Isaiah is writing to a people that have strayed far from God. Their leaders were worthless and in it for themselves (Isa. 56:9-12). The people followed suit giving their hearts over to idolatry and all kinds of false worship (Isa. 57:1-13a). This whole section has been an indictment against a people who were called to display God’s righteousness through their righteous behavior. They, however, had given themselves over to false religion. A religion full of rituals and rites but completely devoid of the One True God and thus unable to change people.
Even in all this, God has not cast away His people. God reminds them that anyone who takes refuge in Him shall be blessed (57:13b). Perhaps we think there may be too many obstacles when we seek to turn back to God. The context of our passage tells us something different. God, Himself, removes every barrier for those who have abandoned Him. The image we are given in 57:14 is that of roadbuilding. God builds a road without obstacles for people to return to him.
Our memory verse for June is the explanation and assurance for this invitation to return to God. In Isaiah 57:15, we find several truths about God essential to understand so that we might dwell with Him.
First, God is God, and we are not—
God is described as “high and lifted up”. Isaiah has used this description before (6:1; 52:13) to demonstrate what theologians call God’s transcendence. We err in our thinking about God when we believe God is like us, only better. God is entirely distinct from His creation. We can’t compare ourselves to Him, for He is in another category altogether. Take some time to look at the following passages and note how they describe God— Deut. 4:39; Psalm 8:1; 57:5; 97:9; 113:5; Eccles. 5:2. These verses describe God as dwelling in heaven, high above creation, and enthroned in heaven. This phrase speaks of God’s Lordship over all His creation.
God’s eternality and holiness highlight the reality that we are not God. In short, these two attributes or characteristics set Him apart from His creation.
God is described as one who inhabits eternity. Time is full of limitations and changes. You and I can’t exist in the past and the present. We live in a succession of time where we are one way at one moment but different in the next. That God is eternal means that He has always existed and always will and is not limited by times, succession, or changes.
Holiness, by its very definition, means that God is separate. “God’s holiness is his inherent and absolute greatness, in which he is perfectly distinct above everything outside himself and is absolutely morally separate from sin.” (MacArthur and Mayhue, Biblical Doctrine, 183) To see this in action, read Isaiah 6:1-7 and note Isaiah’s response.
Those in Isaiah’s day, just like in our day, believed they could bring God down to their level or that they themselves could be like or control God. That was the purpose of many rituals contained in their false worship. They were simply a means to manipulate God and the gods of false religion for their gain. But God cannot be arm-twisted into anything. Thus if we are going to come to God, we must come to Him as He is, not as we would like Him to be. We can draw comfort that we serve a God who is not restricted by outside influences, and nothing or no one can limit His plans or purposes. Even rebellious and sinful humanity can’t limit God’s pursuit of wayward sinners!
Matthew Henry puts it this way: “These great things are here said of God to inspire us with a holy reverence of him, to encourage our confidence in him, and to magnify his compassion and condescension to us, that though he is thus high yet he has respect unto the lowly; he that rides on the heavens…stoops to concern himself for poor…” (Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1194)
Second, while God is distinct from His creation, He is not distant from us—
Our passage talks about God’s two dwelling places: His high and holy home and His dwelling place with those who are contrite and lowly in spirit. This is what theologians call immanence. We see all thought out Scripture God is near to His creation. He has revealed Himself to mankind in various ways throughout time. He created covenants with people demonstrating a desire for relationships. The supreme example of God’s immanence is found in the title Immanuel—God with us— fulfilled perfectly in Jesus’ incarnation. The whole story of redemption tells of God’s involvement with His people.
Notice, however, that the heart of the person God dwells with is defined by humility. This humble attitude stems from an awareness of weakness and sinfulness. The image is of those who are crushed under life’s burdens, including the consequences of their rebellion. It does no good for us to deny our weaknesses. When we do, we are effectively stiff-arming God, keeping Him at arm's length. The one God dwells with also recognizes and mourns over sin. Charles Simeon puts it like this, “…it is sin unrepented of, and not merely sin committed, that shall condemn us… the more contrite we are, the more reason we have to hope that God is reconciled towards us…” (Simeon, Horae Homileticae: Isaiah, XXVII–LXVI, 8:489)
Third, God desires to revive those who know they need help—
At this point, we can readily recognize that God not only cares but He is able, and now this truth comes home to roost. Those humbled by their weakness and drained by the demands of sin can find life! Unlike before, they are not trying to find it within themselves or from creation, but the Creator who dwells not only in eternity, but with the lowly.
In closing, consider the words of John Oswalt, “[God] offers life to those from whom the life has been all but crushed out; he offers life to those whose spirit has been ground down to nothing. They need not be captive to their sin and shame, as they need not be broken by their captors. The Holy One is with us ([Isa]7:14) for our deliverance. This is the good news of salvation.” (Oswalt, NICOT: Isaiah 40-66, 488)
Our hope for redemption does not rest in us but in our God who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, and whose name is holy. And though He is distinct from His creation, He is not distant from us who recognize our dependence upon Him. It is there we will find the grace we desperately need.