IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE BIBLE THAT PUZZLES YOU?
If so please EMail us with your question and we will do our best to give you a satisfactory answer.EMailus. (But preferably not from aol.com, for some reason they do not deliver our messages).
FREE Scholarly verse by verse commentaries on the Bible.
THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD.
Isaiah 56-66. Yahweh’s Deliverance.
As we approach this last section it should perhaps be noted that the dividing point between 40-55 and 56-66 is to some extent arbitrary and used for convenience. There is no specific point of separation. Chapter 55 moves on into chapter 56.
This being said this section of Isaiah is built around the theme of faithfulness to the everlasting covenant mentioned in 55.3, and of response (or lack of response) to God’s saving purposes. One important aspect of this is with regard to the keeping of the Sabbath which comes with a threefold emphasis in 56.1-8; 58.13; 66.23, where the thought is of keeping one day set apart for the worship of Yahweh (66.23). The ancient emphasis on simply not working on the Sabbath is not mentioned, although can be assumed, but the idea of the Sabbath has become more positive. It is a day for worship (66.23) and for doing Yahweh’s pleasure (58.13). It is a day for submission to Yahweh. It is a day for delighting in His will.
Note how this ‘new’ approach to the Sabbath is in line with 1.11-15. It is not calling simply for a laborious observance of its requirement, but for a new positive attitude towards God. It is to be living and not dead.
It is significant that this observance of the Sabbath is especially linked to ‘outsiders’ coming to Yahweh. It becomes the sign that eunuchs (56.4), ‘strangers’ (56.6) and ‘all flesh’ (66.23) are welcomed within the new covenant. For Yahweh’s house is to be a house of prayer for all peoples (56.7). Significantly there is no mention of circumcision. True worship of Yahweh on one day out of seven in full-hearted and total commitment, and ceasing to do evil and learning to do well, become the signs of true believers (compare 1.16-18). It is good news for all.
The theme of this section might be seen as summarised in 61.2. It looks forward to ‘the acceptable year of Yahweh’ and the ‘the Day of Vengeance of our God. It is noteworthy in this regard that after chapter 53 the theme of the Servant of Yahweh ceases to be prominent, having been prominent from chapter 41 onwards, and from this point on mention is made rather of His ‘servants’, always in the plural, who will carry forward His will. This is because in the Servant described in chapter 53 the idea of the Servant has come to its full potential. In what He has accomplished there He has achieved what Israel had failed to achieve, a way back to God for all men. Now He must divide the spoil with the strong (53.12). All else must now flow from Him. The great Servant has fulfilled all that is necessary for Gods work of deliverance, His task as the Servant is done and the Servant as such now almost falls from view (but see commentary).
But this is not because He has ceased to be important. It is because He now takes on a new role. Concentration will now be on Him as coming as a Redeemer (59.20), as a Mighty Warrior (59.17-18) and as an Anointed One on Whom has come the Spirit of the Lord Yahweh (61.1-2). This latter reference to the Spirit links the Anointed One both with the coming Davidic king (11.1-4) and with the coming Servant (42.1-4). He will come to deliver and to proclaim the acceptable year of Yahweh and the day of God’s vengeance and to establish Yahweh’s new priesthood. (But this is not Cyrus. It is significant in this regard that the Spirit is nowhere connected with the activity of Cyrus. He was ‘anointed’ but being anointed refers to a setting apart by Yahweh to His service. It does not necessarily indicate the presence of the Spirit. Cyrus was neither beloved nor Spirit-filled. He was simply for a brief period God’s external instrument who freed God’s people from the constraints of external idolatry).
In some ways 61.1-2 might be seen as a crux passage in Isaiah for another reason, for as expounded by Jesus it demonstrates quite clearly the telescoping of his prophecies. Jesus would apply the first part of verse 2 to Himself and His current ministry as far as ‘the acceptable year of the Lord’, a ‘year’ lasting on through the centuries (Luke 4.16-19). And it was at this point that He ‘closed the book’. The ‘day of vengeance’, although occurring at times through history, would then finally come at the end of time. Jesus thus recognised that Isaiah’s prophecies stretched out over the centuries.
This paralleling of salvation and judgment is, as we have seen, a regular one in Isaiah. And once again in this section salvation is paralleled with judgment, and thus the Mighty Warrior not only arises on behalf of His own (59.17), but also appears as the One Who is the instrument of Yahweh’s vengeance on His enemies (59.18), and especially on Edom (63.1-6). That this latter figure is Yahweh or His Emissary comes out in that He speaks of ‘My redeemed ones’ (verse 4). In Isaiah it has been almost always Yahweh Who has been seen as the Redeemer (see introduction to the Commentary), but now the Redeemer appears as a distinctive figure, see 59.20.
The judgment that comes on Edom is a depiction of the day of vengeance. Edom here therefore represents God’s judgment on those who, having had every opportunity of coming to Him, have rejected Yahweh and have been rejected by Him (see on 21.11-12). Edom had always been specially favoured from a conversion point of view (Deuteronomy 23.7-8, compare 3-6). The original Edom (Esau) was the son of Isaac who went outside the line of promise because he rejected his birthright, and his seed subsequently became the perpetual and permanent enemy of the people of God, and thus like Babylon had to be destroyed for ever (34). Babylon represented the world at enmity with God, Edom the traitor in the midst. In the one case as a city, and in the other as an identifiable independent people, both eventually ceased to exist, with what remained of the Edomites (Edom had been overrun by the Nabataeans) moving into southern Judah and being absorbed by the Jews at the point of the sword.
But the whole purpose of the section (and indeed of the whole book) is to lead up to the triumph of the new heaven and the new earth when all is made right and the whole world worships Yahweh (65.16-66.24).
The section may be seen as divided into three parts.
The second, 59.15b - 62.12 depicts the coming of the Redeemer and the consequences that are to follow. If only they will respond He will raise them out of the darkness, bring about the return of their exiles, and establish them in splendour as His people. It includes the promise of the coming of an Anointed One (61.1) who will help in bringing this about.
Alternately some see part 2 as ending at 63.1-6 with the judgment on Edom, with this being followed by the third section which also ends with warnings of judgment.
THE TRUE CONDITION OF GOD’S NOMINAL PEOPLE (56.1-59.15a).
In this section Isaiah offers hope to all who will respond to Him from a humble and contrite heart (57.15), but strongly affirms the apathetic state of the people, and lays bare the ways in which they are failing. While outwardly religious, they are failing in their moral response to the covenant, and in their responsibility towards one another and towards God.
Chapter 56 God’s Welcome Extended to All, But Judah’s Leaders Are Failing in Their Responsibility.
This chapter is a chapter of contrasts. On the one hand God’s heart is open to all, including the physically impaired and the racially impaired, and all who seek righteousness are welcome. His house is open to all (56.7). It is an indication that Yahweh’s welcome still reaches out widely. But the problem is then revealed to be that the spiritual leaders of Judah are by their blindness, laziness and greed welcoming ‘wild beasts’ who tear the hearts out of His people. Their perspective is that they are simply offering them ‘a good time’. Compare 22.13. Let them eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow they die.
The Welcome Given To Eunuchs and Strangers To Enter Fully Into the House of Yahweh (56.1-8).
God’s true people are to live in readiness for the day of deliverance (verse 1b), and one day when His deliverance comes (verse 1), as a result of the work of the Servant (53.1-12), and as a result of the establishing of the everlasting covenant (55.3), full and uninhibited worship in the temple of Yahweh will be available to all who long to engage in such worship, including those who are at present excluded, the eunuch and the ‘stranger’, those incapacitated by deformity or race. A way in is now made available for all if they will but respond in righteousness.
56.1 ‘Thus says Yahweh,
As previously described in 40-55, Yahweh’s salvation is seen to be coming and His righteousness is to be revealed in the righteous deliverance of His own, and His true people are therefore to prepare themselves and be ready for that day by ‘keeping judgment (justice) and doing righteousness’. Not how continually the emphasis is on justice, and righteousness and on doing the will of God (which in the end is what righteousness is). God’s aim is to establish a righteous people
‘Judgment’ here may be seen as referring to having a right judgment on things, as taking up a right attitude, of listening to those who like Isaiah speak the truth, of revealing right behaviour and response, behaving justly, and fulfilling all the covenant requirements, including those that enable a free approach to God.
‘Righteousness’ may be seen as involving being like the Righteous One, as involving pleasing God (compare verse 4), and doing what is right in His eyes The righteous man obeys the covenant, which represents what is right in His eyes.
It has been suggested that we may see these ideas as responding to the negative and positive aspects of the Law, but this must not be overpressed. Part of the basic Law is negative, as echoed in the words ‘You shall not --’. Thus, you shall not have other gods, worship graven images, take Yahweh’s name in vain, steal, kill, commit adultery, covet and bear false witness. And this accords with justice. The other part is positive echoing relationship to God, remembering the Sabbath day and honouring father and mother, and this accords with righteousness, the acknowledgement of heavenly and earthly authority. The distinction, however, must not be overstressed. In the end truly behaving justly is being righteous, if it comes from the heart.
We may see all this as summed up positively (as Jesus did) in ‘you shall love Yahweh your God with heart, soul, and strength’ (Deuteronomy 6.4-5) and ‘your neighbour as yourself’ (Leviticus 19.18). See Matthew 22.34-40 and parallels.
And the keeping of these requirements (retaining them in the heart and meditating on them so as to fulfil them) is to be in the light of the coming anticipated final deliverance of Yahweh, the salvation that is near to come, and on the fact that God will thereby reveal His own righteousness in delivering the righteous. Note the assumption. It is the righteous who will be delivered, the spiritual remnant among God’s outward people, those who are truly responding to His covenant and seeking to please God because they trust in Him (7.9; 25.9; 26.4; 30.15).
For the idea of ‘doing righteousness’ compare 51.1 where Isaiah speaks of ‘following after righteousness’. This is no new concept. It is not talking about slipping into a legalistic attitude. It is rather the constant expectation that Isaiah has of the righteous, that they will be righteous in deed and action. They are not only to respond to God’s righteousness, taking it to themselves (53.11), and bathing in it, but are also to ‘do’ righteousness. Doing righteousness is the outworking of being righteous. Compare Genesis 18.19 where a similar idea is in mind. Isaiah may well have had that verse in mind, bringing the thought of the people back to Abraham. Abraham exemplified this. He believed God and He counted it to him for righteousness (Genesis 15.6). And the result was that he ‘did righteously’, that is, he lived righteously (Genesis 26.5).
The Old Testament idea of the righteous is that they come to God constantly through the sacrificial system seeking atonement, seeking to be right with God through His mercy, and then themselves respond to His goodness from the heart by living in accordance with His covenant requirements. They walk with God. They cease to do evil and learn to do well (Isaiah 1.16-17).
The one who keeps judgment and does righteousness will be truly blessed and is now defined as the one who rightly keeps the Sabbath as a day set apart for God (you shall love the Lord your God) and who keeps his hand from doing evil (you shall love your neighbour), the latter being defined in verse 4 in terms of choosing the things that please Yahweh and holding fast to His covenant. To displease Yahweh and to fail to fulfil the requirements of the covenant is to do evil. As ever in Isaiah such people are blessed because their behaviour indicates a true response to Yahweh’s offer of mercy and deliverance (7.9; 25.9; 26.4; 30.15). The verbs are imperfects indicating continuous action.
The word used for ‘man’ is ’enosh, indicating man in his frailty. ‘Son of man’ is a poetic parallel to ‘man’, and is ‘ben adam’ (the son of Adam/man) thus suggesting one springing from the totality of humanity.
The emphasis on the keeping of the Sabbath expresses, in Isaiah, not the negative approach of not working (although he would certainly have accepted the necessity of that), but that of positively seeking to please God and of rightly worshipping Him (58.13-14; 66.23). It is the outward expression of the trust and confidence in Yahweh that He requires, in contrast with the attitude towards it revealed by the people in Amos 8.5. God is to be central in their Sabbath thinking. It is this positive attitude that Isaiah is looking for.
Thus the keeping of the Sabbath as thought of by Isaiah was an indication of a full-hearted love for Yahweh, and of a desire to please Him and do His will. Each Sabbath was to open with the thought, ‘how can I please Him today?’ This is in interesting contrast to Jeremiah 17.19-27, who sees it in the old negative terms, although that also demonstrates how important the keeping of the Sabbath was considered to be. (This is not to decry the old terms which provided a just and right period of rest every seven days for all in the land whatever their status might be, but to bring out that Isaiah saw it in a more positive light).
Thus we do not have here the post-exilic attitude towards the Sabbath exemplified in the Pharisees who opposed Jesus, who saw it as a day of watchfulness lest self-appointed Sabbath regulations be breached, but rather a positive attitude of love and worship and being pleasing to God which was consonant with Isaiah’s whole approach. Ezekiel also saw the profanation of the Sabbath as a pre-exilic phenomenon (Ezekiel 20.12-13, 20; 22.8, 26) which needed to be rectified. But, in fact, nowhere does even he exhort the people in exile specifically to keep the Sabbath except by implication from the above verses, that is by going back to how they were previously required to behave. He does not see the Sabbath as the binding force during the exile suggested by some scholars.
It should be noted that if this injunction had had the exile in mind it would almost certainly have been paralleled with circumcision (as it usually is by such interpreters), the one act that could always be performed and was seen as perpetuating the covenant, but there are rather here in the verses that follow indications that circumcision would no longer be required once the Servant had fulfilled His task in 53.1-12. Isaiah sees no need for an external sign. (Furthermore it should be noted that we have no reason in fact to consider that the exiles were able to maintain the practise of full Sabbath-keeping in their hostile environment).
This remarkable statement reveals how the religious atmosphere is changing in the prophetic ministry of Isaiah. There is a new openness to all and an emphasis on the spiritual rather than the flesh. Both ‘strangers’ who are not members of the covenant, and yet have come among God’s people, and ‘eunuchs’, men who have been ‘treated’ so that they are no longer fruit bearing, are to be welcomed into the new everlasting covenant because of what the Servant has done, and are to be given their heart’s desire, in the one case the right to full access to Yahweh, and in the other remembrance in Israel and entry into Yahweh’s house.
‘Strangers’ were those who came into the land, but who were not within the covenant. They had not united with the people of God through undergoing circumcision and being officially and religiously accepted into the congregation of Israel. (If they had they would no longer be ‘strangers’ - Exodus 12.48). Thus they saw themselves as ‘separate’ from the covenant and from God. But had they been circumcised there would be no reason why they should see themselves as separate from God, for once they had been circumcised and had joined the covenant, they would be one with His people. So the implication is that these ‘strangers’ would continue to be uncircumcised. This would tie in with their being paralleled with eunuchs. Both were ‘deficient’ in the privy parts. Alternately it may be that the principle in Exodus 12.48 had been neglected, and that Isaiah was declaring that it would be restored.
Eunuchs were those who could not beget children because of mutilation to the privy parts, either accidental or deliberate (Deuteronomy 23.1) although there is a question mark about whether this applied to people accidentally mutilated. Thus they saw themselves as non-fruitbearing, ‘a dry tree’.
According to the Law neither uncircumcised stranger nor eunuch could enter the assembly of Yahweh. In the case of strangers it was because they were not within the covenant. They were still ‘outsiders’. In the case of eunuchs it was because they were looked on as physically ‘blemished’ (compare Leviticus 22.23-25) and non-fruitbearing (a further blemish because caused by physical disability).
Nothing that was blemished could be allowed to enter the sacred precincts of the temple because of God’s holiness, God’s perfection. This restriction was a way of getting this lesson over and of making men aware that God required perfection (they could, however, still make their offerings through substitutes). But through the work of the Servant both would be wholly welcomed as God’s people as long as they responded to the specific requirements of the new covenant. Circumcision has been replaced by what He has done in sacrificing Himself (see Colossians 2.11); fruitbearing is now to be a spiritual exercise. What will matter is the bearing of fruit both by good works and by witness, rather than by physical birth.
These remarkable words strictly interpreted indicated that neither lack of circumcision nor physical blemish would in the future prevent men from uniting with the people of God. All men would be welcome as long as they responded to the covenant, truly worshipped Yahweh (66.23) and accepted the covenant stipulations and the Davidic promises and responded to them, for God looked at what was inward and not what was outward, what was the condition of the spirit and not the condition of the flesh (compare 57.15).
56.4 ‘For thus says Yahweh,
The eunuch, whether through accident, or through a deliberate mutilation, something which was common in those days outside Israel, was unable to contribute children to the seed of Abraham. His name would therefore be cut off because when he died his descendants would cease. The sense of shame and loss they felt as a result of this comes out in Isaiah’s promise concerning them. They longed that their name might be permanently remembered in Israel. (Perhaps Isaiah has in mind here the treatment that would be handed out to the sons of Hezekiah (39.7). It is an indication that what has happened has not cut them off from God).
There is also an indication here of how important the bearing of children was seen to be, for without them how could their names be remembered? But those eunuchs who fully responded to Yahweh, and revealed it by observing His sabbaths, choosing to do what pleased Him and fully responding to the requirements of the covenant, would receive a memorial better than that of sons and daughters. They would through the spiritual nature of their lives bring men to God who would be seen as their ‘children’. This would give them an everlasting reputation, a permanent remembrance of a non-physical kind. And for there to be everlastingness it in essence required an everlasting kingdom in order for it to be so.
Thus a fruit-bearing life which was pleasing to God, a life that sought to choose what pleased Him, a life committed to obedience to His covenant, was now to be seen as more important than the ability to beget children, and could restore a eunuch to being a fruit-bearing tree.
‘An everlasting name.’ Everlastingness is a theme of Isaiah. His eye was constantly on the everlasting future. The corollary of these promises was;
‘Will I give in My house and within My walls.’ Entry for the eunuch into the close presence of God is promised. He will have full rights of access to God on parallel with others, depicted here in terms of full access to the temple, (the only way of true worship then known). And it is stressed that it is ‘within My walls’. There is no basis for seeing this as indicating full access within the sacred precinct. But there is to be no sense of exclusion from what is available to all true worshippers.
The important emphasis behind all this was that ceremonial deficiency would not exclude men from the presence of Yahweh. It would be man who would constantly build up such barriers. Not God.
This was fulfilled in Christ where there was no suggestion that being a eunuch excluded a man from being a temple of God (1 Corinthians 6.19) and a part of the true body which was God’s great temple (2 Corinthians 6.16; Ephesians 2.22; 1 Corinthians 3.16). Nor was there mention of their exclusion from the heavenly temple. And we certainly have grounds for seeing the Ethiopian eunuch (both stranger and eunuch) as fully welcomed by God, indeed directly called by Him, and called, be it noted, on the basis of Isaiah 53 (Acts 8.26-39).
‘I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off”.’ It is tempting here to see a comparison with Deuteronomy 23.1 which speaks of the private member having been ‘cut off’ in making the man a eunuch. His private member may have been ‘cut off’, thus preventing the perpetuation of his name, but now he will receive a name that will not be ‘cut off’. He will be fully restored as a full member of the people of God. But the main point is presumably that their name will not be cut off because of the quality of their lives and its blessing to others, which would ever be remembered.
Also to be welcomed are ‘strangers’. These ‘strangers’ (non-Israelites) are said to join themselves to Yahweh in order to ‘minister’ to Him, and the word ‘minister’ suggests temple service similar to that of the Levites. Some therefore see in these a reference to the Nethinim (see note below) who were probably foreign temple-slaves who assisted the Levites in menial duties. But they were forced labour, and would surely have been circumcised into the covenant (whether voluntarily or by force) and thus would no longer be ‘strangers’, whereas these strangers seem to have joined themselves to Yahweh deliberately and are distinguished as those who ‘love the name of Yahweh’.
This therefore seems to suggest those who of their own free choice have come to Yahweh, although not being circumcised into the covenant (otherwise they would no longer be ‘strangers’). Thus their temple service must be seen as voluntary, as resulting from their love for Yahweh. But it would only be on the periphery of the temple because they were not within the covenant, and their deep grief was thus that they could not enter more deeply into that worship (in some ways they were similar to the later God-fearers in contrast with the proselytes, worshipping Yahweh but unwilling to enter the covenant through circumcision).
Here Isaiah assures them that because of what the Servant has done, if they enter fully into the new covenant introduced by Him and keep Yahweh’s Sabbath without profaning it (worship truly and seek that which delights Yahweh), then they will have a full introduction into true worship depicted in terms of entering the holy mountain, being joyful in the house of prayer and offering acceptable offerings at the altar to Yahweh. They will no longer be excluded. This is because that house of prayer is to be a house of prayer for all peoples. They will no longer be seen as strangers but as one with God’s people, even though uncircumcised. Their hearts will sing for joy in the presence of God, and they will find forgiveness of sins and atonement before Him, as Isaiah had so long before (6.5-7). The temple is here, then, seen as a temple for all people and the stranger no longer prays ‘towards the house’ (1 Kings 8.41-42) but enters fully into it to worship Yahweh and enjoy His presence.
Note the threefold aspects of their worship, entering the holy mountain, being joyful in the house of prayer and offering acceptable offerings at the altar of Yahweh, indicating deliberate approach, rejoicing in heart, and atonement and worship through sacrifice.
The fulfilment of this was found initially in the later welcoming of Gentiles as proselytes (those converts who submitted to full circumcision) and God-fearers, (those who received the moral and spiritual message of Yahweh but drew back from circumcision), then moreso through their full and uninhibited welcome through the blood of Jesus into the temple of God founded on the Apostles and Prophets (Ephesians 2.12-22) and then will finally also be found in their wholehearted welcome into the heavenly temple where they will enjoy God’s presence in all its fullness with no distinction.
Note the reversion here to ‘the Lord Yahweh’, stressing His sovereignty over all and the stress on the prophetic word (‘neum adonai Yahweh’ - ‘the word of the Lord Yahweh’). He will not only gather those who have been pushed/driven away, the outcasts of Israel, but also others, the strangers and eunuchs who seek His face. The ‘outcasts of Israel’ may refer to those who have been thrust from Him because of their sinfulness, or may have in mind the scattered exiles around the world. Either way the idea is of their being brought back to Him. And at the same time He will gather others. We are reminded of Jesus’ words, ‘other sheep I have which are not of this fold, them also I must bring’ (John 10.16). God is calling the world back to Himself.
But note the pronoun ‘him’. To whom is Yahweh going to gather these returning people? The answer is surely ‘to the Servant’. Israel were to be ‘gathered’ to him (compare 49.5), the One through Whose sacrifice (53.1-12) the way back has been made possible. He will see His seed and they will be many (53.10). Alternately ‘to Him’ might refer to Yahweh Himself (see 11.12).
Note On The Nethinim.
In the Old Testament the Nethinim were a group of temple-servants (1 Chronicles 9.2 and 16 times in Ezra and Nehemiah). The word always has the article, and never occurs in the singular. The Septuagint translators usually transliterate, but in one passage (1 Chronicles 9.2) they render it, "the given ones" (hoi dedomenoi). The Syriac (Peshitta) also transliterates the word in Ezra and Nehemiah, but in 1 Chronicles 9.2 renders it by a word meaning "sojourners." "Given" is suggestive of a state of servitude, and 1 Esdras 5.29 and Josephus (Antiquities XI, v, 1) seem to confirm such an idea by calling the Nethinim "temple-slaves" (hierodouloi).
It should, however, be noted that a form of the word nethinim (nethunim) is employed in the directions regarding the Levites: "You shall give the Levites to Aaron and to his sons. They are wholly given (nethunim nethunim) to him on behalf of the children of Israel" (Numbers 3.9; compare also 8.16,19). Here the Nethunim are the Levites given to Aaron to act as temple servants. The Nethinim on the other hand were given by David and the princes for the service of the Levites (Ezra 8.20).
Some see the beginnings of the Nethinim in the Gibeonites who were allowed to live after deceiving Joshua about their status, and of whom he said, “Now therefore you are cursed, and there shall never fail to be of you bondsmen, both hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God” (Joshua 9.23,27). Others, however, trace their origin to the gift of Nethinim by David and the princes, for the service of the Levites (Ezra 8.20). Both may be possible as Nethinim may be a designation for all such foreign temple-slaves.
Their names, too, indicate diversity of origin, for besides being mostly non-Hebrew in nature, some of them are found elsewhere in the Old Testament as names of non-Israelitish tribes. The Meunim, for example (Ezra 2.50; Nehemiah 7.52), are possibly descended from the Meonites or Maonites who are mentioned as harassing Israel (Judges 10.12), as in conflict with the Simeonites (1 Chronicles 4.41), and as finally overcome by Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26.7). The next name in the lists is that of the children of Nephisim. These may well be traced to the Hagrite clan of Naphish (Genesis 25.15; 1 Chronicles 5.19). And in both Ezra and Nehemiah, the list is immediately followed by that of the ‘servants of Solomon’, whose duties were similar to, and it may be even humbler than, those of the Nethinim. These servants of Solomon appear to have been descendants of the Canaanites whom Solomon employed in the building of his temple (1 Kings 5.15). All these indicators do not perhaps produce certainty, but they all point in the same direction, and support the assumption that the Nethinim were originally foreign slaves, mostly prisoners of war, who had from time to time been given to the temple by the kings and princes of the nation, to whom were assigned the lower menial duties of the house of God.
By the time of the return from the exile the Nethinim had come to be regarded as important and as a recognised part of Israel. Their numbers were considerable and three hundred and ninety two accompanied Zerubbabel at the first Return in 538 BC (Ezra 2.58; Nehemiah 7.60). Then when Ezra was called on to arrange a later return, he secured a contingent of ‘Nethinim who were given for the service of the Levites’ numbering two hundred and twenty (Ezra 8.20) to go with him. In Jerusalem they enjoyed the same privileges and immunities as the other religious orders, being included by Artaxerxes' letter to Ezra among those who should be exempt from toll, custom and tribute (Ezra 7.24). A part of the city in Ophel, opposite the Water-gate, was assigned to them as an official residence (Nehemiah 3.26, 31), and the situation is certainly appropriate if their duties at all resembled those of the Gibeonites. They were also organised into a kind of guild under their own leaders or presidents (Nehemiah 11.21).
But we must surely see that these Nethinim would have been circumcised, and thus enrolled in the covenant, long before Isaiah prophesied, thus becoming Israelites by adoption (whether by force or otherwise) and therefore no longer ‘strangers’. This is supported by the fact that it is clear that the Chronicler sees no objection to their serving in the temple of Yahweh.
They are not mentioned again in the Old Testament and it may be that they, along with the singers and porters, gradually became incorporated in the general body of Levites. Their name, however, did pass into tradition and it became at a later time a butt for the scorn and bitterness of the Talmudic writers against everything that they regarded as un-Jewish. On the whole it would seem as not likely that they could be classed as ‘strangers’.
End of note.
The Present Condition of the Leadership and the People (56.9-12).
In total contrast with Yahweh, Who welcomes the righteous whatever their physical status, (but only the righteous), are the leadership of Israel. They allow in those who are like brute beasts, and this is because they themselves are blind and without discernment. They are like watchdogs who have lost their bark (and thus cannot warn of intruders) and are asleep. Worse, they are simply greedy for gain. They are too taken up with other things to carry out their responsibilities. This picture of them reflects earlier passages such as 3.1-15; 5.1-24; 8.19.
The harshness of the Hebrew here reflects the bitterness of Isaiah’s soul. The beasts of the field (the cattle) and of the forest (wild beasts), depicting the worst kind of people (or even foreign invaders), are being called in to partake with the supposed people of God. They can savage them and devour them, and they can make their way in undisturbed because the watchdogs are asleep.
The vivid picture sees the beasts as making their way into the city past the watchmen, in order to ravage it because the watchdogs are not doing their job. They are out of their control. And the result is that soon the city of men is full of ‘beasts’.
But this can only happen because the watchmen appointed to watch over Israel are blind, they are lacking in true spiritual knowledge, and are like watchdogs who have lost their bark, no longer warning against intruders. They are like watchdogs who dream, and lie around and sleep all day.
This may well reflect the beginning of Manasseh’s reign when idolatry once again took over, when Judah was once more opened to foreign influences, and when with all this would come the fall in moral standards that always resulted when God’s people turned from Him. The whole of society would be affected.
The basic problem lies in the fact that the leaders, including the religious leaders, the priests and the prophets, are themselves only out for gain. The watchdogs are not only lazy but greedy. They are out to feather their own nests, even if it is at the cost of truth. That is why the shepherds of the people are ‘unable to understand’, that is, they have minds closed towards God and to His demands and to His covenant. It is because they have all turned to their own way (compare 53.6). They have been seized by the deceitfulness of riches. They have become totally selfish and seek to obtain wealth from every quarter in all they do. It is always a sad day when the watchdogs and the shepherds fail in their responsibility, and especially when they become greedy. Then the cattle and the wild beasts can run wild and do what they want and the people of God suffer.
And what is more these people, the shepherds, live in their own dream world, a world of drunken stupor. They partake of wine and strong drink and thus see the future as ever rosier (compare 5.11, 22 where this results in revelry and injustice, and 22.13, where it results in a careless attitude towards the future). Like the drunkards of Ephraim before them they fail to face up to reality (28.1-13). They cannot see what is happening around them. Judah is being possessed by ‘wild beasts’ and they do not care, because they are engaged in a round of pleasure and drunkenness. And the result is that truth is the victim.
Chapter 57 The Leadership Failure Continues But Yahweh will Watch Over His Own.
The resulting picture is now enlarged upon. This is the first of three chapters which depict the resulting sad state of Israel from different angles, and the resultant lack of effectiveness in prayer. But as ever in Isaiah they will finally result in the deliverance of those who look to Yahweh.
The chapter commences with the way in which God’s true people, the ‘righteous ones’, are suffering and then the subsection goes on to deal with the general sins of the leadership and the generality of the people.
Thus in chapter 57 Isaiah especially condemns those who throw themselves into the worship of Canaanite deities, into sexual misbehaviour, and into nature worship; in chapter 58 he condemns those who engage in hypocritical fasting, and in formal religion which has no real concern for people’s good; and in chapter 59 he condemns those who perpetrate injustice, and whose ways harm their fellowmen. We must not, of course, see Judah/Israel as full of people who are all sinning in the same way. There were different degrees of attitudes towards the gods and sexual misbehaviour, and of formalism towards Yahweh and of disobedience to the Law. Some were blatant in their apostasy, others were simply disobedient because they compromised with it, and did nothing about the situation, treating the worship of Yahweh as a formality or seeing it as in fact similar to paganism. But all in one way or another were involved in injustice.
Each of these chapters is also concerned about failure in prayer, which of course goes along with the above. For the emphasis is on the fact that Yahweh only gives ear to a righteous people. Thus in chapter 57 the people call on false gods and their prayer is not answered (verse 13), in chapter 58 they fast hypocritically and their prayer is not answered (verse 4), although it will be if they repent and begin to walk righteously (verse 9), and in chapter 59 their prayer is not heard because their sins are separating them from God (verses 1-2). Judah as a whole were therefore at this stage devoid of any hope that their prayers would be heard and answered. They had shut God off and they were shut off from God. They were outwardly without spiritual hope.
And yet in each chapter the way of hope is presented to them. In 57.14-19 God will bring back to Himself those whom He has chosen by the action of His sovereign will. This is the Godward side of salvation. In chapter 58.6-14 the way is open to those who will repent of their formality and begin to live righteously. This is the manward side of salvation And in chapter 59 Yahweh will come as a mighty warrior both in judgment and in deliverance, and as Redeemer of those who repent (verses 16-21), and He will establish His covenant with them for ever.
The Sufferings Of The Righteous Under Injustice (57.1-2).
The sign of the total failure of the leadership of God’s supposed people is that the very people whom they should have been protecting are the ones who are perishing without anyone taking any notice. He who is righteous, and walking in God’s ways, perishes through injustice and communal violence, while the law ignores the situation. Those who love God and obey His covenant are being arrested and are ‘disappearing’, possibly because they protest at what is happening to the true worship of Yahweh and at the false worship of multitudinous gods.
