Isaiah 62, "Establishing the Work of His Hands"
If you could build something that would last forever, what would you build? Nothing in this world seems to last, so it’s tempting to think that any work we do to seek good in this world could just be a waste. Three voices speak in our passage today to show us the way God is working in our world to establish His eternal kingdom as a blessing to all people. He works through Jesus the Messiah and He works through us to establish the New Jerusalem.
Messiah says, “Be Transformed”
Messiah says, “Be Transformed”
The sufferings of Messiah have established righteousness and salvation. Isaiah 53:11
Isaiah 53:11 (ESV)
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
Isaiah 61:10 (ESV)
for [the LORD God] has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
The Messiah acts as our High Priest. And the offering He sacrificed was Himself. He bore our sins so that we might bear His righteousness.
He addresses His message to Jerusalem. This is the city of God. But obviously a city is only as righteous as the people in it. So the message is to the people of Jerusalem, those that belong to the kingdom of God.
Isaiah 62:1 (ESV)
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch.
This is His message. He will not remain still until He has made the righteousness and salvation of the people of God shine out among the nations. The people of God who had rejected God’s covenant and experienced His wrath for their idolatry are being given a new identity. And Messiah wants everyone to know.
Under the great prophet and leader Moses, God had established a covenant with the people of Israel. In the ancient world, treaties or covenants included a section of blessings and curses that were conditioned upon each party keeping their part of the covenant. There were different kinds of covenants. Some were treaties between kings. Some were business contracts. When you read the book of Exodus, you see the covenant God makes with Israel through Moses is presented as a marriage covenant. God is “marrying” Isreal at Mount Sinai.
The conditions were that if the people would obey the voice of Yahweh and keep His instructions, in other words, live in His righteousness, He would provide a fruitful life in the promised land. And if they did not listen to His voice and keep those instructions, they would be cursed.
Part of that curse was handing over the fruitful blessings of Israel to their enemies.
Deuteronomy 28:30 (ESV)
You shall betroth a wife, but another man shall ravish her. You shall build a house, but you shall not dwell in it. You shall plant a vineyard, but you shall not enjoy its fruit.
Deuteronomy 28:32 (ESV)
Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and fail with longing for them all day long, but you shall be helpless.
Their hard work would not be established and their marriages and families would be torn apart. By Isaiah’s time, Israel had not kept their vows, so they were experiencing the curses of their covenant with God. They would be sent into exile. It was like a divorce.
So, here in Isaiah 62, Messiah pronounces a significant transformation. After His sufferings bring salvation and righteousness, He tells Israel in verse 4 that the people will no more be called “Forsaken”, but “Delightful to Me”. The people are being transformed from cursed to a “crown of beauty” that the LORD God will show off to all the neighbors (verse 3). But essentially, Israel would hear this as a pronouncement that the curse is lifted.
How many of us Red Sox fans remember how it felt when the “Curse of the Bambino” was lifted in 2004? Anthony Castrovince on mlb.com uses the biblical background of treaties and curses when he explains the history of the curse that kept the Red Sox from winning the world series for 86 years. The “treaty” was the trade that the Red Sox made to send Babe Ruth to the Yankees because the Bambino wanted to double his $27,000 salary. The Red Sox went from a World Series power house to a World Series disappointment.
So, in 2004, Castrovince says, “When the Red Sox went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals for their first World Series title in 86 years, the player who made the final out of the Series -- Cards shortstop Edgar Renteria -- wore No. 3. Ruth’s number. “For Bostonians who had suffered all too many dark days and dim years, the connection could not be considered coincidental. It could only have been sent from a god -- or Bambino -- above.”
That feeling at the end of a make-believe curse is pretty short lived for a relatively small number of people. The curse of death for our sin affects all of us. It has destroyed countless lives for all of time. This chapter is the pronouncement that the curse is ended. The Messiah has provided righteousness for the sinner, salvation for the condemned. The end of the curse means transformed lives for you and me.
God is transforming His people into a beautiful display of glory for all the nations to see. He delights in them and rejoices over them. God loves sinners. When a sinner repents of their sin and entrusts their life to Jesus the Messiah, it is God’s delight to make us a visible demonstration to others around us of His transforming salvation.
When God saves us, He doesn’t just save us from something, but to something as well. He has some work for us to do. As we have seen in previous chapters, He is transforming His people into partners who will rebuild His kingdom by planting seeds of the gospel and working for justice and righteousness in a dark world. But because none of that work bears fruit unless God is in it, there is another work He calls His people to do.
We say, “Establish”
We say, “Establish”
The Messiah makes His people into “watchmen”. They are standing on the walls of Jerusalem on guard duty. But instead of watching for an enemy, they are watching for the LORD. Just like the Messiah will not “be silent”, or be still, Jerusalem filled with the saved righteous will keep a watch day and night to pray to God.
Isaiah 62:6–7 (ESV)
On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent.
You who put the Lord in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth.
