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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 66

 

 

Verse 1

1. Heaven is my throne… earth is my footstool — This is a restatement of doctrines made familiar at the dedication of the first temple, (see 1 Chronicles 6,) and often elsewhere repeated, as well as everywhere implied in Holy Scripture. See Stephen’s speech, Acts vii, especially. God’s empire is the universe; the indefinite expanse above is his throne, or the scene in which his sovereignty is in exercise; and the earth is his footstool, (Acts 7:49,) or the scene extended so as to take in the panorama of the scheme of redemption. Being thus everywhere present, how is he to be located in a man-made temple? How weak such a mistake regarding the divine Being! The occasion of the words in this verse appears to have been the prophet’s far-seeing view of the Jews’ worldly pride in the newly repaired and gorgeously ornamented temple under Herod the Great, at Christ’s advent. The temple of Christ’s body was to be the one only temple of sole and solid interest to the world, an effective and enduring shrine before which a world of lost men should bow in worship and supplication for mercy. This is such a place which God seeks for his rest.


Verse 2

2. All those things hath mine hand made — The heavens and the earth just mentioned, the universe created by me — those are to me an infinitely more magnificent temple than man can make.

But to this man will I look — The man of humble, contrite, reverent spirit, who is tremblingly penitent before me — to him will I give heed — not to you, proud, conceited worldlings, who hypocritically affect to worship Jehovah in profane, though professedly sacred, grandeur. To all such I give no heed.


Verse 3

3. But as to men of undevout character, who do not seek God with broken hearts — hearts crushed under a sense of sin — their sacrifices are an offence to Jehovah and a curse to themselves.

He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man — Here follow three other similar propositions, having for their subjects things required in religious offerings under the ritual law: all together, they are the ox, the lamb, the oblation, and offering of incense. Things offset against these are utterly forbidden by the law, being in themselves abominable. They are the human sacrifice, the blood of swine, the breaking the neck of a dog, and blessing an idol — all of which call for what in themselves raise the divine horror, instead of the divine compassion. And they of the undevout Jews are herein said to sacrifice what is equivalent to these abominations when they formally attempt to sacrifice at all. In spirit they are gross idolaters, (see Isaiah 1:11-14,) and the conclusion seems to be, that it is time a ritual institution, abused like this, should be abolished for ever. It has ever helped the humble and penitent worshipper of Jehovah, though he needs it no more since the world’s Great Sacrifice has come, and covers all his sins. But the undevout ones worship only in the letter — the spirit of the law they trample under foot, and thereby they profane the Almighty Saviour.


Verse 4

4. Choose their delusions — “Delusions” — rather, devices — consists of still offering ritual worship now that its original intent is all removed from it. The born, crucified, and risen Messiah, to whom it had pointed in its symbols and types, has taken its place.

Because — From this point the language is the same as that of Isaiah 65:12.


Verse 5

5. Ye that tremble — These are Jehovah’s true followers. There were many such in Israel when Messiah came. To these he now turns. In these the true Israel is to be continued, and they are assured that though their unbelieving countrymen may cast them out with hatred and persecution for a time, their spite will soon work to their own confusion and destruction as a corporate nation. Every receiver of Messiah they reject from temple and synagogue, and they say in respect to them, Let the Lord be glorified. The Pharisees persecuted, and prayed this prayer! Time corrects delusion and sincerity, passing, hand in hand, together. So St. Paul, from experience, believed. The self-righteousness of the Jews in Christ’s time brought upon them a terrible deception; yet many were no doubt honest, and thought they were doing God service in persecuting the disciples of Christ. But the mass of the people were bitter toward the faithful remnant, and their prayer probably meant this: We persecute, it is true, but no doubt God will be glorified in your case, and we shall see your salvation notwithstanding. (Bitterly ironical here, as in Isaiah 5:19.) “But they (who thus speak) shall themselves be confounded by what they now consider so incredible.” — Alexander.


Verse 6

6. A voice of the Lord — It would seem as if the mock prediction is coming to pass in a way the persecutors little counted on. There would seem to be a leap of time here to the destruction of Jerusalem.

