Faithful Christians rightly do their best to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Matt. 5:44-48). Faithful Christians also strive to entrust their lives to God in the midst of suffering, for they know that God can be trusted no matter what life may bring (1 Pet. 3:13-17; 4:19). Faithful Christians also know that even though this world does not give the promise of justice, God will reward His faithful saints in heaven (Matt. 5:10-12; 1 Pet. 4:12-14).

Having said all this, faithful Christians also know that our God is a God of vengeance who will judge sin one day, especially the sin of those who hate and persecute His people (2 Thess. 1:6-9; Rev. 15:1-4). Isaiah 63 tells us about what this day of vengeance is going to look like. What a comfort it is to know that the wickedness that destroys the world today will one day be judged. Today’s blog comes from my forthcoming Isaiah commentary. Enjoy!

Chapter 63 centers around the theme of vengeance against those seeking the destruction of Israel.  It has been over 4,000 years since God first told Abraham, “I will curse those who curse you” (Gen. 12:3).[1]  This warning stands as part of the unconditional promises God made to the people of Abraham, the promises commonly called The Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:3; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14; Acts 3:25; Gal. 3:8).  The Abrahamic Covenant originated with God’s call to Abraham when he was still living in Ur, but finds repeated confirmation throughout the life of Abraham.  One source explains, “The relationship between God and Abraham should be understood as a Covenant relationship—the most solemn form of arrangement between individuals in the ancient world.”[2]  Here in chapter 63 we see three ways that the Abrahamic Covenant will bring these blessings to fulfillment.

The Abrahamic covenant brings vengeance (vv. 1-6)

One element of the Abrahamic covenant is that God will bring curse, here the idea of vengeance, on those who harm His people.  Back in 62:6 we saw that God has His watchmen guarding over His city, but here in 63:1-6 we see that the time has finally come for vengeance to be poured out by the hand of God’s Servant.  Not only does Isaiah show us the marks of vengeance (vv. 1-2), but also the reasons for such vengeance (vv. 3-6).

The marks of vengeance (vv. 1-2)

The colors of vengeance.  The marks of vengeance show themselves in bright, crimson red (chamuts) clothing on One who is valiantly approaching Zion from Bozrah/Edom (Isa. 34:5; Jer. 49:13; Ezek. 25:12-14; 35:1-15; Amos 1:12; Obad. 1:14; Mal. 1:2-5; Ps. 137:7).  Isaiah asks, “Who is this?”  The Messiah answers, “It is I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.”

The reasons for vengeance.  A second question sounds out, “Why is your apparel red, and your garments like the one who treads in the wine press?” (cf. Rev. 19:13-15).  This One is so covered in red that it looks like He has been treading grapes in a wine press.  However, the red stains are from the blood of his enemies.  Vengeance against the wicked must come, and it will be a blood bath.  Every enemy of God must receive recompense, especially those who have sought the destruction of His people Israel.[3]

The objects of vengeance.  All of this raises the question who Edom is.  Edom is an ancient people whose origin goes back to the days of the patriarchs (Gen. 25).[4]  Edom descended from the older twin Esau who had been born to Isaac and Rebekah.  Before the twins were even born, God had prophetically informed Rebekah that the younger son (Jacob) would be the one to have preeminence (Gen. 25:23), and thus be the line of the Abrahamic Covenant.  Esau freely validated this prophecy by rejecting his own firstborn status by selling it for a bowl of stew (Gen. 25:32-34).  Years later God confirmed it would indeed be Jacob, and not Esau, through whom He would fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant:

I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants.  Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed (Gen. 28:13-14).

Throughout history, Edom was quite antagonistic against Israel,[5] and the Bible indicates that at the end of the age they are once again going to show much hostility, a hostility that will cost them greatly.[6]  It is for this reason that God will send His Servant to bring vengeance on Edom (cf. ch. 34).[7]  All of this must come as part of the process for Christ to establish His kingdom.  Oswalt explains, “To be sure, the enemies of God must be destroyed if the people of God are to know His blessing.”[8]

The reasons for vengeance (vv. 3-6)

Isaiah continues to explain the reasons for vengeance in verses 3-6.  Isaiah names three reasons why the Servant must bring vengeance.

The Servant was the only one was qualified to avenge (v. 3).  The first reason is because He is the only One qualified to bring such vengeance.  Isaiah writes, “I have trodden the wine trough alone,[9] and from the peoples there was no man with Me” (cf. 59:16-20).[10]  God’s righteous judgment has come, and no one was there to help, neither from inside the nation nor from outside:

The Lord indicates that he did this work alone; no other nations were employed to carry out his destructive plans. Earlier God used the nation of Assyria as the rod of his punishment to judge Judah in 10:5, but this time he did not use another nation. . . .  He alone is the only one who is truly able to destroy evil from this world.[11]

Christ is the only One who can bring Israel salvation (cf. 43:10-13), and Christ is the One who says, “I also trod them in My anger and trampled them in My wrath; and their lifeblood is sprinkled on My garments, and I stained all My raiment.”  It will be a literal blood bath (cf. Rev. 19:13-15).

The Servant had a heart to avenge (v. 4).  The second reason why the Servant is the One to bring wrath is because He is the One who has a heart to avenge the evils done against His name and His people.  Thus, we read, “For the day of vengeance [naqam; cf. 34:8; 35:4; 61:2] was in My heart,[12] and My year of redemption has come [ge’eliym; cf. verb in 41:14; 43:1, 14; 44:6, 22-24; 47:4; 48:17, 20; 49:7, 26; 54:5, 8; 60:16; 63:9, 16].”[13]  This is Jesus Christ establishing His kingdom at the close of the seven-year tribulation (cf. 2 Thess. 1:6-9; Rev. 16:4-7).

The Servant’s faithfulness required Him to avenge (vv. 5-6).  No one else can accomplish the task, so the covenant faithfulness of the Servant requires Him to avenge His people.  God Himself will do it by the great power of His own arm (Isa. 40:10; 52:10; 59:16, 18; 63:12; cf. hand in 50:2; ; 51:9; 53:1, 9; 59:1).  Christ will fully satiate the wrath of God as He repays hatred and contempt to those who hate Him.  The imagery of making them drunk relates to the idea that God has given them so much wine that they are drunk and incapable of self-defense (cf. Isa. 51:17-23; Jer. 51:7; Rev. 14:8; 18:3).  Pfeiffer explains, “A Christ-rejecting, Gospel-spurning world leaves the Lord no other alternative but to send fearful and terrible destruction when the time of his longsuffering is past.”[14]

The Abrahamic covenant brings faithfulness (vv. 7-14)

Israel needed faithfulness, but it was not going to come from within.  Only God could exercise the faithfulness that could save them.  Here in verses 7ff. it is best to see the speaker as being Isaiah making intercession on behalf of the remnant of his needy people.  We see both God’s faithfulness to Israel (vv. 7-9) and Israel’s unfaithfulness to God (vv. 10-14).

God’s faithfulness to Israel (vv. 7-9)

If there is one truth we can learn from the Bible, it is the fact that our God is always faithful (2 Tim. 2:13).  God’s faithfulness is based upon His own character (v. 7), and it is also a faithfulness that God has demonstrated throughout the history of the nation (vv. 8-9).

God’s faithfulness is grounded God’s character (v. 7).  Isaiah celebrates the faithful character of God when he writes,

I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He has granted them according to His compassion and according to the abundance of His lovingkindnesses.

The idea of “lovingkindnessnes” (plural of chesed reflecting the intensity of God’s faithfulness; cf. Rom. 12:1) concerns the faithfulness of God to His own character and promises (54:10; 55:3).[15]  In other words, Israel’s only hope for restoration is based on the faithful character of God.

God’s faithfulness is shown in Israel’s history (vv. 8-9).  If Israel needed proof, all they had to do was look to the past.  God breaks in with a prophetic oracle and says, “For He said, Surely, they are My people, sons who will not deal falsely.  So He became their Savior” (v. 8; cf. 19:20; 43:3, 11; 45:15, 21; 60:16).[16]  Even though God knew the future faithlessness of His own people (cf. Deut. 32), He still gave them the opportunity to show themselves to be faithful sons.

God’s faithfulness showed itself in the way that He came down to rescue them from the consequences of their own sin:  “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them [cf. Exod. 23:20-23; 33:14-15].[17]  In His love, He redeemed them, and lifted them and carried them all the days of old (v. 9).  God was always there for them.

Israel’s unfaithfulness to God (vv. 10-14)

Despite God’s faithfulness, the people were not faithful sons to Him.  Isaiah says, “But they rebelled” (marah; cf. 1:20; 3:8; 50:5; Jer. 5:23) and “grieved His Holy Spirit” (v. 10a; cf. 1:2-3; Eph. 4:30).[18]  The history of Israel was that of perpetual faithlessness (cf. Neh. 9:26-31).  Two results flowed from Israel’s disobedience.

First result:  God become their adversary (v. 10b).  Because they rebelled, God “turned Himself to become their enemy” and “fought against them” (Ps. 54:5; Prov. 13:21).  As we saw in 59:2, their iniquities separated them from God, so that He became their opponent who got angry, hid His face, and struck them (Isa. 57:17; cf. Deut. 31:18; 32:18-20; Mal. 3:4).

Second result:  Israel longed for a second Exodus (vv. 11-14).  Israel’s founding as a people began with Abraham, but her founding as a nation was grounded with her redemption at the Exodus.  The coming of the Babylonian exile made Israel long for a second Exodus (cf. Jer. 2:1ff.; Hos. 2:15ff.).  Isaiah says that they looked back to the Exodus and wondered where God was, the God who brought them through the Red Sea (v. 11; 51:10; Exod. 13:21; 14:16; 15:5, 8; Pss. 77:16; 106:9),[19] and came to dwell in their very presence (Exod. 23:20-21; Num. 11:17, 25, 29).

A second Exodus would be like when God extended His great power through Moses (i.e., His arm) to part the sea and guide His people to safety (vv. 12-13).  A second Exodus like when God’s Spirit guided the people to rest (v. 14).[20]  One day God will once again show this kind of saving grace, but it will not be realized until they turn to God’s Servant in faith.

The Abrahamic covenant brings triumph (vv. 15-19)

Isaiah reminds us that He will bring triumph to Israel.  This, however, is something that calls for intercessory prayer.  Verses 15-19 show us both the plea for victory (vv. 15-16) as well as the delay of victory (vv. 17-19).

The plea for God to bring victory (vv. 15-16)

In light of the historical reminder of God’s saving grace in ages past, Isaiah lifts up a plea for God to once again bring victory to Israel.[21]  This plea for grace begins in verse 15, but extends all the way through 64:12.

The call for God to look down (v. 15).  Isaiah pleads for God to look down on His desperate people (57:15; 66:1-2) from His glorious habitation in heaven.[22]  God’s zeal and great deeds have been there in ages past, but where are they now?  The context does not suggest the idea of accusation, but wonder for why there is such silence.  Smith explains, “The lamenter does not accuse God of some wrong but simply calls for God to ‘look, take notice’ from his distant heavenly abode (as in Ps 80:1–2) in order to find out what is really happening on earth.”[23]  Isaiah’s actions remind us that no matter why we are suffering, the best thing we can do is to seek the Lord in prayer and ask Him to help us.

