THE BOOK OF ISAIAH
Lesson 24: Chapters 64-66
Part III: The Book of Consolation

O Holy Lord of the Universal Church,
Bless Your people of the new Zion, O Lord. Continually call us out of the world and into righteousness that is to mark us as Your holy people. As Your faithful servants, we continually call out to You for the day when Your divine justice will rain down upon the earth. In the meantime, we ask for Your blessing as we strive to be Your instruments of mercy in a world that is often devoid of mercy. We confess that we have allowed ourselves to be deceived in many ways, and therefore have become accomplices to sin by our inaction. Here we are once again, Lord, to renew our covenant commitment with You and to beg You to use us in whatever way is Your will to bring Your love and mercy to those most in need of Your redeeming embrace. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Instead of their former affliction, the prophet says, "They shall find in her joy and exultation." In whom or in what? In the Church of Christ, it may be said without any doubt. It should be noted that some commentators refer this not to the period of our earthly life but to the period that is to come after this present age. For the prophet says that the just will find joy and exultation and will enjoy endless delight, that is, spiritual delight, when this creation has been transformed and renewed.
St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Isaiah, 5.6.65.16

Chapters 64 ~ The Call for Yahweh's Display of Divine Judgment

Isaiah has come to the end of his ministry, and he is growing weary of only giving warnings of what is to come. He confesses the people's deep need for God and pleads with God to act now to restore the nation. He begs the Lord to come in His terrifying divine judgment to wake-up the people and make them realize the necessity for repentance and restoration. Then, the people would fear Yahweh like the fear they felt after the Theophany at Mount Sinai, and they would respond in repentance that leads to the restoration of fellowship with the God of Israel and make themselves ready for the rejoicing that is promised in the coming kingdom.

Isaiah 63:19b/64:1-4 ~ Isaiah's Petition for Judgment and Divine Revelation
63:19b/64:1 Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down "1 in your presence the mountains would quake, as fire sets brushwood alight, as fire makes water boil "to make your name known to your foes; the nations would tremble at your presence, 2 at the unexpected miracles you would do. Oh, that you would come down, in your presence the mountains would quake! 3 Never has anyone heard, no ear has heard, no eye has seen any god but you act like this for the sake of those who trust him. 4 You come to meet those who are happy to act uprightly, keeping your ways reminds them of you. Yes, you have been angry and we have been sinners; now we persist in your ways and we shall be saved.

Isaiah's appeal for Yahweh to come down in judgment is described in terms of other theophanies in verses 1-2, like the events of the Exodus liberation (similar to those same works recalled in Ps 18:7-8l; 144:5):

Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down...
A similar event as described by Isaiah in this verse took place at Jesus' baptism when St. Mark writes that the heavens were torn apart at the coming down of God the Holy Spirit (Mk 1:10).

... as fire sets brushwood alight, as fire makes water boil...
Fire is a re-occurring image of the mighty works of God; especially as the manifestation of His divine presence, as a sign of purification, and a sign of divine judgment. For example:

Fire being associated with the presence of God is especially true in the Book of Isaiah (see Is 4:5; 6:6; 9:4/5; 10:16; 29:6; 30:37, 30; 31:9; 33:12, 14; 66:15, 16, 24). Also see CCC 696, 1031, 1147, 1189 concerning the symbolic imagery of fire in Scripture.

Just as fire burns away undesirable debris and purifies water in boiling away impurities, so can the fiery love of God purify the souls of men and women, just as He purified Isaiah when God called him to his prophetic ministry in Isaiah 6:6-7. His fiery love can purify unclean lips and soften hardened hearts. Isaiah says that the manifestation of God's glory would then alert the nations and they would know the power of Israel's God and the nations would tremble at your presence, 2 at the unexpected miracles you would do. This is always the goal of God's self-revelation "that the world might come to know Him. And knowing Him the world would be terrified of His power over them and the peril in which they stand in His presence so that in the end they might kneel before Him to receive both His mercy and His grace.

Prior to the coming of Christ all souls, whether righteous or wicked, went to Sheol, the abode of the dead. The righteous waited for the coming of the Redeemer in the company of father Abraham, but the wicked suffered fiery purification in atonement for their sins (see Wis 3:1-19; Lk 16:19-31 in Jesus' description of Sheol and the condition of the righteous versus the sinner). Jesus released the prisoners from Sheol when He descended to the dead to preach the Gospel of salvation (Apostles' Creed, 1 Pt 3:18-29; 2:6).

Question: According to the teaching of the Church, when is it that the fiery love of God purifies the residue of sin left in the souls of men and women who are destined for Heaven in this the final age of man? See 1 Cor 3:11-15; CCC 1030-32, 1472.
Answer: Jesus rescued those who accepted Him as their Redeemer from Sheol and from that point the righteous that died in a state of grace went immediately to Heaven while the wicked that died in mortal sins that were not repented went to the Hell of the damned. All professing baptized Christians who died with some unconfessed venial sins or with mortal sins that had been forgiven but for which fill penance had not been made, suffer in God's fiery love in a state that the Church now calls Purgatory. Those purified souls will be saved, but as St. Paul wrote, "...as someone might expect to be saved from a fire" (1 Cor 3:17).

