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Isaiah 65 is God’s response to Isaiah’s prayer and question about how long God would restrain Himself from restoring us and saving us from our unclean state. Isaiah 65:1, 2 begins,
1 “I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ to a nation which did not call on My name. 2 I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts.”
The “nation which did not call on My name” was Israel (all of the tribes); the “rebellious people” were the Israelites. These are the ones who sought the Lord in a religious manner at the temple, yet did not find Him. Paul references verse 1 in regard to Israel, saying in Romans 11:7,
7 What then? What is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened [or blinded].
Again, Paul quotes verse 2 in Romans 10:20,
21 And Isaiah is very bold and says, “I was found by those who did not seek Me, I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me.”
Paul’s point was that even though the fleshly Israelites sought God, they were unable to find Him in spite of their religious zeal. Meanwhile, foreigners unexpectedly found God without seeking Him, because He manifested Himself to them. Nonetheless, Paul continues, the promise of God to Israel had not been abrogated. “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew” (Romans 11:2), essentially because He had always revealed Himself to the “remnant according to God’s gracious choice” (Romans 11:5).
This grace remnant had existed in the time of Elijah, for God said, “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (Romans 11:4). While the nation itself had failed to find God, the remnant of grace had indeed found Him. The majority were blinded, but “those who were chosen obtained it” (Romans 11:7).
Paul’s teaching was derived largely from Isaiah’s revelation, for the prophet made it clear that God is the Potter, and that we are the clay (Isaiah 64:8). He prayed for God to “rend the heavens” and make His name known so that “the nations may tremble at Your presence” (Isaiah 64:1, 2). The people themselves “have become like a filthy garment… There is no one who calls on Your name… For You have hidden Your face from us” (Isaiah 64:6, 7).
Thus, it was not possible for them to heal their own blindness, for God Himself had blinded them (Isaiah 6:10; 29:10; 44:18). Hence, it required an act of divine intervention by the will of God alone to end the sentence of blindness and to change the situation.
Who are God’s People?
There are three main revelations in Paul’s discussion: (1) that God reveals Himself to those whom He has chosen sovereignly; (2) that the sovereign will of God initiates such revelation by grace, and that the will of man is a mere response to His will; and (3) that God’s promises were not fulfilled in fleshly Israelites per se but in the remnant of grace alone, making this remnant the true chosen Israelites by God’s definition.
When God delivered Israel from Egypt under Moses’ leadership, He brought them to the Mount, where He made a covenant with them. Rather than calling them My people by virtue of their descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God gave them instructions on how they could become His people (Exodus 19:5). The implication is that their status as God’s people depended upon their ability to obey Him. Such were the terms of the Old Covenant.
Forty years later, after Israel had failed to achieve the status of God’s people, God made a second covenant (Deuteronomy 29:1), which would actually succeed in making them His people. This was another New Covenant vow, in which God took the responsibility upon Himself to make them His people. In Deuteronomy 29:12, 13, He told Moses to gather the people together…
12 that you may enter the covenant with the Lord your God, and into His oath which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
If their status as “His people” had been based on genealogy, it would have been unnecessary for God to swear an oath to grant them that status. But it is obvious that after forty years in the wilderness, they were still not His people. Neither had they been able to achieve it by the power of their own will or by their good intentions through the earlier covenant. Hence, God made a second covenant with them that was “as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
Most Christians are aware that God made a New Covenant promise to Abraham. Fewer realize that New Covenant faith is to believe that God will fulfill His promise to make us His people (Romans 4:21, 22). Most still base their salvation on their own promise to God, thinking that their own decision and resolve to follow Jesus has saved them. Instead, they ought to see that God revealed Himself to them and that their decision is a response, not an initiator of their salvation. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19 KJV).
This understanding preserves the sovereignty of God and gives no credit to the flesh.
Not My People Become My People
In Isaiah 65:1 God said “I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me,” calling out to them, “Here am I, here am I.” Yet He was silent to those who were actively seeking Him. The divine plan thus seems to defy logic, causing many to scramble for a satisfactory answer.
The prophet Hosea had more to say about this. He shows how the Israelites had become “not My people” through their sin and rebellion against the laws of God. Thus, one of the prophet’s children was named Lo-ammi, “not my people.” (Hosea 1:9). Yet the promise of God (based on the New Covenant) was to make them His people (Deuteronomy 29:13).
Hosea 2:23 recognizes this, saying,
23 … And I will say to those who were not My people, “You are My people!” And they will say, “You are my God!”
Thus, while the remnant of grace were God’s people throughout history—based on God’s New Covenant vow and evidenced by their Abrahamic faith—in the end, all will become His people. The New Covenant given to Noah applied to the entire earth (Genesis 9:17); the New Covenant given to Abraham was to bless “all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3); and the promise to the Israelites under Moses was given “both with those who stand here… and with those who are not with us here today” (Deuteronomy 29:15). In other words, everyone.
The bottom line is that the Israelites, like mankind in general, were unable to find God by the power of the Old Covenant vow that they took in Exodus 19:8. They were unable to become God’s people on the basis of their own will. They all had become unclean, and all their righteousness was “like a filthy garment” (Isaiah 64:6). So God took upon Himself this responsibility by vowing to make them His people and to be their God.
The path to success did not appear to be fruitful, of course, for He says, “I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people” (Isaiah 65:2). The impotence of mankind, including the Israelites, made it appear that the promises of God would surely fail. Those who thought that man must initiate His own salvation were hard pressed to believe that God could actually turn the hearts of all men and make them His people.
Yet those who have a revelation of God’s absolute sovereignty can rest in the knowledge that God is able to fulfill all of His promises, vows, and oaths, even as Abraham himself believed God (Romans 4:21). Such faith is found only in a “remnant” during the present age. That remnant is called to bear witness to the grace of God while most of the world has no faith that God can make good on His vows. Most of the world still have confidence in their own “free will” and do not believe that God has the right or even the ability to overrule the will of man.
But Isaiah stands firm in his belief that the will of man is no impediment to the will of God. Though most men remain in darkness and unbelief during their lifetime, the day will come when every knee will bow, and every tongue will swear allegiance to Christ to the glory of God the Father (Isaiah 45:23; Philippians 2:10, 11).