Exploring the Scripture
The Book of Isaiah is a collection of prophecies from several prophets, living in several eras of Jewish history. The first prophet Isaiah lived when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was part of the Assyrian empire, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah was struggling with the Assyrian threat and a coalition of weaker nations around Judah uniting against Assyria.
Writings from a later prophet who lived after the Persian conquest of Babylon were added to the scroll of Isaiah because many of the themes are similar to the original prophet’s words. This “Second Isaiah” emphasized God as the creator of all people, moving through history. He idealized the future Jews as a suffering servant who would bring peace and justice through suffering and redemption.
Still a later prophet, “Third Isaiah,” was added to the scroll. Third Isaiah, from which today’s text is taken, was probably a contemporary of Haggai and lived during the time when the exiles had returned to Jerusalem. They were struggling to restore the city, the temple, and the nation.
Like Haggai, Third Isaiah pointed toward a messianic age that would restore the power and glory of the Jewish nation. But he went further. He also affirmed that God would restore all creation to the pristine condition of God’s original creative intent.
Today’s text presents creation’s restoration in a powerful poetic summary of transformation in an age to come. Verse 17 begins with a vision of “new heavens and a new earth.” All the old things are forgotten. The people should not mourn the passing of the old but rejoice and be glad.
God will celebrate with them, and there will be no mourning or weeping. Infant mortality will end, and people will live long and productive lives. They will live in the houses they build. They will plant and harvest for themselves, not for unjust kings or overlords. They will eat their own fruit and “enjoy the work of their hands” (v. 22). To a people who have experienced centuries of conquest, exile, and oppression, this was comfort indeed! They and their offspring will be blessed; and they will know God and be known. Even before they call on God, God will answer!
The vision shifts in verse 25 to the whole created order. The wolf and lamb will eat together, and the lion will have a vegetarian diet. All will be at peace, and violence will end. God’s promise is for “my holy mountain,” but since God’s holy mountain was considered the center of the created world, the implication is an extension of that peace and non-violence to all the earth.
In chapter 66, which follows our text for today, the final restoration will unite all the faithful, both Jew and Gentile. From the Gentiles whom God will gather; witnesses will be sent to nations who do not yet know God. The scattered Jews will return, with all the nations, to God’s holy mountain (Zion in Jerusalem). God will call forth priests and temple workers (Levites) from the Gentiles. It is a remarkable, inclusive, and all-encompassing vision of transformation for humankind and all creation. There are no conditions placed on this vision. Grace is a gift from a bountiful, loving God. That is good news, indeed!
- During a time of internal struggle among the returned exiles from Babylon, Third Isaiah brought a message of hope and transformation.
- Isaiah imagined a new heaven and a new earth, the entire created order’s restoration.
- Premature death would end. The people would enjoy the fruits of their own labors and not serve conquering overloads.
- The new earth includes all nations. God would call witnesses, priests, and temple workers from Gentiles as well as Jews.
- Even animals would enjoy peaceful coexistence.
Questions to Consider
- How does the created order need restoration and new life today?
- How does consumerism work against enjoying the fruits of one’s labors? What can be done to halt the abuses of consumerism?
- How might this scripture text speak to our current ecological struggles?
- Similar to the Jews hearing that Gentiles will be called by God, how would you feel if representatives from other world religions were called by the Holy Spirit to serve as members of the priesthood?
- How can you take action to live the peace of Jesus Christ for humankind, animals, and the Earth?