14 And it shall be said,
“Build up, build up, prepare the way,
remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”
15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
16 For I will not contend forever,
nor will I always be angry;
for the spirit would grow faint before me,
and the breath of life that I made.
17 Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry,
I struck him; I hid my face and was angry,
but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart.
18 I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners,
19 creating the fruit of the lips.
Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the Lord,
“and I will heal him.
20 But the wicked are like the tossing sea;
for it cannot be quiet,
and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
21 There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” – Isaiah 57:14-21 ESV
Verse 13 ended with the promise:
But he who takes refuge in me shall possess the land
and shall inherit my holy mountain. – Isaiah 57:13 ESV
The Hebrew word translated “refuge” is chacah, and it means “to flee for protection.” This is an open invitation from God to His people offering them to place their hope and trust in Him. But He knew they had options, so He challenged them to make their decision. The next time they found themselves in trouble, they could cry out to Him, or they could turn to their assortment of false gods and see how well they fared.
But God makes it clear that, when deliverance comes, it will come from one place: From His hand. The day was going to come when the people of Judah would hear the long-awaited words, “Rebuild the road! Clear away the rocks and stones so my people can return from captivity” (Isaiah 57:14 ESV), and they would come from the mouth of God, not some lifeless idol. And Isaiah differentiates God from the so-called competition by describing Him as “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15 ESV). He is the transcendent God who is above all. He is not relegated to earth and subject to the whims of men. He is not the product of man’s minds or hands and does not require their help in moving from one place to another. He is also eternal, without beginning or end. Every idol the people of Judah worshiped came into existence because someone took the time to manufacture it. And it would one day decay and fall apart. But not God.
And He alone is holy, totally pure and free from any and all forms of defilement. John reminds us, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). God’s very character makes Him unmatched and unparalleled. There is no one besides Him.
“I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God.” – Isaiah 45:5 ESV
Yet, this transcendent, holy, incomparable God has made Himself known to mere men. But only to those who meet a certain condition or requirement.
“I live in the high and holy place
with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.
I restore the crushed spirit of the humble
and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.” – Isaiah 57:15 NLT
Notice the attributes of those to whom God reveals Himself. They are contrite and humble, crushed in spirit, and marked by repentant hearts. In other words, they are cognizant of their need for God. No pride. No self-righteousness. No arrogant boasting in their own self-earned standing before God. No, the people to whom God reveals Himself are those who are contrite or broken in spirit. They have been crushed by cares of the world and their own efforts at trying to live righteous lives in their own strength. When Jesus delivered His great invitation, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NLT), He was addressing all those who were worn out and beaten down by trying to earn favor with God through self-effort.
God reveals Himself to the humble, those who recognize their true spiritual condition and their need for someone higher and greater than themselves to save them. And this requirement of humility is found throughout the Scriptures.
Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble,
but he keeps his distance from the proud. – Psalm 138:6 NLT
One’s pride will bring him low,
but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. – Proverbs 29:23 ESV
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. – James 4:6 ESV
The people of Judah had become prideful and arrogant, thinking of themselves as somehow better than everyone else because of their unique standing as God’s chosen people. In one of the many confrontations Jesus had with the Jewish religious leadership of His day, He warned them, “Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones” (Matthew 3:9 NLT). Their status as descendants of Abraham gave them no merit before God. Their Hebrew heritage did not impress God or somehow indebt Him to them.
God was looking for those who would humbly recognize their need for Him. His anger against them was real, and it was perfectly justified. He was just and right to punish them for their rebellion against Him. But He wants them to know that His anger can be abated and assuaged if they will only turn to Him and seek His salvation. That is the essence of the gospel message. Sinful men must reach the point where they are willing to admit their sinfulness and humbly acknowledge their complete inability to earn God’s favor through acts of self-righteousness. They must turn to the sole source of salvation made possible through the grace of God. And the apostle Paul puts it in terms we can understand.
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. – Romans 5:6 NLT
God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT
Recognizing God’s holiness and coming to grips with our own inherent sinfulness is the key to experiencing God’s graciousness as revealed through His Son’s sacrificial death on our behalf. Jesus told His disciples, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (Lue 5:31-32 NLT).
As long as the people of Judah continued to see themselves as spiritually healthy and in no need of a divine doctor, they would continue to suffer the deadly symptoms of their sin. God reminds the people of Judah about their stubborn refusal to take His punishment of them seriously.
“I was angry,
so I punished these greedy people.
I withdrew from them,
but they kept going on their own stubborn way.” – Isaiah 57:17 NLT
And yet, God delivers the amazing news:
“I have seen what they do,
but I will heal them anyway!
I will lead them.” – Isaiah 57:18 NLT
God offers to heal them in spite of them. He promises to lead them even though they had consistently refused to follow Him in the past. But the key to experiencing His healing and help was humility. They were going to have to admit their need for Him. And all that God had been doing to them and around them was so that they might know the reality of their sin and their need for His salvation.
The apostle Peter reminds us of the biblical truth: “God opposes the proud but favors the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 NLT). But he goes on to tell us what to do in response to that truth.
So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. – 1 Peter 5:6 NLT
But what does that humility look like? It is not just a matter of recognizing our sinfulness and our need for a Savior. It involves a daily dependence upon God and a growing recognition of His love for us and His ability to provide for all our needs, cares, and concerns. Peter goes on to say:
Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. – 1 Peter 5:7 NLT
And God assured the people of Judah, “I will comfort those who mourn, bringing words of praise to their lips. May they have abundant peace, both near and far” (Isaiah 57:18-19 NLT). All they had to do was humble themselves before Him.
But God knew there would be those who refused to acknowledge their sin and admit their need for His salvation. So, He warns them:
“But those who still reject me are like the restless sea,
which is never still
but continually churns up mud and dirt.
There is no peace for the wicked.” – Isaiah 57:20-21 NLT
Like the sea that is never calm, but in a constant state of perpetual upheaval, these unrepentant, prideful, and stubbornly self-righteous individuals would never know the peace that comes through humble contrition and willing submission to “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15 NLT).
Confession of our sin is key to receiving cleansing from our sin. Admission of our guilt is a critical step in experiencing the blessing of God’s grace. Those who refuse to see themselves as sinners will never recognize their need for a Savior. Which is why the apostle John so strongly warns us:
If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:8-10 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.