3 Never has anyone heard, no ear has heard, no eye has seen any god but you act like this for the sake of those who trust him.
The point is only the God of Israel has acted with such might and glory "all other so-called gods are false and incapable of such feats of greatness on behalf of the people who believe in them. St. Paul quotes this verse in 1 Corinthians 2:9, but it is as Scripture says: "What no eye has seen and no ear has heard, what the mind of man cannot visualize; all that God has prepared for those who love him..." The difference may be that either Paul is loosely quoting the verse as he remembers it, or he has a different translation, or he is adapting the verse to his own teaching.

4 You come to meet those who are happy to act uprightly, keeping your ways reminds them of you. Yes, you have been angry and we have been sinners; now we persist in your ways and we shall be saved.
The literal translation is "now we persist in them forever and we shall be saved." The "them" probably refers to the "ways" mentioned earlier in the verse, as it is interpreted by the NJB translators of this verse. Other scholars, however, construe a very different meaning to be "we persist in them" referring to our misdeeds ""are we likely to be saved?" "ending in a question that is a cry of discouragement.

Part of what was terrifying about God's miracles is that they come in such unexpected and unpredictable ways. This is also true of the First Advent of the Messiah and will be so again in the Second Advent when Christ comes in judgment at the end of the Age. In the meantime, like Isaiah, we are "waiting on the Lord" to act. Our "waiting" on the Lord God is not passive. It is active because it is a demonstration of faith.

Question: How is "waiting on the Lord" an act of faith?
Answer: To wait on the Lord is to live hopefully in covenant obedience, to believe in His promises, and to commit our destinies to God's divine plan by living daily a life that shows we know His ways in which He calls us to holiness, honesty, mercy, faithfulness, generosity, and self-denial.

Isaiah 64:5-11 ~ The Need for Confession and Dependence on God
5 We have all been like unclean things and our upright deeds like filthy rags. We wither, all of us, like leaves, and all our misdeeds carry us off like the wind. 6 There is no one to invoke your name, to rouse himself to hold fast to you, for you have hidden your face from us and given us up to the power of our misdeeds. 7 And yet, Yahweh, you are our Father; we the clay and you our potter, all of us are the work of your hands. 8 Yahweh, do not let your anger go too far and do not remember guilt forever. 9 Look, please, we are all your people; your holy cities have become a desert, Zion has become a desert, Jerusalem a wasteland. 10 Our holy and glorious Temple, in which our ancestors used to praise you, has been burnt to the ground; all our delight lies in ruins. 11 Yahweh, can you restrain yourself at all this? Will you stay silent and afflict us beyond endurance?

In these verses Isaiah describes the hopeless condition of the people as he cries out in what is both a lament and a complaint ""there is no one to invoke" God's holy name "no one is even concerned about the hopelessness of their condition to call out to God for help. But Isaiah acknowledges the cause of their condition is not from external sources "their suffering is because of their persistent sins and their inability to find a remedy for their sinning. Isaiah's point is if God doesn't do something drastic to reconciling the sinning then the exile and the return will have not solved anything.

64:6a ~ We have all been like unclean things and our upright deeds like filthy rags ...
Sometimes this verse is used to present the teaching of a condemnation of all human deeds, suggesting that they are all foul in the eyes of God. However, this line must be read not only in the context of the passage but within the context of all of Sacred Scripture in which we are encouraged continually to do good deeds. Isaiah's statement is not directed at Christians who are in the Body of Christ, but is directed at the failed Old Covenant people during a period of disobedience. All of their deeds were foul because they did not demonstrate love of neighbor or love of God commanded in the Ten Commandments and in the expanded articles of the Law (for love of neighbor see Lev 19:15-18).

Question: What are some key passages where Jesus and His apostles taught us to do good deeds? See for example Mt 25:31-46; Jn 15:5; Col 1:9-10; Phil 4:18.
Answer: One key passage for Christians is when Jesus described the good works of Christians as "fruit", saying, "I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me, and I in them, bear much fruit" (Jn 15:5). St. Paul used the same image in his letter to the Colossians where he wrote: We have not ceased praying for you, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work" (Col 1:9-10). And, at the end of Paul's letter to the Philippians, he thanked them for the supplies they sent to him, writing, I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God (Phil 4:18). Finally, the salvation of the just in the Last Judgment will be based on the good deeds of the faithful on earth and the reward they will be given in Heaven (Mt 25:31-46).

These verses and many others show us that good words done in the name of Christ are not only pleasing to God but necessary for our salvation because they demonstrate our faith and obedience to Jesus' command to love God and love our neighbor. They help us grow in charity and increase our drawing closer to the Most Holy Trinity, whose fellowship is our final reward (Rev 19:7-9). St. James told the Church that faith without deeds is dead faith, like a body without a soul. And notice that the wedding garment of the Bride of Christ that is the Church in Revelation 19:7-8 is made from the good deeds of the Saints: ...let us be glad and joyful and give glory to God, because this is the time for the marriage of the Lamb. His bride is ready, and she had been able to dress herself in dazzling white linen, because her linen is made of the good deeds of the saints.

7 And yet, Yahweh, you are our Father; we the clay and you our potter, all of us are the work of your hands. 8 Yahweh, do not let your anger go too far and do not remember guilt forever. 9 Look, please, we are all your people; your holy cities have become a desert, Zion has become a desert, Jerusalem a wasteland. 10 Our holy and glorious Temple, in which our ancestors used to praise you, has been burnt to the ground; all our delight lies in ruins. 11 Yahweh, can you restrain yourself at all this? Will you stay silent and afflict us beyond endurance?
Isaiah used the same potter and clay imagery in 29:16 and 45:9. It is a reminder that God formed the first man out of the dust/clay of the earth and that He is our Creator (Gen 2:6).

Verses 7-11 are the final stanza of the lament. So certain is Isaiah that these promised events will happen that he speaks of them in the past tense.
Question: This last part of Isaiah's lament is a call for Yahweh to remember what two things and ends with what question?
Answer:

  1. It is God who is the one who created the nation of Israel.
  2. His covenant people are existing in a continual state of misery and shame.

Isaiah's question is: How can God ignore these facts and will He leave them to continual suffering by not forgiving them their sins?

Chapter 65: The Coming Judgment

The Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then with a roar the sky will vanish, the elements will catch fire and melt away, the earth and all that it contains will be burned up. Since everything is coming to an end like this, what holy and saintly lives you should be living, while you wait for the Day of God to come, and try to hasten its coming: on that Day the sky will dissolve in flames and the elements melt in the heat. What we are waiting for, relying on his promises, is the new heavens and new earth, where uprightness will be at home. So then, my dear friends, while you are waiting, do your best to live blameless and unsullied lives so that he will find you at peace. Think of our Lord's patience as your opportunity to be saved ...
2 Peter 3:10-15a

In this chapter God answers Isaiah's lament in chapter 64. In the continued warnings concerning the destiny of the righteous and the wicked, God's message to Isaiah in chapter 65 concerns:

  1. God's judgment that is coming for the rebellious (65:1-7).
  2. The contrast between God's righteous servants who listen to God and the rebellious wicked who have abandoned Him (65:8-16).
  3. God's promise of a new creation with a new heaven and new earth (65:17-25).

In the last part of this chapter in 65:17-25, Isaiah receives an oracle concerning "something new" " first mentioned in 43:19 concerning the road of return from exile and mentioned again 48:6 concerning the secrets for the future about which the people do not know.

Isaiah 65:1-7 ~ God's Judgment that is coming for the Rebellious
1 I have let myself be approached by those who did not consult me, I have let myself be found by those who did not seek me. I said, "Here I am, here I am!" to a nation that did not invoke my name [*that was not called by my name]. 2 Each day I stretched out my hands to a rebellious people who followed a way which is not good, as the fancy takes them; 3 a people constantly provoking me to my face by sacrificing in gardens, burning incense on bricks, 4 living in tombs, spending the night in dark corners, eating the meat of pigs, putting unclean foods on their plates. 5 "Keep your distance," they say, "do not touch me, least my sanctity come near you!" Such words are like stifling smoke to me, an ever-burning fire. 6 Look, it is inscribed before me: I shall not be silent until I have repaid them, repaid them in full, 7 punished your guilt and your ancestors' guilt together, Yahweh declares. For having burnt incense on the mountains and insulted me on the hills, I shall pay them back in full for what they have done. * The Hebrew translation reads "that were not called by my name" meaning not in covenant with Yahweh. God calls us to covenant union with Him and for Christians that first step into covenant union is in the Sacrament of Baptism.

God begins with a consoling message. He makes Himself available to so that even those who never sought for Him and those who were rebellious toward Him can find Him ready to listen to them and call them back. St. Paul repeats the same words in Romans 10:20-21 when he writes: And Isaiah s even bold enough to say: I have let myself be found by those who did not seek me; I have let myself be seen by those who did not consult me; and referring to Israel, he says: All day long I have been stretching out my hands to a disobedient and rebellious people (quoting Is 65:1-2). This passage is fulfilled in the Gentile nations who did not know Yahweh but still found Him because Christ was calling to them as opposed to the Jews who were rebellious and rejected the Messiah with the exception of the faithful remnant who received Jesus as Lord and Savior.

In this passage God lists the reasons why He has not come to Israel in a divine manifestation of His glory to frighten them into obedience as Isaiah requested. It isn't that He hasn't called them to repentance; it is that they have not listened to His voice through His prophets. His first great manifestations were to convince Israel that He is the One, all-powerful God and all other so-called gods are false. They have the evidence they need, but they have not desired of their own free will to turn away from sin and back to Him.

Question: What are the sins of the people that God lists in verses 3-5?
Answer:

  1. They sacrificed using inappropriate sacrifices and worship sites.
  2. They sat among the unclean graves of the dead expecting a revelation to guide them.
  3. They ate forbidden (unclean) foods like pork and yet considered themselves holier than others.

The list of clean and unclean animals and foods is given in Leviticus chapter 11. These things are forbidden, because, as God tells the people, You have been sanctified and have become holy because I am holy (Lev 12:44b). Even the diet of the covenant people was meant to separate them from the "unclean" Gentiles.

"Keep your distance," they say, "do not touch me, least my sanctity come near you!"
The unclean meat of pork for a Jew is what these people claim has made them sacred. The tone is sarcastic. The idea is that the false worshippers are referring to the concept of sacredness as something contagious where actually their sinning is "contagious" in encouraging others to follow their sins. The fact that the idolaters think they are holy only adds to the grotesque character of their actions. In 1 Corinthians 10:19-22 St. Paul writes about such unholy practices: What does this mean? That the dedication of food to false gods amounts to anything? Or that false gods themselves amount to anything? No, it does not; simply that when pagans sacrifice, what is sacrificed by them is sacrificed to demons who are not God. I do not want you to share with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons as well; you cannot have a share at the Lord's table and the demons' table as well. Do we really want to arouse the Lord's jealousy; are we stronger than he is?

6 Look, it is inscribed before me: I shall not be silent until I have repaid them, repaid them in full, 7 punished your guilt and your ancestors' guilt together, Yahweh declares. For having burnt incense on the mountains and insulted me on the hills, I shall pay them back in full for what they have done.
That judgment will fall upon the apostate covenant people for their actions as well as for the sins of their ancestors reminds us of Jesus' pronouncement of the coming judgment on His generation in Matthew 23:35-36 when He tells them, "You serpents, brood of vipers, how can you escape being condemned to hell? This is why "look "I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some you will slaughter and crucify, some you will scourge in your synagogues and hunt from town to town; and so you will draw down on yourselves the blood of every upright person that has been shed on earth, from the blood of Abel the holy to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. In truth I tell you, it will all recoil on this generation.

I shall pay them back in full for what they have done.
God will not extend His mercy until the people have fully atoned for their sins; otherwise they will not learn from their mistakes and sin will continue to rule their lives. God is a righteous Father; He is not a permissive parent who gives up on His children by refusing to correct their bad behavior that could cost them their immortal souls and the salvation of their children since sins is learned behavior. This is why we often see certain sins repeated over the generations in families. An older generation engaging in the sin seems to give permission to the next generation to act in the same way: lying, adultery, divorce, abortion, drug use, alcoholism, suicide, etc.

Isaiah 65:8-16 ~ The Contrast between God's Righteous Servants and the Rebellious Wicked and their Destiny
8 Yahweh says this: As when a bunch of grapes is found still to have juice in it, people say, "Do not destroy it, for it contains a blessing," so I shall act for my servants' sake, I shall not destroy them all. 9 I shall produce descendants from Jacob and heirs to my mountains from Judah, my chosen ones will own them and my servants will live there. 10 Sharon will be a pasture for flocks, the Valley of Achor a feeding ground for cattle, for those of my people who have sought me. 11 But as for those of you who abandon Yahweh, who forget my holy mountain, who lay the table for Gad, who fill cups of mixed wine for Meni, 12 you I shall destine [manithi] to the sword and all of you will stoop to be slaughtered, because I called and you would not answer, I spoke and you would not listen; you have done what I consider evil, you chose to do what displeases me. 13 [Hinneh = Behold] Therefore Lord Yahweh says this: You will see my servants eating while you go hungry; [behold] you will see my servants drinking while you go thirsty; [behold] you will see my servants rejoicing while you are put to shame; 14 [behold] you will hear my servants shouting for joy of heart, while you shriek for sorrow of heart and howl with a broken spirit. 15 And you will leave your name behind as a curse for my chosen ones, "May Lord Yahweh strike you dead!" But to his servants he will give another name. 16 Whoever blesses himself on earth will bless himself by the God of truth [God of the Amen], and whoever swears an oath on earth will swear by the God of truth [God of the Amen], for past troubles will be forgotten and hidden from my eyes. [...] = IBHE, vol. III, page 1730.

The "bunch of grapes" is the covenant people after the return from exile. Those identified as the "servants" are those like the grapes "found still to have juice" and who remain a blessing as opposed to the others who are withered and dry spiritually. It is for the sake of the righteous servants that God will "not destroy them all" (verse 8b). God will give Jacob-Israel heirs to return to the land and prosper. The Sharon Valley is a fertile valley that began near Joppa and extended northward to Mt. Carmel. The Valley of Achor, located near Jericho, is a barren plain. Both areas will be a blessing for the righteous. But the rebellious will not prosper. They will be spiritually infertile and will face divine judgment.

11 But as for those of you who abandon Yahweh, who forget my holy mountain, who lay the table for Gad, who fill cups of mixed wine for Meni, 12 you I shall destine [manithi] to the sword and all of you will stoop to be slaughtered, because I called and you would not answer, I spoke and you would not listen; you have done what I consider evil, you chose to do what displeases me.
The focus not turns to those who have forsaken the Lord and a description of their idolatrous practices:

In verse 11 Gad is the Aramaean god of luck/good fortune, and there is a play on Hebrew words "destiny" and "destine" which is meni and manithi: who filled mixed wine for destiny; you I shall destine... Meni for whom mixed wine is prepared probably refers to a pagan god of destiny.

13 [Hinneh = Behold] Therefore Lord Yahweh says this: You will see my servants eating while you go hungry; [behold] you will see my servants drinking while you go thirsty; [behold] you will see my servants rejoicing while you are put to shame; 14 [behold] you will hear my servants shouting for joy of heart, while you shriek for sorrow of heart and howl with a broken spirit.
In verses 13-14 Isaiah contrasts the blessings of the Lord's faithful servants with the absolute rejection and destruction of the rebellious. Each contrast is marked by the Hebrew word hinneh which means "behold" or "lo."

Question: How does Isaiah describe the contrast between God's righteous servants and the rebellious people who have abandoned His covenant Law in 65:13-15?
Answer:

  1. God's servants will eat while the rebellious go hungry.
  2. God's servants will drink while the rebellious are thirsty.
  3. God's servants will rejoice while the rebellious are put to shame.
  4. God's servants will shout for joy in their relationship with God while the rebellious shriek with sorrow and a broken spirit.

Isaiah is not referring to physical food and drink but the joyful spiritual banquet of the just in communion with Yahweh and the despair of the wicked who are shut out because of their own choice to abandon the covenant with Yahweh. The judgment for rebellious is death, but not physical death. The first death is physical death and the second death is eternal damnation in the fires of Hell (Rev 20:11-15).

Question: In this age of the Church how do the rebellious witness the faithful servants rejoicing as they eat and drink in the presence of God while they go hungry and thirsty? What future event does the present joy point to?
Answer: The faithful servants of God rejoice in the Eucharistic banquet that is both a blessing for the faithful to enjoy and a witness to those who are not in covenant with Christ. The Eucharistic banquet also points to the divine banquet of the Lamb and His Bride at the end of time.

15 And you will leave your name behind as a curse for my chosen ones, "May Lord Yahweh strike you dead!"
Question: Why does God say His judgment against the apostates is that they are destined to die? See verse 12.
Answer: because I called and you would not answer, I spoke and you would not listen; you have done what I consider evil, you chose to do what displeases me. Out of their own free will, they chose not to answer and not to listen to God's call to repentance and chose instead to abandon Yahweh for the illicit expression of religion and/or to worship false gods.

The worship on "high places" instead of the Temple was not necessarily only worship of false gods but might also have been illicit worship in the Jew's expression of their own idea of how to worship Yahweh instead of the liturgy of worship that was given to them in the Law of the Sinai covenant.

But to his servants he will give another name. 16 Whoever blesses himself on earth will bless himself by the God of truth [God of the Amen], and whoever swears an oath on earth will swear by the God of truth [God of the Amen], for past troubles will be forgotten and hidden from my eyes.
God's "chosen ones" will remember the judgment-curse that the rebellious brought upon themselves. This probably refers to the rejection of the Messiah-Servant, Jesus Christ. Those who are His servants will be given a "new name."

Question: What "new name" have the servant disciples of Jesus Christ been given?
Answer: They are known by the name of Christ "they are Christians.

16 Whoever blesses himself on earth will bless himself by the God of truth [God of the Amen], and whoever swears an oath on earth will swear by the God of truth, for past troubles will be forgotten and hidden from my eyes.
The section ends with two references to "the God of truth." The Hebrew word translated "truth" is related to the word "Amen" and the phrase "God of truth" can also be translated "God of the Amen." The Hebrew root aman means "to be confirmed or established." God's people can have confidence in Him to confirm and establish all He said He would do.

The Catechism offers an interpretation of verse 16: "In the book of the prophet Isaiah, we find the expression God of truth' (literally God of the Amen'), that is, the God who is faithful to his promises: He who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth (amen)' (Is 65:16). Our Lord often used the word Amen', sometimes repeated (cf. Mt 6:2, 5, 16; Jn 5:19), to emphasize the trustworthiness of his teaching, his authority founded on God's truth" (CCC 1063). And in CCC 1065 the Catechism expands on this teaching: "Jesus Christ himself is the Amen' (Rev 3:14). He is the definitive Amen' of the Father's love for us. He takes up and completes our Amen' to the Father: For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God' (2 Cor 1:20)."

and whoever swears an oath on earth will swear by the God of truth, for past troubles will be forgotten and hidden from my eyes.
Covenant formation in the Old and New Testaments is made by the acts of oath-swearing, blood sacrifice, and eating a sacred meal (for example in the Sinai Covenant see Ex 24:3-11; in the New Covenant in Christ there is Christ's blood sacrifice, the sacred meal of the Last Supper, and the professions of faith in Christian baptism and the other professions of faith found in the letters of St. Paul). When a Christian is baptized or confirmed he/she swears an oath of obedience to the New Covenant in Christ Jesus. The very word "sacrament" means "oath." It is from the Latin sacramentum, meaning "oath, solemn obligation, from sacrare, to set apart as sacred, consecrated" (Modern Catholic Dictionary, page 380).

Isaiah 65:17-25 ~ The New Heavens and the New Earth
17 For look, I am going to create new heavens and a new earth, and the past will not be remembered and will come no more to mind. 18 Rather be joyful, be glad forever at which I am creating, for look, I am creating Jerusalem to be "Joy" and my people to be "Gladness". 19 I shall be joyful in Jerusalem and I shall rejoice in my people. No more will the sound of weeping be heard there, nor the sound of a shriek; 20 never again will there be an infant there who lives only a few days, nor an old man who does not run his full course; for the youngest will die at a hundred, and at a hundred the sinner will be accursed. 21 They will build houses and live in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They will not build for others to live in, or plant for others to eat; for the days of my people will be like the days of a tree, and my chosen ones will themselves use what they have made. 23 They will not toil in vain, nor bear children destined to disaster, for they are the race of Yahweh's blessed ones and so are their offspring. 24 Thus, before they call I shall answer, before they stop speaking I shall have heard. 25 The wolf and the young lamb will feed together, the lion will eat hay like the ox, and dust be the serpent's food. No hurt, no harm will be done on all my holy mountain, Yahweh says.

In verses 17-18 God promises a new creation at the end of time and a return to the condition of mankind before the fall of Adam in which joy and gladness will be unending; it is a promise that was alluded to in 51:6, and it will be repeated in 66:22. In the Book of Revelation these are the opening words of St. John's vision in Revelation 21:1. It is the vision of the final establishment of the Kingdom of God (Rev 21:1-22:5). In his second letter, St. Peter urges the faithful to transform this present world in preparation for what is coming at the end of time when the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness: What we are waiting for, relying on his promises, is the new heavens and new earth, where uprightness will be at home. So then, my dear friends, while you are waiting, do your best to live blameless and unsullied lives so that he will find you at peace. Think of our Lord's patience as your opportunity to be saved (2 Pt 3:13-15a).

18 Rather be joyful, be glad forever at which I am creating, for look, I am creating Jerusalem to be "Joy" and my people to be "Gladness". 19 I shall be joyful in Jerusalem and I shall rejoice in my people. No more will the sound of weeping be heard there, nor the sound of a shriek...
God will take joy in us because tears and cries of suffering, that are the works of sin, will be gone forever. From the time of the fall of Adam, God has been working toward this day of complete renewal. God will rejoice because His compassionate heart will no longer ache or be wrenched and torn by those things that have brought humanity such suffering "we will be restored to the way He created us. Then in verses 20-23 Isaiah lists examples of those conditions in life that have brought suffering and tears. The point is in God's kingdom no one will weep over the untimely death of a loved one.

After the Last Judgment, the faithful who are glorified in body and soul, will reign forever with Christ: "The Church will receive her perfection only in the glory of Heaven, when will come the time of renewal of all things. At that time, together with the human race, the universe itself, which is so closely related to man and which attains its destiny through him, will be perfectly re-established in Christ" (Lumen gentium, 48). Scripture calls this glorious renewal, which will transform mankind and the world, "the new heavens and a new earth (2 Pt 1:3; Rev 21:1). It will be the completion of God's divine plan to bring together "all things in Christ" (Eph 1:10) in a new universe of the heavenly Jerusalem in which God will make His dwelling among men for all eternity (see CCC 1042-1044, 1047).

24 Thus, before they call I shall answer, before they stop speaking I shall have heard.
Another blessing of the future kingdom will be perfect communication with God. In this fallen world, communication with God through prayer is sometimes difficult. Our sins too often intrude in our lives and confuse prayer or become a barrier to communication with God. But in the restored Kingdom of Zion, He will answer before we speak. This blessed communication is already available to us in the New Covenant in Christ Jesus through the power of God the Holy Spirit who is our Advocate in our prayer life (Mt 6:8; Jn 14:13-14; 1 Jn 5:14-15).

25 The wolf and the young lamb will feed together, the lion will eat hay like the ox, and dust be the serpent's food. No hurt, no harm will be done on all my holy mountain, Yahweh says.
In 65:25 Isaiah describes the era of the Messianic peace in images similar to what he used in 11:6-9. Verse 25 also recalls the verses of the serpent's curse in Genesis 3:14. When the Messianic peace is established, God will return creation to the holy condition before the fall of man when there was no death upon the earth and even the animals lived in harmony.

Chapter 66: The Conclusion

In this final chapter of Isaiah the focus is on:

  1. God's ultimate judgment and final restoration (66:1-14a).
  2. The final wrath and glory of God (66:14b-24).

The oracle in 66:1-6 appears to return to the rebuilding of the Temple after the return form the exile. God's claim to sovereign authority recalls Psalm 24:1-3 and God's protest in verses 1-2a recalls Yahweh's words to David when he suggested building a "house" for God in 2 Samuel 7:5-7 and 1 Kings 8:16 and 27. St. Stephen will quote from Isaiah 66:1-2 in Acts 7:48-50.

Isaiah 66:1-2 ~ Yahweh Delights in the Humble
1 Thus says Yahweh: With heaven my throne and earth my footstool, what house could you build me, what place for me to rest, 2 when all these things were made by me and all belong to me? "declares Yahweh. But my eyes are drawn to the person of humbled and contrite spirit, who trembles at my word.

Isaiah returns to the topic of rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple after the return from exile.
Question: In 65:25b God says, "No hurt, no harm will be done on all my holy mountain." And in Psalm 24:3 the psalmist asks, Who shall go up to the mountain of Yahweh? Who shall take a stand in his holy place? What is the answer to this question in Psalm 24:4-5 that agrees with what Yahweh says in Isaiah 66:2b and what is the point?
Answer: The psalmist writes, The clean of hands and pure of heart, whose heart is not set on vanities, who does not swear an oath in order to deceive. Such a one will receive blessing from Yahweh, saving justice from the God of his salvation. The point is that the physical rebuilding and the external liturgical rites must not take precedence over genuine inner humility, devotion, and purity of heart accompanied by sincere acceptance of the word of God.

