“Behold, Me!” and My New Creation
“Behold, Me!” and My New Creation
For I will create a new heaven and a new earth; the past events will not be remembered or come to mind. (Isa 65:17)
Main Idea: God puts himself gloriously on display in redeeming Gentiles, judging the wicked, and creating a new heaven and new earth.
- “Behold, Me!” God’s Saving Grace to the Gentiles (65:1)
- God allowing himself to be sought: “Behold, me! Behold, me!”
- Sought by Gentiles who were not seeking him
- “Behold, My Judgments!” on Wicked Israelites (65:2-7).
- God’s amazing patience with rebellious Israel (65:2)
- Israel’s repulsive, arrogant, pagan idolatry (65:2-7)
- The end of God’s patience: “Behold, my judgments!” (65:6-7)
- “Behold, My Servants Singing!” While the Wicked Are Shamed (65:8-16).
- God making distinctions: good grapes saved, bad ones rejected (65:8)
- Blessings for the remnant (65:8-10)
- Slaughter for those who abandon the Lord (65:11-12)
- Blessings and curses (65:13-16)
- “Behold, My New Universe!” but First, Millennial Blessings (65:17-25)
- “Behold, a new heaven and new earth!” (65:17)
- “Behold, a new Jerusalem!” A place of eternal delight (65:18-19)
- The blessings of the millennium, then of eternity (65:20-25)
“Behold, Me!” God’s Saving Grace to the Gentiles
Verse 1 displays the amazing grace of God, who presents himself with astonishing persistence and humility to the world’s nations who do not seek him at all. The verse essentially says, “I allowed myself to be consulted, and I permitted myself to be found.” In other words, God took the initiative to reveal himself and draw from the Gentiles a yearning to seek him and find him. If God does not “permit himself” to be found and consulted, we will never seek him or find him. Paul quoted this verse in Romans 10:20 to speak of God’s grace displayed in the amazing harvest of Gentiles into the church of Christ. God’s humble persistence in revealing himself to the Gentiles is stunning, for “Here I am, here I am” could be translated, “Behold, me! Behold, me!” (Hb hinneni hinneni). In the preaching of the gospel of Christ, God persistently stands in front of individuals from every nation on earth and says, “Behold, me! I am ready to save you! All you have to do is seek me, and you will certainly find me!”
“Behold, My Judgments!” on Wicked Israelites
Paul directly contrasts the receptivity of the Gentiles with the stubbornness of the Jews by applying verse 2 to Israel in Romans 10:21: “All day long, I have held out my hands to a disobedient and defiant people.” Again, we see the remarkable patience and humility of God with Israel. For generations, the Lord had stood like the father of the prodigal son with his arms outstretched, waiting for the son to stop sinning and come home to a rich welcome. But these wicked people refused (Isa 65:2). They continually sinned right in God’s face, defiantly embracing pagan rituals as described in verses 3-4 and 7. Their paganism included such repulsive practices as necromancy and eating pig meat in defiance of God’s holy laws. Actually, these bizarre rituals made their hearts proud, and they considered themselves too holy for those who hadn’t learned their secret arts (v. 5). So they rejected God’s definition of holiness, choosing instead one from paganism. Their attitudes and actions were utterly repulsive and provocative to God, like “smoke in [his] nostrils, a fire that burns all day long” (v. 5).
God reveals his judgments on this paganized nation of Israel using the same Hebrew word: “Look [Behold; Hb hinneh], it is written in front of me, I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will repay them fully.” God’s silence and seeming inactivity were difficult for the people to bear in Isaiah 64:12; here God reveals that he will not remain silent but will bring on these wicked people the judgment they so richly deserve.
