Isaiah 59:21 and the Perfect Preservation of Scripture
The book I edited and in which I wrote, Thou Shalt Keep Them, provided exegesis of key preservation passages in the Bible in their context. There were several passages that we did not deal with that will be part of a second volume when it comes out. One of these is Isaiah 59:21. Recently, I merely mentioned Isaiah 59:21 as a part of the introduction to a post at my blog on the LXX issue. A young man named Adam, attending Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, decided to attack this particular article. He dealt with it as though this really was the major work that I had done as an examination of passages which teach the perfect preservation of Scripture. I only quoted Isaiah 59:21, no more. I provided no commentary, but this is what he wrote concerning that:
Now, one has to really shake their head at the gross misuse of scripture here. Take, for example, the quotation from Isaiah 59. The context is Israel’s transgression before the Lord [vrs.12-13], and the resultant mistreatment of them by their enemies [vrs.14-17]. However, the text says that God will repay them for their deeds, and will bring them a redeemer, so that all will fear the Lord [vrs.18-20]. It is in that context that you find the statement about the covenant being with them in verse 21. Hence, the words here are the *promises* of God to his people, not individual words of the text itself. It is parallel to the usage of Numbers 30:3:
Numbers 30:2 “If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.
Now, are we really to suggest that his vow was just one word? No, of course not. Yet, this is the very same context of covenants and promises of vengance etc. that we find Isaiah 59:21! All I can say is that this is a gross misuse of Isaiah 59:21.
He says that I grossly misuse scripture by relying on Isaiah 59:21 as a verse on the preservation of scripture. I’ve preached through the whole book of Isaiah, verse by verse and word by word through the Hebrew text. It took me about three or four years.
He talks about the context of Isaiah 59:21, but he really does not go back far enough to understand what Isaiah 59 is about. He needs to see the entire chapter if he wants to properly understand the context. A proper reading of Isaiah 59 will show that v. 21 really does teach the perfect preservation of Scripture to every generation of believer.
Context of Isaiah 59:21
Isaiah 59 allows us to see the world like God sees it, and in this chapter he depicts salvation for Israel and for all mankind. For our own well-being, we must give heed to this portrayal by God of His salvation. Chapter 59 begins like chapter 58 with a concern expressed as to why God is not answering prayers and why Israelites do not seem to sense His presence. They were not experiencing God’ s promises for one reason: their sin. Sin was the barrier between them and God, and this is the theme of Isaiah 59:1-8. As the people recognize the cause for their difficulties, they respond to God first by crying out to Him (vv. 9-11) and then confessing (vv. 12-15).
Isaiah 59:15-21 ends not only this chapter but an entire section that began in 56:1. God is pictured as a Mighty Warrior that defeats Israel’s enemies. But who are her enemies? The enemy isn’t the Canaanites, but her inability to live the life of God. God wants righteousness and He will come to deliver them from sin, and in so doing, Israel can become what God intended her to be. God will come to defeat sin in spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6:13-17 hearkens back to this text in Isaiah. God’s victory over sin has worldwide implications—from the east to the west God will be glorified. His ultimate purpose for attacking sin was so that He might be a Redeemer (59:20).
The Teaching of Isaiah 59:21
In the final verse of Isaiah 59, v. 21, God pronounces a covenant with those He redeems, those whom He saves from sin. And here it is:
As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever.
The “them” are the ones that God’s hand is not to short that He cannot save (cf. 59:1). He guarantees those who turn from their transgressions several things.
First, God’s Spirit will not depart from them.
Second, God’s Words, which He has put in their mouth, will not depart out of their mouth. God makes a promise that these whom He has redeemed will always have His Words accessible to them. God will always provide for them what they need to know Him, believe in Him, and live for Him. Adam offers the typical, faithless treatment of “words.” He says, “These are not the individual words.” Instead, they are merely the “promises.” Where does he get that? Ironically, not in the words of Isaiah 59:21. He reads “promises” into the verse, that isn’t there, and it seems so that he might keep alive the uncertainty of the text that will permit his continued textual criticism.
Third, God’s Words will not depart from the mouth of those believers’ seed and their seed’s seed from that point unto forever. We’re still living under this promise to believers.
God promises perfect preservation and availability of His Words to every generation of believer.
Regarding Isaiah 59:21, consider others who write about this verse. John Owen called Isaiah 59:21 “the great charter of the church’s preservation of truth.” Edward Young in his classic commentary on Isaiah writes (p. 442): “The gift of the Spirit (cf. John 16:13), who will instruct the Church in all truth and in the comforting, saving words that God has given her, will abide with her seed forever. The Lord is declaring that His eternal truth, revealed to man in words, is the peculiar possession of His people.” John Owen and Edward Young both see this verse the same way that I do. Adam would have to chide them as well for their “gross misuse” of scripture—pretty cheeky for someone in his M.A. program in divinity school.
I am amazed at the extent to which men will pursue a goal of attacking the doctrine of the perfect preservation of Scripture. Why not accept the plain reading of the text? God’s Word sustains authority and God offers His people certainty. We should cherish these wonderful gifts of God’s grace. Every generation of God’s redeemed really do have every one of His Words by which to live.