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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Isaiah 63


A.M. 3298. B.C. 706.

The fifth and last discourse of the fifth part of Isaiah’s prophecies, according to Vitringa, is contained in this and the following chapters, which, with the two preceding, he considers as being explanatory of the prophecies contained in the great and important discourse from chapter 51st to the 60th inclusive. And, as the three last chapters contain a description of the glorious state of the church in the latter days, when it shall be enlarged by the conversion of the Jews, and the fulness of the Gentiles; so now the prophet comes to describe the day of vengeance, mentioned chap. 61:2. We have in this chapter,

(1,) A dialogue between the prophet, or the church, and Christ, in which the latter is represented as returning in triumph from the slaughter of his enemies, Isaiah 63:1-23.63.6 .

(2,) A devout meditation upon God’s former mercies to his people, Isaiah 63:7-23.63.9 .

(3,) On their rebellions and provocations, followed both by God’s judgments and mercies, Isaiah 63:10-23.63.14 .

(4,) An humble and earnest prayer to God that he would appear for them in their present distress, pleading his mercy, their relation to him, their desire toward him, and the insolence of their enemies, Isaiah 63:15-23.63.19 .

Verse 1

Isaiah 63:1. “The very remarkable passage,” says Bishop Lowth, “with which this chapter begins, seems to be in a manner detached from the rest, and to stand singly by itself; having no immediate connection with what goes before, or with what follows, otherwise than as it may pursue the general design, and stand in its proper place in the order of prophecy. It is by many learned interpreters supposed, that Judas Maccabeus and his victories make the subject of it. What claim Judas can have to so great an honour will, I think, be very difficult to make out; or how the attributes of the great person introduced can possibly suit him. Could Judas call himself the Announcer of righteousness, mighty to save? Could he talk of the day of vengeance being in his heart, and the year of his redeemed being come? or that his own arm wrought salvation for him? Besides, what were the great exploits of Judas in regard to the Idumeans? He overcame them in battle, and slew twenty thousand of them. And John Hyrcanus, his brother Simon’s son and successor, who is called in to help out the accomplishment of the prophecy, gave them another defeat some time afterward, and compelled them, by force, to become proselytes to the Jewish religion, and to submit to circumcision: after which they were incorporated with the Jews, and became one people with them. Are these events adequate to the prophet’s lofty prediction? Was it so great an action to win a battle with considerable slaughter of the enemy; or to force a whole nation, by dint of the sword, into Judaism? Or was the conversion of the Idumeans, however effected, and their admission into the church of God, equivalent to a most grievous judgment and destruction, threatened in the severest terms?

“I conclude that this prophecy has not the least relation to Judas Maccabeus. It may be asked, to whom, and to what event, does it relate? I can only answer, that I know of no event in history to which, from its importance and circumstances, it can be applied; unless, perhaps, to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish polity; which, in the gospel, is called, the coming of Christ, and the days of vengeance, Matthew 24:16-40.24.28; Luke 21:22. But, though this prophecy must have its accomplishment, there is no necessity of supposing that it has been already accomplished. There are prophecies which intimate a great slaughter of the enemies of God and his people, which remain to be fulfilled; these in Ezekiel, chap. 38., and in the Revelation of St. John, chap. 20., are called Gog and Magog. This prophecy of Isaiah may possibly refer to the same or the like event. We need not be at a loss to determine the person who is here introduced, as stained with treading the wine-press, if we consider how St. John, in the Revelation, has applied this image of the prophet, Revelation 19:13; Revelation 19:15-66.19.16. Compare chap. 34.”

Who is this, &c. Either the prophet, as in some vision or ecstasy, or the church, makes inquiry, and that with admiration, who it is that appears in such a habit or posture, Isaiah 63:1, and why, Isaiah 63:2; that cometh from Edom That is, Idumea, the country where Esau, sometimes called Edom, dwelt. It is here put for all the enemies of God’s church, as it is also Isaiah 34:5-23.34.6, where see the notes. “The Idumeans,” it must be observed, “joined with the enemies of the Jews in bringing on the destruction of Jerusalem, in the time of the captivity, for which they were severely reproved by the prophets, and threatened with utter destruction, which accordingly came to pass; the prophets, therefore, generally apply the name of this people to signify any inveterate and cruel enemy, as in this place. But the words Edom and Bozrah may be taken in the appellative sense, to denote in general, a field of blood, or a place of slaughter; the word Edom signifying red, and Bozrah a vintage, which, in the prophetical idiom, imports God’s vengeance upon the wicked.” Lowth. With dyed or stained garments Thus Christ is described Revelation 19:13, where also he is represented as taking vengeance on his enemies. The LXX. render it ερυθημα ιματιων , redness of garments. This that is glorious Or magnificent, as Bishop Lowth renders it; in his apparel, travelling Marching on, in the greatness of his strength Like a general marching in triumph at the head of his army, and carrying tokens of victory upon his raiment. I that speak in righteousness I the Messiah, who never promise any thing but what I will faithfully perform, and who do and will always truly execute justice: mighty to save Perfectly able to effect the promised redemption of my people, whatever difficulties and oppositions may lie in the way of it, and to accomplish their full salvation. Bishop Lowth renders the clause, I who publish, or announce righteousness, and am mighty to save, observing, that a MS. has המדבר , with the demonstrative article added, giving greater force and emphasis to the expression, The Announcer of righteousness.

Verses 2-4

Isaiah 63:2-23.63.4. Wherefore art thou red, &c. The dialogue is continued, and the prophet or the church, having inquired concerning the person, now inquires why his habit has been thus sprinkled and stained. I have trodden the wine-press alone I have destroyed the enemies of my people, I have crushed them as grapes are crushed; this being a usual metaphor to describe the utter destruction of a people, Psalms 44:5; Revelation 14:19-66.14.20; and the ease with which God can do it, which is no more than to crush a bunch of grapes. This exactly agrees with what is said of Christ, Revelation 19:15, That he treadeth the wine-press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. Bishop Lowth has observed, that “there is an energy and sublimity in this description, which is not to be paralleled in any language.” And of the people there was none with me I have delivered my people, and destroyed their enemies by my own power, without any human help. Thus he destroyed the Assyrians, Isaiah 37:36. Thus he infatuated the Babylonians, and opened the two-leaved gates for Cyrus, Isaiah 45:1. Thus he divided the sea and Jordan before Israel of old, and overthrew Jericho, and the kings and nations of Canaan. It is true he often makes use of instruments in conquering, whether the temporal or spiritual enemies of his people; but he needs them not; and when he employs them, they act by commission and authority derived from him, and by strength which he communicates to them. For I will tread, &c. Or, rather, I trod them in mine anger, and I trampled them in mine indignation, and their blood Hebrew, נצחם , robur eorum, their strength; Bishop Lowth renders it, their life-blood was sprinkled on my garments. For the day of vengeance The day designed and appointed by me, wherein to take vengeance on the enemies of my church, is, or rather, was, in my heart So that I could not forget nor neglect to execute it: see notes on Isaiah 34:8; Isaiah 61:1. And the year of my redeemed The year appointed for their redemption, is or was come Though it seemed to tarry, and his people might be ready to give up all hope of it, it came at last, and did not disappoint their expectations.

Verses 5-6

Isaiah 63:5-23.63.6. I looked, and there was none to help “Things were come to that extremity, that there was no appearance of succour by any human means. Those who, by their office and character, ought to have stood up in defence of oppressed truth and righteousness, even they, contrary to what might have been justly expected, betrayed so good a cause, or had not the courage to defend it. So that it was time for God to interpose, and to appear in defence of his own honour and people.” Therefore my own arm, &c. See note on Isaiah 59:16. And my fury, it upheld me Or, my zeal rather, namely, against the adversaries of my church, and for the deliverance of my people: I was resolved to vindicate my own honour, and my concern for my people made me go through with the undertaking in spite of all opposition. Thus God says, Zechariah 8:2, I was jealous for Zion with great fury. God’s arm signifies his strength and power, and his zeal sets his power on work. And I will tread down The LXX. render it, κατεπατησα , I have trodden down the people in mine anger. So also the vulgar Latin, which translation agrees better with the context where Christ is described as having his garments already stained with the blood of his enemies. And made them drunk in my fury “God’s judgments are often represented by a cup of intoxicating liquor, because they astonish men, and bereave them of their usual discretion.” See the note on Isaiah 51:17.

Verse 7

Isaiah 63:7. “The remaining part of this chapter” says Bishop Lowth, “with the whole chapter following, contains a penitential confession and supplication of the Israelites in their present state of dispersion, in which they have so long marvellously subsisted, and still continue to subsist, as a people; cast out of their country, without any proper form of civil polity or religious worship; their temple destroyed, their city desolated, and lost to them; and their whole nation scattered over the face of the earth; apparently deserted and cast off by the God of their fathers, as no longer his peculiar people.” Vitringa has nearly the same views of this section of the prophet’s discourse. He supposes that it pertains to the present Jews and their posterity, during this their dispersion, and that when they shall see that wonderful display of God’s power, which will hereafter be made in the destruction of the Papal church and tyranny, they will be converted to the Christian religion. In a view to this, he considers the prophet as here introducing a company of them, who represent the first-fruits at the beginning of this great work of grace, deploring the blindness and hardness of their nation, and with the utmost humility turning themselves to God, and praying for that complete conversion of their people which is to follow the coming in of the fulness of the Gentiles. See Romans 11:25-45.11.26.

I will mention the loving-kindness of the Lord Those penitent Jews, in whose name the prophet is supposed to speak, being convinced themselves of the truth of Christianity, begin here to intercede for the rest of their brethren, still remaining in that state of blindness and darkness under which the nation had long groaned. “They begin with acknowledging God’s great mercies and favours to their nation, and the ungrateful returns made for them on their part; that by their disobedience they had forfeited his protection, and caused him to become their adversary. But now, induced by the memory of the great things he had done for them, they address their humble supplication to him for the renewal of his mercies. They beseech him to regard them in consideration of his former loving-kindness; they acknowledge him for their Father and Creator; they confess their wickedness and hardness of heart; they entreat his forgiveness, and deplore the miserable condition under which they had so long suffered. The whole passage is in the elegiac form, pathetic and elegant, and probably designed as a formulary of humiliation for the Israelites, in order to their conversion.” A few remarks on some of the expressions used therein may tend to place them in a clearer point of view.

Verses 8-9

Isaiah 63:8-23.63.9. For he said Namely, within himself, of old, when he made a covenant with our fathers, and brought them out of Egypt; Surely they are my people In covenant with me: though they are unworthy of me, yet I cannot but look upon them as my people. Children that will not lie That will keep my covenant; that will not deal falsely with me, to whom they are under such unspeakable obligations. This is spoken by God, after the manner of men, who are always apt to hope the best concerning their children, even though, in times past, they may have been refractory and disobedient. So he was their Saviour Namely, on these hopes and conditions he undertook to be their Saviour: or, he alone was their Saviour. When there was none to save, none to uphold, then he saved them. In all their affliction he was afflicted When there was a necessity of correcting them, in order to their amendment, he had a compassionate sense of the evils which they suffered: see Deuteronomy 32:36; Judges 10:16; Psalms 106:44-19.106.45. And the angel of his presence saved them From the house of bondage, through the Red sea, and in the wilderness. The same angel that conducted them in all their journeys, and brought them into Canaan, as Captain of the Lord’s host, (Joshua 5:15,) even the Lord Jesus Christ, who appeared to Moses in the bush, (Exodus 3:2-2.3.6, compared with Acts 7:35,) in whom God’s name was, Exodus 23:20-2.23.21. Whom the Jews tempted in the wilderness, for they tempted Christ, 1 Corinthians 10:9; and who was the spiritual rock that followed them, typified by the natural rock cleft to afford them water: who was before Abraham, John 8:58, and before all things, Colossians 1:17: see note on Exodus 23:20-2.23.21: called the angel, messenger, or mediator of the covenant, Malachi 3:1; and here the angel of his presence; and his presence, Exodus 33:14, as appearing continually before his face to intercede for his church. In his love and in his pity he redeemed them This shows the ground of his kindness: they were a stubborn, superstitious, idolatrous people, yet Christ’s love and pity saved them notwithstanding. And he bore them, and carried them As a father his child, or an eagle her young ones; he carried them in the arms of his power, and on the wings of his providence: see notes on Deuteronomy 1:31; and Deuteronomy 32:10-5.32.12; and Isaiah 46:4. And this he did all the days of old, for many ages past; from the days of Abraham or Moses; from their bondage in Egypt to their settlement in Canaan, and through their succeeding generations. And this his ancient kindness is thus mentioned to induce him to continue it, and still to uphold, protect, and preserve his church till he should bring her to his Father.

Verse 10

Isaiah 63:10. But they rebelled Revolted from him and, as it were, took up arms against him, many instances of which we find in their history; and vexed, or grieved, his Holy Spirit With their unbelief and murmuring, and continual proneness to idolatry, as well as by their repeated acts of obstinacy and disobedience. Therefore he was turned to be their enemy Withdrew the tokens and evidences of his love and favour; and fought against them By one judgment after another, both in the wilderness, and after their settlement in Canaan.

Verses 11-14

Isaiah 63:11-23.63.14 . Then, or yet, he remembered the days of old “God is here represented by an elegant figure, as recollecting with himself what he had done for his people, and using that as a motive why he should still own and defend them. The same argument is used by Moses: see the margin. Moses and his people Or, what great things he had done for them by Moses. Where is he that brought them out of the sea That divided the sea for them? Here God speaks of himself as in the former clause; and dividing the sea being one of the greatest miracles he ever wrought for his people, it is therefore mentioned, with peculiar propriety, by way of encouragement to them in their sore troubles, as indeed it frequently is. With the shepherd Or shepherds, as the margin reads it; of his flock That is, Moses and Aaron. That put his Holy Spirit within him That gave his Spirit, the spirit of wisdom and courage, as well as of prophecy, to Moses and the seventy elders, to furnish them with gifts and graces for the great work of governing his people. That led them by the right hand of Moses Namely, by the power that God gave him. With his glorious arm Or, that arm wherewith God gained to himself so much glory, being always present to the assistance of Moses, Deuteronomy 4:34. Dividing the water before them The Red sea, and also Jordan. To make himself an everlasting name With reference both to his power and providence: that he might be glorified, and that everlastingly, upon this account. That led them through the deep Between those vast heaps of waters, that stood up as a wall on each side of them. As a horse in the wilderness Or plain, as the word rendered wilderness is sometimes taken; namely, with as much safety as a horse traverses the plain ground, or with as much ease as a horse is led by the bridle. That they should not stumble That is, though the sea was but newly divided, yet the ground was so dried and smoothed by the wind which God sent, that it was, as it were, prepared before them. As a beast, &c. As a beast goes down to his pasture; or as a camel, or such like beast of burden, travels through a champaign country, so the Spirit of the Lord conducted the people of Israel into the promised land of rest and security.

Verses 15-16

Isaiah 63:15-23.63.16. Look down from heaven In this excellent and pious prayer of the first-fruits of the converted Jews, in which they entreat God, for his grace and mercy, to behold them with an eye of compassion, they argue both from the goodness of his nature, and from the greatness of the works which he had formerly done for them. God sees everywhere and every thing; but he is said to look down from heaven, because there is his throne, whereon he reigns in majesty. Behold, &c. Not barely see and look on, but behold, with regard and respect, thy poor people. Where is thy zeal? What is become of that love which of old would not let thee suffer thy people to be wronged? And thy strength? That power of thine manifested in those great acts which thou didst perform for thy people?

The sounding of thy bowels This is spoken of God after the manner of men. The meaning is, where are thy tender compassions and mercies which thou formerly showedst toward us? and which thy servants have compared to the affection that a mother bears to her children? Are they restrained? Or, canst thou be thus straitened? An expostulation that agrees well with the next verse. Doubtless thou art our Father Our only hope is in the relation we have to thee, that thou hast vouchsafed to call thyself our Father: we, therefore, as thy children, expect to find in thee the bowels and compassions of a father. Though Abraham be ignorant of us Though he who was our father after the flesh, be dead, and so ignorant of our condition. And Israel acknowledge us not Though Jacob, who also was our father, should disown us because of our degeneracy. Thou, O Lord, art our Father Thou art neither unacquainted with our state, nor wilt disown thy relation to us, but wilt continue to act the part of a father and redeemer to thy people. Thy name is from everlasting Thy gracious and merciful nature and attributes are eternal and unchangeable.

Verses 17-19

Isaiah 63:17-23.63.19. O Lord, why hast thou made us to err Suffered us to err; from thy ways Thy commandments. And hardened our heart from thy fear That is, the fear of thee? Why hast thou withdrawn thy grace, and left us to our own hardness of heart? See on Isaiah 6:10. Return for thy servants’ sake Be reconciled to us for the sake of our godly progenitors, Abraham, Isaac, &c.; namely, for the sake of thy promises made to them; or rather, for our sakes, that little remnant who are thy servants: see Psalms 90:13. The tribes of thine inheritance What will thine enemies say if thou suffer us, thy people, to perish, or thine inheritance, the land of Canaan, to remain an eternal desolation? The people of thy holiness The people set apart for thy service, distinguished from other people, and consecrated to thee; have possessed it Namely, thine inheritance, mentioned in the former clause; but a little while In comparison of the time promised, which was for ever. So the Jews commonly understood the grant made them of the land of Canaan. They had, however, possessed it about fourteen hundred years, but this they thought a little while. Our adversaries have trodden down thy sanctuary The temple, called the sanctuary, from its being dedicated to God. This their adversaries, the Babylonians, had trodden down, or rather, as the prophet foresaw, would tread down. “If we understand this of the devastations made by the Romans under Titus, and by the Mohammedans since, the phrase is exactly parallel to the words of Christ, Luke 21:24, Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles.” We are thine We continue so; we are in covenant with thee, which they never were, and thus it is an argument they use to induce God to have compassion upon them. Thou never barest rule over them Not in that manner thou didst over us. They were not called by thy name Neither owned thee, nor were owned by thee. Some translate this last verse thus: “We have been for a long time as those over whom thou didst not bear rule, and who were not called by thy name.” “Thou hast rejected us altogether, and dost disregard us as if we had never had any relation to thee, nor ever were called thy people; which sense agrees very well with the present condition of the Jewish nation, that hath continued for many ages without king, or prince, or sacrifice, as the Prophet Hosea foretold, Hosea 3:4.” Lowth. “There is no doubt,” says Vitringa, “but that the calamity of the external state of the Jewish people is here described. If you compare this description with the repetition of the same calamity, Isa 63:10-11 of the next chapter, you will have no doubt that these words pertain to the Jewish people, banished as they are, and have been for a long time, from the land which, in comparison of this tedious exile, they possessed but a little while; their sanctuary and holy city being possessed and trodden down by their bitterest enemies; so that they are in such a state as to seem like people who never were the chosen and peculiar people of God.”

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 63". Benson's Commentary. 1857.