As has been mentioned Isaiah 63:7 commences a long sustained appeal by Isaiah to Yahweh to remember the special status of the chosen race, Israel. Why does he make this plea? Because in the opening vision (63:1–7), the Conqueror of all nations has stressed the fact that he was alone, that none of the nations, no, not even Israel, were there to assist! In this ‘treading of the winepress’ Isaiah is personally involved and makes this heart-rending, passionate prayer (63:8–64:12). This prayer numbers amongst other notable words of intercession by Moses (Exodus 32), by Nehemiah (ch 1) and by Daniel (ch 9).

63:7–64:12 Awestruck, Isaiah makes a sustained, impassioned appeal for Israel as deserving special consideration

To Isaiah the prophet the judgments of verses 1–6 seem too general and indiscriminate and overlook Yahweh’s historic ties with His people, Israel: surely Israel would join the Avenger in his conquest of the nations? And what about His unique relationship with Jacob (as recorded, for example, in Numbers 23–24)? This prayer will be divided into sections which are numbered.

I) 63:7–9 Isaiah recalls the tender love shown to Israel when in Egypt and during the early years of nationhood

63:7 “I will mention [RSV recount; Roth recall] (1) the lovingkindnesses [Heb chesed; RSV steadfast love] of the LORD, and the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD hath bestowed on us, and the (2) great goodness [Heb tob] toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his (3) mercies [Heb rachamim; Roth compassions], and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses [Heb chesed; RSV steadfast love].”

(1) This prayer to Yahweh commences with reference to His glorious character as do other great biblical prayers. An appeal for Israel is made on this basis. It will be noted that this verse begins and ends with reference to the lovingkindness (chesed) or steadfast love of God. It is this characteristic of God that is mentioned twice when He defines His way or character to Moses in Exodus 34:6–7. Chesed is translated “goodness” in verse 6 and “mercy” in verse 7. The unique word has a twofold significance, speaking of God’s love and kindness as well as His steadfastness and constancy. The RSV, by translating it “steadfast love”, picks up on this. It is not hard to see why Isaiah should home in on this glorious quality in this intercession: he is distressed by Judah’s current plight as well as what he has just learned about the future in verses 1–6.

(2) Reference is also made to Yahweh’s promise to “make all my goodness [Heb tob] pass before” Moses in Exodus 33:19. His physical splendour (v20–23) as well as His moral glory were revealed to him (34:6–7).

(3) This word for mercy (Heb racham; Roth compassions) is often used of the tender feelings of a parent for a child (cp 49:15); it is also found in Exodus 34:6 where it is translated “merciful”.

Isaiah has recalled these wonderful characteristics of Yahweh and in what follows he recounts significant events in Israel’s history where they were displayed.

63:8 “For [Roth Therefore] he said , Surely they are (1) my people, (2) children [RSV, Roth sons] that will not lie [RSV deal falsely]: (3) so he was [RSV became] their Saviour.”

(1) This term is first used of Israel in Exodus 3:7 and 10.

(2) In the following chapter in Exodus, Yahweh styles Israel His son: “Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: And I say unto thee [Pharaoh], Let my son go that he may serve me” (Exod 4:22–23).

Both terms emphasise the singular and unique relationship Yahweh has with Israel. They are terms of endearment and were used by God at a time of national crisis when oppressive Egyptian servitude threatened their existence.

(3) So what action did Yahweh take? He intervened and delivered them by the hand of Moses; He became their Saviour (v9). After safely being brought through the Red Sea there is a summary statement: “_ us the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians” (Exod 14:30).

63:9 “(1) In all their affliction he was afflicted, and (2) the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity (3) he redeemed them; (4) and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.”

(1) Yahweh heard the groaning of the Israelites in the cruel bondage to which Pharaoh had subjected them. He “looked upon” them, “remembered his covenant” with their fathers and had “respect unto them” (Exod 2:23–25). When the angel of Yahweh spoke to Moses from the burning bush he said, “I have surely seen the a_ iction of my people which are in Egypt” (3:7), and He commissioned Moses to deliver them.

(2) This is a reference to the special angel, Michael, who was sent by God to deliver Israel (Exod 23:20–24). He is called “the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people” (Dan 12:1; 10:13); he was the angel that spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Acts 7:30, 35); and delivered the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai (v38). He was only retained as Israel’s deliverer following the golden calf apostasy because of Moses’ intercession (Exod 32, 33).

(3) He, Michael, “the angel of his [God’s] presence” redeemed Israel from Egyptian a_ iction and was present to lead them in the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night (Exod 13:21–22; 14:24–31). (4) Obvious reference is being made to what God said to Israel at Sinai, “I bare you on eagles’ wings” (Exod 19:4); and later in the Song of Witness (Deut 32:11–12).

II) 63:10–14 Because of rebellion, Yahweh became Israel’s foe. When in affliction Israel recalled the former mercies and desired Yahweh to deliver them.

63:10 “(1) But they rebelled, and (2) vexed his holy Spirit [Roth grieved his Holy Spirit, cp Eph 4:30; Acts 7:51; Psa 78:40]: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, (3) and he [Roth He himself] fought against them.”

(1) There are many occasions in Israel’s history when this occurred, but one notable example is the rebellion in the wilderness when the twelve spies returned with an evil report of the land (Num 14). That generation was condemned to perish in the wilderness. In the days of the Judges there was a cycle of rebellion and suffering brought on by Yahweh. When they sought Yahweh He raised up saviours (judges) who delivered them.

Yahweh expected that they “would not lie” (v8) or deal falsely with Him, but “they rebelled”, and as a consequence He “turned to be their enemy”.

(2) Stephen uses these words of his generation (Acts 7:51). In their failure to believe in the “Just One” they were repeating the sins of the prophets who foretold his coming. Paul cites these words to the Ephesians (4:30) when he exhorts them (many of whom in that age would have possessed a gift of the Holy Spirit), to godliness and positive service in Christ.

Notice reference to the Holy Spirit three times (v10,11,14).

(3) Psalm 78 deals with Israel’s recalcitrance; the recurrent failure to walk with God despite His blessings and forgiveness. A specific incidence of Him “fighting against them” is in verse 62, “He gave his people over also unto the sword; and was wroth with his inheritance”.

63:11 “ Then (1) he remembered [Roth then were recalled] the days of old, Moses, and his people [cp v8], saying, (2) Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the (3) shepherd [mg shepherds, and RSV has, ‘out of the sea the shepherds of his flock’], of his flock? (4) where is he that put his holy Spirit within him?”

(1) It is difficult to determine whether reference is here being made to Yahweh recalling His mercies to past generations, or whether Israel is being personified and remembering the former blessings. The latter seems a better fit.

(2) Reference is here made to the exodus deliverance by Moses under Yahweh’s superintendence. The present and future plight of Israel calls for another act of divine intervention (cp 64:1–3). Where is the One Who intervened and delivered His people? There is a dramatic illustration of just such a plight in the days of Gideon: oppressed sorely by Midian, he questioned why this happened if Yahweh was with them (Judg 6:1–2,12,13).

(3) Shepherds, the plural is used and it is possible that reference is being made to both Moses and Aaron (Psa 77:19–20; 105:26).

(4) References to the bestowal of the Holy Spirit in the record of the exodus are upon Bezaleel (Exod 28:3), Moses and the elders (Num 11: 16–17), and perhaps His “dwelling” among them in the Tabernacle (Exod 29:44–46; cp Hag 2:5).

63:12 “That led them (1) by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm [Roth That caused to go at the right hand of Moses his own majestic arm], dividing the waters before them, (2) to make for himself an everlasting name?”

Verses 12 to 14 present a delightful summary of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, care during the wilderness wanderings and possession of the rich valleys of Canaan, their resting place.

(1) Moses was not the “arm of the LORD” (53:1) but Rotherham equates Moses with “his own majestic arm” when the Red Sea waters were cleared.

(2) Without this stupendous act, this display of the mighty power of their Redeemer, Israel might have perished. Great things were at stake for Yahweh’s purpose revolved around the seed of Abraham. This great act was known far and wide (Josh 2:10; cp 4:23; 1 Sam 4:8) and by it Yahweh vindicated His holiness and reputation – He “made for himself an everlasting name” (see further reference to God’s name in verses 14 and 16).

Note that the question asked in verse 11 remains open, throughout verses 12 and 13, “Where is he …?”

63:13 “That led them through the (1) deep [Roth roaring deeps; RSV depths], as an horse in the (2) wilderness [RSV desert], that they should not stumble?

63:14 (3) As a beast goeth down [RSV Like cattle that go down] into the valley, the Spirit of the LORD caused him [RSV gave them] to rest: (4) so didst thou lead thy people, to make thyself a glorious name.”

(1) Again there is reference to the Red Sea crossing (Psa 106:8,9), and here also to the miraculous halting of Jordan’s waters, permitting Israel to “pass over on dry ground” (Josh 3:14–17).

(2) The word midbar translated “wilderness” can, as here, refer to open country. So Israel traversed the “great and howling wilderness” as sure-footedly as a horse galloping in open country.

(3) This is the final phase. No obstacle was permitted to impede “His people” all the way from Egypt to Canaan, their place of rest. This is a beautiful illustration: it is a picture of herds and flocks being brought down from the dry and sparse highlands to the lush and fertile valley; even so the Spirit gave Israel rest.

(4) Israel was the name-bearing nation and Yahweh’s honour is bound up with their redemption (Mal 3:6). Through that nation it was intended that His wisdom and character might be manifested to all nations (Deut 4:6–8; Jer 13:11). And today men are being taken out of the nations to be “a people for his name” (Acts 15:14).

At length the earth shall be filled with His glory (Num 14:21).

There is a further application in these verses to the Lord Jesus Christ, for the redemption from Egypt foreshadowed the greater salvation in him. Reflecting on these words, Hebrews 13:20–21 states, “Now unto the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen”. These are personal words spoken by Isaiah as he concludes this phase of his extended and passionate intercession on Israel’s behalf.

III) 63:15–16 In view of His past love for His people Israel, Isaiah appeals to Yahweh to demonstrate His fatherhood

63:15 “(1) Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness [cp 57:15; 66:1; Psa 33:14] and of thy glory: where is thy (2) zeal and thy (3) strength [MLB Thy mighty acts], (4) the sounding of thy bowels and of (5) thy mercies [Heb rachamim] toward (6) me? (7) are they restrained?” (MLB Thy yearning pity and compassion are withholding themselves from me).

(1) In these words Yahweh is addressed and asked to look down and face His people (cp Solomon’s prayer 1 Kings 8:30). Yahweh is accorded the praise due to His heavenly transcendence, His holiness and appealing beauty (ESV).

(2) His zeal is His passion, His jealousy by which He keeps covenant and mercy with those who love Him (9:6–7; 59:17).

(3) His untiring energy enabling Him to perform all things.

(4) NIV tenderness; “sounding, turmoil of your inward parts” (J A Motyer).

(5) Rachamim (refer to verse 7).

(6) The prophet Isaiah interposes himself as Israel’s intercessor!

(7) The questions of verses 11 and 12 are continued here. The four points made in (2) to (5) are founded upon Yahweh’s historic relationship to His people. Are they a thing of the past, withheld and restrained?

63:16 (1) “Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us [Roth knew us not], and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O LORD, art our father [Heb ab], (2) our redeemer [Heb gaal]; (3) thy name is from everlasting.”

(1) Natural descendants of Abraham and Jacob indeed they were. But though the patriarchs might choose to disown them, and abdicate family obligations, that would not be possible for the One Who transcends them and who has acknowledged them as His people, His son (see v8); and He, Himself, their Father (64:8; Deut 32:5–6). Unlike the NT ( following the coming of God’s only begotten Son), where Yahweh is frequently called “Father”, in the OT there are only a few occasions, and two of them are in this verse!

Lovingkindness, over-shadowing care, interest, as well as unfailing protection, are intrinsic in such an address.

(2) “our redeemer” emphasises His kinship, describing the near ‘kinsman’ who comes to the rescue of a family member suffering from slavery, oppression, imprisonment or debt. In all of these aspects there is appreciation to God, Israel’s heavenly Father (and ours) for His saving grace.

(3) Again there is reference to Yahweh’s character as revealed in His name, which is everlasting (v12). Notice two further references in verse 64:7; 65:1. Unlike fickle man, Yahweh is steadfast and unchangeable in eternity (James 1:17) and can be relied upon.

63:17-19 A strong appeal to Yahweh to return and reverse the fortunes of His oppressed people, Israel

63:17 (1) “O LORD, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear? (2) Return for thy servants’ sake, the tribes of thy inheritance.”

Rotherham, “Wherefore shouldst thou suffer us to wander, O Yahweh, from thy ways? [Wherefore] shouldest thou let us harden our heart past revering thee? Return thou, for the sake of thy servants, the tribes thou thyself hast inherited.”

(1) You will notice that Rotherham’s translation does not implicate Yahweh in Israel’s transgressions. God’s revelation in the midst of Israel through Moses, the prophets and His Spirit, whilst the source of enormous privilege, also brought responsibility and judgment when there was no response. Isaiah had been told that the response to his ministry would generally be negative (6:9–10), and blindness would reach its greatest height in the generation that would see the miracles and hear the words of God’s Son (Matt 13:14–15).

(2) Here is another appeal (in the light of verses 1–6, and God’s apparent withdrawal from Isaiah’s generation), based on their close relationship – God had called the nation, His servant (42:19); and His inheritance (Psa 74:2; Isa 19:25; 2 King 21:14).

63:18 (1) “The people of thy holiness have possessed it but a little while [RSV thy holy people possessed thy sanctuary a little while]: our adversaries have trodden down thy sanctuary.

63:19 (2) We are thine: thou never barest rule over them; they were not called by thy name.”

(1) Note the RSV. Here Isaiah laments the destruction of Yahweh’s sanctuary. This appears to sanction authorship for this part of the prophecy to some ‘exilic or post-exilic Isaiah’. But he was fully aware of the coming Babylonian desecration of Jerusalem (39:6–7; 14:13; 47:6), and that Cyrus would bring about its downfall and shepherd the captives of Judah home (44:28; 45:1–4,13).

These words are spoken from the vantage point of divine prophecy; and even though at the time of writing the sanctuary had not been desecrated, its fate, its destruction, had been foretold.

(2) Again there is an appeal to historical ownership; Yahweh had founded the nation, chosen its fathers, given the nation His Law and administered its affairs through His priests and prophets; He was universally regarded as their God, the God of Israel. No other nation could lay claim to such distinguishing blessings, to such an intimate relationship.

An appeal by the faithful prophet could not possibly go unheeded.

In the next study (Isa 64) this heart-rending appeal comes to its climax.