Nor do men consider the fact that this is because evil men have taken control, so that the righteous are taken away ‘from before evil’. The constant lesson of history is the apathy of the ordinary man in the face of what is going on around him. As long as it does not affect him too deeply he lets things slide, only for him to wake up when it is too late.
But Isaiah gives assurance to the righteous. Whatever happens to them externally they will find peace within themselves and peace with God. In the midst of their experiences they enter into peace. At least they can sleep at nights. Their consciences are untroubled. The thought may also include the idea of the sleep of death. Whether alive or dead they rest in Yahweh in perfect content (Psalm 16.11; 17.15; 23.6). Their beds of peace are in contrast with the beds of delusion (56.10) and the beds of adultery (57.7).
Notice the constant movement between singulars and plurals. What he describes is true of each of the righteous, and of all.
The Present Behaviour of the Godless; The People Become Like the Leaders That They Support (57.3-14).
There now follows a description of the backsliding of the people into idolatry and the occult. This fits in well with the reign of Manasseh (2 Kings 21.1-9), although it also applied under earlier kings such as Ahaz (2 Kings 16.1-4). Isaiah had not been satisfied with the reign of the godly Hezekiah, how much more devastating for him therefore must have been the beginnings of the reign of Manasseh.
Yahweh’s Castigation of His Unfaithful People (57.3-13).
Isaiah now indicts the people for their behaviour and calls on them to draw near and consider their ways. The sons of the sorceress are those who indulge in the occult, in contacting the dead, in consulting mediums, in fortune-tellimg and the black arts. The seed of the adulterer and the whore are those who engage in nature religion, in uninhibited sex. They are true children of the ‘virgin’ goddesses whose behaviour is totally licentious. All are given over to what is evil.
But behind these expressions is the parallel idea of unfaithfulness to Yahweh. They are guilty of spiritual adultery, unfaithfulness to the covenant. Whatever makes us go contrary to the will of God is spiritual adultery. Note the twice repeated ‘seed’, the seed of the adulterer and the seed of falsehood. This is in direct contrast with the seed of Abraham (41.8) and the seed of the Servant (53.10). The false seed are in contrast with the true seed.
However, they should recognise that they are cocking a snook (making rude signs) at God. The sporting of themselves, the wide mouth and the drawing out of the tongue are all ways of flaunting their behaviour insultingly before the Righteous One. They are revealing what they are, transgressors and children of deceit, dealers in treachery.
‘You who inflame yourselves among the oaks, under every green tree. Who slay the children in the valleys, under the clefts of the rocks.’ The contradictory nature of what they are doing comes out here in these scenes of adultery and murder. The sexual misbehaviour under the flourishing green trees in the sacred groves is possibly an attempt to arouse life, to stimulate Baal and Asherah into action, to obtain fruitfulness in the fields and fruitfulness in childbearing, but it is also the result of licentious thinking. Their child sacrifices are the very opposite of this, they are the harbingers of death (see Jeremiah 32.25), they result paradoxically in the slaughter of what they seek elsewhere to obtain. No doubt they saw it as the sacrifice of the few for the good of the whole. Ironically ‘the clefts of the rocks’ to which they seek are the very places where they too will flee when the wrath of God is revealed (2.21).
These kinds of worship occurred regularly when Israel/Judah were in a backslidden state, right from when the entry into Canaan took place through to the exile, which seemingly did away with them (there is no evidence for them afterwards). They appealed to the carnal nature of man rather than to the spiritual.
‘Among the smooth stones of the valley is your portion, they, they are your lot. Even to them have you poured out a drink offering, you have offered an oblation.’ There is a play on words here. The smooth stones (chalaq) compare with the portion (cheleq). The chalaq is their cheleq. The meaning of the word translated ‘smooth stones’ is uncertain, but they are clearly in some way connected with the gods to whom these men make their offerings. Possibly smooth stones with suggestive shapes were used as idols, their shape being seen as indicative of a visit from the gods (especially meteorites). But the irony is that they have exchanged their portion from Yahweh for these smooth stones. This is their ‘lot’. It is all that they will have from the land originally given to them by Yahweh, by lot (Joshua 14.1-2 compare Psalm 16.5). They have exchanged what God has allotted to them for these smooth stones. Notice the contemptuous duplication of ‘they’. They have turned from the true worship of Yahweh to the worship of these smooth stones. Well they can have them. And that is all they can have, these miserable stones. (Did John the Baptiser have these words in mind when he declared sarcastically to the Pharisees, ‘God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham’?).
And what is more it is to them that they pour out their drink offerings and offer their oblations. What should have been offered to Yahweh in loving gratitude, was being given to smooth stones. What more pathetic picture can there be than that.
‘Shall I be appeased for these things?’ They must recognise that they are going so far that they are in danger that Yahweh will no longer be appeased in any way. This warning, continually ignored, would in the end result in the exile, and the emptying of the land that would follow as the people who remained found refuge elsewhere.
Not satisfied with their behaviour in the valleys and in the clefts of the rocks, they have made themselves beds in the high mountains, and offered sacrifices there to false gods, pushing the reminders of the covenant with Yahweh behind their doors where they would not be seen. The high places were often situated in the tallest mountains, which were especially seen as the abode of the gods. The high and lofty mountain here is in direct contrast to the holy mountain on which the worshippers of Yahweh are found (56.7), and the high and lofty One Who inhabits eternity (57.15), Who dwells above all. So they spurned the holy mountain of Yahweh, choosing rather the mountain of the gods. And there too did they engage in their unrestrained adultery. And there too they bound themselves to these gods and goddesses rather than to Yahweh. The most significant thing about their religion is their beds. These lascivious activities can be contrasted with those who make themselves joyful in His house of prayer (56.7).
The setting up of the memorial (reminder) behind the door and post may indicate an idolatrous symbol set up to remind them of their gods and goddesses when the door was closed, but it is more probable that it suggests that they have taken their ‘memorials to Yahweh’ (Deuteronomy 6.9), which declared their part in His covenant, and have hidden them behind the door, rather than having them on the outside of the door, which latter would signify proclaiming their faith in Him. They no longer want to be seen as those dull Yahwists. This would tie up with the fact that they are stated to have ‘gone up’ and ‘made themselves known’ to other than Yahweh. Instead of spiritual response to Him they prefer physical response to false gods. So this contrasts the hiddenness of any ‘faith’ in Yahweh they had left, with their blatant idolatry on the mountain tops where all could see their faith in the gods. While they have not quite given up on Yahweh, they have relegated Him to a hidden corner.
‘Enlarging the bed’ possibly means engaging in intercourse with even more persons than previously, that is with cult prostitutes, sexual association with whom in their eyes bound them by covenant to the gods and goddesses involved. ‘Loving their beds’ indicates the enthusiasm with which they threw themselves into such activities.
We must interpret the first line in line with the third. Thus the king is a foreign king, possibly the king of Babylon or similar, to whom oil was sent as a gift through ambassadors who went ‘far off’ (Hosea 12.1). And when they came before him they ‘went down’, that is, humbled themselves. What a contrast we have here. Having ‘gone up’ to their sexually perverted gods, into physical ecstasy, they ‘went down’ to a foreign king in deep humiliation. They were slaves both to sex and to power. It was a matter of trusting in anything but Yahweh.
Olive oil was produced in abundance in Palestine and was a regular export (compare Hosea 12.1; 1 Kings 5.11; Ezekiel 27.17). The perfumes probably refer to their beautifying themselves so as to be pleasing to the king. So their idolatrous behaviour went hand in hand with resort to foreign alliances, to a trust in foreign kings which would only fail them.
Debasing themselves even to Sheol is probably Isaiah’s description of the depths to which they were willing to humiliate themselves before that great and mighty king, a humiliation which would finally result in death and the grave for many. Compare also 28.15 where making a treaty with Egypt was seen as the equivalent of making a treaty with Sheol. However some see it as indicating attempts to consult the dead.
The shallowness and folly of this up and down experience is apparent. It is all effort. Up into the high mountains where they obtained their temporary reward, and then the long journey ‘down’ to far off kings ending in a deep humbling before them. And this in contrast with those who could go up into Yahweh’s High and Holy place (verse 15), and Whose covenant with them was testified to on their very doors.
Thus Judah is back on the old track, engaging in foreign alliances instead of trusting in Yahweh, and abasing themselves to foreign kings instead of before Yahweh. Or it may be that the whole reference is simply a reference to their abasement before their Overlord, the king of Assyria. That too was their lot because they had forsaken Yahweh.
The journeys to foreign nations seeking alliances were long and weary (compare 30.6), and took much time, but they did not give up on them. They were in direct contrast with the way of Yahweh (11.16; 19.23; 35.8). Yet somehow they found strength and therefore resisted sickness and depression. ‘The life of your hand’ is in contrast with the life that comes from Yahweh, and might indicate the taking of oral drugs to strengthen their resolve. Or it may mean dredging up their own resources and a relying on adrenalin. And as they travelled they encouraged themselves with hope. Thus they walked in the wrong way, they encouraged themselves with false hopes, and they used self-help instead of leaning on Yahweh. And it would all be to no avail.
Yahweh then questions them as to whom they are in awe of, or who has put the fear in their hearts that makes them lie and behave deceitfully (instead of fearing Him as they should). This may indicate being deceitful to the people, and to themselves, deceiving them and themselves with false promises of hope where there was no hope. Or the lies may have been to the king to whom they went, as they promised what they would not give. Or it may signify their deceitfulness towards Yahweh, still outwardly seeing themselves as the people of the covenant but looking to anyone but Him. The result was that they did not remember Yahweh, nor lay to their hearts the uselessness of looking elsewhere. They should have been afraid of Yahweh Who was totally reliable, but because they feared others it resulted in lies and deceit all round. The important emphasis is on the fact that they are living on an unstable foundation of deceit in all directions.
He recognises that the reason why they do not fear Him is because He has given them a long period of peace, for it is when God’s judgments are in the earth that the people learn righteousness (26.9). It is part of the contradiction of human nature that when things are going well God is forgotten. Well, now He will expose them. He will declare what type of righteousness they really have, and what kind of works they are really doing. We must translate the verb as ‘expose’ and put ‘righteousness’ in inverted commas as indicating wrong behaviour, for His aim is to show them for what they are. And let them also recognise the fact that all their ‘works’ will not profit them. This may refer to the work of seeking foreign alliances, or the work of appeasing the king of Assyria, or to the hard work of making their hand-made gods, the works of their hands (1.31; 2.20; 31.7; 44.10-17), or simply works performed to salve the conscience. These works all demonstrate what type of ‘righteousness’ they really have.
So let them recognise that when the time of need comes and they ‘cry out’ for help, He will not help them. Let them then look to those that they ‘have gathered’, either their treaty-friends or their gods. But such will prove useless. They will be carried off by the wind, blown away as though they were nothing. For there is only One Who is reliable and dependable. It is those who trust in Him who will possess the land and inherit God’s holy mountain.
So there is a strong contrast here between those who trust in idols and those who truly trust in Yahweh. Those who trust to the gods of smooth stones will have them as their portion, they will be their lot (verse 6), but those who trust in Yahweh will have the land of God’s choice as their lot and the holy mountain as their portion. They will inherit all the promises of God, both fruitful existence and spiritual access into the presence of God. ‘Possessing the land’ did not mean just owning it. It meant enjoying it to the full and obtaining its fullest benefit. ‘Inheriting the holy mountain’ meant having full availability of the way to God and finding full spiritual satisfaction as a result. Thus trusting in Yahweh was the guarantee of wellbeing and rightness of spirit.
All this would find literal fulfilment, first in the judgments of the coming days, and then in the response of the holy seed in the land and the literal return of His faithful people from worldwide to the land, and the establishing of those faithful to Yahweh under such as Haggai and Zechariah, Zerubbabel and Joshua, Nehemiah and Ezra, and many others who would follow. It would find even greater spiritual fulfilment in the consequences of the coming of Jesus when all that the land and the holy mountain meant would become the portion of His followers, spiritual prosperity and access into the presence of God in His ‘holy mountain’, the mountain of Yahweh’s house (2.2-3; 56.7), and the latter would reach its final conclusion in the new heaven and the new earth when all the blessings of God would be theirs (Revelation 21.1-22.5).
For this inheritance compare 60.19-21; 61.7; 65.9, where it is planted by Yahweh and is for ever, when the sun ceases to be necessary and Yahweh is the everlasting light of His people, and they experience everlasting joy. This can only be speaking of the everlasting kingdom.
We must keep in our minds all along that Isaiah’s prophecies contain many strands. They speak of trends and various events to come, unlimited as to time, and not necessarily all directly connected. It is not a matter of ‘now’ and ‘the end time’ it is a matter of ‘now’ and ‘all that will follow, whether near or far’.
Yahweh Will Make A Way Back To Himself And Will Restore Those Whom He Chooses To Himself In Spite of Their Undeserving and Unresponsiveness (57.14-21).
They must remember that in spite of what they are God in His high and holy place is sovereign. He will prepare a way back to Himself for His true people, and although He is angry at their self-interested desire for gain, and their stubbornness in response to His call, He will heal them and lead them and restore comfort to them, and will, when they begin to mourn for their sins, Himself create the fruit of their lips, that is He will give them the words to say to reflect their repentance for sin.
Thus will they come to Him crushed and humbled, and thus will they be able to dwell with Him in the high and holy place, as He revives their hearts and their spirits. All this brings out the patience of God with His own people. Though we fail Him time and again, He continues to reach out to us and restore us to what we should be.
Just as He called for the way to be prepared for Himself when He came to deliver His people (40.3-5), so now will He arrange for a way to be prepared for the people whom He has chosen, whereby they might come to Him. As in chapter 40 this is again portrayed in terms of preparing the way for an Overlord, only here it is not for an Overlord but for His people. They too are to receive superior treatment. They are more important than earthly Overlords.
This is not necessarily talking of return from exile. It is a return from sin. Every stumblingblock of sin and ignorance will be removed and He will bring them back to Himself in repentance and faith (verse 15). The call to ‘prepare the way’ is given to the prophets, and to all men of God who would come in the future, and the stumblingblock will be removable because of the work of the Servant (53.1-12), Who is the prime remover of the stumblingblock, that is, of whatever keeps men from God.
57.15 ‘For thus says the high and lofty one, who dwells there everlastingly, whose name is Holy,
The word ‘for’ connects back with verse 14. This is why the way has been prepared, it is the way back to God. Once again the spiritual nature of Isaiah’s message shines through. For ‘high and lofty’ compare 6.1; 52.13. This is the place of Yahweh’s everlasting throne to which the Servant was lifted up (52.13). And from it speaks Yahweh, Who is the high and lofty One, He who is above all, and before Whom all must bow, Who dwells there everlastingly. And He declares His name, He is Holy. That is He is unique and set apart from all else because of His distinctive nature and attributes, set apart in power, in holiness, in purity, in righteousness, and in glory. He is the One Who is different from all else. And it is because the Servant is lifted up to Him, and is made very high (52.13), that He can be declared to be the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father (9.6).
The Declaration. “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” Access is granted to the high and holy place for those whose hearts are contrite, those who are crushed by sin, but repent of and regret their sins, and mourn over them, those who come humbly and seek His face (compare 1 John 1.7-10). And there their spirits and hearts will be revived. Note the stress on spirit and heart, the seat of man’s spiritual nature, and of his mind, will and emotions. Thus do men have access into heavenly places (see Ephesians 1.20; 2.6) as they seek Him in this way. We can compare here 61.1; Psalm 23.6; 51.1, 11, 17; 139.7-8.
The high and holy place is the heavenly Mount Zion, God’s dwelling-place, as mirrored in the earthly Mount Zion which will one day be raised high above all mountains (2.2). Ezekiel depicts it as ‘a very high mountain’ (Ezekiel 40.2) in a holy portion many miles from Jerusalem (Ezekiel 45.1-8), on which the heavenly temple descends. The differing descriptions bring out how the prophets were struggling with the concept of a heavenly yet earthly temple, on a heavenly yet earthly holy mountain. It was because it was holy that Ezekiel recognised that it could not be in the defiled city of Jerusalem. Compare also 1 Kings 8.30, 32, 34, 36, 39, 43, 45, 49 where Yahweh in His heavenly dwellingplace hears what occurs in His earthly temple. See also 1 Kings 8.27 and compare Psalm 125.1. Israel did not see Yahweh as tied to dwelling permanently in His temple on Mount Zion, although they could speak of it as His dwelling place. They looked to something more.
The word ‘contrite’ means one who is crushed, as the Servant was for us in 53.5,10. The burden of sin is heavy on them. The thought is of those who seek God and respond faithfully to Him, because God has crushed them. But as they experience that crushing they can come into His presence, nay, dwell in His presence, and they will thus find themselves revived (as Isaiah was in 6.5-7) and able to continually dwell with Him. This is a reminder that dwelling with God is a privilege, and His presence should not be treated lightly. While we may rejoice in His presence there is a real sense in which we should be continually lowly and humble before Him. For He is the Holy One, and we, while being His adopted children, are but forgiven sinners (see Ecclesiastes 5.1-2).
Entry into the holy presence of God, and dwelling with Him, is possible because of His mercy and gracious love. Had He made us fully account for our sins we would indeed have had no hope. But God in His graciousness and lovingkindness has promised that He will not accuse for ever, or be always angry with, those who come before Him in repentance and faith. Otherwise indeed their spirits would faint away before Him. They could not endure, for they only have limited breath (2.22). They are but men.
The ‘he’ is presumably either the ‘him’ who is finally of a contrite and humble spirit in verse 15, or the ‘my people’ of verse 14 (singular verbs for a composite noun). The perfect tenses indicate the completeness of what is described, even though it is in the future. God’s anger is aroused by man’s self-interested desire for gain, and that is why He will smite him, and hide His face from him and be angry. But man will continue turning away from Him, right from the heart. And if God did not intervene man would have no hope.
However, happily He will intervene for those on whom He sets His choice. (As it is made abundantly clear elsewhere that not all will be saved, and as it is God Who will bring about their salvation in spite of their rebelliousness, it must be a matter of His choice). God will have seen his ways and yet will determine to heal him. Indeed He will go further. He will be his guide and provide him with comfort. And to those who mourn for sin He will provide words to say. It is He Who will create something new, He will create the words that the mourner speaks.
57.19b ‘Peace, peace, to him who is far off and to him who is near’ says Yahweh, ‘and I will heal him.’
This is God’s great offer of peace. The peace that He will bring between Him and His people will reach both far and near, it will even reach out to the nations. It comes from the Prince of Peace (9.6). And to those to whom He gives peace He will also give healing. He will make them whole. He will restore their inner selves. ‘Him who is far off’, that is, living in distant places. God’s peace is being offered to all.
But now we find confirmed that all are not included in God’s sovereign work of deliverance and salvation. For the wicked there can be no peace. Indeed they are like the troubled sea. Within them is unrest and turmoil, and from that unrest and turmoil is cast up mire and dirt because of what they are. How can they then have peace?
Chapter 58. God’s Challenge To His People.
This section of Isaiah is a continual plea to Israel to turn to God from sin. If the Servant’s work is to be of any avail, and if Israel are to become His Servant, then sin must be dealt with and they must themselves come to Him in faith and obedience.
So in this chapter God calls on Isaiah, and each of His servants, to speak boldly to His people and bring home to them their true state. He points out why He is unable to respond to His people or answer their cries, and that is because the basis of their approach is false. And then He outlines the way by which they can alter the situation completely by responding to Him and living lives of righteousness, purity and goodness before Him, including the taking of delight in Yahweh Himself.
God’s Call To Isaiah and To Each of His Servants (58.1).
God calls on Isaiah, and on each of His messengers, to act as a town-crier in declaring openly to His people their transgressions and sins without fear or favour. They are to speak with the voice of a trumpet as God did at Sinai (Exodus 19.16). This is the God of Sinai coming to speak to His people again and call them back to the covenant. They are to bellow their message out as over a loudspeaker, and expose their rebellion and sinfulness. They are not to spare their listeners. The message is too important for that.
The basic idea behind ‘transgressions’ is rebellion. Their hearers are rebelling against the Sinai covenant. They need to be aware that their behaviour demonstrates that they are rebels against God and rebels against that covenant. The word for sin means to miss the goal, to fail to do what is right. They are missing out on their covenant responsibilities.
‘The house of Jacob.’ ‘Jacob’ is often used when the bad side is being brought out. It is the pre-transformation name. But it is also the name of the one who was chosen from birth in contrast with his brother Esau, and the name used because Isaiah has dropped the use of the name Israel once the Servant was established as ‘Israel’.
The same message came later to Ezekiel when he was warned that it he did not seek to turn the sinner from his way, he himself would be blood-guilty (Ezekiel 33.8). And it is equally true today.
The Failing Response of the People (58.2-3a)
This is recognising the people’s response. It was their outward view of themselves. They cannot understand what the problem is, for they saw themselves as behaving satisfactorily, because they had no discernment. This was their claim:
This being so, how can Yahweh be disappointed with them? We must analyse the claims in more depth.
‘Yet it is Me that they seek daily.’ They see themselves as those who seek Yahweh, and Him especially (the ‘Me’ is stressed), and do it daily. After all they assiduously offer the daily sacrifices and go through the daily ministrations. They offer the morning and evening sacrifices. Compare 1.12-15.
‘And delight to know my ways.’ They considered that because they utilised God-appointed means of establishing justice and listened to the priests and prophets attached to the temple, this was all that could be required of them. Did it not demonstrate that they delighted in His ways? They want all to recognise that it is their great joy to seek to know Yahweh’s will, especially in matters of justice.
‘As (if they were) a nation which did righteousness, and did not forsake the judgment of their God. They ask of me judgments of righteousness, they delight to draw near to God.’ They behaved as though they were a truly righteous nation, one that wanted to know Yahweh’s will. But all the time it was nothing but outward show. No one could criticise their careful attention to religious detail. They did everything the cult required. They followed the means. All that was true, but their hearts were not in it. It was not a genuine seeking of Yahweh.
‘They ask of me judgments of righteousness.’ They were even assiduous in seeking His judgment on things, possibly by use of the Urim and the Thummim, or by use of the lot (both of which could be manipulated). Indeed they give the appearance of delighting to draw near to God for this purpose to discover His ways. They sought to give the impression that they were a righteous nation, that they ‘did righteousness’, and that they were assiduous in seeking justice by God-appointed means, and they made a great outward show of it.
An outsider would surely have been impressed by their cultic observance and their concern to seek God’s judgment on things and their apparently careful attention to finding His will. But the problem was that as far as He was concerned it was all a pretence. In His eyes it was an outward show of religious activity and justice that was not true at heart. For along with what they claimed the worship in the high places continued, people were still not treated fairly in the courts, and their behaviour to each other, both in business and private matters, continued to be abysmal. They drew near to Him with their mouths but their hearts were far from Him.
‘Why have we fasted, and you see not? Why have we afflicted our soul, and you do not notice it?’ The people were surprised and offended at the suggestion that they were anything but righteous. Did they not do everything that was required of them? (Compare 1.11-15). As well as daily ordinances, and a proper seeking of justice, they also keep their fasts and indulge in self-abasement. What more did God want?
But this was in fact the problem. They saw God as Someone to be manipulated by their religious endeavours, by their outward show. They considered that if they engaged in the right rituals God would be forced to respond. What they overlooked was that God was concerned about the fact that they were failing to live rightly and were not observing the details of the covenant in their daily lives, and especially about how they were behaving in their personal relationships with each other. They were not loving their neighbour as they loved themselves.
The basic sinfulness of man comes out in this attitude to religion. In his blindness He sees God as Someone Who has certain requirements, and as long as he fulfils those he considers that God should therefore gratefully respond. When they wanted Baal to bring about the fruitfulness of their crops, or Asherah to ensure fertility, they indulged in free and unrestrained sex before their images. That was what inspired such gods to act. But they knew that Yahweh was a severe God. So their approach was different. Before Him they fasted, went without food and afflicted themselves (compare Judges 20.26; 2 Chronicles 20.3; 2 Samuel 12.16, 22-23; 1 Kings 21.27). Molech was a tough god and was called on when things were hard, and they then passed their children through his fires, assuming that the sacrifice would persuade him to act also on their behalf. Each was to be persuaded to act by different approaches. They considered that they had a well rounded religious viewpoint.
But what they overlooked with Yahweh was that He was not that kind of God. He was not a God among others. He was not a God Who had to be persuaded to act. He was not a God easily impressed by outward show. He was Yahweh, the only God, ‘the God Who is there’. He was the God Who was always active. He was the God Who wanted to respond with love to those who loved Him (like Abraham did - 41.8). He was the God Who required from them genuineness of heart. And because of that He was continually concerned with every aspect of their lives, and took account of their everyday behaviour. He looked behind the religious facade. He was the covenant God, and true daily righteousness in every aspect of life resulting from their love for Him and for righteousness was expressedly an important part of the covenant (Exodus 20.1-17; Deuteronomy 6.5). (This was in contrast, for example, to Baal who was not seen as concerned with their behaviour. How could he be? It was pretty much like his own purported behaviour anyway).
God replies to their claims. Their fasting is hypocritical, for while engaging in it they go out of their way to find their own pleasure. It is half-hearted. This suggests that it was often a formal fast without being too strictly observed, or without being too demanding. Furthermore their claims to exercise fair judgments is not true. Instead their behaviour is abominable. Even while outwardly fasting and appearing humble they oppress their workers, they involve themselves in strife and court action in every aspect of life, and they behave with unreasonable and sin-inspired violence. They are as far from ‘truly just’ as it is possible to be. Indeed they use the time of their fast for these very purposes.
Thus any seeming merit in their fasting is lost in view of their attitude to life and its resulting behaviour. This kind of fasting will not result in their voice being heard by God.
Fasting is a feature of religion in any age. Where it results in a genuine seeking after God Himself it can be beneficial. But it can easily deteriorate into being seen as a means of putting God under an obligation so that He has to respond, or of impressing men with one’s holiness.
There is no need to see these as official fasts. Indeed the idea is that they occurred continually in the every day course of life, as did their sins that accompanied them. It may well be that such regular days of fasting had become the fashion in Isaiah’s troubled times, due to the outward threat of Assyria, as they did later with the Pharisees.
Yahweh denounces the kind of fasting they were engaging in. (It bears all the marks of the way the worst of the Pharisees fasted (Matthew 6.16)). They afflicted their persons, they bowed their heads in false humility like a rush bows before the wind, they spread sackcloth and ashes underneath them, they wanted all to see that they were fasting. And they meanwhile engaged in their unjust and sinful behaviour. But such a day of fasting is not acceptable to Yahweh. It is a travesty of the ‘acceptable year’ of God’s deliverance (61.2).
The Call To Covenant Righteousness (58.6-14).
This is rather God’s approved way of fasting. Helping men to free themselves from their sins, working for social justice, obtaining freedom for the oppressed, breaking every yoke that binds men, feeding the hungry, caring for the homeless, clothing the poor, and being available to comfort and succour others.
‘Loose the bonds of wickedness.’ ‘Bonds of wickedness’ could refer to ‘bonds which are evil’, such as men being tied in by unfair business contracts, or harsh work contracts, or by the misuse of authority, or it may apply literally to wickedness seen as something that binds men. Either way it concerns the giving of freedom for those who are bound (see 61.1).
‘Undo the bands of the yoke.’ The yoke was put on oxen in order for them to work together. It meant that they were under control, and submissive, that their every movement was determined. But applying the same principle to men was to put on them an excessive burden and was a restriction of freedom. The thought here is therefore of releasing men from burdens of life, from oppression and from being treated like animals (see Leviticus 26.13; Ezekiel 34.27)
‘To let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke.’ This would literally indicate the freeing of bondmen unfairly held, and of prisoners put in prison by oppressive action, who were undeserving of such punishment. And also possibly of releasing men from onerous debts. It could include the delivery of men by wise judges from oppressive action. To ‘break every yoke’ includes the thought of delivering men from anything that prevents them from living in freedom and blessing. The whole emphasis is on compassion and freedom.
Providing food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless and clothing for those with insufficient is ever seen as the responsibility of God’s people. ‘Own flesh’ probably has relatives in mind and indicates the responsibility of a family to ensure that relatives do not go in need or without comfort.
It is if they do these things that God will hear them and respond, with the result that light will break in on them, they will enjoy full well-being, and they will be protected to the rear (from those acting behind their backs) by His glory .
Reference to light breaking forth probably has in mind the coming deliverance which will be hastened by godly response (60.1), but also includes the idea of blessing in the shorter term (2.5; 8.20). Jesus would tell His disciples that they must let their light shine before men, that they may see their good works and glorify their Father Who was in heaven (Matthew 5.16). Reference to healing springing forth refers to the same. Such light and healing is always the product of godly and truly charitable living. The reference to righteousness going before, and Yahweh taking up the rear, probably has in mind the pillar of fire and cloud which during the journey through the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt represented the presence and protection of Yahweh over His people (compare 4.5; 52.12). Those who walk in God’s ways will enjoy a new Exodus, and their righteousness, and the righteousness imputed to them (53.11), will go before them as their guide and protector, while Yahweh Himself will protect the rear. Every generation can enjoy a new Exodus.
It may be that in this context ‘your Righteousness’, portrayed as an active person, is intended to be an indicator of the Servant, the One Who provided righteousness for them (53.11). He Who was their righteousness went before them. For elsewhere it is Yahweh Who goes before and behind (52.12).
As we recognise that Isaiah’s vision of the future was of a wide scope, including all God’s saving activity through the centuries, all seen as one, so do we see these promises as applying to the Old Testament elect, and then to the true church of Jesus Christ and then to the final acceptance into glory. Light will continually break forth for the righteous; healing, especially of the soul, will be their lot; they will be protected by the righteousness of God and of Christ, and God will watch over their backs.
Light is the opposite of darkness (5.20), and includes the idea of life as a light (Psalm 27.1; 36.9). They will enjoy God’s life at work within them. The days of darkness will pass from His own, and the way before them become illuminated by God’s illumination (42.16; 51.4). Light will come to them through the Davidic king and the Servant (9.2; 42.6; 49.6).
Righteousness here gains its meaning from deliverance in righteousness (e.g. 45.24-25; 46.13; 51.5; 53.11; 56.1), and stresses that the man who experiences God’s righteous deliverance and thus becomes righteous (48.18) will be protected by that righteousness, the very righteousness of God (54.17), a righteousness provided by the Servant (53.11), which goes before men, protecting and guiding them (52.12). It is very much an active, protecting righteousness, indicating the presence of the Righteous One and the Redeemer (52.12).
The one who lives righteously as in verses 6-7 will find that Yahweh will hear His prayer and will be available to him. God will respond to his every cry. And the same is true of the nation. Let them but become truly righteous and their cry will reach the ear of God. Once again we discover that there is no promise in Scripture that God will answer men’s prayers in general, but only that He will hear the cry of the truly righteous and of the truly repentant (Jonah 3.5-10). But to them comes the assurance that His ear is always open to their cry when it is genuinely for what is pleasing to Yahweh. He will say to them, ‘Here I am’.
These verses split into two halves, the condition and the result. The condition describes what God requires of those who serve Him. They are to seek to free men from burdens, they must never point the finger unjustly or unnecessarily or in contempt, they must never distort the truth. They are to reach out to the hungry, and to bring comfort to the afflicted, meeting their deepest needs. The ‘pointing finger’ refers to any method of making suggestions about others to diminish their reputations unfairly, whether by word, action or innuendo. It can also signify pointing in contempt. Speaking wickedly refers to lies, half-truths, gossip and unfounded accusations, or deliberately seeking to cause trouble by malicious words.
‘Draw out your soul to the hungry’ includes more than just charity. ‘Drawing out’ indicates an active concern and a willingness to give of oneself in order to satisfy their needs. ‘Satisfying the afflicted soul’ means going out of your way to ensure that such needy souls are comforted and provided for in every way. Both thoughts have a stress on self-giving.
The result of such living to God will be that light will come in the darkness, and the equivalent of the removal of mist by the noonday sun will result. Such people will enjoy His light and His blessing, and darkness and obscurity will be removed. When men begin to find faith difficult, and the light dims, the cause can usually be traced to deliberate sin.
‘And Yahweh will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in sun-scorched places, and make strong your bones, and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters fail not.’ God will also guide such people continually. Even when they go through arid and dry patches their souls will be satisfied from an inner spring. The word used for ‘sun-scorched’ is used only here . Its base meaning is ‘white’. So it is probably literally ‘sun-scorched (excessively white) lands’, i.e. the desert. He will ‘make their bones strong’. The bones represent the whole man. They are a man’s frame, they are what holds him together (Psalm 51.8).
And they will be like a watered garden, continually refreshed and fruitful, and filled with flowers and fruit, and like a perennial spring that never fails, thus constantly refreshed and someone from whom others can drink.
So the truly righteous man will find light in the darkness, satisfaction in the deserts of life, strength in his bones and continual spiritual refreshment, and will be a source of refreshment to others.
‘And those who are of you will build the old waste places, you will raise up the foundations of many generations.’ The final blessing for the righteous man is continuation into the future and the production of a seed who will continue to bring blessing to mankind. These will build the old waste places, those places which have been wasted through God’s judgments. For they will be of the remnant who survive, and will be holy (4.3). There is no reason for seeing this as applying only to Jerusalem (compare 1.7). The emphasis is on restoration of all that has been devastated. ‘The foundations of many generations’ may be another way of describing the ‘old waste places’, that is they are what many generations in the past have founded. These will be raised up by his seed. Or it may indicate the foundations of cities for future generations.
‘And you will be called, the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of paths to dwell in.’ ‘Repairing the breach’ meant building up the walls, ‘restoring the paths for dwellings’ referred to making the cities habitable. They will be responsible for the new beginning as thought of in Old Testament terms.
It is a good thing for a man to be seen as one who repairs breaches, who makes life secure for others, who restores for them the possibility of good living conditions, both literally and spiritually.
As ever this prophecy covered the whole future. Isaiah is enunciating a principle. Such righteous men of faith restored broken down cities in the time of Josiah, and later rebuilt Jerusalem and the other cities of the land, establishing Israel as a power in the land. The New Testament church rebuilt Israel anew, formed of both Jews and Gentiles, resulting in a spiritual city to which men could come to find life, peace and security (26.1-4). For the stress is on the fact that these people made a way for all the people of God, and helped to build them up and make them strong. The righteous are still building today.
Three things are directly described by Yahweh as holy. In 56.7 we have had God’s holy mountain which was connected with His house of prayer, in 57.15 we have the high and holy place where Yahweh, Whose name is Holy, dwells with those who are of a contrite spirit. Here now we have Yahweh’s holy day. Note that they are called holy by Yahweh and all bring about a connection between heaven and earth. They are the sacred means on earth by which His people can contact Him in Heaven (1 Kings 8.27-49). All this connects with Isaiah’s vision of the threefold holy God in Isaiah 6, and with His constant use of the title The Holy One of Israel.
This is Isaiah’s third item in his list of ‘if you’ clauses (see also verses 9 and 10). It reiterates the special importance of the Sabbath in God’s scheme of things, re-emphasising what has been said in 56.2, 4, 6. But again the emphasis is on a positive view of the Sabbath. It is a day to delight in, it is honourable, and the emphasis seems to be not so much on avoiding work on the Sabbath, but as on doing God’s ways, seeking God’s pleasure and using our words positively for God, possibly in prayer, song, worship and teaching the Scriptures. This is expressed by negating the doing of their own ways, finding their own pleasure, and speaking their own words. This will result in their delighting themselves in Yahweh, and in riding on the high places of the earth, and in enjoying the heritage of Jacob. (Note the Isaianic trilogies).
It is true, of course, that the negatives could be interpreted as saying ‘don’t do these three things, do nothing’, but such an idea is not stated and the movements from ‘not doing your own pleasure’ to ‘calling the Sabbath a delight’, and from ‘not finding your own pleasure’ to ‘delighting in Yahweh’ and ‘riding on the high places of the earth’ suggest that a genuine positive movement is to be detected. The reason for revealing the idea by using negatives would seem to be in order to avoid the suggestion of concurring with the doing of something physical, which men could then use as an excuse for all kinds of things. It would also save Isaiah from criticism by extremists. It would seem that it was this positive aspect which was partly in Jesus’ mind when He performed His healings on the Sabbath day.
‘If you turn away your foot from the sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day.’ The first stage is to turn the foot way from ‘doing your own pleasure’. This is because it is a day separated to Yahweh, not just ‘a holy day’ but ‘My holy day’. It is His personal concern and is holy to Him, and therefore not for profane use. Thus all done in it should be concerned with Yahweh’s pleasure, and that alone.
‘And call the sabbath a delight, and the holy (day) of Yahweh honourable.’ The second stage is to see it as a delight and as honourable. To be a delight there must be something positive intended from it. It was a feast day and not a fast day (although the food had to be prepared the day before), and it was a day when men and women should delight themselves in Yahweh (verse 14). It is honourable because it is worthy of honour precisely because it is Yahweh’s holy day.
‘And you will honour it, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words.’ The day was to be honoured as His holy day by nothing profane being done in it. All self-indulgence and self-will was to be excluded from it, and there was to be no idle chit-chat, discussions on business matters, or gossip. Conversations were to be centred on the things of God. The exclusions, however, point to the inclusions. That what was honouring to Yahweh, or pleasant to Yahweh or words involved in the worship of Yahweh, were all to be permitted seems to be understood. But to put that too positively might have been seen as encouraging people to find a way round the Sabbath law and that could not be allowed. God was determined to preserve total rest for all servants, women, and slaves. (The great boon to all such of the Sabbath day must never be overlooked).
‘Then you will delight yourself in Yahweh, and I will make you to ride on the high places of the earth, and I will cause you to feed with the heritage of Jacob your father.’ Three positives contrast with the three negatives. The first is that they might delight themselves in Yahweh. This would seem to include worship and prayer and the singing of holy songs. It would also seem to allow the reading of the Law and probably teaching on it. And probably also helpful and spiritual homilies. It ensured that time was give for the education of the spirit.
The second is that they will be caused to ride on the high places of the earth. A similar phrase is found in Deuteronomy 32.13 (see also Deuteronomy 33.29; Ezekiel 36.2). Amos 4.13; Micah 1.3 have ‘tread upon the high places of the earth’ speaking of Yahweh. The reference in Deuteronomy 32.13 seems to indicate Israel taking triumphant possession of the mountains of Israel (compare Amos 4.13; Micah 1.3 where it is Yahweh confirming His possession of the high places of the earth). Thus this seems to be saying that those who truly honour the Sabbath and the Lord of the Sabbath will triumph over God’s inheritance. They will inherit the promises and possess the fruitful mountains (Ezekiel 36.8). In other words they will possess their God-promised inheritance in peace and safety.
(Those who insist on pedantically literalising these promises about the land on the basis that God must do be tied down to doing exactly what He has promised, ignoring intention, fail to recognise that if we promise our children a ride on the swings and then instead take them to Disney land, we are more than fulfilling our promise, for we have fulfilled the spirit of it. God’s promised inheritance was in terms they could understand at the time. Its literal finalisation will be in terms beyond their wildest imagination. Note how this fact is illustrated in Hebrews 11.10-14)
The third is that Yahweh will cause them to feed on the heritage of Jacob their father. So they will not only possess the mountains but will feed on the heritage passed down to them by promise. They will be amply supplied by God.
As before we can recognise that there is a threefold fulfilment. This happened literally in the centuries after the exile, it happened spiritually through the ministry of Jesus, and it will happen over-abundantly in the new heaven and the new earth when God brings all to conclusion.
‘For the mouth of Yahweh has spoken it.’ This will all surely happen because God has said it and will bring it about.
Note on Israel.
It will be noted that Israel is now no longer called ‘Israel’ but is continually described in terms of ‘Jacob’ or of ‘Zion’. In fact once the Servant has been called ‘Israel’ (49.3) and it is affirmed that He as Israel will bring ‘the preserved of Israel’ back to Him, to become a part of the Servant (49.5-6), the name ‘Israel’ only appears in 50-66 genitivally except for the reference in 63.16 where Israel the Patriarch is in mind. See on that passage. This may be seen as confirming that once ‘Israel’ had come to its culmination in the One Who represented it as only He could (49.3; Matthew 2.15), Isaiah wished to draw attention to this by ceasing to use the name. In Him Israel has come to its fulfilment in the Servant.
End of note.
Chapter 59 The Sad State of the People; The Arrival of The Mighty Warrior and Redeemer.
In view of what has been said Isaiah now stresses that the delay in deliverance is not due to any deficiency in Yahweh. Rather it is due to the behaviour of the people. This chapter thus continues to deal with the sad state of God’s supposed people. They want, and claim, the blessings but they do not want to have to fulfil God’s demands. Indeed their sinfulness is so bad that the future of blessing is being delayed. Deliverance is becoming far off. It then moves on to a picture of God as a mighty warrior coming to remedy the situation through judgment and sovereign mercy, (by means of His Servant), Who will be endued with the Spirit of Yahweh and bring in His mouth the words of Yahweh which Yahweh has placed there. It is only God’s sovereign action that can remedy the situation.
Judah/Jacob In Its Sin (59.1-15a).
‘Why does God not fulfil His promises by making sure to them their inheritance?’ they ask. ‘Why does He not act with a mighty hand?’ It is not because He cannot save. It is not that the strength and ability of His hand is in any way diminished. It is not because He is not willing, under the right conditions, to hear. For there is no want of power in Him. He has not become incapable or deaf. He is still the same powerful Deliverer that He was in ancient times. He still has the same willingness to respond as He has always had.
It is rather their behaviour which is the problem. It is their iniquities, the outward expression of their deep inward sinfulness, that have brought this great gulf of separation between them and God. It is their sins, the things that they do and fail to do, contrary to His demands, that have made Him turn away His face and not listen to them. And these will shortly be described in full. That is why He is alienated from them, why He is angry with them, why the relationship between them has been destroyed. Let these be put right and then things will change.
In the last chapter they had claimed that they sought justice along God-given paths. Here is Isaiah’s verdict on their claims. It was true that they appeared to use the outward means that suggested that they wanted to be righteous, but it was all based on deceit. Like all ancient societies Judah/Jacob had lines of authority going right down from the king to the parents of a household. Each would in its own way hold its courts and tribunals and reach its verdicts, whether formally or informally. (‘Leaders of thousands, leaders of hundreds, leaders of tens’ - compare Deuteronomy 1.15). Thus the forensic language must not make us think of just major crime. All lived under restrictions and could be called to account, from the highest to the lowest. And all those with authority, from king to parent, were called on to decide justly.
The truth was that the hands of the people were morally dirty, they were defiled. They were bloodstained with the blood of the innocent. How many had died or been scourged under false accusation? How many deaths and injuries had resulted from their careless attitudes, behaviour, indifference, and neglect? How many had died of hunger and poverty while they feasted? How many had been beaten and left bleeding, or even bleeding in heart, beyond what was reasonable?
And their fingers were stained with the sins which resulted from a wicked heart, and the consequences of the failures too numerous to mention. For every act of selfishness had its consequences, every sin of neglect, every failure to do what was right, every lack in consideration for others.
‘Your lips have spoken lies, your tongue utters wickedness.’ For the majority deceit is one of the foundation stones of life. It avoids responsibility, it turns suspicion on others, it blackens other’s reputations, it gets one’s own way by false methods. It is the epitome of a selfishness which has no thought for others.
‘None calls in righteousness, and none pleads in truth.’ Here the plea for judicial enquiry is in mind, whether to the highest court in the land, the smallest court of the sub-tribes, or the close family tribunal. All suffer from the same trouble. Righteousness is ignored, truth is outlawed. What matters for the appellants is to get what they want by any means without regard for the facts.
‘They trust in what is empty and speak lies, they conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity.’ They produce false evidence, empty arguments, untrue accusations. They plan so that others will be harmed, or to obtain things by false evidence. They make the tribunal which should be producing justice, produce instead what is basically iniquitous and unfair. They ‘bring forth iniquity’. (Note the change to the third person. This continues in the next section. Possibly the idea is to apply it to a wider audience, considering mankind as a whole, for the later vengeance comes on them as well (‘the islands’ - verse 18) or possibly Isaiah turns to speak to God, see ‘you’ in verse 12).
When Paul was looking for a catalogue of sinfulness by which to describe the human race he chose extracts from this passage among others (Romans 3.15-17). It is a full description of the heart of man. Not all of them were like it all the time, any more than we are, but there are few of us who cannot recognise here what is sometimes in our thoughts. Not possibly as violently in our enlightened age, but certainly as truly.
‘‘They hatch the eggs of adders, and weave spider’s webs. He who eats of their eggs dies, and what is crushed breaks out into a viper.’ In other words they encourage evil, using it for their own benefit, (as a man might collect and hatch adders’ eggs in order to do mischief), and scheme how to entrap others and catch them in their web. If anyone tries to benefit from what is theirs (equivalent to eating their adders’ eggs) the threat of death or some kind of harm is the result, and if others try to prevent what they are doing (the equivalent of crushing adders’ eggs) their efforts result in even more poisonous snakes to destroy them. Thus these men are treacherous, scheming, and hurtful to all who come in contact with them. (Note that translators use common modern snakes as examples. We are not always sure which actual types of snakes are being referred to).
‘Their webs will not become clothing, nor will they cover themselves with their works. Their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands.’ All their efforts to achieve what they are seeking at the expense of others will in the end come to nothing. All their scheming and their weaving of webs will not become clothing. This may have in mind the day when God clothed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). Then their nakedness was covered. But the scheming of these people will leave them naked and bare. All their efforts and all their workings will not protect them. They will be open to the judgment of God whether in this world or the next. They will not be able to hide themselves from His gaze.
Or the thought may have been of the flimsiness of the web, totally unsuitable for clothing, with the assurance that all their schemes are similarly flimsy and will come to nothing.
And this is because of what their works are. They are works which reveal the sinfulness of their very hearts, which will include violence at their hands, whether by their own act or through intermediaries. They are evil men.
‘Their feet run to do evil, and they hurry to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity, desolation and destruction are in their paths (or ‘highways’).’ Here the thought is that they are so evil that they not only sin but hurry to get to it. They run to do evil, not wanting to lose time. They are in a hurry to commit violence. They are enflamed with sin and driven along by it. And their special aim is to destroy the innocent, those who are not of their ilk. They cannot stand those namby-pamby do-gooders, those weak meek believers who simply look to God. Their thoughts are such that they lead to deep-dyed sin, to desolation, wreaking havoc among men, and to destruction, the breaking up of all that is ordered and settled. They are not builders but destroyers (contrast 58.12).
‘In their paths’ may mean that they and their grouping actually commit highway robbery, so that no highway is safe anywhere in Judah, or simply that the path they tread leads to these things described.
‘They do not know the way of peace, and in their goings there is no judgment. They have made them crooked paths. Whoever goes in any of them (literally ‘it’) does not know peace.’ The thought of their ‘ways’ continues. Whenever Isaiah speaks of ‘ways’ he mainly has in mind the way of righteousness and unrighteousness. Note the emphasis on peace. This begins and ends these phrases. These are people who have never found peace with God. Thus they do not know the way of peace. They are sad specimens, for they do not have any inkling of a life of peace. They have little common sense, or sensible thought, for in all their ways they do not use sound judgment. They are both without knowledge of peace and unwise. Instead the paths they make for themselves, their very ways of life, are crooked. This is in contrast to the highway of holiness (35.8), and to the great highway of God (40.4), and to the way in the wilderness where they find water (43.19). They seek neither and go in neither. And both they and their fellow travellers find no peace in their ways. Nor do they appreciate peace, for in the end only those who truly come to know God find and understand peace.
The switch of person from the third person to the first indicates Isaiah’s application of his general thoughts to his particular hearers. He has spoken generally and now suddenly he applies it. It becomes the admission by the people of their sin. His words are now directed towards God (see verse 12 - ‘you’). They confess that it is because of these things that have been described that the promised coming of true justice and righteous deliverance is far from them. Note again the active role given to righteousness (compare 58.8). It is the righteousness of the Righteous God approaching in order to come on them and count them as righteous (53.11) and then make them righteous. But it does not overtake such as have been described, for they are deadened by sin.
They admit that it is as a result of their sins that they look for light but only find darkness. That while God’s light may shine out, they are blind in their sin. They look for brightness and illumination and only achieve obscurity. As Jesus said, it is he who wills to do His will, who will know what teaching is of God (John 7.17). But they do not will to do His will. Indeed they are like blind men with no eyes, reaching blindly for the wall to act as their guide because they have nothing better. They have refused to trust Yahweh, now they must trust as blind men to a groped for wall as their only guide.
Their looking for light may refer to their looking for that deliverance which is coming when those who walk in darkness will see a great light (9.2). But for them there will be no sign of deliverance (verse 9). For them there will be no light.
‘We stumble at noonday as at the twilight. Among those who are strongly active (lusty) we are as dead men.’ They are a pale reflection of what life should be. They cannot benefit from God’s light, pictured as the noonday sun, for they do not have the spiritual faculties enabling them to benefit from it, thus they stumble along even when the light is brightest. And in a forceful and active world they are lacking in lustiness, indeed appear so listless that they seem almost dead to such forceful people. Having deserted Yahweh even the world looks on them as lifeless.
In 37.14 mourning like a dove indicates not looking upward but being in grief at one’s predicament. The idea of growling like a bear and mourning like a dove therefore suggests anger and dissatisfaction with their lot expressed in both growling and mourning. They long for the promised coming of justice and deliverance, a common theme earlier, but they do not come to the Deliverer. They still seem far away. And why? Because they themselves are unjust, and if there is to be deliverance they themselves must be transformed. But they do not want to be transformed. They want God’s blessing while they continue on in the old way.
And Isaiah puts into their mouths the reason why. It is because their transgressions, their moral failures, are multiplied before Him. It is because their sins witness against them. Nor can they hide from the fact of them, for they are well aware of them, they are with them, accompanying them, and they ‘know’ them.
But worse. They are revealed in their transgressing as denying Yahweh by their behaviour and attitudes, and in their turning away from following Him to other things that grip their hearts. They are in constant rebellion against Him. They are revealed as what they are when they discuss together, and officially decide on, oppression of their fellow countrymen, when they lie to get their own way. To revolt means to get their own way and enhance their own wealth when they revolt against God’s covenant and against His requirements, when they dig deep into themselves to bring out and utter falsehood.
The coming of the justice and righteousness that they should be looking for (a combination found in 1.27; 5.16; 16.5; 28.17; 32.1, 16; 33.5), rather than being imminent, has turned round and retreated, and is standing a long way off. Justice and righteousness will not approach because they know what will happen to them. This is because they have seen that truth has become a street victim, it has been ‘mugged’. There is no place here for truth, for honesty, for God’s Law. It has been flung into the gutter. Deceit and lying rule. There is no place for uprightness. It is refused entry. So truth is lacking, and things are so bad that those who believe in the truth, those who seek to walk in His ways, find themselves simply a prey to the sinners who take advantage of them. They become a prey to selfish sinners.
All is thus doom and gloom. Man’s deserts are such that there seems no hope. Deceit and iniquity and sin have conquered and men are trapped under their heel.
Here then His people are seen as admitting the dreadful state into which they have fallen, and that in themselves there is no hope. But, as regularly in Isaiah, it is often when things are at their darkest that God steps in to act.
THE COMING OF THE DELIVERER AND THE ESTABLISHMENT OF ZION (59.15b-62.12).
Isaiah wanted them to know that God sees their desperate condition and determines to act. He looks for a man, someone to stand in the gap, but there is none. So He Himself acts. He will step in on behalf of His people. He will bring them a Deliverer, a Redeemer, One Who is clothed in righteousness and salvation, and also One Who is clothed in vengeance and zealousness for God. He is concerned with redemption in righteousness, and judgment on unrighteousness. On the one hand He will deal with their enemies and on the other He will come as a Redeemer to Zion, to those who turn from transgression in Jacob, and put His Spirit on them and put His words in their mouths, in such a way that they will never again depart.
But note how in parallel with God rising to act, there will be those who are turning from transgression in Jacob (in sinful Israel). His action and His people’s repentance go together. There can be no deliverance that does not result in repentance. He will not deliver an unrepentant people.
In these chapters Isaiah rises to a new height in his conception of Zion. And we have to stop and consider what he means by Zion.
In Isaiah Zion is looked at from different aspects. On the one hand there is the mundane city of Jerusalem which is fallen and rejected, and symbolic of Israel as a whole, although enjoying a certain measure of protection ‘for David’s sake’. This will eventually be restored (1.1; 1.8; 2.1; 3.1, 8, 16; 7.1; 10.12, 24, 32; 14.32; 16.1; 22.10; 31.4, 5, 9; 33.14; 36.2, 7, 20; 37.10, 22, 32; 40.9; 41.27; 49.14; 52.7, 8, 9; 64.10; 66.8), as indeed it was. Then there is the Jerusalem/Zion which is almost synonymous with the people (‘we’ -1.9; 4.4; 5.3; 8.14; 10.10-12; 22.21; 28.14; 30.19; 52.2; 65.18-19). Here it is not the city which is important but the people. (Compare how in Zechariah 2.6-7 ‘Zion’ represents the exiles). And finally there is the Jerusalem/Zion from which will go God’s message to the world (2.4; 62.6, 7), the Jerusalem/Zion which is the city of God, the ‘earthly’ dwellingplace of Yahweh in which dwells His glory, with its central mount rising up to heaven (2.2), in contrast with the world city (often seen as Babylon) which is the seat of all evil, which will be toppled from its high place (26.5-6; compare 24.21-22; 25.2). Here Zion is the future glorious Jerusalem, which has eternal connections and will be part of the everlasting kingdom (1.27; 4.3-5; 12.6; 18.7; 24.23; 26.1-4; 28.16; 30.19; 33.5, 20; 35.10; 46.13; 51.3, 11, 16; 52.1; 59.20; 60.14; 61.3; 62.1, 11; 65.18, 19; 66.10, 13, 20). It is more than a city. It represents the whole future of the people of God, including their hopes of living in His presence, and takes in all God’s people. It is this last view of Zion which is prominent in 59.15b-62.12.
God Will Act To Deliver Zion (59.15b-21).
When God looked down He saw that there was no one who could deliver, none who was fitted to be the Servant. And (speaking from a human point of view) He could not understand it. Why was there no one fitted to act as a go-between, an intercessor, on behalf of men? But really He knew the answer, and, just as God did, Isaiah also knew the answer, ‘woe is me for I am undone. For I am a man of unclean lips, and I come from a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts’ (6.5). ‘We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags’ (64.6). No one was fitted for the task by their manner of life. And so God determined to act Himself.
We have been here before. God looks for a man, but there is no man. See 50.2. ‘Why when I came was there no man? When I called was there none to answer?’ Compare also 41.28, ‘and when I look there is no man, even among them there is no counsellor’. That was the problem. There was no man, not even Isaiah or Micah, who was fit for the position. There was no man suited to act as Redeemer. And it was at that point that Yahweh found the answer in raising up the great Servant of Yahweh, the unique representative of Israel (50.3-8; 52.13-53.12).
Here again there is no man. No one to plead. No one to intervene. No mediator. But Yahweh is displeased that justice is lacking, that man stumbles on foolishly and blindly in his sin. He is displeased that there is no one, that there is none to stand in the gap. He is depicted in human terms as wondering why this could be, but this is in order to bring out the desperateness of the situation, for He knows what He will do. He will raise up a Redeemer.
‘There was no intercessor.’ Maphgiya’ (intercessor) strictly denotes ‘causing to meet or come together, bringing into contact’. Thus it is applied to intercessory prayer. But it has been suggested that the context, etymology and usage combined, may rather be seen as recommending the wider sense of ‘intervention and interposition’, both in word and deed. (See Isa 53:12)
Throughout history God looked for a man. He found one in Abraham whom He called as His Servant. But he could only take the first steps of faith. He found one in Moses, ‘the Servant of Yahweh’. But he began timidly and his inadequacy was constantly revealed, and he died as a direct result of failure. He found one in His Servant David, the man after His own heart. But he was too much a man of blood. Each of these was simply an onward faltering step in His purposes as He looked for a man. And now the final step is taken as His Servant as revealed in 50.3-10; 52.13-53.12, with 49.1-6, Who will bring about all His will, Immanuel, God with us.
After verses 15b-16a we would expect the introduction of a ‘man’ or ‘intercessor’ as raised up by God. In 50.2 His recognition that there was no one resulted in the raising up of the Servant. Now we learn more about the Servant. He comes as empowered by God Himself, clothed in the armour of righteousness and salvation, to deliver His true people, and to take vengeance on all who oppose them.
Had this not been in the same context here this would have been ambiguous. We would have asked, ‘Does it mean that God Himself stepped in because there was no one else, and that it was He Who armoured Himself?’ Or is the ‘Him’ who is ‘brought salvation’ and ‘upheld’ by God’s righteous saving power, God’s raised up Redeemer as spoken of in verse 20, the One Who, as before, is brought in because there is no man? Isaiah surely expects us to see this as a follow up to 50.2 onwards. And yet if so this Redeemer is so closely connected with Yahweh that they are seen as at work together. What a different picture we would then have here of the Servant. He would no longer be seen as simply the humble learner and teacher Who will be humbled for the sins of His people. As the One Who had died, and had been made to live again He would be the One sent from God, the Mighty God (9.6), the Great Warrior, bringing both deliverance and judgment (59.16-17; 63.1-6), fulfilling the pleasure of Yahweh and dividing the spoil with the strong (53.10, 12).
In 7-11 we saw that God’s purpose would be fulfilled through the raising up of One Who would be miraculously born from the Davidic house, the Son of David, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father (9.6). In 41-55 it would be fulfilled in His Servant Who found His culmination in the tragic and glorious figure of 52.13-53.12, Who would then be exalted and raised up very high (52.13). Here we find that it will be fulfilled in a Redeemer Who is the very Arm of God.
Note how the future is telescoped and rolled up into one (we can compare 61.2). On the one hand the Deliverer, the Bringer of righteousness, introducing the year of acceptance, the year of God’s favour, and on the other the Judge, the Bringer of vengeance and judgment, ‘the day of vengeance of our God’. For salvation by redemption and the judgment of God are two aspects of the same work of God as He brings all things to their culmination.
Here is brought out God’s great secret, declared in part before but now made clear. The One Who is coming to save, Who will be the miraculously born King and the God-taught Servant, is in a very real sense Yahweh Himself. He will be the mighty God, even though He may appear in human form, and indeed as truly human. God saw that there was no man, for a greater than man was needed. Only God could step into the gap. And so He stepped in through His Redeemer. Thus here we can hardly distinguish One from the Other in the description. It could be being spoken of either. It is what Isaiah has revealed before that clarifies the situation.
But we would be wrong simply to separate the deliverance and vengeance as though one happened at one time and the other at another time. Both continually happened, and happen. For when Jesus came the first time to bring deliverance and salvation, He also inevitably brought wrath and vengeance. While some wept for their sins and found salvation, others wept because of the judgment that came on them. ‘Weep not for me,’ He said, ‘weep for yourselves and for your children’ (Luke 23.28). And they soon had cause to weep when Jerusalem was destroyed, and many of them along with it. Romans 1.18-32 makes clear God’s present wrath, as do John 3.18, 36; 12.31; 1 Thessalonians 2.16 and much of Revelation. And Jesus saw it as coming, among other things, in the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. So wrath was revealed in the giving over of the world to its sin, and in the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews and the troubles that would come on the world (Mark 13).
Yet through it all shone out His saving purposes. Even while vengeance stalked the earth, salvation was being spread abroad. Of those tender hearted women some would respond and be saved. Others would sadly await their judgment. And when He comes the second time it will not only be in order to bring vengeance and judgment, it will also be to bring righteousness and deliverance for many. he will ‘gather together His elect from the four winds of heaven’. And He is continually active in the same way in history (51.8). Daily He brings righteousness and deliverance to someone somewhere in the world. Yet while Jesus did not come to judge but to save (John 3.17), and His salvation is now being freely offered, His very coming inevitably judges those who refuse His light (John 3.18-19).
So here it is rather that the future is all seen as one whole, and the action of the Great Warrior is seen as occurring as long as it is needed. To this Great Warrior a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day (2 Peter 3.8), indeed it is but a watch in the night (Psalm 90.4). Thus we must not limit Him to our ideas of time.
‘Therefore His own arm brought salvation to Him, and His righteousness it upheld Him.’ God was looking for the deliverance of His own people, His chosen ones, and because there was none to act He Himself will bring about the deliverance that He desires through His Servant, and it will be His righteousness that will uphold Him in the work that has to be done. It is His arm that will strengthen His Servant. It is His own righteousness that will uphold Him. Thus the work of the Servant and of the Anointed One (61.1) is seen as His own work, and the activity of the Servant and of the coming King as His own activity. And there is a merging of those activities that reveals why Isaiah could call that King, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father (see on 9.6), the One who as the Wonderful Counsellor incorporates the Servant.
We must insert here as part of His activity what we find in the Gospels, and in the Acts of the Apostles, for in it all the Great Warrior came and strode through the world. His breastplate was righteousness. That was why they could not touch Him until God gave permission. His helmet was salvation, for He Himself was the Saviour And we must include in this description 9.1-7; 11.1-10; 52.13-53.12 and much, much more. And we must include the Book of Revelation which outlines God’s activity in history and the One through Whom He acted, the slain Lamb Who was also the lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5.5-6). In it all He came, bringing His deliverance, and He was upheld by God’s righteousness, by His own righteous purposes, by the righteousness which He revealed in His righteous living and by His mighty acts, and by the righteousness which enabled Him to withstand all the assaults of the enemy (which of you convinces me of sin? - John 8.46), and by the righteousness of the Righteous One Who had sent Him, and Whose righteousness He shared and abode in, a righteousness which was His own (John 16.15).
‘And He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head.’ These were His armaments and His protection that ensured that He could not fail. All He did was righteous, all He purposed was righteous, all that He was, was righteous, the righteousness of Yahweh was His, and He was surrounded by righteousness and nothing in the evil of the world could mar Him. And it was necessarily so. Had there been one chink in the armour when He became man all the purposes of God would have collapsed. But there was no chink. He was clothed in righteousness, and righteousness prevailed. He knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5.21). He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth (1 Peter 2.22). These were the testimonies of one who had belonged among His severest critics, critics who had constantly scrutinised Him, and of one who had been closest to Him in His daily life.
And it has been openly revealed, so that all are without excuse. The righteous teaching of Jesus stands out like a beacon in the world. None other compares with it. There have been great teachers, and men of great morality, but none taught like He taught, all are but pale reflections of His words. Only He was right all the way along the line. His teaching along reveals Him for what He is, the truly Righteous One, the One like no other, the only Son of God.
‘And a helmet of salvation on His head.’ He wore too the helmet of deliverance. He was protected by His Father’s eternal purposes and intentions, and by God’s, and His own, great purpose of salvation which had existed from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1.4). For that provided Him with all the protection of the Godhead. He was ‘God the Saviour’ (Titus 2.13; 2 Peter 1.1). Wearing that helmet He could not but succeed. And through the wearing of that helmet He brought salvation to His own.
Righteousness and deliverance have gone hand in hand earlier in Isaiah (45.8; 46.13; 51.5-6, 8; 56.1) and now the idea has reached its climax, fully revealed in the coming of the Great Warrior. Deliverance is here, but it is deliverance in righteousness, as God’s salvation must always be.
‘And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak. According to their deeds, accordingly He will repay, fury to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies, to the islands He will repay recompense.’ New emphasis is now laid on the fact that the Deliverer will come as Judge. He will come to exact judgment on those who have rebelled against Him and those who are His enemies. He will be clothed with vengeance and zealous to maintain righteousness, and punish men in accordance with their behaviour, and their sinful deeds. And this will apply to all His enemies including the distant coastlands. All will receive according to what they have done.
