Our reading begins today with God rebuking the Jews for their empty worship. The “seek me daily” of 58:2 speaks to the empty, outward rituals the Jews had become accustomed to performing. Because they were God’s chosen nation, they believed the outward observances kept them right with God. And yet, God does not honor such worship. In verse 3, God tells them that their fasts are of no advantage, because they do it for themselves, to make themselves feel as if they have done their religious duty. They fast, and yet they oppress those under their charge. They fight among themselves (v. 4). Is the fast of God a special occasion to perform their rituals? To outwardly mourn and make it known how religious they are for it (v. 5 – see Matt 6:16-17)? It this what God wants?
Then God answers His question. Fasting proceed from a heart of faith. It isn’t a “special occasion,” it flows from a life given over to God. A life that is devoted to freeing the oppressed, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and clothing the naked (vv. 6-7). If the fasting and the ritual (which are not bad in and of themselves – see Matt 23:23) are done by such people, God will accept it as worship. He will provide for and protect them (v. 8). He will hear their prayers (v. 9). They will be satisfied by God and will prosper (vv. 10-11). And God will call them as His spiritual people and make them part of the remnant (v. 12). If they will honor God and give Him His due, they will inherit the promise of salvation (vv. 13-14): the promise to make them “ride upon the heights of the land” as in Deuteronomy 32:13. This is to be part of the heritage of Jacob (see Gen 28:14-15).
In chapter 59, God continues this same train of thought. It is not that God cannot save them or hear their prayers, it’s that He won’t (59:1). They have forsaken Him, so He has forsaken them (v. 2). They love violence and deceit (v. 3, 6-7). They violate justice (v. 4). God compares them to venomous snakes and spiders (v. 5). They will not know peace because they have made their roads crooked (v. 8 – see Prov 10:9). This is in contrast to God’s call to make the way straight (Isa 40:3).
Starting in verse 9, Isaiah is speaking for the people of Judah. Since they do not do justice (v. 8), they hope for light but receive darkness (v. 9). Because they have made themselves blind, they grope in darkness and stumble in the noontime sun (v. 10). They seem alive, but are dead. They growl in anger like bears and moan like helpless doves because they hope for their idea of justice, but only receive true justice, and not salvation (v. 11). Isaiah confesses on behalf of the people in verse 12-13. They are getting what they deserve because of their sin. There is no denying their sin. They have indeed forsaken God. They are oppressive and deceitful.
In verses 14-15, Isaiah again indicts the people for their sin (again, the focus is on justice). But Isaiah points to God’s salvation; how He will bring about justice. God sees that there is no one righteous (v. 16 – see Rom 3:10). He sees that there is no one to intercede between man and God. But then “His own arm” brought salvation and “His righteousness” upheld Him. His arm is again His saving power through Christ, Whose righteousness – God’s own righteousness! – is imputed to those He saves. Verse 17 describes Christ as both Savior and Judge. The breastplate of righteousness and helmet of salvation that Paul talks about in Ephesians 6:14-17 is telling us to dress like the divine warrior Jesus Christ! Righteousness guards our hearts like it did Christ. God’s salvation guards our minds like it did Christ.
But the divine warrior is also the Judge! The zeal of the Lord saves (see 37:32), but it also judges (see 42:13). All the earth will be repaid for their deeds (see Oba 15, 2 Cor 5:10) when Christ comes in judgment (v. 19). And when He brings judgment, He will also bring salvation for Zion (the church – the dwelling place of God) and for those of the physical people that repent and become part of His spiritual people.1
In verse 21, God now explains the covenant He will make with the world (the New Covenant). He will place His Spirit upon “you,” the “you” being the Redeemer of verse 20. He will put His words in the mouth of the Redeemer, which will be with the “offspring” of the Redeemer (the spiritual people of God). Isaiah will expound this further in 61:1-2, which are the words Jesus uses to begin His ministry in His hometown of Nazareth (Luke 4:18).
Chapter 60 expounds this salvation, foreshadowing our final salvation. God again puts out the call to “arise” (see 52:1). The light that is lacking for those in 59:9-10 for those who are “dead” has come in the Redeemer, Who shines the glory of YHWH. Paul quotes this verse (in conjunction with Isa 26:19) to explain that this life-giving light is Christ (Eph 5:14) in order to exhort us to live in that light. The “your” and the “you” in this verse are feminine singular, the nearest antecedent of which is Zion in 59:20. Christ has come for us! Darkness covers the earth, but YHWH (Who is the Redeemer of 59:20) will arise on us!! And all nations will come to this light (V. 3 – see 42:6 and 49:6). The nations and the kings coming to Christ is said to be fulfilled in the glory of God in the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:22-26. We see again the inseparable identification between the Redeemer and His people who are Zion and the New Jerusalem (see Heb 12:22).
In verse 4, we see that those who come to this light come from afar and are carried to Him, This is Isaiah 49:18-22 being fulfilled. This is further expounded in verses 5-7 where all the nations of the world bring tribute to YHWH in Christ. This light – the salvation of the Redeemer – will be for the whole world! The far reaches of the world will come to the God of Israel (v. 9). Foreigners will rebuild Jerusalem (v. 10). This is the church, consisting of those from all peoples and nations. The gates of the New Jerusalem (entrance into the church) will remain open for the nations to bring tribute to YHWH (v. 11). Those that do not enter in will be justly judged (v. 12). The people of the world will bring tribute to YHWH (enter the church – v. 13), or will be judged at Christ’s Second Coming (v. 14). Every knee will bow and confess that He is Lord, and that we, the City of YHWH, the New Jerusalem, the Zion of the Holy One, are His people.
Whereas we (the nations) had previously been forsaken by God, we are those who will be made majestic for eternity (v. 15). And when the judged acknowledge Who He is and Who we are, we will see Who our Redeemer is (v. 16). God will redeem the whole creation (v. 17) and will remove violence and judgment from us (v. 18). And God Himself – the Redeemer! – He will be our light forever (vv. 19-20 – see Rev 21:23). And we will possess the “land” (the New Heaven and New Earth) and prosper when YHWH completes His salvation (vv. 21-22).
1 The Hebrew word go’el (Hebrew גּוֹאֵ֔ל) here translated “Redeemer” is an interesting word. It refers to someone who saves according to justice, and judges according to justice. It is the word for “Redeemer,” as in Job 19:25, and has a legal overtone, as in Ruth 3:12. It is also the word translated “avenger” in Numbers 35:19 and 2 Samuel 14:11. This is Christ. He is just to both save and judge. Praise God!