A voice of noise — Or, sound of war from the city — from Jerusalem herself; the shock and tumult of battle by the Romans, A.D. 70. There is a triple sound of battle: — one from the temple, as well as from the city, and one from Jehovah. it is as a roar of armies rushing to deadly conflict, with God as the Unseen Leader.


Verses 7-9

7-9. Before she — That is, Zion. Before she came to such throes as described above, she brought forth a man child. Some suppose the birth of Jesus Christ is here intended. Others, more consistently, hold, in accordance with Isaiah 49:18-23, where the thought is substantially the same as here, that Zion already is beginning to be the joyful mother of a strong host of converts from Jews and Gentiles.

Who hath heard such a thing — Such an increase of Zion’s children is a marvel.

Shall a nation be born at once — It has never before so occurred. In the prophet’s eye the world, according to the divine order, is soon to be ready for such an event.

Bring to the birth — On his part God has conducted human history so as to fully inaugurate the gospel age through and among all peoples.

Man child — Every one of the human kind now entitled to the benefits of Christ’s salvation. The new dispensation takes in all mankind collectively as the one “man child.” Faithful co-operation between man and Messiah shall now be fruitful of grandest ingatherings to Jehovah, and of universal joy through earth and heaven.


Verse 10-11

10, 11. Rejoice ye with Jerusalem — “Jerusalem is now a happy mother, rejoicing that a son is born to her — a birth which really means a nation — a new and world-embracing Zion. Now therefore let her friends gather round her with their hearts of glowing sympathy and words of grateful cheer. Let those who have wept in her grief rejoice in her joy. Remarkably these rejoicing friends are accounted as among her infant children, still clinging to a dear mother’s bosom to feast there at the full breasts of her glory.” — Cowles.


Verse 12

12. Peace… like a river — Her unbroken spiritual prosperity is to be as an ever-full and sometimes an overflowing stream, like the Nile, or the Euphrates, each in its sphere the chief of oriental rivers. The words, I will extend peace to her like, etc., lead some to render the phrase: “I will extend, or cause to spread over her, an overwhelming prosperity (‘peace,’ a synonyme for prosperity) like an overflowing stream.” In this way the figure is changed somewhat more than the Hebrew can admit, except tropically; but the idea seems more forcible, and equally beautiful.

Shall ye suck — These words resume the figure of the preceding verse, denoting Zion-Jerusalem as the figuratively original source of revealed knowledge respecting the great salvation to be shared by all. The objects of address in this speech are the sons of Zion, to be gathered out of all nations.


Verse 13-14

13, 14. As one whom his mother comforteth — See note on chapter Isaiah 49:15, where a similar image occurs.

In Jerusalem — As the spiritual nourisher, consolation shall come to you.

When ye see this — This great accession from among Gentiles.

Your heart shall rejoice — Not Gentiles, but the ever-faithful, true Israelite is addressed. In all of Zion’s troubles hitherto he had mourned with much sorrow for her. Now that God favours Zion again, and comforts her, he rejoices, he exults.

Your bones shall flourish — This singular image is one indicating that the whole bodily frame becomes invigorated. Strength is infused into it. This physical effect arises from the spirit being exultant over God’s power in exercise for good to Zion’s children, for evil to Zion’s enemies.

The hand of the Lord — The Lord’s power: this shall protect them, and shall punish their enemies.


Verse 15-16

15, 16. Will come with fire — The figure partakes of imagery from Sinai — a figure always at hand when demonstration of great trial scenes are before us. Isaiah 34:3.

For by… his sword — As a mighty warrior.

Plead with all flesh — With all men who are hostile to God and his Zion. The tenor of the words in this passage shows God’s pleading “with all flesh,” that is, representatively with the whole hostile Jewish race, to be not literally in words of reasoning, but in terrific pleadings (so to call it) of “fire” and “sword.” Such fierce judgment came at last to tie Jews as a nation, at which time the slain of the Lord was indeed many. Who will say this prophecy was not terribly fulfilled at the destruction of Jerusalem?

But prophecy grows in fulfilment, and who will say the events of A.D. 70 were not a type of after terrific fulfilments in the form of trial-crises, wherein fire and sword played their part, involving Gentile and Jewish atrocities alike? As to what befell, in the sphere of prophecy, the mass of Israel, see Romans 9-11.


