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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Isaiah 59

 

 

Introduction

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). 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.


Verse 15

THE COMING OF THE DELIVERER AND THE ESTABLISHMENT OF ZION (Isaiah 59:15 to Isa_62:12).

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 59:15 to Isa_62:12.


Verses 15-21

God Will Act To Deliver Zion (Isaiah 59:15-21).

When God looked down He saw that there was no one who could deliver, none who was fitted to be the Servant. And (speaking from a human point of view) He could not understand it. Why was there no one fitted to act as a go-between, an intercessor, on behalf of men? But really He knew the answer, and, just as God did, Isaiah also knew the answer, ‘woe is me for I am undone. For I am a man of unclean lips, and I come from a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts’ (Isaiah 6:5). ‘We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags’ (Isaiah 64:6). No one was fitted for the task by their manner of life. And so God determined to act Himself.

Isaiah 59:15-16 a

‘And Yahweh saw it,

And it displeased him that there was no judgment,

And he saw that there was no man,

And he wondered that there was no intercessor.’

We have been here before. God looks for a man, but there is no man. See Isaiah 50:2. ‘Why when I came was there no man? When I called was there none to answer?’ Compare also Isaiah 41:28, ‘and when I look there is no man, even among them there is no counsellor’. That was the problem. There was no man, not even Isaiah or Micah, who was fit for the position. There was no man suited to act as Redeemer. And it was at that point that Yahweh found the answer in raising up the great Servant of Yahweh, the unique representative of Israel (Isaiah 50:3-8; Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12).

Here again there is no man. No one to plead. No one to intervene. No mediator. But Yahweh is displeased that justice is lacking, that man stumbles on foolishly and blindly in his sin. He is displeased that there is no one, that there is none to stand in the gap. He is depicted in human terms as wondering why this could be, but this is in order to bring out the desperateness of the situation, for He knows what He will do. He will raise up a Redeemer.

‘There was no intercessor.’ Maphgiya’ (intercessor) strictly denotes ‘causing to meet or come together, bringing into contact’. Thus it is applied to intercessory prayer. But it has been suggested that the context, etymology and usage combined, may rather be seen as recommending the wider sense of ‘intervention and interposition’, both in word and deed. (See Isaiah 53:12)

Throughout history God looked for a man. He found one in Abraham whom He called as His Servant. But he could only take the first steps of faith. He found one in Moses, ‘the Servant of Yahweh’. But he began timidly and his inadequacy was constantly revealed, and he died as a direct result of failure. He found one in His Servant David, the man after His own heart. But he was too much a man of blood. Each of these was simply an onward faltering step in His purposes as He looked for a man. And now the final step is taken as His Servant as revealed in Isaiah 50:3-10; Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12, with Isaiah 49:1-6, Who will bring about all His will, Immanuel, God with us.

Isaiah 59:16-18

‘Therefore his own arm brought salvation to him,

And his righteousness it upheld him,

And he put on righteousness as a breastplate,

And a helmet of salvation on his head,

And he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,

And was clad with zeal as a cloak.

According to their deeds,

Accordingly he will repay,

Fury to his adversaries, recompense to his enemies,

To the islands he will repay recompense.’

After Isaiah 59:15-16 a we would expect the introduction of a ‘man’ or ‘intercessor’ as raised up by God. In Isaiah 50:2 His recognition that there was no one resulted in the raising up of the Servant. Now we learn more about the Servant. He comes as empowered by God Himself, clothed in the armour of righteousness and salvation, to deliver His true people, and to take vengeance on all who oppose them.

Had this not been in the same context here this would have been ambiguous. We would have asked, ‘Does it mean that God Himself stepped in because there was no one else, and that it was He Who armoured Himself?’ Or is the ‘Him’ who is ‘brought salvation’ and ‘upheld’ by God’s righteous saving power, God’s raised up Redeemer as spoken of in Isaiah 59:20, the One Who, as before, is brought in because there is no man? Isaiah surely expects us to see this as a follow up to Isaiah 50:2 onwards. And yet if so this Redeemer is so closely connected with Yahweh that they are seen as at work together. What a different picture we would then have here of the Servant. He would no longer be seen as simply the humble learner and teacher Who will be humbled for the sins of His people. As the One Who had died, and had been made to live again He would be the One sent from God, the Mighty God (Isaiah 9:6), the Great Warrior, bringing both deliverance and judgment (Isaiah 59:16-17; Isaiah 63:1-6), fulfilling the pleasure of Yahweh and dividing the spoil with the strong (Isaiah 53:10; Isaiah 53:12).

