The Lord continues to show his passionate pursuit of his people and jealousy for them. God has made the offer to come to the waters to receive life (Isaiah 55). God is calling for his people and pleading with his people to come to him. In Isaiah 58 he called for the people to delight in him and delight in worshiping him. The more they worship him, the more they will enjoy and delight in him. Now God wants to emphasize something to our hearts. God is not the problem in the relationship. The reason for judgment is not because of God. We are the problem.
This is how God begins his next declaration to the people. The problem is not with God. God is not too weak to save. The problem is not that God’s ears are too dull to hear. Remember in Isaiah 58 the people think they are being righteous and religious and cannot understand why God is not responding to them. God says the problem is not with him. He is not too weak to deliver them or too deaf to hear their pleading. So what is the problem if the issue is not with God?
Sin Separates (59:2-8)
The sins of the people have made the separation between God and them. This is a concept that God has to teach us because it is something that we do not understand and often forget. Sin separates us from God. Sin creates a barrier between God and us. Sin is not a small thing to God. To us, we do not see the gravity of sin. God from the very beginning was showing us the weight of sin. When Adam and Eve sinned, separation occurred. They could not be in the presence of God any longer nor be in the paradise of God. Sin separates. Further, God used the Law of Moses to teach us about the weight of sin by having an animal killed and sacrificed for the sins of the people. Even in this picture, separation was an important picture that was shown to the people. The people did not approach God with their animal to sacrifice for their sins. They only could approach a priest. The priest had to be ceremonial undefiled and purified to offer the animal to God on behalf of the people. Sin separates.
In verses 3-8 God describes what humanity looks like to him. We want to think of ourselves as “good people.” But listen to how God views the world. Our hands are defiled with blood and our fingers with iniquity (59:3). Our lips have spoken lies. Our tongues utter wickedness. No one cares about being fair or honest. Lawsuits are based on lies. People conceive of doing evil and then carry out their evil plans (59:4). All that people produce are harmful to others (59:5-6). People are not apprehensive to do evil, but run to do evil. They only think about sinning and destruction and misery follow their paths. They do not know how to be peaceful or how to be just or good. Their paths are completely crooked and those who follow in their ways do not know peace either. What a graphic depiction of how God sees people! We might be tempted to think that this is only a description of the nation of Israel. We might pity God because Israel was to be the people of God and look how far they had fallen from God’s glory and laws.
However, the apostle Paul quotes some of these verses in Romans 3:15-17. Paul began that section in Romans 3:9 declaring that all people, Jews and Gentiles, are under sin. No one is righteous, no, not one! No one understand; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Romans 3:10-11). These declarations and quotations from scripture lead into Paul quoting this passage from Isaiah 59 to prove his point that no one is righteous before God. Every person has a sin problem. Every person is separated by God from their sins. What we are reading in Isaiah 59 is not just Israel; it is every one of us!
We must accept this important truth: the only reason we do any good in lives is because we have seen the light of God and are changing our corrupt ways into the ways of God. No one is good naturally. All do evil naturally. We naturally do wrong and evil and must fight to do right. The only reason we do any good is because God told us to and we are submitting to his commands.
Accepting Our Condemnation (59:9-15a)
The first eight verses describes God’s view of us. But in verse 9 the text shifts from “they” and “your” to “we” and “our.” God has described our condition before him. We are not to ignore these truths about our sinfulness. Instead, we are to admit our sinfulness to God. This is what we see as Isaiah on behalf of the people confesses their sins.
We are far from justice and righteousness. We know nothing about right living when left to our own paths. We would not live right without God’s intervention. Now we admit that we are not in the light. We are living in the darkness hoping for the light to shine on us. There is no hope in ourselves. There is no hope in our actions. There is no hope in anything that we think we might be able to do. This is the point that God wants us to come to. We are in darkness. We do not have light. We do not do right. We cannot bring ourselves to any sort of salvation. We cannot save ourselves.
Further, our sins are piled up before our God and every sin testifies against us (59:12). Our actions are hopeless. We cannot point to our acts and think that this is going to be helpful. Our actions testify against us, not for us. We know our sins. We know that we have rebelled and denied the Lord (59:13). We know that we have done all of these evil deeds. We speak evil and we do evil. Justice, righteousness, and truth are nowhere near us. The middle of verse 15 sums up everything: “The Lord saw it, and it displeased him.”
The Lord’s Response (59:15b-21)
The Lord is absolutely displeased by what he sees in his creation. There is no justice. There is no righteousness. Everyone has turned away from him. No one does what he says. Now the problem is stated. There is no one to intercede on our behalf. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot approach God. We cannot reconcile ourselves to God. No one is able to address the serious sinfulness of humans.
Verse 16 is one of the most amazing pictures of God. First, we are told that God “wondered that there was no one intercede” (ESV, NKJV). Trying to get a handle on this word is difficult as seen by the variety of translations. “Shocked” (NET), “appalled” (NIV; NRSV), “astonished” (NASB), and “amazed” (HCSB, NLT). It is important that we do not read this to think that God saw our sinful condition was surprised that no one could intercede. God is not surprised at this. History exists to show this truth that no deliverer, prophet, or king can save the people from their sinful ways. Rather, the situation is appalling or astonishing. The Hebrew word is used for devastation and I wonder if this also helps capture the idea. God is devastated and appalled by the situation. God is not pleased that all humanity is separated from him and captured in their sins. This is a displeasing situation to God. We must appreciate this because God could decide not to care. He could leave us in our condition since it is our fault that we have completely rebelled against him. God is moved by this situation and God determines that he will do something. Since no one can intervene and intercede for us, God will intercede for us! Amazing!
Notice that the imagery reminds of what we read concerning the armor of God in Ephesians 6. In Ephesians 6 we were instructed to put the armor on to stand against the attacks of the devil. Here we see God putting the armor on and going to war against sin to bring the righteousness we need. God goes to war against his adversaries and repays his enemies.
Then we read the wonderful words of verse 20: “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression.” Who wants to stop sinning? Who wants to get rid of their sinfulness? A Redeemer is coming to those who turn from their sinful ways. Those who want a solution for their sins, God has sent the Redeemer to intercede for us because of our sins. This leads to God’s promise in verse 21. This is the covenant God makes with us. God’s Spirit that is upon the Redeemer (the “you” is masculine singular, therefore not referring to us) and the words that God has put into the Redeemer’s mouth will never leave his mouth. God’s word would always be on his lips and his desire would be for accomplishing God’s will, not his own.
But notice that there is more to the promise. Not only is God’s Spirit promised to remain with the Servant, but also the Servant’s offspring. We saw in Isaiah 53:10 that the work of the Servant would accomplish the salvation of people who would be called the Servant’s offspring or children. Here we see that our Servant Redeemer will come and his work of intercession will take ungodly people and cause them to be his children/offspring. The result of the Redeemer’s work will result in the transformation of people from ungodly sinners under God’s wrath to being his children under God’s redemption. The apostle Paul understood this to be Isaiah’s point when he quotes this in Romans 11:27. The Redeemer will come, banish ungodliness, and take away their sins in this new covenant (Romans 11:27). To receive this blessing and belong as children of the Redeemer, we must have the words of the Spirit that are on the lips of Christ on our lips also.
This was the very argument Paul presented to the Christians at Rome. Notice that Paul draws the same connections for our understanding of what it means for us to belong to Christ and have the Spirit.
9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:9–17 ESV)
God’s Spirit and God’s words on our lips and in our hearts transforming our lives so that we have been redeemed from our sinful ways. We have received the Spirit of adoption and do not fall back into fear as we put to death the deeds of the flesh. This is how the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. How amazing that God chose to redeem us because he was disturbed over our sinful condition. Then God makes an everlasting covenant with us that the Redeemer will save us from our sins and put his law on our lips and in our hearts, transforming us to be his children forever. How God loves his creation! Will we submit our lives to Jesus, seeing his love and sacrifice for us?