Contributor: Martins Olubiyi
Fortnight ago, we learnt from the book of Isaiah 53 about the vicarious sacrifice of Christ, Jehovah’s servant. Last week, we studied the book of Isaiah 54-56 that focused on the blessings accrued to us through that vicarious sacrifice in terms of our restoration, salvation and the reward of living an obedient life as we follow on to know the Lord. Today by the grace of God, we shall continue from Isaiah 57-59 to learn about falsehood, hypocrisy and sins. We shall conclude with a reality check on our relationship with the Lord.
ISAIAH 57: THE SPIRITUAL ADULTERY OF GOD’S PEOPLE
A. Judah’s adultery is like spiritual adultery
1. Isaiah 57: 1-2. The persecution of the righteous
(a). The righteous perishes- carrying on the rebuke of Judah’s leaders from the previous chapter, the Lord speaks about the persecution of the righteous, that it is the persecution through neglect (the righteous perish and no man takes it to heart).
(b). The righteous is taken away from evil. He shall enter into peace: Though the righteous were ignored and persecuted by the wicked leaders of Judah God would not forsake them. When merciful men were taken away. God used it to bless the righteous, to take them away from evil and to allow them to enter into peace.
2. Isaiah 57: 3-10. The spiritual adultery of God’s people
(a). Whom do you ridicule? The wicked among God’s people made fun of the righteous. They mocked them, and God heard it. Here, the Lord challenges them, simply asking “who do you think you are? Who are you mocking. This speaks to a common perspective of how we address the sin of others at the neglect of our own sins.
(b). Inflaming yourselves with gods under every green tree: Here the Lord begins to expose the spiritual adultery of His people. They are ‘hot’ with passion for other gods, worshipping them in ritual worship places of Canaanite paganism (every green tree among the smooth stones of the stream… on a high and lofty mountain). In this picture, the Lord is the husband of Israel, and their passionate, chronic attraction for idols was like the lust of an adulterer. His people pursued the false gods like a lover runs after the focus of their love, and they yield themselves to the idols as a lover yields themselves to their beloved. The picture of “spiritual adultery” is especially fitting, because many of the pagan gods the Israelites went after were “worshipped” with debased sex rituals. A green tree might be a place of such idolatry because the ever-green tree spoke of constant fertility.
(c). Slaying the children in the valleys: This is about one of the Canaanites gods the Israelites worshipped was named Molech, and he received children as sacrifices.
(d). Even to them you have poured a drink offering, you have offered a grain offering: True oblation that that should have been given to the Lord. But His faithful people gave them to idols instead.
(e). Also, behind the doors and their posts you have set up your remembrance: In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, God told Israel to inscribe His name and His words on every door post. Here, there was a perverse twisting of that- they remembered their pagan gods behind the doors and their posts.
(f). You are wearied in the length of your way: As time went on, the spiritual adultery of God’s people wasn’t rewarding. After the initial thrill of their spiritual adultery wore off, they were wearied. But even then, they would not repent.
B. God describes His dealing with His disobedient people.
1. Isaiah 57: 11-13. The end of God’s patience with His people.
(a). And of whom have you been afraid, or feared, that you have lied and not remembered Me. Here, the Lord confronts the fact that His people do not fear Him, and that they do fear someone or something else.
(b). Is it not because I have held My peace from of old that you do not fear Me? God’s people lack respect for Him because He showed mercy and did not punish their sin immediately. They mistook God’s mercy and forbearance for weakness or lack of resolve.
(c). I will declare your righteousness and your works, for they will not profit you: God’s people didn’t trust in Him, and the things they trust in- themselves and their idols (let your collection of idols deliver you) could not help them. Their idols were so weak and helpless that a breath will take them.
(d). He who puts his trust in Me shall possess the land, and shall inherit My holy mountain: Trust in the Lord makes a person secure, while trust in one’s self or in idols ends in ruin.
2. Isaiah 57: 14. A stumbling block removed.
(a). Heap it up! Heap it up. This doesn’t describe setting things in the way of those coming to God. Instead, using the same imagery as Isaiah 35:8, which describes a high way for God’s people, meaning a raised road that is above all obstacles. Heap it up refers to the building of this road, so that God’s people can return to Him without obstacle.
(b). Prepare the way, take the stumbling block out of the way of my people: Whatever gets in the way of our getting right with God must be taken out of the way. In the following verses, the Lord deals with those obstacles.
3. Isaiah 57: 15-21: God describes the way of peace and restoration.
(a). For thus says the High and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: To be right with God, the first thing to do is to understand His great majesty. The Lord introduces Himself to His people with titles reflecting His great majesty and expects His people to respond to Him as such a glorious God.
(b). To revive the spirit of the humble: Though God is the High and Lofty One, and lives in the high and holy place, at the same time He will live with men- with him who has a contrite and humble before the God of great majesty.
(c). For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry: The third thing to understand in getting right with God is His great love. Here, the Lord shows His mercy to His people but promises to relent and not be angry forever. Though God discipline His people, He now says, I have seen his ways, and will I heal him; I will also lead him, and restore comforts to him.
(d). Peace, peace, to him who is far off and to him who is near. In His mercy, God invites all men to peace- both him who is far off and him who is near. Each one can receive God’s shalom, which is more than the absence of hostility; it is the gift of precious well-being. In Eph. 2:17, Paul speaks of Jesus fulfilling this promise exactly.
(e). But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest…..there is no peace…for the wicked: In contrast to those return to God, the wicked are still without peace. God’s great mercy is held out to man- but it must be received.
ISAIAH 58: THE BLESSING OF TRUE WORSHIP.
A. The Lord exposes the shallow worship of His people.
1. Isaiah 58: 1-3a God’s people ask: “why do our prayers go unanswered?”
(a). Cry loud, spare not …tell My people their transgression: God spoke loudly and directly. His people need to hear their transgression- but would they hear?
(b). They seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways: God first described the appearance of their spiritual life. On the surface, it seemed that God’s people loved Him and were devoted to Him. They had the reputation of a nation that did righteousness and they looked like people who would take delight in approaching God.
(c). Why have we fasted….and You have not seen? With this spiritual veneer, they felt God was unfair to them. It was as if they said, “Lord, we have fasted, but You still don’t answer our prayer. Don’t you know that we seek you daily, delight to know Your ways, do righteousness, and take delight in approaching You? Yet You do not answer our prayers!”
2. Isaiah 58: 3b-5 God exposes the shallow worship of His people.
(a). In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exploit all your laborers: Enough with the image; now God exposes the reality. The reality was that His people didn’t fast with the right heart and did it only as an empty ritual. The reality was that even on a day when they fasted, they still exploited their employees. God didn’t accept their fasting when it wasn’t connected with a sincere heart of obedience.
(b). Indeed you fast for strive and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness: They fasted for needs, certainly; but selfish needs like “Lord, help me win this argument,” “Lord, help me defeat this person” Though their prayer was accompanied with fasting, it was still a selfish, even wicked prayer- so God did not answer.
(c). You will not fast as you do this day, to make your voice heard on high: The purpose of their fasting was to glorify themselves, to make their voice heard on high. God says, “No more. You will not fast as you do this day.”
(d). Is it a fast that I have chosen: The kind of fast rebukes here is a hollow, empty, show, without the spiritual substance behind it. This isn’t the kind of fast God has chosen. Even though they do all the right things in fasting (bow down his head like a bulrush …. spread out sackcloth and ashes). God does not even call this a fast. Check Mat. 17:21; Luke 18: 9-14.; Mat. 23: 23.
B. The character and blessings of true worship.
1. Isaiah 58: 6-7. The kind of worship and fasting most acceptable to God.
(a). Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To lose the bonds of wickedness. God tells His people. “If you want to fast the way that pleases Me, begin with getting right with your brothers and sisters. Stop oppressing others and reach out to help others.”
(b). Lose the bonds of wickedness …undo the heavy burden …let the oppressed go free …break every yoke: First they have to stop acting wickedly towards others. This means that getting right with God continues by doing loving things for other people.
2. Isaiah 58: 8-12. The blessings God promises for the true worshipper.
(a). Then your light shall break forth like the morning: If God ‘s people would couple their fasting with lives of righteousness and love, then they would see their prayers answered. They would have lives full of light, full of healing, full of righteousness, full of the glory of the Lord. When they call out to God, then the Lord will answer.
(b). If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness: Again, the Lord gives them three things to stop doing. Stop oppressing others, treating them as animal bound with a yoke; stop pointing …the finger at others; stop speaking wickedness. These are sins of commission. They are sins that we go out and do against the Lord and against others. If we will walk right with God, we must stop and guard against sins of commission.
(c). If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul: Again, the Lord gives them two things to start doing. They needed to minister to the hungry with more than food; they had to extend their soul to the hungry. They had to look for the afflicted soul and seek to satisfy it. Failing to do these are sins of omission. They are things that we should have done, yet we have not. If we walk right with God, we must open our eyes and do what is our loving duty before Him.
(d). Then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday: To the repentant, God promises blessing. Not only will they have light, but even their darkness shall be as noonday!
(e). The Lord will guide you continually: This is a promise for those who do more than just empty religious rituals. To have the guidance of the Lord, empty religious ritual isn’t enough. We need to seek God with both sincere hearts and sincere actions.
(f). And satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones: Those who serve God with sincere hearts and actions enjoy a health and life of the soul that is impossible for the superficial follower of God to know.
(g). Those from among you shall build the old waste places: Those who serve God with sincere hearts and actions also accomplish things for God’s kingdom. They build and are called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Streets to Dwell in. You can’t build anything for God’s kingdom on the foundation of a superficial walk with God.
All in all, these passages show several characteristics of a life right with God
• It is an enlightened life: Your light shall dawn in the darkness.
• It is a guided life: The Lord will guide you continually
• It is a satisfied life: And satisfied life: And satisfy your soul in drought
• It is a fragrant life: Like a watered garden
• It is a freshly sustained life: Like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
• It is a productive, healing life: You shall build the old waste places.
3. Isaiah 58: 13-14. True Sabbath keeping and the blessings of it.
(a). Call the Sabbath a delight …the holy day of the Lord honourable: The Sabbath was another empty religious observance for the Jewish people of Isaiah’s day. God calls them to take a delight in the heart and in the purpose of the Sabbath- to honour Him, not doing your own ways.
(i). The fulfilment of the Sabbath is in the light of the finished work of Jesus. We keep the Sabbath when we set aside every day to honour Him, and by not doing your own ways as a means of justifying ourselves. (ii). Are Christians required to keep the Sabbath today? The New Testament makes it clear that Christians are not under obligation to observe a Sabbath day. Colossians 2: 16-17; Gal. 4: 9-11, because Jesus fulfils the purpose and plan of the Sabbath for us and in us heb.4: 9-11 (iii). Gal. 4; 10 tells us that Christians are not bound to observe days and months and seasons and years. The rest we enter into as Christians is something to experience every day, not just one day a week- the rest of knowing we don’t have to work to save ourselves, but that our salvation was accomplished in Jesus Heb. 4: 9-10. (iv). The Sabbath commanded here and observed by Israel was a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ Col. 2: 16-17. We have a rest in Jesus that is ours to live in every day. Therefore, since the shadow of the Sabbath is fulfilled in Jesus, we are free to keep any day- or no day- as a Sabbath after the custom of ancient Israel. However, though we are free from the legal obligation of the Sabbath, we dare not ignore the importance of a day of rest- God has built us so that we need one. (v). If anyone would insist on the Sabbath, they must also insist on the six-day work week. Exod. 20:9, in the command regarding the Sabbath, says Six days you shall labour and do all your work.
(b). Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord: When we keep the meaning of the Sabbath, not merely as an empty religious ritual, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord. God will bless us, and we shall delight, not only in the blessing, but in the Lord Himself. We know it is sure because the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
In this chapter, God exposed the emptiness of two religious rituals as practiced in Isaiah’s day: fasting and Sabbath keeping. Both of these are expressions of not doing things. In fasting, you don’t eat. In Sabbath keeping, you don’t work. An important aspect of this chapter is showing us that what we don’t work. An important aspect of this chapter is showing us what we don’t do isn’t enough to make us right before God. Our walk with God shouldn’t only be defined by what we don’t do. What do we do for the Lord?
ISAIAH 59: THE REALITY CHECK
A. The sin God sees
1. Isaiah 59: 1 - The problem of God’s people: what the cause is not?
Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save: God people wondered why God did not seem to rescue them from their trials. They wondered if perhaps God had diminished in strength. Nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. The problem isn’t that God lacks power. Or He lacks knowledge of our problem or interest in our problem. But Isaiah reminds us God’s ear is not heavy. He can hear us just fine.
2. Isaiah 59: 2 The problem of God’s people: what the cause is? But your iniquities have separated you from your God. The problem is with our iniquities. Sin has separated you from your God. It separates from fellowship with God, we no longer think alike with God. It separates us from the blessing of God, because at the point of sin we are not trusting God and relying on Him. It separates us from some of the benefits of God’s love, just like the Prodigal son (Luk. 15:11-32)
3. Isaiah 59:3-8 A detail description of the sins of God’s people.
(a). Your hands are defiled with blood- They practiced and approved of violence and murder.
(b). Your lips have spoken lies- They lied with ease and regularity.
(c). No one calls for justice- They did not share God’s heart for what was fair and good.
(d). They conceived evil and bring forth iniquity- as if they were snakes giving birth to a more venomous serpent, bringing nothing but death
B. The effects of sin the people see.
1. Isaiah 59: 9-11. Because of their sin, darkness comes
(a) God’s people had no interest in justice, God did not bless them with it. Because God’s people did not care about righteousness, God did not bless them with it.
2. Isaiah 59: 12-15b Confessing their sin and admitting their guilt.
(a). Our sins testify against us … righteousness stands afar off: Now God’s people are in a better place. They have had their reality check and see things as they are. No longer do they blame the “the shortened hand “of God, or His heavy ear”. They know it is because of their own sins that the righteousness stands afar off.
C. The salvation and redemption the Lord sees.
1. Isaiah 59: 15b-16a What the Lord saw.
(a). The Lord saw it, and it displeased Him, that there was no justice. The state of God’s people was no mystery to the Lord. They cried out in Isaiah 59: 12-15b stating how desperate their condition was- and the Lord knew it all along.
(b). He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: None was available to stand in the gap to plead God’s case to the people, and the people’s repentance to their God.
2. Isaiah 59: 16b-19. What the Lord did.
(a). Therefore, His own arm brought salvation for Him- God waited to work through an intercessor. But God’s work would still be accomplished if none arose.
(b). He put on righteousness as breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head. It reveals a great connection between Isaiah 59: 17-18 and Paul’s comments on our spiritual amour in Eph. 6:10-17. The amour belongs to Him and He allows us to use it to fight for Him.
3. Isaiah 59: 20-21. What the Lord said.
(a). The Redeemer -the goel-will come to Zion. The word redeemer is Jesus. He is the one who buys us out of slavery (Lev. 25:48). He is the one who avenges wrongs done to us. He protects our inheritance and blesses and guards our posterity. (Num.3 5:19; Lev. 25:25; Deut. 25:5-10
This is a call to eschew evil by walking in the spirit and in obedience to God’s word. God never cast away His beloved. His plan of redemption remains valid, if only the backslider we look back and repent like prodigal son. God is a jealous God. We have to be sensitive as to what we worship surreptitiously in this end time. Spiritual adultery is not of old. It is all around us. For the mystery of iniquity doth already at work: only he who letteth will let, … (“Thes. 2:7-8).
Reference: Message partly culled from Blueletterbible.org © David Guzik.