Partner with as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 63


Chapter 63 God’s Judgment on Edom And A Consideration of Israel’s Past.

Seeing Isaiah 63:1-6 as introducing this final section (63-66) explains why it is brought in here. The previous section began with the Redeemer (Isaiah 59:20) as the Anointed One (Isaiah 61:1-2), this one with the Redeemer, as being also the Judge, as the Bloodstained One. As the first He brings the acceptable year of Yahweh (Isaiah 61:2), but will also introduce the day of vengeance (Isaiah 61:2). As the second He brings the day of vengeance on Edom (Isaiah 63:4), and comes to introduce the year of His redeemed (Isaiah 63:4).

On the other hand it also forms a suitable closure to what has been said previously to Zion (Isaiah 59:20 to Isaiah 62:12). Zion has been called to redemption. Edom having rejected its call to redemption faces unrelieved judgment.

This passage is often seen as one of unrelieved gloom. But that is to misunderstand it. Certainly God’s coming judgment on Edom (Esau) is vividly described and dwelt on, but it has to be seen as preparatory to, and a background to, the deliverance of Zion. It is a stark warning that God is the righteous Judge and of God’s coming judgment on all those who reject Him, symbolised in Edom. They were the brother (Esau - Genesis 25:25-34;) who turned from the covenant. Judgment is being carried out on Eden because of its longstanding rejection of the covenant and hatred of God’s people, and because it is refusing all calls to return (Isaiah 21:11-12). But now as the bloodstained Redeemer He is seen as emerging from Edom, having carried out His judgment, in order to offer deliverance to His people. It is a stark warning to Jacob that the choice is now to repent or perish. Yet it serves also to bring out God’s mercy in that ‘the repentant of Jacob’ (Isaiah 59:20; Isaiah 65:9), those who respond of the ‘house of Israel’ (Isaiah 63:7) will not suffer the same fate as Edom/Esau. (Note that in Isaiah 59:20 Jacob is closely connected with Zion). The bloodstained Judge is coming to offer mercy.

Edom (Esau) was the seed of Abraham and Isaac who went outside the line of promise because he rejected his birthright, yielding it to Jacob. He had every opportunity to remain with the covenant community but chose to turn his back on it and deserted it. He was thus a representation of all those who turn their back on the covenant, and on God’s promises. For the whole we can compare the later ‘Yet I loved Jacob, but Esau I did not love’ (Malachi 1:2-4) where we have the same principle involved.

So what will happen to Edom here represents God’s warning to all those who, having every opportunity of coming to Him, reject Him and are rejected by Him (compare commentary on Isaiah 21:11-12). Edom had always been especially favoured from a conversion point of view as the ‘brother’ tribe (Deuteronomy 23:7-8, compare 3-6). The way to God was open to them. But they turned it down. Indeed they became a troubler of Jacob, refusing to be one with them (Numbers 20:18-21; Judges 11:17; 1Ki 11:14 ; 2 Kings 8:20-22; Amos 1:11-12).

In the same way those who in Isaiah’s time were nominally ‘Jacob’ are warned by this that they too should beware lest by rejecting Yahweh and His covenant they make themselves like Edom the covenant rejecter and thus suffer the same fate. Jacob can still be redeemed, but those of Jacob who reject Yahweh can also suffer what Edom suffered if they refuse to repent. They will, as it were, become Edom in God’s eyes. We note how Paul uses a similar idea of transference using Hagar in Galatians 4:21-31 where the ‘Jerusalem that now is’ becomes Hagar, who leaves the covenant people, while the true Jerusalem is God’s people, which includes Gentile converts.

(It should be noted that this final fate on Edom was not intended wholly literally. In fact what was left of Edom as a people were not exterminated but (forcibly) combined with the Jews and were compelled by John Hyrcanus to be circumcised in 1st century BC. They had not lost all hope of redemption (although they would not have appreciated it at the time). As often in Isaiah he is portraying greater realities through symbolism. Whereas earlier Zion has been contrasted with Babylon, the dwellingplace of Yahweh, with the seat of idolatry, now it is being contrasted with Edom. Those who will accept redemption are being contrasted with those who rejected it. Babylon and Eden both represent those for whom there is no hope, the one because of its idolatrous and worldly nature, the other because it has spurned the covenant. Both represent different types of unbeliever.

