Isaiah 63

Isaiah 63  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 10
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But there is another side to this matter, which confronts us as we begin to read chapter 63. Israel’s redemption will involve drastic judgment falling on all those who are foes of them and of God, just as judgment fell on the Egyptians, when Israel was typically redeemed in the bygone age. And He, who is to become Israel’s Redeemer in power, is the One who will overthrow them. In verse 1 of our chapter, however, Edom is specially singled out as the one on whom the judgment is to fall. Now Edom is Esau.
In the Proverbs we read that, “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city” (18:19), and this has been exemplified in the history of Esau and Jacob. The feud today is as strong as ever. It underlies the situation of great danger that surrounds Palestine today. It will be decisively settled at the second coming of Christ. Some excuse might possibly be found for Edom objecting to the reoccupation of the land by unconverted Jews, but evidently their objection will be just as strong against any regathering of a converted people. He who will regather Israel will destroy them.
The figure of treading “the winepress” is employed in verse 3, and the same figure is used in the closing verses of Revelation 14. It evidently indicates judgment of a wholesale and unsparing kind. There is also of course judgment which discriminates between the righteous and the wicked, but then the figure of a harvest is used, as we see in Mattew 13:40-43, as it also is in earlier verses of Revelation 14, showing that judgment of both kinds will be executed in the coming day.
The whole of Obadiah’s short prophecy is directed against Esau, and he makes it plain that just when “upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions”, the house of Esau “shall be for stubble”, which gives us the same thought of unsparing judgment under a different figure.
In our chapter this judgment is presented as the personal act of the One who is called “Mine own Arm”, taking place when salvation was accomplished on behalf of God and His people. At that solemn moment “the day of vengeance” will be in His heart, that day spoken of in chapter 61 verse 2, which our Saviour did not read in the synagogue at Nazareth. That day of vengeance will introduce the year of redemption for God’s people. Judgment being God’s “strange work” (28:21), it will be a “short work” (Rom. 9:28). Hence vengeance is only for a day compared with the year of redemption. All this, be it noted, has to do with the government of God on the earth, and not with saints who today are being called out for a heavenly portion. As far as we are concerned Edom is just one of the peoples amongst whom the Gospel is to be preached, though, alas! so few from amongst them respond to it.
Having predicted the coming day of vengeance, the mind of the prophet turned back in verse 7 to contemplate the extraordinary goodness of the Lord in His dealings with Israel from ancient days. It had been a story of loving kindness and of mercies according to His own heart. He had adopted them as His people, accredited them with truthfulness and saved them from their oppressors. Moreover He entered into their afflictions, granted His presence, redeemed them from Egypt and carried and cared for them till they reached the land of promise. In Exodus 33 we read how God promised His presence to Moses and the people, and in the last chapter of that book it is recorded how the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Also we read of the Angel of the Lord who went before them, who here is called “the Angel of His presence”. In Malachi 3:1 The expression “Messenger of the covenant” is really “Angel of the covenant”, and is clearly a prediction of the coming of the Lord Jesus; so here also we may see a reference to Him.
On God’s part therefore nothing had been lacking in His dealings with Israel; so what had been their response to all this goodness? Verse 10 gives the sad answer, “But they rebelled, and grieved His Holy Spirit”. As a result of this His holy government had to come into action, and He became their adversary. Here we have in few words what Stephen amplified and brought up to date, as recorded in Acts 7. Here the prophet has to record that they vexed God’s Holy Spirit. Many centuries after Stephen says to them, “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost”. To grieve Him is serious indeed, but to resist Him is fatal.
As Isaiah saw it in his day, what was God’s answer to this vexing? God remembered His original doings with Moses, and therefore there was hope in the prophet’s heart, and still a basis on which he could appeal to the Lord. Again, in verse 12, the Arm of the Lord is discerned as He who acted at the Red Sea, and the people recognized that God had triumphed gloriously. Hence, on this the last time that the “Arm” is mentioned by Isaiah, the adjective “glorious” is attached to His name. Glorious He is indeed.
Verses 12-14 therefore summarize the kindly dealings of God with His people, when He brought them out of Egypt, led them through the wilderness, and finally brought them into the land. There was the acting of “His glorious Arm”, and consequently He made for Himself “a glorious name” as well as “an everlasting name”. Nevertheless Israel was still under the law, and hence the hand of God lay heavily on them in judgment.
Isaiah was conscious however that he could appeal to God on another ground than the law. So, having mentioned Moses in verse 11, in the closing verses of the chapter he makes a further appeal to God on the ground of their connection with Abraham, with whom was made the original covenant of promise. If we read Genesis 15, we see that the covenant embraced not only Abraham personally but his seed also, that was to include a great multitude. This covenant put his descendants through Isaac into a place of special relationship before God, and had no conditions attached to it.
Now Abraham, though “the friend of God”, was but a man and had long since departed, and so was ignorant of them. Israel too the name given by God to Jacob might not acknowledge them. Yet Jehovah, who had included them in His covenant, was the abiding One, and from the outset He had been as a Father to them, for in another prophet we have Him saying, “I am a Father to Israel” (Jer. 31:9). Hence the appeal to Him here on that basis.
Two things strike us as remarkable here. First, in verse 17 the hardness of heart manifested in the people is traced back to an act of God. “Why hast Thou made us to err...?” Was this justified? Clearly it was, for just that was the original message given to Isaiah, in verses 9 and 10 of chapter 6. What had happened to them was in principle the same as had happened to Pharaoh. Long before, they had been warned, “Harden not your heart as... in the wilderness” (Psa. 95:8), but to this no response had been given, and the time came in God’s holy government when He sealed home this hardness of heart upon them; and as the result we have Isaiah’s cry to God, Thou hast “hardened our heart to Thy fear”.
Has such an action on the part of God any application to us today? Evidently it has, or we should not have found the warnings of Hebrews 3 and 4, based upon those words we have quoted from Psalm 95. In that Epistle, Jewish believers are taken up on the ground of their profession, and warned by the example of the Jewish people. Not all who profess the faith possess the vital thing. Hence the warning, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief”.
There is also the terrible working of the government of God predicted for the end of our Gospel age, when as to those who refused the truth, “God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie” (2 Thess. 2:11). This most drastic action of the government of God will well befit the most drastic refusal of His truth that the world will ever witness.
In the second place it is remarkable how the prophet complains, in verse 18, not only of the brief occupation of the land of promise but also of the treading down of the sanctuary by the adversary. At the time of Isaiah’s prophecy, as recorded in the opening of the book, this had not actually taken place, though there had previously been defeats, as in the days of Rehoboam. It appears that Isaiah was given to see the end to which the people were drifting, and to appeal to God in the light of it. That the sanctuary should be defaced by the adversary was the crowning blow. If that was lost, all was lost. In the light of this we can understand the touching appeal that is made, beginning and ending with what is called “the habitation of Thy holiness and of Thy glory”.