Main Idea and Outline

Isaiah 66:1-14

  Chapter sixty-six of Isaiah ends a book that was penned over a 46-year prophetic career, bringing the themes to a decisive culmination, as well as answering the many questions that the reader might have had. The themes focused on herein are the loftiness of Jehovah God, his hatred of insincere worship, his desired to deal with the evil, and his love and deep concern for those that have remained faithful to him. The questions that are answered: How can we determine false worship from true worship? How can we know for certain that Jehovah will deal with those that are fictitiously serving him, all the while they are actually persecuting his people? Finally, what blessings await those who remain faithful?

The People of God (66:1–14)

  1. The Old Israel (66:1–5)
  2. The Answer to Clean Worship (66:1–2)
  3. God Hates Insincere Worship (66:3-5)
  4. The Old Israel (66:6–14)
  5. A Quick and Rapid Reestablishment (66:6-9)
  6. God’s Loving Care (66:10-14)

Context

The sadistic Assyrian Empire held sway over the surrounding empires and less important kingdoms of the Middle East. The entire region was animated with the chatter of conspiracy and forming alliances. (Isa. 8:9-13) Renegade Israel to the north would rapidly go down as a casualty to this cruel and Rapaciousness Empire, even as Judah’s kings to the south were unsteady and insecurely in power. (2 Ki chaps. 15-21) New weapons were being created and used with great vigor, leaving the then known world locked in terror. (2 Chron. 26:14, 15) Who would protect the people, who could be their savior? True enough, the small kingdom of Judah was well aware of Jehovah God and what he had done for them in the past, but instead of turning to him, the people and priests turned to Egypt and Assyria as their hope. (2 Ki. 16:7; 18:21) The Almighty, the one who had the power to protect and save had watched once more as his people lost faith in him. They were steeped in idolatry and worship that was ritualistic, a formality, not a way of life.

In Isaiah 1:1, we are introduced to Isaiah in his own words as “the son of Amoz,” informing his readers that he served as God’s prophet “in the days of Uzziah [52 years], Jotham [16 years], Ahaz [16 years] and Hezekiah [28 years], kings of Judah.” The total reign of these four kings would be 112 years, which means that Isaiah likely began toward the end of Uzziah’s reign. He was one of the longest serving prophets to the southern kingdom of Judah, no fewer than 46 years, about 778 B.C.E.

Very little is known about the personal life of Isaiah, as opposed to what we know of the other prophets of the Old Testament. He was married to a “prophetess.” (8:3) “It is possible that the ‘prophetess’ simply refers to the prophet’s wife, though there are no other examples of this in Scripture. It is possible that Isaiah’s wife had a prophetic gift, but this gift is not affirmed elsewhere.”[1] There are other women within the Old Testament that held the office of a prophetess, making it likely that Isaiah’s wife may very well of had this same assignment.–Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14.

Amoz was Isaiah’s father, this being the only detail of Amoz that is known. (1:1) We are not told of Isaiah’s birth or death, though strong Jewish tradition has it “that the prophet Isaiah was cut in half with a wooden saw. This happened during the reign of King Manasseh. The Old Testament has no record of this incident.”[2] (Compare Hebrews 11:37.) His prophetic book places him in Jerusalem with at least two sons with prophetic names and his prophetess wife. (Isa. 7:3; 8:1, 3) His years of prophesying for the southern kingdom likely ran from about 778 B.C.E through the 14th year of Hezekiah’s reign, a little after 732 B.C.E.[3] (1:1; 6:1; 36:1) Some contemporary prophets of Isaiah were Micah in Judah and, to the north, Hosea, and Oded.—Micah. 1:1; Hos. 1:1; 2 Chron. 28:6-9.

Life in Judah throughout these 46 years of Isaiah’s life was unstable and chaotic in the extreme. The political element was in constant turmoil, the courts were corrupted to no end, and the religious structure of the nation was filled with pretense and duplicity. Scattered throughout the hill country of Judea were pagan altars to false gods. A case in point would be King Ahaz, who not only allowed this idolatrous worship, “but was an active participant, not only duplicates the sins of Israel’s kings, but he also sacrifices his son ‘in the fire,’ perhaps as an offering to the god Molech.”[4] (2 Kings 16:3, 4; 2 Chronicles 28:3, 4) Sadly, this is only a continuation of a people that were in a covenant relationship with Jehovah.―Exodus 19:5-8.

We need not leave the impression that all was lost, for some of Isaiah’s contemporaries were working for the restoration of true worship. For instance, King Uzziah “did that which was right in the eyes of Jehovah.” However, this was not enough, because “the high places were not taken away: the people still sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places.” (2 Kings 15:3, 4) King Jotham followed in his father’s footsteps and “did that which was right in the eyes of Jehovah.” And like in the case of Uzziah, the people of Jotham’s reign “followed corrupt practices.” (2 Chronicles 27:2) Sadly, Isaiah spent much of his career in a spiritually defunct kingdom. While some kings promoted false worship, other worked for the return of pure worship, with no real effect on the people. As one can imagine, presenting this prophetic message to such stiff-necked people was going to prove none too easy.

Some have looked to the style throughout the book of Isaiah and have suggested two Isaiah’s, a “Second Isaiah,” “the idea of a multiple authorship of Isaiah has arisen only in the last two centuries. Its simplest, most persuasive form is the ascription of chapters 1–39 to Isaiah and 40–66 to an anonymous prophet living among the sixth-century exiles in Babylonia.”[5] While this chapter does not have the space, there is an enormous amount of evidence that there is only one Isaiah,[6] who penned the entire book, centuries before the Babylonian exile.[7]

The Answer to Clean Worship

Isaiah begins chapter sixty-six by stressing Jehovah’s majesty, “Thus says Jehovah, Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?” (Isaiah 66:1) At first glance, it may appear that Jehovah is not interested in having the temple rebuilt by the Jews once they return to Jerusalem. (Oswalt 2003) This is hardly the case, as he will command the returning Israelites to rebuild the temple. (Ezra 1:1-6; Isa 60:13; Hag 1:7, 8) The emphasis here is on his majesty, as he paints the picture of a king, who uses the footstool to rise to his lofty throne and subsequently as a place for his feet to rest. Think of it, out of hundreds of trillions of celestial bodies in our universe; earth receives such a privilege. Yes, this planet will be the one place for eternity that the issue of Jehovah’s sovereignty was resolved, the place where the Son of God visited.

The point of the image is that, even though the earth holds a special place in Jehovah God’s heart, a king does not reside on his footstool, no more than Jehovah resides here on earth. The hundreds of billions of universes in the heavens cannot hold him. Therefore, there will never be a building here on earth that could contain him. (1 Ki 8:27) He resides in the spirit realm outside of our physical universes, which is referred to in verse 1 of Isaiah 66 as “Heaven” (Lit., the Heavens). It is in verse 2 that the point becomes all too clear, “all these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares Jehovah” (Isaiah 66:2a). If one can imagine Jehovah majestically standing there in an elevated position, sweeping his hand across the night sky, as his loud voice says, “all these things,” that is all of the physical universes, or what Isaiah could see, as well as the earth, which to an ancient person seemed to have no end in sight. (Isa 40:26; Rev 10:6) The Creator of ‘the heavens’ and earth, is not impressed with having a building named after him. He definitely does not deserve an outward display of some formalistic worship.

They have never really fully understood the kind of worship that Jehovah God deserves, but Isaiah for 46-years has painted a picture for them, as he does now, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:2b) Yes, the Creator is looking out for the afflicted one who is humble and broken (57:15), who applies his Word in their lives. In essence, he is looking for the right heart attitude. (Rev 4:11) From the first chapter of Isaiah, the prophet has been trying to get his people to realize this. If they are to be blessed by his presence, by his being their God, they must obey his Word.

Of course, Jehovah God is not looking for a sullenly depressed person, as he wants his followers to find joy in his creation. On the other hand, we are imperfect and fall short of his perfect standard every day, and we need to be “contrite” over our missing the mark of perfection. (Psalm 51:17) We do this by being repentant, as well as being aware of our sinful nature, pummeling ourselves to avoid serious sin, and go to God in prayer daily as we fall short.—Luke 11:4; 1 John 1:8-10.

Notice too that Jehovah is looking for the one, who is ‘trembling at his word.’ What exactly does this mean? Certainly, he does not expect us to dread him fearfully as we read or hear his Word, does he? Hardly! We should be in awe, reverence at the very thought of holding his Word in our hands. The Israelites of Isaiah’s day too, needed to search his Word, looking for it to lead their way in their daily lives. (Psalm 119:105) Again, it is not dread, but the stricken conscience that comes with the idea of letting Jehovah down, of watering down his Word to suit our fleshly needs, or not taking his Word seriously. Without this sort of humble spirit, it is impossible to ascertain the kind of pure worship that he is looking for in his servants.

