Isaiah 63:15
Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of your holiness and of your glory: where is your zeal and your strength, the sounding of your bowels and of your mercies toward me? are they restrained?
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(15) Look down from heaven . . .—The form of the prayer reminds us of 2Chronicles 6:21. Perhaps there is a latent remonstrance, as though Jehovah, like an Eastern king, had withdrawn to the recesses of His palace, and had ceased to manifest His care and pity for His people, as He had done of old.

The sounding of thy bowels.—See Note on Isaiah 16:11. The words jar upon modern ears, but were to the Hebrew what “the sighs of thy heart” would be to us.

Isaiah 63:15-16. Look down from heaven — In this excellent and pious prayer of the first-fruits of the converted Jews, in which they entreat God, for his grace and mercy, to behold them with an eye of compassion, they argue both from the goodness of his nature, and from the greatness of the works which he had formerly done for them. God sees everywhere and every thing; but he is said to look down from heaven, because there is his throne, whereon he reigns in majesty. Behold, &c. — Not barely see and look on, but behold, with regard and respect, thy poor people. Where is thy zeal? — What is become of that love which of old would not let thee suffer thy people to be wronged? And thy strength? — That power of thine manifested in those great acts which thou didst perform for thy people?

The sounding of thy bowels — This is spoken of God after the manner of men. The meaning is, where are thy tender compassions and mercies which thou formerly showedst toward us? and which thy servants have compared to the affection that a mother bears to her children? Are they restrained? — Or, canst thou be thus straitened? An expostulation that agrees well with the next verse. Doubtless thou art our Father — Our only hope is in the relation we have to thee, that thou hast vouchsafed to call thyself our Father: we, therefore, as thy children, expect to find in thee the bowels and compassions of a father. Though Abraham be ignorant of us — Though he who was our father after the flesh, be dead, and so ignorant of our condition. And Israel acknowledge us not — Though Jacob, who also was our father, should disown us because of our degeneracy. Thou, O Lord, art our Father — Thou art neither unacquainted with our state, nor wilt disown thy relation to us, but wilt continue to act the part of a father and redeemer to thy people. Thy name is from everlasting — Thy gracious and merciful nature and attributes are eternal and unchangeable.63:15-19 They beseech him to look down on the abject condition of their once-favoured nation. Would it not be glorious to his name to remove the veil from their hearts, to return to the tribes of his inheritance? The Babylonish captivity, and the after-deliverance of the Jews, were shadows of the events here foretold. The Lord looks down upon us in tenderness and mercy. Spiritual judgments are more to be dreaded than any other calamities; and we should most carefully avoid those sins which justly provoke the Lord to leave men to themselves and to their deceiver. Our Redeemer from everlasting is thy name; thy people have always looked upon thee as the God to whom they might appeal. The Lord will hear the prayers of those who belong to him, and deliver them from those not called by his name.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 Isaiah 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; 1 Kings 18:41; of singing, Ezekiel 26:13; of a multitude, 1 Samuel 4:14; 1 Samuel 14:19. It also means a multitude, or a crowd of people Isaiah 13:4; Isaiah 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 Isaiah 16:11). The idea here is, 'Where is thy former compassion for thy people in distress?'

Are they restrained? - Are they withheld? Are thy mercies to be exercised no more?

15. Here begins a fervent appeal to God to pity Israel now on the ground of His former benefits.

habitation of … holiness—(Isa 57:15; De 26:15; 2Ch 30:27; Ps 33:14; 80:14).

zeal … strength—evinced formerly for Thy people.

sounding of … bowels—Thine emotions of compassion (Isa 16:11; Jer 31:20; 48:36; Ho 11:8).

Look down from heaven: now they, or the prophet, begin to pray, and expostulate with God, and to argue both from the goodness of his nature, and from the greatness of his works that he had done. God sees every where and every thing, but he is said to

look down from heaven, because there is his throne, whereon he sits in great majesty and splendour.

Behold is added to note that he would not only barely see and look on, but that he would behold with regard, and respect his poor people in captivity.

The habitation of thy holiness; a description of heaven by a periphrasis, frequently used and explained, Deu 26:15. W here is thy zeal? what is become of that love which of old would not let time suffer thy people to be wronged? Isaiah 37:32.

Thy strength; that power of thine manifested in those valiant acts which thou didst put forth for thy people, Psalm 145:11,12 150:2: see Jeremiah 14:9.

The sounding of thy bowels: by the sounding thereof may be understood those sympathizing sighs and compassionate groans that proceed from the bowels when they are affected, which being thought the subject of pity are often by a metonymy put for compassion, and hence proceed those rumblings of the bowels occasioned by strong passions called yearnings: it is spoken of God after the manner of men. Is all this shut up from me? Thou art naturally so compassionate, dost thou lay a restraint upon thyself, that thy bowels shall not move towards me?

Are they restrained? or canst thou be thus straitened? Psalm 77:7-9 Isaiah 64:12; an expostulation, that agrees very well with the next verse,

Doubtless, & c. How can this come to pass? Look down from heaven,.... Here begins the prayer of the church and people of God, which continues to the end of the chapter, goes through the next, and the answer to which begins at Isaiah 65:1. Aben Ezra calls it the prayer of the wise in captivity: it seems to be the petition of some converts among the Jews, either in the first times of the Gospel, or in the latter day; who entreat that the Lord would "look down from heaven", the third heaven, the seat of his majesty, where is his throne of glory, and his presence is most visible to angels and glorified saints; this is on high, as the phrase imports; and the persons below, on earth, at his footstool, whom he is desired to look down upon, and which to do is a great condescension in him, Psalm 113:6, and this is to be understood, not of that general view of persons and things, which he is always taking, Psalm 33:13, but of a special look of love, grace, and mercy; such an one with which he looks upon his people in Christ, with complacency and delight: indeed his eyes are always on them, and never withdrawn from them; he ever looks upon them, to preserve and protect them, to communicate unto them, to support them under their afflictions, and to deliver out of them; but because of this they are not always sensible, but are ready to conclude that he looks off from them, and turns his back upon them, therefore they desire him to return, look down, and behold; see Psalm 80:14,

and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and of thy glory; this is a description of heaven, as the dwelling place of God, who is most holy, holiness itself, in whom that perfection is most glorious, and which is displayed in all his works; and hence heaven is a holy as well as a high place, and where none but holy persons dwell; and which is a glorious place, where the glory of God is displayed, the glory of Christ is seen, and which is glory itself; and from hence the holy God is desired to behold; what creatures, dust, and ashes, sinful ones, polluted worms, at his footstool, a poor and an afflicted people:

where is thy zeal, and thy strength? his "jealousy" of his great name, and of his own glory; his jealousy of his dear people, that they are not wronged and injured; his "fervent love", and warm affections for them, of which he has given pregnant proofs; which, shed abroad in the heart, warms that, and is what many waters cannot quench: this indeed is not always alike manifest, and therefore unbelief asks where it is, as if it was quite gone; or, however, faith prays for a fresh manifestation of it. The "strength" or power of God has appeared in creation, and in the sustentation of all things; in Christ, the man of his right hand; in strengthening his people, destroying their enemies, and delivering them; and yet this not appearing sometimes at once, immediately for their help and protection, they ask where it is: it follows:

the sounding of thy bowels, and of thy mercies towards me? the noise and rumbling of the bowels, to which the allusion is, are sometimes occasioned by the working of strong passions, as fear and love, and which produce what is called the yearning of the bowels; of which there are instances in Joseph, and in the harlot in Solomon's time, Genesis 43:30, the tender mercies of God, his pity and compassion, are expressed hereby, to which are owing the mission of his Son, the forgiveness of sins, and help and relief under afflictions; see Luke 1:77, now it is asked, where are those?

are they restrained? it was thought they were shut up in anger, and would not be let out again; see Psalm 77:7. The phrase "towards me", in the former clause, seems, according to the accents, to belong to this; and should be read, "are they restrained towards me" (d)? or "shut up from me?" the Lord seemed to harden his heart against his church and people, and to have no heart of compassion towards them, as they imagined.

(d) "erga me continerent se", Montanus; "continerent?" Junius & Tremellius; "erga me sese continent?" Piscator; "cohibeant se erga me?" Gataker; so Ben Melech; "quae se erga me continent?" Vitringa.

{p} Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and of thy glory: where is thy {q} zeal and thy strength, the sounding of thy bowels and of thy mercies toward me? are they {r} restrained?

(p) Having declared God's benefits showed to their forefathers, he turned himself to God by prayer, desiring him to continue the same graces toward them.

(q) Your great affection, which you bore for us.

(r) Meaning, from the whole body of the Church.

15, 16. A piteous appeal to the Divine clemency, based on Israel’s filial relation to Jehovah.

Look down from heaven, and behold] (Psalm 80:14). By a natural anthropomorphism the O.T. attributes the prevalence of evil on earth to a suspension of Jehovah’s watchfulness; hence He is said to come down from heaven to enquire (Genesis 18:21), or, as here, to look down (cf. Psalm 14:2; Psalm 102:19, &c.). To this writer it seems as if He had for the present withdrawn into His palace, and did not fully realise the sufferings of His people.

where is thy zeal (or jealousy)] Cf. ch. Isaiah 59:17. For strength read with R.V. mighty acts.

the sounding of thy bowels] i.e. the yearning of thy compassion. See ch. Isaiah 16:11.

towards me? are they restrained] Rather, as R.V., are restrained towards me (LXX. “towards us”). Cf. ch. Isaiah 42:14.Verses 15-19. - A PRAYER FOR DELIVERANCE FROM SIN AND SUFFERING. From thanksgiving and confession, the people betake themselves to prayer, and beseech God to look down from heaven once more, to have compassion on them, to acknowledge them, and to save them alike from themselves (ver. 17) and from their adversaries (vers. 18, 19). "It is difficult to overrate the spiritual beauty of the prayer contained in this passage. We may admit that the most prominent motive urged by the speaker has a nationalistic air; but behind this, and strengthening it, is a sense of the infiniteness of the Divine mercy, and of the strong vitality of the union between Jehovah and his people" (Cheyne). Verse 15. - Look down from heaven (comp. Deuteronomy 26:15; Psalm 80:14; 2 Kings 8:30). "The Lord's seat" was "in heaven." While the temple lay in ruins, the Jews would naturally address their prayers to God in his heavenly abode. From the habitation of thy holiness. Mr. Cheyne translates, from the height of thy holiness," taking the meaning of the rare word z'bul from the Assyrian. "Height" certainly suits well most of the other places where the word z'bul occurs (1 Kings 8:13; 2 Chronicles 6:2; Psalm 49:14; Habakkuk 3:11). Where is thy zeal? i.e. What has become of it? Has it ceased altogether, or is it only in abeyance for a time? Will not God "stir it up" once more (Isaiah 42:13)? And thy strength; rather, and thy great acts (comp. Psalm 106:2; Psalm 145:4; Psalm 150:2). The sounding of thy bowels; i.e. their thrilling or vibration - an indication of sympathy (see Isaiah 16:11). Jeremiah has a similar expression (Jeremiah 31:20). Are they restrained? rather, they are restrained. They no longer show themselves. There was no room for questioning the fact. The next v. commemorates the way in which He proved Himself a Saviour in heart and action. "In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His face brought them salvation. In His love and in His pity He redeemed them, and lifted them up, and bare them all the days of the olden time." This is one of the fifteen passages in which the chethib has לא, the keri לו. It is only with difficulty that we can obtain any meaning from the chethib: "in all the affliction which He brought upon them He did not afflict, viz., according to their desert" (Targ., Jer., Rashi); or better still, as tsâr must in this case be derived from tsūr, and tsăr is only met with in an intransitive sense, "In all their distress there was no distress" (Saad.), with which J. D. Michaelis compares 2 Corinthians 4:8, "troubled on every side, yet not distressed." The oxymoron is perceptible enough, but the להם (צר לא), which is indispensable to this expression, is wanting. Even with the explanation, "In all their affliction He was not an enemy, viz., Jehovah, to them" (Dderlein), or "No man persecuted them without the angel immediately," etc. (Cocceius and Rosenmller), we miss להם or אתם. There are other still more twisted and jejune attempts to explain the passage with לא, which are not worth the space they occupy. Even in the older translators did not know how to deal with the לא in the text. The Sept. takes tsăr as equivalent to tsı̄r, a messenger, and renders the passage according to its own peculiar interpunctuation: οὐ πρέσβυς οὐδὲ ἄγγελος ἀλλ ̓ αὐτὸς ἔσωσεν αὐτούς (neither a messenger nor an angel, but His face, i.e., He Himself helped them: Exodus 33:14-15; 2 Samuel 17:11). Everything forces to the conclusion that the keri לו is to be preferred. The Masora actually does reckon this as one of the fifteen passages in which לו is to be read for לא.

(Note: There are fifteen passages in which the keri substitutes לו for לא. See Masora magna on Leviticus 11:21 (Psalter, ii. 60). If we add Isaiah 49:5; 1 Chronicles 11:20; 1 Samuel 2:16, there are eighteen (Comm. on Job, at Job 13:15). But the first two of these are not reckoned, because they are doubtful; and in the third, instead of לּו being substituted for לא, לא is substituted for לו (Ges. Thes. 735, b). 2 Samuel 19:7 also is not a case in point, for there the keri is לוּ for לא.)

Jerome was also acquainted with this explanation. He says: "Where we have rendered it, 'In all their affliction He was not afflicted,' which is expressed in Hebrew by lo, the adverb of negation, we might read ipse; so that the sense would be, 'In all their affliction He, i.e., God, was afflicted.' " If we take the sentence in this way, "In all oppression there was oppression to Him," it yields a forcible thought in perfect accordance with the Scripture (compare e.g., Judges 10:16), an expression in harmony with the usage of the language (compare tsar-lı̄, 2 Samuel 1:26), and a construction suited to the contents (לו equals ipsi). There is nothing to surprise us in the fact that God should be said to feel the sufferings of His people as His own sufferings; for the question whether God can feel pain is answered by the Scriptures in the affirmative. He can as surely as everything originates in Him, with the exception of sin, which is a free act and only originates in Him so far as the possibility is concerned, but not in its actuality. Just as a man can feel pain, and yet in his personality keep himself superior to it, so God feels pain without His own happiness being thereby destroyed. And so did He suffer with His people; their affliction was reflected in His own life in Himself, and shared Him inwardly. But because He, the all-knowing, all-feeling One, is also the almighty will, He sent the angel of His face, and brought them salvation. "The angel of His face," says Knobel, "is the pillar of cloud and fire, in which Jehovah was present with His people in the march through the desert, with His protection, instruction, and guidance, the helpful presence of God in the pillar of cloud and fire." But where do we ever read of this, that it brought Israel salvation in the pressure of great dangers? Only on one occasion (Exodus 14:19-20) does it cover the Israelites from their pursuers; but in that very instance a distinction is expressly made between the angel of God and the pillar of cloud.

Consequently the cloud and the angel were two distinct media of the manifestation of the presence of God. They differed in two respects. The cloud was a material medium - the evil, the sign, and the site of the revealed presence of God. The angel, on the other hand, was a personal medium, a ministering spirit (λειτουργικὸν πνεῦμα), in which the name of Jehovah was indwelling for the purpose of His own self-attestation in connection with the historical preparation for the coming of salvation (Exodus 23:21). He was the mediator of the preparatory work of God in both word and deed under the Old Testament, and the manifestation of that redeeming might and grace which realized in Israel the covenant promises given to Abraham (Genesis 15). A second distinction consisted in the fact that the cloud was a mode of divine manifestation which was always visible; whereas, although the angel of God did sometimes appear in human shape both in the time of the patriarchs and also in that of Joshua (Joshua 5:13.), it never appeared in such a form during the history of the exodus, and therefore is only to be regarded as a mode of divine revelation which was chiefly discernible in its effects, and belonged to the sphere of invisibility: so that in any case, if we search in the history of the people that was brought out of Egypt for the fulfilment of such promises as Exodus 23:20-23, we are forced to the conclusion that the cloud was the medium of the settled presence of God in His angel in the midst of Israel, although it is never so expressed in the thorah. This mediatorial angel is called "the angel of His face," as being the representative of God, for "the face of God" is His self-revealing presence (even though only revealed to the mental eye); and consequently the presence of God, which led Israel to Canaan, is called directly "His face" in Deuteronomy 4:37, apart from the angelic mediation to be understood; and "my face" in Exodus 33:14-15, by the side of "my angel" in Exodus 32:34, and the angel in Exodus 33:2, appears as something incomparably higher than the presence of God through the mediation of that one angel, whose personality is completely hidden by his mediatorial instrumentality. The genitive פניו, therefore, is not to be taken objectively in the sense of "the angel who sees His face," but as explanatory, "the angel who is His face, or in whom His face is manifested." The הוּא which follows does not point back to the angel, but to Jehovah, who reveals Himself thus. But although the angel is regarded as a distinct being from Jehovah, it is also regarded as one that is completely hidden before Him, whose name is in him. He redeemed them by virtue of His love and of His chemlâh, i.e., of His forgiving gentleness (Arabic, with the letters transposed, chilm; compare, however, chamūl, gentle-hearted), and lifted them up, and carried them (נשּׂא the consequence of נטּל, which is similar in sense, and more Aramaean; cf., tollere root tal, and ferre root bhar, perf. tuli) all the days of the olden time.

The prayer passes now quite into the tone of Psalm 78 and 106, and begins to describe how, in spite of Jehovah's grace, Israel fell again and again away from Jehovah, and yet was always rescued again by virtue of His grace. For it is impossible that it should leap at once in והמּה to the people who caused the captivity, and ויּזכּר have for its subject the penitential church of the exiles which was longing for redemption (Ewald). The train of thought is rather this: From the proofs of grace which the Israel of the olden time had experienced, the prophet passes to that disobedience to Jehovah into which it fell, to that punishment of Jehovah which it thereby brought upon itself, and to that longing for the renewal of the old Mosaic period of redemption, which seized it in the midst of its state of punishment. But instead of saying that Jehovah did not leave this longing unsatisfied, and responded to the penitence of Israel with ever fresh help, the prophet passes at once from the desire of the old Israel for redemption, to the prayer of the existing Israel for redemption, suppressing the intermediate thought, that Israel was even now in such a state of punishment and longing.

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