Isaiah 66 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Isaiah 66
Pulpit Commentary
Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?
Verses 1-4. - THE UNGODLY EXILES REBUKED. Israel, being about to return from the Captivity, had the design of rebuilding the temple and re-establishing the temple worship. God rebukes this design in persons devoid of any spirit of holiness, and warns them that mere formal outward worship is an abomination to him (vers. 1-3). In ver. 4 he threatens them with punishment. Verse 1. - Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool (comp. Psalm 11:4; Psalm 103:19). The Hebrews, while they earnestly desired to have a material emblem of the presence of God in their midst, were deeply impressed with the feeling that no temple could be worthy of him, or other than most unworthy. "Will God," said Solomon, "indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heavens of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?" (1 Kings 8:27). And again, "Who is able to build him an house, seeing the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain him? Who am I then, that I should build him an house, save only to burn sacrifice before trim?" (2 Chronicles 2:6). Thus Isaiah's note of warning was no novelty, and might rind responsive echoes in the hearts of many. Where is the house that ye build unto me? rather, what manner of house is it that ye would build to me, add what manner of place for my rest? God needs no "house;" and they cannot build him a house that could be in any way worthy of him. They, moreover, are unworthy to build him any house, which is the real ground of the refusal. There was no refusal, when the better part of the exiles, having returned, took the building in hand (see Ezra 3:8-13; Ezra 6:14, 15; Haggai 1:8-14; Zechariah 1:16; Zechariah 4:9, etc.).
For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.
Verse 2. - All these things - i.e. heaven and earth hath mine hand made; i.e. have I, Jehovah, brought into existence. How, then, can I need that men should build me a house? All these things have been, saith the Lord. The sentence seems incomplete. Mr. Cheyne supplies, "I spoke." The sentence will then run, "I spoke, and all these things crone into being, saith Jehovah;" i.e. heaven and earth, and all things that are therein, came into being at my word (comp. Genesis 1:1; Genesis 2:1). But to this man will I look; i.e. though I have made all things and all men, I will not equally regard all. Him only will I respect who is of a poor and contrite spirit, etc. (comp. Isaiah 57:15).
He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog's neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine's blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations.
Verse 3. - He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; literally, is a manslayer. The full meaning seems to be, "He that, not being of a poor and contrite spirit, would offer me an ox in sacrifice, is as little pleasing to me as a murderer." Sacrifice, without the true spirit of sacrifice, is an abomination (comp. Isaiah 1:11, "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord," etc.). There, however, the sacrifices are actually offered; here they are hypothetical. The ungodly exiles design to offer sacrifice to God in his temple, when they have rebuilt it (ver. 1). God rejects their offerings by anticipation. As if he out off a dog's neck; i.e." would no more please me by the sacrifice than if he were to make an offering of the unclean dog." (On the uncleanness of the dog, see Deuteronomy 23:18.) He that offereth an oblation; or, a meat offering (see Leviticus 2:1-15). He that burneth incense. With his meat offering, as directed in Leviticus 2:1, 2. Such a one is no better than he that blesseth (i.e. worships) an idol. It may be suspected that the ritual acts selected for comparison with those of the Levitical law are practices to which the exiles were given (comp. Isaiah 65:3, 4). Yea, they have chosen, etc.; rather, as they haw chosen. The clause stands over against the first clause of ver. 4, "As they (gain hemmah) have chosen their ways, so I (gain ani) have chosen their delusions."
I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did evil before mine eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not.
Verse 4. - Their delusions; or, their childish follies (LXX., ἐμπαίγματα). As God sends on some men "strong delusion that they should believe a lie" (2 Thessalonians 2:11), so on others he sends a spirit of childish folly, which makes their conduct silly and headstrong. Persons whose characters are of this stamp are especially liable to vain and groundless "fears." When I called, none did answer (comp. Isaiah 65:12, and see the comment on that passage).
Hear the word of the LORD, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name's sake, said, Let the LORD be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.
Verses 5-14. - THE GODLY EXILES ENCOURAGED. The scoffs which have long greeted those who believed God's promises and expected the restoration of Zion, will be put to shame. The silence in which Zion has lain will be broken; she will be once more a city "full of stirs, a tumultuous city" (Isaiah 22:2). Suddenly, without any pains of travail, she will bring forth; and her offspring will be "a nation born at once" (ver. 8). The godly exiles are called upon to rejoice at the prospect (ver. 10), and promised peace and comfort in the restored city (vers. 11-14). Verse 5. - Hear... ye that tremble. The godly are addressed - those that have a reverent fear of God's word (comp. ver. 2, ad fin.; and see also Ezra 9:4; Ezra 10:3). Your brethren that... cast you out; rather. that put you away (Cheyne), or thrust you from them (Delitzsch). The verb used came in later times to designate formal excommunication; but here it points merely to a practical renunciation of fellowship. Said, Let the Lord be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy; rather, said, Let Jehovah glorify himself, that ice may see your joy; i.e. "said sarcastically, May the prophecies be fulfilled, and God humble Babylon, and release Israel, and restore her, that we may witness your rejoicing. We should gladly see all this; but we do not in the least expect it." And they shall be ashamed; rather, but as for them (i.e. those who so speak) they shall be ashamed. The event shall shame them.
A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the LORD that rendereth recompence to his enemies.
Verse 6. - A voice of noise from the city... from the temple. The "city" and "temple" are suddenly in existence - they have sprung into being. The prophet sees Jerusalem rebuilt, restored, and hears sounds go forth from it - partly, perhaps, the sounds of ordinary city life; but amid these, there is a voice of the Lord, rendering recompense to his enemies. The Jewish state, restored by Zerubbabel, did, after a time, bring under subjection several of its ancient adversaries.
Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child.
Verses 7, 8. - Before she travailed, etc. Without any long delay, without any labour pains, Zion will bring forth a man-child - a whole nation, which wilt be born at once, and not grow up by slow degrees. The occupation of Jerusalem by the great body of the returned exiles (Ezra 2:1; Ezra 3:1) is intended. Such a second birth of a nation was strange, and without precedent (comp. Isaiah 42:9; Isaiah 43:19). Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? rather, can a land be brought forth in one day? It is not only a people, but a country, that is born anew; not only the Jews, but Judaea.
Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born 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? saith the LORD: shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb? saith thy God.
Verse 9. - Shall I bring to the birth, etc.? i.e. "Should I arrange all the preliminary circumstances for the restoration of my people, and stop there?" (Cheyne). Nay, should I, having done so much, interpose at the last moment, to shut the womb? Without such interposition, matters have progressed so far, that the result must come.
Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her:
Verse 10. - Rejoice ye with Jerusalem... all ye that love her. The call to rejoicing is general. Restored Jerusalem is to be hailed with joy "by all who love her," whether her own children or foreigners. To both she will be a blessing (vers. 11-13).
That ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory.
Verse 11. - That ye may suck. Restored Jerusalem will be as a mother to all who love her, to all who have mourned for her when she lay as it were dead (1 Samuel 15:35; 2 Samuel 14:2). She will have "milk" to give to all - "the sincere milk of the Word" (1 Peter 2:2) - and from her both Jew and Gentile will "suck out no small advantage" (Psalm 73:10). She will also impart to them from the abundance of her glory.
For thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream: then shall ye suck, ye shall be borne upon her sides, and be dandled upon her knees.
Verse 12. - I will extend peace to her like a river; literally, I will direct peace to her, like a river. The waters of streams are in the East directed hither and thither by the agriculturist. God would have given his people "peace, as a river," long previously, had they permitted him (Isaiah 48:18). And the glory of the Gentiles (comp. Isaiah 60:5, 11; Isaiah 61:6, etc.). Like a flowing stream; literally, as an overflowing torrent. There is perhaps a contrast intended between the former and the latter times. In the former times Assyria had swept over Israel like an overwhelming flood to destroy her (Isaiah 8:7, 8); now the glory of the whole Gentile world should similarly overflow and overwhelm, but only to enrich and exalt. Ye shall be borne upon her sides (see the comment on Isaiah 9:4). It is Jerusalem, and not the Gentile world (Delitzsch, Cheyne), that will thus care for and caress her children. The continuance of the metaphor from ver. 11 is marked by the repetition of the verb, "ye shall suck."
As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
Verse 13. - As one; literally, as a man. Israel is now looked upon as grown up, and receiving comfort from God himself in Jerusalem.
And when ye see this, your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like an herb: and the hand of the LORD shall be known toward his servants, and his indignation toward his enemies.
Verse 14. - Your bones shall flourish like an herb (comp. Isaiah 58:11). In the time of calamity, Israel's "bones" have been "consumed" (Psalm 31:10), and "waxed old" (Psalm 32:3), and "burned with heat" (Job 30:30). Now they shall enjoy a time of refreshing from the Lord. New life shall enter them, and health and growth shall follow. The nation shall be rejuvenated, and "flourish" in more than its pristine strength. The hand of the Lord shall be known; or recognized, both in this merciful treatment of his servants, and also in the indignation with which he will visit his enemies. This last clause conveniently introduces the following "theophany" (vers. 15-1S).
For, behold, the LORD will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.
Verses 15-18. - THE VENGEANCE WHICH GOD WILL TAKE ON HIS ENEMIES. A signal outpouring of God's vengeance upon his enemies precedes the settlement of the Church in its final glorious condition, both in Isaiah and in the Revelation of St. John (see ch. 34, 35, and Revelation 19-21.). The wicked have to be removed before the righteous can be established in peace. Here the agencies employed against the wicked are "fire" and "sword" - fire pointing (as Delitzsch remarks) to destructive occurrences of nature, and the sword to destructive occurrences of history. God himself is represented as guiding and directing both agencies, to the punishment of the ungodly and the relief of those who trust in him. Verse 15. - Behold, the Lord will come with fire. "Fire" is a usual accompaniment of a "theophany." God descended on Sinai "in fire" (Exodus 19:18), and led the Israelites through the wilderness by the pillar of the cloud and of fire (Exodus 13:21, 22), and filled the tabernacle with a glory as of fire (Exodus 40:34), and "answered David from heaven by fire upon the altar of burnt offering" (1 Chronicles 21:26), and in the same way answered Solomon (2 Chronicles 7:1) and Elijah (1 Kings 18:38). Isaiah almost always describes a theophany as a "coming with fire" (see Isaiah 10:16-18; Isaiah 27:4; Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 30:27, 30; Isaiah 33:12, 14, etc.). The agency of fire in the judgment that will overtake the wicked simultaneously with Christ's second coming, appears in 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 2 Peter 3:7-10. With his chariots (comp. Psalm 68:17; Habakkuk 3:8). "Chariots," in the plural, may be regarded as symbolizing the "hosts" of natural and supernatural forces that God has at his command (Cheyne). Like a whirlwind. The whirring of the wheels of chariots, their noise, the swiftness of their pace, and the destruction that they cause, make this simile most appropriate. To render his anger; or, to expend his anger - to vent it.
For by fire and by his sword will the LORD plead with all flesh: and the slain of the LORD shall be many.
Verse 16. - By fire and by his sword (see the introductory paragraph). The "sword of Jehovah" is spoken of also in Isaiah 27:1 and Isaiah 34:5, 6 (comp. Revelation 19:15, 21). Will the Lord plead with all flesh; rather, will the Lord judge all flesh (comp. Jeremiah 25:31, where the same phrase occurs).
They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine's flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the LORD.
Verse 17. - They that sanctify... themselves in the gardens (comp. Isaiah 1:29; Isaiah 65:3; and see the comment on the latter passage). Behind one tree in the midst; literally, behind one in the midst. It seems quite impossible that "one" can mean "one tree," when no tree has been mentioned, and gardens do not necessarily contain trees. The marginal rendering, "one after another," is also impossible. The "one in the midst" must have been either a hierophant who directed the ceremonies (Gesenius, Hitzig, Knobel, Delitzsch), or an image of a deity (Scaliger, Voss, Grotius, Lagarde, Cheyne). In the latter case, we must suppose that the worshippers had a scruple about mentioning the deity's name, and were accustomed to call him "one," or "a certain one" (comp. Herod., 2:171). Isaiah adopts their usage. Eating swine's flesh (comp. Isaiah 65:4). And the abomination. The word is used generically of all the "abominable things" forbidden to be eaten in Leviticus 11:4-30, as the camel, the coney, the hare, the eagle, the vulture, the ferret, the chameleon, the lizard, etc. The mouse. Probably the jerboa (see Leviticus 11:20).
For I know their works and their thoughts: it shall come, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and see my glory.
