Wrong practice of religion
v1 (This is what God says.) ‘Shout loudly with all your strength! Sound the alarm! Tell my people about the wrong things that they have done. Tell them how they have neglected to obey my commands. v2 They are so proud of the way that they practise their religion. They come to the *Temple every day. They are glad to hear the words of my laws that somebody reads. (Although they do not think that they should bother to obey them.) In fact, they consider my commands to be of no importance. But how eager they are to give me honour in the proper manner! How they love all that happens in the *Temple!’
v3 (The people complain to the *Lord.) ‘Why do you not notice when we *fast to give you honour? Why do you give no attention when we make ourselves humble?’
(But God is ready with his answers.) ‘When you *fast, you are only doing it for your own selfish reasons. That is clear from the way that you deal with your workers. You continuously urge them to work harder for you. v4 When you *fast, you get in a bad temper. Then you quarrel. You fight each other with your fists. To *fast like that does not encourage God to listen to your prayers! v5 That is not the kind of *fast that I expect. You make a show of your humble actions. You bend your heads in front of me like long grass bends in the wind. You dress yourselves in *sackcloth. And you cover yourselves with ashes. That is not what I would call a *fast! That is not the sort of holy day that the *Lord approves of.’
Isaiah is passing on God’s message to God’s people. Their religion has become a mere series of ceremonies, for example, *fasts. But true religion should also affect how believers live their lives. Especially, they should behave in a manner that helps weaker people.
God uses ‘*fast’ as a picture word, to mean ‘not to do things only for oneself’.
- Although the law of Moses required only one *fast a year (see Leviticus 23:27-32), the *fast was important (see 2 Samuel 12:13-23; Zechariah 7:5).
Right practice of religion
v6 ‘This is how I want you to *fast. Free those who are in prison falsely. Stop making those who work for you into slaves. Deal with them fairly. And pay what is due to them. v7 Share your food with those who are hungry. Give shelter to poor people who have no homes. If you see someone without clothing, give him some clothes. And do not refuse to help your own relatives.v8 Then you will know my kindness. It will be like the early morning sun, which shines brightly. Your health will quickly return. Your generous deeds will be like a smooth path in front of you. And I myself will be your guard on every side. v9 When you pray, I, your *Lord, will answer you. When you are in trouble, I will be there. All that you have to do is to end cruel practices against other people. Do not accuse people falsely. Do not continue to gossip in an evil manner. v10 Give willingly to hungry people. Satisfy the needs of poor people. Then light will shine for you in the darkness. And your darkest hour will be as bright as midday. v11 The *Lord will guide you continuously. He will satisfy you with good things. And you will be healthy and strong. You will become like a lovely garden that always has plenty of water. Like a source of fresh water that never fails. v12 Your families will rebuild the ancient properties that enemies ruined. You will use again the old foundations (bases). People will call you “repairers of city walls”. And “those who rebuilt streets and houses”.’
To take care of poor and weak people in society is to practise *self-denial. This what the *Lord calls a true *fast.
- The *Lord approves of those who take care of other people in this way. They will find that the *Lord takes care of them (see Luke 6:38).
- Among his other benefits, the *Lord will protect and guide. This is what he did in ancient times, by cloud and fire in the desert (see Exodus 13:21; see also Isaiah 9:2 and 60:1-3).
Light is at its brightest at midday.
In a dry land like Israel, water is essential for life. It is not just essential for people. It is essential for everything that is alive. Without water, all die.
- Here ‘water’ is also a picture word for the *Lord’s free gifts. He provides all that is good and necessary for human life (see John 4:14).
- ‘Plenty of water’ means a supply that never ends.
The ‘ancient properties’ were buildings that the *Babylonians had knocked down a century earlier. The people had never repaired them, although Cyrus had given the order to do so (see Isaiah 45:13).
- To erect a building, people did not clear the ground first, as today. They simply knocked down the old property. Then they built the new building on top of the piles of rocks and stones of the old building. Because people did this, today great mounds (huge piles) mark the position of ancient towns. We call them ‘tells’. It would take many centuries to dig up the ‘tells’ of a large city like Babylon!
Respect God’s holy days
v13 ‘Give honour to God on the *Sabbath as his holy day. It is not a day on which to carry on business. It is not a day to do as you like. It is a special day on which to enjoy the *Lord himself. Speak of the *Sabbath with joy as the *Lord’s holy day. Give honour to the *Lord in what you do on the *Sabbath. Do not look for pleasure in your own interests. And do not use the day to gossip. v14 Then I, the *Lord, will truly be your delight. And I will see to it that you ride high in the land. And you will get your proper share of the good things that I promised to your early relative Jacob.’ That is what the *Lord says.
To ‘ride high in the land’ means ‘your happy life will attract favourable attention’.
- The *Lord promised to supply all that his people need (see Deuteronomy 32:13-14).
Why God does not answer prayers
v1 The *Lord can still save. His power has not become weak. He can still hear. He has not become deaf. v2 It is your own wicked lives that have separated you from your holy God. It is your evil deeds that have hidden God from you. That is why he does not listen to your prayers.
God’s character is perfect. He cannot change. Therefore we can always trust him completely (see Hebrews 13:8).
It is we who have to change. Then God will act on our behalf.
v3 Blood stains your hands. The marks of crimes are on your fingers. You speak lies with your lips. You plot wicked schemes with your tongue. v4 Nobody wants to be fair and true. Lies are the false base of what you say in court. You spend your time in order to plot your evil deeds. And then you carry them out. Everybody uses empty words (words without any value) that are not true. And after such words, there are troubles and evil deeds. v5-6 The behaviour of you people in Israel is like a poisonous snake. And such a snake produces even more poisonous snakes from its eggs. If anybody eats those eggs, he will die. And when an egg is broken, another snake appears. Your plots are like a insect’s web (net). That web might seem solid. But it has no value. You cannot use it to make clothes; it would just fall apart. Your plots are as weak as that web. That is, your wicked behaviour benefits nobody. You do not even benefit yourselves. v7 The result of such evil deeds is more evil deeds. Even murder is the result of these evil deeds. Your wicked plots produce awful results. Everywhere you go, you people leave only pain and despair behind you. v8 You have no idea what it means to live at peace with each other. And those who copy your behaviour never know a quiet and happy life.
In this verse, parts of the body (blood, hands, fingers, lips, tongue) are picture words. Isaiah uses these words to describe evil behaviour.
In court, people accuse other people falsely, but without any real evidence. They just want to cause trouble.
People’s evil behaviour is as dangerous as the bite of a poisonous snake. One bite can cause death.
Only God’s love can provide real happiness. People who live wicked lives can never enjoy real happiness. That is not God’s fault, but their own. Evil actions can never produce anything good.
People confess their wicked deeds
v9 Now we realise why we get no fair decisions. And why right things do not happen. It was as if we were expecting light on our path to show us where to go. But there was only darkness. It was as if we expected the dawn of a new day. That is, a new and happier beginning. But the night continued. v10 We were like blind people who felt for the wall. We tripped at midday, as if the poor light of late evening had already arrived. We were living in darkness, as if we were already dead. We had no energy, unlike strong young men. v11 We were afraid and miserable. We were desperately wanting God to free us from our enemies. But nothing happened. v12 It is all because we have neglected to obey you so often. Our evil deeds are clear evidence against us. We realise that we have not carried out your instructions. We know our crimes against you. v13 We know that we have not obeyed you. We have not been loyal to the *Lord our God. We know that we have acted as enemies against God. We know how unfairly we act towards other people. We carefully work out the lies that we intend to tell. v14 Our courts are unfair to honest people. Truth no longer exists. And honest attitudes are unknown. v15 Yes, truth has disappeared. And anybody who tries to live a better life soon suffers attack. The *Lord saw all these evil actions that went on. And he was angry that nobody opposed these wicked practices.
