Lectionary Calendar
Friday, July 12th, 2024
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 66

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-24



Isaiah 63:7 through Isaiah 66:1-24

WE might well have thought, that with the section we have been considering the prophecy of Israel’s Redemption had reached its summit and its end. The glory of Zion in sight, the full programme of prophecy owned, the arrival of the Divine Saviour hailed in the urgency of His feeling for His people, in the sufficiency of His might to save them, -what more, we ask, can the prophecy have to give us? Why does it not end upon these high notes? The answer is, the salvation is indeed consummate, but the people are not ready for it. On an earlier occasion, let us remember, when our prophet called the nation to their Service of God, he called at first the whole nation, but had then immediately to make a distinction. Seen in the light of their destiny, the mass of Israel proved to be unworthy; tried by its strain, part immediately fell away. But what happened upon that call to Service happens again upon this disclosure of Salvation. The prophet realises that it is only a part of Israel who are worthy of it. He feels again the weight, which has been the hindrance of his hope all through, -the weight of the mass of the nation, sunk in idolatry and wickedness, incapable of appreciating the promises. He will make one more effort to save them-to save them all. He does this in an intercessory prayer, Isaiah 63:7 through Isaiah 64:1-12, in which he states the most hopeless aspects of his people’s case, identifies himself with their sin, and yet pleads by the ancient power of God that we all may be saved. He gets his answer in chapter 65, in which God sharply divides Israel into two classes, the faithful and the idolaters, and affirms that, while the nation shall be saved for the sake of the faithful remnant, Jehovah’s faithful servants and the unfaithful can never share the same experience or the same fate. And then the book closes with a discourse in chapter 66, in which this division between the two classes in Israel is pursued to a last terrible emphasis and contrast upon the narrow stage of Jerusalem itself. We are left, not with the realisation of the prophet’s prayer for the salvation of all the nations, but with a last judgment separating its godly and ungodly portions.

Thus there are three connected divisions in Isaiah 63:7 through Isaiah 66:1-24. First, the prophet’s Intercessory Prayer, Isaiah 63:7 through Isaiah 64:1-12; second, the Answer of Jehovah, chapter 65; and third, the Final Discourse and Judgment, chapter 66.


(Isaiah 63:7 through Isaiah 64:1-12)

There is a good deal of discussion as to both the date and the authorship of this piece, was to whether it comes from the early or the late Exile, and as to whether it comes from our prophet or from another. It must have been written after the destruction and before the rebuilding of the Temple; this is put past all doubt by these verses: "Thy holy people possessed it but a little while: our adversaries have trodden down Thy sanctuary." "Thy holy cities are become a wilderness, Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. The house of our holiness and of our ornament, wherein our fathers praised Thee, is become for a burning of fire, and all our delights are for ruin."

This language has been held to imply that the disaster to Jerusalem was recent, as if the city’s conflagration still flared on the national imagination, which in later years of the Exile was impressed rather by the long cold ruins of the Holy Place, the haunt of wild beasts. But not only is this point inconclusive, but the impression that it leaves is entirely dispelled by other verses, which speak of the Divine anger as having been of long continuance, and as if it had only hardened the people in sin; compare Isaiah 63:17; Isaiah 64:6-7. There is nothing in the prayer to show that the author lived in exile, and accordingly the proposal has been made to date the piece from among the first attempts at rebuilding after the Return. To the present expositor this seems to be certainly wrong. The man who wrote Isaiah 63:11-15 had surely the Return still before him; he would not have written in the way he has done of the Exodus from Egypt unless he had been feeling the need of another exhibition of Divine Power of the same kind. The prayer, therefore, must come from pretty much the same date as the rest of our prophecy, -after the Exile had long continued, but while the Return had not yet taken place. Nor is there any reason against attributing it to the same writer. It is true the style differs from the rest of his work, but this may be accounted for, as in the case of chapter 53, by the change of subject. Most critics, who hold that we still follow the same author, take for granted that some time has elapsed since the prophet’s triumphant strains in chapter 60-62. This is probable; but there is nothing to make it certain. What is certain is the change of mood and conscience. The prophet, who in chapter 60 had been caught away into the glorious future of the people, is here as utterly absorbed in their barren and doubtful present. Although the salvation is certain, as he has seen it, the people are not ready. The fact he has already felt so keenly about them, -see Isaiah 42:24-25, -that their long discipline in exile has done the mass of them no good, but evil, comes forcibly back upon him. {Isaiah 64:5 b ff.} "Thou wast angry, and we sinned" only the more: "in such a state we have been long, and shall we be saved!" The banished people are thoroughly unclean and rotten, fading as a leaf, the sport of the wind. But the prophet identifies himself with them. He speaks of their sin as ours, of their misery as ours. He takes of them the very saddest view possible, he feels them all as sheer dead weight: "there is none that calleth on Thy name, that stirreth himself up to take hold on Thee: for Thou hast hid Thy face from us, and delivered us into the power of our iniquities." But the prophet thus loads himself with the people in order to secure, if he can. their redemption as a whole. Twice he says in the name of them all, "Doubtless Thou art our Father." His great heart will not have one of them left out; "we all," he says, "are the work of Thy hand, we are all Thy people."

But this intention of the prayer will amply account for any change of style we may perceive in the language. No one will deny that it is quite possible for the same man now to fling himself forward into the glorious vision of his people’s future salvation, and again to identify himself with the most hopeless aspects of their present distress and sin; and no one will deny that the same man will certainly write in two different styles with regard to each of these different feelings. Besides which, we have seen in the passage the recurrence of some of our prophecy’s most characteristic thoughts. We feel, therefore, no reason for counting the passage to be by another hand than that which has mainly written "Second Isaiah." It may be at once admitted that he has incorporated in it earlier phrases, reminiscences, and echoes of language about the fall of Jerusalem in use when the Lamentations were written. But this was a natural thing for him to do in a prayer in which he represented the whole people and took upon himself the full burden of their woes.

If such be the intention of Isaiah 63:7 through Isaiah 64:1-12, then in them we have one of the noblest passages of our prophet’s great work. How like he is to the Servant he pictured for us! How his great heart fulfils the loftiest ideal of Service: not only to be the prophet and the judge of his people, but to make himself one with them in all their sin and sorrow, to carry them all in his heart. Truly, as his last words said of the Servant, he himself "bears the sin of many, and interposes for the transgressors." Before we see the answer he gets, let us make clear some obscure things and appreciate some beautiful ones in his prayer.

It opens with a recital of Jehovah’s ancient lovingkindness and mercies to Israel. This is what perhaps gives it connection with the previous section. In chapter 62 the prophet, though sure of the coming glory, wrote before it had come, and "urged" upon "the Lord’s remembrancers to keep no silence, and give Him no silence till He establish and till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth." This work of remembrancing, the prophet himself takes up in Isaiah 63:7: "The lovingkindnesses of Jehovah I will record," literally, "cause to be remembered, the praises of Jehovah, according to all that Jehovah hath bestowed upon us." And then he beautifully puts all the beginnings of God’s dealings with His people in His trusting of them: "For He said, Surely they are My people, children that will not deal falsely; so He became their Saviour. In all their affliction He was afflicted, the Angel of His Face saved them." This must be understood, not as an angel of the Presence, who went out from the Presence to save the people, but, as it is in other Scriptures, God’s own Presence, God Himself; and so interpreted, the phrase falls into line with the rest of the verse, which is one of the most vivid expressions that the Bible contains of the personality of God. "In His love and in His pity He redeemed them, and bare them, and carried them all the days of old." Then he tells us how they disappointed and betrayed this trust, ever since the Exodus, the days of old. "But they rebelled and grieved the Spirit of His holiness: therefore He was turned to be their enemy, He Himself fought against them." This refers to their history down to, and especially during, the Exile: compare Isaiah 42:24-25. Then in their affliction they "remembered the days of old"-the English version obscures the sequence here by translating he remembered- and then follows the glorious account of the Exodus. In Isaiah 63:13 the wilderness is, of course, prairie, flat pasture-land; they were led as smoothly as "a horse in a meadow, that they stumbled not. As cattle that come down into the valley"-cattle coming down from the hillside to pasture and rest on the green, watered plains-"the Spirit of Jehovah caused them to rest: so didst Thou lead Thy people to make Thyself a glorious name." And then having offered such precedents, the prophet’s prayer breaks forth to a God, whom His people fed no longer at their head, but far withdrawn into heaven: "Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of Thy holiness and Thy glory: where is Thy zeal and Thy mighty deeds? the surge of Thy bowels and Thy compassions are restrained towards me." Then he pleads God’s fatherhood to the nation, and the rest of the prayer alternates between the hopeless misery and undeserving sin of the people, and, notwithstanding, the power of God to save as He did in times of old; the willingness of God to meet with those who wait for Him and remember Him; and, once more, His fatherhood, and His power over them, as the power of the potter over the clay.

Two points stand out from the rest. The Divine Trust, from which all God’s dealing with His people is said to have started, and the Divine Fatherhood, which the prophet pleads.

"He said, Surely they are My people, children that will not deal falsely: so He was their Saviour." The "surely" is not the fiat of sovereignty or foreknowledge: it is the hope and confidence of love. It did not prevail; it was disappointed.

This is, of course, a profound acknowledgment of man’s free will. It is implied that men’s conduct must remain an uncertain thing, and that in calling men God cannot adventure upon greater certainty than is implied in the trust of affection. If one asks, What, then, about God’s foreknowledge, who alone knoweth the end of a thing from the beginning, and His sovereign grace, who chooseth whom He will? are you not logically bound to these?-then it can only be asked in return, Is it not better to be without logic for a little, if at the expense of it we obtain so true, so deep a glimpse into God’s heart as this simple verse affords us? Which is better for us to know-that God is Wisdom which knows all, or Love that dares and ventures all? Surely, that God is Love which dares and ventures all with the worst, with the most hopeless of us. This is what makes this single verse of Scripture more powerful to move the heart than all creeds and catechisms. For where these speak of sovereign will, and often mock our affections with the bare and heavy (if legitimate) sceptre they sway, this calls forth our love, honour, and obedience by the heart it betrays in God. Of what unsuspicious trust, of what chivalrous adventure of love, of what fatherly confidence, does it speak! What a religion is this of ours in the power of which a man may every morning rise and feel himself thrilled by the thought that God trusts him enough to work with His will for the day; in the power of which a man may look round and see the sordid, hopeless human life about him glorified by the truth that for the salvation of such God did adventure Himself in a love that laid itself down in death. The attraction and power of such a religion can never die. Requiring no painful thought to argue it into reality, it leaps to light before the natural affection of man’s heart; it takes his instincts immediately captive; it gives him a conscience, an honour, and an obligation. No wonder that our prophet, having such a belief, should once more identify himself with the people, and adventure himself with the weight of their sin before God.

The other point of the prayer is the Fatherhood of God, concerning which all that is needful to say here is that the prophet, true to the rest of Old Testament teaching on the subject, applies it only to God’s relation to the nation as a whole. In the Old Testament no one is called the son of God except Israel as a people, or some individual representative and head of Israel. And even of such the term was seldom employed. This was not because the Hebrew was without temptation to imagine his physical descent from the gods, for neighbouring nations indulged in such dreams for themselves and their heroes; nor because he was without appreciation of the intellectual kinship between the human and the Divine, for he knew that in the beginning God had said, "Let us make man in our own image." But the same feeling prevailed with him in regard to this idea, as we have seen prevailed in regard to the kindred idea of God as the husband of His people. The prophets were anxious to emphasise that it was a moral relation, -a moral relation, and one initiated from God’s side by certain historical acts of His free, selecting, redeeming, and adopting love. Israel was not God’s son till God had evidently called and redeemed him. Look at how our prophet uses the word Father, and to what he makes it equivalent. The first time it is equivalent to Redeemer: "Thou, O Lord, art our Father; our Redeemer from old is Thy name". {Isaiah 63:16 b} The second time it is illustrated by the work of the potter: "But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father; we are the clay, and Thou our potter; and we are all the work of Thy hand". {Isaiah 64:8} Could it be made plainer in what sense the Bible defines this relation between God and man? It is not a physical, nor is it an intellectual relation. The assurance and the virtue of it do not come to men with their blood or with the birth of their intellect, but in the course of moral experience, with the sense that God claims them from sin and from the world for Himself; with the gift of a calling and a destiny; with the formation of character, the perfecting of obedience, the growth in His knowledge and His grace. And because it is a moral relation time is needed to realise it, and only after long patience and effort may it be unhesitatingly claimed. And that is why Israel was so long in claiming it, and why the clearest, most undoubting cries to God the Father, which rise from the Greek in the earliest period of his history, reach our ears from Jewish lips only near the end of their long progress, only (as we see from our prayer) in a time of trial and affliction.

We have a New Testament echo of this Old Testament belief in the Fatherhood of God, as a moral and not a national relation, in Paul’s writings, who in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians {2 Corinthians 6:17-18} urges thus: "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty."

On these grounds, then, -that God in His great love had already adventured Himself with this whole people, and already by historical acts of election and redemption proved Himself the Father of the nation as a whole, -does our prophet plead with Him to save them all again. The answer to this pleading he gets in chapter 65.


(Chapter 65)

God’s answer to His prophet’s intercession is twofold. First, He says that He has already all this time been trying them with love, meeting them with salvation; but they have not turned to Him. The prophet has asked, "Where is Thy zeal? the yearning of Thy bowels and Thy compassions are restrained towards me. Thou hast hid Thy face far from us. Wilt Thou refrain Thyself for these things, O Jehovah? Wilt Thou hold Thy peace and afflict us very sore?" And now, "in the beginning of chapter 65, Jehovah answers, not with that confusion of tenses and irrelevancy of words with which the English version makes Him speak; but suitably, relevantly, and convincingly." "I have been to be inquired of those who asked not for Me. I have been to be found of them that sought Me not. I have been saying, I am here, I am here, to a nation that did not call on My name. I have stretched out My hands all the day to a people turning away, who walk in a way that is not good, after their own thoughts; a people that have been provoking Me to My face continually,"-and then He details their idolatry. This, then, is the answer of the Lord to the prophet’s appeal. "In this I have not all power. It is wrong to talk of Me as the potter and of man as the clay, as if all the active share in salvation lay with Me. Man is free, - free to withhold himself from My urgent affection; free to turn from My outstretched hands; free to choose before Me the abomination of idolatry. And this the mass of Israel have done, clinging, fanatical and self-satisfied, to their unclean and morbid imaginations of the Divine, all the time that My great prophecy by you has been appealing to them." This is a sufficient answer to the prophet’s prayer. Love is not omnipotent; if men disregard so open an appeal of the Love of God, they are hopeless; nothing else can save them. The sin against such love is like the sin against the Holy Ghost, of which our Lord speaks so hopelessly. Even God cannot help the despisers and abusers of Grace.

The rest of God’s answer to His prophet’s intercession emphasises that the nation shall be saved for the sake of a faithful remnant in it (Isaiah 65:8-10). But the idolaters shall perish (Isaiah 65:11-12). They cannot possibly expect the same fare, the same experience, the same fate, as God’s faithful servants (Isaiah 65:13-15). But those who are true and faithful Israelites, surviving and experiencing the promised salvation, shall find that God is true, and shall acknowledge Him as "the God of Amen, because the former troubles are forgotten" (those felt so keenly in the prophet’s prayer in chapter 64) "and because they are hid from Mine eyes." The rest of the answer describes a state of serenity and happiness wherein there shall be no premature death, nor loss of property, nor vain labour, nor miscarriage, nor disappointment of prayer nor delay in its answer, nor strife between man and the beasts, nor any hurt or harm in Jehovah’s Holy Mountain. Truly a prospect worthy of being named as the prophet names it, "a new heaven and a new earth!"

Chapter 65 is thus closely connected, both by circumstance and logic, with the long prayer which precedes it. The tendency of recent criticism has been to deny this connection, especially on the line of circumstance. Chapter 65 does not, it is argued, reflect the Babylonish captivity as Isaiah 63:7 through Isaiah 64:1-12 so clearly does; but, on the contrary, "while some passages presuppose the Exile as past, others refer to circumstances characteristic of Jewish life in Canaan." But this view is only possible through straining some features of the chapter adaptable either to Palestine or Babylon, and overlooking others which are obviously Babylonian. "Sacrificing in gardens and burning incense on tiles" were practices pursued in Jerusalem before the Exile, but the latter was introduced there from Babylon, and the former was universal in heathendom. The practices in Isaiah 65:5 are never attributed to the people before the Exile, were all possible in Babylonia, and some we know to have been actual there. The other charge of idolatry in Isaiah 65:11 "suits Babylonia," Cheyne admits, "as well as (probably) Palestine." But what seems decisive for the exilic origin of chapter 65 is that the possession of Judah and Zion by the seed of Jacob is still implied as future (Isaiah 65:9). Moreover the holy land is alluded to by the name common among the exiles in flat Mesopotamia, My mountains, and in contrast with the idolatry of which the present generation is guilty the idolatry of their fathers is characterised as having been "upon the mountains and upon the hills," and again the people is charged with "forgetting My holy mountain," a phrase reminiscent of Psalms 137:4, and more appropriate to a time of exile, than when the people were gathered about Zion. All these resemblances in circumstances corroborate the strong logical connection which we have found between chapter 64 and chapter 65, and leave us no reason for taking the latter away from the main author of "Second Isaiah," though he may have worked up into it recollections and remains of an older time.


(Chapter 66)

Whether with the final chapter of our prophecy we at last get footing in the Holy Land is doubtful. It was said that, "in Isaiah 66:1-4 the Temple is still unbuilt, but the building would seem to be already begun." This latter clause should be modified to, "the building would seem to be in immediate prospect." The rest of the chapter, Isaiah 66:6-24, has features that speak more definitely for the period after the Return; but even they are not conclusive, and their effect is counterbalanced by some other verses. Isaiah 66:6 may imply that the Temple is rebuilt, and Isaiah 66:20 that the sacrifices are resumed; but, on the other hand, these verses may be, like parts of chapter 60, statements of the prophet’s vivid vision of the future. Isaiah 66:7-8 seem to describe a repeopling of Jerusalem that has already taken place; but Isaiah 66:9 says, that while the "bringing to the birth" has already happened, which is, as we must suppose, the deliverance from Babylon, -or is it the actual arrival at Jerusalem?-the "bringing forth from the womb," that is, the complete restoration of the people, has still to take place. Isaiah 66:13 is certainly addressed to those who are not yet in Jerusalem.

These few points reveal how difficult, nay, how impossible, it is to decide the question of date, as between the days immediately before the Return and the days immediately after. To the present expositor the balance of evidence seems to be with the later date. But the difference is very small. We are at least sure-and it is really all that we require to know-that the rebuilding of Jerusalem is very near, nearer than it has been felt in any previous chapter. The Temple is, so to speak, within sight, and the prophet is able to talk of the regular round of sacrifices and sacred festivals almost as if they had been resumed.

To the people, then, either in the near prospect of Return, or immediately after some of them had arrived in Jerusalem, the prophet addresses a number of oracles, in which he pursues the division that chapter 65 had emphasised between the two parties in Israel. These oracles are so, intricate that we are compelled to take up the chapter verse by verse. The first of them begins by correcting certain false feelings in Israel, excited by former promises of the rebuilding and the glory of the Temple. "Thus saith Jehovah, The heavens are My throne, and earth is My footstool: what is this for a house that ye will build (or, are building) Me, and what is this for a place for My rest? Yea, all these things" (that is, all the visible works of God in heaven and earth) "My hand hath made, and so came to pass all these things, saith Jehovah. But unto this will I look, unto the humble and contrite spirit, and that trembleth at My word." These verses do not run counter to, or even go beyond, anything that our prophet has already said. They do not condemn the building of the Temple: this was not possible for a prophecy which contains chapter 60. They condemn only the kind of temple which those whom they address had in view, -a shrine to which the presence of Jehovah was limited, and on the raising and maintenance of which the religion and righteousness of the people should depend. While the former Temple was standing, the mass of the people had thus misconceived it, imagining that it was enough for national religion to have such a structure standing and honoured in their midst. And now, before it is built again, the exiles are cherishing about it the same formal and materialistic thoughts. Therefore the prophet rebukes them, as his predecessors had rebuked their fathers, and reminds them of a truth he has already uttered, that though the Temple is raised, according to God’s own promise and direction, it wilt not be to its structure, as they conceive of it, that He will have respect, but to the existence among them of humble and sincere personal piety. The Temple is to be raised: "the place of His feet God will make glorious," and men shall gather round it from the whole earth, for instruction, for comfort, and for rejoicing. But. let them not think it to be indispensable either to God or to man, -not to God, who has heaven for His throne and earth for His footstool; nor to man, for God looks direct to man, if only man be humble, penitent, and sensitive to His word. These verses, then, do not go beyond the Old Testament limit; they leave the Temple standing, but they say so much about God’s other sanctuary man, that when His use for the Temple shall be past, His Servant Stephen {Acts 7:49} shall be able to employ these words to prove why it should disappear.

