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1. God’s faithfulness in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness 63:1-65:16
Isaiah proceeded to glorify the faithfulness of God by painting it against the dark background of Israel’s unfaithfulness. Even though people cannot attain righteousness on their own, God makes it available to them through the work of His Servant.
God replied that He had been gracious in allowing a nation to call on Him-and to obtain responses from Him-since that nation did not normally pray to Him. The Apostle Paul applied this verse to the Gentiles, people to whom God had responded before they called (cf. Romans 10:20). This was the "nation" that Isaiah had in view when he originally gave this prophecy.
"To pray in God’s name means to submit to him and to pray in terms of his revealed character and will." [Note: Watts, Isaiah 34-66, p. 342.]
Superficial righteousness 65:1-7
The divine response 65:1-16
The Lord responded, through the prophet, to the viewpoint expressed in the preceding prayer (Isaiah 63:7 to Isaiah 64:12).
"The great mass [of the Israelites] were in that state of ’sin unto death’ which defies all intercession (1 John Isaiah 65:16), because they had so scornfully and obstinately resisted the grace which had been so long and so incessantly offered to them." [Note: Delitzsch, 2:474.]
The Lord had not hidden His face from the Israelites, but on the contrary, had offered Himself to His people. It was not He who needed to change in His orientation toward them, but they needed to change. They were rebellious and pursued their own agenda (cf. Isaiah 59:1-2; Romans 10:21). He was not unresponsive. They wanted to have Him on their own terms (cf. Isaiah 55:6-11).
The Israelites provoked the Lord by offering their sacrifices in ways that were unacceptable to Him-and then claimed that He was unresponsive to them. Gardens were unauthorized places for sacrificing, and bricks were unauthorized materials for an altar (cf. Exodus 20:25; Deuteronomy 27:5-6; Joshua 8:31).
The Israelites also engaged in pagan practices that rendered them unclean, and they were not careful to avoid the defilement caused by disregard for God’s will. God’s standards of discipline and holiness were of no concern to them (cf. Revelation 21:8; Revelation 22:15).
"Sitting in the tombs and lodging between the rocks appear to be rituals of the cult of the dead, that is, necromancy in which one contacts the spirits of the dead by spending the night in the cemeteries." [Note: Ibid., p. 343.]
The Israelites’ assumption of spiritual superiority over others disgusted the Lord (cf. Matthew 23). Rather than being a pleasing aroma in His nostrils, the smoke of their offerings repulsed Him. Their ceaseless sacrifices were a needless burning instead of pleasing acts of worship.
In this whole pericope, Isaiah was speaking in the Lord’s behalf about the Israelites who felt that their rituals of worship should have resulted in God’s blessing, or at least His responding to them when they prayed. They failed to appreciate that God dictates how people should worship Him because He is God. They felt that because they worshipped Him on their terms, He should respond as they demanded, even though they worshipped Him in unacceptable ways.
The Lord announced that judgment was sure and inescapable. The people had demanded that He speak, but they did not appreciate that when He spoke, His word would be a word of judgment, not a word of deliverance. His repayment would go to the very center of their lives.
Repayment would be for the sins of all His people, since dependence on cultic righteousness had long been their sin. They had heaped up guilt from generation to generation, and failure to break with the past resulted in their having to accept the inheritance of the past. They had worshipped Yahweh at mountain shrines for a long time, and this amounted to scorning, not worshipping, the Lord. He would, therefore, pay them back in measure for their sins.
"If they gave a little more attention to the real character of their religion, they might be less hasty in begging him to split the heavens and come down." [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66, p. 641.]
The Israelites had prayed for God to deliver them, but He explained that if He did respond it would be with punishment rather than deliverance.
Yahweh promised not to destroy the whole nation (cluster of grapes), but just the sinners among them (the bad grapes). The whole nation constituted His servants, but most of them were unprofitable servants.
"Reading chs. 40-55 alone might give one the impression that all that is necessary to be part of the remnant is to believe God’s promises to deliver. Chs. 56-66 make plain that those who are truly the servants of God are those who believe his promises enough to obey his covenant." [Note: Ibid., p. 646.]
Consistent faithfulness 65:8-16
The Lord proceeded to explain that even though He would destroy the ungodly, He would also spare the truly godly among His people (cf. Genesis 18:23-25).
God would preserve a godly remnant from among His people who would inherit His promises to the patriarchs concerning His land and kingdom. Messiah was one of these descendants (cf. Micah 5:2) but not the only one.
The faithful who truly sought the Lord would inhabit the fertile western coastal plain and the barren eastern area west of Jericho, in other words, the whole land. Some interpreters regard both the Sharon and the valley of Achor as favorite places in Palestine. [Note: Watts, Isaiah 34-66, p. 344.] Those who sought the Lord were not necessarily those who engaged in religious activity but those who obeyed His covenant requirements.
In contrast to these faithful were those who forsook the Lord, who forgot Jerusalem as the specified place of His worship, and who participated in ritual meals to the gods Fortune and Destiny (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:21-22). Isaiah was using examples of idolatry that were present in his generation of Israelites to represent the idolatry that would exist after the exile. "Fortune" (Heb. gd) was an Aramean god (cf. Joshua 11:17; Joshua 15:37), and "Destiny" (Heb. mny) means "apportionment (of fate)" and may have a connection with the goddess "Manat" of Arabian mythology. [Note: Young, 3:509.] These may have been what became identified later with the planets Jupiter ("the greater luck") and Venus ("the lesser luck"), or with the sun and moon. [Note: Delitzsch, 2:483-85.]
These Israelite hypocrites would be the objects of His judgment because when He had called, they had not responded with obedience (cf. Isaiah 64:12). Far from controlling their own fortune and destiny, Yahweh would control it. They had chosen the things in which the Lord did not delight-they had rebelled-so He would bring discipline on them (cf. Matthew 22:7; Matthew 23:37; Luke 19:27; Acts 13:46).
The Sovereign Lord’s true servants, those in Israel who obeyed His covenant, would enjoy blessings of body and spirit, all types of blessings, whereas those who rebelled would experience all types of curses.
The reputation (name) of the rebellious Israelites would remain as a curse to all the Israelites, and Sovereign Yahweh would slay them. This is not a replacement of all Israel by the church, but a replacement of all who depended on formal worship for their relationship with God by those who genuinely loved and obeyed God. But those who faithfully served the Lord by keeping His covenant would have another reputation, namely, the reputation of the God of truth (lit. amen). People would bless and swear by this God, whom the "godly" served. Their godly conduct would testify to their solidarity with Him. In contrast to those whom He would slay (Isaiah 65:15), the faithful would be those whom He had forgiven.
This verse is an overview of what follows. God announced, in substantiation of everything He had said since Isaiah 56:1, that He would create a restored and renovated universe (cf. Genesis 1:1). Things will be so much better than they are now that people then will not even think about things as they used to be (cf. Romans 6:14; Revelation 21:4). This should motivate God’s people to obey Him in the present. Not only would God perform another Exodus, bringing Israel out of Babylon and into the Promised Land, but He would also create another Creation. Watts, who understood chapters 40-66 of Isaiah to refer only to the Jews’ return to Palestine following the Exile, believed that the renovation in view is not eschatological or worldwide but restricted to Jerusalem and Judah. [Note: Watts, Isaiah 34-66, p. 354.]
Isaiah described the future in general terms as "a new heaven and a new earth." In the New Testament, we have further particularization of what this will involve: the making of all things new for those in Christ presently (Galatians 2:20), the millennial kingdom (Revelation 20:4-6), and the "eternal state" (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1). Thus Isaiah’s use of "new heavens and a new earth" is not identical with the Apostle John’s (Revelation 21:1). What Isaiah wrote about this new creation is true of various segments of it at various stages in the future; it is not all a description of what John identified as "new heavens and a new earth," namely: the eternal state.
"The designation new heavens and a new earth is applied to the Millennial kingdom only as a stage preliminary to the eternal glories of heaven (the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21; Revelation 22)-just as Pentecost was to be regarded (Acts 2:17) as ushering in the ’last days,’ although it occurred at least nineteen centuries before the Second Advent." [Note: Archer, p. 653.]
2. The culmination of Israel’s future 65:17-66:24
As the book opened with an emphasis on judgment (chs. 1-5), so it closes with an emphasis on hope (Isaiah 65:17 to Isaiah 66:24). Amid judgment, Israel could have hope. References to "new heavens" and a "new earth" form an inclusio for this final section of the book (Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22).
New heavens and a new earth 65:17-25
God not only will be faithful to His promises in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness (Isaiah 63:1 to Isaiah 65:16), but He will demonstrate His ability and desire to provide righteousness for sinful humankind by creating new heavens and a new earth. Most of this section describes God’s renovation of creation during the Millennium.
This new creation is a cause for ceaseless hope and rejoicing among God’s people. The New Jerusalem would be a place of rejoicing, in contrast to present mourning, and its people would be eternally happy (cf. Revelation 21:9 to Revelation 22:5).
God Himself would also rejoice in the new city and in the new people in that new city. Isaiah wrote many times that God presently lamented over old Jerusalem and her inhabitants (e.g., Isaiah 24:7-12). Weeping and crying would end in that new city (Revelation 21:4).
Specifically, death will not have the power that it has had. Infant mortality will be virtually unknown, and people’s life-spans will be much longer. This seems to describe a return to conditions before the Flood, when people lived hundreds of years (Genesis 5). In short, one of the sources of sorrow and weeping, namely, Death, will suffer defeat. Christians need not fear the second death even now. Believers alive in the Millennium will live longer on this earth than they do now, but they will die. [Note: See Louis A. Barbieri Jr., "The Future for Israel in God’s Plan," in Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, p. 175.] And in the eternal state, even physical death will be gone.
