The first 13 verses of this chapter describe a nation that has departed from Yahweh to idolatry and the immoral rites associated with it. Righteous men were being removed by God in view of the impending judgment. They would “enter into peace” but, alas, the wicked would suffer a different fate, as the last verse points out: “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (Isa 57:2,21). The opening section of this article reflects on the hopeless state of man, and points out that all is not lost. Yahweh’s purpose cannot fail: He will provide the way to health, comfort and peace.

57:13–14 Contrast: the inheritance of those who trust in Yahweh

57:13 “When thou criest, let thy companies deliver thee; but the wind shall carry them all away; vanity shall take them [mlb ‘even a breath will take them off’]: but he that putteth his trust in me [Heb hasah, flee for refuge, rsv ‘But he who takes refuge in me’] shall possess the land, and shall inherit my holy mountain;”

In this verse the contrasting fates of the wicked and righteous are set forth: the wicked will be swiftly and summarily carried away, their “companies” of idols providing no respite; but those who trust, who flee to Yahweh for refuge will possess the land (Prov 18:10), and inherit Yahweh’s holy mountain.

There are earlier references in Isaiah to Zion, the place of the Lord’s holy mountain where He has placed His name forever (Psa 132:13–14). It is to be the inheritance of the redeemed (cp 2:3; 4:5; 11:9; 24:23; 25:6–8; 35:10), and this picture is elaborated in the closing chapters of Isaiah.

57:14 “And shall say [rsv, mlb, niv ‘And it shall be said’], Cast ye up, cast ye up [rsv, mlb ‘Build up’], prepare the way, take up the stumbling block out of the way of my people [rsv, mlb ‘remove every obstruction from my people’s way’].”

We are not told who the speaker is. The language is similar to Isaiah 40:3, where the voice of one crying in the wilderness, John the Baptist, calls upon his contemporaries to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God”. They were to heed the herald’s call, to prepare themselves morally for the coming of the Saviour of the world. In this picture, however, every obstacle, every impediment to rapid progress to Yahweh’s holy mountain by the redeemed is to be removed. There can be no stumbling, no accident. But who are the travellers? The question is answered by the same vision in Isaiah 35:10, namely, the redeemed who come to Zion with irrepressible joy. But the answer is also given in the immediate context, for the next verse commences with “For”, and their identity is unravelled.

57:15–19 The inscrutable ways of the Holy One, the healer, comforter and peacemaker

57:15 “For thus saith the high and lofty One [cp 6:1; 52:13] that inhabiteth eternity [Heb ad], whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”

In this verse Yahweh speaks of Himself in revealing terms, then of where He dwells in the heavens, and finally of those with whom He will dwell and inhabit. It is an informative, encouraging verse in which saints (you and I) are intimately involved. Will the Creator of the universe, the “high” (what the Lord is in Himself, transcendant) and “lofty One” (what He is in relation to all else, over all) indeed dwell with men? The answer is, Yes. Not only is He eternal, holy, and heaven His habitation, but He will actually dwell with mortals, sons of the dust (cp Exod 25:8; Rev 21:3).

“with him also that is of a contrite [crushed] and humble [lowly] spirit” The “contrite” are those crushed by life’s burdens, such as the righteous in verse 1, and the servant (53:5, “bruised”). The “humble” are the lowly, who have no estimate of themselves, who know their rightful place is at the bottom; but Yahweh does not intend to leave people as He finds them. These who are empty of themselves are the ones who can be filled with His Truth, His ways: they are the ones who can deny themselves, who are able to take up Christ’s cross and follow him. He will revive their “spirit”, their ability to enter into life with vigour; and their “heart”, their minds that reflect and meditate upon His goodness.

57:16 “For I will not contend for ever, nor will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made.”

The latter part of this verse is obscure but the meaning can be gleaned by considering two translations, the first conservative (mlb) and the second more liberal, but giving the sense in today’s language (The Living Bible).

  • “For I would not contend for ever, nor will I be angry forever; for the vital breath of men would fail before me, the souls whom I have created” (mlb)
  • “For I would not fight against you forever, not always show my wrath; if I did all mankind would perish – the very souls that I have made” (lb).

This verse is related to the one preceding by the word “For” (as verse 15 was related to verse 14). It thus provides an explanation of how Yahweh will acquire people to share His holiness so that He might dwell in them. The first part in His explanation involves restraint, a refusal to visit His anger to its full and justifiable extent.

“contend” is a legal term; He will not enter into legal proceedings.

“neither will I be always wroth” The previous thought is elaborated; the wrath of God which might be justly poured out upon incessant human waywardness, will not be, for the reason that follows: the purpose of God in creation would be frustrated and annulled.

“for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made” See the mlb and The Living Bible above. Were fitting judgments passed, all flesh would perish; people’s vital powers, their hold on life itself (breath) would cease. That which God gave to man, the breath of life itself, would fail and what in the beginning God chose to do in His purpose, would end. This is a moral impossibility.

57:17 For the iniquity of his covetousness [niv ‘sinful greed’] was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart [lb ‘but they went on sinning, doing every thing their evil hearts desired’, mlb ‘then they went astray according to their own desires’].”

This is a summary of human history from God’s perspective and enables us to see His ‘dilemma’ – what can be done in the face of the incessant sins of unheeding men?

