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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Isaiah 64

Verse 1

This chapter is a continuation of the previous one, containing a prayer, which McGuiggan called, "a half-hearted confession and prayer,"[1] which Cheyne identified as the "prayer of the prophet in the name of"[2] the captive nation, and which Barnes criticized as being concerned more with, "God's execution of wrath upon his foes, rather than with his conferring blessings upon his people."[3] The fact of this prayer having been composed in the times of the prophet Isaiah would, it seems to us, favor the view of Cheyne. That being the case, we should understand the prayer as altogether sincere.

"All this is seen in vision; and, though a hundred fifty years would occur before it would be realized, yet, according to the prophetic manner, he described the scene as actually passing before him."[4]

Isaiah 64:1-4

"Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might quake at thy presence, as when fire kindleth the brushwood, and 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 camest down, the mountains quaked at thy presence. For from of old men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen a God besides thee, who worketh for him that waiteth for him."

Isaiah's prayer here calls for nothing less than a recurrence of the great wonders that accompanied the Exodus from Egypt. It could be that the prophet supposed God would require the same type of wonderful miracles in the deliverance of the captives from Babylon. At any rate, that is exactly what he requested here.

"That the mountains might quake ..." (Isaiah 64:1). This is a reference to what happened at Sinai.

"When thou didst terrible things ..." (Isaiah 64:3). The last two words here are, "A standing phrase, as in Deut. 10:21,2 Samuel 7:23, and Psalms 106:22, for the wonders of the Exodus."[5]

Isaiah 64:4 stresses the unique nature of God's care for Israel and the scope of the wonders God wrought upon her behalf. "Nowhere else among men had there ever been such blessings imparted, such happiness enjoyed, or so many proofs of love and affection, as for the benefit of Israel."[6]

"Neither hath the eye seen ..." (Isaiah 64:4). Lowth noted that commentators generally suppose that Paul was quoting from this passage in 1 Corinthians 2:9, adding that, "It seems very difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile them."[7]

All such suggestions, implying that Paul garbled, misquoted, or otherwise erred in such alleged quotations are based upon a common error, noted frequently in comments on Paul's writings. As an inspired, plenary apostle of Christ, Paul was not "quoting" Scripture at all here, he was "writing" Scripture. What was more natural than that some of the phraseology of earlier prophecies should also occur in his own? The purpose of Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:9 was utterly unlike that of Isaiah here. Isaiah was saying that "eye had not seen," etc. and the things God had already done for Israel. Paul was speaking of the wonderful things that "eye had not seen," etc. the wonderful things that God had laid up in the future for them that love him. There also are a number of instances of this same error on the part of commentators which we have cited in the New Testament. (See Vol. 8 (Galatians) in my New Testament Series of Commentaries, pp. 186-188.) It would be well to keep this in mind every time one encounters an allegation that Paul "misquoted" some passage of Scripture!

Verse 5

"Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou wast wroth, and we sinned, in them have we been of long time; and shall we be saved? For we are all become as one that is unclean, and all our righteousnesses are as a polluted garment: and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, take 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 by means of our iniquities."

Isaiah 64:5 in the very oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew text is damaged to the point of its being impossible to know exactly what is meant by it. There is little or no reason to trust the emendations that have produced the various statements printed here in recent versions as the last half of the verse.[8] The first part of the verse is clear enough. God will accept and bless those who work righteousness.

"All our righteousnesses are as a polluted garment ..." (Isaiah 64:6). This is inferior to the KJV which has, "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." "The word rendered `garment' or `rags' here has the literal meaning of "vestis menstruis polluta", that is, a soiled cloth of the type used by women in their monthly periods."[9] The reference could not be to "garments," but to "rags."

"There is none that calleth upon thy name ..." (Isaiah 64:7). "This is hyperbole, emphasizing the general apathy that had come over all the people."[10]

Verse 8

"But now, O Jehovah, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand."

This is the third time in this prayer (See Isaiah 63:16) that the appeal has been directed to God as the Father of his people. Isaiah did not presume to plead any merit on Israel's part, but appealed only to God's gracious covenant promises.

Douglas has pointed out the following correspondences between this chapter and the early chapters of the prophecy. "Isaiah 64:4 is like Isaiah 8:17; 30:18. Isaiah 64:6 is like Isaiah 30:22; 28:1; 27:8. Isaiah 64:7 is like Isaiah 27:5; 8:17; 29:16; 19:25; etc."[11]

We have called attention here, once again, to the inimitable work of Douglas, the great scholar who so many years ago wrote that remarkable book, "Isaiah One; His Book One." A full account of all that he did cannot be included in a work of this kind. But this little excerpt here is given as an example of what he has done for practically every portion of the whole prophecy. It exposes the shallowness and the inefficiency of those critical advocates of multiple authors for Isaiah.

Yes, Jehovah was the Creator and Father of Israel; but, "He is the Father of only his spiritual people. It should be remembered that a potter can mold a vessel only as the clay yields to his hands; if he is unable to make a vessel unto honor, then he makes one unto dishonor."[12] Paul's comment on this fact as applied to Israel is that, "God, willing to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath (Israel) fitted unto destruction" (Romans 9:22). Also, in this connection, John Locke wrote, "By the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction (Romans 9:22) God manifestly means the nation of the Jews."[13]

Verse 9

"Be not wroth very sore, O Jehovah, neither remember iniquity forever: behold, look, we beseech thee, we are all thy people."

Isaiah's great prayer here is a model in many respects; but like all language, there is a line in it that might have been misunderstood, especially by the wicked majority of Israel. That line is the last clause of Isaiah 64:9.

"We are ALL thy people ..." (Isaiah 64:9). While true enough if understood as an assertion that all of us are created by God, it is a serious error for it to be construed that "all of the nation of the Jews" were God's people. That, however, was exactly the way the Jews took it. This was the fundamental error of the whole nation, for they believed that the total population, regardless of their ungodliness, were heirs of the promises to Abraham; but this was never the case at all. The great New Testament principle that, "They are not all Israel who are of Israel," (Romans 9:6), seems never to have been comprehended by the Jews. Only those of like faith and character of Abraham were ever, in any sense whatever, the chosen people.

Verse 10

"Thy holy cities are become a wilderness, Zion is become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned with fire; and all our pleasant places are laid waste. Wilt thou refrain thyself for these things, O Jehovah? wilt thou hold thy peace, and afflict us very sore?"

"Thy holy cities ..." (Isaiah 64:10). Only Jerusalem was ordinarily honored with the title of "Holy City"; but here the term is extended to include all the cities of Judah. This is not out of keeping with the rest of the Old Testament, because in Zechariah 2:12, the whole land of Judah is called the Holy Land.

"Our beautiful house (the Temple) is burned with fire ..." (Isaiah 64:11). As Hailey noted, believers in the multiple authorship of Isaiah, "Ascribe this portion of the book to the times after the exile,"[14] according to the critical dictum that God could not have prophesied the burning of the temple until after the event. It is high time the critics invented another "dictum." The Old Testament prophesied the birth of Christ in Bethlehem about 800 years before the event! Furthermore, Isaiah authored hundreds of prophecies that are even far more wonderful than foretelling the burning of the temple, centuries, and even millenniums before they happened; and some of those events have not even happened yet! "The Bible abounds in declaring events long before they occur, speaking of them as though they had already taken place."[15] The burnt temple in this passage is an example of this. We have often mentioned Isaiah's prophecy of the two graves of Jesus (Isaiah 53:9).

"Wilt thou refrain thyself ...?" (Isaiah 64:12). The prayer closes with a series of questions, "Wilt thou refrain thyself?, wilt thou hold thy peace? wilt thou afflict us sorely? wilt thou refuse to come to our aid? wilt thou decline to come to us? wilt thou not save us from our calamities? Not all of these are formulated into words, but all of them are implied. The prayer closes with these questions, which, on the face of things required negative answers to all of them. That answer was forthcoming from God Himself in the next chapter. Moreover, God gave the reasons for his answer.

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 64". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.