Verses 1-6

God’s Judgment on Edom, Their Brother Who Rejected The Covenant, And God’s Offer of Redemption to Jacob.

This startling vision of the future prepares for what lies ahead. Isaiah is aware that that includes gloom for Judah/Israel, for he remembers God’s prediction concerning the future rape of the Temple and the removal to Babylon of Hezekiahs’s descendants (Isaiah 39:6-7). Thus in the face of this huge threat he will plead for his people. But first he must set the scene.

Isaiah 63:1

‘Who is this who comes from Edom,

With dyed garments from Bozrah,

This who is glorious in his clothing,

Marching in the greatness of his strength?’

“I who speak in righteousness,

Mighty to save.”

With awe the watchmen of Judah gaze across the borders and see a mighty figure approaching across the wilderness, clothed in glorious and expensive clothing, and marching in great strength. He comes from Edom, Jacob/Israel’s brother tribe, and from Bozrah, a city in Edom, wearing garments which appear to be dyed red. But who is He, and why is He coming?

The name Bozrah means ‘vintage’, a suitable name for the whole passage, for it is a picture of the treading of the winepress. Bozrah was on the heights guarding the King’s Highway and was probably concerned in the refusal to allow Israel to pass in the time of Moses. Edom had betrayed his brother.

The reply comes back, “I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.” This is significant for the meaning of the passage. It is all about righteousness. It is about salvation. For Edom mercy had ceased to be an option. Their hearts had been constantly hardened and He had had to dealt righteously with Edom, for He is the Righteous One. But He comes to offer deliverance to His people. Yet why, if He is mighty to save, the bloodshed? The only reason can be that their continual and persistent rejection of the offer of the covenant. They had rejected God’s Anointed One once and for all. Thus by His judgment He had spoken righteously. But now He comes to face Judah with their similar choice. For Jacob there is yet hope, for though He speaks in righteousness He is still mighty to save. Because of what the Servant has done (chapter 53) He can save them in righteousness. He is coming to offer salvation. The Bloodstained Judge of Edom will, if they respond, become the Anointed Saviour of Jacob.

Isaiah 63:2

“Why are you red in your clothing,

And why are your garments like him who treads in the winevat?”

The watchers have now spotted that His clothing is not just dyed, it is stained. It is stained blood-red like someone who has been treading in the winevat. Why, they ask, is He coming in blood-red, wine-stained clothing across the border? They are soon to learn that these are no wine stains.

Isaiah 63:3

“I have trodden the winepress alone,

And of the peoples there was no man with me,

Yes, I trod them in my anger,

And I trampled them in my fury,

And their lifeblood is sprinkled on my clothing,

And I have stained all my apparel.

For the day of vengeance was in my heart,

And the year of my redeemed has come.’

The reply comes that it is because He will have been treading the winepress, and treading it alone. It will not be an ordinary winepress, it will be the winepress of God’s anger, of God’s supreme aversion to sin, and the trodden grapes will be guilty people who had rejected Him and clung to sin. There will be no one to assist Him, for all will be equally guilty. There will be no one fit to help Him. So He will tread it alone. That is why His clothing will be stained, it will be because it is covered with the life-blood of the guilty. For Edom it will have been the day of vengeance (see chapter 34), a foretaste of the final day of vengeance.

But His purpose is that it should also be the year of His redeemed for those who would hear. The time has come. He is coming out of Edom not to do the same to Jacob/Israel, but in order to redeem. The year of His redeemed ones has come. The picture is twofold. It is a picture of Edom’s coming doom (partly fulfilled prior to the coming of Jesus Christ) and of God’s offer through it of mercy to His people. His people must take warning from it and repent. But it is also an apocalyptic one. It is a picture of God’s offer to the lax world as a whole. They too must decide between the covenant or judgment. In this sense we are not to tie it down to sequences of events or particular timing. It faces the world constantly with a choice. Judgment or mercy?

‘For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redeemed has come.’ We can compare this with the acceptable year of Yahweh and the day of vengeance of our God in Isaiah 61:2. The Anointed One and the Bloodstained One are one and the same and He is involved in both those scenarios. The ‘year of my redeemed’ confirms that we are dealing with the Redeemer as well as the Judge (Isaiah 59:20).

