By Christina M Wilson
Septuagint Isaiah 58:1-59:21
The Ins and Outs of Living with God
No Time Markers
Once again, Septuagint Isaiah 58:1-59:19 displays no verbal “time markers.” That is, the text contains no words or phrases that might specifically indicate where in a span of many hundreds of years before or after the exile these prophecies might be most applicable. Obviously, the unrighteous conditions God specifies apply in Isaiah’s day. And further, the Servant/Christ applies them during the days of his incarnation (Matthew 11:21-24; Luke 11:38-54). Paul the Apostle quotes from this and from passages of Psalms and Proverbs in Romans 3:9-18. Then comes the destruction of the physical city of Jerusalem with its temple in 70 C.E. In all this time, the religious rulers and leaders of Israel the nation never repent from the behaviors God in Isaiah specifies.
God Accuses–Part One
In Septuagint Isaiah 58:1-5 God spells out the “sins” of “my people… and to the house of Jacob their iniquities” (58:1). The phrase “house of Jacob” most likely indicates that God addresses the nation as a whole. The phrase “my people” indicate that special group of people who later repent and turn back to God. The text assigns the word “sins” (τὰ ἁμαρτήματα) to “my people.” This word is equivalent to “transgressions.” Then, it gives the word “iniquities” to “the house of Jacob.” The Greek word differs here. This word means “acts of lawlessness” (τὰς ἀνομίας). ]
As for the first word, those who live under the law–that is, those who acknowledge the validity and righteousness of God’s law–may still sin. They transgress the law. Then, they may repent of their sins. All this they do within the boundaries of God’s law. Paul’s portrait of the sinful man in Romans 7 provides an example of this kind of person. In the realm of the second word are those who act with “lawlessness.” These are they who do not even acknowledge God’s law but completely “do their own thing.” How can someone repent, who does not even acknowledge God’s right to govern?
In these verses from chapters 58 and 59, God uncovers the following failures in the nation as a whole, including those whom he calls “Sion” in past chapters.
1. They plead with God to bless them, as though God were the one at fault. In other words, they pretend to be a holy people who honors the difference between right and wrong, performing the former and not the latter. Why, then, does God ignore them when they fast and pray? (58:2-3).
2. But these people ignore and harm those whom God cares about–the lowly, even striking them with their fists. They quarrel among themselves. Though they fast outwardly by denying food to their stomachs, this is not the kind of “fast” that God desires.
What God Desires
God makes his desires known in Septuagint Isaiah 58:6-7, 13
1. First, God wants the house of Jacob to “loose every bond of injustice; undo the knots of contracts made by force; let the oppressed go free, and tear up every unjust note” (NETS). It is interesting to note that those who consider themselves to be above and beyond the law use the legality of written contracts to unjustly keep the “bruised” and oppressed in bondage. This is the opposite of what God desires.
2. Second, God commands those with means, “Break your bread to the hungry, and lead the unsheltered poor to your house: if you see one naked, clothe him, and you shall not disregard the relations of your own seed.” The last phrase is interesting. In paraphrase the text states, While you are off doing good for those across town and around the world, do not neglect the poor among your own relatives.
3. Finally, God desires that his people honor and obey his Sabbath, “If you turn away your foot from the sabbath, so as not to do your pleasure on the holy days, and shall call the sabbaths delightful, holy to God; if you shall not lift up your foot to work, nor speak a word in anger out of your mouth, then… ” (58:13).
God’s Servant incarnate, Jesus Christ, did all these things and more during his ministry among the people. He especially clarified what “work” was and was not acceptable to God on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-5).
If you do these things, says God, then you shall have reward. The list of rewards is utterly amazing.
- your light break forth as the morning
- your health shall speedily spring forth
- your righteousness shall go before you
- the glory of God shall compass you
- you [shall] cry, and God shall listen to you
- while you are yet speaking he will say, Behold, I am here
- your light [shall] spring up in darkness
- your darkness shall be as noon-day
- your God shall be with you continually
- you shall be satisfied according as your soul desires
- your bones shall be made fat
- and shall be as a well-watered garden
- and as a fountain from which the water has not failed (Septuagint Isaiah 58:8-11)
- your old waste desert places shall be built up
- your foundations shall last through all generations
- you shall be called a repairer of breaches
- you shall cause your paths between to be in peace
- you [shall] trust on the Lord
- he shall bring you up to the good places of the land
- [he shall] feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father
- for the mouth of the Lord has spoken this. (Septuagint Isaiah 58:12-14) (1)
Confer the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
A Challenge for Us as We Read
Slowly, but slowly, as I read through chapters 58 and 59, I begin to perceive that what God is after is a way of life. He wants his people to follow his heart, day in and day out, in both the large and the small. The reward reveals itself as more than a piece of property (58:14). The reward is an ongoing relationship and fellowship with God (Septuagint Isaiah 59:21)–to abide where he abides in the heavenly places. This relationship with God must be sufficient in and of itself. Being close to God carries its own reward. Otherwise, the wait would be too long and the work too difficult.
1 Notice that the two sets of blessings appear to be different. The first deals with personal and corporate blessings as concerns people (their spirits). The second set of blessings names characteristics of God’s first covenant blessings upon Jacob and his progeny. I’m going to postpone further discussion of these two sets of blessings until we reach Septuagint Isaiah 59:21.
… to be continued with Chapter 59