Isaiah 65
Pulpit Commentary
I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name.
Verses 1-7. - ISRAEL'S SUFFERINGS THE JUST MEED OF THEIR SINS. God's mercy is such that it even overflows upon those who are outside the covenant (ver. 1). It has been offered to Israel, but Israel has rejected it. Their rebellion, their idolatries, and their pride have caused, and must continue to cause, their punishment (vers. 2-7). Verse 1. - I am sought; rather, inquired of, or consulted (comp. Ezekiel 14:3; Ezekiel 20:3, 31). The application of the text by St. Paul (Romans 10:20) to the calling of the Gentiles will be felt by all believers in inspiration to preclude the interpretation which supposes Israel to be the subject of ver. 1 no less than of vers. 2-7. I said, Behold me. This was the first step in the conversion of the Gentiles. God called them by his messengers, the apostles and evangelists. A nation that was not called by thy Name (so Gesenius, Delitzsch, Kay, and others). Bishop Lowth, Ewald, Diestel, and Mr. Cheyne, following the Septuagint and other ancient versions, render, "a nation that has not called upon thy Name." But this requires an alteration of the vowel-points, which seems unnecessary.
I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts;
Verse 2. - I have spread out my hands. Not exactly in prayer, but in expostulation (comp. Proverbs 1:24, "I have stretched out my hand," where the verb in the Hebrew is the same). All the day; or, all day long, as in Romans 10:21; i.e. continually, day after day, for years - nay, for centuries. A rebellions people (comp. Isaiah 30:1; and see also Isaiah 1:4, 23; Hosea 4:16; Jeremiah 5:23; Jeremiah 6:28). The "rebellions people" ('am sorer)is undoubtedly Israel. In a way that was not good; rather, in the way that is not good; i.e. the "way of sinners" (Psalm 1:1) - the "way that leadeth to destruction" (Matthew 7:13).
A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick;
Verse 3. - That sacrificeth in gardens (comp. Isaiah 1:29; Isaiah 57:5; Isaiah 66:17). The groves and "gardens" of Daphne, near Antioch. became famous in later times as the scene of idolatrous practices intimately bound up with the grossest and most shameless sensualism. We have few details of the ancient Syrian rites; but there is reason to believe that, wherever Astarte, the Dea Syra, was worshipped, whether at Daphne, or at Hierapolis, or at Balbek, or at Aphek, or at Damascus, or in Palestine, one and the same character of cult prevailed. The nature-goddess was viewed as best worshipped by rites into which sensualism entered as an essential element. Profligacy that cannot be described polluted the consecrated precincts, which were rendered attractive by all that was beautiful and delightful, whether in art or nature-by groves, gardens, statues, fountains, shrines, temples, music, processions, shows - and which were in consequence frequented both day and night by a multitude of votaries. And burneth incense upon altars of brick; literally, upon the bricks. It is not clear that "altars" are intended. More probably the incense was burnt upon the tiled or bricked roofs of houses, where the Jews of Jeremiah's time "burned incense unto all the host of heaven" (Jeremiah 19:13; Jeremiah 32:29; Zephaniah 1:5). Brick altars are nowhere mentioned. The Assyrians and Babylonians made their altars of either stone or metal ('Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 2. pp. 36, 37; Herod., 1. 183). The Hebrews in early times had altars of earth (Exodus 20:24). The "altar of incense" in the tabernacle (Exodus 30:1-3) was of wood plated with gold; that of burnt offering, of wood plated with bronze (Exodus 27:1, 2). Solomon's altars were similar. Elijah on one occasion made an altar of twelve rough stones (1 Kings 18:31). The Assyrians used polished stone, as did the Greeks and Romans.
Which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine's flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels;
Verse 4. - Which remain among the graves. The rock tombs of Palestine seem to be meant. Persons "remained among" these, in spite of the ceremonial defilement thereby incurred, either with the object of raising the dead, and obtaining prophecies from them, or of getting prophetic intimations made to them in dreams (see Jerome's 'Comment.,' ad loc.). And lodge in the monuments; or, in the crypts. "N'tsurim may refer to the mysteries celebrated in natural caves and artificial crypts" (Delitzsch). An account of such mysteries is given by Chwolsohn in his' Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus,' vol. it. pp. 332, et seq. Which eat swine's flesh. Not in mere defiance of the Law, but in sacrificial meals (Isaiah 66:17) of which swine's flesh formed a part. Swine were sacrificial animals in Egypt (Herod., 2:47, 48), in Phoenicia (Lucian, 'De Dea Syra,' § 54), and with the Greeks and Romans. They do not appear to have been employed for the purpose either by the Assyrians or the Babylonians. It was probably in Palestine that the Jews had eaten "swine's flesh," at sacrifices to Baal or Astarte (Ashtoreth). In later times to do so was regarded as one of the worst abominations (1 Macc. 1:41-64; 2 Macc, 6. and 7.). Broth of abominable things. Either broth made from swine's flesh, or from the flesh of other unclean animals, as the hare and rabbit (Leviticus 11:5, 6), or perhaps simply broth made from the flesh of any animals that had been offered to idols (Acts 15:29).
Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day.
Verse 5. - Stand by thyself; i.e. "keep aloof - come not into contact with me; for mine is a higher holiness than thine, and I should be polluted by thy near approach." Initiation into heathen mysteries was thought to confer on the initiated a holiness unattainable otherwise. Thus the heathenized Jew claimed to be holier than the true servants of Jehovah. These are a smoke... a fire (comp. Psalm 18:8, "There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured; coals were kindled by it"). The heathenized Jews are fuel for the wrath of God, which kindles a fire wherein they burn continually (comp. Isaiah 66:24).
Behold, it is written before me: I will not keep silence, but will recompense, even recompense into their bosom,
Verse 6. - It is written before me. The misconduct of his people is "written" in God's book, which lies open "before him," so that their sin is ever in his sight (comp. Psalm 56:8; Malachi 3:16; Revelation 20:12). I will not keep silence (comp. Psalm 1:3). "Keeping silence" is a metaphor for complete inaction. But will recompense, etc.; rather, until I have recompensed, yea, recompensed [them] into their bosoms (comp. Luke 6:38). Gifts were given and received into the fold of the beged, or cloak, which depended in front of the bosom.
Your iniquities, and the iniquities of your fathers together, saith the LORD, which have burned incense upon the mountains, and blasphemed me upon the hills: therefore will I measure their former work into their bosom.
Verse 7. - Your iniquities. This is a new sentence, not a continuation of ver. 6, which should be closed by a full stop. It is an incomplete sentence, needing for its completion the repetition of the verb shillamti, "I will recompense." Which have burned incense upon the mountains (see 2 Kings 17:11; Hosea 4:13; Ezekiel 6:13; and comp. Isaiah 57:7). And blasphemed me; rather, reproached me (see Isaiah 37:4, 17, 23, 24). Therefore will I measure their former work; rather, therefore will r, first of all, measure their work into their bosom. The expression, "first of all," prepares the way for the encouraging promises of vers. 8-10.
Thus saith the LORD, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants' sakes, that I may not destroy them all.
Verses 8-10. - SALVATION PROMISED TO A REMNANT. In Isaiah, and especially in the "Book of Consolation" (Isaiah 40-66.), promises are almost always intermingled with threatenings. The threats extend to the bulk of the nation; the promises are limited to "a remnant," since a remnant only could be brought to "seek" and serve God (ver. 10). Here the announcement that a remnant would be spared is introduced by a simile from men's treatment of their own vineyards (ver. 8). Verse 8. - As the new wine is found in the cluster; rather, as when new wine is found in a grape-bunch; i.e. as when even a single cluster of grapes is spied on a vine-stem, the vine-pruners say one to another, "Destroy not that stem, but spare it," so will God refrain from destroying those stocks in his vineyard, which give even a small promise of bearing good fruit. Destroy it not. The words are thought to be those of a well-known vintage-song, which is perhaps alluded to in the heading (Al-taschith) prefixed to Psalm 57, 58, and 59. "Each of these psalms was probably sung to the air of this favourite song" (Cheyne). A blessing is in it; i.e. "a boon from God" (comp. Isaiah 36:16; 2 Kings 5:15).
And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains: and mine elect shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there.