“Behold, My Servants Singing!” While the Wicked Are Shamed
In these verses God shows his determination to make distinctions among the Israelites—between the good and the bad. In verse 8 God speaks of a whole cluster of grapes that still has some good grapes in it. He will spare the whole cluster so that he may pluck out the good grapes and enjoy the sweet juice from them. These few good grapes are the remnant chosen by grace from among the Israelites, of which Paul writes in Romans 11:5 and to which Isaiah had referred in 1:9. In Isaiah 65:8-16, these “good grapes” (cf. 5:2) are directly contrasted with the bad ones, and their fates are held up for comparison side by side.
For the remnant who seek the Lord by faith (v. 10), God promises to produce descendants who will inherit the mountains of Judah and dwell there richly blessed (v. 9). The promised land (from Sharon in the west to Achor in the east) will be fertile, a rich pastureland for their flocks to graze in and lie down in peace (v. 10). These are the blessings of faith and obedience, blessings of the old covenant in Moses. But given that the chapter begins with Gentiles seeking and finding the Lord, it is reasonable to see these as spiritual blessings for all the elect in the church age and literal blessings in the millennium and in the new earth.
But for the wicked who abandon the Lord, who forget his holy mountain and go running after pagan deities and who follow pagan practices (like ritual feasts for “Lady Luck”), God will slaughter them all with the sword (vv. 11-12). Unlike the Gentiles in verse 1, God called directly to these people, but they refused to listen.
Therefore, verses 13-16 describe the contrasting outcomes for God’s servants and God’s enemies. Each of these contrasts is introduced with the word behold, although it doesn’t generally show up in English translations: “Behold, my servants will eat, but you will be hungry! Behold, my servants will drink, but you will be thirsty! Behold, my servants will rejoice, but you will be put to shame!” The ultimate end of this is the difference between heaven and hell: in heaven the redeemed will spend eternity feasting at Christ’s table, drinking freely from the river of the water of life, and shouting for joy from a glad heart; in hell the damned will be tormented by thirst, weeping and gnashing their teeth, and crying out from an anguished heart (v. 14).
These sins in verses 2-5 and 11-12 are part of this present order, the world as it now is. Soon, God will change everything; then the former things will be forgotten in the light of the coming world.
“Behold, My New Universe!” but First, Millennial Blessings
This astonishing section opens with the amazing words, “For [behold!] I will create a new heaven and a new earth.” God uses the same Hebrew word for “create” that he used in Genesis 1:1; it is a work of sovereign power no less awesome than the original creation. The opening word “for” explains why the former troubles will be forgotten and hidden from sight (v. 16). The new heaven and new earth that God will create will be so glorious that the former world will shrink into insignificance. Isaiah 65:17-25 pictures a vastly improved earthly experience in terms with which his old-covenant audience would have been very familiar: the city of Jerusalem a place of great rejoicing, free from weeping (v. 19); amazing longevity (v. 20); houses built and vineyards planted, and their blessings enjoyed by those who built and planted, not by invading enemies (vv. 21-22); rich blessings on the labors of their hands (v. 23); children born into prosperity, not calamity (v. 23); and intimacy with God in prayer (v. 24). It concludes with promises of harmony even in the animal world—the wolf and the lamb feeding together, and the lion eating straw like the ox, just as was said of the world when the Messiah would come (Isa 11:6-9); even the serpent is completely humbled and eats dust for food; there will be no evil or destruction on God’s holy mountain (v. 25).
All of this amazing peace and prosperity is common in the language of prophetic writing. Yet these words are among the most controversial in the book of Isaiah. The difficulty lies in trying to harmonize the images in these nine verses with other passages of Scripture, most especially the teaching about the new heaven and new earth in 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 21–22. John’s vision in Revelation of the new heaven and new earth includes the death of death. But in Isaiah 65:20 we have merely the deferral of death, resulting in remarkably long life:
In [Jerusalem], a nursing infant will no longer live only a few days, or an old man not live out his days. Indeed, the one who dies at a hundred years old will be mourned as a young man, and the one who misses a hundred years will be considered cursed.
To make matters more confusing, that verse contains two other things we would not expect in the eternal state: infants born and people being accursed. No one will suffer under a curse in heaven, and heavenly marriage and procreation are ruled out by Jesus’s statement to the Sadducees in Matthew 22:30.