‘Vengeance.’ The idea rather is of punishment in accordance with deserts, measured vengeance for the breaking of His Laws and refusal to observe His commands (compare 24.5). There is no thought of exacting personal revenge. His ‘fury’ is the same, it manifests an antipathy to sin that requires proper punishment for that sin.
As Isaiah manifested this powerful portrayal of the action of God we must remember that he did so in the light of what he himself had seen and experienced. He had seen Yahweh revealed in His glory in the Temple and had been made aware of His supreme holiness and had declared the utter sinfulness of himself and his people (6). Thus he knew that any deliverance must be in righteousness. And he had seen Jerusalem surrounded by an implacable foe, with no hope of escape, and had declared beforehand its deliverance, and had then seen the arm of Yahweh revealed as the Assyrian host was smitten, and Zion was miraculously and powerfully delivered. He had seen the arm of Yahweh in action. Now he was being made aware that it would be seen again in final deliverance of God’s true people, the holy seed (6.13), and in the smiting of all His enemies through the Mighty Warrior.
The whole known world will thus learn to fear His name, and be aware of His glory. They will recognise Him for what He is and acknowledge Him. In terms of earlier teaching, to Him every knee will bow and every tongue declare allegiance (45.23). For His coming will be with the force of a mighty river, forced along in the narrows between high banks, both by the force of the flow and by a powerful wind, the breath of Yahweh. He will be irresistible.
Thus is declared the powerful work of the Spirit which will go out into the world bringing men of all nations to His feet (compare 55.10-13), manifested through the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness (53.1-12; Zechariah 13.1) but seen as culminating in final judgment for the sinful and the deliverance of those who have responded to Him, of those accounted and then made righteous. It is the story of the faithful among God’s people in intertestamental days, of Zerubbabel as by the Spirit he encouraged the returned exiles (Zechariah 4.6), it is the story of the coming of John the Baptiser, and of the earthly Jesus Himself Who went forward ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ (Luke 4.1), and of the Acts and of the New Testament letters. It is the story of the centuries, and of the missionary outreach to the world. It continues today. The Redeemer continues His mighty work through the power of the Spirit. He strides forth in the world through His own. But it is always in righteousness, and must result in righteousness. For that in the end is what salvation involves. Deliverance in righteousness is His perfect work.
‘So shall they fear the name of Yahweh from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun.’ These words influenced the words in Psalm 102.15 whose ideas at that point appear to be based on these verses in Isaiah. ‘So the nations shall fear the name of Yahweh, He has appeared in His glory’, and there we learn that it was through the prayer of the destitute. It results from the heart cry of His people.
Note on ‘For He will come like a pent in river, which the wind (breath, Spirit) of Yahweh drives.’
Here ruach YHWH (the wind/Spirit of Yahweh,) is either a Hebrew idiom for a strong wind, or a poetical description of the wind in general as the breath of God, or a description of the driving force of the Spirit of God. And the idea is that the coming of the Servant will be with the force of a river being driven between narrow banks by the powerful wind/breath/Spirit of God. An alternative translation is, ‘when the enemy comes in like a flood (rising, fast moving river), the Spirit of Yahweh will lift up His banner against him’. The difference depends simply on the translation of one or two Hebrew words. The word for ‘pent in, narrow, compressed’ (see Numbers 22.26) is tsar which can also be translated as ‘enemy’ (one who pents in). The word translated ‘drives’ (nosesah, which is seen as the polel of nus) can alternatively be seen as connected with nes - banner, standard, and therefore as ‘lift up a standard’.
The idea of ‘enemy’ can be seen as connecting back with the enemies in the previous verse. Thus all depends on how we see it as fitting into the context.
The objection against the translation ‘pent-in river’ are as follows:
The strongest argument against the second translation is the questionable nature of the translation ‘lift up a banner’ for nosesah.
End of note.
Previously Yahweh has constantly been declared to be ‘your Redeemer’. But the suggestion here would seem to be of another Redeemer, One sent to deliver, sent from Yahweh, Who can only be the Servant. For He is certainly revealed as a Redeemer, One Who saves by the payment of a price. It is He who will be numbered with the transgressors (53.12), it is He Who makes His soul an offering for sin (53.10), it is He Who makes the will of Yahweh prosper (53.10), it is He Who bears the sin of many (53.12). And He comes on behalf of those who turn from transgression among His people. There can be no deliverance without turning to righteousness. And this is the word of Yahweh.
And the object of this Redeemer is the redemption of Zion, the ‘city’ which had failed Yahweh and become a harlot city (1.21), a rebel against Yahweh, and thereby represented within itself the whole failing ‘people of God’. They had despoiled His Sanctuary (43.28) so that it requires replacement (44.26-28). Thus ‘Zion’ needs to be redeemed by the mighty Saviour, and to be transformed into a glorious city beyond man’s imagining, the very dwellingplace of Yahweh, where His light will permanently be revealed, and all the world who are willing to respond will come to worship. But ‘Jerusalem/Zion’ spoken of in this way regularly indicates more than just the city. It can indicate the place of Yahweh’s absence, or the place of His revealed presence. it can indicate the nominal people of God, or the real people of God, and all in relationship to the earthly or heavenly Sanctuary depending on context. In the end it is ‘Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem’ which contains ‘the spirits of just men made perfect’ (Hebrews 12.22-24).
Note here for example the close connection between ‘Zion’ and ‘those who turn from transgression in Jacob’. Here the description Zion includes the whole of the true Israel of God, the faithful in Israel, seen as though they were occupants of the city, whereas in reality they would be far too numerous for that. Zion and the people who turn to righteousness are seen as almost synonymous.
To Israel Zion was ‘the city of God’, the ‘holy city’. To be there was to be as near to God as it was possible to be. It was their ideal, their dream, and had been even when they were following idolatry. It was to them the place where Yahweh dwelt on earth. Thus the prophets (apart from Ezekiel who went beyond it to a heavenly Temple and sidelined Jerusalem - 45.1-8) took up their ideas and saw in Jerusalem, as glorified and transformed, the symbol of the culmination of all their hopes, for it was where the dwellingplace of God would always be found. Indeed Isaiah regularly uses language about Zion that goes well beyond the idea of any earthly Jerusalem, and raises His dwelling place to a higher plain (2.2-3). He speaks of what Jerusalem represents for the world in terms of God’s salvation, a Jerusalem beyond Jerusalem, a kind of stairway between heaven and earth, and includes within the idea all of God’s future blessings on the whole true people of God. Their love of Jerusalem was used to point forward to a greater Jerusalem, a New Jerusalem which had attributes of Heaven, and which the New Testament would speak of as actually raised there (Galatians 4.26; Hebrews 12.22), together with a new Sanctuary where God could be met with (Hebrews 8.2; 9.7, 11, 24; 10.19-22) .
This comes out in Isaiah in that ‘Jerusalem’ will be the city of righteousness, where all are righteous (1.26-27), it will be the city where all without exception are holy (4.3), it will be a place where the full glory of God will be revealed in all its splendour and where God reigns (24.23), it will be a strong city with salvation as its wall and bulwarks (26.1), it will be a city with a secure foundation, founded in God (28.16), it will be a place of no more weeping and no more tears (30.19), it will be a place where Yahweh is exalted and dwells on high, filling it with justice and righteousness (33.5), it will be unmovable and indestructible, a place where Yahweh is with His own in majesty as Judge, Lawgiver and King (33.20), it will be a place of everlasting joy where His people obtain joy and gladness and where sorrow and sadness find no place (35.10; 51.11), it will be lit only by the light of Yahweh and have no need of sun or moon (60.19-20), it will be a newly created city (65.18), and it will be in the newly created new heaven and the new earth (65.17; 66.20-22). Thus Paul could refer us to the Jerusalem which is above (Galatians 4.26) and the write to the Hebrews to ‘mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem’ (Hebrews 12.22), while Revelation depicts it as the eternal state (Revelation 21-22).
So as we look at this section of Isaiah with its references to Zion we must recognise that to him Zion depicts the perfect future where God and His people share together the everlasting future. But in those days there was no conception of a heaven to which people could go. Thus he depicts the future, both the future on earth in the purposes of God, and the eternal future in terms of a glorious and widely expanded everlasting ‘Zion’.
That is why as we go through chapters 60-62 we must not see an ordinary Israelite city, however majestic, but a city beyond all cities, where Yahweh reigns supreme, where He can be truly approached and worshipped in the full light of what He is, where His chosen and anointed King sits on His throne receiving the tribute of the nations, and which is large enough to envelop the world who will come to it to make their submission to Him. Babylon is now no more and Zion reigns triumphant.
As we therefore look at these chapters we must make a careful distinction between the city with all its significance, and the people, who while included in the idea of the city, are only a humble part of it, and our concentration must be on all that Zion signifies of the sovereignty and glory and presence of God. Thus while it includes all God’s people, it even more symbolises the whole divine enterprise of which they are only a part, even though an important one. When we read of the nations coming and offering worship and paying tribute, it is not His people who are important, except in their ministry of priests, the important focus is on Yahweh as present in Zion, on behalf of Whom all is received.
Note on Zion, the City of Yahweh.
In the first part of Isaiah it is made quite clear that the future ‘Zion’ represents something totally beyond an earthly city. It represents a future ideal. It reaches up to heaven with its new Temple, it is the place to which all nations flow to worship Yahweh, it contains all His true and holy people, it enjoys the full revelation of His presence, it represents where He is seated in His triumph, it is His place ‘on high’, it is the place where there will be no weeping or crying, it is the place of everlasting, unceasing security, it is the place where sun and moon are no longer required. While some of what is said might fit, this as a whole goes far beyond any possible earthly city, even a supposed Millennial Jerusalem. Here we are dealing with the everlasting kingdom, firstly in its preparatory form, and then more fully in its final form. Let us consider these ideas in more detail:
It is in the light of these descriptions and depictions of Zion that 60-62 is to be considered.
End of Note.
So in what follows we must recognise from what has been said about Zion above that the submission of the Gentiles is to Zion rather than to His people (2.2-4; 18.7; 24.21-23). That the approach to Zion has in mind the exaltation of Mount Zion. And that while we must not totally exclude the idea of their submission to the people of God, we must certainly recognise that it is submission to them as the priests of Yahweh, and in recognition that they are bearers of Yahweh’s authority (61.6). It is depicted as a submission to Yahweh through them. It is a holy submission, as of a congregation to its elders, not a subservient one (the latter being a mistake which many Jews were fond of making).
59.21 ‘And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says Yahweh,
Here we have confirmation that this has been describing the work of the Servant. His true people will also become the Servant, speaking out His words to the end of time. In this passage we have had ‘Me’, ‘Him’, and the ‘them’ with whom the covenant is made. The latter are clearly His true people. The covenant is described in 42.6; 49.8; 54.10; 55.3; 56.4, 6; 61.8, and the Mediator and heart of it is the Servant, Who is given as a covenant to them. So the Him clearly has in mind the Servant. And certainly He is the One on Whom above all the Spirit comes (11.1-4; 42.1). And once men responded to Him through the working of the Spirit they too would become part of the Servant (Acts 13.47), and this promise was to them.
And now is described what His ‘being made a covenant’ to them involves. Their guarantee of the fulfilment of the covenant lies in the fact that the Servant will have the Spirit upon Him (42.1), and will have in His mouth the words of Yahweh (50.4), and will come to them. He is the direct Mediator of God’s Spirit and God’s word to His people.
And thus from now on these words of Yahweh, which have come from the mouth of His Servant (50.3-8), will continue to come from the mouths of His servants, from the mouths of the Servant’s seed (53.10) and from the mouths of their seed, and from the mouths of their seed’s seed from this time forth for ever. We see here that the Servant is indeed ‘the new Abraham’, the culmination of all that was promised in Abraham, and concentration is now on His seed. And just as Abraham was one and became many in his seed (51.2), so will the new Servant be One and will become many in His seed (53.10).
‘And as for Me.’ This differentiates Yahweh from the Redeemer of the previous verse and stresses His participation in all that the Redeemer is doing. While that Redeemer is active in His coming, Yahweh Himself will be active through Him by His Spirit and by His words.
So it is clear that preparatory to the fulfilling of the everlasting covenant in the everlasting kingdom, when the dead will have been raised (26.19), will be the period when the Servant will be made a covenant to His true people, and bringing that covenant to them will expand them through the proclamation of His word, through His seed and His seed’s seed. The fulfilment of this in our Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles, and the church who resulted, is clear and specific, as His seed expanded and grew both widely, and this has continued on through the generations, until the final resurrection day will introduce the final everlasting kingdom. If we are His, we too are His seed.
But why is He then here called the Redeemer and not the Servant? The answer lies in the dual idea behind the Servant. The idea of the Servant includes His true seed, while here in the Redeemer strict differentiation is made between them. His people will continue on as the Servant (Acts 13.47). He alone is the Redeemer.
Chapter 60 The Triumph Of The Seed of the Redeemer.
The coming of the Redeemer is to result in an everlasting kingdom. This chapter encompasses within it the shining of God’s light in the darkness (verses 1-2) which Isaiah 9.2-6 reveals as indicating the coming of the great son of David, something fulfilled in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 4.12-17). It encompasses the response of the Gentiles to His light (verses 4-10), and the need no longer for any form of protection (verse 11), because this will be no earthly kingdom, for the sun and moon will no longer give their light upon it (verse 19), but Yahweh Himself will be their everlasting light (verse 20). And they will inherit the land for ever (compare Hebrews 11.10-14). It is this chapter that is very much in mind in the depiction of the new Jerusalem and the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation 21-22.
The call to ‘arise’ indicates a new section in the book describing something that follows what has gone before. When the Redeemer comes to Zion, Zion and His people are to arise and respond. They are to leave the past behind them. Much in this chapter reflects the words about the Servant in chapter 49. He comes to the peoples bringing light to their darkness (verses 2-3 , compare 42.6; 49.6; 9.1-7), His people will come from far and will gather themselves together to come to them (verse 4, compare 49.12, 18; 11.11-12), borne by the nations (verse 4, compare 49.22). Thus this is all to be seen as the work of the Servant.
And yet the light that shines on Zion will cause Gentiles to come to its light (verse 3, compare 49.6) so that the people will gather to it bringing the tribute of the nations. Men of all nations will come to Zion, and will be welcomed into Zion (2.2-4). Zion represents the King and the true people of God (Zechariah 2.7).
But we should note again that, while ‘Zion’ and ‘His people’ are sometimes almost synonymous, in this chapter it is the idea of the city of Zion in its Isaianic significance which is primarily addressed. It is the Zion to which the Redeemer has come (59.20). It is greater than and to some extent distinguished from the people, for His people are here in context clearly differentiated from Zion (verse 21). Note the references to ‘walls’ (verse 10), ‘gates’ (verse 11), ‘the place of My Sanctuary (verse 12), and ‘the city of Yahweh’ (verse 14) which all serve to stress the distinction. So the concentration in this chapter is on the Zion which is the city of Yahweh, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel (verse 14; compare 26.1-4), the eternal city (literally), seen as one whole, although very closely connected with His people. It is the place where God has His dwellingplace around which His people gather. This softens somewhat what might otherwise be seen as unacceptable ideas of humiliation and submission.
The submission of the Gentiles (verse 14) is to be seen as to the Light of Israel, the One to Whom Israel points, not specifically to His people, although they will clearly have their part in it as His servants. It is to Zion that the ultimate Servant has come as Redeemer (59.20), and the submission is finally to Him as connected with that city. The theme is the restoration of that city (the harlot city will become the city of righteousness, the faithful city - 1.21-27), and of the converted Gentiles joining with His people in that city in full submission and worship of Yahweh. It contrasts with Babylon (47) and the desolated city (24.10-12; 25.2; 26.5) which represents the world away from God. These people have metaphorically ‘fled from Babylon’ and ‘come to Zion’. They have left behind all idolatry, and all desires for the glory of the world, and have set their hearts on Him.
Furthermore the final part of this chapter makes absolutely clear that what is finally in mind here is the everlasting kingdom, the Kingly Rule of God. This is the true Zion. Sun and moon fade into insignificance, and will no longer wax or wane. They will no longer be needed. For it will be the glory and light of Yahweh which suffuse everything with light and glory (60.19-20). And His people will be Yahweh’s planting, and dwell in the everlasting land, where they will dwell for ever (60.21), including the resurrected ones (26.19).
The application of the ideas is twofold. Firstly there is reference to the true church of Jesus Christ, in both the Old and New Testaments, what is called the Remnant, the holy seed (6.13), who through the ages are God’s people and enjoy His protection and blessing, on whom God continues to shine and on whose behalf God regularly acts. They will enjoy being connected with the submission of the Gentiles and being priests to God (1 Peter 2.5, 9). In Revelation Zion has been removed to Heaven (Revelation 14.1-3), and the Temple is there (Revelation 6.9; 7.15; 8.3-5; 14.15; 15.8; 16.1, 17), and the city is there (Revelation 21.2). But finally it leads on to the final day when they will pass into the new heavens and the new earth, into the perfection of the heavenly city. As ever the future in Isaiah is telescoped together and seen as one.
We must recognise that what Isaiah was seeking to portray had to be expressed to his listeners in terms meaningful to them. The wider ideas of New Testament teaching were not available to them, nor would they have been able to comprehend them. But what he wanted them to see was a position where God was central and among His people, and a situation to which the nations could respond in adoration and worship, and to which all could gather in order to be His. Thus he pictured it in terms of a magnified Zion, in which all God’s true people would have full participation, and in which they could offer their true and full worship. As Paul, Peter and John would later bring out, it spoke of the glorious church of God consisting of His own true people, to which all may come to render worship and tribute to His name while also looking forward to its final fulfilment in the everlasting kingdom (e.g. Ephesians 2.11-22; 1 Peter 2.4-10; Revelation 3.12; 21.9-22.5).
We find here an echo of 8.22-9.2. Here we have a further description of the coming King. His light will descend on Zion (4.5). He will come like a shining light among His own. And those who are His will respond to His light. They will see the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4.6). The Servant will be a light to them prior to becoming a light to the Gentiles. Thus will Jacob respond to Him, and Israel be gathered to Him (49.6).
Then the people who walk in ‘darkness’, who are in gross darkness like the ‘darkness’ that covers the earth as described here, will see a great light, and the light will shine on them (9.2). It will be the light revealed by Yahweh’s true people resulting from His having shone upon them. It was ever to be the prayer of the priests of Israel, that Yahweh would make the light of His face shine on them (Numbers 6.25), something symbolised by the lampstand in the Temple. This is an awakening call (compare 51.9, 17; 52.1). It will be similar for the people as it was for Isaiah in the Temple (6.1-7).
And those who are His chosen will respond. To men in darkness there is always the possibility of arising into His light, into spiritual understanding, into truth, into awareness of Him and His glory. The people who would be of Zion must therefore awaken because the light has now come, and that light is ‘the glory of Yahweh’ which has risen on them. The world will be in darkness, the peoples in gross darkness (8.22-9.1), having the understanding darkened (Ephesians 4.18), being in the darkness of ignorance and despair, but on His own true people Yahweh will arise and His glory will be seen on them. And, as 9.1-7 reveals, this light will come in the child Who will be born, in the Son Who will be given, who will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of peace. He Himself is the glory of Yahweh arising on His people (compare Mark 9.2-8; John 1.14-18). In Matthew 4.16 the great light of Isaiah is applied to the fact that Jesus has come with the Good News. And constantly in John’s Gospel Jesus portrayed Himself in terms of a light having come (John 1.4; 3.19-21; 8.12; 12.35, 46).
Paul amplifies this in the New Testament when he declares, ‘if our good news is hidden, it is hidden to those who are lost, in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, lest the light of the good news of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God, shine on them’ (2 Corinthians 4.4).
The constant use of ‘light’ in this way is typical of Isaiah. It is found but rarely in the other prophets.
The result of the coming of Yahweh’s light in the child Who is to be born, and in the coming of the Servant of 50.3-8; 52.13-53.12 (see 42.6; 49.6), and of the response of His people to Yahweh’s Instruction coming through Him, is that nations will come to the light of Zion, and kings to the brightness of its rising. They will seek the Lord of Heaven. And they will find Him through His people who will be like the sun rising to dispel the darkness. This will result because they carry God’s Instruction (Torah) to the world (2.2-4; 59.21), and reveal it in their lives. Their light will shine before men who will see their good works (resulting from their true obedience to the Instruction), and glorify their Father Who is in heaven (Matthew 5.16).
‘Nations’ and ‘kings’ together represent both peoples and the authorities who are over them. This process of God’s light shining on them began among the Jewish Dispersion as Gentiles sought light in the teaching of Israel and in the Scriptures. And it continued in the coming of Jesus Christ, in which it was fulfilled even more emphatically as nations and kings did respond to the word taken out, first by John, then by Jesus, and then by the Jewish Christian Apostles, (the Apostles saw themselves as the true Israel going out to the world from Jerusalem) so that John in Revelation could speak of redeemed kings bringing their glory into the new Jerusalem, a new Jerusalem founded on the Apostles, and with its gates named after the tribes of Israel, and with redeemed nations walking amidst its light (Revelation 21.24).
The true people of God will be able to watch in astonishment as the nations and their kings gather to Zion (2.2-3), that Zion which is now the home of Yahweh’s Servant on earth, the true church of Jesus Christ. The world will respond to its light, the light of Yahweh.
‘Yours sons will come from far.’ Zion’s sons will come from far distances. This may refer to the return of His people from exile, or it may more probably have in mind His new children among the Gentiles. The coming of their ‘children’ is described earlier in 54.1-4 where the idea was of such an abundance that Israel could not believe it. For Israel will be expanded by the ingrafting of those of the nations who respond to the call of Yahweh (Romans 11.13-24). And they will come from far (49.12,18).
All through history Israel was expanded by men of the nations uniting with them in the covenant as they recognised the distinctiveness of Israel’s message. Consider Eliezer the Damascene (Genesis 15.2) and Hagar the Egyptian (Genesis 16.1), two of many ‘foreigners’ who had become part of Abraham’s household; the ‘mixed multitude’ (Exodus 12.38); those in Exodus 12.48 and Numbers 9.14; while just as Achan was ‘cut off’ from Israel (Joshua 7), so Rahab and her household were grafted in (Joshua 6.25). Consider also the Kenites (Judges 1.16); Uriah the Hittite (2 Samuel 11.3) and all whose surnames indicate foreign designation; and there were many more. All became seen as true Israelites and children of Jacob. And so will it be here. They will come to the light of the true people of God who will be made glorious by His glory which has arisen on them as a result of the coming of God’s great light (9.1-7). Compare 2 Corinthians 3.18; 4.4, 6.
‘And your daughters will be nursed on the side.’ That is borne in cradles slung in such a way that as babes they are kept safe and provided for (see 49.22). The emphasis is on God’s care for His people’s welfare.
‘Then you will see and be lightened, and your heart will tremble and be enlarged.’ The result will be that Zion and God’s people will become radiant as they see the multitude of those who come to them. They will be filled with excitement, and a deep sense of satisfaction, and will be given a welcoming heart so as to receive the abundance of those who will come. The growth of that welcoming heart especially comes out in Acts 1-11.
‘Because the abundance of the sea will be turned to you, the wealth of the nations will come to you.’ The Gentiles will come bearing their riches. Zion will receive all that their hearts have looked for, the giving of tribute to Yahweh and to their King. Compare Revelation 21.26. The abundance of the seas may signify wealth such as that of the great maritime cities on the Phoenician coast, for example Tyre and Sidon, noted for scouring the seas and bringing back riches (see verse 8), or it may be seeing the nations as ‘the sea of nations’, a picture later regularly used to describe them. Either way it is depicting the glorious future for Zion, with its benefits rejoiced in by God’s true people, firstly in terms of the riches that flowed into her from such as the kings of Persia (Ezra 1.4-11; 6.3-5, 8-9; 7.15-22; 8.25-30, 33-34), and through Herod as he built his Temple, and then to the true Israel, the church as it became that to which kings and nations gave their treasures, secondly in terms of spiritual provision now, and thirdly in terms of complete provision in ‘Heaven’, all described in terms which would be meaningful to people in those days.
Like all people the children of Israel had to be spoken to in terms of what they could understand. Not for them was promised a Heaven above, a spiritual existence, for these would simply not have been understood (and would have been mixed up with ideas of the gods). But the glory that was to come was expressed in terms of a new Zion, a gathered people, the amassing of wealth, total security, an all-powerful world king with the nations at his feet, all that the heart dreamed of. But as we have seen these were regularly put in terms that transcended earthly possibility if applied literally (see verse 19). It will be the place where all are holy, where there is everlasting rejoicing, where all peoples will gather, where Yahweh will reign and His glory be revealed, where there is no light of sun and moon (4.2-4; 24.23; 26.1-4; 35.10; 51.11; 52.1; 60.19-21; 65.18-25; 66.22-24; compare Joel 3.16-17; Psalm 50.2; Zechariah 14).
The idea was similar to that of the city of gold with gates of pearl founded on the Apostles (Revelation 21.10-27) and ‘the city that was to come’ of Abraham, whose builder and maker was God (Hebrews 11.10), and the Jerusalem that is above, of Paul (Galatians 4.26; compare Hebrews 12.22). Consider also the temple of Yahweh raised above all mountains connected with Jerusalem although raised above it (2.2), the temple of Yahweh set on a very high mountain in a holy portion well away from Jerusalem (Ezekiel 40.2; 45.1-8), depicted in the New Testament as a heavenly Temple in Hebrews 9.11, 24; 10.19-22 and regularly in Revelation. The heavenly was being explained in terms of the earthly.
This is but the beginning of the list of those who are seen as responding to the people of God and the new Temple of God. It first looks to the east, to the fabled wealth of Arab and related nations, the travellers of the highway who trade and bring prosperity. Midian are regularly found south and east of Palestine, and were infamous for their subjugation of Israel in the days of Gideon, something of which Isaiah was very much aware (9.4; 10.26; Judges 6). Now they themselves will come in subjection and worship, bringing their wealth with them. Ephah were east of the Persian Gulf, north east of Palestine. The combination with Midian would suggest inter-reaction between them as fellow trading nations. Sheba in the south east was famous as the place from which the Queen of Sheba came to Solomon in all his splendour, and was fabled for its wealth (1 Kings 10). Kedar in the east was renowned for wealth (21.16-17; 42.11). Nebaioth are named together with Kedar in Assyrian records and may be the ancestors of the later Nabataeans.
And these will flock on their camels to ‘Zion’ in all its mysterious splendour bringing their riches there so as to present them before Yahweh, and telling of the triumphs of Yahweh as they speak of the wonderful things He is doing in men’s lives, ‘good news of the praises of Yahweh’. These travelling men were regularly those who carried good news (and bad news) from nation to nation. And they will bring of the abundance of their flocks and rams for offerings to Yahweh in His temple, and there those offerings will be acceptable to Him, a sign of the acceptability of those who brought them. And thus the house that contains His glory will be glorified and beautified.
The picture is one of triumph for Yahweh’s new Temple, seen as now standing, and therefore of triumph for Yahweh, and compares with 2.2-4 as the nations stream to His house. It should certainly be seen in that context, as depicting something beyond present reality, and the same may be seen as applying here.
How then is this to be fulfilled? Firstly, as we have already seen, it was fulfilled through the returnees from the Exile loaded with Babylonian and Persian gold (Ezra 1.4-11; 6.3-5, 8-9; 7.15-22; 8.25-30, 33-34) and what they were to receive out of the tribute of the nations (Ezra 6.8; 7.21-22) and through wealth that flowed in during the more successful times of the Maccabees, to say nothing of what flowed in when Herod built his massive Temple. Many Jews, remembering this, saw it as something that would be fulfilled when the Messiah came and defeated their enemies and brought them in subjection to Israel. But they had not noted the nuances of Isaiah. For this was being brought to the everlasting kingdom, that kingdom whose light is the light of God Himself.
Many Christians see it as to be literally fulfilled in what they call a Millennium. But no millennium is in mind here. It is something which is eternal (verses 20-21). Besides the thought of such an abundance of animal sacrifices (verse 7), if taken literally, hardly accords with the picture of the non-bloody world described in Isaiah 11.6-9, and as we have already seen, the idea of ‘Zion’ in Isaiah regularly goes beyond the earthly. These sacrifices surely rather represent the Holy Spirit’s way of indicating the spiritual sacrifices of the New Testament Christian church brought to the feet of Christ (Romans 12.1-2; 1 Peter 2.5; Hebrews 13.15), being here represented in Old Testament terms, (compare swords into ploughshares which we would have to modernise into tanks into tractors), together with their appropriating of the One great Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, made once for all, as the word of God went out to the Arab nations and many flocked to Christ in the centuries prior to their engulfment by Islam (after the light came the darkness), so that they gave their response to the heavenly temple as true worshippers of God. And finally it points to our eternal worship in heaven, and in the new heaven and the new earth, as we offer up to God our worship. The point being made is that they will make provision for the full worship of God in accordance with all that He requires. (It should be noted that in 65.25 the non-bloodiness of Zion is specifically referred to).
Eyes now turn to the west, to the nations across the seas. The picture of ‘flying as the clouds’, and like white doves to their dovecotes, probably depicts the white billowing sails of the ships coming from far. Although the thought may be of the speed and freedom of movement of the clouds and the doves. The peoples of those nations, and the great ships of Tarshish (the largest ships of the day, the great ore carriers of the Phoenicians) will wait on Yahweh ready to bring back His people to Him, loaded with wealth. And it will all be for the honour of Yahweh and the glorifying of His name, and for the sake of the Holy One of Israel Who has glorified His true people.
Thus both east and west will in the future seek God, the only God, through the ministry of His people because the glory of Yahweh has risen on them (verses 1-2). And the result will be that large numbers are added to the people of God from nations worldwide.
The continual emphasis on wealth has a twofold purpose. Firstly it reveals the true dedication of those who bring it. It is not brought to Israel, but to Yahweh. If we come to Christ without bringing Him all our wealth our coming is in vain, as the rich young ruler sadly discovered (Mark 10.17-23). But the wealth is not a means of obtaining salvation. It is the gift of grateful hearts because of His grace freely bestowed (compare the woman who gave because she loved much (Luke 7.47)). And secondly it was a picture of richness of blessing for His people. It is a way of depicting fullness of blessing. (Once, however, the sinful human heart got to work on it men began to dream of great wealth for themselves. Rather than thinking of the glory of God they thought only in terms of personal aggrandisement, something which could only be detrimental to them).
These words are addressed to Zion as the city of God where Yahweh dwells in His Temple on Mount Zion. They depict God’s final victory. All eyes are on Him and His service. The aim is not the aggrandisement of the people but of Yahweh. The aim is the worldwide impact of His glory and His word. And that is what all will seek. All who respond to Him will partake of Hi future glory.
‘And strangers will build up your walls, and their kings will minister to you.’ There is a contrast here with nations knocking down its walls. Instead of alien nations coming to batter down Zion’s walls, they will come as its servants to build them because they will want to glorify Yahweh. For this building of the walls compare Psalm 51.18; 147.2, in both of which examples it is an example of care for their wellbeing. God’s people will watch in wonder as (uncircumcised, contrast 52.1) nations and kings come to serve Yahweh (compare 56.6 where the same verb is used) and see to the welfare of Zion. Instead of war there will be peace, and all will seek to uphold that peace. This picture is on a par with 19.23-25. Even today we are building up the walls of Zion as we win men and women to have their part in the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21-22).
Earlier Isaiah has stated that the stranger who has joined himself to Yahweh will have equal part in the worship of Yahweh (56.3-8). We are probably therefore justified in seeing these strangers as such worshippers, for the building of the walls is in order to ensure the peace and safety of the city, part of their service for Yahweh. Thus the thought is that ‘strangers’ and their kings have been conjoined with Yahweh, and with the people of God in the city of God, and share with them the task of ensuring the safety of the city and of the service of Yahweh. Here we have God’s universal people described. They have become one with Zion, and they are building up God’s new city, God’s people (compare Revelation 21.2).
In contrast in Ezekiel the cities are unwalled (Ezekiel 38.11), but that too is in order to depict that they are protected by God. There is only a contradiction here if we require slavish literalness. In neither case are the prophets interested in architecture. They are concerned with picturing a city of His people trusting in God and under full protection by God and the details are not important. (The walls and lack of walls are not literal in either case. Paradoxically in both cases they emphasise the security of the city but in different ways).
‘For in my wrath I smote you, but in my favour I have had mercy on you.’ And this will be because Yahweh has revealed His favour towards His chosen place which reflects His elect people. Having first had to smite them in His wrath, as previously described by Isaiah, He is now revealing His mercy and grace, and multiplying them as He promised (54.2-5).
‘Your gates will be open continually, they will not be shut, day nor night, that men may bring to you the wealth of the nations, and their kings led along. For that nation and kingdom that will not serve you will perish. Yes, those nations will be utterly wasted.’ Indeed the gates of Zion will be constantly open so that the wealth of the nations may pour in both day and night, and their kings will come in submission, whether gladly or otherwise. This also indicates the perfect safety of the city (compare Revelation 21.24-27). It has no need to close the gates for it is protected by Yahweh, and they need to be constantly open because of the fullness of God’s provision. There will be a constant stream of traffic. Alternately it may signify the armies of the nations and their kings brought in as captives. For all nations will serve God and His true people on pain of perishing, under the threat of being totally wasted if they do not. This last punishment clearly results from the failure of their attitude towards God, and only secondarily of their attitude towards Israel, which latter is heinous because they are God’s representatives.
The wealth of the nations is not, however, coming in order to make the people rich (that was the mistake made in some later interpretations). It is coming to the city of God in order to be offered to Him. All submission and homage will be to Him and to His anointed King. It is tribute to Him. It is His wealth. Yet that His people will enjoy the ‘benefits’ is also apparent, although it will be all His true people, not just those ‘homeborn’.
‘Their kings led along.’ This could be as captives, with the peoples ensuring the submission of their kings, or it could be because they are led along by their people in triumphant procession because they are welcome there. Either way the kings are seen as coming to Yahweh, bringing not danger, but submission and worship.
‘That nation and kingdom that will not serve you will perish. Yes, those nations will be utterly wasted.’ The basic principle is that those nations and kingdoms who do not contribute to the welfare of God’s Zion, and do not submit themselves to Him, will be destroyed. Again we are reminded that this Zion is the place where God is worshipped, and where He has gathered His people, and to which the nations have streamed in response to the word of God, and where His king rules (2.2-4). Here it is loyalty to Yahweh that is in question not the physical benefit of an earthly city. The only way the prophets had of depicting Heaven and the new Heaven and the new earth in meaningful terms was in terms of this ideal Jerusalem.
It should be apparent to the reader that we have depicted in all this, from verse 5 onwards, a picture of the ideal world of the future as it would be seen by people in Isaiah’s time. As they surveyed the past and how they had suffered, this was what they longed for life to be like. It is, of course, an ideal picture. It is therefore declaring that God will give to His people the ideal existence. It has finally in mind the heavenly everlasting kingdom.
We may see as a comparison how ‘the whole world’ came to Solomon in Jerusalem (1 Kings 10.24) seeking his wisdom. That was a fore-glimpse of this picture. It was he who received the tribute, the people shared in his reflected glory. It was to him that every knee bowed. So here it is to Zion as the Servant that the peoples come in obeisance, bringing their wealth. They are coming in submission to Yahweh and His great representative.
That great blessing would come to the people of God as a result of all this is apparent. But the emphasis here is to be seen as on Zion as the city of God. Once Israel began to see it as referring to themselves as a nation the idea became dangerous. It was one thing to see themselves as enjoying, along with all His people, part of the benefit from what was brought to Yahweh, coming to them as part of His gracious blessing. It was another when they began to think of the Gentiles as submitting to them and making them rich. The tendency would then be for them to become overbearing, arrogant, unbearable, and tyrannical. The danger would be that what was intended to uplift their hearts, and make them grateful, and fill them with a worshipful spirit, could in the end, if wrongly interpreted, make them unbearable. Such hopes and aspirations would be the exact opposite of the teaching of Jesus and of the New Testament, and indeed of the Old Testament as well where the poor, and meek and contrite are praised. Thus literal fulfilment simply to Zion as a people amassing wealth for themselves and being treated as masters would go contrary to the whole moral basis of Scripture. But once seen as submission to God going along with spiritual blessings poured out on God’s people, followed by fulfilment in the perfect state once man has been perfected at the resurrection, it ceases to do so and becomes reasonable, acceptable and desirable.
The point here is that just as Solomon’s Temple was built from the trees of Lebanon so will it be again. But this time the providers will come gladly because of their love for Yahweh. There will be no charge for the supply here, and they will provide the very finest. The desire of all will be to make God’s dwellingplace beautiful and glorious, for it is His holy place, the place where He puts His feet (His footstool). It is His place of contact with man (compare Psalm 99.1; 132.7; Isaiah 66.1; Lamentations 2.1).
This may partly be seen as partly fulfilled in the building of the Second Temple and of Herod’s Temple in all their glory, for both of which timber flowed in from the Lebanon making the place of His Sanctuary beautiful (see Ezra 3.7), but it goes on to express the idea of the Temple of His people, built up of all that is precious (1 Corinthians 3.10-16) and the final idea lies in the Sanctuary of the heavenly kingdom which will be blessed in the wholehearted worship of His people, founded on the Apostles and prophets, and built up from His people (Ephesians 2.12-22; Revelation 21). There will be no Temple there for YHWH Himself will be its Temple (Revelation 21.22). It will, however, be His sanctuary, the place of His holiness..
The trees are not strictly identifiable although the general idea of what they were is known. They were the trees of Palestine and Lebanon, not of Babylon.
Again we note that the subservience is due to what the city is in relation to Yahweh (but compare 49.23 where the point is that those who had demanded their obeisance would now bow down to them. However, it is reasonable to assume that this is because of the status they will have as priests of Yahweh, see 61.6-7). It is because it is the place where Yahweh is that they will bow down, so in reality it is before Yahweh that they will bow down in order to receive His verdict on them. The oppressors, those who have badly treated God’s people, will find themselves called to account. But those who are there, who have borne their suffering because they were His people, will have the satisfaction of seeing their former oppressors having to submit to God, the Holy One, and having to yield before the heavenly existence of the people of God (compare 45.23; 49.23). All rebellion will be over and God will be all in all.
This new Zion, once forsaken and hated and avoided by men, will be given everlasting excellency, it will be the joy of the people of many generations. The nations and kings will see that it is amply supplied with nourishment and with good things. There may also be the suggestion that its very inhabitants will be fed by nations and by kings for they will know that Yahweh is their Saviour and Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.
This Jerusalem represents the centre where God is seen to be with His Servant, and includes the purified remnant who remain after God’s judgments as described earlier in the book, the people who as a result of God’s active grace have sought His face and found forgiveness and mercy (57.17-19). And as we have seen above and elsewhere they include among them people from many nations, ‘strangers’. It represents the faithful in Israel. It includes all who have responded to Yahweh. And it must include all who have been raised from the dust (26.19). It represents all those incorporated into the Israel of God from wherever they come (Galatians 6.16). Thus it portrays the called out and chosen people of God through many generations (Galatians 4.26,31; Hebrews 12.22), both the old and New Testament churches. It is the multitude which no man can number (Revelation 7.9).
‘You will also suck the milk of the nations, and you will suck the breast of kings.’ here is a clear example that Isaiah is not speaking literally. They would not get much milk from the breasts of kings! But the idea is of maternal care and provision which they will enjoy from nations and kings, including the cup of cold water in His name, as all become one with God and with His people. This may partly represent care from those who have conjoined with them in the new Israel, as the Gentiles flock to Christ. We may compare here ‘the collection’ made by the people of God around the world for the Christians in Jerusalem and Judea (1 Corinthians 16.1; 2 Corinthians 8-9). Or it may represent the care of God’s chosen ones by some of the outer world whose hearts He would move. God’s people were not always to be persecuted, there would be times of refreshing and even acceptance by kings and their people.
Note that He is ‘the Mighty One of Jacob’, which certainly expresses His great power, possibly in contrast with the weakness of His people (‘you worm Jacob’ - 41.14), or there may be the hint behind this title of the fact that they are Jacob His chosen, and not Esau the rejected (see 63.1-6; compare Malachi 1.2-3).
The catalogue of perfection for the new Jerusalem continues. Gold and silver instead of bronze and iron; bronze and iron instead of wood and stones. All will be better than it has ever been before. Peace will be its overseers and righteousness its exactors, that is it will be controlled in all things by peace and righteousness, and as they enjoy and delight in both of these, their ‘subjection’ will be their joy.
There will be no more violence, no more desolation, no more destruction. All the forces of disorder and chaos will be gone. They will be guarded by the walls of salvation, and shut in by the gates of praise (compare 26.1-4). Peace, righteousness, salvation and praise will be their inheritance. A wondrous city indeed is this.
If we had any doubts previously that this Zion is finally not earthly but heavenly it is made clear here. They will have no need of sun or moon (Revelation 21.23) for Yahweh will their everlasting light, and their God will be their glory (Revelation 22.5). He will be their sun and their moon, thus the lights of sun and moon will no more go down or in some way hide themselves. There will always be light, for Yahweh Himself will be their everlasting light, and all their days of mourning will be over. The new earth that Isaiah envisages is nothing like any previous earth.
(Such a world of continual everlasting light will be fine for those who have been raised with spiritual bodies, but would hardly suit those who have to sleep and are unable to do so because of the radiance of the light. This description has to be idealistic, not realistic).
In the old world the sun and moon ruled day and night and determined times and seasons. But now God has replaced both sun and moon. All is now determined by Him. There will be everlasting light from Him, all that is needed for the heart of man. And there will be no more sorrows and no more tears (Revelation 20.4). The picture is again one of perfection. Instead of depending on creaturely supply, all we need will come directly from the Source of all things.
‘For Yahweh will be your everlasting light.’ In this is summed up Yahweh’s blessing on His people. They will dwell in ‘Zion’ and His light on them will be everlasting. No more cloud to hide Him, no more sin and darkness, no more dependency on the vagaries of earthly weather. The light will be permanent and complete (see Revelation 21.23-24).
And this will be reflected in the people. They will be righteous, all of them. They will be the branch which He has planted, the work of His hands. Compare for the branch 11.1 and John 15.1-6. They are the branches that come from the Branch. And they will inherit the everlasting land for ever. All with a view to Yahweh’s glory. Even the smallest planting will become a thousand, the tiniest will become a strong nation. It is a picture of fruitfulness and blessing, the Israelite ideal. And Yahweh will hasten this on once the set time comes.
So as we come to the end of this description of the future of God’s ‘Jerusalem’, of that ‘portion’ which He has set apart for Himself and which He has peopled with His own people, of that which sums up the future of His true people through the ages, culminating in the everlasting glory, we have Isaiah’s picture of the ideal future. We see in it his attempt, in the light of the limitations of his day, to portray the eternal triumph and the eternal glory. But Who will bring all this about? The answer is found in ‘the Anointed One’.
Chapter 61 The Anointed One.
The first question to be asked as we open this chapter is as to the identity of the Anointed One. Some consider it to be the prophet who wrote these words, but the precedent of the earlier part of the book points to this being another description of a coming great figure like the Servant in 50.4-9. Compare also 9.6-7; 11.1-4; 42.1-4; 49.1-6. In both 50.4-9 and 49.1-6 the Servant speaks in the first person, speaking out of the blue as here, and in 50.4, 5, 7, 9 the same divine title as here is used, ‘the Lord Yahweh’. There is thus close connection with 50.4-9. And this view is supported by the message that it contains, and the message which follows, which look forward, as the whole book has mainly done, to God’s future activity in and on behalf of His people. This latter interpretation was accepted by Jesus Who applied these verses to Himself (Luke 4.16-21).
And the rise of the Anointed One will result in the restoration of God’s people (verse 4), and ministry to the nations by them (verse 5-6), and in their permanent witness to God’s blessings to them (verses 9, 11). And the chapter ends with the Anointed One clothed in salvation and righteousness so that He can dispense them to His seed.
The Anointed One Declares His Mission (61.1-4).
We have here the abrupt change of person so typical in the passages about the Servant (42.1-4; 49.1-6; 50.3-8; 52.13-53.12). At one moment Zion is being addressed, and then in the midst of it comes the voice of one who serves God.
The One described here is God’s Anointed. This can be contrasted with Cyrus in 45.1. There Cyrus was the anointed of Yahweh, because Yahweh had set him aside for a certain task, but there is no mention of the Spirit there, for in Isaiah the Spirit only ever comes in a good sense on those Who are truly His and have a central task to perform in the final course of the salvation history (11.2; 28.6; 42.1; 59.21; see also 32.15; 44.3). The Spirit comes in directly to frustrate the enemies of God (59.19).
Here the majesty of the Spirit is brought out. He is the Spirit of the sovereign Lord Yahweh, and it is the sovereign Lord Yahweh Who will act directly and personally through Him. And the Spirit-endowed One is so endowed because Yahweh has anointed Him for a special task, to be a preacher (50.4-9), a healer of the spirit (42.7), a deliverer (11.1-4; 42.1-6; 49.1-6) and a proclaimer of God’s final purposes, not final in respect of what some call ‘the end times’, but final in the sense that once God begins to act mightily through His Spirit nothing can stop the purposes that then begin from going onwards until God’s purposes are complete (55.10-11), (though it may take a thousand years and more). Thus He is both Servant and King.
The task He has been set is manifold. As a Teacher He is to be a preacher of good tidings to the poor and meek, those too weak to help themselves (50.4-5; 52.7), as a spiritual Counsellor (9.6) He is to bind up the broken-hearted (57.15; Psalm 51.9), as a Redeemer (59.20-21) He is to proclaim freedom to those who are captive (42.7, compare Leviticus 25.10; Jeremiah 34.8-10 where it is related to the Year of Yubile, that year when all who were oppressed or in bondage were released), and the opening of the prison gates to those who are bound (42.7), and will proclaim Yahweh’s year of deliverance (59.20-21), and as the Mighty Warrior He will come with vengeance on those who rebel against God (59.17-19; 63.1-6). And while He exacts His vengeance He will comfort all who mourn over their sins as a Wonderful Counsellor (9.6).
Note the process of restoration. The poor and meek were those whom men disregarded, but it is they whom He will lift up (Matthew 5.3, 5). Broken-heartedness covers a variety of attitudes and situations for the heart was considered to be the very root of a man’s life. It covers grief, despair, misery, hopelessness, man without a future. But he will receive his future from God through the Anointed One.
For the captive and the prisoner life was over. They were no longer free to enjoy all that life had to offer. They were in subjection. But for them would come deliverance through Him. Those who mourned were those who were aware of loss and despair. They will be comforted (Matthew 5.4). It is to man in his weakness and helplessness that the Anointed One has come.
It is significant that when Jesus quoted these words He closed the book after the words, ‘the acceptable year of Yahweh’. By this He made clear that the prophecy was to be fulfilled in stages. The work of deliverance and restoration had begun. the completion of His task would come later. Not all would occur at once (Luke 4.16-21).
‘The Lord Yahweh.’ This title is fairly rare in the second part of the book, but it begins and ends this chapter. It is a title of sovereignty. The Lord Yahweh is the One Who will come to establish His sovereign rule (40.10); He is the One Who with His Spirit sent the Servant to his task (48.16); He is the One Who will command the nations and gather His people (49.22; 56.8); He is the One Who will train and sustain His Servant (50.4-9); He is the One who will deliver and redeem His people from all oppression (52.3-6); He is the One Who here endows His Anointed One for His task and will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all nations (61.1, 11); and He is the One Who will bring judgment on those who forsake Him and blessing on those who respond to Him (65.13-15).
‘The acceptable year of Yahweh’ or ‘year of Yahweh’s favour (acceptance)’. Compare 49.8 where ‘the acceptable time’ is linked with the work of the Servant, and 60.7 where the nations who come are received as ‘acceptable’ in their offerings to Yahweh. It is the year in which Yahweh comes with the offer of acceptance, the offer of His grace and favour. The use of ‘year’ may be seen as confirming connection with the year of Yubile. It is the period of deliverance and new freedom. The contrast with ‘day’ might also suggest a longer period is in mind, with the period of restoration and deliverance brought about by the favour of God being followed by the final, shorter period of vengeance.
His task is to transform the lives and experiences of God’s own true people. He will bring about their transformation from mourning and weeping to total joy. The ashes (’pr) of mourning smeared on the head will be replaced by the garland crown (p’r) of rejoicing. Men put ashes on themselves when they wished to demonstrate their total misery and despair. They put garland crowns on themselves or others when they wished to express happiness and rejoicing. The Anointed One will remove the ashes of mourning and replace them with a garland crown of rejoicing.
Mourning will be replaced by the application of the oil of joy. When in mourning men had no regard for their appearance, but once their balance was restored they would anoint themselves with oil so that they could appear before the world in full respectability.
For the spirit of heaviness and dullness we may compare the use of the same root in the ‘dimly burning wick’ (42.3). It is man at his lowest. It will be replaced by the garment of praise. They will be lifted from their state of misery and dejection, in which they are spiritually naked, to being fully clothed as expressed in praise and worship and contentment. We might see in the background the dejected Adam and Eve, bowed down by being caught in sin and found naked before God, and then being clothed by God so that they were once more acceptable to Him and gave Him glad praise (Genesis 3.21).
His people will become mighty trees of righteousness, those who have been planted by Yahweh to represent Him and fulfil His work and do His will, and to bring glory to His name. Large trees were seen as the product of many decades. They took a long time to grow. As such they were much treasured and carefully protected. Even the enemy, apart from the unconcerned and uncaring, the vindictive nations like Assyria, would seek not to harm the trees, for they were the future for whoever dwelt in the land. Thus God’s own are to be like mighty trees, planted by Him, firmly established, permanent, a testimony to the glory of God.
The ‘naming’ of them as ‘trees of righteousness’ indicates a new beginning. A new name was regularly given to depict a new beginning (compare Genesis 17.5-6; 32.27-28). The ‘large trees of righteousness’ are probably to be contrasted with the large trees in the gardens of idolatry (1.29; 57.5), the latter replaced by those of God’s planting. The world will finally not to look to false religion but to His people.
The picture is one of total restoration. Nothing will be left waste, nothing will remain desolate. Centuries of devastation will be restored. All will be made perfect. All man’s destructive work will be put right. The thought is of much work to be done in order to establish God’s righteous kingdom, put here in physical terms because it was the only way in which his hearers could conceive of it. It is not without significance that the New Testament regularly depicts God’s people as builders (Matthew 7.24; Romans 15.20;1 Corinthians 3.9-10; Ephesians 2.20-22; Colossians 2.7; 1 Peter 2.5; Jude 1.20). And they have continued building through the ages and will continue to do so until the final brick is in place.
Isaiah Adds His Words to Those of the Anointed One (61.5-7a).
It is not always clear in this chapter who is speaking. In verses 1-3 and probably 4 it is the Anointed One. In verse 8 it is Yahweh. But otherwise we have to choose between the Spirit inspired Isaiah or God Himself. ‘Our God’ in verse 6 points in that section to Isaiah. Perhaps we may see the change from third person to second person, and back again as determining the distinction.
The picture switches from building to ministry. It is now a picture of God’s people, released from the mundane that they might serve Yahweh. That this includes some from among the nations who have united themselves with Israel comes out in 66.21. God’s true people are to be priests to the nations (Exodus 19.5-6). As a result of the work of the Anointed One, other peoples will look after mundane things, the feeding of flocks, the ploughing of fields, the dressing of vines, but His people will concentrate their efforts on ministering to all men in His name. It is the attitude of mind that is primary. The whole of the efforts of God’s people are to be concentrated on serving Him in worship and praise and in ministering to the nations.
And from the nations they will receive their tithes, their portion from the wealth of the nations. And they will take great pride in the progress of the nations towards glory. The ministry of the Good News of the Gospel (compare verse 1) is here very much in mind as Jesus, the true vine (John 15.1), and the new Israel of God, built on the foundation of the Apostles, went out to the world with the news of God’s salvation, receiving help and support from those who were not themselves the people of God, but were potentially so. And some becoming so, would also bring their wealth with them. So God will even make nations that are not His own, assist with the work of the people of God. The contrast is with the nations who in the past had come for the sole reason of bringing God’s people into subjection.
As Isaiah looked into the future under God’s inspiration he foresaw many things which he sought to put in understandable terms to the people of his day. As we have seen in past chapters he foresaw God’s judgment on those who saw themselves as His people, a judgment because of their sins, he foresaw a purified remnant who would come through as His true people, he foresaw many from the nations who would join themselves with, and become one with, the people of God (consider 66.21), and he foresaw that God would use even the unconverted of the nations to bring about His purposes for His people. Many of these ideas are being expressed here from the perspective of Israel’s way of thinking.
Note the change from third person to second person, possibly indicating that two prophecies have been brought together. Note the sudden change back to the third person in 61.7. But the change may be simply a literary one for the purpose of a special emphasis of the passage to his hearers, or for the purpose of different emphases when reading aloud.
They had experienced shame and confusion. But in the future those who are His true people will, instead of shame, have a double portion of blessing. Instead of confusion they will rejoice in what God has allotted to them (compare 45.7). Yes, in the land of their inheritance they will have ‘double’ what was theirs before, that is an abundant excess, and they will have everlasting joy (a constant theme of Isaiah, compare 35.10; 51.11). The idea is one of a perfect future arising out of their suffering when God will triumph
That this is not to be applied literally comes out in the use of everlasting. No land will be everlasting except the new heaven and the new earth. Thus ‘their land’ here must refer to that new earth. Isaiah’s conception is constantly of the ‘everlasting’, a problem which has to be explained away by those who seek to literalise everything. Isaiah was seeing into the everlasting future, not some future earthly kingdom that could only pass away.
We must constantly keep in mind that as Isaiah looks ahead he is restricted to what his hearers can understand. They see the future in terms of a world that goes on and on in the same way. Thus the everlasting future is depicted in earthly terms, and its perfection in those terms. They had no conception of a spiritual future. The idea of ‘Heaven’ would have been meaningless. (We may think we have better understanding but our view of ‘Heaven’ is also grossly misrepresentative. Literally speaking Heaven is beyond our comprehension). They had no other way of describing it. It is the great, perfect, Promised Land, the new Jerusalem, lasting for ever. Even the resurrection was seen as being a resurrection into the promised land (26.19).
By now it is Yahweh Himself Who is speaking. All that has been described must be so because God is determined to produce a world in accordance with His desires, a world of justice, honesty and truth. He is the One Who loves true justice, both official and personal, and will therefore bring it about. ‘Robbery’ here is contrasted with compensation and would thus seem to indicate robbery of blessings from those who deserve them. It sees all injustice and unjust gain as robbery.
‘Robbery with (in) a burnt offering.’ This directly contrasts with ‘recompense in truth’. It may be speaking of the hypocrisy of those who rob God’s true people, or even are generally deceitful and dishonest, and then blatantly and hypocritically offer tongue-in-cheek offerings to God thinking that it will make everything right. They have a mechanical view of the process of forgiveness which is not valid, forgetting that no religious rite can benefit a man if his heart is wrong, for when a man offers an offering God first looks at his heart. Or it may simply signify that God hates those who blatantly sin and at the same time pretend to be genuinely godly. They thus live a lie, and their offering is a lie, for it purports to be a whole offering of the person while they are in fact withholding themselves from God. As Jesus Himself said, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6.46).
But to His true people, who reveal what they are by their righteous living, He gives ‘recompense in truth’. ‘Recompense’ means reward for work and then the giving of what is due. This may be translated as either ‘true recompense’, a full and satisfactory recompense, or ‘recompense because they come in truth’, i.e. because they come with true hearts in contrast with those who offer offerings while engaging in dishonesty. Those who love justice as He loves it will receive their due reward.
‘And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, and their seed will be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge them, that they are the seed which Yahweh has blessed.’ God’s promise to His own continues. With those who come in truth He will make His everlasting covenant which will guarantee their recognition as the people of God in the eyes of the nations. Their seed will be known among the nations as the seed which Yahweh has blessed (see especially 59.21 compare also 54.10; 55.3). In the end all will see their quality of life and being and have to recognise them for what they are and admit that they are truly God’s people. Note the emphasis on seed and compare 41.8; 53.10. These described are the true seed of Abraham, and the seed of the true Servant.
The Anointed One Is Clothed Suitably For His Task (61.10-11).
Again we have the sudden change of person. The Anointed One now describes His joy in God. The thought of Yahweh takes over His heart. And this is because of the glorious task that He has had assigned to Him. In 59.17-18 the Mighty Warrior put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head, but now He does not go forward to do battle, but in order to produce fruitfulness. For this He clothes Himself with priestly garments of salvation, including the priest’s head-dress, and covers Himself with a robe of righteousness like a bride decking herself with jewels. They are the same basic attributes but worn in a totally different situation, a time of priestly activity and celebration instead of in a time of battle. He is at the equivalent of a wedding feast, clothed ready for the final sealing of the everlasting covenant at the covenant ceremony, accomplished through His priestly ministration (compare Revelation 19.7-9; 21.2).
‘As a bridegroom dons as a priest His head-dress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.’ The Anointed One likens Himself to a priestly bridegroom. He is priest to His people, and loves them. He also likens Himself to the bride wearing her jewels. He is suitably clothed for His purpose. It is salvation that is represented by His priestly head-dress, and righteousness that is represented by His jewels. It is clear that as a Priest the salvation is blood bought, tying in with chapter 53, and that as a bride it is based on righteousness.
So the Anointed One knows that salvation for His own is still a necessity and righteousness must be at the root of it all, but now both have been accomplished and made available. Being clothed in salvation and righteousness indicates that He has been given both to dispense as He wills. Rights in them are now provided to Him for Him to pass on. The righteous Servant can as a result of His own sacrifice of Himself make many to be accounted righteous (53.11) and can finalise His deliverance to His seed (53.10) in accordance with Yahweh’s will.
It is to be like a new beginning, the buds breaking forth, the garden vegetation blooming, as the sovereign Lord Yahweh causes righteousness and praise to spring forth before the nations. In view of what is said earlier we may connect this with the general pouring out of the Spirit on His own true people (32.15; 44.1-5) in which He reveals His sovereignty, and on the bringing of light to the Gentiles (42.6; 49.6). Thus the nations beholding His people, both Israelites and Gentiles, recognise that they have been first accounted righteous and then made righteous, and give praise to Yahweh on their behalf. It is noteworthy that whereas here the picture of the bridegroom is connected with the Anointed One, in 62.5 it is connected with Yahweh Himself.
Alternately we might see verse 10-11 as spoken by the redeemed through the mouth of Isaiah, as he rejoices in God’s provision for him. God has taken away his filthy rags (64.6) and replaced them with the garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness. Thus instead of misery he has the joy of his coming union with God, and can look forward to the revivifying of God’s people as righteousness and praise spring forth before all nations.
Chapter 62 The Anointed One Will Guarantee the Future of God’s True People.
The first question raised by this chapter is again as to who is speaking. Is it the Anointed One, or the prophet himself, or is it Yahweh? While it is not unknown for God to speak of Himself in the third person, the constant reference to Him here might be seen as against seeing Him as the speaker. However the urgency of the situation and the suggested nearness of God acting point beyond Isaiah. Isaiah knows that there are judgments to come before that time can draw near. Thus we are probably to see here words of the Anointed One in verses 1-5. The remainder of the chapter probably refers to the activity and cry of Isaiah.
The Anointed One Announcing Blessing On Zion (62.1-5).
The Anointed One promises His continued activity on behalf of God’s people in their association with Zion (see note on 59.20) so that they may be a true witness to God and enjoy Yahweh’s favour. Here the idea of Zion (60) and the idea of the Anointed One (61) are combined. The Anointed One has come in order to establish Zion.
The Anointed One first declares His intentions to bring home the concept of Zion to the nations. He will not rest until the nations know that Yahweh is there, reigning in glory among His true people. He will not rest until they see the glory of the Zion that is calling to them. Then He declares to them the certain fulfilment of what He will accomplish. His central purpose is the establishment of all that Zion means (see notes on 59.20; 60 introduction), and He will not cease His endeavours or give Himself rest until all His people are a shining witness of the effectiveness of His work; until all see their righteousness shining out (Matthew 5.16) and all behold their salvation which will be like a burning lamp.
‘For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace.’ The verb can refer to action rather than words (see Judges 18.9; Psalm 107.29), which would then parallel the second line. Alternately it may indicate the determined nature of His teaching, or the equally determined nature of His intercession on His people’s behalf (compare verse 6). He cannot rest until His words have been successful (compare 61.1-2; 42.3-4; 50.4) on behalf of His people. Here Zion and Jerusalem are used to denote the purified, faithful Israel, but in the whole context of God’s presence with them and among them.
‘Until her righteousness goes forth as vivid brightness, and her salvation as a lamp which burns.’ Once again salvation and righteousness are paramount. Both go together. There can be no salvation until they are accounted righteous, and that can only be through that salvation. Both go forward hand in hand. Then once righteousness has been imputed (53.11; 4.3) and imparted it will be like a shining brightness, a vivid brightness before them. They will be a fit witness to the glory of Yahweh. Their lights will shine out before men who will see their good works and glorify their Father Who is in Heaven (Matthew 5.16). The consequences of their deliverance and salvation will also be a burning light, in a similar way to the lives of men like John the Baptiser (John 5.35). The basic thought is of a world in darkness, unable to see, until the brightness of the light shines on them out of the darkness, revealed in the purity of life of God’s people.
‘And the nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory, and you will be called by a new name, which the mouth of Yahweh will name.’ Such will be the brightness of their lives that nations and kings will see and wonder, and there will be given to them a new name depicting the glorious change that has occurred in them, a name given to them by Yahweh. For so wonderful will be their transformation that only Yahweh can provide the name. They will be His workmanship. The giving of a new name indicates total transformation. They will be those named by Yahweh (as Peter was named by Jesus as the rock-man).
The giving of such a new name is a theme of Revelation (3.12; 19.13, 16; 22.4). Indeed John took up the themes of Isaiah in his contrast of Christ named as King of Kings (Revelation 19.16) and Babylon named as the Mother of Harlots (Revelation 17.5).
All this was what Jesus claimed to have come to accomplish. He came as the light of the world that men who followed Him might not walk in darkness but have the light of life (John 8.12), that they might become ‘sons of light’ (John 12.36; 1 Thessalonians 5.5), that they too might be the light of the world (Matthew 5.14 compare Ephesians 5.8; Colossians 1.12).
Here the total transformation is described. God’s people will also become a royal crown of beauty in Yahweh’s hand. It is not on His head because that would depict that royal authority belongs to His people, it is in His hand because they are under His care and protection, because it shows that they are His own private possession, and because it represents the royal worth and dignity that is theirs. The thought may also be that He has fashioned it with His own hands.
In the past they have been Forsaken and Desolate, but this will be so no longer, for instead they will be called My Delight Is In Her (hephzibah - in contrast to forsaken) and Married (beulah - in contrast to desolate). When God’s true people feel forsaken and desolate they can take comfort in these words, that in their new state they are those in whom God delights and who are bound to Him by the closest of ties.
Indeed Zion may be sure that it is Yahweh Who delights in her, and that she will be married both to her many sons, (indicating the profusion of future blessing and the fact that her ‘children’ will acknowledge her as a faithful virgin), and to Yahweh Who is her heavenly bridegroom. Her purity is recognised by both man and God.