Verse 18. - For I know their works. There is no verb in the Hebrew text, from which something has evidently fallen out. Mr. Cheyne supplies, "I will punish;" Gratz, "I have seen." "I know" is supported by the Targums, the Syriac Version, several manuscripts of the Septuagint, and the authorities of Saadiya, Vitringa, and Gesenius. And their thoughts; i.e. I know, not only their works, but even the thoughts from which the works proceeded. It shall some; i.e. "the time shall come." (For the full phrase, see Jeremiah 51:33; Ezekiel 7:7, 12.) All nations and tongues. This expression has been corn-pared with Daniel's "kindreds and nations and languages" (Daniel 3:4, 7, 29; Daniel 4:1; Daniel 5:19, etc.), and has been regarded as a sign of late authorship. But "nations' and "tongues" are coupled together in Scripture as early as Genesis (Genesis 10:5, 20). They shall come, and see my glory; i.e. "see the glory that I shall get me upon my enemies" (vers. 15-17).
And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal, and Javan, to the isles afar off, that have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles.
Verses 19-24. - THE FINAL CONDITION OF THE CHURCH OF THE REDEEMED ON EARTH. When the enemies of God have been consumed, there shall go out from the Church missionaries, who shall convert the distant Gentiles, and unite them, and the Jews who dwell among them, into a single body of worshippers, which shall inhabit the new Jerusalem on equal terms, and join continually in a common worship of Jehovah. The awful destruction of the wicked, and their eternal sufferings, shall at the same time be held in remembrance. Verse 19. - I will set a sign among them. Dr. Kay suggests that the "sign" is the resurrection of our Lord, or possibly a miraculous manifestation of Christ which is to precede his coming in judgment. Mr. Cheyne, less venturesome, finds in the prophet's words merely a suggestion of "some mysterious event, which he leaves his awestruck readers to imagine." Those that escape of them. Not, surely, those of God's enemies that survive the slaughter, but "the remnant" of Jews, that are not among God's enemies, and so "escape." These shall be sent (as missionaries) to the distant nations; not literally to those enumerated, but to such as at the end of the world occupy a position which the nations mentioned occupied on Isaiah's horizon. Of these nations, Tarshish (Tartessus) was at the furthest limit westward, Pul and Lud, or rather Phut and Lud, at the furthest limit southward, Tubal and Javan at the furthest limit northward, Pul, which occurs nowhere else in Scripture as a geographic name, is almost certainly a wrong reading for Phut, which occurs in Genesis 10:6, and also three times (Jeremiah 46:9; Ezekiel 27:10; Ezekiel 30:5) in connection with Lud. Phut designates an African nation, probably the Nubians, whom the Egyptians called Pet, and who were noted as bowmen. Wetstein's conjecture of "Pun" (Punici, 'Phoenicians '), commended by Mr. Cheyne, is quite unsupported and highly improbable. Lud. It is tempting to connect "Lud" with the Lydians, who were certainly known as "Lndi" to the Assyrians of the time of Asshur-bani-pal (B.C. 669-626). But the other scriptural notices of "Lud" (Jeremiah 46:9; Ezekiel 27:10; Ezekiel 30:5), which uniformly connect it with Phut, point rather to an African people. See also Genesis 10:13, where the Ludim are a subdivision of the Egyptians. That draw the bow (comp. Jeremiah 46:9). To Tubal, and Javan. Tubal stands, no doubt, for the Tibareni, a people of the Asiatic highland west of the Upper Euphrates, called Tuplai or Tabali by the Assyrians. They would occupy Isaiah's northern and north-western horizon, in company with Javan, or the Ionians (Ἰάβονες), who were among the chief people of Asia Minor. Javan, Tubal, and Mesheeh (Μόσχοι, Muskai) are joined in Genesis 10:2 and Ezekiel 27:13. The isles afar off; i.e. the shores and islands of the Mediterranean.
And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the LORD out of all nations upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the LORD, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the LORD.
Verse 20. - They shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the Lord. When the distant Gentiles have been converted, they shall bring to Christ the Jews of the dispersion, who dwell with them in the remote parts of the earth (comp. Zephaniah 3:10). Upon horses. The "new Jerusalem" being localized, the converts from the distant regions are represented as journeying from their own lands to the "holy mountain," and bringing the Jewish exiles with them by various methods of conveyance - upon horses, mules, and dromedaries, in chariots, and finally in palanquins or litters. "Litters" were used by the great men among the Egyptians from a very early date (see Rosellini, 'Monumenti Civili,' pl. 93, fig. 2; Wilkinson, ' Ancient Egyptians,' vol. 2. p. 208). They were also employed by the Persians (Herod., 3:146) and by the later Romans. As the children of Israel bring an offering; rather, bring the meat offering. The existence of the temple, and the continuance of the Levitical rites at the time of the delivery of this prophecy, are clearly implied.
