ISAIAH 60-62. THE CONTEXT
These three chapters promise great things to the people of Jerusalem and record the rejoicing that they will experience upon the fulfillment of those promises. These chapters constitute an optimistic, joyful unit. A number of themes, such as light, righteousness, salvation, and joy are repeated throughout the chapters.
The former exiles have returned to Jerusalem after a lengthy exile that challenged their faith in Yahweh. Cyrus of Persia has defeated the Babylonians and instituted a new policy. Instead of subjugating Jewish exiles, Cyrus allows them to return to Jerusalem and even provides funds to finance the rebuilding of the temple.
However, upon their return, the former exiles find that Yahweh, who made possible their return, has not seen fit to make their task easy. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of the restoration of Jerusalem and the temple. The returned exiles experienced opposition from local people and the project ground to a halt (Ezra 4; Nehemiah 4-5).
These new obstacles created a crisis of faith, in much the same way as the exile did. Yes, Yahweh has made it possible for them to escape their bondage in Babylonia, just as Yahweh earlier made it possible for their ancestors to escape slavery in Egypt. However, just as the earlier Israelites experienced obstacles in their wilderness journey that caused them to grumble and to doubt Yahweh, so also these former exiles who returned to Jerusalem are experiencing obstacles that create a similar crisis of faith for them. Yahweh has allowed them to return to Jerusalem, but has permitted opponents to dog them at every turn. Is Yahweh powerless to achieve what he promised? Is Yahweh faithful—will he keep his promises? Has Yahweh given up and abandoned them?
Second Isaiah dealt with these same questions while the people were still in exile (see 50:2). Yahweh is a passionate God who is in travail as he labors to achieve his goals (42:14). He is not like the Babylonian gods, who are made of wood and are powerless.
Now Third Isaiah, addressing people who are no longer exiles, addresses those same issues—answers the same questions (59:1).
ISAIAH 62:1-5. FOR ZION’S SAKE I WILL NOT HOLD MY PEACE
1For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness (Hebrew: sid·qah—from se·deq—righteousness) go forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns.
2The nations shall see your righteousness (Hebrew: sid·qek—from se·deq—righteousness), and all kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of Yahweh shall name.
3You shall also be a crown of beauty in the hand of Yahweh, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4You shall no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall your land any more be termed Desolate: but you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for Yahweh delights in you, and your land shall be married. 5For as a young man marries a virgin, so your sons shall marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you.
Scholars debate whether these are the words of the prophet or of Yahweh. We can’t say which is true, but we can say that they are either the words of Yahweh or the assurances of Yahweh as expressed through the words of the prophet.
“For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness (sid·qah—from se·deq—righteousness) go forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns” (v. 1). Zion refers to Mount Zion on which Jerusalem was built. In this case, Zion is a synonym for Jerusalem. “For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest” is an example of parallelism in Biblical poetry—repetition of a thought in slightly different words.
The people, in their exile, have accused God of hiding himself (45:15) and keeping silent (64:12; see also 42:14; 57:11; 65:6). They felt abandoned by God as they suffered through an exile that seemed to go on forever. That exile did, in fact, span nearly fifty years, so it is easy to see how they would feel that God had kept silence when he might have spoken a word of redemption to free them.
However, their exile had a purpose, and Yahweh had to wait for that purpose to be accomplished. Now that has been done and Yahweh promises to vindicate his people—to clear them of blame—to justify them—to reestablish their good reputation among the peoples of the world. This vindication will be highly visible, like the sun at dawn or a burning torch. Note these two allusions to light, a theme that runs throughout these chapters.
“The nations shall see your righteousness (sid·qek—from se·deq—righteousness), and all kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of Yahweh shall name” (v. 2). The vindication of Yahweh’s people will be a highly public affair. Yahweh will act and the nations (Gentiles) will see the righteousness of Yahweh’s people. Kings will observe the glory of God’s people, and Yahweh will give his people a new name.
Isaiah 60:2b says, “Yahweh will arise on you, and his glory shall be seen on you.” Watts notes that 62:2 is parallel to that verse “but with a reverse twist. There these characteristics were promised to the emperor. Here they are claimed for Jerusalem alone. There, Jerusalem was to receive YHWH’s benefactions through the empire and from her neighbors. Here, she sets out to get them for herself” (Watts, 881).
Names in the Bible are seen as expressing a person’s essential character, and a renaming reflects a significant change of character. Thus Abram becomes Abraham (Genesis 17:5) and Jacob becomes Israel (Genesis 32:28) and Simon becomes Peter (Matthew 16:18) and Saul becomes Paul (Acts 13:9).
