When was the last time you saw something new? Not just different, but really new. Even in a world that changes at the pace that ours does, real innovation is a rarity. And even the rarest of innovations can never be a substitute for the real transformation that Yahweh is promising in this passage.
The likes of the printing press, the light bulb and the Fosbury Flop will always pale in comparison to the kind of newness that we are called to anticipate in this 65th chapter of Isaiah. The kind of transformation that is declared in the opening line “Behold I am making all things new” is not a simple facelift or surface change. If the world we know and the world that Yahweh was brining into being could take before and after photos, the difference between the two would be beyond human comprehension.
Here in Isaiah 65, Yahweh offers a radical revision of the trajectory of creation and Yahweh’s people. In a world where the Hebrew people often lived in vulnerability, exile and instability Yahweh was now going to “make Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight” to the world. The old world of oppression, uncertainty and insecurity were going to become a faint and distant memory. Imagine a world today where famine, terrorism and chemotherapy were no longer a part of our vernacular. This is the kind of world that Yahweh is bringing.
In this new world there won’t be any need to keep stats for Infant Fertility Rate or Life Expectancy. In this new world it will be absolutely unheard of not to live a long and fruitful existence. In this new world there will be the kind of security and stability that allow people to plant and reap, no longer limited to nomadic herding and fighting for limited agreeable agricultural possibilities.
In verse 24 the prophet describes how Yahweh will answer the calls of Yahweh’s people even before they call. The image of the God who hears the people’s cries (e.g. Exodus 2:23-24) is here replaced with the even more attentive God who anticipates the people’s call and is already moving to the rescue.
The 65th chapter of Isaiah offers a vision of a world, not simply turned around, but turned right side up. A world where everything has now, to borrow a phrase from NT Wright, been “put to rights.” In Isaiah 65 we see a future that is not on fire, but at peace. In this hopeful imagination, people of faith do not anticipate destruction but absolute deliverance. In this hopeful imagination, the people of God do not look forward to the end of the world, but the end of a world. As John Wesley wrote in his notes about Isaiah 65, Yahweh “was about wholly to change the state not only of [Yahweh’s] people, but to bring a new face upon the world… in which shall dwell nothing but righteousness.” In this new world Yahweh will not simply defeat enemies and remove them as a threat, instead Yahweh will transform their relationships.
“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox”
The only creature whose position doesn’t change is the adversary from Genesis. According to Isaiah’s vision for a new reality there is a special place still reserved for the serpent whose food will still be dust according to verse 25. For Wesley this signifies a time “when wicked men shall no more eat up the people of God.” In this new world Yahweh’s vision for the world is breaking out.
But is this a future that we can be prepared to receive? Is this a future too great for us to even begin to wrap our minds around? Maybe this is why the early disciples are surprised and amazed at the inclusion of the Gentiles in Acts. Maybe this kind of subversive surprise is anticipated when the Psalmist foretells about the stone that the builders rejected have become the cornerstone. Maybe this is why the angels have to challenge the women with the question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” It is certainly part of why the disciples are so skeptical when they first receive the news of Jesus’ Resurrection. This kind of future, one where Yahweh is making all things new will certainly push us beyond the comfortable hopes that we have settled for and cause us to re-imagine how our expectations align with Yahweh’s.
This Easter time Isaiah challenges us to be open to the kind of hope for the world that is beyond even our wildest imaginations. In Frederick Buechner’s The Hungering Dark he challenges us to be open to the possibilities that only Yahweh can bring to the world. He writes “in a world with God, we can never know what will happen…because the thing that happens then is God’s thing, and that is to say a new and unimaginable and holy thing that humanity can guess at only in its wildest dreams.”