In our last essay we studied Isaiah, 61. We began with a discussion of who the speaker is at the beginning of the chapter and concluded that it is the anointed One, the Servant/Messiah, who is announcing his role in God’s deliverance. We recognized immediately that this passage was the one read by Jesus in the synagogue, as recorded in Luke 4:16-21; and we took note of the fact that Jesus claimed that his reading of the Scripture fulfilled it in the hearing of the synagogue congregation. Thus Jesus claimed to be the Messiah.
In this essay we are taking up chapter 62. If you look at the second part of verse one, the NRSV reads: “until her vindication shines out like the dawn.” Literally that reads, “until her righteousness goes forth like brightness.” I agree with Oswalt that there is something more than “vindication” going on here, and that the word “brightness” has particular import as well.
First, the larger context indicates that, “the righteousness of God is going to be seen in the character of saved Israel.” It is not just a matter of vindication. It is a matter of holy character.
Then second, the term “brightness” also was used in 59:9 in connection with “righteousness.” There a lack of righteousness was symbolized by darkness, and the prophet declared that they were waiting for the light, the “brightness” to come. Verse 59:9 reads in the NRSV, “Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us; we wait for light, and lo! there is darkness; and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.”
Now then, come back to chapter 62, verse one, and look once again at the literal translation of the clause in question. God says of Zion, “I will not rest until her righteousness goes forth like brightness.” The point we don’t want to miss is that Israel is to shine brightly with the righteousness of God. Of course this holds for the New Israel, the Church, as well.
Moving on to verse two, God announces two results of the work he is doing on Zion’s behalf. First, “the nations shall see your righteousness.” The NRSV again translates “righteousness” as “vindication.” When God’s promise that Zion’s righteousness will shine like brightness comes to pass, the nations (that is, the Gentiles) will see it. This has to happen for the nations voluntarily to bring Zion’s children and great wealth to Jerusalem as we saw predicted in chapter 60. And God declares that it will happen.
Second, God announces that Zion shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give.” In the ancient Near East, including Israel, names carried significance, and character was closely associated with the names. That’s why importance was attached to the naming of children. That’s also why Abram’s name was changed to Abraham when God made a covenant with him (Gen. 17:5) and why Jacob’s name was changed to Israel after he wrested with God at Peniel (Gen. 32:28). So Zion is getting a new name. However, as we read on through the chapter, we will see that the new name takes several forms.
In verse three, before announcing the new names, God introduces another image to convey Israel’s value: “You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord.” Now scholars are uncertain about why the crown is in the Lord’s hand instead of on his head. There has been much useless speculation about it, but it probably simply means that Zion and her people are precious to the Lord. They are a precious possession (his crown); and that is symbolized further by his holding them in his protective hand. Thus they can be confident that he will fulfill his promises.
In verse four the Lord turns to the idea of renaming. Zion may have felt like her name was “Forsaken” (NIV “Deserted), and she may have thought of hr land as “Desolate,” but that was not the case. “Whatever the faithful in Israel might feel in the long dark years following the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, they should remember that Forsaken is not the name by which God remembers them, nor is Desolate the way he views their land.” On the contrary, he sees himself as her husband. And thus the Lord turns to wedding imagery in these verses to communicate his feelings towards Zion. You will recall that Zion herself used wedding imagery to speak of her relationship to God in the last chapter, in 61:10. So the Lord sees Zion as his bride. He is a husband who will provide for and protect her. Thus he declares that she “shall be called My Delight Is in Her,” and he chooses to call her land “Married.” We will see other names later in the passage (v. 12).
In verse five there is a problem, especially for people who tend to interpret too literally. The verse literally says, “For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you.” Persons who want to interpret literally find this language reminding them of incest and are threatened by it. The various versions of Isaiah (versions are ancient translations into other languages) dealt with it by using a secondary meaning for the word “marry.” There are uses of the word that mean “dwell with or in.” So they translated it “your sons will dwell in you (or keep you).” The NRSV translators found a way to deal with it by translating the word for “sons” as “builders.” I have no idea where that comes from. At any rate, the basic idea of the statement is clear. God cares so much for his people that he wants to enter into the most intimate possible relationship with them.
In verses 4-5, as always, scholars debate who the speaker is. In this case, God, Isaiah, and an angel appointed by God all have been suggested. Oswalt favors the third alternative, but he gives no convincing reasons for doing so. Since God was speaking at the beginning of the chapter and since there is no evidence that the speaker has changed, I believe God is still speaking in these verses.
I also disagree with Oswalt on the identity of the “watchmen” (NRSV translates as “sentinels”). I believe the watchmen are the prophets, as they are in the book of Ezekiel. Oswalt rejects this view, because the function of the watchmen in Ezekiel was to warn the people of coming danger. And there is no danger in this context to warn people about. The enemies of Zion all have been vanquished. It is true that the function of the watchmen here is not to give warning. As the last part of verse six tells us, their function is to remind the Lord of his promises. Now this raises a red flag in some minds, because God isn’t likely to forget his promises. Of course he won’t forget. That isn’t the point. The point is that the prophets are to pray constantly that God’s will shall be done. Just as Jesus taught us to be importunate in prayer, the Lord taught Israel’s prophets to be importunate in prayer. Warning people of danger was only one function of the prophets. Here we see another function.
Now then, in verses 8-9 we do get a change of speaker. Now the prophet begins to speak. His word is one of security. Isaiah first speaks of God’s “mighty arm.” God’s “mighty arm” symbolizes the certainty of God’s promises. Thus the promises are guaranteed.
Next comes a promise that in the New Jerusalem Israel’s enemies will never again take their food. You will recall that when God set up the Sinai Covenant, Moses promised the people that if they broke the covenant, their enemies would reap the fruit of their labors (Deut. 28:30-33). On the other hand, if they kept the covenant, they would enjoy the fruits of their labors (Deut. 28:4-5, 7, 11). Now Isaiah declares that in the New Jerusalem, no enemies or foreigners will take their food. Rather they will enjoy it and worship the Lord. Notice the language used in respect to enemies taking the food. God says that he gave it into the enemy’s hands. God always is in control.
In verses 10-12 Isaiah shows the people how to respond to God’s promises that were seen in verses 1-9. In a “nutshell” they must act on their faith. To begin, notice the imagery of the highway. We have seen this image several times throughout the book. And it has served several purposes. Since this is a kind of summary passage that ends a major section, Isaiah probably had several ideas in mind. The highway probably symbolizes the highway on which God comes. Notice the phrase in verse 11, “your salvation comes.” It also could symbolize the highway on which the believing people come to Zion. Notice the phrase in verse 10, “prepare the way for the people.” It also could represent the highway on which the nations come to Zion. Notice the phrase at the end of verse 10, “lift up an ensign over the peoples.” Isaiah could have had any or all of ideas in mind.
Some have questioned why verse 11 says that the message of Israel’s salvation is to be proclaimed to the ends of the earth. We must remember that the nations are going to come to Jerusalem bringing with them the children of Zion and great wealth. Therefore they need to hear this message. Some scholars point out the strong similarity between the second half of verse 11 and 40:10. I don’t know if that is significant or not. As a teacher, I know that good ideas are worthy of repetition.
Finally, in verse 12, we see a number of additional names for the end-time people of God and Zion. “They shall be called, ‘The Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord’: and you [referring to Zion] shall be called, ‘Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.’” The NIV translates, the names for Zion, “Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted.” Notice that all of these names are relational in nature. And holiness of the people is emphasized.