Christ sheweth who he is, what his victory over his enemies, and what his mercy toward his church. In his just wrath he remembereth his free mercy. The church, in their prayer and complaint, profess their faith.
Before Christ 698.
THE fifth and last discourse of the fifth part of Isaiah's prophesies is contained in this and the following chapters. The present period serves for the illustration of chap. Isaiah 59:16-18 where the Messiah is introduced as a hero, completely armed, to bring salvation to his friends, and to punish his enemies. Vitringa comprises the first section of this discourse in the first six verses of this chapter; where we have, first, the hypothesis, or argument of the prophesy; a scenical view of a certain illustrious person, hero, and avenger, fresh from the slaughter of his enemies, Isaiah 63:1-2.; and secondly, an information of the person and state of this hero, by way of question and answer: the answer, unfolding the cause of the redness of his garment, namely, the vengeance which he had taken upon his enemies, is set forth, Isaiah 63:3 and explained more fully, Isaiah 63:4-6. We may just repeat an observation made before, that the prophesies in this latter part of the book are only explanatory of those in the great and important third discourse, from chap. 51: to 60: See on chap. 61:
Isaiah 63:1. Who is this, &c.— Or, Who is this that cometh from Edom, with purple garments from Bozrah? This, who is solemn, or venerable in his attire, marching on in the greatness of his strength? I that speak of deliverance, [doing right,] mighty to save. See chap. Isaiah 34:5-6. The Idumeans 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 names of these 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, according to some; which in the prophetical idiom, import God's vengeance upon the wicked. The Messiah is said to be solemn or venerable in his attire; that is to say, like a general marching at the head of his army, and carrying the token of victory on his raiment; or, according to others, clothed in such a manner as to command reverence and respect. The frequent transitions from one person to another, observed in the Hebrew poetry, is a strong indication of a mind hurried away by the impulse of inspiration; and sometimes, as in the present case, is as strong a mark of a dramatic form of composition. See Lowth's Prelections, and Vitringa.
Isaiah 63:3. I have trodden, &c.— This is a common image among the prophets, generally made use of to describe the effects of the divine vengeance, but never touched upon by any classic author among the Greeks and Romans. Bishop Lowth has well observed, that there is an energy and sublimity in this description, which is not to be parallelled in any language. Though, indeed, the image of a warrior inebriated with wine may appear to modern critics a coarse comparison, when applied to the Messiah; yet it might not convey that idea to the antient Jews, who perhaps never joined that secondary idea to this vice, in the comparison which always occurs in the mind of the modern, owing to that power of the mind by which it associates different ideas. Vitringa renders this verse very properly, I have trodden, &c. for I have trodden them in mine anger, and trampled them in my fury; and their blood or strength has been sprinkled or dashed upon my garments, and I have stained all my raiment.
Isaiah 63:4-6. For the day of vengeance, &c.— There is nothing requisite to the understanding of this passage but a reference to chap. Isaiah 59:16-17 where nearly the same words are used to describe the same thing. These verses may be read in the past tense. Some critics think that the phrase, make them drunk, Isaiah 63:6 might have been rendered, was made drunk with them; that is to say, "I was made drunk with their blood." This expression is common to the Hebrew writers, but appears with greater elegance and propriety in this place, as those who tread in the wine-press are commonly inebriated by that means. See chap. Isaiah 24:20. Psalms 60:3; Psalms 60:12. Vitringa, in his investigation of this prophesy, observes, first, that it is not to be interpreted of the death and passion of our Saviour, but of the deliverance of the church from certain enemies with great slaughter and effusion of their blood; and secondly, that under this figure is described the final and peremptory judgment whereby the Messiah, the deliverer and avenger of his people, will take the most severe vengeance upon the princes and people of idolatrous and apostate Rome. The visions in the Revelation, chap. Isaiah 14:18 and Isaiah 19:12 says he, leave here no manner of doubt. Compare Isaiah 59:15, &c.
Isaiah 63:7.— Vitringa begins here the second section of the fifth discourse, which is comprised, according to him, in this and the following chapter, and contains the discourse of a company of penitent Jews, confessional and supplicatory. In the confessional part we have, first, a commemoration of the benefits conferred by God upon the Jewish nation, in hope that they would rightly use them; general in Isaiah 63:7-8 particular, with respect to the angel of Jehovah, and the Holy Spirit, Isaiah 63:9-10. Secondly, we have the ingratitude of this nation, with the sad consequence thereof; namely, deprivation of their superior light and grace, Isaiah 63:10. Thirdly, a complaint of the people, long forsaken, concerning the misery of their state, compared with the benefits of ancient times; Isaiah 63:11-14. The supplicatory part contains, first, an humble supplication for this miserable and afflicted people; the arguments bring drawn from the divine excellencies, Isaiah 63:15.—from confidence in God alone, with a renunciation of all merit; Isaiah 63:16.—and from the greatness of their misery and calamity, Isaiah 63:17-19. Secondly, a prayer is intermixed, expressing their ardent desire of this benefit; the first reason being drawn from the example of God's descent upon mount Sinai, chap. Isaiah 64:1-3. The second from the greater examples of divine grace which were expected under the new oeconomy, Isaiah 63:4. We have, thirdly, the supplication repeated; wherein they justify the ways of God, and in the most humble manner again confess their own unworthiness and spiritual misery; Isaiah 63:5-7. They earnestly deprecate the wrath of God, which had lain so long upon them, from a regard to God and themselves, Isaiah 63:8-9. They urge in mournful terms their external and temporal calamity, to move the compassion of God; Isaiah 63:10-12. Vitringa supposes that this section pertains to the present dispersed Jews, who, seeing the wonderful display of God's power in the destruction of the papal church and tyranny, will be converted in consequence to the Christian religion: in a view to this he here introduces a company of Jews, representing 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, and praying for that complete conversion of their nation, which is to follow the coming-in of the fulness of the Gentiles. See Romans 11:25-26.
I will mention— I will commemorate, &c. The prophet here speaks in the person of those penitent Jews, who, convinced themselves of the truth of Christianity, intercede for the rest of their brethren, in that state of blindness and darkness under which the nation had long groaned. An attention to the analysis will, perhaps, prove the best comment on this section.
Isaiah 63:9. And the Angel of his presence saved them— The chorus, being about to repeat particularly the general benefits mentioned in the preceding verses, refers them to two principal ones, namely, the persevering and avenging Angel, and the consolatory and instructing Holy Spirit. They speak of the first directly, and of the latter obliquely, that they might not have occasion to repeat the same thing; for when they say, Isaiah 63:10 and vexed, or grieved, his Holy Spirit, they suppose that the nation, besides the singular blessing of the great and avenging angel, had also another of the first importance in the Holy Spirit. By the phrase, In all their affliction he was afflicted, is signified the extreme tenderness of God's love toward his people. See chap. Isaiah 49:15. The Angel of his presence means that Angel who conducted them by the cloud and pillar of fire; namely, the Messiah, or second person of the ever-blessed Trinity, who is called the Angel of the presence, or face of the Lord, because he is the brightness of the glory of God. Compare Exodus 33:14. Jesus Christ is called, in the New Testament, The image of God; and the glory of God is said to shine in the face of Jesus Christ. See 2 Corinthians 4:6 and Vitringa.
Isaiah 63:10. But they rebelled, &c.— We have frequent mention, in the books of the Old Testament, of the Holy Spirit; and our prophet himself has repeatedly spoken of him. He is here denoted in his office of teaching and convincing the people, as appears from the sin committed against him. See Nehemiah 9:20; Nehemiah 9:30 and compare Numbers 11:25-26.
Isaiah 63:11. Then he remembered, &c.— Vitringa is of opinion, that these are the words of the people, not of God. Then he, that is, the people, thus afflicted, remembered, or called to mind, the past benefits which God had conferred upon them; saying, Where is he who heretofore performed so many and great wonders for his people? Who bestoweth so great goodness to the house of Israel? Isaiah 63:7. See Jeremiah 2:6. The shepherds of the flock mean Moses and Aaron. Compare Psalms 77:20. He that putteth his Holy Spirit within him, that is to say, within his people, alludes to the history, Numbers 11:17.
Isaiah 63:12. That led them, &c.— That made his glorious arm pass along at the right hand of Moses, &c. See Deuteronomy 33:27. Exodus 14:16. Psalms 16:8.
Isaiah 63:15. Look down from heaven— In this excellent and pious prayer of the first-fruits of the converted Jews, they intreat God for his grace and mercy, to look down with an eye of compassion upon them. "Where is thy love and concern for thy people, they add, and the power thou usedst to exert for their deliverance? Where are thy tender mercies which thou formerly shewedst towards them?" The arguments here are used, and to be understood, humano more (after the manner of men). See Vitringa.
Isaiah 63:16. Doubtless thou art our Father— "Our only hope is the relation we have to thee, who hast vouchsafed to call thyself our Father; for it is in vain to boast that we are the children of Abraham or Jacob. They know not our condition, nor can they afford us any relief." Vitringa thinks that the words contain still further a renunciation of all merit in themselves and their fathers, and an entire confidence in the alone grace of God for deliverance and salvation. Pelican paraphrases it, "We place no confidence in the merits of our fathers, whosoever or whatsoever they were: but in thee alone, O Lord, who art our Father; our Redeemer from everlasting is thy name." See chap. Isaiah 64:8.
Isaiah 63:17. O Lord, why hast thou made us to err?— The chorus here humbly expostulate with God. The first clause may be rendered, O Lord, why hast thou suffered us? &c. See Deuteronomy 32:36.
Isaiah 63:18-19. The people of thy holiness— Or, Thy holy people have possessed [the land] but for a little time, &c. Isaiah 63:19. We have been as they over whom thou never bearest rule, and upon whom thy name was not called. There is no doubt but that the calamity of the external state of the Jewish people is here described. If we compare this description with the repetition of the same calamity, Isaiah 63:10-11 of the next chapter, we can have no doubt that these words pertain to the state of 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. See chap. Isaiah 42:7, Isaiah 44:5 compared with chap. Isaiah 4:1. There cannot be any thing more striking than the miserable state of this once-favoured people, now dispersed and distressed throughout all the kingdoms of the world.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The former chapter closed with the promise of the Saviour's appearing; this opens with the fulfilment of that promise, and the glorious victory obtained by the Redeemer over the powers of darkness, through his incarnation; or it points to the overthrow of all the enemies of his church in the last days.
1. The prophet, as suddenly surprised with the appearance of this glorious personage, with abrupt inquiry asks, Who is this? Is the form human or divine, that I behold? He cometh from Edom, the country of the professed enemies of the church, with dyed garments from Bozrah; like some victorious conqueror, who, having sacked the capital of his foes, returns in triumph, his sword yet reeking from the slaughter, and his garments dyed with the blood of the slain: this that is glorious in his apparel, bearing in his person, aspect, and dress, the marks of transcendant dignity: travelling in the greatness of his strength; not faint through fatigue, nor weary with his march; but with power irresistible, and zeal unquenchable, advancing with majestic stateliness to new conquests, till every foe becomes his footstool.
2. The great God-man approaches this devout inquirer; and, terrible as his aspect seemed, his lips are full of grace, and his answer unspeakably kind and gracious. I that speak in righteousness, whose word is truth itself, and his promises to be fully relied upon by every faithful soul: or of righteousness; that glorious plan of redemption, to accomplish which is the great design of my appearance, and to reveal it, the office of my Spirit; in virtue whereof I am mighty to save; to save to the uttermost from sin, corruption, death, and hell; and none so guilty, none so desperate, as to be beyond the power of my grace.
3. Encouraged by the condescensions he had experienced, the prophet humbly presumes to renew his inquiry. If thou art not come to destroy men's lives, but to save, Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the wine-fat? These bloody ensigns seem to bespeak destruction, not salvation; and mark the arm of inexorable justice, rather than forbearing mercy. Note; Though doubts disturb, and fears dismay, the farther we inquire into the divine word, the more will they be removed and silenced.
4. The Saviour with fullest satisfaction resolves his question. I have trodden the wine-press, and underneath my feet sin, death, and hell, as vanquished foes, are fallen; and with the blood of these my adversaries is my raiment discoloured. This victory have I gained alone, too great to need an associate, and infinitely too jealous of mine own honour to accept assistance. Of the people there was none with me; none of the inhabitants of heaven or earth to afford the least succour, or take the least share in the glorious work. The salvation of sinners, their eternal redemption from wrath to glory, is my act alone: yours be the benefit, mine the honour. For I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; my former victories ensure my future: what foes soever yet remain, in wrath unquenchable, and fury irresistible, will I tread into the dust; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment: the powers of antichristian tyranny shall be broken, and my garments dipt in blood, Revelation 19:13 for the day of vengeance is in mine heart; fixed and immutable is the decree, the day determined, when the blood of my martyrs and suffering saints shall be recompensed; and the year of my redeemed is come, when all my faithful ones shall be collected, and their triumphs begin. And I looked, and there was none to help; as at the first, when, sunk in helpless misery, the race of men lay weltering in their blood; so under the power of antichrist, prostrate in the dust, the Redeemer beholds his church in the latter day: and I wondered that there was none to uphold the sinking cause, and the afflicted people. None, none were found able or willing to espouse their quarrel, or attempt their deliverance; therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; that arm of omnipotence, which alone could accomplish it: and my fury, it upheld me; zeal for his people's safety and honour, indignation against their enemies, burned in his bosom, and urged him to take vengeance to the uttermost. And I will tread down the people in mine anger, and make them drunk in my fury; putting into their hands the cup of the wine of the wrath of God, and making them drink the dregs thereof: and I will bring down their strength to the earth, giving them an utter overthrow, and covering them with everlasting desolations. Note; (1.) When all other help fails, Christ never fails those who trust him. (2.) Though our deliverance may seem long delayed and our enemies triumphant, the decree is gone forth against them, and he that cometh, will come, and will not tarry. (3.) They who persist in drinking of the intoxicating cup of sin, will shortly be made to drink the cup of trembling.
2nd, As an encouragement to hope for future mercies, the prophet takes a review of the past, so wonderfully and graciously vouchsafed unto them.
1. He makes a grateful acknowledgment in general of all the mercies and loving-kindnesses of God to his people, so numberless, so great, that they were more than he is able to express, and all the effects of his boundless grace and undeserved favour. Note; (1.) When we review God's mercies toward us with an enlightened mind, we shall be lost in wonder, love, and praise. (2.) Every blessing that we can enjoy of providence, grace, or glory, in time or eternity, flows not from the least merit in us, for we have none, but from God's infinitely rich and gratuitous mercy.
2. He mentions some especial instances of his kindness. For he said, Surely they are my people; he had proffered to them all his unsearchable riches, and justly expected that they would approve themselves to him in all fidelity and truth: children that will not lie; neither be false to their vows, nor hypocritical in his service: so he was their Saviour, from their house of bondage in Egypt particularly, and as he ever was and is, of every faithful soul, from every enemy, from every danger. In all their affliction he was afflicted; he felt with tender sympathy every burden under which they groaned, and came with kindest compassion and welcome relief to deliver them. Or it may read, In all their affliction there was no affliction; the sense of his love alleviated their sorrows, and made every burden light; and the angel of his presence saved them; the Lord Jesus Christ, the uncreated angel who was with Israel in the wilderness, and whose voice they were enjoined to obey, Exodus 23:20-21. In his love and in his pity he redeemed them from their state of hard servitude; and he bare them in his arms, as a shepherd the weak lambs of his flock; and carried them all the days of old; while he cut off the rebellious generation, he brought his obedient people safe to their promised rest in Canaan. And thus doth the Redeemer regard and care for and protect all those who simply, faithfully, and perseveringly rely upon him. Note; (1.) The children of God will not lie; for they who do so, prove their parentage to be of their father the devil. (2.) It is a comfort to God's afflicted people, that they have a compassionate high-priest, who can be touched with the feeling of their infirmities. (3.) They who look for their portion in a better world, sit easy under this world's troubles: they know that they are both light and momentary. (4.) If the angel of God's presence had not borne us up, many a time must we already have utterly fainted in our journey towards the heavenly Canaan.
3. Their repeated and long-continued ingratitude at last brought his rod upon them. They rebelled, and vexed his Holy Spirit; rejected God from being their king, cast off their allegiance; and, by their unbelief, murmuring, and idolatry, forsook his covenant, deaf to the warnings of Moses and the prophets; as the Scribes and Pharisees in our Lord's day, the true children of their fathers, always resisted the Holy Ghost; in consequence of which, God, that offended God whose favour they had so abused, turned to be their enemy, and fought against them, with repeated strokes of his indignation, both in the wilderness, and after their settlement in Canaan, till their captivity in Babylon; and as he did afterwards, till the Romans came and destroyed them. Note; Sin is the cause of all our misery: if God from our friend becomes our foe, surely this makes the quarrel.
4. They reflect upon the particular favours of God, when first he formed them into a people. Some understand these as the words of God, calling to mind his own mercies of old, as an argument still to do them good, and manifest his pity towards them. Others suppose these to be the reflections of the few faithful among them, still encouraging themselves from past experience to hope for his mercy. Then he remembered the days of old, Moses and his people, saying, Where is he that brought them up out of the sea, with the shepherd, or shepherds of his flock, Moses, Aaron, and the elders of Israel? where is he that put his Holy Spirit within him? in Moses, or the people of Israel, who were taught and instructed of God: and this they mention as mourning over the sad change, and complaining of the absence of God's Spirit; or as an humble expostulation and prayer for the return of his blessed influences: that led them by the right hand of Moses, strengthening and prospering him as their captain, with his glorious arm, enabling their leader to perform miracles for their preservation; dividing the water before them, at the Red Sea, to make himself an everlasting name? by their miraculous deliverance, and the destruction there brought upon their enemies: that led them through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness, or in the plain, that they should not stumble? as easy their passage between the divided waters, as dry and safe, as when a horse travels on a level road: As a beast goeth down into the valley, softly and gently, so the Spirit of the Lord caused them to rest; either when they descended from the shore into the depths of the sea, they did it gently, and without precipitation, secure in the divine protection; or it refers to their several stations in the wilderness, where, under God's direction, they rested safe under his divine support. So didst thou lead thy people, to make thyself a glorious name; his honour being concerned in protecting them; and this being the ultimate design of all his works and ways to manifest his own glory, and engage the everlasting praise of his faithful people. Note; (1.) If God call us to pass through the depths of the sea, the sorest trials, or the most imminent dangers, he can make the path plain, and enable us in confidence and peace to go safely through. (2.) If we ever find true rest to our souls, it must come from the Eternal Spirit; for this world saith, It is not in me. (3.) When God's glory is the great end we aim at in all our works and ways, then we truly correspond with the divine will.
3rdly, We have the importunate prayer of God's people, which is continued through the following chapter. It was penned for their use in captivity, either in Babylon, or in their present dispersion, and is applicable to the church of God during its afflicted state, as well as to particular believers.
1. They desire a gracious hearing. Look down from heaven; not that his eyes ever cease to go to and fro in the earth, but they beg a look of tender pity and regard, and that God would bend his ear to the voice of their humble petitions; and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and of thy glory; the place where he is pleased to fix his radiant throne, within the highest heavens, where the Most Holy dwells, and holy angels celebrate his praise. Note; When we consider what a holy God we approach, and what sinful dust and ashes we are, it becomes us ever to appear before him with deeper humility, reverence, and godly fear.
2. They lament their miserable case. O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways? and hardened our heart from thy fear? They had erred from God's ways and worship, and hardened themselves against his fear and his warnings, and God had now given them up to their own hard hearts in just judgment; and this was matter of deep complaint to those whose eyes were opened to see their people's state. They did not charge God with their sins, as the author of them, but lamented the sore visitations they had provoked by them; and no sufferings are more deplorable than those spiritual judgments. Our adversaries also have trodden down thy sanctuary: the ruin of their lands the losses of their own family, were to the pious, no doubt, heavy afflictions; but God's temple fallen, his service interrupted, this swallowed up every other grief.
3. They make their plea for mercy to the God of all mercy.
[1.] They urge his former dealings with them. Where is thy zeal, thy jealousy for thy own glory, while the enemies of Zion blaspheme; thy fervent love towards thy people, which of old appeared; and thy strength? Is thine arm shortened, that it cannot save? the sounding of thy bowels and of thy mercies, that used to melt over every distress of Israel, are they restrained? Hath the Lord forgotten to be gracious? will he be no more intreated? No; it cannot be: thou wilt surely turn and refresh us, and bring us from the depths of the earth again. For,
[2.] Doubtless thou art our Father; provoking as our transgressions have been, we cannot quit the dear relation in which we once stood: and shall not the meltings of thy paternal heart still admit the claim, and receive the returning prodigals? Though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not; either they are gone, neither know our case, nor can assist us with their advice and prayers; or rather, though, were they again on earth, they might be led to disown such degenerate children; yet, greater are thy compassions, thou, O Lord, art our Father; faith cannot quit the plea, unworthy as we are to be called thy sons; our Redeemer, thy name is from everlasting, the same in mercy and goodness for ever.
[3.] They plead the covenant established with their fathers and them. Return for thy servants' sake; return in mercy, or turn from thy wrathful indignation, for the sake of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with whom the covenant was made; or for the sake of the few faithful which remained, the tribes of thine inheritance, by right thine, and in duty and gratitude bound to be thy servants; save us, that we may be such; nor suffer us longer to serve strangers, or strange gods, in a strange land.
[4.] They urge the short enjoyment they had of the promised land and the sanctuary of God. The people of thy holiness have possessed it but a little while: separated as they were from all others, and consecrated to God, they hoped to have possessed the land for ever; but short, comparatively, was their abode in Canaan, about 1400 years in all, and seldom in peace and quietness; while their temple had a much shorter duration, and stood little more than 400.
[5.] They plead, We are thine: they were so in profession, and promised to be such in practice, when the Lord should turn their captivity. Thou never barest rule over them, their conquerors and oppressors, to whom God had not stood in that dear relation, in which he had done to the Jews: they were not called by thy name; not regarded as his peculiar people, nor professed his blessed service: and surely God will not suffer these to trample down that people, who, though they have been unfaithful, yet bore his name, and desire to be re-admitted to his favour, and to yield themselves up to his service. Note; When we return unto God, we may be fully sure that he will return unto us.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 63". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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