Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This chapter and the following relate to the same general subject, and should not have been separated. The subject with which they are introduced is the destruction of the enemies of God Isa 63:1-6, and this is followed by tender expressions of confidence in Yahweh, and by earnest supplications, on the part of his people, that he would interpose in their behalf. The prophet sees in vision a magnificent conqueror, stained with the blood of his enemies, returning from Edom, and from its capital Bozrah - a warrior flushed with victory, unsubdued, unweakened, and coming with the pride and stateliness of conquest. Who he is, is the object of inquiry; and the answer is, that he is a great and holy deliverer. Why his gorgeous robes are thus polluted with blood, becomes also a question of intense anxiety. The reply of the conqueror is, that he has been forth to subdue mighty foes; that he went alone; that there was none that could aid; and that he had trodden them down as a treader of grapes treads in the wine-press. The whole image here is that of a triumphant, blood-stained warrior, returning from the conquest of Idumea.
Who is referred to here has been a question in which interpreters have greatly differed in opinion. The following are some of the opinions which have been expressed.
1. Some have referred it to Judas Maccabeus. This was the opinion of Grotius, who supposed that it was designed to represent his conquest of Idumea (1 Macc. 5:1-5; Jos. Ant. xii. 8. 1). But against this interpretation there are insuperable objections.
(1) The attributes of the person here referred to do not agree with him. How could he announce that he was the proclaimer of righteousness and was mighty to save?
(2) The exploits of Judas Maccabeus were not such as to justify the language which the prophet here uses. He overcame the Idumeans, and killed twenty thousand men, but this event is by no means adequate to the lofty prediction of the prophet.
(3) There is another objection suggested by Lowth to this supposition. It is that the Idumea of the time of Isaiah was quite a different country from that which was laid waste by Judas. In the time of Isaiah, Idumea was known as the country south of Palestine, whose capital at one time was Petra, and at another Bozrah. But during the captivity in Babylon, the Nabatheans invaded and conquered the southern part of Judea, and took possession of a great part of what was the territory of the tribe of Judah, and made Hebron the capital. This was the Idumea known in later times, and this was the Idumea that Judas Maccabeus conquered (1 Macc. 5:65).
2. One writer, referred to by Poole (Synopsis); supposes that the allusion is to Michael, who came to assist Daniel against the Prince of the kingdom of Persia Dan 10:13.
3. Others have referred it to Yahweh subduing his enemies, and restoring safety to his people. This is the opinion of Calvin, Piscator, Junius, Noyes, and Gesenius.
4. The mass of interpreters have referred it to the Messiah. This is the opinion, among the ancients, of Origen, Jerome, Cyril, Eusebius, and Procopius; and among the moderns, of Lowth, Cocceius - of course, Calovius, etc. But to this opinion Calvin makes the following weighty objection; 'Christians,' says he, 'have violently distorted this passage by referring it to Christ, when the prophet simply makes an announcement respecting God. And they have reigned that Christ was red because he was covered with his own blood, which he poured out on the cross. But the simple sense is, that the Lord here goes forth in the sight of his people with red garments, that all might understand that he was their vindicator and avenger' - (Commentary in loc.). The objections to an immediate and direct application to Christ, seem to me to be insuperable.
(1) There is no reference to it in the New Testament as applicable to him.
(2) The blood with which the hero was stained, was not his own blood, but that of his foes; consequently all the applications of the words and phrases here to the Messiah as stained with his own blood are misplaced.
(3) The whole image of the prophet is that of a triumphant warrior, returning from conquest, himself unharmed and unwounded, not that of a meek and patient sufferer such as the Messiah. It is, therefore, not without the greatest perversion that it can be referred to the Messiah, nor should it be so employed. (These objections against the application of the passage to the Messiah, seem to be fatal only to one aspect of it, namely, that which presents the Messiah as stained with his own blood; but though the warrior here very clearly appears stained with the blood of others, not his own, but the blood of vanquished foes, still that warrior may be the Messiah, and this one of the numerous passages in which he is represented as a victorious conqueror Psa 45:3; Rev 6:2; Rev 19:11-16. The beautiful accommodation of the language in the third verse to the sufferings of Christ, seems to have led to the forced application of the whole passage to the Redeemer's passion. It certainly refers, however, to a conquering, not a suffering, Messiah. Alexander supposes the conqueror to be Yahweh, or the Messiah; Henderson, the divine Logos, the Angel or Messenger of the divine presence, who acted as the Protector and Saviour of ancient Israel. Edom is generally taken as the type of the enemies of Israel, or of the church; and this prophecy announces their overthrow - E. D.)
5. Vitringa supposes that there is described under the emblem used here, the final and peremptory manner with which the Messiah, the vindicator and avenger of his people, will take severe vengeance, with the shedding of much blood, on the princes, people, subjects, and patrons of idolatrous and apostate Rome; that the true church on the earth would be reduced to extremities; would be destitute of protectors; and that the Messiah would interpose and by his own power destroy the foes of his people.
The whole passage Isa 63:1-6 has a striking resemblance to Isa. 34, where the prophet predicts the overthrow of Idumea, and the long desolations that would come upon that country and people, and probably the same idea is intended to be conveyed by this which was by that - that all the enemies of the Jews would be destroyed (see the Analysis to Isa 39:1-8, and the note at that chapter). It is to be remembered that Idumea was a formidable foe to the Jews; that there had been frequent wars between them; and especially that they had greatly provoked the anger of the Hebrews, and deserved the severest divine vengeance for uniting with the Chaldeans when they took Jerusalem, and for urging them to raze it to its foundation Psa 137:7. On these accounts, Idumea was to he destroyed. Vengeance was to be taken on this foe; and the destruction of ldumea became a kind of Fledge and emblem of the destruction of all the enemies of the people of God. Thus it is used here; and the prophet sees in vision Yahweh returning in triumph from the complete overthrow of the capital of that nation, and the entire destruction of the inhabitants. He sees the mighty warrior return from the conquest; his raiment stained with blood; and he inquires who he is, and receives for answer that he has been alone to the conquest of the foes of his people. The idea is, that all those foes would be destroyed, and that it would be done by the power of God alone. The chapter, therefore, I do not regard as immediately referring to the Messiah, but to Yahweh, and to his solemn purpose to destroy the enemies of his people, and to effect their complete deliverance. It may be further remarked that the portion in Isa 63:1-6, is a responsive song; a species of composition common in the Bible (see Psa 24:1-10; Psa 134:1-3; Sol 3:6).
The two chapters Isa. 63; Isa 64:1-12 may be divided into three parts.
I. The destruction of Edom Isa 63:1-6.
1. The view of the conquering hero coming from Bozrah, and the inquiry by the people who he is (Isa 63:1, first part). He comes with dyed garments, yet glorious, and with the state and air of a conqueror.
2. The response of Yahweh the conqueror, that it was he who was mighty to save (Isa 63:1, last part).
3. The inquiry of the people why he was thus red in his apparel, as if he had been treading in the wine-press Isa 63:2.
4. The answer of Yahweh Isa 63:3-6.
(1) He had indeed trod the Wine-press, and he had done it alone. He had trod down the people in his anger, and their blood had been sprinkled on lids raiment.
(2) The day of his vengeance had arrived, and the year of his redeemed had come.
(3) No one had been able to do it, and he had gone forth alone, and had trod down their strength in his fury.
II. A hymn of thanksgiving in view of the deliverance performed, and of the many mercies conferred on Israel Isa 63:7-14.
1. A general acknowledgment of his mercy Isa 63:7.
2. His choice of them as his people Isa 63:8.
3. His sympathy for them in all their trials Isa 63:9.
4. His kindness and compassion, illustrated by a reference to his leading them through the wilderness, notwithstanding their ingratitude and sin Isa 63:10-14.
III. An earnest supplication in view of the condition of Israel Isa 63:15-19; Isa 64:1-12. The arguments are very beautiful and various for his interposition.
1. An appeal to Yahweh in view of his former mercies Isa 63:15.
2. An argument from the fact that he was their Father, though they should be disowned and despised by all others Isa 63:16.
3. Earnest intercession from the fact that his enemies had trodden down the sanctuary, and that those who never acknowledged him, ruled in the land that he had given to his own people Isa 63:17-19.
4. An earnest pleading with God, in view of the inestimable value of the favors which he conferred - the fact that there was nothing so much to be desired, that the world could confer nothing that was to be compared with his favor Isa 64:1-5.
5. An argument derived from the general prevalence of irreligion among the people Isa 64:6-7.
6. Tender and affectionate pleading from the fact that they were his people Isa 64:8-9.
7. A tender and affectionate argument from the fact that the holy city was waste; the temple in ruins; and the beautiful house where their fathers worshipped had been burned up with fire Isa 64:10-12.
This last passage Isa 64:10-12, proves that the scene of this prayer and vision is laid in Babylon. The time is after Jerusalem had been destroyed, the temple fired, and their sacred things transported; after Edom had joined with the Chaldeans in demanding the entire destruction of the city and temple, and had urged them on to the work of destruction Psa 137:7; after the Idumeans had invaded the territories of Judea, and established a kingdom there. In their exile they are represented as calling upon God, and they are assured that the kingdom of their enemies would be wholly destroyed.
Who is this - The language of the people who see Yahweh returning as a triumphant conqueror from Idumea. Struck with his stately bearing as a warrior; with his gorgeous apparel; and with the blood on his raiment, they ask who he could be? This is a striking instance of the bold and abrupt manner of Isaiah. He does not describe him as going forth to war nor the preparation for battle; nor the battle itself, nor the conquests of cities and armies; but he introduces at once the returning conqueror having gained the victory - here represented as a solitary warrior, moving along with majestic gait from Idumea to his own capital, Jerusalem. Yahweh is not unfrequently represented as a warrior (see the notes at Isa 42:13).
From Edom - On the situation of Edom, and for the reasons of the animosity between that country and Judea, see the Aanlysis to Isa. 34.
With dyed garments - That is, with garments dyed in blood. The word rendered here 'dyed' ( חמוּץ châmûts), is derived from חמץ châmats, to be sharp and pungent, and is usually applied to anything that is sharp or sour. It is applied to color that is bright or dazzling, in the same manner as the Greeks use the phrase χρῶμα ὀξύ chrōma oxu - a sharp color - applied to purple or scarlet. Thus the phrase πορφύραι ὀξύταται porphurai oxutatai means a brilliant, bright purple (see Bochart, Hieroz. i. 2. 7). It is applied to the military cloak which was worn by a warrior, and may denote here either that it was originally dyed of a scarlet color, or more probably that it was made red by the blood that had been sprinkled on it. Thus in Rev 19:13, the Son of God is represented as clothed in a similar manner: 'And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood.' In Isa 63:3, the answer of Yahweh to the inquiry why his raiment was red, shows that the color was to be attributed to blood.
From Bozrah - On the situation of Bozrah, see the notes at Isa 34:6. It was for a time the principal city of Idumea, though properly lying within the boundaries of Moab. In Isa 34:6, Yahweh is represented as having 'a great sacrifice in Bozrah;' here he is seen as having come from it with his garments red with blood.
This that is glorious in his apparel - Margin, 'Decked.' The Hebrew word (הדוּר hâdûr) means "adorned, honorable, or glorious." The idea is, that his military apparel was gorgeous and magnificent - the apparel of an ancient warrior of high rank.
Traveling in the greatness of his strength - Noyes renders this, 'Proud in the greatness of his strength,' in accordance with the signification given by Gesenius. The word used here (צעה tsâ‛âh) means properly "to turn to one side, to incline, to be bent, bowed down as a captive in bonds" Isa 51:14; then "to bend or toss back the head as an indication of pride" (Gesenius). According to Taylor (Concord.) the word has 'relation to the actions, the superb mien or manner of a triumphant warrior returning from battle, in which he has got a complete victory over his enemies. And it may include the pomp and high spirit with which he drives before him the prisoners which he has taken.' It occurs only in this place and in Isa 51:14; Jer 2:20; Jer 48:12. The Septuagint omits it in their translation. The sense is doubtless that Yahweh is seen returning with the tread of a triumphant conqueror, flushed with victor, and entirely successful in having destroyed his foes. There is no evidence, however, as Taylor supposes, that he is driving his prisoners before him, for he is seen alone, having destroyed all his foes.
I that speak in righteousness - The answer of the advancing conqueror. The sense is, 'It is I, Yahweh, who have promised to deliver my people and to destroy their enemies, and who have now returned from accomplishing my purpose.' The assurance that he speaks in righteousness, refers here to the promises which he had made that be would rescue and save them.
Mighty to save - The sentiment is, that the fact that he destroys the foes of his people is an argument that he can save those who put their trust in him. The same power that destroys a sinner may save a saint; and the destruction of a sinner may be the means of the salvation of his own people.
Wherefore art thou red? - The inquiry of the people. Whence is it that that gorgeous apparel is stained with blood?
And thy garment like him that treadeth in the wine-fat? - Or rather the 'wine-press.' The word used here (גת gath) means the place where the grapes were placed to be trodden with the feet, and from which the juice would flow off into a vat or receptacle. Of course the juice of the grape would stain the raiment of him who was employed in this business, and would give him the appearance of being covered with blood. 'The manner of pressing grapes,' says Burder, 'is as follows: having placed them in a hogshead, a man with naked feet gets in and tread the grapes; in about an hour's time the juice is forced out; he then turns the lowest grapes uppermost, and tread them for about a quarter of an hour longer; this is sufficient to squeeze the good juice out of them, for an additional pressure would even crush the unripe grapes and give the whole a disagreeable flavor.' The following statement of I. D. Paxton, in a letter from Beyrout, March 1, 1838, will show how the modern custom accords with that in the time of Isaiah: 'They have a large row of stone vats in which the grapes are thrown, and beside these are placed stone troughs, into which the juice flows. People get in and tread the grapes with their feet. It is hard work, and their clothes are often stained with the Juice. The figures found in Scripture taken from this are true to the life.' This method was also employed in Egypt. The presses there, as represented on some of the paintings at Thebes, consisted of two parts; the lower portion or vat, and the trough where the men with naked feet trod the fruit, supporting themselves by ropes suspended from the roof (see Wilkinson's Ancient Egyptians, ii, 155). Vitringa also notices the same custom.
Huc, pater O Lenae, veni; nudataque musto
Tinge nero mecum direptis crura cothurnis.
Georg. ii. 7, 8
This comparison is also beautifully used by John, Rev 14:19-20 : 'And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great wine-press of the wrath of God. And the wine-press was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the wine-press even unto the horses' bridles.' And in Rev 19:15, 'And he treadeth the wine-press of the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God.' The comparison of blood to wine is not uncommon. Thus in Deu 32:14, 'And thou didst drink the pure blood of the grape.' Calvin supposes that allusion is here made to the wine-press, because the country around Bozrah abounded with grapes.
I have trodden the wine-press alone - I, Yahweh, have indeed trod the wine-press of my wrath, and I have done it alone (compare the notes at Isa 34:5-6). The idea here is, that he had completely destroyed his foes in Idumea, and had done it by a great slaughter.
For I will tread - Or rather, I trod them. It refers to what he had done; or what was then past.
And their blood shall be sprinkled - Or rather, their blood was sprinkled. The word used here (נצח nētsach) does not commonly mean blood; but splendor, glory, purity, truth, perpetuity, eternity. Gesenius derives the word, as used here, from an Arabic word meaning to sprinkle, to scatter; and hence, the juice or liquor of the grape as it is sprinkled or spirted from grapes when trodden. There is no doubt here that it refers to blood - though with the idea of its being spirted out by treading down a foe.
And I will stain all my raiment - I have stained all my raiment - referring to the fact that the slaughter was extensive and entire. On the extent of the slaughter, see the notes at Isa 34:6-7, Isa 34:9-10.
For the day of vengeance - (See the notes at Isa 34:8).
And the year of my redeemed is come - The year when my people are to be redeemed. It is a year when their foes are all to be destroyed, and when their entire liberty is to be effected.
And I looked and there was none to help - The same sentiment is expressed in Isa 59:16 (see the note at that verse).
None to uphold - None to sustain or assist. The design is to express the fact that he was entirely alone in this work: that none were disposed or able to assist him. Though this has no direct reference to the plan of salvation, or to the work of the Messiah as a Redeemer, yet it is true of him also that in that work he stood alone. No one did aid him or could aid him; but alone he 'bore the burden of the world's atonement.'
My fury, it upheld me - My determined purpose to inflict punishment on my foes sustained me. There is a reference doubtless to the fact that courage nerves the arm and sustains a man in deadly conflict; that a purpose to take vengeance, or to inflict deserved punishment, animates one to make efforts which he could not otherwise perform. In Isa 59:16, the sentiment is, 'his righteousness sustained him;' here it is that his fury did it. There the purpose was to bring salvation; here it was to destroy his foes.
And I will tread them down - Or rather, 'I did tread them down.' The allusion here is to a warrior who tramples on his foes and treads them in the dust (see the notes at Isa 25:10).
And made them drunk - That is, I made them reel and fall under my fury like a drunken man. In describing the destruction of Idumea in Isa 34:5, Yahweh says that his sword was made drunk, or that it rushed intoxicated from heaven. See the notes on that verse. But here he says that the people, under the terrors of his wrath, lost their power of self-command, and fell to the earth like an intoxicated man. Kimchi says that the idea is, that Yahweh extended the cup of his wrath for them to drink until they became intoxicated and fell. An image of this kind is several times used in the Scriptures (see the notes at Isa 51:17; compare Psa 75:8). Lowth and Noyes render this, 'I crushed them.' The reason of this change is, that according to Kennicott, twenty-seven manuscripts (three of them ancient) instead of the present Hebrew reading ואשׁכרם va'ăshakerēm, 'And I will make them drunk,' read ואשׁברם va'ăshaberēm, 'I will break or crush them.' Such a change, it is true, might easily have been made from the similarity of the Hebrew letters, כ (k) and ב (b). But the authority for the change does not seem to me to be sufficient, nor is it necessary. The image of making them stagger and fall like a drunken man, is more poetic than the other, and is in entire accordance with the usual manner of writing by the sacred penman. The Chaldee renders it, 'I cast to the lowest earth the slain of their strong ones.'
And I will bring down their strength - I subdued their strong places, and their mighty armies. Such is the sense giver, to the passage by our translators. But Lowth and Noyes render it, more correctly, 'I spilled their life-blood upon the ground.' The word which our translators have rendered 'strength' (נצח nētsach), is the same word which is used in Isa 63:3, and which is rendered there 'blood' (see the note at that verse). It is probably used in the same sense here, and means that Yahweh had brought their blood to the earth; that is, he had spilled it upon the ground. So the Septuagint renders it, 'I shed their blood (κατήγαγον τὸ αίμα katēgagon to haima) upon the earth.' This finishes the vision of the mighty conqueror returning from Edom. The following verse introduces a new subject. The sentiment in the passage is, that Yahweh by his own power, and by the might of his own arm, would subdue all his foes and redeem his people. Edom in its hostility to his people, the apt emblem of all his foes, would be completely humbled; and in its subjugation there would be the emblem and the pledge that all his enemies would be destroyed, and that his own church would be safe. See the notes at Isa. 34; Isa 35:1-10.
I will mention - This is evidently the language of the people celebrating the praises of God in view of all his mercies in former days. See the analysis to the chapter. The design of what follows, to the close of Isa 64:1-12, is to implore the mercy of God in view of their depressed and ruined condition. They are represented as suffering under the infliction of long and continued ills; as cast out and driven to a distant land; as deprived of their former privileges, and as having been long subjected to great evils. Their temple is destroyed; their city desolate; and their whole nation afflicted and oppressed. The time is probably near the close of the captivity; though Lowth supposes that it refers to the Jews as scattered over all lands, and driven away from the country of their fathers. They begin their petitions in this verse with acknowledging God's great mercies to their fathers and to their nation; then they confess their own disobedience, and supplicate, by various arguments, the divine mercy and favor. The Chaldee commences the verse thus, 'The prophet said, I will remember the mercy of the Lord.' But it is the language of the people, not that of the prophet. The word rendered 'mention' (אזכיר 'azekiyr), means properly, I will cause to remember, or to be remembered (see the notes at Isa 62:6).
And the praises of the Lord - That is, I will recount the deeds which show that he is worthy of thanksgiving. The repetitions in this verse are designed to be emphatic; and the meaning of the whole is, that Yahweh had given them abundant cause of praise, notwithstanding the evils which they endured.
For he said - Yahweh had said. That is, he said this when he chose them as his unique people, and entered into solemn covenant with them.
Surely they are my people - The reference here is to the fact that he entered into covenant with them to be their God.
Children that will not lie - That will not prove false to me - indicating the reasonable expectation which Yahweh might have, when he chose them, that they would be faithful to him.
So he was their Saviour - Lowth renders this, 'And he became their Saviour in all their distress;' connecting this with the first member of the following verse, and translating that, 'it was not an envoy, nor an angel of his presence that saved them.' So the Septuagint renders it, 'And he was to them for salvation εἰς σωτηρίαν eis sōtērian) from all their affliction.' The Chaldee render it, 'And his word was redemption (פריק pâriyq) unto them.' But the true idea probably is, that he chose them, and in virtue of his thus choosing them he became their deliverer.
In all their affliction he was afflicted - This is a most beautiful sentiment, meaning that God sympathized with them in all their trials, and that he was ever ready to aid them. This sentiment accords well with the connection; but there has been some doubt whether this is the meaning of the Hebrew. Lowth renders it, as has been already remarked, 'It was not an envoy, nor an angel of his presence that saved him.' Noyes, 'In all their straits they had no distress.' TheSeptuagint renders it, 'It was not an ambassador (ου ̓ πρέσβυς ou presbus), nor an angel (οὐδὲ ἄγγελος oude angelos), but he himself saved them.' Instead of the present Hebrew word (צר tsâr, 'affliction'), they evidently read it, ציר tsiyr, 'a messenger.' The Chaldee renders it, 'Every time when they sinned against him, so that he might have brought upon them tribulation, he did not afflict them.' The Syriac, 'In all their calamities he did not afflict them.' This variety of translation has arisen from an uncertainty or ambiguity in the Hebrew text.
Instead of the present reading (לא lo', 'not') about an equal number of manuscripts read לו lô, 'to him,' by the change of a single letter. According to the former reading, the sense would be, 'in all their affliction, there was no distress,' that is, they were so comforted and supported by God, that they did not feel the force of the burden. According to the other mode of reading it, the sense would be, 'in all their affliction, there was affliction to him;' that is, he sympathized with them, and upheld them. Either reading makes good sense, and it is impossible now to ascertain which is correct. Gesenius supposes it to mean, 'In all their afflictions there would be actually no trouble to them. God sustained them, and the angel of of his presence supported and delivered them.' For a fuller view of the passage, see Rosenmuller. In the uncertainty and doubt in regard to the true reading of the Hebrew, the proper way is not to attempt to change the translation in our common version. It expresses an exceedingly interesting truth, and one that is suited to comfort the people of God; - that he is never unmindful of their sufferings; that he feels deeply when they are afflicted; and that he hastens to their relief. It is an idea which occurs everywhere in the Bible, that God is not a cold, distant, abstract being; but that he takes the deepest interest in human affairs, and especially that he has a tender solicitude in all the trials of his people.
And the angel of his presence saved them - This angel, called 'the angel of the presence of God,' is frequently mentioned as having conducted the children of Israel through the wilderness, and as having interposed to save them Exo 23:20, Exo 23:31; Exo 32:34; Exo 33:2; Num 20:16. The phrase, 'the angel of his presence,' (Hebrew, פניו מלאך פ male'âk pânâyv, 'angel of his face,' or 'countenance'), means an angel that stands in his presence, and that enjoys his favor, as a man does who stands before a prince, or who is admitted constantly to his presence (compare Pro 22:29). Evidently there is reference here to an angel of superior order or rank, but to whom has been a matter of doubt with interpreters. Jarchi supposes that it was Michael, mentioned in Dan 10:13-21. The Chaldee renders it, 'The angel sent (שׁליח shelı̂yach) from his presence.' Most Christian interpreters have supposed that the reference is to the Messiah, as the manifested guide and defender of the children of Israel during their long journey in the desert. This is not the place to go into a theological examination of that question. The sense of the Hebrew here is, that it was a messenger sent from the immediate presence of God, and therefore of elevated rank. The opinion that it was the Son of God is one that can be sustained by arguments that are not easily refuted. On the subject of angels, according to the Scripture doctrine, the reader may consult with advantage an article by Dr. Lewis Mayer, in the Bib. Rep., Oct. 1388.
He redeemed them - (See the notes at Isa 43:1).
And he bare them - As a shepherd carries the lambs of the flock, or as a nurse carries her children; or still more probably, as an eagle bears her young on her wings Deu 32:11-12. The idea is, that he conducted them through all their trials in the wilderness, and led them in safety to the promised land (compare the notes at Isa 40:11).
All the days of old - In all their former history. He has been with them and protected them in all their trials.
But they rebelled - Against God. This charge is often made against the Jews; and indeed their history is little more than a record of a series of rebellions against God.
And vexed - Or rather 'grieved.' The Hebrew word עצב ‛âtsab, in Piel, means to pain, to afflict, to grieve. This is the idea here. Their conduct was such as was suited to produce the deepest pain - for there is nothing which we more deeply feel than the ingratitude of those who have been benefited by us. Our translators have supposed that the word conveyed the idea of provoking to wrath by their conduct (thus the Septuagint renders it παρώξυναν τὸ πνεύμα, κ.τ.λ. parōxunan to pneuma, etc.; but the more appropriate sense is, that their conduct was such as to produce pain or grief. Compare Eph 4:30 : 'Grieve not (μὴ λυπεῖτε mē lupeite) the Holy Spirit.' Psa 78:40; Psa 95:10. Heb 3:10-17.
His Holy Spirit - The Chaldee renders this, 'But they were unwilling to obey, and they irritated (provoked, blasphemed רגז râgaz) against the words of the prophets.' But the reference seems rather to be to the Spirit of God that renewed, comforted, enlightened, and sanctified them. Grotius, Rosenmuller, and Gesenius, suppose that this means God himself - a Spirit of holiness. But, with the revelation of the New Testament before us, we cannot well doubt that the real reference here is to the third person of the Trinity - the renewer and sanctifier of the people of God. It may be admitted, perhaps, that the ancient Hebrews would refer this to God himself, and that their views of the offices of the different persons in the divine nature were not very clearly marked, or very distinct. But this does not prove that the real reference may not have been to 'the Holy Spirit.' The renewer and sanctifier of the human heart at all times has been the same.
And when any operations of the mind and heart pertaining to salvation are referred to in the Old Testament, nothing should forbid us to apply to the explanation of the expressions and the facts, the clear light which we have in the New Testament - in the same way as when the ancients speak of phenomena in the physical world, we deem it not improper to apply to the explanation of them the established doctrines which we now have in the physical sciences. By this we by no means design to say that the ancients had the same knowledge which we have, or that the language which they used conveyed the same idea to them which it now does to us, but that the events occurred in accordance with the laws which we now understand, and that the language may be explained by the light of modern science. Thus the word eclipse conveyed to them a somewhat different idea from what it does to us. They supposed it was produced by different causes. Still they described accurately the facts in the case; and to the explanation of those facts we are permitted now to apply the principles of modern science. So the Old Testament describes facts occurring under the influence of truth. The facts were clearly understood. What shall hinder us, in explaining them, from applying the clearer light of the New Testament? Admitting this obvious principle, I suppose that the reference here was really to the third person of the Trinity; and that the sense is, that their conduct was such as was suited to cause grief to their Sanctifier and Comforter, in the same way as it is said in the New Testament that this is done now.
He was turned - He abandoned them for their sins, and left them to reap the consequences.
And he fought against them - He favored their enemies and gave them the victory. He gave them up to a series of disasters which finally terminated in their long and painful captivity, and in the destruction of their temple, city, and nation. The sentiment is, that when we grieve the Spirit of God, he abandons us to our chosen course, and leaves us to a series of spiritual and temporal disasters.
Then he remembered - He did not forget his solemn premises to be their protector and their God. For their crimes they were subjected to punishment, but God did not forget that they were his people, nor that he had entered into covenant with them. The object of this part of the petition seems to be, to recall the fact that in former times God had never wholly forsaken them, and to plead that the same thing might occur now. Even in the darkest days of adversity, God still remembered his promises, and interposed to save them. Such they trusted it would be still.
Moses and his people - Lowth renders this, 'Moses his servant,' supposing that a change had occurred in the Hebrew text. It would be natural indeed to suppose that the word 'servant' would occur here (see the Hebrew), but the authority is not sufficient for the change. The idea seems to be that which is in our translation, and which is approved by Vitringa and Gesenius. 'He recalled the ancient days when he led Moses and his people through the sea and the wilderness.'
Where is he - The Chaldee renders this, 'Lest they should say, Where is he?' that is, lest surrounding nations should ask in contempt and scorn, Where is the protector of the people, who defended them in other times? According to this, the sense is that God remembered the times of Moses and interposed, lest his not doing it should bring reproach upon his name and cause. Lowth renders it, 'How he brought them up;' that is, he recollected his former interposition. But the true idea is that of one asking a question. 'Where now is the God that formerly appeared for their aid? And though it is the language of God himself, yet it indicates that state of mind which arises when the question is asked, Where is now the former protector and God of the people?
That brought them up out of the sea - The Red Sea, when he delivered them from Egypt. This fact is the subject of a constant reference in the Scriptures, when the sacred writers would illustrate the goodness of God in any great and signal deliverance.
With the shepherd of his flock - Margin, 'Shepherds.' Lowth and Noyes render this in the singular, supposing it to refer to Moses. The Septuagint, Chaldee, and Syriac, also read it in the singular. The Hebrew is in the plural (רעי ro‛ēy), though some manuscripts read it in the singular. If it is to be read in the plural, as the great majority of manuscripts read it, it probably refers to Moses and Aaron as the shepherds or guides of the people. Or it may also include others, meaning that Yahweh led up the people with all their rulers and guides.
Where is he that put his Holy Spirit within him? - (see the notes at Isa 63:10). Hebrew, בקרבו beqirebô - 'In the midst of him,' that is, in the midst of the people or the flock. They were then under his guidance and sanctifying influence. The generation which was led to the land of Canaan was eminently pious, perhaps more so than any other of the people of Israel (compare Jos 24:31; Jdg 2:6-10). The idea here is, that God, who then gave his Holy Spirit, had seemed to forsake them. The nation seemed to be abandoned to wickedness; and in this state, God remembered how he had formerly chosen and sanctified them; and he proposed again to impart to them the same Spirit.
That led them by the right hand of Moses - (See the notes at Isa 41:10-13; Isa 45:1).
Dividing the water before them - Exo 14:21.
To make himself an everlasting name - He designed to perform a work which, it would be seen, could not be performed by any false god or by any human arm, and to do it in such circumstances, and in such a manner, that it might be seen everywhere that this was the true God (compare the notes at Isa 45:6). The deliverance from Egypt was attended with such amazing miracles, and with such a sudden destruction of his foes, that none but the true God could have performed it. Egypt was at that time the center of all the science, civilization, and art known among mankind; and what occurred there would be known to other lands. God, therefore, in this signal manner, designed to make a public demonstration of his existence and power that shall be known in all lands, and that should never be forgotten.
That led them through the deep - They went through the deep on dry land - the waters having divided and left an unobstructed path.
As an horse in the wilderness - As an horse, or a courser, goes through a desert without stumbling. This is a most beautiful image. The reference is to vast level plains like those in Arabia, where there are no stones, no trees, no gullies, no obstacles, and where a fleet courser bounds over the plain without any danger of stumbling. So the Israelites were led on their way without falling. All obstacles were removed, and they were led along as if over a vast smooth plain. Our word 'wilderness,' by no means expresses the idea here. We apply it to uncultivated regions that are covered with trees, and where there would be numerous obstacles to such a race-horse. But the Hebrew word (מדבר midbâr) rather refers to "a desert, a waste" - a place of level sands or plains where there was nothing to obstruct the fleet courser that should prance over them. Such is probably the meaning of this passage, but Harmer (Obs. i. 161ff) may be consulted for another view, which may possibly be the correct one.
As a beast that goeth down into the valley - As a herd of cattle in the heat of the day descends into the shady glen in order to find rest. In the vale, streams of water usually flow. By those streams and fountains trees grow luxuriantly, and these furnish a cool and refreshing shade. The cattle, therefore, in the heat of the day, naturally descend from the hills, where there are no fountains and streams, and where they are exposed to an intense sun, to seek refreshment in the shade of the valley. The figure here is that of resting in safety after exposure; and there are few more poetic and beautiful images of comfort than that furnished by cattle lying quietly and safely in the cool shade of a well-watered vale. This image would be much more striking in the intense heat of an Oriental climate than it is with us. Harmer (Obs. i. 168ff) supposes that the allusion here is to the custom prevailing still among the Arabs, when attacked by enemies, of withdrawing with their herds and flocks to some sequestered vale in the deserts, where they find safety. The idea, according to him, is, that Israel lay thus safely encamped in the wilderness; that they, with their flocks and herds and riches, were suffered to remain unattacked by the king of Egypt; and that this was a state of grateful repose, like that which a herd feels after having been closely pursued by an enemy, when it finds a safe retreat in some quiet vale. But it seems to me that the idea first suggested is the most correct - as it is, undoubtedly the most poetical and beautiful of a herd of cattle leaving the hills, and seeking a cooling shade and quiet retreat in a well-watered vale. Such repose, such calm, gentle, undisturbed rest, God gave his people. Such he gives them now, amidst sultry suns and storms, as they pass through the world.
The Spirit of the Lord - (See the note at Isa 63:10).
So didst thou lead - That is, dividing the sea, delivering them from their foes, and leading them calmly and securely on to the land of rest. So now, amidst dangers seen and unseen, God leads his people on toward heaven. He removes the obstacles in their way; he subdues their foes; he 'makes them to lie down in green pastures, and leads them beside the still waters' Psa 23:2; and he bears them forward to a world of perfect peace.
Look down from heaven - This commences an earnest appeal that God would have mercy on them in their present calamities and trials. They entreat him to remember his former mercies, and to return and bless them, as he had done in ancient times.
And behold from the habitation - (See the notes at Isa 57:15).
Where is thy zeal - That is, thy former zeal for thy people; where is now the proof of the interest for their welfare which was vouchsafed in times that are past.
And thy strength - The might which was formerly manifested for their deliverance and salvation.
The sounding of thy bowels - Margin, 'Multitude.' The word rendered 'sounding' (המון hâmôn), means properly a noise or sound, as of rain; Kg1 18:41; of singing, Eze 26:13; of a multitude, Sa1 4:14; Sa1 14:19. It also means a multitude, or a crowd of people Isa 13:4; Isa 33:3. Here it relates to an emotion or affection of the mind; and the phrase denotes compassion, or tender concern for them in their sufferings. It is derived from the customary expression in the Bible that the bowels, that is, the organs in the region of the chest - for so the word is used in the Scriptures - were the seat of the emotions, and were supposed to be affected by any strong and tender emotion of the mind (see the notes at Isa 16:11). The idea here is, 'Where is thy former compassion for thy people in distress?'
Are they restrained? - Are they witcheld? Are thy mercies to be exercised no more?
Doubtless - Hebrew, כי kı̂y - 'For;' verily; surely. It implies the utmost confidence that he still retained the feelings of a tender father.
Thou art our father - Notwithstanding appearances to the contrary, and though we should be disowned by all others, we will still believe that thou dost sustain the relation of a father. Though they saw no human aid, yet their confidence was unwavering that he had still tender compassion toward them.
Though Abraham be ignorant of us - Abraham was the father of the nations - their pious and much venerated ancestor. His memory they cherished with the deepest affection, and him they venerated as the illustrious patriarch whose name all were accustomed to speak with reverence. The idea here is, that though even such a man - one so holy, and so much venerated and loved - should refuse to own them as his children, yet that God would not forget his paternal relation to them. A similar expression of his unwavering love occurs in Isa 49:15 : 'Can a woman forget her sucking child?' See the note at that place. The language here expresses the unwavering conviction of the pious, that God's love for his people would never change; that it would live when even the most tender earthly ties are broken, and when calamities so thicken around us that we seem to be forsaken by God; and are forsaken by our sunshine friends, and even by our most tender earthly connections.
And Israel acknowledge us not - And though Jacob, another much honored and venerated patriarch, should refuse to recognize us as his children. The Jewish expositors say, that the reason why Abraham and Jacob are mentioned here and Isaac omitted, is, that Abraham was the first of the patriarchs, and that all the posterity of Jacob was admitted to the privileges of the covenant, which was not true of Isaac. The sentiment here is, that we should have unwavering confidence in God. We should confide in him though all earthly friends refuse to own us, and cast out our names as evil. Though father and mother and kindred refuse to acknowledge us, yet we should believe that God is our unchanging friend; and it is of more value to have such a friend than to have the most honored earthly ancestry and the affections of the nearest earthly relatives. How often have the people of God been called to experience this! How many times in the midst of persecution; when forsaken by father and mother; when given up to a cruel death on account of their attachment to the Redeemer, have they had occasion to recoil this beautiful sentiment, and how unfailingly have they found it to be true! Forsaken and despised; cast out and rejected; abandoned apparently by God and by people, they have yet found, in the arms of their heavenly Father, a consolation which this world could not destroy, and have experienced his tender compassions attending them even down to the grave.
Our Redeemer - Margin, 'Our Redeemer, from everlasting is thy name.' The Hebrew will bear either construction. Lowth renders it, very loosely, in accordance with the reading of one ancient manuscript, 'O deliver us for the sake of thy name.' Probably the idea is that which results from a deeply affecting and tender view of God as the Redeemer of his people. The heart, overflowing with emotion, meditates upon the eternal honors of his name, and is disposed to ascribe to him everlasting praise.
O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways? - Lowth and Noyes render this, 'Why dost thou suffer us to wander from thy way?' Calvin remarks on the passage, 'The prophet uses a common form of speaking, for it is usual in the Scriptures to say that God gives the wicked over to a reprobate mind, and hardens their hearts. But when the pious thus speak, they do not intend to make God the author of error or sin, as if they were innocent - nolunt Deum erroris aut sceleris facere auctorem, quasi sint innoxii - or to take away their own blameworthiness. But they rather look deeper, and confess themselves, by their own fault, to be alienated from God, and destitute of his Spirit; and hence it happens that they are precipitated into all manner of evils. God is said to harden and blind when he delivers those who are to be blinded to Satan (Satanae excaecandos tradit), who is the minister and the executor of his wrath.' (Commentary in loc.) This seems to be a fair account of this difficult subject.
At all events, this is the doctrine which was held by the father of the system of Calvinism; and nothing more should be charged on that system, in regard to blinding and hardening people, than is thus avowed (compare the notes at Isa 6:9-10; Mat 13:14-15). It is not to be supposed that this result took place by direct divine agency. It is not by positive power exerted to harden people and turn them away from God. No man who has any just views of God can suppose that he exerts a positive agency to make them sin, and then punishes them for it; no one who has any just views of man, and of the operations of his own mind, can doubt that a sinner is voluntary in his transgression. It is true, at the same time, that God foresaw it, and that he did not interpose to prevent it. Nay, it is true that the wickedness of people may be favored by his abused providence - as a pirate may take advantage of a fair breeze that God sends, to capture a merchant-man; and true, also, that God foresaw it would be so, and yet chose, on the whole, that the events of his providence should be so ordered.
His providential arrangements might be abused to the destruction of a few, but would tend to benefit and save many. The fresh gale that drove on one piratical vessel to crime and bloodshed, might, at the same time, convey many richly freighted ships toward the port. One might suffer; hundreds might rejoice. One pirate might be rendered successful in the commission of crime; hundreds of honest people might be benefited. The providential arrangement is not to compel people to sin, nor is it for the sake of their sinning. It is to do good, and to benefit many - though this may draw along, as a consequence, the hardening and the destruction of a few. He might, by direct agency, prevent it, as he might prevent the growth of the briers and thorns in a field; but the same arrangement, by witcholding suns and dews and rains, would also prevent the growth of flowers and grain and fruit, and turn extended fertile lands into a desert. It is better that the thorns and briers should be suffered to grow, than to convert those fields into a barren waste.
Return - That is, return to bless us.
The tribes of thine inheritance - The Jewish tribes spoken of as the heritage of God on the earth.
The people of thy holiness - The people who have been received into solemn covenant with thee.
Have possessed it but a little while - That is, the land meaning that the time during which they had enjoyed a peaceable possession of it, compared with the perpetuity of the promise made, was short. Such is the idea given to the passage by our translators. But there is considerable variety in the interpretation of the passage among expositors. Lowth renders it:
It is little, that they have taken possession of thy holy mountain;
That our enemies have trodden down thy sanctuary.
Jerome renders it, 'It is as nothing (quasi nihilum), they possess thy holy people; our enemies have trodden down thy sanctuary.' The Septuagint renders it, 'Return on account of thy servants, on account of the tribes of thine inheritance, that we may inherit thy holy mountains for a little time' ἵνα μικρὸν κληρονομήσωμεν τοῦ ὄρους τοῦ ἁγίου hina mikron klēronomēsōmen tou orous tou hagiou). It has been generally felt that there was great difficulty in the place. See Vitringa. The sense seems to be that which occurs in our translation. The design is to furnish an argument for the divine interposition, and the meaning of the two verses may be expressed in the following paraphrase: 'We implore thee to return unto us, and to put away thy wrath. As a reason for this, we urge that thy temple thy holy sanctuary - was possessed by thy people but a little time. For a brief period there we offered praise, and met with our God, and enjoyed his favor. Now thine enemies trample it down. They have come up and taken the land, and destroyed thy holy place Isa 64:11. We plead for thine interposition, because we are thy covenant people. Of old we have been thine. But as for them, they were never thine. They never yielded to thy laws. They were never called by thy name. There is, then, no reason why the temple and the land should be in their possession, and we earnestly pray that it may be restored to the tribes of thine ancient inheritance.'
Our adversaries - This whole prayer is supposed to be offered by the exiles near the close of their captivity. Of course the language is such as they would then use. The scene is laid in Babylon, and the object is to express the feelings which they would have then, and to furnish the model for the petitions which they would then urge. We are not, therefore, to suppose that the temple when Isaiah lived and wrote was in ruins, and the land in the possession of his foes. All this is seen in vision; and though a hundred and fifty years would occur before it would be realized, yet, according to the prophetic manner, he describes the scene as actually passing before him (see the Introduction, Section 7; compare the notes at Isa 64:11).
We are thine - We urge it as a reason for thy interposition to restore the land and the temple, that we are thine from ancient times. Such I take to be the meaning of the passage - in accordance with the common translation, except that the expression מעולם mē‛ôlâm, 'from ancient times,' rendered by our translators in connection with לא lo', 'never,' is thus connected with the Jewish people, instead of being regarded as applied to their enemies. The idea is, that it is an argument why God should interpose in their behalf, that they had been for a long time his people, but that his foes, who then had possession of the land, had never submitted to his laws. There has been, however, great variety in interpreting the passage. Lowth renders it:
We have long been as those whom thou hast not ruled;
We have not been called by thy name.
Noyes renders it better:
It has been with us as if thou hadst never ruled over us,
As if we had not been called by thy name.
Symmachus and the Arabic Saadias render it in the same manner. The Septuagint renders it, 'We have been as at the beginning when thou didst not rule over us, neither were we called by thy name;' that is, we have gone back practically to our former pagan condition, by rejecting thy laws, and by breaking thy covenant. Each of these interpretations makes a consistent sense, but it seems to me that the one which I have expressed above is more in accordance with the Hebrew.
Thou never barest rule over them - Over our enemies - regarded in the prophetic vision as then in possession of the land. The idea is, that they have come into thy land by violence, and laid waste a nation where they had no right to claim any jurisdiction, and have now no claim to thy protection.
They were not called by thy name - Hebrew, 'Thy name was not called upon them.' They were aliens and strangers who had unjustly intruded into the heritage of the Lord.