Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 2 (KJV)
God’s Kingdom of Peace
Devotional Reading: John 16:20–33
Background Scripture: Isaiah 65:17–25
17 For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.
18 But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.
19 And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying.
20 There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.
21 And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.
22 They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them.
24 And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.—Isaiah 65:25
The Righteous Reign of God
Unit 1: The Prophets Proclaim God’s Power
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. State the reason why weeping will be undetectable.
2. Defend identifications of figurative imagery in the text.
3. Write a prayer of thanks to God for the future He plans for him or her.
How to Say It
A. New Creation in This World?
During the pandemic that began in 2020, wild animals returned to various locations that had not seen them in generations. This was due to people’s self-isolation. Creatures that had been pushed out of their habitats to the fringes of human civilization lost their fear and reemerged in search of food and shelter among suddenly less-threatening areas. These appearances lit up social media—one clear reminder of the consequences of our interactions (and lack thereof) with the larger world.
This reemergence might be seen as a new creation, albeit a very modest one. Such a scenario has intrigued people for a long time. The plot lines of many science-fiction and horror films focus on the disastrous results of human behavior (intentional or mindless) on the environment. Such plots usually result in a hero finding a solution to undo the effects of misguided actions. That’s one approach to new creation. But it’s not the approach taken by the prophet Isaiah.
B. Lesson Context
Isaiah 63–66 is identifiable as a unit of thought. These chapters echo the problem of human failings addressed in chapters 56–59, but they don’t stop there. They go on to add elements of hope because of the power of God. In so doing, chapters 63–66 contrast human inability to be righteous with God’s divine ability to produce righteousness.
The backdrop is again that of what the people in Babylonian captivity—several decades in the future from the time Isaiah prophesied—would need as hopeful assurances of better days (see lesson 1). When we speak of that exile, we take care to distinguish it from the Assyrian exile of the 10 tribes of northern Israel in 722 BC (2 Kings 17:6). The two tribes of southern Israel, collectively known as Judah, came under Babylonian dominance in about 609 BC (24:1–7). The Babylonians (also known as the Chaldeans) tightened the screws in 597 BC when Jerusalem surrendered after a siege and suffered a partial exile (24:8–20). The final straw was the wholesale deportation (exile) to Babylon in 586 BC.
The impact of that exile can be seen by piecing together the texts, among others, of 2 Kings 25; 2 Chronicles 36:15–21; Nehemiah 1:1–3; Psalm 137; Jeremiah 52; Lamentations; Ezekiel 4:1–24:14; Daniel 1:1–2; and 9:1–19. In particular, the last of these passages notes that (1) Jerusalem’s desolation would last 70 years, (2) the people of Judah and Jerusalem had brought the destruction on themselves by refusing to obey God, (3) the curses poured out on the Judeans were exactly what had been predicted in the Law of Moses, and (4) God had kept His promise to inflict such punishment. The predictions of punishment via exile are found in Leviticus 26:27–33; Deuteronomy 4:25–28; and 28:64–68 (compare Nehemiah 1:8; Jeremiah 9:13–16; 15:1–2, 14; Ezekiel 12:15; 20:23–24; Zechariah 7:13–14).
I. Celebrating Newness
A. Source of Rejoicing (v. 17)
17a. For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth.
The poem that begins here describes a radically different future reality. But does this refer to the ultimate new creation that God will bring about at the end of time? Similar wording in 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1 tempts us to think so (compare and contrast Isaiah 66:22; Hebrews 12:25–27).
But the opening word for leads us to reconsider. This translates a Hebrew word that appears also Isaiah 26:3; 40:7; and 43:20, where the translation is “because,” as in “here’s the reason why.” As such, this word connects the thoughts of the verse at hand with those of the previous verses. Those previous verses announce two things: (1) the end of foreign domination of Israel (see 48:14, 20 regarding Babylon and 52:4 regarding Assyria) and (2) the end of unholy rebellion by the Israelites (65:11–12). The end of imperial aggression would mark such a dramatic change that the language of new creation is appropriate for it. When added to the extreme language regarding elimination of unholiness, an end-times interpretation of the destruction and replacement of planet Earth is very inviting.
But two other options should be considered. One is that a double fulfillment is intended. The first fulfillment, focused on ancient Israel, sees the language as figurative and hyperbolic; the second fulfillment is then end-times literal. Another option is that the text features what is known as “prophetic foreshortening” (see explanation of this possibility in lesson 5, concerning Zechariah 9:9). The verses that follow will provide clues as to which interpretation is more likely the correct one.
17b. And the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. Under any of the above possibilities, a feature of the new era will be a kind of forgetting. The Bible speaks of issues involving requests to remember and promises to forget—between people and God (examples: Isaiah 43:25; Jeremiah 15:15). The type of forgetting in view here is the kind when an event or experience fades into the background because something more important has replaced it. This is an image of the end of suffering.
B. Call for Rejoicing (v. 18)
18a. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create.
An invitation to celebrate in worship occurs often in the psalter for times of communal festivity (examples: Psalms 32:11; 48:11; 149:2), especially following some action by God to bring about rescue or salvation (examples: 9:14; 13:5; 14:7; 35:9). This attitude is built into Old Testament religious expression. It is an attitude that rests on confidence in God’s sure promises to overcome evil in its various forms. The wording for ever may automatically cause us to think in terms of eternity without end, but the underlying Hebrew may signify “age enduring,” or to the end of the age (compare 132:12).
18b. For, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. The hope for rebuilding Jerusalem occupied the thoughts of the poets, prophets, and other leaders of the period (Nehemiah is an example). Because the city and its (destroyed) temple represented access to God, Jerusalem was (or should have been) a symbol of all that could be holy (compare Revelation 21:2).
C. Promise of Rejoicing (v. 19)
19a. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people.
Celebration is not reserved for humans only—God himself can join the celebration (compare Zephaniah 3:17). The relationship between the people of Judah and God will have changed. The strains and mutual hostility brought on by the people’s sin will have vanished, thanks to God’s merciful forgiveness.
What Do You Think?
What biblical examples can you point to of God’s rejoicing over His people?
What analogous examples do you see in your congregation?
19b. And the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying.
The voice of weeping is to disappear because of the forthcoming change of relationship between God and His people. The destruction of Jerusalem and other cities in the southern kingdom of Judah resulted in intense grief and mourning. Reversal of those facts seemed impossible from a human viewpoint, but not from God’s (compare Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 7:17; 21:4).
II. The New Reality
A. Long Life (v. 20)
20a. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old.
The new reality to come is to differ from the old reality in important ways. One such way is a movement back toward an ideal of the first creation: long life (see Genesis 1–11). As we consider this change, we should take care to distinguish between humans’ life span, which is 120 years (6:3), and life expectancy, which is 70 years (Psalm 90:10). The high rate of infant mortality in the ancient world meant that life expectancy on average was probably no more than 35 years. But if a person could make it to age 5, then the chances of reaching age 70 were pretty good. Therefore the change of life expectancy promised in the verse at hand is a major one (see also Zechariah 8:4)!
We also note that this verse provides a clue regarding the alternatives presented in commentary on Isaiah 65:17a, above; the “new heavens” and “new earth” predicted there are not the same as those predicted in 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1, since the renewal in those two passages will feature an end to death altogether (Revelation 21:4). Even so, the newness promised in our lesson text may serve as a type, or pattern, of the ultimate, eternal reality to come (compare Matthew 11:13–14; Romans 5:14; Galatians 4:24; Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 9:24; 13:14).
A Promise to Inspire
I, the hospital chaplain, stood near the tiny cradle and looked at the perfectly shaped head of the newborn baby boy. His father stood silently as the mother, trying to smile, said, “I keep reminding myself that God is here in this storm. I try to remember that He will heal my baby and keep him safe in Heaven. But it’s so hard when he’s here with me, and all I want to do is snuggle him close forever.” Her eyes brimmed with tears. I prayed for her baby that night, even though I knew the doctors said he would only live a few more days. Isaiah 65:17–25 provides us with a launching point for anticipating the fulfillment of Revelation 21. God has promised to create a new heavens and new earth; absent will be weeping and death. How does that future reality influence how you think and live right now? How should it? —L. M. W.
What Do You Think?
What is the role of mourning in the Christian life?
How can you participate empathetically in the depth of heartbreak while affirming the hope and joy of life to come?
20b. But the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed. This line is more difficult to understand. Clarity comes in the fact that the Hebrew verb translated sinner can also be translated “miss,” as it is in Judges 20:16. Therefore the idea is that someone who misses the mark of reaching age 100 is to be considered accursed. In that case, the line would simply amplify the idea of the previous one rather than adding a new idea.
B. Housing and Sustenance (v. 21)
21. And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.
The ruins of Jerusalem rendered stark testimony of disobedience long after the destruction of 586 BC (1 Kings 9:6–9; Jeremiah 19:8). Today’s text, however, promises that those returning from that exile will regain stable, productive lives. The mention of vineyards, a word occurring more than 100 times in the Old Testament, reflects an important part of the diet and economy of the ancient Israelites (see also Ezekiel 28:26; Amos 9:14).
C. Safety and Security (vv. 22–23)
22a. They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat.
This verse reminds us of the old saying “What goes around comes around.” Hundreds of years before this text was written, God had granted the Israelites a new homeland where they took ownership of houses they hadn’t provisioned, wells they hadn’t dug, and vineyards they hadn’t planted (Deuteronomy 6:10–12). This happened after the original owners forfeited their place in that land due to sin (Genesis 15:16).
That change of ownership came with a warning not to commit the sins of those ejected, lest the Israelites suffer the same consequences (Leviticus 18:24–28; Deuteronomy 28:15–68). But that’s exactly what happened (1 Kings 21:25–26; 2 Kings 16:1–4; 21:10–16; compare Judges 6:1–6). Results of the exile of 586 BC included loss of houses and fields, which became occupied and tended by others (see Jeremiah 52:16). The devastation was so complete that areas of human habitation became again habitations of wild animals (9:11; 10:22). God kept His promise. But that reversal was to be itself reversed.
What Do You Think?
How do you react to seemingly futile work or effort on your part?
Does considering even futile work as fertile for God’s reversal change your attitude? Why or why not?
22b. For as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
The theme of reversal continues as the imagery shifts to the longevity of a tree. Although trees are not immortal, they do often long outlive humans. The promise that mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands couples longevity of life with enjoyment of that life, creating a word picture of a people who will flourish (compare Psalms 1:3; 92:12–14).
A Permanent Home
During the time of Joseph Stalin (1878–1953), a certain newlywed couple was assigned free housing in the area known as Crimea. That area was in Ukraine when it was still part of the USSR. When the couple arrived at the assigned house, they found it fully furnished, with clothing in the dressers, dishes on the table, and food in the pantry.
An eerie feeling overcame the couple. What had happened to the previous inhabitants of the house? The neighbors whispered stories. But no one voiced questions in the post-World War II Soviet Union. So the couple suppressed their fear that something terrible had happened. Years later they learned that Stalin had deported an entire people group known as the Crimean Tatars. Having accused them of collaborating with Hitler, he herded them onto trains bound for central Asia. Then he brought people from other parts of the USSR to inhabit their empty houses (compare 2 Kings 17:24).
In this fallen world, we may suffer the consequences of our own actions or the actions of others—or not at all, given the (sometimes intentional) imperfections of human justice. But no one escapes the ultimate and perfect justice of God. Because He is perfect, He pursues everyone in love, wanting us all to enjoy His eternal, permanent home. —L. M. W.
23. They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them.
This verse ties together the previous three verses in summarizing the people’s new condition to come. The phrase nor bring forth for trouble may be confusing in that regard. Clarity is found in that the Hebrew word translated bring forth is the same translated “bring forth children” in Isaiah 23:4, and that is the sense here. The loss of sons and daughters was predicted as an anguish of the exile (Deuteronomy 28:32, 41), so again we have promise of reversal.
Isaiah 49:19–21 and 54:1–2 note surprise and joy at the uptick in the birthrate as the text predicts the situation of the postexilic era (that is, following 538 BC). During the 40-year penalty of wandering in the wilderness (about 1447–1407 BC), Israel had experienced a decline in population (compare Numbers 2:32 with 26:51). Nations obviously cannot survive, much less flourish, unless they bring new generations into the world. Children are a sign of hope and blessing (Psalm 128), tokens of God’s presence both in the present and the promised future (Isaiah 61:9).
D. God Answers Prayers (v. 24)
24. And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.
Perhaps the most significant promise in the list is right here. Whereas exile from their homeland would mean an estranged relationship between God and the people, the new era will see deep and immediate communication between the two. Thus we have another reversal (compare and contrast Jeremiah 7:16; 11:14; 14:11; Lamentations 3:8, 44).
The book of Isaiah opens with condemnations of the people because of their stubbornness and oppression. Their acts of piety were designed to cover up their sins rather than lead them to correct them (Isaiah 1:12–17), causing great offense to God. Since they would not defend the poor, the widows, or the orphans, God would not even give ear to their prayers (1:15).
The future, however, was to be one where God listens intently to their prayers. In extending mercy to the people, God has called them to make prayer an occasion for concern. When we pray properly, we become attuned to God’s love for all human beings. We increasingly share that concern and act on the basis of it. Then God will listen.
What Do You Think?
When have you experienced God’s anticipating your cares or concerns?
How would you respond to someone who points to God’s foreknowledge as negating the need for prayer?
E. End of Violence (v. 25)
25. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.
The final verse of the lesson reflects Isaiah 11:6–9, the so-called vision of the peaceable kingdom. The verse at hand applies that earlier vision to the time when Israel will have returned from Babylonian exile and resettled in its land (that is, after 538 BC). In doing so, the vision paints a strong contrast to what would become the actual experience of the people. Old problems would remain or resurface after the return (compare Ezra 10:10–15; Nehemiah 13; Haggai 1:1–11; etc.). Yet the sinful problems need not prevail. If the people turned to God fully, a new era of peace could ensue.
As in almost all prophetic speeches in the Old Testament, this verse intends to speak about a reality that should ideally come about. Yet that possibility remains always just beyond our grasp, as we do not yet live in the peaceable kingdom. Still, the text calls its readers to pursue righteousness and peace so that we may draw closer to the alternative reality—in which God reigns not just in the world as He always does, but also in our thoughts and actions, which He often does not.
What Do You Think?
What would you be willing to do to heal a relationship with an enemy, demonstrating the reality of God’s “peaceable kingdom”?
What verses inform your understanding of the extent of your responsibility for peace?
A. Embracing Life
Isaiah 65 is a visionary text that should inspire its readers to see beyond both past failures and the seemingly valid temptations of the present. It invites us to imagine a different world than the one we inherited, a world in which old wounds will be healed and the God-given talents of all are used to bless others. This text offers a vision of a world in which the communication between God and humanity remains open, free, and life-giving.
Reading a visionary text means we have to think creatively in a biblical way. Such texts call us to use our imaginations so we can begin to see what God might be creating in our lives as individuals and churches. In such a vision, God is the one who does the recreating. The language of creation does not apply just to the beginning of time, but to a new era that can emerge when people who have experienced God’s mercy embrace the possibilities of new and holy ways of life.
The text of our lesson advances that move in a dramatic way. It does not portray the citizens of Jerusalem and Judah as being able, by their own power, to bring about the new world God seeks. Sometimes they fall back into the same sins that led their ancestors to lose their homeland. So if a new situation were to come about, God must be the one to bring it about.
This vision of an alternative world continues to exert enormous influence on Christians today. Texts like this remind us that the current reality is neither inevitable nor the full expression of God’s plans for humankind. More is possible. Imagining that something more, and celebrating even small hints of its arrival in our everyday lives, makes the community of God’s people what it is.
Creator God, who made the heavens and the earth and everything in them, create in us new hearts, new hands, and new feet so that we may think as You think, do what You give us to do, and go where You call us. Take from us the tendency to think too small and to shrink back in fear. We ask this in the name of the one who has promised to usher in a new heaven and a new earth, Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
C. Thought to Remember
Live as if the time of the new heaven and new earth were now.
Standard Publishing. KJV Standard Lesson Commentary® 2022-2023 (pp. 953-970). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.