There is no denying that a dramatic change of theme begins in Isaiah 40. Almost every Bible commentator acknowledges this. In fact, many critical Bible scholars believe this dramatic shift—combined with Isaiah’s prophecy that Judah would suffer exile in Babylon—points to two different authors for the book of Isaiah. They suggest one author wrote chapters 1–39; then another author wrote chapters 40–66 after Judah’s exile and put the two parts together. But the most significant evidence given for this argument is that Isaiah couldn’t possibly have predicted a future Jewish exile in Babylon, which assumes that God could not supernaturally reveal this to him. If, however, one does not automatically rule out the possibility that God can reveal future events to his servants, then there is no compelling evidence to reject that all sixty-six chapters are the work of Isaiah having written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
53:1-6 The great sin of Israel’s leaders and people was their failure to recognize their Messiah when he came. A relative few in Israel believed (53:1). Most of the Jews in Jesus’s day, though, did not even regard him as a person of importance. There was nothing impressive about Jesus’s physical appearance (53:2). He was despised and rejected. People turned away from him in his suffering (53:3). These verses couldn’t more clearly depict what Jesus Christ endured. The use of language is precise regarding the kind of death he would die: he was pierced (53:5). But God also makes clear through Isaiah the reason that the Servant-Messiah would die: because of our rebellion . . . because of our iniquities . . . the Lord . . . punished him for the iniquity of us all (53:5-6). Hundreds of years before it would happen, the prophet testified to the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross.
53:7-9 Although he died for sinners, it is clear that the Messiah himself is innocent: He had done no violence and had not spoken deceitfully (53:7, 9). Jesus was tried, condemned, and led away by wicked people in what was clearly a miscarriage of justice. But this innocent one had to die—the righteous for the unrighteous—because of . . . people’s rebellion (53:8).
Again, the accuracy of the details provided is jaw-dropping. For instance, like a sheep silent before her shearers, he did not open his mouth (53:7). The Gospel writers testify to Jesus’s silence before those who falsely accused him (see Matt 27:13-14; Mark 14:60-61; 15:4-5; Luke 23:8-9). Also, he was with a rich man at his death (53:9). Matthew tells us that “a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph” asked Pilate for Jesus’s body and buried him in his own tomb (Matt 27:57-60). The fulfillment of all these prophecies is testimony to the divine inspiration and truthfulness of the Bible.
53:10-12 The Father and Son had been in loving communion from eternity past, yet the Lord was pleased to crush him severely. Why? Because the Son’s death as a guilt offering (53:10)—a reference to the Old Testament sacrifices for sin (see Lev 5:14–6:7)—was the only way to bring about our salvation. God “gave his one and only Son” because he “loved the world” (John 3:16). Nowhere is the amazing love of God for unworthy sinners on full display like in the cross of Christ, where Jesus bore the sin of many (53:12). And through the death of the righteous servant, he will justify many (53:11). The apostle Paul understood this: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:23-24).
Isaiah doesn’t stop there, though. Because of the obedience of the Servant-Messiah, God does not abandon him to the grave. After his anguish . . . he will see light and be satisfied (53:11). This refers to the fact that God the Father raised God the Son from the dead. He is now the resurrected Lord. But it gets better still: Therefore [God] will give him the many as a portion, and he will receive the mighty as spoil (53:12). The Father has exalted the Son to a place of supremacy, “seating him at his right hand in the heavens” (Eph 1:20), and all those who trust in Christ are seated with him, having access to his spiritual blessings (see Eph 1:3-14; 2:4-6).
54:1-3 Because of the redeeming work of the Servant-Messiah, God could offer full salvation and restoration to Israel. The nation was described as childless (54:1), a situation that was considered a disgrace for a woman of that time. But although under God’s hand of judgment, Israel had experienced a time of desolation, Israel will be restored when Messiah comes to reign in the millennial kingdom. She will have so many children that her people will have to expand their tents to accommodate everyone (54:2)! In the coming time of Israel’s salvation and restoration, the nation will dispossess nations and inhabit the desolate cities (54:3).
54:4-7 In that day of salvation, Israel will no longer have to feel the shame of her youth and the disgrace of her widowhood (54:4). Israel was like a wife deserted and wounded in spirit, but not because her husband was cruel to her (54:6). Israel’s husband was the Lord, who had to reject his wife for a brief moment because of her sin and uncleanness (54:7). His promise, though, has always been to take her back to cleanse and restore her.
54:8-10 The captives from Judah in Babylon must have wondered more than once if they had gone too far in their sin and alienated God forever, but God assured them of his everlasting love (54:8). To illustrate this, God compared their situation to the days of Noah, when God judged the earth in his righteous anger (54:9). Yet once the judgment was over, God’s anger subsided and he gave Noah the promise that he would never again destroy the whole earth with a flood (see Gen 7:5–9:17). In the same way, God promised that he would never again forsake Israel: My love will not be removed from you (54:10). This refers ultimately to the millennial kingdom.
54:11-17 God could also assure his chosen people that poor Jerusalem, the storm-tossed city would not only be rebuilt but her people would also live there in perfect peace and security (54:11). The precious stones God will use to adorn his holy city (54:12) are described in detail in Rev 21:9-27. But the true beauty of the city will be the glorious presence of God, who himself will teach Israel’s children and protect them (53:13-17).
55:1-5 Having laid out every blessing prepared for God’s people, the only thing left to do was to invite Israel to receive the Lord’s healing and salvation from sin, along with millennial and eternal blessings. The astounding thing was that God offered all of this without silver and without cost, a powerful Old Testament affirmation of God’s free gift of grace (55:1). Israel’s people had spent far too many years wasting their time on things that did not satisfy—which cost them dearly (54:2). But in the kingdom age and beyond, God’s people will enjoy his best as the fruit of his permanent covenant (55:3). The statements of 55:4-5 are about Jesus the King of Israel, who will rule not only his own people, but also Gentile nations that did not know him (55:5). Christ’s kingdom reign will extend to every corner of the earth.
55:6-9 God’s invitation was gracious, but there was an urgency to it. The wicked were warned to abandon their evil ways and thoughts and return to the Lord for forgiveness and restoration to his favor (55:7). God can forgive even the worst of sinners because, as he told Israel, My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways. . . . For as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts (55:8-9).
If we’re honest, grace does not make sense to us because it does not reflect how people treat one another on earth. But God’s perspective is not our perspective. That’s why we need a divine translator. We need the Holy Spirit to enable us to have a heavenly perspective; we need “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16).
55:10-11 These verses offer rich encouragement regarding the power of God’s Word. Rain falls from heaven, waters the earth, and causes plants to grow (55:10). Even children understand this truth about how God made the world. But God says his Word works the same way. It proceeds from his mouth and does not return . . . empty. It will accomplish what [he pleases] (55:11). Humans often make grand plans. They plot and scheme. Sometimes they succeed; often they fail. That’s because they lack the power to guarantee their plans. Power is the ability to effect change or produce a desired result, and God’s Word alone has that kind of guaranteed power. The unstoppable power of God’s Word to accomplish all of his purposes, in fact, sets it apart in a class by itself. God’s Word is always purposeful, and his purposes are always achieved. The Bible can be trusted.
55:12-13 The greatness of God’s salvation and grace will have tremendous effects on the earth in the millennial kingdom. These verses describe briefly the new earth God has promised in his reversal of the curse of Eden. The thornbush and brier, which began to plague the world after Adam and Eve sinned (see Gen 3:17-18), will be replaced by plants of beauty and usefulness (55:13).
56:1-8 The appeal to preserve justice and do what is right was addressed to Israel because God’s salvation was near (56:1). There was also good news for every foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord, because in the millennial kingdom righteous non-Jews will also share in the blessings of Christ’s rule (56:3). Gentiles who believed in the God of Israel and bound themselves to him had a place within his covenant community in the Old Testament dispensation. Here they were assured that they would also share in the kingdom with Israel, including sharing in Israel’s regathering to enjoy God’s salvation and blessings under Christ’s righteous rule. God also promises a special blessing and kingdom position to those who maintain their sexual purity (1 Cor 6:9-19).
56:9-12 The joys and blessings of God’s salvation and his millennial kingdom form a stark contrast to the close of this section (56:9–57:21), in which God turned his attention to the sinfulness of his people in Isaiah’s day. Things were so bad that God invited the animals to devour them (56:9). The Bab-ylonian destroyers of Judah are probably in view here. The nation’s spiritual leaders, who should have been alert watchmen and caring shepherds, were like mute dogs who cared only for themselves and their own appetites (56:10-12).
