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Go to Bible: Isaiah 57
“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.(top)
“He enters into peace; they rest in their beds.” The righteous dead are here spoken of as if they are peacefully sleeping, which in a sense they are; they are sleeping the sleep of death, and awaiting their resurrection to everlasting life. While “rest” (or “sleep” ) were well-known idioms for death, calling the grave a “bed” is the figure of speech hypocatastasis, a comparison by implication [for more on hypocatastasis, see commentary on Rev. 20:2, “dragon”).(top)
|Isa 57:3||- (top)|
“sticking out your tongue.” The Hebrew is more literally, “making your tongue long.” The custom of jeering someone by sticking out the tongue at them has been around for thousands of years.(top)
“inflame yourselves.” This very graphic language pictures the sexual excitement of the people involved with pagan ritual sex, who picked cool spots underneath the trees for their rituals, and then slaughtered their children to pagan gods. This horrific sin opened the doors for God’s judgment and attacks by demons.(top)
“smooth ones.” The context shows that these “smooth ones” were the smooth stones of the ravines that were used as idols or were used as part of the idol worship ceremonies.
“how can I relent?” The Hebrew word translated “relent” is nacham (#05162 נָחַם), and here it refers to God backing off of the consequences that were coming on the people for their sin. In this context nacham could also be translated “change my mind.” God interacts with people and will sometimes relent or change His mind about something if people have a change of heart and action. The NET text note makes a good case for the fact that the last phrase might also possibly be translated, “Because of these things I will seek vengeance.” [For more on God changing His mind or having regret, see commentary on Jer. 18:8].(top)
“you have set your bed.” It was common to set up idols on the tops of hills, and Israel’s idol worship on the mountains is described as adultery. Israel had made a covenant with God, who was to be her only love: “Thou shalt have no other gods beside me.” But she ignored the covenant and worshiped idols, in part because of the sex involved in the cultic practices. Although the heart of the people was not particularly inclined to follow God in the first place, the cultic sex of the idol worship helped drag them away, and sex still drags people away from the Lord.(top)
“reminder symbols.” These reminder symbols are the reminders that the Israelites were to write on their doors, obviously in a place where they could be seen, to remind them that Yahweh was to be their only God and they were to follow Him and obey His Law. To excuse her shameful activity and not be reminded of Yahweh, Israel moved these reminders from the doorpost to behind the doors and the posts. Removing God from their eyes and hearts, they practiced their idolatry and cultic sex “away from” God: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matt. 15:8; cp. Isa. 29:13).
Some commentators and translations support the idea that these symbols are pagan symbols, but that does not seem to fit the context nearly as well as them being the reminder symbols that God commanded. The Israelites were openly practicing idolatry and cultic sex, so why would they put a symbol for it out of sight behind the door? Keil and Delitzsch write, and ably defend their conclusion: “The zikkaron, i.e., the declaration that Jehovah is the only God, which the Israelites were to write upon the posts of their houses, and upon the entrances (Deut. 6:9; 11:20) for a constant reminder, she had put behind the door and the post, that she might not be reminded, to her shame, of her unfaithfulness” (Commentary on the Old Testament).
“at their genitals.” The Hebrew text is literally at their “hand.” Here the word “hand” is an idiom and stands for the genitals. Just as in that ancient society, a man’s hand was his strength and power, so too his ability to have children, especially sons, was strength and power (cp. Ps. 127:4-5), and on the basis of that comparison, the genitals were spoken of idiomatically as the “hand.” The firstborn son of a man was “the beginning of his strength” (Deut. 21:17). Although this is the only use of this idiom in the Bible, Keil and Delitzsch (Old Testament Commentary) point out that “Arabic furnishes several analogies to this obscene use of the word,” and John Oswalt (NICOT: Ezekiel) notes that “hand” is used for penis in Egyptian and appears to be in Ugaritic as well.(top)
|Isa 57:9||- (top)|
“You were worn out by the length of your journey.” The travel and efforts that Israel went to in order to worship other gods wore her out, but in the worship of those gods she found renewed strength. The translations vary on how to translate the verse, but the commentators mostly agree on the essence of what it is saying.(top)
|Isa 57:11||- (top)|
“I will declare your righteousness.” Here in Isaiah 57:12, God uses “righteousness” in an ironic way, for the “righteousness” of Judah was a sham righteousness; the people were deceiving themselves. The day of Judgment is coming, and at that time the righteousness of every person will be revealed, and when God declares, openly reveals, the “righteousness” of Judah it will be seen for the ungodliness it really is.
Isaiah 57:12 brings out an important truth, which is that even in the midst of blatant idolatry, sexual immorality, and even child sacrifice, the people of Israel and Judah did not deny God or the existence of God, instead they deluded themselves into thinking they were pleasing God by what they were doing. So it is today. Many people today consider themselves “spiritual” and pleasing to God even though they ignore God’s commands: they do not pray to God, read His Word, live sexually pure and moral lives, or confess God’s Son, Jesus Christ, as their Lord and strive to live as he did. Instead, they look to idols and created things for help (in the form of lucky objects, crystals, amulets, astrology, etc.), and believe they will be acceptable to God on Judgment Day because they are “a good person.”(top)
“the one who takes refuge in me will possess the land and will inherit my holy mountain.” This sentence speaks of the blessings that people who obey God in this life will receive in Christ’s Millennial Kingdom when Christ rules the earth as king. Note that the person will “possess the land,” which is why Jesus taught that “the meek will inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). [For more verses in Isaiah that speak of the Millennial Kingdom, see commentary on Isaiah 2:2. For more on Christ’s future kingdom on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”].(top)
|Isa 57:14||- (top)|
|Isa 57:15||- (top)|
|Isa 57:16||- (top)|
|Isa 57:17||- (top)|
“I have seen his ways and will heal him.” The ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy of Isaiah 57:18-19 will occur in Christ’s Millennial Kingdom when Christ rules the earth as king. [For more verses in Isaiah that speak of the Millennial Kingdom, see commentary on Isaiah 2:2. For more on Christ’s future kingdom on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”].(top)
|Isa 57:19||- (top)|
|Isa 57:20||- (top)|
|Isa 57:21||- (top)|