10. Finding True Righteousness and Devotion (Isaiah 56-59)


Audio (37:58)

James J. Tissot, 'The Pharisee and the Publican' (1886-1894), gouache on gray wove paper,  9-7/8 x 6 1/2 inches, The Jewish Museum, New York.
James J. Tissot, "The Pharisee and the Publican" (1886-1894), gouache on gray wove paper,  9-7/8 x 6 1/2 inches, The Jewish Museum, New York.

Christianity is regularly mocked by our world for one primary reason. Too often Christians affect a strong sense of piety while living narrow, self-serving lives that contradict the basics of what they believe. To see this, you only need to reflect on Jesus'mockery of the Pharisee of his day. They had the strictest view of keeping the law, but they ended up with legalism and a self-serving hypocrisy that caused people to turn away from their God. "If that's what true religion is all about," people respond, "I want no part of it." Jesus said,

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former." (Matthew 23:23)

The Pharisees emphasized keeping the Torah (the Pentateuch, the Law, the first five books of the Bible) over the insights of the Prophets. They should have read more carefully Isaiah 56-59.

Of course, you and I can become shallow hypocrites without even knowing it. That's why we need to pay particular heed to these chapters.

Part 10A (Isaiah 56-57)

Yahweh's International Invitation (56:1-8)

We begin with an overall statement about what God expects of his people.

"1 This is what the LORD says:
'Maintain justice and do what is right,
for my salvation is close at hand
and my righteousness will soon be revealed.

2 Blessed is the man who does this,
the man who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it,
and keeps his hand from doing any evil.'" (56:1-2)

Our faith is not to be merely an acknowledgement of a doctrinal truth. It is to be a lifestyle of obedience to the Lord, seeking to learn what is pleasing to the Lord and doing it (Ephesians 5:10). This emphasis on an ethical faith of justice and righteousness is found throughout Isaiah (1:21; 5:16; 9:7; 16:5; 28:17; 32:1, 16; 51:1a) and the other prophets. For example,

"I will make justice the measuring line
and righteousness the plumb line." (Isaiah 28:17a)

"For I, the LORD, love justice;
I hate robbery and iniquity." (Isaiah 61:8a)

"He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly
and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

We kid ourselves if we think God is pleased with people who live unjustly, who cheat, and who oppress others.

Notice the international emphasis of verses 1-8. The nations coming to God is a theme of Isaiah. We see it beginning to be fulfilled in the New Testament church following Pentecost. Jesus instructed his disciples to preach the gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8). The Lord revealed to Peter in a vision:

"God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right." (Acts 10:34b-35)

Those who were previously excluded from the temple -- foreigners and eunuchs, for example (Deuteronomy 23:1-8) -- are now invited to worship as well.

"Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say,
'The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.'
And let not any eunuch complain,
'I am only a dry tree.'" (56:3)

I can't help but think that the Lord is inviting to his congregation all the people who have felt excluded for any reason -- poverty, nationality, skin color, failure at marriage, prison record, being overweight, physical handicap, perceived ugliness, even shame over one's sexual orientation.[209] He loves you and invites you to be full citizens of his Kingdom.

The section concludes with the prophecy:

8 The Sovereign LORD declares --
he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
'I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.'" (56:8)

This sounds a lot like Jesus'statement:

"I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd." (John 10:16)

In this prophecy, we see worship of Yahweh moving beyond a tribal religion to an international faith proclaimed by the coming Messiah. The Kingdom Jesus proclaimed is deliberately inclusive!

Q1. (Isaiah 56:3-8) What is the significance of God's welcome of believing and ethical foreigners and eunuchs to full status in his temple? What are the implications of that for the church? Who does your congregation tend to exclude from its fellowship -- if not explicitly, then by emphasis and focus? What could you do about this?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=1306

Sabbath-Keeping

Along with ethical justice is the demand for personal piety:

"Blessed is the man ... who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it." (56:2b)

The two complement one another -- morality and piety must be combined. This was a disconnect in Jesus'day with the Pharisees (Luke 11:42) and it can be a disconnect with people today.

This chapter gives a high regard to keeping Sabbath without desecrating[210] it, developed further in 58:13. God gave the Sabbath as a day of rest (Exodus 31:13-16), a day to cease from labor (Nehemiah 13:15-18; Jeremiah 17:21-22; Ezekiel 20:12, 20). It is enshrined in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11).

In Judaism and in Jesus'life and ministry, Sabbath-keeping was important. But Jesus corrected some of the Pharisees'extreme interpretations concerning the Sabbath with his saying, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27).

After Pentecost, as the church grew beyond Jerusalem and Judea, the emphasis of the early church moved away from Sabbath-keeping, and sometimes saw the way it had been observed as an empty legalism (Colossians 2:16). Gentile Christians celebrated the first day of the week (John 20:19; 20:26; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2), the day on which Christ had risen, which they called the Lord's Day (Revelation 1:10). By the mid-second century, most Christians evidently gathered on Sunday morning,[211] because Trajan's edict against seditious assemblies prohibited evening meetings. In 321 AD, Constantine declared Sunday to be observed as the Roman day of rest.

How are Christians to understand "keeping the Sabbath" as part of a holy and righteous life? There are various options.[212]

  1. Sabbath worship and rest. Worship on the Sabbath as do the Seventh Day Adventists, and observe Saturday as a day of rest according to the practice of Judaism.
  2. Sunday worship and rest. Worship on Sunday, and observe Sunday as a day of rest, essentially moving the Sabbath to Sunday.[213]
  3. Sunday worship, but don't give yourself to resting, rather keep up a frantic pace.
  4. Skip worship, do your own thing.

Q2. (Isaiah 56:2) Why does keeping a sacred day of rest honor God? Christians practice this different ways: (1) Sabbath worship and rest, (2) Sunday worship and rest, (3) Sunday worship, no rest, or (4) no worship, no rest. Which of the various options might best honor God? Which of these might dishonor God? Which of these keep the spirit of one "who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it"?
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Woe to Israel's Indolent Leaders (56:9-12)

God has great plans for his people, but their leaders are spiritually blind, interested in satisfying their own appetites rather than caring for the people. As a result, God's people are vulnerable to being plundered by their enemies.

This sounds a lot like some church leaders I know who hold tightly to their power to control the church, but are not really spiritual people. They live in the flesh. As a result, the congregation's life falters. Paul gives some important guidelines for selecting church leaders in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. We ignore these at our church's peril. If your church's bylaws or practices encourage the selection of unspiritual people as leaders, change them!

Woe to Israel's Idolaters (57:1-14)

These leaders don't seem to recognize the righteous remnant in their midst.

"1 The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart;
devout men are taken away, and no one understands
that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.
2 Those who walk uprightly enter into peace;
they find rest as they lie in death." (57:1-2)

Their testimony doesn't seem to affect the corrupt leaders and people around them. The death of the righteous is not a punishment, but "the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil" (57:1b). In death they find "peace" and "rest" (57:2), according to Isaiah.

But for the most part, the people are deep into the idolatry of the surrounding nations. Some of these sins seem to refer to false religions that flourished in Palestine before the exile. Some of the fruit of this idolatry is hinted at here:

  • Sorcery (57:3).
  • Adultery and prostitution, probably related to worship of Baal/Bel and Ashtoreth/Ishtar (57:3-5). This included ritual sex with cult prostitutes under sacred trees (57:5a; 1:29; Ezekiel 6:13; Deuteronomy 23:17; Hosea 4:13-14; Jeremiah 2:20; 3:6).
  • Child sacrifice (57:5b; Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5; 2 Kings 17:17; 21:6).
  • Idol worship (57:6).
  • Worship on the pagan high places (57:7; Deuteronomy 12:2).
  • Pagan symbols in their houses, probably as amulets to ward off evil (57: 8a).
  • Spiritual adultery with false gods (57:8b-9).

