Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.LXIII.
(1) Who is this that cometh from Edom? . . .—There is no apparent connection between Isaiah 63:1-6 and what precedes and follows. They must be dealt with, accordingly, as a separate section, though not, as some critics have suggested, by a different writer. To understand its relation to the prophet’s mind, we must remember the part which Edom had taken during the history of which Isaiah was cognisant, perhaps also that which he foresaw they would take in the period that was to follow. That part had been one of persistent hostility. They had been allied with the Tyrians against Judah, and had been guilty of ruthless atrocities (Amos 1:9-11). They had carried off Jewish prisoners as slaves (Obadiah 1:10-11). They had been allies of the Assyrian invaders (Psalm 83:6), and had smitten Judah in the days of Ahaz (2Chronicles 28:17). If we think of the prophet as seeing in spirit the working of the old enmity at a later period, we may extend the induction to their exultation at the capture of Jerusalem (Psalm 137:7; Lamentations 4:21). The memory of these things sank deep into the nation, and the first words of the last of the prophets echo the old hatred (Malachi 1:2-4). In the later days of Judaism, where Rabbis uttered their curses against their oppressors, Edom was substituted for Rome, as St. John substitutes Babylon (Revelation 18:2). Isaiah, possibly starting from the memory of some recent outrages in the reign of Hezekiah, and taking Edom as the representative of all the nearer hereditary enemies of Israel, into an ecstacy of jubilation, and sees the conquering king returning from his work of vengeance. The form is that of a warrior coming from the Idumsean Bozrah (as distinct from that in the Haurân, Jeremiah 48:24) in bright-red garments. And the colour (as in Revelation 19:13) is not that of the scarlet dress worn by soldiers (Nahum 2:3), but that of blood just shed.
Travelling.—The Hebrew verb (bending, or tossing the head) indicates the movement and gestures of a conqueror exulting in his victory.
I that speak . . .—The hero-avenger, the righteous king who represents Jehovah, hears the wondering question, and makes answer for himself. “Righteousness” and “salvation,” which he claims as his attributes, show that he is none other than the ideal Servant of the Lord of Hosts, sharing His attributes.
Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat?(2) Wherefore art thou red . . .?—The wondering question shows that the colour is not that of the warrior’s usual dress. The Hebrew word for “red” (ādom) connects itself with Edom (comp. Genesis 25:30), as batsir (“vintage”) probably with Bozrah.
I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment.(3) I have trodden the winepress alone . . .—The “winepress” is here, as elsewhere (Joel 3:13; Lamentations 1:15; Revelation 14:18-20), the received symbol of the carnage of battle. What the hero-conqueror asserts is that the battle was fought by him single-handed. He had no human allies, but God was with him. A slight change in the vowel-points, adopted by some interpreters, turns the verbs into futures: “I will tread . . . will trample, . . .” as in the second clause of the Authorised Version. It is better, perhaps to take the latter verb also as in the past. The work of slaughter is clearly thought of as accomplished before the warrior is seen.
For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come.(4) The day of vengeance is.—Better, in both clauses, was, as pointing to the motive of the action, of which the blood-stained garments were the result.
The year of my redeemed . . .—Better, the year of my redemption, scil., the work of redeeming my people.
And I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; and my fury, it upheld me.(5) I looked . . .—As in Isaiah 1:2, the absolute isolation of the avenger and redeemer is emphasised again and again. Nothing but his own indomitable and righteous zeal against evil had sustained him.
And I will tread down the people in mine anger, and make them drunk in my fury, and I will bring down their strength to the earth.(6) I will tread down . . .—Better, I trod; and so throughout the verse.
Make them drunk, implies a change of imagery from that of the battle to that of the cup of wrath, as in Isaiah 51:17, Psalm 75:8, Jeremiah 25:15. The section which thus closes has often been applied (as, e.g., in the Prayer-Book Epistle for the Monday before Easter) to the passion of our Lord. In that agony and death it has been said He was alone, and none was with Him. He trod the winepress of the wrath of God. It is obvious, however, that this, though we may legitimately apply some of Isaiah’s phrases to it, is not an interpretation of this passage, which paints a victory, and not a passion. The true analogue in the New Testament is that of the victory of the triumphant Christ in Revelation 19:11-13; but it may be conceded that, from one point of view, the agony and the cross were themselves a conflict with the powers of evil (John 12:31-32; Colossians 2:15), and that as He came out of that conflict as a conqueror, the words in which Isaiah paints the victor over Edom may, though in a much remoter analogy, be applicable to Him in that conflict also.
I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the LORD, and the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses.(7) I will mention . . .—The words begin an entirely new section, of the nature of a psalm of thanksgiving for redemption (Isaiah 63:16). Possibly, in the arrangement of the book it was thought that such a psalm followed rightly on the great dramatic dialogue which represented the victory of the Redeemer. The psalm begins, according to the implied rule of Psalm 50:23, with praise, and passes afterward to narrative and supplication.
For he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie: so he was their Saviour.(8) For he said . . .—The words throw us back to the starting-point of God’s covenant with His people, based, so to speak, on the assumption that they would not fail utterly in the fulfilment of their promises. (Comp. Exodus 19:3-6.)
In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.(9) In all their affliction . . .—Literally, there was affliction to Him. So taken, the words speak of a compassion like that of Judges 10:16. The Hebrew text gives, In all their affliction there was no affliction: i.e., it was as nothing compared with the salvation which came from Jehovah. The Authorised Version follows the Kĕri, or marginal reading of the Hebrew. It may be inferred, from the strange rendering of both clauses in the LXX. (“neither a messenger, nor an angel, but He himself saved them “), that the variation in the text existed at an early date, and was a source of perplexity, and therefore of conjectural emendation.
The angel of his presence . . .—Literally, the angel of His face. As in Exodus 23:20-23; Exodus 32:34; Exodus 33:2, so here, Jehovah is thought of as working out His purpose of deliverance for Israel through the mediation of an angel, who is thus described either as revealing the highest attributes of God, of which the “face” is the anthropomorphic symbol, or as standing ever in the immediate presence of the King of kings, ready for any mission.
But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them.(10) Vexed his holy Spirit . . .—Literally, his Spirit of holiness. So St. Paul speaks of Christians as “grieving the Holy Spirit.” Here, and in Psalm 51:11, as in the “Angel of the Presence,” we may note a foreshadowing of the truth of the trinal personality of the unity of the Godhead, which was afterwards to be revealed. That which “vexed” the Holy Spirit was, in the nature of the case, the unholiness of the people, and this involved a change in the manifestation of the Divine Love, which was now compelled to show itself as wrath.
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 of his flock? where is he that put his holy Spirit within him?(11) Then he remembered . . .—The readings vary, and the construction is difficult. Probably, the best rendering is, His people remembered the ancient days of Moses. In any case, it is Israel that remembers, and by that act repents. (Comp. the tone and thoughts of Psalms 77, 78, 105, 106)
With the shepherd . . .—Many MSS., as in the margin, give the plural, “shepherds,” probably as including Aaron and Miriam as among the leaders and deliverers of the people. (Comp. Psalm 77:20; Micah 6:4.)
Within him.—Not Moses only, but Israel collectively. Note the many instances of the gift of the Spirit, to Bezaleel (Exodus 35:31), to the Seventy Elders (Numbers 11:25), to Joshua (Deuteronomy 34:9). (Comp. Nehemiah 9:20.)
That led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make himself an everlasting name?(12) With his glorious arm.—Literally, with the arm of His glory, or majesty. This, the arm of the Unseen Guide, is thought of as accompanying the leader of Israel, ready to grasp his hand and support him in time of need.
That led them through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble?(13, 14) That led them . . .—Each comparison is singularly appropriate. Israel passes through the sea as a horse through the wide grassy plain (not the sandy desert, as “wilderness” suggests). Then, when its wanderings are over, it passes into Canaan, as a herd of cattle descends from the hills into the rich pasturage of the valleys, that guidance also coming from the Spirit of Jehovah.
Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and of thy glory: where is thy zeal and thy strength, the sounding of thy bowels and of thy mercies toward me? are they restrained?(15) Look down from heaven . . .—The form of the prayer reminds us of 2Chronicles 6:21. Perhaps there is a latent remonstrance, as though Jehovah, like an Eastern king, had withdrawn to the recesses of His palace, and had ceased to manifest His care and pity for His people, as He had done of old.
The sounding of thy bowels.—See Note on Isaiah 16:11. The words jar upon modern ears, but were to the Hebrew what “the sighs of thy heart” would be to us.
Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O LORD, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting.(16) Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham . . .—Better, For Abraham is ignorant of us. The passage is striking as being an anticipation of the New Testament thought, that the Fatherhood of, God rests on something else than hereditary descent, and extends not to a single nation only, but to all mankind. Abraham might disclaim his degenerate descendants, but Jehovah would still recognise them. Implicitly, at least, the words contain the truth that “God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matthew 3:9). He is still their Redeemer. The words may possibly imply the thought that, as in the case of Jeremiah (2 Maccabees 15:13-14), and Rachel (Jeremiah 31:15), Abraham was thought of as watching over his posterity, and interceding for them. So, eventually, Abraham appears in the popular belief of Israel, as welcoming his children in the unseen world (Luke 16:22).
O LORD, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear? Return for thy servants' sake, the tribes of thine inheritance.(17) Why hast thou made us to err . . .—The prophet identifies himself with his people, and speaks as in their name. Have their sins led God to abandon them, and to harden their hearts as He hardened Pharaoh’s? (Comp. Romans 9:17-22.) Are they given over as to a reprobate mind? Against that thought he finds refuge, where only men can find it, in prayer, and in pleading God’s promise and the “election of grace,” to which He at least remains faithful, though men are faithless. Conscious that they have no power without Him to return to Him, they can ask Him to return to them.
The people of thy holiness have possessed it but a little while: our adversaries have trodden down thy sanctuary.(18) The people of thy holiness . . .—Better, For a little while have they possessed thy sanctuary, or, with a various reading, thy holy mountain. The plea is addressed to Jehovah, on the ground of His promise that the inheritance was to be an everlasting one. Compared with that promise, the period of possession, from Joshua and David to the fall of the monarchy, was but as a “little while.” (Comp. Psalm 90:4.) The seeming failure of the promise was aggravated by the fact that the enemies of Israel had trodden down the sanctuary.
We are thine: thou never barest rule over them; they were not called by thy name.(19) We are thine . . .—Thine, as the italics show, is not in the Hebrew, and its insertion distorts the meaning. Better, We are become as those over whom Thou hast never ruled, upon whom Thy name hath never been called (Cheyne). What the prophet presents as a plea is not the contrast between Israel and the heathen, but the fact that Israel has been left to sink to the level of the heathen who had not known God. Would not that thought move Jehovah, as it were, to remember this covenant?