God’s Own Arm Brings Victory (A Study in Isaiah)

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The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. 16 He saw that there was no one, and was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm brought him victory, and his righteousness upheld him. 17 He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in fury as in a mantle. (Isaiah 59:15b–17)

Understanding the Word

There are clues here that this Warrior is identical to the Servant of chapters 40–55. One of these appears in verse 15b: “there was no justice.” As I stated in the commentary in Week Three, the term “justice” refers to God’s governmental order of the world. When sin rules in human affairs, God’s justice is not to be found (as, for example, in 59:14). Sinful living necessarily violates God’s order for life, with very predictable results in society. The Servant/Messiah comes to address that problem (see also 42:3–4). In the first place, he comes as a sacrificial lamb (53:7) to deliver us humans from the death sentence that sin has brought upon us. He delivers us from the curse of sin that requires we be separated from our Creator forever by taking upon himself the just sentence for our sin. But what about our inability to stop sinning? In the words of the apostle Paul, “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1). Do we live out the rest of our lives going on doing the things that killed Christ in the first place? Paul’s answer to the question is: “By no means!” (Rom. 6:2). To do that would mean a continued lack of justice in the world.

How are we to address the problem? We cannot do it on our own, as Isaiah 59:16 tells us. There is no one, humanly speaking, who can intervene and solve the problem. So the Warrior does it for us. Notice that now he is no longer the sacrificial lamb. Now he does not come to die for us, but to fight for us. He can do so because of his own righteousness. As the New Testament consistently tells us, Jesus Christ was without sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5). This means that he can defeat sin for us, and on our behalf. His righteousness is his “breastplate” and his “helmet” is salvation. The apostle Paul used these same figures in his admonition to Christians to put on “the whole armor of God” (Eph. 6:13–17), so he clearly has this passage in mind. Because Christ has put on this armor for us, we, too, can put it on. His righteousness and his deliverance can be ours, and as he won the victory for us, we, too, can live in victory.

But what is the significance of “vengeance” and “fury” in Isaiah 59:17? What is he angry at? He is furious over what the enemy sin is doing to his creatures. He made us to live in harmony with him and with one another. But sin has entered the picture and is destroying God’s creatures. God hates that, and we should as well. Sin is not something to be coddled and excused. It is not a little mistake or a little slip-up. It is an offense against the very fabric of creation, and ought to be eradicated everywhere we find it, especially in ourselves.

Questions for Reflection

1. Why does our persistent sinning require the Messiah to come as a Warrior?
2.Why is it that we cannot defeat sin on our own?
3. What is the root cause of our continuing sin?

The Bible study The Book of Isaiah: Part III (Chapters 56-66) is now available from our store. If you enjoyed this entry, you’ll appreciate the profound lessons that can be learned from Dr. John Oswalt’s exposition of this important text. This third part concludes his teaching through what’s often called the “Fifth Gospel,” which expounds the heart of God’s plan of salvation for the entire world. In the book of Isaiah we see a promise from God to make all things new and give his people new hearts. Get multiple copy discounts in order to start group studies, and preview the video element below. View this study in our store here.

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Dr. John Oswalt is Visiting Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. His expertise is in Old Testament studies, Hebrew language, and Hebrew religion. His writings have appeared in Bible encyclopedias, scholarly journals and popular religious periodicals, and is a leading scholar on the book of Isaiah. He is married to the former Karen Kennedy, and they have three children and two grandchildren.

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