Isaiah’s list of wicked deeds is a great shock to the people. They suddenly recognise that they are guilty of all those actions. Now they can understand why the *Lord is not helping them. But merely to understand was without value, if it did not bring about a change of behaviour! (See verse 16.)
God will act
v16 The *Lord saw that nobody was willing to do anything to stop the wicked behaviour. The failure astonished him and filled him with disgust. So the *Lord himself decided to act. He would rescue his people by his own power. v17 He will wear *justice like a soldier’s strong coat. And he will put on his power to save like a helmet (strong hat). Fierce anger and complete success will be his clothes. v18 God will punish his enemies for all the evil deeds that they have done. Even those who live in distant countries will suffer from his fierce anger. v19 All nations from east to west will be afraid of the *Lord and his immense power. He will act like a vast river that floods the land. And like a powerful wind that makes flat everything in its path.
v20 The *Lord tells his people, ‘I am coming to rescue *Jerusalem. And to save all of you who turn back from your wicked behaviour.’ This is what the *Lord declares. v21 The *Lord says, ‘I make a serious promise. I will give you my Spirit and my instructions. These will be my gifts to you and to your future families for all time.’ This is what the *Lord declares.
The *Lord’s people were those that God had chosen to carry out his great purpose. The people had not realised why God had chosen them. It was not simply for their own benefit.
- God’s purpose was for his people to be his witness to all the nations of the world. His people were to show by their lives how the holy God wants all people to live. And to show what wonderful benefits would follow when people obey him.
- The people’s evil behaviour meant that their lives had no value whatever as God’s witness.
These references to a soldier’s equipment are word pictures to describe the *Lord’s actions. The *Old Testament often uses word pictures that describe the *Lord as a soldier. (See Exodus 15:3-4; Numbers 21:14; Isaiah 42:13 and 51:9.) The words usually refer to the *Lord’s attacks against Israel’s enemies.
- Similar word pictures in the *New Testament describe the way for Christians to fight battles against evil powers (see Ephesians 6:13-17).
- Of course, God himself does not need protection as a human soldier needs protection. The picture language is a way to express God’s absolute power to win every battle.
God punishes evil behaviour wherever he finds it (see Isaiah 13:11).
God has created everything (see Job chapter 38). And what God creates, he continues to control (see Isaiah 43:1-2).
This repeats the *Lord’s promise of good gifts, at the beginning of Isaiah’s message (see Isaiah 1:19).
New *Jerusalem will be splendid
v1 ‘Rise, *Jerusalem, and shine like the sun! The *glory of the *Lord is shining on you! v2 Darkness covers the earth. Black night covers the nations. But the *Lord will come like the sunrise to you. His *glory will appear over you. v3 The people from foreign nations will move towards your light. Their rulers will come to your bright dawn.’
The *Lord is speaking to ‘*Jerusalem’. ‘*Jerusalem’ refers to both the city and its inhabitants. So, through this whole chapter, ‘you’ means both the city and its inhabitants.
- ‘Rise’ means ‘get up to act’. The action is ‘to shine’. That is, the people are to express bright hope for their future, because of God’s firm promises.
- When dawn comes in the East, it appears very quickly. The sudden sunshine on the white rock of the *Temple is a powerful contrast with the earlier black night. This provides a word picture of the experience of *Jerusalem and its inhabitants. The *Lord will suddenly act. He will free the *exiles from their hopeless darkness (despair) in Babylon. And he will bring them home to *Jerusalem.
God’s gift of special light is for his people when they obey him (see Isaiah 9:2 and 58:8). The ‘light’ refers to the witness that God’s people give to the nations.
Light attracts attention. Foreign nations will notice what happens. They will want to share the same experience.
Crowds are coming to *Jerusalem
v4 ‘Look about you! See what is happening! Your people are gathering to come home together. Your sons and your daughters are coming from distant countries. v5 When you see them, your eyes will be bright with great joy. Your hearts will tremble with excitement. That is not all. Merchants will bring to you wealth that you could never imagine. It will come from many nations across the sea. v6 Crowds of *camels will cover your land. They will come from Midian and Ephah. People will bring gold and *frankincense from Sheba to praise the *Lord. v7 Great numbers of sheep will come from Kedah. The rams (male sheep) of Nebaioth will also be for you to use as *sacrifices on my *altar,’ says the *Lord. ‘In this way I will make my *Temple even more magnificent. v8 There are ships that are sailing along like clouds in the sky. They are like birds that are flying home to their nests. v9 Great ships are coming from distant countries. They are bringing God’s people home. They carry with them silver and gold to give honour to the *Lord. He is the Holy God of Israel, who has caused all nations to respect his people.’
The ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’ refer to the families from *Jerusalem which were in *exile. Now the *Lord makes it possible for them to return home. This continues the word picture in Isaiah 49:17-21.
All the areas in this list were in the desert called Arabia. The people who lived there were called Arabs. They were busy merchants. They used *camels to carry their goods over long distances.
- People in Israel usually obtained gold (see Isaiah 2:7) and *frankincense (see Isaiah 43:23) by trade. And Sheba was famous for its supplies of these things. But the Queen of Sheba gave gifts of gold and *frankincense to Solomon (1 Kings 10:10). And the *New Testament mentions gifts of gold and *frankincense in connection with the birth of Jesus the *Messiah (see Matthew 2:11). Also, see Matthew 12:42.
As picture words, ‘ships, clouds, birds, nests’ describe a busy scene of action. Former enemies are now eager to bring back harmony and beauty to the city that once they tried to destroy. They do not stop to wonder why they have changed their attitude. It was the *Lord who caused this to happen.
Enemies will rebuild *Jerusalem
v10 ‘Foreigners will rebuild the walls of *Jerusalem. Foreign kings will be your servants. Because of my anger,’ says the *Lord, ‘I punished you. But now I am showing you great kindness. And I am comforting you. v11 The gates of *Jerusalem will always remain open. They will never shut, in the daytime or during the night. Because continuously, people will be bringing great gifts into the city. And foreign kings will personally deliver to you the wealth of their nations. v12 Any nation or country that does not serve you will end. Enemies will completely destroy those nations. v13 Valuable wood from the rich forests in Lebanon will come to you. The wood will help to make my holy *Temple beautiful. And it will give honour to the place where I stand.’
The *Lord had been angry because the people refused to obey him. The people’s punishment was to become *exiles for many years in Babylon.
Normally, men shut the city’s gates each evening to give protection to the inhabitants. But now there is no danger. The *Lord is in complete control.
Only the very best materials are good enough for the *Lord’s *Temple. Centuries earlier, King Solomon obtained the help of the *Gentile people from Lebanon (see 1 Kings 5:2-9). They provided wood for the *Temple.
- The *Lord’s *Temple is holy, because the holy *Lord is there.
The *Lord changes attitudes
v14 ‘The sons of enemies that attacked you in former days will now kneel at your feet. All who once hated you caused you so much pain. Now they will be humble towards you. They will call *Jerusalem “The City of the *Lord” and “*Zion, the City of the Holy God of Israel”. v15 You people in *Jerusalem will no longer feel alone. Nor will you feel that other nations hate you. It used to be like that, when people would not even travel through *Jerusalem. But I, the *Lord, will make your city beautiful. *Jerusalem will always be a city to give you pride. v16 You will enjoy the best things that other nations can provide. And I will make them to care deeply for you. Only I, your *Lord, can bring about this complete change of attitude. You will realise that only the all-powerful God of Israel can save you. Only he can cause this to happen.’
Whether people realise it or not, their deepest desires can find true satisfaction only in the God of Israel. That is true about the desires both of people, and of whole nations.
The *Lord will establish true peace
v17 ‘Instead of ordinary metals, I will bring gold and silver to you. I will bring you metal instead of wood. And you will have iron instead of stones. And I will establish fair government and a quiet life for all. v18 You will no longer hear the noise of attacks in your nation. Enemies will no longer destroy or ruin your country. You will name your walls, “The *Lord keeps us safe”. And you will name your gates, “They praise the *Lord”.’
You will have all the materials that you need for the *Temple. This was what happened in the days of King Solomon (see 1 Chronicles 29:7).
To give names to the walls and gates is a double word picture. The first means that the *Lord himself will protect his people like a strong wall. The second means that the people will praise the *Lord because of his actions on their behalf.
The bright (and wonderful) future
v19 ‘The sun will no longer be your light during the day. The moon will no longer shine on you by night. Instead, the *Lord himself will be your constant light all the time. God’s own wonderful light will shine upon you. v20 Your sun and your moon will never set. Because I, the *Lord, will be your light for always. And your sad days will end. v21 All your people will do what is right. They will possess their land for always. They will be like a young tree that the *Lord has planted with his own hands. It will show how great he is. v22 The few will grow into a large crowd. The small nation will become powerful. I, the *Lord, will cause this to happen when the right time comes.’
This does not mean that the sun and moon will disappear. Rather, it means that God’s people will not need their light. Their light cannot compare with the *Lord’s far brighter light. And unlike the light of the sun and moon, the *Lord’s light will never end (see Zechariah 14:6-7; Revelation 21:22-25).
The ‘sad days’ refer to the people’s first sight of the state of their land. Enemies had ruined it while the people were away as *exiles in Babylon.
The *Lord made such a promise to Abraham many centuries earlier (see Genesis 18:18).
This chapter shows how God will achieve his great purpose for all the nations. His agent is *Messiah (verse 1-3a). The benefits that *Messiah’s people will receive will follow in verses 3b-7. (Note: ‘verse 3a’ means the first part of that verse. ‘Verse 3b’ means the second part.) In verses 8-9 God declares that his desire from his *covenant people is right behaviour. Verses 10-11show the effect that right behaviour has on all the nations.
God’s Servant brings good news
v1 The spirit of the *Lord God is with me. God has especially chosen me to be his Servant. He has sent me to bring good news to ordinary people. To cure those whose hearts are sad. To announce freedom for those that enemies have *seized. And to give liberty to those who are in prison. v2 The *Lord has sent me to announce that the time has come to show us his great kindness. That is, to announce the day when our God defeats all our enemies. And he has sent me to comfort all those who have been very sad. v3 And to give those who are miserable about the fate of *Jerusalem, bright flowers instead of ashes. And a crown (display) of joy instead of a weight that causes hopeless despair. And clothes for a happy party instead of a heavy (sad) heart. Then such people will be called ‘Trees of God’s Goodness’. The *Lord planted them to display his wonderful power.
v4 People will erect again the buildings that enemies ruined long ago. They will rebuild cities that enemies knocked down in former days. v5 Foreigners will be your servants. They will feed your animals. They will farm the land for you. They will look after your *vines. v6 People will say that some of you are ‘the *Lord’s priests’ and ‘servants of our God’. You will enjoy the best food of the nations. You will be proud to possess the riches that once were theirs. v7 My people have suffered a double amount of shame and insults. Now they will receive in their own land a double amount of wealth. And their joy will last always.
In the synagogue (meeting room) at Nazareth, Jesus chose to read these words as he began his public work (see Luke 4:16-22). This action by Jesus provides our evidence that Isaiah’s words refer to God’s agent, *Messiah.
It is God who has sent his Servant to bring the good news. So the Servant has authority to speak for God.
- The ‘good news’ is about true freedom, in every way that *Jews and *Gentiles alike may need it.
‘Trees of God’s Goodness’ is a word picture. This phrase expresses what God can do.
- Trees have life inside them. That life causes them to grow and to develop. As a word picture, ‘trees’ remind us about the nature of God’s free gift to his people. He gives them a life of beauty and growth and value.
The *exiles come back to rebuild the towns and villages that the *Babylonians ruined a century earlier. (See Isaiah 49:19 and 58:12 for similar declarations.) That is the primary meaning, but Isaiah also refers to God’s future plans for his people.
The *Lord will appoint some of his people to these jobs (see Isaiah 66:21).
This is the result of God’s actions to replace the people’s earlier pain and loss of land.
The *Lord takes care of his own people
v8 ‘I am the *Lord. I love my loyal people because they practise *justice. They deal fairly with other people. But I hate thieves and all who act wickedly. I will truly reward my loyal people by a *covenant with them that will never end. v9 Foreigners will greatly respect my people’s future families. And all nations will recognise that the *Lord has acted towards his people with special kindness.’
The *Lord loves *justice because he himself acts fairly (see Psalm 105:7). He works for *justice for all who suffer pain from enemies (see Proverbs 16:11 and Isaiah 45:21).
- But the opposite is also true. The *Lord punishes wicked behaviour.
The *covenant that God made with Israel included his promise of favourable actions for his people (see Isaiah 44:3 and 65:23). Other nations noticed. It changed their opinion both of the *Jews and of the *Jews’ God. He was clearly powerful.
Shout for joy!
v10 The Servant is bursting with joy as he praises the *Lord. Because *Jerusalem is now as a bride who is wearing beautiful clothes. Or, *Jerusalem is as a bridegroom who dresses like a priest. And *Jerusalem’s clothes are called ‘Goodness’ and ‘Security’. v11 The earth causes seeds to grow and to produce beautiful flowers in a garden that everyone can enjoy. So the *Lord will cause goodness and *justice to grow. And all the nations will praise God.
A bride and bridegroom dress carefully for their wedding. They wear special clothes to show their character and serious intention.
- Another translation of verse 10 is, ‘I am now bursting with joy as I praise the *Lord. Because I am now as a bride who is wearing beautiful clothes. Or, I am as a bridegroom who dresses like a priest. And my clothes are called “Goodness” and “Security”.’ Isaiah uses these word pictures to suggest that God specially prepares his Servant for a most important task.
- But Isaiah’s words also describe *Jerusalem and its inhabitants. The city’s situation was hopeless. Enemies had ruined it. The city seemed like a widow who wore dark clothes to show her sad feelings. But God would make the city like a beautiful bride again. He would provide it with goodness and security. This would bring about great joy. People everywhere would consider this a good reason to praise God.
*Jerusalem’s new name
v1 I will not be silent about *Jerusalem. Nor will I rest until *Jerusalem’s goodness shines as clearly as a bright sunrise. And until *Jerusalem’s rescue by God is as plain to see as a great fire on a dark night. v2 Foreign nations will see your goodness. And their kings will see your beauty and honour. You will have a new name, which the *Lord will choose for you. v3 The *Lord will hold you high in his hands for all to see. You will be as a beautiful crown for the King of all kings. v4 You will never again be called ‘Alone’. Nor will your land be called ‘Empty’. But you will be called ‘Hephzibah’ (‘My delight is in her’) and your land will be called ‘Beulah’ (‘Married’). Because you are a joy to the *Lord. And your land will be married to him. v5 As a young man marries a girl, so will you be married. He who rebuilds you will marry you. As a bridegroom is delighted to have his bride, so will the *Lord be delighted to have you.
In this passage, ‘you’ means the city called Jerusalem and its inhabitants.
Both ‘not be silent’ and ‘nor rest’ are forms of words to express the firm intention to complete a task.