Do you pray like this? Take no rest and give God no rest until He does the work He promised to do. Pray as if He won’t do the work unless we ask. This seems a bit excessive. If God has promised to do something, and He always keeps His promises, why pray at all?
In this case, He has promised to establish His kingdom, to establish Jerusalem. And now that Jesus has come, He has suffered on the cross for the sin of the world, He has risen to new life to provide righteousness for sinners, He is already at work establishing the kingdom of God in the lives of millions of people. Why should we pray without ceasing? It seems like a lot of energy spent on something that doesn’t need our effort.
The answer can be seen in two examples in the Bible. The saints of God pray that God would work in some way, and in the process, God transforms them into the answer to their own prayer. In Psalm 90, Moses prays essentially that God is eternal and all-powerful, man is fragile, and God is going to do what He wants to do. Then He finishes his prayer this way,
Psalm 90:16–17 (ESV)
Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!
God has work that He will do, and as we experience His favor, we find ourselves doing the same work. We just ask that He would establish it.
Or Jesus tells His disciples to
Matthew 9:37 (ESV)
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
Matthew 9:38 (ESV)
therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Matthew 10:1 (ESV)
And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.
Matthew 10:5 (ESV)
These twelve Jesus sent out,
The prayers became the workers. They would do the work they prayed for God to establish.
Prayer is the renewal of our covenant vows with the LORD God. He is at work in our world establishing His kingdom. When we pray, we align our will with His will and commune with the Holy Spirit who bears fruit in our lives.
Isaiah goes on to promise that when we pray like God won’t work if we don’t ask, He will establish the blessings of the covenant. The language of verses 8-9 is the removal of the curse and the renewal of the covenant blessings from Moses:
Isaiah 62:8–9 (ESV)
The Lord has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm:
“I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink your wine for which you have labored;
but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the Lord, and those who gather it shall drink it in the courts of my sanctuary.”
(see Deuteronomy 28)
Now the people of God can work hard establishing God’s kingdom on earth without fear of wasted effort. For those of us who have entered the new covenant established in Jesus Christ, we pray in hope that everything we ask God to do to establish His kingdom will result in fruitful gospel ministry for us and He will establish the work of our hands in some way.
Think about the person you have been serving in Jesus’ name. You care for them as a visible demonstration of the love God has shown them in Christ. You share the good news of Jesus with them. Sometimes it seems to fall flat or it is rejected, or they misrepresent you or mistreat you despite your labor of love. So you pray.
You pray that God would open their eyes to the good news. As you pray, God renews His covenant in your heart. He reminds you of the cross of Christ and His love for enemies. He reminds you of the resurrection of Jesus and His power to give life to those who are dead in their trespasses and sins. He reminds you that if He has done that for you, He can do that for anyone. And so, He transforms your heart from fearful and doubting to more firmly resolved to continue working in the life of that person for His sake. And you pray that God will establish that work. And God answers...
The LORD says, “Be Established”
The LORD says, “Be Established”
The final voice is the LORD confirming that He has, indeed, established His work in Messiah.
Verses 10-12 essentially say, keep building Jerusalem, invite the peoples to come in, salvation comes with Messiah, and He establishes His people.
Isaiah 62:12 (ESV)
And they shall be called The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.
As we pray and work to establish the gospel in our world, the Messiah is establishing us, as the holy, redeemed people of the LORD, to whom those who seek God in truth will come to find Him. The word, “Sought Out” has the overtones of investigation. When others see the transformation God does in your life through Jesus, others will want to know about that.
And God has done His work of salvation and righteousness in Jesus Christ.
Titus 2:13–14 (ESV)
Jesus Christ...gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
So as we do good works for the sake of the gospel, we are partnering with God in building His kingdom. Isaiah’s vision is the kingdom of God established as a city, a new Jerusalem, filled with the fruitful work of sinners transformed into saints. The city will be like a garden that draws in the peoples of the world to investigate God’s gracious work. As the saints pray and work, God will establish it.
Think about all the kingdoms of this world that have risen and fallen. During the time of Jesus, no one could imagine the Roman Empire would ever fall. They established city after city. One after another fell. Some were buried under sand for centuries until archaeologists dug them up in the 20th century. One day America will fall, but when you come into the kingdom of God through faith in Jesus Christ,
Hebrews 12:22–24 (ESV)
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,
and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,
and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Hebrews 12:28–29 (ESV)
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
How is God transforming your life through the work of Jesus Christ? Are you experiencing salvation and righteousness in His death and resurrection. Are you living in the freedom from the lifted curse of sin and death? Are you partnering with Him in gospel work? Where are you seeing Him bear fruit in and through your life, fruit that will last?
Here is one more opportunity to renew the covenant God has established in Jesus Christ. In this case, it is not conditioned on your faithfulness or obedience. God has established this covenant in the sufferings of Jesus the Messiah. You and I receive the blessings by uniting ourselves to Him by faith.