of the failures too numerous to mention. For every act of selfishness had its consequences, every sin of neglect, every failure to do what was right, every lack in consideration for others.

‘Your lips have spoken lies, your tongue utters wickedness.’ For the majority deceit is one of the foundation stones of life. It avoids responsibility, it turns suspicion on others, it blackens other’s reputations, it gets one’s own way by false methods. It is the epitome of a selfishness which has no thought for others.

‘None calls in righteousness, and none pleads in truth.’ Here the plea for judicial enquiry is in mind, whether to the highest court in the land, the smallest court of the sub-tribes, or the close family tribunal. All suffer from the same trouble. Righteousness is ignored, truth is outlawed. What matters for the appellants is to get what they want by any means without regard for the facts.

‘They trust in what is empty and speak lies, they conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity.’ They produce false evidence, empty arguments, untrue accusations. They plan so that others will be harmed, or to obtain things by false evidence. They make the tribunal which should be producing justice, produce instead what is basically iniquitous and unfair. They ‘bring forth iniquity’. (Note the change to the third person. This continues in the next section. Possibly the idea is to apply it to a wider audience, considering mankind as a whole, for the later vengeance comes on them as well (‘the islands’ - Isaiah 59:18) or possibly Isaiah turns to speak to God, see ‘you’ in Isaiah 59:12).

Isaiah 59:5-8

‘They hatch the eggs of adders,

And weave spider’s webs,

He who eats of their eggs dies,

And what is crushed breaks out into a viper.

Their webs will not become clothing,

Nor will 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 do evil,

And they hurry to shed innocent blood,

Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity,

Desolation and destruction are in their paths (or ‘highways’).

They do not know the way of peace,

And in their goings there is no judgment,

They have made them crooked paths,

Whoever goes in them does not know peace.’

When Paul was looking for a catalogue of sinfulness by which to describe the human race he chose extracts from this passage among others (Romans 3:15-17). It is a full description of the heart of man. Not all of them were like it all the time, any more than we are, but there are few of us who cannot recognise here what is sometimes in our thoughts. Not possibly as violently in our enlightened age, but certainly as truly.

‘‘They hatch the eggs of adders, and weave spider’s webs. He who eats of their eggs dies, and what is crushed breaks out into a viper.’ In other words they encourage evil, using it for their own benefit, (as a man might collect and hatch adders’ eggs in order to do mischief), and scheme how to entrap others and catch them in their web. If anyone tries to benefit from what is theirs (equivalent to eating their adders’ eggs) the threat of death or some kind of harm is the result, and if others try to prevent what they are doing (the equivalent of crushing adders’ eggs) their efforts result in even more poisonous snakes to destroy them. Thus these men are treacherous, scheming, and hurtful to all who come in contact with them. (Note that translators use common modern snakes as examples. We are not always sure which actual types of snakes are being referred to).

‘Their webs will not become clothing, nor will they cover themselves with their works. Their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands.’ All their efforts to achieve what they are seeking at the expense of others will in the end come to nothing. All their scheming and their weaving of webs will not become clothing. This may have in mind the day when God clothed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:0). Then their nakedness was covered. But the scheming of these people will leave them naked and bare. All their efforts and all their workings will not protect them. They will be open to the judgment of God whether in this world or the next. They will not be able to hide themselves from His gaze.

Or the thought may have been of the flimsiness of the web, totally unsuitable for clothing, with the assurance that all their schemes are similarly flimsy and will come to nothing.

And this is because of what their works are. They are works which reveal the sinfulness of their very hearts, which will include violence at their hands, whether by their own act or through intermediaries. They are evil men.

‘Their feet run to do evil, and they hurry to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity, desolation and destruction are in their paths (or ‘highways’).’ Here the thought is that they are so evil that they not only sin but hurry to get to it. They run to do evil, not wanting to lose time. They are in a hurry to commit violence. They are enflamed with sin and driven along by it. And their special aim is to destroy the innocent, those who are not of their ilk. They cannot stand those namby-pamby do-gooders, those weak meek believers who simply look to God. Their thoughts are such that they lead to deep-dyed sin, to desolation, wreaking havoc among men, and to destruction, the breaking up of all that is ordered and settled. They are not builders but destroyers (contrast Isaiah 58:12).

‘In their paths’ may mean that they and their grouping actually commit highway robbery, so that no highway is safe anywhere in Judah, or simply that the path they tread leads to these things described.

