Our reading today begins a promise of salvation. We find here one of the most important texts for understanding that God has called to Himself one people, called in Christ. God begins with a call to justice and righteousness in light of His salvation and righteousness (56:1). In verse 2, God calls the man who does these things, who keeps the Sabbath, and who does no evil blessed. This is a call to take responsibility for ourselves in light of God’s salvation and righteousness. This also points us to the one “son of man” Who did this perfectly.
In verse 3, God expressly tells the foreigner (non-Israelite) who has been joined to Him to not believe that God will separate him from His people (Israel). God does not have two plans for to people, only one eternal plan for His one people. God then uses the metaphor of the eunuch. Not only could the eunuch not have children (obviously), but eunuchs were excluded from the covenant community (see Deut 23:1)! But God calls the eunuch to not say he is a “dry tree” (can’t have children). The eunuch that obeys God as prescribed in verse 2 will receive from God something greater than even sons or daughters, and will be given a name (posterity) that will not be cut off (vv. 4-5). Note, though, that God is here saying eunuchs are now included in the covenant!
In the same way, the foreigner (non-Israelite) that was excluded from the covenant community, if he obeys God as prescribed in verse 2 (which we do in Christ see above), he is not now just included in the covenant community, but is a minister (a priest) of God (v. 6 – see 1 Pet 2:4-10). God has brought us to His holy mountain (His presence – see 2:2-3) where we will be heard (prayer) and accepted (as an offering), because His house (His church) is a house of prayer for all peoples (v. 7). Christ quotes this passage in opposition to the false, outward worship of the Jews (Mark 11:17)1. In verse 8, we see that God says He will gather others to the remnant of Israel that He gathered. This passage excludes any possibility of separate plans for the church and physical Israel following the First Coming of Christ. God has one plan, for one people.
Starting in verse 9, God through Isaiah brings an indictment against the leaders of His physical people. He calls for the beast of the field to come to devour in the land, symbolizing His turning it into a wasteland (see 5:5-6). Why? Because those who should have been His watchmen have made themselves blind and mute (v. 10 – see 6:9, 43:8). He compares them to dogs who are never satisfied (vv. 10-11a) and shepherds who turn their own way, that is, do not care for the sheep (v. 11b). They only live to eat, drink, and be merry, expecting to never pay for their sin (v. 12).
Chapter 57 continues the indictment against Judah’s leaders. They allow injustice to be done to the righteous (57:1). But God will give them their reward in the life to come (vv. 1b-2). In contrast, God calls the wicked who are offspring of the adulterer and the “loose woman” (a whore), pictures of their worship of false gods (v. 3). They are only fooling themselves (v. 4). In verse 5, the lust among the oaks is referring to their whoring after false gods (see 1:29), as is the slaughter of their children (see Lev 20:2-5). In verse 6, the smooth stones of the valley and the offerings refer to idolatry, as well. Verse 7 refers to the “high places” of false gods (see Lev 26:30). Judah’s idolatry is the same as adultery (v. 8). The “looked on nakedness” is literally “looked on a hand,” a Hebrew euphemism for male genitalia, which was also used to describe an Asherah pole (see Deut 16:21). The “king” of verse 9 can also be translated as the false god Milcom (see Jer 49:3, Zep 1:5). Though this idolatry wearied them (spiritually), it gave them “new life” (some holy sarcasm) and they pursued these gods fervently (v. 10).
God then asks them why they did not fear Him, but instead worshiped other gods (v. 11). God has been patient. But God now indicts them for their sin (v. 12). He tells them to pray to their idols for salvation (v. 13). But they themselves will be judged. And yet, whoever takes refuge in God will “possess the land”, which is paralleled with God’s holy mountain. This is talking about inheriting life in God’s presence.
The chapter ends with God repeating what He said in 40:1-5. God calls for the way to be prepared for Him to make the way for His people to come to Him (v. 14). God’s dwelling is in the high and holy place (heaven, and where heaven meets earth: His holy mountain), but God’s dwelling is also with the humble, whom God exalts (v. 15). God will not “contend forever” (v. 16). He will not remain angry because His people only break His covenant (v. 17). This is not why He created man (v. 16). In spite of our sin, God will heal us (v. 18). He will comfort His people. And His people are both far, that is, the nations; and they are near, that is, the spiritual people within the physical people of Israel (v. 19). But the wicked (the people who broke the covenant – purely physical Israel) will not get that comfort (vv. 20-21).
1 He quotes this along side a quotation from Jeremiah 7:11, which is a passage where physical Judah is explicitly told by God that she has been rejected just as He rejected physical Israel (see Jeremiah 7:1-15).