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Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Isaiah 65

 

 

Verse 1

This chapter, along with the final chapter, deals with a number of different subjects, regarding some of the most remarkable of the themes Isaiah has discussed throughout the prophecy.

Regarding the divisions of this chapter, we have (1) God's reply to the complaints visible in Israel's prayer for deliverance (Isaiah 65:1-7); (2) regardless of the total destruction awaiting the irreligious majority, a faithful remnant shall be redeemed (Isaiah 65:8-12); (3) a mingling of threats to the unfaithful and promises to the faithful (Isaiah 65:13-16); (4) a glorious depiction of the age of Messiah (Isaiah 65:17-25).

Isaiah 65:1-7

"I am enquired of by them that asked not for me; I am found by them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name. I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, that walk in a way that is not good, after their own thoughts; a people that provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens, and burning incense upon bricks; that sit among the graves, and lodge in the secret places; that eat swine's flesh, and broth of abominable things in their vessels; that say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me, for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all day. Behold, it is written before me: I will not keep silence, but will recompense, yea, I will recompense into their bosom, your own iniquities, and the iniquities of your fathers together, saith Jehovah, that have burned incense upon the mountains, and blasphemer me upon the hills: therefore will I first measure their work into their bosom."

Kidner understood the first two verses here as, "An answer to the complaint of Isaiah 63:19."[1] This, of course does not deny the application of the passage to the call of the Gentiles (Romans 10:20). There is also an answer to the complaint of Isaiah 64:9 that God has "hidden his face," making himself hard to find. As McGuiggan noted, "Why, God had even been found by people who did not even ask for him ."[2] No, the problem lay not with God but with the Jews.

Hailey also observed that there is also an answer to the plea of Israel that they are "all" God's people. This is capable of two different meanings, both of which are erroneous: (1) that Israel constituted the totality of God's people, and (2) that all of the fleshly nation were indeed the people of God. Neither proposition was true, except in the rather loose sense that God created all men. Hailey wrote: "Jehovah's reply is that he is rejecting them (Israel),"[3] and that the Gentiles will also be called as God's people.

These seven verses are, "A castigation of the rebellious idolaters among them (which were the majority of the nation) and a warning that God's punishment must one day fall. However the innocent are not to suffer with the guilty (Isaiah 65:8-12)."[4] In no other section of Isaiah does the divided state of Israel appear any more sharply than here. Throughout the prophecy, we have repeatedly stressed the Two Israels to whom Isaiah is addressed, these being, The Reprobate Majority, and the Faithful Remnant. Cheyne called them, "The polytheistic party, and the true believers."[5]

In somewhat stronger terms, Archer referred to these verses: "This is a scathing indictment of the hypocritical Jewish nation of Isaiah's day, professing to be a holy and righteous people (Isaiah 65:5), and yet practicing all of the execrable abominations of the heathen. This description would be altogether inappropriate for the post-exilic Israel, which had abandoned idolatry forever."[6]

"I have spread out my hands all day ..." (Isaiah 65:2). "This means that God had invited them sincerely."[7] Cheyne stated that it was, "A gesture of prayer. What a condescension on God's part!"[8]

"Burning incense upon bricks ..." (Isaiah 65:3). All of the things mentioned here were associated with idolatry, and the pagan shrines in the gardens and groves of the heathen. The command of God was that sacrifices should be offered upon altars of unhewn stone (Exodus 20:24,25) and at the place where God had recorded his name. Sacrificing upon bricks was therefore wrong on two counts; it was in the wrong place, and the altar was not properly constructed.

"Continually ... and to my face ..." (Isaiah 65:3). "There was no attempt at concealment;"[9] and like the antediluvian, there was no intermission in their sinful deeds. They were wicked all the time, continually.

"That sit among the graves ..." (Isaiah 65:4). This was an action associated with witchcraft, necromancy, seeking "familiar spirits" among the dead, and all kinds of shameful activity connected with idolatry. Also, "The verse alludes to the custom of sleeping in sepulchres or vaults of idol temples to learn the future through dreams."[10]

"That eat swine's flesh ..." (Isaiah 65:4). This was specifically forbidden to Jews in Leviticus 11:7; and the mention of this here is proof that the period of Jewish history in view here is positively pre-exilic; because after the exile, the Jews had renounced idolatry and all such things for ever. This is elaborated in the apocryphal book of 2Maccabees (chapters 6,7), where is recorded the names of many Jewish martyrs who refused to bow to the edict of Antiochus Epiphanes who attempted to force Jews to demonstrate their renunciation of their religion by eating swine's flesh.

"That say, Stand by thyself ... for I am holier than thou ..." (Isaiah 65:5) is a reference to some idolatrous practice the renegade Jews had entered into, "A heathen mystery ... Idolatry was bad enough, but that heathen idolaters should assume superiority over God's `holy ones' was worse."[11]

"I will recompense, yea, I will recompense ..." (Isaiah 65:6) The verbs here are repeated, after the Hebrew manner of strong emphasis. Jehovah had just concluded in the previous verses a list of the excessively wicked and abominable deeds of the Israelites, which constitutes a list of particulars, explaining why God would most surely punish them.

"That have burned incense upon the mountains, and blasphemed me upon the hills ..." (Isaiah 65:7). "The hills and mountains here are a Palestinian feature,"[12] It was a specialty of the Canaanite Baalism that many of their shrines were located on high hills and mountains, especially if a grove of trees was available in such locations. That is the reason that such shrines were generally called "high places." The orgiastic, licentious rites associated with those fertility cults were as shameful and debasing as anything ever associated with pagan worship. There can be no doubt whatever, that the attractiveness of such worship for the Jews was fundamentally that of sexual gratification.

Verse 8
"Thus saith Jehovah, as the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not, for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants' sake, that I may not destroy them all. And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains; and my chosen shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there. And Sharon shall be a fold of flocks, and the valley of Achor a place for herds to lie down in, for my people that have sought me."

The terse message of these verses is: Yes, Israel shall indeed be destroyed, but not all of them. Those who shall inherit God's holy mountain shall be those, and only those, who have "sought" the Lord (Isaiah 65:10).

"Destroy it not ..." (Isaiah 65:8). "The vintagers when they see a cluster with only a few sound grapes in it say, `Destroy it not, for a blessing is in it,' so for the sake of those who are faithful to God,"[13] he will not destroy all of Israel. Kidner noted that in this passage Isaiah united the themes of "The Righteous Remnant," and that of "The Vineyard,"[14] joining many other scholars in stressing the evidences of the unity of the whole prophecy. On this verse, Hailey wrote that, "The Canaanites were cast out of the land because of moral corruption (Deuteronomy 9:3-5); and Israel would retain it only upon the condition of their faithfulness to God (Leviticus 18:24-30; Deuteronomy 4:37-40)."[15]

Verse 11
"But ye that forsake Jehovah, and forget my holy mountain, that prepare a table for Fortune, and that fill up mingled wine unto Destiny; I will destine you to the sword, and ye shall all bow down to the slaughter; because, when I called, ye did not answer; when I spake, ye did not hear; but ye did that which was evil in mine eyes, and chose that wherein I delighted not."

Here we have an outcropping of the Jews propensity for worshipping "the host of heaven" (Acts 7:42). "The planet Jupiter was worshipped as the god Fortune; and the planet Venus was worshipped, sometimes as Second Fortune, or as Destiny."[16] "In due course, those who worship Destiny will indeed receive their well-merited destiny. Note the word-play."[17] Note the stern words, "I will destine you to the sword."

Verse 13
"Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, my servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry; behold my servants shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty; behold, my servants shall rejoice, but ye shall be put to shame; behold, my servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart, and shall wail for vexation of spirit. And ye shall leave your name for a curse unto my chosen; and the Lord Jehovah will slay thee; and he will call his servants by another name: so that he that blesseth himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of truth; and he that sweareth in the earth shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hid from mine eyes."

Isaiah 65:13-14 here enumerates a number of contrasts between the blessings of God upon the righteous and the punishments of God upon the wicked. Also, in Isaiah 65:15, the ultimate fate of those who reject God will issue in their name's becoming a curse. The thought is that, the name of the wicked nation has so defamed and degraded the name of Israel that God will have to invent an altogether New Name, called here "another name" for his people. Again we have that "here a little and there a little:" pattern of this prophet's writings, this being the third passage where the "new name" is promised. See the special article under Isaiah 62:2.

Verse 17
"For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered, nor come to mind. But be ye glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people; and there shall be heard in her no more the voice of weeping and the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days; for the child shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner being a hundred years old shall be accursed. And they shall build houses and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build and another inhabit: they shall not plant and another eat: for as the days of a tree shall be the days of my people, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, nor bring forth for calamity; for they are the seed of the blessed of Jehovah, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith Jehovah."

What is the meaning of this remarkable paragraph? We know that it cannot refer to that New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God (Revelation 21-22), because sinners here are represented as living to be a hundred years old! There shall be no sinners in heaven. Moreover, "It is not eternal life which is envisaged here, but longevity."[18] Furthermore, the necessity of agricultural pursuits and for the continuation of the building industry for the purpose of feeding and housing mankind cannot be fitted into the picture of the New Jerusalem at the conclusion of the New Testament.

Many writers go overboard with their declarations that here is the promise of the Millennium. This can be true, only if the Millennium is properly understood as one of the names of the current Dispensation of the grace of God, not a literal thousand years, but embracing all of the time between the two advents of Jesus Christ.

Taking this chapter as a whole, the situation, first to last, must be identified with the current era of "the last times," as indicated by the apostle Peter on Pentecost (Acts 2:16); because it is the era in which the Gentiles are called to accept the gospel (cf. Romans 10:20), and it is the era when God's people are no longer Israelites but are called by "another name" (Isaiah 65:15). Therefore, we accept the designation of Douglas as correct. He designated these last nine verses as, "The Overflowing Blessings in the Messianic Age."[19]

The great difficulty of accepting this understanding of the passage lies in the first verse (Isaiah 65:17) where the "new heavens and the new earth" are promised; because the apostle Peter clearly identified this promise with the final judgment of mankind, the destruction of the earth with fire, in which "the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (2 Peter 3:7-10).

Both sacred writers are obviously correct. The new heavens and the new earth mentioned by Isaiah here are indeed associated with the Messianic age, but coming at the end of it, its termination, rather than being identified with the period of probation, which constitutes the extended middle portion of the Messianic period, stretching from the first advent to the second advent. It will be remembered that Peter referred to the current dispensation as "the last days" (Acts 2:16,17); and it is a characteristic of all the prophets that events during the Messianic age are telescoped in the prophetic visions so that events, actually separated by millenniums of time, are often mentioned as if they occurred simultaneously. That is exactly what we believe to be evident here.

Another helpful factor in understanding what is written here is seen in the limitation of such promises as, "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain" (Isaiah 65:25), to conditions "within all God's holy mountain," that is, within the holy Church of Messiah, It is within that sacred fellowship that the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and the wolf and the lamb shall lie down together, as stated in Isaiah's earlier reference to the Messianic Age (Isaiah 11:6-9). Of course, what is meant is that the changes in men's lives, due to their obedience of the gospel, will be "As great as if,"[20] the nature of fierce animals should be so changed.

This reference to the lion and the wolf, along with its counterpart, has a number of utilities: (1) again we have an instance of "here a little and there a little," so often seen in Isaiah; (2) it identifies this passage as pertaining to the age of Messiah, as is the case in Isaiah 11:6-9; (3) and it serves to illustrate the unity of the prophecy and its authorship by Isaiah. See our notes on Isaiah 11:6-9, above.

The wonderful blessings pertaining to God's people which are cited in these verses, along with Isaiah 65:10 (above) refer to spiritual privileges, despite their being expressed here in the terms of material prosperity. Quite obviously in the passage, the natural laws of birth and death, and other conditions of our earth-life still prevail during the age of Messiah, in which we most assuredly live.

Of course, death itself shall finally be conquered; but when this finally occurs, Christ will render back to the Father the kingdom of heaven; and such shall mark the termination and not the beginning of the Messianic Age (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

"The new heavens and the new earth," like many other prophecies has an immediate and a remote fulfillment, the first being the creation of "an utterly new environment" in the first advent of Christ and the preaching of the Gospel to Jews and Gentiles alike. The remote and final fulfillment is yet to occur when God will shake the earth the second time, signifying its "removal" (Hebrews 12:27), when the present earth and the works within it are "burned up" (2 Peter 3:7-10), when the "elements shall melt with fervent heat," and when has arrived that final "day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men." It is freely admitted that these sensational promises could all be interpreted figuratively; but this writer, along with many others, clings to the conviction that cosmic disturbances of the most tremendous and far-reaching nature are most surely associated with the final Judgment Day in the Word of God.

The word "new" is significant in these chapters. There is to be a"new" heaven and earth, a "new" nature in the people of God, and a "new" name. Is not all of this what Paul spoke of? when he wrote: "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away. Behold, they are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).

On Isaiah 65:20. here, Rawlinson noted that, "The remarkable thing in this paragraph is that death and sin are represented as continuing."[21] Nevertheless, "Death was spoken of as being `swallowed up in victory' in one of Isaiah's earlier descriptions of Messiah's kingdom."[22] (See Isaiah 25:8 and my comment there). This harmonizes with what we have written above, namely, that both are correct. Sin and death prevail throughout the period of probation (the present dispensation) until the end of it, at which time the judgment and the new heaven and the new earth will appear. Death will be swallowed up in victory when the dead of all generations arise in the judgment to confront the Son of God upon the throne of his glory (Matthew 25). All of these are associated with the Messianic Age.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 65:11". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". "http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/view.cgi?book=isa&chapter=65&verse=11". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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