‘They do not know the way of peace, and in their goings there is no judgment. They have made them crooked paths. Whoever goes in any of them (literally ‘it’) does not know peace.’ The thought of their ‘ways’ continues. Whenever Isaiah speaks of ‘ways’ he mainly has in mind the way of righteousness and unrighteousness. Note the emphasis on peace. This begins and ends these phrases. These are people who have never found peace with God. Thus they do not know the way of peace. They are sad specimens, for they do not have any inkling of a life of peace. They have little common sense, or sensible thought, for in all their ways they do not use sound judgment. They are both without knowledge of peace and unwise. Instead the paths they make for themselves, their very ways of life, are crooked. This is in contrast to the highway of holiness (Isaiah 35:8), and to the great highway of God (Isaiah 40:4), and to the way in the wilderness where they find water (Isaiah 43:19). They seek neither and go in neither. And both they and their fellow travellers find no peace in their ways. Nor do they appreciate peace, for in the end only those who truly come to know God find and understand peace.

Isaiah 59:9-10

‘Therefore is judgment far from us,

Nor does righteousness overtake us,

We look for light but behold darkness,

For brightness but we walk in obscurity.

We grope for the walls like the blind,

Yes, we grope as those who have no eyes,

We stumble at noonday as at the twilight,

Among those who are strongly active we are as dead men.’

The switch of person from the third person to the first indicates Isaiah’s application of his general thoughts to his particular hearers. He has spoken generally and now suddenly he applies it. It becomes the admission by the people of their sin. His words are now directed towards God (see Isaiah 59:12 - ‘you’). They confess that it is because of these things that have been described that the promised coming of true justice and righteous deliverance is far from them. Note again the active role given to righteousness (compare Isaiah 58:8). It is the righteousness of the Righteous God approaching in order to come on them and count them as righteous (Isaiah 53:11) and then make them righteous. But it does not overtake such as have been described, for they are deadened by sin.

They admit that it is as a result of their sins that they look for light but only find darkness. That while God’s light may shine out, they are blind in their sin. They look for brightness and illumination and only achieve obscurity. As Jesus said, it is he who wills to do His will, who will know what teaching is of God (John 7:17). But they do not will to do His will. Indeed they are like blind men with no eyes, reaching blindly for the wall to act as their guide because they have nothing better. They have refused to trust Yahweh, now they must trust as blind men to a groped for wall as their only guide.

Their looking for light may refer to their looking for that deliverance which is coming when those who walk in darkness will see a great light (Isaiah 9:2). But for them there will be no sign of deliverance (Isaiah 59:9). For them there will be no light.

‘We stumble at noonday as at the twilight. Among those who are strongly active (lusty) we are as dead men.’ They are a pale reflection of what life should be. They cannot benefit from God’s light, pictured as the noonday sun, for they do not have the spiritual faculties enabling them to benefit from it, thus they stumble along even when the light is brightest. And in a forceful and active world they are lacking in lustiness, indeed appear so listless that they seem almost dead to such forceful people. Having deserted Yahweh even the world looks on them as lifeless.

Isaiah 59:11-13

‘We all growl (or ‘roar’) like bears,

And mourn sore like doves,

We look for judgment but there is none,

For deliverance but it is far off from us.

For our transgressions are multiplied before you,

And our sins testify against us,

For our transgressions are with us,

And as for our iniquities, we know them,

In transgressing and denying Yahweh,

And turning away from following our God,

Speaking oppression and revolt,

Conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood.’

In Isaiah 37:14 mourning like a dove indicates not looking upward but being in grief at one’s predicament. The idea of growling like a bear and mourning like a dove therefore suggests anger and dissatisfaction with their lot expressed in both growling and mourning. They long for the promised coming of justice and deliverance, a common theme earlier, but they do not come to the Deliverer. They still seem far away. And why? Because they themselves are unjust, and if there is to be deliverance they themselves must be transformed. But they do not want to be transformed. They want God’s blessing while they continue on in the old way.

And Isaiah puts into their mouths the reason why. It is because their transgressions, their moral failures, are multiplied before Him. It is because their sins witness against them. Nor can they hide from the fact of them, for they are well aware of them, they are with them, accompanying them, and they ‘know’ them.

But worse. They are revealed in their transgressing as denying Yahweh by their behaviour and attitudes, and in their turning away from following Him to other things that grip their hearts. They are in constant rebellion against Him. They are revealed as what they are when they discuss together, and officially decide on, oppression of their fellow countrymen, when they lie to get their own way. To revolt means to get their own way and enhance their own wealth when they revolt against God’s covenant and against His requirements, when they dig deep into themselves to bring out and utter falsehood.

Isaiah 59:14-15

‘And judgment is turned away backwards,

And righteousness stands afar off,

For truth is fallen in the street,

And uprightness cannot enter.

Yes, truth is lacking,

And he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.’

The coming of the justice and righteousness that they should be looking for (a combination found in Isaiah 1:27; Isaiah 5:16; Isaiah 16:5; Isaiah 28:17; Isaiah 32:1; Isaiah 32:16; Isaiah 33:5), rather than being imminent, has turned round and retreated, and is standing a long way off. Justice and righteousness will not approach because they know what will happen to them. This is because they have seen that truth has become a street victim, it has been ‘mugged’. There is no place here for truth, for honesty, for God’s Law. It has been flung into the gutter. Deceit and lying rule. There is no place for uprightness. It is refused entry. So truth is lacking, and things are so bad that those who believe in the truth, those who seek to walk in His ways, find themselves simply a prey to the sinners who take advantage of them. They become a prey to selfish sinners.

All is thus doom and gloom. Man’s deserts are such that there seems no hope. Deceit and iniquity and sin have conquered and men are trapped under their heel.

Here then His people are seen as admitting the dreadful state into which they have fallen, and that in themselves there is no hope. But, as regularly in Isaiah, it is often when things are at their darkest that God steps in to act.

Verses 15-21


Isaiah wanted them to know that God sees their desperate condition and determines to act. He looks for a man, someone to stand in the gap, but there is none. So He Himself acts. He will step in on behalf of His people. He will bring them a Deliverer, a Redeemer, One Who is clothed in righteousness and salvation, and also One Who is clothed in vengeance and zealousness for God. He is concerned with redemption in righteousness, and judgment on unrighteousness. On the one hand He will deal with their enemies and on the other He will come as a Redeemer to Zion, to those who turn from transgression in Jacob, and put His Spirit on them and put His words in their mouths, in such a way that they will never again depart.

But note how in parallel with God rising to act, there will be those who are turning from transgression in Jacob (in sinful Israel). His action and His people’s repentance go together. There can be no deliverance that does not result in repentance. He will not deliver an unrepentant people.

In these chapters Isaiah rises to a new height in his conception of Zion. And we have to stop and consider what he means by Zion.

In Isaiah Zion is looked at from different aspects. On the one hand there is the mundane city of Jerusalem which is fallen and rejected, and symbolic of Israel as a whole, although enjoying a certain measure of protection ‘for David’s sake’. This will eventually be restored (Isaiah 1:1; Isaiah 1:8; Isaiah 2:1; Isaiah 3:1; Isaiah 3:8; Isaiah 3:16; Isaiah 7:1; Isaiah 10:12; Isaiah 10:24; Isaiah 10:32; Isaiah 14:32; Isaiah 16:1; Isaiah 22:10; Isaiah 31:4-5; Isaiah 31:9; Isaiah 33:14; Isaiah 36:2; Isaiah 36:7; Isaiah 36:20; Isaiah 37:10; Isaiah 37:22; Isaiah 37:32; Isaiah 40:9; Isaiah 41:27; Isaiah 49:14; Isaiah 52:7-9; Isaiah 64:10; Isaiah 66:8), as indeed it was. Then there is the Jerusalem/Zion which is almost synonymous with the people (‘we’ Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 4:4; Isaiah 5:3; Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 10:10-12; Isaiah 22:21; Isaiah 28:14; Isaiah 30:19; Isaiah 52:2; Isaiah 65:18-19). Here it is not the city which is important but the people. (Compare how in Zechariah 2:6-7 ‘Zion’ represents the exiles). And finally there is the Jerusalem/Zion from which will go God’s message to the world (Isaiah 2:4; Isaiah 62:6-7), the Jerusalem/Zion which is the city of God, the ‘earthly’ dwellingplace of Yahweh in which dwells His glory, with its central mount rising up to heaven (Isaiah 2:2), in contrast with the world city (often seen as Babylon) which is the seat of all evil, which will be toppled from its high place (Isaiah 26:5-6; compare Isaiah 24:21-22; Isaiah 25:2). Here Zion is the future glorious Jerusalem, which has eternal connections and will be part of the everlasting kingdom (Isaiah 1:27; Isaiah 4:3-5; Isaiah 12:6; Isaiah 18:7; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 26:1-4; Isaiah 28:16; Isaiah 30:19; Isaiah 33:5; Isaiah 33:20; Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 46:13; Isaiah 51:3; Isaiah 51:11; Isaiah 51:16; Isaiah 52:1; Isaiah 59:20; Isaiah 60:14; Isaiah 61:3; Isaiah 62:1; Isaiah 62:11; Isaiah 65:18-19; Isaiah 66:10; Isaiah 66:13; Isaiah 66:20). It is more than a city. It represents the whole future of the people of God, including their hopes of living in His presence, and takes in all God’s people. It is this last view of Zion which is prominent in Isaiah 62:12; Isaiah 62:12.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 59". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/isaiah-59.html. 2013.
Ads FreeProfile