They have failed to call on the true God Yahweh to save them, but there is still hope for the faithful remnant who follow the Lord.

"But the man who makes me his refuge will inherit the land
and possess my holy mountain.
And it will be said: 'Build up, build up, prepare the road!
Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.'" (57:13b-14)

In verse 14 we hear an echo of the holy highway that Isaiah has mentioned previously (35:8; 40:3-4; 62:10).

Healing for the Humble (57:15)

Now the Lord speaks to this faithful remnant.

"For this is what the high and lofty One says --
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
'I live[214] in a high and holy place,
but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite.'" (57:15)

We learn several things from this verse. Yahweh is

  1. The high and lofty One. Yahweh is exalted far above all humans and other supposed gods.
  2. Eternal. The NRSV and KJV reflect the Hebrew -- Yahweh "inhabits eternity."[215] Wow!
  3. Holy. God is set apart from all sin and the everyday and common.

Now the amazing paradox -- this high and holy God is willing to humble himself to live with those who humble themselves before him and repent of their sins. It is this humbling that characterizes Jesus'emptying of himself and becoming a man, dying on the cross for us (Philippians 2:6-8).

Observe God's attraction to the contrite.

"This is the one I esteem:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit,
and trembles at my word." (66:2)

"The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (Psalm 34:18)

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." (Psalm 51:17)

"Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly,
but the proud he knows from afar." (Psalm 138:6)

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:3)

Also observe Yahweh's mission in dwelling with the contrite:

"... to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite." (57:15)

This conforms with Jesus'own stated mission:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2)

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

Q3. (Isaiah 57:15) What things do we learn about God in this verse? What is the great paradox here? Why does God care so much about the downtrodden and the contrite? Do you and your congregation care for the downtrodden and contrite with the same intensity?
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Tenderness and Peace for Sinners (57:16-19)

God is not characterized by his anger and judgment, but by his mercy for the people he has created.

"16 I will not accuse forever,
nor will I always be angry,
for then the spirit of man would grow faint before me --
the breath of man that I have created.

17 I was enraged by his sinful greed;
I punished him, and hid my face in anger,
yet he kept on in his willful ways.
18 I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
I will guide him and restore comfort to him,
19 creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel.
Peace, peace, to those far and near,'says the LORD.
'And I will heal them.'" (57:16-19)

Praise the Lord! There is hope for us sinners! This love for the world is seen in Jesus'death for our sins.

"But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

There is hope for those who turn in repentance -- the contrite of heart. But not for those who persist in their sin.

I love the way this prophecy concludes with a brief commentary on peace.

"19b Peace, peace, to those far and near,'says the LORD.
'And I will heal them.'
20 But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest,
whose waves cast up mire and mud.
21 'There is no peace,'says my God, 'for the wicked.'" (57:19b-21)

Notice that God's desire is peace, shālôm, a word that combines ideas of "peace, prosperity, wellness, health, safety ... completeness, wholeness, harmony, fulfillment."[216] God has peace and fulfillment in store for you, if you will stop resisting him -- and if you will embrace his righteousness rather than continuing in sin.

Part 10B (Isaiah 58-59)

Religious Observance without Obedience (58:1-3)

Though many prophecies in Isaiah refer to God's ethical requirements for his people, 58 and 59 are the chapters where ethics is the unrelenting focus.

Have you ever met a person who was extremely devout, but whose personal life was a mess and grossly hypocritical? That's the situation Yahweh is faced with. Israel goes through all the motions of religious observance, but they don't seem to understand that religion and ethics must go together. That is the burden of this prophecy.

"1 Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them." (58:1-2)

The people ask why God doesn't answer their prayers or respond to their fasting.

