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April 26 lesson: A Justice-Loving God

April 17, 2020
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A Justice-Loving God

Spring Quarter: Justice and The Prophets
Unit 2: God Promises a Just Kingdom

Sunday school lesson for the week of April 26, 2020
By Dr. Hal Brady

Lesson Scriptures: Isaiah 61:8-11; 62:2-4a
Key Verse: Isaiah 61:8

Lesson Aims
  1. Identify the everlasting Covenant.
  2. Explain why Old Testament parallelism promotes fuller understanding of the text.
  3. Repent of a sin of omission or commission concerning a time he or she promoted or allowed an injustice.
Two high school boys were overheard conversing at a hamburger stand. Before leaving, one realized he had been given too much change. As he started to give it back, his friend said, “If you give that back, you’re stupid!” The young man gave the money back anyway. His simple act was a contrast to the habits of his friend, who clearly had a different set of values.

Lifestyle contrasts can indeed reveal important truths. Today’s lesson will make that clear.

Lesson Context

Isaiah (ministered about 740-680 BC) lived in the days when Israel, the northern kingdom, was struggling against Assyria and was finally exiled from the land. For a time, the northern kingdom sent tribute to Assyria; however, Israel’s King Hoshea sought an alliance with Egypt in order to end Israel’s vassal relationship to the Assyrian oppressors. The consequence of Israel’s rebellion against Assyria was that they were carried away into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 BC, never to be restored.

The southern kingdom of Judah remained, but Isaiah predicted punishment for its disobedience, as well (example Isaiah 3). His predictions were fulfilled almost a century after his ministry. God used the Babylonians as his instrument to bring down the monarchy of Judah and destroy the temple in 586 BC.

However, the Lord, in faithfulness to his covenant with David (2 Samuel, 7:1-17), brought back the Jews from exile in 538 BC and established them as a nation. And He used the Persians as his instrument to accomplish that restoration (example Ezra 1:1-8).

The book of Isaiah is generally viewed in terms of two larger sections: chapter 1-39 and chapters 40-66. Most of Isaiah 40-66 is conveyed in a poetic style. We are told that these chapters can be read as an ancient play.

Imagine a large stage with all the characters present. On one side of the room, there is Heaven with the Lord and the heavenly host present; on the other side, the earth and its inhabitants. Different characters speak, are addressed, or are discussed. The characters are the nation of Israel and the nations.

Within Israel there are the righteous and the wicked, the leaders and the commoners, and the servant of the Lord. The Gentile nations are distant but interested observers. Usually they are talked about, whether for future judgment or for blessing. But sometimes they are addressed directly.

Isaiah is at times an actor onstage with the other characters; sometimes he is an offstage narrator to the readers, who are the theatre audience.

Isaiah 56-66 “begins with the prediction of the salvation of the nations (56:1-8). The text then describes the punishment of the wicked of Israel, especially the leaders, for their ritual and ethical sins (chapter 58).

But the Lord is able and willing to deliver the repentant. And as a result, Israel will become a light to the nations (chapter 60) and embrace their priestly role (chapter 61).

Then comes a lengthy description of Israel’s glorious future with the arrival of their triumphant Lord (Isaiah 62-65). The grand conclusion describes the blessings and ministry of the contrite and the ultimate punishment of the wicked (chapter 66).

Isaiah 61:1-11 is a sequence of four speeches that follow up the Lord’s declaring Israel a light to the Gentiles in Isaiah 60.

The Priestly Nation
(Isaiah 61:8-11)

Before us is a picture of Israel as a nation acting as priest for the nations. It is also a picture of Israel receiving such honors from other nations as the lay folk of Israel were in the habit of offering their priests. Israel had been called in the beginning to be a nation of priests or a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6), and now this glorious destiny is at last to be fulfilled. The positions will be reversed. Israel, which had suffered such humiliation, will now be moved into the place of glory and dignity formerly occupied by the nations. There will even be some boasting (Isaiah 61:6).

Isaiah 61:8 identifies the speaker as the Lord. The conjunction “for” links verses 8,9 to the previous verses and explains what it means for God’s people to be a nation of priests.

First, the priestly people have moral requirements that stem from the very character of God. One of these is to practice “justice” (compare Isaiah 5:16). The word “justice” as commonly used today implies judgment and condemnation. It can also mean that in the Bible as well (example, Isaiah 34:5). However, the meaning of justice here has more to do with God’s character and what he expects from his people.

The Lord himself is just (Deuteronomy 32:4), and he requires the same of his people (compare Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 56:1). And this is especially true of their leaders (Proverbs 16:10). Justice has to do with the setting right of wrongs (example, Isaiah 1:17).

8b says, “I hate robbery and wrongdoing.” Contrasted with the justice that God loves is “robbery” that he hates, along with all types of “wrongdoing.”

In his condemnation, Isaiah may be casting the spotlight on the practice of fulfilling requirements of sacrifices only ritually, without keeping the moral requirements of the law (example Isaiah 1:10-17). God makes clear that acts of worship from those who do not follow him wholeheartedly are repulsive (example, Amos 5:21-24). God intends to bring about dramatic change in his people; his righteous standards do not vary.

8c and d says, “In my faithfulness I will reward (my people) and make an everlasting covenant with them.” In my “faithfulness” refers to God’s character and the certainty of his direction or rewarding.

In verse 8d, the Lord is giving his assurance that he will not forget his people in their exile. He will keep his promise to them.

Centuries later, the New Testament writers will confirm the fact of the Lord’s preservation of Israel for the inauguration of a permanent new covenant through the Messiah (see Romans 9:3-5; Hebrews 8:7-13). The salvation brought about by the one-time sacrifice of Jesus produces a covenant that is absolutely everlasting.

In verse 9, we see one of the most easily observable characteristics of Hebrew poetry and that is parallelism. This involves using, in adjacent lines, words having either similar or opposite meanings. These phrases can explain each other or offer a contrast. Repetition through the use of parallel terms emphasizes whatever truth the writer is trying to convey.

The verse before us offers an excellent example of such parallelism in Hebrew poetry: “their descendants” parallels “their offering,” and “the nations” parallels “the peoples.” The repetitions found in these parallel phrases highlight one aspect of the dramatic transformation to come regarding the ancient Israelites’ reputation. In their future captivity, the Israelites will be derided by foreigners; God’s covenant people will become a “scorn and reproach” to the nations around them (example, Jeremiah 29:17-19).

However, the prophet Isaiah predicts a time when that reputation is to change. The release from captivity and subsequent events will result in the descendants of Isaiah’s current audience being known as “a people the Lord has blessed” (compare Genesis 17:2; Isaiah 43:5; 48:19).

In verse 10 Jerusalem is speaking and giving thanks. “God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth.”

It is a crippling weakness of Christians that we do not think often enough of God and his goodness to us to be overwhelmed. To be so overwhelmed by his greatness and grace that we are moved to ecstasy.

Coventry Patmore, the English poet, tells us that as a boy of 11, while reading a devotional book, “it struck me what an exceedingly fine thing it would be if there really was a God.”

Such rejoicing in God tends to alter the spiritual climate, restore hope, and make his presence and purpose clearer.

Verse 10 features poetic pairs in the mold of Hebrew parallelism, discussed earlier. The parallel here is easy to see:
I  -- My soul             delight greatly  --  rejoices         in the Lord -- in my God
We normally think of cause and effect in that order. But here Isaiah starts with the effect, then moves to state the cause.

The second poetic pairing states the cause of Zion’s rejoicing. Note that we say “cause,” not “causes.” There is one cause mentioned here, not two. And that’s the key to interpreting Hebrew parallelism properly. The phrases “clothed me” and “arrayed me” point to one action by God, expressed twice with different words. Likewise, the “garments of salvation” equate to “a robe of his righteousness.” These are figurative descriptions of a vitally important reality: they describe a person fully clothed by God so as to be acceptable in his sight.

The third poetic pair uses a comparison to describe the beauty of the clothing. The garments given by the Lord are as magnificent as the finest accessories worn by a bride and groom at their wedding (compare Isaiah 49:18).

The analogy involving a bridegroom and bride brings to mind the relationship between Jesus and his church (Ephesians 5:22-33). And while recognizing that the language of this verse before us is spoken by Zion, we also note that the blessings described as blessings Jesus shares with his followers. Revelation 19:7-9 tells us of the special clothing that awaits those who are part of the “wife” of the Lamb; he prepares us to join him at his “marriage” (compare Revelation 21:2).

We are reminded in verse 11 that God’s grace shown to Israel will in turn cause “all nations” to bloom with the same “righteousness” and subsequent “praise.” The righteousness that Zion displays will have an effect on nations as well. They too will know the Lord. The theme of people from among the nations coming to the Lord is highlighted throughout Isaiah (examples: Isaiah 2:2-4; 5:26; 49:6; 60:3; 66:18-20). The nations’ praise is an intended consequence of God’s faithfulness to Israel.

The Righteous Nations
(Isaiah 62:2-4a)

“The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory” (verse 2a). The Hebrew word here translated “vindication” is frequently translated “righteousness” (see Job 29:14: Psalm 9:8; Isaiah 51:5). Righteousness most often refers to moral integrity in doing what God declares right. The people of Zion will live lives so distinct from sin that the nations will take notice (example: 40:5).

“You will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow” (verse 2b). Renaming in the Bible communicates some new characteristic of the one renamed. The new name, we are told, is prophetic, either in condemnation (Hosea 1:4-9) or commendation (example: Genesis 32:28).

Isaiah often uses name changes for the redeemed (example: Isaiah 1:26). Christians can look forward to the new names God will grant after the resurrection of the dead (Revelation 2:17).

Isaiah 62:3 says, “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of our God.” The second statement once again builds on the first. A “crown” is often made of gold and worn by a king: “diadem” occurs parallel to the crown. They both signify the splendor of the Lord and his royalty. Zion is the crown or diadem in the Lord’s hand. Simply put, to be in the hand of the Lord is to be under his control.

4a. says, “No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate.” Israel forsook the Lord and because of this the land was to be deserted (32:14). From all appearances, the people will seem to be forsaken in the Babylonian captivity to come. But once they yield to become the righteous crown in God’s hand, they will know they are not forsaken (42:16, 60:15).

The Hebrew word translated “Desolate” is used six times in Isaiah, but this is the only time it is set in a positive light. The reason is because it will be permanently ended.

One last thought: if we live under the control and care of God we are mandated to share Christ with the world (Matthew 28:19, 20).

Sometimes someone will say to me, “Hal, I am not growing spiritually. Why can’t I grow? Do you have a suggestion?” I usually ask that person, “Are you sharing your faith?”

Action Plan
  1. In what ways have your views of justice been challenged because of our studies over the past several weeks?
  2. What viewpoint do you continue to hold even though you sense God wants you to change? Please share.
Resources for this lesson
  1. “2019-2020 Standard Lesson NIV Commentary, Uniform Series, International Bible Lessons for Christian Teaching,” pages 293-300.
  2. “The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VI,” pages 514-517.
  3. “The Abingdon Bible Commentary,” pages 672-673.
  4. “The Interpreter’s Bible Volume 5,” pages 713-715.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).

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