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(1) Oh that thou wouldest rend . . .—The division of chapters hinders the English reader from seeing that this is really a continuation of the prayer of Isaiah 63:15-19. The prophet asks that Jehovan may not only “look down” from heaven, but may rend, as it were, the dark clouds that hide the light of His countenance from His people, and that the mountains might tremble at His presence. (Comp. Psalms 68:8; Exodus 19:18.)
(2) As when the melting fire burneth . . .—Better, as when fire Kindleth brushwood, as when fire causeth the water to boil. The two-fold action of material fire is used, as elsewhere, as a symbol of the “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29) of the wrath of Jehovah.
(3) When thou didst terrible things . . .—The latter clause, “thou camest down . . .” is supposed by some critics to be an accidental repetition from Isaiah 64:1. By others it is taken as an intentional repetition, emphasising the previous assertion, after the manner of Hebrew poetry. The latter view seems to have most in its favour.
(4) Neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee . . .—The best commentators are in favour of rendering, Neither hath the eye seen a God beside Thee, who will work for him that waiteth for Him. The sense is not that God alone knows what He hath prepared, but that no man knows (sight and hearing being used as including all forms of spiritual apprehension) any god who does such great things as He does. St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 2:9, applies the words freely, after his manner, to the eternal blessings which God prepares for His people. Clement of Rome (chap. 34), it may be noted, makes a like application of the words, giving “those who wait for Him” (as in Isaiah), instead of “those who love Him.”
(5) Thou meetest him . . .—The “meeting” is obviously one of favour. That was the law of God’s dealings with men. He met, in this sense, those who at once rejoiced in righteousness and practised it. But with Israel it was not so. Their sins had brought them under His anger, not under His favour.
In those is continuance . . .—The clause is difficult, and has been variously interpreted—(1) “In these (the ways of God) there is permanence (literally, eternity), that we may be saved;” and (2) “In these (the ways of evil) have we been a long time, and shall we be saved?” The latter seems preferable. So taken, the clause carries on the confession of the people’s sinfulness.
(6) We are all as an unclean thing . . .—Better, as he who is unclean, scil., like the leper of Leviticus 13:45.
Filthy rags point to that which to the Israelite was the other extremest form of ceremonial uncleanness, as in Ezekiel 36:17.
Have taken us away—scil., afar off from the light and favour of Jehovah.
(7) Hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.—Better, hast delivered us into the hand (scil., the power) of our iniquities. The previous clause had pointed to the people s forgetfulness of God—what we should call their indifference—as the root-evil. This states that that sin led, in the righteous judgment of God, to open iniquities. The thought is parallel to that of Romans 1:21-24.
(8) We are the clay, and thou our potter . . .—Commonly, partly, perhaps, from St. Paul’s application of the image in Romans 9:20-21, and Isaiah’s own use of it in Isaiah 29:16, we associate the idea of the potter with that of simple arbitrary sovereignty. Here, however (as in Jeremiah 18:6), another aspect is presented to us, and the power of the Great Potter is made the ground of prayer. The “clay” entreats Him to fashion it according to His will, and has faith in His readiness, as well as His power, to comply with that prayer. The thought of the “potter” becomes, in this aspect of it, one with that of the Fatherhood of God.
(10) Thy holy cities . . .—There is no other instance of the plural, and this probably led the LXX. and Vulg. to substitute the singular. It probably rests on the thought that the whole land was holy (Zechariah 2:12), and that this attribute extended, therefore, to all its cities, especially to those which were connected with historical memories. Possibly, however, Zion and Jerusalem—the former identified with the Temple, the latter with the people of Jehovah—are thought of as two distinct cities, locally united. The “wilderness” is, as elsewhere, rather open pasture-land than a sandy desert.
(11) Our holy and our beautiful house . . .—The destruction of the Temple, which, on the assumption of Isaiah’s authorship, the prophet sees in vision, with all its historic memories, comes as the climax of suffering, and, therefore, of the appeal to the compassion of Jehovah.
All our pleasant things . . .—Probably, as in 2 Chronicles 36:19, the precincts, porticoes, and other “goodly buildings” of the Temple.
(12) Wilt thou refrain . . .?—The final appeal to the fatherly compassion of Jehovah reminds us of the scene when Joseph could not “refrain” (Genesis 45:1), and natural tenderness would find a vent. Could the God of Israel look on the scene of desolation, and not be moved to pity?
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Isaiah 64". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent