Isaiah 65:17-25 Commentary2017-12-05T15:56:38+00:00

Biblical Commentary

Isaiah 65:17-25

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SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 65:17-25

COMMENTARY:

ISAIAH 65:1-16:  THE CONTEXT

In these verses, Yahweh outlines the earlier rebelliousness of his people and the rightness of his judgment upon them.  But the tone shifts and we near a note of redemption at the end when Yahweh says:

“So that he who blesses himself in the earth
shall bless himself in the God of truth;
and he who swears in the earth
shall swear by the God of truth;
because the former troubles are forgotten,
and because they are hidden from my eyes” (v. 16).

The promise, then, is that “the former troubles (sins) are forgotten, and… are hidden from (God’s) eyes” (v. 16).  Since there was a cause-and-effect relationship between the sins of the people and their suffering, the implication is that God, having forgotten those sins, is ready to restore their fortunes.

The setting is Jerusalem after the return of the exiles.  Years have passed—decades, in fact—and much has been accomplished.  Walls have been erected and the temple has been rebuilt.  Still, much of the city is still rubble.  The new temple is but a pale shadow of the one that the Babylonians destroyed so many years earlier.  The people have lived through a number of difficult years—in some respects more difficult than the years of their exile.  They must wonder whether this patched-together Jerusalem is the full measure of their inheritance.  They must wonder if Yahweh has the power and will to restore their former glory.  Their concerns are reflected in chapters 63 and 64, which culminate in this prayer:

“Don’t be furious, Yahweh, neither remember iniquity forever:
see, look, we beg you, we are all your people.
Your holy cities are become a wilderness,
Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.
Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised you,
is burned with fire;
and all our pleasant places are laid waste.
Will you refrain yourself for these things, Yahweh?
Will you hold your peace, and afflict us very severely?”
(Isaiah 64:9-12).

ISAIAH 65:17.  BEHOLD, I CREATE NEW HEAVENS AND A NEW EARTH

17“For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.

“For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth” (v. 17a).  The word “For” connects this verse to promise in the previous verse that “the former troubles are forgotten, and… are hidden from my eyes” (v. 16c).  The promise is that Yahweh, having forgotten the former troubles, will create new heavens and a new earth.

This is not the first time we have heard of “heavens” and “earth” in this book:

• The prophet earlier identified Yahweh as the one who “created the heavens and stretched them out, he who spread out the earth and that which comes out of it, he who gives breath to its people and spirit to those who walk in it”  (42:5).

• But Yahweh commanded the heavens and earth to listen to a word of judgment—”I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me” (1:2).  “Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place in the wrath of Yahweh of Armies, and in the day of his fierce anger” (Isaiah 13:13).

• But the God of judgment is also the God of redemption who says, “Sing, you heavens, for Yahweh has done it! Shout, you lower parts of the earth! Break out into singing, you mountains, O forest, all of your trees, for Yahweh has redeemed Jacob, and will glorify himself in Israel” (Isaiah 44:23)—and “Sing, heavens; and be joyful, earth; and break forth into singing, mountains: for Yahweh has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his afflicted” (Isaiah 49:13).

The mention of creating “new heavens and a new earth” takes us back to the opening chapters of Genesis where, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  With each act of creation, God pronounced the creation good, but the introduction of sin in Genesis 3 defiled the good creation—nothing has been the same since.  But God is going to redeem the situation by creating “new heavens and a new earth.”  This does not mean that he is going to destroy what exists and begin anew from nothing.  This is to be a transformation more akin to the rebirth to which Jesus alludes in his conversation with Nicodemus (John 3).

“and the former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind” (v. 17b).  “Former things” alludes to Israel’s rebelliousness and sin and the judgment that resulted.  God will forgive and forget.  The former things will be relegated to a dim and unremembered past—hidden from God’s sight” (v. 16).

ISAIAH 65:18.  BE YOU GLAD AND REJOICE FOREVER

18“But be you glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.”

In the earlier part of this chapter, God said, “my servants shall rejoice, but you shall be disappointed” (v. 13).  But now that God is creating new heavens and a new earth and is pushing the former iniquities out of sight and out of mind (v. 17), the people can “be glad and rejoice forever” in what God is creating.  The new Jerusalem will not only be a joy to them, but will also be a joy to God and its people will be a delight to him.

We will hear of the new Jerusalem again in the New Testament, and the joyful tone there will be much like the joyful tone that we hear in Isaiah:

“I saw a new heaven and a new earth:
for the first heaven and the first earth have passed away,
and the sea is no more.
I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.
I heard a loud voice out of heaven
saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with people,
and he will dwell with them,
and they will be his people,
and God himself will be with them as their God.
He will wipe away from them every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more.
The first things have passed away'” (Rev. 21:1-4).

ISAIAH 65:19-20.  I WILL REJOICE IN JERUSALEM

19 “I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people; and there shall be heard in her no more the voice of weeping and the voice of crying.

20There shall be no more there an infant of days, nor an old man who has not filled his days; for the child shall die one hundred years old, and the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed.

A series of contrasts are either stated or implied in verses 19b-25 (Watts, 925):

•    Weeping—> rejoicing
•    An infant that lives a few days—> A person who lives to be old
•    An old person dying early—> an old person living beyond a hundred years
•    Build and another inhabit—> Build and inhabit
•    Plant and another eat—> Plant and eat
•    Labor in vain —> Enjoy the work of their hands
•    Bear children for calamity—> Offspring blessed by the Lord
•    Unanswered prayer —> Answered prayer
•    Violence—> Peace

“I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people” (v. 19a).  This is very different from the descriptions of Jerusalem and its people that we find earlier in this book.  In chapter 1, we heard that “the faithful city has become a prostitute! …Therefore…I will turn my hand on you” (1:21, 24-25).  However, even there we found a note of redemption—  “Afterward you shall be called ‘The city of righteousness, a faithful town” (1:26).  That promise is now being renewed in the promise “to create Jerusalem a rejoicing” (v. 18) and to “rejoice in Jerusalem” (v. 19a).

The people will have cause for rejoicing, because the sound of weeping and the cry of distress will be but distant memories.

“There shall be no more shall there be an infant of days, nor an old man who has not filled his days; for the child shall die one hundred years old, and the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed” (v. 20).  People will no longer have their lives cut short.  Both infants and the elderly will enjoy improved prospects for longevity.  This is not a promise that “Death will be no more” as in the New Testament (Revelation 21:4), but is instead a promise of longevity.  The mention of “one hundred years” is hyperbole (exaggeration for effect), because we have no record of people of that time routinely living to be more than a hundred years old.  The point is that people in the new era will experience significantly longer lives.

ISAIAH 65:21-23.  THEY SHALL NOT LABOR IN VAIN

21“They shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. 22They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree shall be the days of my people, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23They shall not labor in vain, nor bring forth for calamity; for they are the seed of the blessed of Yahweh, and their offspring with them.”

“They shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat their fruit” (v. 21).  The Old Testament includes a number of futility curses imposed by God on sinful people—i.e., “You shall betroth a wife, and another man shall lie with her: you shall build a house, and you shall not dwell therein: you shall plant a vineyard, and shall not use its fruit” (Deuteronomy 28:30; see also Amos 5:11; Micah 6:15; Zephaniah 1:13).  But now we have the opposite of the futility curse—a blessing that cancels the curse—a promise that those who labor will enjoy the fruits of their labors.

“They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat” (v. 22a).  This reiterates in slightly different words the promise of verse 21.

“for as the days of a tree shall be the days of my people” (v. 22b).  People admire trees for many reasons—their beauty, their productivity, and their strength.  Here it is their longevity that is in view.  Unlike “the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven”(Matthew 6:30), some trees live for decades—others for centuries—and a few for millennia.

We are accustomed to seeing trees that were here long before we were born and will be here long after we die.  Most of us would be glad to trade our human longevity for tree longevity.  The promise here (again hyperbole—exaggeration for effect) is that people will enjoy the kind of longevity that is routine for trees.

“and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands” (v. 22c).  This repeats the promise of verses 21-22a that people “shall build houses, and inhabit them,” etc.  The added dimension is the phrase, “my chosen.”  God chose Israel many centuries earlier, but they had sinned.  The result was the futility curse:  “You shall betroth a wife, and another man shall lie with her: you shall build a house, and you shall not dwell therein: you shall plant a vineyard, and shall not use its fruit” (Deuteronomy 28:30).  That curse is now reversed, so that God’s chosen “shall long enjoy the work of their hands.”

“They shall not labor in vain” (v. 23a).  This repeats the promise of verses 21-22.

“nor bring forth calamity” (v. 23a).  To understand this phrase, we have only to look at the world around us.  In many places, women bear children for calamity.  Their children die of malnutrition or disease.  They are impressed into tribal militias.  They live in neighborhoods where they are not safe walking to and from school.  They are tempted to engage in drugs, binge drinking, reckless driving, promiscuous sex, and a host of other dangerous activities.  But the promise of this verse is that “my chosen” (v. 22c) will not bear children for calamity.

“for they are the seed of the blessed Yahweh, and their offspring with them”

(v. 23b).  A woman contemplating childbirth could be assured that her child would not be a child of calamity, but would instead be a child blessed by the Lord.  The promise extends not just to that child, but also to its children and their children.  This reverses the curse that visits “the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the children’s children, on the third and on the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:7)—a curse that we often see in effect today as children of drug addicts and other dysfunctional adults suffer for the sins of their parents.

ISAIAH 65: 24.  BEFORE THEY CALL, I WILL ANSWER

24“It shall happen that, before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.”

This is a lovely promise.  While we have experienced the power of prayer, we have also experienced its frustration.  Sometimes we wonder if God really hears our prayers, because we don’t get the answers that we expect.  At other times, we find ourselves trying to pray but not knowing how—or mouthing clumsy words that seem inadequate to express the longings of our hearts—or we fall asleep while trying to pray—or we want to pray for someone but forget to do so.  This verse suggests that our inadequacy in prayer is no barrier to communicating with God.  He is quite capable of understanding our clumsiest prayers—even the unspoken prayers of our hearts.

The New Testament includes a similar promise:  “In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weaknesses, for we don’t know how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which can’t be uttered. He who searches the hearts knows what is on the Spirit’s mind, because he makes intercession for the saints according to God” (Romans 8:26-27).

ISAIAH 65:25.  THE WOLF AND THE LAMB SHALL FEED TOGETHER

25“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain,” says Yahweh.

“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox” (v. 25a).  Much earlier the prophet promised, “The wolf will live with the lamb,

and the leopard will lie down with the young goat; The calf, the young lion, and the fattened calf together; and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6; see also verses 7-9).  Now Yahweh reiterates the promise that “my chosen” (v. 22) will see a world where predators coexist in peace with prey.

“and dust shall be the serpent’s food” (v. 25b).  This alludes to Genesis 3:14, where God cursed the serpent, saying: “On your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life.”  Now God says once again that the serpent’s food shall be dust—suggesting that the serpent will no longer be a threat to other life.  This, then, represents a danger neutralized—another facet of a newly peaceful world.

“They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, says Yahweh” (v. 25c).  The holy mountain is Mount Zion, on which Jerusalem and the temple are located—the dwelling place of God and holy ground to the faithful.  This is a promise, expressed in poetic language, that God’s people will again enjoy peaceful lives on God’s mountain.

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.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

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)

Newsome, James D. in Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year C  (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)

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)

Reid, Stephen Breck, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary:  Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text.  The First Readings:  The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)

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)

www.lectionary.org

Copyright 2010, Richard Niell Donovan