October 4 – Isaiah 59:1-15
Continuing the theme from last week, we’ll turn to a passage that lays bare our iniquity, including—but not limited to—our own acts of injustice. This week will hopefully unify us in the conclusion that none of us is righteous before God and, prayerfully, will prime our hearts to respond to the Lord in repentance over the ways we have participated in injustice.
Much of Isaiah’s book oscillates between condemnations of Israel’s sin and proclamations of the hope of redemption, a common pattern for almost all the Old Testament prophets. We’ll be sure to finish up with this hope of redemption in verse 20, to keep a biblical scope in mind and remind ourselves that we are not a people without hope (1 Thes. 4:13). But for the bulk of our time, as Isaiah does with the passage, we want to take a necessary, careful look at our sin and how it affects us. The predominate category of sin in this passage has to do with how we behave towards one another; even some of the sins you could commit on your own like “thoughts of iniquity” are followed immediately by causing “destruction,” presumably upon others (v.7). From lying and corrupt legal practices (v.3-4) to violence and murder (v.6-7), Isaiah has in mind the rampant social evils of his day. That’s not to say that these are the only sins God is interested in putting an end to— just read the rest of Isaiah, the bulk of it is largely addressed towards Israel’s blatant idolatry and empty religious practices. But for Isaiah, and for God speaking through Isaiah, the way Israelites were behaving towards one another was a prime way to gauge their proximity to, or distance from, the heart of God.
So Israel was guilty of these sins and more, and observe how the passage describes the effects of sin upon us. There’s an initial statement in v.2 that “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,” which is a concept you’re likely familiar with. Then, after discussing various sins and grievances with Israel, Isaiah concludes the effects of these sins in v.9-15 with “Therefore…” Some of these effects are clearly associated; ex. v.8 says “there is no justice in their paths,” and v.9 concludes, “Therefore justice is far from us.” It stands to reason, if we run from something we’ll end up far from it. But some of the other effects are more subtle. Verses 9-10 talk about being in the dark, like stumbling around and trying to feel your way around, or being the dead in the midst of the living. Sins blinds us, distorting our perception and obscuring the truth from us. We can hardly overstate the power sin has to do this; any one of us can be blinded by sin or blind to our sin. This is why we need revelation from God to cure us of our blindness—”The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.”(Psa. 19:8) A second theme we see in these effects is desiring but not finding: “We hope for light, and behold, darkness…we hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us.”(v.9-11) Sin can’t unroot the God-ward desires of our heart for truth, justice, and salvation, but it can misdirect these desires, pointing us towards poor substitutes that leave us dissatisfied, or merely headed off in the exact wrong direction. Lastly we see a theme of the blatancy of sin before God and before ourselves. We like to think we can keep our sin under wraps, but in reality our sins testify against us; God knows about them, and in the end, so do we.
So while Isaiah wrote this for his peers in Israel in the 8th century BC, we should feel companionship with them when we read this passage. While the same exact sins might be different (i.e. the blood on our hands might not be literal), the same assessment holds true for everyone apart from Christ. We should read this passage and confess, “Without the mercy of God, this is me. In the times I run from God’s word, this is me.” Again, this is why it’s important to touch base at verse 20 before we finish, to remember that apart from Christ we have no hope, but that Christ provides us with the hope necessary to actually engage our sin rather than despair over our sin. Similarly when it comes to justice, our redemption in Christ reminds us that nothing is outside God’s reach and scope of redemption. All things can be redeemed by God, so we are not like those without hope—instead of despairing over the state of the world around us, or the plight of our neighbor, we can be agents of light in a world of darkness.
This brings me back to a point of conviction based off what I mentioned earlier. For Isaiah, the way Israelites were behaving towards one another was a prime way to gauge their proximity to, or distance from, the heart of God. This is why loving your neighbor as yourself is the second greatest commandment (Mat. 22:39), why six of the Ten Commandments apply to human relationships, why Christ said we will be known by our love for one another (Jhn. 13:35). God is deeply interested in how we treat one another because our behavior always flows from our attention to or departure from his ways. Here in the passage Isaiah concludes all this talk of sin with, “The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice.”(v.15) This should make you and me ask, “Where have I been blind to my injustices? Where have I left justice undone?” We should ask this not just to cover our butts, but because there’s likely something God is saying to us that we’ve refused to listen to.
Questions for Discussion
• Would someone read Isaiah 59:1-15 for us?
• What stands out to you from this passage?
• How does Isaiah talk about justice and injustice here?
• Verses 9-15 are the conclusion of verses 1-8 (“Therefore…”). What can that conclusion tell us about the effects of sin upon us?
• God spoke these words to Israel through Isaiah a long time ago. How is this section relevant to you and me?
• What do you find convicting about this passage?
• Verse 20 concludes the section with, “And a Redeemer will come to Zion.” How does this conclusion help us approach the topic of justice?