A.E. Gardner, «Isaiah 65, 20: Centenarians or Millenarians?», Vol. 86 (2005) 88-96
Isa 65,20 which forms part of the future blessings of God’s
servants, subsequent to the inauguration of the new heavens and new earth, is
contentious theologically and linguistically. The present paper investigates why
sinners persist in the future glorious age, concluding that human nature does
not change with the appearance of the new heavens and new earth. Rather the
latter indicate that no longer will the righteous suffer, nor will the land be
devastated, because of the deeds of the unrighteous. Further it is noted that
the usual translation of Isa 65,20 appears not to accord with Isa 65,22. It is
argued that the LXX version is to be rejected as a later rationalisation.
should be taken as the dividing point of the verse and
llq recognised as an
allusion to Job 24,18.
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Isaiah 65, 20: Centenarians or Millenarians? 89
After the creation of the new heavens and earth in verse 17, a number of
assertions about future bliss are made, many of which contrast with previous
conditions or fulfill promises God had made:
1) God will be creating Jerusalem a rejoicing (hlyg) (5) and her people a
joy (cwcm) â€œand the sound of weeping (ykb) and the sound of crying (hq[z) will
be heard in her no moreâ€ (65,18-19). â€œWeepingâ€ (ykb) and â€œcryingâ€ (hq[z)
appear elsewhere in Isaiah in the context of destruction (6). Against this
background, the implication of the present passage is that God is creating a
Jerusalem that will never again be destroyed.
2) There will be no more premature death (65, 20) (7).
3) Houses built will be inhabited and vineyards which are planted will
have their fruit eaten by the planters and not by another (65,21). This provides
a counterpart to Deut 28,30 where those who do not listen to Godâ€™s
commandments would â€œbuild, but not dwell therein, plant a vineyard and not
use the fruits thereofâ€ (8).
4) Godâ€™s people will have lives as long as the life of a tree (65,22). Unless
the tree referred to is the tree of life (Gen 2,9; 3,22.24), and there is no
indication that it is, trees still die. The tree imagery may link with Isa 61,3
where Godâ€™s new community is to be called â€œTrees of righteousnessâ€. The
simile of a righteous person as a tree appears in Ps 1,3 and Jer 17,8.
5) In 65,22 Godâ€™s chosen people will enjoy the work of their hands. This
is in keeping with Deut16,15; 24,19; 25,12; 28,12 which announce blessings
on the work of hands of those who keep Godâ€™s commandments (9). It should be
noted that the verb translated as â€œenjoyâ€(hlB) in most English versions actually
means â€œwear outâ€ in Hebrew. The true implication of the verb is that the people
will live long enough to be able to benefit from the work of their
(5) The only other occurrence of hlyg is in Isa 35,2 where the wilderness will blossom
and rejoice when Godâ€™s people are on their way to Zion. The whole of chapter 35 may well
be important as a background to Isa 65,18-25. Its context is Godâ€™s saving of his people
(35,4) who will be brought through a fertile land (previously a wilderness) (35,1.6-7) where
no lion or ravenous beast (cf. Isa 65, 25) will be found. Indeed the ransomed of Yahweh
will return and come with singing to Zion and everlasting joy will be upon their heads: they
will obtain gladness and joy and sorrow and sighing will flee away (cf. Isa 65,18-19).
Further Isaiah 35 evidences other linguistic links with Isa. 65,18-19: the verb lyG (rejoice)
appears in 35,1-2 and the verb cwc in 35,1. The noun Ë†wcc which derives from the latter verb
and is similar in meaning to cwcm appears in Isa 35,10 of the joy which awaits Godâ€™s
ransomed returnees. There may also be an allusion in Isa 65,18-19 to Isa 62,5 where God
rejoices over the restored Jerusalem. Both Isaiah 35 and 62 are in the context of the restored
community in Jerusalem, as is Isa 65,18-19.
(6) ykb is used of Moab weeping in 15,2-3.5; 16,9; of Judah in 22,4.12 and in 38,3 of
Hezekiah at the time of his apparently imminent death. hq[z is used only of Moab (15,5.8).
(7) This may hark back to Gen 6,3 where God limited humansâ€™ life span because of
sin. Death was linked in Isa 51,6 with the old heavens and old earth and their passing. Isa
25,8 asserts that God has â€œswallowed up death foreverâ€ but this goes beyond 65,20 and
65,22 where life, although it is long, is limited.
(8) SMITH, Rhetoric and Redaction, 146 points to Zeph 1,13 as the counterpart to Isa
65,21. Zeph 1,13 contains a similar message to Deut 28,30.
(9) E. SEHMSDORF, â€œStudien zur Redaktionsgeschichte von Jesaja 56-66â€, ZAW 84
(1972) 526-527 first drew attention to the links with Deuteronomy in Isa 65, 20-23. SMITH,
Rhetoric and Redaction, 151 highlights Deut 28,12 as the background to the expression in
Isa 65,22, but the other Deuteronomic passages cited above are also valid.