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Attitudes towards ritual (66:1-6)
This chapter continues the contrast between the majority of Israel who were the people of God in name only, and the godly minority who were his true people. The returning exiles were glad to hear that the temple was to be rebuilt, but the prophet reminds them that they are mistaken if they think that God’s sole dwelling place is a temple. God dwells everywhere. They are also mistaken if they think that God’s chief requirement for people is that they carry out religious ceremonies. What God most desires is their humble acknowledgment of sin and their genuine repentance (66:1-2).
Without this humble attitude of heart, killing an innocent animal in sacrifice is as bad as killing a person; presenting holy offerings is as bad as presenting unclean things; so-called worship of God is as bad as worship of idols. Correct religious ritual, without obedience in the common things of everyday life, will not help a person escape the judgment of God (3-4).
Genuine believers, who emphasize that to fear God is more important than to be ritually correct, are excluded from the religious ceremonies by the ritualists. They are mocked with the challenge to show openly that God is on their side (5). God’s judgment on these sinners will begin at the very place where they mock him, the temple (6).
New people and a new age (66:7-24)
Usually there is a long period of development before a group of people becomes a nation, but the new nation Israel will appear suddenly and unexpectedly, like a baby born before the due date (7-9). As with the birth of a baby, there is much rejoicing over the birth of the new nation (10-11). The ‘baby’ grows strong and active because God is the one who nourishes it. Under the controlling hand of God, Israel prospers (12-14).
While Israel enjoys God’s blessings, enemy nations suffer. God’s people have new life, but the rebels are punished with death (15-16). In particular, God’s judgment falls upon those who reject his law and engage in idolatrous rituals (17).
The day of God’s great intervention in history displays his glory to the people of the world, bringing destruction to some and salvation to others. Gentiles from far-off nations, together with Jews scattered in those nations, flock to Jerusalem to worship God. No distinction is made between Jew and Gentile; all have access to the house of God, and all have equal right to worship and serve him (18-21). In the new age all the redeemed join in the unending worship of God. Those who rebel against him and reject his love suffer unending punishment (22-24).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Isaiah 66". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent