ISAIAH 63:7 – 64:11. THE CONTEXT
Isaiah 65 is Yahweh’s answer to the lament of Isaiah 63:7 – 64:11. The lament begins by the people remembering Yahweh’s “loving kindnesses” (63:7). They admit that Yahweh’s children “rebelled, and grieved his holy Spirit” so that Yahweh became “their enemy” (63:10). They then remember “the days of old,” and ask, “Where is he who brought them up out of the sea?” (63:11)—and “O Yahweh, why do you make us to err from your ways, and harden our heart from your fear?” (63:17). They beg, “Return for your servants’ sake, the tribes of your inheritance” (63:17). They plead, “Oh that you would tear the heavens, that you would come down” (64:1) and “Don’t be furious, Yahweh, neither remember iniquity forever: see, look, we beg you, we are all your people.” They complain, “Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised you, is burned with fire; and all our pleasant places are laid waste” (64:11).
In Isaiah 65, we hear Yahweh’s response to their pleas and complaints. Yahweh has been available to them (v. 1)—even to rebellious people whose actions were abominable (vv. 2-5). Yahweh will repay them for the sins (vv. 6-7), but “will not destroy them all,” but will instead “bring forth descendants from Jacob” (vv. 8-9).
Yahweh’s response has a redemptive purpose. “If there was to be a restoration to health, denial had to be replaced with acknowledgement of responsibility” (Hanson, 241). Chapter 65 is a “tough love” confrontation designed to bring the people face-to-face with their failure to seek relationship with Yahweh.
ISAIAH 65:1. I AM FOUND BY THOSE WHO DIDN’T SEEK ME
1“I am inquired of by those who didn’t ask;
I am found by those who didn’t seek me:
I said, See me, see me,
to a nation that was not called by my name.“
This is the beginning of Yahweh’s response—a damning rebuttal to their complaints. They alleged, “There is no one who calls on your name… for you have hidden your face from us” (64:7), but Yahweh says that he was available, even to those who did not ask or seek. He was actively seeking them, saying “See me, see me,” but they were not called by his name.
When Yahweh says that they have not been called by his name, he is saying that they have not been faithful to their covenant relationship with Yahweh—a covenant that required them to seek Yahweh’s direction and comply with Torah law.
ISAIAH 65:2-5. I HAVE SPREAD OUT MY HANDS TO A REBELLIOUS PEOPLE
2“I have spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good, after their own thoughts;
3 a people who provoke me to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens, and burning incense on bricks;
4who sit among the graves,
and lodge in the secret places;
who eat pig’s flesh,
and broth of abominable things is in their vessels;
5who say, ‘Stand by yourself, don’t come near to me,
for I am holier than you.’
These are a smoke in my nose,
a fire that burns all the day.”
“I have spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, after their own thoughts” (v. 2). They admitted their rebellion (63:10), but complained, that Yahweh “turned to be their enemy, and he himself fought against them” (63:10). Yahweh responds that he has not been their enemy, but has held out his hands to them (a gesture of invitation), even though they were rebellious—even though they were not walking in a good way—even though they were following their own devices instead of obeying him.
While this verse doesn’t examine motives, it is easy enough to imagine what happened. To people caught up in rebellion, an invitation to return home can seem dull and unappealing. Bright lights beckon. Temptations promise roller-coaster thrills. The tempter whispers that unimaginable wonders lie just around the corner. We assume that the way home will always be open, but in our search for new adventures continue to distance ourselves further and further from the one who could save us.
“a people who provoke me to my face continually” (v. 3a)—the people provoke Yahweh deliberately—openly—wantonly.
“sacrificing in gardens” (v. 3b). This probably alludes to a fertility ritual (Tucker, Preaching, 309) or a nature cult (Muilenburg, 747).
“and burning incense on bricks” (v. 3c). This probably alludes to offering incense in worship of a pagan god.
“who sit among the graves, and lodge in the secret places” (v. 4a)—consulting the dead or spending the night in secret rituals.
“who eat pig’s flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels” (v. 4b). This could be a feast dedicated to a pagan god.
The Torah prohibits eating the flesh of swine as well as a number of other animals (Leviticus 11:7; Deuteronomy 14:4). “Abominable things” could be any animals prohibited by Jewish law.
“who say, ‘Stand by yourself, don’t come near me, for I am holier than you'” (v. 5a). These people who have been provoking Yahweh, engaging in pagan rites, and consuming forbidden meats nevertheless adopt a “holier than thou” stance in their relationship to other people. They separate themselves from other people, lest their holiness be contaminated by other people’s sins.
This sounds very much like the scribes and Pharisees of the New Testament, with one exception. The scribes and Pharisees didn’t engage in pagan rites or consuming forbidden meats. Their sin was focusing almost totally on cultic observance at the expense of “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23).
“These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burns all the day” (v. 5b). Smoke in the nostrils is probably a metaphor for anger. If so, this verse speaks of Yahweh’s continual anger over the sins of his people (Oswalt, 639-640).
ISAIAH 65:6-7. I WILL RECOMPENSE
6“Behold, it is written before me:
I will not keep silence, but will recompense,
yes, I will recompense into their bosom,
7your own iniquities,
and the iniquities of your fathers together,” says Yahweh,
“who have burned incense on the mountains,
and blasphemed me on the hills;
therefore will I first measure their work into their bosom.”
“‘Behold, it is written before me'” (v. 6). A written decree implies special authority.
“‘I will not keep silence, but will recompense, yes, I will recompense into their bosom, your own iniquities, and the iniquities of your fathers together’, says Yahweh” (vv. 6-7a). “Into their bosom” refers to “the fold above the belt in which the ancient Oriental carried his money and personal possessions” (Muilenburg, 749). We would usually associate that phrase with someone stuffing money into one’s bosom, but here Yahweh is promising punishment rather than rewards.
“‘who have burned incense on the mountains, and blasphemed me on the hills; therefore will I first measure their work into their bosom'” (v. 7b). While Israel often encountered Yahweh on a mountain (Moses at Mt. Sinai—Elijah at Mt. Carmel), the reference here is to the worship of pagan gods on mountains and hills. Yahweh promises to pay the people in full (to punish them) for their worship of false gods.
ISAIAH 65:8-9. I WILL BRING FORTH A SEED OUT OF JACOB
8Thus says Yahweh,
“As the new wine is found in the cluster,
and one says, ‘Don’t destroy it, for a blessing is in it:’
so will I do for my servants’ sake,
that I may not destroy them all.
9 I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob,
and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains;
and my chosen shall inherit it,
and my servants shall dwell there.“
“As the wine is found in the cluster, and one says, ‘Don’t destroy it, for a blessing is in it:’ so I will do for my servants’ sake, that I may not destroy them all” (v. 8). The tone changes here. “What had been a speech of judgment, now, inexplicably, becomes a speech of saving assurance” (Brueggemann, 241).
Just as a winemaker would not discard a whole cluster of grapes because of a few bad ones, so also Yahweh will not destroy people indiscriminately, but will save the good ones.
“I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains; my chosen shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there” (v. 9). The phrase “my mountains” refers to Yahweh’s land (Isaiah 14:25; Ezekiel 36:1, 8; 38:8), so this is a promise to return the Promised Land to “my chosen ones” and “my servants” (Oswalt, 646).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Brueggemann, Walter, Westminster Bible Companion: Isaiah 40-66 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998)
Hanson, Paul D., Interpretation Commentary: Isaiah 40-66, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1995)
Muilenburg, James (Introduction and Exegesis of Isaiah 40-66); and Coffin, Henry Sloane (Exposition of Isaiah 40-66), The Interpreter’s Bible: Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Vol. 5 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1956)
Oswalt, John N., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40-66 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998)
Seitz, Christopher R., The New Interpreters Bible: Isaiah, Vol. VI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M.,Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
Watts, John D. W., Word Biblical Commentary: Isaiah 34-66 (Dallas: Word Books, 1987)
Copyright 2010, Richard Niell Donovan