When God Says, “I Am About to Come” (A Study in Isaiah)

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For I know their works and their thoughts, and I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory, 19 and I will set a sign among them. From them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud—which draw the bow—to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations. 20 They shall bring all your kindred from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and on mules, and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring a grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. 21 And I will also take some of them as priests and as Levites, says the Lord. 22 For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, says the Lord; so shall your descendants and your name remain. 23 From new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, says the Lord. 24 And they shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh. (Isaiah 66:18–24 NRSV)

The division ends just as it began, with a discussion of people from the non-Jewish world—the nations being brought to the holy mountain, Jerusalem, to worship God. This is the goal of the entire book, and especially of this division. By the quality of his people’s lives, a result of God’s gracious coming to them (v. 18), the nations will be gathered in.

Three times it is said here that the focus will be upon seeing “the glory” of God (vv. 18–19). This is not merely a bright cloud; it is his reality, his significance. There is an air of solidity, of weightiness about this concept. It is powerfully expressed in Jesus’ Last Supper discourse as recorded in the Gospel of John. Jesus asked that God would glorify him in the last hour so that he could finish his task of glorifying God on earth by completing the work God had given him (17:1–5). That is to say, the glory of God is that self-denying love which has been most truly displayed on the cross of Christ. We do not normally think of the excruciating death of a criminal as being a means of displaying divine glory, but that is precisely what Jesus was talking about. The glory that the nations come to Jerusalem to see is the glory of the God who dies for his people. (For a discussion of the regions and nations mentioned in verse 19, see the commentary notes at the end of the week.)

As the nations come streaming to Jerusalem, they will bring the scattered people of Israel with them (vv. 20, 22). It is hard not to think of what has happened in modern times, as the Jewish people have returned to their homeland after more than a thousand years of exile. It is said that they will be brought as though in offering to God (v. 20), and in many ways the state of Israel exists today in part because of the guilt of the Western nations over the Holocaust, which is a Latin term for the whole burnt offering.

The final verse, verse 24, is a typical feature of the book of Isaiah. Again and again, when some glorious promise of the future is made, the prophet bluntly calls us back to face present facts. So here, the promise that representatives of all the nations will come to God should not be taken to mean that all people will come to him. Grace will never remove from us the dignity of free will. Those who come to him will freely choose to do so. But there will be those who freely choose not to do so, persons who choose to live in rebellion against both the power and the grace of the I AM. But to do so is to cut oneself off from light and and life and hope.

The Bible study The Book of Isaiah: Part III (Chapters 56-66) is now available from our store. If you enjoyed this entry, you’ll appreciate the profound lessons that can be learned from Dr. John Oswalt’s exposition of this important text. This third part concludes his teaching through what’s often called the “Fifth Gospel,” which expounds the heart of God’s plan of salvation for the entire world. In the book of Isaiah we see a promise from God to make all things new and give his people new hearts. Get multiple copy discounts in order to start group studies, and preview the video element below. View this study in our store here.

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Dr. John Oswalt is Visiting Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. His expertise is in Old Testament studies, Hebrew language, and Hebrew religion. His writings have appeared in Bible encyclopedias, scholarly journals and popular religious periodicals, and is a leading scholar on the book of Isaiah. He is married to the former Karen Kennedy, and they have three children and two grandchildren.

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