A. Requesting and remembering God’s great works
1. (1-4) God’s people plead for Him to come in power and glory.
Oh, that You would rend the heavens!
That You would come down!
That the mountains might shake at Your presence—
As fire burns brushwood,
As fire causes water to boil—
To make Your name known to Your adversaries,
That the nations may tremble at Your presence!
Then You did awesome things for which we did not look,
You came down,
The mountains shook at Your presence.
For since the beginning of the world
Men have not heard nor perceived by the ear,
Nor has the eye seen any God besides You,
Who acts for the one who waits for Him.
a. Oh, that You would rend the heavens! That You would come down: The prayer of the remnant continues from Isaiah 63; here, the plea is for God to intervene from heaven.
b. The mountains shook at Your presence: Earlier in this prayer (Isaiah 63:11-13), the praying one remembered God’s great work for Israel in the days of the Exodus. Here, the praying one also remembers how the LORD shook Mount Sinai when Israel camped there on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land (Exodus 19:17-18).
c. Nor has the eye seen any God besides You, who acts for the one who waits for Him: The praying one now trusts that since he is one who waits for the LORD, he also will see God act on his behalf.
i. The one who waits for Him: “There is, however, a special blessing connected with waiting for the Lord. Men, even church-going men, would rather work than wait. They also love the legalism more than the holiness of waiting. Church leaders of today think waiting for the Lord is foolish dreaming.” (Bultema)
2. (5-7) The obstacle to God’s great works: our great sinfulness.
You meet him who rejoices and does righteousness,
Who remembers You in Your ways.
You are indeed angry, for we have sinned—
In these ways we continue;
And we need to be saved.
But we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;
We all fade as a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind,
Have taken us away.
And there is no one who calls on Your name,
Who stirs himself up to take hold of You;
For You have hidden Your face from us,
And have consumed us because of our iniquities.
a. You meet him who rejoices and does righteousness: The praying one asks the question, “What kind of man does the LORD answer in prayer?” In Isaiah 64:4, he noted that it was the one who waits for the LORD. Now the praying one expands the idea, and notes that the LORD will answer the prayer (meet) for the one who rejoices and does righteousness. The LORD will answer the prayer of the one who remembers the LORD in his ways.
b. For we have sinned – in these ways we continue; and we need to be saved: This explains the problem. The praying remnant knows that God only answers the prayers of the righteous man, yet it isn’t the righteous man who needs to be saved from the disaster he has brought on himself. And we need to be saved is translated well by the NIV (New International Version) here as, How then can we be saved? The praying one then goes on to eloquently describe our state of sin.
i. First, our sin makes us like an unclean thing; it makes us unacceptable and unworthy before God. “Under the Jewish law you know that when a person was unclean he could not go up to the house of the Lord. He could offer no sacrifice. God could accept nothing at his hands; he was an outcast and an alien so long as he remained unclean.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Even all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags. The good we may try to do is unacceptable and unclean before the LORD. Because we are all like an unclean thing, even the good we do is polluted. “Brethren, if our righteousnesses are so bad, what must our unrighteousnesses be?” (Spurgeon)
iii. We all fade as a leaf. Our sinful condition has made us weak and unstable, with no lasting power before God.
iv. Our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away means that we have no power to stand against temptation. Our sins carry us along like a hurricane wind.
v. And there is no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You: Even in our unclean, unstable condition, we didn’t seek the LORD the way we should. We were lazy and complacent before the LORD.
vi. “The verbs sin and angry are perfect tenses – it was your fixed mind to be angry and ours to continue in sin.” (Motyer)
vii. Taken together, this is a fearful description of our fallenness: “You must not merely know that you are lost, but you must feel it. Do not be content with simply feeling that it is so, but mourn before God that it is so, and hate yourself that it is so. Do not look upon it as being a misfortune, but as being your own wilful sin, and look upon yourselves, therefore, as being guilty sinners.” (Spurgeon)
c. Filthy rags: “Filthy rags is ‘a garment of menstruation’; bodily discharges were considered a defilement because they were the ‘outflow’ of a sinful, fallen human nature. So, even what we might consider to be in our favour, righteous acts, partake of the defilement of fallenness.” (Motyer)
i. Preachers of previous generations thought this passage so extreme in its graphic description of sin’s likeness that it should not be preached honestly. “If preachers knew properly the meaning of this word, would they make such a liberal use of it in their public ministry?” (Clarke) “The expression, ‘filthy rags,’ in the Hebrew, is one which we could not with propriety explain in the present assembly. As the confession must be made privately and alone before God, so the full meaning of the comparison is not meant for human ear.” (Spurgeon)
ii. However extreme the phrasing, the point is important. Even the works that seem holiest from the outside can be corrupt and unrighteous. “Sirs, there is sin in our prayers; they need to be prayed over again. There is filth in the very tears that we shed in penitence; there is sin in our very holiness; there is unbelief in our faith; there is hatred in our very love; there is the slime of the serpent upon the fairest flower of our garden.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “Those that seek to be saved by their works, Luther fitly calleth the devil’s martyrs; they suffer much, and take great pains to go to hell…. We must do all righteousnesses, rest in none but Christ’s, disclaiming our own best as spotted and imperfect.” (Trapp)
d. You have hidden Your face from us: This is the first of two reactions God makes to the sinful condition of man. First, fellowship is broken, or at the very least, damaged. Second, the LORD has consumed us because of our iniquities. Our sinful condition has invited – even demanded – the righteous judgment of God.
B. A plea for the mercy of the LORD.
1. (8-9) Asking God to remember who His people are.
But now, O LORD,
You are our Father;
We are the clay, and You our potter;
And all we are the work of Your hand.
Do not be furious, O LORD,
Nor remember iniquity forever;
Indeed, please look—we all are Your people!
a. But now, O LORD, You are our Father: The praying one is in a desperate place; he needs the mercy of God because the justice of God condemns him. In his appeal for mercy, he first reminds God, “You are our Father. Please, LORD, have mercy on us as a loving Father.”
b. We are the clay, and You our potter: Next, the praying one appeals for God’s mercy because of God’s sovereign power over each life. It is like saying, “LORD we are like clay in Your hands. Deal gently with us, and mold us according to Your mercy.”
i. A father is always a father; he can never truly disown his children. A potter cannot disown the pot; it is only there because he made it. This is Isaiah’s way of saying, “You’re stuck with us LORD!”
c. Do not be furious, O LORD, nor remember iniquity forever: The praying one asks for mercy on account of “time served.” It is as if he prays, “LORD, You had a right to be furious with us for a time. You had a right to remember our iniquity for a while. But please, LORD, do not remember iniquity forever.”
d. Indeed, please look–we all are Your people: The praying one makes his final appeal for mercy on the simple grounds that “LORD, we all are Your people. We are sinners, and deserve Your judgment, but we are still Your people. In a sense, LORD, You are stuck with us.”
2. (10-11) Asking God to remember the condition of Zion.
Your holy cities are a wilderness,
Zion is a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation.
Our holy and beautiful temple,
Where our fathers praised You,
Is burned up with fire;
And all our pleasant things are laid waste.
a. Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation: In his appeal for mercy, the praying one asks God to look closely at the terrible condition of His holy cities. As he draws attention to our holy and beautiful temple, he notes that it is burned up with fire. It is an eloquent and powerful way of pleading with God to act.
3. (12) Asking God to act.
Will You restrain Yourself because of these things, O LORD?
Will You hold Your peace, and afflict us very severely?
a. Will You restrain Yourself because of these things, O LORD? The praying one concludes up the prayer with a great question. The these things he refers to are not the desperate condition of Jerusalem and the temple (Isaiah 64:10-11). They are the descriptions of our sinful condition (Isaiah 64:5b-7). The praying one asks, “LORD, You know very well our sinful condition. But will You restrain Yourself because of these things, O LORD?”
b. Will You hold Your peace, and afflict us very severely? The sense is, “LORD, please show mercy! Will you always give us what we deserve?”
i. In this prayer, the praying one deals with what seems to be an impossible problem. Because of our sin (Isaiah 64:5b-7), we are in a desperate state and need the LORD’s salvation. But the LORD only answers the prayers of a righteous man (Isaiah 64:4-5a) – and a righteous man wouldn’t be in the place we are! Ultimately, the answer is found in the New Covenant, where a righteous Man stands in our place and prays for us. This is why Jesus invited us to pray in His name (John 14:13-14). When we pray in Jesus’ name, He is the righteous Man who appeals to God for us.
(c) 2021 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – email@example.com