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Isaiah Chapter 65 Notes

Posted by lehunt on March 25, 2015

Isaiah Ch 65 Commentary //

Chapter Sixty-five:

v. 1: Since chapter sixty-two (62:7), God has been given no rest from the petition to reestablish Jerusalem.  I am inclined to believe that this chapter is his response to the petition, but if it is, there are a couple of aspects of it that strike me as a little odd.  Throughout this chapter (except in v. 18[1]) he is directly addressing the unfaithful Israelites; he refers to the faithful Israelites in the third person.  Yet in the preceding chapters, it seems the faithful are the ones making the petition, so I would have expected God to address them directly rather than the unfaithful.[2] Notice also that the curses God will bring on the unfaithful and the blessings he will bring on the faithful are both in the future relative to the time when God is speaking: “My servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry” (65:13).  If the curses he speaks of here are the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Captivity, then this chapter seems out of sequence to me since the petitions of chapters 62-64 are set in the time after the Babylonian Captivity.[3]

I suspect that when Isaiah quotes God as saying, “Here I am, here I am,” he means to allude to his own very similar words spoken in 6:8: “Here am I; send me!”  If it is intentional, there is a beautiful symmetry in closing Isaiah’s book of prophecy with an allusion to the moment of his call to prophecy.  But there is another parallel between the two passages beyond their similar wording.  The response of the people is the same.  God’s appeal to his people, either directly (as he does in this chapter) or through his prophet (as he does in chapter 6) is met with hard hearts.

Paul appears to interpret this passage in a way that is different from what the NRSV’s translation suggests it should be.  The NRSV’s translation is “I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me.  I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that did not call on my name.  I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people…”  In this context, God describes his readiness to save his people; he calls out to them, but they do not call back; he holds out his hands to them, but they rebel against him because their hearts are hard.  Paul, however, interprets the passage differently in Romans 10:20-21.  He writes that Isaiah 65:1 refers to the Gentiles who actually find their way into the kingdom, not to the Jews who have rebelled: “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”  According to Paul, it is only in 65:2 that God begins to address the rebellious Jews: “But of Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people’” (Romans 10:21).  Perhaps the OKJ and other translations that agree with Paul’s interpretation of this passage in Isaiah do preserve the original sense.  Barnes thinks so.  He does not even address the possibility of such a translation as the NRSV makes.  Where the NRSV translation reads, “I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me” the OKJ reads, “I am found of them that sought me not,” and Barnes writes, “The idea is, that they [the Gentiles] obtained his favor.”  Usually, where there is a possibility of translating a passage differently, Barnes addresses the possibility, but here he gives no hint that the Hebrew could imply that the people in question are the rebellious Jews, who did not find God because they did not care to find him, as the NRSV translation suggests.  I do not know Hebrew, so I cannot comment on whether or not the NRSV translation is better or worse, but I must admit that it is easier to read the passage as the NRSV translates it than as Paul interprets it.  What I mean is that it is more natural for me to believe that in verse 1 God is talking about how the Jews rejected him, not how he will bring the Gentiles into his kingdom.  It just seems to fit the overall context of the chapter better.  For instance, in v. 12 God is  definitely speaking to the Jews who rejected him[4] as he says, “[W]hen I called, you did not answer, when I spoke, you did not listen…,” and this appears to reference his words in v. 1: “I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that did not call on my name.” If the NRSV translation does, in fact, reflect the passage’s original sense, then perhaps Paul is interpreting the passage in a new way to apply to a scenario that was unforeseen by the original prophet.  The Hebrew may even be ambiguous enough to allow for dual translations with dual interpretations.  At any rate, if Paul’s interpretation is different from that suggested by the original Hebrew, it could be justified by the same reasons that justify Matthew’s interpretation of the Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah 7.  See notes on Isaiah 7:14-16 under “New Testament context…” of the Immanuel prophecy.

v. 5: As incredible as it seems, I believe this person is speaking to God when he says, “[D]o not come near to me, for I am too holy for you.”  Is that not the height of insolence and self-delusion?  Mercy!

v. 11: What the NRSV translates as “Fortune” and “Destiny,” other versions transliterate as “Gad” and “Meni.” I suppose Gad and Meni are the names of a god or two gods.  If they are the names of two gods, then both gods must be closely associated since their names translate into basically the same thing.  I suspect that the names refer to a single god and that the second name is a poetic restatement of the first.  There is obviously a sarcastic play on words in v. 12 where God says to those who worshiped Destiny: “I will destine you to the sword.”

v. 17: I believe that, originally, this imagery of “new heavens and a new earth” was meant to apply to the physical kingdom of Israel after the return of the captives from Babylon, not to the kingdom of heaven described by John in Revelation 21.  My main reason for believing this is the fact that in John’s new heaven and new earth “Death will be no more” (21:4), whereas death has not been banished from the new heavens and new earth described in this chapter of Isaiah.  According to Isaiah, “…one who dies at one hundred years will be considered a youth,” which implies that people still die in spite of having extraordinarily long and fruitful lives.  I also believe Isaiah’s imagery is hyperbole (i.e., poetic overstatement) rather than a literal description of their new life in the rebuilt Jerusalem.  I believe this because the passages simply do not describe the literal circumstances of life in the rebuilt Jerusalem.  For instance, weeping and the cries of distress (v.19) were, in fact, heard again in this new Jerusalem.  They were heard during the desolation caused by Antiochus Epiphanes, during the Roman conquest under Pompey and the subsequent occupation, during the passion of Christ, and during the destruction of the second temple.

