This chapter addresses Israel before the period of exile in verses 1-13, and in the latter verses the subject matter is of God reaching out and healing the relationship between man and himself.
Although seemingly diverse in themes at first, this chapter on the whole communicates the concluding idea that even with all of mankind’s faults, God will save those that receive the free gift of salvation. Those wicked that remain so and resist the life-giving Word of God will not receive His blessings; they will have no rest.
Verses 1-2: The Righteous in Death
These two verses seem cryptic at first, but when we take them as somewhat apart from the rest of the context of the surrounding landscape of idolatry, prophecy and salvation, they make perfect sense. They describe the blessings to be had when a righteous person dies.
When a righteous man, a man who has lived his life approved of by God, passes away, other men barely notice. Even though no one notices, the loss of the righteous man’s influence on the people close to him and the world that had been around him remains. This is an unnoticed negative consequence of the righteous man’s death.
An unnoticed positive of the righteous man’s death is that the righteous man is now free to enter into peace. The language in verse 2 is that the righteous man rests and walks, living on in his uprightness.
These verses force us to think about death for the righteous as a joyous occasion to celebrate. It is a reason to deliberate and consider death in different terms. We do often attempt to reach a state of happiness when a faithful Christian dies, and this is good, but to consider them fortunate because they are taken away from the evil of the world forever is not a concept that is consistently sustained in the funeral home. We will mutter that the deceased is “in a better place,” and express gratitude that their “suffering is over,” but we rarely rejoice that they will never again have to contend with temptation, corruption or filth. When a righteous person dies, they are set free in many ways.
Verses 3-13: The Products of Idol Worship
We have seen idolatry spoken against again and again in this book. The second part of this chapter hones in on Israel’s idolatry and specifies how all manner of sin flourished under the tutelage of idols.
Idols (the “parents” of God’s corrupted people) have given birth to sorceresses, adulterers and harlots. The Israelites here are known by God as ridiculing the righteous when they themselves are “children of transgression,” and “offspring of falsehood.” When we consider how the corrupted of God’s people are treating the righteous, a heavier weight is granted to both this passage and verses 1-2. A righteous man’s value in such a society is far too great to be ridiculed.
God continues to list their abhorrent practices, laying bare their idolatrous activities of giving power to the creation of God, as well as the abomination of child sacrifice. What is the payoff of these things? The sinning peoples’ future will be with the place of the idols, amongst smooth stones of the stream, reaping the benefits of empty and false gods, which is nothing. Deepening the offense is that they gave offerings to these idols that were due to God. Their lot after all of these things is to be just as empty and decrepit as the idols themselves.
This section continues in verses 7-10, with God explicitly describing the depravity of Israel’s idol worship. They have offered sacrifices in unholy places, they have set up worthless idols in their homes, they have entered into a covenant with the idols, the intimacy of which is comparable to marriage. They trusted in idols and earthly kings rather than God. This life gave them a surface satisfaction, but deep within they knew that they were walking the wrong path. They believed the lie and carried on to their own destruction.
In the midst of their sin, idolatrous Israel feared earthly kings and the imagined reprisals of the nonexistent deities represented by idols. But God has let them suffer so, even though they have not remembered Him and they have falsely professed that they believe and follow Him. Even though there may have been some righteous among them, this would not save them. Instead God plainly gives them up to the salvation offered by their idols, a weak breath of which carries them all away.
This section ends with the subtle yet strong reminder that deserves no explanation due to its factuality and simplicity: “But he who puts his trust in Me shall possess the land,
And shall inherit My holy mountain.”
Verses 14-21: Healing
The healing described in this section is general enough to envelop the following concepts:
– Forgiveness for the remnant as they return to Jerusalem
– Forgiveness for mankind as a whole, under Christ
– Personal forgiveness for the sinning individual
The “one” mentioned at the outset is Cyrus once more, but he is mentioned in passing; the true focus of this section is the healing. The “stumbling block” is most likely the idolatry that faded from Israel’s culture as the people moved back into Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and reclaim their faith.
As God speaks to His beloved people, He contrasts His dwelling place (eternity) with that of the idols (slippery stones of the stream). He also makes it known that humility is valued and those who are humble will be revived. God’s anger was at the fore, but it will not remain present and active forever because mankind will always fail before Him. His answer to this problem is Christ.
God was angry, but now He has “seen [mankind’s] ways, and will heal him; [He] will also lead him, and restore comforts to him and to his mourners.” We are a creation that needs to be led; this is imperative. God loves us so that He dearly wants there to be peace in our hearts and in our lives so He will bless us with that leadership.
Through His blessings, He creates the “fruit of the lips,” which is a way of saying that He causes us to praise Him: “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” Hebrews 13:15. God offers peace through salvation to those afar off and those near. This means that salvation is offered to those souls removed from the event of Christs’s resurrection by time and those close to it by time.
But the conclusion of this chapter is a warning. God’s gift of salvation is free, but a gift must be received in order to be possessed. If we do not hear, understand, know and obey God’s message, we leave the gift and walk down our own path. And the path that man determines for himself, without the providence and guidance of Almighty God, will eventually lead to wickedness, where there is no peace: “But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. “There is no peace,” Says my God, “for the wicked.”” Isaiah 57:20-21, and also an echo of Isaiah 48:22.