Isaiah 59. The Decay and Recovery of a Society.
Key Words: Separation and sin. Separation expressed by modern thinkers.
The text of Isa. 59 is a model study on the interaction between God and a nation. It illustrates God's relationship to human beings in society and how a people can be redeemed. The chapter is divided into four parts by four pronouns: you, they, we, He.
59:1–3 God is not distant or helpless. The statement implies that the people have prayed for help from Him and have gotten nowhere. God refuses to assist the society in sin. Sin has made a separation between Him and His people. The sense of separation is no accident; it is caused by sin. "Your" sins include violence, bad talk and lies.
59:4–8 The pronoun "they" shows that the people know that sin is in their society. They point the finger at others. They bring unjust, frivolous suits with empty pleas. They are pregnant with mischief, hatching poison. Their projects are traps like a spider's web, unsubstantial, and sticky. The next day there is nothing left. Violence, destruction, injustice, warring and desolation are their way of life.
Much that is called entertainment--burlesque, cheap books and movies, alcohol, gambling, and prostitution, leave one with nothing. The Mafia is an example of organized crime that leaves people with nothing. It uses illegal activities for its support enforced by bribery, extortion and murder. Decades of brutality from competing warlords have left Afghanistan in misery. Angola, Somalia, Sierra Leone, and Liberia are other examples of self-destructive societies.
59:9–11 The pronoun "we" shows that the people now recognize that the sin is in themselves. We feel bad, groping about in the dark, moaning and groaning. Justice and salvation are far away from us. There are no solutions to our problems.
59:12–15 The second part of the "we" section is confession. The people address themselves to God: our sins, our transgressions, denying the Lord, turning away from following God. We recognize that trying to escape from the web of evil puts us in jeopardy, becoming an enemy in a corrupt society.
59:15–19 Now the pronoun changes again: "He", the LORD, was displeased, but the repentance of the people now enables Him. The separation is reversed. His Arm, the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation, fury as a mantle, lead to vengeance on His adversaries.
There seems to be a disconnect between saving a repentant society, and God attacking the other nations. It probably refers to Christ's vengeance on His adversaries at the Second Coming, Advent II.
59:20–21 There is promise of a new covenant that is permanent from the Redeemer who will come to Zion, part of Christ's Advent I.
Separation is a crucial concept in human psychology. Separation of the baby from the mother is a gradual process with crisis points: the moment of birth; the awareness of differentness from the mother at 10–12 months (peek-a-boo games); the first day of school at 5; leaving the home at 18.
Separation is a major problem in some families where early separations occur. A child who loses a mother or father before the age of 16 has special needs and may grieve for years. The children of missionaries are now being given special attention by mission boards that did not understand how early separation from their parents affected their lives.
Separation is the real experience of death. We are separated from friends, from familiar surroundings, from all the things that made us humans. In psychological experiments humans cannot tolerate total isolation from sight and sound (sensory deprivation) for more than a few minutes without becoming disoriented. Life is in our relatedness.
The ultimate separation is from God. It is the Second Death. (Rev.20:14). People who are estranged from God are called "dead" already. (Eph.2:1)
Does separation come before or after sin? If we study Eve's temptation, she became separated from God before the sin, allowing the Serpent access to her mind, doubting God's good intentions and overstating His rule. (Gen.3:3). She and Adam were further separated from God by hiding from Him (Gen.3:8) and when they were confronted, they became separated from each other. Finally they were exiled from Paradise. If we are aware that distancing ourselves from God precedes even temptation, we may be better able to prevent sin.
Modern thinkers are articulate about their separation from God.
"The ancient covenant is in pieces; man at last knows that he is alone in the unfeeling immensity of the universe out of which he emerged only by chance." (Jacques Monod, in Christian Faith and Other Faiths; S.Neill;.IVP,’84; p.208)
"It is not an exaggeration to say that today man experiences his present situation in terms of disruption, conflict, self-destruction, meaninglessness and despair in all realms of life." (P.Tillich, Op.Cit. p.220)
"We feel that we actual men have suddenly been left alone on the earth....Any remains of the traditional spirit have evaporated. Models, norms, standards are no use to us. We have to solve our problems without any active collaboration of the past." (O.y.Gasset, Op.Cit p.222)
"You understand; this world---what we call this world, the world of men, at one time or another it must have had a heart, but now you get the impression that this heart is no longer beating." (G.Marcel, Op.Cit. p.234)
"Where is God gone? I mean to tell you. We have killed him, you and I! We are his murderers.... Is not the magnitude of this deed too great for us? Shall we not ourselves have to become God merely to seem worthy of it?" (F.Nietzsche, Op.Cit. p.238)
Thoughtful non-Christians are aware that they are separated from God. Their intellectual basis is often evolution, the chance emergence and development of life. However, people also choose to be separated from God, so that they can do as they please. As Sartre said, If God exists, then I am not free.
America refused God, curiously, after WWII, when the conflict between Good and Evil was obvious, and when miraculous victories were recorded. One historian wrote that even the medical profession became officially agnostic in the’50's.
Our task is to point the lost ones back to the Father's House.