Also, I believe the imagery is meant to allude to the garden of Eden[5] as the ideal paradise from which we were expelled.  I feel justified in this belief because there can be no doubt that the comment about the serpent’s eating the dust is such an allusion (Genesis 3:14), and since vs. 17-25 seem to constitute a whole, I suspect that all the other idyllic imagery in this section also alludes to the first chapters of Genesis. This allusion to Eden is meant to describe the joy that the returning Jews will feel upon possessing their homeland once more.  They will not literally experience life as it was in Eden, but it will be like returning to Eden, just as a good but simple meal islike a king’s sumptuous banquet to a starving man.

Having said that I believe this section is poetic overstatement as it applies to the returning captives, I would like to add that I believe there will come a time when such poetry will apply to realities that exceed even what we now call hyperbolic imagery.  At some point, to say that we live forever, or that the wolf and the lamb feed together, will fall short of capturing the beautiful reality.  In fact, I wonder if, at some point, we will no longer be able to use hyperbole at all.  It seems to me that in heaven, all attempts at hyperbole might manifest themselves instead as delightful examples of litotes (understatement).

v. 20: In the notes for v. 17, I have said that I believe vs. 17-25 allude to Eden.  One might object to this belief by pointing out that people did not die in Eden, whereas here in Isaiah’s description they do.  My response to such an objection would be to maintain that Isaiah is not attempting to describe life in Eden in exact detail, merely to allude to it.  The returning exiles must still die, but their lives will be long, happy, and fruitful.

v. 25: Isaiah and other prophets often allude to Eden while describing various happy periods in time.  The three listed below are examples of such periods; they are prominent in the writings of Isaiah and John.

1) Return to the promised land from the Babylonian Captivity.

2) Establishment of the Messianic kingdom on Earth (the beginning of the age of Christianity)

3) Life in Heaven

The prophets use imagery from Eden to refer directly to 1-3.  Thus, the imagery describing 1-3 sometimes overlaps and might seem to refer to the same period in time, as indeed much of the same imagery is often applicable to Eden as well as all three periods (which can be confusing).  To add to the confusion, sometimes the imagery that overlaps and is applicable to Eden and the three periods is applicable as a literal description of one but as a figurative or poetic description of another.  For instance, here in 65:25, Isaiah uses the image of the wolf and lamb eating together.  This is an allusion to Eden and is applicable as a literal description of the peaceful, harmonious life that the animals experienced in that paradise, but it is a direct reference to #1, where it is applicable only figuratively, as hyperbole.  To add further to the confusion, later prophets may allude to Eden as well as to the writings of earlier prophets who alluded to Eden.  For instance, in using the phrase “new heaven and new earth” John may have had Isaiah’s phrase “new heavens and a new earth” in mind, and both prophets probably had the original creation of heaven and earth in mind.  John, however, uses the imagery to describe #3, whereas Isaiah uses it to describe #1, or possibly #2.[6] (He cannot have meant it to apply to #3 because people in his new heavens and new earth die, which would be difficult to explain as a direct reference to heaven, whether figurative or literal.  See notes on v. 17 and 20.)

Thus, here in v. 25, Isaiah alludes to Eden to describe life in the promised land for the returning exiles, not life in heaven.  It is with this in mind that I believe his comment about the curse on the serpent should be interpreted.  The imagery is applicable as a literal description of the Eden of Genesis: there were no predators or prey as such, so the wolf and lamb ate with one another.[7] And, after the fall, the form of all serpents changed as a result of the curse so that they then had to crawl on the ground.  Both of these realities are either implied or explicitly stated in the first chapters of Genesis, and they apply as hyperbole to life for the returning exiles.  In the image of the wolf and the lamb eating together, Isaiah is saying that life will be relatively peaceful for the exiles and the fears they formerly experienced (fears of attack or any ill fortune) will be dramatically less.  As for the comment about the serpent, I believe the prophet intended it as an insult to Satan, who is ultimately the author of all our woes.  At any rate, he does not intend for it or any of the other imagery in this chapter to apply directly to life in heaven.  As for the literal fate of snakes, I believe that every individual snake, just like every other individual animal that has lived, is living, or will live, will be redeemed and remade with us in heaven.[8]

[1] It is also true that in chapter sixty-six, which seems like a continuation of the response God begins here in chapter sixty-five, he addresses the faithful more frequently.

[2] I suppose the unfaithful could have been making the petition as well.  Chapter 58 and 59 describe the wicked children of God as making appeals to him.

[3] On the other hand, as I have noted before, time references in Isaiah often seem very fluid, so perhaps I should not make so much of the sequence in time.  (See notes on 3:4 and 22:8.)  Also, it is possible that these curses are general and do not refer specifically to the Babylonian Captivity and the destruction of Jerusalem.  In that case they would not even necessarily be out of sequence.

[4] Here, the NRSV and OKJ translations do not differ substantially.

[5] John also alludes to Eden at the end of Revelation; he alludes to it to aid his description of our life in heaven, but in saying that there will be a new heaven and new earth, he may also be alluding to this section of Isaiah, as if to say, “The Jews’ returning to the promised land was like a return to Eden but less than the reality of an actual return, whereas our entrance into heaven is like a return to Eden but greater than the reality of an actual return.” I do not believe that Isaiah consciously intended for his specific use of Eden imagery to apply to our life in heaven.

[6] This is a good example of how confusing these references can be, at least for me.  See notes on Isaiah 11:6-9.

[7] See notes on Genesis 2:7 and 3:21.

[8] Again, see notes on Genesis 2:7 and 3:21.


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