The apostle Paul (an expositor we may depend upon) has given us the true sense of these verses, and told us what was the event they pointed at and were fulfilled in, namely, the calling in of the Gentiles and the rejection of the Jews, by the preaching of the gospel, Rom. 10:20, 21. And he observes that herein Esaias is very bold, not only in foretelling a thing so improbable ever to be brought about, but in foretelling it to the Jews, who would take it as a gross affront to their nation, and therein Moses’s words would be made good (Deut. 32:21), I will provoke you to jealousy by those that are no people.
I. It is here foretold that the Gentiles, who had been afar off, should be made nigh, Isa. 65:1. Paul reads it thus: I was found of those that sought me not; I was made manifest to those that asked not for me. Observe what a wonderful and blessed change was made with them and how they were surprised into it. 1. Those who had long been without God in the world shall now be set a seeking him; those who had not said, Where is God my maker? shall now begin to enquire after him. Neither they nor their fathers had called upon his name, but either lived without prayer or prayed to stocks and stones, the work of men’s hands. But now they shall be baptized and call on the name of the Lord, Acts 2:21. With what pleasure does the great God here speak of his being sought unto, and how does he glory in it, especially by those who in time past had not asked for him! For there is joy in heaven over great sinners who repent. 2. God shall anticipate their prayers with his blessings: I am found of those that sought me not. This happy acquaintance and correspondence between God and the Gentile world began on his side; they came to know God because they were known of him (Gal. 4:9), to seek God and find him because they were first sought and found of him. Though in after-communion God is found of those that seek him (Prov. 8:17), yet in the first conversion he is found of those that seek him not; for therefore we love him because he first loved us. The design of the bounty of common providence to them was that they might seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him and find him, Acts 17:27. But they sought him not; still he was to them an unknown God, and yet God was found of them. 3. God gave the advantages of a divine revelation to those who had never made a profession of religion: I said, Behold me, behold me (gave them a sight of me and invited them to take the comfort and benefit of it) to those who were not called by my name, as the Jews for many ages had been. When the apostles went about from place to place, preaching the gospel, this was the substance of what they preached: “Behold God, behold him, turn towards him, fix the eyes of your minds upon him, acquaint yourselves with him, admire him, adore him; look off from your idols that you have made, and look upon the living God who made you.” Christ in them said, Behold me, behold me with an eye of faith; look unto me, and be you saved. And this was said to those that had long been lo-ammi, and lo-ruhamah (Hos. 1:8, 9), not a people, and that had not obtained mercy, Rom. 9:25, 26.
II. It is here foretold that the Jews, who had long been a people near to God, should be cast off and set at a distance Isa. 65:2. The apostle applies this to the Jews in his time, as a seed of evil-doers. Rom. 10:21; But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people. Here observe,
1. How the Jews were courted to the divine grace. God himself, by his prophets, by his Son, by his apostles, stretched forth his hands to them, as Wisdom did, Prov. 1:24. God spread out his hands to them, as one reasoning and expostulating with them, not only beckoned to them with the finger, but spread out his hands, as being ready to embrace and entertain them, reaching forth the tokens of his favour to them, and importuning them to accept them. When Christ was crucified his hands were spread out and stretched forth, as if he were preparing to receive returning sinners into his bosom; and this all the day, all the gospel-day. He waited to be gracious, and was not weary of waiting; even those that came in at the eleventh hour of the day were not rejected.
2. How they contemned the invitation; it was given to a rebellious and gainsaying people; they were invited to the wedding-supper, and would not come, but rejected the counsel of God against themselves. Now here we have,
(1.) The bad character of this people. The world shall see that it was not for nothing that they were rejected of God; no, it was for their whoredoms that they were put away.
[1.] Their character in general was such as one would not expect of those who had been so much the favourites of Heaven. First, They were very wilful. Right or wrong they would do as they had a mind. “They generally walk on in a way that is not good, not the right way, not a safe way, for they walk after their own thought, their own devices and desires.” If our guide be our own thoughts, our way is not likely to be good; for every imagination of the thought of our hearts is only evil. God had told them his thoughts, what his mind and will were, but they would walk after their own thoughts, would do what they thought best. Secondly, They were very provoking. This was God’s complaint of them all along—they grieved him, they vexed his Holy Spirit, as if they would contrive how to make him their enemy: They provoke me to anger continually to my face. They cared not what affront they gave to God, though it were in his sight and presence, in a downright contempt of his authority and defiance of his justice; and this continually; it had been their way and manner ever since they were a people, witness the day of temptation in the wilderness.
[2.] The prophet speaks more particularly of their iniquities and the iniquities of their fathers, as the ground of God’s casting them off, Isa. 65:7. Now he gives instances of both.
First, The most provoking iniquity of their fathers was idolatry; this, the prophet tells them, was provoking God to his face; and it is an iniquity which, as appears by the second commandment, God often visits upon the children. This was the sin that brought them into captivity, and, though the captivity pretty well cured them of it, yet, when the final ruin of that nation came, that was again brought into the account against them; for in the day when God visits he will visit that, Exod. 32:34. Perhaps there were many, long after the captivity, who, though they did not worship other gods, were yet guilty of the disorders here mentioned; for they married strange wives. 1. They forsook God’s temple, and sacrificed in gardens or groves, that they might have the satisfaction of doing it in their own way, for they liked not God’s institutions. 2. They forsook God’s altar, and burnt incense upon bricks, altars of their own contriving (they burnt incense according to their own inventions, which were of no more value, in comparison with God’s institution, than an altar of bricks in comparison with the golden altar which God appointed them to burn incense on), or upon tiles (so some read it), such as they covered their flat-roofed houses with, and on them sometimes they burnt incense to their idols, as appears, 2 Kgs. 23:12; where we read of altars on the top of the upper chamber of Ahaz, and Jer. 19:13; of their burning incense to the host of heaven upon the roofs of their houses. 3. “They used necromancy, or consulting with the dead, and, in order to that, they remained among the graves, and lodged in the monuments,” to seek for the living to the dead (Isa. 8:19), as the witch of Endor. Or they used to consult the evil spirits that haunted the sepulchres. 4. They violated the laws of God about their meat, and broke through the distinction between clean and unclean before it was taken away by the gospel. They ate swine’s flesh. Some indeed chose rather to die than to eat swine’s flesh, as Eleazar and the seven brethren in the story of the Maccabees; but it is probable that many ate of it, especially when it came to be a condition of life. In our Saviour’s time we read of a vast herd of swine among them, which gives us cause to suspect that there were many then who made so little conscience of the law as to eat swine’s flesh, for which they were justly punished in the destruction of the swine. And the broth, or pieces, of other forbidden meats, called here abominable things, was in their vessels, and was made use of for food. The forbidden meat is called an abomination, and those that meddle with it are said to make themselves abominable, Lev. 11:42, 43. Those that durst not eat the meat yet made bold with the broth, because they would come as near as might be to that which was forbidden, to show how they coveted the forbidden fruit. Perhaps this is here put figuratively for all forbidden pleasures and profits which are obtained by sin, that abominable thing which the Lord hates; they loved to be dallying with it, to be tasting of its broth. But those who thus take a pride in venturing upon the borders of sin, and the brink of it, are in danger of falling into the depths of it. But,
Secondly, The most provoking iniquity of the Jews in our Saviour’s time was their pride and hypocrisy, that sin of the scribes and Pharisees against which Christ denounced so many woes, Isa. 65:5. They say, “Stand by thyself, keep off” (get thee to thine, so the original is); “keep to thy own companions, but come not near to me, lest thou pollute me; touch me not; I will not allow thee any familiarity with me, for I am holier than thou, and therefore thou art not good enough to converse with me; I am not as other men are, nor even as this publican.” This they were ready to say to every one they met with, so that, in saying, I am holier than thou, they thought themselves holier than any, not only very good, as good as they should be, as good as they needed to be, but better than any of their neighbours. These are a smoke in my nose (says God), such a smoke as comes not from a quick fire, which soon becomes glowing and pleasant, but from a fire of wet wood, which burns all the day, and is nothing but smoke. Note, Nothing in men is more odious and offensive to God than a proud conceit of themselves and contempt of others; for commonly those are most unholy of all that think themselves holier than any.
(2.) The controversy God had with them for this. The proof against them is plain: Behold, it is written before me, Isa. 65:6. It is written, to be remembered against them in time to come; for they may not perhaps be immediately reckoned with. The sins of sinners, and particularly the vainglorious boasts and scorns of hypocrites, are laid up in store with God, Deut. 32:34. And what is written shall be read and proceeded upon: “I will not keep silence always, though I may keep silence long.” They shall not think him altogether such a one as themselves, as sometimes they have done; but he will recompense, even recompense into their bosom. Those basely abuse religion, that honourable and sacred thing, who make their profession of it the matter of their pride, and the jealous God will reckon with them for it; the profession they boast of shall but serve to aggravate their condemnation. [1.] The iniquity of their fathers shall come against them; not but that their own sin deserved whatever judgments God brought upon them, and much heavier; and this they owned, Ezra 9:13. But God would not have wrought so great a desolation upon them if he had not therein had an eye to the sins of their fathers. Therefore in the last destruction of Jerusalem God is said to bring upon them the blood of the Old-Testament martyrs, even that of Abel, Matt. 23:35. God will reckon with them, not only for their fathers’ idols, but for their high places, their burning incense upon the mountains and the hills, though perhaps it was to the true God only. This was blaspheming or reproaching God; it was a reflection upon the choice he had made of the place where he would record his name, and the promise he had made that there he would meet them and bless them. [2.] Their own with that shall bring ruin upon them: Your iniquities and the iniquities of your fathers together, the one aggravating the other, constitute the former work, which, though it may seem to be overlooked and forgotten, shall be measured into their bosom. God will render into the bosom, not only of his open enemies (Ps. 79:12), but of his false and treacherous friends, the reproach wherewith they have reproached him.