And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the LORD.
Verse 21. - And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites; literally, and I will also take of them unto the priests and unto the Levites; i.e. I will add to the existing body of priests and Levites, who are pro-sumably Jews, fresh members from the newly converted Gentiles. The existence of a sacerdotal order, with distinctions of ranks, in the Church of the redeemed, is implied, and the gracious declaration is made that the privilege of furnishing members to both ranks of the order shall be conferred upon the Gentile proselytes.
For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain.
Verse 22. - As the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain. The "new heavens and the new earth," once created, continue for ever (comp. Revelation 21:1-27; Revelation 22:1-5). So shall your seed and your name remain. This statement is usually taken to be a promise of some special pre-eminence to the Jew over the Gentile in the final kingdom of the redeemed. But St. Paul speaks of all such privileges as already abolished in his day (Colossians 3:11); and, if the priesthood is to be common to both Gentile and Jew, the principle of equality would seem to be conceded. Perhaps no more is here meant than that, as the "new heaven and new earth" will always remain, so there will always remain a seed of true believers to worship God in them.
And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD.
Verse 23. - From one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another. Not that "new moons" and "sabbaths" will continue to be observed, for "new moons" have already lapsed, and "sabbaths" too will lapse when life is one perpetual sabbath passed in the worship of God. The phrase, used by the prophet is intended to express absolute continuance without an interval. Shall all flesh come to worship before me (comp. Psalm 65:2). The prophet still uses habitual modes of expression, though speaking of a time and circumstances to which they are no longer appropriate. "The literal meaning," as Dr. Pusey says ('Prophecy of Jesus,' p. 39), "was physically impossible." "All flesh," in all regions of the "new earth," could not worship in one spot, "and so it was plain that Isaiah spoke of a worship other than that at any given place" - of a worship such as that whereof our Lord spoke to the Samaritan woman, "Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father" (John 4:21).
And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.
Verse 24. - And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases, etc. Here is more imagery, which it is impossible to understand literally. The carcases could not remain always to be looked at, nor while they remained could the sight of them be otherwise than loathsome to God's redeemed saints. Again, they could not be at the same time burnt with fire and eaten by worms. "The prophet, by the very mode of description adopted by him, precludes the possibility of our conceiving of the thing set forth as realized in any material form in this present state. He is speaking of the future state, but in figures drawn from the present world" (Delitzsch). Does he mean more than this - that the redeemed shall have in their thoughts, at any rate from time to time, the fact that, while they have by God's great mercy been saved and brought into His kingdom, there are those who have not been saved, but lie for ever under the awful sentence of God's wrath? This is a knowledge which the redeemed must have, and which may well produce a salutary effect on them, intensifying their gratitude and maintaining in them a spirit of reverent fear. Their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched (comp. Mark 9:44, 46, 48). It cannot be by chance that the evangelical prophet concludes his glorious prophecy with this terrible note of warning. Either he was divinely directed thus to terminate his teaching, or he felt the need that there was of his emphasizing all the many warnings dispersed throughout his "book" by a final, never-to-be-forgotten picture. The undying worm and the quenchless fire - images introduced by him - became appropriated thenceforth to the final condition of impenitent sinners (Jud. 16:17; Ecclus. 7:17), and were even adopted by our Lord himself in the same connection (Mark 9.). The incongruity of the two images shows that they are not to be understood literally; but both alike imply everlasting continuance, and are incompatible with either of the two modern heresies of universalism or annihilationism. They shall be an abhorring unto all flesh (comp. Daniel 12:2, where the word deraon is rendered "contempt"). The Jewish rabbis regarded it as anomalous that any portion of Scripture should conclude with words of ill omen. When, therefore, this chapter was read in the synagogue, or the last of Ecclesiastes, or Lamentations, or Malachi, they directed that after the reading of the last verse, the last verse but one should he repeated, to correct the sad impression that would otherwise have been left upon the mind. But Isaiah thought it salutary to leave this sad impression (comp. Isaiah 48:22; Isaiah 57:21).

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