God Detests Insincere Worship

Imagine, as Isaiah considers his fellow Israelites, knowing that almost none have what Jehovah is “looking” for in his followers. Consequently, those who have filled Jerusalem with rebels against the Word of God are slated for a coming judgment. The outlandish contrasts in verse 3 point out that Israel’s religious sacrifices and offerings were only outward forms of worship. “He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he that sacrifices a lamb, as one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, as he that offers swine’s blood; he that burns frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations.”–Isaiah 66:3.

These words should take any hearer or reader back to Isaiah’s first words in chapter 1, where he called his people to account for their external forms of worship, saying that their sacrifices were meaningless, and they were simply wearing out the floor as they traipsed in with their outward display of formal worship. (1:11-17) Isaiah is comparing their superficial sacrifices to shocking crimes. It literally reads, “He who slaughters an ox kills a man.”[8] In essence, he is talking about a person who comes to the temple, performs the right sacrifice with the wrong heart attitude, because when he is away from the temple, he engages in impure worship, equated with murder in the heart of God. Verse 3 closes out with the reality of this, as these individuals were choosing their own way, in fact, delighting in that choice, while all along setting God aside.―Isaiah 58:13–14; 1 Kings 11:5; 2 Kings 23:24

Jehovah goes on to say, “I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spoke, they did not hear: but they did that which was evil in my eyes, and chose that in which I did not delight.” (Isaiah 66:4) It may have brought Isaiah delight to express these words, as he has been calling out and speaking out for some 46-years, but his people had not been listening. No, they chose to continue delightfully in their evil ways, meaning judgment was coming. These individuals were facing dreadful times ahead. Their hypocrisy of external worship does not remove them from the enemy list.

Today, there are 41,000 different denominations, which call themselves Christian and eighty-four percent of them (34,030 denominations) are liberal in their way of life, as well as their form of worship. They come to church dressed like they are going somewhere in the world, T-shirts with slogans and flip-flops, dresses that are designed to be sensual in the extreme, even homosexual pastors; and then they go home to an even more disgraceful lifestyle. Some of these individuals have same-sex relationships, or are opposite sex but living together outside of marriage; some are involved spiritually unclean activities, some feed their minds on unclean entertainment, others use bad language, gamble, lie, steal, abuse spouses emotionally, physically, and spiritually, as well as abuse drugs and alcohol. Even the conservative churches are infected with worldly lifestyles. One might reflect on Jesus words at Luke 18:8, “I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” The question that begs to be asked is there a judgment coming for the Israel of God (the Christian church), the way there was one for the nation of Israel?

Isaiah speaks, “Hear the word of Jehovah, you men that tremble at his word: Your brothers that hate you, that cast you out for my name’s sake, have said, ‘Let Jehovah be glorified,’ that we may see your joy; but it is they that shall be put to shame.” (Isaiah 66:5) Isaiah’s own people are supposed to be representing Jehovah God under his sovereignty as his people. Not only have they fallen short in this area, but also they hate anyone who is faithful to Jehovah and humbling serving him with a contrite heart. Here these haters, mockingly state that Jehovah should be glorified (5:19; 28:9–10; Ps 22:8), yet their piety is phony. After the 1901 American Standard Version’s use of the personal name of God over 5,000 times, there was a limited use of that name for 100 years. Of late, some translations are bringing it back (LEB, HCSB, WEB), but the churchgoer has no idea of the richness of the personal name of God. The sad fact is, when their pastor(s) went to seminary, they would have read numerous books by Hebrew scholars throughout their studies, which used the personal name of God freely. However, it is cut off at the church level.[9] Reader, please ask yourself, ‘did I feel uncomfortable reading the name Jehovah throughout this chapter?’ Jesus is not Jehovah, as the Father is Jehovah, and Jesus is the Son, two separate persons. The last 100 years has seen a transition of scholars and pastors placing the Father in a box,[10] and only focusing on the Son, Jesus Christ. However, how did Jesus feel about the father?

