Epiphany 2 · Isaiah 62:1-5 · January 17, 2010
By Thomas Egger
This text presents a wonderful opportunity to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus in a way that faces up to the homeliness of fallen humanity, reconstructs our shallow contemporary notions of beauty and embraces the promise of the coming age. For the shriveled and the decrepit, for the lonely divorcee, for the sixth-grade girl who spends hours frozen before the mirror, sad and imprisoned in her plainness, this divine promise is joyous and freeing. All who, in Christ, are citizens of “Jerusalem” and “Zion,” will one day shine with such perfect beauty that God himself will sharply draw in his breath and will gaze on them in joy and delight.
This pericope is piled with metaphors: shining light (v. 1), a new name (v. 2), a beautiful royal crown in God’s hand (v. 3). The latter verses then move into the language of courtship and love—passionate, committed, joyous (v. 5).
It is especially this last set of images which can serve to clarify the Gospel of justification through faith in Christ; the end of justification (or the forgiveness of sins) is not merely that we are “cleared”—not merely that we were “bad” and now we are “not bad.” Instead, there is a rich and captivating positive side to the Gospel: Jesus Christ makes us gorgeous, absolutely spell-binding, in the eyes of our husband, God. Again, this serves to clarify and enrich the Gospel of justification: it is not merely that the judge “doesn’t condemn us” or merely that God is “not angry any more.” The God who has clothed his people in righteousness and garments of salvation (61:10; 62:1-2) is enraptured by her beauty.
Read in light of the closing verses of chapter 61, the first person voice here is often taken to be the prophet, speaking of the necessity of his prophetic office and his determination to proclaim God’s Word until the day of its fulfillment. Consider, however, the use of the verb חשׁה (be silent) elsewhere in Isaiah—42:14 and 57:11—both times in the first person with God as the subject. As the voice of God, these opening verses heighten the note of God’s all-embracing commitment to his people Zion in this pericope (cf. w. 3-5). The verbs “not be silent” and “not keep quiet” promise that God will not sit idly by when His people are defaced and disgraced. Literally, כַנֹּגַהּ does not mean “like the dawn” (NIV). ESV and NASB are more reliable here: “as brightness.” It is the second, parallel comparison which the text offers as the more concrete and emphatic image: “like a blazing torch.”
The beauty with which God’s salvation will manifest itself in his people will be public, shining forth and visible to all; though in this verse it is not yet called beauty, but “righteousness” and “glory.” This builds on the theme of shining glory trumpeted in the Old Testament pericope for Epiphany, Isaiah 60:1ff. (cf. Is 9:1ff.). Note the interplay of righteousness (צֶדֶק), salvation (יְשׁוּעַ etc.) and especially glory כָּבוֹד) in chapters 60-62 (60:1-3, 9,17-21; 61:3b, 10-11). The saving work of God for his people will result in glory for him and for them. Their glory/light/righteousness/beauty cannot be separated from God’s (cf. Mt 5:16). Among the restored, it is already visible (e.g., 1 Pt 3:3-4). Its full bestowal and revelation, however, awaits the Last Day, when we will be clothed with a glory that we can now only imagine. The “new name” spoken of here is more than a refurbished corporate logo, especially when this new designation comes from the mouth of Yahweh. It signifies a new status and a new reality; think Abraham, Israel, Peter, Paul.
In the context of Isaiah 62, the new name is specified in verse 4. On the eschatological dimensions of a new name, see Revelation 2:17 and 3:12.
That our beauty and glory are bound up in God’s glory is vividly captured in this image: “You will be a crown of beauty in the hand of Yahweh.” The phrase itself is beautiful: עֲטֶרֶת תִּפְאֶרֶת—’eteret tiferet—a crown of beauty. In chapter 3, Isaiah spoke judgment to the prosperous, beautifully bedecked women of Zion because of their pride and faithlessness. “In that day Yahweh will remove the beauty (תִּפְאֶרֶת) of anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, dangling earrings, bracelets, veils, headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets, finger rings, nose rings, festal robes, outer tunics, cloaks, money purses, hand mirrors, undergarments, turbans, and veils…instead of fine clothes, a girding of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty.” Now, in chapter 62, the Lord addresses a humbled, despoiled Jerusalem and speaks of righteousness, salvation, glory, and beauty. The beautiful (apart from him) he uglifies. The ugly he beautifies, and holds as his own.
The second verse spoke of the objective nature of the beauty of God’s saved people. It is real and visible, and nations and kings will see it. This verse speaks of the subjective nature of our beauty in Christ in its most important dimension. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the crucial beholder is our God. In Christ, we are beautiful to him. He will marry us forever. He will rejoice over us forever (cf. Zep 3:17). That there is rejoicing among the angels over one sinner who repents is breathtaking. That having us will bring God himself great joy (bride-over-bridegroom joy!)—this is the stuff of heaven’s eternal song.