In 7-11 we saw that God’s purpose would be fulfilled through the raising up of One Who would be miraculously born from the Davidic house, the Son of David, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6). In 41-55 it would be fulfilled in His Servant Who found His culmination in the tragic and glorious figure of Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12, Who would then be exalted and raised up very high (Isaiah 52:13). Here we find that it will be fulfilled in a Redeemer Who is the very Arm of God.

Note how the future is telescoped and rolled up into one (we can compare Isaiah 61:2). On the one hand the Deliverer, the Bringer of righteousness, introducing the year of acceptance, the year of God’s favour, and on the other the Judge, the Bringer of vengeance and judgment, ‘the day of vengeance of our God’. For salvation by redemption and the judgment of God are two aspects of the same work of God as He brings all things to their culmination.

Here is brought out God’s great secret, declared in part before but now made clear. The One Who is coming to save, Who will be the miraculously born King and the God-taught Servant, is in a very real sense Yahweh Himself. He will be the mighty God, even though He may appear in human form, and indeed as truly human. God saw that there was no man, for a greater than man was needed. Only God could step into the gap. And so He stepped in through His Redeemer. Thus here we can hardly distinguish One from the Other in the description. It could be being spoken of either. It is what Isaiah has revealed before that clarifies the situation.

But we would be wrong simply to separate the deliverance and vengeance as though one happened at one time and the other at another time. Both continually happened, and happen. For when Jesus came the first time to bring deliverance and salvation, He also inevitably brought wrath and vengeance. While some wept for their sins and found salvation, others wept because of the judgment that came on them. ‘Weep not for me,’ He said, ‘weep for yourselves and for your children’ (Luke 23:28). And they soon had cause to weep when Jerusalem was destroyed, and many of them along with it. Romans 1:18-32 makes clear God’s present wrath, as do John 3:18; John 3:36; John 12:31; 1 Thessalonians 2:16 and much of Revelation. And Jesus saw it as coming, among other things, in the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. So wrath was revealed in the giving over of the world to its sin, and in the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews and the troubles that would come on the world (Mark 13).

Yet through it all shone out His saving purposes. Even while vengeance stalked the earth, salvation was being spread abroad. Of those tender hearted women some would respond and be saved. Others would sadly await their judgment. And when He comes the second time it will not only be in order to bring vengeance and judgment, it will also be to bring righteousness and deliverance for many. he will ‘gather together His elect from the four winds of heaven’. And He is continually active in the same way in history (Isaiah 51:8). Daily He brings righteousness and deliverance to someone somewhere in the world. Yet while Jesus did not come to judge but to save (John 3:17), and His salvation is now being freely offered, His very coming inevitably judges those who refuse His light (John 3:18-19).

So here it is rather that the future is all seen as one whole, and the action of the Great Warrior is seen as occurring as long as it is needed. To this Great Warrior a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day (2 Peter 3:8), indeed it is but a watch in the night (Psalms 90:4). Thus we must not limit Him to our ideas of time.

‘Therefore His own arm brought salvation to Him, and His righteousness it upheld Him.’ God was looking for the deliverance of His own people, His chosen ones, and because there was none to act He Himself will bring about the deliverance that He desires through His Servant, and it will be His righteousness that will uphold Him in the work that has to be done. It is His arm that will strengthen His Servant. It is His own righteousness that will uphold Him. Thus the work of the Servant and of the Anointed One (Isaiah 61:1) is seen as His own work, and the activity of the Servant and of the coming King as His own activity. And there is a merging of those activities that reveals why Isaiah could call that King, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father (see on Isaiah 9:6), the One who as the Wonderful Counsellor incorporates the Servant.