57:1-3 The evil hearts of God’s people were also apparent in another way—in their lack of care for their fellow righteous citizens: The righteous person perishes, and no one takes it to heart (57:1). Isaiah thus minced no words. He called such people offspring of an adulterer and a prostitute, which was a stinging rebuke of their unfaithfulness to the Lord by worshiping idols (57:3). The ugliness and depravity of their worship is a vivid example of how human beings become like the gods they worship.
57:4-10 It wasn’t enough for the people in Isaiah’s day to engage in pagan worship; they also mocked the righteous who remained faithful to God (57:4). The idolaters burned with lust and fed their sexual depravity with rituals that included every form of moral degeneration imaginable. This was combined with the unimaginable horror of sacrificing their children (57:5), possibly to Molech, the god of the Ammonites who demanded child sacrifice. Their debauchery knew no bounds (57:7-9).
57:11-13 In light of this mess, God questions them: Who was it you dreaded and feared, so that you lied and didn’t remember me or take it to heart? The people might have argued in their defense that God had been silent for a long time (57:11)—which was not true. But even if he had been, they should have realized it was because of their sin and not because God didn’t care about them. Because God’s people chose to forget him and put their trust in idols, he gave them over to them. He said, When you cry out, let your collection of idols rescue you! Gods of wood, however, are a futile hope. The wind will carry all of them off (57:13). Even in the midst of such sin among the populace, though, there remained a promise of deliverance for the person who made God his refuge (57:13).
57:14-21 The rest of the chapter turns to the Lord’s promise to remove every obstacle from the road his faithful ones were taking to come to him. The righteous were encouraged to remember that even though the God of Israel is the High and Exalted One, he delights to dwell with the lowly (57:15). God’s people were also assured that his wrath against them would not last forever (57:16). But lest they misunderstand, God reminded them that he had good reason for his anger (57:17). Nevertheless, anyone who repented and returned to the Lord would enjoy his peace and healing (57:19). However, there is no peace for the wicked (57:21).
58:1-5 The last section of Isaiah’s book puts the final pieces in place for God’s work of salvation and restoration both for Israel and for all of creation. The beginning of that restoration, from God’s standpoint, is the reestablishment of proper worship. Israel failed miserably at worshiping rightly and needed someone shouting to them with a voice like a trumpet the way an ancient herald would do (58:1) because though they wanted God’s blessings, they had abandoned true worship and failed to perform what was right and just. While they sought to keep the fasts associated with Israel’s worship and wondered why God wasn’t answering their prayers, their fasting was a classic example of empty ritual: You do as you please on the day of your fast. Moreover, they were oppressing all their workers at the same time (58:3). Their fasting even involved hostility (58:4)!
58:6-7 What God wanted was religious practice offered from truly humble hearts. Seeking to worship with false motives and with no concern for righteousness is not true worship. So what does true religion look like? What is proper behavior for subjects of the King? Believers are to help the oppressed, give food to the hungry, provide shelter to the homeless, and clothe the naked (58:6-7). And lest any Christian thinks this was simply for Old Testament Israel, James offers similar counsel: “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained in the world” (Jas 1:27). Kingdom people do these things.
58:8-14 If they followed through on God’s agenda, spiritual blessings would flow: Their recovery would come quickly (58:8); when they call, the Lord will answer (58:9); their light will shine in the darkness (58:10); the Lord will always lead (58:11). But these things hinged on God’s people restoring his proper worship, symbolized by fasting, coupled with just and charitable outreach to the poor and the oppressed.
Fasting is a spiritual discipline that continues to be proper for believers when we want to make our “voice heard on high” (58:4). When we fast with the proper motivation, our voices are heard in heaven—that is, we come into God’s presence in a powerful way. So imagine the voice the church can have in heaven today, if we come together across class, ethnic, and denominational bound-aries to collectively fast and call on God to intervene. We could perhaps be the repairer of broken walls, the restorer of streets where people live (58:12).
