Exposition Of Isaiah 59
When you think of the Old Testament book of Isaiah, your first
thoughts may be, his marvelous prophecies of the Messiah and the future glory of
God's kingdom. Indeed, that is a prevailing theme in the prophecy of Isaiah. It
is challenging, fascinating and edifying to spend hours in a study of those
passages - then go to the New Testament and see those things fulfilled in the
coming of Christ, His life, suffering death and exaltation to the right hand of
There are other things in Isaiah that demand our attention and one thing is this: God had given Isaiah the responsibility of telling the people of their sin. Isaiah does this in some detail in chapter one; then comes back to this theme at various places in the book.
One of the best statements of this is found in Isa. 58 and verse 1 - "Cry aloud, spare not; Lift up your voice like a trumpet ...," and God said: "Tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins."
Now that's in Isa. 58:1. I want to call our attention to the next chapter, Isa. 59. I want us to see what this passage says about God, and what it says about sin. We need to know there is no indifference in God, but no hope for man without God's remedy.
And God's remedy for man's lost condition is declared at the end of the chapter. I'd like for us to make a little journey through the chapter, in the hope we will learn these things and behave with trust and love for God, and the Savior who came in His name.
One of the first things Isaiah teaches us in this chapter is - THERE IS NO WEAKNESS OR INABILITY ON THE PART OF GOD AT ALL. "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear." All through the prophesy of Isaiah he described the problem between God and His people ... but never was there any hint that the problem was on God's end!
Sometimes in human relations, and in marriage in particular, both parties are at fault; so we are familiar with that, and we may tempted to think in those terms. But in the Bible when the problem between God and man is described, it can never be argued that both parties are at fault.
God has no fault, no weakness, no handicap. The problem is not that his hand is too short to reach us or that His ear is not able to hear us. There is no fault, no weakness on the part of the Lord - and that's the prophet's point in verse 1: "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear."
The problem is man's tragic weakness, due to the choice to sin and that is described by Isaiah beginning with verse 2. "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear."
The problem is not that God cannot hear; that He is deaf. THE PROBLEM IS, "He will not hear." He will not hear because of their iniquities and sins. THEY HAVE WALKED AWAY FROM THE LORD INTO SIN. The distance was created by man - by man's sin.
It might be illustrated like this: if you walk away from me, and try to talk to me - I cannot hear you ... not because I have a hearing problem, but because you walked away; you created the distance. Isaiah had made a point about this back in chapter one -- "Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear," (1:15). So here in Isa. 59 - the problem is described AND IT IS SIN, separating man from God.
Continuing with verse 3, if you'll look down through the passage, Isaiah is specific in identifying their sins:
VIOLENCE AND LYING: "...your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, Your tongue has muttered perversity." Mic. 7:3 - "Their hands are upon that which is evil, to do it diligently," and in Mic. 7:2 - "They all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net."
LACK OF INTEGRITY: "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." In Verse 5, the people are depicted as snakes giving birth to more snakes and breeding death. What a catastrophe, where a society is filled with violence and perversity, and NOBODY STANDS UP AND CALLS FOR JUSTICE. Nobody has the conscience and courage to plead for truth. "They conceive evil and bring forth iniquity."
THEY HAD NO SHAME: "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." The purpose of a garment is to cover. And in the Old Testament - the ideas of covering and atoning were very closely allied in Hebrew thought. Here the prophet teaches, men were making some attempt to cover their sins, but with garments no better than spider webs! These people would conceive evil, engage in perversity and violence, then offer burnt offerings to try and cover the sin they had chosen. Their sin remained - standing between them and God.
THEY WERE GUILTY OF MURDER; SHEDDING INNOCENT BLOOD: "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." Where there was some opportunity to do evil, these people would rush to do it, full speed ahead. What a sorry thing that men have nothing better to do, than to wait around for word of some evil to do ... some blood to shed ... some life to destroy.
INJUSTICE, in verse 8. "They 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." Did you see the movie, THE APOSTLE, where Robert Duvall plays the role of a preacher who is filled with himself, promotes himself and doesn't study or teach any Bible at all... at one point in the movie He prays, "Lord, give me peace," -- he says "Amen," and then continues in his crooked path. Sometimes people who have really messed up their lives will wonder out loud - WHY CAN'T I HAVE PEACE IN MY LIFE; why do I have all this chaos, trouble and conflict. Isaiah says, "they have made themselves crooked paths."
Do you see here where the problem was? There was and is no weakness at all in God. In fact, God is ready to forgiven; the problem is, SINNERS WHO ARE NOT READY TO BE FORGIVEN. The problem is this wall of separation between man and God, which is man's iniquity and sin - vividly set forth in this passage.
Continuing with verse 9 - this word "therefore" introduces the consequences, and there are more confessions.
"Therefore, justice is far from us, nor does righteousness overtake us ..." Here is justice (in fellowship with God) - but we have walked away from it. Here is righteousness (in fellowship with God) - but we have gone the other way. Do we think that justice will catch up with us, or that righteousness will overtake us? Isaiah denies that hope - justice is far from us, nor does righteousness overtake us!
