Zion's future hope. 66:5-14
In the final two chapters of his prophecy, Isaiah touches again on the themes covered in chapters 56-64. The people of Israel are seemingly without hope, yet the Lord has a word for his destitute people, his "servants." Judgment is coming upon those who are against the Lord and his people. Those who have compromised their faith and turned from the Lord will face a similar judgment. As for the Lord's remnant people, they will inherit the land, 65:8-10. These servants of the Lord who tremble before his Word, will face a glorious future, 66:5-14. All nations will have the opportunity to share in this glorious future, 66:18-21. The Lord will reveal himself to those who did not ask for him; he will be found by those who did not call on his name, 65:1.
v5-6. Addressing the "word-tremblers" (faithful Israel, the "servants", the "remnant"), the Lord promises that their compromised brothers who malign them will be "put to shame." The contrast here, and in earlier passages, is between those who follow a compromised national cult resting on a theology of worldly pragmatics, and those who follow truth as revealed in God's Word. The pragmatists, who think that only they are blessed by God, isolate and exclude the "word-tremblers." Since the pragmatists do not tremble in the presence of the Lord's word, there will come a day when they will tremble in the presence of his judgment; they will see the temple-cult destroyed and Jerusalem along with it.
v7-8. As for the Lord's servants, they will witness an impossible thing. Like a pregnant woman having a painless childbirth (the image of Eden restored and the reversal of sin's curse), so the Lord's servants will experience the joyful dawning of the kingdom of God (the New Jerusalem, "Zion"). It will be as immediate and complete as the day of judgment upon the Lord's enemies.
v9. In this verse the Lord answers any who may doubt his promise. In the same way as it is absurd to terminate a pregnancy in its last stages, so it would be absurd for the Lord to terminate the realization of the kingdom now that its birth is near. He is a faithful God. Consider also, "do I procreate and then close the womb?" (better than NIV). If the Lord has started something, he will complete it. He is a sovereign God.
v10-11. The servants should not focus on Zion's present weakness and limitations, but rather they should identify with her coming day of glory.
v12-13. The imagery of Zion, the nursing mother, is continued. The coming glory consists of peace, with abundance and plenty for all. The nations will come streaming into the city, bearing gifts, just as in the days of Solomon.
v14. The compromised believers claimed that the "word-tremblers" would never see the glory of Zion, but they will see it, rejoice at it and be blessed. This will be the Lord's doing, as will be judgment on the "foes."
Tremble and live|
The prophecy of Isaiah was directed to a people caught in the middle of Near Eastern power politics during the reigns of Ahaz (732-716) and Hezekiah (716-687). There seemed little hope for Judah, struggling to survive against the might of Assyria and the interference of Egypt. All was falling apart and it seemed Jerusalem could not avert disaster. For most, the only solution lay in political treaties with the enemy and the inclusion of their deities in the temple cult. Only a remnant of the people rested on God's word rather than on political pragmatics.
To this remnant, Isaiah brings a message of hope. The Lord's intentions are unchanged. The day is coming when he will bless his people in Zion. In that day they will rejoice with joy. For the present, his servants should focus on the coming day rather than on Zion's present limitations.
For Isaiah, Zion is the city of Jerusalem. Later prophets, like Ezekiel and Zechariah, saw Zion in images well beyond the actual city of Jerusalem. The New Testament writers took the imagery further. They saw Zion as God's heavenly assembly; a reality imaged in the church, although only as a shadow.
Today, believers, the servants of the Lord, struggle in the face of aggressive secularism. It is for this reason we are tempted to turn to pragmatics to shore up dwindling congregations and reinforce financial viability. Increasingly we rest on marketing methodologies to build consumer confidence and gain product acceptance, train ministers in management principles, develop regular self-assessment regimes, lobby the political elite for institutional acceptance, ..... When we forget that "my kingdom is not of this world" we are easily tempted to become pragmatists rather than "word-tremblers."
Isaiah's answer to this problem should be our own. Instead of focusing on the limitations, we should focus on the Lord's intentions. Our gaze should be heavenward. Rather than getting into the business of doing, we should get into the business of receiving. Resting on the promises of the Lord is the way forward. He is both faithful and capable and therefore will do as he has promised.
The Lord "comforts" his people. In what sense are we comforted? In what sense are we comforted now, and how will we be comforted in the last day?
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