Isaiah 63:17
O LORD, why have you made us to err from your ways, and hardened our heart from your fear? Return for your servants' sake, the tribes of your inheritance.
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(17) Why hast thou made us to err . . .—The prophet identifies himself with his people, and speaks as in their name. Have their sins led God to abandon them, and to harden their hearts as He hardened Pharaoh’s? (Comp. Romans 9:17-22.) Are they given over as to a reprobate mind? Against that thought he finds refuge, where only men can find it, in prayer, and in pleading God’s promise and the “election of grace,” to which He at least remains faithful, though men are faithless. Conscious that they have no power without Him to return to Him, they can ask Him to return to them.

Isaiah 63:17-19. O Lord, why hast thou made us to err — Suffered us to err; from thy ways — Thy commandments. And hardened our heart from thy fear — That is, the fear of thee? Why hast thou withdrawn thy grace, and left us to our own hardness of heart? See on Isaiah 6:10. Return for thy servants’ sake — Be reconciled to us for the sake of our godly progenitors, Abraham, Isaac, &c.; namely, for the sake of thy promises made to them; or rather, for our sakes, that little remnant who are thy servants: see Psalm 90:13. The tribes of thine inheritance — What will thine enemies say if thou suffer us, thy people, to perish, or thine inheritance, the land of Canaan, to remain an eternal desolation? The people of thy holiness — The people set apart for thy service, distinguished from other people, and consecrated to thee; have possessed it — Namely, thine inheritance, mentioned in the former clause; but a little while — In comparison of the time promised, which was for ever. So the Jews commonly understood the grant made them of the land of Canaan. They had, however, possessed it about fourteen hundred years, but this they thought a little while. Our adversaries have trodden down thy sanctuary — The temple, called the sanctuary, from its being dedicated to God. This their adversaries, the Babylonians, had trodden down, or rather, as the prophet foresaw, would tread down. “If we understand this of the devastations made by the Romans under Titus, and by the Mohammedans since, the phrase is exactly parallel to the words of Christ, Luke 21:24, Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles.” We are thine — We continue so; we are in covenant with thee, which they never were, and thus it is an argument they use to induce God to have compassion upon them. Thou never barest rule over them — Not in that manner thou didst over us. They were not called by thy name — Neither owned thee, nor were owned by thee. Some translate this last verse thus: “We have been for a long time as those over whom thou didst not bear rule, and who were not called by thy name.” “Thou hast rejected us altogether, and dost disregard us as if we had never had any relation to thee, nor ever were called thy people; which sense agrees very well with the present condition of the Jewish nation, that hath continued for many ages without king, or prince, or sacrifice, as the Prophet Hosea foretold, Hosea 3:4.” — Lowth. “There is no doubt,” says Vitringa, “but that the calamity of the external state of the Jewish people is here described. If you compare this description with the repetition of the same calamity, Isaiah 63:10-11 of the next chapter, you will have no doubt that these words pertain to the Jewish people, banished as they are, and have been for a long time, from the land which, in comparison of this tedious exile, they possessed but a little while; their sanctuary and holy city being possessed and trodden down by their bitterest enemies; so that they are in such a state as to seem like people who never were the chosen and peculiar people of God.” 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.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 Isaiah 6:9-10; Matthew 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.

17. made us to err—that is, "suffer" us to err and to be hardened in our heart. They do not mean to deny their own blameworthiness, but confess that through their own fault God gave them over to a reprobate mind (Isa 6:9, 10; Ps 119:10; Ro 1:28).

Return—(Nu 10:36; Ps 90:13).

Made us to err from thy ways, commandments. It is the language of the godly among them being troubled, and therefore complaining that so gracious a Father should leave them to such exigences.

Made us to sin by withdrawing thy Spirit and leaving us to ourselves, Psalm 81:12. It is not to be understood as if God did force them to it, but either letting loose their hearts, or by giving occasion to their hearts, being naturally too apt to apostatize by their severe afflictions: see this more cleared in the Latin Synopsis. Or, make us desperate, by leaving us so long under the oppression of the adversary, thereby casting off thy worship.

From thy fear, or fear of time, viz. as the object, Psalm 5:7; or, that we may not fear thee; as seeing, that they may not see, Psalm 69:23; or, thy service, Isaiah 29:13, so as to go after other gods.

Return for thy servants’ sake either our godly forefathers, or particularly to Abraham, Isaac, &c., viz. for the sake of thy promises made to them; or rather, our sakes, that little remnant that are thy servants, be reconciled to us, Psalm 90:13; for the next words seem to be put by apposition to the former.

The tribes of thine inheritance; either,

1. The people themselves, which were divided into tribes; or, rather,

2. The land of Canaan, which God gave them as an inheritance, as appears by the next verse: q.d. What will thine enemies say if thou suffer us to perish, or thine inheritance to be destroyed. Or rods, meaning their rulers, see Isaiah 43:28, or heads of their tribes. O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear?.... These are the words, not of wicked men among the Jews, charging all their errors, hardness of heart, and wickedness they were guilty of, upon the Lord, as if he was the author and occasion of them, and led them into them; but of the truly godly, lamenting and confessing their wandering from the ways, commands, and ordinances of God, the hardness of their hearts; their want of devotion and affection for God; and their neglect of his worship; not blaming him for these things, or complaining of him as having done anything amiss or wrong; but expostulating with him, and wondering at it, that he, who was their loving and tender Father, that he should suffer them to err from his ways, and to wander from his worship, by withholding his grace and withdrawing his presence from them; by leaving them to the corruptions and hardness of their hearts; by chastising them sorely, and suffering the enemy to afflict them in such a severe manner as laid them under temptation to desert the worship of God, and cast off the fear of him. The Jews (f) interpret this of their being hardened from the fear of God, and made to err from his ways by seeing the prosperity of the wicked, and their own long captivity, troubles, and distresses:

return for thy servants' sake, the tribes of thine inheritance; or turn (g); turn from thine anger and displeasure to thy people; or, as the Targum,

"return thy Shechinah to thy people;''

thy gracious and glorious presence, which has been so long withdrawn; or "return" thy people from their captivity, the twelve tribes, thy portion and "inheritance"; and do this "for thy servants' sake"; for the sake of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: or because of the covenant made with them; or for the sake of all thy people, who are thy servants, and which also are the tribes of thine inheritance, return unto them.

(f) So Kimchi, Ben Melech, and R. Sol. Urbin. Ohel Moed, fol. 85. 2.((g) "convertere", V. L. Pagninus, Montanus, Calvin, Forerius.

O LORD, why hast {t} thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear? Return for thy {u} servants' sake, the tribes of thy inheritance.

(t) By taking away the Holy Spirit from us, by whom we were governed, and so for our ingratitude delivered us up to our own concupiscence, and punished sin by sin according to your just judgment.

(u) Meaning, for the covenant's sake made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob his servants.

17. Render: Why shouldest Thou leave us to wander, O Jehovah, from Thy ways; and harden our heart so that we fear Thee not? etc. Israel had rejected God’s guidance, and He had given them up to their sins; how long was this to last? The idea underlying this plea seems to be that the people’s faint aspirations Godward were checked and baffled by the continued evidence of Jehovah’s displeasure. Some measure of outward success was needed to guide them into the path of obedience, and no such token was vouchsafed.

hardened our heart from thy fear] so that we cannot attain to the true fear of God, i.e. true religion or piety. “Harden” in the original is a strong word, recurring only in Job 39:16.

Return for thy servants’ sake] Cf. Psalm 90:13.

17–19. Expostulation with Jehovah for the hard treatment which makes righteousness and true religion impossible to the nation.Verse 17. - Why hast thou made us to err from thy ways? Confession is here mingled with a kind of reproach. They have erred and strayed from God's ways, they ' allow; but why has he permitted it? Why has he, the shepherd of his flock (Isaiah 40:11; Isaiah 49:10), not restrained his wandering sheep, and kept them in his "ways "or "paths" ? The reproach borders on irreverence, but is kept within the limits of piety by the affection and trust that underlie it. They are like wayward children reproaching a tender mother, not quite believing in the justice of their reproaches, but with a very confident faith in her love and in her power to aid. They entertain no doubt but that God will "return" to them, and acknowledge them as his sheep, and resume their guidance and direction. And hardened our heart (comp. Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:3; Exodus 9:12; Exodus 10:1), "When men have scornfully and obstinately rejected the grace of God, God withdraws it from them judicially, gives them up to their wanderings, and makes their hearts incapable of faith" (Delitzsch). If the process has not gone very far, God may relent, and "return," and soften the proud heart, and renew in it "his fear." This is what Israel now entreats him to do. For thy servants'sake. There was always "a remnant" in the worst times, which had not" bowed the knee to Baal." This was God's true "inheritance," which he might be expected to protect and aid. Israel being brought to a right mind in the midst of this state of punishment, longed fro the better past to return. "Then His people remembered the days of the olden time, of Moses: Where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? where is He who put the spirit of His holiness in the midst of them; who caused the arm of His majesty to go at the right of Moses; who split the waters before them, to make Himself an everlasting name: who caused them to pass through abysses of the deep, like the horse upon the plain, without their stumbling? Like the cattle which goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of Jehovah brought them to rest: thus hast Thou led Thy people, to make Thyself a majestic name." According to the accentuation before us, Isaiah 63:11 should be rendered thus: "Then He (viz., Jehovah) remembered the days of the olden time, the Moses of His people" (lxx, Targ., Syr., Jerome). But apart from the strange expression "the Moses of His people," which might perhaps be regarded as possible, because the proper name mōsheh might suggest the thought of its real meaning in Hebrew, viz., extrahens equals liberator, but which the Syriac rejects by introducing the reading ‛abhdō (Moses, His servant), we have only to look at the questions of evidently human longing which follow, to see that Jehovah cannot be the subject to ויּזכּר (remembered), by which these reminiscences are introduced. It is the people which begins its inquiries with איּה, just as in Jeremiah 2:6 (cf., Isaiah 51:9-10), and recals "the days of olden time," according to the admonition in Deuteronomy 32:7. Consequently, in spite of the accents, such Jewish commentators as Saad. and Rashi regard "his people" (‛ammō) as the subject; whereas others, such as AE, Kimchi, and Abravanel, take account of the accents, and make the people the suppressed subject of the verb "remembered," by rendering it thus, "Then it remembered the days of olden time, (the days) of Moses (and) His people," or in some similar way. But with all modifications the rendering is forced and lame. The best way of keeping to the accents is that suggested by Stier, "Then men (indef. man, the French on) remembered the days of old, the Moses of His people."

But why did the prophet not say ויּזכּרוּ, as the proper sequel to Isaiah 63:10? We prefer to adopt the following rendering and accentuation: Then remembered (zakeph gadol) the days-of-old (mercha) of Moses (tiphchah) His people. The object stands before the subject, as for example in 2 Kings 5:13 (compare the inversions in Isaiah 8:22 extr., Isaiah 22:2 init.); and mosheh is a genitive governing the composite "days of old" (for this form of the construct state, compare Isaiah 28:1 and Ruth 2:1). The retrospect commences with "Where is He who led them up?" etc. The suffix of המּעלם (for המעלם, like רדם in Psalm 68:28, and therefore with the verbal force predominant) refers to the ancestors; and although the word is determined by the suffix, it has the article as equivalent to a demonstrative pronoun (ille qui sursum duxit, eduxit eos). "The shepherd of his flock" is added as a more precise definition, not dependent upon vayyizkōr, as even the accents prove. את is rendered emphatic by yethib, since here it signifies un cum. The Targum takes it in the sense of instar pastoris gregis sui; but though עם is sometimes used in this way, את never is. Both the lxx and Targum read רעה; Jerome, on the other hand, adopts the reading רעי, and this is the Masoretic reading, for the Masora in Genesis 47:3 reckons four רעה, without including the present passage. Kimchi and Abravanel also support this reading, and Norzi very properly gives it the preference. The shepherds of the flock of Jehovah are Moses and Aaron, together with Miriam (Psalm 77:21; Micah 6:4). With these (i.e., in their company or under their guidance) Jehovah led His people up out of Egypt through the Red Sea. With the reading רעי, the question whether beqirbô refers to Moses or Israel falls to the ground. Into the heart of His people (Nehemiah 9:20) Jehovah put the spirit of His holiness: it was present in the midst of Israel, inasmuch as Moses, Aaron, Miriam, the Seventy, and the prophets in the camp possessed it, and inasmuch as Joshua inherited it as the successor of Moses, and all the people might become possessed of it. The majestic might of Jehovah, which manifested itself majestically, is called the "arm of His majesty;" an anthropomorphism to which the expression "who caused it to march at the right hand of Moses" compels us to give an interpretation worthy of God. Stier will not allow that תּפארתּו זרע is to be taken as the object, and exclaims, "What a marvellous figure of speech, an arm walking at a person's right hand!" But the arm which is visible in its deeds belongs to the God who is invisible in His own nature; and the meaning is, that the active power of Moses was not left to itself, but he overwhelming omnipotence of God went by its side, and endowed it with superhuman strength. It was by virtue of this that the elevated staff and extended hand of Moses divided the Red Sea (Exodus 14:16). בּוקע has mahpach attached to the ב, and therefore the tone drawn back upon the penultimate, and metheg with the tsere, that it may not be slipped over in the pronunciation. The clause וגו לעשׂות affirms that the absolute purpose of God is in Himself. But He is holy love, and whilst willing for Himself, He wills at the same time the salvation of His creatures. He makes to Himself an "everlasting name," by glorifying Himself in such memorable miracles of redemption, as that performed in the deliverance of His people out of Egypt. According to the general order of the passage, Isaiah 63:13 apparently refers to the passage through the Jordan; but the psalmist, in Psalm 106:9 (cf., Psalm 77:17), understood it as referring to the passage through the Red Sea. The prayer dwells upon this chief miracle, of which the other was only an after-play. "As the horse gallops over the plain," so did they pass through the depths of the sea יכּשׁלוּ לא (a circumstantial minor clause), i.e., without stumbling. Then follows another beautiful figure: "like the beast that goeth down into the valley," not "as the beast goeth down into the valley," the Spirit of Jehovah brought it (Israel) to rest, viz., to the menūchâh of the Canaan flowing with milk and honey (Deuteronomy 12:9; Psalm 95:11), where it rested and was refreshed after the long and wearisome march through the sandy desert, like a flock that had descended from the bare mountains to the brooks and meadows of the valley. The Spirit of God is represented as the leader here (as in Psalm 143:10), viz., through the medium of those who stood, enlightened and instigated by Him, at the head of the wandering people. The following כּן is no more a correlate of the foregoing particle of comparison than in Isaiah 52:14. It is a recapitulation, and refers to the whole description as far back as Isaiah 63:9, passing with נהגתּ into the direct tone of prayer.

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