EXCURSION: Small sample of how the Son viewed the Father and himself

Matthew 7:21-23

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Jesus talks of the Father over 130 times in the Gospel of John, more than ANY OTHER Bible book. What does he say?

John 3:35

35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.

John 4:21-24

21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

John 5:17-26

17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.

Jesus, the Son, spoke of the importance of the Father, more than he spoke of anything else. Yes, the Father is ignored by most modern day scholarship, He is set aside.

A Quick and Rapid Reestablishment

Isaiah prophetically says, “The sound of an uproar from the city, a voice out of the temple, the voice of Jehovah that renders recompense to his enemies.” (Isaiah 66:6) The city here is Jerusalem, the location of the temple of Jehovah. Jehovah answers their empty formalistic worship with judgment. The sound of an uproar from the city could be reflective of the sound of war that was coming upon Jerusalem, as Babylon and her armies devastated them some 150 years later.

We are now given a word picture of restoration, “Before she was in labor, she gave birth; before her pain came upon her, she even delivered a male child. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her sons. ‘Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth?’ Says Jehovah: ‘shall I that cause to bring forth shut the womb?’ says your God.” (Isaiah 66:7-9) The exiled Jews in Babylon are like an inmate who has sat imprisoned for decades, this must have brought them great comfort, a peace of mind. Of course, Zion is Jerusalem, and is once more pictured as a woman giving birth,[11] but not the typical birth indeed! The birth is so immediate, so abrupt, that it takes place before labor pains can begin! Imagine sitting in Babylon, and in one night, October 5, 539 B.C.E.,[12] the Medo-Persians, divert the mighty Euphrates River from its course into big lakes, so that the troops could cross waste deep through the waters, enter quietly into Babylon, and take the city in one night.[13] Within a brief time, Cyrus the Great (44:28; 45:1) gives the order that they can return to their homeland, and by 537 B.C.E., a remnant of about 200,000 is back in Jerusalem. We contrast this with the birth of the nation of Israel itself, which took 40-years of labor pains in the wilderness after a long and arduous back and forth with the Pharaoh of Egypt, while this delivery was accomplished in mere months.

God’s Loving Care

Isaiah says, “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her: rejoice for joy with her, all you that mourn over her; that you may suck and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that you may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory.” (Isaiah 66:10, 11) Isaiah returns us to the picture of a woman, Zion, nursing her infant. As any mother can tell us, when it is feeding time, a baby will let us know with its unrelenting crying. However, if we move the child toward its mother’s breasts, the crying turns to joy, as it knows it is about to have its needs filled. This was going to hold true for the Israelites sitting in Babylon, who had been hungering to be back in Jerusalem, and was now being restored, or brought near the place that brought them joy and filled their needs. They will find satisfaction and contentment as they rebuild the temple and city. Once, rebuilt the city of Zion, the mother, will, in turn, embrace her children. They will once more be spiritually fed pure worship.

Isaiah goes on, “For thus says Jehovah, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream: and you shall suck; you shall be carried upon her side, and bounced upon her knees.” (Isaiah 66:12) We are still hanging onto the image of nursing, (60:16) but combining the visual of overflowing blessings in the form of “a river” and “an overflowing stream.” (48:18) The blessing will come in the form of an extended period of peace brought to them by Jehovah, as well as his “shaking all nations so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and [he] will fill this house with glory.” (Hag 2:7) Historically, we do find that many people from other nations chose to become Jewish proselytes within Israel. We see the maternal love of Zion for ‘her children, being bounced upon her knees.’

This image is continued, “Like [a man],[14] whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 66:13) The Hebrew literally reads “Like” or “as a man.” Thus, the sons of Zion have grown up, and their mother city of Jerusalem has lost her yearning to look out for his well-being him in difficult times. True enough, a mother’s love is the strongest bond on earth over any other relationship, but Jehovah’s love for his people is far stronger, and endures far more, as he comforts them in their time of need (49:15), even though he has just shown them, hard love, by having had to punish them in a corrective way. Today, the pastors can imitate this in their congregations, as did the Apostle Paul. (1 Thess. 2:7) Jesus said that we should love one another: just as he had loved his disciples, that we also love one another. In fact, in this all people will know that we are his disciples if we have love for one another.’―John 13:34-35

Jehovah continues, “And you shall see it, and your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like the tender grass: and the hand of Jehovah shall be known toward his servants; and he will have indignation against his enemies.” (Isaiah 66:14) No doubt, the repatriated Jews did rejoice in their being back in their homeland. Moreover, they could draw comfort in that Jehovah’s anger would now be directed toward their enemies.

