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Isaiah 59

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Separation From God Separation From God Call to National Repentance The Prophet Condemns the People's Sins Penitential Psalm
59:1-8  (1-8) 59:1-3  (1-3) 59:1-8  (1-8) 59:1-3 59:1-4  (1-4)
  59:4-5  (4-5)   59:4-8  
        59:5-8  (5-8)
  59:6-8  (6-8)      
A Confession of Wickedness Sin Confessed   The People Confess Their Sin  
59:9-15a  (9-15a) 59:9-15a  (9-15a) 59:9-15a  (9-15a) 59:9-11 59:9-11  (9-11)
      59:12-15a 59:12-15a
  The Redeemer of Zion   The Lord Prepares To Rescue His People  
59:15b-20  (15b-20) 59:15b-19  (15b-19) 59:15b-19  (15b-19) 59:15b-21 59:15b-20
  59:20  (20) 59:20  (20)   Prophecy
59:21 59:21 59:21   59:21

 

READING CYCLE THREE

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. It is difficult to see how the different poems (i.e., chapters) relate in this section of Isaiah. I agree with R. K. Harrison that Isaiah is an anthology of Isaiah's preaching/teaching/writing assembled after his death. It is organized in an eastern way (thematic, word play) not a western chronological way.

 

B. One wonders about these prophecies.

1. Are they multiple fulfillment (i.e., 7:14; and Dan. 11:31; 12:11)?

2. Do they express God's heart and desire for Israel, knowing that even with all the benefits of covenant (cf. Rom. 9:4-5) they could not perform?

3. Are they poems/prophecies from different periods of Isaiah's ministry, addressing different periods of Israel's history, but now arranged in a pattern that moderns do not comprehend?

 

C. Modern interpreters must remember

1. this is poetry, not historical narrative

2. these poems are presented without their specific historical setting

3. many of the words are used only once in the Bible or known Semitic literature.

4. Be careful of dogmatic doctrinal assertions from limited lines of poetry. Attempt to see

a. parallelism

b. parallel passages especially in Isaiah and Micah

c. NT usage of the text/concept (cf. F. F. Bruce, Answers To Questions, pp. 87-88)

 

D. The Jewish Study Bible (p. 901) sees this chapter in three parts.

1. the prophet addresses the peoples' sin (i.e., corporately)

2. the faithful in the nation acknowledge their sin (individually)

3. the prophet announces YHWH's

a. mercy to the faithful who repent (cf. vv. 20,21)

b. judgment to the hardened

(1) Jews

(2) the coastlands (i.e., Gentiles)

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:59:1-8
1Behold, the Lord's hand is not so short
That it cannot save;
Nor is His ear so dull
That it cannot hear.
2But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.
3For your hands are defiled with blood
And your fingers with iniquity;
Your lips have spoken falsehood,
Your tongue mutters wickedness.
4No one sues righteously and no one pleads honestly.
They trust in confusion and speak lies;
They conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity.
5They hatch adders' eggs and weave the spider's web;
He who eats of their eggs dies,
And from that which is crushed a snake breaks forth.
6Their webs will not become clothing,
Nor will they cover themselves with their works;
Their works are works of iniquity,
And an act of violence is in their hands.
7Their feet run to evil,
And they hasten to shed innocent blood;
Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity,
Devastation and destruction are in their highways.
8They do not know the way of peace,
And there is no justice in their tracks;
They have made their paths crooked,
Whoever treads on them does not know peace.

59:1-2 These opening phrases clearly show the problem with God's promises to Israel; it was not His word, character, or power but their repeated and continuing sin.

Verse 1 reflects the prophet's reaction to the questioning he hears from the Israelites of his day (i.e., where are the Lord's promises?). Isaiah records the murmurings of the people several times (i.e., 40:27; 49:4,14).

59:1 "hand" This is often a Hebrew idiom for activity (cf. 51:9). See Special Topic at 40:2.

Notice the number of human body parts used to describe Deity (see Special Topic at 41:2).

1. hand

2. ear

3. face

Also notice how many human body parts describe human evil.

1. hands, v 3

2. fingers, v. 3

3. lips, v 3

4. tongue, v. 3

5. feet alluded to in v. 8

 

▣ "dull" This word (BDB 457, KB 455, Qal perfect) means "to be heavy," "to be burdensome," or "to be honored." In this context it refers to an inability to hear. It is used in this same way as the "eyes" in Gen. 48:10 and of Pharaoh's "heart" in Exod. 9:7.

59:2 "made a separation between you and your God" The verb (BDB 95, KB 110, Hiphil participle) is used in several senses.