Verse 9. - A seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah. Scarcely, "the people of the two captivities" (Delitzsch), though no doubt many Israelites of the ten tribes did return with Zerubbabel (1 Chronicles 9:3; Ezra 2:2, 70; Ezra 3:1; Ezra 6:17; Ezra 8:35, etc.). Rather, a mere pleonasm, as in Isaiah 9:8; Isaiah 10:21, 22; Isaiah 27:6; Isaiah 29:23; Isaiah 40:27; Isaiah 41:8, etc. (see the comment on Isaiah 40:27). An inheritor of my mountains. The whole of Palestine is little more than a cluster of mountains. The cluster may be divided into three groups:

(1) The mountains of Galilee, extending from Hermon to Tabor, separated from the next group by the plain of Esdraelon;

(2) the mountains of Samaria and Judaea, extending from Carmel and Gilbea to the plateau of Mature above Hebron, which is 3600 feet above the sea;

(3) the mountains of the trans-Jordanic region, including those of Bashan, Gilead, Moab, and Edom, separated from the two other groups by the Jordan valley. The highest elevation attained is that of Hermon (9400 feet); other minor heights are Jebel Jurmuk, in Galilee, 4000 feet; Safed, also in Galilee, 2775 feet; Ebal and Gerizim, in Samaria, 2700 feet; Sinjil, 2685; Neby Samwill, 2650; and the Mount of Olives, 2724 feet. The plateau of Mature reaches a height of 3600 feet. The only Palestinian plains are those of Esdraelon, Sharon, and the Ghor, or Jordan valley. Thus the land may well be spoken of as "my mountains." Mine elect (comp. ch. 43:20; 45:4). The same expression is used of Israel in 1 Chronicles 16:13; Psalm 89:3; Psalm 105:6, 43; Psalm 106:5. God "chose" Israel out of all the nations of the earth to be his "peculiar people."
And Sharon shall be a fold of flocks, and the valley of Achor a place for the herds to lie down in, for my people that have sought me.
Verse 10. - Sharon shall be a fold of flocks. "Sharon," instead of being "like a wilderness" (Isaiah 33:9), shall once more be "a place for flocks " - a rich pasture for the flocks and herds of the returned exiles. (On the position and fertility of Sharon, see the comment upon Isaiah 33:9.) The valley of Achor (see Joshua 7:24-26). The 'Emeq 'Akor was near Jericho. The two places seem to be selected on account of their position, one on the eastern, the other on the western border. My people that have sought me; or, inquired of me - the same verb as that used at the beginning of the chapter.
But ye are they that forsake the LORD, that forget my holy mountain, that prepare a table for that troop, and that furnish the drink offering unto that number.
Verses 11-16. - A MIXTURE OF THREATS WITH PROMISES. The prophet returns, in the main, to his former attitude, and resumes his denunciations (vers. 11, 12); but, with ver. 13, he begins to intermingle promises of favour to God's servants with threats against the rebellious, and finally (in ver. 16) turns wholly towards the side of grace and favour, announcing the coming of a time when "the former troubles" will be altogether "forgotten," and the kingdom of truth and right will be established. Verse 11. - But ye are they that forsake the Lord; rather, but as for you who forsake the Lord. And forget my holy mountain; i.e. either, literally, forget Zion. being absent from it so long (Psalm 137:5), or, possibly, neglect Zion, though you might worship there if you pleased. That prepare a table for that troop; rather, that prepare a table for Gad. There is ground for believing that "Gad" was a Phoenician deity, perhaps "the god of good fortune" (Cheyne), though this is not clearly ascertained; sometimes worshipped as an aspect of Baal, whence the name, Baal-Gad (Joshua 11:17; Joshua 12:7); sometimes connected with other deities, as Moloch and Ashtoreth. The practice of "preparing tables" for the heathen gods was a common one, and appears in Herod., 1:181; in Baruch 6:30; in Bel and the Dragon, ver. 11; and in the Roman lectisternia. The tables prepared for the dead in Egyptian tombs were not very different, and implied a qualified worship of ancestors (Rawlinson, 'History of Ancient Egypt,' vol. 1. pp. 423, 424; vol. 2 p. 39). And that furnish the drink offering unto that number; rather, and that fill up mixed drink for M'ni. M'ni appears, like Gad, to have been a Syrian deity, the name Ebed-M'ni, "servant of M'ni," occurring on Aramaeo-Persian coins of the Achaemenian period (Rodiger, in 'Addenda to Gesenius' Thesaurus,' p. 97). The word may be suspected to be cognate to the Arabic "Manat," a god recognized in the Koran as a mediator with Allah; but can scarcely have any connection with the Aryan names for the moon deity, Μήν Μήνη, Mena, and the like. Its root is probably the Semitic manah, "to number" or" apportion," the word designating a deity who" apportions" men's fortunes to them (τύχη, LXX.).
Therefore will I number you to the sword, and ye shall all bow down to the slaughter: because when I called, ye did not answer; when I spake, ye did not hear; but did evil before mine eyes, and did choose that wherein I delighted not.
Verse 12. - Therefore will I number you; or, apportion you (maaithi) - a play upon the name of M'ni. The sword... slaughter. Not, perhaps, intended literally. Wicked men are God's sword (Psalm 17:13), and deliverance into their hand would be deliverance to the sword and slaughter. The exiles suffered grievously at the hands of their Babylonian masters (Isaiah 47:6; Isaiah 49:17, etc.). The character of their sufferings is given in the ensuing verses (vers. 13, 14). When I called, ye did not answer (see 2 Chronicles 36:15, 16; Proverbs 1:20-25; Isaiah 66:4).
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, my servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry: behold, my servants shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty: behold, my servants shall rejoice, but ye shall be ashamed:
Verse 13. - Therefore thus saith the Lord God; rather, thus saith the Lord Jehovah (comp. Isaiah 7:7; Isaiah 25:8; Isaiah 28:16; Isaiah 30:15; Isaiah 40:10; Isaiah 48:16; Isaiah 49:22; I. 4, 5, 7, 9; 52:4; 56:8; 61:1, etc.). My servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry, etc. This entire series of contrasts may be understood in two ways; literally, of the two classes of exiles, the religious and the irreligious; metaphorically, of God's servants and his adversaries at all times and in all places. The religious exiles would return to the land of promise as soon as permitted, and would there prosper in a worldly sense - have abundance to eat and drink, rejoice, and sing for joy (Ezra 3:11-13). The irreligious, remaining in Babylonia, would suffer hunger and thirst, endure shame, cry and howl for sorrow and vexation of spirit. This would be one fulfilment of the prophecy; but there would also be another. God's servants at all times and in all places would be sustained with spiritual food, and "rejoice and sing for joy of heart." His adversaries would everywhere feel a craving for the "meat" and "drink," which alone satisfy the soul, and would be oppressed with care, and with a sense of shame, and suffer anguish of spirit.
Behold, my servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart, and shall howl for vexation of spirit.
And ye shall leave your name for a curse unto my chosen: for the Lord GOD shall slay thee, and call his servants by another name:
Verse 15. - Ye shall leave your name for a curse (comp. Jeremiah 29:22). In their formulas of imprecation the Jews were in the habit of saying, "The Lord make thee like" this or that person, or this or that class of persons. The name of the exiles should be used in this manner. Unto my chosen (see the comment on ver. 9). The Lord God shall slay thee (see the comment on ver. 12). Some, however, take the words as part of the formula of imprecation. And call his servants by another name (compare what is said of "new name" in Isaiah 62:2).
That he who blesseth himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of truth; and he that sweareth in the earth shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hid from mine eyes.
Verse 16. - That he who blesseth himself; rather, so that he who blesses himself. The sequence of the argument is not altogether clear. Perhaps it is recant that God will call them by his own Name (Amos 9:12) - "the people of God" (Hebrews 4:9); and thence it will become natural for them to use no other name, either when they call for a blessing on themselves, or have to confirm a covenant with others. In the God of truth; literally, in the God of the Amen; i.e. the God who keeps covenant and promise, to which the strongest formula of consent was the word "Amen" (see Numbers 5:22; Deuteronomy 27:15-26; 1 Kings 1:36, etc.). Similarly, St. John calls our Lord "the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness" (Revelation 3:14). Because the former troubles are forgotten. When the blessed time has come wherein men call themselves by the Name of the Lord, and know of only one God as the Source of blessing and the confirmation of an oath, then the former state of human affairs, with all its "troubles," will have passed away, and the new era will be inaugurated, which the prophet proceeds to describe at length (vers. 17-25).
For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.
Verses 17-25. - A PROMISE OF NEW HEAVENS AND A NEW EARTH. The final answer of God to the complaint and prayer of his people (ch. 64.) is now given. The entire existing state of things is to pass away. God will create a new heaven and a new earth, and place his people therein; and the old conditions will be all changed, and the old grounds of complaint disappear. In the "new Jerusalem" there will be no sorrow, neither "weeping" nor "crying" (ver. 19); life will be greatly prolonged (ver. 20); men will always enjoy the fruit of their labours (vers. 21, 22), and see their children grow up (ver. 23). Prayer will be answered almost before it is uttered (ver. 24). Finally, there will be peace in the animal world, and between the animal world and man. No living thing will kill or hurt another in all God's "holy mountain" (ver. 25). Verse 17. - I create. The same verb is used as in Genesis 1:1; and the prophet's idea seems to be that the existing heaven and earth are to be entirely destroyed (see Isaiah 24:19, 20, and the comment ad loc.), and a fresh heaven and earth created in their place out of nothing. The "new Jerusalem" is not the old Jerusalem renovated, but is a veritable "new Jerusalem," "created a rejoicing" (ver. 18; scrap. Revelation 21:2). The germ of the teaching will be found in Isaiah 51:16. The former shall not be remembered. Some suppose "the former troubles" (see ver. 16) to be meant; but it is best (with Delitzsch) to understand "the former heavens and earth." The glory of the new heavens and earth would be such that the former ones would not only not be regretted, but would not even be had in remembrance. No one would so much as think of them.
But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.
Verse 18. - I create Jerusalem (comp. Revelation 21:2, "I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband"). The description which follows in vers. 11, 12 is quite unlike that of the old Jerusalem. A rejoicing. The "new Jerusalem" was to be from the first all joy and rejoicing - a scene of perpetual gladness. Her people also was to be "a joy" or "a delight," since God would delight in them (ver. 19).
And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying.
Verse 19. - The voice of weeping shall be no more heard (comp. Revelation 21:4). The reasons there given are satisfactory: "There shall be no more death, neither sorrow... neither shall there be any more pain." But these reasons scarcely apply here. For Isaiah's "new Jerusalem" is not without death (ver. 20), nor without sorrow, since it is not without sin (ver. 20), nor, as there is death there, is it without pain. Isaiah's picture, according to Delitzsch, represents the millennial state, not the final condition of the redeemed; but this trait - the absence of all weeping - can only be literally true of the final state.
There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.
Verse 20. - There shall be no more thence an infant of days; i.e. there shall not go from the new Jerusalem into the unseen world any infant of a few days old. On the contrary, even "the youth" shall reach a hundred; i.e. one who dies when he is a hundred shall be regarded as cut off in his youth. The general rule shall be, that old men shall "fill their days," or attain to patriarchal longevity. Even the sinner, who is under the curse of God, shall not be cut off till he is a hundred. What is most remarkable in the description is that death and sin are represented as still continuing. Death was spoken of as "swallowed up in victory" in one of the earlier descriptions of Messiah's kingdom (Isaiah 25:8).
And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.
Verse 21. - They shall build houses, and inhabit them. The curse pronounced on apostasy in Deuteronomy 28:30 shall no more rest on God's people. They shall have the fruition of their labours. No enemy shall be able to deprive them of their crops and houses.
They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
Verse 22. - As the days of a tree are the days of my people. Trees endure for many hundreds, perhaps for thousands of years. The cedars of Lebanon, the oaks of Bashan, were known to have an antiquity of centuries. Isaiah may have had a knowledge of other trees to which attached the tradition of a yet longer existence. In our own day Brazil and California have furnished proofs of vegetable growths exceeding a millennium. Mine elect shall long enjoy; literally, shall wear out; i.e. have the full use and enjoyment of the work of their hands.
They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them.
Verse 23. - They shall not... bring forth for trouble. Their women shall not bear children to see them carried off after a few days, or months, or years, by disease, or accident, or famine, or the sword of the invader. There shall be an end of such "troubles," and, God's blessing resting upon those who are his children, their children shall, as a general rule, "be with them;" i.e. remain to them during their lifetime, and not be lost to them by a premature decease.
And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.
Verse 24. - Before they call, I will answer. God is always "more ready to hear than we to pray." In the "new Jerusalem" he will be prompt to answer his people's prayers almost before they are uttered. It is involved in this, as Delitzsch notes, that the will of the people shall be in harmony with the will of Jehovah, and that their prayers will therefore be acceptable prayers.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.
Verse 25. - The wolf and the lamb shall feed together (comp. Isaiah 11:6-8; Hosea 2:18). The portraiture here is far less elaborate than in the earlier chapter, to which the present passage may be regarded as a refer-once. (For the sense in which the entire picture is to be understood, see the comment upon Isaiah 11:6-9). Dust shall be the serpent's meat. Here we have a new feature, not contained in the earlier description. Serpents shall become harmless, anal instead of preying upon beasts, or birds, or reptiles, shall be content with the food assigned them in the primeval decree, "Upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life" (Genesis 3:14). Mr. Cheyne appositely notes that "much dust is the food of the shades in the Assyrio-Babylonian Hades" (see the "Legend of Ishtar" in the 'Records of the Past,' vol. 1. p. 143, line 8). They shall not hurt nor destroy. Repeated from Isaiah 11:9, word for word. In neither case should we regard the subject of the sentence as limited to the animals only. The meaning is that there shall be no violence of any kind, done either by man or beast, in the happy period described.

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