The Gospel in Isaiah 59

Dear Congregation of Jesus Christ

On the last Sunday of 2012 I preached from Isaiah 59 emphasizing the sinfulness and failure of humans (Israel) to keep God’s covenant:

Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but 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. (Isaiah 59:1-2 ESV)

I also preached about his sending his Son, “wrapped in zeal as a cloak,” dressed for battle to save us and pointed out that this is parallel to the armor Christ offers to each Christian in Ephesians 6.

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, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. (Isaiah 59:15-17 ESV)

At the end of this beautiful passage I referred to the future blessings which ensue when God’s people follow in his covenant in the gracious covenant-keeping work of Christ for us from the final verse:

v. 21 “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.”

Burk Parsons continues the same teaching in the Tabletalk article quoted below for January 8, 2013.

Covenant Blessings

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit” (vv. 3–4).

- Leviticus 26:1-13

God’s covenants clearly have conditions, as we have seen over the past few days. The question before us now, however, is what happens when these conditions are met and what happens when they are not met? The answer is that meeting the conditions perfectly leads to eternal life, and, in the final analysis, we can only do this by trusting in Christ Jesus alone, who alone has kept the covenant perfectly (2 Cor. 5:21).

Although meeting the covenant conditions leads ultimately to eternal life—via the faith-alone imputation of the merit of Christ, the perfect covenant-keeper—there are also earthly blessings for keeping covenant that anticipate the life of the world to come. This is particularly evident under the Mosaic covenant, which was the foundational covenant for the prophets’ ministry. In fact, the blessings that the prophets announced to ancient Israel were the blessings promised to those who kept the Mosaic law. These blessings are revealed most clearly in Leviticus 26:1–13 and Deuteronomy 28:1–14.

The two lists differ slightly, but the teaching of both texts is the same. God promised the Israelites that if they were to keep the covenant, they would experience food harvests so great that they would be unable to gather everything in before it was time to sow the seed once more (Lev. 26:3–5). Faithful Israel would enjoy peace, victory over her enemies, and fruitfulness in the womb (vv. 6–10). The blessings build to the crescendo of the greatest covenant benefit of all—the presence of God Himself with His people (vv. 11–13).

When the prophets announced blessings to Israelites who persevered in covenant obedience or returned to the Lord after grossly breaking His law, they promised the very blessings we have just listed. Jeremiah 23:1–4, for example, promises the faithful remnant of Israel that it will experience great fruitfulness. Ezekiel 36:22–32 looks forward to the Spirit of God dwelling within the hearts of His children.

Ancient Israel was not to look at keeping God’s covenant as a means to earn their salvation. Thus, for the old covenant people, faithfulness did not mean perfect obedience, which is impossible for sinners. They were to strive to obey, repent when they failed, and look for the Messiah to earn salvation for them by His following the law perfectly (Gen. 3:14–15; Lev. 18:5; Deut. 18:15). But as they conformed, generally speaking, to God’s law, they enjoyed a foretaste of eternal life in the new heaven and earth.

Coram Deo

The book of Job and other portions of Scripture warn us about making a strict one-to-one correlation between the blessings or trials we receive and our obedience to God. Nevertheless, we can expect the Lord to show His favor to us when we keep His covenant and seek to obey His Word. We do this not to earn our redemption but to thank Him for saving us from our sin. Are you striving to obey the Lord and receive His blessing?

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 4:1
Isaiah 55
Matthew 19:26–30
Romans 5:12–21