The call for God to stop withholding grace (v. 16).  Isaiah is well aware that his people have turned aside from the Lord.  In light of this apostasy, he declares, “For You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not recognize us.  You, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is Your name.”  In other words, if Abraham were to look at them now, he would not even recognize them; nevertheless, Yahweh is still the Father of Israel (we see “Father” twice here and once again in 64:8; cf. 52:2-7).  Israel needs God’s favor, and this is what Isaiah is pleading for (cf. similar prayers in Ezra 9; Neh. 9; Dan. 9).

The delay in God bringing victory (vv. 17-19)

The prayers for restoration are there, but the grace is not.  Unfortunately, without such grace, Israel is spiritually incapable of turning to God.  To be clear, it is always true that men are fully responsible to obey God, but the problem is that Adam’s sin has rendered all men spiritually dead (Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1-3), and thus incapable of turning to God unless God works in the heart (cf. Lam. 5:21; 1 Cor. 2:14).[24]  Oswalt explains,

Isaiah is obviously at one with the rest of Scripture, which insists that a person’s relationship with God is not a matter of human initiative with an essentially passive deity.  If persons turn to God, it is because God in his grace has enabled them to do so.[25]

God must work, so Isaiah raises the plea for grace.

The desperate need is for grace (v. 17).  Isaiah’s plea begins with the question, “Why, O Lord, do You cause us to stray from Your way and harden our heart from fearing You” (v. 17a; cf. Job 39:16)?  It was Israel’s choice to turn away from God, and Isaiah recognizes that Israel’s only hope lies in an outpouring of grace.[26]  With this, Isaiah cries out, “Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your heritage” (shub; cf. Lam. 5:21).[27]

The desperate need is for restoration like days of old (vv. 18-19).  Isaiah reminds God of what it was like in the former days before the exile.  Those were the few days (800 years) when Israel possessed the sanctuary (miqdash) and lived in the land (v. 18a).  Those days ended, however, with the Babylonian exile when God poured out covenant curses on Israel and spewed them out of the land (cf. Deut. 28:15-68; Ps. 74:3-7).  The desolation of Israel was so bad, one could not even tell that Israel had possessed the land for 800 years:  “We have become like those over whom You have never ruled, like those who were not called by Your name” (v. 19).  Martin reminds us of the powerful nature of God’s prophetic Word:

This is one of many places in chaps. 40–66 which shows that Isaiah, living more than 100 years before the Babylonian Captivity, wrote prophetically to prepare that future generation of exiles for it. Though the nation had belonged to God for centuries (from of old), it had been a long time since the people were in a proper relationship.[28]

Summary and application Chapter 63 reminds us of three major theological truths.  The first is that all men are always responsible to believe and obey God.  Second, we must never forget that Adam’s sin has rendered every one of us as fallen and sinful creatures.  Third, because we are responsible to believe and serve God, and because we are fallen, we must always recognize our desperate need to depend on God and His sustaining grace.

[1] Leonard J. Coppes, “qll,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, cited in electronic form with Logos Libronix (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 800.  “The basic meaning of this root (qll, “to curse”) sets forth the quality of ‘slightness’ as to provision, speed (where it means swift), or circumstance. In the latter instance the condition described is less than that deserved by or divinely intended for the object. So, this root is used (especially in the intensive stems) of intending a lowered position, technically, to curse. . . .  As God said to Abraham: ‘he who curses (qālal) you’ (pronounces a formula), ‘I will curse (ʾārar) him’ (put him in the state). To curse God’s prophet was to attack God and to bring on one’s head divine judgment.”

[2] Ronald F. Youngblood, F. F. Bruce, and R. K. Harrison, Thomas Nelson Publishers, eds., Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, cited in electronic form with Logos Libronix (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1995).

[3] Young explains, “How can Zion safely endure as long as enemies as hostile and vicious as Edom are at hand?” (Young, TheBook of Isaiah, vol.3, 475).

