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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Isaiah 64


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

Here the prayer begun in the preceding chapter is continued, in the name of the church and people of the Jews, languishing and disconsolate under the long rejection they at present suffer.

(1,) They express an earnest wish that God would show himself as visibly in favour of his ancient people as he did when he came down upon mount Sinai, amidst thunder, and lightning, and tempests, that shook heaven and earth, and testified his presence, Isaiah 64:1-23.64.3 .

(2,) They plead what God had formerly done, and was always ready to do for his people, Isaiah 64:4 , Isaiah 64:5 .

(3,) Confess themselves to be sinful, and utterly unworthy of God’s favour, and that they had deserved the judgments under which they now suffered, Isaiah 64:6 , Isaiah 64:7 .

(4,) They refer themselves to the mercy of God as a father, and submit themselves to his sovereignty, Isaiah 64:8 .

(5,) They represent the very deplorable condition they were in, and earnestly pray for the pardon of sin, and the turning away of God’s anger, Isaiah 64:9-23.64.12 .

Verses 1-2

Isaiah 64:1-23.64.2. O that thou wouldest rend the heavens This God is said to do, or to bow the heavens, and come down, when he gives a very signal display of his power. It is a metaphor taken from men who, when they would resolutely and effectually help a person in distress, break through every opposition and obstacle. That the mountains might flow down, &c. Or, melt; that all impediments might be removed out of the way. There seems to be an allusion to God’s coming down upon mount Sinai in those terrible flames of fire, Judges 5:4-7.5.5. As when the melting fire burneth Come with such zeal for thy people that the solid mountains may be no more before thee than metal that runs, or water that boils by the force of a vehement fire; to make thy name That is, thy power; known to thine adversaries That thine enemies, who are also the enemies of thy people, may know thy power, and that thy name may be dreaded among them.

Verses 3-4

Isaiah 64:3-23.64.4. When thou didst terrible things This may relate to what he did first in Egypt, and afterward in the wilderness; which we looked not for Such things as we could not have expected; the mountains flowed down See Exodus 19:18; Deuteronomy 32:22; Psalms 18:7, with the notes. But Lowth proposes another interpretation, which he thinks agrees better with what follows, namely, When thou shalt do terrible and unexpected things, when thou shalt come down, (and visibly interpose for the deliverance of thy people,) the mountains shall melt at thy presence. For since the beginning of the world, &c. “The methods of thy dispensations, whereby thou wilt fulfil thy promises made to thy people, are beyond any thing we can think or conceive.” Bishop Lowth translates this verse, more agreeably both to the Hebrew and the LXX., thus: For “never have men heard, nor perceived, by the ear; nor hath eye seen a God besides thee, who doeth such things for those, that trust in him.” Some of the Jewish doctors have understood this passage of the blessings belonging to the days of the Messiah; and to them the apostle applies it, 1 Corinthians 2:9. Others extend it to the glories of the world to come. Of both these it may be truly said, that from the beginning of the world men have not, either by hearing or seeing; or, as the apostle adds, by any reasonings or conceptions of their own minds, come to the full knowledge of them. None have seen or heard, or can understand, but God himself; and so far as he has been, and is, pleased to reveal it by his Spirit, what the provision is, which is made for the present and future felicity of holy souls; or, as our translation here expresses it, of those that wait for him, namely, in the way of duty; that sincerely and earnestly desire, and live in the daily and ardent expectation of, the salvation he hath promised them. The apostle has it, that love him; to show that as none can wait for him who do not love him, so all that love him will wait for him.

Verse 5

Isaiah 64:5. Thou meetest him that rejoiceth, &c. “Thou preventest, with the blessings of thy goodness, those that take pleasure in the ways of thy commandments, and live under a continual sense of thy providence.” Behold, thou art wroth Or greatly angry; for, or because, we have sinned Have been guilty of many and great offences, whereby we have provoked thy heavy displeasure. In those Those ways of thine, thy ways of mercy, in which we have remembered thee; is continuance Or, perpetuity; or, in those thou art ever to be found; and we shall be saved At last, though thou art wroth, and we have sinned. “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on them that fear him,” Psalms 103:17. He always waits to be gracious, and through all ages meets his worshippers in his ordinances. This seems to be the sense of this obscure passage; at least it will bear this sense; and, as it is in perfect consistency with the general tenor of the Scriptures, it is certainly safer to admit it, unless a better can be proposed, than to have recourse to any mere conjectural alterations of the Hebrew text.

Verses 6-7

Isaiah 64:6-23.64.7. We are all as an unclean thing Or, unclean person, as שׂמא equally signifies. He seems to allude to persons unclean through the leprosy, which was the highest degree of uncleanness among the Jews. He means that the body of the people were like one under a ceremonial pollution, who was not admitted into the courts of the tabernacle; or like one labouring under some loathsome disease. We are all, by sin, not only become obnoxious to God’s justice, but odious to his holiness. “The prophets frequently borrow their images from the received customs and spiritual ceremonies of the nations among which the distinction between things clean and unclean makes no small figure; and under these images they frequently describe moral defects and religious offences, as in the present passage.” And all our righteousnesses, or, justifications, are as filthy rags As rags, which cannot cover us; as filthy rags, which would only defile us. With respect to the Jews, he refers to all those external ceremonies and services wherein they placed merit, and whereby they hoped for justification, Romans 10:3, at the same time that they neglected moral duties, and were guilty even of very gross violations of God’s holy law. Micah, who lived at the same time, speaks in the same manner, Micah 7:2-33.7.4. But the prophet’s declaration is true, if considered as comprehending the best works and actions that can be performed by any of mankind; for all our works have so great an alloy of imperfection, that they cannot justify us before a holy and just God; see Psalms 143:2; Romans 3:19-45.3.20; Galatians 2:16. And our iniquities, like the wind A wind that withers both leaves and fruit, or that sweeps away all before it; have taken us away Out of our own land, and from all our privileges and blessings, and scattered us abroad through all the earth; or from God’s favour, into a state of condemnation and wrath. And there is none Or, yet there is none, that is, few: they are not to be discerned among the multitude; that calleth upon thy name That call upon thee as they ought, as Jacob, Moses, and David did. This shows the universal depravity and apostacy of the Jewish people at the time referred to; that stirreth up himself to take hold on thee On thy power, truth, and love by faith; that uses fervency and importunity in prayer to recover thy favour, which has been withdrawn from us, and to obtain the removal of the various and heavy calamities with which we are oppressed. For thou hast consumed us Hebrew, המוגנו , hast melted us; our sins have kindled such a fire of thy wrath against us that we are melted with it.

Verses 8-9

Isaiah 64:8-23.64.9. But now, O Lord, thou art our Father Notwithstanding all this, thou art our Father, having both created and adopted us; therefore pity us thy children; we are the clay, and thou our potter We are in thy hands as clay in the hands of the potter: thou canst form us, and dispose of us as thou pleasest. And we will not quarrel with thee, however thou art pleased to deal with us. We are all the work of thy hands Therefore forget us not, forsake us not, but spare, and preserve, and save us. Be not wroth with us very sore But let thy anger be mitigated by the clemency and compassion of a father. Neither remember iniquity for ever Thou hast been angry with us a long time, be not so for ever. Behold, &c. we are thy people Thy peculiar people, Isaiah 63:19. Another argument to enforce the former petition.

Verses 10-12

Isaiah 64:10-23.64.12. Thy holy cities Zion and Jerusalem, mentioned immediately after; or other cities also in the land of Judea besides these two; called holy, because God had his synagogues in them, in which he was worshipped, Psalms 74:8. Zion is a wilderness, &c. Utterly waste: not only the ordinary cities, but Zion and Jerusalem themselves are in a state of ruin and desolation. Our holy and beautiful house Our temple. Not only our principal cities, but even our temple, which we thought sacred and inviolable, in which we gloried, because it was thine, and our fathers’ house, and ours: the place where thy holy service was performed, and thy glory and presence were wont to be manifested. Where our fathers praised thee They do not presume to mention themselves, having been every way so very abominable; but put the Lord in mind of their fathers, many of whom were his faithful servants, having praised him there. Is burned up with fire This relates to the burning of the temple by the Romans, who made an entire destruction of it, according to our Saviour’s prediction, Matthew 24:2. And all our pleasant things are laid waste Not only the pleasant land, but all that was magnificent, ornamental, or desirable in Jerusalem, or any other city, town, or place. Wilt thou refrain, or, contain, thyself for, or, at, these things Wilt thou behold them unmoved, as an indifferent spectator? Wilt thou neither show thy compassion toward thy servants, nor thy resentment toward thine enemies? Wilt thou hold thy peace Wilt thou be as one that regards not? And afflict us very sore And persist to afflict us in thy continued hot displeasure?

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 64". Benson's Commentary. 1857.