Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Nov 5 2019 - Isaiah 66 – Warning and hope

In his opening chapter, Isaiah brought a word of judgment from "the Holy One of Israel" upon a people who were oppressing one another and riding roughshod over widows and the fatherless and whose rulers were leaders in corruption. The Lord said that he had no time for their worship; when they brought animals for sacrifice into the temple this was a mere "trampling of my courts" (1:12). God hates a show of religion joined to self-centred and ungodly living. It was because of the faithlessness of this people that they were taken off into captivity in Babylon and both the temple and Jerusalem were destroyed.

Now we have come to the last chapter of this great book of prophecy and, having endured many years of exile, the Israelites are looking forward to going home, looking forward to rebuilding the temple and resuming worship in Jerusalem.

But the book ends with words of warning echoing those with which it began. God's people must not become so preoccupied with the outward show of religion that they forget that God calls them to lives of humble and generous obedience.

Concerning the rebuilding of the temple, the Lord says:

Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
    Where will my resting-place be? (66:1)

These words echo those used by Solomon in his prayer at the dedication of the first temple (see 1 Kings 8:27). Solomon recognised that the living God could not be contained in a house made by human hands. The temple was a symbol of the way in which the Great Creator of all things humbled himself to dwell amongst human beings – a symbol that found its fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ. God is not looking for "acts" of worship but for a people who will reflect his own holy character and who will worship him in spirit and in truth:

These are the ones I look on with favour:
    those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
    and who tremble at my word. (66:2)

Those returning to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple need to take this message to heart. A failure to understand these things led to their exile. They need to avoid a repetition of their sins with their return. Levitical worship without a trembling heart is an abomination to God (v. 3).

The Lord promises those who tremble at his word, that though they may be hated and despised by others (v. 5), he will bless them and multiply their numbers in a remarkable way: "I … am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory" (v. 18). The Lord will send some of his people as heralds into the surrounding nations, to places where the Lord is not yet known, to "proclaim my glory among the nations" (v. 19). So God's kingdom will reach to the ends of the earth and all the world see and acknowledge the glory of the Lord.

One can readily see how these words of prophecy find their focus and fulfilment in the Lord Jesus, and the apostle Paul seems to have understood his own ministry as a fulfilment of these prophecies (see the echo of Isaiah 66:19 in Romans 15:20-21). But the mission of God in Christ remains incomplete. The Lord is still calling his people to tell the good news of Jesus Christ to those who have not yet heard of him. Will we, like Isaiah, respond by saying, "Here am I. Send me!"?

Father in heaven, we want your kingdom to come and your will to be done on earth as in heaven. Help us by your Spirit to glorify you by lives which reflect the glorious life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Help us to show and tell the world of him.

Peter Misselbrook