Isaiah 63 – Prayer from Captivity
A. The day of vengeance.
1. (1) A question and an answer: “Who is this?”
Who is this who comes from Edom,
With dyed garments from Bozrah,
This One who is glorious in His apparel,
Traveling in the greatness of His strength?—
“I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.”
a. Who is this who comes from Edom: This prophecy describes the day of the LORD’s vengeance. He has come from Edom in the sense that He has judged there first, and now comes to the land of Israel. As the LORD arrives, He is glorious in His apparel, traveling in the greatness of His strength.
i. With dyed garments from Bozrah is also significant. Bozrah was the capital city of ancient Edom, and “The important city of Bozrah is singled out because its name means ‘grape-gathering,’ and Isaiah developed a detailed comparison between treading grapes and pouring out blood.” (Wolf)
ii. “God’s act of judgment against Edom is clearly conceived to be a putting right of the wrongs done to Zion, especially since the Edomites took advantage of Judah’s weakness after the Fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians.” (Grogan)
b. I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save: This is the LORD’s reply to the question in the prophecy. He identifies Himself by what He says (I who speak in righteousness) and what He does (mighty to save). Even in the midst of judgment, in His glory and strength, He wants men to know He is mighty to save, not only mighty to judge.
2. (2-6) A question and an answer: “Why are Your clothes red?”
Why is Your apparel red,
And Your garments like one who treads in the winepress?
“I have trodden the winepress alone,
And from the peoples no one was with Me.
For I have trodden them in My anger,
And trampled them in My fury;
Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments,
And I have stained all My robes.
For the day of vengeance is in My heart,
And the year of My redeemed has come.
I looked, but there was no one to help,
And I wondered
That there was no one to uphold;
Therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me;
And My own fury, it sustained Me.
I have trodden down the peoples in My anger,
Made them drunk in My fury,
And brought down their strength to the earth.”
a. Why is Your apparel red: The prophet asks why the garment of the LORD is red, and the LORD answers, “I have trodden the winepress alone…. their blood is sprinkled upon My garments.” This promise is fulfilled when Jesus returns to the earth, and this passage is clearly behind passages like Revelation 19:13, 15: He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God…. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
b. I have trodden the winepress alone: This reminds us that this work of judgment belongs to Jesus Christ and He alone. Though we will be part of the heavenly armies that accompany Jesus (Revelation 19:14), the work of judgment belongs to Him alone. The point is even emphasized by Isaiah: From the peoples no one was with Me…. My own arm brought salvation for Me; and My own fury, it sustained Me.
i. In God’s great plan of the Ages, Jesus accomplishes two things alone. First, He atones for our sin alone. He alone hung on the cross, bearing the weight of all our guilt. Second, He judges the world alone. God does not need us to execute His ultimate judgment; we leave that to Him.
ii. “You will hear one say, that such-and-such a good man was punished for his transgressions; and I have known believers think that their afflictions were punishments sent from God on account of their sins. The thing is impossible; God has punished us, who are his people, once for all in Christ, and he never will punish us again. He cannot do it, seeing he is a just God. Afflictions are chastisements from a Father’s hand, but they are not judicial punishments. Jesus has trodden the wine-press, and he has trodden it alone: so we cannot tread it.” (Spurgeon)
c. The day of vengeance is in My heart: These words, prophetically spoken by Jesus, sound almost foreign to us. We rarely think of vengeance being in the heart of Jesus, but He said the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son (John 5:22).
d. And the year of My redeemed has come: In this, Isaiah prophetically explains why the Messiah can say, “vengeance is in My heart.” It isn’t because God loves punishing sinners, but He does love vindicating His redeemed.
i. Notice also the comparison: it is a mere day of vengeance, but an entire year of My redeemed. Each phrase is simply a poetic way of saying “time” but God fittingly uses the picture of a day in communicating His vengeance, and a year in expressing His grace.
B. The exile’s prayer.
1. (7-14) Remembering the mercy and the might of the LORD.
I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the LORD
And the praises of the LORD,
According to all that the LORD has bestowed on us,
And the great goodness toward the house of Israel,
Which He has bestowed on them according to His mercies,
According to the multitude of His lovingkindnesses.
For He said, “Surely they are My people,
Children who will not lie.”
So He became their Savior.
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 bore them and carried them
All the days of old.
But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit;
So He turned Himself against them as an enemy,
And He fought against them.
Then he remembered the days of old,
Moses and his people, saying:
“Where is He who brought them up out of the sea
With the shepherd of His flock?
Where is He who put His Holy Spirit within them,
Who led them by the right hand of Moses,
With His glorious arm,
Dividing the water before them
To make for Himself an everlasting name,
Who led them through the deep,
As a horse in the wilderness,
That they might not stumble?”