59:1-2 In spite of what the people of Judah may have thought, the Lord’s arm [was] not too weak to save, and his ear [was] not too deaf to hear (59:1). God had not suddenly become impotent, nor did he get thrashed by the Babylonian god. It was the iniquities of the people that separated them from God; this was why he had refused to listen to their prayers (59:2). He was unwilling to bless them regardless of their actions. They were the problem, not him.
59:3-8 The catalog of sins in 59:3-4 includes murder, lies, evil thoughts, and injustice. It’s no wonder that God was unimpressed by the people’s insincere worship. (Given the list, I can’t believe they had the nerve to wonder why God wasn’t hearing and answering their prayers!) But in God’s eyes, his people’s sins were like spiders’ webs that a person can easily see through, which means they cannot become clothing (59:5-6)—in this case, spiritual clothing to try and cover their works from God’s sight (59:8).
59:9-15 Notice the words us and we and our here. Like other Old Testament prophets who denounced Israel’s sins, Isaiah identified with his people in confessing Israel’s sins. God sent prophet after prophet and calamity after calamity to wake his people to their need for repentance, leading Isaiah to lament that righteousness does not reach us (59:9). While God’s hand of salvation was capable of reaching the people, Judah’s citizens had convinced themselves that they were innocent and didn’t need it. The truth was that they were like the blind; they were like the dead among those who are healthy (59:10).
59:16 God was amazed that no one among his people was capable of steering the nation in a righteous path. Where were the prophets, priests, and kings? Although there were exceptions (such as Isaiah, of course), most leaders had become corrupt. Instead of leading the nation in righteousness, they had led them in wickedness. So there was no one interceding on behalf of the people. What, then, would this faithful, covenant-keeping God do? His own arm brought salvation. He himself would intercede. No one could bring salvation except the Lord alone.
59:17-21 So God put on the armor of righteousness and the helmet of salvation to avenge, judge, and save (59:17). The following verses are a picture of Christ’s second coming, when he will crush all of his enemies and reign in righteousness (59:18-20). To the enemies of God, Christ comes as a terrifying conqueror who will sweep them away like a rushing stream (59:19). But to those who turn from transgression, Christ will come as Redeemer (59:20).
60:1-3 Through God’s redeeming power and his eternal covenant of blessing on Israel, the nation will experience unending joy and blessing as the world capital and centerpiece of Christ’s reign in his millennial kingdom. Israel will be a light to the nations because the glory of the Lord will shine both in her and from her to the corners of the earth (60:1). God’s light will overcome the total darkness that has covered the world since the fall and kept countless millions in spiritual darkness (60:2). But in the millennium, entire nations and their kings will be drawn to Israel to learn the truth about God and his salvation (60:3). This is necessary because many people will be born during this one-thousand-year paradise on earth, and they will need to learn of Christ.
60:4 The millennial age will also be the time of Israel’s prophesied ingathering. This is a common theme in Isaiah, which pictures Israel’s sons and daughters coming from far away (see also 49:22; 60:9). Although many Jews have returned to Israel from many countries in recent times, most do not believe in Jesus as their Messiah. Many Bible teachers, then, do not identify this modern return with the prophecies of Israel’s regathering. More likely, passages such as Isaiah 60 refer to the reign of Christ on earth when the Jewish people will embrace him as Messiah.
60:5-14 This golden age will also be marked by the wealth of the nations coming into Israel (60:5). They will bring gold to beautify Jerusalem and enrich the nation. Moreover, they will proclaim the praises of the Lord (60:6). In fact, Jerusalem’s gates will always be open, and they will never be shut so that the nations’ wealth and their kings may come at all times to bring gifts and pay homage to Christ (60:11). We know from Revelation 20:7-9 that Satan will deceive and lead Gentile nations in a brief rebellion at the end of the millennial age, but this uprising will be immediately crushed and the rebels annihilated (60:12).
60:15-22 When Christ returns, Israel will be an object of eternal pride, a joy from age to age, with Jerusalem as the crown jewel (60:15). God’s promise, I will appoint peace as your government and righteousness as your overseers, will signal the end of centuries of war and destruction against Israel and Jerusalem (60:17-18). Because of the light of God’s presence in the person of Jesus the Messiah, Israel will shine like a welcoming beacon for the world. All of her people will be righteous in the millennial age, when Israel will finally fulfill her role as a witness to the nations, pointing them to the true God (60:21). We can be sure this will happen because the Lord promises to accomplish it quickly in its time (60:22).
