Isaiah 64:1
Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy 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? Isaiah 64:1The similes which follow cannot be attached to this nâzōllū, however we may explain it. Yet Isaiah 64:1 (2) does not form a new and independent sentence; but we must in thought repeat the word upon which the principal emphasis rests in Isaiah 63:19 (Isaiah 64:1). "(Wouldst come down) as fire kindles brushwood, fire causes water to boil; to make known Thy name to Thine adversaries, that the heathen may tremble before Thy face! When Thou doest terrible things which we hoped not for; wouldst come down, (and) mountains shake before Thy countenance!" The older expositors gave themselves a great deal of trouble in the attempt to trace hămâsı̄m to mâsas, to melt. But since Louis de Dieu and Albert Schultens have followed Saadia and Abulwlid in citing the Arabic hms, to crack, to mutter, to mumble, etc., and hšm, to break in pieces, confringere, from which comes hashim, broken, dry wood, it is generally admitted that hămâsim is from hemes (lit. crackling, rattling, Arab. hams), and signifies "dry twigs," arida sarmenta. The second simile might be rendered, "as water bubbles up in the fire;" and in that case mayim would be treated as a feminine (according to the rule in Ges. 146, 3), in support of which Job 14:19 may be adduced as an unquestionable example (although in other cases it is masculine), and אשׁ equals בּאשׁ would be used in a local sense, like lehâbhâh, into flames, in Isaiah 5:24. But it is much more natural to take אשׁ, which is just as often a feminine as מים is a masculine, as the subject of תּבעה, and to give to the verb בּעה, which is originally intransitive, judging from the Arabic bgâ, to swell, the Chald. בּוּע, to spring up (compare אבעבּעות, blisters, pustules), the Syr. בּגא, to bubble up, etc., the transitive meaning to cause to boil or bubble up, rather than the intransitive to boil (comp. Isaiah 30:13, נבעה, swollen equals bent forwards, as it were protumidus). Jehovah is to come down with the same irresistible force which fire exerts upon brushwood or water, when it sets the former in flames and makes the latter boil; in order that by such a display of might He may make His name known (viz., the name thus judicially revealing itself, hence "in fire," Isaiah 30:27; Isaiah 66:15) to His adversaries, and that nations (viz., those that are idolaters) may tremble before Him (מפּניך: cf., Psalm 68:2-3). The infinitive clause denoting the purpose, like that indicating the comparison, passes into the finite (cf., Isaiah 10:2; Isaiah 13:9; Isaiah 14:25). Modern commentators for the most part now regard the optative lū' (O that) as extending to Isaiah 64:2 also; and, in fact, although this continued influence of lū' appears to overstep the bounds of the possible, we are forced to resort to this extremity. Isaiah 64:2 cannot contain a historical retrospect: the word "formerly" would be introduced if it did, and the order of the words would be a different one. Again, we cannot assume that נזלּוּ הרים מפּניך ירדתּ contains an expression of confidence, or that the prefects indicate certainty. Neither the context, the foregoing נוראות בּעשׂותך נו (why not עשׂה?), nor the parenthetical assertion נקוּה לא, permits of this. On the other hand, וגו בעשׂותך connects itself very appropriately with the purposes indicated in Isaiah 64:1 (2.): "may tremble when Thou doest terrible things, which we, i.e., such as we, do not look for," i.e., which surpass our expectations. And now nothing remains but to recognise the resumption of Isaiah 63:19 (Isaiah 64:1) in the clause "The mountains shake at Thy presence," in which case Isaiah 63:19b-64:2((Isaiah 64:1-3) forms a grand period rounded off palindromically after Isaiah's peculiar style.
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