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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Isaiah 63


C. Recognition of divine ability chs. 63-66

The third and final subdivision of this last part of the book (chs. 56-66) returns to many of the themes in the first subdivision (chs. 56-59). However, the structure of this subdivision is the mirror opposite of that one.

"Whereas chs. 56-59 begin with a discussion of the foreign converts (Isaiah 56:1-8) and end with a description of the Divine Warrior who battles alone for his people (Isaiah 59:15-21), this final subdivision (Isaiah 63:1-6) begins with the description of the Divine Warrior (using some of the same language as a previous one), and ends with a treatment of foreign converts (Isaiah 66:18-24). But beyond that, in each case the central section deals with the inability of the people to produce the ethical righteousness called for (Isaiah 56:8 to Isaiah 59:15 a; Isaiah 63:7 to Isaiah 66:17)." [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66, p. 593.]

In chapters 56-59, the major emphasis was on human inability to produce the righteousness that God requires, and the minor emphasis was on God’s power to enable humans to live righteously. In chapters 63-66, the opposite pattern of emphases exists. Both sections, of course, flank chapters 60-62, with its emphasis on future eschatological glory.

Verse 1

Isaiah described a watchman observing a Warrior coming from the southeast, the direction of Edom (red) and its capital Bozrah (vintage; cf. Isaiah 52:8). Edom was Israel’s perennial enemy, but here it quite clearly represents, by synecdoche, all of Israel’s enemies.

"Babylon and Edom are always to be taken literally, so far as the primary meaning of the prophecy is concerned; but they are also representative, Babylon standing for the violent and tyrannical world-power, and Edom for the world as cherishing hostility and manifesting hostility to Israel as Israel, i.e. as the people of God." [Note: Delitzsch, 2:444.]

This Warrior was coming to Israel, having defeated Israel’s enemies. He was a mighty man, strong and majestic, wearing vivid garments. The Warrior identified Himself as someone who speaks (cf. John 1:1-2; John 1:14). This is the outstanding characteristic of God from Genesis 1:3 to Revelation 21:5. His words were right and His strength was for salvation. Watts viewed this warrior as follows.

He is "a symbol of Persian imperial power fighting Jerusalem’s and Yahweh’s battles for them. Perhaps he is best thought of as Megabyzus, the redoubtable Persian general who served as satrap of Beyond the River during this period [i.e., the post-exilic period] . . ." [Note: Watts, Isaiah 34-66, p. 321.]

Verses 1-6

The solitary Warrior 63:1-6

The Lord explained how Israel could possibly rejoice in the repossession of its homeland, even if such malicious neighbors as the Edomites still surrounded it.

"Having described the exaltation of Zion and her enlargement through the influx of the Gentiles, the prophet turns to describe the destruction of Zion’s enemies." [Note: Young, 3:475.]

"The oracle is most dramatic. The only OT passage that in any way resembles it is the account of Joshua’s encounter with the angelic captain of the Lord’s host (Joshua 5:13 to Joshua 6:5). There too, as here, there are two questions and two answers; and there is a similar anxious inquiry: ’Are you for us or for our enemies?’" [Note: Grogan, p. 339.]

Verses 1-16

1. God’s faithfulness in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness 63:1-65:16

Isaiah proceeded to glorify the faithfulness of God by painting it against the dark background of Israel’s unfaithfulness. Even though people cannot attain righteousness on their own, God makes it available to them through the work of His Servant.

Verse 2

The watchman asked the Warrior why His garments were red, stained red as when one treads grapes in a winepress (cf. Isaiah 5:2).

Verse 3

The Warrior replied that He had indeed been treading grapes, but not literal ones. He had been angry with these "grapes," and their juice had stained His garments. Furthermore, He had trodden them by Himself; no one had assisted Him in His task (cf. Isaiah 44:24; Revelation 19:13). The blood in this scene is not the blood of the Warrior, but that of the enemies He had slain.

Verse 4

The Warrior continued to explain that this treading judgment was in order that redemption might come. The day of vengeance had arrived, and He had finally punished evildoers (cf. Isaiah 61:2). His bloody victory was not due to a temper out of control but was part of the plan of God.

"The work of redemption was accomplished in chapter 53, but from Isaiah 56:1 onwards the people were called to wait for the promised salvation. The ensuing chapters reveal the need to be rescued from a stressful and hostile environment and from the plague of sin and failure (Isaiah 57:1 ff.; Isaiah 58:1 to Isaiah 59:13). Thus, when the Anointed One acts as mighty to save (1) and when the ’day of my redeemed’ has come, the burden of the activity is the exaction of final vengeance on every foe." [Note: Motyer, p. 511.]

Verse 5

The Warrior found no one to help Him execute His task, so He did it all by Himself. His own arm accomplished the salvation that resulted from His executing wrath against His enemies (cf. Isaiah 59:16).

"Verse 5 reminds us of Revelation 5 and the search for someone to open the Book of Destiny, with its revelation of the ultimate judgments. This in fact testifies to the universality of sin." [Note: Grogan, p. 339.]

Verse 6

The Warrior explained that He had trodden down the people whom He had purposed to judge, and had killed them. He explained that the figure of treading grapes represented putting human beings to death.

This is a picture of Messiah on earth, following His second advent, having defeated Israel’s enemies (cf. Isaiah 52:7-12; Zechariah 14:3; Revelation 14:17-20; Revelation 16:16; Revelation 19:13; Revelation 19:15-21). The enemies are unbelievers living in the Great Tribulation who refuse to accept the Warrior’s previous sacrifice of Himself for their sins-hostile enemies of the Israelites (cf. Revelation 12:15-17).

Verse 7

The poetic prophet announced that he would reflect on the loyal love (Heb. hesed) of Yahweh toward His people Israel. The Lord had been super-abundantly good and compassionate in blessing them.

Verses 7-12

The delayed salvation 63:7-64:12

If the Lord was capable of defeating Israel’s enemies, as the previous revelation of the Warrior claimed, why had He not acted for Israel already? This intercessory communal lament explains that delayed salvation was not because of Yahweh’s inability or disinterest, but because of Israel’s manipulative attitude toward Him. Isaiah’s other prayers on Israel’s behalf are in Isaiah 6:11; Isaiah 25:1-5; Isaiah 51:9-10; Isaiah 59:9-15; and Isaiah 62:1 (cf. 1 Samuel 12:19-25; Jeremiah 15:1; Amos 7:1-6). Israel’s experiences were a result of her relationship with the Lord.

"The Isaianic literature is characterized by a wonderful perception of the future, yet every time we are brought to the point where all seems to be fulfilled we meet a ’not yet’. Chapter 12 sings in joy over the glory of the coming king (chapters 6-11), but chapters 13-27 intervene to remind us of the scale in time and space on which the Lord is working. Again, we trace the work of the Servant to the point where all is done and only the enjoyment of the Messianic banquet remains (chapter 55), and then we discover (Isaiah 56:1) that salvation is still to come. Finally, we reach the sombre [sic] but marvellous [sic] Isaiah 63:1-6. Surely now, with the overthrow of every foe, the redeeming work is fully done! But no, the remembrancers take their place on the walls to give the Lord no rest till he fulfils all that is promised." [Note: Motyer, p. 512.]

"The glories of chapters 60-62 and the vision of the decisive action in Isaiah 63:1-6 stir the prophet to one of the most eloquent intercessions of the Bible as he surveys the past goodness of God and the present straits of his people." [Note: Kidner, p. 623.]

Verses 7-14

The reminiscence 63:7-14

This part of Isaiah’s lament consists of a review of Israel’s relationship with the Lord (Isaiah 63:7-10) and a call for Israel to remember who He is (Isaiah 63:11-14).

Verse 8

God had elected Israel as His son. This was not due to anything in Israel but totally due to God’s loving selection of Abraham and his descendants for special blessing (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:9-10). God had a right to expect that the nation, so chosen, would respond with loyalty and integrity toward Him. This mutual commitment would have resulted in God delivering His people whenever they needed salvation. Note that the result would not be God insulating the Israelites from difficulties but delivering them from them.

Verse 9

The Israelites had responded to God’s grace in electing them by committing themselves to Him (Exodus 19:8). Consequently, Yahweh had participated in their afflictions with them and rescued His people from them throughout their history.

The identity of "the angel of His presence" is the messenger who came from the Lord’s presence to deliver His people. This is the only place in the Bible where this title appears. This may refer to an angel, but it probably refers to the second person of the Trinity, the primary agent of salvation according to the New Testament.

"Verse 9 is one of the most moving expressions of the compassionate love of God in the OT, reminding the reader of some of the great passages in Hosea, Isaiah’s older contemporary." [Note: Grogan, p. 342.]

"Just as a man can feel pain, and yet in his personality keep himself superior to it, so God feels pain without His own happiness being thereby destroyed." [Note: Delitzsch, 2:453.]

Verse 10

Even though the Israelites pledged themselves to follow the Lord faithfully, they rebelled against Him and so grieved His Holy Spirit. This verse helps us understand what grieving the Holy Spirit involves, namely, rebelling against the Lord (cf. Ephesians 4:30). This verse, the next, and Psalms 51:11 are the only places in the Old Testament where "holy" describes God’s "Spirit." We offend the holiness of God when we rebel against Him. Of course, we also offend His love since we "grieve" or "hurt" Him. Holy behavior is impossible without a will that is compliant rather than rebellious toward God.

"Most commentators recognize that the understanding of the Holy Spirit here and in Isaiah 63:11 is close to the fully developed NT concept of the third person of the Trinity. Here he is clearly a person who is capable of being hurt by human behavior, and in Isaiah 63:11 he is the empowering and enabling presence in the human spirit. As Delitzsch says, ’He is the Spirit who is both holy in himself and capable of producing holiness.’ In Isaiah 63:12, although the adjective ’holy’ is not used, the same Spirit is the one who guides and provides for the people of God." [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66, pp. 607-8.]

However, these verses make perfectly good sense if we read "holy spirit" in place of "Holy Spirit." Yahweh, the angel of His presence, and the Holy Spirit are distinguishable as three persons of the Trinity.

The Israelites’ rebellion led God to oppose them by fighting against them, resisting them. It was not God who changed but His people. He consistently resists sin.

Verse 11

Having experienced the chastening of the Lord for some time, the Israelites then reflected on former times when God had fought for His people rather than against them. Watts took the questioner to be the preacher of this section. [Note: Watts, Isaiah 34-66, p. 332.] The Exodus is the occasion in view, and Israel’s shepherds were Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (cf. Ps. 77:21; Micah 6:4). Then God’s Holy Spirit was obviously among His people.

Verse 12

Then God had manifested His power through Moses, His right-hand-man in the Exodus. The Lord had divided the waters of the Red Sea and had divided the waters of the Jordan River. He had thereby earned an everlasting reputation among His people and even among the nations.

Verse 13

He had led them through every obstacle as their deliverer, and made them as sure-footed as a horse traversing open country.

"God’s power enables His people to go in confidence and nobility, not being overcome or falling because of any obstacles in the way." [Note: Young, 3:486.]

Verse 14

The Lord had also given His people rest in Canaan, as cattle go down into a valley and there find rest and refreshing provisions. He had done all this for them to demonstrate His character to them and to the whole world.

God’s commitment to His people had led Him to discipline them for their sins, as well as to deliver them in their need. Consequently a change in Israel’s rebellious attitude toward God was the key to their experiencing His blessing again. He did not need to change; they did.

Verse 15

Isaiah called on God to condescend to look down from His holy and glorious habitation, heaven, on His miserable chosen people below (cf. 1 Kings 8:44-53). The prophet could see no evidence of His zeal and mighty deeds for them. Even His affection and compassion for them were hidden from view (cf. Psalms 22:1). The poet knew of God’s commitment to His people (Isaiah 63:7-14), but he saw no evidence of it.

Verses 15-19

The complaint 63:15-19

Isaiah next appealed to God, on behalf of the nation, to have pity on Israel. The prophet was speaking for the faithful remnant after the exile who found little evidence that God was among them, in the way He had been during the Exodus and wilderness wanderings.

"Isaiah is teaching us how to pray. We don’t learn to pray by listening to one another. We learn to pray by reading the Bible." [Note: Ortlund, p. 429.]

Verse 16

He reminded God that He was Israel’s true Father. Abraham and Israel (Jacob) may have forgotten their children and may have been incapable of helping them, but the Lord had not forgotten and could help. A second basis for appealing for help was that Yahweh had been Israel’s Redeemer in the past as well as its Father (cf. Isaiah 63:12; Isaiah 63:14). Fathers characteristically feel affection and compassion for their children (Isaiah 63:15), and redeemers (kinsman-redeemers) normally demonstrate zeal and perform mighty deeds for their relatives (Isaiah 63:15).

Verse 17

Isaiah, and all Scripture, does not present God as the direct cause of sin, unless this is the only verse in the Bible that does so, and it is not. God allows sin, and He allows people to sin, but He does not make it inevitable that they sin in any given instance of temptation (James 1:13). Isaiah meant that God had caused Israel to sin and had hardened the hearts of the people in a judicial sense (cf. Isaiah 6:9-13; Romans 1:18-32). Because they had chosen to continue in sin, He judged them by allowing sin to dominate them. Isaiah wanted to place as much responsibility for the Israelites’ condition on God as possible. He had not saved them, so He could be said to have caused them to stray from Him and to harden their hearts. Really Israel had done these things, but because God had allowed it He could be said to be responsible for it.

"Why do you make us wander from your ways? is not an attempt to lay the blame on the Lord but, in Old Testament thought, a recognition of guilt of such proportions that the Lord could not let it pass but judicially sentenced his people to the consequences of their own choices." [Note: Motyer, p. 517.]

Similarly, Isaiah called on God to return to His people. In actuality, the people needed to return to Him. By asking Him to return to them, Isaiah was asking God to act for them, to step in and deliver them. He strengthened his appeal by referring to Israel as the Lord’s "servants" and His "heritage," terms of relationship that God Himself had used to describe His people (cf. Isaiah 41:9; Isaiah 42:19; Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 44:1; Isaiah 45:4; Deuteronomy 4:20).

"This is the prayer of intercession, the passionate entering into of the need of those for whom we are praying, and a storming of the gates of heaven with every tool we can use. Why? Because God is callous and uncaring? No, because we are callous and uncaring, and until our passion is in some small way connected to the great passion of God, his power is in some way restrained. This seems almost unimaginable, but the testimony of history and of Scripture is that it is so." [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66, p. 614.]

Verse 18

The holy people that the Lord had redeemed were dispossessed following the Exile. They had possessed the temple only briefly. The first temple stood in Jerusalem from about 959-586 B.C. or approximately 374 years. Instead of God treading down Israel’s adversaries, those adversaries had trodden down the temple.

Verse 19

The Israelites had become like those nations with whom Yahweh had no special relationship. Isaiah’s reason for pursuing this line of argument was to move the Lord to act in salvation for His people, and change their hearts.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 63". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.