Today we stand in the midst of what seems to be a culture “gone mad.” Up is down, down is up. Right is wrong, wrong is right. Common sense is dismissed, and independent thinking is considered threatening. As believers, how do we rise above the noise and bring the voice and heart of the Kingdom of God into this madness? Of all the scriptures I have studied that shed light on this matter, one stands out as a paramount call to our lives. It’s found in the prophetic book of Isaiah.
In the midst of Isaiah’s 3rd subdivision, Isaiah, which deals with the rebuilding and organizing of Jerusalem, a core message rings through in chapters, 60- 61. From the ever-powerful opening announcement, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you,” at the beginning of ch. 60, to the closing promise of ch. 61, “the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations,” the multi-faceted restoration of Zion is painted in exquisite detail though the voice of Isaiah. At the center of this core, the passage of Isaiah 61:1-4 breaks into a powerful lyrical passage describing the anointing that the LORD is releasing upon the prophet to bring restoration to the people and culture.
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor …” (Isaiah 61:1-2a NRSV)
As one dives into the beautiful phrases of this passage, we must consider that the Hebrew understanding of God would not have been connected to the Triune Godhead as we would envision. Surrounded by a culture entrenched in many gods, the Hebrew worshiped the one, singular God, YHWH. As this passage begins, we hear the voice of the prophet declaring, “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me because the LORD has anointed me.” This spirit is the Hebrew term, ruach, חַוּר, which has many meanings but all spring from the understanding that the breath, the wind, the strength of the Almighty has come upon the prophet. This spirit of the one holy God, is to have anointed the prophet to do the liberating work of the subsequent verses. Anointing in this occurrence would be seen as a commissioning act, that in essence certifies a vessel for the tasks ahead. There is good news to be proclaimed to the oppressed, broken hearts to be mended, liberty to be given to those held captive, and a release to come to those who are imprisoned (Isaiah 61:1). As the prophet presses through these announcements, the spirit’s commissioning becomes more and more vital to see the fullness of these purposes come to fruition.
The year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25:10 is harkened to as the voice of the LORD announces the year of the LORD’s favor. The year of Jubilee came on the 50th year, which followed seven cycles of the Sabbath year, seven times seven. This was designated as a year of freedom where slaves were released, debts were cancelled, and economic equilibrium was brought back into a balance. Alongside this Jubilee, vengeance is promised as a pronouncement of God's coming justice, His equity established in the world. From the years of mourning will spring forth gladness, and from the place of weariness will come a mantle of praise (61:2).
As the passage comes to a close, the prophet makes a slight transition that is still connected to the previous proclamations, for from this restorative place, a people would emerge being called oaks of righteousness (61:3). In the midst of a semi-desert climate, a strongly planted giant tree would be extraordinarily unusual, therefore this powerful imagery speaks vividly and would display the glory of YHWH.
A restored people can thus begin the process of rebuilding the ancient ruins and will see that a people restored can then restore the devastations of many generations (61:4 NRSV). This echoes in various scriptures throughout Isaiah. Isaiah 58:12 declares, “Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” Not only can Israel repair the past devastations, but they have the ability to imagine and build a world where they leave future generations a kingdom inheritance. YHWH desires for His people to be established and their territory enlarged, as heard through the prophetic announcement of Isaiah 54:2-3a, “Enlarge the site of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left, and your descendants will possess the nations” (NRSV).
How do we as a modern people become the fulfillment of this ancient pathway within our cultural climate? We become the “oaks of righteousness” on whom the Spirit of the Lord rests and anoints us to “bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (NRSV). Perhaps this could be the most beautiful and captivating picture of a believer’s role of influencing culture.
Over 500 years later, Jesus would stand in the temple, open the scroll and begin reading Isaiah 61:1. He read through the first part of vs. 2, closed the book and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18-21). While the original prophecy would have been heard and understood as an immediate anointing of the prophet who spoke, Jesus arose that day as the Messianic fulfillment of this prophecy. As we walk out Christ’s life in us in culture today, may we also become its fulfillment.
Hear the cry of the prophet that continues to ring out to us in the atmosphere today …
In His Name,
Pastor Aimee Sych