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Sunday, June 16th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 66

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-24

The Coming Salvation and Judgment of God ( 66 : 1 - 24 )

There is much about the final chapter of the Isaiah literature which is unclear, and as a result there has been much debate about it. For one thing, there is the problem of its fragmentary nature. It is difficult to understand how this can be a unified composition, because the themes shift hastily without connection one with another. It is probable, therefore, that the disciples of Second Isaiah have put together a number of fragments which appear to derive from the same general period and to present the same general point of view as chapter 65. We seem to be within the reconstituted community of the postexilic period, perhaps about 520 b.c. when the Temple is being rebuilt (vss. 1-2). It is now clear to the school of Second Isaiah that God’s fulfillment of his promises of the new age with the restoration of the community in Palestine has not been as immediate or as comparatively simple as Second Isaiah himself presented it in 540 b.c.

There is to be a great salvation, but with it there is also to be a terrible judgment.

The Temple was rebuilt between 520 and 515 B.c. under the inspiration of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1-2). Haggai told the people that all their troubles were caused by their failure to build the Temple promptly (Haggai 1:2-11). He seems to have promised the people in his day that as soon as the Temple was built, the great Day of the Lord would come (Haggai 2:2-9). This situation would appear to be the context of Isaiah 66:1-4. For the disciples of Second Isaiah, the emphasis on the importance of getting the Temple rebuilt is misplaced. God wants the inner reform which goes with the humble spirit. His primary desire is not for a Temple (see Psalms 50:7-23; Jeremiah 7:1-15). It is always much easier to erect a religious edifice than it is actually to be the people of God. Verse 3 appears to condemn sacrificial worship in the strongest possible terms. It is improbable, however, that the prophet is advocating abolition of all the outward forms of worship known at that time. He is speaking in hyperbole in order to make his point as strong as possible. What he is condemning in the name of God is an improper worship, carried on by those who have no sincerity of heart or purpose. At least, such an interpretation would be in line with that required by such comparable passages as 1:10-20; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:1-8. Verse 4 makes quite clear the point which the author has in mind: when God has called to the people, no one has responded; those who have elaborated their cultic worship did not choose the things in which God delights.

Verse 5 refers to a division in the community. Those being addressed by the prophet are told that God is on their side. What this division is we do not know, and it is therefore impossible to speculate about it with any certainty.

Verse 6 seems to be still another fragment. The prophet as watchman speaks of the voice of the Lord being heard in judgment, calling from the Temple, probably as a prelude to the terrible actions expected when the great Day of the Lord arrives.

Verses 7-9, in the figure of birth, portray the bringing forth of a new people. It is something that will happen very quickly, something never before heard or seen. It is possible for human mothers to be so exhausted in bringing children to the point of birth that they have no strength to bring them forth (see 37:3), but as verse 9 asserts, such a thing would not happen to God. The birth is sure.

Verses 10-14 call for general rejoicing. Jerusalem will again be in comfort and in prosperity.

Verses 15-16 could well be the sequel to verse 6. The reference is to the coming judgment of God against all his enemies. Verse 17 is a fragment that seems to specify who some of these enemies of God are felt to be: those who carry on various kinds of profane religious rites which God does not permit among his people.

Verses 18-21 revert to the frequent theme in the preceding passages about the gathering of the exiles from all over the world and their return to the “holy mountain Jerusalem.” In verse 18 the thought is of all the nations streaming to Jerusalem to see the glory of the Lord. A sign will also be placed among the nations (see 49:22; 62:10). Emissaries will go to far-off Tarshish, a Phoenician metal-refining colony somewhere in the western Mediterranean (on Sardinia or in Spain), to Put and Lud in Africa, to Tubal somewhere in Asia Minor, and to Javan, the country of the Ionian Greeks in western Asia Minor.

The final verses of the chapter seem to be two different fragments. Verses 22-23 refer to the permanence and stability of the new community, and of the worship of all mankind from Sabbath to Sabbath. Verse 24, however, is perhaps one of the most repulsive verses in the whole Isaiah literature. So serious has become the prophetic disgust with one section of the new community in Jerusalem, that God’s judgment upon it is taken with terrible earnestness.

The effect of that judgment is pictured as the presence of dead bodies perpetually being eaten by worms and burned with fire, without being consumed, an everlasting “abhorrence to all flesh.” The author of this piece evidently felt that the situation was so terrible that this type of perpetual warning was needed.

Thus the Book of Isaiah comes to a close. The terrible suffering which would come with the fall of Jerusalem and Judah, predicted by First Isaiah, literally came to pass in 587 (or 586) b.c., but the suffering did not bring with it the removal of the proclivity to sin in the human heart. Second Isaiah (chs. 40-55) prophesied the coming salvation of Israel from exile and with it the redemption of the whole world through the Servant People who were to be purified and renewed. The final restoration of the community came to pass and the Temple was rebuilt during

the latter part of the sixth century, but according to chapters 56-66 the community had not learned very much from its previous suffering. The redeemed people had not been purified of the taint of and disposition for evil. Consequently, the disciples of Second Isaiah are called upon to look forward to additional judgment and salvation in the time ahead. Judaism, beginning with the period of Ezra in the fifth century, developed the religion of the Law. While awaiting the coming of God’s new age it was necessary that the whole community keep the whole body of God’s revealed Law, in order that its center, the relation envisaged in the Mosaic Covenant, would not be violated. The New Testament pictures the Kingdom of God as arriving with Jesus Christ, God’s Suffering Servant who in death was exalted as the Messiah (the Christ). The central issue is the problem of sin itself, the unsolved problem of Israel. The Christian doctrines of the Atonement, justification by faith, and the new life in Christ became the possession of the Church as it waited for the fulfillment in its own time of the great prophetic promises of old. Since then, Christians have learned not to expect a literal fulfillment of these promises. They are a part of inspired Scripture, however, because they proclaim faith in the God whom human sin cannot defeat. God has a purpose in his creation of the world and in his creation of the Church, the People of God. These portrayals of the future point the direction in which history must move, because God is our Lord. In this certainty, life by faith becomes a possibility, and responsible ethical decisions can be made in life now in the certainty that God will use such actions to his glory.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Isaiah 66". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/isaiah-66.html.
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