Isaiah 64:6
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(6) We are all as an unclean thing . . .—Better, as he who is unclean, scil., like the leper of Leviticus 13:45.

Filthy rags point to that which to the Israelite was the other extremest form of ceremonial uncleanness, as in Ezekiel 36:17.

Have taken us awayscil., afar off from the light and favour of Jehovah.

Isaiah 64:6-7. We are all as an unclean thing — Or, unclean person, as שׂמאequally 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 7:2-4. 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 Psalm 143:2; Romans 3:19-20; 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.64:6-12 The people of God, in affliction, confess and bewail their sins, owning themselves unworthy of his mercy. Sin is that abominable thing which the Lord hates. Our deeds, whatever they may seem to be, if we think to merit by them at God's hand, are as rags, and will not cover us; filthy rags, and will but defile us. Even our few good works in which there is real excellence, as fruits of the Spirit, are so defective and defiled as done by us, that they need to be washed in the fountain open for sin and uncleanness. It bodes ill when prayer is kept back. To pray, is by faith to take hold of the promises the Lord has made of his good-will to us, and to plead them; to take hold of him, earnestly begging him not to leave us; or soliciting his return. They brought their troubles upon themselves by their own folly. Sinners are blasted, and then carried away, by the wind of their own iniquity; it withers and then ruins them. When they made themselves as an unclean thing, no wonder that God loathed them. Foolish and careless as we are, poor and despised, yet still Thou art our Father. It is the wrath of a Father we are under, who will be reconciled; and the relief our case requires is expected only from him. They refer themselves to God. They do not say, Lord, rebuke us not, for that may be necessary; but, Not in thy displeasure. They state their lamentable condition. See what ruin sin brings upon a people; and an outward profession of holiness will be no defence against it. God's people presume not to tell him what he shall say, but their prayer is, Speak for the comfort and relief of thy people. How few call upon the Lord with their whole hearts, or stir themselves to lay hold upon him! God may delay for a time to answer our prayers, but he will, in the end, answer those who call on his name and hope in his mercy.But we are all as an unclean thing - We are all polluted and defiled. The word used here (טמא ṭâmē'), means properly that which is polluted and defiled in a Levitical sense; that is, which was regarded as polluted and abominable by the law of Moses Leviticus 5:2; Deuteronomy 14:19, and may refer to animals, people, or things; also in a moral sense Job 14:4. The sense is, that they regarded themselves as wholly polluted and depraved.

And all our righteousnesses - The plural form is used to denote the deeds which they had performed - meaning that pollution extended to every individual thing of the numerous acts which they had done. The sense is, that all their prayers, sacrifices, alms, praises, were mingled with pollution, and were worthy only of deep detestation and abhorrence.

As filthy rags - 'Like a garment of stated times' (עדים ‛iddiym) - from the obsolete root עדד ‛âdad, "to number, to reckon, to determine," e. g., time. No language could convey deeper abhorrenee of their deeds of righteousness than this reference - as it is undoubtedly - to the vestis menstruis polluta. 'Non est ambigendum,' says Vitringa, 'quin vestis עדים ‛iddiym notet linteum aut pannum immundum ex immunditie legali, eundemque foedum aspectu; cu-jusmodi fuerit imprimis vestis, pannus, aut linteum feminae menstruo profluvio laborantis; verisimile est, id potissimum hae phrasi designari. Sic accepit earr Alexandrinus, vertens, ὡς ῥάκος ἀποκαθη μένης hōs rakos apokathē menēs - ut pannus sedentis; proprie: ut pannus mulieris languidae et desidentis ex menstruo παθήματι pathēmati ' (Leviticus 15:33; compare Leviticus 20:18; Lamentations 1:17).

And we all do fade as a leaf - We are all withered away like the leaf of autumn. Our beauty is gone; our strength is fled (compare the notes at Isaiah 40:6-7; Isaiah 50:1-11 :30). What a beautiful description this is of the state of man! Strength, vigor, comeliness, and beauty thus fade away, and, like the 'sere and yellow leaf' of autumn, fall to the earth. The earth is thus strewed with that which was once comely like the leaves of spring, now falling and decaying like the faded verdure of the forest.

And our iniquities like the wind - As a tempest sweeps away the leaves of the forest, so have we been swept away by our sins.

6. unclean thing—legally unclean, as a leper. True of Israel, everywhere now cut off by unbelief and by God's judgments from the congregation of the saints.

righteousness—plural, "uncleanness" extended to every particular act of theirs, even to their prayers and praises. True of the best doings of the unregenerate (Php 3:6-8; Tit 1:15; Heb 11:6).

filthy rags—literally, a "menstruous rag" (Le 15:33; 20:18; La 1:17).

fade … leaf—(Ps 90:5, 6).

We are all as an unclean thing: he alludes either to things unclean under the ceremonial law, wherein the leprosy was found, and was to be burnt, Leviticus 13:55; or rather to persons unclean. They compare their present state with the former: q.d. Formerly there were some that feared thee, and walked uprightly before thee, and were in thy favour; but now we are all as one polluted mass, nothing of good left in us, by reason of a universal degeneracy, Isaiah 1:4,6.

Our righteousnesses: this, according to the most commentators, refers either to the observances of the rites and ceremonies of the law, wherein they thought their righteousnesses did much consist; or to the best work and actions that can be performed by us; or to our natural, universal depravities: but the best interpreters, and such aim at the peculiar sense of the place, refer it to the gross provocations that this people were guilty of, causing God to cast them out of their habitations; or else to their persons, i.e. the most righteous among us; and being plural, it raiseth it up to the highest degree, the Scripture frequently putting the abstract for the concrete, as wisdoms for the greatest wisdom, Proverbs 9:1, and many the like instances formerly given; so that the meaning is, the very best of us all are no better than the uncleanest things or persons; see Micah 7:2-4; and the rather, because he lived about the time of Isaiah.

As filthy rags; a cloth made up of patches, or such as come from a putrid sore, or defiled with the menstruous blood of a woman; the LXX., as a rag of one that sits down, possibly alluding to Rachel, Genesis 31:34,35, or whatever may be most filthy.

As a leaf blown off the tree, and so withers.

Taken us away; carried us away to Babylon from our habitations, as leaves hurried away by a boisterous wind; our iniquities have been the procuring cause. But we are all as an unclean thing,.... Or "we have been" (t); so all men are in a state of nature: man was made pure and holy, but by sinning became impure; and this impurity is propagated by natural generation, and belongs to all, none are free from it; and there is no cleansing from it but by the grace of God and blood of Christ: all are not sensible of it; some are, as the church here was, and owns it, and the universality of it, and compares herself and members to an "unclean thing", on account of it; so men, defiled with sin, are compared to unclean creatures, dogs, and swine, and to unclean persons; to such as are covered with loathsome diseases, and particularly to leprous persons, and who may be chiefly intended here; they being defiled and defiling, loathsome and abominable, their disease spreading and continuing, and incurable by physicians; hence they were separated from the company of men; and the words may be rendered, "as an unclean person" (u), as such were by the law: or we are, in our own sense and apprehension of things; and this may respect not only the impurity of nature, but a general corruption in doctrine and manners among the professors of religion; such as was in the Jewish church about the time of Christ's coming.

