The Year of the Lord’s Favour, 1-11
Isa 61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,
Who is speaking here? Knight thinks that there is ‘no need’ to ask the question, because it is clear, from the context, that it is God’s servant people, Israel (including the prophet). Many commentators assume that it is Isaiah himself, but, as Smith (NAC) remarks, ‘this understanding does not pay enough attention to the many interlinking connections between this passage and earlier statements in the book of Isaiah.’ There is much overlap with the description of the Servant (Isa 42; 49; 50; and 53). Both figures are endowed with God’s Spirit (Isa 42:1; 48:16; 61:1,) and both proclaim ‘good news’ (Isa 40:9; 41:27; 52:7; 62:2). Following Smith, we may say that the Servant passages describe the role, whereas the present passage focuses on the proclamation of the good news. It is not surprising, then, to learn that the Qumran literature links this person to the Messiah, and to find that the New Testament (Luke 4) confirms this identification.
Who is being addressed? Many commentators assume that the message was originally addressed to those returning from exile. Smith (NAC) finds nothing in the text itself to support this, noting that the descriptors ‘poor’, ‘brokenhearted’, captives’, ‘prisoners’, are not sufficiently specific to allow a precise identification. Smith prefers to understand the present chapter as referring to people and conditions at a time just before the establishment of God’s kingdom.
The task of the messenger is indicated by a run of infinitives: ‘to preach good news to the poor’, ‘to bind up the brokenhearted’, and so on.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me – Goldingay remarks that here, as in Isa 42:1, capitalisation of ‘Spirit’ risks giving a ‘misleading’ impression.
The Lord has anointed me – Christian thinking, suggests Goldingay, has tended to combine the two expressions in the first part of this verse, and therefore to read it as if the speaker has been ‘anointed with the spirit of the Lord’. But the two have different, if complementary, meanings: ‘spirit’ suggests endowment with supernatural power; whereas ‘anointing’ connotes ‘commissioning, consecrating, and authorising’.
Kings and priests were customarily anointed, but not normally prophets. David, however, was an exception, and in him the ideas of anointing and receiving God’s spirit were closely linked (1 Sam 16; 2 Sam 23). The speaker in the present passage, accordingly, is to be regarded as a David-like (or possibly a Cyrus-like) figure. It is clear enough that the task described here is a kingly task (Goldingay).
Goldingay further points out how Psa 72 illuminates the present passage.
Kidner (NBC) perceptively notes that this prophecy may be seen in its bud, its flower, and in its full fruit. In its bud, it relates to the release of the Babylonian captives. In its flower, it relates to the coming of God’s Messiah and to his earthly ministry. In its full fruit (note that Jesus, when applying this passage to himself, pointedly left out the reference to ‘the day of vengeance of our God’) it refers to the worldwide ministry of the gospel and (we might add) the final restoration of all things.
Quoted by the Lord and applied to himself in Lk 4:14-29. Goldingay says that most Jews at the time of Christ would have assumed that the words in vv1-3 are those of the prophet himself. Jesus’ hearers might have considered him arrogant in applying them to himself. On the other hand, they would have welcomed their message that their time of liberty had come: they would have understood him as proclaim freedom from their foreign oppressors, although they were less pleased with his commitment to outsiders (Lk 4:24-27; cf. Isa 56:1-8).
Referring to the fulfilment of this prophecy in the gospel age, Prior remarks: ‘The “year of the Lord’s favour” which [Christ] inaugurated is still in force, and will continue to be so right through until his coming again. Throughout this whole period the good news which is preached is the Christian gospel. Jesus himself was the first to proclaim it after being anointed by the Spirit at his baptism. Many are the preachers who have followed him. The poor to whom the message is preached are not those those who grieve in Zion, v3, but the poor in spirit everywhere. The comfort they receive is not just release from exile, but release from condemnation through the forgiveness Jesus has won for them. Through God’s grace they become might oaks displaying the Lord’s splendour, v3, priests of the Lord engaged in his service, 6a, and the eventual inheritors of all things, 6b. the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s ruins after the exile was a significant work, made possible by the presence and operation of the Spirit. But the building of the church through the Spirit-empowered preaching of the gospel is a work that surpasses it by far.’
