Thus says the LORD: "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word." (Isaiah 66:1, 2; ESV)
When Solomon dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem, he prayed,
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O LORD my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, 'My name shall be there,' that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. (1 Melachim / 1 Kings 8:27-30; ESV)
Solomon in his day understood what God would say many years later through the prophet Isaiah: that God cannot be contained by a man-made house. While the Temple was central to the life of the nation of Israel and would eventually become a source of pride, virtually taking God's place in the minds and hearts of the people, Solomon himself understood its intended function as representing God's presence among the people.
But a source of pride it did become and so it was necessary for God through Isaiah to remind the nation that the existence of the Temple was not proof positive that they were in good stead with him. God's regard for the people was not based on the Temple, but upon their relationship with him - a relationship based upon a certain kind of heart attitude. This kind of person is described by Isaiah as "he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word."
This description is reminiscent of Isaiah's own experience when God appeared to him as recorded near the beginning of his book (see Isaiah 6). When he was drawn in to witness the heavenly worship scene, he became a most broken man - a man most unfit to speak God's word to the people. And it was because he was humble enough to recognize the reality of his condition before God, that God was able to equip him to speak on his behalf.
The description of the type of person that God regards is one that most people would resist. What is translated here as "humble and contrite" is the usual way to describe the poor, the needy, and the afflicted. These are those who are at the mercy of their circumstances, their oppressors, and their environment. They have no power and influence and there is nothing they can do about it. But by adding "in spirit" most likely denotes that these people are not afflicted in the natural, though they might be that as well. This is a description of people who are stricken in their hearts, people who see themselves as most needy in their spiritual state, just like Isaiah, those who tremble at God's word.
The people whom God regards are those who are keenly aware of their constant need of him. No matter how confident they may be in their relationship with him, that confidence never crosses into self-confidence as evidenced by their ongoing dependency on him and their continual openness to his correction and teaching.
It is so easy for us to "temple-ize" the work of God in our lives, where we regard that which we have learned in the past as his final word upon which we focus our lives. Our hearts become sealed in the concrete of our perceptions and find comfort in predictability and easy-(or not-so-easy-)to-define formulas.
To be in that place is to lose sight of who God is or, rather, to lose sight of God altogether. Just as the Temple of old could not contain the Creator of the Universe, we need to recognize that our perceptions of God, no matter how good, correct, and helpful they may be can never fully contain him. No matter how well off we may be spiritually, compared to his riches, we are all just spiritual paupers in great need of him. Once we are able to truly acknowledge how spiritually needy we really are, we will be in a place where we can get to know God as never before.