The next verse is extremely difficult. Here it is literally: "A slaughterer of the ox, a slayer of a man; a sacrificer of the lamb, a breaker of a dog’s neck; an offerer of meat-offering, swine’s blood; the maker of a memorial offering of incense, one that blesseth an idol, or vanity." Four legal sacrificial acts are here coupled with four unlawful sacrifices to idols. Does this mean that in the eye of God, impatient even of the ritual He has consecrated, when performed by men who do not tremble at His word, each of these lawful sacrifices is as worthless and odious as the idolatrous practice associated with it, -the slaughter of the ox as the offering of a human sacrifice, and so forth? Or does the verse mean that there are persons in Israel who combine, like the Corinthians blamed by Paul, {1 Corinthians 10:1-33} both the true and the idolatrous ritual, both the table of the Lord and the table of devils? Our answer will depend on whether we take the four parallels with Isaiah 66:2, which precedes them, or with the rest of Isaiah 66:3, to which they belong, and Isaiah 66:4. If we take them with Isaiah 66:2, then we must adopt the first, the alternative meaning; if with Isaiah 66:4, then the second of these meanings is the right one. Now there is no grammatical connection, nor any transparent logical one, between Isaiah 66:2 and Isaiah 66:3, but there is a grammatical connection with the rest of Isaiah 66:3. Immediately after the pairs of lawful and unlawful sacrificial acts, Isaiah 66:3 continues, "yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations." That surely signifies that the unlawful sacrifices in Isaiah 66:3 are things already committed and delighted in, and the meaning of putting them in parallel to the lawful sacrifices of Jehovah’s religion is either that Israelites have committed them instead of the lawful sacrifices, or along with these. In this case, Isaiah 66:3-4 form a separate discourse by themselves, with no relation to the equally distinct oracle in Isaiah 66:1 and Isaiah 66:2. The subject of Isaiah 66:3-4 is, therefore, the idolatrous Israelites. They are delivered unto Satan, their choice; they shall have no part in the coming Salvation: In Isaiah 66:5 the faithful in Israel, who have obeyed God’s word by the prophet, are comforted under the mocking of their brethren, who shall certainly be put to shame. Already the prophet hears the preparation of the judgment against them (Isaiah 66:6). It comes forth from the city where they had mockingly cried for God’s glory to appear. The mocked city avenges itself on them. "Hark, a roar from the City! Hark, from the Temple! Hark, Jehovah accomplishing vengeance on His enemies!" A new section begins with Isaiah 66:7, and celebrates to Isaiah 66:9 the sudden re-population of the City by her children, either as already a fact, or, more probably, as a near certainty. Then comes a call to the children, restored, or about to be restored, to congratulate their mother and "to enjoy her. The prophet rewakens the figure, that is ever nearest his heart, of motherhood, -children suckled, borne, and cradled in the lap of their mother fill all his view; nay, finer still, the grown man coming back with wounds and weariness upon him to be comforted of his mother." As a man whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you, and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem. And ye shall see, and rejoice shall your heart, and your bones shall flourish like the tender grass." But this great light shines not to flood all Israel in One, but to cleave the nation in two, like a sword of judgment. "The hand of Jehovah shall be known towards His servants, but He will have indignation against His enemies" (enemies, that is, within Israel. Then comes the fiery judgment) "For by fire will Jehovah plead, and by His sword with, all flesh; and the slain of Jehovah shall be many. Why there should be slain of Jehovah within Israel is then explained. Within Israel there are idolaters: "they that consecrate themselves and practise purification for the gardens, after one in the middle; eaters of swine’s flesh, and the Abomination, and the Mouse. They shall come to an end together, saith Jehovah, for I" (know, or will punish,) "their works and their thoughts." In this eighteenth verse the punctuation is uncertain, and probably the text is corrupt. The first part of the verse should evidently go, as above, with Isaiah 66:17. Then begins a new subject.

"It is coming to gather all the nations and the tongues, and they shall come and shall see My glory; and I will set among them a sign" (a marvellous and mighty act, probably of judgment, for he immediately speaks of their survivors) "and I will send the escaped of them to the nations Tarshish, and Lud, drawers of the bow, to Tubal and Javan" (that is, to far Spain, and the distances of Africa, towards the Black Sea and to "Greece, a full round of the compass) the isles far off that have not heard report of Me, nor have seen My glory; and they shall recount My glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brethren from among all the nations an offering to Jehovah, on horses and in chariots and in litters, and on mules and on dromedaries, up on the Mount of My Holiness, Jerusalem, saith Jehovah, just as when the children of Israel bring the offering in a clean vessel to the house of Jehovah. And also from them will I take to be priests, to be Levites, saith Jehovah. For like as the new heavens and the new earth which I am making shall be standing before Me, saith Jehovah, so shall stand your seed and your name." But again the prophecy swerves from the universal hope into which we expect it to break, and gives us instead a division and a judgment: the servants of Jehovah on one side occupied in what the prophet regards as the ideal life, regular worship-so little did he mean Isaiah 66:1 to be a condemnation of the Temple and its ritual!-and on the other the rebels’ unburied carcasses gnawed by the worm and by fire, an abomination to all. "And it shall come to pass from new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before Me, saith Jehovah: and they shall go out and look on the carcasses of the men who have rebelled against Me; for their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh."

We have thus gone step by step through the chapter, because its intricacies and sudden changes were not otherwise to be mastered. What exactly it is composed of must, we fear, still remain a problem. Who can tell whether its short, broken pieces are all originally from our prophet’s hand, or were gathered by him from others, or were the fragments of his teaching which the reverent hands of disciples picked carefully up that nothing might be lost? Sometimes we think it must be this last alternative that happened; for it seems impossible that pieces so strange to each other, so loosely connected, could have flowed from one mind at one time. But then again we think otherwise, when we see how the chapter as a whole continues the separation made evident in chapter 65, and runs it on to a last emphatic contrast.

So we are left by the prophecy, -not with the new heavens and the new earth which it promised: not with the holy mountain on which none shall hurt nor destroy, saith the Lord; not with a Jerusalem full of glory and a people all holy, the centre of a gathered humanity, -but with the city like to a judgment floor, and upon its narrow surface a people divided between worship and a horrible woe.

O Jerusalem, City of the Lord, Mother eagerly desired of her children, radiant light to them that sit in darkness and are far off, home after exile, haven after storm, -expected as the Lord’s garner, thou art still to be only His threshing-floor, and heaven and hell as of old shall, from new moon to new moon, through the revolving years, lie side by side within thy narrow walls! For from the day that Araunah the Jebusite threshed out his sheaves upon thy high windswept rock, to the day when the Son of Man standing over against thee divided in his last discourse the sheep from the goats, the wise from the foolish, and the loving from the selfish, thou hast been appointed of God for trial and separation and judgment.

It is a terrible ending to such a prophecy as ours. But is any other possible? We ask how can this contiguity of heaven and hell be within the Lord’s own city, after all His yearning and jealousy for her, after His fierce agony and strife with her enemies, after so clear a revelation of Himself, so long a providence, so glorious a deliverance? Yet, it is plain that nothing else can result, if the men on whose ears the great prophecy had fallen, with all its music and all its gospel, and who had been partakers of the Lord’s Deliverance, did yet continue to prefer their idols, their swine’s flesh, their mouse, their broth of abominable things, their sitting in graves, to so evident a God and to so great a grace.

It is a terrible ending, but it is the same as upon the same floor Christ set to His teaching, -the gospel net cast wide, but only to draw in both good and bad upon a beach of judgment; the wedding feast thrown open and men compelled to come in, but among them a heart whom grace so great could not awe even to decency; Christ’s gospel preached, His Example evident, and Himself owned as Lord, and nevertheless some whom neither the hearing nor the seeing nor the owning with their lips did lift to unselfishness or stir to pity. Therefore He who had cried, "Come all unto Me," was compelled to close by saying to many, "Depart."

It is a terrible ending, but one only too conceivable. For though God is love, man is free, -free to turn from that love; free to be as though he had never felt it; free to put away from himself the highest, clearest, most urgent grace that God can show. But to do this is the judgment.

"Lord, are there few that be saved?"

The Lord did not answer the question but by bidding the questioner take heed to himself:

"Strive to enter in at the strait gate."

Almighty and most merciful God, who hast sent this book to be the revelation of Thy great love to man, and of Thy power and will to save him, grant that our study of it may not have been in vain by the callousness or carelessness of our hearts, but that by it we may be confirmed in penitence, lifted to hope, made strong for service, and above all filled with the true knowledge of Thee and of Thy Son Jesus Christ, Amen.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Isaiah 66". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/isaiah-66.html.
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