Isaiah Chapter 59

CHAPTER FIFTY-NINE

The cause of severance between God and man.
This confessed and broken down forever.


This chapter forms the second section of this division of our book, and like so many second's, has in it both the idea of the work of an enemy and the salvation of God from that enemy. Here the personality of the enemy is not yet revealed; but his work is, and his dupe, man, is seen having to bear the full responsibility of the rebellion into which that enemy has seduced him.

Most clear are the three divisions of the chapter:

1:Verses 1-8. Conviction.
2:Verses 9-15. Confession.
3: Verses 16-21. Salvation.

In the first part the Holy Spirit has supplied Himself with words that He uses in Romans 3:15-17, to bring conviction of guilt to us all, as it is written: "That every mouth might be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God."

Let us listen to this indictment of One who knows us well, and, knowing the worst, still loves:

1: Behold, the hand of Jehovah
Is not too shortened to save,
Nor His ear too heavy to hear.
2: Your iniquities are the dividers
That sever 'tween you and your God.
Your sins have hid His face from you
So that He doth not attend.
3: Your hands with blood are defiled,
Your fingers iniquity stains,
Your lips have been speakers of lies,
Your tongue doth murmur perverseness.
4: Not one of you crieth for justice;
In faithfulness none of you plead.
In nothingness1 trusting, in vanity speaking,
Profitless toil2 men conceive,
Iniquity do they bring forth:
5: Eggs of the adder they're hatching,
And webs of the spider they're weaving;
Who eats of their eggs surely dieth;
If crushed, then a viper springs forth.
6: Their webs shall be useless for clothing,
No covering shall their works yield;
Their works are works of corruption,
And violence the deed of their hand!
7: Their feet run ever to evil,
Swift to shed innocent blood!
Their thoughts are iniquitous thoughts:
By waste and by ruin their pathways are marked.
8: Nothing they know of the pathway of peace,
And nothing is right in their goings.
Crooked the paths they have made them;
Who treads them shall never know peace.
The prophet speaks on the part of Jehovah. How different are the days to those early ones of Israel's history! Then the answers to cries were prompt; His interventions on behalf of His people frequent. What a difference now! They pray, but there is no answer. No ear seems to listen. Sorrows not only take their course unchecked, but fresh blows come upon them; what can be the reason? How can such silence be accounted for? Has He changed? Has He forgotten to be gracious? Indeed, no! He changes never. His power to save is not lessened. His ear has not become dull as with age; it is as keen as ever to hear a wordless sigh, or the first whisper of penitent faith. The cause of the silence is precisely the same as in the day when those two brothers brought their different offerings. He respected not the persons of either; but Cain's sin still lay as a barrier between him and God, unremoved by his fruits and flowers (Gen. 4:7). So with us, sins must be removed, or never can we see that Face that "diffuses light when it unveils itself, and leaves darkness when it is veiled; the sight of which is blessedness, and not to see which is damnation."3

Does Jacob ask, What sins? These. Your hands are blood stained; your fingers defile all they touch; your lips are false; your tongue untrue. In your midst on all sides are injustice and untruth. Men's trust is in what shall prove as empty as the desolations of chaos. But that quick active brain has its conceptions, and what does it bring forth? Profitless weary toil! Gain is ever its object, money its attraction, and to attain it, "they disquiet themselves in vain" (Ps. 39:6). Weary and ever unsatisfied are they, and all they produce is as those eggs which when hatched bring forth a brood of poisonous adders. Such doings shall prove as ineffective for their clothing as would the web of a spider. Let any feed on what they minister, they must die; and when what they minister is opposed, examined, and refuted, or crushed, then is it seen in its true Satanic character, for forth there springs a viper! Their feet are ever on murderous errands bent! Their thoughts are evil, only evil, all the day and every day (Gen. 6:5). Of the true way of peace they know nothing, and, as long as they thus walk, never can.

"What baseless extravagance! What gross exaggeration! What self-confuting absurdities!" Does someone so speak? Then that evidences you are not well acquainted with your own heart, or you would know that, although dormant, there is latent in it just such a brood of vipers. Still and quiet they may be now; but let suitable occasion arise, and you will see them raise their heads, dart their fiery tongues, and show their poison-laden fangs. God does not look at the surface—how innocent we can make that! The greatest rogue is often the most honest-looking; the biggest liar may speak the most speciously, and even the murderer can be intensely sanctimonious. God looks deep down beneath the surface, and tells us what He sees in the heart, just as if our eyes could see under the surface of our beautiful lawns, so soft and green in the cool days of spring, but let the burning heat of July come, and roots and seeds of all kinds of noxious weeds germinate. Let us never forget that though we may have been Christians for a century, we still bear within us that old Adamic nature, and apart from a present abiding in our risen Head, this will express itself as it ever has done. The principle on which the new life begins, of repentance Godward and dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ for all power for holy living, with the Blood of the Lamb for our confidence, continues to the end. Let us not deny the divine verdict; far wiser and truer is the confession that follows:

9: That is the reason that judgment's far from us,
And righteousness cannot o'ertake us.
We hope for the light, but lo, a dense darkness!
For the brightness of dawn, and we walk in thick gloom!
10: We grope by the wall as the blind do,
Aye, grope as those who are eyeless.
In the clear light of the noonday
We stumble as though it were night.
In the midst of the lusty and flourishing4
We move as though we were dead.
11: We all of us growl as the bears;
And mourn—yea, mourn as the doves.
We hope for the right, but it comes not;
For salvation, it stayeth afar.
12: For our transgressions are many before Thee;
Our sins bear their witness against us.
For our transgressions remain ever with us,
And our misdeeds, we know them full well!
13: Rebelling against and denying Jehovah;
Departing away from our God;
E'en from the heart conceiving and uttering
(Nothing but) words of base falsehood.
14: And judgment is turned away backward,
And justice standeth afar.
For truth in the street lieth prostrate,
And honesty finds no admission,
15: Aye, truth is utterly lost:
And he who departeth from evil
Exposeth himself to be plundered
And the Lord saw—'twas ill in His eyes—
That of judgment there was none at all.
These pathetic verses give the true Israel's confession of the truth of the indictment in the first verses. Personifying that pious remnant as one man, we may see him standing afar off, and without lifting up so much as his eyes to heaven, saying: It is true; and it is this that accounts for the apparent indifference of our God. He has given us light, the sun of His revelation is shining, and yet we stumble as though we were in the night. Aye, we are blind, and grope our way by feeling along a wall, while among our careless neighbors who are merry and flourishing, we move in sadness as though we were the very shades of the dead. Our distress is heard in our groanings, our sorrow in our sighs: for although we have hoped long for the intervention of Jehovah to put things right, it is still apparently very far off! The truth that used to have power over men, and which they at least outwardly reverenced, seems now to have failed altogether for if anyone does leave the broad road of evil, if one refuses to worship the image of the Beast, and to receive his mark, he becomes, in another way, a marked man, as being a fair victim for spoliation. for he is not permitted to buy nor sell (Rev. 13:14-17). Jehovah has surely seen all this, and evil—very evil—must such a sight have been to Him who will have all things right, but now sees all things wrong!

A lesson lies for us in these words of lowly self-judgment, which yet are nothing but the bare truth. There is not one particle of merit in them, except that they admit what is absolutely true. Fellow-believer, we too stand at the end of our day: and this is the weighty truth that these words, preserved for over 2,600 years, press upon us: They only are the true children of God, and not bastards, who sincerely confess their part in the common sin. Let Daniel, being dead, yet speak to us as he does in his ninth chapter. Those heart-broken sighs are but an example of what we have just been considering. Let the many confirmations we have had in our prophet assure us that he only who confesses his sins and the sins of his people can hear the sweetest of all words that ever fell as balm on a troubled heart: "O man greatly beloved!"

The last words of verse 15 form so close a link with the third and last section that they may be repeated:

And Jehovah saw—it was ill in His eyes——
That of judgment there was none at all.
16: And He saw that there was not a man;
Marveled that none could be found
Able to make intercession.
Therefore His own arm brought Him salvation,
His righteousness was His support.
17: So He armed Him with justice as with a breastplate,
A helm of salvation He put on His head,
Clothed Him with garments of vengeance as armor,
Covered Himself with His zeal,
As though 'twere a blood-red war-cloak.5
18: A recompense fitting will He repay;
To His enemies, fury, to His foes, recompense.
The islands afar, He'll repay with chastisement.
19: So shall men fear the name of Jehovah,
E'en from the West where the sun goeth down,
So shall His glory bring reverent fear,
E'en from the East where it riseth.
For when the foe shall invade as a flood,
The Spirit of Jah lifts banner against him,6
20: And a Redeemer shall come unto Zion,
To those who in Jacob do turn from revolting,
Proclaimeth Jehovah!
21: This is My covenant that I make with them;
The Spirit which is upon thee,
And the words I have put in thy mouth,
Shall never depart from thy mouth,
Nor from the mouth of thy seed,
Nor from the mouth of the seed of thy seed,
From now till eternity ends.
Jehovah sees, Jehovah speaks. The case is desperate. Earth, nay, the universe, fails to supply a single individual who can meet it. God is amazed that there is not a single intercessor or mediator between God and men, in heaven or earth, to save poor man from his conquering foe. What then is to be done? There is nothing for it but He Himself must do what none else can do. He cannot—His love will not allow Him—leave poor Israel captive to his conqueror (Zech. 14:1, 2) or poor sinful man alone in his misery. That would so lacerate His own Heart that He Himself needs salvation from such a condition! Does not the father who sees his only son in danger of being lost to him forever, need salvation from such impending grief? The mother who is agonized by the thought of losing forever her daughter— does she not need salvation from such a condition? Can God lose man without suffering?

Marvel of marvels! God Himself says here, in words that it is impossible to misunderstand, however much they may astonish us, that He, even He, must find salvation for Himself from the suffering of losing forever His rebellious, sinful, yet dearly-loved creature—man! And since there is none other, His own Arm, His own strength of infinite Love combined with infinite Wisdom, must "bring salvation unto Him." But His righteousness, His inability to save unjustly, upholds Him on that path of infinite suffering (ver. 16).

Must we not have erred in interpreting the text? No; nothing else is possible, nor does that interpretation lack the strongest and clearest confirmation in Him who was "the brightness of His glory; the express image of His Person" (Heb. 1:3), and who, as being just that, said: "I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" (Luke 12:50). He too needed to be "saved" from the distress of infinite love that was hindered from saving its object. What is salvation for His beloved, is salvation for Himself. So Paul, following Christ as none other of His people, accounted that even his death, if Christ were glorified thereby, was itself his salvation (Phil. 1:19, 20), "For I know that this shall turn to my salvation . . . according to my earnest expectation and my hope that . . . Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death."

It is a mighty work; and keen is the mighty foe that ever opposes mercy to mankind, so He must put on armor for the conflict. But where shall God Himself find a panoply? No creature surely can clothe Him with armor. God is Light; and, being Himself Light, He covers Himself with light as with a garment (Ps. 104:2), and thus He draws upon His own nature for His investiture. First, then, Righteousness must be His breast plate. None must be able to impugn the justice of one single step that He takes in the salvation of His people. Then, as that salvation is ever the aim and goal of all He conceives, He places it on His Head as a helmet. But the salvation of His people involves judgment on their oppressors, and so vengeance and zeal must clothe Him for the war, for since we now know that heaven itself is not broad enough to hold both the accuser and the accused (Rev. 12:7) so earth—that mirror of heaven in a sense— must give as here a pattern of that coming conflict in the heavenlies by retribution on the foes of Israel.

Once more we hear this humbling truth—let grace be shown, it will leave the wicked only the harder of heart. Let judgments be abroad in the earth, and its inhabitants will learn righteousness (chap. 26:9), and that along the whole line of the sun's daily path. But here the order is reversed, the evening precedes the morning, as in Gen. 1 where the evening and the morning form one day; for here too the evening of these judgments will introduce a morning of glory without clouds, as clear shining after rain. His ways never end in night but morning.

The last clause of verse 19 gives a kind of meditative comment, and the common reading seems quite in accord with the context, Israel's foe has come in like a flood, captures the city, and the little remnant are at their last gasp (Zech. 14); then Jehovah comes with uplifted standard, and His "willing people," the dew of His youth, as Ps. 110 speaks, flock to that standard, and the foe is put to flight. With us, how often has this scripture cheered, for in the successive attacks on the foundations of our faith, our only confidence, our only hope, is in the Spirit of the Lord lifting up a standard against him.

The two concluding verses tell of a Kinsman-Redeemer who comes to and delivers Zion, as was the basal intent even when first He came, although then Israel was not gathered, for the Redeemer was rejected; but in that future coming all transgressing shall be turned away from Jacob.

The covenant is always and alone with Israel in her faithful remnant which becomes the nation, and while Jehovah in speaking of this nation, uses the plural, "those who turn," yet the covenant is made with the nation in the singular ("thee") as a unit. The redeemed nation is to be from this time forth the mouthpiece of Jehovah to the nations of the earth, from generation to generation.

My readers will perhaps notice a slight difference in the apostle Paul's quotation (Rom. 11:26) from verse 20. He says the Deliverer shall come "out of Sion," whilst our prophet pictures Him as coming "to" Sion. The reason may be found in the evident aim of the Spirit of God in Rom. 11 to bring down the loftiness of us Gentiles. The Septuagint gives: "For the sake of Sion the Deliverer comes," the needed link. Poor Jacob! It is to deliver him that the Messiah shall then come, as He once delivered Jacob himself from the wrath of his brother Esau.


Footnotes:

1 The word is tohu, "waste," "empty," as in Gen. 1:2. That is, their confidence has no real foundation.

2 The very word ahmal has in it the idea of wearisome toil, that profitless "labor" from which the Lord calls us in Matt. 11:28: "Come unto Me, all ye that labor" with no results.

3 Delitzsch.

4 The Hebrew word, ashmanneem, is somewhat uncertain, not occurring elsewhere in that form, Both Gesenius and Delitzsch believe it to be identical with the word for "fat," shahman, as in Judges 3:29, "lusty." It evidently is in strong antithesis to the word "dead." I have given the fuller meaning by using two adjectives.

5 "Zeal," from a root, "to be a deep red." His fiery zeal becomes His blood-red mantle.

6 A much disputed passage. Delitzsch, Nagelsbach, Lowth and many others read it quite differently: "When he shall come as a river straitened in its course, which a strong wind driveth away"; that is: 'Jehovah will come as a stream hemmed in, which a strong tempestuous wind sweeps away." All things considered, I see no reason to abandon the received version, which is retained in the margin of the Revised, and by Darby, Kelly, and many other conservative commentators.