The juxtaposition between the promise of judgment and the promise of hope continues right to the end of the book of Isaiah, and the first two verses represent the contrast starkly:
This is what the Lord says:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
Where will my resting place be?
2 Has not my hand made all these things,
and so they came into being?”
declares the Lord.
“These are the ones I look on with favor:
those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
and who tremble at my word.
One type of person thinks they can build a life, like a house or temple, where God can dwell. It’s as if God needs them. They believe, whether they could articulate it or not, that God owes them, that he can be put in their debt. What they fail to take into account is the He is the Creator, their Creator, that he calls the shots, that he sets up the rules of the game, that he defines the things that are, and the things that are not.
The Lord affirms that he is the Creator, over and over and over again in the OT. It’s like he’s saying, don’t you get it? I’m God and you’re not! Paul may have been thinking of Isaiah when he spoke these words before the pagan philosophers at Mars Hill in Acts 17:
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.
That pretty much covers it all. We are contingent beings in every sense of the word, dependent on God for everything every moment of our existence. The contrast to human pride is humility and contrition. This second type of person knows they are unworthy.
These verses remind me of the first time I really heard the gospel, and it was in our Catholic church in Hacienda Heights when I was probably 15 or 16 before I was “born again.” The homily was on Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18. As Luke says, the parable was told because of those “who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” They were obviously not familiar with Isaiah 66! While at the temple two man were praying in exactly opposite ways, in Isaiah 66:1 and 2 ways. The Pharisee boasts about all he does and gives, while the (hated among the Jews of the day) tax collector “would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” I remember thinking at the time, “Hey, I can do that!” Little did I realize at the time that this is the very essence, the very heart of the gospel, the good news! We can never, ever measure up, so our confidence before a perfectly holy God is built into our contrition, our “repentance and rest,” on which our salvation is grounded. Our confidence is not in our performance, but solely in what God has done for us, not whatever we do or don’t do. How freeing are the words, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner,” because we know he will!
The rest of the chapter takes these two mentalities to their logical and ultimate conclusion. The Lord uses pregnancy as a metaphor for that final eschatological fulfillment of his promises. We may wonder if this will ever actually happen; we’ve been waiting thousands of years, after all. But the Lord says:
9 Do I bring to the moment of birth
and not give delivery?” says the Lord.
“Do I close up the womb
when I bring to delivery?” says your God.
(Funny, but Ironic aside on these verses. On my wife’s 19th birthday, a little less than three years before I was to meet here, I wrote these words in the margins: “v9 Promise from God regarding possible future mate 10/23/83). I say funny because these words were not written to me! My hermeneutical principals were a bit Fundy at the time. And ironic because it was her birthday!”)
There is a certain kind of frantic inevitability near the time of birth. Nothing can stop this baby from coming! That’s the kind of inevitability the Lord wants us to realize for his coming, for his making all things right. This is going to happen! And Isaiah ends with people from “all the nations” gathered before the Lord in the new heavens and new earth. But it doesn’t end happily for those who rebelled against Yahweh. The saved
will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”
A bit of a harsh way to end the book, but the Lord is letting his people know that justice will be done. However things may appear to us, all who proclaim the name of the Lord, proclaim loudly with Moses:
3 I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
4 He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he.