Isaiah 59:1-21 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. What question is the Lord answering in Isaiah 59:1-2 (printed below?) What answer does He give?

Listen, Jehovah’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is his hearing so poor that he cannot hear. (2) On the contrary, your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have caused him to hide his face from you, so that he refuses to hear you. (Isaiah 59:1-2)

The people of Israel wondered why the Lord did not answer their prayers, why He did not come to their rescue. The Lord now gives His answer to their perplexing questions. The Lord informs Israel that the reason He has not answered their prayers is not due to any lack of ability on His part. On the contrary, it is because of the sinful conduct of His people.

2. How does the Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, describe the society in verses 7-8 (printed below?)

Their feet run to evil and they hasten to shed innocent blood. They think evil thoughts; ruin and destruction are in their paths. (8) They do not know the way of peace; there is no justice in their paths. They have made crooked roads for themselves; whoever travels along them will not know peace. (Isaiah 59:7-8)

In verses 7-8 the prophet presents a general description of the society: “their feet run to evil”—all moral restraints are broken, the people have given themselves over to evil conduct with a passion; “they think evil thoughts”—the society described here has degenerated to the level of that just prior to the universal flood (note Genesis 6:5). The consequence of such a life is now presented: “ruin and destruction are in their paths”—what lies ahead, what awaits them and what they will eventually encounter on this road of unrighteousness they have chosen to travel is desolation and destruction.

3. What is one consequence of the people’s sinful conduct and estrangement from the Lord their God? See Isaiah 59:9b-10a (printed below)

We look for light, but all is darkness; we look for brightness, but we walk in dark shadows. (10) We grope along the wall like a blind man; indeed, we grope along like those who have no eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight. (Isaiah 59:9b-10a)

Verses 9b-10a describe a people who are groping in the darkness of confusion and despair. They looked for the sun to rise, but it set instead; rather than the anticipated illumination and redemption, there came increased confusion and isolation (verse 9b). They stumble about in the darkness of confusion, having no direction and without hope (verse 10a). What the people are experiencing is the very judgment of which the Lord warned in Deuteronomy 28:15 and 28. Because their sins have separated them from their God, He has withdrawn His divine light and has consigned them to grope in spiritual darkness and confusion.

4. What is another consequence that has come upon the people as the result of their sins? See Isaiah 59:10b-11 (printed below) Note: “Justice,” or, “Judgment,” as it occurs in verse 11 is used in the sense of vindication and deliverance by the Lord their God.

We are like dead men among the living. (11) We all growl like bears and moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but there is none; we look for salvation, but it is far from us (Isaiah 59:10b-11)

Verses 10b-11 describe a people who are powerless and helpless before the forces aligned against them. Their adversaries and oppressors (the Assyrians? the Babylonians?) were mighty, while they themselves had the power of a dead man. They testify, “We all growl like bears and moan mournfully like doves”—but to no avail (verse 11a). Whether they assert themselves like bears, or mournfully plead like doves, it does them no good; they have no strength in themselves and they find no pity with their oppressors and no answer from the Lord their God. As mentioned, “justice,” or, “judgment,” here is used in the sense of vindication and deliverance by the Lord their God; they looked for the Lord to come to their defense, but it did not happen—they are left to themselves and they are left powerless before the adversaries and oppressors aligned against them.

5. How is the Lord described in Isaiah 59:17 (printed below?) What warning is given in verse 18 (printed below?) What promise is given in verse 20 (printed below?)

He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head. He dressed himself in the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself with zeal as though it were a cloak. (Isaiah 59:17)

He will repay them according to what they have done: wrath to his enemies, retribution to his foes; he will repay the islands what they deserve. (Isaiah 59:18)

But a redeemer will come to Zion, he will come to those in Jacob who repent of their sins, declares Jehovah. (Isaiah 59:20)

In verse 17 the Lord is described as a mighty warrior. He wears “righteousness as a breastplate;” i.e.; the action He is about to take is done in righteousness and is justified by His righteousness. He puts on “garments of vengeance;” the Lord will surely avenge the desecration of His law and the intolerable offenses against His holiness. In verse 18 the Lord warns that He will repay men “according to what they have done;” indeed, the Lord will repay “wrath to his enemies.” Then in verse 20 comes this promise: “But a redeemer will come to Zion, he will come to those in Jacob who repent of their sins, declares Jehovah.”