PROVOKING GOD BY FALSE WORSHIP BRINGS DIVINE RETRIBUTION IN CONTRAST TO THE BLESSING PROMISED TO HIS SERVANTS
A “primer” is a book that covers the basic elements of a subject. In the field of education, you have various primers on the subject of reading or grammar or other fundamental topics. Usually you think of a primer as a positive treatment of a particular topic. But here in Isaiah 65 we find a primer on how to provoke God via false worship and the consequences of such activity.
Some children seem to have a special ability to provoke their parents – more so than their siblings. They know how to push Mom and Dad’s buttons; they are very bold and brazen and up front in their rebellion; not concealing their sins in some sneaky and stealthy fashion; They arrogantly assert their independence and shake their fist right in the face of authority.
You know that it would be foolish to go up to a ferocious bear and poke it. Why would people want to provoke Almighty God to wrath?
Chap. 64 – Context: Looking to God for immediate deliverance – Where is Our Help? Why are those who come from the physical bloodline of Israel not being treated like the spiritual elect of God? Problem = their persistence in sin and rebellion; Here in Chap. 65 they did not get the type of response from God that they probably desired – although the ultimate future for the faithful remnant is still glorious
PROVOKING GOD BY FALSE WORSHIP BRINGS DIVINE RETRIBUTION IN CONTRAST TO THE BLESSING PROMISED TO HIS SERVANTS
I. (:1-7) DIVINE RETRIBUTION FOR FALSE WORSHIP — ROLE REVERSAL FOR BOTH FAITHFUL GENTILES AND FAITHLESS ISRAEL
A. (:1) Receptivity Provided to Directionless Gentiles – What Does Sovereign Grace Look Like? God Does Not Deserve to Be Provoked by False Worship
“I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me;
I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me.
I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ To a nation which did not call on My name.”
New section begins marked by a change in the speaker – from the people of Israel in confession to the Lord Himself.
Can’t be talking about Israel here; must be a foreshadowing of the future salvation of Gentiles
Rom. 10:20-21 – Apostle Paul applies this verse to the Gentiles and verse 2 to the Jews
Ephes 2:12 – remember the former state of the Gentiles
No explanation but sovereign grace – God drawing rebellious people to Himself
Motyer: We only seek because God has first sought us (John 15:16)
Parunak: the Lord is expressing his receptiveness to those who would never think of seeking him in the first place.
Left in awe of the compassion and mercy and grace of a God who reaches out and takes the initiative to save even a group of people that didn’t even have God on their radar
B. (:2-5) Rebellion Practiced by Idolatrous Israel – What Does False Worship Look Like?
1. (:2) General Indictment of Idolatrous People of Rebellion – 3 Characterizations:
a. Persistently Rebellious
“I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people,”
After having witnessed the power of Sovereign Grace in vs. 1, how can we digest this picture of a frustrated God who spreads out His hands in entreaty and invitation and pleading all day long without any positive response from his own nation of Israel?
Parunak: They accuse him of being remote and unmoved (63:15). He responds to them that he has never been inaccessible to them; the separation has been on their part, because of their willful worship.
b. Irrevocably Perverted
“Who walk in the way which is not good,”
Not inclined to follow the law and wisdom of God:
– Look at the way of the Lord which is revealed in Psalm 119 as His Word is extolled
– Look at the way of the Lord as His wisdom is revealed in Proverbs
c. Arrogantly Unsubmissive
“following their own thoughts,”
Sinatra song: “I did it my way”
Look at the detailed instructions the Lord had given His people about worship; certainly He wanted them to take His instructions seriously and follow them in obedience rather than come up with their own system of worship
Look how little attention is being devoted in churches today to understanding the Word of God – people are not interested in learning what God has said; they want freedom to express their own thoughts and adopt their preferred methodologies for worship – most of which border more on entertainment
Constable: The Lord had not hidden His face from the Israelites, but on the contrary, had offered Himself to His people. It was not He who needed to change in His orientation toward them, but they needed to change. They were rebellious and pursued their own agenda (cf. 59:1-2; Rom. 10:21). He was not unresponsive. They wanted to have Him on their own terms (cf. 55:6-11).
Parunak: The summary description of Israel includes three characterizations. Unlike the details in vv. 3-5, these are all very generic.