While the illustration of the sons marrying a virgin mother is hardly realistic literally, its point is clear. Zion will have become pure and her sons, her people, will recognise the fact and join with her purity. Her children will be pure in all respects and in all relationships. But of far greater import is it that Yahweh also will delight in her and rejoice over her like a bridegroom to a bride.
Note the use of the name Hephzibah. That was the name of Manasseh’s mother and may point therefore to a date in his reign for this prophecy as Isaiah uses a well known name to illustrate his point..
Isaiah Calls On His Followers To Be Watchmen And Preparers of the Way (62.6-12).
These words probably to be seen as the words of Isaiah, although they could till be the words of the Anointed One. Both Isaiah and the Anointed One would seek to inspire God’s people to pray.
The Appointment of Watchmen (62.6-9).
Isaiah calls on the true people of God to constant intercession. He has set them as watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem, perhaps literally. But ‘watchmen’ could also be translated ‘guardians’. Either way they are to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5.17; Luke 18.7-8). (A by-product to this would therefore be the assumption that the walls of Jerusalem are still standing, but Isaiah is not necessarily speaking literally). And they are to intercede unceasingly day and night until it is turned into the true city of God which brings praise to the earth.
This is in fact the basis of the Lord’s Prayer. May your name be hallowed (by the bringing about of Your purposes - Ezekiel 36.23), may your Kingly Rule come, may Your will be done. This should be the daily burden of the churches.
In this last section of Isaiah, from the coming of the Redeemer to Zion in 59.20 onwards, the people of God are regularly thought of in terms of Zion/Jerusalem. Thus the city is acting as a depiction of God’s people in their association with their God as present among them and reigning over them. It represents ‘those who turn from transgression in Jacob’ (59.12) who are now wrapped up in God. God’s concern is not that an earthly city become famous, but that what is depicted in terms of it, His glorious presence and His powerful reign, and the conjunction with Him of the whole true people of God as His priests and servants, should bring praise throughout the earth.
Note on the Use of Israel and Zion.
Both ‘Israel’ (1.3), and ‘the daughters of Zion’ (1.8), were introduced to us in chapter 1 as indicating the nominal people of God in the sad state that they were in, with Israel as the epitome of disobedience, while Zion itself was the harlot city (1.21) which was yet destined to be redeemed and filled with converts (1.26-27). A third alternative name is ‘Jacob’ (2.5). The names ‘Israel’ (and ‘Jacob’) necessarily connected them with their forefathers, but Zion is primarily the name in connection with the need for transformation. The idea of redemption is clearly connected with both, although with regard to ‘Israel’ only in 41-49. Outside those chapters it largely applies to Zion/Jerusalem (51.11; 52.3, 9; 59.20; 60.16) or is used without appellation.
In regard to this it will be noted that the most extreme language used in order to depict the sinfulness and degradation of the nominal people of God is applied to them as related to ‘Zion’ (1.21; 3.16-17; 4.4). Israel are disobedient, Zion is degraded.
With regard to the use of the terms from Chapter 40 onwards it can surely not be without significance and intention that after its continual use chapter by chapter, once the Servant has been stated to be the true ‘Israel’ in 49.1-6, committed to the restoring of wayward Israel, the use of ‘Israel as a direct designation ceases (it is almost solely afterwards used as a genitive and never as a direct designation of His people). Having been previously used in abundance, and in every chapter from 40-49, it is replaced by centring everything on Zion (49.14; 51.3, 11, 16; 52.1, 2, 7, 8 etc), or sometimes Jacob.
Part of the reason for this is the close connection of ‘Israel’ with ‘the Servant’. Israel are the seed of Abraham, and the Servant is the fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham. Once therefore ‘Israel’ has come to represent the Servant as one man (49.3) the name Israel as a designation for the many is dropped. Another reason is that redemption from degradation fits in better with the idea of Zion.
Against the background of the whole of heaven and earth it is now ‘Zion’ which epitomises Israel/Judah who are represented by it as ‘My people’ (51.16). Interestingly from chapter 52.13 onwards, when the Servant suffers for His people, until mention of His return as Redeemer ( 59.20), no designation is used, the people simply being connected with Jacob (58.1, 14). They are ‘the barren one’ (54.1). Then from 59.20 onwards, on the coming of the Redeemer, Zion is central, for Zion points to the everlasting future. It is destined to be the heavenly city, the everlasting city (60.19-21). In the thought of Isaiah Zion is to be Yahweh’s city, in which He makes known His presence among His people (24.23; 26.1-4; 2.2-4; 4.2-6), in contrast with the world city (24.10, 12; 26.5-6), the city of idolatry (47.8-13). But Zion is nowhere directly called ‘the Servant’. It represents the sinful city which becomes the dwellingplace of Yahweh among His redeemed people, and incorporates those redeemed people, thus fulfilling the witnessing task of the Servant.
End of Note.
‘You who are Yahweh’s remembrancers.’ These ‘remembrancers’, those who call on God to remember His promises, and who remind God of the state of His people and of the world, are, in a similar way to the Anointed One (verse 1), to take no rest until God’s purposes are brought about and He is honoured through His true people.
Note the true purpose of prayer and its emphasis, and the requirement for continuance in it. When Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer the first part was concentrated on such intercession, that God’s name be hallowed (sanctified) through the bringing about of His purposes (compare Ezekiel 36.23), that God’s Kingly Rule might come and that His will might be done on earth, as in Heaven. That was His concentration. He was one of Yahweh’s remembrancers.
He stressed indeed that prayer for our general lifestyle was not necessary because our Father knew of our daily needs. And this emphasis was carried on into the rest of the New Testament. How different His emphasis from many a prayer list today. God graciously allows our prayers but they are often a sign of our immaturity in faith.
So God’s true people are called on to be Remembrancers, to be watchmen for God, and to cry to God day and night for the final bringing about of His purposes.
There is no more heartbreaking situation than to have laboured and then to find the fruits of that labour unfairly wrested from us by another. But the world is a place of greed and selfishness, and there are always those who will strive to obtain what is not theirs. It was the constant experience of small nations. None experienced this more than Judah in Isaiah’s time as Assyria again and again entered the territory of Judah in predatory raids, preparatory to the invasion that resulted in the investment of Jerusalem, and no doubt similar raids also came later, partly through Babylon, prior to Manasseh’s submission.
However, that will not be so in God’s new world. There selfishness and greed will have been done away. Predatory enemies will have ceased. Each person will enjoy the fruits of his life and activity in the presence of God. It will be Paradise restored. The symbolic nature of the promises is brought out in that all consumption of wine is to be in the courts of His sanctuary. This could not be literal. The thought was rather that wherever they were they would drink it as in the presence and conscious awareness of their Protector, just as those who ate would praise Yahweh. For they would live in the presence of God.
The Call To Readiness And The Certainty of Fulfilment (62.10-12).
Isaiah finishes this section from 61.1 onwards with a call to respond to God’s initiative. His people are to prepare the way, ready for God to act.
While the work of salvation is all of God it is the privilege of His people to have their part to play in it. They are to prepare the way for Him to act. Thus they are not to sit in their Jerusalem but are to go outside the gates and prepare the way for the return to God of those who are scattered. Zion is to make a way back to Zion. They are to build up the highway, remove stumblingblocks, and raise a banner calling the people to come. Theirs is the work of evangelism. The double repetition stresses the urgency of the task. Note the active participation required. They are to put great effort into making the way for people as easy as possible by every means at their command.
But the requirement is not literal. The preparation is to be spiritual preparation. If God’s people are to come to Him the way must be prepared.
62.11-12 ‘Behold Yahweh has proclaimed to the end of the earth,
Note God’s call to the end of the earth. The scattered exiles around the world, ‘the daughter of Zion’, are to be informed (by whom we are not told. Possibly Isaiah sent messengers to leaders of communities) that the time of Yahweh’s deliverance is coming. Note the threefold repetition of ‘behold’. It is a startling event. They are to ‘behold’ Yahweh’s proclamation. They are to ‘behold’ the coming Deliverer and His deliverance. And they are to ‘behold’ what blessings the Deliverer has obtained in His people.
‘Behold your salvation comes.’ This salvation is a ‘He’. The One Who comes is the author of their salvation and its mediator. He is the One Who bore their transgressions and offered Himself a guilt offering on their behalf (53.1-12). He is the One Who makes them to be accounted righteous (53.11). He is the One Who saves by His mighty arm (59.17; 62.8)
His call is worldwide. All God’s people are to be stirred. The Saviour is coming to receive His reward and recompense, and those who respond will thus become the holy people, the redeemed of Yahweh. Then they will seek out Zion, which will be called Sought Out, the city not forsaken. Pictured in terms of one huge return from exile of a believing people, something which as far as we know only marginally occurred after the Exile, and never since, we have rather a picture of what would be the result of the coming of Salvation in Jesus, and the spread of the Gospel, with those responding coming to the heavenly equivalent of Zion, the truly free Zion (Galatians 4.26; Hebrews 12.22), and there being made holy as the redeemed of Yahweh. They will have come home to Zion (Galatians 4.26; Hebrews 12.22).
JUDAH MUST TAKE WARNING FROM EDOM AND REPENT (63.1-65.12).
Chapter 63 God’s Judgment on Edom And A Consideration of Israel’s Past.
Seeing 63.1-6 as introducing this final section (63-66) explains why it is brought in here. The previous section began with the Redeemer (59.20) as the Anointed One (61.1-2), this one with the Redeemer, as being also the Judge, as the Bloodstained One. As the first He brings the acceptable year of Yahweh (61.2), but will also introduce the day of vengeance (61.2). As the second He brings the day of vengeance on Edom (63.4), and comes to introduce the year of His redeemed (63.4).
On the other hand it also forms a suitable closure to what has been said previously to Zion (59.20-62.12). Zion has been called to redemption. Edom having rejected its call to redemption faces unrelieved judgment.
This passage is often seen as one of unrelieved gloom. But that is to misunderstand it. Certainly God’s coming judgment on Edom (Esau) is vividly described and dwelt on, but it has to be seen as preparatory to, and a background to, the deliverance of Zion. It is a stark warning that God is the righteous Judge and of God’s coming judgment on all those who reject Him, symbolised in Edom. They were the brother (Esau - Genesis 25.25-34;) who turned from the covenant. Judgment is being carried out on Eden because of its longstanding rejection of the covenant and hatred of God’s people, and because it is refusing all calls to return (21.11-12). But now as the bloodstained Redeemer He is seen as emerging from Edom, having carried out His judgment, in order to offer deliverance to His people. It is a stark warning to Jacob that the choice is now to repent or perish. Yet it serves also to bring out God’s mercy in that ‘the repentant of Jacob’ (59.20; 65.9), those who respond of the ‘house of Israel’ (63.7) will not suffer the same fate as Edom/Esau. (Note that in 59.20 Jacob is closely connected with Zion). The bloodstained Judge is coming to offer mercy.
Edom (Esau) was the seed of Abraham and Isaac who went outside the line of promise because he rejected his birthright, yielding it to Jacob. He had every opportunity to remain with the covenant community but chose to turn his back on it and deserted it. He was thus a representation of all those who turn their back on the covenant, and on God’s promises. For the whole we can compare the later ‘Yet I loved Jacob, but Esau I did not love’ (Malachi 1.2-4) where we have the same principle involved.
So what will happen to Edom here represents God’s warning to all those who, having every opportunity of coming to Him, reject Him and are rejected by Him (compare commentary on 21.11-12). Edom had always been especially favoured from a conversion point of view as the ‘brother’ tribe (Deuteronomy 23.7-8, compare 3-6). The way to God was open to them. But they turned it down. Indeed they became a troubler of Jacob, refusing to be one with them (Numbers 20.18-21; Judges 11.17; 1 Kings 11.14; 2 Kings 8.20-22; Amos 1.11-12).
In the same way those who in Isaiah’s time were nominally ‘Jacob’ are warned by this that they too should beware lest by rejecting Yahweh and His covenant they make themselves like Edom the covenant rejecter and thus suffer the same fate. Jacob can still be redeemed, but those of Jacob who reject Yahweh can also suffer what Edom suffered if they refuse to repent. They will, as it were, become Edom in God’s eyes. We note how Paul uses a similar idea of transference using Hagar in Galatians 4.21-31 where the ‘Jerusalem that now is’ becomes Hagar, who leaves the covenant people, while the true Jerusalem is God’s people, which includes Gentile converts.
(It should be noted that this final fate on Edom was not intended wholly literally. In fact what was left of Edom as a people were not exterminated but (forcibly) combined with the Jews and were compelled by John Hyrcanus to be circumcised in 1st century BC. They had not lost all hope of redemption (although they would not have appreciated it at the time). As often in Isaiah he is portraying greater realities through symbolism. Whereas earlier Zion has been contrasted with Babylon, the dwellingplace of Yahweh, with the seat of idolatry, now it is being contrasted with Edom. Those who will accept redemption are being contrasted with those who rejected it. Babylon and Eden both represent those for whom there is no hope, the one because of its idolatrous and worldly nature, the other because it has spurned the covenant. Both represent different types of unbeliever.
63.1-6 God’s Judgment on Edom, Their Brother Who Rejected The Covenant, And God’s Offer of Redemption to Jacob.
This startling vision of the future prepares for what lies ahead. Isaiah is aware that that includes gloom for Judah/Israel, for he remembers God’s prediction concerning the future rape of the Temple and the removal to Babylon of Hezekiahs’s descendants (39.6-7). Thus in the face of this huge threat he will plead for his people. But first he must set the scene.
With awe the watchmen of Judah gaze across the borders and see a mighty figure approaching across the wilderness, clothed in glorious and expensive clothing, and marching in great strength. He comes from Edom, Jacob/Israel’s brother tribe, and from Bozrah, a city in Edom, wearing garments which appear to be dyed red. But who is He, and why is He coming?
The name Bozrah means ‘vintage’, a suitable name for the whole passage, for it is a picture of the treading of the winepress. Bozrah was on the heights guarding the King’s Highway and was probably concerned in the refusal to allow Israel to pass in the time of Moses. Edom had betrayed his brother.
The reply comes back, “I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.” This is significant for the meaning of the passage. It is all about righteousness. It is about salvation. For Edom mercy had ceased to be an option. Their hearts had been constantly hardened and He had had to dealt righteously with Edom, for He is the Righteous One. But He comes to offer deliverance to His people. Yet why, if He is mighty to save, the bloodshed? The only reason can be that their continual and persistent rejection of the offer of the covenant. They had rejected God’s Anointed One once and for all. Thus by His judgment He had spoken righteously. But now He comes to face Judah with their similar choice. For Jacob there is yet hope, for though He speaks in righteousness He is still mighty to save. Because of what the Servant has done (chapter 53) He can save them in righteousness. He is coming to offer salvation. The Bloodstained Judge of Edom will, if they respond, become the Anointed Saviour of Jacob.
The watchers have now spotted that His clothing is not just dyed, it is stained. It is stained blood-red like someone who has been treading in the winevat. Why, they ask, is He coming in blood-red, wine-stained clothing across the border? They are soon to learn that these are no wine stains.
The reply comes that it is because He will have been treading the winepress, and treading it alone. It will not be an ordinary winepress, it will be the winepress of God’s anger, of God’s supreme aversion to sin, and the trodden grapes will be guilty people who had rejected Him and clung to sin. There will be no one to assist Him, for all will be equally guilty. There will be no one fit to help Him. So He will tread it alone. That is why His clothing will be stained, it will be because it is covered with the life-blood of the guilty. For Edom it will have been the day of vengeance (see chapter 34), a foretaste of the final day of vengeance.
But His purpose is that it should also be the year of His redeemed for those who would hear. The time has come. He is coming out of Edom not to do the same to Jacob/Israel, but in order to redeem. The year of His redeemed ones has come. The picture is twofold. It is a picture of Edom’s coming doom (partly fulfilled prior to the coming of Jesus Christ) and of God’s offer through it of mercy to His people. His people must take warning from it and repent. But it is also an apocalyptic one. It is a picture of God’s offer to the lax world as a whole. They too must decide between the covenant or judgment. In this sense we are not to tie it down to sequences of events or particular timing. It faces the world constantly with a choice. Judgment or mercy?
‘For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redeemed has come.’ We can compare this with the acceptable year of Yahweh and the day of vengeance of our God in 61.2. The Anointed One and the Bloodstained One are one and the same and He is involved in both those scenarios. The ‘year of my redeemed’ confirms that we are dealing with the Redeemer as well as the Judge (59.20).
Note the reversal of the order, compared with 61.2, of the day of judgment and the year of redemption. Here Edom is to be judged and cease as a nation before the Anointed One comes. Their judgment as described in chapter 34 will by then have become a reality. But there will be another day of vengeance for others (61.2), after the coming of the Anointed One, a day or days which would be still future when Jesus came. This confirms that both the day of vengeance and the year of redemption apply over time and not just at one particular point in it. Edom will have had its day of vengeance. Others will yet face it in the future. But always redemption is on offer.
The contrast between the two figures of the Anointed One and the Bloodstained One is deliberate. The Anointed One comes to bring deliverance and salvation, but also to introduce the day of vengeance, the Bloodstained One wreaks judgment and vengeance, but also comes to introduce the year of salvation. Both are two sides of the same assignment, righteousness revealed in judgment on guilty rebels and in salvation for the repentant redeemed. The Anointed One and the Bloodstained One are one and the same in action and motive. He Who Himself endured the winepress for the redeemed (53.10), will tread it continually to punish the guilty on their day of vengeance. And after each warning will come the offer of deliverance to those who will respond.
So now the stark choice lies before God’s nominal people. Will they submit to His covenant and become His true people, or reject the covenant, link themselves with Edom as brother rebels, and receive full punishment at their day of vengeance? It is the choice between the Anointed Saviour and the Bloodstained Judge.
The fact that He will look and there will be none to help is repeated, stressing its importance (compare verse 3; see also 50.2; 59.16; 41.28). In all the world there will be no one, not even someone like Isaiah, who can stand with Him to carry out His work. No other will be righteous in themselves, no other will be qualified (compare especially here Revelation 5.4 where again only One was found worthy to bring forth judgment). The idea of ‘wonder’ is a human expression to bring out the fact of it. So He will have to do it all on His own. It will be the Anointed One having dealings with the world.
‘Therefore my own arm brought salvation to me.’ It will be His own arm that will bring salvation to Him. This is in contrast with verse 14 where Moses was supported by Yahweh’s arm. Here is a greater than Moses. By His own mighty working as the suffering Servant He will shape and fashion ‘salvation’ so that it will be available for Him as the Redeemer to dispense to His own. But in contrast also is His fury. In the very nature of things the Deliverer must also be the Judge of those who reject deliverance.
And it will be His own ‘fury’, His own aversion to sin, that will uphold Him in the carrying out of judgment. He will be Judge and He alone. There will be no other. As He alone is righteous enough to be the Saviour, He alone is righteous enough to be the Judge. And He affirms firmly, and without apology, that He will carry out His judgment faithfully. We may withdraw in horror at the thought expressed here, and it is right that we should do for we are sinners too. But as the righteous Judge of all the world He, and He alone, is in a position to do it and declare it righteously. And it is necessary to declare it in all its awfulness so that men might take note and repent.
‘Made them drunk in my fury.’ That is He will make them drink to the full with the cup of His wrath (51.17, 21-22). The picture will be exacted to the full that it may be a sufficient warning to God’s people.
This apocalyptic imagery depicts things as seen from Heaven. As so often in Scriptural prophecy the vivid detail is to portray an idea. It is describing the seriousness of Yahweh’s judgment. But in fact after many judgments the disappearance of Edom was more mundane. Under John Hyrcanus in 1st century BC they were forced to be circumcised and absorbed among the Jews. The winepress was truly trodden and all traces of Edom vanished. Then followed the coming of the anointed One in Jesus.
This vivid picture then leads into the final chapters. We may see all of this as God saying to His people and to the world, “There were two brothers, one was Edom and the other was Jacob. One rejected God’s covenant and suffered the appalling consequences. And now the choice lies with the other.” What will be Jacob’s response to the coming of this Mighty Saviour and Judge? Isaiah’s response to the picture so presented is to plead for his people. He knows that there will yet be judgments to come but he prays that these judgments will not be final like that portrayed on Edom. He prays that there will at last be mercy, and in the end he receives the promise that it will be so, and further that through the remnant of them receiving salvation it will also become salvation available to the world.
The Response of Jacob Through Isaiah (63.7-64.12).
In response to the glory and fierceness of the One Who is coming Isaiah, fearfully aware of what the future might hold, especially in the light of the revelations given to him, and knowing the spiritual condition of his own people, brings God into remembrance of what He has done for His people in the past. He draws out how He has chosen them and through them brought great glory to His name, and then pleads for Him to act again and have mercy. In the face of the undeserving of His people Isaiah asks God to remember His own nature. He pleads for God to intervene on their behalf. Let them not be as Edom.
Isaiah Prayerfully Acts As A Remembrancer Of God’s Past Mercies In The Light of the Challenge of the Bloodstained One (63.7-14).
As chapters 63-64 will bring out, in spite of his previous descriptions of the saving work of God, Isaiah has no delusions about the people. Their condition at present is dreadful, and he recognises that all that he can do is remind Him of His past mercies and promises, and plead that He will be merciful towards them.
Isaiah states that, as his response to the appearance of the figure in 63.1-6, he will begin to act as a ‘remembrancer’ for his people (compare 62.6) by examining God’s past goodness to His people. He will put Him in remembrance of the greatness of ‘Yahweh’s covenant lovingkindnesses’, and the many reasons they have for praising Him in the light of all He has bestowed on them in faithfulness to the covenant. As Yahweh’s prophet he will reveal His great goodness to the house of Israel bestowed on them in accordance with His mercies and the vastness of His covenant love. For these past mercies are the basis of his hope.
Note the covenant love mentioned both at the beginning and the end. Chesed is very much God’s love as connected with the covenant. His covenant lovingkindnesses cover all that He has done and said in fulfilling His part of the covenant and demonstrate how He has been faithful to the covenant.
‘The house of Israel’. In accordance with his pattern mentioned previously Isaiah does not speak simply of Israel. House of Israel is less personal and differentiates them from the Servant. (See note on 58.14).
He then begins to outline the ups and downs of the relationship between God and His people.
63.8 ‘For he said, “Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely.” So he was their Saviour.’
In the past Yahweh had looked at His people, choosing them out and assuring Himself that because He had chosen them as His people they would not deal falsely, for were they not His own people (Exodus 6.7), yes, His children. Surely those whom He had chosen and with whom He had made His covenant would not deal falsely? (This is Isaiah’s vivid way of bringing out the point that Yahweh treated them in this way. It is not to be interpreted literally).
That is why He had continually acted to save them. He had regularly been their Saviour, first in Egypt, then at the Reed Sea, and then regularly in the wilderness and in the land He had given them.
The way in which He had saved them in the past is described in summary. He had shared sympathetically in their afflictions, feeling them deeply Himself. This was especially so in Egypt (Exodus 3.7). He had acted for them through ‘the angel of His face’, as One personally present and seeing what was happening (Exodus 3.7, 9). In His love and pity He had delivered them by His power, and He had borne them and carried them all through their early years in the wilderness, and then in Canaan.
But instead of responding in gratitude they had rebelled against Him, they had grieved His holy Spirit, and this to such an extent that He had become their enemy and fought against them, allowing enemies to triumph against them (Numbers 14.43-45; Judges 3.8, 12; 4.2 and often). Yet unlike in the final case of Edom, the enmity was only for a time, and then He had had mercy on them, for He had remembered Moses and He had remembered that He had chosen them as His people.
We note in these verses reference to the ‘angel of His presence (face)’ and the holy Spirit. To Isaiah both represented the essential of nature of Yahweh. The ‘angel of His face’ probably refers to the outward manifestations of His personal presence among them, the burning flame in the bush, the pillar of cloud and fire, the glory on the Tabernacle, the powerful effect of the Ark on the Jordan, the Captain of Yahweh’s host (Joshua 5.14), the Angel of Yahweh (Judges 2.1-4; 6.11-21; 13.9-21), and so on. And yet within descriptions of the Angel of Yahweh are hints at distinctiveness within the Godhead. There is a sameness and yet a distinctiveness (compare Zechariah 1.12).
‘The holy Spirit’ refers to the Spirit of God in His holiness, where God had worked regularly through chosen men in distinctive power so that what they accomplished was seen to be of God. But God could be grieved within His Spirit, and then His powerful effects were withdrawn (compare especially Saul - 1 Samuel 16.14). The thought is of times when there were no Spirit-empowered leaders to lead Israel.
We note that in these references to Yahweh, to the Angel of Yahweh and to His holy Spirit there is already a hint of distinctiveness and threeness within the Godhead, yet a working of total unity.
Note on ‘In all their affliction (tsarah) He was afflicted (tsar).’
This first clause in the verse is famous as the subject of discordant and even contradictory interpretations. This has been caused by a doubt as to the text. The original text is ‘in all their tsarah He was not tsar’. But the Masora notes this as one of fifteen places in which lo’ (not) is written by mistake for lo (to him or it). Another instance of the same alleged error in the text of Isaiah is found in 9.2. On the basis of this change Aben Ezra suggested that it should signify ‘in all their distress there was distress to Him’, and thus as above “in all their affliction He was afflicted.” This explanation is approved by a number of expositors. It is favoured, not only by the strong and moving sense which it yields, but by the analogy of Judges 10.16; 11.7, in one of which places the same phrase is used to denote human suffering, and in the other God is represented as sympathising with it.
However, objections to it are:
Another suggestion is to translate, ‘in all their affliction (tsar) He was not an adversary (tsarah) to them.’ This would fit in with what follows but is liable to the objection that it takes tsar and tsarah in entirely different senses, something which should only be done in the same context when there is no alternative. Possibly the best suggstion is that it means, ‘in all their being an enemy (against Him) He was not an enemy (to them)’, which was proved in that ‘He saved them’.
End of note.
63.11a ‘Then he remembered the days of old; Moses, his people.’
But each time, after He had acted as their enemy, Yahweh had reminded Himself of Moses, and of His people. And each time He had then acted in mercy. So now, Isaiah pleads, let Him do the same again.
Isaiah seeks by a number of questions to remind God of all the times when He had previously remembered Moses and His people, and of all that He had done for them, and how, having regularly been grieved and turned to be their enemy, He had remembered and had again acted on their behalf. His plea is that God might continue to so act, that He will not desert the people for whom He has done so much.
He asks where is the One Who, by means of Moses and Aaron, the shepherds of His flock (Psalm 77.19-20; Micah 6.4), had brought them up out of the depths of the Reed Sea before it overflowed and destroyed the Egyptians.
He asks, where is the One Who had put His holy Spirit in the midst of them. ‘Put His holy Spirit in the midst of them’ may refer to the Spirit Who fell on the elders of the people (Numbers 11.17, 25), who would gather at the tent of Meeting in the midst of the people. Or it may have in mind the glory of Yahweh revealed in the Tabernacle and delivering His verdicts actively through the Urim and Thummim.
He asks Who was it Who had ‘caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses.’ As Moses went forward, both in Egypt and then in the wilderness, he was ever conscious of Yahweh’s ‘glorious arm’ at his right hand, ever there to assist and uphold him. Who was it then Who had been so faithful to Moses?
He asks Who was it Who ‘divided the water before them to make himself an everlasting name, and to lead them through the depths.’ The order of events suggests that this refers to the dividing of the Jordan, although others refer it to the Reed Sea. The incident of the dividing of the Reed Sea, and the deliverance of Israel from its depths while Egypt was destroyed, was never forgotten. It was an event seen as having everlasting importance and that would be remembered for ever. But equally so was the dividing of the Jordan, for by it entry was obtained into the land of their inheritance.
He then points out how God had led them, ‘like a horse in the wilderness (open spaces)’, so that they did not stumble. Not only did He divide the waters, but He led Israel safely, fleet and surefooted as a horse in the open country.
He stresses how ‘as the cattle that go down into the valley, the spirit of Yahweh caused them to rest’. When they arrived in Canaan, it was He Who had caused them to be able to rest and graze like cattle loosed into a fertile valley, quiet and content, granted such rest because of the Spirit of Yahweh at work as their protecting herdsman. Canaan is seen as being like a lush valley where the Spirit’s activity gave them rest (see especially Exodus 33.14; Deuteronomy 3.20; 12.9-10; 25.19; Joshua 1.13; 21.44; 23.1).
The reference has in mind how after the harvest the herders would bring their animals down from the grazing on the hills to the stubble in the lush valleys.
He asks the questions so that he can answer them. ‘So did you lead your people, to make yourself a glorious name.’ This sums up what he has described. Did not Yahweh remember how in it all He had graciously led His people all the way from Egypt to settlement in Canaan making a glorious name for Himself? Israel was to be His glory (46.13). Will He now risk losing that Name? So now let Him consider and act similarly again.
Isaiah points out that now in contrast to what He has done before, Yahweh’s activity towards them appears to have ceased. Let Him look down from heaven, from the place where He dwells, the place where His holiness and glory dwell, and consider. Where now is evidence of His zeal? Where now are His mighty acts being revealed? His yearning love for them, and His great compassion, appear to be no longer flowing down. They appear to be restrained even towards him, His prophet. Yet surely this cannot be for He is their Father.
We note that Isaiah is realistic. He is well aware that Yahweh dwells in the high and holy place (57.15). He had good cause to be aware of it (chapter 6). So his plea is for mercy, not because he feels that they deserve anything, but because of what Yahweh has shown Himself to be. He is aware of Yahweh’s past zeal for His people, the mighty acts that resulted, the yearning love that He had shown for them, and His many acts of compassion. How then can they now be restrained in view of their relationship?
So he finally reminds God of what He has revealed Himself to be. God is bound, not by what He owes His people, but by what He Himself is. And what He had in pure grace revealed Himself to be as their father. When He had come to deliver His people under Moses He had claimed that Israel was His son, His firstborn (Exodus 4.22, compare Deuteronomy 32.6, which also contains the thought of redemption). Let Him remember that and act like a father towards His son.
Then he indirectly reminds Yahweh that, however tenuous might be the fact, they are the seed of Abraham. So even though because of their sinfulness and rebellion Abraham might not give them recognition as his sons, and though Israel their ancestor might not acknowledge them as his sons, God could not behave in that way. He had made promises to them through Abraham, He had given them recognition as His son, and He had revealed Himself to be the everlasting Redeemer (44.24; see also 41.14; 43.14; 44.6; 47.4; Psalm 78.35). He was therefore, as it were, bound in honour to behave in that way towards them.
The plea is very powerful. Isaiah recognises the dire straits in which they are. Even their forefathers would disown them because of it. But not Yahweh, for He is their Father and promised Redeemer. He has committed Himself irrevocably.
Note how easily Isaiah turns to the thought of Abraham as lying behind all that Yahweh will do for His people. Abraham is the one who first loved Yahweh (41.8), the one from whom (along with his grandson Israel, the fount of the children of Israel) arose the Servant.
We note that Isaiah especially was in a position to put this argument in this way, for it was because of Yahweh’s relationship towards His people that Yahweh had called him to his ministry and had promised him that there would be a holy seed (6.9-13).
But instead Yahweh appears to be presiding over a situation where they are erring from His ways and hardening their hearts so that they no longer fear Him. This results, not from Yahweh’s positive current action, but from how He had made man. It is His processes established at creation which are making them continue to err and become even more hardened (compare on 6.10). And He is doing nothing about it. The thought is not that it is Yahweh’s fault, but that because He presides over everything He presides over this too, and can do something about it.
So he pleads with Him ‘for His servants’ sake’ to return to viewing them with favour. ‘His servants’ may here refer to the two patriarchs Abraham and Israel already mentioned (Exodus 32.13; Deuteronomy 9.27). Or it may signify the faithful followers of Isaiah. Or more probably here it may indicate those who were supposed to be His servants because they were the tribes of His inheritance (Leviticus 25.42, 55; Deuteronomy 32.36, 43). The land was always seen as God’s land (Exodus 15.17; Joshua 22.19; Psalm 79.1), God’s inheritance, committed into their hands as His covenant people, and therefore as His servants they were the tribes of His inheritance.
