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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Isaiah 64

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 64 Isaiah Reinforces His Plea.

Having laid the foundation for his plea Isaiah now brings it forward vehemently. He cries for God to act forcefully and wonderfully in the bringing about of His purposes. He recognises the sinfulness of his people, but reminds God that He is the Potter, and they but the clay. Thus He can shape them as He will. Let them therefore be redeemed and not suffer as their brother Edom will suffer.

The thought of the coming judgment on Edom then reminds him of the judgment yet to come on Judah because of Hezekiah’s folly, and just as he saw the coming final destruction of Edom before his eyes, so he sees the coming invasion and suffering of Jerusalem before his eyes (Isaiah 39:6-7). The arrival of the coming predators, the destruction of many cities, the desolation of Jerusalem, the burning of the Temple come vividly before him and he prays that this might not be the end for Judah/Jacob as it will be for Edom. That God will yet have mercy. Let this coming judgment not be final.


Verses 1-4

Isaiah’s Heart Cry to Yahweh For Him To Work Dramatically (Isaiah 64:1-4).

Isaiah 64:1

‘Oh that you would rend the heavens, that you would come down,

That the mountains might flow down at your presence.

As when fire kindles the brushwood,

The fire causes the water to boil.

To make your name known to your adversaries,

That the nations might tremble at your presence.’

Isaiah now pleads for God to manifest Himself as in days of old. He longs that Yahweh will rend the heavens, will come down, so that even the mountains flow down like fire burning all before them. Others would however translate as, ‘Oh that you had rent the heavens’ with the idea of looking back and thinking of what might have been.

‘Oh that you would rend the heavens.’ The verb is regularly used of the tearing of the clothes under great stress or in mourning. But the thought here is probably more of God acting so vigorously that He tears the heavens apart as He breaks through to come down to act. Or the idea may be of His rending it by a powerful storm.

‘That the mountains might flow down at your presence.’ The verb contains the idea of excess. The thought is probably of the mountains moving and shaking, and thus of an earthquake caused by the mightiness of the presence of God. Such earthquakes were a regular feature of theophanies (Exodus 19:18; Judges 5:5; Psalms 18:7; Psalms 68:8; Habakkuk 3:6).

‘As when fire kindles the brushwood, the fire causes the water to boil.’ The idea is again of vivid effects, the kindling of brushwood in a bush fire, the water in the streams bubbling violently as a result of the flames. This may encourage the idea of the storm with its accompanying lightning, which might well start a bush fire, but not necessarily so.

Or the thought may be of gathered brushwood put on the fire and used to boil water, seen as another wonder of God.

But the whole idea of the heavens rent, the quaking mountains and the hot spreading flames is certainly of violent action and God mightily revealing His presence.

‘To make your name known to your adversaries, that the nations might tremble at your presence.’ And the purpose of the violent action is so that the adversaries of God’s people, and therefore of God, may recognise what Yahweh is and might tremble in His presence. He seeks to put a protective cloak around God’s people.

Isaiah 64:3

‘When you did terrible (awe-inspiring) things which we looked not for,

You came down, the mountains flowed down at your presence.’

He reminds God of the past when He had acted similarly, when He had acted with terrible effect. When those things happened it was because God came down and the mountains shook at His presence (e.g. Exodus 19:18; Judges 5:5). So he pleads, let it so happen again as a result of God’s working. They may not be able to avoid the threat described to Hezekiah (Isaiah 39:7) but at least let it not be final.

Isaiah 64:4

‘For from of old men have not heard,

Nor have they perceived by the ear,

Nor has the eye seen, a God beside you,

Who works for him who waits for him.’

His confidence that Yahweh will hear His prayer lies primarily in the greatness and uniqueness of Yahweh. No one like Him has ever been known. No one has ever heard, nor have they ever seen, a God like Yahweh Who works for those who wait for Him. Once again Isaiah is stressing the necessity for trust in God, revealed by waiting on Him. Isaiah is confident that He is the great responder to those who genuinely seek His face and trust Him. The implication is that he and his disciples are waiting on Him.

When we become despondent and begin to have doubts we too must remember these words. Who is like God? His like has never been seen. And even when things are at their lowest ebb He constantly steps in to act on behalf of those who wait for Him.


Verses 5-7

Isaiah Admits The Utter Unworthiness of Those Whom He Represents (Isaiah 64:5-7).

Isaiah 64:5

‘You meet him who rejoices and works righteousness,

Those who remember you in your ways,

Behold you were wrathful, and we sinned,

We have been in our sins a long time, and shall we be saved?’

But there is a problem. He acknowledges that the great Responder responds to (meets) those who rejoice and work righteousness, to those whose hearts and wills are right towards Him and whose lives reveal it in obedience to His covenant. But he admits that those on whose behalf he prays are not like this. They are those who are aware that God has been wrathful with them, and yet they still continue to sin. They are therefore wilful sinners, yes, deeply ingrained sinners. They have been sinning for a long time. Can they then indeed be saved? But worse is to come.

Isaiah 64:6

‘For we have all become like someone who is unclean,

And all our righteousnesses are as a polluted garment,

And we all fade as a leaf,

And our iniquities like the wind take us away.

There is no one who calls on your name,

Who stirs up himself to take hold of you,

For you have hid your face from us,

And have melted us by means of our iniquities.’

Linking himself with those for whom he prays he describes their total undeserving. ‘Unclean’ is the leper’s cry (Leviticus 13:45), thus they are to be seen as spiritual lepers. They are all like someone who is unclean, spiritually untouchable, their righteousnesses, their behaviour, which they themselves consider to be good, are in reality ‘like a polluted garment’, that is, like a garment rendered unclean by menstruation (the idea behind the Hebrew), something to be avoided with horror (which is how such garments were then seen).

This sense of uncleanness was something he understood very well, for when he had seen the glory of Yahweh in the Temple he had seen himself as totally morally unclean (Isaiah 6:5). He is not thus describing a ritual state, even though he is using such as an illustration, but speaking of a genuine spiritual and moral uncleanness in the sight of God from which men would withdraw with loathing. It refers to something that is within men, and which affects how they are seen outwardly, a moral pollution. Their righteousnesses, all their efforts to please God, are but like leprosy and like clothes which are polluted and fit only to be cast off and burned.

‘And we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities like the wind take us away.’ The dried up leaf is the result of the lack of sustenance, the lack of what is good, because contact with the source of its life has been blocked. Thus these people have become spiritually and morally withered because they lack the flow of goodness from the source, from God. And as the wind takes such leaves away, so do their iniquities, the sins that are part of their very nature, carry them away too.

‘There is no one who calls on your name, who stirs up himself to take hold of you.’ Furthermore they all are so deep in sin that they do not even call on Yahweh’s name, they make no real effort to attract His interest in prayer. So not one of them has any real desire to attract God’s attention.

‘For you have hid your face from us, and have melted us by means of our iniquities.’ And the reason is because God has hid His face from them. There is no stirring within them. They are spiritually dead. Indeed their sins mean that whenever there is a suggestion of God’s approach they recoil from Him, He has made them to melt away from before Him, and this is in a sense God’s doing because of what He essentially is.

So Isaiah pulls no punches. He is quite frank and plain about those for whom he prays. Spirituality is almost non-existent among them. The people are dead to God and to morality. If the people of Edom deserved God’s judgment, how much more these men of Jacob. Can there then be any hope for them?


Verses 8-12

Isaiah Pleads For Yahweh To Exercise His Sovereignty On Their Behalf (Isaiah 64:8-12).

Isaiah 64:8

‘But now O Yahweh, you are our father,

We are the clay and you are the potter,

And we are all the work of your hand.’

Here lies Isaiah’s hope. That Yahweh has proclaimed Himself their Father (see on Isaiah 63:16). He has set His choice on them (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). And while they are but clay He is the Potter. Thus He can shape them into what He will. The declaration of the sovereignty of God is absolute. He knows that it is within Him to make them what He will. The difference between Edom and Jacob is not that Jacob is a little better than Edom, but that Jacob is loved and chosen and Esau (Edom) is not (Malachi 1:2-3). This is why Isaiah believes that Yahweh can yet step in and save. The materials on which He has to work may be impossible. But Yahweh is the God of the impossible, and he is confident that He can and will save them.

Isaiah 64:9

‘Do not be not very sorely angry, O Yahweh,

Nor remember iniquity for ever,

Behold, look, we beg you,

We are all your people.

Having stated his case that all is dependent on the graciousness of Yahweh Isaiah now pleads for Yahweh to act. Let Him assuage His anger, let Him forget their iniquity, let Him remember that they are the people whom He has chosen. Let Him look on them and show mercy towards them. Otherwise they have no hope. Was this not why the Servant died, that He might make deliverance and salvation available to such as these? In this lies their hope. They are all His nominal people. But if they are to experience His salvation that must become actual and real. So Isaiah prays for the theory to become the fact. ‘All the people’ is the longing of his heart, for he knows from what he has already been told that not all will respond.

Isaiah 64:10

‘Your holy cities have become a wilderness,

Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.

Our holy and our beautiful house,

Where our fathers praised you,

Is burned with fire,

And all our pleasant things are laid waste.

Will you refrain yourself for these things, O Yahweh?

Will you hold your peace and afflict us very sorely?’

Sitting in the loneliness of his room, remembering the Bloodstained One (Isaiah 63:1-6), fearing the doom of Edom for his people, and grieving over and praying for their sins, the ancient Isaiah is making his desperate plea. Will God have mercy? But he knows that it cannot be until Babylon’s interruption promised in Isaiah 39:6-7 has occurred, and he sees it ahead as though it were already there. Babylon must be allowed further say before Zion prevails. The perfect tenses indicate certainty of completion not the time when the events will occur.

The holy cities of Judah will become a desolation, it is as certain as though it had happened. (All the cities are holy because this is all God’s land). Zion will become a wilderness. Jerusalem will become a desolation. The Temple, their holy and beautiful house of Yahweh, where their fathers had praised Yahweh, will be burned with fire. All that is theirs that is most pleasant will be laid waste by the northern predators. He knows this must be because God had said so (Isaiah 39:6-7; Isaiah 43:28), and he accepts it. But the question is, will this mean their end as it had meant Edom’s end? Will He refrain from helping them in these dreadful circumstances. Will He say and do nothing and let them be afflicted by His will? Will the Bloodstained One tread them in the winepress? Or will God have mercy and save? That is his question. Is there hope?

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 64:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-64.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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