61:1-2 We know from Luke 4:16-21 that at least part of this passage opening with the words, The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because the Lord has anointed me . . ., was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The Hebrew word “Messiah” and the Greek word “Christ” mean “anointed one.” Jesus was anointed by God the Father to redeem his world and reign over his kingdom. The people of Israel longed for the coming of God’s Messiah to save them and be their king.
When Jesus read Isaiah 61:1-2 in the synagogue in Nazareth and proclaimed, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled,” the people knew he was claiming to be the Messiah. And they weren’t happy about it. After all, Jesus was one of them. Nazareth was his hometown, and he was thought to be the son of the local carpenter (Luke 4:21-22). They wanted a Messiah with might and power. And as Isaiah said about the Servant-Messiah, “He didn’t have an impressive form or majesty . . . no appearance that we should desire him” (53:2). So Jesus wasn’t the Messiah they were expecting. In fact, they were so enraged with him that they tried to toss him off a cliff (see Luke 4:28-30).
But Jesus was right. His earthly ministry did fulfill this messianic prophecy—at least part of it. He came to bring good news, to heal, and to proclaim freedom from Satan (61:1). He came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (61:2). But that’s where Jesus stopped when he read from Isaiah (see Luke 4:18-19). At his first advent, he brought salvation. At his second advent, though, he will bring the day of our God’s vengeance (61:2). God’s judgment awaits the second coming of Christ, when he will crush his enemies and restore Israel to a place of glory.
61:3-6 Israel will go from being despised among the nations to becoming the head of the nations—a rebuilt and resplendent land that will be fitting as the place from which Messiah will rule (61:4-5). As the Gentiles enrich and serve Israel, God’s people will finally be what they were always meant to be—a nation in which all of the people will be called the Lord’s priests (60:6; see Exod 19:6), ministering his grace to all the world. This is why they will speak of Israel as ministers of our God (60:6).
61:7-9 Israel will receive a double portion of inheritance as the first born of the Lord (61:7; see Exod 4:22; Deut 21:17). This is in contrast to Israel having received “double for all her sins” (40:2). The Lord will make a permanent covenant with Israel (61:8). This is a reference to the “new covenant” (see Jer 31:31-34), which Jesus established when he “poured out” his blood on the cross for the forgiveness of sins (see Luke 22:20; Heb 8:7-13). Christians live under the new cov-enant, but one day Israel will too when Jesus comes to rule on the throne of David in his millennial kingdom and Israel receives him as their Messiah. In that day, all people will know that they are a people the Lord has blessed (61:9).
61:10-11 The Lord’s Servant-Messiah will give praise to God for his luxurious garments of salvation and his robe of righteousness (61:10). Endowed with these, he will accomplish God’s purposes for Israel and for the world. Therefore, God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations (61:11).
62:1-3 This chapter is one of the crown jewels of prophecy in terms of the glorious future awaiting Israel when Jesus Christ returns and establishes his kingdom. In that bright future, Israel’s righteousness will shine like a bright light and her salvation, like a flaming torch (62:1). God will also give his chosen nation a new name. In the Bible, a person’s name signified his character or served as declaration about the future. God himself will announce this new name (61:2); therefore, we can trust that what it proclaims will certainly happen.
62:4-5 This power of God to give a new name to a person or a nation is nothing new (see Gen 17:3-5, 15-16; 32:27-28; Hos 1:4-7). In Isaiah’s day, God called Israel Deserted (possibly referring specifically to Jerusalem) and Desolate (62:4). But the day is coming when God will say of Israel My Delight Is in Her, and the land of Israel will no longer be like a forlorn person but will be married (62:4). That is, his chosen people will once again be worthy of being called the Lord’s bride, and God will rejoice (62:5).
62:6-9 These verses are an encouragement to God’s people in any age to be persistent in prayer. We’re to pray with expectancy, like watchmen on [the] walls of a city who are always on alert for whatever news comes (62:6). The immediate context is God’s call to his people to pray persistently and expectantly for his salvation and deliverance to come in the person of the Messiah. There is no rest for you, who remind the Lord of his promises and ask him to fulfill them (62:6) could be called the Old Testament equivalent of Paul’s command to “pray constantly” (1 Thess 5:17). We’re even called to wear God out with our prayers: Do not give him rest (62:7). Jesus agreed and told his disciples “to pray always and not give up” (Luke 18:1).
