ISAIAH 64, 65 and 66
“Since ancient times, no-one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways” (Isaiah 64:4-5a). Waiting for God is a sign of submission to his will, as is obeying what he has already said. Those who truly love Him will do these things joyfully and willingly, knowing that the Lord has their best interests at heart.
The prophet then identifies with a rather different group of people: ”All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (64:6). To be ‘unclean’ (because of sin) was to be completely ostracised by society and excluded from the presence of God – those with leprosy were permanently so – and it was not good imagining that a few good deeds here and there, together with an offering of a token sheep or two would get you back into God’s good books! The reference to our righteous acts being like filthy rags is a delicate way of expressing the true revulsion that the Lord has towards most of the actions of sinful man; the literal translation is: “…all our righteous acts are like used menstrual cloths” (as used by a woman during her monthly period)! Now at last we are beginning to understand how impossible it is to please God through our own good works and nominal offerings, when that is how he describes the best of them!
“I desire mercy, rather than sacrifice” is the cry of God’s heart; do we really now believe this? We need to plead for his mercy towards us and offer mercy towards others if we wish to draw close to the Lord of Heaven.
“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’” (65:1). The Apostle Paul quotes this verse during his teaching on why the Jews had fallen away from God’s grace – in Romans 10:20-21. Of course this verse speaks of the Gentiles, who were totally surprised and delighted to have been chosen to share in the blessings of Israel. Of the latter, God says: “All day long, I have held out my hands to an obstinate people…”. Israel is destined to receive judgment, at least in the short to medium term!
Looking further ahead we reach the wonderful second half of chapter 65: “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more” (17-19).
Those of you who know some New Testament will instantly recognise Revelation 21 here. The similarities are striking and both passages go on to talk about peace, plenty, prosperity, and permanency as key attributes of the Age to Come. The presence of God will be tangibly close, and we will see him and know his will. The animal kingdom will live in harmony and turn back to vegetarianism, it would appear! And the Earth will be filled with the glory of God – a physical garden paradise immersed in heaven. (Look at 66:1)
Until then…”These are the ones I look on with favour: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (66:2). Humility is a realistic appraisal of one’s position, value, and influence towards God. The very opposite is the person who has a ritualistic faith, making token gestures and relying on outward actions to impress his fellow believers; God sees the heart and not impressed one bit!
The rise of the church in the last days – or perhaps the restoration of Israel – or perhaps both… these are described in 66:7-10. The barren woman of Isaiah 54 appears to have given birth rather quickly and taken everyone else by surprise! A nation being born in a day! Some interpreters point to the re-establishment of the nation of Israel by international agreement, which was begun by the famous Balfour Declaration of 1917, spoken by the then British Foreign Secretary:
“His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.
Between the world wars, the British held the ‘Protectorate’ powers over the land of Palestine, and it was after the Second World War, in May 1948, that the nation of Israel was officially recognised again by the United Nations. It came into existence in a single day! The UK, by the way, should be proud of the merciful and honourable way in which it protected the Jewish refugees during both wars, and sought to settle them again in a homeland of their own.
The final paragraph of the Book of Isaiah returns to the New Heavens and New Earth paradise; it contrasts this with the fate of those who have rebelled against the Lord. Since this is also the end chapter of the third group of nine, it also ends with an expanded version of “There is no peace for the wicked”, but it is more graphic and more chilling! Don’t go there! The Valley of Himmon – or ‘ge himmon’ in Hebrew – was the city’s rubbish dump, full of death, decay, incineration, and worms. It became a metaphor for the ultimate consequences of sin in a person’s life, and what happens when a person rejects the grace of God. Don’t go there!