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Isaiah 63:15-66:24

07.28.2010

Today I finished Isaiah.  A couple of reactions:

63:17 | Isaiah’s complaint, on behalf of the Israelites here, resonates with me.  They ask why God makes them wander from their ways and hardens their heart so they don’t hear Him.  This points to the determinism issue that I struggle with on the whole.  Sovereignty implies responsibility.  If God is sovereign over everything, including my relationship with Him, it’s not that far of a jump to making Him culpable for my sins.  The Bible does describe God “hardening” the hearts of people like Pharaoh and Sennacherib.*  Many readers struggle with the implications of that, and I don’t pretend to know the answer.  The ESV Study Bible says that God hardens peoples’ hearts as a means of punishment, implying that they used their free will to reject God’s message, for which God hardened their hearts and locked them into that fateful decision.  Perhaps it’s a translation issue, either from Hebrew to English or from spiritual reality into limited human language.  I don’t know, but it’s something that continues to give me pause.**

65:17-25 | This section is typical of the final third of Isaiah, painting a hopeful picture of the Kingdom.  It’s very similar to the language in Rev. 21.

66:1 | I enjoy finding Bible verses that I first discovered through songs, be it hymns or contemporary worship music.  That’s true for this verse.

Thus says the Lord:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?”

There are two interesting messages in this imagery.  The first is one I admittedly got from the study Bible, and that is that God is reminding His people that He is not limited to the institutions He has set up for the purposes of divine interaction.  In other words, He instructed Israel to build an ark, and then a tabernacle, and then the temple.  There were very specific regulations for sacrifice and worship.  However, what was meant as a display of God’s holiness and as a manageable mechanism for the Israelites to approach the divine became in their minds a limitation for God.  They imagined that God was confined to His temple and that their interactions with Him could be compartmentalized.  Here God is reminding them, and us, that He is vast, bigger than any church, bigger than any religion. 

Secondly, I see this verse as conveying a lonely frustration.  God has hinted that His true dwelling place is in the hearts of those that love Him.  Much like in Rev. 3:20, God is asking where His home is as a prompt to convict those of us who have left Him homeless by denying Him His rightful place in our hearts.

66:24 | The last verse of Isaiah amuses me because it comes on the heels of another description of the happiness that awaits us in eternity.  He says that He will bring glory to His name, and that He will bind His people to Him forever.  Then, He ends the book with a curveball: 

And they shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against Me.  For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.

Lovely.

————

* Incidentally, while looking up how to spell Sennacherib’s name, I learned of Sennacherib’s prism, which is Assyrian documentation of that king’s interactions with King Hezekiah of Judah, corresponding to the story told in 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and Isaiah.  In the immortal words of Rivers Cuomo, how cool is that?

** Caedmon’s Call has a good song called “Prove Me Wrong,” that wrestles with this isse from the standpoint of a doubting believer who worries that his spiritual dryspell is the result of God hardening his heart.

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