Isaiah 56-59

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 — The Epiphany and Following (Year One)

Harriet Bedell, Deaconess and Missionary, 1969

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 942)

Psalms 117, 118 (morning) 112, 113 (evening)

Isaiah 59:15-21

Revelation 2:8-17

John 4:46-54

The collection of prophecy in chapters 56-66 of Isaiah form a later compilation than the post- (or near post) captivity section of chapters 40-55. Within the 56-66 section, chapters 56-59 seem to be an integrated sub-collection, with today’s passage at the end of chapter 59 composed as a conclusion to the sub-section.

This part of Isaiah addresses problems in the post-exilic community. The prophet calls for justice. “Maintain justice, and do what is right,” he tells them at the opening of this section. He tells them to create a more inclusive community, embracing the foreigner and eunuch who wish to worship and participate. He calls for a renewal of worship that is sincere, and not just for show. Prayer should lead to compassion and concern for the less fortunate, he says. Do not attend just to the outward show, but to the inward spirit of the heart. Faith is not simply about believing certain things, but about compassion, heart-searching, and tolerance. With such a renewal of heart, real spiritual revival will happen. That is the message of Isaiah 56-58.

He closes by telling the people that the reason things aren’t working out the way they should is because of the poor leadership which has failed to administer the kind of justice described above. Instead, they have allowed corruption and violence to flourish. Such wrongdoing is a barrier that blocks us from God’s blessing. “Therefore justice is far from us and righteousness does not reach us; …for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter.”

The prophet declares that God will respond. God will repay the injustice and will return to redeem. The prophet closes with a renewal of the covenant that God’s spirit is upon God’s people and God’s word shall not depart from them. It is the introduction to the next section beginning with chapter 60, a vision of a new city — a city of peace and righteousness. “Arise, shine: for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”

For many of us, these themes from the 6th century BCE sound fresh and alive. It has seemed for some years that truth has stumbled in the public square and justice has been far from us in this nation. Compassion, heart-searching, and tolerance have been lacking, and many have excluded the foreigner and eunuch who wish to be in our community. Instead of righteousness, our leaders have condoned kidnapping, torture and imprisonment without process. At times constitutional protections have been compromised. During the past decade we relaxed economic oversight and allowed greed and irresponsibility to overwhelm the credit system — which is actually a system of trust, a system of faith. The Great Recession ensued, hurting the poor and middle class disproportionately. It has been an ugly time. We have lived far away from our deepest values and ideals.

Some of the descriptions of Isaiah 59 describe our situation. “We grope like the blind along a wall, …we all growl like bears. …Our transgressions indeed are with us, …conceiving lying words and uttering them from the heart.”

No wonder so many of us have yearned for change. We pray that God will turn the hearts of our people back to our source. Like the prophet want a renewal of compassion, heart-searching, generosity and tolerance — a renewal of honesty, uprightness and economic justice. This is essentially a yearning for a return to God.

Christians proclaim that God’s central character is love. The God of love is also the God of justice, for justice is the social form of love. Like Isaiah, we call for a renewal of justice in the land, not only for people, but also for the land itself, the natural world.

We have been living in Isaiah 56-59; we long for the vision of the renewed community of Isaiah 60-62.

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