In the last essay we studied Isaiah 65:1-16. We began by noting that those sixteen verses are an answer to the questions raised in the previous section, the lament of 63:7-64:12. And we noted that God responded with blunt words. In verses 1-2 he declared that Israel’s problem was not due to his silence, or to his unwillingness to save. On the contrary, he was anxious to be sought out; he wanted to be found. Thus the problem was on Israel’s side of the relationship. It was because they were rebellious and sinful.
In this essay we are studying 65:17-66:6. The final section of the book begins at this point. And the opening segment, 65:17-25, begins that final section with a note of hope. As you can see in verses 17, God is going to create a new heaven and earth. And the old heaven and earth, the old sinful and deformed world, will be forgotten. It will not even come to mind.
Isaiah definitely is getting a glimpse of the end-times here. I suggest that you immediately go to Rev. 21:1-4 to see the apostle John giving a very similar description of the end-time.
Now then, coming back to Isaiah 65:18-19, notice the repeated words for “be glad,” “rejoice,” “joy,” and “delight.” Verse 18 tells us we are to rejoice, because God is creating a New Jerusalem and its people as a joy, meaning that their very nature will be gladness and joy. But notice in verse 19 that this newly created Jerusalem and God’s people who dwell in it will produce joy in God as well. And there will be no more weeping or cries of distress in this New Jerusalem. Isn’t that a beautiful thought! This was God’s intention when he first created this world. He wanted to create creatures capable of loving him and one another freely with joy. And although sin and death entered into the picture, because of angelic and human freedom, in the end, the ultimate will of God shall be done.
Verses 20-25 give us concrete examples of why there will be no more weeping or cries of distress in the New Jerusalem. First, verse 20 tells us that there will be no more premature deaths. Babies no longer will die in infancy; old people will live a full lifetime; and 100 years of age will still be the time of youth. Indeed, as we learned back in 25:7, death will be destroyed.
The last clause of verse 20 is difficult. It literally reads, “but the sinner, the son of 100 years, shall be accursed.” Interestingly, notice that neither the NRSV, nor the NIV, translates the word “sinner,” but it is definitely is there. According to Oswalt, the clause can mean one of two things. One, it can mean that the sinner who lives 100 years would still be under a curse. Or two, it can mean that the sinner would be cursed by only living 100 years. I believe the English translations do not translate the word “sinner” because there aren’t supposed to be any sinners in the New Jerusalem. Neither Oswalt nor Delitzsch are any help at this point.
Verses 21-22 allude to one of the curses for breaking the Old Covenant. Deut. 28:15 and following sets forth a long list of curses for breaking the Covenant. In that list verse 30 says, “You shall become engaged to a woman, but another will take her. You shall build a house, but not live in it. You shall plant a vineyard, but not enjoy its fruits.” Here in verses 21-22, God is saying through Isaiah that the people of the New Jerusalem will not be cursed in that way. On the contrary, they will build houses and live in them. They will plant vineyards and eat the fruit thereof. Indeed they will be long-lived and stable like a great tree. For people who had known only instability, uncertainty, and lack of security, this was a wonderful promise.
Verse 23 extends the blessings to future generations of the happy believers. Not only will the believers not labor in vain, their children will not be born to terror. The NRSV translates “terror” as “calamity” and the NIV as “misfortune.” The reason for this, of course, is that they are part of the blessed family of God. Do not miss the fact that the verse includes multiple generations. There are the blessed ones, their children, and the descendents of the children. In our fallen world, children and grandchildren often suffer for the sins of the parents. Adultery and addictions to alcohol, drugs, and gambling are but two kinds of examples of sins that often devastate children and grandchildren. In the new heaven and earth, that will not happen.
Verse 24 tells us that in the New Jerusalem communication with God will be perfect. As you well know, in this present, fallen world, all sorts of things interfere with our prayers. Even the most spiritual people, those who are most gifted in the area of prayer, speak of “wondering thoughts” and “dark nights of the soul,” when they cannot “get through” to God. But in the New Jerusalem, God will answer before we call, and he will hear (as Oswalt says, in the sense of taking appropriate action) at the very moment we speak.
In verse 25 God, speaking through Isaiah, uses the same kinds images that Isaiah used in 11:6-9 to describe the Messianic kingdom. Therefore we have here a clear identification of the messianic kingdom with the end-time New Jerusalem. We will do well to remember that these are images. They may not be literal. The point is like humanity, nature will be at peace; and we will be at peace with nature. Even the serpent will be pacified, but interestingly, his curse (Gen. 3:14) will remain.
Following the hope passage of 65:17-25, we find a judgment passage in 66:1-6. But unlike some earlier judgment passages, this one is set in a context of hope. In verses 1-2 God declares that he is the creator of everything. Therefore no house built by human hands of itself could honor God. As Delitzsch puts it, “God will have no temple at all if men think by temple-building itself to do him service.” As the second half of verse two indicates, it is the human heart that God wants as his sanctuary. God declares that he “looks upon,” or as the NIV puts it, “esteems” the one who is humble, the one who is contrite in heart, the one who trembles at his word. This same point was made back in 57:15, where God announced that he dwells not only “in the high and holy place,” “but also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit.”
Verse three is an outstanding example of Semitic hyperbole. It is intended to shock, and many Old Testament prophets use the technique (Amos 5:21-25; Jer. 7:21-22; Micah 6:6-8). God’s point is not that sacrifices and ritual worship are evil in themselves. After all, God set up the Old Covenant sacrificial system. His point is that people with unclean hearts will make unclean offerings. They choose their own ways instead of God’s.
Verse four indicates that God eventually will choose for them. That is, he will punish their sinfulness. They will experience all of the fears that they have tired to avoid with their pagan rituals. Moreover they will experience the alienation from God that those who do evil in his sight experience. If you look at 65:12, God used the same language there.
In verse five, God announces to his own what is going to take place. Notice that there are two groups: those who tremble at God’s word, and those who hate those who tremble. The latter will be put to shame. The situation is the same today. Those who believe God’s word and try to live by it are called “fanatic,” unbalanced,” etc. But in the end, those who persecute the believers are the ones who will experience shame.
In verse six, Isaiah speaks of a noise coming from the city that he soon recognizes as the voice of God. Then he realizes that the voice is coming from the temple and that it is speaking judgment against God’s enemies.