In the Bible, a new God-given name signals the birth/rebirth of a new person (or, in this case, a new people of God).
“You shall also be a crown of beauty in the hand of Yahweh, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God” (v. 3). The restored Jerusalem is described as “a crown of beauty” and a “royal diadem” in God’s hand (the word diadem refers to a jeweled headband and can be a synonym for a crown). This is a poetic way of saying that Jerusalem will be a symbol of God’s glory and one of Yahweh’s proudest possessions.
“You shall no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall your land any more be termed Desolate: but you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for Yahweh delights in you, and your land shall be married” (v. 4). In verse 2, we learned that Yahweh would give Jerusalem and its people a new name. Now we learn what that name (or names) will be. While they have been known as Forsaken (a word commonly used for a wife whose husband has forsaken her) and Desolate (a word commonly used for a childless woman), they will in the future be known as My Delight Is in Her, a happy name for any bride—and Married, implying that the bridegroom is Yahweh. (See also Isaiah 61:10; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:23-27; Revelation 21:2, 9 for similar wedding metaphors).
“For as a young man marries a virgin, so your sons shall marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you” (v. 5). The people will rejoice over a restored Jerusalem, but the key to their rejoicing is not bricks and mortar but a restored relationship with Yahweh (Newsome, 105).
ISAIAH 62:6-12. A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
“Christians…find the fulfillment of 62:6-12 in Jesus, both the Messiah who proclaimed and embodied God’s reign and the Suffering Servant who offered salvation to the world. It is revealing that Luke 4:16-21 records that Jesus began his ministry by reading Isaiah 61:1-3 and saying, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (Luke 4:21)” (McCann, 391).
ISAIAH 62:6-7. I HAVE SET WATCHMEN ON YOUR WALLS
6 I have set watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they shall never hold their peace day nor night: you who call on Yahweh, take no rest, 7and give him no rest, until he establishes, and until he makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.
“I have set watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they shall never hold their peace day or night; you who call on Yahweh, take no rest” (v. 6). Earlier we encountered sentinels who saw the messenger bearing good news and alerted the city to join in the celebration (52:8). Now these sentinels, whether prophets or angels, have a very different task. They are to remind Yahweh of his promises—to do this all day and all night—to serve as nags and complainers until the promises are fulfilled. A king would typically have an official assigned to remind him of promises made and obligations undertaken. Here King Yahweh has sentinels assigned for that purpose. It would not seem likely that Yahweh would need reminding, but it would reassure the people to know that people were assigned to remind God day and night.
“and give him no rest, until he establishes, and until he makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth”(v. 7). This is the promise of which the sentinels are to remind Yahweh. Yahweh has promised to reestablish the city of Jerusalem which was destroyed in 587 B.C. by the Babylonians. But it is not enough that it be reestablished. It must reestablished as a great city, “a praise in the earth.”
This raises the question whether Yahweh is forgetful—requires reminders. Or perhaps Yahweh has an excellent memory but requires our prayers as a prerequisite to doing what he has promised. There are a number of passages in the Bible that speak of the Lord’s forgetfulness:
• “How long, Yahweh? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1).
• “I will ask God, my rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of my enemy?'” (Psalm 42:9).
• “Don’t deliver the soul of your dove to wild beasts. Don’t forget the life of your poor forever” (Psalm 74:19).
But these passages fall short of proving that Yahweh is forgetful. They indicate, instead, that people feel deserted by God when life is not going well. The archetypical expression of that feeling is Jesus’ cry on the cross: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” —“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). We can be certain that the Father had neither forgotten nor forsaken the Son, but rather that the Son in his suffering felt forsaken.
ISAIAH 62:8-9. YAHWEH HAS SWORN BY HIS RIGHT HAND
8Yahweh has sworn by his right hand, and by the arm of his strength,
“Surely I will no more give your grain
to be food for your enemies;
and foreigners shall not drink your new wine,
for which you have labored:
9but those who have garnered it shall eat it,
and praise Yahweh;
and those who have gathered it shall drink it
in the courts of my sanctuary.”
“Yahweh has sworn by his right hand, and by the arm of his strength, ‘Surely I will no more give your grain to be food for your enemies; and foreigners shall not drink your new wine, for which you have labored’“ (v. 8). Yahweh’s “right hand” and “mighty arm” are both symbols of his overwhelming power.
Brueggemann speaks of “futility curses”—”curses that make human effort futile because under the curse one does not get to enjoy the results of one’s efforts” (Brueggemann, 223). He cites the following verse as an example of a futility curse:
“You shall betroth a wife,
and another man shall lie with her:
you shall build a house,
and you shall not dwell therein:
you shall plant a vineyard,
and shall not use its fruit”
(Deuteronomy 28:30; see also Isaiah 65:21-22).
The people of Jerusalem and Judah have, indeed, experienced what is spoken of here. Even prior to their captivity, they were accustomed to paying tribute to more powerful nations as the price of maintaining their freedom. Once they were taken into exile, most of the fruits of their labors would have gone to benefit the Babylonians. As slave labor, most of their productivity benefited their captors. They could expect to receive only enough to sustain life.
Now, however, Yahweh promises to lift the futility curse. No longer will enemies and foreigners help themselves to the food and wine grown by the Judean exiles. The exiles will be free—not only free to return home but also freed from the oppression of heavy tribute (see also Amos 9:14).
“‘but those who have garnered it shall eat it, and praise Yahweh; and those who gathered it shall drink it in the courts of my sanctuary’“ (v. 9). The phrase, “in my holy courts,” implies the restoration of the temple and its courtyards.
We too often forget from whence our help comes, but these people will remember and give thanks to God for blessings received. It sounds as if every day will be Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving Day is joyful, because it causes us to remember our blessings. What we see described in verse 9 is an ongoing festival of joy by people who have been blessed by God.
ISAIAH 62:10-12. PREPARE THE WAY OF THE PEOPLE
10Go through, go through the gates! Prepare the way of the people! Cast up, cast up the highway! Gather out the stones! Lift up a banner for the peoples. 11Behold, Yahweh has proclaimed to the end of the earth,
Say to the daughter of Zion,
“Behold, your salvation comes.
Behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.”
12They shall call them The holy people,
The redeemed of Yahweh:
and you shall be called Sought out,
A city not forsaken.
“Go through, go through the gates! Prepare the way of the people! Cast up, cast up the highway! Gather out the stones! Lift up a banner for the peoples” (v. 10). Earlier, Second Isaiah wrote: “The voice of one who calls out, ‘Prepare the way of Yahweh in the wilderness! Make a level highway in the desert for our God'” (Isaiah 40:3). Now the former exiles have arrived in Jerusalem, and are commanded to go through the gates. But they must also prepare the way for others to return. Not only are they to rebuild the city, but they are to build up the highway leading to the city—to “gather out the stones.”
There is a possibility that “the people” of the first half of this verse and “the peoples” of the second half refer not only to exiles who have not yet returned, but to peoples of other tribes and nations who will see in the rise of Jerusalem a witness to the power of Yahweh and the vindication of Yahweh’s people. In other words, the highway and ensign are intended to facilitate witness to the surrounding peoples as well as to facilitate the return of the rest of the exiles.
This return to Jerusalem would not be an entirely happy event, because the city was destroyed decades earlier and is in ruins as they return. It would be easier to start a new city in a new and barren place than to restore a city buried deep in rubble, but their task is to enter the ruined city, to build it up and clear it of stones, and to lift up an ensign (a flag) to mark the place as belonging to Yahweh and Yahweh’s people.
The ensign will serve other purposes as well. It will serve as a beacon to guide people still enroute. But, most important, it will encourage and inspire the people who face many difficult days before the city is rebuilt. As they lift their eyes from the rubble to the ensign, they will be reminded of Yahweh’s presence among them—of Yahweh’s faithfulness that has resulted in their deliverance from exile—of Yahweh’s promises of a city not only restored but also renowned.
But for the people to see these promises fulfilled, they must go—prepare the way—build up—clear it of stones—lift up an ensign. Yahweh will make their work fruitful, but requires that they perform the work that they have been assigned. Yahweh has saved them, but they can’t expect a free lunch.
“Behold, Yahweh has proclaimed to the end of the earth, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your salvation comes. Behold his reward is with him, and his recompense before him”‘” (v. 11). Zion refers to Mount Zion, on which Jerusalem was built, and is often used as a synonym for Jerusalem.
The last phrase of this verse, “his reward is with him, and his recompense before him” quotes 40:10b.
In verse 7, we learned that Yahweh would establish Jerusalem and make it renowned throughout the earth. Here we see that promise repeated once again. Yahweh will bless Jerusalem and those who are privileged to live within its walls so that people from all over the world will take notice of the blessings that it has received from God.
“They shall call them The holy people, The redeemed of Yahweh; and you shall be called Sought out, A city not forsaken” (v. 12). There appears to be a contrast here between the “they” of the first part of the verse and the “you” of the second part. Are “They” and “you” the same people—the returned exiles? The names that are given, “The holy People, The redeemed of Yahweh” and “Sought Out, A city not forsaken,” would seem to indicate that. Perhaps the “They” and “you” are a simple slip of the pen. Perhaps this should have read “You” and “you.”
The other possibility is that “They” of the first half of the verse refers to someone other than the returned exiles. Who could that be? Most of the commentaries have little to say regarding this matter, but McCann (page 390) and Watts (page 889) suggest that “They” refers to the surrounding peoples—foreigners—Gentiles—including those who have opposed the rebuilding of the city. If they are correct, verse 12a would seem to hold out hope for the redemption of Gentiles.
While the place of the Jews as the chosen people of God is the primary emphasis of the Old Testament, God’s concern for Gentiles is certainly an underlying theme. Thus we read, “Sing to Yahweh, all the earth” (1 Chronicles 16:23) and “Declare his glory among the nations” (1 Chronicles 16:24)—”I will give thanks to you, Yahweh, among the nations” (Psalm 18:49)—and “Say among the nations, ‘Yahweh reigns'” (Psalm 96:10). (“Nations,” of course, is often used as a synonym for “Gentiles” in the scriptures.) The book of Jonah is the most substantial Old Testament witness to Yahweh’s concern for Gentiles.
In verse 4, the people were promised that they would no longer be known as Forsaken and Desolate. Their names would now be Hephzibah (a name symbolizing Jerusalem’s restored status) and Beulah (a name symbolizing Israel’s new prosperity). Those names expressed the delight of the Lord in his people. Now the people are given names that reflect their new character, “The holy people, The redeemed of Yahweh” and “Sought out, A city not forsaken.” Each of these names identifies something of importance about these people:
• They shall be holy, for “Yahweh your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, above all peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). “The scope of that demand is spelled out in the Holiness Code (Lev. 17-26); all of its rules, both cultic and personal, follow from the basic command, ‘You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy’ (19:2)” (Myers, 494).
• They shall be redeemed. Redemption has to do with being freed from bondage, usually by the payment of a redemption fee. A person might pay a fee to redeem a slave or a prisoner. However, in this case, Yahweh says, “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money” (52:3). In the New Testament, redemption is also used to speak of being redeemed by Christ from sin (Romans 3:24; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14). In that case, the price of redemption was the blood of the savior.
• They shall be sought out. Yahweh has taken the initiative to transform the lives of his people. He sought them, not because they were attractive, but because they were his people. This seeking out is an ongoing activity. Yahweh sought out Abram to become the father of the nation Israel, and Yahweh has continued throughout Israel’s history to seek out his people. Even when they were in exile, Yahweh was seeking them, although they did not understand that.
• They shall not be forsaken. Verse 4 promises, “you shall no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall your land any more be termed Desolate” (v. 4). In truth, the people of Jerusalem and Judah were never truly forsaken, although it seemed that way to them. Their exile was painful and lonely, but it was a time when the flame burned away the impurities of their lives so that they would be fit for Godly service.
Coffin calls our attention to the order of the words in verse 12. The first critical word is holy. Only when the church is holy is she also redeemed (the second critical word). Only when redeemed will she be sought out and not forsaken (the third and fourth critical words) (Coffin, The Interpreter’s Bible, 723-724).
The church today is always searching for strategies for survival in an increasingly hostile world. This verse suggests that the answer is to begin by pursuing holiness—by asking God to make us a holy people and a holy light in a dark world. While many people will reject us, or even persecute us, others will be drawn to our holiness and seek us out. Then we will no longer be forsaken.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Brueggemann, Walter, Westminster Bible Companion: Isaiah 40-66 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998)
Hanson, Paul D., Interpretation Commentary: Isaiah 40-66, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1995)
Holladay, William, Unbound by Time: Isaiah Still Speaks (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications, 2002)
Kaiser, Otto, The Old Testament Library: Isaiah, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983)
McCann, J. Clinton, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Muilenburg, James (Introduction and Exegesis of Isaiah 40-66); and Coffin, Henry Sloane (Exposition of Isaiah 40-66), The Interpreter’s Bible: Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Vol. 5 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1956)
Myers, Allen C. (ed.), The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987)
Newsome, James D. in Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)
Oswalt, John N., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40-66 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998)
Seitz, Christopher R., Interpretation Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993)
Seitz, Christopher R., The New Interpreters Bible: Isaiah, Vol. VI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M.,Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
Watts, John D. W., Word Biblical Commentary: Isaiah 34-66 (Dallas: Word Books, 1987)
Copyright 2010, Richard Niell Donovan