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A New Day Dawns
Verse Commentary on Isaiah 60:1-3, 15-22

Dennis Bratcher


Chapters 60-62 are the heart of the third section of Isaiah (56-66). The community of returned exiles struggled to believe that God was still working in their midst (see Where is God? Isaiah 59:1-21). The promises recorded in the second section of Isaiah during the exile (40-55) pointed to a great future for God’s people (see The Turn Toward Hope: Isaiah 40:1-15). They had regained possession of the land as promised. But they were barely existing. The community of God’s people was in no condition to be a light to the nations (42:5-7).

Throughout these chapters, prophetic interpretations of actual historical events are interwoven with visionary descriptions of the working out of God’s purpose in history. The language in this chapter is highly poetic, painting a glorious word picture of the restoration of Jerusalem (note Micah 4, Ezekiel 40). The exact setting of the chapter is not certain. Historical events unfolding in Israel during the fifth century BC likely provide the background for the passage (see The Unity and Authorship of Isaiah).

Historical Context

After a long struggle and severe opposition from surrounding peoples, the returned exiles finally won support from the Persian king Artaxerxes (it is not clear whether this was Artaxerxes I, 464-423 BC, or Artaxerxes II, 404-358; the books of Ezra and Nehemiah that record these events are not in chronological sequence). He commissioned Ezra the scribe to return to Jerusalem to secure the welfare of the city (note vv. 10-11). Artaxerxes funded Ezra’s mission and ordered the provincial treasurers to provide Ezra whatever he needed. (Ezra 7; Isaiah 60:5-7). Specifically mentioned is the intention to "beautify the house of the Lord in Jerusalem" (Ezra 7:27; note Isaiah 60:13).

The returned exiles faced severe problems. Part of the reason was that the people had allowed sin to pervert their mission as God’s people (Isa 59). In chapter 60, the prophet renews the promises of a new day for the community of faith. He assures the people that God has not forgotten them and that their mission as a light to the world has not changed. The new events transpiring mark the beginning of God’s new day for His people.

The Text

1. (Isaiah 60:1-3)

1 "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. 2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. 3 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn."

1. Arise, shine, your, you These are feminine forms in Hebrew, as they are throughout the chapter. We find out later in the chapter that the message is to the city of Jerusalem (v.14). The poetic imagery personifies Jerusalem as a beautiful woman (51:17-52:2). The historical background of this passage concerns the restoration and rebuilding of Jerusalem in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Biblical writers often use "Jerusalem" and "Zion" as poetic symbols for the entire people of God (Matthew 23:37).

Not until verse 16 is the speaker directly identified as God. Throughout the chapter we find God speaking in the first person alongside third person references to God (vv. 1, 2, etc.). This mixture of forms is typical of prophetic writing where it is actually the prophet speaking for God.

In Hebrew, shine and light are two forms of the same word. We could translate this "give light for your light has come."

your light has come Since the beginning of the second section of Isaiah (40:10), there has been the anticipation of God’s "coming" to deliver His people and restore justice to the land. The form of the verb refers to action that has already been completed (has come). Prophets often used this form to refer to God’s future activity as well.

As in chapter 59, light is a symbol of God’s presence, which brings deliverance and blessing. The language is similar to Isaiah 9 ("The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light." v.1, RSV). But the imagery is used differently here. In chapter 9, the subject is the coming ideal Davidic king whom God will establish to bring peace and justice among his people. Here, there is no mention of the Davidic king; it is God who is at work in historical events to change the present conditions.

The imagery is of the dawning of a new day (v.3) with God himself the sun (vv. 19-20) that dispels the fears and gloominess of the night. God’s presence is the light that illuminates a new future for God’s people.

The contrast of light and darkness is a common metaphor throughout Isaiah (5:30; 13:10; 50:10). John’s gospel uses the light-darkness contrast in relation to the coming of the Christ (John 1:4-9; 8:12).

glory of the Lord As noted in previous lessons, this is a frequent Old Testament way of portraying the active presence of God among His people (see The Turn Toward Hope, comments on 40:5). The Old Testament writers used a variety of other traditional symbols to affirm the presence and activity of God in human affairs. Fire in various forms (light, brightness, burning) and smoke (cloud, wind, spirit) are among the most common (Ex 19:18; Psa 18:6-15; Acts 2:1-4). Often glory occurs with one or both (Isa 4:5; 1 Kings 8:10; Luke 2:32).

2. darkness The idea that God brings light to His people while the rest of the world remains in darkness first appears in the exodus tradition (Ex 10:22-23).

3. your light . . .your dawn The imagery here must be kept in mind. The people have no light of their own. God is the light who rises like the sun over them (v.19). Their light is the reflected light of God’s presence. This picks up a central theme of these latter two sections of Isaiah. The people of God are to reflect the light of God’s presence to the surrounding nations (note 1 Peter 2:9-10; see The Servant of the Lord, comments on 53:3). This light will bring the world justice, peace and deliverance from oppression (Isa 49:6; 58:6-12; Acts 13:47).

Nations will come to your light would mark the achievement of their mission as the people of God (recall 40:5).

The following verses (4-14) continue to depict the elevated status of restored Jerusalem. While the language is exaggerated, some details may depict the new prestige of Jerusalem under the favor of the Persian kings (Ezra 7; Nehemiah 1-2).

2. (Isaiah 60:15-18)

15 "Although you have been forsaken and hated, with no one traveling through, I will make you the everlasting pride and the joy of all generations. 16 You will drink the milk of nations and be nursed at royal breasts. Then you will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. 17 Instead of bronze I will bring you gold, and silver in place of iron. Instead of wood I will bring you bronze, and iron in place of stones. I will make peace your governor and righteousness your ruler. 18 No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise."

15. forsaken and hated The imagery continues to personify Jerusalem as a woman, but from a slightly different perspective. Both words are used to describe a spouse who has been abandoned or rejected (Proverbs 2:17; Judges 14:16). In several places in the second section of Isaiah, the prophet portrays Israel as a wife deserted by her husband (49:20-21; 54:6-8). To keep the imagery, the NEB translates this "a wife hated and unvisited." This verse graphically contrasts the situation of the people during the exile with their new status (pride, joy) in the restored community. The same marriage language continues in following chapters (62:3-5).

everlasting . . .all generations As in other places in the book, this does not imply our idea of "eternity" (as RSV: "for ever" or NEB: "eternal"). Both terms simply mean a long, indefinite time into the future.

16. nursed at royal breasts smoothes over a discordant image in the Hebrew. It reads "nurse at the breast of kings" (as RSV). However unlikely the metaphor, it is intended to portray Jerusalem siphoning wealth from other nations, represented by their kings (v.11; note 49:23).

Then you will know The word translated know has far more meaning in Hebrew than in English. In can mean simply knowledge or command of information. More often, it refers to a deeper level of understanding and insight. "Know" refers to intimate relationship between persons, usually based on shared experience. To know someone is to understand who they are on the most personal level. This is the biblical term for sexual intimacy between husband and wife (NIV usually translates the word "lay with" as Gen 4:1).

A basic idea that underlies the entire Old Testament is that God may be known by His actions in the world. This view arises primarily from the exodus experience. During the exodus, the Hebrews came into relationship with God, they knew God, because He had acted in history to deliver them from slavery in Egypt (Exod 6:6-7; Deut 4:32-35). His actions revealed who He was. In the same way, the new activity of God to restore Jerusalem will become the basis for renewed relationship between God and His people (49:26).

I, the Lord This is essential to the message of this chapter. In fact, this simple statement summarizes the heart of the message of the whole book. During the entire period in which the book of Isaiah was written and compiled, Israel faced one crisis after another. World events moved at a dizzying pace. The tiny nation of Israel seemed lost in the clashes of superpowers, powerless in a world spinning out of control.

Yet the unwavering message of the prophets throughout this era was that God is still Lord of His creation. While sinful, and just plain foolish, human decisions may bring disaster to the world, God can work in the darkest events of human history to accomplish his purposes.

The confession here is clear. Although the Israelites’ new glimmer of hope for restoration comes by means of generous Persian kings, it is I, the Lord who is using these events to bring deliverance to His people.

Savior, Redeemer, Mighty One These three descriptions of God occur together only here and in Isaiah 49:26. In both, the context is God acting so that "all humanity" may know Him.

Savior can be translated "deliverer." Salvation (v.18) also can be translated "Deliverance." In the Old Testament the word "save" does not mean "saving from sin" as we understand the term from a New Testament perspective (see Where is God?, comments on Isa 59:1). It means deliverance from people (enemies) or circumstances that impair proper response to God (Psa 106:21). The term could be applied to men like Othniel who brought deliverance from oppression (Judges 3:9-10). Redeemer and Mighty One also emphasize God’s activity to bring deliverance.

17. peace and righteousness along with "justice" were the hope and mission of God’s people throughout the Old Testament, although they had trouble achieving it. Paul adds "joy" to these two in Romans 14:17.

18. The lack of violence and threatening conditions in the land define peace and righteousness of the previous verse.

Salvation, Praise We have to be careful with both terms here not to spiritualize them excessively. The context here is the restoration of the city of Jerusalem, which included the rebuilding of the city walls to provide protection (Neh 1-4, 12). With the walls in place, there would again be security for the people (Salvation) for which they would be grateful to God (Praise).

3. (Isaiah 60:19-22)

19 "The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. 20 Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. 21 Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor. 22 The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation. I am the LORD; in its time I will do this swiftly."

19. These verses return to the imagery of light and glory with which the chapter began. But the tone shifts dramatically. While the previous verses were in highly poetic language, the historical background of the post-exilic restoration of Jerusalem was evident. Here, the historical background is no longer apparent. Although the language is still poetic, it no longer describes changed historical conditions but a future reign of God on a cosmic scale.

Some scholars have identified these verses as similar to a particular variety of poetic description called apocalyptic. Apocalyptic literature is a style of writing which portrays God’s activity in the world in terms of two ages, this present evil age and a new ideal age to come. One feature of apocalyptic is its vivid and imaginative descriptions of the coming age of God’s reign. The style of apocalyptic was most popular after the Old Testament era into the period of the early church (200 BC-AD 100). Still, both Testaments contain apocalyptic books (Daniel and Revelation) as well as shorter sections which resemble apocalyptic writings.

the LORD will be your everlasting light A similar idea occurs in Zechariah (14:7), which comes from about the same period as this passage of Isaiah. Zechariah 9-14 uses similar language to describe the restoration of God’s people (especially ch.14). John also picks up the same imagery in Revelation (Rev. 21:22-26; 22:5).

21. Then will all your people be righteous Again, we must be careful not to read too many later ideas into this statement. The term righteous has a range of meaning. It can mean "right" in a cause (Deut 25:1, "innocent"). Or it can mean "just" or "ethical" in character and conduct (2 Sam 23:3, "justly" in RSV; Psa 11:1-7). It also can have the sense of "justified" or "vindicated," especially by God (Isa 53:11). It is possible that the writer is envisioning the ideal coming age when all the people individually will be morally upright and sinless. More likely, the writer is seeing the entire community of God’s people, and so God himself, vindicated by the restoration of Jerusalem.

the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands This underlines the point made above that God is using the events of history to work out his purposes for his people. In referring to the future restoration of Israel after the exile, Jeremiah frequently used the image of planting (Jer 24:6; 31:28). There may be a deliberate contrast to the blighted "shoot" of 53:2.

22. I am the Lord . . .I will do this Again, the events promised and unfolding are not just accidents of history. While there is no hint of God predestining events here, there is a clear affirmation that God is active in the arena of human history.

-Dennis Bratcher, Copyright © 2018, Dennis Bratcher, All Rights Reserved
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