Isaiah 64
Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence,
The 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.

As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence!
When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence.
The following clause gives the reason for this; ו being very frequently the logical equivalent for kı̄ (e.g., Isaiah 3:7 and Isaiah 38:15). The justification of this wish, which is forced from them by the existing misery, is found in the incomparable acts of Jehovah for the good of His own people, which are to be seen in a long series of historical events. Isaiah 64:3 (4.). "For from olden time men have not heard, nor perceived, nor hath an eye seen, a God beside Thee, who acted on behalf of him that waiteth for Him." No ear, no eye has ever been able to perceive the existence of a God who acted like Jehovah, i.e., really interposed on behalf of those who set their hopes upon Him. This is the explanation adopted by Knobel; but he wrongly supplies נוראות to יעשׂה, whereas עשׂה is used here in the same pregnant sense as in Psalm 22:32; Psalm 37:5; Psalm 52:11 (cf., gâmar in Psalm 57:3; Psalm 138:8). It has been objected to this explanation, that האזין is never connected with the accusative of the person, and that God can neither be heard nor seen. But what is terrible in relation to שׁמע in Job 42:5 cannot be untenable in relation to האזין. Hearing and seeing God are here equivalent to recognising His existence through the perception of His works. The explanation favoured by Rosenmller and Stier, viz., "And from olden time men have not heard it, nor perceived with ears, no eye has seen it, O God, beside Thee, what (this God) doth to him that waiteth for Him," is open to still graver objections. The thought is the same as in Psalm 31:20, and when so explained it corresponds more exactly to the free quotation in 1 Corinthians 2:9, which with our explanation there is no necessity to trace back to either Isaiah 42:15-16, or a lost book, as Origen imagined (see Tischendorf's ed. vii. of the N.T. on this passage). This which no ear has heard, no eye seen, is not God Himself, but He who acts for His people, and justifies their waiting for Him (cf., Hofmann, Die h. Schrift Neuen Testaments, ii. 2, 51). Another proof that Paul had no other passage than this in his mind, is the fact that the same quotation is met with in Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians (ch. 34), where, instead of "those that love Him," we have "those that wait for Him," a literal rendering of למחכּה־לו. The quotation by Paul therefore by no means leads us to take Elohim as a vocative or וגו יעשׂה as the object, although it must not be concealed that this view of the passage and its reference to the fulness of glory in the eternal life is an old rabbinical one, as Rashi expressly affirms, when he appeals to R. Jose (Joseph Kara) as bondsman for the other (see b. Sanhedrin 99a). Hahn has justly objected to this traditional explanation, which regards Elohim as a vocative, that the thought, that God alone has heard and perceived and seen with His eye what He intends to do to His people, is unsuitable in itself, and at variance with the context, and that if וגו יעשׂה was intended as the object, אשר (את) would certainly be inserted. And to this we may add, that we cannot find the words Elohim zūlâthekhâ (God beside Thee) preceded by a negation anywhere in chapters 40-66 without receiving at once the impression, that they affirm the sole deity of Jehovah (comp. Isaiah 45:5, Isaiah 45:21). The meaning therefore is, "No other God beside Jehovah has ever been heard or seen, who acted for (ageret pro) those who waited for Him." Mechakkēh is the construct, according to Ges. 116, 1; and ya‛ăsēh has tsere here, according to Kimchi (Michlol 125b) and other testimonies, just as we meet with תעסה four times (in Genesis 26:29; Joshua 7:9; 2 Samuel 13:12; Jeremiah 40:16) and ונעשׂה once (Joshua 9:24), mostly with a disjunctive accent, and not without the influence of a whole or half pause, the form with tsere being regarded as more emphatic than that with seghol.

(Note: In addition to the examples given above, we have the following forms of the same kind in kal: ימּצה (with tiphchah) in Jeremiah 17:17; תּראה (with tsakpeh) in Daniel 1:13, compare תּגלּה (with athnach) in Leviticus 18:7-8, and תגלּה (with the smaller disjunctive tiphchah) in Leviticus 18:9-11; ינקּה (with athnach) in Nahum 1:3; אזרה (with tsakeph) in Ezekiel 5:12. This influence of the accentuation has escaped the notice of the more modern grammarians (e.g., Ges. 75, Anm. 17).)

For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.
After the long period governed by לוּא has thus been followed by the retrospect in Isaiah 64:3 (4.), it is absolutely impossible that Isaiah 64:4 (5a) should be intended as an optative, in the sense of "O that thou wouldst receive him that," etc., as Stier and others propose. The retrospect is still continued thus: "Thou didst meet him that rejoiceth to work righteousness, when they remembered Thee in Thy ways." צדק ועשׂה שׂשׂ is one in whom joy and right action are paired, and is therefore equivalent to לעשׂות שׂשׂ. At the same time, it may possibly be more correct to take צדק as the object of both verses, as Hofmann does in the sense of "those who let what is right be their joy, and their action also;" for though שׂוּשׂ (שׂישׂ) cannot be directly construed with the accusative of the object, as we have already observed at Isaiah 8:6 and Isaiah 35:1, it may be indirectly, as in this passage and Isaiah 65:18. On pâga‛, "to come to meet," in the sense of "coming to the help of," see at Isaiah 47:3; it is here significantly interchanged with בּדרכיך of the minor clause bidrâkhekhâ yizkerūkhâ, "those who remember Thee in Thy ways" (for the syntax, compare Isaiah 1:5 and Isaiah 26:16): "When such as love and do right, walking in Thy ways, remembered Thee (i.e., thanked Thee for grace received, and longed for fresh grace), Thou camest again and again to meet them as a friend."

But Israel appeared to have been given up without hope to the wrath of this very God. Isaiah 64:4 (5b). "Behold, Thou, Thou art enraged, and we stood as sinners there; already have we been long in this state, and shall we be saved?" Instead of hēn ‛attâh (the antithesis of now and formerly), the passage proceeds with hēn 'attâh. There was no necessity for 'attâh with qâtsaphtâ; so that it is used with special emphasis: "Behold, Thou, a God who so faithfully accepts His own people, hast broken out in wrath." The following word ונּחטא cannot mean "and we have sinned," but is a fut. consec., and therefore must mean at least, "then we have sinned" (the sin inferred from the punishment). It is more correct, however, to take it, as in Genesis 43:9, in the sense of, "Then we stand as sinners, as guilty persons:" the punishment has exhibited Israel before the world, and before itself, as what it really is (consequently the fut. consec. does not express the logical inference, but the practical consequence). As ונחטא has tsakeph, and therefore the accents at any rate preclude Shelling's rendering, "and we have wandered in those ways from the very earliest times," we must take the next two clauses as independent, if indeed בהם is to be understood as referring to בדרכיך. Stier only goes halfway towards this when he renders it, "And indeed in them (the ways of God, we sinned) from of old, and should we be helped?" This is forced, and yet not in accordance with the accents. Rosenmller and Hahn quite satisfy this demand when they render it, "Tamen in viis tuis aeternitas ut salvemur;" but ‛ōlâm, αἰών, in this sense of αἰωνιότης, is not scriptural. The rendering adopted by Besser, Grotius, and Starck is a better one: "(Si vero) in illis (viis tuis) perpetuo (mansissemus), tunc servati fuerimus" (if we had continued in Thy ways, then we should have been preserved). But there is no succession of tenses here, which could warrant us in taking ונוּשׁע as a paulo-post future; and Hofmann's view is syntactically more correct, "In them (i.e., the ways of Jehovah) eternally, we shall find salvation, after the time is passed in which He has been angry and we have sinned" (or rather, been shown to be guilty). But we question the connection between בהם and רדכיך in any form. In our view the prayer suddenly takes a new turn from hēn (behold) onwards, just as it did with lū' (O that) in Isaiah 64:1; and רדכיך in Isaiah 64:5 stands at the head of a subordinate clause. Hence בהם must refer back to ונחטא קצפת ("in Thine anger and in our sins," Schegg). There is no necessity, however, to search for nouns to which to refer בּהם. It is rather to be taken as neuter, signifying "therein" (Ezekiel 33:18, cf., Psalm 90:10), like עליהם, thereupon equals thereby (Isaiah 38:16), בּהן therein (Isaiah 37:16), מהם thereout (Isaiah 30:6), therefrom (Isaiah 44:15). The idea suggested by such expressions as these is no doubt that of plurality (here a plurality of manifestations of wrath and of sins), but one which vanishes into the neuter idea of totality. Now we do justice both to the clause without a verb, which, being a logical copula, admits simply of a present sumus; and also to ‛ōlâm, which is the accusative of duration, when we explain the sentence as meaning, "In this state we are and have been for a long time." ‛Olâm is used in other instances in these prophecies to denote the long continuance of the sate of punishment (see Isaiah 42:14; Isaiah 57:11), since it appeared to the exiles as an eternity (a whole aeon), and what lay beyond it as but a little while (mits‛âr, Isaiah 63:18). The following word ונוּשׁע needs no correction. There is no necessity to change it into ונּתע, as Ewald proposes, after the lxx καὶ ἐπλανήθημεν ("and we fell into wandering"), or what would correspond still more closely to the lxx (cf., Isaiah 46:8, פשׁעים, lxx πεπλανήμενοι), but is less appropriate here, into ונּפשׁע ("and we fell into apostasy"), the reading supported by Lowth and others. If it were necessary to alter the text at all, we might simply transpose the letters, and read וּנשׁוּע, "and cried for help." But if we take it as a question, "And shall we experience salvation - find help?" there is nothing grammatically inadmissible in this (compare Isaiah 28:28), and psychologically it is commended by the state of mind depicted in Isaiah 40:27; Isaiah 59:10-12. Moreover, what follows attaches itself quite naturally to this.

Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those is continuance, and we shall be saved.
The people who ask the question in Isaiah 64:5 do not regard themselves as worthy of redemption, as their self-righteousness has been so thoroughly put to shame. "We all became like the unclean thing, and all our virtues like a garment soiled with blood; and we all faded away together like the leaves; and our iniquities, like the storm they carried us away." The whole nation is like one whom the law pronounces unclean, like a leper, who has to cry "tâmē, tâmē "as he goes along, that men may get out of his way (Leviticus 13:45). Doing right in all its manifold forms (tsedâqōth, like Isaiah 33:15, used elsewhere of the manifestations of divine righteousness), which once made Israel well-pleasing to God (Isaiah 1:21), has disappeared and become like a garment stained with menstruous discharge (cf., Ezekiel 36:17); (lxx ὡς ῥάκος ἀποκαθημένης equals dâvâ, Isaiah 30:22; niddâh, Lamentations 1:17; temē'âh, Leviticus 15:33). ‛Iddı̄m (used thus in the plural in the Talmud also) signifies the monthly period (menstrua). In the third figure, that of fading falling foliage, the form vannâbhel is not kal ( equals vannibbōl or vannibbal; Ewald, 232, b), which would be an impossibility according to the laws of inflexion; still less is it niphal equals vanninnâbhel (which Kimchi suggests as an alternative); but certainly a hiphil. It is not, however, from nâbhēl equals vannabbel, "with the reduplication dropped to express the idea of something gradual," as Bttcher proposes (a new and arbitrary explanation in the place of one founded upon the simple laws of inflexion), but either from bâlal (compare the remarks on belı̄l in Isaiah 30:24, which hardly signifies "ripe barley" however), after the form ויּגל (from גּלל) ויּסך (from סכך), or from būl, after the form ויּקם, etc. In any case, therefore, it is a metaplastic formation, whether from bâlal or būl equals nâbhēl, like ויּשׂר (in 1 Chronicles 20:3, after the form ויּסר, from שּׂור equals נשׂר, or after the form ויּרע, from שׂרר equals נשׂר (compare the rabbinical explanation of the name of the month Bul from the falling of the leaves, in Buxtorf, Lex. talm. col. 271). The hiphil הבל or הביל is to be compared to האדים, to stream out red ( equals to be red); האריך, to make an extension ( equals to be long); השׁרישׁ, to strike root ( equals to root), etc., and signifies literally to produce a fading ( equals to fade away). In the fourth figure, עוננוּ (as it is also written in Isaiah 64:6 according to correct codices) is a defective plural (as in Jeremiah 14:7; Ezekiel 28:18; Daniel 9:13) for the more usual עונתינוּ (Isaiah 59:12). עון is the usual term applied to sin regarded as guilt, which produces punishment of itself. The people were robbed by their sins of all vital strength and energy, like dry leaves, which the guilt and punishment springing from sin carried off as a very easy prey.

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
Universal forgetfulness of God was the consequence of this self-instigated departure from God. "And there was no one who called upon Thy name, who aroused himself to lay firm hold of Thee: for Thou hadst hidden Thy face from us, and didst melt us into the hand of our transgressions." There was no one (see Isaiah 59:16) who had risen up in prayer and intercession out of this deep fall, or had shaken himself out of the sleep of security and lethargy of insensibility, to lay firm hold of Jehovah, i.e., not to let Him go till He blessed him and his people again. The curse of God pressed every one down; God had withdrawn His grace from them, and given them up to the consequences of their sins. The form ותּמוּגנוּ is not softened from the pilel ותּמגגנוּ, but is a kal like ויכוּננּוּ ekil in Job 31:15 (which see), מוּג being used in a transitive sense, as kūn is there (cf., shūbh, Isaiah 52:8; mūsh, Zechariah 3:9). The lxx, Targ., and Syr. render it et tradidisti nos; but we cannot conclude from this with any certainty that they read ותּמגּננוּ, which Knobel follows Ewald in correcting into the incorrect form ותּמגּנּוּ. The prophet himself had the expression miggēn beyad (Genesis 14:20, cf., Job 8:4) in his mind, in the sense of liquefecisti nos in manum, equivalent to liquefecisti et tradidisti (παρέδωκας, Romans 1:28), from which it is evident that ביד is not a mere διά (lxx), but the "hand" of the transgressions is their destructive and damning power.

And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.

This was the case when the measure of Israel's sins had become full. They were carried into exile, where they sank deeper and deeper. The great mass of the people proved themselves to be really massa perdita, and perished among the heathen. But there were some, though a vanishingly small number, who humbled themselves under the mighty hand of God, and, when redemption could not be far off, wrestled in such prayers as these, that the nation might share it in its entirety, and if possible not one be left behind. With ועתּה the existing state of sin and punishment is placed among the things of the past, and the petition presented that the present moment of prayer may have all the significance of a turning-point in their history. "And now, O Jehovah, Thou art our Father: we are the clay, and Thou our Maker; and we are all the work of Thy hand. Be not extremely angry, O Jehovah, and remember not the transgression for ever! Behold, consider, we beseech Thee, we are all Thy people." The state of things must change at last; for Israel is an image made by Jehovah; yea, more than this, Jehovah is the begetter of Israel, and loves Israel not merely as a sculptor, but as a father (compare Isaiah 45:9-10, and the unquestionable passage of Isaiah in Isaiah 29:16). Let Him then not be angry עד־מאד, "to the utmost measure" (cf., Psalm 119:8), or if we paraphrase it according to the radical meaning of מד, "till the weight becomes intolerable." Let Him not keep in mind the guilt for ever, to punish it; but, in consideration of the fact that Israel is the nation of His choice, let mercy take the place of justice. הן strengthens the petition in its own way (see Genesis 30:34), just as נא does; and הבּיט signifies here, as elsewhere, to fix the eye upon anything. The object, in this instance, is the existing fact expressed in "we are all Thy people." Hitzig is correct in regarding the repetition of "all of us" in this prayer as significant. The object throughout is to entreat that the whole nation may participate in the inheritance of the coming salvation, in order that the exodus from Babylonia may resemble the exodus from Egypt.

But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.
Be not wroth very sore, O LORD, neither remember iniquity for ever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people.
The re-erection of the ruins of the promised land requires the zeal of every one, and this state of ruin must not continue. It calls out the love and faithfulness of Jehovah. "The cities of Thy holiness have become a pasture-ground; Zion has become a pasture-ground, Jerusalem a desert. The house of our holiness and of our adorning, where our fathers praised Thee, is given up to the fire, and everything that was our delight given up to devastation. Wilt Thou restrain Thyself in spite of this, O Jehovah, be silent, and leave us to suffer the utmost?" Jerusalem by itself could not possibly be called "cities" (‛ârē), say with reference to the upper and lower cities (Vitringa). It is merely mentioned by name as the most prominent of the many cities which were all "holy cities," inasmuch as the whole of Canaan was the land of Jehovah (Isaiah 14:25), and His holy territory (Psalm 78:54). The word midbâr (pasture-land, heath, different from tsiyyâh, the pastureless desert, Isaiah 35:1) is repeated, for the purpose of showing that the same fate had fallen upon Zion-Jerusalem as upon the rest of the cities of the land. The climax of the terrible calamity was the fact, that the temple had also fallen a prey to the burning of the fire (compare for the fact, Jeremiah 52:13). The people call it "house of our holiness and of our glory." Jehovah's qōdesh and tiph'ereth have, as it were, transplanted heaven to earth in the temple (compare Isaiah 63:15 with Isaiah 60:7); and this earthly dwelling-place of God is Israel's possession, and therefore Israel's qōdesh and tiph'ereth. The relative clause describes what sublime historical reminiscences are attached to the temple: אשׁר is equivalent to שׁם אשׁר, as in Genesis 39:20; Numbers 20:13 (compare Psalm 84:4), Deuteronomy 8:15, etc. הללּך has chateph-pathach, into which, as a rule, the vocal sheva under the first of two similar letters is changed. Machămaddēnū (our delights) may possibly include favourite places, ornamental buildings, and pleasure grounds; but the parallel leads us rather to think primarily of things associated with the worship of God, in which the people found a holy delight. כל, contrary to the usual custom, is here followed by the singular of the predicate, as in Proverbs 16:2; Ezekiel 31:15 (cf., Genesis 9:29). Will Jehovah still put restraint upon Himself, and cause His merciful love to keep silence, על־זאת, with such a state of things as this, or notwithstanding this state of things (Job 10:7)? On התאפּק, see Isaiah 63:15; Isaiah 42:14. The suffering would indeed increase עד־מאד (to the utmost), if it caused the destruction of Israel, or should not be followed at last by Israel's restoration. Jehovah's compassion cannot any longer thus forcibly restrain itself; it must break forth, like Joseph's tears in the recognition scene (Genesis 45:1).

Thy holy cities are a wilderness, Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.
Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things are laid waste.
Wilt thou refrain thyself for these things, O LORD? wilt thou hold thy peace, and afflict us very sore?
Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch [1857-78].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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