Other nations in the ANE practised jubilee, this usually being the cancelling of debts and the release of debt-prisoners. It might take place during the first year or two of a new king’s reign, and occasionally thereafter. It seems always to have taken place at the whim of the king, rather, than as here, at divine behest. (IVP Bible Background Commentary)
The Holy Spirit was poured out on the Lord Jesus at his baptism, Jn 1:32-43. Indeed, the very title Messiah/Christ means ‘anointed’. See Psa 45:7/Heb 1:9. The Spirit was given to him ‘without measure’, Jn 3:34. He had been destined and prepared for his great work, and yet his qualifications for it were not complete until he had been divinely approved and publicly consecrated (Simeon).
To preach good news – the first in a run of seven infinitives, describing the message of the anointed one. Smith suggests that if this is linked with the good news of Isa 40:9 and Isa 52:7, then the good news is that ‘“God reigns” and his eschatological kingdom is going to begin.’
God’s anointed one is to be a preacher, healer, deliverer, comforter, and planter (MHC).
To bind up the brokenhearted – to apply bandages; a ministry of comfort and healing.
Freedom for the captives – looks forward, probably, to the reference to the ‘Year of Jubilee’ in the following verse. Every sixth year, slaves were given their freedom. Smith thinks that this probably involves ‘the proclamation of a metaphorical release from any past social or spiritual enslavement the people were under.’
Isa 61:2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,
To proclaim – At the time of Jubilee, slaves and debtors were liberated the moment the trumpet sounded, Lev 25:10,41. We may regard our Lord’s proclamation of good news as the equivalent of that trumpet blast. Simeon: ‘These are glad tidings indeed to those who are sensible of their bondage to sin and Satan, and who know that they have sold the inheritance of heaven for the pleasures of sin: but to those who are unconscious of their guilt and misery, the sound of the trumpet seems an empty noise, or rather, an insult, as implying a state of degradation, which they do not feel and will not acknowledge.’ Hence it is to the meek, who know and feel their need, rather than to the proud, who deny it, that the good news is addressed.
The year of the Lord’s favour – Wiersbe explains: ‘The background of this passage is the “Year of Jubilee” described in Leviticus 25:7ff. Every seven years, the Jews were to observe a “sabbatical year” and allow the land to rest. After seven sabbaticals, or forty-nine years, they were to celebrate the fiftieth year as the “Year of Jubilee.” During that year, all debts were canceled, all land was returned to the original owners, the slaves were freed, and everybody was given a fresh new beginning. This was the Lord’s way of balancing the economy and keeping the rich from exploiting the poor.’
The day of vengeance of our God – Also mentioned in Isa 34:8; 63:5. In context, the prospect of divine vengeance is clearly meant to comfort the saints. ‘Full treatment of the day of vengeance…is held over until Isa 63:1-6; chapter 61 concentrates on the time of favour, and above all on the person who ushers it in.’ (Prior)
In Jesus’ use of this passage in Luke 4, he stops short of this phrase. However, he takes it up in Lk 21:22, stating that the ‘days of vengeance’ must come ‘in fulfillment of all that has been written.’
Motyer says that ‘day’ is to be contrasted with ‘year’. The one is short and sharp, the other prolonged. We thin, perhaps of the early chapters of Acts, where the miracles of healing come thick and fast, whereas few are the acts of judgement (cf. Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5).
‘Paradoxically,’ says Goldingay, ‘Jesus’ days of vengeance are ones exacted on his own people.’ The reversal of the promise in Lk 21 is more radical than that in Lk 4. As in Amos 5:18-20, the Day of the Lord is turned from good news to bad news for those who considered themselves to be God’s people. ‘When asked when Israel would get its freedom, Jesus answered not “Never,” or “That is the wrong question,” but “It is not for you to know” (Acts 1:6f).’
The juxtaposition of God’s ‘favour’ and his ‘vengeance’ ‘suggests that these are two side of one idea. In taking the side of the civtims and acting on their behalf, Yahweh will put down the oppressors and punish them.’ (Goldingay)
‘The covenant includes curses as well as blessings. Those who are merely pretending, as well as backslidden members of this covenant relationship, can expect the Lord to deal severely with them. Ultimately, this is a reference to the judgement of God upon the wicked at the end of time. Though the certainty of that judgement has been underlined (Isa 39:8; 48:22; 59:21; cf. Matt. 25:31–46; Acts 17:31; 2 Thess. 1:7–8), the Saviour’s mission was a redemptive one (John 3:16–17).’ (Derek Thomas)
To comfort all who mourn – cf. Mt 5:4.
Isa 61:3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.
Up until this point, the suffering have been comforted and soothed. But now, their hurt is completely removed, never to return, by a ‘divine replacement therapy’ (Motyer).
The whole of the first part of this verse describes a transformation from mourning to joy. ‘This metaphorical way of describing the outward transformation of a person’s clothes and behavior betrays a deep transformation of this person’s situation as well as their psychological reaction (by their “spirit” rûaḥ) to the changes God will introduce at this time (Isa 60:20, “the days of mourning will be completed”). The point is that mourning, which was so often a part of the nation’s history, will end and praise will begin.’ (Smith)
Motyer observes a downward movement here – from ‘crown’, to ‘oil’ (running down the head), to ‘garment’.
In the second part of the verse, the symbolism changes from clothes and countenance to trees and vines.
Those who grieve in Zion – Jesus was recognised as ‘the consolation of Israel’. ‘Were any bowed down with “a spirit of heaviness,” and “mourning in” dust and “ashes!” he came to “bind up their broken hearts,” and to exhilarate their souls; that they might be comforted, and become as persons anointed with oil, and arrayed in gayest apparel for some great festivity.’ (Simeon)
Observe to whom this good news is addressed: to those who ‘grieve’, ‘mourn’, and ‘despair’. To those who consider themselves healthy, it will fall on deaf ears; but to those who know and feel their need it will be heard and receive will gladness.
A crown of beauty – ‘The holy cheerfulness of Christians is their beauty and a great ornament to their profession.’ (MHC)
Simeon applies the consolation of this message: ‘You may instantly cast off your bonds and assert your liberty, if you will but accept the preferred mercy. Only believe in Christ, and the forfeited inheritance of heaven shall be yours. Arise then, and sing, thou that sittest in the dust; put off thy sackcloth, and gird thee with gladness. Be not afraid, us though the tidings were too good to be true: the jubilee is come, and the trumpet now sounds by the command of God himself: you have not to pay any thing for your deliverance; but to receive it freely: you have nothing to fear from your enemies; for “the day of God’s vengeance is come,” and he will bruise all your enemies under your feet. Let but these tidings sink into your hearts; and God will glorify himself in your eternal happiness.’
The oil of gladness…and a garment of praise – ‘Where God gives the oil of joy he gives the garment of praise. Those comforts which come from God dispose the heart to, and enlarge the heart in, thanksgivings to God.’ (MHC)
Oaks suggest strength, stability, majesty. ‘Oaks of righteousness’ contrasts with the ‘oak with fading leaves’ of Isa 1:27-31.
The planting of the Lord is suggestive of cultivated vines.
This pair of horticultural metaphors reminds us, perhaps, of the garden transformations that feature from time to time on our TV screens. But how much more spectacular is the transformation here! ‘Let us only view the converts on the day of Pentecost, and in them we shall behold a just specimen of the effects produced by the preached Gospel: and, to whomsoever the word of Christ comes with power, the same blessings are given; they are transplanted from the wilderness into the garden of the Lord, and “they have their fruit unto holiness, and their end everlasting life.”’ (Simeon)
For the display of his splendour – ‘This purpose clause indicates that one of the main goals of mankind will be to fulfill this joyful responsibility of glorifying God forever. Those who receive God’s good news, freedom, comfort, and experience this transformation will have many reasons to loudly praise and glorify God’s name.’ (Smith)
We benefit from ‘the year of the Lord’s favour’ in order to ‘display his splendour’. And ‘what,’ asks Oswalt, ‘is his splendour but his character?’ The NT is very clear that it is God’s intention that those who have received his grace will be eager to display his character, Tit 2:13f; James 2:14; 1 Jn 5:4.
‘View him as undertaking our cause, and coming from heaven to redeem us; can we fail of admiring the love and condescension of that God who sent him? Hear the tidings he proclaims; a full, a free, an everlasting salvation to perishing sinners: are we not filled with wonder at such stupendous mercy? See the myriads whose broken hearts he has healed; see them rejoicing on earth, or shouting their hallelujahs in heaven; are we not ready to clap our hands for joy, and to break forth into acclamations and hosannahs? There is not any part of Christ’s work, whether as performed by him, or enjoyed by us, but what calls upon us to glorify God with our whole hearts: and to all eternity will the praises of God resound from myriads of the redeemed, who, with united voices will exclaim, “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever” (Rev 5:13).’ (Simeon)
Isa 61:4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.
