Introductory note

In this chapter the prophet continues his impassioned  appeal for his people to be delivered. Could there not be another Sinai-like manifestation that would convert Israel and bring judgment on the nations? Isaiah acknowledges the unique blessings prepared for those who wait for God; and then bemoans the sins and desperate plight of his people; again he appeals to Yahweh as the Father of the nation and its Potter, asking that He might avenge the desecration of the Temple and Jerusalem.

Isaiah 64:1–5  (a) Isaiah calls for a Sinai-like intervention to cause the nations to tremble while bringing untold blessings on those who work righteousness

64:1–3 “(1) Oh that thou wouldest (2) rend the  heavens, that thou wouldest (3) come down, (4) that  the mountains might bow down [RSV quake] (5)  at thy presence,

As when the melting fire burneth [RSV fire kindles  brushwood], the fire causeth the waters to boil,  (6) to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence!

(7) When thou didst terrible things (8) which we looked not for [MLB which we did not expect],  thou camest down, the mountains bowed down at thy presence.”

(1) Strictly the conditional particle “Oh that”  Heb lu (Strongs) should be followed by a reference to a past event, the idea being, ‘Oh that you had’ …  and not, ‘Oh that you would … hence Rotherham  has, “Would that thou hadst rent the heavens, hadst come down, At thy presence mountains quaked …”  It appears that Isaiah, lamenting the tragic past, considers that it all could have been otherwise, if only there had been another Sinai-like epiphany!

(2) The heavens are likened to a tent curtain being rent. In Psalm 104, the creation psalm, the LORD stretches out “the heavens like a curtain”  (v2).

(3) The same verb is used in verse 3, and also in  31:4 of the Assyrian threat.

(4) For other descriptions of the cosmic effects of God coming to judge and redeem, see Nah 1:5Psa 18:7–15; Hab 3:3–7.

(5) There are three references to God’s presence in verses 1–3.

(6) God’s name is synonymous with His purpose, His character, and His reputation. By demonstrating His mighty power to punish and to redeem He will vindicate His holiness, as Moses declared to Pharaoh (Exod 9:16), and as seen at the Red Sea crossing (15:6–7,11,14–16). This will also be the result of Armageddon (Ezek 38:21–23).

(7) Here there are unmistakable references to Israel’s experiences when Yahweh came down on Sinai (Exod 19:17–20; 20:18; Deut 18:16).

(8) In Exodus 34:10 the LORD declared that  he would “do marvels, such as have not been done  in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people  among which thou art shall see the work of  the LORD: for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee”. Israel would witness the unique and the  ‘unexpected’ in God’s dealing with them as He led  them from Egypt to the promised land (cp Deut  4:32–39).

64:4 (1) “For since the beginning of the world [Heb  me-olam; MLB, NIV, from ancient times, Young,  from the age], 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 (2) waiteth for him.

64:5 (a) Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh  righteousness, those (3) that remember thee in thy  ways …”

(1) Verse 4 has been the subject of much discussion. Th e understanding of the commonly available translations, Rotherham, RSV, NIV, MLB … is in  line with the following: that Yahweh is a unique  God, no eye having seen or ear having heard of One  so gracious, Who has made abundant provision for  “him that waits for him”, Who “meetest him that  rejoiceth and worketh righteousness …” – ‘beside  thee, O God, there are no others!’

Take for example Rotherham:

“Although from age-past times  It was never heard, It was not perceived by the ear,  Neither did the eye ever see –  that a god besides thee could work for the man who waited for him …”

Paul’s citation of Isaiah 64:4 in 1 Corinthians 2:9

The following quotation is from the Letter to the Hebrews by Brother John Carter, page 20.

‘Isaiah also speaks of a “God” who discerned Jehovah’s purpose amidst prevailing failure so to  do. “From of old” he says, “men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O  God, beside thee, what he (Jehovah) hath prepared for him that waiteth for him” (64:4). Paul comments on this lack of understanding on the part of the  rulers of his day in crucifying the Lord of Glory, and quotes this passage in support. He then adds,  “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit  … that we might know the things that are freely  given to us of God” (1 Cor 2:8,12).’

Here Brother Carter says that the “God” (elohim) of Isaiah 64:4 refers to Christ, and that apart  from him men had not been able to conceptualise  what things the LORD has in store for those who  love Him. Tragically in Jesus’ day the Jews saw and  heard him but perceived not (Isa 6:9–10; Matt  13:13–15; John 9:39–41).

(2) There is a wonderful illustration of the grace  of God to be found in Acts 10, the conversion of the  Roman centurion Cornelius. There are allusions to  Isaiah 64 in this account: Cornelius was a “devout  man, and one that feared God … which gave much  alms … and prayed to God always” (v2). On the  housetop in Joppa Peter saw in a dream “heaven  opened” (v11; Isa 64:1); and he was told, “Arise …  and get thee down, and go with them” (v20), men  who had come to him from Cornelius. God would  send Peter, “_ thou meetest him … that worketh  righteousness”! And these are Peter’s opening words  to Cornelius, “in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him”  (v35; Isa 64:5). But were not God’s rewards for “him that waiteth for him” (God)? And we read in Acts  10:24 that Cornelius “waited for them”, Peter and  his company. So these words of Isaiah have a notable fulfillment in the case of the first Gentile convert, and these blessings have flowed from our wonderful and unique God to many other Gentiles since then.

(3) cp 26:8. How important this is, to “remember  thee [God] in thy ways”! Matters of our high calling should never be out of mind. In Malachi’s  day those who spoke one to another and thought upon the Father’s name were written in His “book  of remembrance” (Mal 3:16). Our weekly ‘memorial  meeting’ has this objective, as has that wonderful institution and practice, of ‘doing the daily readings’.

64:5(b)–7 Isaiah representing the nation,  confesses its sins, so justifying God’s wrath

64:5(b) (1) “… behold, thou art wroth; for we have  sinned: (2) in those is continuance, and we shall  be saved. [RSV Behold, thou wast angry, and we  sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and  shall we be saved?]

64:6 But we are all as an (3) unclean thing [NIV All  of us have become like one who is unclean], and (4)  all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags [RSV like a  polluted garment]; (5) and we all do fade as a leaf; (6)  and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

64:7 And there is (7) none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: (8) for  thou hast hid thy face from us, and (9) hast consumed  us, because of our iniquities [RSV and hast delivered  us into the hand of our iniquities]”.

(1) This is a sudden change of thought: after acknowledging the privileges of the ‘chosen race’,  Isaiah, the representative, accepts that the wrath of  God is justified, for the nation had sinned.

(2) The RSV says, “in our sins we have been a  long time”: over a long period this provocation had  gone on. It was not that the nation was ignorant  of sinning, for the warning voice of the prophets  had been unrelenting (2 Chron 36:14–16; Neh  9:26,30). Sin was so deep-seated that the prophet questions whether salvation is possible [RSV shall we be saved?]

(3) This was the leper’s cry (Heb tame) which  declared his status as an outcast, his unfitness for  fellowship with God and man.

(4) They are unlike those mentioned in verse  5 who ‘rejoice, and work righteousness’, who “remember”  God in their ways and are devoted to Him  – whom God ‘meets’ and favours as a consequence.  Note the RSV. “Filthy rags” refer to garments  stained by menstrual blood. Bodily issues linked  with procreation were ‘defiling’ because they were  linked to Adam’s sin and so connected to fallen human nature (Lev 12; 15), from whence sin arises  (1 John 2:15– 16).

Righteousness can only be attained by sinful  man by confession and forgiveness of sins; by  faith and baptism into Christ: then righteousness is imputed to man. As Paul put it, he desired to “be found in him [Christ], not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is  through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which  is of God by faith” (Phil 3:9; Rom 4:1–8,23–25).

(5) The fading leaf that shrivels and falls is an apt metaphor for human nature (cp 1:30; 24:4; 28:1;  34:4; 40:7) and death, that claims all of Adam’s  fallen race (Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:21–22).

(6) The punishment for iniquity is death and as  the wind blows away the faded leaves, so fallen man  is driven away (17:13; Psa 1:4; Job 21:18; Psa 35:5)  by God’s judgments.

(7) Disinterest in the LORD is indicated (cp  Gen 4:26; 13:4; Hos 7:7,10; Psa 14:4); no one could  be bothered to arouse himself from sleep to lay hold  on the only source of strength and blessing. There can be no living relationship with God for those who are only half awake!

(8) God had told Isaiah that He would hide His  face from them (54:8; 57:17), and that their sins  were the cause (59:2). If His people would change  their ways He would turn to them again (58:8–10). To hide the face is to show disfavour (Lam 3:44);  but for Yahweh to “make his face to shine” amounts  to blessings and grace (Num 6:24–27).

(9) Any implication that God was in some way  responsible for their sins was not true, for He had  ‘spread out his hands all day long to a rebellious  people’ (65:2).

64:8–12 A final impassioned appeal for  Judah’s preservation

64:8 (1) “But now, O LORD, thou art our father; (2)  we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are  (3) the work of thy hand.

(1) Isaiah pleads to Yahweh on the basis of His  Fatherhood (cp 63:16), which was self-proclaimed  (Exod 4:23). The child would not be there but for the father. Isaiah asserts the special relationship, the duty to care despite failings, the unfailing love  and mercy so fundamental to Yahweh’s character  (Exod 34:6–7)!

(2) As potter moulding clay, so Yahweh exercised  power over His people – they were all the work  of His hands. If marred (Jer 18:4–6), a vessel, an  artefact, could be remade. Could not this apply to  this people? Could not the pot look to the Potter  to remake it?

(3) Saints are called “his [God’s] workmanship”  because they have been “created in Christ Jesus unto  good works” (Eph 2:10).

64:9 (1) “Be not wroth very sore, O LORD, neither remember iniquity forever: behold, see, we beseech  thee, (2) we are all thy people.”

(1) This appeal hearkens back to the heart of  Isaiah’s complaint, emerging from what he was  told in 63:1–6, namely, that none of the peoples, no,  not even Israel would assist Christ in treading the  winepress: he would be “alone”. It is a plea to both  cease to be “angry beyond measure” (NIV), and not  to remember iniquity forever. It was Jeremiah who  prophesied that the day would come when Yahweh  would remember the sins of His people no more  (Jer 31:34; Heb 10:16–17).

(2) Again there is an appeal to Yahweh’s historic  identification of Israel as “my people” (63:8; Exod  3:7; 5:1), to their special status as His chosen generation  (Exod 19:5–6), to this unique relationship.

64:10 “(1) Thy holy cities are a wilderness, Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.

64:11 Our holy and our beautiful house, where our  fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things are laid waste [RSV and all our pleasant places have become ruins].

6:12 “(2) Wilt thou refrain thyself [NIV hold yourself  back] for these things, O LORD? wilt thou hold thy  peace, and afflict us very sore [NIV beyond measure]”?

(1) In reality, at the time when Isaiah wrote  these words, the cities of Judah, Jerusalem and the  Temple had not been desecrated. But the prophet  knew that this would take place at the hand of the  Babylonians; and that Cyrus, the Persian, would  destroy Babylon and set free the captives of Judah.  Cyrus was given a commission, among which would  be his command to Jerusalem, “Thou shalt be built; and to the temple,thy foundation shall be laid”  (44:28; 45:13). Isaiah was mortified by this prospect of coming destruction upon all that he valued. Notice his description of Solomon’s Temple, “our  holy and beautiful house”.

(2) This is the prophet’s final appeal (cp 63:15).  On behalf of his people he has confessed their sins  and acknowledged and accepted Yahweh’s righteous  judgment. Now he pleads to God from another  perspective, the projected utter ruin of Jerusalem,  the house of God, and the pleasant places of Israel. Will Yahweh’s compassions be restrained, be held back, so that the destroyer will be permitted to do his devastating work? ‘If you (God) do so you will cause us to be afflicted “beyond measure” (NIV)!’