"'Why have we fasted,'they say, 'and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?'" (58:3a)

Finally, God has their attention. What's wrong with their lives? God begins to lay it out for them. In their fasting they purport to humble themselves before God, but in fact they show they are no closer to him. The phrase, "you do as you please" (NIV), "you serve your own interest" (NRSV), "ye find pleasure" (KJV) is made up of a verb and a noun. Whenever the verb māṣāʾ, is used to describe a result following a time of "seeking," the translation is "to find."[217] In our verse, they purport to seek God, but find only their own pleasure. The noun ḥēpeṣ means "delight, pleasure." People might take delight or pleasure in the law of the Lord (Psalm 1:2), the land, even other people.[218] But Israel's delight seems to be in getting their own way -- which results in oppression, fighting, and conflict. They are self-centered rather than God-centered, in spite of their constant fasting! They fast and humble themselves before God, but continue to drive their workers hard and underpay them.[219] They are involved in violent fights with each other. No wonder God doesn't take their fasting seriously (58:3b-4). It is a sham!

Justice for the Oppressed, Charity for the Poor (58:6-9a)

To the Israelites, fasting is an outward show of humility -- bowing one's head, lying on ashes and sackcloth (that is, the coarse cloth sacks are made of). That kind of fasting may be acceptable to them, but not to God (58:5). He wants fasting to change them!

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?" (58:6)

The prophet offers images of chains, cords, and a yoke. A yoke, of course, was a wooden device that fit over the neck and was strapped or tied, that allowed a pair of animals (or humans) to pull a heavy load. It was a symbol of oppression and involuntary servitude (Jeremiah 27). "Oppressed" is rāṣaṣ, "oppress," with the basic meaning "crush" or "break in pieces."[220]

As we saw in verse 3, Yahweh accuses the Israelites of exploiting their workers. Today we see this in practices such as sweatshops, exploitation of girls by a pimp, grinding working conditions, not paying a living wage. It's common in some industries to hire illegal aliens as day laborers and pay them less than you'd normally have to pay citizens for the same job, because they can't organize unions or complain to the police. Some hire people for a few hours less than full-time so they don't have to offer health care or other benefits. Others fire older workers because they've gradually earned higher salaries over the years. Some churches treat their pastors like dirt and pay them poorly.

Yahweh called on the Israelites -- and us today -- to fight injustice, to free the oppressed. This may be troubling to you. It may not fit your politics. But Yahweh demands fairness and justice for workers, and mercy towards those who cannot work.

Next, the prophet examines attitudes towards the poor and homeless.

"Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter --
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?" (58:7)

Centuries later, the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy,

"If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." (1 Timothy 5:8)

We can argue whether this is "government's job" or "the church's job." We can rail about how some people beg money as a scam to avoid working. But the fact remains that we have an obligation to care for the poor. It is part of the justice God requires. It is part of loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is what the Good Samaritan would do. God isn't very interested in how pious we are, unless we live it out.

"He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly
and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

Q4. (Isaiah 58:6-7) What kinds of injustice does Isaiah condemn in these verses? What excuses do we use to rationalize not being generous to the poor -- in our communities or in our families? In what ways is "tough love" important to help people? In what ways could it hurt them?
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Insisting upon justice for the oppressed and offering charity to those in need is not necessarily easy. But the promise for obedience is wonderful!

"8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I." (58:8-9a)

There is a blessing for the just and merciful.

  1. Salvation (verse 8a). "Light" probably refers to "their felicity of well-being,"[221] as it seems to in 9:2 and 60:1, 3, when God's blessing comes upon God's people.
  2. Healing (verse 8b). This probably begins with physical healing, but extends to the restoration of everything that is broken in the nation or the home, relationships, lives, social conditions.
  3. Protection (verse 8c and d). There is the idea of a caravan or army on the move, with Israel's righteousness (that is, Yahweh) in front, and God's glory taking up the rear, gathering up the stragglers.[222]
  4. Answered prayer (verse 9). God's ear will be open to us.

