Isaiah has described the sinfulness of the people and hope of the salvation to come. Isaiah has pictured the Spirit of the Lord coming upon the Servant who will set the people free from sin by offering himself up for us. When he comes with his reward, he will also come with judgment against his enemies. We learned from Isaiah 62-63 that our enemies are God’s enemies. Salvation comes through judgment. But how are the people to have hope until the time of vindication? As the people must deal with their enemies and suffer for their sins, what should the people of God do? This is an important question for us to answer in our lives today as we suffer at the hands of evildoers and must deal with the pain and difficulties of this life. What is the prescription for God’s people as they wait for the vindication of the Lord?
Remember God’s Compassion (63:7-9)
The first answer for our difficulties is to recount the steadfast love of the Lord. How important it is to continue to count the blessings of God’s love for us that we have experienced in our lives. Notice how Isaiah pictures this in verse 7. He will speak of the great goodness of God toward the house of Israel. He will speak of the compassion and steadfast love of God. We learn something very important for our lives from Isaiah. When in turmoil and distress, we do not regain our vision and hope by focusing on self. We need to look outside of ourselves to the immensity and greatness of God’s goodness, compassion, and loving commitment that is seen in Jesus. Oh, how the world misleads us in telling us that we should become introspective and become self-oriented during times of difficulty. The answer to our dark days is to look to God’s blessings in our lives. They are easy to see and many to count when we will stop to reflect on all that God has doing and continues to do for us. The book of Jude end with the words, “Keep yourself in the love of God” (Jude 21). I believe this is one practical way that we do this. We will not walk out of God’s love when we are spending our hours focusing on that love.
Verse 8 pictures God’s people this way. Being God’s people means that we are not disloyal to him. We will remain faithful to him as we observe and remember God’s faithfulness toward us. Verse 9 continues to reveal the love that God has for us. “In all their affliction he was afflicted.” Our distress causes God distress. God cares about us. God cares about our spiritual condition. How amazing it is that all-sufficient and all-powerful God is afflicted when we are afflicted! This describes the care and compassion of our God. Our God is truly a Father that cares for his children. Notice what God does in verse 9. God saved them, redeemed them, and carried them. God saves, God redeems, and God carries us through.
Our Failure Through Forgetfulness (63:10-14)
“But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit” (63:10). This reflects our attitude and disposition. God is pouring out his love and blessings, yet we forget all he has done, thus turning and rebelling against him. I want us to consider why our sins are so terrible. Consider what God says here. They rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. What an idea that we are able to grieve God! Think about this for a moment. You only grieve over people you care about. You would not start grieving if I told you that some person you never met died today. We hear of people dying in the news every day. The obituaries list numbers of people who die each day. No one is crying over the newspaper. We are grieved when it is someone we know and love. We grieve God with our rebellion. The apostle Paul gave the same command in Ephesians 4:30 that we do not grieve the Holy Spirit. When we reject God’s love, his revelation, his rule, and his transformation of us, we are grieving God! God is showing abundant love and blessings and we are rejecting him. Sin is rejecting God!
Even more amazing is what God does. From verses 11-14 Isaiah points out that God keeps his promises even though his people rebelled. Verses 11-14 remind us of the wilderness wanderings in the days of Moses. Please think about the amount of rebellion and complaining that occurred on that journey. The way Exodus and Numbers record their journeys, it sounds like they were complaining and rebelling nearly every day. But God still led them and still led them to rest in the land of Canaan so that God’s name would be glorious to Israel and to the nations. God is glorified by his faithfulness in the face of our unfaithfulness. We are to be amazed by our God, amazed at his steadfast love and compassion, which gives us faith and strength through our times of distress and difficulty.
Prayer For Mercy (63:15-64:4)
Now Isaiah turns to God in prayer. This is the second thing we must do during times of distress and turmoil. Prayer must happen. Too often prayer become neglected when we are hurting and suffering. But prayer must become our new natural and immediate response for anything that comes our way in life. Isaiah calls for the Lord look down from heaven, from his mansion of holiness and beauty, and see. Isaiah asks to see the Lord’s zeal and might on display. Then we see another confession of sin. “For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us” (63:16). Isaiah is saying that God is their Father, even though they are unrecognizable to the patriarchs because of their sinful ways. Their conduct has been so perverse that they have forfeited the right to be recognized as the family of Israel. But consider Isaiah’s point. Even disobedient children still have a father who responds when they cry out to him. You are our Father! You are our Redeemer! So consider what Isaiah says in verse 17.
O LORD, why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage. (Isaiah 63:17 ESV)
What does Isaiah mean by this? I think this question is particularly useful for us to understand how God handles our rebellion. We are to recognize that the effect of disobedience is that the heart progresses further against the way and will of God. Disobedience will never draw us closer to God. Doing what we know we must not do and not doing what we know God desires us to do will never draw us closer to God. Instead, our hearts will move further and further away from God. This is the nature of the hardening of the heart and how God deals with us. As our hearts move further from God in our disobedience, God does not stop us. In fact, the separation is supposed to cause us to desire God and come back to him. Think about how God commanded this truth to be practiced in the local church. When a person is rebellious and will not respond to correction, the church is told to withdraw from that person (Matthew 18; 1 Corinthians 5). Withdrawal is not punishment but the loss of fellowship is to draw us back to God. In the same way, this separation that we are causing by our disobedience is supposed to draw us back to God. However, many people do not repent but only go further into their sinfulness. The book of Revelation makes this observation.
The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk. (Revelation 9:20 ESV)
The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds. (Revelation 16:10–11 ESV)
Notice that the actions of God can cause people to move further and further away from God. Obviously, this is not God’s intention, but it is the effect of how God operates. Consider that Jesus taught this in the parable of lost things in Luke 15. What did the actions of the father toward the prodigal son do to the older son? The older son’s heart was hardened and he would not enter into the Father’s house and join in the feast. Was this the intention of God? No, but the way God operates drives people away from him. People ultimately leave the Lord because of his character. Remember how Jonah complained at the Lord because he is a compassionate God that was going to forgive Ninevah! Jonah was angry at God’s character and though God called for him, Jonah was driven away.
Isaiah is observing this truth. God has separated himself from sinful Israel, so that Israel is treated like they are not God’s people at all (63:18-19). Isaiah sees that the people are separated from God, and deservedly so, because of their sins. But the separation is only hardening the people’s hearts further. People are not repenting. People are not turning back to the Lord. So God is going to need to act to break through these darkened hearts. This is what Isaiah calls for in chapter 64.
Isaiah, in powerful and beautiful language, calls for God’s presence to come down on them. Come and deliver your people again! Let people know who you are! Make your name known! Come down like you did at Sinai and cause the mountains to quake at your presence! Do something amazing so that people will realize that there is no God like you. No one can act in a manner like God can and no one has seen what God can do. Consider that Isaiah 64:4 is quoted by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:9 to show that God has put to shame the wisdom of this world and that the only way to know the depths of God is by the Holy Spirit revealing it.
Meeting Our God of Mercy (64:5-12)
The final verses of this cry to God describes how we are able to meet God. He is the Father and we are his children. He has shown us faithful love. Who gets to be with this loving God? We see this question asked in the middle of verse 5.
“Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been along time, and shall we be saved?” Who does not feel this way. We have been in our sins so long, how can we be saved? We know that God is wrathful toward sin. How can we ever be saved? How can we ever meet God?
First, God meets those who joyfully work righteousness, who remember the Lord as they live life (64:5). This is the first beautiful picture. The point is not just to do righteousness, as we will see Isaiah point out in verse 6. The point is that the work we do is done joyfully to the Lord. God wants your joy. God wants you to want to remember him when you walk in your ways. Joyfully consider the way of the Lord. Joyfully obey your God. He has shown you steadfast love. This love is what breaks through our darkened hearts and corrupted, sinful, selfish thinking. This is what Jesus is supposed to be for us. As God broke into history and brought his awesome presence to Mount Sinai, so God has heard the prayer of Isaiah and has broken into the history of the world again, bringing his awesome presence in Jesus. Seeing Jesus is what changes us. The character of God’s people is that they gladly follow God’s ways.
Second, recognize our sinfulness. We are to be poor in spirit. We are to mourn from our spiritual condition. We are to be hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Listen to the words of verse 6.
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6 ESV)
This is the heart God wants from us. This is what repentance looks like. This is what our confession should look like each day in heart and words to God. We are unclean. Our righteous deeds are like filthy rags before you. Our sins have captured us, causing us to wither and fall. We are doomed by our sins. But thank you God for Jesus who saves us from our wretched condition.
Third, recognize our position. In verse 8 we read that we come to God helpless and broken. We are the clay and you are the potter. We are all the work of God’s hands. I love the first sentence of verse 8: “You are our Father!” What else should we say? You are our Father. You are our Master. You are the potter. Mold us as you desire. We will not resist your will but will be transformed into your image. You are the Lord of mercy. Look upon our condition, be merciful, and save us. We know you care about us, Lord! Isaiah asks the Lord to look at their condition (64:10-12). We know you will act because of your name and your steadfast love.
Beloved, we are sinful. We fall short so badly of what God wants us to be. But listen to Isaiah and listen to the words of hope from the writer of Hebrews.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14–16 ESV)