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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 64



This chapter completes the prophecy begun at Isaiah 63:7. Except in increased intensity, it has no distinguishing line of thought different from the last chapter, starting at Isaiah 63:15.

Verse 1

1. Rend Or, tear asunder.

The heavens The overhanging heavens, to simple fancy, was the seat of Jehovah’s power. Thence came the lightning and the thunder. Jehovah’s sudden and sublime descent was prayed for, to melt away the mountain difficulties in the way of Zion’s permanent settlement and rest.

Verse 2

2. The melting fire burneth… waters to boil The point here is the quickness of the effect prayed for in Isaiah 64:1. As fire burns brush or boils water, so quick do Israel’s national foes tremble. Here are two figures: one of swift, rapid, roaring consumption by the flames, the other of violent agitation and tumult, like water boiling over glowing fires. “Melting fire” such as this the wicked cannot long endure. God’s majesty is similarly presented in Judges 5:4-7.5.5; Psalms 97:5; Micah 1:3-33.1.4; Habakkuk 3:4-35.3.5.

Verse 3

3. Thou didst terrible things Examples were in the deliverance from Egypt, and in the entrance to Canaan.

We looked not for That is, no one before ever witnessed such phenomena, and they were unexpected when they occurred.

Mountains flowed down Trembled, shook, at thy presence. The reference is to the transactions accompanying the giving of the law at Sinai.

Verse 4

4. Since the beginning of the world Or, beginning of Israel’s history.

Men have not heard Men of other nations have not witnessed, by ear or eye, such displays of divine power in relation to Israel, nor did mind ever conceive of them. This proverbial style (for such it is) is applied by St. Paul (1 Corinthians 2:9) to the Gospel as a mystery, or something hidden till revealed by the Holy Spirit.

Verse 5

5. Not to dwell on the many views of critics on the construction here, let it suffice to say that the probable meaning may be gained in a translation and paraphrase as follows: Thou didst favorably meet him (singular for plural) that rejoiced to work righteousness, when they remembered thee in thy ways. If this be put in the present tense, as it may be, it would read to us a general truth, useful to all: Behold, thou gracious as thou art wast angry, for we were guilty.

In those Thy ways above mentioned.

Is continuance Or, eternal permanence.

And we shall be saved Namely, by trusting in thee.

Verses 6-7

6, 7. We are all As a nation.

An unclean thing Polluted, defiled.

Our righteousnesses Even our religious acts are such as the Holy One of Israel cannot accept, being neither appointed nor sincere.

As filthy rags As a menstruous garment, and therefore repulsive. The comparisons here receive their colouring from the Levitical law on purity.

Fade as a leaf Our beauty (moral beauty) endures no better than fading, withering autumn leaves, so easily swept away.

Like the wind Our national sins also cause us to be swept by tempests of divine judgment. As true to-day as then, is this; as applicable to nations now, as to ancient Israel. Never can fidelity to God be waived at man’s pleasure.

Verse 8

8. Thou art our Father To the very few thou art the spiritual Father. The confession here reaches the point when God accepts, and becomes a heavenly Father.

Clay In the hands of God, as moulder, are all penitent men when God does accept, and then he forms them by discipline to the character they should have. God works creatively and renewingly in and upon all who will let him. To choose is our work. He chooses not for us. We yield our rebellion. He does not this for us; but if we continue obedient he does all the rest.

Verse 9

9. Be not wroth very sore That is, mitigate thy wrath, deserved by us as a nation.

We are all thy people The idea national merges into the idea spiritual. All adhering to, and now praying to, him, are the spiritual Israel; and the prayer is, “Because we adhere and pray to thee, spare us!”

Verses 10-11

10, 11. Thy holy cities are a wilderness In the interest of anti-supernaturalism many German and some English interpreters claim support from these verses. They advocate a pseudo-Isaiah, an unknown prophet who lived at or before the time of the Exile, and wrote these later prophecies. They assume miracle and predictive prophecy to be impossible, and that Isaiah, who wrote seven hundred years prior to events and facts here delineated, cannot be the author. This is a cool begging of the whole question; and, being so, is unworthy of further notice.

Our holy…house… burned The reference here is to the burning of the temple. But which temple? The first one was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, the second by the Romans in A.D. 70, besides being twice polluted first by Syrians, and next by the Romans. Nothing shows it certain that the temple referred to was the one destroyed by the Babylonians, but the description of the burning and the long unrestored desolation points most suitably to the ruin effected by the Romans. The “holy cities” apply more seemly to those of Jerusalem and Judah. This view renders more impressive the deep confession of the chapter and the closing appeal of the people to God as their Father, and tohis power as of a potter over the clay.

Verse 12

12. Wilt thou refrain thyself That is, refuse to render aid in such extremity. It seems like a tender, deprecating, but not hopeless, remonstrance. It does not express despair. There is a faint, lingering confidence that God will yet be pitiful, and the next chapter gives the key as to how the pity and the help are to come.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 64". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.