Who is the author of Isaiah 61 writing to? How would this poem act as an encouragement to these particular people? What encouragement does the poet offer to the nations?
In Isaiah 61, the Messiah says that he will proclaim “the year of Yahweh’s favor.” This is a reference to an ancient Israelite practice called the Year of Jubilee. What is the Year of Jubilee (see Lev. 25)? And how does this practice point forward to a renewed creation?
Why is the Jubilee also called “a day of vengeance” in Isaiah 61?
What kind of clothes does the Messiah give to the people? What is the significance of the Messiah giving the people anointing oil in addition to this clothing?
Describe the role that these anointed ones will have in bringing about the restoration of the world.
Read Luke 4:14-21. What do you notice? What is the significance of Jesus launching his public ministry with words from Isaiah 61?
Read Revelation 7:9-10, 21:1-5, and 22:1-5. What parallels with Isaiah 61 do you see in these passages about the new creation and the ultimate Jubilee?
Jon: The scroll of Isaiah is the first of three major prophets in the Bible.
Tim: And in Isaiah chapter 61, the prophet offers a vision of a restored world where the land is full of abundance and full of right relationships between people. The final lines in the poem describe Israel as a new garden of Eden.
“For as the land brings out its sprouts
And as a garden makes sprout its seed-plants
So the Lord Yahweh will make sprout righteousness,
And praise before all the nations.”
Jon: That sounds great. But Israel at this time has been conquered and ruled by other kingdoms. They’ve been reduced to a powerless nation full of grief and mourning.
Tim: But among those mourning Israelites, there was a small group that never lost hope in God’s promise. And so this poem is written to encourage that group of people. The poem is written in three main sections, which themselves all have three sections.
Jon: Okay. Let’s go through it.
New Creation Through the Messiah [01:01-02:21]
Jon: It begins,
“The Spirit of the Lord, Yahweh, is upon me
Because Yahweh has anointed me;”
Tim: So the speaker calls himself “the anointed,” from the Hebrew word “mashiach.”
Jon: Mashiac—that’s where we get the word “messiah.”
Tim: Yeah, exactly. And this Messiah says that through God’s Spirit, he’s going to bring seven acts of new creation. The first is to bring “good news to the oppressed,” and then to bind up the brokenhearted, and then to release captives and those who are bound up—liberation!
And then, right at the center of these seven acts, the Messiah says that he will proclaim “the year of Yahweh’s favor.” This is a reference to an ancient Israelite practice, the year of Jubilee.1
Jon: Oh right, the Jubilee. It is meant to happen every seven times seven years—where everything resets. Slaves and prisoners gain freedom, all debts are canceled, families receive back their ancestral land.
Tim: Yeah. This radical practice is a sign that points forward to a renewed creation, like the cosmic Jubilee.
Jon: So why is the Jubilee also called “a day of vengeance?”
Tim: Well, if you set everything right, that involves reversing everything that’s wrong. And for those who benefit from oppression or from unjust social arrangements, the cosmic Jubilee might feel more like retribution than restoration. It all depends on how you respond to the cosmic judge.
New Priestly Garments [02:22-03:16]
Tim: Now back to the list. For those who are being oppressed, this day will bring comfort to those who mourn (that’s the fifth act). And then the last two acts describe how the Messiah will give these people new clothes.
Jon: New clothes? Why clothes?
Tim: Well, not just any clothes—priestly garments! There’s a crown-like turban, garments of praise, and then anointing oil.
Jon: Like the oil used to anoint the Messiah.
Tim: Yeah. The Messiah is duplicating himself, clothing a crew of anointed ones, who are going to share his mission to spread the life of the new Eden. In fact, look at the next thing that he says about them.
Jon: “And they will be called
Oaks of righteousness
The planting of Yahweh
For a display of beauty.”
Jon: That’s a beautiful image.
Tim: It is—just like the garden imagery the poem began with. And this takes us into the middle section of the poem, which is all about the role that these anointed ones will have in the world to bring restoration.
The Rebuilders of Creation [03:17-04:36]
Jon: “And they will build the ruins of old
They will reestablish the former deserted places
And they will renew the devastated cities
The deserted places of many generations.”
Tim: These anointed ones are the rebuilders of creation! Now, that hopeful image is followed by another reversal.
Jon: “And strangers will stand
And they will feed your flocks,
And sons of foreigners,
they will be your farmers and vinedressers.”
Tim: So instead of being slaves to other nations, like they were for centuries, God will turn the tables, and now those nations will serve the anointed ones.
Jon: You mean like the nations will be their slaves?
Tim: Not quite. Look at these next lines.
Tim: The imagery is not about a master ruling slaves. “But you will be called priests of Yahweh.” Priests are those who serve the nations on behalf of God, or as it says “servants of our God.” They’re acting like a bridge between God and the people.
Jon: The next line says they will eat the wealth of nations and boast in their riches. What’s that about?
Tim: Well, in Israel, the priests got their food from the sacrifices people brought to God. In other words, they lived off of the abundance of the whole community.
Jon: So these new cosmic priests are benefiting from the abundance of all the nations.
Tim: Exactly. Now, let’s look at the next lines that talk more about this reversal.
A Blessing to the Nations [04:37-05:34]
Tim: “In the place of shame, a double portion.” They’ll go from insult to joy, from the wilderness to the Eden land. And “everlasting joy will be theirs.”
Jon: That’s a lot of joy.
Tim: It’s like the ultimate new creation. Now, in the final part of this middle section, God himself speaks up.
Jon: “For I, Yahweh, love justice,
I hate robbery and injustice.”
Tim: God’s reminding them of his character. God is for justice.
Jon: “And I will give their reward with faithfulness,
And I will cut an everlasting covenant with them.”
Tim: This is the covenant that God made with Israel to bless the nations. That’s what God is being faithful to.
Jon: “And their seed will be known among the nations
And their offspring in the midst of the peoples
All those who see them will recognize them,
That they are seed whom Yahweh has blessed.”
Tim: So this is the seed that is going to become a new garden bringing life to the world.
A Great Wedding Feast [05:35-06:22]
Tim: Now we get to the third and final part of the poem. It concludes with the Messiah celebrating what Yahweh is doing in the world.
Jon: “I will rejoice greatly in Yahweh;
My being will shout for joy in my God.”
Tim: And then he describes why he’s rejoicing, with the clothing images that link back to the beginning of the poem. This figure is clothed with new garments called garments of salvation, a robe of righteousness. And then a priestly turban is put on a bridegroom, and then he’s adorned with the jewelry of a bride. So the anointed one is the ultimate priest, depicted as both a bride and a groom getting ready for the ultimate wedding party.
Jon: A wedding?
Tim: Yeah. The new creation is depicted as a great wedding feast, where God’s generous love is shared with all the world.
Tim: And that brings us to the garden image at the end that we read back at the beginning.
Jon: Oh, right—a garden that is sprouting seed-plants.
Tim: And notice this is no ordinary garden. The plants are sprouting righteousness. Righteousness means right relationships between people. And so the new creation will be a garden of renewed relationships among all of the nations.