Isaiah by the day
In contrast to the ‘ideal’ in chapter 58, here is the sad ‘actual’. Having held up the mirror of God’s Word with its requirement of a conformed life (chapter 58), Isaiah turns now to see how the Lord’s people look in the light of the call to obedience. Accusation (vv.2-3, note ‘your’) is followed by description (vv.4-8, note ‘they’, ‘their’), and this leads to confession (vv.9-13, note ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our’). The passage, however, begins with a statement of Yahweh’s ability to save (v.1), and this theme is taken up in vv.14-19, where Yahweh himself dresses in garments speaking of his commitment and ability to save, to implement his own righteous purposes, and to deal with his foes.
The saving Yahweh
1. Behold, Yahweh’s hand1 is not short so that he cannot save, nor his ear insensitive so that he cannot hear!
2. On the contrary your iniquities cause a division between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you, so as not to hear.
3. For your hands2 are polluted with blood, and your fingers with iniquity. Your lips have spoken falsehood; your tongue murmurs3 wrong4.
4. There is no one calling out in righteousness5 and there is no one arguing a case with fidelity6 — trusting in what is meaningless, and speaking falsehood, conceiving trouble and giving birth to mischief.7
5. They hatch viper’s eggs, and weave spider’s webs — whoever eats any of their eggs will die, and from the broken shell8 an adder9 breaks out.
6. Their webs will not make a garment, nor will they cover themselves with their works: their works are works of mischief, and the doing of violence is in their hands.10
7. Their feet run to evil, and they hurry to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are thoughts of mischief-making; spoliation11 and shattering lie along their highway.
8. The way of peace they do not know, and there is no judgment12 in their tracks. Their paths they have made crooked for themselves. No one at all travelling on it will know peace.
9. Therefore judgment13 is distant from us, and righteousness does not overtake us. We wait confidently for light, and — behold — darkness! For a glimmer of light — we walk in a fog!
10. We grope along the wall like the blind — like people without eyes we grope. We trip up in noonday as if in twilight, among the vigorous, like the dead!
11. We growl like bears, all of us, and like doves — how sadly we coo!14 We wait confidently for judgment15 and there is none, for salvation — it is distant from us.
12. For our rebellions are many before you, and our sins answer against us. For our rebellions are with us, and as for our iniquities, we know them!
13. Rebellion, and deception against Yahweh, and backsliding from following16 our God. Speaking oppression and stubborn rebellion. Conceiving and muttering17 from the heart words of falsehood.
Yahweh’s final action — the coming salvation — the revelation of the Anointed Conqueror (Isaiah 59.14-63.6)
This section constitutes the heart of Isaiah 56-66. At 56.12, the people are told that salvation is near. Against the background of all that is wrong with his people (59.1-13) Yahweh now undertakes for them, himself donning the garments of salvation and also of vengeance, for he purposes to deal finally, too, with all who oppose him. The section 59.14-19 is an introduction to this, and sets the background for the revelation of the covenant-maker (59.20-21), the one anointed to comfort and exact vengeance (61.1-3). It is, in fact, this Anointed One who in the event is robed in the garments of salvation (61.10-62.7), and who, alone, performs the work of salvation and vengeance (63.1-6).
Yahweh prepares himself to save and to avenge
14. And judgment18 is made to slip away back, and righteousness stands at a distance. For truth has stumbled in the street, and uprightness is not able to come in.
15. And truth continues to be missing, and anyone who turns from evil makes himself a prey.
And Yahweh saw, and it was evil in his eyes that there was no judgment.
16. And he saw that there was no man, and he felt appalled that there was no one to interpose, and his arm accomplished salvation for him, and his righteousness19 was what sustained him.
17. And he dressed in righteousness as a breastplate, and on his head as a helmet salvation. And he dressed in garments of vengeance for clothing, and, like a cloak, wrapped himself in zeal.20
18. In accordance with exact recompense,21 so he will pay in full: rage22 to his adversaries; recompense to his enemies. To the wide earth23 he will pay recompense in full.
19. And in the west they will fear the name of Yahweh, and in the sun-rising his glory. When an adversary comes like a river,24 Yahweh’s Spirit raises a banner against him.
1 As well as ‘hand’ signifying effective ability to intervene, it also means ‘available resources’ (see 57.8). Yahweh’s ability to save is thus within his competence and within his resources.
2 More accurately, ‘your palms’ or the ‘grip of the hand’. See 1.15.
3 See 8.19. Here, of what is said ‘under the breath’, i.e. the tongue as expressing the real thought of the heart.
4 What is deviant or perverted from the right/straight. The verb occurs in 26.10.
5 Taking a public stand for righteousness.
6 The use of legal process for illegal ends.
7 See 1.13, also on ‘mischief ’ (v.6) and ‘mischief-making’ (v.7).
8 Lit. ‘what is broken/the broken thing’.
9 ‘Viper’ and ‘adder’ are uncertain renderings.
10 See. 1.15.
11 See 13.6; 51.9.
12 See 2.4; 26.8.
13 See 2.4; 26.8. For ‘judgment’ and ‘righteousness’ used together, 5.7.
14 See 8.19. ‘Sadly’ is introduced here to secure the meaning — the mournful sounding ‘coo’ of a dove.
15 See v.9.
16 Lit., ‘from after’. The preposition ‘after’ used idiomatically of the position taken up by a loyal follower.
17 See 8.19.
18 See 2.4; 26.8. On ‘judgment’ and‘righteousness’ together, see 5.7.
19 His commitment to his own righteousness nature, purposes and promises.
20 See 9.7.
21 ‘Recompenses’, a plural of completeness.
22 See 5.25.
23 See 41.1.
24 As we might say ‘comes streaming in’.
Thought for the day
Repentance is a marvellously powerful thing. In Psalm 51.1-3, David testifies to its simplicity and effectiveness. He uses all three main Hebrew words — sin (the specific offence), iniquity (the hidden defect of nature), and rebellion (wilful flouting of God’s way) — and we know that behind these words lie the death-dealing offences of adultery and murder (2 Samuel 12.9), yet he seeks mercy and cleansing simply by repentance: ‘For I know my rebellions, and my sin is ever before me.’ ‘To know’, of course, means here ‘to acknowledge’, and the same verb comes in today’s Isaiah reading, verse 12, again linked with the trio of sin, rebellion, and iniquity. But where David underlines the effectiveness of repentance in securing mercy and cleansing, Isaiah underlines the way repentance triggers divine reaction on our behalf, for, in response, the offended Lord now girds himself for the work of salvation. This is a work which displays and accords with all his righteous demands and standards (v.16; cf. 45.21; Romans 3.24-26) — and at the same time pledges the powerful action of the Holy Spirit to stop our enemy in his tracks (v.19). And all because we are ready to say we ‘know’ our iniquities. Do you remember how Isaiah invited us who have no money to ‘buy’ the wine and milk of salvation (55.1)? The penniless can only ‘buy’ if someone else gives them the purchase-price. Repentance, in all its simplicity, is only free and effective for us because the Servant of the Lord has ‘paid the price of sin’. But though repentance is ‘simple’, we need to be careful not to let it become ‘easy’ or superficial, for sin consigns us to the darkness (v.9), and makes self-salvation impossible (v.10); repentance must run deep and be heartfelt (v.11), and our ‘knowing’ must include how grossly we have offended the Lord (vv.12-13). Yet it is for just such people that the Lord dresses himself for salvation, and to just such hopeless cases that he promises the armed intervention of his counter-attacking Spirit.
This extract is from Isaiah by the day, a new devotional translation by Alec Motyer, published by Christian Focus (£14.99, ISBN 978 1 845 506 544).