“Your dead will live.” The speaker changes from the prophet in Isaiah 26:18 to God here in Isaiah 26:19. The prophet had been speaking of God’s greatness and human misery (cp. Isa. 26:15-18), and God now answers him with a message of hope about the resurrection of the dead into a better life. The sudden change from the prophet speaking to God speaking is not unusual and is why it is so important to pay attention to the context and flow of thought in the Scripture.
Here in Isaiah 26:19 God says to the prophet “your dead will live” because they are the people of the prophet, the righteous ones in Israel. Then God expands that thought by saying, “My dead bodies will arise,” because they are God’s people as well. The people are the same: “your dead” and “my dead” are the same people; the righteous ones of Israel. Some commentators think that the prophet, not God, is speaking in Isaiah 26:19. However, the prophet would not have been able to promise that the dead would live and shout for joy, nor would he have had a reason for saying “your dead” and “my dead,” whereas God would, and also it seems that what God is doing here is giving the prophet hope after his somewhat hopeless statement earlier in the chapter (Isa. 26:14).
That God is going to raise people from the dead and judge them is clearly set forth in a number of verses in the Old Testament and Gospels (cp. Job 19:25-27; Ps. 71:9; Isa. 26:19; 66:14; Ezek. 37:12-14; Daniel 12:2, 13; Hosea 13:14; Matt. 12:42; Luke 11:31; 14:14; John 5:28-29). Then, after the day of Pentecost it is set forth again in the Epistles and Book of Revelation (Acts 24:15; 1 Cor. 15:20-22, 42-49, 52; 1 Thess. 4:17; Rev. 20:4-15).
“My dead bodies will arise.” This wording seems difficult, so the evidence is that it was amended in the Septuagint and Aramaic Targums, which is why some English versions read “their dead bodies” instead of “my dead bodies.” However, the Masoretic Hebrew text and also the Great Isaiah Scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls read “my,” and there is no good reason to assume that reading is not the original text and correct. But why would God call them “my” dead bodies? The answer is that these people will get up in the first resurrection and live forever with God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Bible says that there will be two resurrections separated by a 1000-year period. The first resurrection is called, “The first resurrection” (Rev. 20:5-6); “the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14; Acts 24:15); and “the resurrection of life” (John 5:29); and it will start very soon after the Battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19:11-20:5). It is called “the first resurrection” because it is first; “the resurrection of life” because the people who get up are given everlasting life; and “the resurrection of the righteous” because the ones who get up were righteous before God in their life on earth.
The second resurrection will start after Christ’s 1000-year reign on earth (Rev. 20:4-13), and it is called “the resurrection of the unrighteous” (Acts 24:15) and “the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29), because most of the people who are raised at that time had lived unrighteous lives and will be judged unworthy of everlasting life and so will be thrown into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11-15).
The people the Bible is speaking about here in Isaiah 26:19 are the righteous people who will get up in the first resurrection and live forever with God. That is why God calls these dead bodies “my dead bodies,” and that is why these people are told to “awake and sing for joy.” When they get up in new, glorified bodies and realize they have everlasting life they will indeed sing for joy. In contrast, most of the people in the second resurrection, the “resurrection of the unrighteous,” will get up, but it won’t be a time of joyful singing. Instead, they face judgment and then annihilation in the Lake of Fire, and so there will be “sobbing and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; Luke 13:28).
[For more on the two resurrections, see commentary on Acts 24:15. For more on Christ’s 1000-year reign on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.” For more on dead people being dead and not alive in any form until the resurrection, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead.” For more on what happens to those unsaved people who are thrown into the Lake of Fire, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire”].
“you who dwell in the dust.” People who have died are now dead and not alive in any form. They are “in the dust,” and if they have been dead long enough, they themselves have turned back into dust (cp. Gen. 3:19). But not to worry, because God remembers everyone who has ever lived and just as Adam came from dust to be fully human, God will reconstitute every person who has ever lived and bring them back to life. Orthodox Christian teaching is that when a person dies their “soul” (or “spirit”) is still alive and goes to heaven or “hell,” but that teaching contradicts the Bible. Note that the text says, “you who dwell in the dust,” not “those bodies which are in the dust.” It is people who dwell in the dust, not just bodies.
[For more on dead people being dead and not alive in any form until the resurrection, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead”].
“For your dew is like the dew of the morning light.” The climate in Israel had two seasons, a rainy season and a dry season. The rainy season was usually late October until sometime in April, and then from late April until late October it did not rain at all. During the dry season the plants often became dry and withered, especially by the end of the day. However, Israel also has very heavy dews, and so by the first morning light there was often a heavy dew on the ground and the plants, which might have been considered dead the previous afternoon, suddenly revived and “came to life.” That is the illustration that is being used here in Isaiah: many of God’s people are currently just dry bones and dust in the ground, but God will act in power to raise them, and when He does the people will spring to life and sing for joy.
“the earth will give birth to her dead.” This gives us a wonderful mind-picture of the first resurrection. At the resurrection of the righteous, the dead people will come up out of the earth in beautiful new bodies just as a baby comes from its mother’s womb in a beautiful new body.