Thus said the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that you build to me?…
1. The tendency to make religion consist in external actions, apart from the inward dispositions which should accompany them, is very common. The reason for this is discovered from the fact that outward actions are easier than inward. It is easier, for instance, to become outwardly poor than to become poor in spirit; easier to adore with the body than to worship with the soul. The tendency is observable in all dispensations. For instance, whatever other differences there may have been between the sacrifices of Cain and Abel, we are expressly told that it was "by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice ' (Hebrews 11:4). The outward act was linked with the right inward disposition. So, again, in the time of the Levitical Law, the tendency often manifested itself to put ceremonial above moral obligations (Psalm 1.). And Isaiah, in his first chapter (vers. 11-18), shows how an outward service, without the putting away of evil, is an abomination to God. In the same way our Lord condemned the Pharisees (Matthew 15:8).
2. This closing prophecy of Isaiah seems to contain a warning against formalism. It is not that the outward is unimportant, for this would be to run from one extreme to the other, but that the outward will not avail. The return of Israel from captivity will be followed by the building of a new temple, as the event has shown; and the warning of the text is twofold — one, to remind the Israelites that Jehovah had no need of a temple; the other, to impress them with a truth they were very apt to forget, that religion must be a matter of the heart.
I. A REVELATION OF GOD. "Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool."
1. These words, or the substance of them, are again and again repeated in Holy Scripture (1 Kings 8:27; Matthew 5:34; Acts 7:49). Repetitions in the Bible show the importance of a truth, or our difficulty in remembering it.
2. What is the truth? That God is incomprehensible. He is everywhere and cannot be localized (Jeremiah 23:24). There is nowhere where Cod's power and essence and presence do not reach. He knows no limit of space or time, of knowledge or love.
II. THE REFERENCE TO THE EXTERNAL TEMPLE. "Where is the house that ye build unto Me?"
1. These words are not intended to deter Israel from building a material temple when they had returned to their own land. The prophet would be contradicting himself (Isaiah 56:5-7; Isaiah 60:7); and he would be running counter to the solemn injunctions of other prophets, such as Haggai and Zechariah, who were in part raised up by God to further the work of building the temple. What the words are intended to rebuke is the falseness of the ideas that God requires a temple, and that His presence can be restricted to its walls. God does not need a temple, but we do. In heaven there will be no necessity for any temple (Revelation 21:22), where the glory of God and of the Lamb floods with its radiance the whole place.
2. Here the church, with its sacred objects and associations, appeals to us and excites our devotion; here in the sacred place there is a distinct promise to prayer; here God acts upon us, and we upon God, through prescribed ordinances; here He promises to be present in some especial manner; here we act upon one another, and kindle fervour, and therefore must not forsake "the assembling of ourselves together" in the house of God (Hebrews 10:25).
III. BUT THE TEXT ALLUDES TO THE INTERNAL TEMPLE — THE DISPOSITIONS OF THE SOUL OF THE WORSHIPPER, WHICH ATTRACT THE FAVOUR OF GOD. "To this man will I look,... who is poor,... contrite, and who trembleth at My word."
1. Poor, not merely outwardly, but poor in spirit (Psalm 138:6). The man who at all realizes the Divine majesty will have a sense of his own nothingness.
2. Of a contrite spirit. A perception" of the Divine holiness brings self-humiliation by force of contrast (Job 42:6).
3. "Trembleth at My word. Fear is ever an element of the spirit of worship. A sense of the Divine justice and judgments fills the soul with awe in approaching God. The Word or revelation of God is received, not in the spirit of criticism, but with reverence and godly fear.
1. The remembrance of the all-pervading presence of God should be a deterrent from evil, and an incentive to good.
2. The obligation of regularity in attendance at Divine worship ought to be insisted upon, both as a recognition of God and our relations with Him, and for the sake of the subjective effects on human character.
3. But outward worship is of no avail without inward. There are tests, in the text, of the presence of the spirit of worship — lowliness, contrition, and awe, as products of the realization of God's presence and perfections.
Parallel VersesKJV: Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?