Chapter 59: The Winds of Change
In chapters 57 and 58, the grievous sins of God’s people were rehearsed. For them, it was necessary; for me, it was rather depressing. There were bright spots in both chapters, though. In chapter 57, the contrite and humble were promised healing and peace (verses 15 and 19). In chapter 58, not only is true fasting defined but so is the bounty it brings. Still, the bulk of the two, for me, seemed rather dark. Chapter 59 holds much more promise. It begins with an encouraging word and ends with a very, very encouraging assurance. Here we go.
Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.
I don’t think you have to be a rebellious Israelite to appreciate this verse. Just this morning, I spent way too much time letting the what-ifs dance around in my head. Yet one look at this verse reset the course for my day. His arm is not too short to save; His ear not too dull to hear.
But then comes the big “but” of verse 2:
But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.
It seems we’re back to the bad news (verse 3 is even worse), but I recognize these words weren’t written to me. Maybe for me—to stir empathy for those who still live without the Light—but not to me. The great gamechanger arrived between Isaiah’s time and mine: Jesus.
In this chapter, God is again revealed as the jealous guardian of justice. His emphasis: justice ignored is the open door to injustice itself. Listening to empty arguments paves the way to speaking lies. Careless counselors become deceivers themselves. “They conceive trouble and give birth to evil.” (verse 4)
And with that, we are launched into two interestingly intertwined metaphors: the snakes and the spiders.
They (those who ignore injustice) hatch the eggs of vipers and spin a spider’s web. Whoever eats their eggs will die, and when one is broken, an adder is hatched.
Their cobwebs are useless for clothing; they cannot cover themselves with what they make. Their deeds are evil deeds, and acts of violence are in their hands.
A clear explanation of these verses was noticeably absent from the commentaries I consulted. Still, as I prayed and read and read and prayed, I think I may have gained some understanding.
First, the snake eggs. Simply put, those who ignore injustice incubate others’ evil schemes by providing an environment for lies to multiply. And while one shady scheme may be exposed (a broken egg), the scheme’s offspring is already at work, hatching a more dangerous one.
Then, the cobwebs. Have you ever seen a single strand of a spider's silk stretched between two trees and wondered, “Surely a spider can’t jump that far!” She doesn’t have to. All she has to do is attach the strand to one tree and wait for a breath of wind to do her work. The breeze carries the loose end across the vast expanse to another tree where it sticks, while the spider is nowhere in sight. That single strand is the beginning of an intricate web designed to snare the spider’s prey. One “strand”—just one lie—and one breath—just one voice—can become a complex system of deceit. Yet as effective as a web is to provide the spider’s lunch, it cannot protect her from being eaten. “Be sure your sins will find you out.” (Numbers 32:23)
Simply put, those who ignore injustice provide an environment for evil to do its work (verses 6 and 7). But in the environment they have created, they will know no peace or justice themselves.
So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.
Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead.
Did you notice that the “voice” has changed to a first-person point of view? Isaiah is no longer saying “they”; he’s saying “us.” Unlike those who have been blinded to sin, God’s righteous can see the darkness but they still experience its effects. They growl in anger and mourn in grief because although they may be innocent of evil, they are still victims of its tribulations (verses 9-11).
We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away.
Yet Isaiah remains his compatriots’ intercessor, including himself in the company of those whose injustice has defiled the land:
For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, inciting revolt and oppression, uttering lies our hearts have conceived.
Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.
The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. (verses 14-15)
Clearly, deliverance had to come from somewhere else.
The first half of verse 16 caught me by surprise:
He (the LORD) saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; He, God, appalled? God, despite His omniscience of all things past and present and future, was dismayed that there was no one to intervene—no one to step in and save His people.
Yet Isaiah told us earlier that the Servant had already been prepared for this.
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:10)
So what's up? On checking with those wiser than I, I found that verse 16 is an example of anthropomorphism—the attribution of human characteristics, emotions, and behaviors to nonhuman things, such as plants, animals, or in this case, God. I think Isaiah used it as a literary tool to bring us to a clearer understanding of the heart of God. While God knew alienation and restoration of His people was a part of the larger story, it grieved His heart just the same.
Just as we had the big bad “but” in verse 2, we now have the sweet sovereign “so” of verse 16:
so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him.
He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. According to what they have done, so will he repay wrath to his enemies and retribution to his foes; he will repay the islands their due.
That’s past tense! That means in the heavenlies the work is already done.
And here is what’s coming in the future:
From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory. For he will come like a pent-up flood that the breath of the Lord drives along.
This is not like the gentle breeze that sets the spider’s strand adrift, but the mighty breath of God that moves all things into place.
And then, the Father’s secret weapon will no longer be a secret:
“The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the Lord.
Sin will be removed and His covenant promises renewed:
“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.
That’s a wrap. Amen.