If the first three verses of this chapter summarise the content of the message of good news, vv4-7 outline its effects.
As noted previously, Smith (NAC) inclines to the view that the reference is to the renewal of heaven and earth (as in Isa 65:17; 66:22) Smith also connects the restoration of Zion, spoken of in the present passage, with the coming of the Servant, Isa 42:9f; the new spirit in Eze 11:19; 36:26, and the new covenant in Jer 31:31; Ezek 37:26.
Israel’s redemption is depicted in terms of the rebuilding of Jerusalem (cf. Isa 35:1–10; 58:12). As new covenant believers, we inherit ‘the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God’ (Heb. 11:10); the ‘heavenly Jerusalem’ (Heb. 12:22); ‘the city that is to come’ (Heb. 13:14), ‘the new Jerusalem’ (Rev. 21:2–4, 9–27). (Derek Thomas)
Matthew Henry focuses on a fulfilment during the gospel age: ‘The setting up of Christianity in the world repaired the decays of natural religion and raised up those desolations both of piety and honesty which had been for many generations the reproach of mankind. An unsanctified soul is like a city that is broken down and has no walls, like a house in ruins; but by the power of Christ’s gospel and grace it is repaired, it is put in order again, and fitted to be a habitation of God through the Spirit.’ (MHC)
Jackman comments that these images of renewal of the land translate into ‘spiritual blessings in the heavenlies’ in the NT (Eph 1:3ff). But ‘spiritual’ does not mean ‘ethereal’, or ‘unreal’. But it does mean that ‘we cannot be content with any interpretation focused only on this world’s geography and history. Both the content and the context demand an eternal and spiritual application.’
Isa 61:5 Aliens will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
‘This,’ says Motyer, ‘is a world community (5–6), transformed (7ab), settled (7c–e), joyous (7f.), brought into covenant (8), under divine blessing (9).’
Far from being a promise for Israelites only, the expectation is that many foreigners will share in the blessing. This a clearly a reversal of fortune for the Israelites, who had earlier been salves themselves, or had been forced to care for their flocks and work their land in order to pay the heavy taxes foreign nations required of them,. However, ‘there is no indication that this involves any kind of forced labor or revenge against the nation; rather, one should assume that this service will be done out of gratitude, thankfulness, and cooperation.’ (Smith)
Isa 61:6 And you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast.
You will be called priests of the Lord – cf. 1 Pet 2:9f; Rev 1:6. They will fulfill the purpose God had always intended for them, Ex 19:6.
You will feed on the wealth of nations – ‘In the past the Israelites supplied food for the priest, but now the foreign nations will provide food for the Israelites who will then be considered priests of God.’ (Smith)
According to Barnes, ‘the idea is, that there would be a degree of spiritual prosperity, as great as if they were permitted to enjoy all the productions of other climes; as if all menial and laborious service were performed by others; and as if they were to be entirely free from the necessity of toil, and were permitted to devote themselves exclusively to the services of religion.’
Isa 61:7 Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs.
Instead of – Cf. Isa 60:17; 61:3.
‘The Jews no doubt were thus privileged after their return; they were in a new world, and now knew how to value their liberty and property, the pleasures of which were continually fresh and blooming. Much more do all those rejoice whom Christ has brought into the glorious liberty of God’s children, especially when the privileges of their adoption shall be completed in the resurrection of the body.’ (MHC)
Instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance – the inheritance, says Oswalt, of ‘a firstborn son’.
Double portion in their land – Not only that which they originally possessed, but also the wealth of the nations (Smith).
Isa 61:8 “For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity. In my faithfulness I will reward them and make an everlasting covenant with them.
“I…love justice” – Ps 11:7; 33:5; 37:28; 45:7; 99:4; Jer 9:24; Zec 8:16,17.
‘What,’ asks Oswalt, ‘is the logic here?’ Is it simply that the Lord desires to end all those injustices that his people have suffered at the hands of the nations? No, it is, rather, that God loves justice among his own people, and the ‘everlasting covenant’ will enable them to live accordingly. It is when the foreign nations recognise this that they will acknowledge them to be God’s children indeed.
His favour is not favoritism (Motyer), nor is his judgement any more than is deserved.
Prior note how easily Isaiah can more from grace, v7, to justice in the present verse: ‘there is ultimately no conflict between them. His grace in binding up the broken hearted and setting captives free is just as much an expression of his justice as his punishing their oppressors.’
‘He loves that judgment should be done among men, both between magistrates and subjects and between neighbour and neighbour, and therefore he hates all injustice; and, when wrongs are done to his people by their oppressors and persecutors, he is displeased with them, not only because they are done to his people, but because they are wrongs, and against the eternal rules of equity. If men do not do justice, he loves to do judgment himself in giving redress to those that suffer wrong and punishing those that do wrong. God pleads his people’s injured cause, not only because he is jealous for them, but because he is jealous for justice.’ (MHC)
Everlasting covenant – ‘Isaiah has mentioned it before (55:1–5). Jeremiah and Ezekiel, both of whom use this same phrase, also call it ‘the new covenant’ (Jer. 31:27–44; 50:4–5; Ezek. 16:60–63; 37:15–28). The close connection between the ‘everlasting covenant’ and the ‘new covenant’ in these passages reminds us that the ‘newness’ of the new covenant is the quality of freshness and fulfilment. It is not that God abandons what he has been doing and begins afresh. Rather, he brings to a climax what has been there all along in the old.’ (Derek Thomas)
Isa 61:9 Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the LORD has blessed.”
‘The church, says Isaiah, will be spread throughout the whole world, so as to be visible to all the nations. And yet this did not happen even in the reign of Solomon, when the Jews flourished most in wealth and splendor (1 Kings 10:21, 27). Now this seemed quite incredible, and that is why the prophets take such pains to convince people of it and repeat it very frequently. The Jews were not to measure this restoration by their own understanding or by present appearances.’ (Calvin)
Simeon comments on the distinctiveness of the people of God: ‘In outward appearance they resemble those around them; but in heart, in spirit, and in life, they are different from all the world; and yet, however distant from each other in climate, in education, and in habits, they all resemble each other, and bear the stamp and character of God, as their common Father.’
Simeon invites us to consider
‘(a) the names given to them in the Holy Scripture: they are “the children of light,” “the children of obedience,” “the children of God;” whilst all others are the children of darkness, of disobedience, of the wicked one
(b) the state into which they are brought, a state of pardon, of peace, of holiness, of joy: whilst the whole world besides lieth in wickedness, and are utter strangers to all the blessings of the New Covenant
(c) their prospects in the future world, they being made heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ; whilst to all others there is nothing but “a certain fearful looking-for of judgment and fiery indignation” to consume them…..Are not such persons then “a blessed seed?”’
Isa 61:10 I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isa 61:11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.
Such a song of praise is the proper response to what the Lord has achieved through his Servant Messiah. Similar outpourings of thanksgiving are found in Isa 12:1-6; 42:10-13; 49:13-21 and 54:1-17.
The imagery of v10, obviously, is that of a wedding. The bride has been dressed in the beautiful garments of ‘salvation’ and ‘righteousness’. We find similar wedding symbolism in Eph 5:27 and Rev 19:7f. In v11, the picture, equally obviously, is a horticultural one.
He has clothed me… – ‘In ancient times the week leading up to the consummation of the marriage was a time of celebration, with the men celebrating in one area and the women in another. On the day of the wedding, the bride was led to her groom’s home dressed in a gown he had provided for her.’ (Oswalt)
‘The church is now in that week of celebration. God through his Son, Jesus, has sent to us a “garment of praise,” a dress that will have all the onlookers uttering “oohs” and “ahs” as we walk through the streets to go to his house. Shall we go to the Groom clothed in the rags of our own failures to live a life where sin is defeated? Surely not! We can go to him clothed in a gown of the righteous behaviour that he has enabled us to experience.’ (Oswalt)
For as the soil… – ‘Using a beautiful comparison, the prophet confirms the former promises, reminding the Jews of the ordinary power of God, which shines brightly in the creatures themselves. The earth every year puts forth her bud, the gardens grow green after the sowing time, and, in short, herbs and plants, which appear to be dead during the winter, revive in the spring and resume their vigor. These are proofs and very clear illustrations of the divine power and kindness toward us. Since this is so, should people doubt it? Will not he who gave this power and strength to the earth display it even more in delivering his people? And will he not cause the elect seed to bud, since he promised that it would remain in the world forever?’ (Calvin)