The question that we might ask ourselves is “Am I among his servants or his foes?” (Oswalt 2003) We might go on once more and ask the question that Jesus asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lu 18:8) Do we currently see a restoration of pure worship today within Christianity? When we have 41,000 different “Christian” denominations all vying to be “the truth” and “the Way,” and we know 34,030 of them are living lives of abomination in the eyes of God, and many of the other 7,800 are mostly carrying out an external formalistic worship, how are we to understand Jesus’ words for our time? We should find comfort in the fact that, if Jehovah did it once, in the blink of an eye, he certainly could bring about the delivery of another people. Will true Christianity’s birth to be so immediate, so abrupt, that it takes place before the labor pains of the great tribulation can begin?

Review Questions

  • What is the theme of this last chapter of Isaiah and what questions are answered?
  • Why is it appropriate that the earth is described as Jehovah’s “footstool”? (66:1)
  • Explain why it is impossible for any building on earth to be a place of rest for God. (66:1)
  • What does it mean to be “humble and contrite in spirit”? (66:2)
  • What is meant in verses 2 and 5 by God’s servants ‘trembling at his word’? (66:2, 5)
  • How does God view formalistic worship? (66:3)
  • How did the Jewish people respond to Isaiah’s message, and what was the result? (66:4)
  • When we think of God’s dealing with the Jewish people over a 1,500 year period, why should we be concerned with the state of Christianity today? (66:5)
  • Considering verse 5, how has the personal name of God been removed from Scripture? How did Jesus view the Father and himself, and what has been the case of modern day scholarship, as to the Father and the Son.
  • What is “the sound of an uproar from the city”? (66:6)
  • What birth did Isaiah prophecy about and when and how did it take place? (66:7-8)
  • How does God assure his people that their obstinate, proud, arrogant, stubborn, and rebellious ways, will not prevent him from carrying out his will and purposes? (66:9)
  • What illustration does Isaiah use, and how does it apply to those, who would be exiled in Babylon, some 150 years later? (66:10-11)
  • How is the blessing that is to come, going to be like “a river” and an “overflowing stream”? (66:12)
  • What word picture does Isaiah use, and how does God use hard love? (66:13)
  • How does Isaiah describe the happy state of the restored Israelites? (66:14)
  • What should be our determination today?

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[1] E. Ray Clendenen, New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39 (B & H Publishing Group, 2007), 222.

[2] Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, vol. 15, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Hebrews, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-2001), 355.

[3] This chronology is biblical as to this writers understanding, and will likely be at odds with others that lean more heavily on secular sources.

[4] Paul R. House, vol. 8, 1, 2 Kings, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 336.

[5] D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994).

[6] See the article The Authorship and Unity of Isaiah by this writer in Bible Translation Magazine: http://bible-translation.net/page/authorship-of-isaiah-by-andrews

[7] For additional verbal agreements and similarities within Isaiah, cf. G.L. Robinson and R.K. Harrison, “Isaiah,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), pp. 895–898.

[8] The ASV, ESV, NIV and others read, “He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man,” while the HCSB more correctly reads, “One slaughters an ox, one kills a man,” as ‘is like / like’ is not to be found in the originals.

[9] The irony is that they remove the personal name of the only one true God, while they retain the personal names of the false gods. If God gave us his personal name, and had it, inspired to be penned 6,828 times in the Hebrew Old Testament, who has the authority to remove that personal name and replace it with an impersonal title? What text gives anyone that authority? We know that Jesus does not accurately represent the original form of his name. Who is the brave soul that would suggest we remove the name of God’s Son, Jesus, for the title of “Christ”? On a personal note, I, at the bachelor level was asked to quit using “Jehovah” in my papers by a university professor.

[10] See APPENDIX C Does It Really Matter?

[11] 26:16–18; 29:23; 37:3; 49:19–21; 51:17–20; 54:1–3.

[12] Gregorian calendar

[13] Daniel 5:5-28; Isaiah 44:27; 45:1, 2; Jeremiah 50:38; 51:30-32

[14] Most translations read “like one,” but the Hebrew has “like a man.” These translation are trying to stay with the sons of previous verses.