Then - beginning with the middle of verse 9 and on down through verse 11 - A SERIES OF CONFESSIONS, and Isaiah takes part in this! He doesn't stand above the people and claim no participation, or sinless perfection. He had said, back in chapter six - "Woe is me, for I am undone." So here in chap. 59 - beginning in the middle of verse 9 - THESE CONFESSIONS:
We look for light, but there is darkness.
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
We growl like bears, and moan sadly like doves;
we look for justice, but there is none;
for salvation, but it is far from us."
This is the sad condition people get themselves into through the crooked path of sin, described here in Isaiah 59. He said in verse 12 about the people of God in Judah - "our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and as for our iniquities, we know them." The prophet is so clear about all of this, that God is not the problem, man is. And as a consequence of man's sin... Truth had fallen in the streets. Those who sought to do right were oppressed and harassed. Verse 15 says - the Lord saw this, and was displeased that "there was no justice."
Now notice how Isaiah describes the problem
Beginning in verse 16...
God saw that THERE WAS NO MAN, "no intercessor." Earlier in the history of this nation, there were intercessors: Moses, Joshua, David. But with these people Isaiah was writing about - in that time - God saw "no intercessor."
So, He took matters into His own hands. The last part of verse 16 says: "Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him; and His own righteousness, it sustained Him." Jehovah would act personally, depending on none other than Himself and His own arm of strength to intercede and bring His people into a right relationship with Him. God would uphold His own cause and His own righteousness DIRECTLY, WITHOUT INTERCESSORS.
And the next picture is - God, putting on His armor for battle:
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.
This was during the age before Jesus came and this was God's response to the sin Isaiah has described. It was a response of justice and vengeance. It was - verse 18 says - According to their deeds. It involved recompense to His enemies.
I don't know exactly how God did this, or exactly when God did this. This chapter may be a general statement about the sin of the people and God's response in such a time. But whatever the historical interpretation or the situation - GOD WON THIS BATTLE and those who allowed the truth to fall LOST THE BATTLE.
Now there was a time when there was no Intercessor, and God took matters directly into hand - but after that, there was another time - when God sent a redeemer.
Verse 20 -- "The Redeemer will come to Zion."
This is Christ, the Messiah; and everything in Isaiah 59; everything in verses 1-19 demonstrate the need for a redeemer. The theme of the chapter is "your iniquities have separated you from your God." These separating iniquities are described in some detail.
God saw no Intercessor. God took action against the transgressors and then said: The Redeemer will come. Jesus came to Zion; He was born into and came to the Jewish nation. The gospel was preached to the Jews, then to the Greeks. This was in fulfillment of Jesus instructions: "Go ye into all the world ... make disciples of all nations."
This is what Isaiah was pledged to preach; this covenant or promise God made - that this Redeemer would come; so the last two verses of Isa. 59 read.
"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."
That's Isaiah 59 and I want to make three simple points for us to consider:
#1 - Sin Has The Same Effect Today, it separates us from God.
We cannot disregard God; walk in disobedience and ignore His instructions and think it has no impact with Him, or that it doesn't matter. Nobody has ever said this as plainly as the apostle John - when he wrote:
If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us." (1 Jno. 1:6-10).
This is very simple --> FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD DEPENDS UPON WALKING IN THE LIGHT! If we walk in darkness - NO FELLOWSHIP. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light - FELLOWSHIP. The people Isaiah wrote about and prophesied to were walking in darkness, had no fellowship with God and so THEIR SINS SEPARATED THEM FROM GOD. Sin has the same effect today.
#2 - When A Nation Or People Turn From God, They Turn To Lies.
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.
Micah said, about the heads and rulers of the house of Jacob -- They abhor justice, and pervert all equity (Mic. 3:9). You cannot turn from God, and expect to bear the fruit of righteousness and that's true for an individual, a group or nation. When you turn from God, you turn to lies.
#3 - There Is No Covering, No Atonement and No Solution To This Problem EXCEPT THE REDEEMER, JESUS CHRIST.
Once you sin yourself away from God you cannot cover yourself; you cannot pardon yourself; you cannot dig yourself out of that pit! You cannot weave together some sort of web that will eliminate the sin or hide it.
Jesus is the only answer, the only solution, and the only Savior. There is no organization that can save you. No religious leader, past or present. No human plan. The wall of sin we create between us and God cannot be destroyed by anyone, except the one John was talking about when he said - "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"
The prophet Isaiah was faithful to carry out his mission - to tell, to declare the sins of the people and, to tell of the redeemer who would come. From this chapter we learn about God ... about sin ... about the effect of sin ... man's vain efforts to cover it - and God's answer to the whole problem in the Redeemer who came. Let us be sure we have not separated ourselves from God - but if we have - let's do the only thing that can be done, in surrendering to the Redeemer and serving Him with a whole heart.
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 6.4; April 1999