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The Acceptable Year of the Lord; A Married City
Chapter 61 begins with "the song of the Lord's anointed. Although the term 'the Servant of the Lord' is absent from this song…it seems artificial to make the 'me' of v. 1 a new speaker" (New Bible Commentary, note on verses 1-4). Indeed, God was speaking in Isaiah 60:22. And He is still speaking in the next verse, 61:1. Yet He mentions another here as God. This makes sense only when we understand that God the Father and Jesus Christ are both God (see our free booklet Who Is God? to learn more).
When Jesus was visiting the synagogue of Nazareth, He read from the scroll of Isaiah (Luke 4:18-19). The passage He read was the beginning of chapter 61. This passage—concerning the proclamation of liberty, release and time of acceptance—is also reminiscent of the year of jubilee (Leviticus 25:9-13). Indeed, this ties back to the "acceptable time" of Isaiah 49. There it was referred to as the "day of salvation." Isaiah 61:2 says, "acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God." Isaiah 34:8 says, "the day of the Lord's vengeance, the year of recompense for the cause of Zion." Isaiah 63:4 says, "the day of vengeance…and the year of My redeemed." A day in this usage represents a year—apparently the final year before Christ's return.
But the Day of the Lord can have a broader application. In one sense, it represents all of future eternity from the time of God's intervention. In another sense, it can even be seen to have started with the New Testament era for the Church—the forerunners in God's plan of spiritual redemption. Indeed, as mentioned in the highlights for Isaiah 49, Peter related a prophecy of the "last days" and "Day of the Lord" to the Church's beginning in his day (see Acts 2:14-21). Indeed, the seven-day week is thought by many to represent 7,000 years in God's plan for mankind (each day representing a thousand years, compare 2 Peter 3:8)—thus, 6,000 of man's history followed by a seventh 1,000-year period (a millennial Sabbath day, compare Hebrews 3-4). In such a plan, anything beyond the midway point—as apostolic times were—would be the "last days" (though "last days" is normally a clear reference to the period much closer to Christ's second coming).
In quoting Isaiah 61:1-2 in Luke 4, Jesus explained that He came in fulfillment of this prophecy. Included in what He quoted was the part about the acceptable year of the Lord—but He did not quote the next phrase regarding the day of vengeance. This perhaps indicates that, while the Day of the Lord was actually in the future, it would have a measure of advance fulfillment for some in His day (just as Peter indicated in Acts 2 regarding another end-time prophecy)—that is, the liberty and acceptance of redemption would begin for some in Christ's day. But the vengeance-on-the-nations aspect of the Day of the Lord was not to come in any sense in His human lifetime. It was completely for the future. He would fulfill it at His return to earth in power and glory.
The remainder of Isaiah 61 speaks of a future time of renewal, both physical and spiritual. God hates "robbery and iniquity" (verse 8, NIV)—"robbery for burnt offering" (NKJV) apparently being a mistranslation (see also Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary, note on verse 8). But He loves judgment and truth (same verse). He will clothe the city in righteousness (verse 10; see also Revelation 21:2)—clothing in Scripture often representing spiritual condition. And righteousness and praise will spring forth (verse 11).
Isaiah, and by extension God, will not rest in continuing the warning until righteousness has been established (62:1-2, 6-7, 10-11). At that time Jerusalem will no longer be called "Forsaken" and "Desolate" but Hephzibah ("My Delight Is in Her") and Beulah ("Married"). Hephzibah was "the name of Hezekiah's wife [2 Kings 21:1], a type of Jerusalem, as Hezekiah was of Messiah (ch. 32:1)" (JFB Commentary, note on Isaiah 62:4).
God is seen as married to Jerusalem and its land—although it should be understood that physical Jerusalem is also symbolic of the spiritual Zion, the Church, the bride of Christ. Yet all of Israel and Judah are to eventually come into the same covenant marriage with Him—their God (see 1 Corinthians 10:4). There seems to be some confusion in the metaphor in verse 5, where Jerusalem is told, "So shall your sons marry you." The JFB Commentary explains: "Rather, changing the [vowel] points, which are of no authority in Hebrew [since they were not part of the original Hebrew text], [the phrase "your sons" should actually be translated] 'thy builder' or 'restorer,' i.e., God; for in the parallel clause, and in vs. 4, God is implied as being 'married' to her; whereas her 'sons' could hardly be said to marry their mother; and in ch. 49:18 they are said to be her bridal ornaments, not her husband" (note on 62:5). The NIV Study Bible's note on the same verse also states that "the Hebrew for 'sons' could be read as 'Builder.'"
God will at last not only deliver His people, but establish them forever.