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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).
Yahweh reminded His people that He is sovereign over His universe (cf. Isaiah 65:17). They should not assign too much importance to the temple and its service, since they built the temple for God (cf. 2 Samuel 7:4-14; 1 Kings 8:27; Psalms 11:4; Psalms 103:19; Jeremiah 7:12-14; Jeremiah 23:24; Matthew 5:34-35). It was a symbol of Him. They should consider more important that He had created all things Himself (cf. Acts 7:48-50). It is people who are not self-assertive or preoccupied with their own rights, but rather who delight in the Lord’s Word, that He favors (cf. Exodus 20:18-21; Luke 18:9-14; Luke 23:39-43).
"If cult is performed to curry favor with God, to satisfy God’s supposed needs, and thereby get something for ourselves from him, we should shut the doors of the temple at once and abandon the whole thing. But if our attitude in worship is the opposite of such arrogance as to think we can do something for God, and is instead the humble recognition that we can do nothing either for or to him (afflicted), the awareness that we deserve nothing but destruction from him (broken in spirit), and the desire to do nothing other than what he commands (trembles at my word), then the expression of such a spirit through the medium of ritual and symbolic worship is entirely pleasing to God." [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66, p. 667.]
"The Lord’s priority is the individual who has a trembling reverence for his word." [Note: Motyer, p. 532. Cf. Ortlund, p. 449.]
Humility rather than sacrifice 66:1-6
This section introduces judgment into the mood of hope that pervades this section describing Israel’s glorious future (Isaiah 65:17 to Isaiah 66:24). Oppressors of the godly remnant will not prosper, nor will those who depend on externals for their relationship to God.
The person who relies on ritual to satisfy God is repulsive to Him. The Lord regards the slaying of sacrifices by such a person as no better than murder. There is no difference to Him between the sacrifice of an acceptable lamb or an unclean dog when a person relies on ritual. A grain offering can be as abominable to Him as offering a swine’s blood. Burning incense with such an attitude is just pagan worship (cf. Isaiah 43:23-24; Jeremiah 7:21-22; Amos 5:21-25; Micah 6:6-8; Malachi 1:10; Matthew 23:27).
"The most sacred exercises of true God-given religion are like the worst of sins when they are divorced from humility of spirit." [Note: Grogan, p. 352.]
Such worshippers chose to worship God as they pleased rather than as He pleased, so He would deal with them as He pleased, not as they pleased. He would do this because they proved unresponsive to His words and insensitive to His desires.
The Lord addressed the faithful who did tremble at His Word (Isaiah 66:2). He would put to shame their ritualistic brethren, who hated them for their reality and excluded them for emphasizing genuineness. Those who obeyed God’s Word would find great joy and comfort in that Word.
These two groups of Israelites emerged conspicuously following the return from exile, but they also existed in Isaiah’s day (cf. Isaiah 5:19; Luke 6:22; John 16:2). One group worshipped God for His sake, and the other for their own benefit. The ritualists challenged the "spiritual" to find their joy in the Lord, while not really believing-they themselves-that obedience was the key to that joy. God promised that as they had shamed their spiritually sensitive brethren, so He would shame them in the end.
God would intervene with a word announcing and effecting judgment. The superficial worshippers had called for God to act (Isaiah 66:5), and He would. They had called on Him to give them the comfort they thought He owed them (cf. Isaiah 57:18). He would give them what they deserved, but it would be judgment rather than comfort. These were enemies of His, not His true worshippers.
The subject of this prophecy is Zion (Isaiah 66:8). Isaiah pictured Zion as a pregnant woman giving birth to a baby, without any pain. She would give birth to a boy before she began experiencing labor pains. This is, of course, the opposite of what usually happens. This may be a prophecy of Messiah’s appearing (the Rapture) before the Tribulation (the pain), the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7; cf. Genesis 3:16). [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 768.] It may also be a prediction of joy and delight coming to Zion in the future. However, in light of the next verse, it seems that the boy is the nation of Israel (cf. Revelation 12:1-2).
"Israel’s return to the land will be so remarkably quick that it will be like a woman giving birth to a son before (Isaiah 66:7) or as soon as (Isaiah 66:8) she has any labor . . . pains." [Note: J. Martin, p. 1120.]
