Isaiah 64:1
Oh that you would rend the heavens, that you would come down, that the mountains might flow down at your presence,
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
LXIV.

(1) Oh that thou wouldest rend . . .—The division of chapters hinders the English reader from seeing that this is really a continuation of the prayer of Isaiah 63:15-19. The prophet asks that Jehovan may not only “look down” from heaven, but may rend, as it were, the dark clouds that hide the light of His countenance from His people, and that the mountains might tremble at His presence. (Comp. Psalm 68:8; Exodus 19:18.)

Isaiah 64:1-2. O that thou wouldest rend the heavens — This God is said to do, or to bow the heavens, and come down, when he gives a very signal display of his power. It is a metaphor taken from men who, when they would resolutely and effectually help a person in distress, break through every opposition and obstacle. That the mountains might flow down, &c. — Or, melt; that all impediments might be removed out of the way. There seems to be an allusion to God’s coming down upon mount Sinai in those terrible flames of fire, Jdg 5:4-5. As when the melting fire burneth — Come with such zeal for thy people that the solid mountains may be no more before thee than metal that runs, or water that boils by the force of a vehement fire; to make thy name — That is, thy power; known to thine adversaries — That thine enemies, who are also the enemies of thy people, may know thy power, and that thy name may be dreaded among them.64:1-5 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.Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens - That is, in view of the considerations urged in the previous chapter. In view of the fact that the temple is burned up Isaiah 64:11; that the city is desolate; that the land lies waste, and that thine own people are carried captive to a distant land. The phrase 'rend the heavens,' implies a sudden and sublime descent of Yahweh to execute vengeance on his foes, as if his heart was full of vengeance, and the firmament were violently rent asunder at his sudden appearance. It is language properly expressive of a purpose to execute wrath on his foes, rather than to confer blessings on his people. The latter is more appropriately expressed by the heavens being gently opened to make way for the descending blessings. The word rendered here 'rend' (קרע qâra‛), means properly to tear asunder, as, e. g., the garments in grief Genesis 37:29; 2 Samuel 13:31; or as a wild beast does the breast of anyone Hosea 13:8. The Septuagint, however, render it by a milder word - ἀνοίξης anoixēs - 'If thou wouldst open the heavens,' etc. So the Syriac renders it by 'O that thou wouldst open,' using a word that is usually applied to the opening of a door. God is often represented as coming down from heaven in a sublime manner amidst tempests, fire, and storms, to take vengeance on his foes. Thus Psalm 18:9 :

He bowed the heavens also and came down;

And darkness was under his feet.

Compare Habakkuk 3:5-6. It should be remembered that the main idea in the passage before us is that of Yahweh coming down to destroy his foes. His people entreat him to descend with the proofs of his indignation, so that every obstacle shall be destroyed before him, Thus he is described in Psalm 144:5-6 :

Bow thy heavens, O Lord, and come down;

Touch the mountains, and they shall smoke;

Cast forth lightning, and scatter them,

Shoot out thine arrows, and destroy them.

That the mountains might flow down at thy presence - The idea here is, that the presence of Yahweh would be like an intense burning heat, so that the mountains would melt and flow away. It is a most sublime description of his majesty, and is one that is several times employed in the Bible. Thus in relation to his appearance on Mount Sinai, in the song of Deborah Judges 5:4-5 :

The earth trembled and the heavens dropped,

The clouds also dropped water.

The mountains melted from before Yahweh,

Even Sinai from before Yahweh, the God of Israel.

So Psalm 97:5 :

continued...

CHAPTER 64

Isa 64:1-12. Transition from Complaint to Prayer.

1. rend … heavens—bursting forth to execute vengeance, suddenly descending on Thy people's foe (Ps 18:9; 144:5; Hab 3:5, 6).

flow down—(Jud 5:5; Mic 1:4).The church’s prayer continued, for the illustration of God’s glory, Isaiah 64:1-5: with a confession of their sins, and complaint of their afflictions, Isaiah 64:6-12.

Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens: either the earnest desire of the prophet, or the Jews’ strong wish, for the coming of the Messias: or rather, their cry to God for vengeance upon their adversaries, on consideration of the enemy’s unmerciful dealing with them, and their insolent and opprobrious usage of God in his temple; partly expressing their haste and earnestness, and partly intimating that God would do it with violence and fury, implied in the word rending them, Psalm 18:6,7, &c., spoken after the manner of man, who, if he were shut up, must have room made for his coming forth. This God is said to do, when he puts forth some signal manifestation of his power, Psalm 144:5; a metaphor taken from men, that when they would resolutely and effectually help one in distress, break and fling open doors, and whatever may hinder coming to their relief.

That the mountains might flow down; or melt, Psalm 68:1,2 97:5 Micah 1:3,4; that all impediments might be removed out of the way: possibly an allusion to God’s coming down upon Mount Sinai in those terrible flames of fire, Judges 5:4,5.

O that thou wouldst rend the heavens, that thou wouldst come down,.... Before, the church prayed that the Lord would look down from heaven and behold, Isaiah 63:15, now that he would open the heavens, and descend from thence; not by change of place, for he fills heaven and earth with his presence; but by some visible display of his power, in destroying her enemies, and delivering her from them. Some take this to be a prayer for the first coming of Christ from heaven to earth, by his incarnation, in order to redeem and save his people; and others that it is for his second coming to judgment, to take vengeance on his adversaries, when his wrath will burn like fire; but rather it is for his spiritual coming, to avenge his church and people on antichrist, and the antichristian states. She had seen him, as a triumphant conqueror, stained with the blood of his enemies; and now she prays for the accomplishment of what she had seen in vision and prophecy:

that the mountains might flow down at thy presence; kings and princes of the earth, and kingdoms and states governed by them, compared to mountains for their seeming firmness and stability; yet these will melt like wax, and flow like water, tremble and disappear at the presence of the King of kings, when he comes forth in his great wrath against them; as it is explained in the next verse,

that the nations may tremble at thy presence; see Revelation 16:20. Here ends the sixty third chapter in the Targum.

O that thou wouldest {a} rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence,

(a) The prophet continues his prayer, desiring God to declare his love toward his Church by miracles and mighty power, as he did in mount Sinai.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1. O that thou wouldest rend &c.] Lit. “hadst rent.” So “hadst come down,” “had quaked.” This use of the perf. in the expression of a real wish, whose realisation is contemplated, is unusual, and is only to be explained by the urgency of the speaker’s feeling. Driver, Tenses, § 140. see on ch. Isaiah 48:18.

rend the heavens] Cf. ch. Isaiah 51:6; Psalm 18:9; Psalm 144:5.

might flow down] Rather, might quake; cf. Jdg 5:5. For the general conception of the Theophany cf. Psalm 50:1-6; Habakkuk 3:3 ff.

Isaiah 64:1-3. The language of complaint again gives place (as in Isaiah 63:15) to impatient prayer for a Theophany,—an imposing manifestation of Jehovah in His might. It is the great “day of the Lord” towards which the desire of the people reaches forward. In the Hebr., ch. 64 begins with Isaiah 64:2 of our version, Isaiah 64:1 forming the conclusion of Isaiah 63:19.Verses 1-12. - ISRAEL'S PRAYER CONTINUED AND CONCLUDED. Not content with praying God to look upon them once more with favour (Isaiah 63:15), Israel now asks for a theophany, or manifestation of the Divine Presence, such as they have experienced in the times of old, and such as shall suffice to strike terror into the hearts of their enemies (vers. 1-4). With profound humility confessing their manifold and grievous iniquities, they beseech God once more, as their Father and Maker, to have pity upon them, reminding him of the desolate condition of Judaea and Jerusalem, and urging him no longer to "refrain himself" (vers. 5-12). "The manner," as Mr. Cheyne observes, "is that of a liturgical psalm; the prophet, as it were, leads the devotions of the assembled Church," and utters in impassioned language the feelings which deeply move them. Verse 1. - Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens! God "dwells in the thick darkness" (2 Chronicles 6:1). "Thick clouds are a covering to him" as he "walketh in the circuit of heaven" (Job 22:14). The Church would have the covering "rent," and God show himself openly, both to his people and to their enemies. That thou wouldest come down! God" came down" ou Sinai in the sight of all the people (Exodus 19:11, 20). David saw him in vision "bow the heavens and come down; and there was darkness under his feet" (Psalm 18:9). It is such an "epiphany" which the Church now desires - a revelation of God in all his glory, in his might as against "the nations" (ver. 2), in his mercifulness as towards themselves. That the mountains might flow down; or, quake. When God descended on Sinai, "the whole mount quaked greatly" (Exodus 19:18). When he appeared to David, "the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken" (Psalm 18:7). When he was seen of Elijah, "a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; and after the wind was an earthquake" (1 Kings 19:11). Micah saw the Lord "coming forth out of his place," and "the mountains were molten under him, and the valleys cleft" (Micah 1:3, 4). The mountains represent that which is most firm and solid and strong upon the face of the earth. If even they "melt and flow and tremble" at the presence of God, what might must his be! And who may abide him? 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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