Read: Isaiah 65-66
Background Considerations We don’t read a lot in the Old Testament about life beyond death or heaven or resurrection. These ideas appear in places, but they are limited in number and mostly late. But what does appear in terms of expectations of the future appear to be mostly quite this-worldly and stretch the imagination as far as possible toward the ideal time and place for all the blessings God could possibly bestow on his people. A quick read of the conclusion of most of the prophetic books demonstrates that restoration means the best crops ever considered possible (and then some), the domination of peace, a just society, nice houses built by the inhabitants, vineyards, well-being. Is this how we should read restoration passages in Isaiah 9, 11 and especially 65 and 66? What would warm the souls of ancient Israelites about the future?
This brings us back to a question about the major task of prophets. Were they more concerned with the future or the past? What about the present audience standing before them, hoping for a word from the Lord? And, for the predictions of the future, for what purposes did the prophets use them? Why refer to the future? What did prophets hope to accomplish with predictions – to map out the future? to motivate people in the present? to give hope? to promise punishment? all of these?
Relevant Biblical Passages
- Reread Isaiah 56-66.
- Isaiah 65:1-16 – This chapter begins with a strongly judgmental message, based on repeated occurrences of sin and iniquity, perhaps mostly religious as opposed to social. The evil doers are separated from God’s “servants” (no longer “servant” as in Isaiah 40-55), to whom God promises sustenance and protection. This is the setting for what follows about new heavens and a new earth.
- Isaiah 65:17-25 – In the context of the preceding verses, how should we understand the concept of new heavens and earth? Is this like what is predicted in the New Testament book of Revelation (chapter 21) or is there something less grand envisioned here, something more earth-bound, even if described in such expansive terms? While there will be peace among animals and between people, there still appear to be more worldly elements noted particularly in verses 20-23: death (even if later in life), sinners one hundred years old, building houses and having children. What is the main point of this passage?
- Isaiah 66:1-16 – Again, the chapter begins with problems, even if in the context of humility and contrition. And again, there is reason for joy because of God’s actions on his people’s behalf, even if those still pursuing their own agenda will meet an unpleasant fate.
- Isaiah 66:17-24 – These verses begin with a further description of the role the nations play in the restoration of Judah and end with another announcement about new heavens and a new earth. Again, there is, mixed into the final verses about all things new a description of dead bodies and continuously burning fires of purging. Still a bit earthly, however hopefully looking towards the heavenly. Evidently, some of the rabbis felt the reading of Isaiah should not end with the final verse and so returned to verses 22 and 23 to conclude the book on a much more optimistic note, including the regular occasions like the Sabbath for worship. In spite of the mixed expectations recorded here, what is the main point? Even if there are mosquitos in their paradise, what did the prophet intend to convey to God’s people?
Contributions to the study of Isaiah There is a sense, even if not as fully developed as in the book of Revelation, that this material brings the book of Isaiah to an optimistic conclusion and provides hope for the future.
Lessons for Life At the end of the story, whatever has happened along the way, it is good to know that God’s plans for us are good ones, that God’s intentions are for our best.