[4] Geographically, Edom lay to southeast of the Jordan Valley in an area that formerly had been called Seir.  Esau showed further contempt to his parents and the Abrahamic promises when he married Canaanite women (Gen. 26:34-35).  “[Bozrah], called Bostra by the Romans, &., assigned in Je 48:24 to Moab, so that it seems to have been at one time in the dominion of Edom, and at another in that of Moab (Is 63:1; Je 49:13, 20, 22); it was strictly not in Edom, but the capital of Auranitis (the Houran). Edom seems to have extended its dominion so as to include it (compare La 4:21)” (Jamieson, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, 467).

[5] Cf. Gen. 36:12; Exod. 17:8-16; Num. 14:45; 20:14-22; Isa. 34:5-8; Ezek. 35:1ff.; Amos 1:11-12; Mal. 1:2-4.

[6] At the present time this are is the country called Jordan.

[7] Many see a strong parallel between this present passage and former passages that speak about God’s Servant (Grogan, “Isaiah,” 338; cf. 42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12).  This is the One to execute the faithful righteousness of Yahweh to save His covenant people (cf. 45:8; 46:13; 59:16).

[8] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah:  Chapters40-66, 595.

[9] Wine troughs (a purah) were carved out of a large rock outcropping with an upper and lower trough, each about four to six inches deep with a channel to connect them.  Grapes were trampled in the upper trough allowing the juice to flow into the lower trough.  Tel-Avdat in the Negev provides an excellent example.

[10] Wolf observes a parallel between this and 59:16-20 (Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah, 242).

[11] Smith, Isaiah 40-66, 659.

[12] As noted previously, vengeance is deserved retribution for evil deeds.

[13] As noted previously, in the OT the Redeemer was typically the close relative who intervened to make wrongs right.

[14] Pfeiffer, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary:  Old Testament, Is 63:1.

[15] Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah, 244.

[16] God’s election of Israel inevitably resulted in Him stepping down to save them from ruin (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah:  Chapters40-66, 606).

[17] The “Angel of His presence” would be none other than The Angel of the Lord, the preincarnate Christ (cf. e.g., Gen. 3:8, 10; 16; 7-16; 17-18; 22:11ff.; 32:24-32; Exod. 3:1-5; 14:19; 23:20-22; 33:14; Josh. 5:13-15; Judg. 6:11-25; Mal. 3:1).  Young explains, this is “the Messenger who brings God’s presence” (Young, TheBook of Isaiah, vol.3, 482).

[18] It is only here and v. 11 and Psalm 51:11 where we find this precise expression “Holy Spirit.”

[19] Some have suggested this might include the drying up of the Jordan, but it is preferable to see it only referring to the Red Sea (Grogan, “Isaiah,” 342).

[20] The imagery is that of cattle being led to a place of “abundant pasture” (cf. Deut. 3:20; 12:9; Josh. 1:13; 22:4; Ps. 95:11) (Young, TheBook of Isaiah, vol.3, 486).

[21] Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah, 245.

[22] This term rendered “habitation” (zebul) is a less-used term that connotes the idea of a realm over which one rules (cf. 1 Kings 8:13; Ps. 49:16; Hab. 3:11) (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah:  Chapters40-66, 609, n. 67).

[23] Smith, Isaiah 40-66, 680.

[24] Young explains, “The prayer is a confession or acknowledgement that God has forsaken, but that the fault lies with the people themselves, so that God’s vengeance and actions against them are righteous” (Young, TheBook of Isaiah, vol.3, 489).

[25] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah:  Chapters40-66, 613.

[26] Grogan, “Isaiah,” 343.

[27] The master cannot abandon his servants (singular referring to the corporate nation in 41:9; 42:19; 43:10; 44:1; 45:4 and plural referring to individual believers in 54:17; 56:6; 63:17; 65:8, 9, 13, 14, 15; 66:14) nor can the owner abandon his heritage (Deut. 4:20; 32:9).

[28] Martin, “Isaiah,” 1118.

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