Isaiah 59 – The Reality Check
A. The sin God sees.
1. (1) The problem of God’s people: what the cause is not.
Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened,
That it cannot save;
Nor His ear heavy,
That it cannot hear.
a. Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save: God’s people wondered why God did not seem to rescue them from their trials. They wondered if perhaps God had diminished in strength – if His hand had become shortened. Isaiah the prophet assures them that this is not the case.
i. This touches on one of the greatest problems in practical theology: how can there be a God of love and all power when there is human suffering? If we loved someone and had the power to end their suffering, wouldn’t we do it? Isaiah addresses those who wondered if God wasn’t all-powerful, and that is why their suffering continues.
ii. Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a remarkably wide-selling book titled When Bad Things Happen to Good People (1981). It sold more than four million copies and was on the New York Times best-seller list for a whole year. The whole point of his book is to say God is all-loving but not all-powerful, that God is good, but not sovereign. So, when bad things happen to good people, it is because events are out of God’s control. Kushner advises his readers to “learn to love [God] and forgive him despite his limitations.” This certainly is not the God of the Bible, because the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save. Isaiah simply says, “Behold this. See this.”
b. Nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear: Perhaps the problem isn’t that God lacks power. Perhaps He lacks knowledge of our problem or interest in our problem. But this isn’t the situation at all, as Isaiah reminds us. God’s ear is not heavy. He can hear us just fine.
2. (2) The problem of God’s people: what the cause is.
But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
And your sins have hidden His face from you,
So that He will not hear.
a. But your iniquities have separated you from your God: The problem isn’t with God’s power, His knowledge, or His interest. The problem is with our iniquities. Sin has separated you from your God.
i. In what way does sin separate us from God? Sin does not necessarily separate us from the presence of God, because God is present everywhere (Psalm 139:7) and even Satan can have an audience with God (Job 1:6). Sin does not separate us from the love of God, because God loves sinners (Romans 5:8). But sin still does separate.
Sin separates us from fellowship with God, because at least at the point of our sin, we no longer think alike with God.
Sin separates us from the blessing of God, because at least at the point of our sin, we are not trusting God and relying on Him.
Sin separates us from some of the benefits of God’s love, even as the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) was still loved by the father but didn’t enjoy the benefits of his love when he was in sin.
Sin separates us, in some way, from the protection of God, because He will allow trials to come our way to correct us.
ii. How easy it is for us to blame our problems on everything except our iniquities! We will even blame God before seeing that the problem is with us! We will deny who God is before seeing that the problem is with us.
b. And your sins have hidden His face from you: This explains why God’s people no longer felt the face of the LORD shining on them (Numbers 6:25). It was their sins, not the inability of God to hear, or His lack of interest in hearing.
i. This helps us understand – at least in a small way – the cry of Jesus from the cross, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? (Matthew 27:46). As Jesus stood in the place of guilty sinners, there was some way in which the face of God the Father was hidden from Him. Not in an ultimate, absolute sense; but in some way. But that was for our sins, not His own.
3. (3-8) A detailed description of the sins of God’s people.
For your hands are defiled with blood,
And your fingers with iniquity;
Your lips have spoken lies,
Your tongue has muttered perversity.
No one calls for justice,
Nor does any plead for truth.
They trust in empty words and speak lies;
They conceive evil and bring forth iniquity.
They hatch vipers’ eggs and weave the spider’s web;
He who eats of their eggs dies,
And from that which is crushed a viper breaks out.
Their webs will not become garments,
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 evil,
And they make haste to shed innocent blood;
Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity;
Wasting and destruction are in their paths.
The way of peace they have not known,
And there is no justice in their ways;
They have made themselves crooked paths;
Whoever takes that way shall not know peace.
a. Your hands are defiled with blood: They practiced and approved of violence and murder.
b. Your lips have spoken lies: They lied with ease and regularity.
c. No one calls for justice: They did not share God’s heart for what was fair and good; everyone simply thought in terms of their own good. Both justice and truth were distant concepts, and instead of justice there were empty words, instead of truth there were lies.
i. Motyer on empty words: “Isaiah is not describing but diagnosing. They may think they are acting sensibly but actually it is all nonsense.”
d. They conceive evil and bring forth iniquity, as if they were snakes giving birth to more evil serpents, bringing nothing but death (he who eats of their eggs dies) and more evil (from that which is crushed a viper breaks out).
i. Clarke on weave the spider’s web: “By their plots they weave nets, lay snares industriously, with great pains and artifice, whereby they may entangle and involve their poor neighbours in intricacies and perplexities, and so devour them, as the spider weaves her web to catch flies, and then to feed on them.” But their webs will never cover them before God; Their webs will not become garments, nor will they cover themselves with their works.
e. The act of violence is in their hands. Their feet run to evil: Both hands and feet are given to sin. But it doesn’t end there; even their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity.
f. They have made themselves crooked paths; whoever takes that way shall not know peace: Their choice and the consequences are plain. Their crooked paths will never lead them into the way of peace, meaning peace in the full sense of shalom.
i. Paul quoted Isaiah 59:7-8 in Romans 3:15-17. He used this passage, connected with other Old Testament passages, to demonstrate that man is a sinner from “head to toe.”
ii. In light of all this sin, it is amazing – absolutely amazing – that God’s people could still believe (as they did in Isaiah 59:1) that the problem was with God, and not them.
B. The effects of sin the people see.
1. (9-11) Because of their sin, darkness comes.
Therefore justice is far from us,
Nor does righteousness overtake us;
We look for light, but there is darkness!
For brightness, but we walk in blackness!
We grope for the wall like the blind,
And we grope as if we had no eyes;
We stumble at noonday as at twilight;
We are as dead men in desolate places.