62:10-12 The Lord will answer the prayers of his people, in this case for Jerusalem and all of Israel to be restored and thrive in the kingdom age. Because this is true, the Lord can make this announcement: Say to Daughter Zion: Look, your salvation is coming, his wages are with him, and his reward accompanies him (62:11). The new names God gave to his people (62:4-5) are not enough. He has a few more: the Holy People, the Lord’s Redeemed . . . Cared For, A City Not Deserted (62:12). Those are names that guarantee a glorious future.
63:1 The vengeance God will wreak on his enemies at Christ’s second coming is terrifying. Edom serves as an example of what will happen to the nations that reject Christ (Bozrah was one of its capital cities). The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, which means the Israelites were their brothers. Nevertheless, the Edomites were especially cruel to the Israelites on their journey from Egypt to the promised land (see Num 20:14-21).
63:2-6 The nations God will judge at Christ’s return are pictured metaphorically as trampled in God’s winepress until they are crushed (63:2, 6). Christ will grind them underfoot and spatter their blood on his garments (63:3). Indeed, when the sins of the nations are ripe, they will be judged in the “winepress of God’s wrath” (Rev 14:19). Now is the day of repentance; now is the time for second chances. In that day, there will be no second chances, and there will be no escape.
63:7-10 Here the focus shifts dramatically to the declarations of God’s people as they remember the many good things he has done for the house of Israel. Isaiah leads the nation in praising God for his faithful love and praiseworthy acts (63:7). The angel of his presence saved them, most notably in the exodus under Moses (63:9). But since that was true, the exiles in Babylon might ask, “Why are we in this mess in Babylon?” Isaiah answers on God’s behalf: they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit (63:10)—a statement that Paul echoes in Ephesians 4:30. Therefore, God fought against them (63:10).
63:11-15 But Isaiah remembers how God had shown mercy to his people in the past when he delivered them from the Egyptians and brought them to the promised land. He put his Holy Spirit among them, divided the water, and gave them rest (63:11-14). Continuing the comparison to the days of Moses, Isaiah prays on behalf of the people for God to look down from heaven and see—a plea for God to come down and act on what he saw (63:15). The faithful ones knew their history. When God came to Moses in the burning bush, he said, “I have observed the misery of my people in Egypt, and have heard them crying out because of their oppressors. I know about their sufferings, and I have come down to rescue them” (Exod 3:7-8). He had done it before; he would do it again.
63:16-19 They asked for this deliverance even though they had to admit with embarrassment that they were so sinful that their ancestors Abraham and Israel (Jacob) would not recognize them (63:16). That’s quite a statement considering what a deceiver Jacob was—until God straightened out his act. God’s people had gotten so bad that they had become like Pharaoh, who rejected God’s demands to let his people go and hardened his own heart (see Exod 8:32). Eventually, God confirmed Pharaoh’s choice and hardened his heart too (Exod 9:12). The people of Israel and Judah rejected the Lord repeatedly. No matter how many times God urged them through his prophets to repent, they pressed on in their idolatry. So he hardened their hearts and judged them through the nations that conquered them (63:17).
64:1-4 Because God’s people were either heading for or in exile when they read the book of Isaiah, they cried out for him to tear the heavens open like a piece of cloth and come down to rescue them. They asked the Lord to act as he had acted before. They wanted mountains to quake at his presence (64:1)—just as the mountains quaked when he performed his awesome works in the past (64:3). This is one of the keys for God’s people even today. We need to remember how God has come through in our past circumstances so that we can have faith to call on him in our time of need, for he acts on behalf of the one who waits for him (64:4). To “wait” for God doesn’t mean to sit and do nothing. It means to live faithfully according to the agenda of God’s Word as we patiently expect him to answer in his own time and way.
64:5-7 The people acknowledged the reason for God’s apparent lack of intervention to prevent his land from being destroyed: we have sinned, and you were angry (64:5). No amount of worship and prayers for deliverance will help if we continue to live by our own agenda and for our own glory. Therefore, the people had to say, All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment (64:6). As the old saying goes, confession is good for the soul.
