Isaiah 64
Pulpit Commentary
Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence,
Verses 1-12. - ISRAEL'S PRAYER CONTINUED AND CONCLUDED. Not content with praying God to look upon them once more with favour (Isaiah 63:15), Israel now asks for a theophany, or manifestation of the Divine Presence, such as they have experienced in the times of old, and such as shall suffice to strike terror into the hearts of their enemies (vers. 1-4). With profound humility confessing their manifold and grievous iniquities, they beseech God once more, as their Father and Maker, to have pity upon them, reminding him of the desolate condition of Judaea and Jerusalem, and urging him no longer to "refrain himself" (vers. 5-12). "The manner," as Mr. Cheyne observes, "is that of a liturgical psalm; the prophet, as it were, leads the devotions of the assembled Church," and utters in impassioned language the feelings which deeply move them. Verse 1. - Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens! God "dwells in the thick darkness" (2 Chronicles 6:1). "Thick clouds are a covering to him" as he "walketh in the circuit of heaven" (Job 22:14). The Church would have the covering "rent," and God show himself openly, both to his people and to their enemies. That thou wouldest come down! God" came down" ou Sinai in the sight of all the people (Exodus 19:11, 20). David saw him in vision "bow the heavens and come down; and there was darkness under his feet" (Psalm 18:9). It is such an "epiphany" which the Church now desires - a revelation of God in all his glory, in his might as against "the nations" (ver. 2), in his mercifulness as towards themselves. That the mountains might flow down; or, quake. When God descended on Sinai, "the whole mount quaked greatly" (Exodus 19:18). When he appeared to David, "the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken" (Psalm 18:7). When he was seen of Elijah, "a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; and after the wind was an earthquake" (1 Kings 19:11). Micah saw the Lord "coming forth out of his place," and "the mountains were molten under him, and the valleys cleft" (Micah 1:3, 4). The mountains represent that which is most firm and solid and strong upon the face of the earth. If even they "melt and flow and tremble" at the presence of God, what might must his be! And who may abide him?
As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence!
Verse 2. - As when the melting fire burneth, etc.; rather, as when fire kindles brushwood, and makes water to boil. Connect the similes with the last clause of ver. 1. The mountains shall be as powerless to resist Jehovah, as brushwood or water to resist fire. To make thy Name known (comp. Isaiah 63:12). Such an "epiphany" as the Church prays for would make the Name of Jehovah known far and wide, exalting him high above all gods, and causing "the nations" - i.e. the whole heathen world - to "tremble at his presence" and refrain from injuring his people.
When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence.
Verse 3 - When thou didst terrible things (comp. Deuteronomy 10:21; 2 Samuel 7:23; Psalm 49:4; Psalm 106:22). The phrase, as Mr. Cheyne remarks, is a "standing" one for the wonders of the Exodus. Which we looked not for; i.e. which transcended our utmost expectations. Thou earnest down (see Exodus 19:11, 20).
For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.
Verse 4. - Neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared, etc.; rather, as in the margin, neither hath the eye seen a God, beside thee, which worketh for him that waiteth upon him. The only "living God" who really works for his votaries, and does them good service, is Jehovah (comp. Isaiah 41:23, 24; Isaiah 44:9, etc.).
Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those is continuance, and we shall be saved.
Verse 5. - Thou meetest him that rejoiceth. God "meets" with gracious welcome and ready aid whoever rejoices in doing righteousness and serving him, whoever "remembers him in his ways." But this, alas: is not the present relationship between God and Israel. God is "angry" with them - they must, therefore, "have sinned;" and so they proceed to confess their sin. In those is continuance, and we shall be saved. This is a very difficult passage. Mr. Cheyne regards it as hopelessly corrupt. Bishop Lowth and Ewald attempt emendations. Of those who accept the present text, some understand "in those" of God's ways, others of the "sins" implied in the confession, "We have sinned:" some make the last clause an affirmation, others a question. Delitzsch renders, "Already we have been long in this state (of sin), and shall we be saved?" Grotius and Starck, "If we had remained in them (i.e. thy ways) continually, we should have been saved."
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.
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).
And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.
Verse 7. - There is none that calleth on thy Name. A hyperbole, like Psalm 19:1, 3, "There is none that doeth good, no, not one." A general lethargy and apathy had come over the people, so that they could with difficulty rouse themselves to faith and calling upon God. But this general lethargy was not universal; there was a "remnant" which "prayed and did not faint." That stirreth up himself to take hold of thee. This expresses more than mere prayer; it is earnest, intense, "effectual fervent" prayer. Perhaps none among the exiles may have been capable of such supplication as this, especially as God had hid his face from them, and no longer looked on them with favour. And hast consumed us, because of our iniquities; rather, and hast delivered us into the power (literally, hand) of our iniquities. Men's sins are their masters, and exercise a tyrannical control over them, which they are often quite unable to resist (comp. Ezekiel 33:10, "If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?"). God at times judicially delivers the wicked into the power of their sins (see Romans 1:24, 26, 28).
But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.
Verse 8. - But now, O Lord, thou art our Father (see the comment on Isaiah 63:16). We are the clay, and thou our Potter (comp. Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 45:9). Thy hands have made us and fashioned us, both as individuals and as a nation. Thou hast lavished thy labour and thy skill upon us. Surely thou wilt not "forsake the work of thine own hands" (Psalm 138:8).
Be not wroth very sore, O LORD, neither remember iniquity for ever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people.
Verse 9. - Be not wroth very sore. At the time of the Captivity God was wroth very sore (Lamentations 5:22). His auger was hot against the sheep of his pasture (Psalm 74:1). But they had suffered, they had been afflicted many years. Might he not now relent, and remit somewhat from his fierce anger? Neither remember iniquity (comp. Psalm 79:8). God had already made a promise by the mouth of Isaiah, "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy trangressions, and will not remember thy sins" (Isaiah 43:25). The captives lay hold, as it were, on this promise, and entreat that their "iniquity" may be not only forgiven, but forgotten (Jeremiah 31:34). We are all thy people. A fresh argument. "We are thy children," individually (ver. 8); "we are thy work, thy creatures" (ver. 8), again individually; but also, "we are all of us (kullanu), collectively, thy people" - the people whom thou hast chosen to thyself, and over whom thou hast watched for so many centuries. Surely this consideration, if no other, will induce thee to forego thy wrath and forgive our iniquity.
Thy holy cities are a wilderness, Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.
Verse 10. - Thy holy cities are a wilderness. Commonly Jerusalem stands alone as "the holy city" (Isaiah 48:2; Isaiah 56:1; Daniel 9:24; Nehemiah 11:1, 18); but here the epithet is applied to the cities of Judah generally. They were all in a certain sense "holy," as being comprised within the limits of "the holy land" (Zechariah 2:12) and "the holy border" (Psalm 78:54). Zion... Jerusalem (see the comment on Isaiah 62:1).
Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things are laid waste.
Verse 11. - Our holy and our beautiful house. This is the true meaning. The exiles have the tenderest and most vivid remembrance of the holiness and the beauty (or glory) of that edifice, which had formed the centre of the national life for above four centuries, and had been a marvel of richness and magnificence. Many of them had seen it with their own eyes (Ezra 3:12), and could never forget its splendours. Where our fathers praised thee. Though in the later times of the Captivity there were still some of the exiles who had seen the temple, and probably worshipped in it, yet with the great majority it was otherwise. They thought of the temple as the place where their "fathers" had worshipped. Burned up with fire (see 2 Kings 25:9; 2 Chronicles 36:19; Jeremiah 52:13). Our pleasant things; or, our delectable things - as in Isaiah 44:9; the courts, gardens, outbuildings of the temple, are probably meant.
Wilt thou refrain thyself for these things, O LORD? wilt thou hold thy peace, and afflict us very sore?
Verse 12. - Wilt thou refrain thyself for these things? rather, at these things - seeing that these things are so. Will they not provoke thee to interfere?

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