Isaiah 65:17-25

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                                                                 Isaiah 65:17-25
Background to the Book of Isaiah
Historical Situation:

Isaiah 65 is within the last eleven chapters of the Book of Isaiah which contains within it traditions from different periods of Israel's life. For example, Isaiah 60-62 was probably first spoken/written soon after the return of the exiles from Babylon. Jerusalem was still in ruins and not the glorious place which the exiles had left 50 years previously. The newly returned exiles needed encouragement to begin the restoration programme which would restore Jerusalem to its former glory and the prophet's words are doing just this in Isaiah 60-62. The later situation in which the Isaiah 56-66 was formed was a very different situation in the time of Ezra/Nehemiah (400 BCE). It appeared that foreigners (nacar) who worshipped Yahweh had been part of the worshipping community. In Ezekiel 44 it talks about foreigners who had served in the temple. In Isaiah 56 it talks about foreigners who have joined themselves to the Lord, will minister and serve him and be his servants. A very radical message and in total opposition to the message in Ezra/Nehemiah which wanted to exclude the foreigners totally from the community even the children. It appeared that foreigners had come to know Yahweh and were loyal Yahwist followers. In opposition to the exclusive policies of Ezra/Nehemiah they were fighting for their survival within the worshipping community.

Literary Comments

Isaiah 56- 66 can be seen as a chiasm with Isaiah 60-62 in the centre and on either end we have the inclusive message about foreigners (Isaiah 56:1-8 & Isaiah 66:18-24).

56:1-8 = Proclamation of salvation for foreigners

56:9-57:13 = Indictment of wicked leaders

57:14-21 = Proclamation of salvation for the people

Isaiah 58:1-4 = Indictment of corrupt worship

Isaiah 59:1-15a = Lament and confession over the sins of the people

Isaiah 59:15b-20 = Theophany of judgement/redemption

Isaiah 60-62 = Proclamation of fully redeemed people

Isaiah 63:1-6 = Theophany of judgement/redemption

Isaiah 63:7-64:12 = Lament and confession over the sins of the people

Isaiah 65:1-16 = Indictment of corrupt worship + promise of transfer of leadership to faithful

Isaiah 65:17-25 = Proclamation of salvation for the faithful servants

Isaiah 66:1-6 = Indictment of wicked leaders

Isaiah 66:7-24 = Proclamation of salvation including foreigners

(N.K.Gottwald. The Hebrew Bible. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985, p.508)

The language is rich in symbols and metaphors and in places reminds one of the language used in Isaiah 40-55 especially Isaiah 60-62. Some scholars suggest that these chapters could have been the work of disciples who returned with the first of the returnees from Babylon to Jerusalem in 538 BCE. However, there is a real mixture of forms in these eleven chapters. The unconditional promise is there, but a response is expected if people are to to be in relationship with God (Isaiah 56:1-2).

The poetry contains first person speech by God, direct address to the people and third person description all mixed together. If one reads closely the changes challenge us to see how the subject matter is highlighted by these changes in speech.

The whole book of Isaiah has been divided up into three main sections which appear to reflect preaching from different historical periods. Chapters 1-39 are often referred to as the prophecies from Isaiah of Jerusalem and cover the periods shown in the above table. Chapters 40-55 speak to the exiles, offering forgiveness and a strong encouragement to move back to Jerusalem. It contains some of the most beautiful language and a comprehensive theology of God as creator and redeemer. The remaining chapters 56-66 speak to a later post-exilic situation addressing quite different concerns to those expressed in Isaiah 40-55.

Context of Isaiah 65:17-25
The lectionary verses for Old Testament come nearly at the end of Isaiah 56-66 in the section titled Proclamation of Salvation for all people including foreigners (Gottwald:509).

After the inclusive message about the foreigners in Isaiah 56 we find that Isaiah 57 spells out in detail the idolatrous behaviour of the people: judgement will befall them and their adopted idols will not rescue them. The ones who are humble and contrite will dwell in "the high and holy place" because God will cease to be angry. Isaiah 58 expounds the sins of the people even further. Moreover, the chapter combines two major areas of sinful behaviour in the eyes of God: cultic impropriety and unethical behaviour (vv.1-7, 9b-10a, 13). If these behaviours are reversed the people will be saved (vv.8-9a, 10b-12, 14). As in Isaiah 56:1-8, a similar emphasis on the Sabbath occurs in this chapter. The separation from Yahweh is blamed on the people's sinfulness which is described in graphic pictures in Isaiah 59:1-8 and reiterated by the people who acknowledge their sins in Isaiah 59:9-15.

In Isaiah 60 the nations will come to Jerusalem because they see the light and the glory which God has bestowed on the city (60:3). The role of the foreigners when they come to Jerusalem will be to build the walls. The kings also will serve Jerusalem (60:10). Aliens will become servants in the fields, do the ploughing and tend the vineyards (61:5). We move from God's promise of renewal and restoration in chapters 60-62 to the portrait of a God who is angry and vengeful in Isaiah 63:1-6 . When God looks there is no one to save. The sense of well-being and hope for the people of Israel is shattered when we read the opening verses of Isaiah 63:1-6.

Because Isaiah 63:7-64:11 draws on the lament genre, the reader will be helped to touch into feelings of loss and grief, which reinforce the depth of feeling spoken of in the lament.

Chapter 65:1-25 is structured around the theme of Yahweh saying, "I was available to my people, I was rejected and I shall create new heavens and a new earth for those who are faithful". God desired a relationship with his chosen people, Israel. But, when God said, "Here am I", the people continued to turn away and go after other gods. Indeed, the list of cultic sins of which they are accused leaves us in no doubt about the apostasy and faithlessness of Yahweh's chosen. There is a sense of both sorrow and indignity that is expressed by the repeated "when I called, you did not answer" (65:1,12), compared with the feeling of hope when God announces he will answer the faithful before they call (65:24).

These verses are followed with a further indictment before a proclamation of salvation which uses incredible images of birth and care. It finishes with the proclamation that the nations will be on mission to other nations and from these foreigners priests and Levites will be chosen. An extraordinary message.

Insights/Message of Isaiah 65:17-25
Clearly, Isaiah 65 is a response to the lament in Isaiah 64 in which the people refused to hear the call of God to them. Once again we have a proclamation which reminds us of similar passages in Deutero-Isaiah (Isaiah 42:9, 43:19, 48:6), also in Isaiah 66:22. In the Deutero-Isaianic passages 'a new thing' refers to what Yahweh is going to do for the exiles; that is, to bring them back from Babylon to Israel. Trito-Isaiah has taken theological ideas from Deutero-Isaiah, but the new circumstances have decreed a new proclamation. The repetition of v.16b after the announcement in v.17a emphasises the assertion that Yahweh will forget completely what has happened previously.

Only here and in 66:22 are the words 'new heavens and new earth' to be found in the Hebrew Scriptures. The participle form indicates that the action has begun and the new creation is a present reality, not a future event. We agree with those who maintain that this verse is unlikely to be the start of the apocalyptic genre .

The verb (create, bara) always has Yahweh as the subject. In the creation stories of Genesis 1, God creates the world - a divine activity. In Isaiah 65:17 'God creates a new heavens and a new earth' and in v.18 he creates Jerusalem - 'a rejoicing'. We cannot stress enough the significance of the verb. God chooses to create once more a new community and a new Jerusalem whose inhabitants will be the faithful. They will be 'my chosen' and 'my servants'. Are we meant to remember the foreigners and eunuchs from 56:1-8 and therefore to see chapters 56-66 as a progressive story about God's purposes for a new inclusive community? Isaiah 65 sets out in vv.19-25 the conditions in the new heavens and new earth.

What Yahweh now creates is specified in vv.18-25 as the new creation for his servants. It is not a cosmic creation. The sense of rejoicing and newness that is apparent in Isaiah 62 appears in Isaiah 65:18-19 After the new creation has been announced, the text describes the consequences for the servants. Weeping is an experience of the past. In Isaiah 65 the reconstituted community of Yahweh's chosen comprises the faithful ones. The idyllic picture of the new community continues to be described in v.22. Long life is promised when the metaphor of the tree is applied to the people (v.22b). Further, a promise is given in line two of v.22b which indicates that they will never be under the rule of a foreign power again.