Note the reversal of the order, compared with Isaiah 61:2, of the day of judgment and the year of redemption. Here Edom is to be judged and cease as a nation before the Anointed One comes. Their judgment as described in chapter 34 will by then have become a reality. But there will be another day of vengeance for others (Isaiah 61:2), after the coming of the Anointed One, a day or days which would be still future when Jesus came. This confirms that both the day of vengeance and the year of redemption apply over time and not just at one particular point in it. Edom will have had its day of vengeance. Others will yet face it in the future. But always redemption is on offer.

The contrast between the two figures of the Anointed One and the Bloodstained One is deliberate. The Anointed One comes to bring deliverance and salvation, but also to introduce the day of vengeance, the Bloodstained One wreaks judgment and vengeance, but also comes to introduce the year of salvation. Both are two sides of the same assignment, righteousness revealed in judgment on guilty rebels and in salvation for the repentant redeemed. The Anointed One and the Bloodstained One are one and the same in action and motive. He Who Himself endured the winepress for the redeemed (Isaiah 53:10), will tread it continually to punish the guilty on their day of vengeance. And after each warning will come the offer of deliverance to those who will respond.

So now the stark choice lies before God’s nominal people. Will they submit to His covenant and become His true people, or reject the covenant, link themselves with Edom as brother rebels, and receive full punishment at their day of vengeance? It is the choice between the Anointed Saviour and the Bloodstained Judge.

Isaiah 63:5

‘And I looked and there was none to help,

And I wondered that there was none to uphold,

Therefore my own arm brought salvation to me,

And my fury it upheld me.

And I trod down the peoples in my anger,

And made them drunk in my fury,

And I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.

The fact that He will look and there will be none to help is repeated, stressing its importance (compare Isaiah 63:3; see also Isaiah 50:2; Isaiah 59:16; Isaiah 41:28). In all the world there will be no one, not even someone like Isaiah, who can stand with Him to carry out His work. No other will be righteous in themselves, no other will be qualified (compare especially here Revelation 5:4 where again only One was found worthy to bring forth judgment). The idea of ‘wonder’ is a human expression to bring out the fact of it. So He will have to do it all on His own. It will be the Anointed One having dealings with the world.

‘Therefore my own arm brought salvation to me.’ It will be His own arm that will bring salvation to Him. This is in contrast with Isaiah 63:14 where Moses was supported by Yahweh’s arm. Here is a greater than Moses. By His own mighty working as the suffering Servant He will shape and fashion ‘salvation’ so that it will be available for Him as the Redeemer to dispense to His own. But in contrast also is His fury. In the very nature of things the Deliverer must also be the Judge of those who reject deliverance.

And it will be His own ‘fury’, His own aversion to sin, that will uphold Him in the carrying out of judgment. He will be Judge and He alone. There will be no other. As He alone is righteous enough to be the Saviour, He alone is righteous enough to be the Judge. And He affirms firmly, and without apology, that He will carry out His judgment faithfully. We may withdraw in horror at the thought expressed here, and it is right that we should do for we are sinners too. But as the righteous Judge of all the world He, and He alone, is in a position to do it and declare it righteously. And it is necessary to declare it in all its awfulness so that men might take note and repent.

‘Made them drunk in my fury.’ That is He will make them drink to the full with the cup of His wrath (Isaiah 51:17; Isaiah 51:21-22). The picture will be exacted to the full that it may be a sufficient warning to God’s people.

This apocalyptic imagery depicts things as seen from Heaven. As so often in Scriptural prophecy the vivid detail is to portray an idea. It is describing the seriousness of Yahweh’s judgment. But in fact after many judgments the disappearance of Edom was more mundane. Under John Hyrcanus in 1st century BC they were forced to be circumcised and absorbed among the Jews. The winepress was truly trodden and all traces of Edom vanished. Then followed the coming of the anointed One in Jesus.

This vivid picture then leads into the final chapters. We may see all of this as God saying to His people and to the world, “There were two brothers, one was Edom and the other was Jacob. One rejected God’s covenant and suffered the appalling consequences. And now the choice lies with the other.” What will be Jacob’s response to the coming of this Mighty Saviour and Judge? Isaiah’s response to the picture so presented is to plead for his people. He knows that there will yet be judgments to come but he prays that these judgments will not be final like that portrayed on Edom. He prays that there will at last be mercy, and in the end he receives the promise that it will be so, and further that through the remnant of them receiving salvation it will also become salvation available to the world.

Verse 7

‘I will put in remembrance the covenant lovingkindnesses of Yahweh,

And the praises of Yahweh, according to all that Yahweh has bestowed on us.

And the great goodness towards the house of Israel which he has bestowed on them according to his mercies,

And according to the multitude of his covenant love.’

Isaiah states that, as his response to the appearance of the figure in Isaiah 63:1-6, he will begin to act as a ‘remembrancer’ for his people (compare Isaiah 62:6) by examining God’s past goodness to His people. He will put Him in remembrance of the greatness of ‘Yahweh’s covenant lovingkindnesses’, and the many reasons they have for praising Him in the light of all He has bestowed on them in faithfulness to the covenant. As Yahweh’s prophet he will reveal His great goodness to the house of Israel bestowed on them in accordance with His mercies and the vastness of His covenant love. For these past mercies are the basis of his hope.

Note the covenant love mentioned both at the beginning and the end. Chesed is very much God’s love as connected with the covenant. His covenant lovingkindnesses cover all that He has done and said in fulfilling His part of the covenant and demonstrate how He has been faithful to the covenant.

‘The house of Israel’. In accordance with his pattern mentioned previously Isaiah does not speak simply of Israel. House of Israel is less personal and differentiates them from the Servant. (See note on Isaiah 58:14).

He then begins to outline the ups and downs of the relationship between God and His people.

Verses 7-19

The Response of Jacob Through Isaiah (Isaiah 63:7 to Isaiah 64:12 ).

In response to the glory and fierceness of the One Who is coming Isaiah, fearfully aware of what the future might hold, especially in the light of the revelations given to him, and knowing the spiritual condition of his own people, brings God into remembrance of what He has done for His people in the past. He draws out how He has chosen them and through them brought great glory to His name, and then pleads for Him to act again and have mercy. In the face of the undeserving of His people Isaiah asks God to remember His own nature. He pleads for God to intervene on their behalf. Let them not be as Edom.

Isaiah Prayerfully Acts As A Remembrancer Of God’s Past Mercies In The Light of the Challenge of the Bloodstained One (Isaiah 63:7-14).

As chapters 63-64 will bring out, in spite of his previous descriptions of the saving work of God, Isaiah has no delusions about the people. Their condition at present is dreadful, and he recognises that all that he can do is remind Him of His past mercies and promises, and plead that He will be merciful towards them.

Verse 8

‘For he said, “Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely.” So he was their Saviour.’

In the past Yahweh had looked at His people, choosing them out and assuring Himself that because He had chosen them as His people they would not deal falsely, for were they not His own people (Exodus 6:7), yes, His children. Surely those whom He had chosen and with whom He had made His covenant would not deal falsely? (This is Isaiah’s vivid way of bringing out the point that Yahweh treated them in this way. It is not to be interpreted literally).

That is why He had continually acted to save them. He had regularly been their Saviour, first in Egypt, then at the Reed Sea, and then regularly in the wilderness and in the land He had given them.

Verses 9-10

‘In all their affliction he was afflicted,

And the angel of his presence (face) saved them,

In his love and in his pity he redeemed them,

And he bore them and carried them all the days of old.

But they rebelled and grieved his holy spirit,

Therefore he was turned to be their enemy,

Himself fought against them.

The way in which He had saved them in the past is described in summary. He had shared sympathetically in their afflictions, feeling them deeply Himself. This was especially so in Egypt (Exodus 3:7). He had acted for them through ‘the angel of His face’, as One personally present and seeing what was happening (Exodus 3:7; Exodus 3:9). In His love and pity He had delivered them by His power, and He had borne them and carried them all through their early years in the wilderness, and then in Canaan.

But instead of responding in gratitude they had rebelled against Him, they had grieved His holy Spirit, and this to such an extent that He had become their enemy and fought against them, allowing enemies to triumph against them (Numbers 14:43-45; Judges 3:8; Judges 3:12; Judges 4:2 and often). Yet unlike in the final case of Edom, the enmity was only for a time, and then He had had mercy on them, for He had remembered Moses and He had remembered that He had chosen them as His people.

We note in these verses reference to the ‘angel of His presence (face)’ and the holy Spirit. To Isaiah both represented the essential of nature of Yahweh. The ‘angel of His face’ probably refers to the outward manifestations of His personal presence among them, the burning flame in the bush, the pillar of cloud and fire, the glory on the Tabernacle, the powerful effect of the Ark on the Jordan, the Captain of Yahweh’s host (Joshua 5:14), the Angel of Yahweh (Judges 2:1-4; Judges 6:11-21; Judges 13:9-21), and so on. And yet within descriptions of the Angel of Yahweh are hints at distinctiveness within the Godhead. There is a sameness and yet a distinctiveness (compare Zechariah 1:12).

‘The holy Spirit’ refers to the Spirit of God in His holiness, where God had worked regularly through chosen men in distinctive power so that what they accomplished was seen to be of God. But God could be grieved within His Spirit, and then His powerful effects were withdrawn (compare especially Saul - 1 Samuel 16:14). The thought is of times when there were no Spirit-empowered leaders to lead Israel.

We note that in these references to Yahweh, to the Angel of Yahweh and to His holy Spirit there is already a hint of distinctiveness and threeness within the Godhead, yet a working of total unity.

Note on ‘In all their affliction (tsarah) He was afflicted (tsar).’

This first clause in the verse is famous as the subject of discordant and even contradictory interpretations. This has been caused by a doubt as to the text. The original text is ‘in all their tsarah He was not tsar’. But the Masora notes this as one of fifteen places in which lo’ (not) is written by mistake for lo (to him or it). Another instance of the same alleged error in the text of Isaiah is found in Isaiah 9:2. On the basis of this change Aben Ezra suggested that it should signify ‘in all their distress there was distress to Him’, and thus as above “in all their affliction He was afflicted.” This explanation is approved by a number of expositors. It is favoured, not only by the strong and moving sense which it yields, but by the analogy of Judges 10:16; Judges 11:7, in one of which places the same phrase is used to denote human suffering, and in the other God is represented as sympathising with it.

However, objections to it are:

· (Isaiah 63:1) That it gratuitously renders necessary another anthropopathic explanation.

· (Isaiah 63:2) That the natural wording if this were the meaning, would be ‘ar lo’ as in 2 Samuel 1:26.

· (Isaiah 63:3) That the negative (as in the Kethib) is expressed by all the ancient versions.

· (Isaiah 63:4) That the critical presumption is in favour of ‘the Kethib’, or textual reading, as the more ancient, a reading which the Masoretes merely corrected in the margin (the Qere), without venturing to change it, and which ought not now to be abandoned, if a coherent sense can be put upon it, as it can in this case.

Another suggestion is to translate, ‘in all their affliction (tsar) He was not an adversary (tsarah) to them.’ This would fit in with what follows but is liable to the objection that it takes tsar and tsarah in entirely different senses, something which should only be done in the same context when there is no alternative. Possibly the best suggstion is that it means, ‘in all their being an enemy (against Him) He was not an enemy (to them)’, which was proved in that ‘He saved them’.

End of note.

Verses 11-14

‘Then he remembered the days of old; Moses, his people.’

But each time, after He had acted as their enemy, Yahweh had reminded Himself of Moses, and of His people. And each time He had then acted in mercy. So now, Isaiah pleads, let Him do the same again.

Isaiah 63:11-14

“Where is he who brought them up out of the sea,

With the shepherds of his flock?

Where is he who put in the midst of them,

His holy spirit?

Who caused his glorious arm to go,

At the right hand of Moses?

Who divided the water before them,

To make himself an everlasting name?

Who led them through the depths?

As a horse in the wilderness,

They did not stumble.

As the cattle that go down into the valley,

The spirit of Yahweh caused them to rest,

So did you lead your people,

To make yourself a glorious name.

Isaiah seeks by a number of questions to remind God of all the times when He had previously remembered Moses and His people, and of all that He had done for them, and how, having regularly been grieved and turned to be their enemy, He had remembered and had again acted on their behalf. His plea is that God might continue to so act, that He will not desert the people for whom He has done so much.

He asks where is the One Who, by means of Moses and Aaron, the shepherds of His flock (Psalms 77:19-20; Micah 6:4), had brought them up out of the depths of the Reed Sea before it overflowed and destroyed the Egyptians.

He asks, where is the One Who had put His holy Spirit in the midst of them. ‘Put His holy Spirit in the midst of them’ may refer to the Spirit Who fell on the elders of the people (Numbers 11:17; Numbers 11:25), who would gather at the tent of Meeting in the midst of the people. Or it may have in mind the glory of Yahweh revealed in the Tabernacle and delivering His verdicts actively through the Urim and Thummim.

He asks Who was it Who had ‘caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses.’ As Moses went forward, both in Egypt and then in the wilderness, he was ever conscious of Yahweh’s ‘glorious arm’ at his right hand, ever there to assist and uphold him. Who was it then Who had been so faithful to Moses?

He asks Who was it Who ‘divided the water before them to make himself an everlasting name, and to lead them through the depths.’ The order of events suggests that this refers to the dividing of the Jordan, although others refer it to the Reed Sea. The incident of the dividing of the Reed Sea, and the deliverance of Israel from its depths while Egypt was destroyed, was never forgotten. It was an event seen as having everlasting importance and that would be remembered for ever. But equally so was the dividing of the Jordan, for by it entry was obtained into the land of their inheritance.

He then points out how God had led them, ‘like a horse in the wilderness (open spaces)’, so that they did not stumble. Not only did He divide the waters, but He led Israel safely, fleet and surefooted as a horse in the open country.

He stresses how ‘as the cattle that go down into the valley, the spirit of Yahweh caused them to rest’. When they arrived in Canaan, it was He Who had caused them to be able to rest and graze like cattle loosed into a fertile valley, quiet and content, granted such rest because of the Spirit of Yahweh at work as their protecting herdsman. Canaan is seen as being like a lush valley where the Spirit’s activity gave them rest (see especially Exodus 33:14; Deuteronomy 3:20; Deuteronomy 12:9-10; Deuteronomy 25:19; Joshua 1:13; Joshua 21:44; Joshua 23:1).

The reference has in mind how after the harvest the herders would bring their animals down from the grazing on the hills to the stubble in the lush valleys.

He asks the questions so that he can answer them. ‘So did you lead your people, to make yourself a glorious name.’ This sums up what he has described. Did not Yahweh remember how in it all He had graciously led His people all the way from Egypt to settlement in Canaan making a glorious name for Himself? Israel was to be His glory (Isaiah 46:13). Will He now risk losing that Name? So now let Him consider and act similarly again.

Verse 15

‘Look down from heaven,

And behold from the habitation of your holiness and of your glory.

Where is your zeal and your mighty acts?

The yearnings of your bowels and of your compassions are restrained towards me.’

Isaiah points out that now in contrast to what He has done before, Yahweh’s activity towards them appears to have ceased. Let Him look down from heaven, from the place where He dwells, the place where His holiness and glory dwell, and consider. Where now is evidence of His zeal? Where now are His mighty acts being revealed? His yearning love for them, and His great compassion, appear to be no longer flowing down. They appear to be restrained even towards him, His prophet. Yet surely this cannot be for He is their Father.

We note that Isaiah is realistic. He is well aware that Yahweh dwells in the high and holy place (Isaiah 57:15). He had good cause to be aware of it (chapter 6). So his plea is for mercy, not because he feels that they deserve anything, but because of what Yahweh has shown Himself to be. He is aware of Yahweh’s past zeal for His people, the mighty acts that resulted, the yearning love that He had shown for them, and His many acts of compassion. How then can they now be restrained in view of their relationship?

Verse 16

‘For you are our father.

Though Abraham does not know us,

And Israel does not acknowledge us,

You, O Yahweh, are our father,

Our redeemer from everlasting is your name.’

So he finally reminds God of what He has revealed Himself to be. God is bound, not by what He owes His people, but by what He Himself is. And what He had in pure grace revealed Himself to be as their father. When He had come to deliver His people under Moses He had claimed that Israel was His son, His firstborn (Exodus 4:22, compare Deuteronomy 32:6, which also contains the thought of redemption). Let Him remember that and act like a father towards His son.

Then he indirectly reminds Yahweh that, however tenuous might be the fact, they are the seed of Abraham. So even though because of their sinfulness and rebellion Abraham might not give them recognition as his sons, and though Israel their ancestor might not acknowledge them as his sons, God could not behave in that way. He had made promises to them through Abraham, He had given them recognition as His son, and He had revealed Himself to be the everlasting Redeemer (Isaiah 44:24; see also Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 47:4; Psalms 78:35). He was therefore, as it were, bound in honour to behave in that way towards them.

The plea is very powerful. Isaiah recognises the dire straits in which they are. Even their forefathers would disown them because of it. But not Yahweh, for He is their Father and promised Redeemer. He has committed Himself irrevocably.

Note how easily Isaiah turns to the thought of Abraham as lying behind all that Yahweh will do for His people. Abraham is the one who first loved Yahweh (Isaiah 41:8), the one from whom (along with his grandson Israel, the fount of the children of Israel) arose the Servant.

We note that Isaiah especially was in a position to put this argument in this way, for it was because of Yahweh’s relationship towards His people that Yahweh had called him to his ministry and had promised him that there would be a holy seed (Isaiah 6:9-13).

Verse 17

‘O Yahweh, why do you make us to err from your ways,

And harden our hearts from your fear?

Return for your servants’ sake,

The tribes of your inheritance.

Your holy people were in possession but a little while,

Our adversaries have trodden down your sanctuary.

We have become as those over whom you never bore rule,

As those who were not called by your name.’

But instead Yahweh appears to be presiding over a situation where they are erring from His ways and hardening their hearts so that they no longer fear Him. This results, not from Yahweh’s positive current action, but from how He had made man. It is His processes established at creation which are making them continue to err and become even more hardened (compare on Isaiah 6:10). And He is doing nothing about it. The thought is not that it is Yahweh’s fault, but that because He presides over everything He presides over this too, and can do something about it.

So he pleads with Him ‘for His servants’ sake’ to return to viewing them with favour. ‘His servants’ may here refer to the two patriarchs Abraham and Israel already mentioned (Exodus 32:13; Deuteronomy 9:27). Or it may signify the faithful followers of Isaiah. Or more probably here it may indicate those who were supposed to be His servants because they were the tribes of His inheritance (Leviticus 25:42; Leviticus 25:55; Deuteronomy 32:36; Deuteronomy 32:43). The land was always seen as God’s land (Exodus 15:17; Joshua 22:19; Psalms 79:1), God’s inheritance, committed into their hands as His covenant people, and therefore as His servants they were the tribes of His inheritance.

And the land was also seen as His sanctuary, for in Exodus 15:17 Moses speaks of ‘’the mountain of your inheritance, the place, O Yahweh, which you have made for you to dwell in, the sanctuary, O Yahweh, which your hands have established.’ Isaiah may well, in fact, have had this reference in mind.

So he points out to God how short has been their tenure of that land. The people whom God had set apart for Himself had received possession of His land, His sanctuary, but it had only been for a little while. He had only been their King for a short while. And then the adversaries had come in and trodden down His sanctuary, His land, and they had become as people over whom He had never ruled, as those who had never been called by the name of Yahweh. That means either that they had just become an ordinary people like all the nations round about. Or alternatively, and more probably, that there is a moral implication. That his charge is that in their lives they had begun to live like those over whom He had never ruled, like those who had never been called by the name of Yahweh. They were being deliberately disobedient. Isaiah was ever sensitive to his people’s failure to live as though they were Yahweh’s people.

Alternately his reference to the sanctuary may have had in mind the continual subjection of the land with the consequent effect on the official sanctuary. First the Philistines had dominated them and destroyed the sanctuary at Shiloh. Then the Egyptians came to take possession after the death of Solomon and took away many of the temple treasures (1 Kings 14:25). And this would have been followed by many such examples (compare 2 Kings 14:13-14). The periods of peace and stability, even that under David and Solomon, never lasted very long. Then had come the Assyrians and the Temple had become the dwellingplace of Marduk and the other Assyrian gods ( 2Ki 16:8 ; 2 Kings 16:10-18; 2 Kings 21:5). God’s sanctuary was regularly ‘trodden down’, and was trodden down in Isaiah’s day (compare Isaiah 1:12). He regularly went to the Temple and saw the effects of the treading down, the great altars dedicated to the host of heaven (2 Kings 21:5). And he knew that Yahweh had declared that the sanctuary was defiled and would have to be replaced (Isaiah 43:28; Isaiah 44:28). Let Him then act.

And worse still they are as if they were a people over whom Yahweh has never ruled. The current Davidic kings and the direct line of David have been rejected. His people are headless and hopeless. Their only hope is in His mercy, is if He comes to rule them again through the coming of His promised King.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 63". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.