Release to the Captives: Isaiah 61:1e
“To preach release to the captives…”
In the context of Isaiah’s ministry, this statement would have had a very specific promise, recognizing that at this point in history, the northern Kingdom of Israel has fallen and the people had been taken and scattered throughout the Assyrian Empire. In addition, the southern Kingdom would, within 100 years, fall as well. To those who would hear this prophesy, that would speak of the hope of the return of the people from exile with the advent of the Messiah’s coming. When Jesus spoke these words of his own ministry, the people would have responded in a similar way, not only thinking of the return of the various Jewish people who had been scatted all over the Roman Empire, but also of the lifting of Roman oppression in the Holy Land. Yet, Jesus had an entirely different bondage in view—one that was far more dangerous than the taxation and oversight of the Romans. Jesus was dealing with our bondage to sin.
The language used by Isaiah echoes this great promise that Jesus has come to fulfill. The word that we translate as “release” or “liberty” is the Hebrew word, rArD> (deror), which specifically has in view the release that God commanded in conjunction with the Sabbatical Year and the Year of Jubilee (which is where verse 2 picks up—also see Leviticus 25:10). Essentially, God commanded that every 7th year was to be a Sabbath year set aside for himself. During this year the fields would be left fallow, Jewish slaves would be set free, and debts would be considered satisfied. In the Year of Jubilee (every 50th year), even the family lands that had been sold to pay off debts would be returned to their rightful owners for the purpose of preserving the family in the land. It was to be a time of celebration and deliverance from economic and social bondage. Yet, do not miss the purpose of the Year of Jubilee and Sabbatical years, or you will miss what Isaiah is doing by referencing it and you will miss what Jesus is doing by applying it to his own Messianic ministry.
Leviticus 25, a chapter devoted to the release that was to be associated with the Sabbatical Year and with the Year of Jubilee, ends with God’s explanation for instituting these events:
“Because, to me, the sons of Israel are servants;
they are my servants which I brought out of the land of Egypt.
I am Yahweh, your God.”
In other words, God is saying that the reason for these Jubilees is because the people of Israel belong to no one other than to himself. He did not share them with Egypt, but delivered them, and he will not share them with those who would exploit them in their own land. God’s people are God’s servants and a perpetual bondage means that he is forced to share with one who is an illegitimate owner. God brought his people from Egypt to be his own; he is not going to let them go.
Do these words not also ring true with the language of our Lord?
“All that the Father gives me will come to me; I will definitely not cast out.”
“Also I give them eternal life, and they shall never be destroyed; no one will snatch them from my hand.”
Yet, this language echoes even more strongly with the language of the writer of Hebrews:
“Remember those who are bound as ones bound with them; and the ones who are tormented, as they are in the body. Let marriage be precious to all, and the marriage bed be morally pure; for the sexually immoral and adulterous God will judge. Let your lifestyle not be covetous, being content with what is at your disposal. For he has said: “I will never send you back, nor will I ever leave you behind.” Thus we can say with certainty, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:3-6)
Okay, let’s put the puzzle pieces together in light of what the writer of Hebrews teaches. We know from Leviticus that God has delivered his people from their bondage in Egypt for the purpose of making them his own servants. In light of that, God instituted the Sabbatical Year and Year of Jubilee in Israel’s governmental law for the purpose of ensuring that the people would not sink back into bondage. The writer of Hebrews builds on this idea and asks us as Christians to look at several things that will lead us into different kinds of bondage. We are to remember believers who are in actual chains—why? Because God hears the cries of his persecuted people (Exodus 2:23-25). We are to preserve the sanctity of our marriages—why? Because in marriage, one man and one woman are bound covenantally together to the point that they are seen by God as one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Thus, this binding must always be a holy one—one that does not detract from the couple’s ability to serve God, but instead aids it (1 Corinthians 7:2-7, 26-28). We are not to defile our marriage bed with sexual immorality or adultery, why? Because not only does this sinful activity ruin the holy nature of the marriage, but it also enslaves the person who entered into such sin to the sin and to the one with whom he or she has committed said immorality and adultery (1 Corinthians 6:16). Our lifestyles must not be covetous (more than just the love of money, but the 10th commandment includes coveting your neighbor’s house, wife, servants, and/or property—Exodus 20:17). Why? Because this places you in bondage to the lust of material things—things that belong to this world, and not to the things of God (1 John 2:15-17). All of these things that the writer of Hebrews mentions are things that binds us in servitude and slavery to things or persons other than being bound in service to God.
Thus, it is in this context that the writer of Hebrews quotes Jesus as saying, “I will never send you back, nor will I ever leave you behind.” While this is likely a reference to Jesus’ promise to his Apostles in John 14:18, it picks up the language of the passages quoted above from John above as well as other promises of Jesus that he will be with us always, even to the end of eternity (Matthew 28:20). All of these statements must be understood in the context of God’s calling of us to be his own. Why will Jesus not allow us to be left behind? Because in being left behind, we are left in bondage to the things of this world, to sin, and ultimately to death. As the Apostle Paul writes:
“You were bought with a price; do not become slaves to men.”
(1 Corinthians 7:23)
So, we return back to Isaiah 61:1 and to Jesus’ proclamation that he is the fulfillment of this prophesy (Luke 4:21). Our Lord came to proclaim, and thus the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims, that we are released from our bondage to the world—Egypt has no more claims on us; sin has no more claims on us; the kingdoms of the world can do nothing to us for we are eternally bound to the risen Christ. Oh, beloved, how is it that we so often bind ourselves to the world even in light of this great truth! Loved ones, let us live in service of Christ, for he is our only master—the chains of this world have been loosed, and we have found our freedom in him!
Redeemed how I love to proclaim it!
Redeemed by the blood of the lamb;
Redeemed through his infinite mercy,
His child and forever I am.
Posted on March 31, 2008, in Expositions and tagged Bible, Isaiah 61, Jesus, Messiah, Yahweh. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.
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