64:8-12 Because God is faithful to his promises, Israel could say, Yet Lord, you are our Father and plead once again for his help (64:8). The end of this long prayer is a good example of what it means to remind God that we as his people are frail and sinful humans, and that he needs to intervene because of what he values so much—his people and his holy land. Finally, the people asked, Lord, after all this, will you restrain yourself? Will you keep silent and afflict us severely? (64:12). This was an urgent request for God to make his power manifest to his enemies, remember his people’s afflictions, and rescue them before they were beyond recovery.
65:1-7 God had responded to his people with grace: I was sought by those who did not ask; I was found by those who did not seek me (65:1). But Israel rejected God’s kindness. Although he spread out [his] hands to them, they followed their own thoughts (65:2). And, of course, their thoughts led to their actions: sacrificing in gardens (practicing idolatry), sitting among the graves (talking to the dead), and eating the meat of pigs (rejecting God’s holiness laws). They anger me to my face, God declared (65:3-4). I will repay them fully for [their] iniquities (65:6-7).
Our actions are determined by our thinking. If you want to experience spiritual victory, you need a kingdom mind. You need to adopt God’s thinking about the issues of life. You must be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). By tending to the soil of our minds and sowing our thoughts with the Word of God, we will make it possible to bear good fruit in what we say and in what we do.
65:8-16 Even during judgment, though, God promised to spare his righteous remnant, those who were faithful to him in the midst of perverse generations (65:8-10). The wicked, on the other hand, will not be spared: you did what was evil in my sight and chose what I did not delight in (65:12). God then presented a stark contrast between the fate of the wicked and the fate of his servants. The wicked would experience hunger, thirst, shame, anguish, lament, cursing, and death. But God’s servants will eat, drink, rejoice, and shout for joy (65:13-16). Given the two options, there’s simply no contest. Regardless of the hardships one may face in life by following the Lord, the end result is worth it: the former troubles will be forgotten (65:16).
65:17-25 Several of the most well-known characteristics of Christ’s kingdom are found in this description of that golden age, including a new heaven and a new earth (65:17), the end of weeping (65:19), and a redeemed animal kingdom (65:25). One of the painful aspects of Israel and Judah’s exile was that their homes and lands were lived in and consumed by others. In the kingdom age, God’s people will enjoy his complete blessing (65:22-24).
66:1-6 Isaiah’s final call to faithfulness and rebuke of hypocrisy is fitting in light of all that the prophet had written. Those among the Israelites who could read the prophet’s entire message and still reject their God were to be left to themselves, because they have chosen their ways and delight in their abhorrent practices (66:3). But God would choose too; he would choose their punishment (66:4). There will come a time when the grace of God will end and those who reject him will be confirmed in their choices. When the Lord [pays] back his enemies what they deserve (66:6), no one will stand, no one will escape.
66:7-17 Yet the fate of the wicked will not spoil the rejoicing of those who enter Christ’s kingdom. Israel’s restoration in the kingdom age will be accomplished so quickly it will be like a woman delivering her baby before she was in labor (66:7). Israel’s rebirth is certain because God never begins what he doesn’t finish (66:9). God’s people will be comforted, but his enemies will receive his wrath (66:13-14). They will perish in flames of fire (66:15).
66:18-21 There will be no escape. You can’t hide from an all-knowing God. He knows all of our works and thoughts (66:18). And as much as this is a terror to the wicked, it is also a comfort to the righteous. Those who trust in Christ can know that their sinful deeds and thoughts are forgiven, and they can also know that every deed and thought that they bring into submission to Christ will be remembered by him.
God will gather together all nations and languages who submit to him, and they will see his glory (66:18). When Jesus Christ returns to rule the earth, people in the farthest corners of the world will know of his salvation. Verse 19 may refer to believing Jews who will go to other nations to proclaim God’s glory (66:19), resulting in salvation for Israel’s Gentile brothers as a gift to the Lord (66:20).
66:22-24 When God makes everything new in his eternal kingdom, the old distinctions and divisions won’t apply anymore: All mankind will come to worship (66:22-23). Knowing that God is building his kingdom today, and that his kingdom will come fully and finally at the return of Christ, the best thing believers can do is to understand the requirements of his kingdom agenda and get on with the task of fulfilling them.