What does "for as the days of a tree are the days of my people" mean?

What is the meaning of God’s message in Isaiah 65:22?

"They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands" (Isa 65:22). This echoes from the beginning of Israel’s national history in their land. The sins of the idolatrous inhabitants of the land rose to such a level that God removed them and gave it to Israel (Genesis 15:7, 16). When they went into that land, they received cities they didn’t build, houses they didn’t fill, wells they didn’t dig, and vineyards and olive trees they didn’t plant (Deuteronomy 6:11). Because of God’s judgment, the previous tenants built and didn’t inhabit, and planted but didn’t eat the fruit. God warned His people that disobeying Him would bring a curse; they would build a house and not dwell in it and plant vineyards and not eat the grapes (28:30), because invaders would oppress and spoil them (v 29).

As the decades of their disobedience mounted, they suffered tastes of this from invading armies, as in the days of Judges. Eventually, the Babylonian army carried them away captive and they suffered the full weight of the curse; their houses and vineyards were left for their captors to enjoy. During their captivity, the Lord pointed to a future day when He would regather them, judge their enemies, and cause His people to dwell safely in their land (Ezekiel 25, 26). They would build houses, plant vineyards, and dwell there with confidence. That promise has not yet been fulfilled, but will be during the coming earthly reign of Christ. They would no longer be disobedient and never again suffer from invaders.

The passage in Isaiah 65 includes this blessing, but extends it. The context deals with the longevity God’s obedient people will enjoy during those thousand years (Isa 65:20). Even if no enemy invaded their land in the past, death would eventually intervene and someone else would live in their house and eat from their vineyards. In that future kingdom, where believers have God’s law written on their hearts, even death will not dispossess them of houses and lands. Their days will be lengthened to the age of trees, which generally outlive animal life. Horticulturalists indicate that some of the olive trees presently standing in Jerusalem’s Garden of Gethsamane were there when the Lord agonized in the garden’s dust.

The result would be prolonged enjoyment of their labors, for their days would be long on the land which the Lord gave them (Exodus 20:12). The verse then assures their security (no dispossession), longevity (no death), and felicity (no departure).

D. Oliver