What does God consider to be evil, displeasing abominations? Blasphemy? Premeditated murder? Rape? Interestingly, while those are without a doubt all bad, the abominations listed in Isaiah 66 are hallmarks of Old Testament religion: animal sacrifice, grain offerings and burnt incense. The perpetrators of such abominable sins of religion are indicted by God as having “chosen their own ways”. Yet the people who are favored by God are those who are humble, contrite in spirit and tremble at God’s word.
God begins the chapter by posing a question. He, being the Creator of the universe, all-powerful and all-knowing, would have no need of offerings and sacrifices made by human beings. As He puts it, “heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.” His proverbial foot is the size of the earth. He is bigger than than anything we can imagine. And so He asks: “Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?” Considering that God is everywhere, at the same time, throughout all time, it is ridiculous and incredibly arrogant to imagine humans building a tiny little house on planet earth that could serve as God’s residence.
The idea that we can manipulate God by religious acts is not only prideful but also dumber than dumb. Would building a magnificent mega-church edifice bring eternal glory to God or rather temporary glory to an individual minister for one or two generations? Would spouting off scriptures at church meetings bring glory to God or rather temporary glory to yourself for being Bible smart? When I get offended and angry when someone criticizes my worship leading choices or style, does that mean that the religious glory I get for being a worship leader is an idol for me or that I just need deliverance from insecurity and pride? I might be thinking too much but the basic lesson is that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father: the only Way to mercy, grace and peace. Christ is the only Truth. God is the only Father. He is the Leader. We are the followers. The least in the kingdom of God is the greatest. If you want to be the best in the kingdom, be the slave. Our job in the relationship is to trust and obey. It’s a position of humility. It’s a posture of faith towards Him. It’s giving Him the glory and the honor. And this is not for the purpose of positioning ourselves for power and influence. It is truly about giving God the very highest place.
“These are the ones I look on with favor;
those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
and who tremble at my word” (Isaiah 66:2, NIV)
Often I ask myself whether I’m doing anything significant. The question brings to mind ideas of great things I could do which would make myself worthy in my own eyes. Those thoughts reveal a pride not unlike that of Nimrod who thought building the Tower of Babel could make a name for himself (Genesis 11:4). Would it not be enough for me to simply listen to God and obey Him?
They have chosen their own ways,
and they delight in their abominations;
so I also will choose harsh treatment for them
and will bring on them what they dread.
For when I called, no one answered,
when I spoke, no one listened.
They did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me. (Isaiah 66:3-4, NIV)
I notice that God the people who did evil in His sight were all religious people. They sacrificed bulls and lambs. They made grain and incense offerings. Who did those things? Priests. Weren’t such practices prescribed in the Law by God Himself? Yet He says that the priests “chose” their own ways. We can infer that the priests did them of their own leading rather than in obedience to God. Even when the Bible says to do something–even when we have the Word of God on the matter–doing it can be an evil, displeasing abomination! What a shocking revelation! How can obeying the Word of God be so corrupted that it becomes a literal abomination to God, detestable and evil, worthy of harsh treatment and everlasting judgment? They didn’t listen. They didn’t listen to the Spirit of God speaking to them.
Hear the word of the LORD,
you who tremble at his word (Isaiah 66:5).
Hear the word of the Lord. So many times Jesus said “verily, verily”. He’s telling us some important truth, so listen up. So many times the Bible says, “he who has ears, let him hear”. God is speaking. Can you hear Him? Can I hear Him? If I am busy choosing my own path, I probably won’t be able to hear Him when He calls to me. It makes me tremble to realize that God calling me and I haven’t answered. It’s sobering to imagine that God is speaking to me but I just don’t listen. If I’m speaking to someone who doesn’t listen to me, I’ll stop talking.
“Build up, build up, prepare the road!
Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people”
For this is what the high and exalted One says–
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite (Isaiah 57:14-15, NIV)
God is with the humble. He wants us to listen and obey. He wants to revive us. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus said (Matthew 5:3, NIV). We will receive the blessing of revival if we go low in humility to the place where we are not self-sufficient but drink deep and often of God’s living water. We make ourselves low through repentance and thanksgiving. We put ourselves in the proper position to be revived by God by removing the obstacles of pride and self-determination.
And, I because of what they have planned and done, am about to come and gather the people of all the nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory. (Isaiah 66:18, NIV)
My heart’s desire is to glorify God. My flesh deceitfully thinks that I can glorify God by the works that I do. But God’s plan is simply for me to witness His glory and testify to it.
I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations–to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. And they will bring all your people, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the LORD–on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the LORD. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the LORD in ceremonially clean vessels. And I will select some of them to be priests and Levites,” says the LORD. (Isaiah 66:19-21, NIV)
The Lord talks of going to distant lands to proclaim His glory there and to bring them all back to Jerusalem. Some of them will be selected to be priests and Levites. I’m not sure what all this means. There was talk of judgment and many slain. Some survivors will testify to God’s glory. To even recognize God in the midst of destruction means one would have to have a deep, deep conviction and faith in God. These survivors, I would presume, would be those who were contrite, lowly and who trembled at God’s word. These ones were blessed to be able to bring back to the Lord believers from distant lands. A select portion of these would become priests and Levites.
I can’t pretend to fully understand all of what’s going on in Isaiah 66. But for me the very clear take away is that we cannot only “do the Word.” We cannot just implement the letter of the law. It’s more than that. Just as in Jesus’ sermon on the mount, He said that its not enough to not murder; we cannot be angry at someone. It’s not enough to keep from committing the physical act of adultery; we cannot even look lustfully at someone. It’s not enough to forgive someone for punching you in the face; have to forgive them and love them enough to let him get close enough to punch you again. It’s more than just doing what’s expected of us and what’s fair. It goes beyond the actions to what’s in the core of our hearts. I believe its about acknowledging God in everything. It’s about not trusting in my own understanding. It’s about leaning into Him moment by moment for guidance and strength. It’s about expecting God’s blessing and looking for evidence of it. It’s about recognizing God’s message to us in the moment and offering thanks when we see it. It’s about keeping our heart fully yielded to Him, like a beloved woman fully secure and wholly given to the man who loves her.
God, help me to come to that place of being humble. Let me come to the place of surrender to Your goodness, Your plan, Your love. Let me learn to trust You rather than myself. Help me learn that when I am poor in spirit, I am so rich in You. Lord, let Your love and holiness live and flow in me. Let me be a temple of Your Spirit where I truly worship You in spirit and in truth. Let me hear when You call. Let me answer when You speak. Let me witness Your glory and tell of it to the nations. Lord, be glorified!