31 December 2014

Isaiah 61:1-11

“For as the earth brings forth its shoots and as a garden causes what is sown to spring up, so the LORD GOD will cause righteousness and praise to blossom before all the nations.” (v. 11)

Psalm: Psalm 96:11-13


To Christian ears, the opening of Isaiah 61 is familiar as the passage that Jesus was given to read in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-22) and so it is difficult for us to hear them without thinking of the ministry of Jesus as the moment of their fulfilment. The context of Isaiah may have been about the return from exile; the one who is anointed by the Spirit is the prophet himself who is proclaiming a new future for a people whose homeland lies desolate. The prophecy promises a series of reversals: good news for the oppressed, freedom for captives, the oil of gladness for the ashes of mourning.

This new future is to be lived to the glory of God. The people have a special role to play as "the oaks of righteousness" (v. 3); theirs is to be a priesthood (verse 6) that will be lived alongside those from other nations as signs of the glorious things that God has done. When the Lord speaks in verses 8 and 9 it is to remind the people that this glorious future has to be based on justice.

The final part of the chapter is an hymn of praise. The metaphors are of riches, celebration, and abundance as the poet conveys their wonder at the glorious new age which has now been inaugurated: the imagery of the provision that God makes for the people picks up the promise of the first verses. The chapter begins with a picture of ruins to be rebuilt; it ends with an image of new life and growth.

To Ponder

  • This chapter hints at the calling of God's people to live alongside 'foreigners' as a sign of God's justice and hope. One of the major political questions at the moment is about immigration. In what ways might this passage inform that debate?
  • As we have seen, Jesus understood himself to be the fulfilment of this prophecy so the Church has a message of 'good news to the poor'. What are the practical ways in which your church lives that out? Or might be able to live that out?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler

Having been a Methodist circuit minister and a theological college tutor, Jonathan is now Ministerial Coordinator for Oversight of Ordained Ministries in the Connexional Team..