Jehovah Blesses Pure Worship
1. What themes are highlighted in the final chapter of Isaiah, and what questions are answered?
IN THE final chapter of Isaiah, some of the major themes of this prophetic book are brought to a resounding climax, and a number of important questions are answered. Among the themes that are highlighted are Jehovah’s loftiness, his hatred for hypocrisy, his determination to punish the wicked, and his love and concern for the faithful. Moreover, the following questions are answered: What distinguishes true worship from false? How can we be sure that Jehovah will bring retribution upon hypocrites who pretend to be holy while oppressing God’s people? And how will Jehovah bless those who remain faithful to him?
The Key to Pure Worship
2. What pronouncement does Jehovah make concerning his grandeur, and what does this pronouncement not imply?
2 To begin with, the prophecy emphasizes Jehovah’s grandeur: “This is what Jehovah has said: ‘The heavens are my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where, then, is the house that you people can build for me, and where, then, is the place as a resting-place for me?’” (Isaiah 66:1) Some believe that the prophet is discouraging the Jews from rebuilding the temple to Jehovah when the nation is restored to its homeland. Not so; Jehovah himself will command that the temple be rebuilt. (Ezra 1:1-6; Isaiah 60:13; Haggai 1:7, 8) What, then, does this passage mean?
3. Why is it fitting that the earth is described as Jehovah’s “footstool”?
3 First, we might consider why the earth is described as Jehovah’s “footstool.” This is not a derogatory term. Among all the billions of celestial bodies in the universe, the earth alone is given this special designation. Our planet will stand forever as unique, for it is here that Jehovah’s only-begotten Son paid the ransom, and it is here that Jehovah will vindicate his sovereignty by means of the Messianic Kingdom. How fitting that the earth be called Jehovah’s footstool! A king might use such a stool for ascending to his lofty throne and thereafter as a resting-place for his feet.
4. (a) Why is it impossible for any building on earth to be a resting-place for Jehovah God? (b) What is meant by the phrase “all these things,” and what must we conclude about worship of Jehovah?
4 Of course, a king would not reside upon his footstool, nor does Jehovah reside upon this earth. Why, even the vast physical heavens cannot contain him! Far less so could any mere building on the earth accommodate Jehovah so as to serve literally as a house for him. (1 Kings 8:27) Jehovah’s throne and his resting-place are located in the spirit realm, which is the sense of the expression “the heavens” as used at Isaiah 66:1. The next verse drives the point home: “‘Now all these things my own hand has made, so that all these came to be,’ is the utterance of Jehovah.” (Isaiah 66:2a) Picture Jehovah making a sweeping gesture as he points out “all these things”—everything in heaven and on earth. (Isaiah 40:26; Revelation 10:6) As the Grand Creator of all the universe, he deserves to have more than a mere building devoted to him. He deserves more than merely an outward form of worship.
5. How do we show that we are “afflicted and contrite in spirit”?
5 What kind of worship is fitting for the Universal Sovereign? He himself tells us: “To this one, then, I shall look, to the one afflicted and contrite in spirit and trembling at my word.” (Isaiah 66:2b) Yes, essential to pure worship is a right heart attitude on the part of the worshiper. (Revelation 4:11) The worshiper of Jehovah must be “afflicted and contrite in spirit.” Does this mean that Jehovah wants us to be unhappy? No, he is “the happy God,” and he wants his worshipers to be joyful as well. (1 Timothy 1:11; Philippians 4:4) However, all of us sin frequently, and we must not take our sins lightly. We ought to be “afflicted” by them, saddened that we miss the mark of Jehovah’s righteous standards. (Psalm 51:17) We need to show that we are “contrite in spirit” by repenting, fighting against our sinful tendencies, and praying to Jehovah for forgiveness.—Luke 11:4; 1 John 1:8-10.
6. In what sense should true worshipers ‘tremble at God’s word’?
6 In addition, Jehovah looks to those ‘trembling at his word.’ Does this mean that he wants us to quake with fear whenever we read his pronouncements? No, rather, he wants us to view what he says with awe and reverence. We sincerely seek his counsel, using it for guidance in all the affairs of life. (Psalm 119:105) We may ‘tremble,’ too, in the sense that we fear the very thought of disobeying God, of polluting his truth with human traditions, or of treating it lightly. Such a humble attitude is essential to pure worship—but, sadly, it is a rarity in today’s world.
Jehovah Hates Hypocritical Worship
7, 8. How does Jehovah view formal worship by religious hypocrites?
7 As Isaiah contemplates his contemporaries, he is well aware that few have the disposition that Jehovah seeks in his worshipers. For this reason, apostate Jerusalem deserves her impending judgment. Note how Jehovah views worship taking place in her: “The one slaughtering the bull is as one striking down a man. The one sacrificing the sheep is as one breaking the neck of a dog. The one offering up a gift—the blood of a pig! The one presenting a memorial of frankincense is as one saying a blessing with uncanny words. They are also the ones that have chosen their own ways, and in their disgusting things their very soul has taken a delight.”—Isaiah 66:3.
8 These words remind us of Jehovah’s words recorded in the first chapter of Isaiah. Jehovah there told his wayward people that their formal acts of worship not only failed to please him but actually caused his righteous anger to intensify because the worshipers were hypocritical. (Isaiah 1:11-17) Similarly, Jehovah now likens their offerings to heinous crimes. Their sacrificing a costly bull would no more appease Jehovah than would their murdering a human! Other sacrifices are likened to the offering up of a dog or a pig, animals that are unclean under the Mosaic Law and certainly unfit for sacrifice. (Leviticus 11:7, 27) Does Jehovah allow such religious hypocrisy to go unpunished?
9. How have most Jews responded to reminders from Jehovah through Isaiah, and what will be the inevitable result?
9 Jehovah now says: “I myself, in turn, shall choose ways of ill-treating them; and the things frightful to them I shall bring upon them; for the reason that I called, but there was no one answering; I spoke, but there were none that listened; and they kept on doing what was bad in my eyes, and the thing in which I took no delight they chose.” (Isaiah 66:4) Isaiah is no doubt able to utter these words with heartfelt conviction. For many years he has been Jehovah’s instrument, ‘calling’ and ‘speaking’ to His people. The prophet knows all too well that, by and large, no one has been listening. Because they have kept on doing bad, retribution is inevitable. Jehovah will indeed choose their punishment and bring frightful events upon his apostate people.
10. What do Jehovah’s dealings with Judah tell us about his view of Christendom?
10 Modern-day Christendom has similarly practiced things in which Jehovah takes no delight. Idolatry flourishes in her churches, unscriptural philosophies and traditions are exalted from her pulpits, and the quest for political power has led her ever deeper into a spiritually adulterous relationship with the nations of the world. (Mark 7:13; Revelation 18:4, 5, 9) As was the case with ancient Jerusalem, Christendom’s just retribution—a “frightful” thing—is coming inexorably upon her. Among the reasons for her certain punishment is the way she has treated God’s people.
11. (a) What adds to the sin of the apostates in Isaiah’s day? (b) In what sense do Isaiah’s contemporaries exclude faithful ones ‘by reason of God’s name’?
11 Isaiah continues: “Hear the word of Jehovah, you men who are trembling at his word: ‘Your brothers that are hating you, that are excluding you by reason of my name, said, “May Jehovah be glorified!” He must also appear with rejoicing on your part, and they are the ones that will be put to shame.’” (Isaiah 66:5) Isaiah’s “brothers,” his own countrymen, bear the God-given responsibility of representing Jehovah God and submitting to his sovereignty. Their sin in failing to do so is grave indeed. But what adds to their sin is that they hate men who are faithful and humble, such as Isaiah. These apostates hate and exclude the faithful because these represent Jehovah God truthfully. In that sense the exclusion is made ‘by reason of God’s name.’ At the same time, these false servants of Jehovah claim to represent him, piously using such religious-sounding phrases as “May Jehovah be glorified!”a
12. What are some examples of persecution of faithful servants of Jehovah by religious hypocrites?
12 The hatred that false religion has for adherents of pure worship is nothing new. It is a further fulfillment of the prophecy at Genesis 3:15, which foretold long-standing enmity between Satan’s seed and the Seed of God’s woman. Jesus told his anointed followers in the first century that they too would suffer at the hands of their fellow countrymen—exclusion from the synagogues and persecution even to the point of death. (John 16:2) And what of modern times? At the beginning of “the last days,” God’s people saw that similar persecution lay ahead. (2 Timothy 3:1) Back in 1914, The Watch Tower quoted Isaiah 66:5, noting: “Nearly all the persecutions that have come to God’s people have come from professed Christians.” The same article also said: “We do not know but that they may go to the extreme in our day—to kill socially, to kill ecclesiastically, perhaps to kill physically.” How true those words turned out to be! Not long after they were published, clergy-instigated persecution reached a fever pitch during World War I. But Christendom was put to shame, just as foretold. How?
A Swift and Sudden Restoration
13. In the original fulfillment, what is the “sound of uproar out of the city”?
13 Isaiah prophesies: “There is a sound of uproar out of the city, a sound out of the temple! It is the sound of Jehovah repaying what is deserved to his enemies.” (Isaiah 66:6) In the original fulfillment of these words, “the city” is Jerusalem, where Jehovah’s temple is located. The “sound of uproar” implies the tumult of war, which is heard in the city when the invading Babylonian armies assault it in 607 B.C.E. What, though, about the modern-day fulfillment?
14. (a) What did Malachi foretell about Jehovah’s coming to His temple? (b) According to Ezekiel’s prophecy, what resulted when Jehovah came to his temple? (c) When did Jehovah and Jesus inspect the spiritual temple, and how were those claiming to represent pure worship affected?
14 These words in Isaiah harmonize with two other prophetic utterances, the one recorded at Ezekiel 43:4, 6-9 and the other at Malachi 3:1-5. Both Ezekiel and Malachi foretell a time when Jehovah God comes to his temple. Malachi’s prophecy shows that Jehovah comes to inspect his house of pure worship and to act as a Refiner, rejecting those who misrepresent him. Ezekiel’s vision depicts Jehovah as entering the temple and demanding that all traces of immorality and idolatry be removed.b In the modern-day fulfillment of these prophecies, there was an important spiritual development in 1918 in connection with Jehovah’s worship. Jehovah and Jesus evidently made an inspection of all of those claiming to represent pure worship. That inspection led to the final casting off of corrupt Christendom. For Christ’s anointed followers, the inspection meant a brief period of refinement followed by a swift spiritual restoration in 1919.—1 Peter 4:17.
15. What birth is foretold, and how is this fulfilled in 537 B.C.E.?
15 This restoration is aptly pictured in the following verses of Isaiah: “Before she began to come into labor pains she gave birth. Before birth pangs could come to her, she even gave deliverance to a male child. Who has heard of a thing like this? Who has seen things like these? Will a land be brought forth with labor pains in one day? Or will a nation be born at one time? For Zion has come into labor pains as well as given birth to her sons.” (Isaiah 66:7, 8) For the exiled Jews in Babylon, these words find a thrilling first fulfillment. Zion, or Jerusalem, is again pictured as a woman giving birth, but what an unusual birth! It is so swift, so sudden, that it happens before birth pangs can begin! This is an apt picture. The rebirth of God’s people as a distinct nation in 537 B.C.E. is so swift and sudden that it seems miraculous. Why, from the time that Cyrus frees the Jews from captivity to the time that a faithful remnant are back in their homeland is merely a matter of months! What a contrast to the events leading up to the original birth of the nation of Israel! In 537 B.C.E., there is no need to petition a resistant monarch for freedom, no need to flee from a hostile army, no need to sojourn for 40 years in the wilderness.
16. In the modern-day fulfillment of Isaiah 66:7, 8, what does Zion picture, and how have her offspring undergone a rebirth?
16 In the modern-day fulfillment, Zion represents Jehovah’s heavenly “woman,” his heavenly organization of spirit beings. In 1919 this “woman” rejoiced to see the birth of her anointed sons on earth as an organized people, “a nation.” That rebirth was swift and sudden.c In just a matter of months, the anointed as a group went from a state of deathlike inactivity to one of vibrant, active life in their “land,” their God-given realm of spiritual activity. (Revelation 11:8-12) By the autumn of 1919, they even announced the publication of a new journal to complement The Watch Tower. Called The Golden Age (now Awake!), that new publication was evidence that God’s people were revitalized and once again organized for service.
17. How does Jehovah assure his people that nothing can prevent him from carrying out his purpose regarding spiritual Israel?
17 No force in the universe could prevent this spiritual rebirth. The next verse vividly says as much: “‘As for me, shall I cause the breaking through and not cause the giving birth?’ says Jehovah. ‘Or am I causing a giving birth and do I actually cause a shutting up?’ your God has said.” (Isaiah 66:9) Just as the process of birth is inevitable once it has begun, so the rebirth of spiritual Israel, once begun, was unstoppable. True, there was opposition, and there will likely be more opposition in the future. But only Jehovah can put a stop to what he begins, and he never does that! How, though, does Jehovah treat his revitalized people?
Jehovah’s Tender Care
18, 19. (a) What touching illustration does Jehovah use, and how does it apply to his exiled people? (b) How have the anointed remnant today benefited from loving nourishment and care?
18 The next four verses paint a touching picture of Jehovah’s tender care. First, Isaiah says: “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be joyful with her, all you lovers of her. Exult greatly with her, all you keeping yourselves in mourning over her; for the reason that you will suck and certainly get satisfaction from the breast of full consolation by her; for the reason that you will sip and experience exquisite delight from the teat of her glory.” (Isaiah 66:10, 11) Jehovah here uses the illustration of a woman nursing her infant. When a baby feels the pangs of hunger, it wails insistently. But when it is drawn close to its mother’s breast for feeding, its grief turns to happy contentment and satisfaction. In a similar way, the remnant of faithful Jews in Babylon will rapidly be brought from a state of mourning to one of happiness and satisfaction when the time of release and restoration comes. They will be joyful. Jerusalem’s glory will be renewed as it is rebuilt and reinhabited. In turn, the city’s glory will embrace its faithful inhabitants. Once again, they will be nourished spiritually by means of an active priesthood.—Ezekiel 44:15, 23.
19 Spiritual Israel too was blessed with abundant nourishment after the restoration in 1919. Since then the flow of spiritual food dispensed through “the faithful and discreet slave” has been steady. (Matthew 24:45-47) This has indeed been a time of consolation and joy for the anointed remnant. But there have been further blessings.
20. How has Jerusalem been blessed with “a flooding torrent,” both in ancient and in modern times?
20 The prophecy continues: “This is what Jehovah has said: ‘Here I am extending to her peace just like a river and the glory of nations just like a flooding torrent, and you will certainly suck. Upon the flank you will be carried, and upon the knees you will be fondled.’” (Isaiah 66:12) Here the image of nursing is combined with the picture of an abundant flow of blessings—“a river” and “a flooding torrent.” Jerusalem will be blessed not only with abundant peace from Jehovah but also with “the glory of nations,” which flows to and blesses God’s people. This means that people of the nations will flood to Jehovah’s people. (Haggai 2:7) In the ancient fulfillment, a number of people from various nations did indeed attach themselves to Israel, becoming Jewish proselytes. However, a far greater fulfillment has occurred in our own time when “a great crowd . . . out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues”—truly a flooding torrent of humanity—has attached itself to the remnant of spiritual Jews.—Revelation 7:9; Zechariah 8:23.
21. In an appealing word picture, what kind of comfort is foretold?
21 Isaiah 66:12 also speaks of expressions of maternal love—fondling a child upon the knees and carrying him upon the flank. In the next verse, a similar thought is expressed with an interesting shift in perspective. “Like a man whom his own mother keeps comforting, so I myself shall keep comforting you people; and in the case of Jerusalem you will be comforted.” (Isaiah 66:13) The child is now “a man,” an adult. But his mother has not lost her desire to comfort him in a time of distress.
22. How does Jehovah show the tenderness and strength of his love?
22 In this appealing way, Jehovah illustrates the strength and tenderness of his love for his people. Even the strongest maternal love is but a dim reflection of Jehovah’s deep love for his faithful people. (Isaiah 49:15) How vital it is that all Christians reflect this quality of their heavenly Father! The apostle Paul did, and thus left a fine example for elders in the Christian congregation. (1 Thessalonians 2:7) Jesus said that brotherly love would be the chief identifying mark of his followers.—John 13:34, 35.
23. Describe the happy state of Jehovah’s restored people.
23 Jehovah expresses his love in action. Thus, he continues: “You will certainly see, and your heart will be bound to exult, and your very bones will sprout just like tender grass. And the hand of Jehovah will certainly be made known to his servants, but he will actually denounce his enemies.” (Isaiah 66:14) A Hebrew-language grammarian suggests that the expression “you will certainly see” implies that wherever the returning exiles look in their restored land, “joy now meets their eye.” They will indeed exult, thrilled beyond words that they have been restored to their beloved homeland. They will feel rejuvenated, as if their bones were growing strong again, invigorated like grass in the springtime. All will know that this blessed state has come about, not by any human effort, but by “the hand of Jehovah.”
24. (a) What conclusion do you draw when considering events affecting Jehovah’s people today? (b) What should be our resolve?
24 Do you recognize the hand of Jehovah at work among his people today? No human could possibly have brought about the restoration of pure worship. No human could conceivably have caused the flood of millions of precious people from all nations to join the faithful remnant in their spiritual land. Only Jehovah God can do such things. These expressions of Jehovah’s love give us reason for profound joy. May we never take his love for granted. Let us continue to ‘tremble at his word.’ Let us resolve to live by Bible principles and to find delight in serving Jehovah.
a Today many in Christendom refuse to use Jehovah’s personal name, even removing it from numerous Bible translations. Some deride God’s people for using his personal name. Yet, many of these individuals make pious use of the expression “Hallelujah,” which means “Praise Jah.”
b The expression “the carcasses of their kings,” used at Ezekiel 43:7, 9, refers to idols. Jerusalem’s rebellious leaders and people had polluted God’s temple with idols and, in effect, had made kings of them.
c The birth here prophesied is not the same as the one described at Revelation 12:1, 2, 5. In that chapter of Revelation, the “son, a male,” pictures the Messianic Kingdom, which went into operation in 1914. However, the “woman” of both prophecies is the same.
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“All these things my own hand has made”
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Jehovah will extend to Zion “the glory of nations”