Satan’s fiery darts fly at us from every direction these days. As if a worldwide pandemic weren’t enough, he’s launched the grenade of racial tension, a busy hurricane season, raging forest fires, and, oh yeah, a little election thrown in just for fun. The battle is on, and we know we need to fight; and to fight we must take up our armor.
The metaphor of armor is a familiar one to most of us. If pressed to find it in Scripture, we’d probably flip immediately to Ephesians 6 and Paul’s famous exhortation to his readers to “be strong in the Lord.” But where did Paul get the metaphor? Was it original with him? Or had he read it somewhere before? Somewhere like Isaiah?
Isaiah 59 begins with what may sound like an indictment of our contemporary culture, but it actually describes another society: violence, falsehood, wicked words, dishonesty, trust in confusion, thoughts set on iniquity, destruction, lack of peace, lack of truth, lack of righteousness; in short, utter darkness.
Isaiah, prophesying to Judah, the southern kingdom of divided Israel, has told the wicked people that their idolatrous ways will result in exile from the Promised Land. Despite warning after warning, still they persist in their wickedness. Sometimes when enemies press in, the people cry out to God, but, as the prophet says, “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” (59:2). Their sins are so great that they’ve created a wall between themselves and Yahweh.
However, while the punishment that awaited Judah does not necessarily await us, this passage doesn’t offer only a diagnosis of our problem. It also offers the cure.
Making a sharp turn, Isaiah takes his readers from the grave to the Gospel as he foretells of the coming Warrior King who will deliver the deathblow to evil, injustice, and the curse. In these days rife with spiritual warfare, we cannot march into battle ourselves without gazing at our Commanding Officer and Conquering King.
He Sees Us.
First, this passage tells us that the Mighty Conqueror sees our plight.
Now the LORD saw,
And it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice.
And He saw that there was no man,
And was astonished that there was no one to intercede;
Then His own arm brought salvation to Him,
And His righteousness upheld Him. (Isa 59:15-16, emphasis added)
Twice in these two verses, we learn that the King sees exactly what is going on. And He doesn’t just see the wickedness, He also sees the need for a Savior. He is “astonished that there was no one to intercede. Of course, in His perfect omniscience, He knew that there was no savior on earth. Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wants his readers to recognize their need for the one Savior. We too must be “astonished” that there’s nothing or no one who can save us and cry out in desperation for the only One who can intercede. Our King sees that need. He hears that cry. And He’s on His way.
He Comes Dressed for Battle.
Next, we see that this Warrior has arrived armed to the hilt and ready to fight.
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. (Isaiah 59:17)
First, we see His breastplate: righteousness. God is 100% righteous, and doesn’t need to “put on righteousness” like sinners do. However, given the imagery of this passage, we see that He is preparing for a fight. He’s about to enter a world in which righteousness has gone AWOL. Verse 14 tells us that “righteousness stands far away.” Jesus, with His breastplate on, brings righteousness near. We learn in verse 16 that His righteousness sustains Him. He is able to fight our darkness because He Himself is righteous. When Paul tells the church to don this breastplate, he’s referencing Isaiah and this picture of Christ, telling us that our breastplate is this breastplate!
Not only is the Conqueror girded with righteousness, but also salvation. Once again, we picture a warrior fighting on our behalf, able to defeat the darkness, wickedness, and evil of the world to bring us salvation. While we put on the helmet of salvation because that’s what protects us (Eph. 6:17), Isaiah tells us that our Savior brings salvation “with His own arm” (59:16). He needs nothing outside of Himself to deliver salvation. And that’s good because, as we’ve already noted, there is no salvation without Him. Once again, Ephesians tells us that this helmet is our helmet. This salvation is our salvation.
Breastplate of righteousness, helmet of salvation—we’re familiar with these terms. How about the “robe of vengeance” (NLT)? This passage does not refer primarily to the first coming of Christ, with angels, swaddling clothes, wisemen, and shepherds. Isaiah is foretelling what we know as the majestic, victorious conquest of Christ’s second coming. This time He won’t come meekly and quietly to an out-of-the-way stable. He will come with glory and with vengeance. He will not allow His name to be mocked; instead, He will demonstrate that He alone is righteous, true, and just and proclaim that He alone is worthy of glory, honor, and praise. He will mete out justice and vengeance upon anyone who dares defy Him. We, Revelation says, will flank Him on that day of victory (Rev. 19:14).
Check out what Isaiah says He will do to His enemies:
According to [their] deeds, so He will repay,
Wrath to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies;
To the coastlands He will make recompense.
So they will fear the name of the LORD from the west
And His glory from the rising of the sun,
For He will come like a rushing stream
Which the wind of the LORD drives. (Isa 59:18-19)
All of His enemies will fear the name of the Lord and His glory.
Every last one of them. From the east to the west.
Finally, He will come with a mantle, or cloak of zeal. He is “all-in” on this mission. We do not have a Savior who phones it in or gives just enough effort to get the job done. His zeal is for His own glory on which the wicked are trampling. And His passion is for His covenant people to whom He has attached His name and His glory. He will not desert them. He will not desert us.
So We Fight.
With that background in mind, consider the familiar passage in Ephesians. Paul’s exhortation will perhaps have more significance now:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual [forces] of wickedness in the heavenly [places.] Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. (Eph. 6:10-13)
We’d be fools to dismiss the notion that we are in the midst of some pretty epic warfare against the forces of darkness. But as we stand united with that Warrior King of Isaiah 59, we can, and we must, take up our own armor and stand firm until the day of reckoning when every soul will fear His name.