Isaiah 63: Look Down from Heaven

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Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment Part 2: Historical Interlude Part 3: Salvation
Chapters 1-35 Chapters 36-39 Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

Chapter 63 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile and ultimate glory. This chapter in particular previews Messiah’s coming to judge Israel’s enemies.

Key verses:

Isa. 63:15-16 – Look down from heaven and see from your lofty home – holy and beautiful. Where is Your zeal and Your might? Your yearning and Your compassion are withheld from me. Yet You are our Father, even though Abraham does not know us and Israel doesn’t recognize us. You, Lord, are our Father; from ancient time, Your name is our Redeemer.

Quick summary:

H.L. Willmington writes: “As a blood-soaked warrior approached, a watchman asked his identity. He identified himself as the one who all alone had conquered Israel’s foes and was ready to redeem his people (63:1–6). Isaiah responded with praise for the God who throughout history had shown grace toward his people, no matter how often they rebelled against him (63:7–9). When he recalled the Exodus, however, Isaiah wondered why God had not yet delivered his people once again (63:11–17), and begged him to do so quickly (63:17–19)…. 63:1–6 can be seen as foreshadowing Christ’s second coming and victory at Armageddon (see Rev. 14:18–20; 19:11–21)” (Willmington’s Bible Handbook, Tyndale House Publishers, 1997, S. 374).

Take note:

When the Lord comes (or returns, from a New Testament perspective), He is asked two questions: Who is this? And, why is Your clothing red? He answers the first question in verse 1, “It is I, proclaiming vindication (or righteousness).” Just as the Lord reveals Himself to Moses at the burning bush as “IAM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14), Jesus proclaims His deity by identifying Himself to the woman at the well as “I am” (John 4:26) and to the Jewish religious leaders by declaring, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). The Lord of Isaiah 63 is the same Lord of all Scripture, establishing the truths of the Trinity and the deity of the Messiah.

The Lord answers the second question, as to why His clothing is red, “I trampled the winepress alone … I trampled them [the nations] in My anger … their blood spattered My garments” (v. 3). Just as juice from freshly pressed grapes will stain the garments of the vintner, so Messiah’s robes will be covered in blood when He returns to judge the nations. Zechariah foresees this day as well (Zech. 14:3), as does the apostle John (Rev. 14:19-20; 19:11-21).

The Day of Vengeance (Isa. 63:1-6)

This chapter begins with a graphic image of the Messiah approaching Jerusalem, having avenged Himself and His people of their common enemies as symbolized by Edom. His garments are spattered with blood, much as a vintner’s robes are stained from the grapes he has trampled, yet the Messiah is neither injured nor weary. In fact, He is “splendid in His apparel, rising up proudly in His great might” (v. 1). Edom is the wicked nation southeast of Israel that often opposes God’s people and therefore is under God’s wrath (see Mal. 1:4). Bozrah is a city in Edom and its name means “grape gathering.” The Lord’s clothing is red (adom), a Hebrew word-play on Edom. Isaiah already has identified Edom and Bozrah as typical of the impenitent world (Isa. 34:6). The imagery is clear: As a vintner crushes the harvested grapes beneath his feet, the Messiah will crush His enemies.

The ancient wine press is a large hollowed-out rock into which grapes are placed for people to trample. The juice runs out of a hole in the rock and is captured in vessels beneath it. As the people crush the grapes, no doubt some of the juice stains their clothing. In a similar fashion, when the Messiah crushes His enemies, His robes will be stained with their blood (Rev. 19:13). Having rejected the blood of the Lamb as payment for their sins, those who oppose the Messiah at His return will have their blood shed. They truly will die in their sins (John 8:24).

Warren Wiersbe comments: “When Jesus came to earth the first time, it was to inaugurate ‘the acceptable year of the Lord’ (Isa. 61:2; Luke 4:19). When He comes the second time, it will be to climax ‘the day of vengeance of our God’ (Isa. 63:4; 61:2). The enemy will be crushed like grapes and forced to drink their own blood from the cup of God’s wrath (51:17; Jer. 25:15–16). These images may not appeal to sophisticated people today, but the Jews in that day fully understood them” (Be Comforted, An Old Testament Study, S. Is 63:1).

As a side note, this passage of Scripture is the background for the Civil War’s most famous song, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” according to Lawrence O. Richards in The Bible Readers Companion.