Isaiah 66:3-4 ~ The Lord Despises Pagan Worship
3 Some slaughter a bull, some kill a human being, some sacrifice a lamb, some strangle a dog, some present an offering of pig's blood, some burn memorial incense, a revolting blessing, all these people have chosen their own ways and take delight in their disgusting practices. 4 I too take delight in making fools of them, I shall bring what they most fear down on them because I have called and no one would answer, I spoke and no one listened. They have done what I regard as evil, have chosen what displeases me.

Verses 66:3-4 are an attack on insincere religious practices and pagan practices.
Question: What are the four legitimate expressions of religious practice that Isaiah compares with four idolatrous practices that are an abomination to the Lord and what is the point?
Answer:

  1. Sacrifice of a bull compared to pagan human sacrifice.
  2. Sacrifice of a lamb compared to the pagan offering of a strangled dog.
  3. Legitimate blood sacrifice compared to the pagan offering of pig's blood.
  4. Legitimate offering of incense compared to illicit offerings of incense.

The idea is that worship that is merely external or is an expression of someone else's idea of worship other than God-ordained worship is as evil as though it were idolatry.

Isaiah 66:5-14a ~ Encouragement for the Faithful and the Rebirth of Jerusalem
5 Listen to the word of Yahweh, you who tremble at his word. Your brothers, who hate and reject you because of my name, have said, "Let Yahweh show his glory, let us witness your joy!" But they will be put to shame. 6 Listen! An uproar from the city! A voice from the Temple! The voice of Yahweh bringing retribution on his enemies. 7 Before being in labor she has given birth. Before birth pangs came, she has been delivered of a child. 8 Who ever heard of such a thing, who ever saw anything like this? Can a country be born in a day? Can a nation be brought forth all at once? For Zion, scarcely in labor, has brought forth her children! 9 Shall I open the womb and not bring to birth? says Yahweh. Shall I, who bring to birth, close the womb? says your God. 10 Rejoice with Jerusalem, be glad for her, all you who love her! Rejoice, rejoice with her, all you who mourned her! 11 So that you may be sucked and satisfied from her consoling breast, so that you may drink deep with delight from her generous nipple. 12 For Yahweh says this: Look, I am going to send peace flowing over her like a river, and like a stream in spate the glory of the nations. You will be suckled, carried on her hip and fondled in her lap. 13 As a mother comforts a child, so I shall comfort you; you will be comforted in Jerusalem. 14 At the sight your heart will rejoice, and your limbs regain vigor like the grass. To his servants Yahweh will reveal his hand, but to his enemies his fury. 15 For see how Yahweh comes in fire, his chariots like the whirlwind, to assuage his anger with burning, his rebukes with flaming fire. 16 For by fire will Yahweh execute fair judgment, and by his sword, on all people; and Yahweh's victims will be many. 17 As for those who sanctify themselves and purify themselves to enter the gardens, following the one in the center, who eat the flesh of pigs, revolting things and rats: their deeds and their thoughts will perish together, declares Yahweh.

These are Isaiah's words of consolation to God's faithful remnant, and the passage begins with two commands to "Listen" in verses 5 and 6.
Question: In verse 5b those who hate and oppress the faithful make what challenge to God? How is it similar to what occurred in Matthew 27:39-40; Mark 15:30 and Luke 23:35?
Answer: They say if He is real let Him show Himself in some mighty act. This challenge is reminiscent of those who taunted Jesus on the Cross by saying "If he is really the son of God let him [prove it and] come down from the cross."

But they will be put to shame. 6 Listen! An uproar from the city! A voice from the Temple! The voice of Yahweh bringing retribution on his enemies.
Those who dare to challenge Yahweh "will be put to shame" in the judgment they will receive.

7 Before being in labor she has given birth. Before birth pangs came, she has been delivered of a child. 8 Who ever heard of such a thing, who ever saw anything like this? Can a country be born in a day? Can a nation be brought forth all at once? For Zion, scarcely in labor, has brought forth her children!
Verses 7-14 are built around the metaphor of motherhood. The sudden and miraculous advent of the new creation is described as a birth. In 66:7-8 the absence of labor in Zion's childbearing to bring forth new generations of believers is a symbol of the joyful begetting of the new people of God. The Jews see the fulfillment of Isaiah 66:8 in the creation of the modern state of Israel by the United Nations on November 29, 1947. The end of the British Mandate was midnight on May 14th, 1948 when Israel became an independent nation. A nation named "Israel" had not existed since 722 BC and was recreated "all at once" "in a day."

Christians see the fulfillment of these verses in the birth of the Kingdom of the Church that took place on a single day on the Jewish Feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to take possession of the 120 disciples of Jesus, praying with mother Mary, in the Upper Room in Jerusalem (Acts 1:13-15; 2:1-4). The Virgin Mary is the daughter of Zion and the new Eve who gives birth painlessly without the loss of her virginity (Rev 12:5). Mother Mary is the symbol of Mother Church and all Christians "who obey God's commandments and have in themselves the witness of Jesus" are her children (Rev 12:1-2, 5, 17).

