Isaiah 58 – Part 3

We continue our series in Isaiah 58-59, with guest writer Rev. Christine Redwood.

Hope on the Horizon

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk… Isaiah 58:8-9

Yesterday the people were accused of failing to really worship and delight in God. Now there is a shift in both the form and content from a message of judgment to an oracle of hope. This is accompanied by a shift from the first person speaker of God to the prophet’s voice now dominating this next section.  The use of the second person pronoun is used in this instance to make it explicit that the prophet is addressing those who are asking why God does not hear them.[1]  The possibility of hope for the people is raised with the use of the small but powerful word ‘if’. God will hear their calls if they change the way they are living to be in line with his heart for righteousness and justice.

…and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. Isaiah 58:10

A few metaphors are used to flesh this hope out. Metaphors are very important in the Hebrew (and English) language; metaphors express the intangible.[2]  These metaphors are affective; that is, they draw on sensory elements in the Israelite’s world creating a deep connection.[3] If I say ‘picture a sunrise’ a image (should) come to mind instantly. If I say ‘picture salvation’ you might have no picture or we might have very different pictures come to our minds. This is why metaphors can be so helpful in guiding our collective thoughts and imaginations around God’s purposes. A key metaphor in verse 8 and 10 is the image of light. Light is something that everyone knows. This metaphor is connected to the concerns of the nation. Again, if, they live according to God’s ways the people of Israel will experience transformation. Light is a central image in Isaiah and the metaphor encompasses a wide selection of meanings. It can symbolise blessing, life and God. It can also be used as a way of describing the awesome power of the God who judges.[4] In the third part of Isaiah, light, salvation and healing are a governing series of images which often coalesce into one metaphor.[5] In this instance light stands for the promise of God’s presence to once again be with his people as they follow him.

Refreshment on the Horizon

The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Isaiah 58:11

In the middle of these metaphors is a simile. Similes often function like metaphors but are grammatically different. This simile imagines that God’s promise to guide his people will result in them becoming full of life like a renovated garden or a gushing spring.[6] Water is an image that can be used either in connection with judgment or salvation. Though often when it is connected with light it is portrayed as a positive thing. [7]  This is the case here; people need God just like the scorched plains need water. This is an image that would connect deeply with the people of Israel whose lands were often dry. God is promising life. Life in abundance and life not just for the people of Israel but potentially anyone who comes to Israel will be able to experience the grace of the living God.[8] Metaphors and similes give people something tangible to picture in their minds assisting them to grasp abstract concepts. Even for us today as we attend to our daily work, it might include watering and tending our gardens and backyards (I have just started doing this and realize how much attention is needed even to care for a few plants!), when we do this type of work we can be reminded of these words. One last image is given:

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

The third picture imagines the people like a city that is crumbling and in despair (due to their sin) but again there is hope that God will rebuild his people. He will give them new names and identities. This is good news. When we turn back to God he promises to enable us to live according to his ways.

To think about

What metaphor do you most connect with? Why?

Do other examples of God giving conditional promises come to mind?

Do you think it is possible today that when we aren’t obeying God we might have a sun-scorched experience?


[1] Daniel Reynaud, The Bible as Literature (London: Minerva Press, 1996), 146.

[2] Ibid., 25.

[3] G. B. Caird, Language and Imagery of the Bible (Duckworth, 1980), 147.

[4] Peter D. Miscall, “Isaiah : The Labyrinth of Images,” Semeia, no. 54 (1991): 117.

[5] Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah, 1st ed. ed. (Louisville, Ky. ; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 478.

[6] Miscall, “Isaiah : The Labyrinth of Images,” 119.

[7] Ibid., 113.

[8] Gary V. Smith and Ebook Library., The New American Commentary – Isaiah 40-66, (Nashville: B & H Pub. Group,, 2009), http://www.oxford.eblib.com/patron/FullRecord.aspx?p=673064. 582.

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