1. God separating light from dark in Gen. 1:4

2. God setting Israel apart from other peoples

3. making a distinction between clean and unclean

4. dividing into parts (i.e., sacrifices)

5. YHWH and Moses setting apart Levites (especially Aaron, I Chr. 23:13)

6. cutting off a person from Israel (cf. Deut. 29:20)

7. excluding foreigners (cf. Neh. 13:3)

8. setting apart musicians

9. separating oneself from foreigners and pagans in one's society (cf. Ezra 6:21; 9:1; 10:11; Neh. 9:2)

10. separating oneself to a leader (i.e., David, I Chr. 12:8)

In this context it is used in a unique sense. Israel's sins had emotionally and spiritually separated the covenant people from the covenant God and His presence, promises, provisions, and protection!

One way to illustrate this terrible spiritual condition is the next parallel line of poetry. God hid His face from them (i.e., He would not hear their prayers)!

59:3-8 These verses list (in parallel lines) the sins of Israel that had caused the separation.

1. your hands are defiled with blood, v. 3

2. your lips have spoken falsehood, v. 3

3. courts are corrupt, v. 4 (notice the four infinitive absolutes)

4. you plan evil and violence, vv. 5-7 (cf. Job 8:14-15; 15:35; Pro. 1:16; for v. 7 see Rom. 3:15-17)

5. they did not know the way of peace (cf. 26:3,12; 57:20-21; Luke 1:79) or justice, v. 8 (notice the four perfect verbs)

 

59:4 Verse 4, like v. 13, uses infinitive absolutes to describe evil human behavior.

1. they trust in confusion, Qal. BDB 105, KB 120

2. they speak lies, Piel, BDB 180, KB 210

3. they conceive mischief, Qal, BDB 247, KB 255 (cf. Job 15:35)

4. they bring forth iniquity, Hiphil BDB 408, KB 411

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:59:9-20
9Therefore justice is far from us,
And righteousness does not overtake us;
We hope for light, but behold, darkness,
For brightness, but we walk in gloom.
10We grope along the wall like blind men,
We grope like those who have no eyes;
We stumble at midday as in the twilight,
Among those who are vigorous we are like dead men.
11All of us growl like bears,
And moan sadly like doves;
We hope for justice, but there is none,
For salvation, but it is far from us.
12For our transgressions are multiplied before You,
And our sins testify against us;
For our transgressions are with us,
And we know our iniquities:
13Transgressing and denying the Lord,
And turning away from our God,
Speaking oppression and revolt,
Conceiving in and uttering from the heart lying words.
14Justice is turned back,
And righteousness stands far away;
For truth has stumbled in the street,
And uprightness cannot enter.
15Yes, truth is lacking;
And he who turns aside from evil makes himself a prey.
Now the Lord saw,
And it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice.
16And He saw that there was no man,
And was astonished that there was no one to intercede;
Then His own arm brought salvation to Him,
And His righteousness upheld Him.
17He put on righteousness like a breastplate,
And a helmet of salvation on His head;
And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing
And wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle.
18According to their deeds, so He will repay,
Wrath to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies;
To the coastlands He will make recompense.
19So they will fear the name of the Lord from the west
And His glory from the rising of the sun,
For He will come like a rushing stream
Which the wind of the Lord drives.
20"A Redeemer will come to Zion,
And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob," declares the Lord.

59:9-11 These verses describe the results of Israel's sins (vv. 3-8).

1. justice is far from us

2. righteousness does not overtake us

3. hope for light, but darkness comes

4. hope for brightness but walk in gloom

5. grope along the wall like blind men (BDB 178, KB 206, Piel cohortative, twice, cf. Deut. 28:29; Jer. 13:16; Amos 5:18,20)

6. growl like bears

7. moan like doves

8. hope for justice, but none comes

9. hope for salvation but it is far away

Number 6 is a metaphor, found only here in the OT. The TEV translates (paraphrases) it and the next line as "we are frightened and distressed." The NASB Study Bible footnote characterizes it as "impatient and frustrated."

Number 7's metaphor is found in 38:14; Ezek. 7:16; and Nahum 2:7.

59:12 Verse 12 describes the current spiritual situation.

1. Israel's transgressions are multiplied before YHWH

2. Israel's sins testify against them

3. Israel's transgressions are present with them

4. Israel knows her sins

Notice that Isaiah, like Ezra, confesses the corporate sin of the covenant people (cf. Ezra 9:6-7). This is what the High Priest did on the Day of Atonement (cf. Leviticus 16). There is corporate guilt with consequences, as there is individual sin and its consequences!

59:13 Verse 13 describes the sins.

1. transgressing - BDB 833, KB 981, Qal infinitive absolute

2. denying the Lord - BDB 471, KB 469, Piel infinitive absolute

3. turning away from God - BDB 690, KB 744, Niphal infinitive absolute

4. speaking oppression and revolt - BDB 180, KB 210, Piel infinitive absolute

5. conceiving from the heart lying words - BDB 247, KB 255, Poel infinitive absolute

6. speaking/uttering from the heart lying words - BDB 211, KB 237, Poel infinitive absolute

Notice how the author artistically uses the infinitive absolutes in vv. 4 and 13! The faithless seed of Abraham show their true orientation (i.e., self) by their lifestyle (cf. Titus 1:16). They speak of YHWH but live for self (cf. 6:9-10; 29:13). 

59:14-15a What are the results of these premeditated spiritual rebellions?

1. justice is turned back

2. righteousness stands far away

3. truth stumbles in the street

4. uprightness cannot enter

5. truth is lacking

Notice the personifications! The one who tries to be righteous is a target and prey for the sinful!

59:15b-16b Israel, the covenant people, was YHWH's means of revealing Himself to the world. They had miserably failed.

1. their actions and attitudes were displeasing

2. there was no justice

3. there was no righteous man

4. there was no one to intercede (cf. Ezek. 22:30)

Therefore, YHWH must act Himself. This is similar theologically to Ezek. 36:22-38, which describes the "new covenant" of Jer. 31:31-34.

Notice that the prophet speaks about YHWH in vv. 15b-20. YHWH speaks for Himself in v. 21.

59:16d In light of fallen humanity's (even covenant humanity) ability YHWH chooses to act.

1. His own arm brought salvation to Him, cf. 52:10; 63:5

2. His righteousness upheld Him

Who is the "Him"? In context it could be the Suffering Servant (i.e., Messiah) or YHWH's prophet (i.e., Isaiah).

59:17 YHWH is described as a "warrior" preparing for battle. This text is the OT background for Paul's use of this military imagery in Eph. 6:10-17.

1. He puts on righteousness like a breastplate

2. He puts on a helmet of salvation

3. He puts on garments of vengeance

4. He wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle

 

59:18 "According to their deeds, so He will repay" This is a recurrent truth in Scripture.

1. Job 34:11

2. Psalm 28:4; 62:12

3. Proverbs 24:12

4. Ecclesiastes 12:14

5. Jeremiah 17:10; 32:19

6. Matthew 16:27; 25:31-46

7. Romans 2:6; 14:12

8. I Corinthians 3:8; II Corinthians 5:10

9. Galatians 6:7-10

10. II Timothy 4:14

11. I Peter 1:17

12. Revelation 2:23; 20:12; 22:12

All humans reap what they sow! There are consequences to choices and actions that follow us through time. Thank God for divine forgiveness and forgetfulness!

▣ "the coastlands" This word (BDB 15 I) is used often in this section of Isaiah (cf. 40:15; 41:1,5; 42:4,10,12,15; 49:1; 51:5; 59:18; 60:9; 66:19. It is used often in the sense of other nations or Gentile nations.

59:19-20 The purpose of YHWH's recompense (BDB 168) is for redemption (i.e., fear the name of the Lord). A Redeemer (cf. 41:14; 43:1; 44:22) comes from Israel (i.e., the Messiah). He comes for all who "turn" (BDB 996, KB1427, Qal participle, see Special Topic at 44:22).

In the NT the context that struggles with Jewish unbelief and rebellion is Romans 9-11. Paul uses v. 20 in 11:26-27. I think that Rom. 3:21-31; 9-10; Galatians 3; and the book of Hebrews are the best NT texts to understand how the Old Covenant and New Covenant diverge and merge again!

59:19 "the name of the Lord" See Special Topic at 52:6.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:59:21
 21
"As for Me, this is My covenant with them," says the Lord: "My Spirit which 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 offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring's offspring," says the Lord, "from now and forever."

59:21 YHWH speaks ("as for Me") to Israel (or the spiritual faith seed of Abraham, cf. Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6; Gal. 6:16). He promises

1. His Spirit

2. His revelation

3. His influence through generations

 

▣ "from now and forever" See Special Topic at 45:17. One of my favorite books on interpreting prophecy is D. Brent Sandy, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks. He has a good discussion of the metaphorical use of "forever," see pp. 99-101. He states that often it "serves to intensify the verb it modifies."