Righteousness Brings Revival-Isaiah 56-57

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"Thus says the Lord: 'Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed'" (Isa 56:1). “For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: 'I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite'" (Isa 57:15).

Theme"Keep justice and do righteousness" (Isa 56:1) is the theme for the rest of the book of Isaiah (chapters 56-66). Revival happens when people seek the Lord through repentance (Isa 55:6-7) and righteousness is practiced and lived out among us. Without righteousness being objectively evident among God's people, God's name is blasphemed among the nations (Isa 52:5).

Righteousness Revives Our Hearts (Isaiah 56-57): The Good, the Bad and the ...

  1. The Good (56:1-8): God’s people as they should be
  2. The Bad (56:9 – 57:13): God’s people as they should not be
  3. The Contrite (57:14-21): The people God dwells with

Shouldn't Isaiah have ended with ch. 55? What more could remain after those stirring promises that God's grace is freely available to all who accept his urgent promises. Isa 55:12-13 with its benedictory tone sounds like the climax of all that can be said about the divine-human relationship. Yet Isaiah is far from over. There are 11 chapters remaining.

Two ways "righteousness" is communicated. A careful reader of Isaiah will note an apparent contradiction between the teachings of ch. 1-39 and ch. 40-55. This seeming contradiction may be illustrated by the differing uses of the word "righteousness." In 1-39 it is used exclusively for the behavior that is in keeping with the statutes of God. But in 40-55, except for two places, the term refers to God's righteousness" in faithfully delivering his people in of their sins, which led to their exile in Babylon. So if Isaiah ended at ch. 55, the reader might assume that righteousness is basically impossible for humans, and that we are delivered into a "position" of righteousness purely by God's grace through his Servant. Thus, the stress on righteous living in 1-39 is no incumbent on those living in grace.

How should the righteous live? In a remarkable way, ch. 56-66 synthesize the teaching of 1-39 and 40-55. It shows that actual righteous living is a requirement for the servants of God (1-39) but that such righteousness is only possible through the grace of God (40-55). Thus 56-66 form the necessary conclusion and climax to the book's teaching. As such, they show us the expected characteristics of the life of the servants of God.

Symmetrical chiastic structure of Isaiah 56-66 (“X”-structure with the ascending part parallel to the descending part) stresses the center/climax:

A. 56:1-8 – Conditions for entrance to the people of God

      B. 56:9-58:14 – Reproaches to the wicked; promises to the faithful

         C. 59:1-14 – Two psalms and a confession of sin

              D. 59:15-20 – Divine vengeance

                    E. 60:1-22 – The new Jerusalem, fiancé of God

                         F. 61:1-11 – The announcement of Messianic times

                    E1. 62:1-12 – The new Jerusalem, fiancé of God

               D1. 63:1-6 – Divine vengeance

           C1. 63:7-64:11 – Two psalms and a confession of sin

      B1. 65:1-66:17 – Reproaches to the wicked; promises to the faithful

A1. 66:18-24 – Conditions for entrance to the people of God

Another (simpler/shorter) symmetrical chiastic structure of Isaiah 56-66

A. Obedient foreigners (56:1-8)

       B. Necessity of ethical righteousness (56:9-59:15a)

             C. Divine warrior (59:15b-21)

                  D. Jerusalem, light of the world (60:1-62:12)

             C1. Divine warrior (63:1-6)

       B1. Necessity of ethical righteousness (63:7-66:17)

A1. Obedient foreigners (66:18-24)

Questions:

  1. (56:1–8) What does God expect of his people (1-2)? With what result (2a)? What were they not doing (55:6-7, 11)? What does this say about obedience and righteousness in the Christian life (Jn 14:15, 21, 23)?
    • [Chaps. 56–66 are generally believed to have been addressed to the Judeans in the post-exilic period (538–425 BC). They seem to address people who believe that they are accepted by God simply because of their birthright, and that righteous behavior does not really matter (a conclusion they might have drawn from their deliverance from Babylon). So it doesn't matter how you live. But there seem to have been others (57:13b-19) who were sincerely troubled that their return to the land had produced no real change in their behavior (Isaiah seems to speak for them at various points). God encourages these people to believe that he will deal with their problem and will shine through them to be “a light to the nations.”]
  2. What two groups are addressed (3)? Surprised? Why were they excluded at first (Dt 23:7–8) if they were going to be allowed in later? What behavior makes people acceptable to God (4-6)? How do these apply to us? What is God’s ultimate purpose with the Judeans and their temple (7b-8; 66:18–23)?
  3. (56:9–12) This stanza is part of a larger section that extends to 57:13. What is the overall theme of this section? What is its relation to 56:1–8? Who are the blind, sleeping watchmen (9–10) or the dogs/shepherds with big appetites (11–12; 28:7–8; Eze 3:16–18)? How do they contrast with David (55:3-5)?
  4. (57:1–2) What is a reason the righteous die prematurely (1-2)? What do we often accuse God of when this happens?
  5. (57:3–13) What might some say about their “birthright”? What is God’s estimate of their "mother’s" character (3-4)?
    • [The references to idolatry (57:3–13; 65:2–7) are somewhat surprising if this section is indeed addressed to the returnees, because it is often thought that the exile cured the people of idolatry. However, Haggai, Zechariah (520 BC), Ezra and Nehemiah (458–445 BC) show that the religious situation in Judea was very confused for at least 125 years after the return. It is also possible that these references simply reflect the unrighteous behavior that Isaiah knew in his own lifetime, or that the proud orthodoxy of some of the returnees was really no different than the rank paganism of earlier generations (see 66:3–4, 17).]
  6. Notice typical pagan practices (5-10). Is Isaiah saying that their orthodox religious practices are really pagan in nature? What would that mean for them and us? How can you be orthodox and pagan at the same time?
    • "The whoredom of Judah is compared to that of an adulteress who has become so impudent that she no longer commits her sins in secret but publicly and shamelessly. She acts without any restraint and refuses to blush with shame." (Bultema)
    • "And as the love of harlots is oft hotter than that of husband and wife, so superstition many times outdoeth true religion." (Trapp)
    • "The sensitive Israelite reader would, of course, remember that it was the word of God - and, most aptly, the assertion that there is only one God - that was the be inscribed on the doors." (Grogan)
  7. How hard do people work to supply their own needs (9-10)? Why do we have such difficulty trusting God (11, 13b)?
  8. (57:14–21) What obstructions must be removed if we are to experience the reality of God in our lives (14)?
  9. What is the remarkable contrast in 27:15? How is this related to the theme of arrogance throughout Isaiah? What is God’s ultimate purpose (16-18; 54:7-8)? What is John Oswalt’s line: “God’s intended last word…?” How is “backsliding” cured (18)? What is a part that we have to play (15; 55:6-7)? [Contrite is not merely sorrow. The Hebrew word means “crushed.” What does that mean about our response to sin in our lives?]
  10. What do 57:19–21 teach us about universalism—the doctrine that all will be saved in the end?

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