Written by Paul J. Bucknell on May, 14, 2022
Isaiah 57:15 God’s Two Dwelling Places with Study Questions
“For thus says the high and exalted One
Who lives forever, whose name is Holy,
I dwell on a high and holy place,
And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit
In order to revive the spirit of the lowly
And to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15).
Where are some of the nicest places you have visited? For me, it’s up on the mountainside overseeing Hong Kong harbor or Taroko Gorge in eastern Taiwan. But something was missing from these places, or I could at least say that each of these places would be fabulous if God displayed Himself.
Of course, God is everywhere all at once. There is no place where He is not present. I mean something like what happened in the Bible when God Himself was in the Garden of Eden speaking to Adam or when Jehovah revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush or when John was on the isle of Patmos, a prisoner for the Lord, but then Jesus appeared in His glorified state.
Where are we going to find God in our modern world today? Is He still around? If we needed to go and introduce God to someone, how would we do this? Or if someone came to you and said that they wanted to meet God, what would you say? God says there are two places where you could find Him. In a moment, we will look at these two places.
But first, ask yourself: when was the last time you met God? Where were you? What were you doing? Or maybe the real question for you is whether not you have ever met God? When God reveals His glory, wherever He is, that place becomes very special. The old patriarchs built altars at the places where they met God. What things took place when you met Him?
God, however, says you can meet Him in only two places: the first is inaccessible; the latter is nearly impossible.
Emotional experiences are not the same thing as meeting God. Though we do not want to dismiss emotions, we do not want to put too much emphasis upon them. The apostle said that we need to go deeper to the change of heart.
“I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, in order that you might not suffer loss in anything through us” (2 Co 7:9).
Some of us presume that we can find God any time we want. And the problem perhaps is not so much that He isn’t there to be found but that we cannot go where He is. We do not want to go where He is, or we just don’t have the qualifications to reach Him. Let’s look at the two places where Isaiah 57:15 says God can be found.
A. Meeting God On High (Isaiah 57:15)
The first place God can be found is on high. Let’s listen to the first three lines of Isaiah 57:15,
“For thus says the high and exalted One
Who lives forever, whose name is Holy,
“I dwell on a high and holy place …” (Isaiah 57:15).
God is holy and lives in a holy place. The exalted One dwells in a place on high. Nothing surprises us here. If we want to see the king, we need to go to the most royal-looking building to find him. If we’re going to find the President, go to the big, fancy building only other people’s money can build. Let’s go through each of the four descriptions of God:
1. The High God
God is the high God. Perhaps this means He is not one of the local gods, which one can find in a temple or under a pillow. Remember Rachel, who stole the household idols from Laban’s house? It was a rather pitiful scene that one would have to come with his armed men to look for a stolen idol. Why look for something that can’t take care of itself? Certainly, those idols were not on high.
I wonder if we pursue money, wealth, luxury, lusts, or knowledge instead of allowing God to influence us. Is it possible that we have cast our attention on these low things rather than the High God?
2. The Exalted God
God is not one of the low gods, but neither is He just one of those celestial gods either. There is just One exalted God, the God above all gods. Once the evil one saw that he could not deceive the people’s minds any longer with polytheism, he seduced them with monotheism, the main religions developed around the teaching of one God - the only God. However, along with the truth came lies about His person. People became prideful that they did not worship lowly idols, but neither were they careful about what they believed about the Exalted One.
Monotheism is no gift if what we know about God is inaccurate. In a sense, when we attribute false things to the god of our projected minds, we create a different god from the Exalted One who lives. Though we profess there to be only One God, we have often created another inferior god, and worship that god of our imagination because of our mistaken notions.
Please do not treat all high religions the same. The Islamic God and the Christian God are not the same. Be careful not to worship an invention of your imagination. People tend to create and worship a god that is not the Exalted One. You ask, “How can we know?” You can know if you want to know.
3. The God Who Dwells in Eternity
This phrase is translated in the NASB and NIV as “Who lives forever.” The essence is the same. This High and Exalted One does not live in time but in eternity.
We have a hard time thinking outside of time and space. Even though we know vastly more and have sent men and crafts to distant parts of the solar system, yet we are bound by time. Time is wrapped into this creation and part of the formulas that help us calculate and understand things. It’s almost impossible to think of a place where time is nonexistent.
If we are at all literal about this phrase, we need to see that there is a place—if this is the right way to describe it—where there is no time. It is a place altogether different from the earth and a universe that grows older. Eternity stands outside of the universe and the earth’s revolutions around its sun. The whole universe is likened to a small box called time. We cannot escape it. Those who refer to death as the way to meet God, in a small sense, are right. If we meet the God of eternity, we need to make room and time.
It’s so tempting to assume that God is as limited to time and space constraints as we are. It is rather humorous that because we did not have room to store the last two digits of the year in the computer data cards 20-30 years ago, our world faced the Y2K-2000 crisis. We are idolaters when we shape God after our own limitations. We complain, for example, that God does not understand us, or that He didn’t give us enough time. When we describe or consider God other than His Word reveals Him, we greatly insult Him and do ourselves great harm.
