Tuesdays are for the Old Testament
Luther, Martin, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, translated by Herbert J.A. Bowman) Luther’s Works, Vol. 17, Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 40-66.St. Louis: Concordia, 1972. Logos Electronic Edition.
“Isaiah Chapter 57” pp. 268-281.
Isaiah 56 left us with people living in their own greed. Chapter 57 continues with some of the most natural outcomes. In verse 1, when the righteous die, nobody is concerned. Those who are arrogant in their faithless lives are not concerned about the destruction of godly people. However, in verses 1-2, we read that God is concerned. He gathers his people to himself, then will bring about the destruction of the ungodly (LW 17, 268). Some rest in God, the others simply rest in their beds.
Luther sees verse 3 as the actual beginning of the chapter. There is a verbal shift. From this point on, God addresses the unrighteous (LW 17, 269). There is a calamity on the horizon. The righteous will be taken away. The influence of good will not be protecting the world. Luther contrasts the rebukes of this chapter with reviling others. “Away with those who accuse us of being revilers. We justly reprove ungodliness. It is not reviling, because reviling does not take place unless it is done by one who has no right to do it. So it is a sin for a private individual to kill, but God and judges are not murderers. So also curses and revilings are neither revilings nor curses, because it is not I who is doing it but the ministry of the Word, since the Word was established for this person. Just as taking a man’s life is forbidden to private individuals, so reviling is forbidden to private individuals” (LW 17, 269). Here Luther distinguishes between what one does as a private citizen and what the role in a more public vocation. The goal of the rebuke is correction, and it is correction issued by someone with adequate reason and authority (LW 17, 270).
The unbelieving people, who have inclined themselves to mocking, adultery, and idolatry, are addressed here (LW 17, 271). The prophet identifies the inclinations, played out in sexual immorality and killing of children (LW 17, 272). The crux of the issue is holding affection where it is not due. Verse 6 speaks to giving offerings to empty stream beds. These will never reconcile God and humans. Departure from faithfulness to God is equated with adultery, the bed as a house of worship, but directed not to God, but to one’s self. Luther ties this very clearly to disregarding “the First Commandment, according to which you are to trust in God alone, and then undertake these works by which you know that you are obeying God, but do not put your trust in that, and flee from self-chosen ones” (LW 17, 273). The outcome is a credulous attitude.
Verse 9 moves to yet another level of distrust in God. At this point, the people seek out secular help rather than any kind of religious faith. This is eventually damaging. “To make use of creatures is not forbidden, but to put confidence in them is extremely destructive. . . I must make use of men, but so that I put confidence not in him but rather in God (LW 17, 274). Again, the issue is not having a secular authority. It is depending on the things of this world rather than the things of God. Those who have forgotten God finally have nothing to hold to but their own ideas. In verses 12 and following, God promises that he will tell of the people’s righteousness. If people wish to depend on themselves, eventually he lets them do so, to their own great harm (LW 17, 276). They will be carried away like dust.
Isaiah 57 turns around again at the end of verse 13. The one who trusts in God has an inheritance, according to all God’s promises to his people (LW 17, 277). Verse 14 has a metaphor of road building. Luther identifies it as the need of a preacher to clear roadblocks by confronting sin. Once this is done, in verse 15, God’s word of comfort and Gospel is brought to bear. God reasons in this passage that he has brought calamity rightly. However, those who are sorrowful and turn to God in hope receive consolation. Luther emphasizes the need for God to confront evildoers. Many will be unresponsive, but some will hear (LW 17, 278). Those who trust their hearts will endure God’s wrath. Those who trust God will receive his blessing. Luther does observe that Scripture uniformly speaks of man’s own heart as that which is devoid of God’s Word (LW 17, 279). It is held in contrast to trusting God’s Word. By trust in God’s Word there is peace and security, while trusting in our hearts brings turmoil and unrest (LW 17, 280).