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Bible Commentaries

Utley's You Can Understand the Bible

Isaiah 61

Isaiah 61:0


Exaltation of the AfflictedThe Good News of SalvationThe Mission to ZionThe Good News of Deliverance(Isaiah 61:1-12)A Prophet's Mission
Isaiah 61:1-3(1-3)Isaiah 61:1-3(1-3)Isaiah 61:1-4(1-4)Isaiah 61:1-4(1-4)Isaiah 61:1-9(1-9)
Isaiah 61:4-9(4-9)Isaiah 61:4-7(4-7)
Isaiah 61:5-7(5-7)Isaiah 61:5-7(5-7)
Isaiah 61:8-9(8-9)Isaiah 61:8-11(8-11)Isaiah 61:8-9(8-9)Thanksgiving
Isaiah 61:10-11(10-11)Isaiah 61:10-11(10-11) Isaiah 61:10-11(10-11)Isaiah 61:10-11(10-11)

READING CYCLE THREE (see Guide to Good Bible Reading)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. Isaiah 60:0 describes the end result, while Isaiah 61:0 describes the means of God's blessing.

B. Jesus uses this passage of Himself in Luke 4:16-21; Luke 7:18-23. Because of this, this passage must be Messianic (i.e., the Servant).

C. The Spirit of the Lord here is obviously analogous (i.e., foreshadowing) to the Spirit in the NT Trinitarian sense.

1. see Special Topic: Spirit in the Bible

2. see Special Topic: THE TRINITY

D. It is obvious that this is an example of a local historical situation in the life of Israel being used to depict future events in the time of the Messiah (i.e., typology). See Special Topic: Messiah.

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 61:1-3 1The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners; 2To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, 3To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.

Isaiah 61:1 “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me” This occurred visibly in Jesus' life at His baptism (cf. Isaiah 11:1-2; Isaiah 42:1; Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21, Luke 3:22; John 1:31-34), but the spirit had always been with Jesus. See Special Topic: THE PERSONHOOD OF THE SPIRIT.

“anointed” This is the same word meaning “Messiah” (BDB 602, see Special Topic at Isaiah 40:10) or the Anointed One. This was a sign of God's unique blessing and equipping for a task (cf. Psalms 23:5). In the OT prophets, priests, and kings were anointed as a symbolic act of God's unique presence and call upon their lives. From this John Calvin derived his threefold category for describing Christ's ministry as prophet, priest, and king (cf. Hebrews 1:2-3).


“To bring good news to the afflicted” The Messiah's (see Special Topic: MESSIAH) message will be one of hope and forgiveness to the outcast, ostracized, and socially oppressed (cf. Isaiah 35:5-6).

Notice the series of INFINITIVE CONSTRUCTS in Isaiah 61:1-3 that describe the Messiah's task.

1. to bring good news to the afflicted - Piel, BDB 142, KB 163

2. to proclaim liberty to captives - Qal, BDB 894, KB 1128

3. to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord - same as #2

4. to comfort all who mourn - Piel BDB 636, KB 688

5. to grant those who mourn in Zion a garland instead of ashes

a. grant - Qal, BDB 962, KB 1321

b. give - Qal BDB 678, KB 733

6. another INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT but directed towards the Messiah, Himself - “that He may be glorified” - Hithpael, BDB 802, KB 908

Isaiah 61:2 “the favorable year of the LORD” This is an allusion to the year of Jubilee (cf. Leviticus 25:10). This was a year of release from all debts and a return of all lands to the original owners every fifty years. There is not one example in the OT that this was ever historically enacted.

“the day of vengeance of our God” It is significant to notice that the favorable year and the day of vengeance occur at the same time. To those who know God in the Messiah, it is a day of reward. To those who do not know our Christ, it is a day of judgment and great sorrow. There must be bad news before there is good news! (cf. Romans 1-3).

Isaiah 61:3 Notice the contrasts (i.e., “instead”).

1. a garland instead of ashes

2. oil of gladness instead of mourning

3. the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting

Also notice the same contrast in Isaiah 61:7.

1. double portion instead of shame

2. shout of joy instead of humiliation

“garland. . .ashes” These are examples of types of things put on the head (cf. Ezekiel 24:17).

“The oil of gladness” The ancients lacked the availability of makeup, therefore, to prepare themselves for times of joy and festival, they anointed themselves with olive oil (cf. Psalms 45:7).

“The mantle of praise” Here is an OT example of clothing used as a metaphor for attitude and spiritual position.

“oaks of righteousness. . .The planting of the LORD” In Psalms 1:0 it refers to God's initiating love and ongoing support and provision (cf. Jeremiah 17:7-8). Here it refers to the Messiah (cf. Isaiah 60:1-2).

Verses 4-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 61:4-9 4Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins, They will raise up the former devastations; And they will repair the ruined cities, The desolations of many generations. 5Strangers will stand and pasture your flocks, And foreigners will be your farmers and your vinedressers. 6But you will be called the priests of the LORD; You will be spoken of as ministers of our God. You will eat the wealth of nations, And in their riches you will boast. 7Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, And instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land, Everlasting joy will be theirs. 8For I, the LORD , love justice, I hate robbery in the burnt offering; And I will faithfully give them their recompense And make an everlasting covenant with them. 9Then their offspring will be known among the nations, And their descendants in the midst of the peoples. All who see them will recognize them Because they are the offspring whom the LORD has blessed.

Isaiah 61:4 “they will rebuild the ancient ruins” It is hard for a non-Jew to imagine the intensity of the feeling that is connected with the Promised Land (cf. Isaiah 49:8; Isaiah 58:12; Isaiah 60:10).

This verse lists several things the one set free will do.

1. rebuild the ancient ruins

2. raise up the former devastations

3. repair the ruined cities

The last line of Isaiah 61:4 shows that the author is addressing those returning from Mesopotamian exile.

Isaiah 61:5 Verse 5 continues the theme of foreigners coming to Jerusalem with gifts and service, to worship the God of Israel.

From NT revelation we now know that this refers to the new covenant in Christ available for all through repentance and faith (cf. Mark 1:15; Acts 3:16, Acts 3:19; Acts 20:21)!

I interpret the OT promises to national Israel as multiple fulfillment prophecies. They were never fulfilled in Israel's history because of their sin and rebellion. They only find fulfilment in Christ. See Special Topic: Why are End-time Events so Controversial? and Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan.

Isaiah 61:6 “you will be called the priests of the LORD” Israel was meant to be a nation of priests, now they will be! Peter uses this very same phrase to describe the church in 1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9 (cf. Exodus 19:5-6; also see the usage in Revelation 1:6).

Isaiah 61:7 “double portion This seems to refer to the inheritance of the eldest son in the inheritance structure of ancient Israel (cf. Deuteronomy 21:17). As Israel had a double portion of YHWH's wrath (cf. Isaiah 40:2), now a double reward.

“Everlasting joy will be theirs” This same wonderful promise is found in Psalms 16:11. The question is when will this happen.

1. it did not happen to the returnees from Mesopotanian exile

2. it did not happen to the Jews under Greece or Rome

3. the future then

a. Israel after the Messiah comes

b. the church

c. the millennium

d. restored Garden of Eden

This is ancient, inspired poetry! It does not address all the modern questions. It is best to take the central meaning of the strophe and view it through NT revelation!

Isaiah 61:8 “For I, the LORD, love justice” YHWH is an ethical, moral being. He demands ethical, moral actions from His people!

Note His listed characteristics.

1. loves justice

2. hates robbery in sacrifices (i.e. burnt offerings)

Other wonderful texts that describe YHWH's character are Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalms 86:15; Psalms 103:8-14; Psalms 145:8-9! See Special Topic: Characteristics of Israel's God.

“in burnt offerings” The Septuagint and possibly some variations of the Masoretic Text have “with iniquity” (same consonants). The UBS Text Project gives the sacrificial phrase a B rating (some doubt), p.156.

“I will. . .make an everlasting covenant with them” The Jews continually broke the first covenant, as a reading of I and 2 Kings and I and 2 Chr. will show. Because of this, God finally allowed the Covenant to be terminated (His Spirit leaving the temple; Fall of Jerusalem). The purpose of this termination was the beginning of a new covenant with even greater spiritual significance (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:22-38).

Isaiah 61:9 Here is another reference to Israel as a sign and message (i.e., a light, cf. Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 51:4; Acts 13:47) about the nature of God to other nations.

Verses 10-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 61:10-11 10I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, And as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, So the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise To spring up before all the nations.

Isaiah 61:10 “I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God” This verse could refer to the Messiah or the nation (cf. Isaiah 12:1-2; Isaiah 25:9; Isaiah 41:16) rejoicing in YHWH's provision. The AB suggests that this chapter has three speakers.

1. the prophet, Isaiah 61:1-7 (possibly the Servant)

2. YHWH, Isaiah 61:8-9

3. personified Zion, Isaiah 61:10-11 (p. 181)

This shows the ambiguity of these poems as to speakers and recipients (i.e., period of time). Many commentators think Isaiah 61:1-3 is a fifth Servant Song.

I think Isaiah 61:10-11 are the restored and redeemed humanity (cf. Genesis 3:15), which is described in Ephesians 2:11-13; Romans 9-11.

The VERBAL PHRASE, “I will rejoice greatly,” is a Qal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and a Qal IMPERFECT VERB of the same root (BDB 965, KB 1314). It was a Hebraic grammatical way of showing intensity.

The next line is parallel and the VERB “exalt” is a Qal JUSSIVE (BDB 162, KB 189).

“He has clothed me with garments of salvation” Here is an example of the joy of a wedding feast used as a metaphor for the spiritual joy of knowing God. This metaphor is extended to the NT to refer to believers as having Christ's robes of righteousness (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Isaiah 61:11 See Isaiah 40:8 and Isaiah 55:10-11.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. If this refers to the Messiah, why is it phrased in such nationalistic terms?

2. Define the term Messiah.

3. In what sense and to what purpose are the Jews a kingdom of priests?

4. Why did God break His first everlasting covenant with the Jewish nation?

5. Why is the use of a clothing metaphor in Isaiah 61:10 so significant? How is it used in the NT for the believer standing before God?

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Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Isaiah 61". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". 2021.