And all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; which is to be understood not of the righteousness of some persons in the church, which lay in outward rites, ceremonies, and sacrifices, which were no righteousness before God, and could not take away sin; and were indeed on many accounts, as they were performed, loathsome and abominable; see Isaiah 1:11, or of others that lay in outward legal duties and works of the law, which were not done from right principles, as well as not perfect; and so, because of the impurity, imperfection, pride, and vanity, that appeared in them, were abominable to the Lord: but of the righteousnesses of the church herself; not of the righteousness of Christ, which was made hers by imputation; for this is not rags, but a robe, the best robe, and wedding garment; much less filthy, but pure and spotless, beautiful and glorious, as well as a proper covering; but then, though this is the church's, and all true believers', by gift, by imputation and application, yet its is properly Christ's and is in him, and is opposed to their own righteousness; which is what is intended here, even the best of it; such works of righteousness as are done by them in the best manner; they are "rags", not whole, but imperfect, not fit to appear in before God, and by which they cannot be justified in his sight; they are "filthy" ones, being attended with imperfection and sin; and these conversation garments need continual washing in the blood of Jesus; this is the language not of a natural man, or of a Pharisee, but of a sensible sinner, a truly gracious soul. The words may be rendered, "as a menstruous cloth" (w), as some; or "as a garment of spoil or prey" (x), as Aben Ezra, rolled in blood, either in war, or by a beast of prey; or as a foul plaster or cloth taken off a sore, with purulent matter on it (y), as others; or any other impure and nauseous thing. Hottinger (z) thinks the word has some affinity with the Arabic which signifies "running water", such as the water of a fountain or well; so that the sense may be, that the church's righteousness was like a cloth, so polluted and spotted that it could not be washed out clean but with clear and running water; and, in every sense in which it may be taken, it serves to set forth the impurity and imperfection of the best righteousness of men, and to show that their works are not the cause of salvation, the church had an assurance of in the preceding verse:

and we all do fade as a leaf; or "fall" (a) as one; as leaves in autumn: this is to be understood of a great part, and perhaps of the greater part, of the visible members of the church; not of true believers and real members, for these are rooted in the love of God, and in Christ, and have the root of the matter in them, the true grace of God; and therefore, though they meet with many blustering storms, yet do not cast their leaf of profession; indeed there may be, as there often are, decays and declensions in them; but rather this is to be interpreted of carnal professors, with which, at this time, the church abounded, who had no true grace in them; and so dropped their profession, and became like trees whose fruit withered, were without fruit; or like trees, in the fall of the year, which are without fruit, and shed their leaves, Jde 1:12,

and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away; as a leaf falling from the tree is carried away with the wind, which it is not able to withstand; so formal and carnal professors are carried away, through their sins, with the wind of persecution, and apostatize: or rather for their sins the Jews were carried captive, as before, to Babylon; so now by the Romans into various countries, where they are dispersed at this day; to which this passage may have some respect. "Iniquities" are put for the punishment of them; so the Targum,

"and, because of our sins, as the wind we are taken away.''

(t) "fuimus", V. L. Montanus. (u) "ut immundus", V. L. Montanus, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator; "tanquam impuruss", Cocceius, Vitringa, (w) "ut vestimentum menstruatum, sive menstruatae", Drusius; a "removit", so V. L. Syr. and Ar. "ut vestis remotionum", Cocceius. (x) "Vestes praedae", Forerius; a "praeda", Genesis 49.27. (y) Pittacium, Grotius. So Kimchi, whose interpretation and sense of the word is preferred by Gussetius, Ebr. Comment. p. 581. (z) Smegma Orientale, I. 1. c. 7. p. 181. (a) "et decidimus", V. L. So Ben Melech interprets it of falling.

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our {h} righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

(h) We are justly punished and brought into captivity, because we have provoked you to anger, and though we would excuse ourselves, yet our righteousness, and best virtues are before you as vile cloths, or (as some read) like the menstruous cloths of a woman.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
6. And we are all become as one unclean—in a ceremonial sense, like the leper.

and all our righteousnesses &c.] our righteous deeds,—our best efforts after the fulfilment of the divine will, are stained and rendered ineffective by our general sinful condition.

as filthy rags] as a polluted garment.

our iniquities, like the wind, &c.] cf. ch. Isaiah 57:13; Job 27:21; Job 30:22. The image is here that of the leaf, already sere and faded, swept from the tree by the winter blast: so our iniquities hurry us away to destruction.

6, 7. A pathetic description of the degeneracy and spiritual lethargy of the people, caused by the divine wrath.Verse 6. - But we are all as an unclean thing; rather, we are all become as one who is unclean (comp. Isaiah 35:8; Isaiah 52:1). A moral leprosy is upon us. We are like the leprous man, who has to rend his clothes, and to go about crying "Tame! tame!" "Unclean: unclean!" that those who hear may get out of his way. All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; or, as a menstruous garment (see Lamentations 1:17). In the best deeds of the best men there is some taint of evil. As Hooker says, "Our very repentances require to be repented of." We all do fade as a leaf (comp. Isaiah 1:30, "Ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth;" see also Isaiah 34:4). Our iniquities... have taken as away; or, carried us away; i.e. taken us far from God, carried us into a region where God is not, or where at any rate "his presence is not felt" (Cheyne). But the existing condition of Israel looks like a withdrawal of this grace; and it is impossible that these contrasts should cease, unless Jehovah comes down from heaven as the deliverer of His people. Isaiah 63:8, Isaiah 63:19 (Isaiah 64:1). "For a little time Thy holy people was in possession. Our adversaries have trodden down Thy sanctuary. We have become such as He who is from everlasting has not ruled over, upon whom Thy name was not called. O that Thou wouldst rend the heaven, come down, the mountains would shake before thy countenance." It is very natural to try whether yâreshū may not have tsârēnū for its subject (cf., Jeremiah 49:2); but all the attempts made to explain the words on this supposition, show that lammits‛âr is at variance with the idea that yâreshū refers to the foes. Compare, for example, Jerome's rendering "quasi nihilum (i.e., ad nihil et absque allo labore) possederunt populum sanctum tuum;" that of Cocceius, "propemodum ad haereditatem;" and that of Stier, "for a little they possess entirely Thy holy nation." Mits‛âr is the harsher form for miz‛âr, which the prophet uses in Isaiah 10:25; Isaiah 16:14; Isaiah 29:17 for a contemptibly small space of time; and as ל is commonly used to denote the time to which, towards which, within which, and through which, anything occurs (cf., 2 Chronicles 11:17; 2 Chronicles 29:17; Ewald, 217, d), lammits‛âr may signify for a (lit. the well-known) short time (per breve tempus; like εἰς ἐπ ̓κατ ̓ ἐνιαυτόν, a year long). If miqdâsh could mean the holy land, as Hitzig and others suppose, miqdâshekhâ might be the common object of both sentences (Ewald, 351, p. 838). But miqdash Jehovah (the sanctuary of Jehovah) is the place of His abode and worship; and "taking possession of the temple" is hardly an admissible expression. On the other hand, yârash hâ'ârets, to take possession of the (holy) land, is so common a phrase (e.g., Isaiah 60:21; Isaiah 65:9; Psalm 44:4), that with the words "Thy holy people possessed for a little (time)" we naturally supply the holy land as the object. The order of the words in the two clauses is chiastic. The two strikingly different subjects touch one another as the two inner members. Of the perfects, the first expresses the more remote past, the second the nearer past, as in Isaiah 60:10. The two clauses of the v. rhyme - the holiest thing in the possession of the people, which was holy according to the choice and calling of Jehovah, being brought into the greatest prominence; bōsēs equals πατεῖν, Luke 21:24; Revelation 11:2. Hahn's objection, that the time between the conquest of the land and the Chaldean catastrophe could not be called mits‛âr (a little while), may be answered, from the fact that a time which is long in itself shrinks up when looked back upon or recalled, and that as an actual fact from the time of David and Solomon, when Israel really rejoiced in the possession of the land, the coming catastrophe began to be foreboded by many significant preludes.

The lamentation in Isaiah 63:19 proceeds from the same feeling which caused the better portion of the past to vanish before the long continuance of the mournful present. Hitzig renders היינוּ "we were;" Hahn, "we shall be;" but here, where the speaker is not looking back, as in Isaiah 26:17, at a state of things which has come to an end, but rather at one which is still going on, it signifies "we have become." The passage is rendered correctly in S.: ἐγενήθημεν (or better, γεγόναμεν) ὡς ἀπ ̓αἰῶνος ὧν οὐκ ἐξουσίασας οὐδὲ ἐπικλήθη τὸ ὄνομά σου αὐτοῖς. The virtual predicate to hâyı̄nū commences with mē‛ōlâm: "we have become such (or like such persons) as," etc.; which would be fully expressed by אשׁר כּעם, or merely כּעשׁר, or without אשׁר, and simply by transposing the words, וגו משׁלתּ כּלא (cf., Obadiah 1:16): compare the virtual subject אהבו יהוה in Isaiah 48:14, and the virtual object בשׁמי יקרא in Isaiah 41:25 (Ewald, 333, b). Every form of "as if" is intentionally omitted. The relation in which Jehovah placed Himself to Israel, viz., as its King, and as to His own people called by His name, appears not only as though it had been dissolved, but as though it had never existed at all. The existing state of Israel is a complete practical denial of any such relation. Deeper tones than these no lamentation could possibly utter, and hence the immediate utterance of the sigh which goes up to heaven: "O that Thou wouldst rend heaven!" It is extremely awkward to begin a fresh chapter with כּקדח ("as when the melting fire burneth"); at the same time, the Masoretic division of the vv. is unassailable.

(Note: In the Hebrew Bibles, Isaiah 64:1-12 commences at the second v. of our version; and the first v. is attached to Isaiah 63:19 of the previous chapter. - Tr.)

For Isaiah 63:19 (Isaiah 64:1) could not be attached to Isaiah 64:1-2, since this v. would be immensely overladen; moreover, this sigh really belongs to Isaiah 63:19 (Isaiah 63:19), and ascends out of the depth of the lamentation uttered there. On utinam discideris equals discinderes, see at Isaiah 48:18. The wish presupposes that the gracious presence of God had been withdrawn from Israel, and that Israel felt itself to be separated from the world beyond by a thick party-wall, resembling an impenetrable black cloud. The closing member of the optative clause is generally rendered (utinam) a facie tua montes diffluerent (e.g., Rosenmller after the lxx τακήσονται), or more correctly, defluerent (Jerome), as nâzal means to flow down, not to melt. The meaning therefore would be, "O that they might flow down, as it were to the ground melting in the fire" (Hitzig). The form nâzollu cannot be directly derived from nâzal, if taken in this sense; for it is a pure fancy that nâzōllū may be a modification of the pausal נזלוּ with ō for ā, and the so-called dagesh affectuosum). Stier invents a verb med. o. נזל. The more probable supposition is, that it is a niphal formed from zâlāl equals nâzal (Ewald, 193, c). But zâlal signifies to hang down slack, to sway to and fro (hence zōlēl, lightly esteemed, and zalzallı̄m, Isaiah 18:5, pliable branches), like zūl in Isaiah 46:6, to shake, to pour down;

(Note: Just as the Greek has in addition to σαλ-εὐειν the much simpler and more root-like σεἰ-ειν; so the Semitic has, besides זל, the roots זא, זע: compare the Arabic סלסל, זאזע, זעזע, all three denoting restless motion.)

and nâzōllu, if derived from this, yields the appropriate sense concuterentur (compare the Arabic zalzala, which is commonly applied to an earthquake). The nearest niphal form would be נזלּוּ (or resolved, נזלוּ, Judges 5:5); but instead of the a of the second syllable, the niphal of the verbs ע has sometimes o, like the verb ע ו (e.g., נגלּוּ, Isaiah 34:4; Ges. 67, Anm. 5).

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