And the land was also seen as His sanctuary, for in Exodus 15.17 Moses speaks of ‘’the mountain of your inheritance, the place, O Yahweh, which you have made for you to dwell in, the sanctuary, O Yahweh, which your hands have established.’ Isaiah may well, in fact, have had this reference in mind.
So he points out to God how short has been their tenure of that land. The people whom God had set apart for Himself had received possession of His land, His sanctuary, but it had only been for a little while. He had only been their King for a short while. And then the adversaries had come in and trodden down His sanctuary, His land, and they had become as people over whom He had never ruled, as those who had never been called by the name of Yahweh. That means either that they had just become an ordinary people like all the nations round about. Or alternatively, and more probably, that there is a moral implication. That his charge is that in their lives they had begun to live like those over whom He had never ruled, like those who had never been called by the name of Yahweh. They were being deliberately disobedient. Isaiah was ever sensitive to his people’s failure to live as though they were Yahweh’s people.
Alternately his reference to the sanctuary may have had in mind the continual subjection of the land with the consequent effect on the official sanctuary. First the Philistines had dominated them and destroyed the sanctuary at Shiloh. Then the Egyptians came to take possession after the death of Solomon and took away many of the temple treasures (1 Kings 14.25). And this would have been followed by many such examples (compare 2 Kings 14.13-14). The periods of peace and stability, even that under David and Solomon, never lasted very long. Then had come the Assyrians and the Temple had become the dwellingplace of Marduk and the other Assyrian gods (2 Kings 16.8, 10-18; 21.5). God’s sanctuary was regularly ‘trodden down’, and was trodden down in Isaiah’s day (compare 1.12). He regularly went to the Temple and saw the effects of the treading down, the great altars dedicated to the host of heaven (2 Kings 21.5). And he knew that Yahweh had declared that the sanctuary was defiled and would have to be replaced (43.28; 44.28). Let Him then act.
And worse still they are as if they were a people over whom Yahweh has never ruled. The current Davidic kings and the direct line of David have been rejected. His people are headless and hopeless. Their only hope is in His mercy, is if He comes to rule them again through the coming of His promised King.
Chapter 64 Isaiah Reinforces His Plea.
Having laid the foundation for his plea Isaiah now brings it forward vehemently. He cries for God to act forcefully and wonderfully in the bringing about of His purposes. He recognises the sinfulness of his people, but reminds God that He is the Potter, and they but the clay. Thus He can shape them as He will. Let them therefore be redeemed and not suffer as their brother Edom will suffer.
The thought of the coming judgment on Edom then reminds him of the judgment yet to come on Judah because of Hezekiah’s folly, and just as he saw the coming final destruction of Edom before his eyes, so he sees the coming invasion and suffering of Jerusalem before his eyes (39.6-7). The arrival of the coming predators, the destruction of many cities, the desolation of Jerusalem, the burning of the Temple come vividly before him and he prays that this might not be the end for Judah/Jacob as it will be for Edom. That God will yet have mercy. Let this coming judgment not be final.
Isaiah’s Heart Cry to Yahweh For Him To Work Dramatically (64.1-4).
Isaiah now pleads for God to manifest Himself as in days of old. He longs that Yahweh will rend the heavens, will come down, so that even the mountains flow down like fire burning all before them. Others would however translate as, ‘Oh that you had rent the heavens’ with the idea of looking back and thinking of what might have been.
‘Oh that you would rend the heavens.’ The verb is regularly used of the tearing of the clothes under great stress or in mourning. But the thought here is probably more of God acting so vigorously that He tears the heavens apart as He breaks through to come down to act. Or the idea may be of His rending it by a powerful storm.
‘That the mountains might flow down at your presence.’ The verb contains the idea of excess. The thought is probably of the mountains moving and shaking, and thus of an earthquake caused by the mightiness of the presence of God. Such earthquakes were a regular feature of theophanies (Exodus 19.18; Judges 5.5; Psalm 18.7; 68.8; Habakkuk 3.6).
‘As when fire kindles the brushwood, the fire causes the water to boil.’ The idea is again of vivid effects, the kindling of brushwood in a bush fire, the water in the streams bubbling violently as a result of the flames. This may encourage the idea of the storm with its accompanying lightning, which might well start a bush fire, but not necessarily so.
Or the thought may be of gathered brushwood put on the fire and used to boil water, seen as another wonder of God.
But the whole idea of the heavens rent, the quaking mountains and the hot spreading flames is certainly of violent action and God mightily revealing His presence.
‘To make your name known to your adversaries, that the nations might tremble at your presence.’ And the purpose of the violent action is so that the adversaries of God’s people, and therefore of God, may recognise what Yahweh is and might tremble in His presence. He seeks to put a protective cloak around God’s people.
He reminds God of the past when He had acted similarly, when He had acted with terrible effect. When those things happened it was because God came down and the mountains shook at His presence (e.g. Exodus 19.18; Judges 5.5). So he pleads, let it so happen again as a result of God’s working. They may not be able to avoid the threat described to Hezekiah (39.7) but at least let it not be final.
His confidence that Yahweh will hear His prayer lies primarily in the greatness and uniqueness of Yahweh. No one like Him has ever been known. No one has ever heard, nor have they ever seen, a God like Yahweh Who works for those who wait for Him. Once again Isaiah is stressing the necessity for trust in God, revealed by waiting on Him. Isaiah is confident that He is the great responder to those who genuinely seek His face and trust Him. The implication is that he and his disciples are waiting on Him.
When we become despondent and begin to have doubts we too must remember these words. Who is like God? His like has never been seen. And even when things are at their lowest ebb He constantly steps in to act on behalf of those who wait for Him.
Isaiah Admits The Utter Unworthiness of Those Whom He Represents (64.5-7).
But there is a problem. He acknowledges that the great Responder responds to (meets) those who rejoice and work righteousness, to those whose hearts and wills are right towards Him and whose lives reveal it in obedience to His covenant. But he admits that those on whose behalf he prays are not like this. They are those who are aware that God has been wrathful with them, and yet they still continue to sin. They are therefore wilful sinners, yes, deeply ingrained sinners. They have been sinning for a long time. Can they then indeed be saved? But worse is to come.
Linking himself with those for whom he prays he describes their total undeserving. ‘Unclean’ is the leper’s cry (Leviticus 13.45), thus they are to be seen as spiritual lepers. They are all like someone who is unclean, spiritually untouchable, their righteousnesses, their behaviour, which they themselves consider to be good, are in reality ‘like a polluted garment’, that is, like a garment rendered unclean by menstruation (the idea behind the Hebrew), something to be avoided with horror (which is how such garments were then seen).
This sense of uncleanness was something he understood very well, for when he had seen the glory of Yahweh in the Temple he had seen himself as totally morally unclean (6.5). He is not thus describing a ritual state, even though he is using such as an illustration, but speaking of a genuine spiritual and moral uncleanness in the sight of God from which men would withdraw with loathing. It refers to something that is within men, and which affects how they are seen outwardly, a moral pollution. Their righteousnesses, all their efforts to please God, are but like leprosy and like clothes which are polluted and fit only to be cast off and burned.
‘And we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities like the wind take us away.’ The dried up leaf is the result of the lack of sustenance, the lack of what is good, because contact with the source of its life has been blocked. Thus these people have become spiritually and morally withered because they lack the flow of goodness from the source, from God. And as the wind takes such leaves away, so do their iniquities, the sins that are part of their very nature, carry them away too.
‘There is no one who calls on your name, who stirs up himself to take hold of you.’ Furthermore they all are so deep in sin that they do not even call on Yahweh’s name, they make no real effort to attract His interest in prayer. So not one of them has any real desire to attract God’s attention.
‘For you have hid your face from us, and have melted us by means of our iniquities.’ And the reason is because God has hid His face from them. There is no stirring within them. They are spiritually dead. Indeed their sins mean that whenever there is a suggestion of God’s approach they recoil from Him, He has made them to melt away from before Him, and this is in a sense God’s doing because of what He essentially is.
So Isaiah pulls no punches. He is quite frank and plain about those for whom he prays. Spirituality is almost non-existent among them. The people are dead to God and to morality. If the people of Edom deserved God’s judgment, how much more these men of Jacob. Can there then be any hope for them?
Isaiah Pleads For Yahweh To Exercise His Sovereignty On Their Behalf (64.8-12).
Here lies Isaiah’s hope. That Yahweh has proclaimed Himself their Father (see on 63.16). He has set His choice on them (Deuteronomy 7.7-8). And while they are but clay He is the Potter. Thus He can shape them into what He will. The declaration of the sovereignty of God is absolute. He knows that it is within Him to make them what He will. The difference between Edom and Jacob is not that Jacob is a little better than Edom, but that Jacob is loved and chosen and Esau (Edom) is not (Malachi 1.2-3). This is why Isaiah believes that Yahweh can yet step in and save. The materials on which He has to work may be impossible. But Yahweh is the God of the impossible, and he is confident that He can and will save them.
Having stated his case that all is dependent on the graciousness of Yahweh Isaiah now pleads for Yahweh to act. Let Him assuage His anger, let Him forget their iniquity, let Him remember that they are the people whom He has chosen. Let Him look on them and show mercy towards them. Otherwise they have no hope. Was this not why the Servant died, that He might make deliverance and salvation available to such as these? In this lies their hope. They are all His nominal people. But if they are to experience His salvation that must become actual and real. So Isaiah prays for the theory to become the fact. ‘All the people’ is the longing of his heart, for he knows from what he has already been told that not all will respond.
64.10 ‘Your holy cities have become a wilderness,
Sitting in the loneliness of his room, remembering the Bloodstained One (63.1-6), fearing the doom of Edom for his people, and grieving over and praying for their sins, the ancient Isaiah is making his desperate plea. Will God have mercy? But he knows that it cannot be until Babylon’s interruption promised in 39.6-7 has occurred, and he sees it ahead as though it were already there. Babylon must be allowed further say before Zion prevails. The perfect tenses indicate certainty of completion not the time when the events will occur.
The holy cities of Judah will become a desolation, it is as certain as though it had happened. (All the cities are holy because this is all God’s land). Zion will become a wilderness. Jerusalem will become a desolation. The Temple, their holy and beautiful house of Yahweh, where their fathers had praised Yahweh, will be burned with fire. All that is theirs that is most pleasant will be laid waste by the northern predators. He knows this must be because God had said so (39.6-7; 43.28), and he accepts it. But the question is, will this mean their end as it had meant Edom’s end? Will He refrain from helping them in these dreadful circumstances. Will He say and do nothing and let them be afflicted by His will? Will the Bloodstained One tread them in the winepress? Or will God have mercy and save? That is his question. Is there hope?
Chapter 65 God Promises To Deliver A Remnant And to Establish A New Nation But Warns That His Judgment Will Come On Many Who Reject Him.
Isaiah continues his theme that not all will suffer the fate of Edom. He learns that God will raise up a new nation, springing from the old and containing many from among the nations. But the large part of those who called themselves His people will be brought into judgment
God Reply Is That He Will Act Sovereignly To Call A People To Himself And Will Form A New Nation (65.1).
This is Yahweh’s reply to the question as to whether He will save the undeserving. He will create a new nation. Those who had no intention of asking things of Him, or of seeking Him, will find Him and enquire of Him, because He, Yahweh, will cause it to be so. He will say, ‘Behold me, behold me’ to a nation which was ‘not called by His name’, that is a new nation which He will form but which up to this point has not borne His name. It will be composed of those who in the past were not seen as His or responsive to Him, and had not claimed membership of the covenant, but to Whom He will sovereignly say, ‘Look to Me’, and they will look.
So by His own powerful call He will bring to His feet some who have constantly had nothing to do with Him. This is probably to be seen as including some of those referred to in chapter 64. 5-8. The Potter will mould the clay (64.8). But it probably also has in mind the future call of the Gentiles. They too will come.
‘A nation’. This may possibly refer to a nation within the nation, a minority from whom He will form a new nation. But it is probably, in the light of His words, intended to include the fact that Gentiles also will come, for they especially were not called by His name. Thus He is declaring that hope has not gone because, although He must judge His people, He will form for Himself a new nation to replace the old, which will include all Whom He brings to Himself, a nation composed of the least expected. He will produce an Israel which is truly of God.
The Majority Of His People Will Reject Him For Their Idols And Will Receive Their Just Punishment (65.2-7).
On the other hand those who do claim to be called by His name, but are hypocritical, will be rejected and punished because of their unfaithfulness and idolatry.
In contrast with those in verse 1 are these who have been the constant subject of God’s appeals through Isaiah, who profess to be called by Yahweh’s name, but have been rebellious and instead of walking by the covenant and the Law, have walked in a way that is not good, following their own ideas and desires. He has spread out His hands to them all day, that is unceasingly, but still they will not listen.
Note the reversal here of the usual position. Usually men stretch out their hands to God, but God had become so concerned for them that He had reversed the roles. It was not His fault if they did not respond.
He points out that the reason that they will not listen is because they are people who constantly provoke Him to His face by sacrificing and offering incense to false gods in the sacred gardens on rooftops and in sacred groves (1.29; 66.17 compare 2 Kings 21.18). Both sacrificing in gardens (to Baal and Asherah) and burning on brick altars were forbidden (Exodus 20.25; Deuteronomy 27.5-6). (The descriptions here are of pre-exilic Canaanite religion, which evidence suggests ceased as a result of the Exile. The words cannot therefore be post-exilic).
‘Who sit among the graves, and lodge in the secret places.’ This refers to consulting the dead and various occult practises. The infamy of what they did is revealed by their secrecy (compare Ezekiel 8.8-12).
‘Who eat swine’s flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels.’ They deliberately partake of that which has been declared unclean, and what is socially abhorrent (see 66.17). The broth of abominable things may refer to the eating on the third day of the meat of a peace sacrifice which has become bad, as described in Leviticus 7.18 as ‘abominable’.
‘Who say, “Stand by yourself. Do not come near to me, for I am holier than you.’ This is speaking of elitist sects in which participants move from grade to grade and engage in ever more degrading ritual. They are exclusivist and divisive, and by their attitude reveal that they are heavily committed and dedicated to false gods. This may include the ‘one in the midst’ of 66.17.
‘These are a smoke in my nose, a fire which burns all the day.’ Yahweh is not impressed by them. They are a continual smoke in His nose, something which makes Him want to splutter and spew them out. There may be here a contrast with the delightful aroma that arose to Him when offerings were made by the righteous (Genesis 8.21; Exodus 29.18, 25, 41).
The sins of these people and the similar sins of their fathers is written before Him, that is, it is permanently recorded and will therefore be permanently remembered. And He will not withhold action and do and say nothing. They will be paid in full. Yes, they will be paid in full and with personal effect (‘into their bosom’). So whoever are saved it will only be a remnant.
For they go into the mountains and hills to burn sacrifices and incense to Baal and Asherah. Their thought was that the nearer they got to the heavens the more likely that Baal would be forced to respond to their suggestive copulation But this is blasphemy against Yahweh. Therefore all will receive personally for what they have done. ‘Your iniquities and the iniquities of your fathers together.’ Unless we assume a resurrection of the wicked which Isaiah has nowhere mentioned the idea would seem to be that they suffer for their own sins and for the sins of their fathers to which they have acquiesced.
So while God has guaranteed that there will be a nation that survives, it will be a new nation. And large numbers of the old nation will face their necessary judgment. This is the inevitability, the necessary response of a Holy God.
A Remnant Will Be Saved, But Large Numbers Must First Face Judgment (65.8-12).
During his inaugural call (chapter 6) Isaiah had been warned that the people of Judah/Israel would go through refinement after refinement because of the depths of their sinfulness. God had warned him not to expect easy results. Few of His so-called people would be saved. But in the end, He had promised, there would be a stump remaining, a holy seed (6.13).
65.8-10 ‘Thus says Yahweh,
The ‘wine dripping’ (tiros) is probably the juice that flows from the grapes before the treading of the winepress commence. If so it is apposite here. Israel are like grapes ready for the winepress of God’s wrath (63.3), but the early juice drippings represent the remnant. Such early drippings were in fact particularly potent (Hosea 4.11). That is why men said, ‘Do not destroy it, for a blessing is in it.’
So the remnant will be preserved as so often in Isaiah (e.g. 1.26-27; 4.3; 6.13; 8.13-14a; 10.20-23), because they have a God-given quality different from the remainder.
‘So will I do for my servants’ sakes, that I may not destroy them all.’ There is no longer a thought of Israel as The Servant, it is the faithful in Israel who are now ‘His servants’, and it is for their sakes that He will refrain from destroying all. It is thus made clear that large numbers will yet perish like Edom, but that in response to Isaiah’s pleas, and the work of the Servant/Anointed One, not all will perish. The holy seed, the ‘many’ for whom the Servant suffered will be spared (53.11, 12).
‘And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains, and my chosen ones will inherit it, and my servants will dwell there.’ God reveals His determination to fulfil His promises to the patriarchs, here represented by Jacob. Such continuing seed and the reception of the land as their inheritance were two foundation pillars of Israel’s belief patterns. Now He guarantees that He will fulfil both the promise of the seed and the promise of the land (Genesis 13.15; 28.13-14). They are the inheritors, and they will inherit it. And those who are faithful to Him, His servants, will dwell there.
Note the use of the plural ‘My chosen ones’, and ‘My servants’, Their destiny as the chosen Servant (42.1; 44.1) has been performed by Another, and through His redemptive work (52.13-53.12) they now carry on His work. Israel is to find its fulfilment in Him Who is the fulfilment of the ideal of Israel. It is He Who is ‘Israel’, the true representation of Israel, which is why they are no more described as Israel. And they are no more the Servant, for they failed in that responsibility also, while God’s prime purpose in Abraham has been fulfilled in the Anointed One. The faithful, however, are still His chosen and still His servants.
And after God had carried out His judgment as described in 39.6-7 Jacob’s seed did come forth from him and inherit the land, and His chosen ones and His servants did dwell there. Unlike Edom their judgment was not final. And it was finally they who possessed Edom, and Edomites were forced to be circumcised and become members of the covenant and were absorbed into ‘Israel’ so that Edom was no more. But that was a fulfilment to a people not yet made fully holy.
The promise, however, was intended to offer more than the literal secondary fulfilment, and had they been able to see forward they would have looked at it in that way, for they would have taken it as a promise that, made truly holy, they would finally partake in the everlasting kingdom (4.3). As often with Isaiah the prophecies include strands and tendencies which are fulfilled at different times.
‘And Sharon will be a fold of flocks, and the valley of Achor a place for herds to lie down in, for my people who have sought me.’ Sharon was to the west and Achor to the east, thus the whole land is in mind. The promise is that once again the land will be fruitful. Sharon was first to be made a desert under God’s judgments (33.9), thus this restoration follows that event. The valley of Achor (‘troubling’) was the place where the sin of Achan was purged by his death (Judges 7.24-26), and had clearly become symbolic of trouble, for according to Hosea 2.15 that troubled valley was to become a door of hope when God began to act, and here it is to become a place where cattle could rest. So the troubled places will become blessed. Unlike the devastated Edom, and those of His people who will experience similar judgment, His true responsive people will prosper. The picture indicates the future prosperity of His true people in terms that they would appreciate, and their final blessing in the new heavens and the new earth.
‘For my people who have sought me.’ Such blessings would be for those who sought Yahweh.
On the other hand there is no guaranteed blessing for all. Those who forsake Yahweh and forget His dwellingplace (His holy mountain), indulging rather in idolatrous behaviour, will be subject to judgment by the sword. And this will be because when He called they did not respond, but continued in their sinfulness and refused to do the things that would please Him. This happened again and again, and one outstanding example is the final destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the people under the Romans (Luke 21.24), a specific example of the rejection of the old Israel, which had been replaced by the new as described in verse 1.
‘Who forget my holy mountain.’ They went regularly into the mountains to perform sexual rites before Baal, but had no time for the one mountain that counted.
‘Who prepare a table for Fortune (Gad), and who fill up mingled wine for Destiny (Meni - ‘apportionment’).’ Fortune (Gad) was a widely worshipped Syrian god. Compare Baal-gad - ‘Lord of Good Fortune’, in Joshua 11.17, and Migdal-gad - ‘Fortress Tower of Good Fortune’ in Joshua 15.37. Meni means ‘apportionment’ related to the affecting of destiny. Both gods were connected therefore with the affecting of destiny. Their names are found on inscriptions both separately and together. It was all the more absurd therefore that they who were thought powerful enough to affect the future had to be wined and dined. These were Canaanite gods, confirming the Canaanite setting for the prophecy, and such gods are only known to have affected Israel in pre-exilic times. This causes great difficulty to those who try to date these prophecies later and have to try to explain this away.
‘I will destine you to the sword, and you will all bow down to the slaughter.’ Note the play on ‘destiny’. It is Yahweh rather than these false gods Who can determine these people’s destiny. And instead of bowing to these false gods they will have to bow to slaughter.
‘Because when I called, you did not answer, when I spoke you did not hear, but you did what was evil in my eyes, and chose that in which I did not delight.’ The reason for their punishment is made clear. God called them and spoke to them, but they neither responded nor heard. Rather they chose to go against His will, doing what they knew Yahweh saw as evil, and refusing to do what they knew He would delight in. And they finally rejected His Servant (John 1.11).
So Yahweh’s answer to Isaiah’s pleas is that a remnant will be saved, an unexpected remnant (verse 1), but that large numbers will face His judgment because they go their own ways and refuse to respond to Him. In spite of his promises of a coming Deliverer Isaiah was well aware that much had to happen before He could do His work. But one thing he did know, eventually that work would be brought to completion. And he now closes his book with a vision of what is to come.
THE COMING OF THE NEW HEAVENS AND THE NEW EARTH (65.13-66.24).
The final vision of Isaiah centres on the fact that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Old things will pass away and all things will become new, just as he has constantly promised.
God’s Chosen Ones Will Receive Great Blessing, But It Will Not Be Shared By These Who Have Been Described. And God Will Create A New Heaven and A New Earth, and A New Jerusalem. The Old Will Have Passed Away (65.13-25).
We are now approaching the final description of the time of God’s final triumph and it is now made clear that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and a new Jerusalem. All is to be transformed. The old is to suffer the fate of Edom. A new is necessary. It is describing the final blessing on those who are His true servants, who have truly responded to Him, who trust in Him as ‘the Amen’, but the warning from what happened to Edom still stands. Those who reject His covenant will lose out and face His judgment.
65.13-14 ‘Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh,
The warning comes from ‘the Lord Yahweh’, repeated in verse 15, the same ‘Lord Yahweh’ Who sent the Anointed One to His people (61.1, repeated in 61.11). It is He Who will shepherd God’s servants, and will determine the destiny of these Yahweh rejecters.
God’s warnings to those who are feeding and wining their false gods, and who are playing with ‘good fortune’ and with ‘destiny’ are emphasised. In the future it will be Yahweh’s servants who will enjoy all the good things, eating and being satisfied, drinking and having their thirst quenched, rejoicing and singing for joy of heart, while the servants of these false gods will be hungry, and thirsty, and shamefaced, and sorrowful of heart and howling because their spirit is broken. Their revelry will become mourning and misery.
Every good which His true people will enjoy, will result in the opposite for those who reject Him. They who thought they had made a wise choice with their eating and drinking with the gods, their celebrations in the mountains and the valleys, their bawdy, wine-produced singing, their partying and their good times will now discover that their destiny is the very reverse of what they have enjoyed, while those who have been faithful to Yahweh will enjoy them to the greatest extent possible.
‘And you will leave your name for a curse (‘an oath’) to my chosen, and the Lord Yahweh will slay each of you.’ In the judgment that is coming on them, which will be individual slaying at the hand of Yahweh as previously experienced by the Edomites (63.1-6), they will leave their name behind, that which represents what they are, and to God’s chosen ones their name will be a name for cursing by (because it will be seen as so hideous). Their reputation will be gone. Their name will be a curse. The righteous on looking back on them will despise and reject them. (It is unimportant what the name was, what matters is that it represented them, and that it is now shamed).
‘And he will call his servants by another name, so that he who blesses himself in the earth, will bless himself in the God of Amen, and he who swears in the earth, will swear by the God of Amen, because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hid from my eyes.’ But His servants will receive a new name. The renaming of His people, as He renamed Abraham (Genesis 17.5) and Jacob (Genesis 32.28), indicates a new beginning. They will no longer look back to what they were, nor to themselves as belonging to the people to whom they once belonged, whose very name will be only usable for cursing, a sign of the contempt in which it is held. They will be a separated people, separated to Yahweh. They will be a new people, a new nation, the faithful remnant as augmented by Gentiles (65.1) who will be grafted in among them. God will have a new chosen people, founded on a remnant of the old.
The remarkable fulfilment of this when they became known as ‘Messiah-men’ (‘Christ-men’ - Christians - Acts 11.26) should not be overlooked. They gradually recognised that they were no longer ‘Jews’, and turned their backs on the old Judaism, beginning anew as the Israel of God and as ‘Christ’s men’. And this new name meant that to them God was the God of Amen, the One Who was sure, and would answer and keep all His promises.
But the final new name will be the name of God, the name of the new Jerusalem, and Christ’s own new name as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 3.12; 19.16). They will then be named as exclusively His.
There seems also to be the suggestion that their being renamed will mean that God too will be seen in a new way as the God of Amen. But it will only be in a new way because the people had refused it before. For the name means the God Who is a ‘yes’ to His promises (2 Corinthians 1.20), Who is faithful and true (Revelation 3.14), the One Who will keep the everlasting covenant that He has made. Had Ahaz or Hezekiah recognised Him as the God of Amen things might have happened very differently.
So when His people in the future bless themselves or make a judicial oath it will be in the name of the One Who says ‘yes’ to His promises, which will emphatically change how they view their oaths, and the way they see their future. To ‘bless themselves’ signifies recognising their part in the blessings of God, in the Abrahamic promises (Genesis 12.3; 22.18; 26.4). Now it will have a new meaning to them as they recognise that God is the ‘Amen’ to it all. They will have full faith in Yahweh, and doubt will have been done away.
The name that men swear by in judicial proceedings is always that which they hold most sacred. Or the thought may be of swearing allegiance to Yahweh as the God of Amen.
This is all a deeply emphatic way of saying that His new people will begin to trust fully in His promises, as previously His old people had failed to do, and that it is only those who do so who will be His people.
‘Because the former troubles will be forgotten, and because they will be hidden from my eyes.’ At this new beginning all the old failures will be put behind Him, they will be deliberately hidden from His eyes. God will no more remember them.
The grand renewal continues. There will not only be a new people and a new name, and a new trust in the God of Amen, the God of Certainty, but God will also create a new creation, new Heavens and a new Earth, and He will create a new Jerusalem. All is to be created anew. There is to be a totally new beginning. All previous references to the new Jerusalem must be seen in this light. The word for ‘create’ is bara’, a strong word used only of God as creating something new that was not previously there (compare 4.5; and see its use in Genesis 1.1, 21, 27). And we can add ‘out of nothing’, for no prior material is ever described. It stresses the greatness of the transformation.
Isaiah no doubt visualised this vaguely in terms of the old, but hugely expanded and seen as perfected as Yahweh is perfect, a new Jerusalem, a new promised land, a new world. Thus all previous prophecies must be tied into this. The future was seen as the present, only glorified. Here is the everlasting kingdom.
The New Testament sees this promise of a new creation as fulfilled in three ways. Firstly individually and spiritually in each new member of the body of Christ (2 Corinthians 5.17), when old things pass away and everything becomes new, so that they are newly created and become a part of His new creation. Secondly in the new creation that results in the Israel of God (Galatians 6.15-16), the true church of Jesus Christ, which is transferred into the inheritance of the saints in light, the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1.12-13), and lives in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2.8). And finally literally in a new heaven and earth, and the new Jerusalem, when the old have passed away and have been destroyed (2 Peter 3.10-13; Revelation 21.1-27).
It is impossible for us to be dogmatic on exactly what Isaiah understood physically by these words. Indeed he was not concerned about the science of the matter, and probably never even thought about it. What he was speaking about was such a total renewal that the old would have passed away, never again to be remembered, and what resulted would be totally new.
‘But be glad and rejoice together in what I create.’ We can compare with this, ‘God saw everything that He had made and behold it was very good’ (Genesis 1.31), but here His whole new people will have observed His work of new creation. And they are to exultantly rejoice in it for it is very good indeed.
‘For behold I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.’ Central to this new heavens and new earth will be a new Jerusalem. This demonstrates how far Isaiah has come in his conception of Jerusalem. It has become totally new and sums up the whole people of God living in the presence of God. He was not bound in his thinking to a literal earthly city. To him Jerusalem had slowly become a concept, the place where men supremely approached God, the place which consisted of all the people of God, where all were holy (4.3; 12.6; 24.23; 26.1-4; 28.16; 33.20-22; 35.10; 46.13; 51.3, 11, 16; 52.1; 66.10, 13, 20). It had become the refuge to the faithful in Israel and the welcomer of the nations. Zion represented His people wherever they may be, but especially (once transformed) as enjoying His presence. Note how now Jerusalem is paralleled with its people (also in verse 19). And both the new Jerusalem and the new people will be a cause for rejoicing, and a delight. We are no longer to think so much of a city but of a people and their God, and of their God-provided spiritual refuge, what Paul speaks of as ‘the heavenly places’. It is the true church of Jesus Christ made up of all believers living in the presence of God and having entrance into His presence (Hebrews 10.19-21).
This especially comes out here in that all attention in verses 19-25 is now concentrated on the new Jerusalem. The heaven and the earth are left in the background. God is concerned with His new people. But there is no way in which this new Jerusalem is simply the old one done up. It is a totally new conception, and universal in its scope.
This new ‘Jerusalem’, which will be where all God’s people will be, living in His presence, will be a place of joy and long life. God’s eye will ever be on His people and He will rejoice over them, and His joy will be in them (compare 60.19). There will be no more weeping, no more crying, no more premature deaths, no more deaths before life has been fully lived (see Revelation 21.4). Isaiah is thinking of all the causes of grief for mankind, and declaring that they will be gone for ever. No child will die in infancy. There will be no premature death. And the thought is not that the old man will finally die full of years, but that no man will come to such a state. There will be no old and dying men. Such tragedies will not occur at all in the New Jerusalem because no one will die (25.8; 26.19). Death is not a happening there. There will be no mourning, no tears.
This is then followed by one of the most enigmatic statements in the Old Testament, on any interpretation.
‘For the child will die a hundred years old, and the sinner being a hundred years old will be accursed.’ The application of the round period of a hundred years to both children and sinners should immediately make us beware of taking these phrases literally. This is teaching by exaggeration and contrast and symbolism. ‘The child will die a hundred years old’ does not mean that the period of childhood will be lengthened to that extent, for such an idea would be contradicted by the parallel statement (it would make the ‘sinners’ only children), and even in the days of extreme longevity men were having children, and therefore were adults, well below a hundred (see Genesis 5). It is indicating rather that there will be no such thing as a child dying young. The thought of such a death was so fantastic that it would only happen to a one hundred year old child, that is it was something to be seen as totally incredible.
Would we really rejoice at, or approve of, the fact that parents are to see their children die, even if they have lasted for such a long period? Why is this any better in the long run than the child dying at birth? Surely the grief would be even greater. In days of extreme longevity such a death would be an equal tragedy to any death known today. We would simply be looking at tragedy on a longer scale. And yet this is supposed to be a place where there is no weeping and no tears.
We must therefore suggest that it is rather a statement utilising exaggeration and saying that such deaths are now not to be thought of. It is stating the ridiculous. It is saying that so impossible will the thought of death be that if a child were to die it would not be until more than a whole lifetime had passed, (for by this time seventy years was seen as the standard lifetime). Thus the fear of premature death, and indeed of any normal death, is seen as no more. It is saying that if such an impossibility were to occur it could not be until long after the standard lifetime was past. But the reality, of course, is that it will not occur. There will be no more death. Death will have been swallowed up for ever (25.8). The exaggeration reveals that it is not to be literalised. The idea to be extracted from it is that death is defeated.
A hundred years old was seen as ‘a long time’. Few people used such numbers precisely. But it was ten time ten. And ten indicated ‘many times’ (Genesis 31.7). Thus one hundred means ‘many times, multiplied by many times’, a period beyond thought, especially when thinking of ages.
And why if children are to literally die at a hundred is the sinner to be seen as accursed because he has lived that long? It would mean that for some a hundred years old is but childhood, while for others it is living a long time. If taken literally this would be totally contradictory. And surely in Old Testament terms living to a hundred would as indicating that the sinner was being blessed? And if the sinner dying at one hundred was seen to be accursed, would that not also apply to the ‘child’ who would also be seen as one whose dying was accursed? Taking the words literally they are full of contradictions.
Nor can we see how having a child die at a hundred is any better than a premature death. This is supposed to be a statement of the joy of the new Jerusalem, not of its delayed pain. Isaiah is not saying that God has improved things slightly so that children die less quickly. He is declaring that all pain is now over. So any literal interpretation founders on the fact that having a child die at one hundred years old is no less a tragedy than for one to die at one year old. All that would have been delayed is the pain. And because there has been such a length of time in which to get to know the child the pain would be even greater. Thus it is clear that in fact death for such children is being seen as not possible. No child will die because life will then be such that only ‘one-hundred-year-old’ ones could die, and they are simply creatures of imagination.
‘And the sinner being a hundred years old will be accursed.’ This cannot mean that the sinner is cursed because he reaches a hundred, unless the idea is that he will reach it in a pathetic state. But such an idea does not tie in with the idea of longevity. It is much more likely that it is saying vividly that sinners would not want to live to a hundred there. That it would be unbearable for them, a curse to them. For such is this new Jerusalem that to sinners survival there could only be seen as a curse, and the longer the survival the greater the curse. In other words it is saying picturesquely and firmly that this is no place for sinners. They would not want to live even that long here, indeed they would not want to live here at all, for it is for those who are holy (4.3; 52.1).
So in this new Jerusalem, death for the righteous will no longer be there as an enemy, while, for the sinner, extended life, if it were theoretically to occur because he had slipped through unnoticed, could only be a curse. He would not want to be living there. It will be no place for him. This is because it is most pure. (Revelation 21.27 in fact points out that sinners could not enter it. It is saying the same thing in a different way).
Thus the idea is of death being no longer a problem for the righteous, it could not happen until long after their lifetime, while it would be very desirable for any sinner who might squeeze in, because he would consider himself accursed not to die. (This also rids us of the contradiction that no child dies before one hundred but the majority of sinners do).
Alternately we may see it as simply indicating Isaiah’s deliberate intention to stress the longevity of life in the new heaven and earth, with it being such that no one will die under one hundred, and if they do die at or before that date it will either be as still a child, or because they are a deep sinner. All others will live for an undescribed period, which is immeasurable. The point having been made we are then not intended to enquire too closely into the detail, which Isaiah did not intend to be worked out, his aim being to portray a longevity beyond that even of the early patriarchs, whose children ceased to be children at a much younger age than a hundred, and to explain any premature death.
But what is this New Jerusalem? It is the ideal place. It is the place of men’s dreams. We can therefore only be intended to see in this new Jerusalem the everlasting kingdom.
The perfection of the place is now described. We have seen before something of the pain people suffered when they saw all that they had laboured for destroyed or taken away from them by invaders (62.8-9; Deuteronomy 28.30). That is again in mind here, together also with the consequences of natural disasters and the possibility of losing their land through debt caused by such calamities. Life had been a constant toil because of such experiences and they were regular occurrences.
But in the new Jerusalem this will no longer be so. Houses that they build will be safe to them, neither being destroyed by invaders nor taken from them to pay their debts; the produce of plants they plant will be for them to enjoy, it will be a place safe from invasion and calamity. The vineyard is used as an example because of the length of time before it became productive after planting. No matter how long it took all would be well. And everything would have a new permanence.
‘As the days of a tree will be the days of my people, and my chosen will long enjoy the work of their hands.’ During the period between the planting of a tree and its final decease His people will be there to enjoy its fruits. There will be no interruptions, no vain labour, no calamities. And trees often seem to go on for ever. That too will be how people’s lives are. It is a deliberate portraying of Utopia.
And this will be because they are the seed of the blessed of Yahweh. This probably signifies that they are the seed of Abraham, of Jacob and of the Servant, the blessed of Yahweh (41.8; 65.9; 53.10; Genesis 12.3). Because of their response in righteousness to Yahweh they and their children are accounted as their offspring.
All these blessings are in terms of the ideal for the agricultural community. They are seeking to portray this ideal. Indeed the whole purpose here is to build up a picture of perfection, a picture of Paradise. The details should not be pressed. (I have myself no desire in eternity to be a DIY builder or to engage in horticulture, nor do I really see myself as in future being required do so). The stress is on protection and fruitfulness which will be unimpeded by a hostile world, a life of perfect fulfilment.
Such will be the new Jerusalem that Yahweh will be aware of all that His chosen are doing or are in need of. Even before they call He will answer them. As soon as they speak He will hear them. By this His daily concern for His own is revealed. Jesus applied this to His own followers when He informed them that they had no need to pray for their daily need, for their heavenly Father knew what they needed before they asked Him (Matthew 6.8, 25-34). It is thus to some extent already true for those who believe in Him. It is even more true for His own now in ‘the Jerusalem which is above’ (Galatians 4.26) to which all His people belong, and will reach its epitome in the heavenly (or should we say new-earthly) Jerusalem of Revelation 21-22.
Note the contrast with verse 12 and with 66.4. In verse 12 and 66.4 the people who claimed to be His but were not His revealed it by their unresponsiveness to God. When He called, they did not answer. When He spoke they did not hear. But for those who are His there is a glorious reversal. when they call on Him He hears them, As soon as they speak to Him, He hears.
Note how what in 11.6-9 was said of the whole earth is now spoken of this new Jerusalem. In the new Jerusalem there will be no violence of any kind. Wolf and lamb will feed in the same pasture, the wolf no longer being carnivorous, the lion similarly will eat straw just as oxen do. Wild and domestic beasts will thus thrive together.
‘And dust will be the serpent’s meat.’ The one unchanging factor is the defeat of the serpent. The serpent will continue to eat the dust. The ‘eating of dust’ is a symbol of defeat and humiliation (Psalm 72.9; Micah 7.17; Isaiah 47.1) and crawling on the belly was widely known as something expected by kings of their humbled foes ( see also Psalm 44.25 where it symbolises affliction and oppression). Thus this refers to the curse on, and the ignominious defeat of, the serpent (Genesis 3.14) as symbolising the evil power that lies behind the serpent. There will be no mercy for the tempter. He will still eat the dust.
For this verse compare 11.6-9. In both cases the holy mountain is mentioned. The description ‘holy mountain’ probably refers to the whole of Israel/Judah whose main settlement was on ‘the mountain’ which ran from north to south, seen as holy because it is God’s land, although it may refer to Mount Zion as God’s dwellingplace. Isaiah and his readers receive the revelation in terms of their understanding, the new being described in terms of the old. But in 11.9 the blessing spreads out to the whole earth. (We have in fact no other way of describing Heaven. Compare how Revelation sees it in terms of a temple, a sea of crystal and so on, all based on the earthly temple).
So the new heavens and the new earth, and the new Jerusalem are being spoken of in terms of a greater Paradise (compare Revelation 22.1-5).
Chapter 66 The Final Triumph.
The book ends where it began in facing men up to Yahweh, and denouncing their formality in religious ritual. We note that like the first five chapters all the emphasis is now on Yahweh. The coming King, the coming Servant, the coming Redeemer, The One through Whom Yahweh will do His work, has been described in different ways in the main part of the book, but now the main focus is back again on Yahweh alone as at the beginning.
The chapter summarises many themes of the book as it leads up to the final triumph of Yahweh. Warnings against formality and inclusivity in worship, the coming of the divine King, deliverance for His own, the establishment of the new Jerusalem, the judgment of the unrighteous, the condemnation of Canaanite religion, the gathering of the Gentiles, the return of the exiles, the new heavens and the new earth and the universal worship of Yahweh Who reigns over all, both the living and the dead.
The Exceeding Greatness of God (66.1-2a).
66.1-2a ‘Thus says Yahweh,
As he approaches the climax of the book Isaiah makes clear the basis on which all that he has said must be judged and interpreted. All must be interpreted in the light of one great fact, that Yahweh is not limited to an earthly Mount Zion, nor to an earthly dwellingplace. Heaven is His throne, earth is His footstool, He is over all, He spans all, He is the Creator of all. He rules the heavens, the earth is subject to Him. Thus no house can be built that can contain Him, there is no house that can be sufficient for Him to find rest in. For everything has been made by His hand, and that is how they came to be. Thus He is too great to be limited to a tiny house in one part of His creation, even the temple on Mount Zion.
For ideas similar to this compare 1 Kings 8.12-29, where, however, Yahweh condescended to dwell in some limited way in that earthly temple. What was said there He would hear in His heavenly temple. For, as we have stressed earlier, Mount Zion and its temple is seen as being like a bridge between earth and heaven, on the earthward side physically limited, but spiritually reaching up to God, as 2.2-4 makes clear.
So Isaiah wants all to recognise that the concept of Zion as Yahweh’s Dwellingplace is not to be seen as putting any limits on Him. His dwelling in Zion is as the One Who is above all things. And His people in Zion will enjoy the same.
Ezekiel 40 onwards emphasised the same thing when he pointed out that the true heavenly temple was not in Jerusalem, but could be approached through the altar that had been established there, and, once it was built, through the Mount Zion temple also. But the heavenly temple itself was in a holy portion on a high mountain apart, some distance from Jerusalem and unapproachable by man, because while Yahweh had come back to earth to welcome His people again, and He wanted them to know that He was near, never again was He to be seen as simply in the temple in Jerusalem. He was near and yet far because He was holy. There is great stress in Ezekiel’s whole description of the Temple on His holiness.
Those Who Are Welcome At His Feet (66.2b).
But in His greatness God does have some on whom He will fix His eyes in love, those who are of a poor and contrite spirit, those who recognise their nothingness and the true state of their own spirits as lamed and limping, and who tremble at His word, because they recognise Him for what He is, the high and lofty One Who inhabits the everlasting (57.15). And because they worship Him, they want to serve Him, weak though they are. Isaiah understood this for he too had seen himself like this when he had seen the revelation of God in the earthly temple (chapter 6), and had humbly and tremblingly responded in offering himself for service. Note that the singular is used to stress God’s interest in each individual one.
So in all the vastness of the universe these are the ones to whom God pays attention, the humble, the poor, the spiritually limping, the spiritually lame. Compare 61.1 and 35.6. He looks to those who hear His word and His instruction and fear Him and respond to His word. For the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom and to depart from evil is understanding (Job 28.28 compare Psalm 111.10).
In Contrast Are Those Whose Offerings and Sacrifices Are Merely Formal And Debased And Not From The Heart (66.3-5).
This is where we began in 1.10-17. There are those who are very religious, but whose religion is formal with no heart in it. They are not humble and contrite, but proud of their religious activity, while thinking that once they have indulged in it they can then indulge in whatever they want. It is but a religious exercise. They honour Him with their lips, draw near to Him with their mouths, but their hearts are far from Him.
Thus when they slay an ox God sees it simply as murder, when they sacrifice a lamb it means nothing more to Him than the breaking of a dog’s neck (compare 1.11). This was the lowest possible event, for even the price of a dog could not be brought to Yahweh (Deuteronomy 23.18), stressing the total unacceptability of such an offering as this, which He did not even regard as an offering but as an insult. A dog, like an ass (Exodus 13.13), would be killed by breaking its neck because it could not be offered as a sacrifice.
This is followed by likening their actions to two further abominations, swine’s blood and idolatry. When they offer an oblation it is as if they were offering swine’s blood, an abomination to God. When they burn frankincense it is as if they offered it to other gods, it is an abomination to Him (compare 1.13). So they are guilty of murder, of bringing a dog into the temple and breaking its neck before Yahweh, of offering swine’s blood and of blessing an idol.
This indicates that their worship is not only formal but is abominable, because it is carried on without genuine worship amid the paraphernalia used for the worship of the hosts of heaven and other false gods (Ezekiel 8.5-18 brings this out equally vividly). Perhaps today we should consider the paraphernalia that we introduce into worship services, and ask ourselves whether it is really assisting worship, or whether it is actually taking our minds way from God.
That is why God wants nothing of their ritual because it is all formal and syncretistic, and not from the heart. It is carried out as a matter of course, and to try to ‘influence’ God’s favour, and not because it comes from deeply penitent hearts which seek fellowship with Him.
This is demonstrated by the fact that while they do it they go in their own ways (see 53.6) and their very soul delights in this mockery which pretends to be worship. This could be seen as quite acceptable to false gods who have no interest in morality, indeed in anything, but not to the living God. Yet even though it is an abomination to God they themselves are very satisfied with it, and with themselves, demonstrating what they really are and that they really do deserve judgment.
So because they have cut Him off in their hearts God will select their punishment and bring on them what they have feared. Their ritual was designed to somehow, by manipulation, make Yahweh act to deal with their fears, but He will instead bring what they feared on them. He will respond in accordance with the lack of genuineness in their worship.
Note the semi-parallel in 65.12 which ends in the same way. But there it is ‘I will destine you to the sword’ rather than ‘I will choose the harsh way they are treated’, for there they had been following Destiny, and therefore their destiny is described, while here they are insulting Yahweh by formalism and He therefore describes His personal punishment.
And the reason is because they have not listened to His call or His words through Isaiah and through other prophets. They have not listened and they have not responded. Their hearts are too hardened. Rather they have continued in sinful ways, and have chosen to do things which Yahweh did not enjoy and which gave Him no delight (compare 65.12 where it is related to fortune telling and idolatry).
Yahweh Comforts Those Who Fear Him Truly In The Face Of Their Treatment By The Formalists. He Tells Them A New Day Is Coming, A Day Of Great Change (66.5-9).
Yahweh now speaks to the remnant who tremble at His word, whose hearts are true towards Him. These would include Isaiah’ disciples. He tells them that He knows that their fellow-countrymen hate them and cast them out, that they are not welcome in their company or in their homes, or to take part in conversation and discussion. They are looked on as obscurantists. Rather they mock them and mock their message. Sarcastically they say ‘let Yahweh be glorified that we may see your joy’. Let this ridiculous thing you are talking about happen.
These faithful servants of God have been witnessing to Isaiah’s message of hope, and to the coming glory. So the cynical and jocular reply comes, ‘well, let us see this remarkable event. Then we can watch your joy’. But they do not believe it for a moment. They are just making fun. However, in the end they will be put to shame. For Yahweh immediately assures His own that the day of His activity is imminent, and it will surely come.
This conflict existed all the time that Isaiah was prophesying (see 5.18-19; 8.11-20), indeed always exists in a godless world, even when only simmering, between the world and God’s people, but the reign of Manasseh had no doubt brought it to the fore. These men mocked the true people of God for their expectations and engaged in their formal activity, bowing to Assyria and its gods for political reasons, and carrying out the ritual of Yahwism, and hating those who cast doubts on the efficacy of what they were doing. They no doubt thought that their compromises were the best way for all the people. Faithfulness to Yahweh came second. And they disliked being told otherwise.
The sarcastic cry of these people, ‘Let Yahweh be glorified that we may see your joy’ is Isaiah’s introduction to its fulfilment. For one day it will suddenly become a reality. One day Yahweh will step in to act. And he now describes it.
The Birth Of The New Age (66.6-9).
There is a stirring in the city, a voice from the temple. It is the voice of Yahweh. He will now recompense Himself on all His enemies. Heaven is at work. This is the commencement of the process that will lead up to the ideal Jerusalem of the previous chapter.
There are two births mentioned here. The first miraculously painless, the second in great travail. The miraculously painless birth (before she travailed she brought forth) is an indication that the birth is of God and not in the usual run. Thus we must expect the baby too to be unusual. ‘She was delivered of a man-child.’ In the context of Isaiah this must surely look back to the promised birth of such a man-child in a miraculous way in 7.14; 9.6-7. At an unexpected time the coming King will be born. This was certainly how John interpreted it in Revelation 12.5 (although there he saw the birth as in pain. Isaiah is stressing the miraculous and smooth nature of the birth, John its urgency) where he links it with Psalm 2.9, a Messianic psalm.
But, it may be asked, does it not say that this passage refers to the birth of the nation? (verse 8). The reply must be that it does, but that that is because the coming of the King was to be the precursor to the birth of the nation. Once He came His government and peace would increase and there would be no end. The everlasting kingdom would come in (9.7), justice would be established (11.4), and He would rule (32.1-4). Then the nation would follow in His train, but its birth would be through suffering.
So with the king will come the birth of the nation. ‘He will see His seed’ (53.10). However, we should note the distinction made. The King will be born before the woman travails, the nation will be born when she has begun to travail. First the man-child will be born, and then the travail, and then the children. For the redemption must be born before the new nation can result. Without the birth of the Servant (49.1), the new ‘Israel’ (49.3), there can be no Israel of God (Galatians 6.16).
‘Who has heard such things? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth at once? For as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.’ It is admitted that what is to happen is remarkable, so remarkable that it is unique. And it results in the birth of the nation ‘in one day, at once’. The birth of a man-child in one day would not be remarkable (although His birth could be remarkable), but the birth of a nation resulting from it is truly remarkable. And as a result Zion produces many children. As John does in Revelation 12, we may see this as pointing to the miraculous birth of Jesus, and the consequent birth of the new nation as a result (65.1, 9).
‘ “Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth?” says Yahweh, “Shall I who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?” says your God.’ God now challenges the scoffers. Do they think God will not finish what He has started? Let them beware. What God has begun He will do, and nothing will prevent it.
We may well see this birth of the new nation as resulting at Pentecost (Acts 2). This was equally startling and equally sudden, and comparable with the birth of the old nation at Sinai. At Pentecost the essential foundation for the new nation was laid, and from there it has spread around the world, and it will find its completion in eternity.
The Birth Of The Nation Results In Rejoicing For God’s New Jerusalem (66.11-13).
So those who love Jerusalem and who mourn over her, can now be glad and rejoice over her because of her coming transformation. They can rejoice because she will be reborn, and reborn as something even more wonderful, as a mother who fully satisfies her children. What the old Jerusalem represented in thought, the new Jerusalem will represent in fact. Yes, they will now be able to come to her and suck at her breasts and be satisfied. For this new Jerusalem is the place where God is highly exalted (verse 1; compare 2.2-4). It is connected with heaven in a new way (2.2). And from this Jerusalem will issue forth God’s Instruction (2.3) and the nations will drink of it. As a result of the birth of the new nation, the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city, from which all His people receive their sustenance, will become a blessing and a rejoicing, and a satisfier of the needs of all.
The picture is of the contented baby seeking out, sucking and finding comfort at its mother’s breasts, drawing from her abundant sustenance. Here the mother’s own overflowing supply is called ‘her glory’.
Initially the faithful among the Dispersion (the scattered exiles and refugees of Israel), provided this sustenance to seekers, but more especially it came through the coming of Jesus and the resulting birth of the early church, His Temple, through whom the Good Tidings went out from Jerusalem to the nations (Acts 1.8). Both Israel and the nations sucked at her breasts. We must not forget that all began in Jerusalem with the birth of a new nation of Israel in the Jewish followers of Christ, and then expanded to the Gentiles who were incorporated into the new Israel of God (Galatians 6.16) and themselves became true sons of Abraham (Galatians 3.29), and participants in the new Jerusalem (Galatians 4.26). But in the end all points to the final consummation.
66.12-13 ‘For thus says Yahweh,
Yahweh promises that like a great flowing river He will cause peace to flow to the new heavenly Jerusalem He has created, and He will cause the best of what is in the nations, ‘their glory’, to flow to her, like an overflowing stream. Compare 48.18. They do not come as second best, they bring their glory. We are reminded here of 2.2 where the nations were seen as flowing up to the exalted temple of Yahweh. This is the Jerusalem that is above (Galatians 4.26), to which God’s true people belong, and which represents them. It is the new spiritual realm, the heavenly places (Ephesians 1.3), the place of succour for all who are His.
And from God’s provision in this Jerusalem will His people find sustenance, and will be borne in a sling on her side, and will be dandled on her knees as one comforted by a mother. For this one is the mother of us all (Galatians 4.26), and our part in it guarantees God’s protection and care. This is the heavenly Jerusalem whose representative on earth is the church of Jesus Christ (Philippians 3.20) the temple of the living God (2 Corinthians 6.16-18).
The river would remind all of the great river that flowed through Eden, indicating the restoration of Paradise, and is a constant theme in Isaiah (e.g. 32.2; 33.21; 41.18; 65.25). It finds a different perspective in Ezekiel 47 (where be it noted it is not from the earthly Jerusalem but from the heavenly temple well away from Jerusalem. It is not limited to the literal Jerusalem), where it flows out giving life wherever it goes. Jesus offers a similar thought where the springs and rivers of water flow from Himself (John 3.5; 4.10-14; 7.37-39) and are linked with Pentecost.
Thus the new born people of God will find the source of full blessing in God’s provision in the heavenly places. All who come to them to drink will find solace. And through them God will supply His comfort, indeed He will comfort them Himself.
While The Righteous Will Flourish God Will Finally Judge The Unrighteous (66.14-16).
A similar judgment to that on Edom (63.1-6) is now threatened against all Yahweh’s enemies. His own people who look to the new Jerusalem will see all that is happening, and their hearts will rejoice, and they will flourish like grass that is springing up. And as His servants they will experience Yahweh’s hand, His personal action on their behalf. They will be part of His Jerusalem. But His enemies will experience His wrath. ‘Heart’ and ‘bones’ here represent the whole man.
For He will come with fire, the fire of His holiness and uniqueness, and with a force of chariots coming in like a whirlwind (compare 5.28), expressing his powerful action, in order to reveal His wrath and His fury with flames of fire. He will judge all flesh by fire and sword (compare Genesis 3.24 where these kept men from the tree of life). And His slain will be many. But note also that it is man slaying man. God’s judgment paradoxically is carried out by the very men on whom His judgment is coming. This description includes the final judgment, but may also include judgments through the ages which are foretastes of it. Yahweh’s hand will continually deliver His servants and He Himself will slay the unrighteous.
The picture of a final period of fire (Ezekiel 38.19; Joel 2.3, 30; Micah 1.4; Nahum 1.6; Malachi 3.2), whirlwind (Proverbs 1.27; Hosea 8.7; Nahum 1.3) and warfare is a popular one with the prophets in one way or another (29.6). and it signals the end of time. It sums up what unredeemed man is, and what his end is. He brings it on himself. And in the end the earth is to be destroyed by fire which will include the destruction of ungodly men (2 Peter 3.7).
Those Who Follow False Religion Will Come To An End Together (66.17-18a).
This judgment will come on all who follow false religion. They set themselves apart and purify themselves (by methods which we do not know) in readiness for their worship, and then they go to the sacred gardens. ‘Behind one in the midst’ clearly refers to some aspect of their rites, compare Ezekiel 8.11. Possibly this was someone selected out to perform some special ceremony whom they take in triumph to their blasphemous rites. And there they eat swine’s flesh, and the abomination (insects and creeping things? Such constantly came in contact with what was unclean, especially dead bodies. Compare Ezekiel 8.10) and rodents. But they will all come to an end together at the last judgment. For while they meet in secret, thinking that Yahweh does not see them (see 29.15; 30.1; Ezekiel 8.12), Yahweh knows their works and their thoughts.
There Will Be Deliverance For Many In The Nations Some Of Whom Will Become Priests And Levites (66.18b-21).
But God’s mercy is to be made available to all nations. Those who have escaped His wrath among His people will be sent among the nations taking the word of God, and declaring His glory among the nations.
‘It comes.’ We could translate ‘the time will come’ or ‘the final consummation will come’. The Servant was to be a light to the Gentiles, and now we find here the gathering of those Gentiles that they may see and receive the glory of Yahweh. They will gather to the new Jerusalem (compare 2.2) and see the glory of Yahweh. The thought may be of another manifestation of His glory as on Sinai and in the tabernacle, sanctifying the new Jerusalem, but this one permanent (60.19-20; see Exodus 24.16-17; 29.43; 40.34; Leviticus 9.23; Revelation 21.11). Or ‘see My glory’ may signify that they will appreciate fully what He is, this in contrast with ‘nor have seen my glory’. But what is certain is that He will be declared among the nations. Or indeed it may indicate both manifestation and understanding. They will see Him as He is and declare Him to all.
And Yahweh will ‘set a sign among them’. God regularly gave specific signs to His people. The sign of the rainbow (Genesis 9.13), the sign of circumcision (Genesis 17.11), and so on. So this sign is clearly also significant. It is a token that His purposes will certainly come about, and we are probably to see that it is such a sign as will win the nations. The great sign mentioned in Isaiah is found in 7.14. ‘The Lord Himself will give you a sign, behold a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and will call His name Immanuel.’ He will be a sure sign and could certainly be described as ‘My glory’. Or the sign may be the very restoration that is taking place at the word of Yahweh, the everlasting sign, as a new world is born (55.13). That too could be seen as ‘His glory’.
Or it is tempting to see here a reference to Pentecost where men from ‘every nation under Heaven’ were gathered, and God’s glorious fire was revealed, and they received God’s sign, the seal of the Holy Spirit, and from there went out to the nations. This would tie in with the everlasting sign of 55.13.
The names mentioned are far distant places, and such will be the witness of these whom He has gathered that it will reach these far off places, and they will hear of His glory. These possibly represent Spain, Sardinia or East Africa (Tarshish), North Africa (Pul and Lud), the far north (Tubal) and the coastlands across the sea (Javan), thus north, south and west. East is probably omitted because Babylon was there, and Babylon was everlastingly doomed, or possibly ‘East’ was not seen as representing distant places. This Lud is differentiated as ‘drawing the bow and is therefore probably not Lydia (see Genesis 10.13; Jeremiah 46.9 which link it with North Africa).
‘Such as escape.’ That is by being converted to Yahweh and leaving the ranks of those for whom He has destined wrath.
It will be noted that we have a similar order of events to 2.2-4 where nations would flow to the house of Yahweh and then the word of the Law would go out from Jerusalem.
66.20 “And they will bring all your brothers out of all the nations for an offering to Yahweh, on horses, and in chariots, and in litter, and on mules, and on swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem,” says Yahweh, “as the children of Israel bring their offering in a clean vessel to the house of Yahweh.”
As a result of conversion among the Gentiles, refugee and exile Jews will return to Yahweh and will be offered by them to Yahweh as an offering. With the excitement of His work among the Gentiles, Israel will not be forgotten. The work of the Christian church among the Jews still goes on. We can compare here Paul’s description of the Gentiles as an oblation which he as an officiating priest offered up to God (Rom 15:16). The idea of the offering would seem to be that the grateful Gentiles consider that their work among the Jews, to restore to Him the elect of His old people, is something especially pleasing to Him. It is pictured in terms of them being brought to Jerusalem (i.e. the new Jerusalem) by every form of transport. Every effort will be made to bring about their redemption.
‘As the children of Israel bring their offering in a clean vessel to the house of Yahweh.’ This explains the emphasis on the means of transport. They do not come on foot lest they be rendered unclean by contact with unclean things in Gentile lands. They are to be presented clean to Yahweh. This thus makes the offering even more precious. For they are all coming as those who are sanctified, as those made holy.
‘My holy mountain, Jerusalem’. This is the new Jerusalem, made holy to Yahweh in contrast with the old Jerusalem (see 1.21-27). Nothing unclean can enter here.
With Isaiah the idea of Jerusalem is very flexible. It represents a vision. It begins with the old harlot Jerusalem, expands into the restored Jerusalem, and then into the heavenly Jerusalem and finally into the Jerusalem in the new heavens and the new earth. It grows to represent the focal point of God’s true people. Without a real awareness of such an idea as Heaven, he sees Jerusalem as growing into something similar, the place where contact between God and His people grows until it is complete.
66.21 ‘ “And of them also will I take for priests, for Levites,” says Yahweh.’
This may indicate that Gentile converts will also be made priests and Levites, that is, chosen servants of Yahweh. Thus Gentile converts will also be there. Israel is no longer the exclusive kingdom of priests (Exodus 19.5-6). All nations will share the privilege, startling evidence of their full acceptance on equal terms. We may see here the priestly duties of the new Israel. See 1 Peter 2.5, 9; Hebrews 13.15; Romans 15.16; 12.1; Philippians 4.18.
Alternately the ‘of them’ might refer to the far off people of God who have been brought home. They had stubbornly resisted God, but now He has brought them into His true service.
The Final Triumph (66.22-24).
66.22 ‘For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, will remain before me, so will your seed and your name remain.’
Once again we are reminded that God has made all things new. And they are permanent and everlasting as He is everlasting (they ‘will remain before Him’). But equally everlasting are the seed of these whom Yahweh has gathered. The Abrahamic promise now belongs to them as well. And their name will remain (contrast 65.15). This is the new name by which He has called His servants (65.15). There will be no danger of these proving false to Yahweh or turning back, for Yahweh guarantees their perseverance.
This is the second mention of the new heavens and the new earth (see 65.17). And yet the whole concentration is on the new Jerusalem. In this we have further confirmation that the new Jerusalem in its final form is the representation of the new heavens and the new earth, of the final place of fulfilment (compare Revelation 21.1-22.5).
66.23 ‘ “And it will come about that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, all flesh will come to worship before me,” says Yahweh.’
Now the whole world worships Yahweh. This is the final triumph. Month by month, and sabbath by sabbath, they observe His day, the sign that they are wholly His, and come to enjoy His feasts. It is a time of feasting and not of fasting, for those who rejected Him have been done away. All are in the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city. No earthly city could contain this number. Isaiah is describing a Jerusalem beyond his imagination, and beyond ours, which is why it has to be put in such terms. And yet there was a precursor of it in the earlier gathering of peoples from all nations to the feasts in Jerusalem (Acts 2.5).
66.24 ‘And they will go forth and look on the carcasses of the men who have transgressed against me, for their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be an abhorring to all flesh.’
This is not a picture of going there in order to obtain morbid pleasure. It is a solemn declaration that God has triumphed. His true people will enter Jerusalem to worship, and as they go out again they will pass the valley of judgment where the fires of judgment still burn. Many visitors to Jerusalem would remember the glory of the Temple and the vivid contrast of the Valley of Hinnom as they left Jerusalem after their worship.
The point being made here is that all who were against Yahweh are gone. There is no suggestion that they live. They are carcasses. What survives for ever are the means of judgment, the maggot and the fire which will never die. Nothing cast there will survive. The thought is that His own will worship Yahweh and be aware of His judgment on the wicked, and that his readers must be aware of it too. It is a vivid warning to his readers that they must choose whether they will be one or the other, the final evangelistic appeal. And it is on this warning that he signs off. It is his last appeal to the hearts of men. In the Garden the tempter questioned, ‘Did God say?’ Here is the reply. ‘God did say’.
The picture is in terms of a rubbish dump where the fires continually burn to consume the waste, and the maggots continually do their work, and where the bodies of outcasts are tossed to demonstrate for them supreme everlasting contempt (compare Daniel 12.2). Certainly later the valley of Hinnom (Ge-hinnom) outside the walls of Jerusalem became such a rubbish dump, and its eerie fires at night seen over the walls of Jerusalem would present an aweinspiring sight. This would later result in the idea of Gehenna, the place of eternal punishment.
And thus in these final words Isaiah proclaims the triumph of Yahweh, the unrestricted worship of His people, and His final dealings with all who have rejected Him.
IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE BIBLE THAT PUZZLES YOU?
FREE Scholarly verse by verse commentaries on the Bible.