As a beast goes down into the valley,
And the Spirit of the LORD causes him to rest,
So You lead Your people,
To make Yourself a glorious name.
a. I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the LORD…according to all that the LORD has bestowed on us: This prayer is prophetically placed in the mouth of one of Judah’s Babylonian exiles. Despite the agony expressed later in the prayer, the praying one first will mention the lovingkindnesses of the LORD. This is a glorious example of how, even in the lowest place, we can praise the LORD and remember His goodness.
i. Look at all that the troubled one has to thank God for: great goodness…mercies…. He became their Savior…. His love…His pity…He bore them and carried them. If this vocabulary of praise can come from an afflicted one, what excuse can we have for not praising God?
ii. Lovingkindnesses “is the Hebrew word hesed, the love that is faithful to the covenant.” (Grogan) It can also be translated “steadfast love.” It is one of the great words of the Old Testament, probably the closest Hebrew equivalent to the Greek word agape.
iii. Surely they are My people, children who will not lie: “The Hebrew word for lie contains even more than our word. It was applied to a fountain, pit or brook that contained no water any more and so disappointed the thirsty person, and to a fruit tree that no longer yielded any fruit (Habakkuk 3:17). With this one significant word, the Lord meant to say that His people will not deceive and disappoint Him.” (Butlema)
b. In all their affliction He was afflicted: Isaiah knows the nature of God; that in the afflictions of His people, He is afflicted also. God is not a dispassionate, unfeeling observer when His people suffer. He suffers with them when they are afflicted.
i. In all their affliction He was afflicted is another reason why anti-Semitism is so wicked. When the Jewish people are persecuted and afflicted, the LORD is afflicted also. How tragic that institutional Christianity, pretending to act in the name of Jesus, afflicted the LORD Himself by persecuting the Jewish people.
c. And the Angel of His Presence saved them: This refers to the presence and work of Jesus among ancient Israel, especially among those delivered from Egypt.
i. “The angel of His presence is the Messiah…. Calvin sees in this angel merely a serving angel. But of this Angel it is said that He by His love and pity saved Israel; this can hardly be said of a created angel. It is the Christ who is meant here.” (Bultema)
ii. “Angel of his presence: literally ‘of his face’. We recognize people by face; ‘face’ is the Lord’s very own presence (Psalm 139:7), among them in the person of his angel – that unique ‘Angel of the Lord’ (as in Genesis 16:7ff; 21:17; 22:11, 15; Exodus 3:2; 14:19; 23:20-23; Malachi 3:1) who speaks as the Lord and is yet distinct from him.” (Motyer)
d. But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit: Despite this outpouring of love and mercy from God, His people responded with cold, rebellious, unresponsive hearts. God had to deal with this in His people, so He fought against them.
i. In these few verses, we hear from God the Father (My people, children who will not lie), God the Son (the Angel of His Presence), and God the Holy Spirit (His Holy Spirit). Clearly, “There are Trinitarian overtones in the passage.” (Grogan)
e. Then he remembered the days of old: In the midst of the LORD’s discipline – in this case, prophetically speaking, the Babylonian exile – the praying one remembered the days of old. He remembered the mighty hand of God in days of old and knew that mighty hand could be raised again for His people.
i. Specifically, in this case, he remembered what the LORD did in the days of Moses and the Exodus. Since now they were in a place of exile (Babylon), the story of God’s deliverance from Egypt had special relevance. The praying one wasn’t there for the Exodus; he had to read about it in God’s word. But he saw how God’s great works in the past had meaning right now.
f. As a horse in the wilderness…as a beast goes down into the valley: Isaiah speaks of the ease of progress that Israel made during the Exodus, and how God will bless Israel again in their regathering and restoration. The result will be that the Spirit of the LORD causes him to rest.
i. As a horse in the wilderness should be understood in this sense: as a horse in open country. The idea is of unhindered, rapid progress.
ii. “In both these verses there is an allusion to the Israelites going through the Red Sea in the bottom of which they found no more inconvenience than a horse would in running in the desert.” (Clarke)
2. (15-19) A plea for restoration.
Look down from heaven,
And see from Your habitation, holy and glorious.
Where are Your zeal and Your strength,
The yearning of Your heart and Your mercies toward me?
Are they restrained?
Doubtless You are our Father,
Though Abraham was ignorant of us,
And Israel does not acknowledge us.
You, O LORD, are our Father;
Our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name.
O LORD, why have You made us stray from Your ways,
And hardened our heart from Your fear?
Return for Your servants’ sake,
The tribes of Your inheritance.
Your holy people have possessed it but a little while;
Our adversaries have trodden down Your sanctuary.
We have become like those of old, over whom You never ruled,
Those who were never called by Your name.
a. Where are Your zeal and Your strength: The prophet speaks honest words from the mouth of the praying one. Sometimes it feels that the zeal and the strength of the LORD are far away, and when we feel like that, we should do just what the praying one did: cry out to God.
i. Return for Your servants’ sake: “The word ‘return’ may suggest the return of the shekinah glory to the temple as the symbol of God’s dwelling among his people (as in Ezekiel 43:6-12).” (Grogan)
b. We have become like those of old, over whom You never ruled: The praying one looks at the condition of God’s people and cries out in agony. Why has God allowed this? The praying one isn’t accurate in all his theology, but he is an expert in expressing the pain of the human heart.
(c) 2021 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org