“The righteous person.” Isaiah 57:1 continues the thought that was started in Isaiah 56:10 about the wicked rulers and what happens under their rule. One important thing that happens is the righteous people disappear; they perish, they are taken away. That Isaiah 57:1 is specifically about the righteous people can be easily seen in the Hebrew text because it begins with “The righteous person” and ends with ‘the righteous person” (the Hebrew text ends like: “is taken away from evil the righteous person”). (For a better understanding of Isa. 57:1, see commentary on Isa. 56:10).
“takes it to heart.” An idiom. No one understands it or takes it seriously; in fact, it can even mean that no one even notices.
“the righteous person is taken away from the evil.” It takes great spiritual maturity to see the value and love in what God is saying here—that if a righteous person dies in evil times, they are spared much evil and heartache. Most people cling onto life so tightly and are so afraid of death that they cannot imagine death could be a blessing (see commentary on Heb. 2:15). But God sees human life in a totally different way. For example, even though Jesus was in the prime of his life at about 30 years old, God (and Jesus too!) saw the value of his death in bringing blessings to others. Similarly, there are some very horrific times when from an eternal perspective it is more of a personal blessing to die than to stay alive.
We see the blessing of death in the horrific circumstances of the Great Tribulation. A voice from heaven said, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on,” and the Spirit (Jesus Christ) answers “Yes...let them rest from their labors, for their works follow with them” (Rev. 14:13). Those people who had suffered daily in the Great Tribulation were “blessed” when their pain finally ended, and they could “rest” in death and await their resurrection into a wonderful life. Similarly, although the people of Isaiah’s time were not in the Great Tribulation, the Assyrian attacks on Israel and Judah and the extremely sinful leadership made life very difficult for believers, and slowly but surely the righteous people were taken away from the evil. God had said through Scripture and His prophets that because of the sin of the leaders and people that there would be much evil coming upon Israel and Judah, and we see from history that it did.
Jeremiah’s ministry started less than 100 years after the ministry of Isaiah, and by Jeremiah’s time it seems that the leaders of Judah were so evil they were beyond help. Three times God commanded Jeremiah not to pray for the people because it would not stop the wicked people and would not change the destruction that was to come upon Judah for their evil. God said, “As for you, do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to me, for I will not hear you” (Jer. 7:16); “Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, for I will not hear them when they cry out to me in the time of their troubles” (Jer. 11:14); “Yahweh said to me, ‘Do not pray for the welfare of this people’” (Jer. 14:11).
For Jeremiah’s part, perhaps he saw the death of the righteous as a final end to their troubles, but in any case, although due to his prophetic calling, his priestly ministry, and his personal dealings in Judah he was not free to leave, but he wished he could. He wrote: “Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place for traveling men so that I might leave my people and go from them! For they are all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men” (Jer. 9:2).
The conclusion of this study is certainly not that a righteous person should consider death as an “easy out” of the pain of life, but to realistically consider that the death of a righteous person living in horrific times does in fact bring them out of pain and from the evil foretold to occur on earth, and that is what God is saying here in Isaiah 57:1.