These problems are significant for any evangelical, no matter what their eschatological system, whether premillennial, amillennial, or postmillennial; there is just no easy way to harmonize Isaiah 65:17-20 with Revelation 21:1 and 4. Some amillennial commentators argue that “the sound of weeping and crying will no longer be heard in” Jerusalem means that whatever verse 20 is talking about, there is no more death in that glorious place (Storms, Kingdom Come, 166–69). They say that verse 20 is speaking in language we would understand of the complete destruction of death from the beginning of life to the end. But that seems forced to me. Isaiah 25:7-8 had no problem describing clearly the total end of death. These verses seem to be speaking of a lessening but not removal of the curse of death, resulting in remarkable longevity. Indeed, verse 22 implies this when it says, “My people’s lives will be like the lifetime of a tree.”
The task of explanation is easier for millennial interpreters, for this passage seems very much to describe the vast improvement of earthly life in a millennial kingdom with Christ reigning on earth, as described in Revelation 20:1-6. According to premillennial theology, the millennium comes after the second coming of Christ and has these features: (1) peace on earth among all nations; (2) material prosperity, free from famines and poverty, with rich harvests; (3) longevity restored but death still in existence; (4) creation largely delivered from its curse, with humanity living in harmony with other creatures; and (5) King Jesus and his people visibly running the kingdom, centered in Jerusalem (Boettner, Millennium, 290–92). It is not difficult to see that many of those wonderful aspects are culled right from Isaiah 65. I tend to lean in this direction based on this very chapter. But it is easy for me to respect evangelicals who have other ways of explaining the graphic imagery of prophetic literature while still honoring the inspiration of every word of the Bible.
Whether the Lord Jesus returns and reigns on earth in a millennial kingdom or immediately sets up the eternal state with no more death, either will be such a display of his grace and power as to make our present sufferings seem unworthy of comparison. God is wise. He will do what seems best to him!
First, the unifying word of this chapter is “Behold” (Hb hinneh, “Look”), as though God were standing before us in the text revealing some vital truths that we can “see” only by faith. Therefore, we must see by faith God’s amazing grace in holding out his willing hands for repentant sinners through Christ. Second, we must discern and reject the weird “holiness” of bizarre spirituality that will become more and more appealing in a post-Christian world. People are essentially spiritual, and we are likely to see more and more witchcraft and wickedness. It is vital for us to define holiness as God does: conformity to his character as his Word defines. Third, we need to see ahead of time the zeal of God to separate the wheat from the weeds of the human race (Matt 3:12). Finally, we need to see the glory of God in the coming kingdom—millennial (possibly), then eternal—in which Christ will finally triumph completely over sin and death. The more we see by faith these various things, the more zealous we will be to purify ourselves from all wickedness and to spread the gospel of Christ, which is the only hope of salvation from the coming wrath.
Reflect and Discuss
- How does God use the word behold/look to unveil surprising truths in this chapter that we can “see” only by faith?
- What is the first thing God wants us to behold in verse 1? Why is a vision of God vital to salvation?
- How does God show amazing grace and patience to sinners in verse 1? How does Paul use verse 1 in Romans 10:20?
- How does Israel provoke God continually in Isaiah 65:2-7? How are these verses a warning to the present-day church?
- What distinctions does God make in verses 8-16? How does this relate to Matthew 3:12?
- What glorious things does God promise are coming in Isaiah 65:17-25?
- How are these verses difficult to interpret, especially the combination of the expression “new heaven and new earth” (cf. Rev 21:1,4) with the presence of infants and death in verse 20?
- How would the millennial reign of Christ on earth, in which death is greatly curtailed but not removed, glorify him?
- How would the eternal state in which death is completely removed glorify him more?
- How does this chapter motivate you toward personal holiness? How does it motivate you toward evangelism and missions in the name of Jesus Christ?