It is striking how verse Isaiah 64:4 follows what we have dwelt upon in the first three verses. Isaiah desired a mighty display of the power of God such as had been manifested at the outset of Israel's history: yet he was conscious that God had in reserve things beyond all human knowledge, and prepared for those who waited for Him to act.
To this verse the Apostle Paul referred in 1 Corinthians 2:9, showing that though in ordinary matters men arrive at knowledge by the hearing of the ear — tradition — or by the eye — observation — or by what we may call intuition, these things can only reach us by revelation from God by His Spirit. Isaiah knew that there were things to be revealed. Paul tells us that they have been revealed, so that we may know them.
In keeping with this, the Apostle Peter has told us in his first Epistle that when the Spirit of Christ testified through the prophets, they "inquired and searched diligently," concerning what they had written, and they discovered that they were predicting things, only to be made known to such as ourselves who are brought into the light of what Christ has accomplished. So again we have to remind ourselves how great are the privileges that are ours. God has indeed "come down," but in grace and not, for the time being, in judgment.
The prophet foresaw that when the prepared things were made known they would only be received if a certain moral state were found. There must be not only the waiting for Him but also a rejoicing in righteousness and working the same, as well as a remembrance of God in all His ways. Thus the godly remnant of Israel are described here. It will be so in a future day, and so it is today, since it is only by the Spirit that we perceive and receive the wonderful things now revealed. When, having been received, the Spirit of God is in control, we enter into the enjoyment of the things that God has prepared for those who love Him.
Now at that moment the necessary state did not exist amongst the people, hence we have the words, "Behold, Thou art wroth; for we have sinned." This confession is placed in brackets, in Darby's New Translation, so that the following words spring out of the beginning of the verse. In righteousness and remembrance is to be "continuance, and we shall be saved." Isaiah had previously presented to us, "a just God and a Saviour" (Isaiah 45:21); thus the people whom He saves must be brought into conformity with Himself.
Verses Isaiah 64:6-7, continue the confession of sin that was interjected in verse Isaiah 64:5. Notice the four figures that are used to express their sorrowful state. First, unclean, as a leper is unclean, in the sight of the law. Second, their "righteousnesses," that is, their many doings which they considered to be acts of righteousness, were but "filthy rags" in the sight of God. Third, as a consequence of this they were all fading, dying things, like autumn leaves. Fourth, their sins were like a wind that blew them all away.
Are things different today? Has the spread of a civilisation based upon Christian ideals altered things? It has not, and things are just the same. The leprosy of sin is just as virulent; the outward righteousnesses of mankind are just as spurious; death is just as busy; the wind of God's judgment on sin will soon sweep all away.
Further the prophet had to complain that no one was rightly moved by this state of things, so as to call upon the name of God; no one was found to take hold of God in supplication and prayer. The fact was that God had hid His face from them in His holy government. It was a sad state of affairs when no one was stirred to take the place of an intercessor.
And without a doubt we may say the same as we look on the state of Christendom today. Bright spots there are, thank God! — spots where the Spirit of God is manifestly at work. But in spite of this, the picture over-all is a dark one. Evil abounds under the profession of Christ's name, and even where the Spirit of God is working, wholehearted servants of God are all too few. Who stirs himself up to take hold on God as to it? Who prays to the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into His harvest? — as the Lord Himself directed in Matthew 9:38. May God Himself stir us up, instead of hiding His face from us, if we fail to stir ourselves up in this matter.
Now, in our chapter, comes the touching appeal to Jehovah. The very first words of Isaiah's prophecy were, "The Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me." Very well then Jehovah had taken the place of Father to Israel, and upon that the faith of the prophet counted, and on it he based his appeal. Moreover Jehovah was not only Father to them but He was as a Potter also. Israel was but the clay in His hand.
That this was so, and that God acknowledged it to be so, was made manifest a little later in the days of Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 18:1-23 we read how he was instructed to go down to the potter's house and receive a lesson there. He saw the clay vessel "marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it." The Lord proceeded to tell Israel that they were in His hand as clay is in the hand of the potter, so He could do with them as seemed good in His sight. Confining our thoughts to Israel, we know that God will make another vessel, which is what the Lord Jesus was showing Nicodemus, as narrated in John 3:1-36. That which is born of the flesh — even Abrahamic flesh — is flesh. Only that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Only a born-again Israel will enter the Kingdom.
In Isaiah's day the point as to "another vessel," made known to Jeremiah, had hardly been reached; hence here we have further pleadings with God on behalf of the marred vessel as we see in the four verses that close the chapter. "We are all Thy people," says the prophet, though about that time, or very soon after, Hosea's son had to be called "Lo-ammi: for ye are not My people, and I will not be your God" (Hosea 1:9). These closing verses of appeal seem like a last cry to God, before the sentence of repudiation was given to Hosea.
The iniquity marking the people is confessed, but mercy is sought. The desolations mentioned in verses Isaiah 64:10-11 strike us as being stated prophetically, for though the king of Assyria ravaged the cities of Judah in the days of Hezekiah, he was not allowed to take Jerusalem nor burn the temple. Jeremiah it was, who actually saw these things fulfilled. Even in Hezekiah's day however, it was certain that these terrible desolations would come to pass, as we saw when reading the end of chapter 39 of this book. When they were accomplished Israel was set aside for the time being, and the times of the Gentiles began.
The two verses that commence Isaiah 65:1-25, are in exact harmony with this. They are quoted by the Apostle Paul in Romans 10:20, Romans 10:21 after he had shown that even Moses had upbraided the people and predicted that God would turn from them to others. Then he prefaced his quotation from our chapter by Saying that, "Esaias is very bold..."
Yes, Isaiah does speak with great boldness for he speaks as the very voice of Jehovah rather than speaking about Him. He does not say, "He is sought... He is found... He said..." but rather, "I am sought...I am found...I said..." How comes it, we may enquire, that people who never asked after God should be seeking Him? The answer seems obvious. It must take place as the result of God seeking after them. This is exactly what has taken place in this Gospel age. Israel being set aside, God goes out in sovereign mercy to Gentiles, as Paul goes on to explain in Romans 11:1-36. Has the wonder of this mercy penetrated our hearts in any substantial measure?
God's dealings with Israel, in setting them aside for this long period, is justified by what we read in verse Isaiah 64:2. The people had been rebellious, following "their own thoughts," instead of God's thoughts, as expressed in His holy law, and these thoughts of theirs led their feet into a way that was not good. God had condescended to entreat them "all the day," and that "day" had been a long one, extending over centuries of time. To these entreaties they had not responded.
The following verses lay specific evils to their charge, but before we consider them let us pause a moment to consider whether we have been guilty of pursuing our own thoughts instead of God's in that which has been revealed to us. His mind for us as individual Christians, and also as members of the body of Christ — the church — is plainly stated in the Epistles of the New Testament. Now it is sadly easy to slip away from these and walk after our own thoughts; and more particularly so in regard to church matters; easy to say, "That was doubtless right enough for the first-century Christians, but hardly practicable for us today." But it is God's thoughts and ways that are perfect, whilst our own thoughts lead us into "a way that was not good."
The evil ways of Israel were largely connected with idolatrous practices, as verses Isaiah 64:3-7 show. The opening words of Deuteronomy 12:1-32 are, "These are the statutes and judgments, which ye shall observe to do in the land," and there follow prohibitions against the high places and groves, or gardens, and altars which the heathen nations had made. So God's way for them was that they should bring all their offerings to His place in Jerusalem; offering as He had commanded. But they preferred to worship according to their own thoughts with the result that is described in these verses. Their sacrifices were wrong; their altars were wrong; the food they ate was wrong; and to crown all this they affected a sanctimonious piety, which led them to say to others, "Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou."
