When God Dressed for Battle
“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; Neither is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. 2But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that he does not hear.” (Isaiah 59.1-2)
We read and are encouraged often to put on the “full armor of God” as described in Ephesians 6.10-18, and rightly so. Without wearing and wielding what God provides for us, we are powerless against the “flaming missiles of the evil one” (v.16). However, this wearing of armor to fight against our common enemy of Satan is not an original concept. As is common to many New Testament concepts and illustrations, the image of donning spiritual armor to go out and fight is drawn from the pages of the Old Testament, specifically Isaiah 59. In this chapter from the great prophet Isaiah we find a description of God Himself, “the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim. 1.17), arming Himself for war.
Descriptions of God in terms of warfare are scattered throughout scripture. He is described as a warrior in Exodus 15.3 and Isaiah 42.3, and considering the great military victories God brought the Israelites, this would be a natural description of His power. However, the account in Isaiah 59 is unique in that God describes Himself as putting on implements of warfare in v.16-17. To determine why God is arming Himself for battle, we must (as usual) examine the context of these two verses.
Isaiah 59 can be categorized into three basic sections. The first section (v.1-8) details the situation that Israel, through their abandonment of God and harlotry with the false gods around them, have gotten themselves into. The language here is as strong as can be found in the Old Testament to describe the filth of the sin Israel has descended to. “For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity…” (v.3) “Their feet run to evil, and they hasten to shed innocent blood…” (v.7) The children of Israel have corrupted themselves to their own shame and destruction, as we see from the numerous accounts given in the Old Testament. This is also written from Isaiah’s perspective, as he brings the message from God to the children of Israel. This is, without a doubt, how God felt about sin then, as well as how God feels about sin today!
In v.9-15 the tone changes to one of a first-person perspective, as those who are in such corruption and utter despair make their complaint known to God. The language used here is quite pitiful: “We grope along the wall like blind men, we grope like those who have no eyes; We stumble at midday as in the twilight, among those who are vigorous we are like dead men.” (v.10) The people describe themselves as not being capable of seeing righteousness and light, as the blind are unable to see the world around them. The recognition of their great sin is found in v.12: “For our transgressions are multiplied before Thee, and our sins testify against us; For our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities.” Does this situation not sound familiar? God looking down on His creation as they sin and grow more and more corrupt and hard-hearted. Finally, the creation turns its eyes back to the Creator and begs for mercy and relief! The created cannot save themselves, they are blind and unable to find the way back to He who created them! This happened first in the Garden (Gen. 3), this happened repeatedly throughout Israelite history, and this happens today! So what does God do?
Verses 16-20 give us the response by God. “Now the LORD saw,” (v.15) is the first ray of light upon the endless darkness of man’s sin. GOD DID SEE US IN OUR SINS! When God looked down upon man mired in their sins, what did He see? “…and it was displeasing to His sight that there was no justice. 16And He saw that there was no man, and was astonished that there was no one to intercede;” (v.15b-16) Astonished is not the same here as our idea of “confused”, as if God did not know what to do. It is to cement this fact in the reader’s mind: there was indeed NO ONE who was worthy or capable of saving man among men. This same thought was already stated by God in Isa. 41.28: “But when I look, there is no one, and there is no counselor among them Who, if I ask, can give me an answer.” God chose to save His people, and it was by His power alone, “His own arm” (v.16b) that brought salvation to mankind. In verse 20 we see the salvation that is to come in the form of the Messiah: “‘And a Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,’ declares the LORD.” Indeed, the Great Redeemer that we sing about did come to Zion, to Jerusalem, and gave Himself as a ransom for the sins of hopeless, helpless, and condemned mankind.
When God decided to save us, He dressed Himself for battle. What fear and terror should strike the hearts of those who do not repent when God girds himself for war! “And He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head; And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle.” (Isa.59.17) As we see the description of the Almighty in his vestments of war, we should be reminded again of Ephesians 6. We are called as Christians not to put on something new or original: We are called to dress for Battle as our Father dressed for the ultimate battle! “14Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith…17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” (Eph. 6.14-17)
Brothers and sisters, fellow warriors, I want you to imprint clearly the image of God that is portrayed in Isaiah 59 into your minds. See the Almighty in His armor, as He sent down Jesus into this world of sin and sorrow to do what none down here could do: save us. Recognize the strength and the righteousness that God alone has. Clearly see the great gift of Jesus Christ, freely given to those who “turn from transgression” (Isa. 59.20) and turn towards the one God in faith and obedience. The promise of God’s salvation extends to you today: “’And as for Me, this is my covenant with them’ says the LORD: ‘My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring’ says the LORD, ‘from now and forever’”. (Isa. 59.21)