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Isaiah 63

Chapter Sixty-three:

v. 1: The Oxford commentary believes that these are the words of the sentinels described in 62:6.  That seems reasonable to me.

The image of God stained in the blood of his enemies is quite fearsome, but the method of presenting this image is still more ominous and chilling.  Rather than simply saying that God is covered in the blood of his enemies, the writer has the sentinel gradually come to recognize what the red stain on God’s splendid robes is.

I call the image fearsome and chilling, and so it is to me.  So it also must have been on some level for the book’s original audience, but I wonder if the more dominant feeling they had was joyful vindication.  The Jews hated Edom bitterly[1] because the Edomites conspired with Babylon in subjugating the kingdom of Judah.  For my brief history of Edom and its relationship with the Israelites, see notes on Isaiah 34.

I do not know if John had this place in mind when he wrote Revelation 19:13-16, but the image of Christ there is very similar: blood stained clothes, the wine press of God’s wrath, etc.

v. 5: Compare this with 59:16.  Here in chapter 63, the vengeance of God is emphasized; there in 59 his salvation is emphasized, but they are two sides of the same coin: destroying the enemies of his children and saving his children from their enemies.  Ultimately, however, the vengeance and destruction are directed against malevolent spiritual forces rather than human ones.  Edom’s destruction was simply a foreshadowing of Satan’s.  Perhaps the spiritual quality of this ultimate war is reflected in the fact that  Christ has a sword in his mouth rather than his hand in Revelation 19:15 where, as I noted above (v.1), John uses imagery very similar to that which describes God here in Isaiah.

v. 11: Some versions translate this singularly as “he remembered” rather than “they remembered.”  Barnes favors the singular version and believes that “he” refers to God.  This would require us to interpret the following verses as a conversation God is having with himself, as if he were trying to rouse himself to action by asking himself why he does not help his children as he used to.  I prefer another interpretation.  If the pronoun should be translated as “he” then I think “he” is the Messiah.  At any rate, “me” of verse 15 cannot be God.  That would be more than simply having a conversation with oneself; it would be positively schizophrenic.

v. 15: Verses 7-19 (and all of chapter 64) seem like the sort of thing that the speaker in 62:1 and the sentinels of 62:6-7 would say as they give the LORD no rest from their prayers to reestablish Jerusalem.  Perhaps the speaker here is the Messiah.  The complaint that God’s compassion has been withheld from the speaker reminds me of Jesus’s cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

v. 17: The German translation of this passage seems to make God’s involvement in his people’s free will more passive.  It says something like “Why do you allow us to stray from your ways…” as opposed to the NRSV which reads, “Why do you make us stray from our ways….”  I do not know which agrees more literally with the Hebrew, but I think the interpretation is the same either way.  Even if the language is as strong as the NRSV makes it out to be, I believe this is simply a rhetorical device, similar to the one used in 6:9.  One should not deduce from such a statement that we have no free will.  Sometimes God may harden our hearts for one reason or another, but always it is after we have begun the work of hardening them ourselves.  It is contrary to any reasonable interpretation of the Bible, which constantly exhorts us to choose good over evil (and thus assumes that we have the freedom to choose), to believe otherwise.  If anyone is worried that God may have already hardened his heart, I believe he can take comfort in the fact that he is worried; somebody whose heart is impenetrably hardened (either by himself or God) will, by definition, not be bothered by the thought, nor by the sin against which his heart is hard.


[1] See, for instance, Psalm 137:7.

 

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5 Responses to “Isaiah 63”

  1. […] v. 9: I believe these verses are meant to be satirical and ironic rather than literal.[1] I don’t believe God literally wants Isaiah to go preach to people “so that they may not comprehend with their minds and turn and be healed.”  I think God phrases Isaiah’s commission in this way because he knows it will fail since the people are already so hard-hearted.  Their condition reminds me of those people who have lost the good of the intellect in Dante’s Inferno. See also 42:19-20, 43:8, 44:18, and 45:19.  See also note on 63:17. […]

  2. […] wonder if the more dominant feeling they had was joyful vindication.  The Jews hated Edom bitterly[1] because the Edomites conspired with Babylon in subjugating the kingdom of Judah.  For my brief […]

  3. […] v. 5:  Barnes and the Oxford commentary note that this verse is difficult to translate.  The NRSV translation says that the Israelites sin because God has hidden his face from them.  I have no doubt that when God hides his face from us, we are even more inclined to sin, but I do not believe that he does this before we have already given ourselves over to sin.  See notes on 63:17. […]

  4. […] wonder if the more dominant feeling they had was joyful vindication.  The Jews hated Edom bitterly[1] because the Edomites conspired with Babylon in subjugating the kingdom of Judah.  For my brief […]

  5. […] v. 5:  Barnes and the Oxford commentary note that this verse is difficult to translate.  The NRSV translation says that the Israelites sin because God has hidden his face from them.  I have no doubt that when God hides his face from us, we are even more inclined to sin, but I do not believe that he does this before we have already given ourselves over to sin.  See notes on 63:17. […]

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