Judgment and Salvation (65:1–16)
1–5 Here God begins His answer to Isaiah’s prayer of the previous two chapters. God announces that He has revealed Himself to those who did not ask for me 237 (verse 1)—that is, the Gentiles. In verse 2, God says that He has held out His hand to an obstinate people—the Israelites (Jews)—who pursue their own imaginations, their own ungodly plans and desires.238 All day long God has called to them (verse 2), but their response has been to continually provoke Him by worshiping false gods (see Judges 2:1213); they have offered sacrifices in gardens (pagan shrines) and have burned incense on improper altars made of brick239 (verse 3). They have tried to consult with the dead (Deuteronomy 18:11), and they have eaten ceremonially unclean food (verse 4). Worst of all, even after doing all this they still consider themselves more sacred (holy) than others! (see Mark 2:15–16; Luke 18:9–14). “Such people are smoke in my nostrils,” says God (verse 5).
This was hardly the answer from God that the Israelites were expecting! God was not going to “go easy” on those of His people who persistently engaged in such evil practices. God was drawing a clear line between good and evil, between godliness and ungodliness, and that line was not based on race or nationality; it was based on faith in God and obedience to His commands. The Israelites could claim no special privilege that would “cover” or “cancel out” their evil deeds.240
6–7 God continues: “See, it (my charge against the Israelites) stands written before me” (verse 6)—written in the books (Revelation 20:12). Isaiah had prayed: Will you keep silent? (Isaiah 64:12); God answers: “I will not keep silent.” Because the Israelites had burned sacrifices on the mountains, on pagan “high places,” God says He will give them full payment, full punishment, for their former deeds—especially for their idolatry (verse 7).
8–10 But then God adds a word of hope: He will not destroy Israel completely. There are always a few clusters of grapes in a vineyard that are not spoiled; God will preserve those. Israel was God’s vineyard, but it had produced bad grapes (Isaiah 5:2,4,7). But rather than destroy the entire vineyard, God will save a “remnant”—the good grapes (see Isaiah 10:20–30); He will do this on behalf of His faithful servants among the Israelites (verse 8). God will bring forth descendants from the remnant of Jacob (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom); they will possess God’s mountains—the mountains of the promised land (verse 9)—from Sharon in the west to the Valley of Achor in the east (verse 10). For these chosen people, the covenant promises of God will be fulfilled.
11–12 Here the Lord speaks to those among the Israelites who will not be chosen; they have forsaken the Lord and have ceased to worship at His holy mountain (see Isaiah 2:2–3). They have served the pagan gods Fortune and Destiny (verse 11), and because of this they are destined to be destroyed by the Babylonians—and then, by the Romans.
13–16 In these verses, the Lord contrasts the destinies of His faithful servants with the destinies of the unfaithful. Still addressing the unfaithful, the Lord says, “My servants will eat, but you will go hungry” (verse 13); “your name will be used as a curse word by my chosen ones” (verse 15). Then the Lord says that He will give another name to His servants, perhaps one of the “new names” Isaiah has mentioned earlier (Isaiah 62:2,4,12). When His servants invoke a blessing they will do so, not in the name of a false god, but in the name of the God of truth241 (verse 16).
Thus the Lord answers Isaiah’s prayer by saying that most of Israel will be rejected; only believing Jews and Gentiles will be accepted. Those continuing in sin and unbelief will be cut off from the joys of the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:27). Indeed, they will be punished; they will not see life (see Luke 6:20–26; John 3:36).
Israel’s troubles had come because of sin; but those troubles would soon be forgotten (verse 16). God was going to make a new covenant with Israel; He was going to forgive the wickedness of those who believed and repented (Jeremiah 31:31–34). That forgiveness would be made available through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God’s Servant (Isaiah Chapter 53).
Thus from this chapter (and from the entire Bible) we see that God is a God of judgment for unbelievers and a God of salvation for believers. He is a God of holiness and righteousness on the one hand, and a God of love and grace on the other. This is our unchanging God, the same in both Old and New Testaments, the God of Isaiah, of Christ, and of all who believe today.242
One question still troubles people: How can God be a God of love and at the same time send people to hell, to eternal punishment? The answer is: God doesn’t send people to hell; they “send” themselves. They choose their destiny. In verse 12, God says to the unfaithful Israelites: “You. . .chose what displeases me.” God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell; rather, He wants all men (and women) to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). Heaven or hell—salvation or judgment—the choice is ours. We don’t have to be sinless to be saved; all we have to do is reach out in faith and take the free gift of salvation that God offers us in Christ. That offer still stands—even now, as you read these words.
New Heavens and a New Earth (65:17–25)
17–19 Here Isaiah has a vision of new heavens,a new earth, and a new Jerusalem (see Revelation 21:1–2). The former things will not be remembered (verse 17), for they will be destroyed, replaced by something wonderfully new and better (2 Peter 3:10–13; Revelation 21:3–4) where the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard . . . no more (verse 19). These verses form the climax of Isaiah’s entire book; they describe the new things that Isaiah has been promising in previous chapters (Isaiah 42:9; 48:6).
20–23 The description of the “new heavens” and “new earth” that Isaiah gives here is not exactly the same as that of the new heaven and new earth given in Revelation Chapter 21. For example, in Isaiah’s vision death will be delayed but not abolished; in John’s vision, there will be no more death (Revelation 21:4). In Isaiah’s vision, people will live in security (verses 21–22); no invaders will live in their houses or eat what they plant (see Isaiah 62:8–9). They will enjoy the covenant blessings of the Lord (verse 23).
24–25 Before they call I will answer (verse 24); all the needs of the people will be met (see Matthew 6:7–8,31–33). In the new heaven and earth, God’s creatures will not harm each other (see Isaiah 11:6–9); even the poisonous serpent will eat only dust (verse 25). Isaiah’s mention of the serpent in verse 25 reminds us of the ancient serpent, Satan (Revelation 20:2), who will be crushed by the woman’s offspring, Jesus Christ243 (Genesis 3:14–15).