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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 66

 

 

Introduction

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.


Verse 1-2

The Exceeding Greatness of God (Isaiah 66:1-2 a).

Isaiah 66:1-2

‘Thus says Yahweh,

“The heaven is my throne,

And the earth is my footstool,

What manner of house will you build for me?

And what place will be my rest?

For all these things has my hand made,

And so all these things came to be, 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 Isaiah 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.

Isaiah 66:2 b

Those Who Are Welcome At His Feet (Isaiah 66:2 b).

Isaiah 66:2

“But to this man will I look,

Even to him who is poor and of a contrite spirit (‘lamed in spirit’),

And who trembles at my word.”

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 (Isaiah 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 Isaiah 61:1 and Isaiah 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 Psalms 111:10).


Verses 3-5

In Contrast Are Those Whose Offerings and Sacrifices Are Merely Formal And Debased And Not From The Heart (Isaiah 66:3-5).

Isaiah 66:3

“He who kills an ox is as he who slays a man,

He who sacrifices a lamb as he who breaks a dogs neck,

He who offers an oblation as he who offers swine’s blood,

He who burns frankincense as he who blesses an idol,

Yes, they have chosen their own ways,

And their inner being delights in their abomination.”

This is where we began in Isaiah 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 Isaiah 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 Isaiah 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 Isaiah 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.

Isaiah 66:4

“I also will choose the harsh way they are treated (the due reward for their deeds),

And will bring their fears on them,

Because when I called, none answered,

When I spoke they did not hear.

But they did what was evil in my eyes,

And chose that in which I did not delight.

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 Isaiah 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 Isaiah 65:12 where it is related to fortune telling and idolatry).


Verses 5-9

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 (Isaiah 66:5-9).

Isaiah 66:5

“Hear the word of Yahweh,

You who tremble at his word,

Your brothers who hate you,

Who cast you out for my name’s sake,

Have said, ‘Let Yahweh be glorified,

That we may see your joy.’

But they will be ashamed.”

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 Isaiah 5:18-19; Isaiah 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.


Verses 6-9

The Birth Of The New Age (Isaiah 66:6-9).

Isaiah 66:6

‘A voice of tumult from the city,

A voice from the temple,

A voice of Yahweh,

Which renders recompense to his enemies.’

Before she travailed she brought forth,

Before her pain came she was delivered of a man-child,

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.

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.’

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 Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 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 Psalms 2:9, a Messianic psalm.

But, it may be asked, does it not say that this passage refers to the birth of the nation? (Isaiah 66:8). 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 (Isaiah 9:7), justice would be established (Isaiah 11:4), and He would rule (Isaiah 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’ (Isaiah 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 (Isaiah 49:1), the new ‘Israel’ (Isaiah 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 (Isaiah 65:1; Isaiah 65:9).

‘ “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.


Verses 11-13

The Birth Of The Nation Results In Rejoicing For God’s New Jerusalem (Isaiah 66:11-13).

Isaiah 66:10-11

‘Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,

All you who love her,

Rejoice for joy with her,

All you who mourn over her.

That you may suck and be satisfied,

With her consoling breasts, (‘the breasts of her consolations’)

That you may draw out her milk, and be delighted,

With the abundance of her glory (‘the nipple of her glory’).’

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 (Isaiah 66:1; compare Isaiah 2:2-4). It is connected with heaven in a new way (Isaiah 2:2). And from this Jerusalem will issue forth God’s Instruction (Isaiah 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.

Isaiah 66:12-13

‘For thus says Yahweh,

“Behold I will extend peace to her like a river,

And the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream,

And you will suck, you will be borne on the side,

And will be dandled on the knees.

As one whom his mother comforts,

So will I comfort you,

And you will be comforted in Jerusalem.

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 Isaiah 48:18. They do not come as second best, they bring their glory. We are reminded here of Isaiah 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. Isaiah 32:2; Isaiah 33:21; Isaiah 41:18; Isaiah 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; John 4:10-14; John 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.


Verses 14-16

While The Righteous Will Flourish God Will Finally Judge The Unrighteous (Isaiah 66:14-16).

Isaiah 66:14-16

‘And you will see and your heart will rejoice,

And your bones will flourish like the tender grass,

And the hand of Yahweh will be known towards his servants,

And he will have indignation against his enemies.

For behold Yahweh will come with fire,

And his chariots will be like the whirlwind,

To render his anger with fury,

And his rebuke with flames of fire.

For by fire will Yahweh plead,

And by his sword, with all flesh,

And the slain of Yahweh will be many.’

A similar judgment to that on Edom (Isaiah 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 Isaiah 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; Joel 2:30; 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 (Isaiah 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).


Verse 17-18

Those Who Follow False Religion Will Come To An End Together (Isaiah 66:17-18 a).

Isaiah 66:17-18

“Those who sanctify themselves and purify themselves,

To go to the gardens behind one in the midst,

Eating swine’s flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse,

They will come to an end together,” says Yahweh.

“For I know their works and their thoughts.”

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 Isaiah 29:15; Isaiah 30:1; Ezekiel 8:12), Yahweh knows their works and their thoughts.


Verses 18-21

There Will Be Deliverance For Many In The Nations Some Of Whom Will Become Priests And Levites (Isaiah 66:18-21).

Isaiah 66:18-19

“It comes, and I will gather all nations and tongues,

And they will come and will see my glory,

And I will set a sign among them,

And I will send such as escape of them to the nations,

To Tarshish, Pul and Lud, who draw the bow,

To Tubal and Javan, to the isles far off,

Those who have not heard my fame, nor have seen my glory,

And they will declare my glory among the nations.

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 Isaiah 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 (Isaiah 60:19-20; see Exodus 24:16-17; Exodus 29:43; Exodus 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 Isaiah 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 (Isaiah 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 Isaiah 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 Isaiah 2:2-4 where nations would flow to the house of Yahweh and then the word of the Law would go out from Jerusalem.

Isaiah 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 (Romans 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 Isaiah 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.

Isaiah 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; 1 Peter 2:9; Hebrews 13:15; Romans 15:16; Romans 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.


Verses 22-24

The Final Triumph (Isaiah 66:22-24).

Isaiah 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 Isaiah 65:15). This is the new name by which He has called His servants (Isaiah 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 Isaiah 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 to Revelation 22:5).

Isaiah 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).

Isaiah 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.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 66:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-66.html. 2013.

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