We all growl like bears,
And moan sadly like doves;
We look for justice, but there is none;
For salvation, but it is far from us.
a. Therefore justice is far from us, nor does righteousness overtake us: Because God’s people had no interest in justice, God did not bless them with it. Because God’s people did not care about righteousness, God did not bless them with it. This is the principle of Jesus stated in Matthew 13:12: Forwhoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.
b. We look for light, but there is darkness: Now, having given themselves over to darkness, when they wanted the light, it wasn’t there. When you always have the light to go to, the darkness feels “fun.” It seems mysterious and adventurous. But when the light is taken away, we despair in the darkness.
2. (12-15a) Confessing their sin and admitting their guilt.
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 lying against the LORD,
And departing from our God,
Speaking oppression and revolt,
Conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood.
Justice is turned back,
And righteousness stands afar off;
For truth is fallen in the street,
And equity cannot enter.
So truth fails,
And he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.
a. Our sins testify against us…. righteousness stands afar off: Now God’s people are in a better place. They have had their reality check and see things as they are. No longer do they blame the “shortened hand” of God, or His “heavy ear.” They know it is because of their own sins that righteousness stands afar off.
C. The salvation and redemption the LORD sees.
1. (15b-16a) What the LORD saw.
Then the LORD saw it, and it displeased Him
That there was no justice.
He saw that there was no man,
And wondered that there was no intercessor.
a. The LORD saw it, and it displeased Him, that there was no justice: The state of God’s people was no mystery to the LORD. They cried out in Isaiah 59:12-15a, stating how desperate their condition was – and the LORD knew it all along.
b. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: Not only was the state of God’s people bad, but no one among them took the lead in getting it right. Where was the man who would lead the people in righteousness? He could not be found. Where was the intercessor who would plead God’s case to the people, and the people’s repentance to their God? No intercessor could be found.
2. (16b-19) What the LORD did.
Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him;
And His own righteousness, it sustained Him.
For He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
And a helmet of salvation on His head;
He put on the 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;
The coastlands He will fully repay.
So shall they fear
The name of the LORD from the west,
And His glory from the rising of the sun;
When the enemy comes in like a flood,
The Spirit of the LORD will lift up a standard against him.
a. Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him: God waited and waited for a disobedient Israel to turn to Him. He waited and waited for a man to lead them back to Him, or an intercessor to plead before Him. None arose; so the LORD did it Himself. If a man or an intercessor would have stepped out, it would have saved Israel a lot of calamity. But the fact that no man or no intercessor stepped forward didn’t ruin God’s plan. He waited to work in partnership through a man. He waited to work through an intercessor. But God’s work would still be accomplished if none arose.
b. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head: No man stepped forward to work with the LORD, so the LORD put on his armor and went to destroy His enemies, protect His people, and glorify His name.
i. Most people don’t pick up the connection between Isaiah 59:17-18 and Paul’s comments on our spiritual armor in Ephesians 6:10-17. In that passage, Paul calls that armor the whole armor of God, and it is God’s armor in the sense that it belongs to Him – after all, He uses it here in Isaiah 59:17-18 – and He allows us to use it to fight for Him.
ii. We may see a connection. If we don’t put on the armor of God and fight for Him, then eventually God will put it on Himself and fight for His glory. But God’s preference is to work in and through us, with us using His armor.
c. So shall they fear the name of the LORD from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun: This shows that the end result will be wonderful. In His ultimate victory – which He wants us to share in but will accomplish with or without us – the glory of the LORD will be known and respected from east to west.
d. When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD will lift up a standard against him. The enemies of the LORD will never triumph over Him. Even if they come in like a flood, and seem unstoppable, the LORD will lift up a battle-standard against him, and he will be stopped. God gives His people the glorious privilege of being more than conquerors (Romans 8:37) but will win the battle with or without us.
3. (20-21) What the LORD said.
“The Redeemer will come to Zion,
And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,”
Says the LORD.
“As for Me,” says the LORD, “this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,” says the LORD, “from this time and forevermore.”
a. The Redeemer will come to Zion: After speaking in the third person through the prophet, now the LORD speaks in the first-person through the prophet. When He speaks, He declares: The Redeemer – the goel – will come to Zion.
i. The goel – sometimes translated kinsman-redeemer, here simply as Redeemer – had a specifically defined role in Israel’s family life. The kinsman-redeemer was responsible to buy a fellow Israelite out of slavery (Leviticus 25:48). He was responsible to be the “avenger of blood” to make sure the murderer of a family member answered to the crime (Numbers 35:19). He was responsible to buy back family land that had been forfeited (Leviticus 25:25). And he was responsible to carry on the family name by marrying a childless widow (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). In these, we see that the goel, the kinsman-redeemer, was responsible to safeguard the persons, the property, and the posterity of the family.
ii. When the New King James Version capitalizes Redeemer, it does so rightly – because our goel is Jesus Christ. He is our near kinsman because He has added perfect humanity to His deity. He is the one who buys us out of slavery. He is the one who avenges wrongs done to us. He protects our inheritance and blesses and guards our posterity. This promise of the LORD in Isaiah 59:20 could be reworded, “I will send My Messiah, the Redeemer for all humanity, Jesus of Nazareth!”
b. To those who turn from transgression: Who does the Redeemer come to? To those who turn from transgression. The goel only worked for those who asked for His services and knew they needed Him.
c. My Spirit who is upon you, and My words…shall not depart from your mouth…from this time and forevermore: The covenant God makes with His people promises an abiding Spirit and an enduring word. God accomplishes His purpose in people and through all creation through both the Spirit and the word.
(c) 2021 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – email@example.com