Where we are:
|Part 1: Judgment||Part 2: Historical Interlude||Part 3: Salvation|
|Chapters 1-35||Chapters 36-39||Chapters 40-66|
When this takes place:
Chapter 65 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile and ultimate glory.
Isa. 65:17 – For I will create a new heaven and a new earth; the past events will not be remembered or come to mind.
Many non-Israelites are seeking God, while His own people rebel against Him. The Lord will punish His people but preserve a remnant, which will experience great happiness. Looking further into the future, Isaiah records the promise of God to create news heavens and a new earth. The present age, with its sin, sickness and death, will be forgotten forever.
Verse 17 of this chapter, along with Isa.66:22 and Rev. 21:1 – 22:5, speak of new heavens and a new earth. Some aspects of chapters 65-66 seem to have in view a time when sin and all its effects are reversed. However, Isa. 65:20 suggests that death is not completely destroyed, leading some scholars to conclude that this chapter refers instead to the Millennium, a 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth that precedes the final judgment of Satan, demons and wicked people and, of course, the creation of new heavens and a new earth.
Provoking God (Isa. 65:1-16)
The Holy One of Israel has reached out continuously to His people, even to those who have not sought Him. He has cried out, “Here I am, here I am” (v.1) and spread out His hands (v. 2). The apostle Paul quotes verses 1-2 in Rom. 10:20-21 to show that the people of Israel heard God’s message yet continued in their rebellion, walking the wrong path and following their own thoughts. Rather than responding in repentance toward Yahweh who loves them, they provoke the Lord to His face in a number of ways:
- Sacrificing in gardens – that is, worshipping in pagan places (Isa. 1:29; 66:17)
- Burning incense on bricks – worshipping at pagan altars and disregarding God’s command to make altars of unhewn stone so as to separate themselves from idolaters (Ex. 20:25)
- Spending nights in secret places – consulting the dead while sitting among the graves (Isa. 8:19)
- Eating swine’s flesh, and putting polluted broth in their bowls – disregarding the Jewish dietary laws (Lev. 11:7; Isa. 66:3)
- Saying to one another, “Keep to yourself, don’t come near me, for I am too holy for you!” – hypocritically justifying themselves as more religious than their fellow countrymen (see Matt. 9:11; Luke 5:30, 18:11; Jude 19)
All of these practices are as irritating to the Lord as the smoke of day-long fires in a person’s nostrils. In response, the Lord will not keep silent; He will repay. “The Assyrian threat (Isa. 1-37) and the Babylonian Exile (chaps. 38-66) were two of the ways the Lord disciplined His people. The consequences of sin had to be faced; God would pay them back in judgment for their idolatrous worship in high places (cf. 57:7)” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1119).
Although judgment is pronounced on the entire nation, the Lord will spare a righteous remnant. Just as a few grapes are left when the vineyards are gleaned (Deut. 24:21), so a small number of those faithful to the Lord will return to the land and possess it. Sharon (v. 10), the coastal plain south of Mt. Carmel, is excellent for agriculture, and the Valley of Achor, west of Jericho, is known for its sheep herding.
The Lord has never left Himself without witness among the world’s people. In the days before the flood, Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Gen. 6:8). Elijah is the only remaining prophet of the Lord in Israel in his day (1 Kings 18:22). And even in the dark days before Messiah’s return, God will seal faithful witnesses (Rev. 7:4). In contrast to the claims of Muslims that Judaism and Christianity are corrupt forms of monotheism, and contrary to the claim of Mormon founder Joseph Smith that the whole of Christendom fell into apostasy after the death of the apostles, God is faithful to preserve His message by providing truthful messengers, although they may be few in number.
In verses 11-12, the Lord warns those who abandon Him that they will come to a tragic end. Fortune and Destiny (v. 11) are the names of pagan gods worshiped by the Israelites in their efforts to discern the future. So the Lord tells them plainly what will happen: They will die by the sword because they refuse to listen while they persist in evil.
Verses 13-16 contrast the Lord’s servants with those who have departed from Him. The faithful will eat, drink, rejoice, and shout for joy from a glad heart, while the wicked will be hungry, thirsty, and put to shame. Further, those who abandon the Lord will cry out from an anguished heart, lament out of a broken spirit, and ultimately be killed. The faithful are promised a new name – that is, they “shall no longer be ‘forsaken’ of God for unbelief, but shall be His ‘delight’ and ‘married’ to Him (Is 62:2, 4)” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 65:15). Finally, God promises to graciously forget their sins.
A New Creation (Isa. 65:17-25)
The final verses of this chapter present great promises – and pose great interpretive challenges. God’s people are promised new heavens and a new earth, a pledge repeated in 2 Peter 3:13 and Rev. 21:1. In addition, they are promised a New Jerusalem, where the redeemed will live securely, enjoy the fruit of their labors, and live a long time. In contrast to military defeat and exile, the Israelites will be “a people blessed by the Lord along with their descendents” (v. 23), and their prayers will be answered even before they are expressed. While they enjoy abundant food, good health, safety and happiness, Satan’s food will be dust (v. 25).
These are wonderful promises. Yet they do not describe a world completely purged of sin and its consequences. Verse 20, for example, tells us that an old man will “live out his days,” implying that eventually he will die. A 100-year-old person is to be considered a youth, and the one who doesn’t live that long is “cursed.” Meanwhile, the serpent is still around, and while evil and destruction are banned from God’s “holy mountain,” one might conclude they are present elsewhere on earth (v. 25).
What are we to make of this confusing picture? Are we not urged to look forward to a day when God will wipe every tear from our eyes; when death will exist no longer; when all grief, crying and pain are banished as the “former things” (Rev. 21:4)? Then why does Isaiah describe a future day when the redeemed enjoy vastly improved but still imperfect lives?
Commentators generally respond in one of two ways. Some take the passage literally, understanding Isaiah to be describing conditions in the millennium, a 1,000-year reign of Messiah on earth that precedes final judgment and the creation of new heavens and a new earth. This view is consistent with a literal rendering of Rev. 20, which describes Satan as bound for 1,000 years while the followers of Jesus reign with Him on earth. At the end of the millennium, Satan is loosed for a short time to deceive the nations, then is defeated and cast into hell. Joining him in the lake of fire are unbelievers, following their resurrection and judgment before the great white throne. With Satan, demons and unbelievers consigned for eternity to hell, God purges the created order of sin and its consequences, resulting in new heavens and a new earth.
Other commentators, however, read Isa. 65 figuratively, understanding references to the sinner (v. 20) and the serpent (v. 25) as promises of judgment and victory. Those who hold this view also tend to see Rev. 20 in symbolic terms, describing Christ’s ultimate victory over Satan, sin and death. “The wicked will no longer flourish, nor the strong prey on the weak, nor the tempter escape his sentence (cf. v 25 with Gn. 3:14–15), in the perfect world to come. But all this is expressed freely, locally and pictorially, to kindle hope rather than feed curiosity…. [T]his is brought to pass not by a bare creative fiat, but through the Messianic king” (D.A. Carson, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 65:17).
Lawrence O. Richards shares a comforting thought: “However students of prophecy sort these elements out, it is clear from Isaiah’s warm and comforting description of God that a real transformation of man’s state and nature lies ahead. Sin’s curse is lifted, lifespan is extended, and peace is brought even to the animal kingdom. All that is wrong on earth will be set right. When you read prophecies of doom – an atomic holocaust, a greenhouse effect that will melt the ice caps and cause the oceans to overflow our cities, a new Ice Age that will destroy life on earth – do not fear. The real destiny of earth is described by Isaiah here” (The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 445).
Considering the present life and longevity of the unsaved, Matthew Henry writes: “Unbelievers shall be unsatisfied and unhappy in life, though it be ever so long. The sinner, though he live to a hundred years old, shall be accursed. His living so long shall be no token to him of the divine favour and blessing, nor shall it be any shelter to him from the divine wrath and curse. The sentence he lies under will certainly be executed, and his long life is but a long reprieve; nay, it is itself a curse to him, for the longer he lives the more wrath he treasures up against the day of wrath and the more sins he will have to answer for. So that the matter is not great whether our lives on earth be long or short, but whether we live the lives of saints or the lives of sinners” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 65:17).