Isaiah 66 Study Guide of the Bible
This chapter ends the inspiring trilogy penned by Isaiah, all of them dealing with events certain to take place in Israel in the days following the death of the great prophet, such as the destruction of their nation, their captivity, and many other events reaching all the way down to the birth of Messiah, the establishment of Christianity, the call of the Gentiles, the second destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and even to the final judgment day itself.
All of the doodling engaged in by critics about how many authors produced these chapters, or particularly what dates should be assigned to various chapters, etc., is of no importance at all. The fundamental facts are indisputable, these being: (1) that every line of this great book was printed in the Greek language about 250 years before the Son of God was born, in what is called the Septuagint (LXX) Version. A vast number of the prophecies in Isaiah were fulfilled long after that date, absolutely destroying the critical dictum regarding the impossibility of predictive prophecy; (2) the subject matter, the vocabulary, the style, and the spirit of Isaiah dominate every paragraph of the whole prophecy; and (3) our Lord Jesus Christ and his holy apostles had the utmost respect for the whole prophecy, fight down to this very last chapter, quoting from it, by inspiration adding to it, and by attributing it repeatedly to Isaiah. In our opinion, the critical enemies of the Word of God totally discredited both themselves and their system by their vain efforts to divide and discredit Isaiah.
A summary of this chapter must be especially heeded in the interpretation of it. Adam Clarke declared that, “These last two chapters relate to the calling of the Gentiles, the establishment of the Christian church, the reprobation of the apostate Jews, and their destruction executed by the Romans.” Lowth concurred in this analysis. “This final chapter points to the final days of Judah and the coming glory of Zion in the new dispensation.”
Cheyne described the first five verses here as, “A declaration by Jehovah that he requires no earthly habitation, and that he is displeased with the service of unspiritual worshippers, followed by a solemn antithesis between the fate of the persecutors and the persecuted (Isaiah 66:1-5).”
The big thing in this chapter is not fleshly Israel at all, but the Church which is the New Israel. Payne understood this, writing, “Here we have a warning to Jews that, `not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel’ (Romans 9:6), and an appeal to all men, `Be not faithless, but believing’ (John 20:27).”
There were among the Jews of that period some who trusted the sanctity of the temple and the security of Zion as a guarantee of their salvation without regard to their wickedness; and these lines are directed against such thoughts.
“Thus saith Jehovah, Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: what manner of house will ye build unto me? and what place shall be my rest? For all these things hath my hand made, and so all these things came to be, saith Jehovah: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word. He that killeth an ox is as he that slayeth a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as he that breaketh a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as he that offereth swine’s blood; he that burneth frankincense, as he that blesseth an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations: also I will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did that which was evil in mine eyes, and chose that wherein I delighted not.”
“What manner of house will ye build me? …” (Isaiah 66:1). Some have construed this paragraph as revealing God’s displeasure with the Jewish Temple. However that may be, there is no doubt that in Israel, the more discerning souls had long been familiar with the truth that “God dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” The martyr Stephen quoted this passage (Acts 7:50,51); and Solomon, upon the dedication of the temple he built, said, “Will God indeed dwell on earth? Behold, the heaven and heavens of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded” (1 Kings 8:27). Christ called it a “den of thieves and robbers”; and it will be recalled from 2 Samuel 7 that the idea of building God a temple was never God’s idea, at all, but was associated altogether with human origin in David. If it had been God’s design, he would never have commanded its destruction twice. And yet, in Haggai, we learn that God commanded the rebuilding of the temple, that, no doubt, being due to the fact that, in their condition, they needed such a device, because of their fanatical preference for such things.
“He that killeth an ox, as he that slew a man …” (Isaiah 66:3).
This means that a man who is without poverty of spirit and not having a contrite heart who offers an ox, “is not any more pleasing to God than a murderer would be.” The following major clauses in Isaiah 66:3,4, are reiterations of the same thought in different terminology.
Kelley pointed out that there is another interpretation of this passage, making it, “The most violent rejection of the Temple cultus to be found in the Old Testament. It places the sacrifice of an ox, etc., on the parity with the murder of a man.” We reject this view, because God could not have been but pleased with one who offered an ox as a sacrifice, if offered from an humble and contrite heart and according to the Law of Moses. In our studies of the prophets, we have frequently encountered the writings of scholars who try to make it out that God cared nothing for the observance of forms, sacrifices and ceremonies, but only for “social justice.” This is a false view. What God condemned was insincere and hypocritical worship. God indeed is concerned for “social justice”; but, in the final analysis, all moral and social justice derives from the holy commandments of God, properly honored, respected, and obeyed.
“Hear the word of Jehovah, ye that tremble at his word: Your brethren that hate you, and cast you out for my name’s sake, have said, Let Jehovah be glorified, that we may see your joy; but it is they that shall be put to shame. A voice of tumult from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of Jehovah that rendereth recompense to his enemies.”
An outstanding thing here is that, “These verses presuppose a schism within the Jewish community, with the faithful believers being persecuted and cast out by their own brethren.” There is nothing new about this development; throughout Isaiah, the two Israels of God have been clearly visible.
This prophecy, without any doubt, applies to the total destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple by the Romans in 70 A.D., whether or not there might have been earlier applications. The mention of the temple, however, points strongly to the Roman destruction. Kelley also observed that the voice of Jehovah coming from the temple “emphasized that those being judged were the Israelites.” This, of course, is true. That destruction signaled the end of the Jewish nation for a period of about two millenniums, a cessation forever of the daily sacrifices, the total and final destruction of their temple, the end of their government, and the physical death of more than a million of the people. There is no wonder that Peter referred to that event as “the end of all things” (1 Peter 4:7); and as far as the Jewish Dispensation was concerned, it surely was!
“These verses are an address to the pious and persecuted part of the nation (that is, the righteous remnant); and it is designed for their comfort and consolation, and contains the assurance that God would appear in their behalf.” In that terrible destruction of Jerusalem to which we have applied the passage, God did indeed appear upon behalf of the saints; and he made it possible for every Christian to escape with his life, before the city was ravaged. (See the full discussion of this in Vol. 1 (Matthew) of my New Testament Series of Commentaries, pp. 386,387.)
Isaiah’s reference here to brothers persecuting brothers, “Is one of the earliest allusions to purely religious persecution and theological hatred. The intolerance of Isaiah 66:5 was acted out, almost to the letter, in John 9:24,34,” in the record of the man born blind.
What we have in these verses is a continuation of what Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 13.
“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 a land be born in one day? shall a nation be brought forth 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 Jehovah: shall I that cause to bring forth shut the womb? saith God.”
The student should not be confused with the profusion of Old Testament terminology throughout the remainder of this chapter. Such things as the temple, animal sacrifices, new moons, sabbaths, etc., clearly concerned the Old dispensation; but, “Isaiah 66:7-9 clearly concern the end-time.” Such expressions as “Who hath heard such a thing”? stress the newness of what is being revealed here.
The rapidity of the rise and expansion of Christianity “Will mock the slow processes of history.” This is prophesied by the metaphor of birth without travail. This was fulfilled, “By the far-flung commonwealth of the Christian Church springing up all over the Roman empire in a single generation.”
“She was delivered of a man-child …” (Isaiah 66:7). The oldest Christian understanding of this passage identifies it with the birth of the Christ. “This was the position of Jerome”; and we have never seen any improvement on that view. The New Testament quotation of the word man-child (Revelation 12:5) from Isaiah 66:7 requires our understanding of this as a reference to this designation; but the New Testament references have a double emphasis on the masculinity of the child, “a son, a man child.” Alexander Campbell translated it, “She bore a masculine son.” Albertus Pieters rendered the words, “A son, a he-man, a fierce assertion of the virility of Christ.” The words give the lie to the pretended artistic representations of Jesus Christ, always showing our Lord as a weak, effeminate-looking homosexual! The mother in this analogy is the Jewish race, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3), as proved by Matthew 1:1.
“Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad for her; rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn over 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 Jehovah, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream: and ye shall suck thereof; ye shall be borne upon the side, and shall be dandled upon the knees. As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem. And ye shall see it, and you r heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like the tender grass: and the hand of Jehovah shall be known toward his servants; and he will have indignation against his enemies.”
Kidner called this “an exuberant family scene,” describing the joys and consolations of the “Jerusalem that is above, which is our mother” (Galatians 4:26).
“Ye shall be borne upon the side …” (Isaiah 66:12). This is a reference to the custom of mothers to carry their little ones upon the hip. All of the scenes described here are intimate and tender references to motherhood. “Direct fellowship with God and full involvement in His church” are depicted here. Certainly, the old Jerusalem is not in this place at all.
“For, behold, Jehovah will come with fire, and his chariots shall be like the whirlwind; to render his anger with fierceness, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire will Jehovah execute judgment, and by his sword, upon all flesh; and the slain of Jehovah shall be many. They that sanctify themselves and purify themselves to go unto the gardens, behind one in the midst, eating swine’s flesh, and the abominations, and the mouse, they shall come to an end together, saith Jehovah.”
“Jehovah will come with fire …” (Isaiah 66:15). This is a reference to the final judgment of God upon the rebellious race of Adam. The prophet Zephaniah devoted his prophecy largely to this event; and Paul and Peter both stressed the “fire” of that Great Day.
“You that are afflicted rest with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus: who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction, from the face of the Lord and form the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
The heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men (2 Peter 3:7ff).
The Adamic race is on a collision course with disaster, due to their rejection of God and their preference for wickedness; and in these verses, we have the inspired account of how Almighty God will deal with the situation. His promises are certain to be fulfilled.
“That sanctify themselves … to go unto the gardens, behind one in the midst …” (Isaiah 66:17). This refers to the people who rebelled against God’s Word and worshipped after the pagan rites of the old Canaanite fertility cults, “behind one in the midst.” On these words, Wardle noted that, “This means that they followed the actions of `one in the midst,’ probably a leader of the ceremonies (Ezekiel 8:11); and in the mystic meals, they ate food regarded by the Law as unclean.”
“For I know their works and their thoughts: the time cometh, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and shall see my glory. And I will set a sign among them, and I will send such as 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 nations. And they shall bring all your brethren out of all the nations for an oblation unto Jehovah, upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith Jehovah, as the children of Israel bring their oblation in a clean vessel into the house of Jehovah. And of them also will I take for priests and for Levites, saith Jehovah.”
Following the terrible picture of the judgment in Isaiah 66:15-17, this paragraph returns to the glory of the New Dispensation, the rescue of the righteous remnant of Israel who, after accepting Christ, appear here as missionaries of the Gospel to the “ends of the earth,” as did Paul and others. The names of Tarshish, Pul, and Lud here, the actual location of which is not known, merely indicate the worldwide preaching of the Gospel. It was in Paul’s plans to go to Spain (where Tarshish was located); and presumably he made the journey.
The proof of the focus in this paragraph is God’s promise here that priests of God will be enrolled from among the Gentiles. This came to pass in the designation of all Christians as “kings and priests unto God” (Revelation 1:6; 1 Peter 2:5,6).
“And I will set a sign among them …” (Isaiah 66:19). The only “sign” that our Lord ever gave to the unbelieving Jews was “The sign of the prophet Jonah, that like as Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, so shall the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights” (Matthew 12:39-40), in short, the Resurrection of Christ! We believe those writers are wrong who refer this promise to some miraculous wonder that Christ is supposed to perform at the beginning of the Millennium. The miracle of His Resurrection appeared at the beginning of the real Millennium, namely the Christian Dispensation.
“They shall bring all your brethren from all the nations …” (Isaiah 66:20). “The middle wall of partition has been broken down (Ephesians 2:14). Gentiles from all the nations will be brought with redeemed Jews (from that righteous remnant) as brethren, as one new man, unto Jehovah.” There is no longer any distinction whatever in the sight of God between Jews and Gentiles.
The scene here of all nations making pilgrimages to Jerusalem to worship God should not be misunderstood. Christians are not come, nor shall they ever come, “Unto a mount that might be touched (nor to a city that can be touched) … but ye `Christians’ are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem … to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 12:18-24). It is a tragic misinterpretation to find in this glorious prophecy the restoration of the old Jerusalem, the rebuilding of the temple, and other things sometimes erroneously imported into these verses!
“For as the new heavens and the earth which I will make, shall remain before me, saith Jehovah, 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 Jehovah. And they shall go forth and look upon the dead bodies 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.”
Rawlinson mentioned that Isaiah 66:22 is usually taken to be a promise of some special pre-eminence of the Jew over the Gentile in the final kingdom of the redeemed; but Paul noted that all such privileges were already abolished in his day (Colossians 3:11). In this connection, see also our extended remarks on this at the end of Isaiah 62.
“Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched …” (Isaiah 66:24). There can be no doubt that the reference here is to the eternal punishment that shall be the destiny of the wicked at the judgment. The most important comment on this verse ever made was made by Christ himself.
“It is good for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:47,48).
Some interpreters have referred to the statement about the worms and the fire as applicable only to the dead corpses which are presented here as part of the final judgment scene; but, as Dummelow noted, “The thought also includes the torment of the ungodly in hell, which seems to have the sanction of our Lord’s teaching (Mark 9:48).”
As Hailey and others have pointed out, the magnificent trilogy of these final twenty-seven chapters concludes all three divisions of it with a word to the wicked. “In the first two, we have in Isaiah 48:22, and in Isaiah 57:20, `There is no peace to the wicked.’ And here an even darker picture portrays the destruction of sinners.”
Many scholars have reached the conclusion of their studies of this incredibly beautiful and powerful prophecy with feelings of deep emotion and thanksgiving; and this writer also must confess his deep emotion of gratitude and thanksgiving that God has now granted the reaching of another milestone in our studies of his precious Word.
God’s blessing in the giving of sufficient strength and health for the task is a source of utmost joy and thanksgiving. Just a year ago from August of 1989, when these lines are being written, it appeared that I would never be able to walk again. How merciful God has been, and how thankful I am for the tender care and concern of my wife Thelma who guided me to a measure of health sufficient for these labors. I do not feel capable of writing a sufficient testimonial to the blessings and mercies of God’s grace in such things; and therefore, as Albert Barnes did so long ago, I shall borrow the following words from Vitringa:
“I am now deeply affected and prostrate before God’s throne, giving humble thanks to God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, for the grace and light with which he endowed me, his unworthy servant, in completing the commentary on Isaiah, praying earnestly that God will pardon those errors into which inadvertently I may have fallen, and also that God will use this work, such as it is, to the glory of his name and the use of his church, and the consolation of God’s people; and unto Him be the glory throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.