Notes on Isaiah 66

Isaiah 66  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 7
The concluding chapter of our prophet pursues what was begun in chapter 65—the answer of Jehovah to the supplication which precedes them both.
“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? For all those things hath my hand made.” (Ver. 1, 2.) It is not that God did not accept the house which king David desired, and his son Solomon was given to erect for His glory. It is not that He will not have a sanctuary in the midst of Israel in the glorious land; for He has revealed it minutely, with the feasts, sacrifices, and appurtenances, by Ezekiel. (Chap. 40-46) But it is another thing when His people rest in the sanctuary, as of old in the ark to their own shame and discomfiture before their enemies. So it was when the Lord left the temple—no longer God's but their house—left it to them desolate, Himself its true glory being despised and rejected. So Stephen charged home on them these very words. (Acts 7:48-5048Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, 49Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? 50Hath not my hand made all these things? (Acts 7:48‑50).) It was not he, nor Luke, but Isaiah who declared that the Most High dwells not in temples made with hands; and this in full view of the exceeding magnifical temple which Solomon built. Heaven is His throne, earth His footstool. What can man do worthily for Him to rest in? He needs nothing from man's resources! His own hand has made all these things in comparison with which man's greatest exertions are puny indeed. Once more among the Jews at the end of the age shall be file state of things which draws out this rebuke of their own prophet. Trusting in the house that they are at length allowed to build in Jerusalem, they must prove afresh that an unbelieving idolatrous heart desecrates a temple, and that not thus can sin be settled between God and the sinner. Earthly splendor in such circumstances is but gilding over iniquity. It is real hypocrisy.
“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.” (Ver. 2.) Thus the line is drawn here as before between a godly remnant, and the people apostate as a whole. Hence their oblations are vain. “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. (Ver. 3.) The English Bible follows the Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate, and Arabic, as well as the Chaldee paraphrase. Houbigant, Bp. Lowth, Horsley, De Wette, &c., omit the terms of comparison (inserted in italics in the A. V.) which in their judgment mar the true sense. Their translation makes the verse to intimate the combination of ritual observance with open wickedness and Gentile abominations. Otherwise the statement is that their impiety made their acts of worship to be so many horrors.
In either view they had chosen their own path of self-will and disregard of God for the evils they loved; but God's retribution would not be wanting. (Ver. 4.) “I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spike, they did not hear: but they did evil before mine eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not.” No delusions among the nations were more complete than Israel's have been and are yet to be; and the evils they dreaded, and sacrificed all to avoid, were just what befell them, and must till the end come. Did they refuse the Messiah? They have been a prey to false Messiahs, and shall yet bow down to the Antichrist. Did they own no king but Caesar? In Caesar they found a destroyer. Did they fear the Romans would come and take away their place and nation? All the world knows bow punctually their fear was accomplished; and yet the end is not. Greater abominations shall be seen in them; greater delusions, greater fears, and greater fulfillments. The abomination of desolation of which the Savior spoke (citing not Dan. 11:3131And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate. (Daniel 11:31), which was then past, but Dan. 12:1111And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. (Daniel 12:11), which is still future) must yet be set where it ought not, in the sanctuary at Jerusalem; and then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
It is impossible to interpret either Matt. 24, or Dan. 12, or our chapter, of the Roman siege: but the days are at hand, and the effect of every vision. “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. A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the Lord that rendereth recompense to his enemies. Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child. 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. 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: 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. 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. As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted 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.” (Ver. 5-14.)
Thus no longer by testimony to the heart but by manifest judgment will the Lord decide between cattle and cattle. The infidel scoff, which so long harassed the heavenly people, will then be put to shame among the poor in spirit of the earthly people. The Lord will be glorified to the joy of such as trembled at His word before He appears, to the eternal infamy of those who knew Him not and doubted His interest in His despised confessors here below. For Christ and for the Church, they were raised or changed and taken on high leaving the world without a blow or even a notice. But it will not be so for the Jew by and by: “A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the Lord that rendereth recompense to his enemies.” The Roman destruction is no adequate fulfillment of this; but it shall be fulfilled to the letter of many prophecies. (Compare Isa. 18:3-7; 9:3-5; 293All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth, see ye, when he lifteth up an ensign on the mountains; and when he bloweth a trumpet, hear ye. 4For so the Lord said unto me, I will take my rest, and I will consider in my dwelling place like a clear heat upon herbs, and like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest. 5For afore the harvest, when the bud is perfect, and the sour grape is ripening in the flower, he shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks, and take away and cut down the branches. 6They shall be left together unto the fowls of the mountains, and to the beasts of the earth: and the fowls shall summer upon them, and all the beasts of the earth shall winter upon them. 7In that time shall the present be brought unto the Lord of hosts of a people scattered and peeled, and from a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden under foot, whose land the rivers have spoiled, to the place of the name of the Lord of hosts, the mount Zion. (Isaiah 18:3‑7)
3Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. 4For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian. 5For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire. (Isaiah 9:3‑5)
; Zech. 14:1-41Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. 2For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. 3Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. 4And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south. (Zechariah 14:1‑4).) And then shall follow the new birth or ingathering of Zion's children, no longer to be Abraham's seed alone but his children in deed and in truth. As nothing of the kind followed the capture by Nebuchadnezzar, no more did it ensue when Titus took Jerusalem. No outpouring of vengeance on the guilty city, followed by blessing unexampled for fullness and without sorrow, has as yet appeared to satisfy the terms of the prediction. Sudden as it will be, it will also be permanent. It will be the day of the Lord when man's and Israel's sad history is to be reversed; and those who loved and mourned for Jerusalem shall rejoice for her and share the rich results of her blessedness. Yet is it in no way the character of gospel joy which blends inward comfort by the Spirit's power with shame and sorrow and rejection in the world. Here, contrariwise, “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.” It is the future day, not of grace and salvation only, as it is to-day, but of vengeance also, when the Lord will not stop the words as once He did on earth. Then He was proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord and this only. By and by He will both proclaim and accomplish that year and the day of vengeance. For this is in His heart, and the year of His redeemed is come. Both will be fulfilled then without let or delay. It will be the introduction of His day, and the millennial reign.
“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. For by fire and by his sword will the Lord plead with all flesh: and the slain of the Lord shall be many. 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. 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.” (Ver. 15-18.) The efforts of ancient and modern commentators to apply this passage, like the rest, to gospel times, are desperate, but vain. It is unequivocally a day of judgment, not the glad tidings of salvation by His grace; it is His revelation from heaven in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and on them that obey not the gospel. It is evident that the Jews in that day will not only set up their ritual again, but be addicted to heathen abominations. It is the day of divine recompenses when old evils will revive and amalgamate with novel iniquities, that all may come before the Lord in judgment, and a new era dawn on both Jew and Gentile over the earth now purged. It will be a question then not of believing the grace of God, but of seeing the glory of Jehovah that is to be revealed.
“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. 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.” (Ver. 19, 20.) Vitringa's argument on verse 19, that no future call of Gentiles can be here intended, because those named have long since known the God of Israel, seems to me of no real force. For even Christendom will then be in a state of apostasy (2 Thess. 2); and, besides, the hearing of Jehovah's fame and seeing His glory refers to the manifestation of Himself that will then be made here below.
Thus an unsparing divine judgment will be executed on all the gathered nations when the Jews are dealt with in their pollutions; and those that escape of them will be sent of God to the distant nations ignorant of what He has wrought. Gentiles bring back all the Jews remaining outside the Holy Land. It is, I suppose, the detail of the prediction in chapter 18:7. From all nations shall this offering to the Lord be brought, and by every means of conveyance. Before this it will have been only the Jews and not all Israel.
All this seems to me not the same as the gospel or its effects, but in the most certain and evident contrast with it. The offering now is characteristically of the Gentiles, as we see in Rom. 15:1616That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. (Romans 15:16), and as experience shows. Jews are no doubt now as ever converted, but they are comparatively rare. The prophet contemplates the day when all Israel shall be saved, when the apostates have been surprised by the divine judgment. And as to any supposed difficulty of reconciling with John 4:2121Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. (John 4:21) Jerusalem as a center for all nations, it is imaginary, or rather depends on the confusion of the hour that now is with the day that shall be. Our Lord was contemplating the time of His rejection and His approaching absence in heaven; the prophet had in view the day of His glory for the earth. Distinguish the times, and the objection vanishes. Jerusalem has no place in the Christian system; it will have a greater and holier place than it ever had in the coming day of Jehovah.
Hence it is obvious that the ordinary strain of argument and interpretation, popular, from the days of Origen and Jerome down to the present, is founded on a total confusion of things that differ. Christianity no doubt is very distinct; but that the new age must be a repetition of the same aims, principles, and ways, is an error quite as great as that which fancies the gospel to be only a continuation of the law. Israel shall be established forever before the Lord. “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. 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.” (Ver. 22, 23.) There is no solid reason for doubting the literal bearing of the prediction. New moons and sabbaths shall once more figure in the worship of Jehovah; but it will be no more so contracted as of old, for “all flesh” shall share in it, though (from other scriptures we may gather) on no such exalted ground or such nearness to the King as His chosen people. His house shall be literally a house of prayer for all people, which will in no way hinder the greatness of His name among the Gentiles, or the offering of incense to it, or a pure offering in every place.
And as His honor is thus maintained, so is His fear. Not only shall there be an awful outpouring of wrath on His adversaries at the end of this age, but Jehovah will keep up a salutary warning nigh the very spot where His glory dwells. “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses 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.” (Ver. 24.) There is nothing really obscure in this, save to those who regard the passage from a Christian point of view. In its own connection it is most simple, solemn, and expressive.