Jehovah Revives the Spirit of the Lowly Ones
1. What assurance did Jehovah give, and what questions are raised by his words?
“THIS is what the High and Lofty One, who is residing forever and whose name is holy, has said: ‘In the height and in the holy place is where I reside, also with the one crushed and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly ones and to revive the heart of the ones being crushed.’” (Isaiah 57:15) So wrote the prophet Isaiah in the eighth century B.C.E. What was happening in Judah that made this message so encouraging? How do these inspired words help Christians today? A consideration of Isaiah chapter 57 will help us answer those questions.
“You Men, Come Up Close Here”
2. (a) When do the words of Isaiah chapter 57 seem to apply? (b) What is the situation of righteous ones in Isaiah’s day?
2 This part of Isaiah’s prophecy seems to apply in Isaiah’s own day. Consider how entrenched wickedness has now become: “The righteous one himself has perished, but there is no one taking it to heart. And men of loving-kindness are being gathered to the dead, while no one discerns that it is because of the calamity that the righteous one has been gathered away. He enters into peace; they take rest upon their beds, each one that is walking straightforwardly.” (Isaiah 57:1, 2) If a righteous man falls, no one cares. His untimely death goes unnoticed. Falling asleep in death brings him peace, release from the suffering inflicted by the ungodly, and escape from calamity. God’s chosen nation has sunk to a deplorable state. But how those who remain faithful must be encouraged to know that Jehovah not only sees what is going on but will support them!
3. How does Jehovah address the wicked generation of Judah, and why?
3 Jehovah summons the wicked generation of Judah, saying: “As for you men, come up close here, you sons of a soothsaying woman, the seed of an adulterous person and of a woman that commits prostitution.” (Isaiah 57:3) They have well earned such shameful descriptions as sons of a soothsayer and offspring of an adulterer and of a prostitute. The false worship to which they have turned includes disgusting acts of idolatry and spiritism as well as immoral sexual practices. Hence, Jehovah asks these sinners: “Over whom is it that you have a jolly good time? Against whom do you keep opening wide the mouth, keep sticking out the tongue? Are you not the children of transgression, the seed of falsehood, those who are working up passion among big trees, under every luxuriant tree, slaughtering the children in the torrent valleys under the clefts of the crags?”—Isaiah 57:4, 5.
4. Of what are the wicked ones of Judah guilty?
4 The wicked ones of Judah practice their shocking pagan worship openly, having “a jolly good time.” They scornfully mock God’s prophets who have been sent to correct them, sticking out their tongues in a shameless, disrespectful gesture. Although they are children of Abraham, their rebellious ways make them children of transgression and the seed of falsehood. (Isaiah 1:4; 30:9; John 8:39, 44) Out among the big trees in the countryside, they stir up religious fervor in their idolatrous worship. And what cruel worship! Why, they even slaughter their own children, like the nations whose detestable ways led to their being driven off the land by Jehovah!—1 Kings 14:23; 2 Kings 16:3, 4; Isaiah 1:29.
Pouring Out a Drink Offering to Stones
5, 6. (a) What have the inhabitants of Judah chosen to do rather than worship Jehovah? (b) How blatant and widespread is Judah’s idol worship?
5 See how deeply the inhabitants of Judah have plunged into idolatry: “With the smooth stones of the torrent valley was your portion. They—they were your lot. Moreover, to them you poured out a drink offering, you offered up a gift. For these things shall I comfort myself?” (Isaiah 57:6) The Jews are God’s covenant people, yet rather than worship him, they pick stones out of the riverbed and make gods of these. David proclaimed that Jehovah was his portion, but these sinners have chosen lifeless stone idols as their lot and pour out drink offerings to them. (Psalm 16:5; Habakkuk 2:19) What comfort can Jehovah find in such perversion of worship by his name people?
6 Everywhere—under big trees, in torrent valleys, on hills, in their cities—Judah commits idolatry. But Jehovah sees it all, and through Isaiah, He exposes her depravity: “Upon a mountain high and lifted up you set your bed. There also you went up to offer sacrifice. And behind the door and the doorpost you set your memorial.” (Isaiah 57:7-8a) Upon the high places, Judah makes her bed of spiritual uncleanness, and there she offers sacrifices to foreign gods.* Even private houses have idols behind the doors and the doorposts.
7. With what spirit does Judah engage in immoral worship?
7 Some may wonder why Judah has become so involved in unclean worship. Has some stronger power forced her to abandon Jehovah? The answer is no. She does it willingly, eagerly. Jehovah states: “Apart from me you uncovered yourself and proceeded to go up; you made your bed spacious. And for yourself you went concluding a covenant with them. You loved a bed with them. The male organ you beheld.” (Isaiah 57:8b) Judah has made a covenant with her false gods, and she loves her illicit relationship with them. She especially loves the immoral sexual practices—likely including the use of phallic symbols—that characterize worship of these gods!
8. Under which king in particular did idolatry flourish in Judah?
8 The description of grossly immoral, cruel idol worship fits what we know of several wicked kings of Judah. Manasseh, for example, built up the high places, erected altars to Baal, and put false religious altars in two temple courtyards. He made his sons pass through the fire, practiced magic, employed divination, and promoted spiritistic practices. King Manasseh also put into Jehovah’s temple the graven image of the sacred pole that he had made.* He seduced Judah into doing “what was bad more than the nations whom Jehovah had annihilated.” (2 Kings 21:2-9) Some believe that Manasseh had Isaiah killed, although Manasseh’s name does not appear in Isaiah 1:1.
“You Continued Sending Your Envoys”
9. Why does Judah send envoys “far off”?
9 Judah’s transgression goes beyond serving false gods. Using Isaiah as his mouthpiece, Jehovah says: “You proceeded to descend toward Melech with oil, and kept making your ointments abundant. And you continued sending your envoys far off, so that you lowered matters to Sheol.” (Isaiah 57:9) The unfaithful kingdom of Judah goes down to “Melech,” “the king” in Hebrew—likely the king of a foreign power—offering him expensive and appealing gifts, symbolized by oil and perfumed ointments. Judah sends emissaries to faraway places. Why? To persuade Gentile nations to make political alliances with her. Having turned her back on Jehovah, she puts her trust in foreign kings.
10. (a) How does King Ahaz seek an alliance with the king of Assyria? (b) In what way does Judah ‘lower matters to Sheol’?
10 One example of this is in the days of King Ahaz. Feeling threatened by an alliance between Israel and Syria, that unfaithful king of Judah sends messengers to Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria, saying: “I am your servant and your son. Come up and save me out of the palm of the king of Syria and out of the palm of the king of Israel, who are rising up against me.” Ahaz sends silver and gold as a bribe to the king of Assyria, and the king responds, launching a devastating attack on Syria. (2 Kings 16:7-9) In her dealings with the Gentile nations, Judah stoops to “the depths of Sheol.” (An American Translation) Because of those dealings, she will die, or cease to exist as an independent nation with a king.
11. What false sense of security does Judah display?
11 Jehovah continues to address Judah: “In the multitude of your ways you have toiled. You have not said, ‘It is hopeless!’ You have found a revival of your own power. That is why you have not grown sick.” (Isaiah 57:10) Yes, the nation has labored hard in her apostate ways, and she fails to see the hopelessness of her endeavors. To the contrary, she deludes herself into believing that she is succeeding in her own power. She feels invigorated and healthy. How foolish!
12. What conditions in Christendom parallel those in Judah?
12 Today there is an organization whose conduct is reminiscent of that of Judah in Isaiah’s day. Christendom uses the name of Jesus, but she pursues alliances with the nations and has filled her places of worship with idols. Her adherents even set up idolatrous images in their private homes. Christendom has sacrificed her young people in the wars of the nations. How offensive all of this must be to the true God, who commands Christians: “Flee from idolatry”! (1 Corinthians 10:14) By involving herself in politics, Christendom has ‘committed fornication with the kings of the earth.’ (Revelation 17:1, 2) She is, in fact, a major supporter of the United Nations. What lies ahead for this religious harlot? Well, what does Jehovah say to her prototype, unfaithful Judah, especially as represented by her capital city, Jerusalem?
‘Your Collection Will Not Deliver You’
13. What “lying” does Judah take up, and how does she react to Jehovah’s patience?
13 “Whom did you become frightened at and begin to fear, so that you took up lying?” asks Jehovah. A good question! Judah certainly shows no wholesome, godly fear of Jehovah. Otherwise, she would not have become a nation of liars, worshipers of false gods. Jehovah goes on to say: “I was not the one that you remembered. You took nothing to your heart. Was I not keeping silent and hiding matters? So you were in no fear even of me.” (Isaiah 57:11) Jehovah has kept silent, not inflicting immediate punishment upon Judah. Does Judah appreciate this? No, instead she views God’s forbearance as indifference. She has lost all fear of him.
14, 15. What does Jehovah say about Judah’s works and her “collection of things”?
14 However, the period of God’s long-suffering will end. Looking toward that time, Jehovah declares: “I myself shall tell forth your righteousness and your works, that they will not benefit you. When you cry for aid your collection of things will not deliver you, but a wind will carry even all of them away. An exhalation will take them away.” (Isaiah 57:12, 13a) Jehovah will expose Judah’s sham righteousness. Her hypocritical works will be of no benefit. Her “collection of things,” her inventory of idols, will not deliver her. When calamity strikes, the gods in which she trusts will be blown away by a mere breath of wind.
15 Jehovah’s words are fulfilled in 607 B.C.E. That is when Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar destroys Jerusalem, burns the temple, and takes most of the people captive. “Thus Judah went into exile from off its soil.”—2 Kings 25:1-21.
16. What awaits Christendom and the rest of “Babylon the Great”?
16 Similarly, Christendom’s large inventory of idols will not deliver her in the day of Jehovah’s anger. (Isaiah 2:19-22; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10) Along with the rest of “Babylon the Great”—the world conglomerate of false religion—Christendom will be annihilated. The symbolic scarlet-colored wild beast and its ten horns “will make [Babylon the Great] devastated and naked, and will eat up her fleshy parts and will completely burn her with fire.” (Revelation 17:3, 16, 17) How glad we are to have obeyed the command: “Get out of her, my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins, and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues”! (Revelation 18:4, 5) May we never return to her or her ways.
“The One Taking Refuge in Me Will Inherit the Land”
17. What promise is made to ‘the one taking refuge in Jehovah,’ and when is this realized?
17 What, though, of the next words of Isaiah’s prophecy? “The one taking refuge in me will inherit the land and will take possession of my holy mountain.” (Isaiah 57:13b) To whom is Jehovah speaking now? He is looking beyond the coming cataclysm and foretelling the liberation of his people from Babylon and the restoration of pure worship in his holy mountain, Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66:20; Daniel 9:16) What a source of encouragement this must be to any Jews who remain faithful! Further, Jehovah says: “One will certainly say, ‘Bank up, you people, bank up! Clear the way. Remove any obstacle from the way of my people.’” (Isaiah 57:14) When the time comes for God to deliver his people, the way will be ready, with all obstacles removed.—2 Chronicles 36:22, 23.
18. How is Jehovah’s loftiness described, yet what loving concern does he display?
18 It is at this point that the prophet Isaiah relates the words quoted at the outset: “This is what the High and Lofty One, who is residing forever and whose name is holy, has said: ‘In the height and in the holy place is where I reside, also with the one crushed and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly ones and to revive the heart of the ones being crushed.’” (Isaiah 57:15) Jehovah’s throne is in the highest heavens. There is no position higher or loftier. How comforting to know that from there he sees everything—not only the sins of the wicked but also the righteous acts of those who try to serve him! (Psalm 102:19; 103:6) Moreover, he hears the groans of the oppressed and revives the hearts of the crushed. These words must have touched the hearts of repentant Jews in ancient times. They certainly touch our hearts today.
19. When does Jehovah’s indignation cease?
19 Comforting, too, are Jehovah’s further words: “It will not be to time indefinite that I shall contend, nor perpetually that I shall be indignant; for because of me the spirit itself would grow feeble, even the breathing creatures that I myself have made.” (Isaiah 57:16) None of God’s creatures could survive if Jehovah’s wrath were perpetual, without end. Happily, though, God’s indignation is only for a limited time. When it has accomplished its purpose, it ceases. This inspired insight helps us develop deep appreciation for Jehovah’s love toward his creation.
20. (a) How does Jehovah deal with an unrepentant wrongdoer? (b) In what way does Jehovah comfort the contrite one?
20 We gain more insight as Jehovah continues. First he says: “At the erroneousness of his unjust gain I grew indignant, and I proceeded to strike him, concealing my face, while I was indignant. But he kept walking as a renegade in the way of his heart.” (Isaiah 57:17) The wrongs committed because of greed certainly invite God’s wrath. As long as one remains a renegade at heart, Jehovah remains indignant. But what if the renegade responds to the discipline? Then Jehovah shows how his love and compassion move him to act: “I have seen his very ways; and I began to heal him and conduct him and make compensation with comfort to him and to his mourning ones.” (Isaiah 57:18) After taking disciplinary action, Jehovah heals the contrite one and comforts him and those mourning with him. That is why in 537 B.C.E., the Jews were able to return home. True, Judah was never again an independent kingdom. Still, the temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt, and true worship was restored.
21. (a) How did Jehovah revive the spirit of anointed Christians in 1919? (b) What quality do we as individuals do well to cultivate?
21 “The High and Lofty One,” Jehovah, also showed concern for the welfare of the anointed remnant in 1919. Because of their contrite, humble spirit, the great God, Jehovah, kindly noticed their affliction and delivered them from Babylonish captivity. He removed all stumbling blocks and led them to freedom so that they could render pure worship to him. Thus Jehovah’s words through Isaiah had a fulfillment then. And behind those words are eternal principles that apply to each one of us. Jehovah accepts worship only from those who are lowly in mind. And if one of God’s servants should sin, he should be quick to acknowledge his error, accept reproof, and correct his ways. May we never forget that Jehovah heals and comforts humble ones but “opposes the haughty ones.”—James 4:6.
‘Peace to Those Far and Near’
22. What future does Jehovah foretell for (a) the repentant? (b) the wicked?
22 Contrasting the future of those who repent with that of those who persist in their wicked ways, Jehovah declares: “I am creating the fruit of the lips. Continuous peace there will be to the one that is far away and to the one that is near, . . . and I will heal him. But the wicked are like the sea that is being tossed, when it is unable to calm down, the waters of which keep tossing up seaweed and mire. There is no peace . . . for the wicked ones.”—Isaiah 57:19-21.
23. What is the fruit of the lips, and in what way is Jehovah “creating” this fruit?
23 The fruit of the lips is the sacrifice of praise offered to God—public declaration to his name. (Hebrews 13:15) How is Jehovah “creating” that public declaration? In order to offer a sacrifice of praise, an individual first has to learn of God and then put faith in him. Faith—a fruit of God’s spirit—moves that person to tell others what he has heard. In other words, he makes public declaration. (Romans 10:13-15; Galatians 5:22) It should be remembered, too, that Jehovah is ultimately the one who commissions his servants to tell forth his praise. And Jehovah is the one who liberates his people, making it possible for them to offer such sacrifices of praise. (1 Peter 2:9) Hence, Jehovah can well be said to create this fruit of the lips.
24. (a) Who come to know God’s peace, and with what result? (b) Who do not come to know peace, and what is the result for them?
24 What thrilling fruit of the lips the Jews must be offering as they return to their homeland singing praises to Jehovah! They must be joyful to know God’s peace, whether they are “far away”—distant from Judah, still waiting to return—or “near”—already in their homeland. In broad contrast, how different things are for the wicked! Any who fail to respond to Jehovah’s disciplinary acts, the wicked whoever and wherever they are, have no peace at all. Seething like the restless sea, they keep producing, not the fruit of the lips, but “seaweed and mire,” everything that is unclean.
25. How are many far and near coming to know peace?
25 Today, too, Jehovah’s worshipers everywhere declare the good news of God’s Kingdom. Christians far and near in more than 230 lands offer the fruit of their lips, sounding forth praise of the only true God. The praises they sing are heard “from the extremity of the earth.” (Isaiah 42:10-12) Those who hear their expressions and respond are embracing the truth of God’s Word, the Bible. Such ones are coming to know peace, which comes from serving “the God who gives peace.”—Romans 16:20.
26. (a) What lies ahead for the wicked? (b) What grand promise is made to the meek, and what should be our determination?
26 True, the wicked pay no heed to the Kingdom message. Soon, though, they will not be allowed to disturb the peace of the righteous. “Just a little while longer, and the wicked one will be no more,” Jehovah promises. Those taking refuge in Jehovah will inherit the land in a wonderful way. “The meek ones themselves will possess the earth, and they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.” (Psalm 37:10, 11, 29) What a lovely place our earth will then be! May all of us be determined never to lose God’s peace, so that we can sing God’s praise for all eternity.
Likely the term “bed” refers either to the altar or to the place of pagan worship. Calling it a bed is a reminder that such worship is spiritual prostitution.
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Judah practices immoral worship under every luxuriant tree
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Judah builds altars all over the land
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“I am creating the fruit of the lips”