Prior to Isaiah 65, seventeen verses are presented as a prayer to Yahweh. Beginning with “Look down from heaven and see” (63:15), Isaiah provides a model of how God’s people should be praying during this crisis. He states that although Yahweh is their Father, he is concerned that Abraham does not know them. They have drifted far from the ways of Israel. Isaiah asks, “Why the Lord has made them wander from him and harden our hearts, so that we fear you not?” (63:17). As evidence of their desperation, Isaiah prays that Yahweh would rip the heavens open and come down and give them a true display of his majesty; he wants the mountains to quake in the presence of the Lord (64:1). He rightfully acknowledges that Israel is the clay and he is the potter (64:8). Finally, he closes with two questions that sound more like desperate pleas: first, “will you restrain yourself at things, O Lord?” and second, “Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly?” Yahweh responds to these questions beginning in Isaiah 65:1 with the words “I was ready,” (twice) “I said,” “I spread,” and “I will” (seven times). He responds with love and grace to the question of his silence and affliction with a promise of a Seed, comfort to his servants, and horror to the rebellious. The primary purposes of this paper are to provide an exposition of Isaiah 65:1-16, with a focus on the interpretive issues of the passage, identify the theological significance of the passage, and to draw application into the twenty-first century as a message just as relevant to believers and unbelievers as it was to the original recipients.
Paul reinforces the relevancy of passages like Isaiah 65 with his application to epistles like Romans. In chapter 10, Paul explains that his heart aches for Israel and that his greatest desire is to see Jews stop seeking after personal righteousness and pursue God’s righteousness by faith (v. 3). Then after a thorough explanation concerning how one is saved by believing in (v. 9)/ obeying (v. 16) the gospel in faith, Paul proceeds to quote from the Old Testament to prove that this is not a new idea. First, he quotes from Isaiah 53:1 and then he quotes from Psalm 19:4. Third, he quotes from Moses in Deuteronomy 32:21, and then in verses 20 and 21 he quotes from Isaiah 65:1-2. He writes, “Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, ‘I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.’ But of Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.’” Paul’s incorporation of Isaiah in his argument reveals its relevancy to the message of the gospel.
Exposition of the Text
God’s Love and Forbearance
In response to the accusation that God was neglecting his covenant people, Isaiah 65:1 answers the two questions presented in the previous chapter. These questions are: “Will you restrain yourself at these things, O LORD? [and] Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly?” The initial response to the question reveals Yahweh’s amazing benevolence, mercy, and grace. This is seen in the fact that he permits people, more specifically a nation, to find him who are not seeking to know him (65:1-2a). Speaking for God, Isaiah declares that God has not been silent! He has continually been revealing himself to a nation that was not called by his name (65:1). “Who is this nation” is the first interpretive issue in the text. Concerning the last clause “a nation that was not called by my name,” Carson writes: “The Hebrew [language] as it stands supports Rom. 10:20–21 in referring v 1 to the Gentiles and v 2 to Israel. In the NIV, the Hebrew phrase ‘a nation … not called by my name’, (i.e. the Gentiles) has been adjusted to read a nation that did not call on my name (which could still be Israel). While this reading can claim ancient support, the unaltered Hebrew (as in the AV and RV) points quite clearly to the Gentiles, answering Israel’s disdainful 63:19b, rather than merely echoing 64:7. Obviously then, the issue is not with God. Smith writes, “To this sinful Israelite “nation” (gôy), a derogatory term for foreign nations that is used instead of the covenant term “people” all of which seems to reinforce that Yahweh is not referring to Israel.
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