Photo by Jodie Morgan on Unsplash
It is difficult to jump into chapter 65 of any book, let alone Isaiah, and understand what is going on, but we will try. We know that Isaiah was a prophet to a dying nation, a nation headed to captivity. It should be no surprise that God asked the prophet to remind the people of their failings and to remind them that God expects them to obey Him.
In the preceding chapter, we read in verse 4; It is because You are angry that we have sinned; we have been steeped in them from of old, and can we be saved? JSB Can we be saved? That was the key question of Isaiah.
As is typical of Isaiah, passages of blame and suffering, followed by forgiveness and hope. In 64:7 we see Isaiah, and hopefully, some of the people, saying, But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are the Potter, we are all the work of Your hands. JSB
Before we start singing the hymn, look back to the first part of verse 4. Yet you have struck him who would gladly do justice, and remember You in Your ways. JSB Some of us are following your ways, but we are also being punished. That’s not fair.
This whole chapter is a back and forth; we sin, we deserve punishment; it is not our fault; we are sorry. It is exactly like children caught doing wrong. I didn’t do it. OK, I did, but it was not my fault. Please don’t punish me. Etc.
The chapter ends with verse 11. Will You stand idly by and let us suffer so heavily? JSB
The response from God comes in the next verses. I responded to those who did not ask, I was at hand to those who did not seek Me; I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that did not invoke My name. I constantly spread out My hands to a disloyal people, who walk the way that is not good, following their own designs; the people who provoke My anger, who continually, to My very face, sacrifice in gardens and burn incense on tiles; who sit inside tombs and pass the night in secret places; who eat the flesh of swine, with broth of unclean things in their bowls; who say “Keep your distance! Don’t come closer! For I would render you consecrated.” JSB
To rephrase: God, don’t you care that we are in pain? Where are you? To which God says, “Here I am.” I want to be close, but you shut me out. You don’t want to be Holy.
I constantly spread out My hands refers to the Jewish way to pray to God. Both hands are raised with the fingers splayed out. Here, God says I’m praying to you even though you won’t pray to Me. That’s how much I want you to listen. Sacrifice in gardens and burn incense on tiles. A common pagan practice. Sit inside tombs. Ancestor worship was a common practice then, much like it still is in Asia, especially Japan.
The Good News comes in in verse 8. As, when new wine is present in the cluster, one says, “Don’t destroy it; there’s good in it. So will I do for the sake of My servants. JSB
Now God makes it clear that He is mindful of the faithful. They may have to suffer with the rest of the nation in this world, but they will be wearing white robes in the New Jerusalem. Those who continue to sin will not be beside them.
Please do not read this with the idea that Isaiah was talking about Israel and Judah. He is speaking to us in our own sin. We eat the flesh of swine, with broth of unclean things in our bowls. It is to be human. We read the lives of the saints, starting with Peter and the gang, and we expect to be just as pure as they were. Yet, even the scriptures make it clear that they were saints with feet of clay. There are no perfect humans. You should be most suspicious of anyone who pretends to be.
We may wade in the muck, but we know God will wash us white as snow. Don’t be afraid to be human; God loves humans. He knows that we cannot be perfect in this world. We live life the best we can. We try to do what God wants us to do. We strive to become the saints we know we will fail to be. When we fall, we pick ourselves up, sometimes with help, and we strive for the goal again. If we are lucky, we might live a life like Jim Ryun who, owning the world records in the mile and the metric mile, went to three Olympics and came home with only one silver for all his years of work. It is not the rewards that matter; it is the effort. The reward of life in the New Jerusalem will be worth the work and suffering.
Read my earlier comments on this theme here.
Be righteous and do good.