“And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men 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 66:24).
“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory…” (Romans 9:22,23).
My church has been reading the Prophecy of Isaiah over the last couple of months. The following quote is the final word in the commentary I’ve been reading, and it is a fitting statement with which to end the commentary. Commenting on Isaiah 66:24:
“There is a grandeur about Isaiah not found elsewhere even in the most majestic of the rest of Scripture, a majesty full of glory and of solemnity, plain alike in the revelation vouchsafed to him and the language in which he was inspired to express it. But with the grandeur went a stern resoluteness, that if the glory does not win us to the life of obedience, if visions of the coming King, the sin-bearing Servant and the liberating Anointed Conqueror will not suffice, then maybe the unmistakably horrible rewards of disobedience will drive our wayward hearts to tremble at the word of the Lord. (1)
Isaiah 66:24 reminded me of Romans 9:22,23. In showing his wrath in destroying his enemies (Isaiah 66:14; Romans 9:22), God magnifies the great mercy he shows to his servants (“endured… vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make know the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy…”). So in Isaiah 66:24, I imagine that going out and looking on the dead who the Lord has slain will not be an occasion for gloating (per Motyer), but for glorifying the Lord for delivering us from the “horrible rewards for disobedience” and into his Presence as an acceptable offering (66:20).
The word for us now is, then, that we would see the “horrible rewards for disobedience” and constantly flee from the rebellion that leads to that reward (warning about rebellion is a central message of the whole prophecy, from 1:2 to 66:24) and flee to the nursing bosom of God’s Jerusalem, the Church, to participate in her life (“all who love her… who mourn over her…” 66:10), receiving sustenance from God through her, participating in her corporate worship of God and perpetuating that worship, while we await the glorious worship to come.
(1) Motyer, J.A., 1996. The prophecy of Isaiah: an introduction & commentary, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.