Verse 17

17. The judgments of Isaiah 66:15-16, likewise fall on nations or heathen as well as on Jews who still voluntarily drop themselves from the election of grace, and become measurably like the heathen.

They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens — The same as described in Isaiah 65:3-4. These are the ancient idolaters among the Jews, of whom so much has been said in these prophecies. Their sins, past, present, and future, are considered as in one group, for which judgment of “fire” and “sword” is executed.

Gardens — Enclosures containing trees and shrubs and aromatic plants, belonging to the wealthy, especially kings and nobles. When idolatry became common in Palestine these were used for polluting, idol worship.

Behind one tree in the midst — The word “tree” is not in the Hebrew text, but the reading is: Behind one, one, or one after one. It is generally believed one file leader is the proper idea; he standing in the “midst,” giving instruction and direction in idolatrous procession along the groves of the garden, where swine’s flesh is sacrificed and eaten, with the abomination, and the mouse. What these were is very difficult to ascertain; but the sentiment indicates that nothing was too disgusting to be an object of idolatrous reverence in the days of the wicked kings of Israel and Judah. The retributive judgments of these verses are seemingly generic, and do their chastising work along the whole course of history pertaining to the abuses of Jehovah’s true religion. This entire subject is quite inscrutable still to the ablest critics.


Verse 18

18. For I know their works and their thoughts — There is great abruptness in these words, and they indicate very excited emotion. Exact rendering from the original makes the words stand thus: And I — their works and their thoughts — it is come — to gather all the nations and the tongues — and they shall come and see my glory — And I — This is followed by nothing. The ellipsis may be filled by I know, or, I abhor, or, I know how to punish, or, I will consume, taking this word from the “consumed” of the preceding verse. Each of these supplied words has its advocate among exegetes; others might also be added. It seems very fairly proper to supply the last here mentioned, I will consume. Connexion with the foregoing verse suggests, and not a little authorizes it: “I will consume their works and their devices.” What was so abruptly cut short off, through panting excitement, as it were, occasioned by a sudden emotion of abhorrence, is thus fittingly supplied: “It shall come. The decision is made. All nations (outside from apostate Israel) and tongues (from among the Gentiles) shall witness my glory, (that is, my almighty power,) manifested in the consumption of these apostates;” or, to “see my glory” may consist of conquests over apostate foes, and achievements of grace in his Church.


Verse 19

19. The achievements just named, no doubt, are the conversion of so large a part of the Gentiles.

I will set a sign — Not an “ensign,” (chap. Isaiah 11:12,) a rallying flag around which Gentiles are bidden to throng. It is one of the words used for miracle, the miracle of most extensive Gentile conversions, opened from the time of the great pentecostal occasion. Acts 2.

Will send those that escape of them — Dispersed Jews and proselytes converted to Christ at the great feast of the pentecost, return as missionaries in every direction to their respective homes, which are here enumerated, but not exhaustively. Tarshish, (western end of the Mediterranean;) Pul, and Lud, (in Africa, Jeremiah 46:9;) Tubal, (in Northern Asia, Ezekiel 27:13; Ezekiel 32:26; Ezekiel 38:2-3; Ezekiel 39:1;) Javan, (in Greece; and Ionian isles and maritime coasts, etc.) This includes the missionary results, not of the pentecostal occasion alone, but of the apostolic labours as well.

Escape of them — These converted ones of Israel are of those on whom the fiery judgments of Jehovah were not to fall, as upon the apostate Jews. The prophet, in these verses, writes of events in the manner of foreshortened prediction; that is, of events as occurring quite in his own times, or somewhat later, but which, in point of fact, extend into the far future. They reach, evidently, the apostolic age, and no doubt they qualifiedly cover ages beyond, during which missionary work shall be in demand for the conversion of the entire world — the scope of time required by St. Paul in Romans 10, 11.


Verse 20

20. They shall bring all your brethren for an offering — The order of the Hebrew text is, “They shall bring all your brethren” out of all nations “for an offering.” The writer is speaking still to, and in the verbal costume of, his own times. “They,” or men, shall bring an offering, or an oblation, to Jehovah at his holy mountain or Church at Jerusalem; the oblation being from far-off sections of the world as indicated by the modes of conveyance in early Jewish times. It is a sensible thought that “the spirit of this prophecy authorizes us to substitute for horses and chariots, railcars and steamships, and to assume that the transportation will be outward rather than inward; missionaries going forth into all the world, and not the nations themselves coming in to some great central Jerusalem.” — Cowles, in loco.


Verse 21-22

21, 22. And I will… take of them — These words connect closely with the heathen converts of the preceding verse. “Of them,” together with the “and,” show this clearly enough.

For priests… for Levites — These are preachers of the atonement and reconciliation through the Messiah and Redeemer. Into the new Zion they are admitted, not by a Mosaic installation, but in virtue of their being made “kings and priests unto God” with all the believers in Jesus Christ — himself the great High Priest, Prophet, and King, in the new order of things — the new heavens and… new earth. So shall your seed and your name remain — This new order and constitution of the thoroughly established Messianic age has an unchangeable priesthood in Christ, and a perpetual seed and name in the body — the Church of Christ, of which he is head — with no distinction of Jew or Gentile. This view is fully substantiated by the unity of sense in the terms of this text or verse and the immediate context.


Verse 23

23. From one new moon to another — Literally, as often as the moon cometh in its month, in its time every month, at which time a festival (of the new moon) was held.

All flesh — That is, all nations, shall come up to worship, as if at Jerusalem. Of course this is figurative. The prophet does not cease to be a Jew, to talk in Jewish costume, and to the comprehension of his own times. These new-moon festivals are not such as God hated in Isaiah 1:13, because in those far future times to which they refer their original intent will be observed. The meaning clearly is, that millions over the earth will statedly and habitually be truly observant of the purposes and services of a living, spiritual Christianity. The sabbath will be observed, and God will be worshipped “in spirit and in truth.” The divine ordinances will be sacredly attended to, and institutions for practical good to the world will be kept perpetually established.


Verse 24

24. They shall go forth — The restored of the true Israel, embracing all devout Jews and converted Gentiles, constitute a vast host, enclosed within the walls of the typical, but now holy, Jerusalem. They have been collected from all regions of the earth. Already Jehovah has closed fiery judgment with apostate Israel, and has gathered the corpses of “the slain of the Lord” into the Hinnom valley (now called Gehenna) below, there to have unending consumption by unquenched fire and never-dying worm. The happy denizens of Jerusalem are called to go forth and survey the scene. The place, once by our prophet called Tophet, (Isaiah 30:33,) and more fully so called by Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 7:30-33; Jeremiah 19:6-15,) to which also our Lord alludes, (Mark 9:44; Mark 9:46; Mark 9:48,) was at one time the scene of Moloch worship; hence the name Tophet — a drum beaten to drown the cries of infants sacrificed to Moab’s god, Moloch. Hence, too, the whole imagery here, that of illustrating the horrors of doom befalling apostates from the true God, and the future punishment to all who incorrigibly are defiant of Jehovah to the last.

For purposes of Isaiah’s profound drama, herewith closed, this is a fitting and legitimate monumental scene; on this, want of space does not allow enlargement. It is, moreover, with some grotesqueness, a didactic scene. Prediction is in the scene, the object of which is, first, the New Jerusalem of the world to come; and second, the eternal misery of condemned ones. The picture is drawn in figures from the present world — figures from the present life adapted to the realities of the life to come. This, however, is just the distinction between the Old Testament and the New — the former bringing down the life to come to the end of this life, while the latter does just the opposite. (This thought is due to Delitzsch.) He says: “The New Jerusalem of our prophet has indeed a new heaven above it and a new earth under it, but it is only the old Jerusalem of earth lifted up to its highest glory and happiness; whereas the New Jerusalem of the Apocalypse comes down from heaven, and is therefore of a heavenly nature. In the former dwells the Israel that has been brought back from exile; in the latter, the risen Church of those who are written in the Book of Life. And whilst our prophet transfers the place in which the rebellious are judged to the neighbourhood of Jerusalem itself; in the Apocalypse the lake of fire in which the life of the ungodly is consumed, and the abode of God with men, are for ever separated. The Hinnom valley outside Jerusalem has become Gehenna, and this is no longer within the precincts of Jerusalem, because there is no need of any such example to the righteous who are for ever perfect.”

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 66:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/isaiah-66.html. 1874-1909.

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