Isaiah 63
Pulpit Commentary
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.
Verses 1-6. - A JUDGMENT ON IDUMAEA. Isaiah had already, in the first portion of his prophecy, announced" a great slaughter in the land of Idumaea" as resolved on in the counsels of God (Isaiah 34:5-10). He now recurs to the subject, and represents Jehovah as a warrior with blood-stained garments, fresh from the field of battle in Edom, where he has trodden down his foes and taken a fierce vengeance on them. The Idumaeans probably represent the world-power; and the "day of vengeance" may be one still future, in which the enemies of God will feel the weight of his hand. The description stands by itself, neither connected with what goes before nor with what follows. It has the appearance of a separate poem, which accident has placed in its present position. In form it is "a lyrico-dramatic dialogue between the prophet as a bystander and a victorious warrior (i.e. Jehovah) returning from battle in Idumaea" (Cheyne). Verse 1. - Who is this? The prophet opens the dialogue with an inquiry, "Who is it that presents himself before him suddenly in a strange guise?" He comes from Edom, from Bozrah - a principal Edomite city (see the comment on Isaiah 34:6) - with dyed garments; or, rather, with blood-red garments-garments incarnadined with gore. "Who is this," again he asks, "that is glorious (or, splendid) in his apparel" - the blood-stained vesture of the conqueror was a glory to him (Nahum 2:3; Revelation 19:13)- "as he travels" (or, "bends forward" ) in the greatness of his strength - exhibiting in his movements a mighty indomitable strength? Who is it? The reply is immediate - I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save; i.e. I, whose every word is "holy, just, and true," who alone am able to "save to the uttermost all that come to me" (Hebrews 7:25). The answer unmistakably indicates that the figure which has appeared to the prophet is that of Jehovah.
Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat?
Verse 2. - Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel? The prophet resumes his questioning. What means the redness of thine apparel? Whence the stains? Are they wine-stains consequent on treading the winepress? Among the Hebrews, as among the Egyptians (Wilkinson, 'Ancient Egyptians,' vol. 1. p. 46), the juice of the grape was trodden out by the feet of men, who often splashed some upon their garments (Genesis 49:11).
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.
Verse 3. - I have trodden the wine-press. The warrior replies. He accepts the suggestion of the prophet; but metaphorically, not literally. He has indeed been "treading a wine-press," but it is the wine-press of his fury, in which he has trampled down his enemies; and the stains upon his raiment are, consequently, not wine-stains, but stains of blood (comp. Joel 3:13; Lamentations 1:15; Revelation 14:19, 20; Revelation 19:15). Alone. In mine own might, with none to aid me. The literal wine-press was always trodden by a band of men. Of the people; rather, of the peoples; i.e. of the neighbouring nations none took part with God against the special enemies of his people, the Idumaeans. All more or less sympathized with his adversaries, and therefore participated in their punishment (see ver. 6). For I will tread them... trample them; rather, so I trode them ... trampled them (Lowth, Rosenmuller, Delitzsch, Cheyne, by an alteration of the vowel-points). The whole is a prophecy of the future; but the dramatic form of the narrative requires that the verbs should be in the past. As "the peoples" would not help God, but took the side of his enemies, they too were placed in the winepress, and crushed under his feet. Their blood; literally, their juice. Lowth and Kay translate, "life-blood;" Delitzsch, "life-sap;" Mr. Cheyne, excellently, "life-stream." Shall be sprinkled... will stain; rather, was sprinkled... stained.
For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come.
Verse 4. - For the day of vengeance is in my heart. Translate, for a day of vengeance was in my heart (comp Isaiah 34:8; Isaiah 61:2). "A day" is time enough for God to take vengeance, to kill, and to destroy. He hastens over work that is necessary, but uncongenial. But he lengthens out the time of release and redemption for his loved ones. The "day of vengeance" ushers in the "year of redemption." Is come; rather, was come. The Divine speaker goes back to the time preceding the actual punishment of the nations.
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.
Verse 5. - And I looked, and there was none to help (comp. Isaiah 5:2, "He looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes:" also Isaiah 41:28, "I beheld, and there was no man"). By an anthropomorphism God is represented as looking for and expecting what might reasonably have been expected, and even as surprised when he does not find it (comp. Isaiah 59:16). Out of all the many nations it was reasonable to suppose that some would have chosen the better part and have been on the Lord's side. But the fact was otherwise (comp. ver. 3). Mine own arm brought salvation unto me; or, mine own arm helped me (comp. Isaiah 59:16). Nothing more is needed. If God arises, his enemies at once "are scattered" (Psalm 68:1). "His own right hand, and his holy arm, get him the victory" (Psalm 98:1).
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.
Verse 6. - I will tread down... make drunk ... bring down; rather, I trode down... made drunk... brought down. See the comment on ver. 3. The destruction was to be utter, overwhelming, absolute - one from which there could be no recovery (comp. Revelation 19:11-21, where the simile of the wine-press, and the "vesture dipped in blood," seem introduced with a special reference to this passage). SECTION X. ? AN ADDRESS OF THE EXILES TO GOD, INCLUDING THANKSGIVING, CONFESSION OF SIN, AND SUPPLICATION (CH. 63:7-64.).
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.
Verses 7-14. - GOD PRAISED FOR HIS MERCIES. The address opens with pure and simple thanksgiving of the most general kind, God being praised for his loving-kindness, compassion, and sympathy with his people (vers. 7-9). An historical survey is then commenced, and Israel's shortcomings contrasted with God's mercies, but with a predominantly thankful and even jubilant tone (vers. 10-14). Verse 7. - I will mention; or, celebrate. The loving-kindnesses; or, mercies (see Isaiah 55:3; and comp. Psalm 89:1).
For he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie: so he was their Saviour.
Verse 8. - He said, Surely they are my people. Israel was first recognized as "a people" in Egypt, when the creel Pharaoh, probably Sethos I., said, "The people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we "(Exodus 1:9). Soon afterwards God acknowledged them as "his people" (Exodus 3:7). The exiles probably go back in their thoughts to this time. Children that will not lie; or, deal falsely, as the same word is translated in Psalm 44:17. The meaning is, that surely they will be faithful to God, and not fall away from him into idolatry or irreligion.
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.
Verse 9. - In all their affliction he was afflicted. The "affliction" of Israel began in Egypt (Genesis 15:13), probably not long after the death of Joseph. It became an intense oppression, when the king "arose who knew not Joseph" (Exodus 1:8). God's sympathy with Israel's sufferings at this time is strongly marked in the narrative of Exodus (Exodus 2:23, 24; Exodus 3:7, 17). An alternative reading of the Hebrew text gives the sense, "In all their affliction he was not an adversary;" i.e. he did not afflict them for their hurt, but for their benefit. But the reading followed by our translators, and most moderns, is to be preferred. The angel of his presence saved them. "The angel of his presence" occurs nowhere but in this place. It is probably equivalent to "the angel of God" (Exodus 14:19; Judges 15:6; Acts 27:23), or "the angel of the Lord" (Genesis 16:7; Numbers 22:23; Judges 13:3, etc.), and designates either the Second Person of the Trinity, or the highest of the angelic company, who seems to be the archangel Michael (see Pussy's 'Daniel,' pp. 525, 526). (For the angelic interpositions which "saved" Israel, see Exodus 14:19; Judges 6:11-23; Judges 13:3-21; 2 Kings 19:35, etc.) In his love and in his pity he redeemed them. The "redemption" of this passage is probably that from the bondage of Egypt (Exodus 6:6; Exodus 15:13; Deuteronomy 7:8, etc.), which belonged to "the days of old" - not the spiritual redemption from the bondage of sin, which was reserved for the time of the Messiah. Having "redeemed" them, i.e. delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and thereby, as it were, purchased them to be his own, he bare them - "Carried them on eagles' wings" (Exodus 19:4), and brought them safely through the wilderness to Palestine (comp. Deuteronomy 32:10-12).
But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them.
