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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Isaiah 63

Verse 1

This chapter is particularly distinguished by a brief, cameo-like description of the final judgement in the first six verses. As we should have expected, the critical writers, who have never yet found a description of the judgment day that they thought was not out of place, have declared this one to be, "Isolated from the context,"[1] and as, "Having no immediate connection with what goes before or what follows."[2] Some have even supposed the passage to be, "A mere fragment that, by mistake, found its way into this portion of the book,"[3] a view which, however, the same author rejected, admitting that, "There is great propriety in the paragraph's appearance where it is."[4] Barnes also wrote that the chapter belongs where it is, and that, "It should not have been separated from Isaiah 64."[5]

The interpretation of the first six verses has taken a number of directions. As Lowth pointed out, "Many interpreters suppose that Judas Maccabeus is prophesied here"; but he concluded. "This prophecy has not the slightest relation to Judas Maccabeus."[6]

Many others have understood these verses as a reference to Jesus Christ, a position maintained by the late, illustrious G. C. Brewer. Douglas, Archer, Lowth and others have subscribed to the same view; and Jamieson, quoting Gesenius, gives the answer as to "Who" this mighty one is, as "The Messiah."[7] We accept this as the only valid interpretation.

We deeply respect this interpretation and are able to accept it, because we construe the paragraph as a prophetic picture of the final judgment, depicted in terms of God's summary destruction of the Edomites. The apostle John's unmistakable references to this passage in Revelation lend convincing proof of the accuracy of this view.

See the notes below for difficulties attending this interpretation.

Isaiah 63:1-6

"Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, marching in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save. Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winevat? I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the peoples there was no one with me: yea, I trod them in mine anger, and trampled them in my wrath; and their lifeblood is sprinkled upon my garments, and I have stained all my raiment. For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redeemed is come. And I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; and my wrath, it upheld me. And I trod down the peoples in mine anger, and made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth."

The first objection to our interpretation is that Christ did not come from Edom. Very well, he did not. However, Edom in this passage does not stand for any literal place on earth; but Edom and its peoples are a symbol of the whole earth and its sinful enemies of God's people. "They are a type of the last and bitterest foes of God's people, as revealed in Isaiah 34:5f."[8] See my introduction to Isaiah 34, where the propriety of choosing the Edomites as typical of all of God's enemies is discussed. Rawlinson was doubtless correct when he wrote that, "The Edomites represent the world-power; and the `day of vengeance' may be one still future."[9]

Cheyne represented the "victorious warrior" here as "Jehovah";[10] and, of course, Isaiah 63:2 of the text shuts us up to just two options. The "mighty one," traveling in the greatness of his strength, must positively be one or the other, either Jehovah himself, or the blessed Lord Jesus Christ. Only one of these could have declared, "I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save." Note too that this is, by definition, a judgment scene; and, from the New Testament we learn that, "God hath committed judgment unto the Son of God" (John 5:22; 9:39). This of course, drives us squarely back to the proposition that the mighty warrior here is none other than Christ.

Another objection is that, in this scene, Christ's garments are red with blood, but not his own blood. It is the blood of God's enemies that stains them here. Oh yes, as Kidner said, "The garments red with blood may indeed remind the Christian of Calvary, but the meaning is given in Revelation 19:15."[11]

"And I saw the heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and he that sat thereon called Faithful and True; and in righteousness, he doth judge and make war. And his eyes are a flame of fire, and upon his head are many diadems; and he hath a name written which no one knoweth but he himself. And he is arrayed with a garment sprinkled in blood: and his name is called the Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and pure. And out of his mouth proceeded a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God, the Almighty. And he hath on his garment and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS; AND LORD OF LORDS" (Revelation 19:11-16).

Here, of course, is the key to the proper interpretation. The passage (Isaiah 63:1-6) is a prophecy of the final judgment of mankind, a judgment in which the Mighty Warrior with the garment red with the blood of his enemies, shall be the chief executive. This is one of the noblest and most astounding of all the prophecies in Isaiah. No vocabulary is rich enough adequately to describe the wonders and glory of this passage.