4. The God Whose Name is Holy
When we discuss the existence of a mighty, omnipotent Being, atheists become uncomfortable and restless. They turn around and around. If we persist in mentioning His eternal rule, they begin to become vocal and cast words of ridicule. For the most part, atheists can only live happily in the silence of such thoughts. This is why they are generally not willing to discuss the existence of God. The discussion of God stirs up great agitation about His existence possibly being true.
But when we discuss God’s holiness, then the world insistently squawks loudly until it has found a philosophy that will enable them to shout down God’s holiness. His existence speaks of our dependence, but His holiness demands our imitation. If God is only a power or force, my relationship with God is not particularly binding. He is a thought which can be dismissed.
However, once God is holy, then everything we do is either holy or unholy, pleasing or not pleasing to God. Without God’s holiness, we can speak in levels of gray, but with God’s holiness, everything is either right or wrong, white or black. Though some are convinced of amorality, such things in the true context of an eternal God cannot exist. Like the polarization of a magnet, either it is positive or negative.
I know the argument that there are non-moral activities such as breathing and eating. We do not call these things sinful or not. But this is because we have an inferior understanding of God. We have a temporal perspective rather than a wholistic, eternal perspective.
God’s holiness sets His person apart from others. His person, will, and preferences define holiness. He is the standard, and everything matches up with His standard and is holy or cast into a basket of unholiness. People try to isolate a single action apart from its motive, person, and context. They act as if eating is done in a different context so it is amoral. But nothing is out of context with God. This is why the scriptures say,
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3:23-24).
We do not understand how bad our attitudes and actions are before the Lord. They are all unholy. If a sinner eats breakfast, is he ungrateful to His creator God? Does He not take something from God His Creator without any sense of thankfulness? Does he not plan to do evil that day with the very food resources that God granted him to eat?
This is why God has completely rejected the world.
“Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12:31).
“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:19).
“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).
God’s holiness has a great polarizing effect, People everywhere become uneasy when they hear that there is an ultimate standard by which they will be judged.
Are you holy? Have you only compared your life to how others have lived. Or have you dared to stare in the eyes of the Holy One and seen your life under the scrutiny of His immaculate holiness?
We are not surprised to hear the exalted and holy God dwells on a high and holy place. We expect the Omnipotent to live above others; He, after all, is great and mighty. We understand His dwelling place to be holy and never tolerate sin in His presence.
The question is, “Have any of us gone to this holy place to meet God?” No. There might be experiences with God when time stands still or the intensity of His holiness cause some, like John, to fall to the ground (Rev 1:17), but all of this still provides a greatly limited understanding of God. Paul said he knew someone who went to the third heavens (2 Cor 12:2). Perhaps he meant himself meeting God. But even if one may experience a vision or dream of God, our flesh and body cannot pass into eternity. But if we can’t go to heaven, how shall we meet God? Let’s look at the second place God dwells.
B. Down Low (Isaiah 57:15)
Isaiah 57:15 speaks of two places God lives. We already discussed how He lives on high in His holy sanctuary. We understand He is out of reach, far away.
But the second place He dwells surprises us. Listen to the whole verse again but this time pay attention to the last three lines,
- “For thus says the high and exalted One
- Who lives forever, whose name is Holy,
- “I dwell on a high and holy place,
- And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit
- In order to revive the spirit of the lowly
- And to revive the heart of the contrite.”
The contrast is unbelievable. The very first lines would seem to exclude the second dwelling place, here with the lowly. He provides less descriptive of those He dwells with but He reveals His intent or purpose for them.
The first lines were all descriptive. God is pictured as the ever-existing God, the One who needs or wants for nothing, but here in the last three lines, we see God doing something. This desire for God begins to give us insight into His great redemptive plan.
1. God’s Second Dwelling Place
“…And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit
In order to revive the spirit of the lowly
And to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15).
The Lord not only dwells in a high and holy place but also with the contrite and lowly of spirit. The contrite includes those whose heart is broken. Listen to the English translations for the one Hebrew root word (kd) for contrite: oppressed, afflicted, crushed, contrite, humble, broken.
We are not just speaking about someone who has not done well, but someone who is down and out. There is no place to turn. Out of luck. Out of spirit. Empty.
The other word, lowly, is like the first. As contrite is contrasted with exaltation, lowly is contrasted with those on high. English translations for the Hebrew root (lpv) include: low, humble, base, abased, and subdued.
These words are the very opposite to the ones about God’s other dwelling place—exalted and on high. There are perhaps several responses we might have to this second dwelling place.
1) We might say that Isaiah does not know what he is talking about. But he is the prophet, and we are not. Isaiah says, “Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils; For why should he be esteemed?” (Isaiah 2:22)
2) Perhaps we expect the Lord to think as we do about ourselves because we are delighted with and boastful of our outstanding achievements. By selecting David, God first rejected his older brothers saying,
“Then it came about when they entered, that he looked at Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’S anointed is before Him.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:6-7).