• They are rebellious ñøø “stubborn,” resistant to being led, as Hosea describes a young cow in 4:16.
• Their way is “not good.” It will not profit them in the long run, and it does not agree with God’s standards.
• They are walking “after their own thoughts.” Here is the root of the problem, people who follow their own ideas instead of seeking to know God’s thoughts and submitting their minds and wills to those thoughts. Contrast those praised in 66:2, 5, who “tremble at his word.”
This is what False Worship looks like – but in order to flesh out the picture, we get a more detailed look in the next few verses
2. (:3-5) Detailed Indictment of Idolatrous People of Rebellion
Chiastic structure here – at the heart = Proclivity for Unclean Cultic Rituals
a1. (:3a) Persistence in False Worship Provokes God’s Wrath
“A people who continually provoke Me to My face,”
Parunak: If this book teaches us anything, it teaches us to beware the wrath of God. A reasonable person recognizes dangerous animals or hostile people and tries to avoid upsetting them. Israel is clearly not reasonable. . .
With good reason, the Westminster divines advised their flock,
WCF 21:1 the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.
David Thompson: Instead of Israel responding to God, she thumbed her nose at the gracious invitation of God. What Israel specifically did is to continually provoke God to His face. The Hebrew word “provoke” is one that means to irritate and anger God by continually doing things He finds very offensive (William Gesenius, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 409). The Hiphil stem of the participle means that this action of angering God has been completely caused by His own people. In other words, they blatantly rebelled right in the face of God.
Four Provoking Actions follow:
b1. (:3b) Pride in Their Humanistic Worship
“Offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on bricks;”
Lots of religious activity pictured here
Parunak: The “gardens” are the groves and sacred trees that were central to Canaanite worship. Isaiah recalls this failing at the start of the book:
Isa 1:29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.
A garden is a great place to worship God. God put our first parents in a garden. But because of their sin, he excluded them, and any effort to construct such a garden in our own strength is an assertion that we can regain paradise by our own efforts.
“Altars of brick” similarly emphasize human efforts to worship God based on our own worthiness. The Law authorized two kinds of altars, apart from those in the Tabernacle: a pile of earth, and uncut stones.
Exo 20:24 An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.
25 And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.
The restriction on the stone altar emphasizes the need to use materials in their natural state, as God gave them. Brick altars are not authorized, and involve human effort inappropriate to a sinful person approaching a holy God. Brick was widely used in Babylon, and the reference may be to those in captivity who would adopt elements of Babylonian religion.
Constable: The Israelites provoked the Lord by offering their sacrifices in ways that were unacceptable to Him—and then claimed that He was unresponsive to them. Gardens were unauthorized places for sacrificing, and bricks were unauthorized materials for an altar (cf. Exod. 20:25; Deut. 27:5-6; Josh. 8:31).
Motyer: Just as the garden was an unauthorized place for sacrificing, so bricks were an unauthorized material for an altar. Isaiah will press his condemnations deeper, but he starts with the simplicities of religious practice, for disobedience often begins at a point where obedience would be easy but we do not think it important.
c1. (:4a) Proclivity for Unclean Cultic Rituals
“Who sit among graves,
and spend the night in secret places;”
Watts (quoted by Constable): appear to be rituals of the cult of the dead, that is, necromancy in
which one contacts the spirits of the dead by spending the night in the cemeteries.
Parunak: Someone who “remains” among the graves and “lodges” in the monuments remains perpetually unclean, cut off from the worship that God ordains. Yet these people offer their sacrifices in spite of their pollution.
c2. (:4b) Proclivity for Unclean Cultic Rituals
“Who eat swine’s flesh,
And the broth of unclean meat is in their pots.”
Cf. Lev. 11
Allen Ross: The same verse tells of their eating unclean meat, such as the pig, probably at sacrificial meals (cf. 66:17). It was believed that to eat animals considered unclean would be not merely an act of rebellion but a means of communion with supernatural powers, the animals being totems, and the eating being a religious act allowing the consumer to receive the qualities of the ancestor which the totem animal represented. The pagan connections and ideas for the pig are some of the reasons why it was outlawed in Israel. It was not merely that it was meat that easily turned bad.
b2. (:5a) Pride in Their Hypocritical Worship
“Who say, ‘Keep to yourself, do not come near me,
For I am holier than you!’”
