New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary

Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord Yahweh is on me; because Yahweh has anointed me to preach good news to the humble. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted- The sending forth of Isaiah was the sending forth of God's word to His people (s.w. Is. 6:8; 9:8). Isaiah like the Lord Jesus and like us, was the word made flesh. The man became his message; there was a congruence between him personally and the word preached. In the immediate context, Isaiah himself was the servant messenger sent forth (s.w. Is. 42:19; 48:16; 61:1); but he was largely rejected, and Jewish tradition has it that Isaiah was sawn in two by Hezekiah's son Manasseh (Heb. 11:37). And so the messenger came to fulfilment in the Lord Jesus. He came to proclaim “the opening of the prison”, or “the opening of the eyes to them that are bound” (Is. 61:1 RVmg.)- He came to open blind eyes, to change the self-perceptions which imprison most of humanity. But that was possible if they wished to see. The Israelites were seen as grasshoppers by their enemies- and so this is how they came to perceive themselves (Num. 13:33). Prov. 23:7 RV observes: “As he reckoneth within himself, so is he”. We are defined by our own self-perception. We must come in the end to perceive ourselves from God’s perspective and not according to how men perceive us.

Lk. 4:18 parallels “the poor” with “the brokenhearted... the captives... the bruised”. The whole mission of Jesus was to bring good news to the poor (Is. 61:1,2 cp. Lk. 4:18–21; Mt. 11:5). This doesn’t mean that the materially rich are outside the scope of the Gospel. It means that we are all “the poor”. Therefore the huge emphasis on helping the poor applies to the poor themselves- to be generous to the poor in spirit. You don’t need money in your pocket to be generous to “the poor”. Paul could say that although he was poor, he made many rich (2 Cor. 6:10).

To proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to those who are bound- The allusion is to the proclamation of the year of Jubilee on the day of atonement. Through the cross, freedom was obtained for the spiritually imprisoned; but that jubilee is to be proclaimed by us. And so the Lord Himself quoted Is. 61:1 about Himself: He proclaimed liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. For the Babylonian exiles refused to accept they were imprisoned and largely didn't want the freedom proclaimed. But this passage is evidently behind Peter’s assertion that after His resurrection, the Lord Jesus preached to the spirits in prison (1 Pet. 3:18,19). His resurrection was the basis of His command to go into all the world and preach the word; and thereby His preachers went out to do and continue the work which He personally had done. Those who are bound are expanded into "the bruised" in Lk. 4:18; alluding to the temporal bruising of the heel of the seed  of the woman by sin, the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). The opening of the prison in practice means, for now, the opening of blind eyes to the wonderful spiritual vista of the Kingdom and things of the Lord Jesus.

The teaching of Jesus included frequent quotations from and allusions to the Old Testament. When we go back and read around the contexts of the passages He quoted, it becomes apparent that He very often omits to quote the negative, judgmental, or conditional aspects of the blessings which He quotes. Consider the way He quotes Is. 29:18; 35:5,6 and 61:1 in Mt. 11:4,5. These are all talking about Messianic blessings. But they are embedded amidst warnings of judgment and the conditionality of God’s grace. Likewise Luke records how Jesus read from Is. 61:1,2, but He stopped at the very point where Isaiah’s message turns from promise to threat. None of this takes away from the terrible reality that future failure is a real possibility, even tomorrow. We can throw it all away. We may do. We have the possibility. And some do. There is an eternity ahead which we may miss. And each one who enters the Kingdom will, humanly speaking, have come pretty close to losing it at various points in his or her mortal life.

Isaiah 61:2 To proclaim the time of Yahweh’s grace, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn-
"Time" is "year", alluding to the year of Jubilee of :1 being proclaimed. We note the contrast between a year of grace and the singular day of vengeance. When reading this passage (Lk. 4:20,21), the Lord Jesus stopped His reading after "the year of Yahweh's grace"; because the "day of vengeance" had been postponed by His work until the last day (2 Thess. 1:7-9). The comfort of the mourners was that spoken of in Is. 40; the coming of Messiah was to be prefaced by comfort to the mourners, those who mourned for their sins. It is not those generally in sorrow who are in view, but those who mourn their sins in repentance.

Isaiah 61:3 To appoint to those who mourn in Zion, to give to them a garland for ashes-
"Garland" is literally a bonnet, and is used of the bonnets with which the priests were to be clothed in the restored temple (Ez. 44:18; Ex. 39:28). But they refused to build and operate the structure of Ez. 40-48 and so precluded any possibility of this being fulfilled in them; and they didn't mourn for their sins.

The oil of joy- The term is only used for the anointing of the sinless Messiah, the Lord Jesus (Ps. 45:7 = Heb. 1:9). But His anointing will become that of all who are "in Christ".

For mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness- Mourning is contrasted with being planted as trees of righteousness, confirming the suggestion on :2 that the mourning in view is of penitence, rather than sadness in general. Sorrow and mourning shall flee away in that forgiveness and salvation will finally come. The joy which replaces the mourning is the joy of good conscience with God. Nehemiah in his mourning for the state of his people began to fulfill Is. 61:3, concerning how those who wept over Zion would be given joy- but the prophecy continues to speak of how the old wastes of Zion would be rebuilt and repaired, and the Messianic age ushered in. He didn’t go on to fulfill this. Mourning being turned into joy would have happened if the mourning exiles (Ps. 137:1; Lam. 1:4) had accepted the new covenant offered them (s.w. Jer. 31:13); but they rejected it. And so this comes true in the experience of those in our age who accept that covenant.

That they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of Yahweh, that He may be glorified- This is the time of Ez. 34:29 (s.w.), and also of Is. 60:21 "Your people also shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified". Their salvation would be on account of their identity with the Messianic "branch", the Lord Jesus; they would be "in Christ" and thereby saved. Inheritance of the land forever is the language of the Abrahamic covenant; this would come true because of righteousness being imputed to them. And the end result of that system of salvation, as Paul brings out in Romans, would be glory to God.

Isaiah 61:4 They shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations-
"Arise / raise up" is the word used often of the 'rising up' of the exiles to rebuild Jerusalem (Ezra 1:5; 3:2; 9:5; Neh. 2:18; 3:1). This was a fulfilment of the command to "Arise... Jerusalem!" (Is. 51:17; 52:2; 61:4). But this 'arising' was to be associated with the dawning of Zion's light in the form of Yahweh's glory literally dwelling over Zion (Is. 60:1). This didn't happen at the time, because the appearance of 'arising' by the exiles was only external and wasn't matched by a spiritual revival.

And they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations- The temple still lay “waste” (Hag. 1:4,9) just as it had lain “desolate” [s.w. Jer. 33:10,12] after the Babylonian destruction. The ‘restoration’ was in fact not really a restoration at all, in God’s eyes. Thus Ezra sat down desolate [AV “astonied”] at the news of Judah’s apostasy in marrying the surrounding women; using the very same word as frequently used to describe the ‘desolate’ Jerusalem that was to be rebuilt (Ezra 9:3 cp. Is. 49:8,19; 54:3; 61:4). He tore his priestly garment (Ezra 9:3), as if he realized that all Ezekiel’s prophesies about those priestly garments now couldn’t come true (s.w. Ez. 42:14; 44:17,19). Is. 58:12,13 prophesied that the acceptable rebuilding of Zion was dependent upon Judah keeping the Sabbath acceptably; and yet Nehemiah’s record makes clear their tragic abuse of the Sabbath at the time of the restoration; and this therefore meant that the rebuilding of the temple and city were not going to fulfill the Messianic prophecies about them which existed. And this seems to have been foreseen in this prophecy, because it speaks of the desolations of "many generations", implying a far longer desolation than the 70 years exile in Babylon.

Isaiah 61:5 Gentiles shall stand and feed your flocks, and foreigners shall be your plough men and your vine dressers-
This is all because "But you shall be... priests" (:6). The picture is of all their secular matters being attended to by Gentiles so that they might focus upon their priestly work. This is surely the hope and dream of every servant of God; to have all secular issues taken care of, so they can focus upon spiritual things.

Isaiah 61:6 But you shall be named the priests of Yahweh; men will call you the ministers of our God-
Time and again, the Old Testament speaks of the priests ministering in the priest's office. The priests are specifically called God's ministers (Is. 61:6; Jer. 33:21; Ez. 45:4; Joel 1:9,13; 2:17).  "Men", the Gentiles, would treat Israel as their priests. The early Christians would have heard and read many of the New Testament references to ministers and ministry as invitations to see themselves as a new priesthood. The Lord said that we should aim to be a minister, a priests, to every one of our brethren, not expecting them to minister to us, but concentrating on ministering to them (Mt. 20:26). This is exactly against the grain of our nature, and also of the concept of religion we find in the world. People expect to have others spiritually ministering to them. They expect a priest-figure to do all their thinking for them. But our Lord said that we are each other's priests, we're not here to be ministered  ('priest-ed') to, but to minister, and give our lives in service to each other.

You will eat the wealth of the nations, and you will boast in their glory- The Hebrew is difficult, literally "in their splendor you shall be substituted in their stead". The idea seems to be that the Gentiles will not glory in their own wealth, but rather in how much they can do for Israel.

Isaiah 61:7 Instead of your shame you shall have double-
LXX "thus shall they inherit the land a second time". Or the idea may simply be that they inherit double what they ought to, such is God's grace to them and desire to load them with double blessing (Is. 40:2; Zech. 9:12), just as He gave double to Job as representative of restored Israel (Job 42:10).

And instead of dishonour they shall rejoice in their portion- Their "portion" is parallel with "their land". But they didn't rejoice in their land because they preferred the softer life of Persia, as the book of Esther makes clear; rather than returning to a desolated land and rebuilding God's Kingdom there.

Therefore in their land they shall possess double; everlasting joy shall be to them-  “In their land” the Jews would receive “everlasting joy”- but they didn’t want to return to their land to receive it.

Isaiah 61:8 For I, Yahweh, love justice, I hate robbery with iniquity; and I will give them their recompense in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them-

A love as strong as God's is going to also elicit the emotion of hatred and anger when that love is rejected and abused. He "hated" (s.w.) Judah's insincere worship and relationship with Him (Is. 1:14; 61:8; Jer. 44:4). But it is hard to separate the sin from the sinner. That distinction may be helpful for us in order to avoid judging others too personally, but God it seems doesn't make that decision. He gave Israel into the hands of those who hated her (s.w. Ez. 16:27,37) and in that sense He hated her. The feelings of hatred which Hosea had for Gomer due to her abuse of His love were those of God for Israel: "There I hated them" (Hos. 9:15). God is not simply "love" in the abstract. He is love for real, with all the emotion and psychological complex which goes along with love; and this will include hatred if that love is abused.

Isaiah 61 gives a detailed prophecy of the restoration and how it could flourish into God’s Kingdom, and then adds that "I hate robbery for burnt offering"; as if to say that if Judah offered with the right spirit and showed justice, then the everlasting covenant would be entered with them. But this just didn’t happen. They themselves disallowed it.

Isaiah 61:9 Their seed shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which Yahweh has blessed-
The implication seems to be that the children of the repentant exiles would be known among the nations, as if they would travel amongst them revealing by example and teaching the Abrahamic covenant. They would be the fulfilment of the promises of blessing upon the seed.

Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in Yahweh, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels-
Isaiah as representative of the true Israel rejoices in prospect of salvation, imagining and understanding how his salvation was due to being clothed as a high priest; being, in our terms, "in Christ". The LXX uses the language of the High Priest: "he has put a mitre on me as on a bridegroom, and adorned me with ornaments (NEV "jewels") as a bride". The jewels would then allude to the precious stones of the breastplate. It is the Messianic priest, the Lord Jesus, who is in view; and all those who are in Him. The idea is that high priest is getting married, and as he would clothe himself with these things to go into the sanctuary on service, he now does so in order to marry. His service of his wife is therefore in being her loving high priest.

We have been clothed with God's righteousness (Is. 61:10; Rev. 3:18) , and therefore we should be clothed with humility too, as our response to this (1 Pet. 5:5). And the element of unreality here is that God as it were dresses up His own bride. Israel is so often set up as the bride of God (Is. 54:5; 61:10; 624,5; Jer. 2:2; 3:14; Hos. 2:19,20). This is why any infidelity to God is spoken of as adultery (Mal. 2:11; Lev. 17:7; 20:5,6; Dt. 31:16; Jud. 2:17; 8:27,33; Hos. 9:1). The very language of Israel 'selling themselves to do iniquity' uses the image of prostitution. This is how God feels our even temporary and fleeting acts and thoughts of unfaithfulness. This is why God is jealous for us (Ex. 20:15; 34:14; Dt. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15)- because His undivided love for us is so exclusive. He expects us to be totally His.

Isaiah 61:11 For as the earth brings forth its bud, and as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord Yahweh will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nation
- The returned exiles, or [later] all who wished to become part of God's restored Kingdom, would be empowered by the water of the Spirit (see on Is. 44:3) to "spring up" on what had previously been dry ground (Is. 44:4). That Spirit would be articulated partly through the prophetic word (Is. 55:10 s.w. "bud" AV). This will be the restored Eden, where Yahweh had caused the vegetation to "spring up" (s.w. Gen. 2:5). This springing up or growing would be in the fulfilment of the promises to David of the establishment of the Kingdom of his seed (s.w. 2 Sam. 23:5; Ps. 132:17). But the springing up would be of a community of people, the plural seed who were "in" the singular Messianic seed. And this is now experienced through baptism into the Lord Jesus (Gal. 3:27-29). It is "righteousness" which would "spring up" (s.w. Is. 61:11); the work of the Spirit would result in the seed becoming righteous through their spiritual transformation. And yet it will also be on account of their status as "in" the "branch of righteousness" which will "spring up" (Jer. 33:15). The work of the Spirit will be, and is, to transform the plural seed in practice into what they are by status in the Messiah- righteous. And it is this power, this gift, this Divine 'causing' us to be righteous, which every spiritual person so thirsts for.