Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary

Verses 16-21 (Isaiah 59:16-21)

How sin abounded we have read, to our great amazement, in the former part of the chapter; how grace does much more abound we read in these verses. And, as sin took occasion from the commandment to become more exceedingly sinful, so grace took occasion from the transgression of the commandment to appear more exceedingly gracious. Observe,

I. Why God wrought salvation for this provoking people, notwithstanding their provocations. It was purely for his own name?s sake; because there was nothing in them either to bring it about, or to induce him to bring it about for them, no merit to deserve it, no might to effect it, he would do it himself, would be exalted in his own strength, for his own glory.

1. He took notice of their weakness and wickedness: He saw that there was no man that would do any thing for the support of the bleeding cause of religion and virtue among them, not a man that would execute judgment (Jer. 5:1), that would bestir himself in a work of reformation; those that complained of the badness of the times had not zeal and courage enough to appear and act against it; there was a universal corruption of manners, and nothing done to stem the tide; most were wicked, and those that were not so were yet weak, and durst not attempt any thing in opposition to the wickedness of the wicked. There was no intercessor, either none to intercede with God, to stand in the gap by prayer to turn away his wrath (it would have pleased him to be thus met, and he wondered that he was not), or, rather, none to interpose for the support of justice and truth, which were trampled upon and run down (Isa. 59:14), no advocate to speak a good word for those who were made a prey of because they kept their integrity, Isa. 59:15. They complained that God did not appear for them (Isa. 58:3); but God with much more reason complains that they did nothing for themselves, intimating how ready he would have been to do them good if he had found among them the least motion towards a reformation.

2. He engaged his own strength and righteousness for them. They shall be saved, notwithstanding all this; and, (1.) Because they have no strength of their own, nor any active men that will set to it in good earnest to redress the grievances either of their iniquities or of their calamities, therefore his own arm shall bring salvation to him, to his people, or to him whom he would raise up to be the deliverer, Christ, the power of God and arm of the Lord, that man of his right hand whom he made strong for himself. The work of reformation (that is the first and principal article of the salvation) shall be wrought by the immediate influences of the divine grace on men?s consciences. Since magistrates and societies for reformation fail of doing their part, one will not do justice nor the other call for it, God will let them know that he can do it without them when his time shall come thus to prepare his people for mercy, and then the work of deliverance shall be wrought by the immediate operations of the divine Providence on men?s affections and affairs. When God stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, and brought his people out of Babylon, not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord of hosts, then his own arm, which is never shortened, brought salvation. (2.) Because they have no righteousness of their own to merit these favours, and to which God might have an eye in working for them, therefore his own righteousness sustained him and bore him out in it. Divine justice, which by their sins they had armed against them, through grace appears for them. Though they can expect no favour as due to them, yet he will be just to himself, to his own purpose and promise, and covenant with his people: he will, in righteousness, punish the enemies of his people; see Deut. 9:5. Not for thy righteousness, but for the wickedness of these nations they are driven out. In our redemption by Christ, since we had no righteousness of our own to produce, on which God might proceed in favour to us, he brought in a righteousness by the merit and meditation of his own Son (it is called the righteousness which is of God by faith, Phil. 3:9), and this righteousness sustained him, and bore him out in all his favours to us, notwithstanding our provocations. He put on righteousness as a breast-plate, securing his own honour, as a breast-plate does the vitals, in all his proceedings, by the justice and equity of them; and then he put a helmet of salvation upon his head; so sure is he to effect the salvation he intends that he takes salvation itself for his helmet, which therefore must needs be impenetrable, and in which he appears very illustrious, formidable in the eyes of his enemies and amiable in the eyes of his friends. When righteousness is his coat of arms, salvation is his crest. In allusion to this, among the pieces of a Christian?s armour we find the breast-plate of righteousness, and for a helmet the hope of salvation (Eph. 6:14-17; 1 Thess. 5:8), and it is called the armour of God, because he wore it first and so fitted it for us. (3.) Because they have no spirit or zeal to do any thing for themselves, God will put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and clothe himself with zeal as a cloak; he will make his justice upon the enemies of his church and people, and his jealousy for his own glory and the honour of religion and virtue among men, to appear evident and conspicuous in the eye of the world; and in these he will show himself great, as a man shows himself in his rich attire or in the distinguishing habit of his office. If men be not zealous against sin, God will, and will take vengeance on it for all the injury it has done to his honour and his people?s welfare; and this was the business of Christ in the world, to take away sin and be revenged on it.

II. What the salvation is that shall be wrought out by the righteousness and strength of God himself.

1. There shall be a present temporal salvation wrought out for the Jews in Babylon, or elsewhere in distress and captivity. This is promised (Isa. 59:18, 19) as a type of something further. When God?s time shall come he will do his own work, though those fail that should forward it. It is here promised, (1.) That God will reckon with his enemies and will render to them according to their deeds, to the enemies of his people abroad, that have oppressed them, to the enemies of justice and truth at home, that have oppressed them, for they also are God?s enemies; and, when the day of vengeance shall have come, he will deal with both as they have deserved, according to retribution (so the word is), the law of retributions (Rev. 13:10), or according to former retributions; as he has rendered to his enemies formerly, accordingly he will now repay, fury to his adversaries, recompence to his enemies; his fury shall not exceed the rules of justice, as men?s fury commonly does. Even to the islands, that lie most remote, if they have appeared against him, he will repay recompence; for his hand shall find out all his enemies (Ps. 21:8), and his arrows reach them. Though God?s people have behaved so ill that they do not deserve to be delivered, yet his enemies behave so much worse that they do deserve to be destroyed. (2.) That, whatever attempts the enemies of God?s people may afterwards make upon them to disturb their peace, they shall be baffled and brought to nought: When the enemy shall come in like a flood, like a high spring-tide, or a land-flood, which threaten to bear down all before them without control, then the Spirit of the Lord by some secret undiscerned power shall lift up a standard against him, and so (as the margin reads it) put him to flight. He that has delivered will still deliver. When God?s people are weak and helpless, and have no standard to lift up against the invading power, God will give a banner to those that fear him (Ps. 60:4), will by his Spirit lift up a standard, which will draw multitudes together to appear on the church?s behalf. Some read it, He shall come (the name of the Lord, and his glory, before foreseen of the Messiah promised) like a straight river, the Spirit of the Lord lifting him up for an ensign. Christ by the preaching of his gospel shall cover the earth with the knowledge of God as with the waters of a flood, the Spirit of the Lord setting up Christ as a standard to the Gentiles, Isa. 11:10. (3.) That all this should redound to the glory of God and the advancement of religion in the world (Isa. 59:19): So shall they fear the name of the Lord and his glory in all nations that lie eastward or westward. The deliverance of the Jews out of captivity, and the destruction brought on their oppressors, would awaken multitudes to enquire concerning the God of Israel, and induce them to serve and worship him and enlist themselves under the standard which the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up. God?s appearances for his church shall occasion the accession of many to it. This had its full accomplishment in gospel times, when many came from the east and west, to fill up the places of the children of the kingdom that were cast out, when there were set up eastern and western churches, Matt. 8:11.

2. There shall be a more glorious salvation wrought out by the Messiah in the fulness of time, which salvation all the prophets, upon all occasions, had in view. We have here the two great promises relating to that salvation:?

(1.) That the Son of God shall come to us to be our Redeemer (Isa. 59:20): Thy Redeemer shall come; it is applied to Christ, Rom. 9:26. There shall come the deliverer. The coming of Christ as the Redeemer is the summary of all the promises both of the Old and New Testament, and this was the redemption in Jerusalem which the believing Jews looked for, Luke 2:38. Christ is our Goöl, our next kinsman, that redeems both the person and the estate of the poor debtor. Observe, [1.] The place where this Redeemer shall appear: He shall come to Zion, for there, on that holy hill, the Lord would set him up as his King, Ps. 2:6. In Zion the chief corner-stone was to be laid, 1 Pet. 2:6. He came to his temple there, Mal. 3:1. There salvation was to be placed (Isa. 46:13), for thence the law was to go forth, Isa. 2:3. Zion was a type of the gospel church, for which the Redeemer acts in all his appearances: The Redeemer shall come for the sake of Zion; so the LXX. reads it. [2.] The persons that shall have the comfort of the Redeemer?s coming, that shall then lift up their heads, knowing that their redemption draws nigh. He shall come to those that turn from the ungodliness in Jacob, to those that are in Jacob, to the praying seed of Jacob, in answer to their prayers; yet not to all that are in Jacob, that are within the pale of the visible church, but to those only that turn from transgression, that repent, and reform, and forsake those sins which Christ came to redeem them from. The sinners in Zion will fare never the better for the Redeemer?s coming to Zion if they go on still in their trespasses.

(2.) That the Spirit of God shall come to us to be our sanctifier, Isa. 59:21. In the Redeemer there was a new covenant made with us a covenant of promises; and this is the great and comprehensive promise of that covenant, that God will give and continue his word and Spirit to his church and people throughout all generations. God?s giving the Spirit to those that ask him includes the giving of them all good things, Luke 11:13; Matt. 7:11. This covenant is here said to be made with them, that is, with those that turn from transgression; for those that cease to do evil shall be taught to do well. But the promise is made to a single person?My Spirit that is upon thee, being directed either, [1.] To Christ as the head of the church, who received that he might give. The Spirit promised to the church was first upon him, and from his head that precious ointment descended to the skirts of his garments; and the word of the gospel was first put into his mouth; for it began to be spoken by the Lord. And all believers are his seed, in whom he prolongs his days, Isa. 53:10. Or, [2.] To the church; and so it is a promise of the continuance and perpetuity of the church in the world to the end of time, parallel to those promises that the throne and seed of Christ shall endure for ever, Ps. 89:29, 36; Ps. 22:30. Observe, First, How the church shall be kept up, in a succession, as the world of mankind is kept up, by the seed and the seed?s seed. As one generation passes away another generation shall come. Instead of the fathers shall be the children. Secondly, How long it shall be kept up?henceforth and for ever, always, even unto the end of the world; for, the world being left to stand for the sake of the church, we may be sure that as long as it does stand Christ will have a church in it, though no always visible. Thirdly, By what means it shall be kept up; by the constant residence of the word and Spirit in it. 1. The Spirit that was upon Christ shall always continue in the hearts of the faithful; there shall be some in every age on whom he shall work, and in whom he shall dwell, and thus the Comforter shall abide with the church for ever, John 14:16. 2. The word of Christ shall always continue in the mouths of the faithful; there shall be some in every age who, believing with the heart unto righteousness, shall with the tongue make confession unto salvation. The word shall never depart out of the mouth of the church; for there shall still be a seed to speak Christ?s holy language and profess his holy religion. Observe, The Spirit and the word go together, and by them the church is kept up. For the word in the mouths of our ministers, nay, the word in our own mouths, will not profit us, unless the Spirit work with the word, and give us an understanding. But the Spirit does his work by the word and in concurrence with it; and whatever is pretended to be a dictate of the Spirit must be tried by the scriptures. On these foundations the church is built, stands firmly, and shall stand for ever, Christ himself being the chief corner-stone.

- Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary