Isaiah 59:15–17 (ESV)
15 Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. 16 He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. 17 He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.
I encourage you to read all of Isaiah 59 to get the big picture of these few verses above. In the context of this passage the Lord has been looking down from heaven, so to speak, and has seen the wickedness of man. Actually, the Israelites are the people accused by their God as having “hands defiled with blood”; then later, “their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity.” Israel is not in a healthy relationship with the Lord their God, are they!
Because of Israel’s hard hearts the Lord will allow their enemy, the Babylonians, to execute the Lord’s discipline toward His people. This is actually an act of love from God to his people Israel, “for the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Heb. 12:6). The exile to Babylon was meant to bring the people back to God.
Yet, we see in the rest of Isaiah 59 beginning in verse 16 that the Lord is the one who has to bring his people back to himself. “He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.” Nobody but the Lord was able to intercede on behalf of his sinful people. So, God stretches out his providential arm to bring them salvation.
God put on his “battle armor” and cloaked with zeal he dealt his vengeance upon Israel’s captors to bring about salvation. No man could intercede, so God interceded.
The end of Isaiah 59 is full of promised hope for Israel. But there is also promised hope for a future Savior who will come to deliver the Lord’s elect. This hope is seen in verse 20, ““And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.”
This Redeemer has come. The Lord looked down from heaven and saw the wickedness mankind. Then, in the fullness of time, he sent his Son, who would be his arm that would bring salvation and uphold the Lord’s righteousness. This Son of God, Jesus Christ, for the joy that was set before him willingly, left the joys of heaven and donned the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation for his people. He interceded for them on behalf of their iniquity by dying on a cross. According to the Scriptures after his task was finished he was buried and on the third day rose again. He conquered the curse of sin, destroyed the power of death, and removed God’s judgment from his people for their iniquities.
While this task of interceding on behalf of his people’s sin was completed on the cross and made sure by Christ’s resurrection, there is still a part of the Lord’s salvation yet to come. In Isaiah 59:17, the Lord put on garments of vengeance and zeal was his cloak. He was going to pour out his power upon Israel’s enemy, Babylon, in order to save his people. Today, the Church waits for their Savior to return once more. When that time comes the Lord will once more don his garments of vengeance and zeal will be his cloak. He shall destroy the Adversary and cast all his enemies away forever. Salvation belongs to the Lord and he will certainly deliver his people from darkness and bring them into the land where his righteousness dwells forever!