Isaiah (Part 71): Offending God (Ch 59:15b-21)
God was offended. Isaiah has just explained to his people that the prophecy he had just revealed over the last several chapters would befall the Jews because (1) although they had followed the Law, they did not care to look to God as Caregiver and (2) they didn’t concern themselves even with care for each other. God saw this condition—that there was no justice (a legal term meaning that they were failing in their covenant obligation), and he was offended. This offense was not as we may understand taking offense simply if our pride has been injured. The Hebrew literally says that the injustice “was evil in his eyes.” Translating this as offense is legitimate because it is not simply that God recognized evil, but rather that this evil was performed by people who were in covenant relationship with him, who were breaking their obligation to this agreement with him. This then was truly an offense against their covenant agreement and therefore an offense against him.
Verse 16 tells us that God was amazed. This may seem to be a strange expression for God. Doesn’t God know everything? Doesn’t he know the end from the beginning? Doesn’t God know us from the womb? Did God not expect that people would do wrong? Was he caught off guard? Interestingly, there is a school of thought that would answer yes. Open theists argue that it is not that God is limited but rather that the future is simply unknowable because it hasn’t yet occurred. God knows everything that exists. But the future is not something that exists, and therefore it is incoherent to think that someone—even God—could know it. Open theists do seem to have a good point. Traditional theologians have argued that God exists outside time, and therefore can actually see the end from the beginning, thus knowing the future. But even that statement cannot really be understood as meaningful. Since it is impossible for us to even imagine ourselves outside the constraint of time, how can we simply make up rules for that condition to say it is then possible to look into time from that outside perspective and see future events? We can’t know that! We’re just spewing plausible sounding explanations when we actually have no idea how that would work.
I believe I can accept the open theist’s idea that the nonexistent future is unknowable as one can know the present or past. However, I also believe the open theists actually limit God in what he does know. Here’s an example. I know my wife very well. I know what she likes and dislikes. I know what makes her happy or sad, excited or angry. If some circumstances occurred, I could pretty much guess with a high degree of accuracy what those influences would cause her to do. God knows each of us not just that well, not even really, really well. God knows us infinitely well. He knows infinitely well all the circumstances, influences, and strong and weak factors that touch our hearts and minds. He knows the almost infinite number of ways that we may react. He knows the combination of influences that have shaped our thoughts ever since we were first capable of thinking. Based on this infinite knowledge, God can predict with infinite success how we will respond among an infinite number of possibilities to an infinite number of factors all occurring at the same time. Thus, although God doesn’t see the future like watching a movie from his seat outside time, he does know the future based on his infinite knowledge of all factors that drive the past and present into the future.
Now, back to the verse. Isaiah writes that God is amazed. If God knows the future—expects exactly what then occurs, why would he be amazed? Consider the father of a newborn daughter. That father may, while holding his child, imagine what will occur in the years to come. He may imagine his daughter at three years old running to him, throwing her arms around his neck, and saying, “I love you.” It is a sweet thought, and one totally to be expected as one day coming true. When that day comes and that daughter is holding her father telling him she loves him, does the father feel simply complacent about it because, after all, he knew this would happen; he had already thought about it before. Of course not! His thrill is not diminished because he knew it this would occur! Relatives wait at airports for loved ones coming home, knowing they will embrace and cry for joy. Does that foreknowledge make the reunion less sweet or emotional? God rejoices in our joy with him. And his heart hurts in our sin.
The Jews had sinned. They broke their covenant with God. He was offended. And he was amazed and astonished, with all the sorrow and discouragement we can imagine from those words, that they would do such a thing. And yet, God did not turn away. Verse 16 says that he saw no man to intercede, and so God became that man.
God is Caregiver; that’s his obligation to the covenant. And so we see in verses 16 and 17 the chiastic placement of the words salvation and righteousness to emphasize his rescue and faithfulness. Notice also in 17 and 18 that judgment and rescue come together just as in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10.
Isaiah 59 closes with a message from God. In it God says that his Spirit is on “you” and his words were put in “your” mouth. Who is God talking to? We could surmise it to be Isaiah because Isaiah did receive this message from God. But the last part of the verse says that these words would be in “your” children’s mouths as well. I think it is more likely that God is here speaking to the Messiah Servant by whom God rescued. The emphasis on the Word being in his mouth certainly fits. And that Messiah Servant did have children born to him in the transformation from Adam’s race to God’s.