Isaiah 61:1–11comment (0)
December 2, 2010
By Dennis Sansom
Related Scripture: Isaiah 61:1–11
Bible Studies for Life
Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy, Samford University
Value What God Values
Throughout Isaiah, we read of the Lord’s judgment against Israel for its impiety toward Him and injustices toward its people. We also read of God’s severe judgment against the surrounding nations’ idolatry, cruelty and greed. At times, the prospects for peace and righteousness seem hopeless.
However, the Lord never gives up on restoring Israel and humanity to their rightful place within His covenant. Yet, because of their rebellious tendencies, they are unable to restore themselves. Only the Lord can save them, and Isaiah presents some of the most powerful and evocative descriptions in Scripture of how He does this.
The Reign of the Spirit (1–7)
God’s answer to humanity’s intractable problems of pride, blasphemy and injustice is the recreation of a righteous society through the work of the Messiah. The Messiah is not an ordinary person. God’s Spirit working through the Messiah does for humanity what people cannot do for themselves.
In vivid language, the prophet described the reversal of fortunes. On one hand, there was the city made by sinful humanity — poor, brokenhearted, despairing, populated by captives and mourners full of shame and its buildings in ruins. What brings people to such ruin? Rejection of God and injustice toward each other.
On the other hand, there was the city made by the Messiah — healed, set free, comforted, hopeful, its people given provisions and turbans and wearing garments of praise and its buildings rebuilt. What does this for a ruined people? The Lord’s Spirit working through the Messiah.
We see parallels between this description of the reign of the Messiah and the Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25:8–55. On the Sabbath of sabbatical years, a horn would blow and liberty was proclaimed throughout the land. In that year, all economic and social debts were forgiven and all land returned to the Lord. Though there is no record of this occurring in Israel, the Year of Jubilee became a symbol of the future time of peace. The prophet saw the Messiah fulfilling this expectation.
We can understand why Jesus chose these opening verses to announce His ministry in Luke 4:18–19. His work would not be the ordinary efforts of rulers and kings who try to make the world right by their own designs. Such actions lead to ruin in the end. But Jesus’ work starts the transformation of the world in which the poor in spirit will receive the kingdom of God, the meek will inherit the earth, the mourners will be comforted and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled (from Matthew 5:3–6).
The Role of the Community (8–11)
Isaiah’s vision was not about a timeless, eternal society. He described a tangible community. The Messiah would create a truly just society. Future generations would look upon this society, and “all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.”
A world filled with moral collapse, societal ruins, enticing idols and endless conflict needs a model. The city made by the Messiah models for the nations how people ought to live with faith and obedience to the Lord and justice and compassion toward one another.
One of the titles for the church in the New Testament is the people of God. The church should be the kind of people Isaiah describes in verses 8–11. It knows the Messiah and experiences His spiritual work. One of the church’s responsibilities is to model true faith to God and just and compassionate dealings with others so that society has a paradigm of how people ought to live.
Verse 10 is in the first person. The text does not say who it is, but it is most likely the chapter’s author. Upon realizing how unprecedented and amazing the Spirit’s work would be through the Messiah, Isaiah broke out in a doxology of praise. In Luke, we find a parallel story. Mary broke out in a similar doxology after hearing from the angel that she would give birth to God’s Son (Luke 1:35) and exclaimed, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (46–47).