Going Out of Our Way to Deliver the Oppressed (58:9b-10a)

Now the prophet brings another round of ethical demands followed by abundant promises of blessing to those who obey the Lord. First, the ethical demands, building on what has been said in verse 6.

"9b If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed...." (58:9b-10a)

The "yoke of oppression" can refer to all sorts of injustice. Here the prophet suggests the injustice caused by false accusations in court as well as whispered slander -- "the pointing finger and malicious talk." This is developed further a few verses later in 59:3-4. The Law roundly condemns false testimony designed to support the wicked against the innocent (Exodus 20:16; 23:1, 7; Leviticus 6:3; 19:16; Deuteronomy 5:20; 19:16-20).

Notice in 58:10a, that our response to people who are hungry is not to be a casual morsel of surplus bread, but a deliberate action to meet their needs. The phrase is rendered several ways in our English Bibles:

"Spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry" (NIV)

"Offer your food to the hungry" (NRSV)

"Draw out thy soul to the hungry" (KJV)

This action translates two words. The noun is nepesh, "life, soul." The root idea is "to breathe." Sometimes nepesh can be translated by a pronoun or a word like "being, person, self."[223] In this verse it suggests a kind of personal involvement, rather than casual assistance. The verb is pûq, "bring out, furnish, promote."[224] The parallel verb in the next line is śābaʿ śābēaʿ, "to satisfy, sate," with the idea "to be satisfied by nourishment."[225]

The context of this prophecy, of course, is fasting. So it seems appropriate that when you fast, that is, to deny food to yourself, at the same time you provide food to those who have none.

Q5. (Isaiah 58:9b-10a) In what ways are people injured by backbiting, judgmental attitudes, and harsh criticism? How are they injured by false accusations and slander? How can we change our church cultures to banish this kind of behavior? What would it require of us to really "spend ourselves in behalf of the hungry"? What would this look like for an individual? For a congregation?
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The Blessings Resulting from Compassionate Justice (58:10b-12)

The promise of blessing for speaking compassionately and for feeding the poor is wonderful, seemingly out of all proportion to the act of feeding.

"... Then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings." (58:10b-12)

These prophecies are given for people more than a hundred years hence, who are in exile in Babylon. The blessings offered to them correspond to what actually happened under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, as the people returned to Jerusalem and began to repair broken city walls and restore the houses on ruined streets.

Sabbath-Keeping (58:13-14)

Now the prophet picks up the theme of keeping the Sabbath that he had spoken of in chapter 56 above, where we provided some background into Sabbath-keeping. Let's look at ways Isaiah tells us to keep the Sabbath in 58:13.

"If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD's holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please
or speaking idle words...." (58:13)

This verse suggests four ways we can honor the Sabbath.

  1. Honoring. We honor God by keeping his Sabbath. Otherwise we trample on the Sabbath (suggested by "feet") and desecrate it.
  2. Seeking God. The options on the Sabbath are to "do as you please" or to seek what pleases God. So often we seek worship that is comfortable to us, rather than seek what is pleasing to God (Romans 12:1; Ephesians 5:10; 6:6; Colossians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 4:1). This isn't about us! The Sabbath reminds us to seek to please God with our lives.
  3. Delight. Is the Sabbath seen as a set of rules to obey or an opportunity to relax, rest, and enjoy God? Keeping the Sabbath has a lot to do with our attitude towards God himself. Do we resent him? Or love him? Why do we gather to worship? Out of duty or guilt? Out of convenience? Out of love for God?
  4. Conversation. The Sabbath is a time to remind ourselves about our words. Here the prophet cautions us about "idle words." Actually, the Hebrew text doesn't include the word "idle," but reads "speaking words." However, the idea seems to be engaging in casual conversation without thinking. Jesus warned us against careless speaking[226] (Matthew 12:36).

