This chapter takes us through a progression of sin to salvation. It is not an outline of the gospel plan to save, but it does provide the general course of the human heart as it makes its way from sin, to shame, to confession, to salvation, and finally to living under the grace of God.
The tense of this chapter changes often while reading the verses. It seems to serve a narrative purpose as we will see.
Verses 1-8: Separation from God
In this first section, God lays out a list of offenses that Israel is guilty of. Because of these offenses, they are separated from God. He is telling them that there are habits they need to break, there are practices they have incorporated into their daily lives that need to stop if they are to be with Him again.
God takes special care to tell them that it is not because of His ineptitude that they cannot be saved. No, it is due to their transgressions.
This passage is ample proof that God does not answer the prayers of the wicked. He hides Himself from those with sin in their hearts, “hands defiled with blood,” so to speak.
The description of the people’s sins goes from the second person (verses 1-3) to the third person (verses 4-8) in an increasingly judgmental and damning list. It is almost as if the sin is so abominable that the speaker wishes for it to be as far away as possible, lengthening the distance through the tense.
Israel has blood on their hands, signifying their guilt of killing. Their fingers have assisted them in doing sinful things. Their tongues and lips have given birth to lies and perversity. They do not seek justice or truth; they trust in lies instead.
There are two powerful illustrations in verses 5 and 6:
1. Lies hatch viper’s eggs that kill people.
These lies are dangerous and have consequences that affect the fate of men. Men that abuse their power, making decisions and proclamations of import can easily tell lies of this kind.
2. Lies weave webs that they will use in an attempt to cover sin.
Lies of this kind are defensive and are of the kind that begin a cycle that never stops. One lie to cover a sin, then a lie to cover that lie, then another and another…
This passage tells a truly sad story of a people corrupted. Indeed, their state has gotten such that they are actually impatient to do evil: “Their feet run to evil, And they make haste to shed innocent blood; Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; Wasting and destruction are in their paths.” Isaiah 59:7
This verse means that sin had gotten such a hold on their spirits and minds that they are caught up in it, wrestling with it every day in an attempt to control it or the results of it. Of course, mankind can never manage sin on their own; they need God. But as the result of this attempt to control their own sinful paths, they have no peace: “The way of peace they have not known, And there is no justice in their ways; They have made themselves crooked paths; Whoever takes that way shall not know peace.” Isaiah 59:8
Verses 9-15: Confession to God
Israel speaks in the first person in this section, which is fitting as the theme of this passage is confession. There is not a better tense through which to communicate the admission of guilt; in this manner it is at its most potent.
Israel now understands why they have no justice, righteousness or peace. It is due to their sins. God has provided the laws and the revelation of their state and now they know their true condition of blindness.
Here we have another illustration of sin and this one shows us the blind and the dead walking about during the light of the day, yet unable to find their way. They seek justice and salvation, but because of their sin, they do not find it. It is an accurate illustration even today of how sin deadens us to the goodness and truth of God’s Word. Sin comes to bear a willing ignorance within us that only increases and it hardens our resolve to continue in it the deeper we go.
Verses 12-15 contain the confession. Leaving God, seeking oppression and revolt and creating lies are the items confessed. The mention of lying multiple times in this chapter should remind us of the times in Isaiah that God has said that Israel proclaimed false belief in Him (Isaiah 29:13, 57:11).
As an eye-opening endnote to this passage, we are left with the picture that there is so much corruption that even those that attempt to practice righteousness find themselves the target of the evildoer: “So truth fails, And he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. Then the LORD saw it, and it displeased Him That there was no justice.” Isaiah 59:15
Verses 16-21: Redemption to God
God, seeing the state of the people, decided to save man through an intercessor: “He saw that there was no man, And wondered that there was no intercessor; Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him; And His own righteousness, it sustained Him.” Isaiah 59:16
God created for us this pathway to Him and blesses us so. The strength to complete this comes from God’s righteousness; He will disperse vengeance and justice accordingly. Through God’s plan to save, His name will be glorified and He will come to those that forsake sin and seek Him.
The chapter concludes with a promise from God. His Word endures and it will be known for the rest of time: “As for Me,” says the LORD, “this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,” says the LORD, “from this time and forevermore.”” Isaiah 59:19-21