Deuteronomy 32; Psalm 119:121-144; Isaiah 59; Matthew 7
ISAIAH 59 IS DIVIDED INTO THREE PARTS. If taken out of its context in the book, it could be taken to describe the descent into sin and degradation that characterized many periods of Israel’s history, and that still characterizes many periods of the church’s experience. But both its position in the book and the closing two verses suggest that the prophet has in view the community of the people of God after they have returned from exile. They are still characterized by sin, and there is no hope but one.
The first section (Isa. 59:1-8) describes the people in their desperation. The reason for their plight, the prophet insists, is not some inadequacy in God: “the arm of the LORD is not too short to save” (Isa. 59:1). Their plight turns on their own sin: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isa. 59:2). The wearisome list follows: injustice, want of integrity, violence, conspiracies. At the heart of it all is human character: the evil emanates from within. “Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways. The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks in them will know peace” (Isa. 59:7b-8). Small wonder that the apostle Paul quotes several of these lines in his own indictment of the human race (Rom. 3:15-17). What can be done with a brood so persistently sinful? Even the enormous trauma of the exile proves insufficient to transform them.
In the second section (Isa. 59:9-15a), the verbs become first person plural. The language is that of communal lament. These mourners (compare Isa. 57:19) grieve for their sins. The language is brutally honest. Like Isaiah himself, like a Daniel or an Ezra, they confess not only their own sins but the sins of their people (Isa. 6:5; Dan. 9:4-19; Ezra 9:6-15). They know their situation is desperate. And that itself, of course, is a mark of grace. The people of God are farthest from reformation and revival when they are smugly content, like the church in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22). There is hope when by God’s grace they writhe in an agony of honest confession, horribly aware of the insidious and pervasive power of sin in their lives and their culture.
The third section (Isa. 59:15b-21) provides the relief. Only God is adequate to this situation—and he is more than adequate. God saw there was no one else who could save the people, “so his own arm worked salvation for him” (Isa. 59:16). And once again, this vision of hope and promise ends in apocalyptic proportions and in the categories of the new covenant (Isa. 59:20-21).