William Kelly Major Works Commentary
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?Isaiah Chapter 66
The concluding chapter of our prophet pursues what was begun in Isa. 65. - the answer of Jehovah to the supplication which precedes them both.
"Thus saith Jehovah, the heavens [are] my throne, and the earth [is] my footstool: what [is] the house that ye will build unto me? and where [is] the place of my rest? Even all those [things] hath my hand made, and all those [things] have been, saith Jehovah" (vv. 1, 2). It is not that God did not accept the house which king David desired, and his son Solomon was given, to erect for His glory. It is not that He will not have a sanctuary in the midst of Israel in the glorious land; for He has revealed it minutely, with the feasts, sacrifices, priests, and appurtenances, by Ezekiel (Ezek. 40 - 48).
But it is another thing when His people, despising the only Saviour and Lord, their own Messiah, rest in the sanctuary, as of old in the ark to their own shame and discomfiture before their enemies. So it was when the Lord left the temple - no longer God's house but theirs, and left to them desolate, Himself its true glory being despised and rejected. So Stephen charged home on them these very words (Acts 7:48-50). It was not he nor Luke, but Isaiah who declared that the Most High dwells not in temples made with hands: and this in full view of the "exceeding magnifical" temple which Solomon built. Heaven is His throne, earth is His footstool. What can man do worthily for Him to rest in? He needs nothing of human resources. His own hand has made all these things, in comparison with which man's greatest exertions are puny indeed.
Once more among the Jews at the end of the age shall be the state of things which draws out this rebuke of their own prophet. Trusting in the house that they are at length allowed to build in Jerusalem, they must prove afresh that an unbelieving idolatrous heart desecrates a temple, and that not thus can sin be settled between God and the sinner. Earthly splendour in such circumstances is but gilding over iniquity. It is real hypocrisy. They may seek in unbelief to restore "all these things that have been"; but God has a controversy with the people about idolatry and the rejected Messiah not yet judged; and His elect own their sins and look for the new estate He will create in honour of Messiah. The heart must be purified by faith in order to worship acceptably.
"But to this [man] will I look, to the afflicted and contrite in spirit, and trembling at my word" (v. 2). Thus the line is drawn here as before between a godly remnant, and the people apostate as a whole. Hence their oblations are vain. "He that killeth an ox slayeth a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb breaketh a dog's neck; he that offereth an oblation [is as] swine's blood; he that burneth incense [is as] he that blesseth an idol. As they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations, I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did the evil in mine eyes, and chose [that] wherein I delight not" (vv. 3, 4).
The English Bible follows the Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate, and Arabic, as well as the Chaldee paraphrase. Houbigant, Bishop Lowth, Horsley, De Wette, etc., omit the terms of comparison (inserted in italics in the A. 5), which in their judgement mar the true sense. Their translation makes the verse to intimate the combination of ritual observance with open wickedness and Gentile abominations. Otherwise the statement is that their impiety made their acts of worship to be so many horrors.
In either view the people of Israel had chosen their own path of self-will and disregard of God for the evils they loved; but God's retribution would not be wanting. No delusions among the nations were more complete than Israel's have been and are yet to be; and the evils they dreaded, and sacrificed all to avoid, were just what befell them, and must till the end come. Did they refuse the Messiah? They have been a prey to false Messiahs, and shall yet bow down to the Antichrist. Did they own no king but Caesar? In Caesar they found a destroyer. Did they fear the Romans would come and take away their place and nation? All the world knows how punctually their fear was accomplished; and yet the end is not. Greater abominations shall be seen in them; greater delusions, greater fears, and a greater fulfilment. The abomination of desolation of which the Saviour spoke in Matthew 24:15 (citing not Daniel 11:31, which was then past, but Daniel 12:11, which is still future) must yet be set where it ought not, in the sanctuary at Jerusalem; and then there shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
It is impossible to interpret of the past Roman siege either Matthew 24, or Daniel 12, or our chapter; but the days for the due fulfilment of all these prophecies are at hand, and the effect of every vision. "Hear the word of Jehovah, ye that tremble at his word, Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name's sake, said, Let Jehovah be glorified; but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed" (v. 5).
But hark, what is this that breaks on the ear? "A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of Jehovah that rendereth recompense to his enemies. Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man-child. Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall a land be made to bring forth in one day? shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children. Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth? saith Jehovah: shall I cause to bring forth, and shut [the womb]? saith thy God. Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her; rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn over her; because ye shall suck and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations, because ye shall drink out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory. For thus saith Jehovah, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like a flowing stream and ye shall suck, ye shall be borne upon the side, and be dandled upon the knees. As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem. And ye shall see [this], and your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like the grass: and the hand of Jehovah shall be known toward his servants, and indignation toward his enemies" (vv. 6-14).
Thus no longer by testimony to the heart, but by manifest judgement will Jehovah decide between cattle and cattle. The infidel scoff, which so long harassed the heavenly people, will then be put to shame before the poor in spirit of the earthly people. It is not the gospel that is here described, but the effect of the Lord's taking His great power and reigning, according to Rev. 11: 15 18. It is the world-kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ actually come. Hence judgement is executed on the living destroyers of the earth. Jehovah will be glorified to the joy of such as trembled at His word before He appears and to the eternal infamy of those who knew Him not and doubted His interest in His despised confessors here below. For Christ and for the church, they were raised or changed and taken on high, leaving the world without a blow or even a notice. But it will not be so for the Jew by-and-by: "A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of Jehovah that rendereth recompense to his enemies." The Roman destruction of Jerusalem was no adequate fulfilment of this: but it shall be fulfilled to the letter of many prophecies. (Cp. Isaiah 9:3-5; Isaiah 18:3-7; Isa. 29; Zechariah 14:1-4) And then shall follow the new birth or ingathering of Zion's children, no longer to be Abraham's seed nominally but his children in deed and in truth. As nothing of the kind followed the capture by Nebuchadnezzar, no more did it ensue when Titus took Jerusalem. No outpouring of vengeance on the guilty city followed by blessing unexampled for fullness and without sorrow has as yet appeared to satisfy the terms of the prediction. Sudden as it will be, it will also be permanent.
It will be the day of Jehovah when man's and Israel's sad history is to be reversed; and those who loved and mourned for Jerusalem shall rejoice for her and share the rich results of her blessedness. Yet is it in no way the character of gospel joy which blends inward comfort by the Spirit's power with shame and sorrow and rejection in the world. Here contrariwise, "And ye shall see this, and your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like the grass; and the hand of Jehovah shall be known toward his servants, and indignation toward his enemies" (ver. 14). It is the future day, not of grace and salvation only as it is to-day, but of vengeance also, when Jehovah will not stop short as once He did on earth (Luke 4:20). Then He was proclaiming the acceptable year of Jehovah, and this only. By-and-by He will proclaim and accomplish both that year and the day of vengeance. For this is in His heart, and the year of His redeemed is come. Both will be fulfilled then without let or delay. It will be the introduction of His day, and of the millennial reign.
"For, behold, Jehovah will come with fire, and his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by his sword will Jehovah plead with all flesh: and the slain of Jehovah shall be many. They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one in the midst, eating swine's flesh and the abomination and the mouse, shall perish together, saith Jehovah. And I [know] their works and their thoughts: it cometh, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and see my glory. And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations, [to] Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, [to] Tubal, and Javan, [to] the isles afar off, that have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brethren [for] an offering unto Jehovah out of all the nations upon horses and in chariots, and in covered wagons, and upon mules, and upon dromedaries, to my holy mountain, to Jerusalem, saith Jehovah, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of Jehovah. And of them also will I take for priests, for Levites, saith Jehovah" (vv.15-21). The efforts of ancient and modern commentators to apply this passage, like the rest, to gospel times are desperate but vain. How unequivocally is it a day of judgement, not the glad tidings of salvation by His grace, but His revelation from heaven in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and on them that obey not the gospel! Evidently the Jews in that day will not only set up their ritual again, but be addicted to heathen abominations. The day of divine recompense shall be when old evils revive and amalgamate with novel iniquities, that all may come before Jehovah in judgement, and a new era dawn on both Jew and Gentile over the earth now purged. It will be a question then not of believing the grace of God, but of seeing the glory of Jehovah that is to be revealed. Jewish worship with its priests and Levites is restored in that day.
Vitringa's argument on verse 19 that no future call of Gentiles can be here intended, because those named have long since known the God of Israel, seems to be of no real force. For even Christendom will then be in a state of apostasy (2 Thess. 2); and, besides, the hearing of Jehovah's fame and seeing His glory refers to the manifestation of Himself that will then be made here below. How little is the future looked for according to God's word!
Thus an unsparing divine judgement will be executed on all the gathered nations when the Jews are dealt with in their pollutions; and those that "escape of them" will be sent of God to the distant nations ignorant of what He has wrought, and Gentiles will bring back all the Jews remaining outside the Holy Land. It appears to be the detail of the prediction in Isaiah 18:7. From all nations shall this offering to Jehovah be brought, and by every means of conveyance. Before this, it will have been only the Jews and not all Israel.
All this is evidently not the same as the gospel or its effects, but in the most certain and evident contrast with it. The offering now is characteristically of the Gentiles, as we see in Romans 15:16, and as experience shows. Jews are no doubt now as ever converted, but they are comparatively rare. The prophet contemplates the day when "all Israel shall be saved," the apostates having been surprised by the divine judgement.
And any supposed difficulty of reconciling with John 4:21 Jerusalem becoming a centre for all nations is imaginary, or rather arises from the confusion of "the hour that now is" with the day that shall be. Our Lord was contemplating the time of His rejection and His approaching absence in heaven; the prophet had in view the day of His glory for the earth, which is still future. Distinguish the times, and the objection vanishes. Jerusalem has no place in the Christian system; in the coming day of Jehovah it will have a greater and holier place than it ever had of old; and no wonder with the name of Jehovah Shammah!
Hence it is obvious that the ordinary strain of argument and interpretation, popular from the days of Origen and Jerome down to the present, is founded on a total confusion of things that differ. Christianity no doubt is very distinct; but that the new age must be a repetition of the same aims, principles, and ways, is an error quite as great as that which fancies the gospel to be only a continuation of the law with a great accession of better privileges. Israel shall be established for ever before Jehovah. "For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before me, saith Jehovah, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, [that] from new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith Jehovah" (vv. 22, 23). There is no solid reason for doubting the literal bearing of the prediction. New moons and sabbaths shall once more figure in the worship of Jehovah; but it will be no more in the letter so hiding Christ or in its range so contracted as of old. For "all flesh" shall share in it, though (from other scriptures we may gather) on no such exalted ground or such dispensed nearness to the King as His chosen people. He is Sovereign, and disposes as He pleases; and our eye should not be evil, because He is good, alike in what is special and in what is common. His house shall be literally a house of prayer for all the peoples, which will in no way hinder the greatness of His name among the nations, or the offering of incense to it or a pure offering in every place.
And as His honour is thus maintained, so is His fear. Not only shall there be an awful outpouring of wrath on His adversaries at the end of this age, but Jehovah will keep up, nigh the very spot where His glory dwells, a salutary warning against transgressors. "And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorrence unto all flesh" (v. 24). There is nothing really obscure in this, save to those who, from regarding the passage only in a Christian point of view, deny its full accomplishment in judgement at the end of the age. In its own connection it is most simple, solemn, and expressive. No doubt by Revelation 20:11 - Revelation 21:8 we are shown the still more awful sight of eternal punishment for all the wicked in its full force, when they shall be raised up from death for the second death. Annihilation is a wicked imposture, and an impossibility for all but God, Who, far from intimating any such end, declares that He will judge by His Son Jesus Christ the Lord those that shall come forth from their graves. Universalism is the still more audacious lie of the enemy.
"THE WORD OF OUR GOD SHALL STAND FOR EVER"
For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.
He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog's neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine's blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations.
I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did evil before mine eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not.
Hear the word of the LORD, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name's sake, said, Let the LORD be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.
A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the LORD that rendereth recompence to his enemies.
Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child.
Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.
Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth? saith the LORD: shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb? saith thy God.
Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her:
That ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory.
For thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream: then shall ye suck, ye shall be borne upon her sides, and be dandled upon her knees.
As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
And when ye see this, your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like an herb: and the hand of the LORD shall be known toward his servants, and his indignation toward his enemies.
For, behold, the LORD will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.
For by fire and by his sword will the LORD plead with all flesh: and the slain of the LORD shall be many.
They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine's flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the LORD.
For I know their works and their thoughts: it shall come, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and see my glory.
And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal, and Javan, to the isles afar off, that have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles.
And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the LORD out of all nations upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the LORD, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the LORD.
And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the LORD.
For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain.
And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD.
And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.