Is. 5:20-21 “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes And clever in their own sight!”
David Thompson: These are proud religious people. Don’t miss this point – people involved in false religion that is not after the truth of God are proud of themselves and their religion. People who go to churches where they are not really carefully taught God’s Word are proud of their church. They don’t care if the church ever takes them through one book of the Bible. They have their worship, their rituals and liturgy and they are proud of it. They would rather have that than an accurate understanding of the Word of God.
Motyer: they developed their own notions of holiness, in particular a holiness of elitism that stood aloof from fellowship and created divisions, a first-class and second-class citizenship of special experiences or claims such as find no place in the Bible.
a2. (:5b) Persistence in False Worship Provokes God’s Wrath
“These are smoke in My nostrils,
A fire that burns all the day.”
C. (:6-7) Retribution Promised for Idolatrous Israel – What Will Be the Destiny for Those Practicing False Worship?
1. (:6-7a) Certainty of Retribution
“’Behold, it is written before Me, I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
I will even repay into their bosom,
Both their own iniquities and the iniquities of their fathers together,’
says the LORD.”
Written down so the Lord remembers and holds people accountable for their sins – the sons ended up committing the same type of transgressions as their fathers did
Young: As Boaz measured the barley into the lap of the garment covering the bosom (cf. Ruth 3:15), so God will exact retribution.
Parunak: So far, this section describes the false worship to which Israel was often tempted. The next section (vv. 8-16) will talk about the judgments that God will bring on them for this sin. Vv. 6-7 are a transitional device called a hinge, containing key elements of the sections on either side. In this case, it is chiastic. In the center we have a summary of the false worship from vv. 2-7, while the outer members anticipate the judgment of vv. 8-16.
Motyer: The divine reaction is:
(i) certain, for it is written before me
(ii) personal, I will not keep silent/quiet
(iii) a measured requital, pay back in full
(iv) individual in application, into their laps/bosom
(v) a final settlement
From generation to generation there is a heaping up of guilt before God, and failure to break with the past involves accepting the inheritance of the past
2. (:7b) Cause of Retribution = False Worship
“Because they have burned incense on the mountains,
And scorned Me on the hills,
Therefore I will measure their former work into their bosom.”
Constable: Repayment would be for the sins of all His people, since dependence on cultic righteousness had long been their sin. They had heaped up guilt from generation to generation, and failure to break with the past resulted in their having to accept the inheritance of the past. They had worshipped Yahweh at mountain shrines for a long time, and this amounted to scorning, not worshipping, the Lord. He would, therefore, pay them back in measure for their sins.
II. (:8-16) TWO CONTRASTS BETWEEN THOSE WHO ARE BLESSED AND THOSE WHO ARE CURSED
A. (:8-12) First Contrast Between Blessing and Cursing
1. (:8-10) Blessing for Those Who Seek the Lord
a. (:8) Remnant Preserved
“Thus says the LORD, ‘As the new wine is found in the cluster, And one says, ‘Do not destroy it, for there is benefit in it,’ So I will act on behalf of My servants In order not to destroy all of them.’”
Cf. 5:1-7 vinedresser found nothing but wild, sour grapes; but what if he found a few good grapes amidst the cluster; wouldn’t he spare the vine
b. (:9) Possession of the Promised Land
“And I will bring forth offspring from Jacob, And an heir of My mountains from Judah; Even My chosen ones shall inherit it, And My servants shall dwell there.”
Parunak: Throughout Isaiah, we have seen this geographical emphasis as part of the promise of the redemption of Israel. Such promises are very difficult to reconcile with a covenant view that spiritualizes Israel into the church
c. (:10) Reminder of the Boundaries of the Promised Land
“And Sharon shall be a pasture land for flocks,
And the valley of Achor a resting place for herds,
For My people who seek Me.”
Oswalt: Sharon is the fertile coastal plain that stretches north and south along the Mediterranean Sea from Joppa to Mt. Carmel. By contrast, the Valley of Achor is one of the almost barren wadis that lead up from the region of Jericho toward the central ridge. . . Most commentators believe that these places have been chosen because by being on the west and the east of the country, they represent the country as a whole. It may also be significant that one (Sharon) is naturally fertile and the other (Achor) is naturally barren, and that the one has pleasant associations and the other tragic ones. These factors may further enable the parts to represent the whole.
