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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.]
The prophet called on God to make another appearance among His people, as He had done at Mt. Sinai and at other times (cf. Exodus 19:18-20; Judges 5; Psalms 18; Micah 1:3-4; Habakkuk 3). The Israelites’ condition was so desperate that another special visitation from God was what they needed. The next time God did this was at the Incarnation.
The confession 64:1-7
Had God appeared, He would have ignited the brushwood of people’s lives and brought them to a rolling boil in judgment. Then the nations would know who Yahweh really was, and they would tremble at His presence.
At the Exodus, God had done awesome things that no one had expected. Isaiah wished that instead of remaining quiet, the Lord would do something spectacular again-something that would motivate the Israelites and the nations to respect Him.
"We too who are so often baffled by the way the Lord runs the world can identify with the spirit which wonders why he has acted in some other way-why he has not done something to check evil, change circumstances and people, rescue his own-rather than, as it appears, doing nothing!" [Note: Motyer, p. 519.]
Isaiah respected Yahweh because he knew who Yahweh was, but so many of his contemporaries were spiritually blind and deaf that they could have profited from a dramatic revelation (cf. Psalms 31:20; Matthew 13:17; 1 Corinthians 2:9).
The prophet knew that God has fellowship with those who practice righteousness and who "remember His ways," i.e., to walk in them. He wondered if there was any hope of Israel being saved, since she had sinned so much for so long, and since this sinning had angered God.
Israel’s sins had thoroughly polluted her and had placed her in an apparently hopeless position (cf. Isaiah 6:5). Furthermore, she could not stop sinning. Was there any hope for her? She was as unclean as a leper, as repulsive as menstrual cloths, and as spiritually lifeless as a dead leaf on a tree ready to be blown away by more sin.
Furthermore, none of the Israelites felt concerned enough about their sinful condition to seek the Lord, and to try to lay hold of Him in prayer. This was understandable, since God had hidden Himself from His people; they saw no hope that He would respond, even if they should now pray (cf. Isaiah 59:16; Isaiah 63:5).
Yet Isaiah did appeal to God for help. He appealed on the basis that Yahweh had brought Israel into existence and was, therefore, responsible for her-regardless of her condition (cf. Isaiah 63:16). She was just inert clay, but He was the Potter who had formed Israel as the work of His own hands (cf. Jeremiah 18:1-6; Romans 9:19-21).
The appeal 64:8-12
The prophet pled with God not to be overly angry with Israel and to put the memory of her sins behind Him. God should look on Israel in mercy simply because Israel was Yahweh’s chosen people.
Judah lay desolate. Jerusalem was in ruins. The holy cities of the holy God reflected nothing of His greatness.
The holy temple had been burned, and all the precious things associated with Yahweh worship in it were gone. Isaiah was speaking for the Israelites who lived after the Exile had begun. Thus the Israelites were ashamed as well as ruined. Would God not do something in view of a situation that reflected so negatively on Him and His promises?
In conclusion, Isaiah asked the Lord if He would restrain Himself from acting in view of all these conditions. One could paraphrase here: "Lord, how can You not do something after all that has happened?" Would He remain silent to His people’s prayers and allow their affliction to continue beyond what they could endure? Would He show no compassion?
The next two chapters give the Lord’s response to this impassioned prayer of intercession for hopeless Israel.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 64". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany