In chapter 64 it seems that God is very far away, on the other side of a vast chasm (see 64:1). The silence of God is a terrible thing. But the truth is that God is not far away, and never has been. All through Israel’s history, even when they were too far gone in apostasy, or just sheer hopelessness, to seek Him, God has always been seeking them. If He had held back, it was only to spare them the full venting of the wrath they so richly deserved. But God never ceased to reveal Himself to them. Generation after generation He had sent His prophets to speak to them in His name, saying “here I am, here am I (v. 1). But they had obstinately chosen their own ways rather than His and had sunk deeper and deeper into pagan superstition and uncleanness (vv. 2-4), foolishly regarding them superior to the wholesome, simple trust in the Lord which should have marked them as His children (v. 5). If there was a chasm between God and them, it was of their own making not His.
There were however, those who did dare to pray – and went on praying – for the coming of God’s kingdom: not just Isaiah himself, but many who have followed in his steps. They are the focus of attention in the second part of the chapter (vv. 8-25). They are God’s servants (v. 9), people who seek Him (v. 10), His chosen ones (v. 22), and a people blessed by the Lord (v. 23). They are the faithful remnant, the prayer warriors who have stayed at their post through the long dark watches of salvation history, never abandoning their trust in God or their confidence that His promises would be fulfilled. The good news of this chapter is that the new world for which they have waited so long will surely come; God will bring it to pass for their sake (v. 8) and gather them into it (v. 9).
The contours of that new world open up here in ever-widening circles (vv. 9-10, 17-18). There is something much more here than the mere realization of a utopian dream, a glorified Israel that would be the wonder and envy of the world again, as in the days of Solomon. It is a whole new order of things in which all political structures are transcended. It will be so new that the past will be forgotten entirely (v. 17). The Promised Land will no longer be Canaan of Israel but the whole earth. As we saw in chapter 62, the New Jerusalem will be so different from the old that it will require a new name. The servants of God will be all who have found mercy and free pardon through the work of the perfect Servant; they will be all of God’s faithful people in every age. The chapter ends with an unmistakable allusion to the final undoing of the work of the serpent who brought sin and death into the world in the first place (v. 25). The new world will be history perfected and paradise regained, and it will be full of the modest and simple delights that God always intended us to have: joy (v. 18, fullness of life (v. 20), security (vv. 21-23a), and rewarding work (v. 22b), fellowship with God (vv. 23b-24), and peace (v. 25).
Isaiah’s vision is breathtaking in its scope: new heavens and a new earth. But for all that, he is not a universalist. He does not believe that all will be saved. From verse 8 onwards the contrast between those who are God’s servants and those who are not is drawn ever more starkly. There are those who seek Him and those who do not (vv. 10-11), and their destinies are as different as light and darkness (vv. 13-15). There are the saved and the lost in this chapter, there is heaven and hell. And again we note that the demarcation line is not ethnic or political, but personal and confessional. This chapter speaks of the final and irrevocable separation that will be made on the last day between them and God’s servants. But before then, the choice that the people have made becomes clear from the way they live. God calls, but they do not answer, He speaks, but they do not listen (v. 12). They forsake their Maker and choose fortune and destiny (v. 11), and reap anguish and brokenness (v. 14). Hell, in the end, is God simply giving us what we have chosen. Isaiah is quite clear about this. To be servants of God or not is a personal decision that none of us can avoid, and the consequences are eternal. There will be a new world, but God will not force us into it. The choice is ours!
Isaiah 65:1-25 Reflection Questions:
How is your personal relationship with Jesus doing?
Do you see the Old Testament and the New Testament coming together here?
Are you one of God’s servants and prayer warriors?