We must insert here as part of His activity what we find in the Gospels, and in the Acts of the Apostles, for in it all the Great Warrior came and strode through the world. His breastplate was righteousness. That was why they could not touch Him until God gave permission. His helmet was salvation, for He Himself was the Saviour And we must include in this description Isaiah 9:1-7; Isaiah 11:1-10; Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12 and much, much more. And we must include the Book of Revelation which outlines God’s activity in history and the One through Whom He acted, the slain Lamb Who was also the lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5-6). In it all He came, bringing His deliverance, and He was upheld by God’s righteousness, by His own righteous purposes, by the righteousness which He revealed in His righteous living and by His mighty acts, and by the righteousness which enabled Him to withstand all the assaults of the enemy (which of you convinces me of sin? - John 8:46), and by the righteousness of the Righteous One Who had sent Him, and Whose righteousness He shared and abode in, a righteousness which was His own (John 16:15).

‘And He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head.’ These were His armaments and His protection that ensured that He could not fail. All He did was righteous, all He purposed was righteous, all that He was, was righteous, the righteousness of Yahweh was His, and He was surrounded by righteousness and nothing in the evil of the world could mar Him. And it was necessarily so. Had there been one chink in the armour when He became man all the purposes of God would have collapsed. But there was no chink. He was clothed in righteousness, and righteousness prevailed. He knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth (1 Peter 2:22). These were the testimonies of one who had belonged among His severest critics, critics who had constantly scrutinised Him, and of one who had been closest to Him in His daily life.

And it has been openly revealed, so that all are without excuse. The righteous teaching of Jesus stands out like a beacon in the world. None other compares with it. There have been great teachers, and men of great morality, but none taught like He taught, all are but pale reflections of His words. Only He was right all the way along the line. His teaching along reveals Him for what He is, the truly Righteous One, the One like no other, the only Son of God.

‘And a helmet of salvation on His head.’ He wore too the helmet of deliverance. He was protected by His Father’s eternal purposes and intentions, and by God’s, and His own, great purpose of salvation which had existed from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). For that provided Him with all the protection of the Godhead. He was ‘God the Saviour’ (Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1). Wearing that helmet He could not but succeed. And through the wearing of that helmet He brought salvation to His own.

Righteousness and deliverance have gone hand in hand earlier in Isaiah (Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 46:13; Isaiah 51:5-6; Isaiah 51:8; Isaiah 56:1) and now the idea has reached its climax, fully revealed in the coming of the Great Warrior. Deliverance is here, but it is deliverance in righteousness, as God’s salvation must always be.

‘And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak. According to their deeds, accordingly He will repay, fury to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies, to the islands He will repay recompense.’ New emphasis is now laid on the fact that the Deliverer will come as Judge. He will come to exact judgment on those who have rebelled against Him and those who are His enemies. He will be clothed with vengeance and zealous to maintain righteousness, and punish men in accordance with their behaviour, and their sinful deeds. And this will apply to all His enemies including the distant coastlands. All will receive according to what they have done.

‘Vengeance.’ The idea rather is of punishment in accordance with deserts, measured vengeance for the breaking of His Laws and refusal to observe His commands (compare Isaiah 24:5). There is no thought of exacting personal revenge. His ‘fury’ is the same, it manifests an antipathy to sin that requires proper punishment for that sin.

As Isaiah manifested this powerful portrayal of the action of God we must remember that he did so in the light of what he himself had seen and experienced. He had seen Yahweh revealed in His glory in the Temple and had been made aware of His supreme holiness and had declared the utter sinfulness of himself and his people (Isaiah 59:6). Thus he knew that any deliverance must be in righteousness. And he had seen Jerusalem surrounded by an implacable foe, with no hope of escape, and had declared beforehand its deliverance, and had then seen the arm of Yahweh revealed as the Assyrian host was smitten, and Zion was miraculously and powerfully delivered. He had seen the arm of Yahweh in action. Now he was being made aware that it would be seen again in final deliverance of God’s true people, the holy seed (Isaiah 6:13), and in the smiting of all His enemies through the Mighty Warrior.

Isaiah 59:19

‘So shall they fear the name of Yahweh from the west,

And his glory from the rising of the sun,

For he will come like a pent in river,

Which the wind (breath, Spirit) of Yahweh drives.’

The whole known world will thus learn to fear His name, and be aware of His glory. They will recognise Him for what He is and acknowledge Him. In terms of earlier teaching, to Him every knee will bow and every tongue declare allegiance (Isaiah 45:23). For His coming will be with the force of a mighty river, forced along in the narrows between high banks, both by the force of the flow and by a powerful wind, the breath of Yahweh. He will be irresistible.

