The church prays that God's power may be manifested. (1-5) A confession of sin, and afflictions bewailed. (6-12)
Verses 1-5 They desire that God would manifest himself to them and for them, so that all may see it. This is applicable to the second coming of Christ, when the Lord himself shall descend from heaven. They plead what God had used to do, and had declared his gracious purpose to do, for his people. They need not fear being disappointed of it, for it is sure; or disappointed in it, for it is sufficient. The happiness of his people is bound up in what God has designed for them, and is preparing for them, and preparing them for; what he has done or will do. Can we believe this, and then think any thing too great to expect from his truth, power, and love? It is spiritual and cannot be comprehended by human understanding. It is ever ready. See what communion there is between a gracious God and a gracious soul. We must make conscience of doing our duty in every thing the Lord our God requires. Thou meetest him; this speaks his freeness and forwardness in doing them good. Though God has been angry with us for our sins, and justly, yet his anger has soon ended; but in his favour is life, which goes on and continues, and on that we depend for our salvation.
Verses 6-12 The people of God, in affliction, confess and bewail their sins, owning themselves unworthy of his mercy. Sin is that abominable thing which the Lord hates. Our deeds, whatever they may seem to be, if we think to merit by them at God's hand, are as rags, and will not cover us; filthy rags, and will but defile us. Even our few good works in which there is real excellence, as fruits of the Spirit, are so defective and defiled as done by us, that they need to be washed in the fountain open for sin and uncleanness. It bodes ill when prayer is kept back. To pray, is by faith to take hold of the promises the Lord has made of his good-will to us, and to plead them; to take hold of him, earnestly begging him not to leave us; or soliciting his return. They brought their troubles upon themselves by their own folly. Sinners are blasted, and then carried away, by the wind of their own iniquity; it withers and then ruins them. When they made themselves as an unclean thing, no wonder that God loathed them. Foolish and careless as we are, poor and despised, yet still Thou art our Father. It is the wrath of a Father we are under, who will be reconciled; and the relief our case requires is expected only from him. They refer themselves to God. They do not say, "Lord, rebuke us not," for that may be necessary; but, "Not in thy displeasure." They state their lamentable condition. See what ruin sin brings upon a people; and an outward profession of holiness will be no defence against it. God's people presume not to tell him what he shall say, but their prayer is, Speak for the comfort and relief of thy people. How few call upon the Lord with their whole hearts, or stir themselves to lay hold upon him! God may delay for a time to answer our prayers, but he will, in the end, answer those who call on his name and hope in his mercy.
Isaiah 64:1-12 . TRANSITION FROM COMPLAINT TO PRAYER.
1. rend . . . heavens--bursting forth to execute vengeance, suddenly descending on Thy people's foe ( Psalms 18:9 , 144:5 , Habakkuk 3:5 Habakkuk 3:6 ).
flow down--( Judges 5:5 , Micah 1:4 ).
2. Oh, that Thy wrath would consume Thy foes as the fire. Rather, "as the fire burneth the dry brushwood" [GESENIUS].
3. When--Supply from Isaiah 64:2 , "As when."
terrible things--( Psalms 65:5 ).
we looked not for--far exceeding the expectation of any of our nation; unparalleled before ( Exodus 34:10 , Psalms 68:8 ).
camest down--on Mount Sinai.
mountains flowed--Repeated from Isaiah 64:1 ; they pray God to do the very same things for Israel now as in former ages. GESENIUS, instead of "flowed" here, and "flow" in Isaiah 64:1 , translates from a different Hebrew root, "quake . . . quaked"; but "fire" melts and causes to flow, rather than to quake ( Isaiah 64:2 ).
4. perceived by the ear--Paul ( 1 Corinthians 2:9 ) has for this, "nor have entered into the heart of man"; the virtual sense, sanctioned by his inspired authority; men might hear with the outward ear, but they could only by the Spirit "perceive" with the "heart" the spiritual significancy of God's acts, both those in relation to Israel, primarily referred to here, and those relating to the Gospel secondarily, which Paul refers to.
O God . . . what he . . . prepared--rather, "nor hath eye seen a god beside thee who doeth such things." They refer to God's past marvellous acts in behalf of Israel as a plea for His now interposing for His people; but the Spirit, as Paul by inspiration shows, contemplated further God's revelation in the Gospel, which abounds in marvellous paradoxes never before heard of by carnal ear, not to be understood by mere human sagacity, and when foretold by the prophets not fully perceived or credited; and even after the manifestation of Christ not to be understood save through the inward teaching of the Holy Ghost. These are partly past and present, and partly future; therefore Paul substitutes "prepared" for "doeth," though his context shows he includes all three. For "waiteth" he has "love Him"; godly waiting on Him must flow from love, and not mere fear.
5. meetest--that is, Thou makest peace, or enterest into covenant
rejoiceth and worketh--that is, who with joyful willingness worketh [GESENIUS] ( Acts 10:35 , John 7:17 ).
those--Thou meetest "those," in apposition to "him" who represents a class whose characteristics "those that," &c., more fully describes.
remember thee in thy ways--( Isaiah 26:8 ).
sinned--literally, "tripped," carrying on the figure in "ways."
in those is continuance--a plea to deprecate the continuance of God's wrath; it is not in Thy wrath that there is continuance ( Isaiah 54:7 Isaiah 54:8 , Psalms 30:5 , 103:9 ), but in Thy ways ("those"), namely, of covenant mercy to Thy people ( Micah 7:18-20 Malachi 3:6 ); on the strength of the everlasting continuance of His covenant they infer by faith, "we shall be saved." God "remembered" for them His covenant ( Psalms 106:45 ), though they often "remembered not" Him ( Psalms 78:42 ). CASTELLIO translates, "we have sinned for long in them ('thy ways'), and could we then be saved?" But they hardly would use such a plea when their very object was to be saved.
6. unclean thing--legally unclean, as a leper. True of Israel, everywhere now cut off by unbelief and by God's judgments from the congregation of the saints.
righteousness--plural, "uncleanness" extended to every particular act of theirs, even to their prayers and praises. True of the best doings of the unregenerate ( Philippians 3:6-8 , Titus 1:15 , Hebrews 11:6 ).
filthy rags--literally, a "menstruous rag" ( Leviticus 15:33 , 20:18 , Lamentations 1:17 ).
fade . . . leaf--( Psalms 90:5 Psalms 90:6 ).
7. stirreth--rouseth himself from spiritual drowsiness.
take hold--( Isaiah 27:5 ).
8. father--( Isaiah 63:16 ).
clay . . . potter--( Isaiah 29:16 , 45:9 ). Unable to mould themselves aright, they beg the sovereign will of God to mould them unto salvation, even as He made them at the first, and is their "Father."
9. ( Psalms 74:1 Psalms 74:2 ).
we are . . . thy people--( Jeremiah 14:9 Jeremiah 14:21 ).
10. holy cities--No city but Jerusalem is called "the holy city" ( Isaiah 48:2 , 52:1 ); the plural, therefore, refers to the upper and the lower parts of the same city Jerusalem [VITRINGA]; or all Judea was holy to God, so its cities were deemed "holy" [MAURER]. But the parallelism favors VITRINGA. Zion and Jerusalem (the one city) answering to "holy cities."
11. house--the temple.
beautiful--includes the idea of glorious ( 13:1 , Acts 3:2 ).
burned--( Psalms 74:7 , Lamentations 2:7 , 2 Chronicles 36:19 ). Its destruction under Nebuchadnezzar prefigured that under Titus.
pleasant things--Hebrew, "objects of desire"; our homes, our city, and all its dear associations.
12. for these things--Wilt Thou, notwithstanding these calamities of Thy people, still refuse Thy aid ( Isaiah 42:14 )?