Verse 10. - But they rebelled. The rebellions of Israel against God commenced in the wilderness. They rebelled at Sinai, when they set up the golden calf; at Meribah (Numbers 20:24); at Shittim, when they consorted with the daughters of Moab (Numbers 25:6). Under the Judges, their conduct was one long rebellion (Judges 2:11; Judges 3:7, 12; Judges 4:1; Judges 6:1; Judges 8:33; Judges 10:6; Judges 13:1). They rebelled in Samuel's time by asking for a king (1 Samuel 8:5, 19, 20). The ten tribes rebelled under Jeroboam, and set up the idolatry of the calves at Dan and Bethel. Worse idolatries followed, and in two centuries and a half had reached such a height, that God was provoked to "remove Israel out of his sight" (2 Kings 17:23). Judah remained, but "rebelled" under Manasseh, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah, "transgressing very much after all the abominations of the heathen, and polluting the very house of the Lord at Jerusalem" (2 Chronicles 36:14). These rebellions against God vexed his Holy Spirit - "provoked him," "grieved him," "moved the Holy One in Israel" (Psalm 78:40, 41; Psalm 106:43). Therefore he was turned to be their enemy (comp. Jeremiah 30:14; Lamentations 2:4, 5). Judah had "filled up the measure of her iniquities," had gone on "until there was no remedy" (2 Chronicles 36:16). God's indignation was therefore poured out upon her without let or stint. "He cut oft' in his fierce anger all the horn of Israel: he drew back his right hand from before the enemy; he burned against Jacob like a flaming fire, which devoureth round about. He bent his bow like an enemy; he stood with his right hand as an adversary, and slew all that were pleasant in the tabernacle of the daughter of Zion; he poured out his fury like fire. The Lord was as an enemy" (Lamentations 2:3-5). He fought against them; rather, he himself fought against them. God himself, though they were "his people," yet fought against them and for the Chaldeans in that final struggle. He "gave the city into the hand of the King of Babylon" (Jeremiah 34:2).
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?
Verse 11. - Then he remembered the days of old. It is questioned who remembered, God or his people. Gesenius, Hitzig, Ewald, Nagelbach, Delitzsch, Knobel, and Mr. Cheyne are in favour of the people; Bishop Lowth and Dr. Kay of God. The reflections which follow (vers. 11-13) seem certainly most appropriate to the people, or to the prophet speaking in their name. Where is he that brought them up out of the sea? i.e. "the Red Sea" (comp. Isaiah 51:10). What has become of the protecting God who then delivered them? With the shepherd of his flock; or, shepherds, according to another reading. The "shepherd" might be either Moses, or "the angel of his face" (ver. 9). The "shepherds" - if that reading be preferred - must be Moses, Aaron, and perhaps Miriam (Micah 6:4). Where he that put his Holy Spirit within him? The "him" of this passage undoubtedly refers to "the people" (Rosenmuller, Knobel, Delitzsch, Kay, Cheyne). God gave to the people in the wilderness "his good Spirit to instruct them" (Nehemiah 9:20), and guide them (Haggai 2:4, 5), and govern them (Numbers 11:17).
That led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make himself an everlasting name?
Verse 12. - That led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm; rather, that caused his glorious arm to attend at Moses right hand - ready (as Dr. Weir says) to grasp him if he should stumble. Dividing the water before them; literally, cleaving the waters before their face (comp. Exodus 14:21). To make himself an everlasting name (see Exodus 15:11-16). It was one of the main purposes of the entire series of miracles wrought in Egypt, "that God's Name might be declared throughout all the earth" (Exodus 9:16).
That led them through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble?
As a beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the LORD caused him to rest: so didst thou lead thy people, to make thyself a glorious name.
Verse 14. - As a beast goeth down into the valley. Bishop Lowth's version seems the best," As the herd descendeth to the valley." Israel's passage through the Sinaitic peninsula into Canaan is compared to the movement of a herd of cattle from its summer pastures in the mountains to the valley at their base, where for a time it rests. So God gave his people, after their many trials, "rest" in Canaan (Hebrews 3:11-18). So didst thou lead thy people. "So" refers, not to the last simile only, but to the entire description contained in vers. 11-14. To make thyself a glorious name (comp. ver. 12, and see also Ezekiel 36:21-23; Malachi 1:2).
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?
Verses 15-19. - A PRAYER FOR DELIVERANCE FROM SIN AND SUFFERING. From thanksgiving and confession, the people betake themselves to prayer, and beseech God to look down from heaven once more, to have compassion on them, to acknowledge them, and to save them alike from themselves (ver. 17) and from their adversaries (vers. 18, 19). "It is difficult to overrate the spiritual beauty of the prayer contained in this passage. We may admit that the most prominent motive urged by the speaker has a nationalistic air; but behind this, and strengthening it, is a sense of the infiniteness of the Divine mercy, and of the strong vitality of the union between Jehovah and his people" (Cheyne). Verse 15. - Look down from heaven (comp. Deuteronomy 26:15; Psalm 80:14; 2 Kings 8:30). "The Lord's seat" was "in heaven." While the temple lay in ruins, the Jews would naturally address their prayers to God in his heavenly abode. From the habitation of thy holiness. Mr. Cheyne translates, from the height of thy holiness," taking the meaning of the rare word z'bul from the Assyrian. "Height" certainly suits well most of the other places where the word z'bul occurs (1 Kings 8:13; 2 Chronicles 6:2; Psalm 49:14; Habakkuk 3:11). Where is thy zeal? i.e. What has become of it? Has it ceased altogether, or is it only in abeyance for a time? Will not God "stir it up" once more (Isaiah 42:13)? And thy strength; rather, and thy great acts (comp. Psalm 106:2; Psalm 145:4; Psalm 150:2). The sounding of thy bowels; i.e. their thrilling or vibration - an indication of sympathy (see Isaiah 16:11). Jeremiah has a similar expression (Jeremiah 31:20). Are they restrained? rather, they are restrained. They no longer show themselves. There was no room for questioning the fact.
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.
Verse 16. - Doubtless thou art our Father; rather, for thou art our Father. This is the ground of their appeal to God. As their Father, he must love them, and must be ready to listen to them. Abraham and Isaac, their earthly fathers, were of no service, lent them no aid, seemed to have ceased to feel any interest in them. It cannot be justly argued from this that the Jews looked to Abraham and Isaac as actual "patron saints," or directed towards them their religious regards. Had this been so, there would have been abundant evidence of it. Thou, O Lord, art our Father (comp. Isaiah 64:8; and see also Deuteronomy 32:6, and Jeremiah 3:4). Though the relationship was revealed under the old covenant, it was practically realized only upon the rarest occasions. Our Redeemer; thy name, etc.; rather, our Redeemer has been thy name from of old. "Redeemer" first appears as a name of God in Job (Job 19:25) and in the Psalms (Psalm 19:14; Psalm 78:35). It is an epitheton usitatum only in the later portion of Isaiah. There it occurs thirteen times.
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.
Verse 17. - Why hast thou made us to err from thy ways? Confession is here mingled with a kind of reproach. They have erred and strayed from God's ways, they ' allow; but why has he permitted it? Why has he, the shepherd of his flock (Isaiah 40:11; Isaiah 49:10), not restrained his wandering sheep, and kept them in his "ways "or "paths" ? The reproach borders on irreverence, but is kept within the limits of piety by the affection and trust that underlie it. They are like wayward children reproaching a tender mother, not quite believing in the justice of their reproaches, but with a very confident faith in her love and in her power to aid. They entertain no doubt but that God will "return" to them, and acknowledge them as his sheep, and resume their guidance and direction. And hardened our heart (comp. Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:3; Exodus 9:12; Exodus 10:1), "When men have scornfully and obstinately rejected the grace of God, God withdraws it from them judicially, gives them up to their wanderings, and makes their hearts incapable of faith" (Delitzsch). If the process has not gone very far, God may relent, and "return," and soften the proud heart, and renew in it "his fear." This is what Israel now entreats him to do. For thy servants'sake. There was always "a remnant" in the worst times, which had not" bowed the knee to Baal." This was God's true "inheritance," which he might be expected to protect and aid.
The people of thy holiness have possessed it but a little while: our adversaries have trodden down thy sanctuary.
Verse 18. - The people of thy holiness; or, thy holy people (comp. Isaiah 62:9; Isaiah 63:15: 64:11). Some critics read har, "mountain," instead of ' am, "people," and translate, "But for a little while have they" (i.e. thy servants) "had possession of thy holy mountain." The general meaning is the same in either case. "Israel, God's people, has held Palestine but for a little while" - a few centuries - and now the heathen have been allowed to make themselves masters of it, (comp. Ezra 10:8).
We are thine: thou never barest rule over them; they were not called by thy name.
Verse 19. - We are thine. There is no "thine" in the original, and so important a word cannot possibly be supplied from without. Translate, We are as those over whom thou hast not ruled from of old, as those upon whom thy Name has not been called; i.e. we have lost all our privileges - we have become in God's sight no better than the heathen - he has forgotten that we were ever his people.

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