I don’t know if you have thought about this or not, but you’re hardwired for hope. You don’t live by instinct. Every decision you make is fueled by and motivated by hope. Your happiest moments are about hope fulfilled and your saddest moments are about hope dashed. You’re always hoping.
Isaiah 59 is a brilliant hope passage because it’s written in a dark moment. The children of Israel had been in captivity in Babylon, only to return to a Jerusalem in shambles. There were no city walls, the temple had been destroyed, and the government infrastructure was shattered. It was a fundamental breakdown of society, but into that darkness comes this discussion of hope found in Isaiah 59.
If this passage is all about hope, we need to define it. There are four important elements.
- First: hope is an object and an expectation. You’re hoping in something and asking that something to deliver.
- Second: the doorway to hope is hopelessness. The only way you will ever find true hope is to give up on all your false hopes.
- Third: hope, to be reliable, must fix what is broken. Hope must successfully address the biggest dilemmas of our existence, otherwise it isn’t worth hoping in.
- Fourth: hope is a Person, and his name is Jesus. Hope is not a situation; hope is not a location; hope is not an experience. Hope is a Person.
Return to the passage. Isaiah 59 divides up into four sections.
The first section (verse 1) begins with a false charge against God by Israel. The second section (2-8) is a return accusation by God against his people. The third section (9-15) contains a very important confession by God’s children. The fourth and final section (16-20) describes how God will respond to the confession.
Verse 1 - “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear.” God, through the prophet, is answering a charge that Israel is making against him. They were a suffering people, and in the middle of the difficulty, they began to question God. They questioned his power (is his hand too short) and they questioned his goodness (does he not hear our cries).
We are much like the Israelites. When life disappoints us in some way, and the comfort and ease that we seek is removed, it’s very tempting for us to bring God into the court of our judgement and question his faithfulness. But often, the grace of God comes to us in uncomfortable forms. God allows difficulty to enter our door, not because he’s too weak to help or because he doesn’t hear our cries, but because we need personal heart transformation. Just like the Israelites, we want the grace of relief and the grace of release, but what we need is the grace of refinement.
God responds to the misplaced charge with a divine accusation beginning in verse 2. “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear...". The accusation continues through verse 8, and it reveals the real problem.
You and I like to think that our deepest problems in life are outside us, not inside us. We like to blame circumstances, locations, or relationships. We like to think that we’re one of the good guys, and sure, while we might make a few mistakes along the way, other people and other things are ultimately to blame.
Isn’t that why people love to protest? You’ll never find someone in a protest carrying a sign that says, “I’m the problem” with an arrow pointing down. We love to protest because we can point the finger and accuse someone else for our problems. This is what Israel did; they tried to blame God and their circumstances, but God was quick to describe what the real problem was - their heart.
Think with me for a moment. There’s no such thing as a bad marriage. The institution of marriage is completely fine. Marriages turn sour because you have two people involved. The same goes for a bad neighborhood. That neighborhood would have nothing bad in it if you removed all the bad people. There’s no such thing as a corrupt government. Governments are corrupted by corrupt politicians.
You and I can’t just blame other people. We can’t just blame our circumstances. Of course, we will be sinned against and we will live under harsh circumstances, but our biggest problem is our heart. That’s the accusation God made, and when God accuses, we better listen.
This divine accusation is followed by a confession beginning in verse 9. “Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.” The confession continues through verse 15, with Israel admitting to their sin. Verse 12 is the apex - “For our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities.”
Israel couldn’t blame God; they couldn’t blame the Babylonians or any other group; they couldn’t blame their harsh circumstances. They were their biggest problem. They also couldn’t find hope in anyone else, because all of humanity suffered from the same condition. Every location and situation was populated by these people. Israel was hopeless.
But this hopelessness was the best thing for them to experience. Remember the second element of hope: the doorway to hope is hopelessness.
Just like Israel, you and I need to abandon all our false hopes - it won’t be found there. Biblically, it makes no sense to find hope in the people in places of this world, but we do it all the time. We say, “If only I had _________, I would be happy” or “If only ______ didn’t happen, I would be content.” Whatever fills in that blank is where you’re searching for hope. Once Israel realized that they were their biggest problem, and that all horizontal hopes would fail them, they humbly confessed and ran to the only source of hope that could save.
Finally, after the accusation and confession, the Lord reveals his plan of salvation. Beginning with second half of verse 15: “The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation.” In light of the disaster and rebellion, God didn’t turn his back on his children. Instead, he revealed his plan of salvation and redemption.
These final verses are a prediction of Christ, sent from heaven to earth and armed with Justice and Grace.
Verses 17-19 describe this Justice. God was going to deal with evil. This passage makes it very clear that this is a God who is perfectly committed to justice. This should terrify us, but it should also comfort us. You wouldn’t want to live in a world where injustice was permitted to reign. There’s comfort in knowing that the King of the universe is fully committed to repaying every evil act.
But Christ isn’t just armed with justice; he comes armed with Grace. The final two verses of Isaiah 59 reveal the redeeming grace of God: “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.” To redeem means to buy something back.
By his life, by his death, and by his resurrection, the righteousness of Christ has been given to your account. You can stand before a holy God as if you never sinned, unafraid of his wrath, and have him wrap his arms of acceptance around you and invite you into a personal relationship with him. Because of Christ, your sin longer separates you from your Lord.
That’s the Christmas story. Christmas is about hope coming. That’s why the angels sang those glorious songs. That’s why the shepherds were blown away. That’s why the wise men came to worship. Hope had come, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This Advent season, don’t search for hope in your situations or circumstances or relationships. Hope will never be found horizontally. Hope has already come, and his name is Jesus.