Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Oct 28 2019 - Isaiah 59 – The arm of the Lord

Israel's iniquities had separated them from God (v. 2) and brought about their exile from the land of promise. Verses 3-11 describe their iniquity in graphic detail. Isaiah 59:7-8 is quoted by the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:17 in his catalogue of Old Testament texts aimed at demonstrating that Jews who received the Law and Gentiles who had not known the Law have all alike rebelled against God and gone their own way; every mouth is forced to be silent as "the whole world [is] held accountable to God" (Romans 3:19).

In Isaiah 59, Israel makes her own confession before God:

Our offences are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us.
Our offences are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities. (v. 12)

In the verse 16, the Lord is pictured as looking around for someone who would be able to intervene – someone to heal the hurt of his people, rescue them from captivity and transform them from rebels into willing servants. But the Lord can find no one capable of such a task:

He was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm achieved salvation for him,
    and his own righteousness sustained him (v. 16).

No one but the Lord himself has the power to save and transform this people. The Lord himself has to come to their aid. The chapter began with the assertion, "Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear" (v. 1), and now the Lord has stretched out his arm to save and to display his righteousness which reaches down (see v. 9) to rescue his people. This righteousness is displayed in God's vengeance executed on those who have held his people captive (vv. 17-18). The Lord will redeem his people and re-establish his covenant with them. Nor will they turn away from him again, for he will give them his Spirit to dwell in them so that his word is found in their hearts and upon their lips. They, their children and their children's children will serve the Lord rather than turning to idols (v. 21).

These verses find their ultimate fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ. As we have seen, verses from this chapter in Isaiah are quoted by the Apostle Paul as part of his argument that finds its conclusion in the assertion, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). But Paul's whole purpose is to move from disease to remedy and so he continues by asserting, "all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith" (Romans 3:24-25).

Jesus is the one in whom God has acted for our salvation. No human prophet or teacher or any other "hero" could have done this. Our salvation required the intervention of God himself in the person of his Son. He, the Suffering Servant has borne our iniquities and suffered the judgment our sins deserved. He has risen triumphant over sin and death. In his death and resurrection, Jesus has displayed the righteousness of God: "He did this to demonstrate his righteousness … so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:25-26). God's righteous anger against sin is satisfied and at the same time, those placing their faith in Jesus, though by nature rebels against God, are declared righteous in his sight and are embraced as his children.

Nor is that the end of the story for we whom God has saved through his Son are given the Spirit of his Son that we might learn to delight in doing the Father's will even as did Jesus.

Triune God, we thank you that when we were lost in sin and unable to save ourselves you came to our rescue in the Lord Jesus Christ. Help us now to live by the power of your Spirit and to make your service our delight. Help us always to be clothed with the breastplate of righteousness and helmet of salvation.

Peter Misselbrook