- God has made similar promises before about the wonderful future for *Jerusalem and its inhabitants. But that wonderful future never seems to come. So the Servant continues to urge the *Lord to act as he has promised.
- For ‘shines … sunrise’, see my notes on Isaiah 60:1-2.
Foreign nations will think seriously about God’s actions on behalf of the people from Judah.
- In the Bible, a ‘name’ refers to a person’s character. But a ‘new name’ means that the *Lord will bring about a change in the character of the inhabitants of Judah. Such a change will also mean a new relationship with the *Lord (see verse 4, below; see also Isaiah 60:14 and 60:18).
*Jerusalem is to be like a ‘crown’ in the *Lord’s hand. This is picture language, to mean that the *Lord will make *Jerusalem a royal city.
- *Jerusalem is very important in God’s great plans. Those plans are not only for the benefit of God’s special people. The plans refer to all nations. That is why God is sometimes called ‘King of all kings’.
The two names ‘Alone’ and ‘Empty’ express what the inhabitants of Judah thought about themselves. In Isaiah 49:14-23 and 54:6-7, the inhabitants of Judah complained that the *Lord had left them ‘alone’. And that enemies had ruined the land. They had left it ‘empty’ of crops and fruit trees.
- But the *Lord has completely changed that situation. The *Lord uses new names in picture language to describe a new relationship between him and his people. ‘Hephzibah’ and ‘Beulah’ are words in the people’s *Hebrew language.
Pray for *Jerusalem
v6-7 I have appointed *look-outs to stand on your walls, *Jerusalem. They will never be silent in the daytime or in the night. They will cry continuously to God to do what he has promised to do. God promised to make *Jerusalem a city that the whole world will admire again.
In ancient times, official *look-outs stood on city walls. Their duty was vital. It was to warn the inhabitants when any danger approached. Or to signal urgent messages to another city. In this verse, ‘*look-outs’ is picture language for people who send urgent messages to God by prayer. They want him to carry out his promises for *Jerusalem’s wonderful future (see verse 1, above; see also Isaiah 60:3).
- God’s intention is that people will know his power. It is only God’s work that makes it possible for people to rebuild *Jerusalem. But many inhabitants of *Jerusalem had a more selfish attitude. They wanted other nations to see what a splendid city they themselves had built.
God’s promise about *Jerusalem
v8 The *Lord has made a serious promise to you. And by his power he will carry it out. He will never again give your crops to your enemies to eat. And foreigners will not drink the wine for which you have worked so hard. v9 Those who harvest the grain will eat it. And they will praise the *Lord for it. And those who gather the *grapes will themselves drink the wine in my *Temple.
No foreign enemy will control the land ever again.
In the original language, ‘praise’ in this verse means more than the use of words. It includes a gift to God (see Leviticus 19:24).
- When the people returned from *exile, they would probably not be able to repair the *Temple immediately. But God promised that they would ‘drink the wine in my *Temple’. This would encourage everyone to believe that the repair of the *Temple would definitely happen.
God will save *Jerusalem
v10 Inhabitants of *Jerusalem, get out of your city. Build a road for your people that are returning from distant countries. Prepare a good road for them. Clear away the stones and make the road smooth. And put up a flag to attract all nations to see what God is doing. v11 Listen! The *Lord is sending a message to all the nations in the world. ‘I am telling the inhabitants of *Jerusalem that I am coming to save them. And I am bringing home the people that I have rescued from *exile.’ v12 Other people will call God’s people the ‘Holy Nation’. Because they are the people that the holy *Lord God has rescued. They are inhabitants of the city that God greatly cares about. He will never leave them to be alone.
This is not an instruction to prepare an actual road. The words provide a word picture. The meaning is that the citizens of *Jerusalem must give a very warm welcome to the *exiles on their arrival. And nothing should prevent this welcome.
The name ‘Holy Nation’ means that the people in Judah will be different from other people. The holy *Lord God has chosen them in particular to serve him in a special way.
The *Lord’s judgement against the nations
v1 Someone is coming from the country called Edom (the name means ‘red’). He comes from Edom’s capital called Bozrah. He is wearing magnificent red clothes. He is very powerful. He is marching along with power and strength.
‘It is I, your *Lord. I am coming to announce complete victory (success). Because of my great power, I have saved you.’
v2 Someone asks why his clothes are all red. They are like the clothes of someone who has been stepping heavily on *grapes to make wine.
v3 The *Lord replies: ‘I have in fact stepped as men step heavily on *grapes. But I acted alone. In my great anger I stepped heavily on my enemies, as if they were *grapes. It is their blood that you see on my clothes.
v4 I selected the day for judgement, when I rescue my people from their enemies. v5 I looked in vain for somebody to come to help me. It astonished me that nobody supported me. So my strong arm alone won the battle. Alone I carried out judgement. My fierce anger made me strong. v6 In my great anger I stepped heavily on the wicked nations. I caused them to become drunks. They trembled greatly and fell to the ground. Their blood poured out upon the earth.’
These verses paint an impressive picture of God’s punishment for the country called Edom (see Isaiah, chapter 34).
Edom was the name of the country to the south-east of the Dead Sea. But the Bible often uses the name ‘Edom’ as a word picture, to describe the nations that do not obey God.
This picture of *Messiah’s action appears again in Revelation 19:11-18.
God often uses people to carry out his purposes. But the great God, who has all power, does not actually need human help. What surprises God is his people’s failure to understand the reason for his direct action. (‘Direct action’ means the action that he carries out himself, without any agent.)
- God’s special people have still not realised the purpose of their special relationship with the *Lord. He did not choose them merely for their own comfortable benefit. His people should be an active witness to all the other nations. They should show to the other nations the behaviour that the holy God orders.
The *Lord’s goodness to his people
v7 I will gladly tell of the kind-hearted acts of the *Lord. That is, all his generous deeds for us who are his people. I remember with joy his great kindness on our behalf. I remember his goodness and love in all that he has done. v8 The *Lord said, ‘These people belong to me. I chose them. They will not again neglect to be loyal to me.’ v9 So the *Lord saved them from all their trouble and pain. And the *Lord was himself their Rescuer. He did not send someone to act on his behalf. The *Lord came personally to save them. In his love he pitied them, so he rescued them. He had always taken care of them in the past.
v10 But the *Lord’s people again turned away from him. That made his Holy Spirit sad. So the *Lord turned against them. And he attacked them as their enemy. v11 Then the people remembered what had happened in the past when Moses was their leader. That was the time when the *Lord brought his people safely through the sea. And then the *Lord placed his Holy Spirit among them. v12 God’s great power made a path through the sea in front of them. So they saw the power of God’s strong arm as Moses raised his hand. God did this so that he (God) would always deserve fame and honour. v13 The *Lord led them through the deep sea. And like powerful horses they did not trip on the way. v14 Then the Spirit of the *Lord gave them rest, just as a farmer’s animals find rest in a quiet valley. The *Lord guided his people perfectly. And he brought great honour to his name.
Isaiah is speaking on behalf of God’s people. They can look back in their history and remember the *Lord’s many kind-hearted acts.
- In the original language, ‘kind-hearted’ translates a word that means ‘*covenant love’. The *Lord acts in this kind manner because of the *covenant that he made with the *Israelites (see Exodus chapter 24). This serious agreement established a strong relation between the *Lord and his people.
The *Lord’s hope in verse 8 was again in vain (see Psalm 106:40-43).
God’s choice of Moses as leader was plain to everybody (see Exodus chapter 14). But the purpose of Moses’ leadership was not to give fame to Moses. It was the *Lord who was Israel’s real leader. And Moses simply acted as the *Lord’s agent.
The *Lord’s gift to his people of a peaceful life came with the promise of a land of their own (see Deuteronomy 12:10).
A prayer for sympathy and help
v15 *Lord, look at us from heaven! Look down from your high and holy place where you live in *glory. Show us that you still care. Show us your power to help. Show us again your love and sympathy. Do not leave us alone without you. v16 In any case, you are still our Father. Even if Abraham and Jacob would not recognise us as genuine relatives, you would still be our Father. ‘Our Rescuer’ has been your name from ancient times.
v17 But *Lord, you have allowed us to live in a manner that does not please you. We are like travellers that have wandered from the right path. You have made us unwilling to respect you. Our hearts seem hard, like stones, because they are so unwilling to give you honour. Come back again to us, because we are your servants. We are the people who belong to you. v18 We possessed *Jerusalem for such a short time. Now our enemies have destroyed both the city and your holy *Temple. v19 For a long time now, you have been acting towards us as if we had never been your people.
The people’s relation with the *Lord in Isaiah’s day is not the relation that their *ancestors would have recognised.
- To use the two personal names, Abraham and Jacob (Abraham’s grandson), is a convenient way to refer to *ancestors in general. *Ancestors lived long ago, so they would not be aware of the people’s present situation. No *ancestor could act as a father and give them help. But God is much more wonderful than any human *ancestor. Through the centuries, he has continued to act as ‘our Father’.
- The *Lord’s promise always to be ‘Our Rescuer’ to his special people was an ancient promise. God made this promise at the time of Moses (see Deuteronomy 30:1-3). The *Lord rescued his people from Egypt (see Exodus 12:42). And later, he rescued them from Babylon (see Isaiah 11:11; Zechariah 10:9-10). God will never die. So God’s people can always trust him to be their Father, and he will help them.
The people may seem to be blaming God for their troubles. Such an attitude is not uncommon in the *Old Testament. People considered that God was the cause of even bad events (see Job 2:10; Amos 3:6). But at the same time, Isaiah’s people did realise their own failures (see Isaiah 64:6-7).
- We think it impossible to hold opposite opinions at the same time. But see the struggle between God and the Pharaoh (king of Egypt) in Exodus chapters 10 and 11. Many times God makes the king’s heart hard (see, for example, Exodus 10:1). But many times the king makes his own heart hard (see, for example, Exodus 10:11). (A ‘hard heart’ means attitudes that are unwilling to change. It is as if the person’s heart has become like stone, without normal feelings or reactions.)
Clearly, the people are praying this prayer because they are desperate. They have remembered how the *Lord acted to save their nation in the past. And now they need his help again. So they confess their wrong attitudes. And they urge him to rescue them.
God may seem to have cancelled his choice of the *Israelites as his special people. But God has not changed. If his people return to him, he will return to them (see Malachi 3:6-7).
This chapter continues the people’s desperate prayer, which began at Isaiah 63:7.
What could have happened
v1 If only you had torn a hole in the sky and come down to the earth! Even huge mountains would have trembled. v2 You would have arrived like a fierce fire that burns everything in its way. Such a fire even causes the seas to boil. Your enemies would have recognised that fire as a well-known sign that God was present. Your arrival would have made all nations to tremble with fear. v3 We know that you acted like this in the past. At that time you did wonderful deeds that nobody expected. And yes, huge mountains did tremble at your arrival.
These verses contain a series of word pictures that describe the effect of God’s arrival.
The people’s desire was not merely for God to ‘look down’ from heaven (see Isaiah 63:15). The prayer is now the more urgent request to ‘come down’.
- A ‘hole in the sky’ expresses the thought that the sky hides God from human sight. So the sky seems like a curtain (see Psalm 18:9 and 144:5). To ‘tear a hole’ is a wish that is full of emotion.
- What seems solid and permanent, like a mountain, will shake powerfully (see Exodus 19:18; Psalm 18:7).
Fire is a sign that God is present (see Exodus 3:2; see also Acts 2:3).
But he is not there just to look. He comes to act. Like fire, he makes things happen. Fire causes bushes to burn and water to boil.
- However powerful nations may seem, God is much more powerful. So even powerful nations will shake with fear if God is suddenly present (see 1 Peter 3:22). The purpose of God’s activity is to cause nations to know his greatness. Then they will realise that he is in control of all people and events (see Daniel 4:35).
‘In the past’ refers in particular to the time of Moses when the people escaped from Egypt (see the Book of Exodus). The ‘wonderful deeds’ were all for the benefit of God’s people. God did these things as he carried out his purpose to rescue them.
There never has been a God like you
v4 In all history, nobody has ever seen or heard of a God like you. You listen to those who expect you to answer their prayers. v5 You are always ready to help those who gladly obey you. That is, those who always remember to do what you want.
But we have not stopped our wicked behaviour. And that makes you angry. It is only you who can save us. v6 To you, our lives have lost any value. Even our good deeds are like dirty bits of cloth. We have become like brown leaves that fall in the autumn. Our evil deeds carry us away, even as a strong wind blows those leaves away. v7 Nobody prays to you. Nobody turns to you for help. So you have hidden yourself from us. You have left us in the power of our evil practices.
Verses 4-5a (that is, the first part of verse 5)
God answers prayer. But he has made rules. First, one who prays must show God an attitude of trust (see Mark 11:24). True trust never puts a limit on what God can do. Secondly, one who prays must eagerly obey God’s instructions.
Verse 5b (that is, the second part of verse 5)
Although God’s people know these things, their personal behaviour has not changed. As a result, the people have broken off their *covenant relation with God.
The people’s efforts to carry out good deeds are without value. They cannot cure their relationship with God by means of kind actions to their friends.
*Lord, we need your help
v8 But, *Lord, you are still our Father. We are like *clay in your hands. Like someone who makes pots with *clay, you shape us. You have created us. v9 Do not be too angry, *Lord. Do not remember our guilty actions for always. Look at us with kindness, because we are your special people. v10 Enemies have destroyed your holy cities. *Jerusalem is like a desert. v11Enemies have burned your beautiful holy *Temple. That was where our *ancestors used to praise you. In fact, enemies have ruined all the places that we loved. v12 *Lord, you know all about these things. Do not remain silent. Act, *Lord! You cannot want us to continue to suffer like this.
The people use the family title ‘Father’ as they pray. They consider that this word expresses well their close relation with God. (See my notes on Isaiah 63:16.)
- The use of *clay is another word picture of the relation between the people and God. But this time the picture is of God as their maker (see Isaiah 29:16 and 45:9; see also Jeremiah 18:2-6).
Isaiah 49:19 describes the great damage that enemies have caused all through Judah. In particular, enemies have ruined *Jerusalem. They have even ruined the *Temple, which stood on the mountain called *Zion.
God has promised to replace all that enemies have destroyed. The *Lord’s people believe that he performs all his promises in the end. But they cannot understand why such a long delay continues (see Isaiah 62:1; 62:6-7).
- God’s delays are a frequent experience (see Psalm 6:3, among many examples). But God has a much greater plan than people can even imagine (see Isaiah 55:8-9). His measurements of time are not the same as ours (see 2 Peter 3:8-9).
Chapters 65-66 refer to subjects in Chapters 1-4.
- In chapter 2:1-4, the *Lord promises to raise *Zion to be the greatest mountain.
- In chapter 66:1-24, *Zion becomes the most important place in the *Lord’s ‘new heavens and new earth’ (see Revelation 21:1-3).
Punishment for guilty people
v1 (The *Lord speaks.) ‘I was ready to answer my people’s prayers. But my people did not pray. I was ready to meet my people. But my people did not even look for me. I told my people that I was available to help them. But I waited in vain.
v2 I have always been ready to give a welcome to my people. But they continue to do whatever they want to do. They carry out their own plans. And those plans have no value. v3 Their insults make me so angry. They offer gifts to *idols, but not to me. And they burn *incense to their *idols. v4 They sit among graves and they spend nights in caves. They are trying to get messages from dead persons. They eat the meat of pigs, which I have forbidden. The pots in which they cook food are full of evil soup. v5 One will say to another, “Do not come near me, because I am holier than you!” These people are like smoke up my nose. They are like a fire that burns all day,’ says the *Lord.
v6 ‘The record of their evil deeds is in front of me. I have decided on their punishment. I know what they have done. I will not be silent. I will make them pay in full (completely) for all their wicked behaviour. v7 That is, for all the bad things that both they and also their *ancestors have done. Because their *ancestors too burned *incense in front of their *idols on the hills. They also insulted me. So I will calculate the punishment that they deserve. And I will pay them in full (completely).’
Every human society has always included some people that have supported completely the purposes of their society. But there are also a great many more people that are members only in name. That is, they are content simply to call themselves members. This distinction is also true about God’s church on earth. There are many members, but only a few that truly know God. They declare their genuine trust in God because they are eager to serve him (see Matthew 7:20-21).
These verses describe the same situation in the *Old Testament. There are many *Israelites who would consider themselves to be the ‘people of God’. But their daily behaviour does not agree with their words (see Jeremiah 35:15; Ezekiel 33:11).
The people are not content merely to leave God out of their lives. They are boldly insulting God on purpose. They say that they do not need God. They are self-sufficient (in other words, they depend only on themselves).
- They *worship their home-made *idols. The people know that their action is against God’s law (see Exodus 20:4-5). The people do not realise that they are in fact giving *worship to devils (see Leviticus 17:7; 1 Corinthians 10:19-21). Such people are therefore allowing evil spirits to control them. The result of such behaviour can only be a terrible end for these people.
Verse 4a (that is, the first part of verse 4)
God does not allow human efforts to contact the spirit world or to contact people that have died (see Deuteronomy 18:9-11). It is a very dangerous practice.
Verse 4b (the second part of verse 4)
The meat of pigs was in the list of foods that God’s people were not to eat (see Deuteronomy 14:8). God’s command about pig’s meat could have been for reasons of health. Pig’s meat contains toxic (poisonous) substances. If people do not cook the meat sufficiently, it can cause illness or even death.
- But God’s order about pig’s meat had a more serious reason. To eat pig’s meat was not only a *Gentile practice (see Matthew 8:30). It was part of *idol *worship.
- Only when God’s special Servant (*Messiah) came to offer his life as the one perfect *sacrifice, did the situation change. The death of Jesus the Christ (*Messiah) on the Cross opened heaven to the *Gentiles. So God cancelled the limit on what his people could eat (see Mark 7:19b; Acts 10:10-15).
Those who proudly pretend to be ‘holier’ than other people make God very angry. Such people proudly consider that they do not need God. The picture language of ‘smoke up the nose’ describes what God’s feels about such a vain opinion.
The only real judge of what makes a person ‘holy’ is the holy God himself. A holy person obeys God at all times (see Exodus 19:5-6). Any person who carries out evil behaviour is clearly not truly holy.
In this and the next verse, God uses the picture language of a debt. Punishment is due for the people’s evil deeds. And like a debt that someone must pay, the punishment must happen in full (completely).
God warned people long ago that their guilty lives will affect later *descendants (see Exodus 20:5-6). This means that later *descendants will copy the bad behaviour. Therefore they too will receive punishment.
God’s loyal people are special
v8 ‘But I will not *destroy all the people,’ says the *Lord. ‘Nobody throws away good *grapes with the bad ones. The good *grapes are worth the trouble to keep them in order to make wine. Neither will I *destroy the loyal people who serve me truly. v9 I will preserve them. And I will give them the country called Israel as their home. They and their *descendants will serve me there. v10 Sheep and goats will find food in Sharon in the west. And other animals will lie down in the quiet valley called Achor in the east. It will all belong to my people who serve me.’
The plain called Sharon is the level land that is south of the mountain called Carmel. The valley called Achor was famous for the great trouble that happened there (see Joshua 7:24-26). The whole region has very good soil for agriculture. Now the area will provide peace and plenty, both for God’s loyal people and for their animals.
Contrast the fate of people for and against God
v11 ‘But it will be so different for you who have left me, the *Lord. You care nothing about my sacred *Temple. But you offer gifts of food and wine to give honour to the gods that you call Gad (Good Luck) and Meni (Fate). v12 Therefore your luck will run out and your fate will be death by the sword. Because you did not answer when I called you. Nor did you listen when I spoke to you. You chose on purpose not to obey me, but to do evil things.’ v13 Therefore the *Lord declares: ‘You will starve. But my loyal servants will have food to eat. You will have no water. But they will have plenty to drink. You will be miserable and ashamed. But they will be full of happiness. v14 You will cry bitterly because of your troubles and despair. But they will shout aloud for joy. v15 My loyal people will use your name as a *curse word. And I, the *Lord, will strike you dead as a result. But, to those who obey me, I will give a new name (and a new name means a new life). v16 People in the country will ask me to bless them,’ says the *Lord. ‘They will be praying to the God whose name is Truth. And people in the country will make a vow (serious promise) to me. They will be doing so to the God whose name is Truth. I will no longer keep in my mind the reason for your troubles in the past.’
False gods cannot decide the future of people who *worship them. The *Lord will make that decision. He alone is in complete control. And the *Lord’s judgement will be severe against those that deny his authority.
- Some people are loyal to God. But other people refuse to give him honour. And there is a clear difference between them. The different fates of the two groups do not happen immediately. A similar picture of the human relationship with God appears all through the Bible (see Genesis 18:23; Matthew 25:31-46; Romans 2:1-11; Galatians 6:7-8; Revelation 20:11-15).
The form of God’s punishment is the result of the bad people’s own choice.
It is God who creates all things. When bad people cut off their relation with God, they cut off the source of their food. God’s loyal people have the opposite attitude. They obey God. So they benefit from all that God creates. The result is that they have plenty of food.
For another example of the use of a name as a *curse, see Jeremiah 29:22.
The ‘God whose name is Truth’ means ‘the *Lord is always true to his promises’. His people can trust him completely at all times. In the original language, the word ‘Truth’ is ‘Amen’ (see 2 Corinthians 1:20; Revelation 3:14).
- The ‘troubles’ of these people are what they had suffered because of previous bad behaviour. But now these people have turned to God. That changes the situation.
What God will create
v17 ‘See! I am creating new heavens and a new earth. People will not even remember what happened in the past. v18 Be full of joy, because of what I am doing. For I am creating New *Jerusalem, a city that is full of happy people. v19 And I too will be full of joy, because of *Jerusalem and all its inhabitants. There will be no more tears in the city and no more cries for help.v20 Neither will a baby die in the city after a life that lasts for just a few days. Nor will there be an old man who does not live a long life. It will be normal for a young man to live to the age of 100 years. If someone did not reach the age of 100 years, people would suppose that person’s death to be God’s punishment. v21 People will build houses and they will live in them. They will plant *vineyards and they will enjoy the wine. v22 They will not build houses, only for other people to occupy them. Nor will they plant *vineyards, only for other people to enjoy their fruit. My special people, the people that I chose, will live to be as old as great trees. And they will long enjoy what they themselves have produced. v23 Their labour will not be in vain. Nor will they have children who suffer unhappy fates. But the children will share their parents’ good gifts from the *Lord. v24 Before they call to me, I will have the answer ready. While they are still speaking, I will have replied. v25 The *wolf and the lamb (young sheep) will eat grass together in the same field. The lion and the ox (farm animal) will eat straw from the same box. The snake will have dust to eat! No animal or person will cause pain or death anywhere on my holy mountain.’ This is what the *Lord has declared.
At the present time, the people can see nothing but the great damage that enemies have done. Those enemies ruined both the *Temple and the city. But this situation will not continue. The *Lord is making his preparations for new heavens and a new earth. That will include a new *Jerusalem.
- When God makes something ‘new’, he creates something of a nature previously unknown (as in the title ‘*New Testament’).
Verse 19a (the first part of verse 19)
So there is every reason for the people to be full of joy. And God himself will enjoy their delight.
Every part of life will bring complete satisfaction. And there will be total harmony (agreement, peace and happiness). There will not be any sad or painful memories from an earlier life.
The *Lord has prepared everything, even before his people pray.
The present natural habits of animals will also completely change (see Isaiah 11:6-9).
The *Lord divides the ‘people of God’ into two types. There are those people whose *worship is merely traditional and empty (without any real meaning). And there are those people whose *worship shows a sincere desire to love God (see Isaiah 57:14-21).
v1 This is what the *Lord says: ‘Heaven is my throne (royal seat). The earth acts as my footstool (a rest for my feet). Heaven is vastly superior to any palace that you could ever build for me, your *Lord. The whole earth is immense to you. But to me it is merely a place on which to rest my feet. You cannot produce anything like that. v2 In fact, my own hands have created the heavens and the earth. And everything that is in them. They are all mine. But I am always ready to look with sympathy and love upon anyone who suffers. Or who is in despair. And to give a welcome to the humble person who trembles because of my word of judgement.’
The *Lord uses picture language to teach an important lesson. Solomon made a great *Temple for God. But even Solomon realised that nobody could ever force God to stay inside man-made limits. Even a beautiful *Temple or a magnificent palace is not sufficient for God. (See 1 Kings 8:27; see also Stephen’s defence in Acts 7:48-50.) People cannot control God. And they cannot choose the limits for his activity. Many might like to do so – for their own purposes!
People who are truly humble in front of God are right to be afraid of his great power. They have seen something of God’s punishment against a nation that refuses to obey him. They are afraid that God may have to act again.
- But God will never disappoint people that firmly trust him. He will act on their behalf when they need his help.
v3 ‘But many of you are carrying out wrong acts of *worship in my *Temple on *Mount *Zion. Those acts of *worship are very much like your acts that *break my laws. You kill an animal to *sacrifice in my *Temple. But your motive (intention) is not sincere. Your action is as bad as if you murdered someone. You *sacrifice sheep in my *Temple. But to me that is the same as if you cruelly broke a dog’s neck. You offer me gifts of grain. But to me that is as if you threw pig’s blood onto my *altar. You burn *incense in my *Temple. But to me that is the same as if you burned *incense to *idols. The fact is that you choose to go your own way. In other words, you behave in whatever manner pleases you. And you *worship your own gods. Your acts of religion in my *Temple may give you pleasure. But they disgust me. I consider them a mere performance that is without any value. Those acts of religion are just for show.
v4 Therefore I too will choose. I will choose to punish you severely for your evil deeds. I will bring about the things that cause you great fear. When I called to you, you did not reply. When I spoke to you, you did not listen. You continued to do what I had declared to be wicked. You chose to do the things that disgusted me.’
Many of the people feel ‘great fear’ of something unknown. They do not know what it might be. So they give *worship both to the *Lord and also to their *idols. It is a kind of insurance! One thing is clear. They do not really trust the *Lord.
- Fear of the unknown is a very powerful enemy (see Job 3:25).
God punishes his enemies
v5 Listen to what the *Lord is saying. Listen carefully, you that tremble at his Word. ‘Some of your own people hate you, because you remain loyal to me. They laugh at you. They say, “Let the *Lord show us how great he is! Let us see him save you! Then we will see your happiness.” But they themselves will suffer great shame. v6 Listen! There is a loud roar in the city. A voice is shouting in the *Temple. It is the sound of the *Lord as he punishes his enemies. He is giving them the severe punishment that they so definitely deserve.’
Verse 5a (the first part of verse 5)
The *Temple is not essential for true religion (that is, a right relationship with God). And the animal *sacrifices are not essential for true religion. In fact, both will disappear when enemies destroy the *Temple. But God’s Word is essential for true religion. Only people that are personally loyal to God will obey his Word.
- The *Old Testament *prophets knew this. (See 1 Samuel 15:22; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-27; Micah 6:6-8; Psalm 40:6-8.)
*Jerusalem is like a mother
v7-8 ‘A woman cannot give birth to a baby without pain. But something wonderful has happened! Nobody has ever heard anything like this before. Nobody has ever seen such an event. No new country is born in one day! That is, no nation has its beginning in a moment! Such events would be as wonderful as a woman who produces sons without hours of pain. But *Zion suffers for just a moment before the nation has its beginning. v9 It is I, the *Lord, who makes birth possible. I am your God; I do not prevent the birth of a baby. I would not bring my special people to the moment of birth – and then not let them be born!
v10 Be full of joy for *Jerusalem, all you who love this city. Be full of joy for *Jerusalem, all you who have wept for this city in the past. v11 Jerusalem has become like a mother. So now you will enjoy the comfort of her breasts, because they will satisfy you. And you will drink her milk deeply and with great delight.’
The *Lord uses picture language to emphasise an important truth. In real life, for a mother to give birth without pain cannot happen. Were it to take place, it could only be by the *Lord’s powerful action.
- The *Lord does not perform his purpose only partly and then stop. What he begins, he always finishes.
God’s wonderful kindness to *Jerusalem
v12 This is what the *Lord says: ‘You will see! I will cause health and goodness to be like rivers that pour continuously over her (*Jerusalem). And the wealth of nations will enter her like a great river that floods. You will be like a child that its mother gently nurses. She will carry you with her arms. With sweet love, she will play with you on her knee. v13 As a mother comforts her little child, so I myself will comfort you,’ says the *Lord. ‘And it will all happen in your home city called *Jerusalem. v14 When you see *Jerusalem again, your heart will fill with joy. You will be strong and healthy, like fresh grass in the spring. All nations will see the work of the good hand of God upon those who obey him. And all nations will also see the result of his great anger upon his enemies.’
The *Lord continues the word picture that describes *Jerusalem as a mother. So ‘she’ and ‘her’ in verse 12 mean *Jerusalem. And God’s people, that is, his holy nation, are like the child. God will provide for their complete satisfaction.
God had intended wonderful gifts of love to his people (see Isaiah 48:18). Now those gifts will become a reality. The *Lord will provide love and life, and everything that his people may need. The reason for their happiness will be to give a witness to other nations.
- The ‘good hand of God’ is a word picture. It expresses how God acts in order to show his kindness to his loyal people.
God punishes his enemies
v15 ‘Look! The *Lord will arrive in *chariots of fire. It is as if he is riding on the winds of a powerful storm. Once more he will act because of his fierce anger. He will pour out flames of fire over his enemies. v16 The *Lord will carry out his judgement on all guilty people in the world. He will punish them by fire and sword. Those whom the *Lord kills will be a great number. v17They carefully prepare themselves to enter their sacred gardens to *worship *idols. They disgust me because they eat the meat of pigs and mice. I will *destroy you all for this wicked behaviour,’ declares the *Lord.
Fire is often a picture word. Frequently, it describes when God is present (see Exodus 13:21). And it is also a picture word that refers to Christ’s return to act as judge (see 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 2 Peter 3:10-12).
God will punish evil behaviour wherever he finds it (see Isaiah 13:11; 30:27-33).
Verse 17b (the second part of verse 17)
To eat such meat was against God’s law (see my notes on Isaiah 65:4b).
The end of the Book of Isaiah returns to the subjects in Isaiah 4:2-6. These final verses leave *Israelites and foreigners alike with a serious question to answer. People can decide to live by God’s standard of right behaviour. Or they can simply continue to live in an evil manner. In other words, they can refuse to obey God’s orders. All people must remember that God’s judgement is a reality for everyone.
- Other *prophets make the choice very clear in their final verses (see Hosea 14:9; Jonah 4:11; Malachi 4:6).
v18 ‘I am well aware of their evil deeds and wicked thoughts. Therefore I myself am coming to gather people from all nations and languages. When they have come together, they will see the result of my great power. They will know that I am punishing them. v19 But I will not *destroy them all. Some I will send to distant countries that have not heard of my fame. Nor have they seen my greatness or my power in action. They will take my message to Spain and to Libya. They will know danger from the arrows of skilled fighters in Lydia. They will go to Tubal and to Greece. To all these foreign nations they will declare my greatness’, says the *Lord. v20 ‘They will bring back all your families from every country. They will travel on horses and on *camels. They will ride in *chariots and in wagons. They will be coming to the New *Jerusalem, to my holy mountain *Zion,’ says the *Lord. ‘To me they will be like the great many gifts of grain that flow into the *Temple during the harvest. And they will be holy, like the clean pots that contain the grain. v21 And some of the men who return I will appoint as my priests and *Levites in the *Temple in the New *Jerusalem.
v22 The new heavens and the new earth that I am creating will always continue to exist by my power. That is a sure fact. And just as surely, you will continue to be my special people (that is, the people whom I have chosen). Your name will never disappear. v23 On the special days called New Moon (every month) and *Sabbath (every week), all the people will humbly come to my *Temple. They will come from every nation to give me honour,’ says the *Lord. v24 ‘But on their way out of the *Temple they will see the dead bodies of people who refused to obey me. For those dead bodies, the *worm that eats them will never die. And the fire that burns them will never go out. The terrible fate that these dead people suffer is an awful example to everyone else.’
People cannot hide anything from God (see Psalm 94:9-11; Proverbs 20:12; Luke 6:8).
- God’s action appears elsewhere in the Bible (see Ezekiel 39:25-29).
Not all *Israelites were bad. A small number continued to be loyal to the *Lord. He will give them a task that, as *Jews, they never expected. They will go to *Gentiles on the *Lord’s behalf and tell them about his greatness in *glory and actions. God will include each person who believes their message as a member of his family (see John 1:12). God will even appoint some of them to be priests and *Levites in his *Temple in New *Jerusalem (see verse 21).
- The countries that the *Lord mentions are examples. There is no limit. The *Lord’s loyal people are to take his message to all the nations in the world (see Matthew 28:19-20).
The words of this verse refer to all believers, *Jews and *Gentiles alike. They are all coming to *worship in the New *Jerusalem.
Jesus refers to the *Temple as the ‘House for Prayer for all nations’ (see Mark 11:17).
God will create New *Jerusalem. God creates new life in believers when they turn to him. All that God creates, he permanently supports.
That is, month after month and week after week. In other words, all the time.
This verse describes a terrible scene. It refers to the deep narrow valley called Hinnom. This valley is near to *Jerusalem, on the south side. (The *New Testament uses the *Greek word Gehenna for the *Hebrew word Hinnom – see Matthew 10:28). In the Hinnom Valley, two wicked kings of Israel burned their sons as a *sacrifice to false gods (Ahaz, see 2 Chronicles 28:3; Manasseh, see 2 Chronicles 33:6). And other people copied this wicked behaviour (see Jeremiah 7:32; 19:5-6; 32:35).
- Later, the inhabitants of *Jerusalem threw their rubbish into the Hinnom Valley. What worms did not eat, fire destroyed. The fire never went out. Soon, what happened became powerful picture language to describe Hell. Jesus uses this verse, to mean ‘to *destroy totally’ (see Mark 9:48). Isaiah 66:24 is describing those people who refuse to serve God. They refuse to obey God’s instructions. But God is the origin of life. So these people have removed themselves from the God who gave them life. The verse describes their punishment as the extreme opposite of life. They have brought about their own terrible punishment. And that punishment is death that lasts for all time. (See Luke 16:19-31; 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10.)
altar ~ special stone where priests burned animals as a gift to God (or, to a false god).
ancestor ~ member of one’s family in the past.
Babylonian ~ a person from the country called Babylon; or anything that has a relationship with the country called Babylon.
break ~ not to obey a law.
camel ~ valuable animal that can carry heavy loads through the desert (see Genesis 37:25).
chariot ~ box (on wheels) that horses pull to carry soldiers into battle.
clay ~ kind of earth that one uses to make pots; clay is soft when wet, but dries hard.
covenant ~ special agreement that God made with Israel (see Exodus chapter 24).
curse ~ a word that describes an evil fate.
descendant ~ member of the later family of one father.
destroy ~ to carry out the most severe punishment possible.
Egyptian ~ a person of the country called Egypt, or anything that has a relationship with the country called Egypt.
exile ~ someone that an enemy takes away to a foreign country. Or, the place where such a person has to live.
fast ~ to choose not to eat or drink for a good reason.
frankincense ~ substance to burn for its sweet smell to give honour to God (or, to a false god).
Gentile ~ a person who is not a Jew.
glory ~ the splendid beauty and wonderful light of God’s most holy character.
grapes ~ small sweet fruit of the *vine; the fruit makes wine.
Greek ~ the original language of the *New Testament.
Hebrew ~ the original language of the *Old Testament.
idol ~ home-made image of a god.
incense ~ see *frankincense, above.
Israelites ~ *Jews; people who belong to the 12 *tribes of Israel.
Jerusalem ~ at the time of David and Solomon, the capital of the country called Israel. During the time of Isaiah, Jerusalem was the capital of the country called Judah.
Jew ~ a person who belongs to the 12 *tribes of Israel.
Jewish ~ a description of something that has a relationship to the *Jews.
justice ~ fair judgements.
Levite ~ a special servant in the *Temple.
look-out ~ a person whose job is to watch for anything that may cause trouble.
Lord ~ God’s name in the Bible. In the original language, God’s names mean ‘head over all’ and ‘God always’.
Messiah ~ *Old Testament title for Christ.
Mount ~ mountain.
New Testament ~ the final part of the Bible. It contains 27 books from the time of the first Christians.
Old Testament ~ the first part of the Bible. It contains 39 books, all from the time before Jesus was born.
prophet ~ a person who speaks on behalf of God.
Sabbath ~ seventh (7th) day of the week, which the *Jews used especially to give honour to God. So the *Jews did not work on the Sabbath.
sackcloth ~ dress of rough material that people wore to show that they were very sad.
sacrifice ~ a gift of value to God (or, to a false god).
seize ~ to take a person as a prisoner or a slave.
self-denial ~ the opposite of self-interest. (Self-interest is the attitude of greedy people who care only about themselves.)
Temple ~ special building in *Jerusalem where *Jews praised God and offered him prayers and gifts.
tribe ~ group of the later family of one father.
vine ~ plant whose fruit makes wine.
vineyard ~ field where *vines grow.
wolf ~ wild animal, like a large dog, that eats meat.
worm ~ a small animal without legs that has the same shape as a snake.
worship ~ to praise God (or a false god) and to pray to him.
Zion ~ the mountain in *Jerusalem where God’s holy *Temple was.
© 2007, Wycliffe Associates (UK)
This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).
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