Notes on Isaiah 63:7-19 and Isaiah 64

Isaiah 63:1‑19; Isaiah 64  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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The last section brought together at its beginning the Lord's first advent, at its end His second advent, with Jerusalem as the special object here contemplated in His earthly plans. We now enter on the closing part of this great and varied prophecy. There are two divisions in it. The first, that which affords us our present theme (from ver. 7 of chap. 63 to the end of chap. 64), consists of a most urgent intercession by the Spirit in the mouth of the prophet on behalf of Israel with Jehovah. The second is His answer which carries us to the end of the book.
Even the least enlightened of modern commentators admits that we open with what seems designed as a formulary of humiliation for the Israelites in order to their restoration. “I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, and the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses. For he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie: so he was their Savior. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.” (Ver. 7-9.)
Nothing is more suitable than this exordium, whether one thinks of the Lord first or His people next. Mercies acknowledged lead to fresh mercy. He was not changed in His lovingkindness, nor they in their deep need of it, as only He could show it to them. Hitherto His love had received no return, nothing but bitter disappointment.1 Yet what could exceed His tender care? “But they rebelled and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them. Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? where is he that put his holy Spirit within him? That led them by the hand of Moses with his glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make himself an everlasting name? That led them through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble? As a beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord caused him to rest: so didst thou lead thy people, to make thyself a glorious name.” (Ver. 10-14.)
It is evident then that God will work morally in Israel. No external deliverances for themselves nor execution of vengeance on His and their foes will suffice for His great purposes, any more than for His own glory or their real good. Hence, the Spirit will exercise them in confession and in supplication before Him. As the verses already looked at set out their ingratitude and self-will in presence of His unmerited goodness, so the next takes the form of prayer. “Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and of thy glory: where is thy zeal and thy strength, the sounding of thy bowels and of thy mercies toward me? are they restrained? Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O Lord, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting. O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear? Return for thy servants' sake, the tribes of thine inheritance. The people of thy holiness have possessed it but a little while: our adversaries have trodden down thy sanctuary. We are thine: thou never barest rule over them; they were not called by thy name.” (Ver. 15-19.)
They are broken in heart and turn in affiance of spirit to the Lord. Had He of old said, Surely they are My people, children that will not lie? Now they say, Surely thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not. Yet do they own that there had been judicial hardening over them, erst over Pharaoh and his people. How deep and persevering the sins that could turn the Lord against His own people as against their enemies of old! and this too so long! for Israel had enjoyed their inheritance but a little while: long, long had their adversaries trodden down Jehovah's sanctuary, and Israel had been as those on whom His name was not called.
This leads out the heart in still more earnestness.
“Look down from heaven” suffices no more. “Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence, as when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence! when thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou earnest down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence. For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.” (Ver. 1-4.)
It is interesting here to note the great difference for which the accomplishment of redemption gives occasion by the gift of the Holy Ghost. Compare 1 Cor. 2 We see that God now does reveal the things He has prepared for them that love Him. We do not wait for the emergence of the great High Priest to know our blessedness; for while He is still in the holiest, the Holy Spirit, as the apostle teaches, has come out and given us to enter in as anointed of Him and made free to go boldly within the veil. Indeed for us the veil is rent, and all things hidden are revealed. But Israel (and the prophet speaks of Israel) must wait till they see Him whom their fathers so guiltily pierced, though I doubt not their heart will be truly converted to the Lord, born again but not in peace till they actually behold Him.
Hence we have in what follows the language of true repentance. “Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those in continuance, and we shall be saved. But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember iniquity forever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people. Thy holy cities are a wilderness, Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things are laid waste. Wilt thou refrain thyself for these things, O Lord? wilt thou bold thy peace, and afflict us very sore?” (Ver. 5-12.)
1. It may be well to remark that verse 9 is by no means certain for the reading or sense. Our translation followed the Keri, others (as the Vulgate, the Syriac, the Targum of Jonathan, &c., and of moderns, Houbigant, Rosenmüller, Horsley, De Wette, &c.), follow the Ketib. This would give properly, I suppose, “in all their straits he was not straitened.” The Septuagint, followed by the Arabic, contrasts His personal interest and action. “It was not an ambassador nor an angel, but He Himself saved them,” &c.