3) Is it possible that the Lord is sincere in dwelling with the crushed and lowly? Man, if given the choice, would not do it. He might work with broken men, but who would admit to living with them. But God announces it. He exclusively announces it. He does not mention all the places we would like to take our friends and relatives.
But what does He mean? What is contrite? Why is it he who possesses a lowly spirit? Some people are brokenhearted but not poor. Others, many of whom I have also met, are poor and maybe even homeless, but not lowly in spirit. Interestingly, this is very similar to verses in the Sermon on the Mount. Remember,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mat 5:3-4).
What we find here is that those who belong to the kingdom of God are those who are poor in spirit. Why?
It’s not very difficult to understand if you understand the earlier point of Creator God’s holiness. Sinful man is typified by rebellion and a hardened spirit. God is not speaking so much about the outward material condition of man but his inward spirit.
You see, God is interested in dwelling with man. God knows we cannot visit Him in His awesome holiness. However, there is one other home He has made for Himself: with the crushed and brokenhearted in spirit. God has designed man to be filled with His presence. Let me make a few points of application:
2. A humble-hearted person:
- Is proud that he is God’s servant and does what God says.
- Desires God’s name to be glorified in his life. He’s willing to face impossible feats so that God might be glorified in those situations.
- Loves God’s law. He meditates on His Word day and night. God’s word is his life source.
- He lives in the world but is not of the world.
- He teaches his children to love God’s Word. He says, “Memorize like I do.” “Live like I live.”
- He teaches his children to look for God’s work in each day’s activities.
Let me recap. God’s servant is not impressed with his own life but only with God’s amazing works. He might have worked hard at getting a degree, but he boasts in the Lord for the wisdom he gained. Furthermore, He exults in God for enabling Him to live a balanced life during a busy school schedule. This is God’s work in His life.
As I read through 1 Samuel, I am amazed at David’s story. He was a general, but what is significant about him hiding in caves? He did not dare kill someone God put in office, namely King Saul, and he was able to wait upon God for the timing of his own kingship. David was insistent on not running ahead of God. He knew he would be king but refused to force the situation. This manifests a lowly spirit. Instead, he relied on God to get him out of very sticky situations. He knew God would deliver him and therefore many Psalms are Psalms of deliverance.
3. God’s Greater Purposes
There are two purposes recorded in verse 15. God expressed His intention to help man. While people want God to help man in his rebellion with higher salaries, buildings, homes, cars, etc., God is hardly interested in the material blessings. They are mere toys compared to what is coming. God is interested in shaping our hearts to line up with His sovereign purposes. Redemption through Jesus Christ restores man to God’s holy purposes.
Some people insist on separating salvation from sanctification. Still, God’s whole purpose of salvation is to save people from their sin so they can live in humble obedience to His Great and glorious purposes. That is sanctification. Things might oppress God’s people on earth, and yet God determines to strengthen them as they live according to His sovereign purposes.
God only lives in two places. He doesn’t live in buildings; He didn’t even want an earthly inferior temple, but only a tent. The Lord didn’t really care about a house though tolerating it. Nothing compares to His glorious existence in eternity.
But what is fantastic beyond limits is how the eternal God enters time through Jesus Christ and lives in our midst, humble and meek, always in alignment with the Father’s will. He set the pattern for the brokenhearted, the crushed, the lowly in spirit, those who have no reserves, no next plans, nothing else. They have resigned themselves as dead in their spirit. The key for Christians is to affirm this dying to self and living unto Christ. It is daily taking up the cross of Jesus where only what Jesus wants really matters to them.
Have you met God? We haven’t made it even to the first heaven yet. But, what about the other place where God lives? This is the place we can find God. He looks for the crushed in heart and lives in them. Has He entered your life? Why? What is He trying to do? This is the key for the Eternal One who touches our lives.
Discussion Questions on Isaiah 57:15
- Have you ever gone to where God dwells?
- Read Isaiah 57:15 and share the two places where God lives.
- What surprises you about these two places? What contrast does Isaiah present?
- What does it mean that God is exalted?
- Contrast eternity with time? What can you best identify with? Why?
- Do you agree with the author that everything is either holy or unholy? What example does he give?
- How can such a holy God live with “the contrite and lowly of spirit?”
- What is God’s purpose for living with the contrite of heart (see the verse).
- One day God will take His people to live with Him. How does Jesus fit into this picture?
- What do you think about living with God? What do you want to happen there?
Other relevant articles on knowing God by Paul J. Bucknell
Knowing God: Experience and Love Him (A series)
Series Introduction| Knowing God | The Revelatory God | Goodness of God | Holiness of God | Power of God | Omnipresent God | Exalted God | Faithfuness of God | Wisdom of God | Mercy of God | Wrath of God | Love of God | Sovereignty of God | Providence of God
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