This plainly indicates that the evil of Pharisaism began early in Israel's history. The spirit of it is plainly visible when we read the prophecy of Malachi. It reached its fullest and worst expression in the time of our Lord, furnishing the main element which led to His crucifixion. We may remember how He charged them with, "Teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9). So this quite agrees with what we have just seen stated by Isaiah. They preferred to walk after their own thoughts, rather than by the word of God. The same evil principle has persisted through the years, and it is all too evident today within the circle of Christian profession. Though their positions, both doctrinally and ecclesiastically, may widely differ, there are found those who demand separation — "Stand by thyself, come not near to me," — based on a claim of superior sanctity or spirituality as the case may be. Such separatists are as offensive to God as, "smoke in My nose, a fire that burneth all the day."
Now this state of things in Israel demanded a recompence of judgment from the hand of God. It would seem that this spurious sanctity on top of their rebellious disobedience was their crowning sin. It brought upon them the seventy years of captivity in Babylon; and, when those years had passed and a remnant came back to the land, the same hypocrisy sprang up in their midst again, rendered worse, if anything, by the very mercy that had been shown to them. They crucified their Messiah saying "His blood be on us, and on our children." Thus it has been through their long centuries of trouble, and will yet be in the far worse sorrows of the great tribulation.
The lesson for us is that God desires obedience to His thoughts, expressed in His word, If that be our aim, we shall soon realize how little we apprehend them, and even more feebly carry them out, and this will produce in us a spirit of humility — the complete opposite to that of a spurious sanctity such as is revealed here.
Another note is struck when we reach verse Isaiah 64:8. Under the figure of sparing a cluster of grapes, because it is of value for wine producing, God declares that He will spare a remnant of the people, though judgment must fall on the mass. This He will do, "that I may not destroy them all." This remnant is spoken of as, "My servants," and in the next verse as, "a seed out of Jacob," and also as, "Mine elect," who will inherit the land.
We may remember how our Lord Himself was predicted as "Seed" of the woman, in Genesis 3:1-24, and again as the "Seed" of Abraham, concerning which the Apostle wrote "He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy Seed, which is Christ" (Galatians 3:16). When considering Isaiah 53:1-12, we also saw that the risen Christ is to "see His seed," as the fruit of the travail of His soul; and the same thought meets us at the close of the other great prediction of the sufferings of Christ in atonement — "A seed shall serve Him" (Psalms 22:30). He, who is pre-eminently the "Seed," is to have a seed of His own order in His risen life. This thought underlies the verses we are considering.
Two further things may be pointed out before we leave these verses. First, it was to this godly seed that the Lord Jesus referred at the beginning of His well-known, "Sermon on the Mount." The prophet speaks of, "an inheritor of My mountains," and says, "Mine elect shall inherit it." The third beatitude is, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). Now this enlarges the promise, so that it applies beyond the confines of Jacob and Judah. It is the meek of all peoples who will inherit the earth, when Heaven's kingdom is at last universally established.
The second thing we have to remember is that this remnant according to the election of grace, called out from the mass of the Jews, exists today, though by the very fact of its calling it is severed from Judaism and its earthly hopes. That it exists is made plain by the Apostle Paul in the opening verses of Romans 11:1-36, and he cites his own case as the proof of it. We have to read Ephesians 2:1-22, particularly the latter part of it, to learn the new position of heavenly favour and blessing into which they are brought in association with those called from among the Gentiles by the Gospel that is being preached today.
In our chapter earthly blessing is before us, as verse Isaiah 64:10 makes very plain. The valley of Achor, was a place of judgment, as narrated in Joshua 7:24-26. That place of judgment is to become, "a door of hope," according to Hosea 2:15. Our verse reveals it as a place of rest for flocks and for men. Is there not a parable in this? Where judgment has been executed, there hope is to be found, and rest is the final result.
We leave this beautiful picture when we read verses Isaiah 64:11-12. God cannot forget the existing state of departure and sin that marked the people in Isaiah's day They had forsaken Jehovah; they had forsaken His holy mountain, whereon stood His temple. And to what had they turned? The rest of the verse reveals it, though the translation is rather obscure. In Darby's New Translation we find "Gad" substituted for "that troop," and "Meni" for "that number," with footnotes giving an explanation to the effect that the former word indicates, "Fortune, or the planet Jupiter," and the latter word, "Number, or Fate, or the planet Venus."
The people had turned aside to worship the heavenly bodies, and connected their false worship with the gambling instincts, which are so strong in fallen humanity. If things went well it was Fortune. If badly, it was Fate. In the minds of the people these were deities to whom they made offerings of food and drink. As so often "table" is a figure indicating solid food, as on the table of showbread, and wine furnished the drink. This throws some light on the Apostle's words in 1 Corinthians 10:21, where he mentions, "the cup of devils," and "the table of devils." The devils of this verse were of course demons; and demon power lay behind the "Gad" and the "Meni," mentioned here.
When in verse Isaiah 64:12, God says He will "number" them to the sword, there is an allusion to the name "Meni," which means number. The people are plainly told that judgment and death lay before them. They were rejecting the law of God. We are living in an age when men are rejecting the grace of God; and to do this is more serious than to reject law, as we are told in Hebrews 10:20. When the Gospel is preached, let this be made very plain.
Though God has to pronounce judgment upon the evildoers, which must be executed in due time, He delights in the mercy and blessing that He bestows upon His true servants. This He makes manifest in the passage which begins with verse Isaiah 65:13. We notice, of course, that earthly blessings and earthly judgments are in view; food, drink, rejoicing and song, on the one hand; hunger, thirst, shame and sorrow, on the other. A curse and death will come upon them; their very name being considered a curse, while the chosen servants will be called by another name.
This will be fulfilled in days to come, but it is remarkable how we can see a fulfilment of it even in our day. The very name "Jew" has acquired an unpleasant flavour, which is explained by what the Apostle Paul wrote in Thessalonians Isaiah 2:14-16. On the other hand a remnant, according to the election of grace, is still being called out of that people and incorporated with elect Gentiles as the church of God. Upon such another Name is called, for they are CHRISTian.
As far back as Isaiah 42:1-25, we had Jehovah's declaration, "New things do I declare" (verse Isaiah 65:9), and now we discover the wide scope of that declaration. There is to be a complete sweeping away of the old order and the creation of new heavens as well as a new earth. The verses that follow show that the millennial age is referred to and not the eternal state, which is announced in Revelation 21:1.
At present the heavens are the seat of Satan's power, as Ephesians 6:12 indicates. They will be in a new condition when those evil power are cast out, and heavenly saints are installed, as from the New Testament we know they will be. When the Messiah acts as "the Arm of the Lord," and His dominion extends to the ends of the earth, it will be a new earth indeed. In comparison therewith the old order will be so horrible that men will banish it from their minds.
The remaining verses of the chapter give a description of the happy conditions that will characterise the millennial age, beginning with the joy and blessing of Jerusalem, which will be then, as always intended, the centre of earthly blessing. Yet it will not be an age of absolute perfection as verse Isaiah 65:20 shows. For the righteous, life will be greatly prolonged, yet it will be possible for sinners to be discovered and come under a curse. Still those who are the elect will have their days as the days of a tree, and we know how many a tree does not grow old for centuries.
Hence earthly blessings will be enjoyed to the full; houses, vineyards, fruit, and above all they will be in close touch with Jehovah their God. So much so, that not only will He hear them while they are yet speaking to Him, but He will answer their desires even before they express them by calling upon Him. This indicates that a place of remarkable nearness to Him will be theirs.
Moreover mercy will be extended even to the animal creation, which at the outset was placed under man, and so has suffered as the result of his fall. No longer shall strong animals slay and devour the weak Those most opposed, like the wolf and the lamb, will feed together, and the most voracious, like the lion, will be satisfied with vegetable food. All hurt and destruction shall cease.