God’s Mercies Remembered (Isa. 63:7-14)

Before stating their two requests – that God be compassionate toward them (vv. 15-19) and that He punish their enemies (64:1-7) – the righteous remnant declares the Lord’s faithful love and praiseworthy acts (v. 7). While Isaiah exalts the Lord for all He has done, the Lord claims the remnant as His own and even identifies with their suffering (v. 8). This divine empathy is expressed elsewhere in Scripture, for example:

  • Isa. 53:3-6 – He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like one people turned away from; He was despised, and we didn’t value Him. Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all.
  • Mark 8:31 – Then He began to teach them that the  Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, the  chief priests, and the  scribes, be killed, and rise after three days.
  • Acts 3:18 – But what God predicted through the mouth of all the prophets – that His  Messiah would suffer – He has fulfilled in this way.

The name “Angel of His Presence” (v. 9) literally means “Angel of His face,” or the One who stands continually before the Lord. Most likely this is a reference to the Angel of the Lord, or as many commentators believe, the pre-incarnate Messiah.

In verses 10-14 Isaiah reminds his fellow citizens of the post-wilderness rebellions of Israel for which they were chastened but not cut off. Even though God’s people reject the Lord, He remains faithful to His covenant promises to them. There is strong emphasis on the deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit in these verses. The Holy Spirit is grieved by the rebellious Israelites (v. 10), present among the flock (v. 11), and the One who, like a gentle farmer leading his cattle into a valley, gives His people rest (v. 14).

A Forlorn Family (Isa. 63:15-19)

The Jews in Babylonian exile will plead with the Lord to look down from His “lofty home” at their plight in the same way He looked down on the people in Egypt in Moses’ day. They will long for a display of His zeal, strength and compassion. The people will wonder why His “yearning” – literally the agitation of His inward parts, or the emotions that spring from compassion – is withheld from them. Even though they have drifted far away from the faithful paths of Abraham and Jacob, God is still their Father and Redeemer. In exile, the people will realize that though they have belonged to God for centuries, they have not been in a proper relationship with Him, nor have they humbly submitted to His theocratic rule. Penitently, the people will ask the Lord to return them to Him while reminding Him that their place of worship, the temple, has been destroyed.

The people ask an odd question in verse 17: “Why, Lord, do you make us stray from Your ways?” (emphasis added). Further, they state, “You harden our hearts …” Are the Jews in exile blaming God for their sin and its consequences? Is there any truth to their complaint? And if so, how can they – or any of us – be held responsible for our rebellion against God?  One commentary explains it this way: “They do not mean to deny their own blameworthiness, but confess that through their own fault God gave them over to a reprobate mind (Is 6:9, 10; Ps 119:10; Ro 1:28)” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, S. Is 63:17). D.A. Carson adds, “God is not to blame for their spiritual plight; it stems from their own dalliance with evil” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 63:15). While God certainly chooses servants like Jeremiah from their mothers’ wombs, and determines centuries in advance the leaders who will alter human history (Cyrus, for example), He is not the author of evil, nor does He tempt people with evil (James 1:13-14). Further, He does not direct people’s thoughts, words and deeds in such a way that releases them from their personal responsibility to repent, believe and follow Him. The sovereignty of God and responsibility of men and women are mysterious biblical doctrines whose difficulties make them no less true.

Matthew Henry shares this insight: “Why hast thou made us to err from thy ways …Those are wicked indeed that lay the blame of their wickedness upon God. But I rather take it to be the language of those among them that lamented the unbelief and impenitence of their people, not accusing God of being the author of their wickedness, but complaining of it to him…. When they ask, Why hast thou done this? it is not as charging him with wrong, but lamenting it as a sore judgment…. God had caused them to err and hardened their hearts, not only by withdrawing his Spirit from them, because they had grieved, and vexed, and quenched him (v. 10), but by a judicial sentence upon them (Go, make the heart of this people fat, ch. 6:9, 10) and by his providences concerning them, which had proved sad occasions for their departure from him…. Convinced consciences complain most of spiritual judgments and dread that most in an affliction which draws them from God and duty” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 63:15).

Closing Thought

The chapter ends with the people of God surrendering to Him at last. J. Vernon McGee writes: “This should be the attitude of the Christian today – complete yielding to God. Most of us are afraid to yield to God because we are afraid He will be hard on us. God wants to be gentle with us if we will give Him a chance. But remember that He also is the God of judgment. He is the One who is coming to earth some day to tread the winepress of the fierceness of His wrath. God is not trying to frighten you; He is just telling you the truth” (Isaiah: Volume II, p. 186).