I Live in a High and Holy Place,

But Also with Those Who Are Contrite

57: 14-21

   DIG: Who would be reading this prophecy? When would they be reading it? What road needed to be built up and prepared? What obstacles needed to be removed out of the way of God’s people? What does it mean to be lowly and contrite? What does the LORD promise here? In what sense does Isaiah picture the people of Israel mourning? What was their reaction?

   REFLECT: Are you lowly and contrite or high and lofty? What obstacles are hindering ADONAI’s work in your life? What areas of your spiritual highway are in need of repair? If the wicked are like the tossing sea, how would you picture those at peace with God? Which do you feel like? Why? What might you need to quiet things down? What word of peace (57:19) might Jesus speak to calm you?

    In this near historical prophecy, Isaiah speaks to the nation of Judah and city of Jerusalem about one hundred years later during the ministry of Jeremiah. Through His prophet, the LORD offers His forgiveness if only they would repent from their spiritual adultery.

    After rebuking the religious leaders of Jerusalem for only looking out for their own selfish interests (see Jl – Israel’s Watchmen Are Blind, They All Lack Judgment), and accusing the citizens of Judah of spiritual adultery, (see Jm – You Have Made Your Bed on Every Hill, There You Went Up to Offer Sacrifices) ADONAI offers both groups mercy: Not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (Second Peter 3:9). Grace is getting what you don’t deserve, while mercy is not getting what you do deserve. And because of their wickedness both of those groups deserved judgment. Instead, God gives them hope (Titus 2:13).

    The invitation to: Build up, build up, prepare a road (57:14a) for the people of faith points to that road spoken of by the forerunner earlier in Isaiah (see my commentary on The Life of Christ Be – The Message of John the Baptist). He will be a voice of one calling in the desert. “Prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God (see Gm – The Highway of Holiness Will Be There). Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. The Shechinah glory of the LORD will be revealed and all mankind together will see it! For the mouth of ADONAI has spoken" (40:3-5).

    Whatever prevented them from coming to Him and taking refuge in Him had to be removed. God said: Remove the obstacles, every stumbling block, out of the way of My people (57:14b). The picture of a stumbling block is significant here because of its use earlier: And He will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel He will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem He will be a trap and a snare (8:14). There ADONAI is the stumbling block to those who refused to give Him a place in their lives. As a result, they stumble over Him instead of allowing Him to be the Sanctuary that He wants to be.

    Here the context is similar to 8:14 above. God is the Holy One and there is a stumbling block in the people’s way. But the tone is different. There, Isaiah was commanded to leave this people to their stumbling ways (8:11), and seal up the testimony (8:16), while God hid His face from the house of Jacob (8:17). Here, the prophet is empowered to speak to My people, and to let them hear the command to remove every stumbling block in their way so ADONAI could stop hiding from them (57:17), and heal them (6:10). What could have made the difference between 8:14-17 and here? Because the Servant has been crushed (53:10), the LORD could sit in the dust with those who have been crushed (57:15). Those who would humble themselves and live with the Holy One would find a perfectly level road to salvation.

    For this is what the high and lofty One says – He who lives forever, literally inhabiter of eternity. The word sakan (Exodus 25:8, 29:45) is used of ADONAI coming to dwell temporarily among His people in the Tabernacle. And just as at the exodus, when He gathered His people to Himself by redemption (see my commentary on Exodus Bz – Redemption) with the deliberate purpose of dwelling among them (Exodus 29:42-46), so now He purposes exactly the same thing but with forever in mind.

    Whose name is Holy: I live in a high and holy place, but also the one who is contrite, literally crushed, and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of those crushed under life’s burdens (57:15). He is the God of eternity. Mankind, however, doesn’t last very long on this earth. The eternal God promises to take those who do not trust in themselves, but trust in Him, and He covers them as a mother hen covers her chicks (Matthew 23:37). What peace and security there is for those who belong to the LORD. Even though He is majestic, high and lofty, He fellowships with those who are contrite and lowly in spirit. ADONAI is very high, but He is not so high that He is removed from our struggles. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have One who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin. Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).

    What ADONAI was looking for then, and what He is looking for today is brokenness over sin. David wrote Psalm 34 when he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who eventually drove him away (First Samuel 21:13): He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). After committing adultery with Bathsheba, he also wrote: The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51:17). But David repented saying: I have sinned against the LORD (Second Samuel 12:13), and therefore, reestablished his relationship with ADONAI (First John 1:8-10).

