William Kelly Major Works 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.Isaiah Chapter 65
This chapter begins the answer of Jehovah to the appeal of His people, in which He explains not only what is now an accomplished fact, but also what still goes on. "I am sought out 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. I have stretched out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, who walk in a way [that was] not good, after their own thoughts" (vv. 1, 2). The last two verses of Rom. 10. leave no ground for hesitation as to their bearing. They furnish an inspired comment on our opening verses, and prove beyond controversy that the first intimates the call of the Gentiles which is now proceeding, as the second is the aggrieved witness on God's part of that which gave occasion to their call - the rebelliousness of His ancient people Israel. It is an enemy's work to slight the New Testament use of the passage, as is done by rationalists in order to limit the prophecy to the Jews of the times before and after the Babylonish captivity. Besides, what can be more inconsistent with the evident contrast at the same epoch between verses 1 and 2? The inspired application we might never, unaided, have discovered; but, once made, it approves itself to the spiritual understanding as exactly tallying with notorious facts.
Grace is sovereign and goes out now to those who never so much as looked for it - to the ungodly Gentiles who had till now stood in no recognised relationship with God. But in turning from Israel God was entirely justified by their iniquities: after all their advantages, His name had been blasphemed among the Gentiles through the chosen people. Most gracious was He then in calling from among the Gentiles; most righteous in discarding the Jew. This Jehovah proceeds to prove by a detail of Israel's insulting wickedness in verses 3-5: "The people that provoke me to anger continually to my face; that sacrifice in gardens, and burn incense upon the bricks; who sit down among the graves, and lodge in the secret places, who eat swine's flesh, and broth of abominable [things is in] their vessels; who 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."
It has been objected by some that these idolatries and superstitions, covered over with hypocritical affectation of holiness, did not occur after the return from Babylon. But we must not forget that the Holy Ghost in prophecy deals with the evils then existing or in progress, the judgement of which was not met by providential chastisement, such as the conquest of Nebuchadnezzar. Just as the idolatry of the wilderness was only checked from time to time, but not judged duly till the nation was carried into captivity beyond Damascus (Amos 5:27); so these evil ways which Isaiah describes did not meet with adequate condemnation till God turned the stream of His calling into other channels. The principle indeed is fully confirmed by the use our Lord (Matthew 13:14-15) and the Spirit (Acts 28:25-27) make of Isaiah 6:9-10. The judicial sentence so long suspended from the days of the prophet only fell adequately in gospel times. It is just so here. Also we must bear in mind what we have seen already, that idolatry is to revive in the latter days, when the Jews settle themselves in their land before the Lord appears, judging the evil and establishing the good in order to His millennial reign.
One cannot but think too that the closing words of this divine censure intimate the long patience of God; so that, flatter themselves as they might that He like themselves did not heed the character of their misdeeds, judgement would at length demonstrate that, however loath to break silence, He will recompense the iniquities of both fathers and children. "Behold, [it is] written before me: I will not keep silence, but will recompense, even recompense into their bosom, your iniquities, and the iniquities of your fathers together, saith Jehovah, who have burned incense upon the mountains, and outraged me upon the hills: I will measure their former work into their bosom" (vv. 6, 7).
Thus might seem to threaten total and hopeless ruin to the ancient people. But no: God had promised; and the unfaithfulness of the people, however surely judged, cannot make void the promises of grace. Hence in verses 8-10 God proceeds to make known, not the bringing in of the Gentiles during Israel's temporary excision from the olive-tree of promise and testimony on earth, but the reservation of a portion, the germ of a nation, blessed and a blessing, from Jacob and Judah, according to His early pledges to their fathers. "Thus saith Jehovah, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and it is said, Destroy it not; for a blessing [is] in it: so will I do for my servants' sakes, that I may not destroy [them] all. And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah a possessor of my mountains; and my chosen shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there. And the Sharon shall be for a fold of flocks and the valley of Achor a couching-place of herds, for my people that have sought me." His chosen, the remnant, are here definitely distinguished from the rest of the people, or "the many" as Daniel describes them in speaking of the same time.
Then in vers. 11-16 Jehovah contrasts the apostates and the elect of the people, the idol-worshippers and His own servants, with their respective destinies. "But ye that forsake Jehovah, that forget my holy mountain, that prepare a table for Gad,* and fill up mixed wine unto Meni,* I will even number you to the sword, and ye shall all bow down in the slaughter: because I called and ye did not answer; I spoke, and ye did not hear; but ye did the evil in mine eyes, and [that] wherein I delight not ye chose. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah, 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; 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 Jehovah will slay thee, and call his servants by another name: so 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 shall be forgotten, and because they shall be hid from mine eyes" (vv. 11-16). The old evil will be judged at the close; just as inquisition for all righteous blood shed will then be made. It is a time of judgement which ushers in days of unparalleled enjoyment for this earth: that is, it is the end of this age and the dawn of a new one when former troubles are forgotten. Yet in ver. 16 "the land" may be meant rather than the wider sense of "earth."
*These idolatrous objects have been contested not a little, some arguing for Baal and Ashtoreth, or Sun and Moon, others for the planets Jupiter and Venus as others again for Chance and Fate. Gad means troop, and Meni number.
"For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be glad and rejoice for ever [in that] which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice over Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying" (vv. 17-19). The true key to this is that the predicted change from present things begins at the commencement of the day of the Lord, and is only complete before that day gives place to eternity. This alone, as is plainly revealed, will be found to reconcile all the scriptures which treat of the subject. So in Christ the Christian can even now say that "old things are passed away: behold all things are become new"; while in fact this will only be literally verified when he is changed into His image at His coming. Just so the beginning of the day of the Lord will be an incipient accomplishment of "new heavens and a new earthy when Jehovah creates Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy; but the absolute fulfilment awaits the close of the millennial day, when to the fullest all things shall be made new, the earth and heavens that are now being not shaken only but dissolved, the sea for ever gone, and a new heaven and a new earth appearing, wherein righteousness shall dwell, and God shall be all in all. The New Testament naturally dwells on the full issue ultimately involved in the prophecy, as we may see in 2 Peter 3:12-13, and in Revelation 21:1-8. But the Jewish prophet, as naturally, was led of the Spirit to dwell on the earliest pledge of this blessing in its dawn on the land and capital and people of Israel.
That Isaiah does embrace this earlier phase as bearing on the Jews and Jerusalem will be manifest to every attentive reader. For the entire description here suits the millennium rather than eternity. The special place of Jerusalem and her people has been already pointed out. Now this of itself suffices to prove it; for though the new Jerusalem possesses an abiding character of special glory, the New Testament is explicit that on the new earth all such distinctions as an earthly city or people melt away for eternity.
Next, ver. 20 is decisive against the notion. "There shall be no more thenceforth an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not completed his days; for the youth shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner [being] a hundred years old shall be accursed." Thus death is not wholly extinct in the state of things prominently before our prophet. It is exceptional, but still exists as an instrument of judicial infliction. Man will then fill his days, which he has never yet done - not even before the flood - no, not even Methuselah himself. Not one as yet has stretched across ten centuries. This will be the rule for the righteous who are found alive on earth when the Lord reigns for the thousand years. So thoroughly will death be not the rule but the exception, that one dying a hundred years old will be but a youth; and even so he that dies at a hundred years will be a sinner under some express curse. In eternity death does not exist.
Again, it is written here, "And they shall build houses, and inhabit [them]; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. They 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. They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they [are] the seed of the blessed of Jehovah, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; while they are yet speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed as one, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox: and dust [shall be] the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith Jehovah" (vv. 21-25).
Now, sweet and worthy of God as all this is, it is not heavenly nor eternal in the full sense, though an earnest of final blessedness. It is God's vindication of His character on earth and of His faithful promises to Israel there, when power shall be on the side of righteousness, and the works of the devil shall be manifestly destroyed here below. Not even disappointment shall be known for before men call, Jehovah will answer and will hear while they speak. And the long-groaning earthy freed from its travail, shall yield her increase. The very beasts shall share the general joy, with one solemn and marked exception. Did the enemy of God and man choose one animal to be the vehicle of his temptation with the mother of all men? Even in the otherwise universal joy God cannot forget this, and would have men also to remember it when that active spirit of evil is debarred from his ravages. So if "the wolf and the lamb shall feed together," and the lion shall eat straw like the ox, none the less shall dust be the serpent's meat. "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith Jehovah." There emphatically, and not there only, is the power of evil broken to the glory of God.
In a Christian effort to defend the Messianic interpretation of these prophecies (with the aim of which one cordially agrees), it is sad to read such incredulity as could say, "The lion could not eat straw like the bullock, and continue to be a lion . . . And even were this change possible, nothing would be gained by it. A lion so transformed would be a defect in creation" (R. P. Smith's At6th. and Mess. Interp., 260, Oxford, 1862). What is the value of such reasoning against the positive word of God?
The New Testament is even more distinct than the Old with regard to the new creation; because apostolic doctrine lays down what the prophets present in the elevated style of poetic prose. Not the Holy Spirit but the Lord Jesus is the revealed Restorer of fallen creation. For He is the Heir of all. As the heavens have now received Him, He will surely come again, not for the destruction but for the restitution of all things. It was on earth that the grace of God appeared in Him; here was accomplished redemption, here will the glory of God be manifested, though on high it will shine more brightly in the glorified. On the cross Satan was defeated before God, though seemingly he defeated the Saviour; and what the believer knows by faith will be manifested to every eye when the Lord appears again in glory. Meanwhile the dead and risen Christ is received up in glory, and all the angels of God worship Him. But the day comes when the earth shall be full of His glory, though this cannot be without a judgement of the living ungodly, in the most marked contrast with the gospel of His grace which now goes forth to all the world. Those who fail to believe this immense change, being most defective in their apprehensions of the revealed future, set up to prophesy smooth things of man and his progress. Who can wonder that they prophesy falsely? Scripture is direct and express that creation is to be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of glory (Romans 8:20-21); and the Lord Jesus, Who will make it all good in its season, is worthy to receive all "glory and honour and power."
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;
A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick;
Which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine's flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels;
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.
Behold, it is written before me: I will not keep silence, but will recompense, even recompense into their 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.
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.
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.
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.
And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.
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.
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.
And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.
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.