Is. 59 hits a note to which Pete Enns has referred recently. More so than the NT writers, Isaiah lives in times similar to ours: The promises of God seem distant and only partially fulfilled, and the ultimate salvation hoped for may not come in our lifetimes. The NT writers had Christ in their midst for several years, and before He left He told them several times that “this generation” would not perish before seeing the end. Hope was not difficult for people under those circumstances. Conversely, doubt is common among people in our time as well as Isaiah’s. In 59:1 he appears to be answering critics who would suggest that God has failed to bring about the paradise promised in chs. 40-48, reassuring them that it is not a lack of ability on God’s part that has prevented ultimate salvation. Rather, Isaiah turns the issue back on the people who fail to refrain from their sinful indulgences. V. 9 points out that this sin is keeping God from vindicating the nation completely.
I see things somewhat differently than that, though. I don’t believe that we need to remove all sin from the world in order to facilitate God’s return. On the contrary, it is clear to me that only God’s return can remove the sin from the world! This evening Patti & I discussed whether the level of sin is increasing or decreasing over time – could it be that God is waiting for the world to hit rock bottom before He steps in and wipes it away as He did with Sodom and Gomorrah?
In Is. 59:21 is the author referring to the Holy Spirit in the same way that the NT does? The clear meaning of the text, to me, says that the Spirit of God is already upon the people and will remain with them for all time. How is this different from the indwelling of the Spirit as described in the NT? Did something really change with the life, death, and resurrection of Christ regarding the Spirit’s presence?
Is. 60 seems to be referring to the chosen ones of God. Much of the OT implies that biological descendants of Israel, alone and in full, can claim this title. If we can take the passages as being related, though, then this would likely be “those in Jacob who turn back from sin” as described in 59:20. He does not redeem the entire nation, nor the king, nor the nation assuming they all together repent; no, He saves those in Jacob who repent. Upon these the light has dawned, the Lord will shine, nations will walk by their light, etc. (Is. 60:1-3)
Our Apostle John in Revelation uses much of the imagery from ch. 60 to describe the New Heaven and New Earth at the end of times. Of note here: Will sin continue to exist after the end? See Rev. 22:15 in particular, along with Rev. 21:22 – 22:5, and compare them with 60:11-12 & 19-22.
And what about that last line of Is. 60: “I the Lord will speed it in due time.” How exactly is a person supposed to read this? Should I consider speeding it in due time to mean 2500 years? Is that the natural sense of those words? I guess we can stretch this and say that when the time is due, the Lord will then speed it, but I say that is a wild bending of the way this passage reads in order to force the clear meaning to fit the reality we know. More likely, either all of this should be taken as metaphor or all of it should be considered an unfulfilled prophecy.
And then Is. 61 begins with a passage that Jesus quoted at the outset of His public ministry. Isaiah used these words to comfort the people who had recently returned from exile in Babylon, while Christ expands their meaning to proclaim true reconciliation with the Father. Notably, 61:6 expands the Aaronic priesthood and Levitical temple servants to include all of the chosen of God, whom we saw earlier to be those who repent, not just those biologically descended from Jacob. (Yes, I realize I’m stretching things a bit here; Just waiting for someone to call me on it, if not, it stands unchallenged!) Unfortunately Ezra did not seem to share in that view, preferring to focus on endless genealogies (1 Tim. 1:3-4) to ensure only the true sons of Aaron were allowed to serve in the rebuilt temple.