Parunak: The plain of Sharon is the natural route for armies to follow moving north and south, and Isaiah describes it as desolate under the Lord’s judgment (Is. 33:9)
Valley of Achor received this name because it was the place where Joshua caused Achan to be stoned for his violation of the ban on Jericho:
Jos 7:25-26 And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled òëø us? the LORD shall trouble òëø thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones. 26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor òëåø , unto this day.
As with Sharon, the point is that a place previously marked by judgment will now become a peaceful, pastoral scene.
Constable: The faithful who truly sought the Lord would inhabit the fertile western coastal plain and the barren eastern area west of Jericho, in other words, the whole land. Some interpreters regard both the Sharon and the valley of Achor as favorite places in Palestine. Those who sought the Lord were not necessarily those who engaged in religious activity but those who obeyed His covenant requirements.
2. (:11-12) Cursing for Those Who Forsake the Lord
a. (:11-12a) Four-fold Indictment
“But you who forsake the LORD,
Who forget My holy mountain,
Who set a table for Fortune,
And who fill cups with mixed wine for Destiny,”
Cf. 1:28 for same participial expression – “the forsakers of the Lord”
Constable (using Delitzsch): “Fortune” (Heb. gd) was an Aramean god (cf. Josh. 11:17; 15:37), and “Destiny” (Heb. mny) means “apportionment (of fate)” and may have a connection with the goddess “Manat” of Arabian mythology. These may have been what became identified later with the planets Jupiter (“the greater luck”) and Venus (“the lesser luck”), or with the sun and moon.
Beall: It is interesting today how many are also bowing down to fortune and destiny, playing the lottery to solve all their problems.
Oswalt: One of the perennial concerns of humans is the control of the future. The fear of the unknown keeps driving us to a variety of sources in our attempt to know what is going to happen to us. . . these persons seek the gods of Fortune and Destiny in an attempt to propitiate them and gain good luck I the future.
b. (:12b) Devastating Punishment
“I will destine you for the sword,
And all of you shall bow down to the slaughter.”
c. (:12c) Undeniable Culpability
1) Deaf to God’s Entreaties
“Because I called, but you did not answer;
I spoke, but you did not hear.”
Tremendous amount of revelation from God who was reaching out to them continually with outstretched arms
2) Perverted in Moral Choices
“And you did evil in My sight,
And chose that in which I did not delight.”
Parunak: These four clauses are repeated nearly verbatim in 66:4, at the end of the “false worship” section, by way of transition to the consequences.
Jer. 2:13 “For my people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
We should find our delight in obeying the Lord
B. (:13-16) Second Contrast Between Blessing and Cursing
“Therefore, thus says the Lord God,”
1. (:13-15a) Emphasis on Contrasting Destinies
a. Regarding Eating and Drinking
“Behold, My servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry.
Behold, My servants shall drink, but you shall be thirsty.”
b. Regarding Joy and Shame/Sorrow
“Behold, My servants shall rejoice, but you shall be put to shame.
Behold, My servants shall shout joyfully with a glad heart,
But you shall cry out with a heavy heart,
And you shall wail with a broken spirit.
And you will leave your name for a curse to My chosen ones,
And the Lord God will slay you.”
2. (:15b-16) Emphasis on the Destiny of Those Who are Blessed
a. Blessed with a New Identity
“But My servants will be called by another name.”
Oswalt: The criteria for inclusion is not ethnicity but whole-hearted commitment to God and his ways
b. Blessed with the Solid Foundation of the God of Truth
“Because he who is blessed in the earth Shall be blessed by the God of truth;
And he who swears in the earth Shall swear by the God of truth;”
“The God of the amen”
Talk about building your house on the solid rock instead of shifting sand
c. Blessed with Eternal Forgiveness and Prosperity
“Because the former troubles are forgotten,
And because they are hidden from My sight!”
Remember the warning in Hebrews against resisting the Voice of the Lord and provoking Him to wrath:
Heb. 3:7-11 finish with vs. 6