The future glories of Jerusalem 66:7-14
The mood now reverts back to hope (cf. Isaiah 65:17-25). In contrast to all the bereavement and deprivation that Jerusalem had experienced and would yet experience (cf. Isaiah 26:16-18; Isaiah 37:3; Isaiah 51:18-20), the ultimate future of the city and its inhabitants remained bright.
Such a reverse order of things seems incredible. Nevertheless, Israel would come (back) into existence quickly and painlessly. This would be a supernatural work of God. It will happen at Messiah’s second advent. He will recreate Israel as a nation after Antichrist and the combined Gentile nations of the world have sought to destroy her (cf. Daniel 11:40-45; Revelation 12). However, the whole rebirth of Israel from the Exile to the Millennium may have been in the prophet’s vision. Similarly, he saw the entire re-creation of the earth as a completely new planet (Isaiah 65:17-25).
God promised to bring the nation of Israel to birth. Her emergence as a nation in the future might appear impossible, but Yahweh would accomplish it (cf. Zechariah 12:10; Zechariah 13:1; Romans 11:26).
"Political Israel was born on May 14, 1948, but ’the new Israel’ will be ’born in a day’ when they believe on Jesus Christ." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 71.]
God called Jerusalem’s friends to rejoice with her at the prospect of her bearing a nation in the future. God would do for Jerusalem what He had done for Sarah and Abraham. He would give her a supernatural birth. Jerusalem’s friends had formerly mourned her condition because God had called her enemies to trample her down (cf. Isaiah 5:5-6; Isaiah 49:19) and because she could not be righteous in herself (cf. Isaiah 57:18; Isaiah 59:9-15 a). Young believed it was only the believing remnant that God would bless, not the whole nation. [Note: Young, 3:525.] This is a typical amillennial interpretation.
As a new mother, Jerusalem would be able to nourish her newborn. The city would supply the needs of her inhabitants and would comfort them with contentment and fulfillment (cf. Isaiah 66:13; Isaiah 40:1). The godly would draw strength from Jerusalem in the future.
The Lord would extend peace (Heb. shalom) to Israel as a constantly flowing river. He would bring glory from the nations to her, glory that she had sought in the wrong ways in the past, and Israel would enjoy preferential treatment from Him.
God would comfort Israel-as a mother comforts her child-by tenderly showering Jerusalem with blessing.
"Isaiah changes the figure. Not only as children sucking the mother’s breast does God comfort His people, but also as a mother comforts her grown son." [Note: Ibid., 3:527.]
The result would be that God’s people would see His supernatural work, would rejoice in it, and would receive strength from observing it. His servants, the godly among His people, would appreciate that God Himself had revived Israel. But He would punish His enemies.
Yahweh "coming with fire and in chariots like whirlwinds" is a picture of Him coming in judgment against His enemies (Isaiah 66:14; cf. Zechariah 14:3).
Worship or destruction 66:15-24
This pericope concludes the sections on the culmination of Israel’s future (Isaiah 65:17 to Isaiah 66:24), Israel’s future transformation (chs. 56-66), Israel’s hope (chs. 40-66), and the whole book-Yahweh’s salvation. Like Isaiah 56:1-8, it clarifies the difference between being a true servant of the Lord and one of His enemies, i.e., a rebel.
"God does not deliver his servants so that they can revel in the experience of sharing his glory (cf. chs. 60-62). Rather, he delivers them so that they can be witnesses of that glory to the world (cf. Isaiah 6:1-10). . . . This book is not about the vindication of Zion, but about the mission of Zion to declare the God whose glory fills the earth (Isaiah 6:3; Isaiah 66:18) to all the inhabitants of that earth (Isaiah 12:4; Isaiah 51:5; Isaiah 60:9; Isaiah 66:19)." [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66, p. 684.]
The judgment in view in Isaiah 66:15-17 seems to be the one that will take place when Messiah returns to the earth (cf. Zephaniah 2:12; Matthew 24:22; Mark 9:49; Mark 13:19-20; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Revelation 19:11-21).
"Perhaps it is justifiable to say that in the world of nature God judges through fire and in history through the sword, but too sharp a distinction must not be made." [Note: Young, 3:530.]
Those who pursue ritualistic idolatry then (cf. Isaiah 65:3), and follow the false prophet of that day, will come to their final end (cf. Revelation 13:11-18; Revelation 14:14-20; Revelation 19:17-19).
". . . when people cease to heed the word of revelation, it is not that they then believe nothing but that they will believe anything-gardens, pigs, and rats included." [Note: Motyer, p. 540.]
The Lord knows the works and thoughts of rebels against His will, and He will assemble them all to witness a display of His glory. At Babel, humankind assembled to display its own glory (Genesis 11:1-9), but God will bring all the rebels together to witness His glory. The church’s preaching of the gospel is hardly the fulfillment in view. It is rather the return of Christ to the earth and the judgment of the nations then (cf. Matthew 25:32).
"Vv. 18-24 have a close affinity with Zechariah 12-14, so much so that one could consider the Zechariah passage to be an expansion on these verses in Isaiah." [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66, p. 687.]
"In New Testament perspective, this final section [Isaiah 66:18-24] spans the first and second comings of the Lord Jesus Christ: his purpose for the world (18), his means of carrying it out (19-21), the sign set among the nations, the remnant sent to evangelize them (19) and the gathering of his people to ’Jerusalem’ (20) with Gentiles in full membership (21)." [Note: Motyer, p. 540.]
God promised to set a sign among His people (cf. Exodus 10:2; Psalms 78:43), the Israelites. This probably refers to the Cross, which He would raise up before He brought judgment on the world at the second advent. Young took the sign to be "the whole wondrous series of events that occurred when the ancient Jewish nation was cast off and the Church of Jesus Christ founded." [Note: Young, 3:532.] Then the Lord would send survivors of His people among the nations to proclaim His glory. This may refer to the 144,000 Jewish missionaries that God will send throughout the earth during the Tribulation (cf. Revelation 7:1-8; Revelation 15:1-4). The nations mentioned include Tarshish (Spain), Put (Libya), Lud (either western Turkey or an African tribe), Meshech (archers?), Rosh (Russia), Tubal (eastern Turkey), and Javan (Greece). Scholars dispute some of these identifications. The point is that this message will go to the farthest reaches of the earth (cf. Romans 11:25).
The message having gone out, the Gentiles will escort the Israelites back to the Promised Land-and the holy city of Jerusalem-as a thank offering to the Lord (cf. Zechariah 8:23; John 11:52). Evidently many Israelites will believe on the Lord Jesus Christ during the Tribulation and will return to their ancient homeland to worship Him (cf. Isaiah 11:10-16). Jews will evangelize Gentiles (Isaiah 66:19), and Gentiles will evangelize Jews.
"The only offering brought in a container was the firstfruits (Deuteronomy 26:2). The converts of the nations come as the firstfruits of the harvest of the world-not a token of what will yet come but as that which is notably holy and peculiarly the Lord’s." [Note: Motyer, p. 542.]
Evidently the Lord will "take" some of these converted Gentiles and make them leaders in His worship (cf. Isaiah 56:5-6). He would accept Gentile believers as freely as Israelite believers, and would bless them with equal privilege in His service.
". . . all the nations will in fact be blessed through Israel (cf. Genesis 12:3)." [Note: J. Martin, p. 1121.]
Just as surely as God would create new heavens and a new earth (cf. Isaiah 65:17), so He would preserve the Israelites (cf. Isaiah 1:2; Genesis 12:1-3).
In the future, all people left alive after the Lord’s judgments-Israelites and Gentiles-will worship Him continually in the New Jerusalem (cf. chs. 25-26; Zechariah 14:16-21).
The worshippers would be able to view the corpses of those whom the Lord will judge. This probably includes those killed in the battle of Armageddon and those sentenced to eternal damnation. The picture is of Jerusalem-dwellers going outside the city to the Hinnom Valley, where garbage and corpses burned constantly, and where worms (corruption) and fire (holy wrath) were always working (cf. Matthew 5:22; Mark 9:43; Luke 12:5). As those who worship God rejoice before Him perpetually, so those who rebel against Him will die perpetually (cf. Matthew 25:46).
"Perhaps the most enduring lessons from the Book of Isaiah are the reminders that (a) there is a God, (b) He is coming back, and (c) our eternal destiny is determined by our response to Him in this life." [Note: Dyer, in The Old . . ., p. 587.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 66". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29