Isaiah 59 portrays an entire culture in collapse. What is reported there took place about 120 years before Judah's devastation by Nebuchadnezzar's armies in 605 BC. Until being conquered, Judah was still holding together as a nation, so the chapter provides insight into what the self-centered leadership was producing on a more day-to-day basis. In the first eight verses, Isaiah lists Judah's immoral activities.
This passage appears like a report from God through Isaiah on how He sees the collective cultural chaos produced as each citizen's sinfulness contributed to the wickedness of all who were living in Judah at that time. It is delivered as though God is a prosecuting attorney presenting his case before a court for judgment. After reading such a condemning report, one can only wonder whether any more than a mere handful of citizens were actually obeying God! In the same way, we can confidently judge from the news reports we hear daily in the media that the quality of life in the United States is approaching the same condition.
Notice how the Revised English Bible renders the first three verses:
The LORD'S arm is not too short to save nor His ear too dull to hear; rather, it is your iniquities that raise a barrier between you and your God; it is your sins that veil His face, so that He does not hear. Your hands are stained with blood and your fingers with crime; your lips speak lies and your tongues utter injustice.
The people are indeed suffering from the chaotic immorality that surrounds them, and some are truly appealing to God to bring it to a merciful end. They have prayed and fasted about the situation, but God did not react. He provided no answers. He effected no changes. He did not raise up righteous and dutiful shepherds to provide good guidance and instill peace. Indeed, it seemed as if He had not even heard! Or if He had heard, He seemed not to have enough time or strength to do anything to bring the agonies of this kind of life to an end. Why?
Verses 2-3 contains the answer: Surprise, surprise—the very people appealing to God to end the crisis in their communities were guilty of committing the same sins that were responsible for intensifying the crisis. Despite crying out to God, they were not repenting of their own sins! In the meantime, God is waiting for the beginning of a truly sincere and substantial change led by the people crying out to God. He wants them to begin obeying His Word and restoring justice in all their doings.
We can apply this to the ever-worsening situation in the United States. Many people in this nation still hold sincerely to a substantially correct understanding of God and His purposes for mankind. They understand to some degree where the present immorality can lead. Because they fear what is coming and are suffering some degree of misery due to the nation's spiritual decline, they are probably praying about these things.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Leadership and Covenants (Part Two)
Sin or iniquity or lawlessness, however we want to read it, is what has caused the need for atonement or reconciliation. Iniquity, sin, and lawlessness produce the opposite of atonement. They produce separation, not coming together. Sin separates and builds barriers between us and God and between us and other people.
He says that He will not hear. We have to understand this. It is not that He cannot hear, but because of sin, He will not hear. God does not sin, so if there is a separation between a man and God—between us and God—then it is because we have done something. We are the ones who are drifting away. However, to the human being, it seems as though God has gone far away, when He has not moved at all.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Reconciliation and the Day of Atonement
Despite the fact that man is separated from God, the Bible says very little about it, mostly because the writers of the Bible assume it to be so since the separation of God and man at the very beginning of the Book (Genesis 3:22-24). Everyone who reads the Bible with any kind of understanding recognizes that man and God are not on the same wavelength. They are estranged from one another. Despite so little being written about the separation, a great deal is written about how the two will be reconciled.
Isaiah 59:1-2 is one of the very few places that actually clearly states why the separation exists: because of man's hostility toward God. Paul states in Romans 8:7 that the carnal mind is enmity, hostile, against God, and that hostility, he writes in Ephesians 2:2, is motivated by "the prince of the power of the air." Satan has deceived all of mankind (Revelation 12:9).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fall Feast Lessons
When Adam and Eve sinned, they, representing all mankind, were expelled by God from the Garden of Eden. The Garden represents being in God's presence and thereby having easy access and communication with Him. In Genesis 2:17, God had warned Adam and Eve that in the day they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would die. Once they sinned, it became evident that God did not mean they would die immediately, but that, if they ate of that tree, they were as good as dead.
Their human life went on, but God, to emphasize the serious effect of their sin to later generations, placed a flaming sword to guard the Garden's borders. This portrayed that mankind, though still alive, was cut off from any relationship with Him. Thus, sin, which demonstrates a lack of love and fidelity for our Creator, not only seals the death penalty on each sinner, but it also denies an individual access to and thus communication with God while he lives on under Satan's continuing influence.
When Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and we, by faith in that sacrifice, became justified, God legally cleared us of guilt before Him. It is as though the barrier of the flaming sword between us and Him were removed, opening the way for communication with Him and for the growth of a relationship with Him that never before existed for us.
The relationship we have with the Father and the Son through the work of Jesus Christ, both as the payment for our sins and as our High Priest, is everything in terms of salvation. Why is this true? Because we can now communicate with Them! Having access to God furnishes an opportunity for a relationship with the Father and the Son. The relationship is the medium of communication - holy, righteous, spiritual communication.
This communication is more than a mere counterbalance to the evil spiritual influence of this world. It decidedly tips the scales in our favor in this war for our spiritual survival, if we will but continue to believe and trust Them by taking advantage of the contact, communication, and influence freely given to us. What Jesus does ever so briefly in John 17:3 is to tie quality of life, called "eternal life," to a person's relationship with God.
Even though many in it may be religious, the world does not have a relationship with God. There is no communication from Him to them. Undoubtedly, a lot of people know many things about God, but they cannot actually know Him without access to Him. It is like a person knowing of someone from across town by reputation but really knowing nothing about him through personal contact.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part Three)
The last part of verse 2 parallels Habakkuk 1:13, "You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness." God cannot tolerate sin. He refuses to coexist with it. He intends that we blaze with white hot anger at the sin in our life, that we take our fury out on the thoughts and behaviors that are taking our lives.
David F. Maas
Anger: Spiritual Drano®
These verses clearly show why reconciliation is necessary. Iniquity (lawlessness, sin) produces the opposite of reconciliation; it separates and builds barriers. Furthermore, it is not that God cannot hear—He simply will not answer. It appears He has gone far off, but in actuality, the sinner has drifted away.
Apparently, the people had prayed for relief, expecting God to answer. His reply was hardly what they wanted to hear! They wanted harmony imposed without having to change their lifestyles. God's reply shows them to be rebelling against His law from the top of society to the bottom. He tells them that reconciliation is not a one-sided act with God doing everything to make it possible.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Separation and At-One-Ment
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Isaiah 59:1: