Tuesdays are for the Old Testament
Luther, Martin, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, translated by Herbert J.A. Bowman) Luther’s Works, Vol. 17, Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 40-66.St. Louis: Concordia, 1972. Logos Electronic Edition.
“Isaiah Chapter 66” pp. 395-416.
In Isaiah 66 the prophet declares God’s word, an affirmation that he is definitely the Lord of heaven and earth. Luther observes that other cases of disobedience and departure from the faith are fairly easy to deal with. But here the condemnation seems to be against something God has ordained. Luther notes that the promises of destruction of the temple and the sack of Jerusalem are conditional. When God’s people are holding to the truth, the temple and city are safe. When they depart from the truth, they are in grave danger (LW 17, 396). God is not bound by the temple or by the city. He does not depend on what we have provided, even when that is according to his command. Luther sees a parallel to this in his day in the work of the Enthusiasts. They considered that God’s work in the inward man, through the emotions, would be the only opportunity there was for the Lord to work. Counter to this, Luther reminds his readers that God is able to work by himself through the means he has established (LW 17, 397). In Isaiah, God’s people were depending on their location, their heritage, and their own strength. God works through more humble means, through our sorrowful and dependent hearts. This is a tremendously important concept throughout Scripture (LW 17, 398).
As an illustration of the offense we can bring to God through our lack of dependence on him, in verse three, the Lord compares the one who brings a valuable offering, like an ox, to someone who engages in murder (LW 17, 400). The text continues to suggest people would rather present the unclean than the clean. Isaiah goes so far as to say that the worship of God’s people is idolatry. Luther explains it this way. “These idolaters are so conceited that they would rather seek their own glory than God’s. They thrive on honor. They refuse to let God be the giver. They themselves want to be the givers who would honor God with their merits, religious exercises, and hoods. The godly, on the other hand, understand that God is the sole dispenser and giver, and they themselves are poor” (LW 17, 401). All the imagery in this part of the chapter is that of people choosing their own ways to worship, as opposed to the way God has chosen. As a result, in verse four, God chooses affliction for the people (LW 17, 402).
Have all of God’s people proven unfaithful? Not at all. In verse five, God speaks to those who would hear him. He brings them nurture and comfort (LW 17, 403). The comfort of God will result in civil disorder. Those who would persecute God’s people will be stopped, forcefully, by the Lord himself (LW 17, 404). This comes about, Luther asserts, through God’s Word and without the expectation of God’s faithful (LW 17, 405). This giving of birth coujnter to expectation (v. 7) is something the Lord says is perfectly normal. In verse nine God says that he will certainly bring forth birth. Luther sees this as a tremendous consolation to those in his time. The faithful Christians are being persecuted, both by Rome and by Islamic invaders. They can trust in the Lord to keep his promises (LW 17, 407). God’s promised consolation, presented in verses 11 and folowing, is compared to drinking, especially to a baby nursing. It is a sign of peace and plenty (LW 17, 408). The metaphor of plenty continues through verse 14. Throughout, God is seen as the source of all the comfort and strength his people will ever have.
While we might expect a passage of peace to follow, at verse 15 the concept of God coming like a storm of fire and wind arises (LW 17, 411). The people have a constant tendency to try earning their own righteousness. They want to present themselves purified before God. The problem with this plan is that only God can justify. There is nothing good to be found in the signs of righteousenss shown by the people of Jerusalem. In the end, God’s word is all that will serve to rescue his people. They must look to God’s glory (LW 17, 413). Those who refuse are finally turned over for condemnation. They have rebelled against God and their entire futures are forfeit (LW 17, 415). The prophet ends, then on a stern note, calling his readers to hear, repent, and spread God’s word.