Isaiah 59 Study Notes


59:1 This pronouncement begins with an affirmation that God can hear and act, characteristics that contrast with the powerless idols that tempted Israel (44:6-23).

59:2 Contrasting with v. 1, the problem is not with God, but with them.

59:3-4 A selection of the sins that separated God from his people is listed. The list begins with acts of violence and moves on to deceit and injustice. They were guilty in thought and action (they conceive trouble and give birth to iniquity).

59:5-6 These sinners produced viper’s eggs. Eggs promise life, but these eggs produced death. Thus, the works of God’s people may look promising, but they kill. In a similar vein, God’s people produce spider’s webs. They may look beautiful in their intricacy, but they have no practical value.

59:7 Again (v. 4), the pronouncement emphasizes that the people are sinful in thought and deed. Indeed, they do not merely walk in “the advice of the wicked” (Ps 1:1); they show their eagerness when they run after evil.

59:8 Isaiah used the words path and roads to refer to the course of a person’s life. Proverbs 1-9 talks about two paths, a straight path that leads to God and life, and a crooked path that leads to death. Isaiah described God’s people as choosing the latter; thus, they were headed toward death (they will not know peace). Paul quotes vv. 7-8 in Rm 3:15-17.

59:9 Note the transition from third person plural speech (“they” in previous verses) to first person (we) that begins in this verse and continues until v. 15a. The prophet included himself along with the people. Since the content of these verses acknowledges the people’s sinfulness, it may be that the righteous are among those who are speaking here.

59:10 Chapter 58 has already described the way to light in obedience to God (see note at 58:10), but they appear incapable of getting there on their own.

59:11 Bears growl out of anger, and doves make a sound like the groans of a suffering person. These metaphors suggest that God’s people were angry and sad about their present state.

59:12-15a The people had no one but themselves to blame for their lamentable situation, and they knew it. They had sinned against God by perverting justice in their society (in the public square).

59:15b-21 The chapter concludes with a description of God’s reaction to the sin and helplessness of his people. He will intercede and rescue his people in spite of their sin and helplessness.

59:15b-16 The section begins with a statement of God’s recognition of human injustice and the offense that he takes at it. It also goes on to describe his amazement that no human was interceding on behalf of the people. Perhaps the intercession of Moses (Ex 33) or the other prophets is what is in mind here. In any case, God proclaims that in the absence of such a human intercessor, he himself will step into the gap between his people and himself. Indeed, God’s hand is not “too weak” (Is 59:1). His arm reaches out to save his people.

59:17 To save his people, God assumed the guise of a warrior. However, his armor and his weapons are not physical but spiritual. The description of God’s armor and weapons remind believers of Paul’s description of the spiritual weapons available to Christians as they wage battle against “evil, spiritual forces in the heavens” (Eph 6:12).

59:18-19 God’s enemies do not get off without punishment. The mention of the coasts and islands indicates that the far-flung nations, indeed the whole world (west and east), are in mind here. The whole world will fear the name of the Lord after his work of retribution.

59:20-21 The climax of this pronouncement announces the future arrival of God the Redeemer at Zion, God’s holy mountain in Jerusalem. He had abandoned Zion in anticipation of its destruction at the Babylonian captivity (Ezk 11-19), but his war against sin will result in his return. It is specifically to the repentant that he will come. He will reestablish his covenant with them. God’s Spirit will be given to his people to cleanse their mouths (reminiscent of Isaiah’s cleansing at his prophetic commission; chap. 6), so they will proclaim the glory of God to future generations. Paul quotes these verses in Rm 11:26-27.