Isaiah 66 includes a terrifying warning to Israel: Yahweh is coming in fire, nose burning in anger, riding on the whirlwind that drives away the wicked like chaff. He’s coming with sword and fire to bring judgment (vv. 15-16).

Sword and fire. That’s familiar. There’s the fiery sword of the cherubim at the gate of Eden, and the fire and sword of the sacrificial system. Both are in play in Isaiah 66. Yahweh’s judgment is like a sacrificial slaughter.

Eden is even more prominent. Verse 17 goes on to direct its warning to those who sanctify and purify themselves to enter gardens, and who go to the center of the garden, just the place where the tree of knowledge was. Instead of eating the tree of knowledge, though, these will eat swine’s flesh, creepers, and mice. They won’t finish their meal before Yahweh’s fire and sword cut them down and burn them.

What in fact has Israel been doing? Verse 4 says that they have not listened when the Lord spoke (like Adam), and the structural connections between Isaiah 66 and Isaiah 1 suggest that these idolaters, like the people of Judah earlier in the book, stretch out bloody hands in prayer. They enter the temple and go to the center of the garden, thinking that they enter the pleasure of Yahweh. But their Adamic and Cainite sins have made their meals abominable.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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