The sections on either side of Isaiah 59-63 have amply demonstrated the problem the Israelite people were facing: their inability to live righteous lives. In the sections previous to and following those (56:1–8 and 66:18–24), Yahweh had shown that he wanted righteous living, and that there was no barrier between him and anyone, including foreigners and eunuchs, who would live such lives. But the Israelites had been living flagrantly sinful lives, indulging in idolatrous attitudes, if not outright idolatrous practices, depending upon mechanically performed rituals, manifesting arrogance over their supposed righteousness, mistreating the poor, and blaming Yahweh for the problem that at least some of them, as represented by the prophet, recognized they had.
What should be done to correct this condition? Clearly, the very first thing was the kind of awareness of their condition that is exampled in 59:9–15a and 64:6–7. Second, was the true self-abasement and contrition spoken of in 57:15 and 66:2. Third, was the realization that in ourselves we humans are helpless to change our behavior (64:6–9). This is not the same thing as blaming God because we persistently sin (63:17; 64:5–6), but rather the realization that despite our best efforts, we cannot seem to stop sinning. Fourth, was a turning to God in the faith that if he would give them the spiritual power to live righteous lives, they would.
That undertaking on their, and our, behalf is expressed here in two parallel revelations of a Divine Warrior (57:15b–21; 63:1–6). If there is a question as to whether the two should be considered parallel, that ought to be laid to rest by the observation that both 59:16 and 63:5 make the same point although using different pronouns. In the last part of each verse the same statement occurs with only one word different (“wrath” versus “righteousness”). This Warrior comes to defeat his people’s enemies and deliver them. But who are these enemies? No enemy nations are mentioned in 56:1–59:15a or in 63:7–66:24. The only oppression identified in those chapters is the oppression of persistent sin. If it is pointed out that the Warrior is victorious over Edom in 63:1–6, I would argue that this one occurrence of an enemy nation should not be used to override all the statements about sin as the enemy in the rest of the division. Rather, those statements ought to be used to interpret the use of Edom. As in chapter 33, Edom should be understood to represent everything in the world that opposes the kingdom of God. Thus, here Edom is sin embodied. The Warrior has come to do for his people what they cannot do for themselves: defeat the power of sin and enable them to live the righteous lives he calls for.
But who is this Warrior? 59:15b makes it clear that it is Yahweh himself, but then verse 16 adds an extra touch when it says that it is “his own arm . . . his righteousness” that accomplishes the deliverance. In chapters 49–53, his “arm” is his Servant, one of whose functions is to release “prisoners” (42:7). When we then see the same language applied to the announcement of the Messiah in 61:1, we can say that this Warrior is the Messiah himself, come to defeat sin in a climactic way.
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.