Thus is declared the powerful work of the Spirit which will go out into the world bringing men of all nations to His feet (compare Isaiah 55:10-13), manifested through the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness (Isaiah 53:1-12; Zechariah 13:1) but seen as culminating in final judgment for the sinful and the deliverance of those who have responded to Him, of those accounted and then made righteous. It is the story of the faithful among God’s people in intertestamental days, of Zerubbabel as by the Spirit he encouraged the returned exiles (Zechariah 4:6), it is the story of the coming of John the Baptiser, and of the earthly Jesus Himself Who went forward ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ (Luke 4:1), and of the Acts and of the New Testament letters. It is the story of the centuries, and of the missionary outreach to the world. It continues today. The Redeemer continues His mighty work through the power of the Spirit. He strides forth in the world through His own. But it is always in righteousness, and must result in righteousness. For that in the end is what salvation involves. Deliverance in righteousness is His perfect work.

‘So shall they fear the name of Yahweh from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun.’ These words influenced the words in Psalms 102:15 whose ideas at that point appear to be based on these verses in Isaiah. ‘So the nations shall fear the name of Yahweh, He has appeared in His glory’, and there we learn that it was through the prayer of the destitute. It results from the heart cry of His people.

Note on ‘For He will come like a pent in river, which the wind (breath, Spirit) of Yahweh drives.’

Here ruach YHWH (the wind/Spirit of Yahweh,) is either a Hebrew idiom for a strong wind, or a poetical description of the wind in general as the breath of God, or a description of the driving force of the Spirit of God. And the idea is that the coming of the Servant will be with the force of a river being driven between narrow banks by the powerful wind/breath/Spirit of God. An alternative translation is, ‘when the enemy comes in like a flood (rising, fast moving river), the Spirit of Yahweh will lift up His banner against him’. The difference depends simply on the translation of one or two Hebrew words. The word for ‘pent in, narrow, compressed’ (see Numbers 22:26) is tsar which can also be translated as ‘enemy’ (one who pents in). The word translated ‘drives’ (nosesah, which is seen as the polel of nus) can alternatively be seen as connected with nes - banner, standard, and therefore as ‘lift up a standard’.

The idea of ‘enemy’ can be seen as connecting back with the enemies in the previous verse. Thus all depends on how we see it as fitting into the context.

The objection against the translation ‘pent-in river’ are as follows:

1) It violates the Masoretic accents, which are against connecting the word for ‘pent-in’ with the word for ‘river’. Thus the Masorete tradition did not favour this translation.

2) It is incongruous to liken Yahweh to a river which He Himself drives. However, if we see He as being the Servant, the Mighty Warrior, this objection would not apply.

3) The unlikelihood that within the context tsar would be used in a different sense than in Isaiah 59:18 where it is translated ‘adversaries’. This is probably the strongest argument of the five, although clearly not conclusive.

4) The supposed unnaturalness of the picture of a river driven by the wind. But this is only unnatural to someone who has never seen a wind driven river. To someone who has it is a powerful illustration.

5) The polel of nus unusually being used for ‘drive’ when we would normally expect the hiphil (cause to -). Combined with 3) this must be seen as having some force.

The strongest argument against the second translation is the questionable nature of the translation ‘lift up a banner’ for nosesah.

End of note.

Isaiah 59:20

‘And a Redeemer will come to Zion,

And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob.

Says Yahweh.’

Previously Yahweh has constantly been declared to be ‘your Redeemer’. But the suggestion here would seem to be of another Redeemer, One sent to deliver, sent from Yahweh, Who can only be the Servant. For He is certainly revealed as a Redeemer, One Who saves by the payment of a price. It is He who will be numbered with the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12), it is He Who makes His soul an offering for sin (Isaiah 53:10), it is He Who makes the will of Yahweh prosper (Isaiah 53:10), it is He Who bears the sin of many (Isaiah 53:12). And He comes on behalf of those who turn from transgression among His people. There can be no deliverance without turning to righteousness. And this is the word of Yahweh.

And the object of this Redeemer is the redemption of Zion, the ‘city’ which had failed Yahweh and become a harlot city (Isaiah 1:21), a rebel against Yahweh, and thereby represented within itself the whole failing ‘people of God’. They had despoiled His Sanctuary (Isaiah 43:28) so that it requires replacement (Isaiah 44:26-28). Thus ‘Zion’ needs to be redeemed by the mighty Saviour, and to be transformed into a glorious city beyond man’s imagining, the very dwellingplace of Yahweh, where His light will permanently be revealed, and all the world who are willing to respond will come to worship. But ‘Jerusalem/Zion’ spoken of in this way regularly indicates more than just the city. It can indicate the place of Yahweh’s absence, or the place of His revealed presence. it can indicate the nominal people of God, or the real people of God, and all in relationship to the earthly or heavenly Sanctuary depending on context. In the end it is ‘Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem’ which contains ‘the spirits of just men made perfect’ (Hebrews 12:22-24).

Note here for example the close connection between ‘Zion’ and ‘those who turn from transgression in Jacob’. Here the description Zion includes the whole of the true Israel of God, the faithful in Israel, seen as though they were occupants of the city, whereas in reality they would be far too numerous for that. Zion and the people who turn to righteousness are seen as almost synonymous.

To Israel Zion was ‘the city of God’, the ‘holy city’. To be there was to be as near to God as it was possible to be. It was their ideal, their dream, and had been even when they were following idolatry. It was to them the place where Yahweh dwelt on earth. Thus the prophets (apart from Ezekiel who went beyond it to a heavenly Temple and sidelined Jerusalem - Isaiah 45:1-8) took up their ideas and saw in Jerusalem, as glorified and transformed, the symbol of the culmination of all their hopes, for it was where the dwellingplace of God would always be found. Indeed Isaiah regularly uses language about Zion that goes well beyond the idea of any earthly Jerusalem, and raises His dwelling place to a higher plain (Isaiah 2:2-3). He speaks of what Jerusalem represents for the world in terms of God’s salvation, a Jerusalem beyond Jerusalem, a kind of stairway between heaven and earth, and includes within the idea all of God’s future blessings on the whole true people of God. Their love of Jerusalem was used to point forward to a greater Jerusalem, a New Jerusalem which had attributes of Heaven, and which the New Testament would speak of as actually raised there (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22), together with a new Sanctuary where God could be met with (Hebrews 8:2; Hebrews 9:7; Hebrews 9:11; Hebrews 9:24; Hebrews 10:19-22) .

This comes out in Isaiah in that ‘Jerusalem’ will be the city of righteousness, where all are righteous (Isaiah 1:26-27), it will be the city where all without exception are holy (Isaiah 4:3), it will be a place where the full glory of God will be revealed in all its splendour and where God reigns (Isaiah 24:23), it will be a strong city with salvation as its wall and bulwarks (Isaiah 26:1), it will be a city with a secure foundation, founded in God (Isaiah 28:16), it will be a place of no more weeping and no more tears (Isaiah 30:19), it will be a place where Yahweh is exalted and dwells on high, filling it with justice and righteousness (Isaiah 33:5), it will be unmovable and indestructible, a place where Yahweh is with His own in majesty as Judge, Lawgiver and King (Isaiah 33:20), it will be a place of everlasting joy where His people obtain joy and gladness and where sorrow and sadness find no place (Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 51:11), it will be lit only by the light of Yahweh and have no need of sun or moon (Isaiah 60:19-20), it will be a newly created city (Isaiah 65:18), and it will be in the newly created new heaven and the new earth (Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:20-22). Thus Paul could refer us to the Jerusalem which is above (Galatians 4:26) and the write to the Hebrews to ‘mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem’ (Hebrews 12:22), while Revelation depicts it as the eternal state (Revelation 21-22).

So as we look at this section of Isaiah with its references to Zion we must recognise that to him Zion depicts the perfect future where God and His people share together the everlasting future. But in those days there was no conception of a heaven to which people could go. Thus he depicts the future, both the future on earth in the purposes of God, and the eternal future in terms of a glorious and widely expanded everlasting ‘Zion’.

That is why as we go through chapters 60-62 we must not see an ordinary Israelite city, however majestic, but a city beyond all cities, where Yahweh reigns supreme, where He can be truly approached and worshipped in the full light of what He is, where His chosen and anointed King sits on His throne receiving the tribute of the nations, and which is large enough to envelop the world who will come to it to make their submission to Him. Babylon is now no more and Zion reigns triumphant.

As we therefore look at these chapters we must make a careful distinction between the city with all its significance, and the people, who while included in the idea of the city, are only a humble part of it, and our concentration must be on all that Zion signifies of the sovereignty and glory and presence of God. Thus while it includes all God’s people, it even more symbolises the whole divine enterprise of which they are only a part, even though an important one. When we read of the nations coming and offering worship and paying tribute, it is not His people who are important, except in their ministry of priests, the important focus is on Yahweh as present in Zion, on behalf of Whom all is received.

Note on Zion, the City of Yahweh.

In the first part of Isaiah it is made quite clear that the future ‘Zion’ represents something totally beyond an earthly city. It represents a future ideal. It reaches up to heaven with its new Temple, it is the place to which all nations flow to worship Yahweh, it containsallHis true and holy people, it enjoys the full revelation of His presence, it represents where He is seated in His triumph, it is His place ‘on high’, it is the place where there will be no weeping or crying, it is the place of everlasting, unceasing security, it is the place where sun and moon are no longer required. While some of what is said might fit, this as a whole goes far beyond any possible earthly city, even a supposed Millennial Jerusalem. Here we are dealing with the everlasting kingdom, firstly in its preparatory form, and then more fully in its final form. Let us consider these ideas in more detail:

· In Isaiah 1:26 it will be the city of righteousness, the faithful city, Zion will be redeemed with just judgment and her converts with righteousness. Thus it includes all who are then ‘converted’ to giving her honour. It representsallthe people of God (including the resurrected ones - Isaiah 25:8; Isaiah 26:19) and symbolises the fulfilment of God’s saving purposes.

· In Isaiah 2:2-4 Zion is the place which contains Mount Zion, where Yahweh’s Temple is exalted to heaven, to which all nations will flow. They will say, ‘Let us go to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of God, that He may teach us His ways’, and from there He will judge the nations, undoubtedly through His anointed King (the earthly house of David having been rejected). So when the nations flow to Zion this is their intent, to meet with Yahweh there and worship Him and pay Him tribute. Here every knee bows and every tongue confesses Him as Lord. It represents the worship of all men before His presence.

· In Isaiah 4:2-6 the glorious Branch of Yahweh will be there, and all who are in it will be holy, even all ‘the living’, and Yahweh will be manifested in cloud and flaming fire, in a vision of glory, and over all will be a canopy and protection in order that His people may have a safe refuge. Here is the place of the presence of God for all the redeemed where they enjoy everlasting bliss.

· In Isaiah 12:6 the inhabitants of Zion shout and cry aloud, because the Holy One of Israel is in the midst of Zion. It is to there that the North Africans will bring their tribute ‘to the place of the Name of Yahweh of Hosts, to Mount Zion’ (Isaiah 18:7), that is to that part of Zion which has been exalted to the heavens (Isaiah 2:2-4). It is the place where Yahweh of Hosts reigns in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem (Zion) and gloriously before His ancient people (Isaiah 24:23), exalted over the heavenly and earthly hosts which He has defeated and subjected to Himself (Isaiah 24:21-22).

· In Isaiah 28:16 Zion will be the place where He lays the Foundation Stone, the Proved Stone, the precious Cornerstone, through trusting in Which all who believe will be without hurry or concern. In Isaiah 30:19 all the people will dwell in Zion, all weeping will cease and Yahweh’s graciousness will constantly revealed to them Thus Zion is the universal city.

· In Isaiah 33:5 Yahweh will be exalted in Zion, and will dwell ‘on high’. But Yahweh’s dwelling ‘on high’ is in the heaven of heavens where He sits as the high and lofty One Whose name is Holy (Isaiah 57:15). And from there He will fill Zion with true judgment and righteousness, providing total stability, abundance of salvation, wisdom and knowledge. The fear of Yahweh will be His treasure. In verse 30 Zion, the place of His people’s worship, will be a place of quietness, of everlasting security, a place of unspoiled streams and rivers on which man’s incessant earthly activity is absent.

· In Isaiah 35:10 it is the place where all the ransomed people of Yahweh come with singing, and everlasting joy on their foreheads. Where they obtain joy and gladness, and all sorrow and sighing flee away. In Isaiah 46:13 it is the place where salvation is set for Israel His glory. In Isaiah 51:3 it is like the Garden of Yahweh, and full of joy, and gladness, and thanksgiving, and melody. In Isaiah 51:11 it is again the place of everlasting joy, the place of gladness and joy, with sorrow and sighing fleeing away. In Isaiah 51:16 He will plant the heavens and lay the foundation of the earth, and say to Zion, ‘You are My people’. Here then it connects with the New Heaven and the New Earth (Isaiah 65:17). In Isaiah 52:1 it is to be clothed in beautiful priestly garments so that nothing may enter that is unclean or uncircumcised. (If it is an earthly city, how then can the uncircumcised nations enter it, or build its walls as described later?) Here is the depiction of eternal purity and the circumcision made without hands (Colossians 2:11), the circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4).

It is in the light of these descriptions and depictions of Zion that 60-62 is to be considered.

End of Note.

So in what follows we must recognise from what has been said about Zion above that the submission of the Gentiles is to Zion rather than to His people (Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 18:7; Isaiah 24:21-23). That the approach to Zion has in mind the exaltation of Mount Zion. And that while we must not totally exclude the idea of their submission to the people of God, we must certainly recognise that it is submission to them as the priests of Yahweh, and in recognition that they are bearers of Yahweh’s authority (Isaiah 61:6). It is depicted as a submission to Yahweh through them. It is a holy submission, as of a congregation to its elders, not a subservient one (the latter being a mistake which many Jews were fond of making).

Isaiah 59:21

‘And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says Yahweh,

“My Spirit that is upon you, and my words which I have put into your mouth,

Will not depart out of your mouth, nor out of the mouth of your seed,

Nor out of the mouth of your seed’s seed,

Says Yahweh, from henceforth and for ever.”

Here we have confirmation that this has been describing the work of the Servant. His true people will also become the Servant, speaking out His words to the end of time. In this passage we have had ‘Me’, ‘Him’, and the ‘them’ with whom the covenant is made. The latter are clearly His true people. The covenant is described in Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:8; Isaiah 54:10; Isaiah 55:3; Isaiah 56:4; Isaiah 56:6; Isaiah 61:8, and the Mediator and heart of it is the Servant, Who is given as a covenant to them. So the Him clearly has in mind the Servant. And certainly He is the One on Whom above all the Spirit comes (Isaiah 11:1-4; Isaiah 42:1). And once men responded to Him through the working of the Spirit they too would become part of the Servant (Acts 13:47), and this promise was to them.

And now is described what His ‘being made a covenant’ to them involves. Their guarantee of the fulfilment of the covenant lies in the fact that the Servant will have the Spirit upon Him (Isaiah 42:1), and will have in His mouth the words of Yahweh (Isaiah 50:4), and will come to them. He is the direct Mediator of God’s Spirit and God’s word to His people.

And thus from now on these words of Yahweh, which have come from the mouth of His Servant (Isaiah 50:3-8), will continue to come from the mouths of His servants, from the mouths of the Servant’s seed (Isaiah 53:10) and from the mouths of their seed, and from the mouths of their seed’s seed from this time forth for ever. We see here that the Servant is indeed ‘the new Abraham’, the culmination of all that was promised in Abraham, and concentration is now onHisseed. And just as Abraham was one and became many in his seed (Isaiah 51:2), so will the new Servant be One and will become many in His seed (Isaiah 53:10).

‘And as for Me.’ This differentiates Yahweh from the Redeemer of the previous verse and stresses His participation in all that the Redeemer is doing. While that Redeemer is active in His coming, Yahweh Himself will be active through Him by His Spirit and by His words.

So it is clear that preparatory to the fulfilling of the everlasting covenant in the everlasting kingdom, when the dead will have been raised (Isaiah 26:19), will be the period when the Servant will be made a covenant to His true people, and bringing that covenant to them will expand them through the proclamation of His word, through His seed and His seed’s seed. The fulfilment of this in our Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles, and the church who resulted, is clear and specific, as His seed expanded and grew both widely, and this has continued on through the generations, until the final resurrection day will introduce the final everlasting kingdom. If we are His, we too are His seed.

But why is He then here called the Redeemer and not the Servant? The answer lies in the dual idea behind the Servant. The idea of the Servant includes His true seed, while here in the Redeemer strict differentiation is made between them. His people will continue on as the Servant (Acts 13:47). He alone is the Redeemer.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 59:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-59.html. 2013.

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Saturday, May 25th, 2019
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