". . . Isaiah 65:20 expresses a double thought: death will have no more power and sin no more presence." [Note: Motyer, p. 530.]
"This prediction requires the conditions of an earthly city, where babies are born and older people die (even though the average lifespan is to be much prolonged)." [Note: Archer, p. 653.]
Likewise there will be abundant safety and plenty when God brings new life to the world (cf. Isaiah 17:11; Leviticus 26:16; Deuteronomy 28:15-46; Amos 5:11; Zephaniah 1:13). Again, people will live longer: longer than God’s other creations such as trees, and longer than their own "creations," such as buildings and bridges that normally outlive them (cf. Isaiah 40:6-8).
"What a promise, to have the time to do something right and then the opportunity to enjoy it to the full!" [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66, p. 660.]
Note that people will continue to work. The blessing of work will characterize the messianic age, though people will not have to labor as they did under the curse (Genesis 3:17-19).
Life will not be futile or frustrating, labor will amount to something, and children will be born for productive lives rather than for tragedy. This is true in one sense for the Christian now (cf. Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 15:58), but it will be true in a larger sense for all the redeemed in the future. Isaiah identified three generations of the blessed of the Lord in this glorious future state. This reflects the truth that the basic unit of society is the male and female couple, not the individual (cf. Genesis 2:18; Genesis 2:23-24).
Perfect communication with God will be another blessing of this peaceable kingdom. Christians already enjoy good communication with Him (Matthew 6:8; 1 John 5:14-15), but in the future it will be even better.
"What greater privilege than to have a God whose love is so great that He answers before one calls to Him!" [Note: Young, 3:517.]
Another cause of present weeping that will end is nature, which is sometimes harmful. In the future, it will not be harmful because the effects of the Fall will have been erased. Nature will no longer be man’s enemy. The Lord’s curse on the snake, which has only been fulfilled figuratively so far-snakes do not literally feed on dust now but on plants and animals-will find complete fulfillment (cf. Genesis 3:14). Chisholm believed that Isaiah was not alluding to Genesis 3:14 here but was simply using the serpent as another illustration of an animal that formerly posed a danger but would not in the future. [Note: Chisholm, A Theology . . ., pp. 337-38, and Handbok on . . ., p. 136. See also the note on this verse in The NET (New English Translation) Bible.] This verse is a hint that the change will come because of the "seed of the woman" described earlier in Isaiah as the Servant, Messiah (cf. Isaiah 11:6-9).
"The only point in the whole of the new creation where there is no change (cf. Isaiah 65:20 fg [sic]) is in the curse pronounced on sin, which still stands (cf. Genesis 3:14)." [Note: Motyer, p. 531.]
No evil or harm will come to anyone or anything in all God’s holy kingdom (cf. Isaiah 66:22). Watts interpreted this change as indicating only the absence of violence that would follow the Jews’ return to their land after the Exile. [Note: Watts, Isaiah 34-66, p. 355.] However, this is hardly the picture of life in Jerusalem and Judah that the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah paint.
"But to what part of the history of salvation are we to look for a place for the fulfillment of such prophecies as these of the state of peace prevailing in nature around the church, except in the millennium?" [Note: Delitzsch, 2:491-92.]
Delitzsch believed in an earthly Millennium. He distinguished himself from "anti-millenarians" and "antichiliasts." [Note: Ibid., 2:492.] But he also believed that some of the prophecies regarding Israel’s future blessings have found fulfillment in the church, whereas some will yet find fulfillment in Israel.
Isaiah revealed several new things for Jerusalem in this section. Joy would replace weeping and crying (Isaiah 65:18-19). Longevity would replace sorrow and death (Isaiah 65:20-23). Answered prayer would replace God’s previous silence (Isaiah 65:24). And universal peace would replace violence (Isaiah 65:25). [Note: Dyer, in The Old . . ., p. 585.]
The kingdom in view in this passage, and in chapter 66, is not just the millennial kingdom. It is the kingdom that God will bring into existence through the redemptive work of His Servant. Since the King has come, some features of this kingdom are present in the world today. But since the King has yet to come to accomplish fully His work of redemption, many features described here will be seen after His second advent. Part of these changes will take place on this earth during the Millennium. Other changes will happen when the Lord creates completely new heavens and a new earth (Revelation 21:1). How do we know that all that Isaiah predicted is not fulfilled in the present age through the church, or in the Millennium, or in the eternal state? The New Testament provides a more specific description of which of these promises will be fulfilled when and in what ways.
"The prophet appears, therefore, to refer to that Jerusalem, which is represented in the Apocalypse as coming down from heaven to earth after the transformation of the globe. But to this it may be replied, that the Old Testament prophet was not yet able to distinguish from one another the things which the author of the Apocalypse separates into distinct periods." [Note: Delitzsch, 2:492-93.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 65". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany