Isaiah 57 - Peace for the Righteous

Isaiah 57

1The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. 2 Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.

The righteous perish should be alarming to those under Mosaic law and under the Abrahamic Covenant. Righteousness was guaranteed long life. The devout being taken away and the righteous perishing early was either ignored or not understood so the sign that these were being “spared from evil” and “entering into peace” in death was missed by the unrighteous and the evil who have no peace in life or death.

3 “But you—come here, you children of a sorceress, you offspring of adulterers and prostitutes! 4 Who are you mocking? At whom do you sneer and stick out your tongue?

Those who mock the righteous that are still living are mocking God. He takes it directly and personally on their behalf.

Are you not a brood of rebels, the offspring of liars? 5 You burn with lust among the oaks and under every spreading tree; you sacrifice your children in the ravines and under the overhanging crags. 6 The idols among the smooth stones of the ravines are your portion; indeed, they are your lot.

Yes, to them you have poured out drink offerings and offered grain offerings. In view of all this, should I relent?

There could literally have been sorceresses because Ahaz and Manasseh both turned to witchcraft, Molek worship, and child sacrifice, but figuratively this is about idolatry and rebellion. In fact, when King Saul rebels against God he is rebuked with these words: 1 Samuel 15:23 “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.” Mocking, sneering, sticking out their tongues are compared to lust, child sacrifice, and idol worship. There is no peace in life or death for people who rebel against God. Notice where the upright rest as opposed to the chaos of the beds of the unrighteous. The stones were called “bethel” and were just smooth stones made round by water in streams. They were worshiped as evidence of nature’s ability to reproduce. Idolaters always choose a counterfeit over what is real. It reminds me of when I lived in Japan and someone gave me a tiny frog made from a rock. Since frogs reproduce massively it was supposed to mix with your coins and reproduce them. I thought it was a cute little frog, but I lost it by the next day.

7 You have made your bed on a high and lofty hill; there you went up to offer your sacrifices. 8 Behind your doors and your doorposts you have put your pagan symbols. Forsaking me, you uncovered your bed, you climbed into it and opened it wide; you made a pact with those whose beds you love, and you looked with lust on their naked bodies.

You made your bed is a reference to the adultery of idolatry. Instead of practicing the Shema they put symbols of idols on their doorposts and basically climbed into bed with false gods – their adulterous lovers. The rest of this is all probably a reference to the Spring festival called the “Brand-feast” which idolatrous Jews participated in. It included burning trees. They would hang sacrifices on the trees, or throw them from the height of the temple, including children that they put in leather bags. They would cut themselves and sometimes the men would emasculate themselves as an offering to the phallic idols. All of this was done to music in a frenzy of blood and bodies. It was embodied chaos.

9 You went to Molek[a] with olive oil and increased your perfumes. You sent your ambassadors[b] far away; you descended to the very realm of the dead! 10 You wearied yourself by such going about, but you would not say, ‘It is hopeless.’ You found renewal of your strength, and so you did not faint.

Molek is a combination word of melech – king, and Moloch – an Assyrian god. The idea is how far Israel has gone to be safe. They even went to the realm of the dead – Assyria, to make deals and find strength from the people they feared.

11 “Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have not been true to me, and have neither remembered me nor taken this to heart? Is it not because I have long been silent that you do not fear me? 12 I will expose your righteousness and your works, and they will not benefit you.

The Syriac version says “my righteousness.” The idea is that God is not silent. He makes His righteousness known and He makes His righteous judgment known. He doesn’t punish without reason.

13 When you cry out for help, let your collection of idols save you! The wind will carry all of them off, a mere breath will blow them away. But whoever takes refuge in me will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain.”

There is a contrast between the idolaters who worship these foreign gods out of fear of human repercussions and those who never worshipped idols and stayed with Yahweh no matter what. God promises refuge and to keep His covenant promises to the faithful.

14 And it will be said:

The assumption is that this in an angel saying this…

“Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”

God’s desire is that the road between Him and His people should be clear without obstacles of any kind. God’s words of judgment always seem to come back around to mercy. In this sense mercy is a really good word. The greater gives to the lesser. The more powerful cares for the less powerful. This road is for the least of these.

15 For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Why does God care so much about the contrite and lowly in spirit? He shares His high place with “the one” who is contrite and lowly in spirit. Who could that be? The servant? The right hand of God? The one that shares the high and holy place with God the Father is able to revive (chayah – to make alive) the spirit of the lowly and make alive the heart of the daka – crushed ones. Take a look at Luke 1:46-55 (The Magnificat)

16 I will not accuse them forever, nor will I always be angry, for then they would faint away because of me— the very people I have created. 17 I was enraged by their sinful greed; I punished them, and hid my face in anger, yet they kept on in their willful ways.

Covetousness, greed, and willfulness will always put us at odds with God.

18 I have seen their ways, but I will heal them; I will guide them and restore comfort to Israel’s mourners, 19 creating praise on their lips. Peace, peace, to those far and near,” says the Lord. “And I will heal them.” 20 But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. 21 “There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”

So the chapter is pulled together. Peace for the righteous in an early death as they sleep and wait for judgment day. But for the wicked they never have peace, not while they live or in death.

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