    How can God bridge the gap between our sin and His holiness? ADONAI must satisfy His own legal requirements and bring an end to His anger. This is accomplished by the suffering Servant of the LORD (53:1-12). The theological name for this is propitiation, which is the averting of God’s wrath by means of the substitutionary sacrifice of Yeshua Messiah. His shed blood satisfies every claim of God’s holiness and justice so that God is free to act on behalf of sinners (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; First John 2:2). I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry (57:16a). He is eternal, but His anger is not. If we repent, the LORD’s accusations and anger will not last forever because of His grace. As Jesus said: There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent (Luke 15:7).

    For then the one would faint away because of Me – the very people I have created (57:16b). Here ADONAI expresses His dilemma. On the one hand, if He could not find a way of abating His righteous anger, the humans that He had created would be forever separated from Him. But, on the other hand, how could He fail to punish sin and continue to be the just God of all creation (Genesis 18:17-19)? The answer to this puzzle continues to be the suffering Servant of Isaiah (53:10-12). The only question is that tricky little matter of free will. Would those He created choose His sin offering, or go their own way?

    In the past He had to be harsh with His people because of their sinful greed and independence. I was enraged by their sinful greed, or covetousness (see my commentary on Exodus Dt – You Shall Not Covet Anything That Belongs To Your Neighbor). God said: I punished them, and hid My face in anger, yet they kept on in their willful ways (57:17). The sin being described is greed, that seemingly summed up all their sins. Covetousness is the proud, unrestrained motivation that wishes to make itself the center of the universe. It is not surprising, therefore, that the commandment not to covet is last. If you break the tenth commandment, do you not also break the first?

    If only they would repent He would forgive them, giving healing, guidance and comfort. He said: I have seen their ways, but I will heal them; I will guide them and restore comfort to the mourners of Isra'el (57:18). The nation is pictured here as theoretically asking for forgiveness, being forgiven, and mourning, as it were, over her sins that are pictured as being dead and gone. As the prophet Micah said: You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).

    The natural result of forgiveness is praise, and therefore, praise would be heard on the lips of the forgiven sinners (57:19a). God would heal the contrite and brokenhearted Israelites; He will comfort, guide and restore them back to a relationship with Him. If they would only turn from their wicked ways. He so desperately wanted to heal them and change from anger to loving concern.

    The forgiven ones would enjoy peace. ADONAI would no longer be at enmity with His children. “Peace, peace to those far and near,” says the LORD. “And I will heal them” (57:19b). This peace would not be a matter of birthright, but a matter of choice. They could say no to God and make it stick. Comfort and restoration will be the state of the righteous, the wicked will not be so fortunate.

    But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud (57:20). The contrast between the righteous and the wicked is especially relevant from here to the end of the book were Isaiah focuses on balancing the ideas of salvation and vengeance (59:17, 61:2, 63,4-6). This is probably one of the most picturesque descriptions of the wicked in the Bible. Like the troubled and restless sea, the wicked can find no peace no matter how hard they try or no matter how much peace they pretend to have (Psalm 37 and 73). They are like a hunted criminal looking for deliverance and safety, but doomed for punishment because they refuse to turn to God.

    There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked (57:21). Like gravity, this is an axiom of life. In contrast with the abundant peace promised to the righteous, unrest like that of a troubled sea with its mire and dirt is the lot of the wicked. Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:10-14 is an excellent illustration of this fact. There is no rest for the wicked in this life, and there will be no peace in the next life. Each of the three-fold messages (That Her Warfare Had Been Completed – 40:12 to 48:22; That Her Sin Had Been Pardoned 49:1 to 57:21; and That She Had Received from the Lord Double for All Her Sin – 58:1 to 66:24) ends with one verse that describes the state of the wicked, and that is what we have here.

    The first of the three-fold message was that her warfare had been completed. It was completed with the seventy years of Babylonian captivity. Babylon was conquered and the Jews were permitted to go back. God had demonstrated His absolute superiority over the idols by doing something never before done in human history, causing a conquered people, His people, to return from exile to their native land. That section ended with the judgment of the evil ones: There is no peace, says the LORD, for the wicked (48:22).

    The second of the three-fold message, which ends here, is that her sin had been pardoned. In this section, the reason that Israel’s sin was pardoned was because of the death of the Servant of the LORD. This section also ends with the condemnation of the wicked: There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked (57:21). And we will see the condemnation of the wicked again at the end of the last of the three-fold message in Chapter 66.

 

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