Our human tendency is to create rules to enforce Sabbath-keeping. But God is really after a heart that loves him. We are to observe the Sabbath with a willing Spirit towards God whom we love. If we do, God promises joy and a rich inheritance (58:14). And Jesus himself promised a blessing in it: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). God seeks our rest and renewal his way.

Q6. (Isaiah 58:13-14) In these verses what positive actions align themselves with a true keeping the Sabbath? What negative actions should be avoided in a true keeping of the Sabbath?
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Israel's Sin (chapter 59)

Chapter 59 is a continuation of the prophecy that began with Israel's contention that the Israelites are hypocritical God-seekers (58:2-3a). Isaiah's instruction was to "Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins" (58:1b). God is able to save them from exile in Babylon, but they are still in rebellion.

"1 Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear.
2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
so that he will not hear." (59:1-2)

As long as they persist in their rebellion, their prayers will go unanswered. Peter taught that the same principle applies under the New Covenant.

"Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner ... so that nothing will hinder your prayers." (1 Peter 3:7)

Q7. (Isaiah 59:1-2) How do disobedience and lack of repentance prevent our prayers from being answered? According to verse 2, who is causing the separation from God? How can it be corrected?
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Now the prophet catalogs more of their sins.

  1. Murder, innocent blood (59:3a, 6-7)
  2. Lies and falsehoods (59:3b, 8)
  3. Injustice and falsehoods in the legal system (59:4, 9a)

Isaiah accuses them of hatching the eggs of deadly snakes -- dangerous. Of spinning spider's webs -- clever but useless (59:5-6). As a result, peace (that is, wholeness and prosperity) eludes them (59:8). They claim to seek light (59:9), but they are blind (59:10).

At verse 9 we see a shift from the third person to the first person. Israel begins to confess their sins and spiritual bankruptcy to God.

"12 For our offenses are many in your sight,
and our sins testify against us.
Our offenses are ever with us,
and we acknowledge our iniquities:
13 rebellion and treachery against the LORD,
turning our backs on our God,
fomenting oppression and revolt,
uttering lies our hearts have conceived." (59:12-13)

At 59:15b there is another shift, where the prophet turns to God's response to this confession. He now sees their plight and their lack of anyone to save them. So he takes responsibility for their salvation upon himself and arms himself for battle.

"17 He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance
and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.
18 According to what they have done,
so will he repay wrath to his enemies
and retribution to his foes;
he will repay the islands their due." (59:17-18)

You can see similar passages that speak figuratively of garments in the Old Testament at 52:1; 61:10; 2 Chronicles 6:41; and Psalm 132:9, 16. These images of the armament and clothing of righteousness are echoed in the New Testament by Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:7; Ephesians 6:14-17; and 1 Thessalonians 5:8.[227]

Now that Yahweh has taken up the cause of his people, the nations will witness his power (59:19). He will restore the penitent of his people to Jerusalem (59:20), in keeping with his covenant with them to put his Spirit upon them and his word in their mouths (59:21). This was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit fell on Jews from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 2).

We see the same pattern in the Old Testament as in the New. True piety and devotion require both an internal love for God as well as an external obedience to his stated desires. As an old hymn puts it:

"Trust and obey, for there's no other way
to be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey."

Prayer

Father, it's so easy for us to get it wrong -- imitating the externals of piety without living it out in our hearts. Forgive us. Help us to both love and obey you so that the inside and the outside both honor you. In Jesus'name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

These few chapters contain a number of memorable passages:

"Maintain justice and do what is right,
for my salvation is close at hand
and my righteousness will soon be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
the man who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it,
and keeps his hand from doing any evil." (56:1-2)

"The Sovereign LORD declares --
he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
'I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.'" (56: 8)

"For this is what the high and lofty One says --
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
'I live in a high and holy place,
but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite.'" (57:15)

" I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
I will guide him and restore comfort to him,
creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel.
'Peace, peace, to those far and near,'says the LORD.
'And I will heal them.'" (57:18-19)

"Day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them." (58:2)