To this there will be just one exception. The serpent was used by Satan in deceiving Eve, and the curse upon it ran, "Upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life" (Genesis 3:11). Now this sentence is not to be revoked. It seems that in the ranks of the lower creation it will be retained as a sign and reminder of the tragic effects of sin. The serpent will not be able to hurt nor destroy, but its degraded and miserable state will remain.
Isaiah 66:1-24 opens on a very lofty note. The earth is but the footstool of Jehovah's feet for the heavens are His shone. Recognizing this, we are conscious that no earthly house built for Him is anything but a small matter. What is a great matter is the right spiritual state and attitude, which should be found in man, who by nature is sinful and estranged from God. To be poor and contrite in spirit, and to receive the word as being truly the Word of God, and therefore to tremble at it and be governed by it — this invites the Divine regard. To such a man the Lord will look in blessing. We may remember that when the Lord Jesus opened His mouth on the mountain, the first beatitude He uttered was, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3).
But once more the prophet has to turn to the people, in their then existing state, with words of denunciation. They might be killing oxen, sacrificing lambs, offering oblation, burning incense, and yet all was an utter offence before God because their hearts were astray. They were anything but poor in spirit, but rather self-assertive, choosing their own ways and taking pleasure in abominable things. For this reason they came under God's judgment. Instead of calling upon God, and receiving His immediate attention, He had called to them and they paid no attention whatever.
From these the prophet turned, in verse Isaiah 65:5, once more to assure those who really did tremble at the word of God. They had been hated and cast out by the men of that day, and this they claimed to do in the name of the Lord and for His glory. We at once recognize that this is no uncommon thing. Something similar has happened again and again. It was thus when our Lord was on earth and in the days of the apostles. It has been so all too often in the sad history of Christendom, as witness the burning of "heretics" whether in Spain or in Britain. In Spain such an act was called by an expression, which in English means, "an act of faith," and since of faith of course, as they thought, to the glory of God.
The answer of the Lord to this kind of thing is not immediate but inevitable. The word is, "He shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed." He SHALL — the thing is determined and certain, but it is future. The voice of the Lord will yet be heard, and when He speaks the thing is done. It will bring joy to the godly while a just recompence in judgment will be the portion of the enemies.
But now a further great prophetic fact comes before us. This mighty intervention of God, delivering His people, and judging His foes, will be accompanied by a wonderful work of grace in the souls of those He will deliver. The earth will be made to bring forth in one day, and a nation will be born at once. The figure used in verse Isaiah 65:7 indicates that this deliverance will be a "birth," which takes place in a way quite unexpected. So here we have Isaiah alluding to that great work of the Spirit of God, which is described more fully in Ezekiel 36:22-33, to which the Lord Jesus referred when He spoke to Nicodemus of being born, "of water and of the Spirit."
Shall a nation be born at once? is the question asked in surprise. And the answer quite clearly is — Yes, it will. Of the old Israel, that the world has known, Moses had to complain at the start of their sad history, "They are a perverse and crooked generation...a very forward generation, children in whom is no faith" (Deuteronomy 32:5, Deuteronomy 32:20). The Israel that will enter into millennial blessedness will be a new Israel, born again and therefore cleansed from their old life and ways. The Apostle Peter, writing to the scattered Jewish Christians of the early days, could say to them, "But ye are a chosen generation" (1 Peter 2:9), and he had previously spoken of their having been born again. As regards the new birth, converted Jews of today are advance samples of what will be wrought in the children of Israel, who finally enter the kingdom.
In view of this, all those who love Jerusalem, and at present mourn for her, may well rejoice. Her prosperity and glory will be a joy to behold. The sons of Israel through the long centuries of their unbelief and rejection of their Messiah, have been noted for the ability with which they have managed to "suck" wealth and profit out of the Gentile world. The objectionable features, which have characterized them in doing this, will have disappeared when they are a born-again nation. The saved of the nations will act toward them as a nursing mother, and peace will flow as a river, instead of there being resentment and disturbance on every side. The hand of God will be in all this, for His word is, "so will I comfort you."
But the prophet leaves us in no doubt as to what God's intervention will mean to the world at large. It will be the day when the inhabitants of the earth will learn righteousness because God's judgments are in the earth, as Isaiah told us in chapter 26. Jehovah will come with fire and whirlwind and sword, as we see in verses Isaiah 65:15-16, and when we turn to such a passage as Revelation 19:1-21, we discover that the Person who will thus come in judgment is no other than Jehovah-Jesus.
Verse Isaiah 65:17 would indicate, we judge, that judgment will be specially severe against false religion — against those who practise abominable things, of an idolatrous nature, while professing to sanctify and purify themselves by them. Religious evil always incurs judgment of a very severe nature. This we see exemplified in our Lord's day. His strongest denunciations were directed against the Pharisees and Scribes.
The millennial reign will be preceded by the gathering together before God of the masses of mankind and before them the Divine glory will be displayed. The gathering of the nations that they may see the glory is described in verses Isaiah 65:18-19, but the outcome of this is not described here. We turn to Matthew 25:31-46, and there we discover what will take place. All of them will be judged on the basis of their attitude towards the Son of Man who is the King, as revealed by their treatment of messengers, who have represented Him, and whom He owns as His "brethren."
In Isaiah, however, the term used is "your brethren," for the prophet is more occupied with the re-gathering of the children of Israel from the most distant places to which they had been scattered. Their coming in this way will be like the bringing of an offering to God in a clean vessel — an offering therefore acceptable to Him and for His pleasure. Brought thus to the house of Jehovah, they will be taken for priests and Levites in the millennial age.
Now this was the original intention of God, as we see if we refer to Exodus 19:6. Had Israel kept the law that was delivered through Moses at Sinai, they would have been "a kingdom of priests." They broke the law, so this they never were. But the purpose of God is never defeated, and so here we are permitted to know that what failed then is ultimately achieved, as the fruit of the mercy of God. That it will be the fruit of MERCY is made very clear in the closing part of Romans 11:1-36,
Had it been brought about on a legal basis, some future breach of the law would imperil the whole position; as it stands on the basis of mercy, it is a permanent thing, as stable as the new heavens and new earth of the millennial age. From the overthrow of David's kingly line the world has seen a succession of kingdoms, rising up as the result of some overthrow, and each being overthrown in its turn, as predicted in Ezekiel 21:27; but here at last is a kingdom that abides.
And it will prove to be a kingdom in which Jehovah at last obtains His rightful place as the Object of worship. What He originally intended in connection with Israel, His people, will be fully accomplished, His glory will be in their midst; they will surround His house as a kingdom of priests; they will render Him due worship from one sabbath and new moon to another. He will have accomplished His original design.
The contemplation of these things is surely a great encouragement to us. We are not called to find our part in, "My holy mountain Jerusalem," since our calling is a heavenly one, but we may rest assured that God will reach His original purpose with the church, as really and as fully as He will with Israel. Not one item of His good pleasure as to us will fail. And He will do it in such fashion as will command our glad recognition and worship. The saints in their heavenly seats will render a worship that will not need to be governed by sabbaths or new moons.
The last verse of our prophet is one of much solemnity. When Israel is re-gathered and blessed, and the earth rests in the blessedness indicated at the end of chapter 65, there will yet be a perpetual reminder of the awful result of rebellion and sin. When the Lord Jesus spoke of "the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not," (Mark 9:43, Mark 9:44), it would seem that He alluded to this verse, and gave it an application stretching far beyond the millennial age. In "the lake of fire," which is "the second death" (Revelation 20:14), there will be an eternal witness to the awful effects of sin.
Let us rejoice in the greatness of the salvation that has reached us through our Lord Jesus Christ.
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Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Isaiah 65". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany