Question: Please explain and discuss Isaiah 66:17.
Answer: Isaiah 66:17 reads thus: They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swines flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the Lord.
We must remember that the history of the human race presented a pretty dark and ugly picture until Christ came into the world and they that sat in darkness saw great light. (Matthew 4:16.) Nearly all the world was steeped in pagan, heathen, idolatrous darkness. God had gathered out a small nation of people (Israel) which were the fewest of all people (Deuteronomy 7:7), for Himself, and the remainder of the world s peoples were in this dreadful condition. But a prophecy of hope for all these poor benighted souls appears in the latter part of Isaiah 66:19 where it says, …They shall declare my glory among the Gentiles. The Gentiles were all the people of the earth except the Jews (Israel), whom God had chosen out of the nations to be His own peculiar people, to reveal His glory through them. But the long-range importance of this prophecy was Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whom God sent forth into the world to manifest His glory unto all the peoples of the world.
Now with this little introduction to the subject, let us return to Isaiah 66:17, the principal text for the discussion. This verse has to do with the sacrifices and worship of the heathen idolators and their system of worship, which was quite elaborate. They sanctified and purified themselves the same things that God did for His people in their sacrifices and worship to sanctify and purify them. But these people offered abominable sacrifices on their altars (swine s flesh and the mouse) and ate these things, all of which God had declared to be an abomination and forbidden. (Leviticus 11:1-44.) They had groves planted in the high places and altars set up among the trees, and apparently offered sacrifices to different gods upon these separate altars. The text says, …behind one tree in the midst,… The margin says one tree after another. I think this would describe it better because there were always groves where the heathen worshiped and offered their sacrifices. The Lord said at the close of this verse that all their abominable sacrifices, and the abominable things they ate, and they themselves would all be consumed together in God s wrath. They set up their worship system pretty much like God s, with altars and sacrifices, and sought to accomplish the same results that God did in His people. But the sad and yet glorious fact is, that the kinds of sacrifices and worship which the true God prescribed had the effect upon the true worshiper of exalting him to a higher plane of living and more like God, while the heathen s sacrifices and worship had the effect of transferring his own corrupt nature to his god because there was no life nor essence in his god to exalt and lift him up. So he sank to a lower plane of corruption than before. Someone (an atheist, I suppose) has said that God never created man in His own image as Christians believe; but man created a god after his own likeness and in his image. I accept this to be pretty much true of the heathen pagan, and in a measure of religionists in our day who have no exalted idea of Christlikeness in Christian lives.
Now I will refer to a few other texts which describe the way of the heathen to confirm what I have already said. In Isaiah 65:1-7 God described the condition of the Gentiles (pagans). In verse 3 He said they continually provoked Him to anger to His face; they sacrificed in gardens (Isaiah 66:17 says they sanctified and purified themselves in the gardens), they burned incense upon altars of brick (whereas God required that His altars be built of whole stones, Deuteronomy 27:6), they ate swine s flesh and broth (or pieces margin) of abominable things in their vessels (which God forbade in Leviticus 11), and they said, Don t come near me, stand by thyself; for I am holier than thou. (Isaiah 65:4-5.) God said these were smoke in His nostrils, a fire that burned all the day. Yet He extended His arms to them and offered them salvation.
In Deuteronomy 7, God instructed the Israelites that when they entered into the Canaan Land they should utterly destroy the people that were there (verse two) and make no covenant with them. They were to destroy their altars, break down their images and burn them with fire, and cut down their groves. (verse five.) He said the reason for this was that the Israelites were a holy people unto the Lord their God (verse six) and the people of the land were not acceptable to Him, neither were their altars, their sacrifices, their groves, nor their worship. God still requires that same separateness today between the people who worship Him in spirit and in truth and the formal religionists who teach for doctrines the commandments of men and thus worship Him in form only.
Read also Exodus 23:24; Exodus 34:12-14; Deuteronomy 12:1-4; II Kings 16:4; I Kings 14:22-23, etc.
We see then how God hates idolatry and what an abomination it is to Him. We also see what an elaborate arrangement the heathen made for his place and system high places, beautiful groves, and gardens, etc. It was all so abominable and obnoxious to God that He required every trace and memory of it to be totally obliterated. He even required in Numbers 33:52 that all their pictures be destroyed. Pictures had a strange and powerful fascination to them, so God required that all the pictures that would be a reminder or a suggestion of idolatry to them be destroyed.
In closing this discussion, let us think a little of our idolatry. Is it as much an abomination to God as theirs? The Bible says covetousness is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5.) To covet this world s riches and to desire more than God has provided us with of the material things of this world is a form of idolatry in God s sight. He hates that disposition of heart. His Word says, Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have:… Hebrews 13:5. Discontent is a grievous thing in the sight of God. We are instructed in I John 2:15 to Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. James 4:4 says, “…Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” In Matthew 22:37 Jesus said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. In verse 38 He said, This is the first and great commandment. Ah, folks, let us realize that this is the fundamental basic of holy living, and of our relationship with God to love Him with all our being. Therefore, it becomes evident that to accept into our heart a love of the world, or any of the things of the world (self-love or a love for anything that is not godly), is to set up a rival love in the heart which God detests and will not tolerate. From Luke 14:26 and Luke 14:33 we see that a father, mother, wife, child, etc., and yea, anything we have can become an idol to us if we do not forsake it all for Jesus sake. (See also Matthew 10:37.) We cannot love any person or thing more than we love Christ without becoming idolaters.
Quite a sobering thought, isn’t it?