In verses 15-17 all who have dishonored God by refusing to worship Him and practice false religions by following a false teacher/prophet ("the one in the center") will mourn when their time of retribution comes. The Lord is both just and merciful, and the final elimination of all suffering and evil is part of the work of redemption. The punishment of evil-doers by fire on the Day of Judgment is also described in the New Testament, especially in in Jesus' Kingdom parable in Matthew 13:41-42 in Jesus' explanation of the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat. Also see the same imagery in St. Paul's letter to the Thessalonians (2 Thess 1:8) when he describes the Second Advent of Christ: He will come amid flaming fire; he will impose a penalty on those who do not acknowledge God and refuse to accept the Gospel of our Lord Jesus (compare with Is 66:4 and 15).

Isaiah 66:18-24 ~ The Eschatological Discourse
18 I am coming to gather every nation and every language. They will come to witness my glory. 19 I shall give them a sign and send some of their survivors to the nations: to Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coasts and island that have never heard of me or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory to the nations, 20 and from all the nations they will bring all your bothers as an offering to Yahweh, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to my holy mountain, Jerusalem, Yahweh says, like Israelites bringing offerings in clean vessels to Yahweh's house. 21 And some of them I shall make into priests and Levites, Yahweh says. 22 For as the new heavens and the new earth I am making will endure before me, declares Yahweh, so will your race and your name endure. 23 From New Moon to New Moon, from Sabbath to Sabbath, all humanity will come and bow in my presence, Yahweh says. 24 And on their way out they will see the corpses of those who rebelled against me; for their worm will never die nor their fire be put out, and they will be held in horror by all humanity.

In 66:18-21 God summons the Gentile nations to Zion and from among them He will send out some Gentiles to far distant lands to proclaim His glory to "all your brothers" "the descendants of the Jews who are either still in exile or have been lost into the Gentile world. These will be brought back like an offering to God's "holy mountain" that is the universal Church of the new Jerusalem. This is one of the clearest calls for universal salvation in the Old Testament.

The "survivors" of the nations are the converts who will be sent to preach the faith to the ends of the earth. Do not missing the significance of these missionaries being converts from Gentile paganism. The list of Gentile regions is similar to Ezekiel 27:10-13. Tarshish is probably Spain; Put, Lud, Meshech, Tubal and Javan are all Greek territories but they represent the entire Gentile world that is called to enter into the new Zion of the spiritually redeemed Church.

21 And some of them I shall make into priests and Levites, Yahweh says.
Some of the converts will be ordained to the sacred priesthood and lesser ministers of the new order.

The last oracle in the Book of Isaiah is a call to rejoice in the joy that the new order will bring:
22 For as the new heavens and the new earth I am making will endure before me, declares Yahweh, so will your race and your name endure. 23 From New Moon to New Moon, from Sabbath to Sabbath, all humanity will come and bow in my presence, Yahweh says.
A new liturgy of worship will be established with a new liturgical calendar. The old liturgical calendar was marked by the monthly feast of the new moon and the weekly Sabbath worship. The Fathers of the Church, like St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, interpreted the oracle to be addressed to the "chosen ones" of the Sinai Covenant who will faithfully keep God's covenant until all these things are fulfilled in the Christ and when the covenant will be open to all mankind: "There will be a new heaven and a new earth, where man will live forever united with God. Isaiah tells us that this new life will last forever: For as the new heavens and the new earth which I shall make shall remain before me, says the Lord; so shall your descendants and your name remain (Is 66:22)'" (Against Heresies, 5.36.1).

The oracles end with a final warning about the divine punishment and eternal judgment that awaits the wicked and those who traffic in injustice: 24 And on their way out they will see the corpses of those who rebelled against me; for their worm will never die nor their fire be put out, and they will be held in horror by all humanity. Jesus will use the metaphor of "the worm that does not die" to describe the punishment earned by the sin of leading a someone who had faith away from God in Mark 9:48, but anyone who is the downfall of one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone hung round his neck ... it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm will never die nor their fire be put out. For everyone will be salted with fire (Mk 9:42-49). It also recalls a warning from Sirach: Do not swell the ranks of sinners, remember that the retribution will not delay. Be very humble since the recompense for the godless is fire and worms (Sir 7:16-17/17-19).

The new Jerusalem is a symbol for the Church established in the glorious new age of man. In 66:24 God's enemies lie dead outside the walls of the new Jerusalem, just as in the past, corpses, filth, and refuse lay in the Valley of Hinnon outside the city of the old Jerusalem were huge fires were constantly burning (Jos 15:8; 2 Chr 28:3; Mk 9:45-48). This is why Jesus used the Valley of Hinnon or Gehenna as His symbol for the Hell of the damned in the Greek text (see for example Mt 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mk 9:43, 45, 47; Lk 12:5). In contrast to the perpetual worship offered by the righteous in verses 22-23, the wicked and the godless who are God's enemies and the enemies of His Church will suffer a judgment of endless punishment.

Questions for reflection or group discussion:
How has Isaiah continuously balanced his oracles of judgment with his oracles of consolation and promise throughout his book? What is the reason that he has chosen to end his book with an oracle of divine judgment?

Endnotes:
1. The name "Gad" is part of the names of Canaanite deities or place names in the Bible like Baal-gad (Josh 11:17; 12:7; 13:5) and Migdal-gad (Josh 15:37).

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2016 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references:
Is 64:1 (CCC 696, 1031, 1147, 1189)
Is 65:16 (1063, 1065)