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter --
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?" (58:6-7)

"Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I." (58:8-9a)

"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed...." (58:9b-10a)

"If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD's holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please
or speaking idle words...." (58:13)

"Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear.
But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
so that he will not hear." (59:1-2)

End Notes

[209] I've convinced that most people who perceive themselves as homosexuals don't have much choice in the matter of their sexual desires. Their sexual orientation just is. If this is the case, we Christians should not be judgmental and crude, but full of compassion. Few homosexuals I've known are actually "gay" in the sense of "happily excited, merry." Instead, many are full of pain, rejection, and sometimes self-loathing. Having said that, I don't believe God approves of homosexual activity any more than he approves of immoral heterosexual activity (1 Corinthians 6:9). We all must show restraint in our sexuality, no matter what our orientation. We in the church need to open our arms towards people of all sexual orientations, while at the same time upholding biblical standards of sexual expression. Let's be compassionate, brothers and sisters!

[210] "Desecrating" (NIV), "profaning" (NRSV), "polluting" (KJV) is ḥālal, "profane, defile, pollute, desecrate.... The root ḥll is used to mark the act of doing violence to the established law of God. Thus to profane is to misuse the name of God, the Sabbath, or the holy place, and so desecrate it" (Donald J. Wiseman, ḥālal II, TWOT #661).

[211] We read in Justin Martyr, First Apology 67: "And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place.... Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly...."

[212] Some might add another option: "entering into his rest" spiritually, as explained in Hebrews 4:3-5. But this is taught in Hebrews more as a type than a practice that replaces the Sabbath.

[213] This is prescribed in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), 21, 7-8.

[214] Hebrew shākan, "to dwell, to tabernacle or tent" (Victor P. Hamilton, TWOT #2387)

[215] In Hebrew this is two words, shākan, "to dwell, to tent or tabernacle" and ʿad, "perpetuity, continuing future." Nearly always the word denotes "the unforeseeable future." "It should be noted that there is no general word for time in Hebrew, neither are there special terms for the past, present, future, and eternity" (ʿAd, TWOT #1565a).

[216] G. Lloyd Carr, shālôm, TWOT #2401a.

[217] Victor P. Hamilton, māṣāʾ, TWOT #1231.

[218] Leon J. Wood, ḥāpēṣ, TWOT #712b.

[219] "Exploit" (NIV), "oppress" (NRSV), "exact" (KJV) is nāgaś, "exact, exert demanding pressure," connoting "the exertion of demanding oppressive pressure for payment or labor." (Leonard J. Coppes, TWOT #1296). "Workers" (NIV, NRSV), "labor" (KJV) is ʿaṣṣāb, "labor, worker" (found only in this verse).

[220] William White, rāṣaṣ, TWOT #2212.

[221] Young, Isaiah 3:421.

[222] "Rear guard" (NIV, NRSV), "rereward" (KJV) is ʾāsap, "to gather." Oswalt renders the phrase, "the glory of the Lord will gather [behind] you." The parallelism of these two lines suggests "behind" to match "before you." "As the vanguard and rearguard offer protection (like the pillar of fire and cloud, Exodus 13:21-22; 14:19-20), so the righteousness and glory that the Lord gives to his people will be proof against anything the world can hurl against them" (Oswalt, Isaiah 40-66, p. 505).

[223] Bruce K. Waltke, nepesh, TWOT #1395.

[224] Pûq, BDB 807.

[225] Bruce K. Waltke, śābaʿ śābēaʿ, TWOT #2231; BDB 959.

[226] "Careless" (NIV, NRSV), "idle" (KJV) in Matthew 12:36 is argos, "idle, unemployed," then, "pertaining to being unproductive, useless, worthless" (BDAG 128, 3).

[227] This imagery of clothing oneself with righteousness can be seen elsewhere in the Bible, as well -- Isaiah 11:5; Job 29:14; Romans 13:12-14; etc.


Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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