Ewald, as quoted by Cheyne, stated that, "This highly dramatic description unites depth of emotion with artistic perfection. What wonderful force of phraseology and pictorial power! It is impossible to read it without shuddering with reverence. No wonder the Seer on Patmos interwove some of these striking phrases into one of the most sublime, but most awful, passages of the Apocalypse!"[12]

The terrible slaughter of the race of Adam, (that is, the vast majority of them) that awaits our rebellious race, now on a collision course with disaster, is frequently mentioned, but not always in such terminology as we have here. The blood shedding is not often mentioned in that terminology; but it is mentioned often enough. The Great Supper metaphor is used in Revelation 19:17-18, where dead bodies are represented as covering the earth. The treading of the winepress of God's wrath, mentioned in Revelation 14:17-20, speaks of the blood reaching to the horses' bridles and extending two hundred miles. The fall of Babylon the Great, identified with the so-called Battle of Har-Magedon (Revelation 16:16) is also understood as an occasion of great destruction of Adam's race.

In view of all these consideration, Gleason Archer's interpretation of these verses appears to be trustworthy:

"Divine judgment will be executed upon the world-power. Edom here, as in Isaiah 34:5f, typifies the rebellious world as implacably hostile to God's people. Christ's garments stained with blood are red by the blood of God's enemies to be slain at Armageddon (Revelation 19:13) ... The scene here is the same as in Revelation 14:18,19. A Christ-rejecting, Gospel-spurning world leaves the Lord no other alternative but to send terrible and fearful destruction when the time of his longsuffering is past.[13]

Verse 7

"I will make mention of the lovingkindness of Jehovah, and the praises of Jehovah, according to all that Jehovah 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 deal falsely: so he was their Saviour. 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."

The words in this paragraph are the background for God's terrible disappointment in Israel. God mentioned here his personal love of Israel, the mercies without number conferred upon the chosen people, the constant and remarkable evidences of his lovingkindnesses, his bearing their sorrows and afflictions, and his constant concern for their well-being. Look at what God supposed would be the result of all this loving care. He said, "Surely, the children of these people will not lie or deal falsely!" (Isaiah 63:8). "There was a condition, however, that if God was to abide among them, Israel would be required to hearken unto God's voice (Deuteronomy 6:3; Jeremiah 7:23; Ezekiel 11:20)); but God was disappointed in them."[14]

The near-universal extent of wickedness is emphasized by the statement that "There was none to help" (Isaiah 63:5). However, it is probably best to view such statements as hyperbole for the sake of emphasis. The use of this figure of speech is frequent in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

"They are my people, children ..." (Isaiah 63:8). Here God "picks up the metaphor of his being the `father' of his people, corresponding to the opening theme of Isaiah (Isaiah 1:2,4),"[15] thus affirming once more the unity of these final chapters with the very first chapter, identifying the book as one, and the author as one.

"The angel of his presence saved them ..." (Isaiah 63:9). "Inasmuch as Christ accompanied Israel in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:4), and is the `image of God' (2 Corinthians 4:4,6; Colossians 1:15) and `the effulgence of his glory' (Hebrews 1:3), the angel of God's presence here is probably the Word of God that became flesh (John 1:1)."[16]

Verse 10

"But they rebelled and grieved his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and himself 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 shepherds of his flock? where is he that put his holy Spirit in the midst of them? that caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses? that divided the waters before them, to make himself an everlasting name? that led them through the depths, as a horse in the wilderness, so that they stumbled not? As the cattle that go down into the valley, the Spirit of Jehovah caused them to rest: so didst thou lead thy people, to make thyself a glorious name."

"They rebelled and grieved his holy Spirit ..." (Isaiah 63:10). "In these chapters we have the angel of God's presence (the Son of God), the Holy Spirit, and God Himself, the three persons of the Godhead, all working in behalf of Israel; their rebellion, therefore, was against the total Godhead."[17]

It is generally believed that under the Law of Moses the people did not enjoy the blessed reception of the Holy Spirit, as is true of Christians; and there is nothing here that is contrary to that view. The text clearly states that, "They grieved the holy Spirit", and (when they did) he (the holy Spirit) turned to be their enemy and fought against them. Some translators have rendered the word "grieved" here "vexed," or "rebelled against." In the New Testament, Christians are represented as "receiving" the Holy Spirit (John 20:22), and others as "resisting" the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51) "blaspheming" the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31), "lying" to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3). "insulting" the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 10:29), "grieving" the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), or as "quenching" the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Isaiah 63:10b here indicates that Israel, as a people, "quenched the Holy Spirit."

Barnes' comment on Isaiah 63:10b is that, "The Holy Spirit abandoned them for their sins, and left them to reap the consequences."[18]

"Then he remembered the days of old, Moses and his people ..." (Isaiah 63:11). "Most commentators regard the antecedent of `he' here as `Israel.'"[19] The things that came to Israel's mind in those days were the marvelous deliverances which God had brought to them in the Exodus. "Where is he that brought them up out of the sea ...?" (Isaiah 63:11). "This question was often spoken in derision by Israel's foes."[20] Under their reduced circumstances, it was a plaintive cry indeed..

"The shepherds of his flock ..." (Isaiah 63:11). These were Moses and Aaron.

"His holy Spirit in the midst of them ..." (Isaiah 63:11). That is, in the midst of Moses and Aaron.

Verse 15

"Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and thy glory: where are thy zeal and thy mighty acts? the yearning of thy heart and thy compassions are restrained toward me. For thou art our Father, though Abraham knoweth us not, and Israel doth not acknowledge us: thou, O Jehovah, art our Father; our Redeemer from everlasting is thy name."

"Thou art our Father ..." (Isaiah 63:16; 64:8). "The triple repetition of these words give this prayer its special intensity, as Israel's sense of estrangement struggles with their desire for acceptance."[21]

Beginning with Isaiah 63:15, and to the end of the chapter, "We have Israel's earnest prayer for God to look down from heaven and save them, because he is their `Father.'"[22]

The ground of Israel's appeal is that God is their `Father'; which, of course, was true enough; but Isaiah's prophecy had answered the questions they raised about God's apparent indifference to them in the very first chapter of his great prophecy. "They had rebelled against God (Isaiah 1:2)."

Verse 17

"O Jehovah, why dost thou make us to err from thy ways, and hardenest our heart from thy fear? Return for thy servant's sake, the tribes of thine inheritance. Thy people possessed it but a little while: our adversaries have trodden down thy sanctuary. We are become as they over whom thou never barest rule, as they that were not called by thy name."

The judicial hardening of Israel announced in Isaiah 6:9,10, at this time, "had been going on ever since."[23] And from the appearance of Isaiah 63:17, it would seem that some of the people, no doubt a few of those faithful souls in the `righteous remnant' were fully aware of what was happening. "It was as easy for the Israelites to believe that he had hardened their hearts as that he had once hardened the heart of Pharaoh."[24] We believe that only the `righteous remnant' at that Point in Israel's history were capable of any such discernment. The near hopeless state of the nation as a whole surely appears in this.

We interpret these last two or three verses as words of the `righteous remnant,' who indeed did understand the situation in which the secular nation found itself. As Lowth expressed it:

"The Israelites were saying, `Not only have our enemies taken possession of Mount Sion, and trodden down thy sanctuary; even far worse than this has befallen us. Thou hast long since utterly cast us off; and dost not consider us as thy peculiar people.'[25]

This, of course, is a true appraisal of the situation that began to be discussed in Isaiah 1:2; 6:9,10, etc.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 63". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.