ISAIAH 66. THE CONTEXT
This is the last chapter of the book of Isaiah—dated between 538 and 520 B.C.—the period immediately following the return of the exiles to Jerusalem (Muilenburg, 760).
The chapter alternates between judgment and redemption. In verses 1-6, Yahweh pronounces judgment on those who seek to please God with their sacrificial offering but who “did that which was evil in my eyes, and chose that in which I didn’t delight” (v. 4). He also promises retribution to the enemies of “you who tremble at (Yahweh’s) word” (vv. 5-6).
Verses 7-9 use the metaphor of a miraculous birth to promise salvation to Judah. Verses 10-14 (our text) extend the promise with a series of metaphors—that of an infant who finds abundant milk at the breast of the mother (vv. 10-11)—that of a river carrying the wealth of the nations (v. 12)—that of a mother comforting her child (v. 13)—and that of bodies flourishing like grass (v. 14).
ISAIAH 66:10-11. REJOICE WITH JERUSALEM
10Rejoice with Jerusalem,
and be glad (Hebrew: wegi·lu – shout in exaltation) for her, all you who love her:
rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn over her;
11that you may nurse and be satisfied at the comforting breasts;
that you may drink deeply,
and be delighted with the abundance of her glory (Hebrew: kebo·dah—the heaviness of her).
“‘Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her: rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn over her” (v. 10). Coming on the heels of the promise of salvation in verses 7-9, this verse calls people to rejoice with Jerusalem—a city that was destroyed but is now being rebuilt with God’s help. Her destruction was a calamity and a cause for mourning, but those who have mourned her demise need mourn no more. Yahweh has made it possible for the exiles to return and rebuild.
But what we see here is more than stones being laid on stones. We also see Yahweh rebuilding his nation—his people. That is the really good news. A renewed city without a renewed people would have no meaning. It is not the buildings that Yahweh loves, but the people.
“that you may nurse and be satisfied at the comforting breast; that you may drink deeply, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory (kebo·dah—heavy)“
(v. 11). The image is that of a city where there is plenty for everyone. Yahweh likens Jerusalem to a mother whose breasts are heavy with milk—where the infant can nurse and drink deeply—can be satisfied and delighted.
This vision contrasts dramatically with the Jerusalem under siege that the people experienced two or three generations earlier. Then the people of Jerusalem died of starvation because a siege prevented them from obtaining food. Mothers watched helplessly as their breasts dried up and their babies died.
This vision also contrasts with the Jerusalem that these returned exiles have now reoccupied. The rebuilt temple cannot compare with Solomon’s temple. Much of the city still lies in rubble. There is nothing about the city that bespeaks prosperity. But Yahweh invites the people to rejoice—to look with eyes of faith that they might see, not what is, but what will be—a grand city that will satisfy their needs.
ISAIAH 66:12-13. I WILL EXTEND PEACE TO HER
12For thus says Yahweh,
“Behold, I will extend peace (Hebrew: sa·lom’) to her like a river,
and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream:
and you will nurse.
You will be carried on her side,
and will be dandled on her knees.
13As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you;
and you will be comforted in Jerusalem.”
“For thus says Yahweh, ‘Behold, I will extend peace (sa∙lom’—prosperity or peace) to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream‘” (v. 12a). Jerusalem will prosper, because the Lord will make her prosperous. Her prosperity will be like an overflowing river. “The metaphor of river bespeaks a flow of goods and cargo that floods into the city like a mighty stream, so that Jerusalem, so long humiliated and impoverished, will be the new trade center and commercial pivot point of the world” (Brueggemann, 256).
To appreciate the metaphor of “peace…like a river…like an overflowing stream,” one might sit quietly beside a river at flood stage. Enormous quantities of water flow by any given point every minute—and keep coming hour after hour. It is humbling to realize that the river was flowing just as prodigiously yesterday and will be doing so again tomorrow—that it flows even while we sleep. The impression is of abundance beyond our ability to understand—abundance that seems to have no beginning and no end. It is that kind of abundance that the Lord is promising to Jerusalem and its people.
Sa∙lom’ is a peace that goes beyond the absence of malice. It is the kind of wholeness that comes from a proper relationship to God.
“‘and you will nurse. You will be carried on her side, and will be dandled on her knees'” (v. 12b). This picks up the metaphor of the mother and nursing infant that we encountered in verse 11. In verse 12a, the Lord promises prosperity to the city of Jerusalem. Verse 12b extends Jerusalem’s prosperity to the people.
“‘As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted in Jerusalem'” (v. 13). The Hebrew words for comfort (three variants used in this verse) have the sense, “give relief” or ” ‘help find release’ from pent-up sorrow and emotion” (Bromiley, 735).
The people of Jerusalem have experienced terrible problems over a period of many decades, beginning with the siege of Jerusalem. Many were killed or starved to death. The rest were taken into exile, where they spent decades in servitude to Babylonia. When God raised up Cyrus of Persia, who allowed them to return and rebuild Jerusalem, they found only piles of rubble. They were faced, not only with the hard labor of rebuilding, but also with the hostility of their neighbors. They had experienced a miserable time that had lasted—and lasted—and lasted. But now Yahweh promises to comfort them—to give them relief—to help them find release from their pent-up sorrow and emotion.
While Yahweh is most often presented as male in the Old Testament, here Yahweh is likened to a mother—a comforting mother. While each person experiences his/her mother and father in his/her own way, most people associate comfort with their mothers instead of their fathers. For most of us, mother-comfort is the epitome of comfort—comfort par excellence—the best comfort that we will ever know. It is that kind of comfort that Yahweh is promising the people of Jerusalem.
ISAIAH 66:14. THE HAND OF YAHWEH IS TOWARD HIS SERVANTS
14You will see it, and your heart shall rejoice,
and your bones shall flourish like the tender grass:
and the hand of Yahweh shall be known toward his servants;
and he will have indignation against his enemies.
“You will see it, and your heart shall rejoice, and your bones (literally “bones”) shall flourish like the tender grass” (v. 14a). “You will see” promises that what Yahweh is saying will actually come to pass—that the people of Jerusalem will actually see it—that Yahweh is not just expressing ideals but is talking about practical realities that people will experience firsthand. Their hearts will rejoice and their bodies (bones) will flourish.
“and the hand of Yahweh shall be known toward his servants; and he will have indignation against his enemies“ (v. 14b). When the things that Yahweh has promised come to pass, the people of Jerusalem will know that the hand of the Lord is with them (see Exodus 6:7; 7:5, 17; 16:12). These things will also witness to other people (Gentiles) that Yahweh supports his servants and protects them from their enemies (see Exodus 14:4, 18; 29:46).
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.
Bromiley, Geoffrey (General Editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume One: A-D –Revised (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979)
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