Isaiah 57:15 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Isa 57:15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Isaiah 57:15 is often used to claim that God inhabits an eternal now. Eric Johnson writes:

God is beyond time and unchanging, and yet he also participates fully in history, interacting genuinely with humans.30

Footnote 30:
Gen. 6:6; Ex. 3:14; 32:14; 1 Sam. 15:29; Job 2:3; Ps. 102:26–27; Isa. 40:28; 57:15; Mal. 3:6;. 57:15; Mal. 3:6; Rom. 1:23, 25; 9:5; 2 Cor. 11:31; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16; Heb. 1:11–12. A true contradictory here would be “God is in every sense an eternal being beyond time” and “God is in no sense beyond time and is solely a temporal being.”

Johnson, Eric. God Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents God (Kindle Locations 2003-2004). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

But this verse does not seem to mean this. This verse is about God’s everlastingness (eternity), not being non-temporal. The phrase (inhabits (shâkan) eternity (‛ad)) is similarly used of man:

Psa 37:29 The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell (shâkan) upon it forever (‛ad).

Similarly, variations of the phrase are commonly associated with human beings:

Isa 33:16 he will dwell (shâkan) on the heights (mârôm); his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks; his bread will be given him; his water will be sure.

Psa 37:27 Turn away from evil and do good; so shall you dwell (shâkan) forever (‛ôlâm).

Translating Isaiah 57:15 as “inhabits eternity” is a very unfortunate translation. The NIV better renders the phrase “he who lives forever”, mirroring the NASB. The NET version renders it “who rules forever”, adding this note:

Heb “the one who dwells forever.” שֹׁכֵן עַד (shokhen ’ad) is sometimes translated “the one who lives forever,” and understood as a reference to God’s eternal existence. However, the immediately preceding and following descriptions (“high and exalted” and “holy”) emphasize his sovereign rule. In the next line, he declares, “I dwell in an exalted and holy [place],” which refers to the place from which he rules. Therefore it is more likely that שֹׁכֵן עַד (shokhen ’ad) means “I dwell [in my lofty palace] forever” and refers to God’s eternal kingship.

The immediate context is about Yahweh’s rulership, but furthermore, it is about He frustration with mankind:

Isa 57:16 For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before me, and the breath of life that I made.

Yahweh is projecting that there will be a time when His anger subsides, when He is no longer in conflict with people. This does not sound like timeless eternity, but that He is experiencing relationships in real time. He states that dispite Israel’s continued rebellion, Yahweh will heal Israel and cause them to worship Him through healing. He goes on to give one last warning to those who remain determined to rebel: There is no rest for the wicked.

Taking Isaiah 57:15 as a prooftext for timeless eternity is not warranted. The context seems to be about God’s eternal inhabitation of His courtroom. The phrase is used of human beings. The immediate context is about God’s emotional changes in time. There is nothing to suggest God is non-temporal in the context.

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