V.23a continues to speak about 'my chosen' whose work will bear fruit and whose children will never be snatched away in sudden or unexpected death. Isaiah 65:19b - 23a gives us the conditions which will prevail in the new creation and in Jerusalem. It is an idyllic description of long life, prosperity and peacefulness.

Verse 25 is regarded as apocalyptic in genre and therefore depicting in symbolic language a picture of the new heavens and earth (v.17). The scene is one of domestic peace and bliss, even the lion eating straw.

Message / Theology

Here in Isaiah 65 we have a profound theological statement that declares the chosen will be the offspring of the blessed ones of Yahweh. Both ideas - offspring and blessing - are present earlier in the chapter. Verse 24 is a clear statement which reminds us of earlier verses. In v.1 God is ready and waiting in vain for the people to call, whereas in v.24 he will hear and answer even before they speak. First, God is portrayed as one who lets go of those people who choose not to be in relationship with him. Secondly, it shows a God who offers a relationship of self to a group who are 'the chosen/ my servants' because of their faithfulness. This latter group will be heard and answered even before they speak. There are no conditions attached to the people's acceptance in 65:24, but in the context of the verse we understand that those people who have abstained from all the idolatrous sins mentioned earlier in the chapter will be 'my chosen'.

The theological message in Isaiah 65:1-25 is structured around the theme of Yahweh saying, I was available to my people, I was rejected and I shall create a new heavens and earth for those who are faithful (not necessarily Israelite only). God desired a relationship with this chosen people, Israel. But, when God said, Here am I, Israel continued to turn away and go after other gods. Indeed, the list of cultic sins of which they are accused leaves us in no doubt about the apostasy and faithlessness of Yahweh's chosen people. There is a sense of both sorrow and indignity that is expressed by the repetitive "when I called you did not answer" (65:1,12), compared with the feeling of hope when God announces he will answer the faithful before they call (65:24). This group for whom God will create a new heavens and a new earth are called my servants and include all people who are faithful. They will live in the idyllic conditions set out in vv.19-25, compared with the punishment described in vv.7,12,13-15 for those who have rejected Yahweh. Israel, can no longer assume they are the chosen people because new criteria have been put in place which encompasses foreigners and Israelites who are humble and contrite in spirit, and tremble at his word.

Within the Christian context we believe at Easter God is doing a new thing with the creation of a new earth and a new heavens for those who respond to what God has done in and through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We need to remember the context of Isaiah 65:17ff which reminds us that to be recipients of the new earth and new heavens we hear and respond to the call of of God through Jesus Christ.

Resources/Worship for Isaiah 65:17-25
I think it is important to help people see the context into which Isaiah 65:17-25 was intended and help congregations to understand that the message which was intended for the people of that time before moving into the Christian view. If the verses are taken out of context it is very easy to impose meaning on the text which fails to take into account its original audience. We must treat the text with integrity before asking the question: how does this speak to us in a Christian context? By doing this we can find great depth of creativity as the Christian writers have seen how the Scriptures witness to Jesus Christ.


The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book of Isaiah.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Brueggemann, Walter. Isaiah 40-66. Westminster BC. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, c1998.
Childs, Brevard S. Isaiah. OTL. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
Emmerson,Grace I. Isaiah 56-66. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992.
Hanson, Paul D. Isaiah 40-66. Int. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox, 1995.
Muilenburg, James, and Henry Sloan Coffin. "The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66." In The Interpreter's Bible. 5:381-773. New York: Abingdon Press, 1956.
Oswalt, John. The Book of Isaiah. Chapters 40-66. NICOT. Grand Rapids, Mich. W. B. Eerdmans, 1998.
Scullion, John J. Isaiah 40-66. OTM. Wilmington, Del. Michael Glazier, 1982.
Thompson, Michael. Isaiah Chapters 40-66. Epworth Commentaries. Peterborough: Epworth Press, 2001.
Tucker, Gene. "The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66." In The Interpreter's Bible. 6:307-552: Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.
Watts, John. Isaiah 34-66. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Book, 1987.
Westermann, Claus. Isaiah 40-66: A Commentary. OTL. London: SCM Press, 1966.b
Whybray, R. N. Isaiah 40-66. NCB. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott; Grand Rapids, Mich. W. B. Eerdmans, 1981, c1975.
Young, E. J. The Book of Isaiah: The English Text, with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. NICOT. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1972.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: