Motyer, J. Alec. The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993. “Isaiah 56-66: The Book of the Anointed Conqueror” “The Ideal and the Actual: The Needs and Sins of the Lord’s People (56:1-59:13).” Loc. 13140-13888.
Motyer reads Isaiah 56:1-59:13 as a contrast. The ideal is a harmonious people, gathered around the world, centered on God’s Sabbath rest. Actual life is far different. The actuality is a mockery of God’s ideal (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13145).
Isaiah 56:1-8 depicts Judah as an international leader which draws the nations together (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13150). Verses 1-2 show that in some way God’s people receive his blessings (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13167). Those who do justice can live in some sort of righteousness. The Sabbath is seen as a prime indicator of righteousness (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13192). The customs and rituals of the society acted as the glue which would unity people.
The righteous work of God’s people blesses all sorts of people. In Isaiah 56:3-7 this includes the “foreigner” and the “eunuch.” While the Old Testament describes a unique people of God with a pure identity, Motyer points out that outsiders were welcome to join God’s people (Deut. 23:3ff; Ex. 12:48-49) (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13213). The people remain distinctly God’s people. That does not require that they were uniform to begin with. In verses 4-6 the people are entering into God’s covenant (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13228). Their decision was not simply to join God’s people. Verse six is plain that they join God. It has a clear personal element (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13249). Isaiah 56:8 then describes God’s gathered people as a blessing.
As Motyer has observed, the ideal is not the same as the reality. In 56:9-57:21 the text speaks of self-serving leadership and of people who have forgotten the Lord (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13269). The leaders are criticized not because of their policy, but due to their moral character (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13273). In this text it is impossible to be privately corrupt and publicly good. These leaders do not even know that they are unqualified. They are lazy and not caring for others (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13303). Chapter 57 then speaks of the more popular culture. The people are living in a world which begs for God’s rescue (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13324). Motyer considers literary theories which would separate this passage and assign it to a different and later author. He finds it to belong best to the overall, unified text (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13346).
At the start of Isaiah 57 the righteous and merciful people are perishing. Motyer observes that the text in verse 2 shows they are actually escaping from harsh treatment (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13366). The idea of departure from a covenant with God is described as either adultery or prostitution (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13393). The marks of the pagan fertility cults can be seen in a description of prostitution. The Scripture is clear in its condemnation of the naturalistic fertility cults. Because of the religious defection the people should expect a divine response (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13418). This is promised in verse 6. Trying to hold to both God and the idols is deadly (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13443). Verses 12 and following state clearly that good works will not cancel lack of faithfulness (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13483).
Iaiah 57:15 and following again describs God’s activity to draw his people together (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13517). Those who have been crushed by their world are visited by God. He revives them. He lifts them up to the place he would use them (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13530). This work of God is not in any way deserved by the people. It is entirely according to his mercy (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13552). God enables sorrow and repentance in his people. Each individual is called.
Isaiah 58:1-59:13 then turns to the idea of sin being shown and confessed. Those who are finding no peace in their reigious faith are confronted with their motives (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13592). God’s people do good works not to change God but to care for his created order, including their neighbors. Observances for selfish purposes are vain (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13631). The point of fasting, prayer, and giving is the good of our neighbor. The epitome of this mercy is a Sabbath, a day of rest (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13744). We are therefore back to the idea expressed at the start of this segment. The Sabbath is central to righteousness. God’s people, departing from the faith, are in need of confession, forgiveness, and deliverance (Motyer 1993, Loc. 13842).