Isaiah (Part 83): God’s Response: Condemnation and Restoration - Part 2 (Ch 65-66)
Continuing with the discussion of Isaiah’s ending chiasm—
B – The Jews are a rebellious people (idolatry) (65:2-7)
Back to the forward leg of the chiasm, God’s next point is that the Jews were rebellious. And their rebellion was as all human rebellion—trusting in something else other than God for provision. The Jews had adopted the attitude of other nations about God: he was merely their local deity. They saw the strength of other nations, and therefore began to worship the gods of the other nations, hoping for the same good fortune. Verses 2 through 5a express the thought that although God has spread out his hands to them for embrace (v2), they have replied, “Stay away!” (v5a).
God says he will repay. But notice how he says it. Verses 6b-7a state, “I will repay them fully for your iniquities and the iniquities of your fathers together.” To whom does “them” and “your” refer? The stream of parent-to-child activity is connected. We inherit, in a sense, the sins of our parents. It is not a mathematical formula or a legal obligation that moves some guilt on to our hearts. Rather it is the idea that we collectively in our human condition follow the pattern (image) of our parents in our dependencies. As we mimic our parents in their sin, we become guilty for imaging them rather than imaging God. Thus, our guilt is heaped up for not breaking with past sin. So, the they and you both point to the Jews, but they do so in a line of heritage that has embraced sin.
B1 – The nations are his enemies (idolatry) (66:14b-17)
On the opposite leg of the chiasm, we find the nations acting in idolatry as well. Verse 17 includes several figurative ideas that display themselves in the literal worship of false religions. In Israel’s worship, God had told them to dedicate themselves and cleanse themselves. He gave them several instructions about how to perform these rituals. But they were all meant to show not necessarily the cleansing from sin—only God could do that. The cleansing and sanctifying rituals were to show a putting off and disregard for anything else that hangs to your life. You were to give yourself purely and wholly unto God. So too in the heathen rituals of false religions were the worshippers giving themselves over completely to false gods through their dedication and cleansing rituals. Verse 17 emphasizes this.
The HCSB phrase “following their leader” is literally “following one in-the-midst.” This one in the midst is surrounded by those doing all sorts of abominable practices. Here is the picture: the one in the midst is the focal point—the most evil of those who do evil. That’s why HCSB calls this one the leader. We could think of this one as Satan. But I’m not so sure Satan is intended. The grove or garden of the worship tells us something. First, when we see a land connection, we ought to think of provision and security. God uses land (Garden, mountain, promised land, etc.) to indicate his own provision and security. So also do the false religions enjoin worship among and in groves and gardens to highlight the same thought.
In the Garden of Eden there were two trees in the middle. One held the reward for a relationship that recognized God as provider. The other held the consequence of broken relationship in choosing other than God to provide. Adam and Eve chose wrongly. I think verse 17 gives a veiled reference to this wrong choice—the choosing of the one in the midst of those who choose against God.
C – The Jews include a remnant (65:8-10)
Throughout the first half of Isaiah, we were taught constantly that even among rebellious Judah, a remnant existed who, though sinful, maintained, or at least, returned constantly to God in faith and trust of him as provider. Here in this passage, we read again of the faithful remnant. The nation, as a nation, broke covenant. But still “new wine” (the faithful remnant) was found among the grapes.
C1 – The nations have tremblers at his word (66:5-14a)
Actually, verse 2, which is outside this passage, first lets us know who these tremblers are. We read that the one who is humble and submissive in spirit is the one who trembles at God’s word. The hating brothers of verse 5 are those non-God-fearing Gentiles who, in their self-love, ridicule those who love God. These Godless people are speaking in sarcasm as they speak of glorifying God and seeing the joy of the faithful. But God says that it will be these who are trying to shame the faithful who will actually be put to shame. The passage continues imaging Zion (God’s covenant purpose) as a mother delivering her child (relationship). The imagery broadens to Zion as both mother and garden.
D – The Jews serve and rebel (65:11-16)
This section begins with a condemnation for those Jews who fail to follow God. God does a play on words as he mentions the gods to whom the unfaithful Jews have turned—Fortune and Destiny (two of the Canaanite gods). In contrast to them, God says that he will “destine” them for the sword for not responding in faith when he called (revealed) to them. God continues the passage contrasting the service of his faithful ones with the rebellion of these faithless.
As the passage moves toward its conclusion, God says in verse 15 that he will give his servants another name. This is a familiar device used in Scripture. A name is more than a mere non-informative identifier. Names showed character. Adam’s animal-naming exercise was to examine their natures, not merely to have something to call each species. Praying in Jesus’ name means praying because of who Jesus is and what he has done. In Revelation, we are bombarded with instances of emphasis about getting a new name—a new identity, a new character and association—as we set our faith and trust in Christ and our God (Rev 2:17b; 3:12; 14:1; 22:4). The conclusion of this faithful covenant with God is his blessing (65:16).
D1 – The nations worship and rebel (66:2b-4)
Just as the contrast of faithful and faithless Jews was displayed in the chiasm’s first leg, the contrast is shown among the Gentiles in the second leg. Those who tremble—the humble and submissive in spirit—worship God as they should while the self-serving imitate the practices but for other purposes. This contrast emphasizes, not the particular activity, but rather the motivation and spirit-held desire in the activity. Therefore, the passage is not about Gentiles who must sett up an animal sacrificial system, but rather we are told in figurative language that Gentiles will act in trust of God. Here again the conclusion is that the self-serving will be condemned.