By Mark Scott
God likes covenants because he dislikes misunderstandings. He likes agreements, pacts, and contracts. Because he is God he sets the terms of these covenants. Because he is God he makes the covenants out of his own character (i.e. faithfulness). Our text today says that the everlasting covenant is a relationship between God and his people, and God wants us to be clear about it.
Being clear about the covenant of God can be a challenge in this passage. There are issues that impact proper understanding (pronoun issues, literal versus figurative issues, and reading forward or backward issues). Pronouns refer to the nearest antecedent, but who is the “me” and “he” of the text? Did the Messiah literally release prisoners from the darkness or should we understand that spiritually? And should we borrow freight from the New Testament and read it into Old Testament passages? These issues challenge us as we study this text.
What the Servants Do
Isaiah 61:1-4, 9
Much of Isaiah 40–66 is about God’s servant. God’s servant can be a pagan king (Isaiah 45), the nation of Israel (43), or the Messiah (42; 52:13). We want to be respectful of the text by reading it forward before reading it backward, but we cannot unread this passage. Jesus read this passage for us (Luke 4:18, 19).
This messianic figure will be empowered by the Spirit of God. Everything he does will be by the power of the Holy Spirit (see all of Luke 4). This anointing will show up in his preaching (proclaim good news to the poor), in his healing (bind up the brokenhearted), in his liberation (proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners), and in his renewal of the world (to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor).
The results of what he does bring comfort, provision, joy, and praise. One difference from this text and Jesus’ use of it in Luke 4 is the phrase, and the day of vengeance of our God. Perhaps Jesus did not read that part because he came the first time as our Savior but he will come a second time as our Judge.
The messianic servant’s coming will be effectual (it will really do something with those who receive this everlasting covenant). Using metaphors from agronomy and architecture, Isaiah talks about God’s people being like oaks of righteousness, and being like rebuilt ancient ruins and restored ruined cities. This could refer to God’s people coming back from Babylonian captivity and literally rebuilding their nation, but it could also be understood spiritually in the church.
God’s people would become known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. The nations would be able to acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed. When the servant (Messiah) works his wonders, the servants (God’s people) bear the fruit of those wonders.
What the Lord Loves
We would not know anything about God unless he revealed himself to us. Sometimes in the Bible, God comes right out and tells us something about himself. Such is the case in Isaiah 61:8. The Lord loves justice. The converse of that is that he hates robbery and wrongdoing. Our God loves setting things right. He began doing that as early as the fall, he continued it with the promise to Abraham, and he really fleshed it out in the giving of the law under Moses.
All of the laws of God come from his character. When we obey his precepts, we discern his principles. When we discern his principles, we see his person. Therefore the everlasting covenant that he makes with his people comes from his faithfulness. God’s laws always stem from his goodness.
Can the Lord delight greatly in the Lord? Well, yes, because the God of the Bible is a triune God (see Matthew 22:41-46 and its use of Psalm 110:1). We are probably to understand this to mean that Jesus delights greatly in the Father. Jesus rejoiced in God (Luke 10:21).
Because Jesus was aware of his role in saving the world he knew something about garments, robes, and wedding imagery. He is the bridegroom of his covenant people (Mark 2:19, 20). He not only saves, he is the Savior. He not only is the gardener, he is the soil as well.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.
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