“For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him” Here reference is made briefly to the unscrupulous pursuit of self-interest; the callous, often cruel disregard of men for their fellows (cp Eccl 4:1–3). God observed (and observes) this from His lofty place of power, the heavens, and was enraged and punished mankind.

“I hid me, and was wroth” This indicates the withdrawal of God’s favour and fellowship, being the opposite of His face or countenance being ‘lifted up’ and shining upon those He blesses (Num 6:24; cp Lam 3:44).

“and [rsv ‘but’] he went on frowardly in the way of his heart” Despite God’s manifest displeasure at the waywardness of men there was no heed given and they continued to walk after their own lusts (2 Pet 3:3–4; 2 Tim 3:1–5). There were no positive results.

57:18 “I have seen his ways, and [rsv ‘but’] will heal him [lb ‘but I will heal them anyway!’]: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners [mlb ‘those of them who are sorry’].”

This is an amazing verse for it teaches us about the wonder of God’s love. Despite God being fully aware of man’s wicked ways He will, nonetheless, heal, lead and restore him! Truly He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek 18:23, 31), is willing that none should perish (2 Pet 3:9) and so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that it might be saved! How different are God’s ways to man’s! See Isaiah 55:8–9.

This verse describes a process. Firstly, Yahweh tells us that He observes man’s ways and then declares that He will heal him (see also verse 19, “and I will heal him”). How will He do this? By redirecting his life, “I will lead him”; and the great leader is introduced to us in 55:4, “Behold, I have given him for … a leader and commander to the people[s]”, even His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

“I will … restore comforts unto him, and to his mourners” This is the final stage in the healing process for mankind. But how will it be done? The way is expounded in the next verse, by creating peace through the good news preached from the lips of the Lord Jesus, the Prince of Peace (9:6), and those sent by him into all the world, their “feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15; Isa 52:7).

The message of comfort to those who mourn was first proclaimed by their leader in the synagogue of Nazareth (cp Luke 4:18–19; cp Matt 5:4). The glorious words of Isaiah 61:1–3 were read to an audience, eyes transfixed upon Jesus, marvelling at the gracious words spoken by him. Sins will be forgiven and all the miseries resulting from it will be removed. Joy, peace and fellowship with God will be restored.

57:19 “I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith Yahweh; and [roth ‘so’] I will heal him.”

First be it noted that the healing process is initiated by Yahweh. He is the Creator and it is His righteousness that has been offended. He alone can prescribe the cure, and it is no secret (cp Isa 45:21; 43:11). He has acted and sent His only begotten Son into the world. By his obedience to the death of the cross, sin has been conquered and all mankind are invited to share in his victory by belief of the gospel and baptism into his name. Amongst his final words he said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). So now saints have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1).

The apostles took the gospel of peace into all the world, though first it was preached to the Jews. In so doing this verse found its fulfilment and outworking. Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles, cited and expounded this verse in Ephesians 2:13–18, “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one … Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law … And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were far off [Gentiles], and to them that were nigh [Jews]”.

Note how the final words of Ephesians 2 expound Isaiah 57:15, explaining how God dwells with man.

“I create [Heb bara] the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near” All that is involved in salvation is the sole work of God: it is His creative work – it is His goodness that leads men to repentance (Rom 2:4), an essential element in the process. The final aspect in the healing of humanity is the experience of true and unbroken peace, and that on a worldwide scale, Jew and Gentile being embraced, “far off” and “nigh”. The emphasis in the repetition, “Peace, peace” indicates the peace will be ‘superlative in kind and total in extent, the truest peace, and peace to the exclusion of all else’ (JA Motyer).

The writer to the Hebrews cites some of these words, “By him [our Lord] therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb 13:15), and in Galatians 5:22 we read that the “fruit of the Spirit”, the end product of labour, “is love, joy, peace”.

Those who have received the ‘healing’ work of God, who have had comforts restored and peace, perfect peace given to them, have much to be thankful for. From their lips, the fruit, the spontaneous praise to the great Author and Architect of salvation, should continually rise.

57:20–21 Peace: an impossibility for the wicked

57:20–21 “But the wicked [Heb rasha, lawless] are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.”

The righteous of verses 1 and 2 do enter into peace, but for the wicked it shall be otherwise.

“like the troubled sea” (rsv ‘like the tossing sea’) It is turbulent, restless and unsettled. This is intrinsic, originating with the forces of its own nature just like the incessant pulsating forces driving human nature to sin against God, the uncontrollable lusts of the flesh, of the eye and of the pride of life.

“when it cannot rest” This is emphatic, for to be quiet it is not able; “mire and dirt” are continually cast up; in its restless agitation, all the muck is driven out into the open.

“there is no peace … to the wicked” Peace and wickedness are mutually exclusive and to this all human history is witness. The godlessness of our present evil world explains why peace is so elusive. Only the Prince of Peace, the Son of God who will “judge the world in righteousness”, will bring the peace which the wicked will not be able to disturb: “In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth” (Psa 72:7).

Allusion is made to verses 20 and 21 by the Lord when he says of the last days, “… and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring” (Luke 21:25); and by Jude when he says that the wicked are like “Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame (v13).