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Prayer for Mercy and Help A Prayer of Penitence
Psalm of Intercession
A Prayer for Mercy and Help
Meditation on the History of Israel
      63:18-64:7 (63:19b-64:11)

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Third paragraph, etc.


1Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down,
That the mountains might quake at Your presence-
2As fire kindles the brushwood, as fire causes water to boil-
To make Your name known to Your adversaries,
That the nations may tremble at Your presence!
3When You did awesome things which we did not expect,
You came down, the mountains quaked at Your presence.
4For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear,
Nor has the eye seen a God besides You,
Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.
5You meet him who rejoices in doing righteousness,
Who remembers You in Your ways.
Behold, You were angry, for we sinned,
We continued in them a long time;
And shall we be saved?
6For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7There is no one who calls on Your name,
Who arouses himself to take hold of You;
For You have hidden Your face from us
And have delivered us into the power of our iniquities.

64:1 The first two lines are labeled as 63:19 in the MT. There is a series of eight perfect verbs from Isa. 64:18 through Isa. 64:19.

YHWH, who lives on high, "rends" (Qal perfect, BDB 902, KB 1146, cf. Isa. 34:4; Rev. 6:14) the atmosphere of the earth (i.e., heavens, cf. Gen. 1:1).

As the creator approaches the creation quakes (Niphal perfect, BDB 272, KB 272 [this form occurs only here and Jdgs. 5:5, which is Deborah's praise/psalm of the defeat of Hazor and its army], cf. Isa. 64:2; Ps. 18:7-15; 68:8; 77:18; 144:5)

For "heavens" see Special Topic: The Heaavens

64:2 "fire" See Special Topic: Fire.

Notice the purpose of YHWH is that His name be known and that the nations tremble (hopefully in repentance, cf. Ps. 99:1-5; Jer. 33:9).

Special Topic: "The Name" of YHWH

NASB, NKJV, NRSV, REB   "awesome things"
TEV   "terrible things"
NJB   "unexpected miracles"
JPSOA   "wonders"
LXX   "glorious deeds"
Peshitta   "wonderous things"

The Hebrew word (BDB 431, KB 432, Niphal participle) literally means "fear," but in this form it can denote the majestic, awesome miracles of YHWH on behalf of Israel (cf. Deut. 10:21; 2 Sam. 7:23; 1 Chr. 17:21; Ps. 66:3,5-6; 106:22; 145:6).

In Ps. 139:14 several Hebrew words are used in parallel.

  1. BDB 431 ‒ fearful
  2. BDB 811 and 810 ‒ wonderful

Special Topic: Wonderful Things

64:4 The interpretive question is to whom does the pronoun "they" refer.

  1. national Israel
  2. the faithful returnees
  3. the nations (cf. Isa. 64:2)
  4. #2 and #3 together

64:4 "ear. . .eye" The covenant people's rebellion was predicted by YHWH in Isa. 6:9-10.

▣ "a God besides you" See Special Topic: Monotheism.

▣ "Who acts. . ." The word is "works" (Qal imperfect, BDB 793, KB 889). This is the theological distinction between YHWH and the idols. They cannot see, hear, act, speak, but He can and does!

▣ "the one who waits for Him" This describes the person of faith. He/she waits (Piel participle, BDB 314, KB 313). This word has the connotation of "hoping, trusting, waiting" of God (cf. Isa. 8:17; 30:18; Hab. 2:3).

Another root (BDB 875 I) is also translated "wait," but often not as theologically significant (cf Isa. 25:9; 26:8; 33:2; 40:31; Ps. 25:3; 27:14; 37:34; 40:1; 130:5; Pro. 20:22).

64:5 "You meet him who. . ." The verb (Qal perfect, BDB 803, KB 910) in this context denotes an encounter of/for fellowship and/or kindness.

Notice the kind of people YHWH "meets" with.

  1. him who rejoices in doing righteous
  2. him who remembers You in Your ways

These are parallel (see Special Topic: Hebrew Poetry).

Lines 3-5 ask a pertinent question. Israel is a covenant-breaking people. Can a sinful people be "saved" (i.e., "delivered," BDB 446, KB 448)

  1. from the physical consequences of sin
  2. from the spiritual consequences of sin

I want to believe, "Yes, yes, yes" (cf. Isa. 64:8-9)! But only divine mercy and grace (this chapter is a prayer for YHWH's intervention) can do it (recommended translation of UBS Text Project, p. 164). The consequences of Genesis 3 are staggering and relentless.

However, in this context (i.e., Isa. 64:4-7) this verse is not redemptive but condemnatory (Isa. 64:8-12 are a cry for mercy). Israel sinned in the past and the present. If this is to be accepted as the meaning then the verb "delivered" (ונושע, BDB 446, KB 448) must be changed to "and we were evil" (ונרשע, UBS Text Project, p. 163; NET Bible, #16, p. 1283).

NASB   "We continued in them a long time;
  And shall we be saved?"
NKJV   "In these ways we continue
  And we need to be saved"
NRSV   "Because you hid yourself we transgressed"
NJB   "now we persist in your ways and we shall be saved"
JPSOA   "We have been steeped in them from of old
  And can we be saved?"
LXX   "therefore we went away"
Peshitta   "For we have transgressed against thy ways
  And yet we shall be saved"

The MT is uncertain. AB suggests an emendation involving two consonants which yields, "we have long been rebels" (p. 190).

The UBS Text Project, pp. 163-164, has another suggestion based on the ambiguity of the verb:

"The whole verse may be interpreted as follows:

'you have met (this verb can be understood in a positive meaning "you have agreed" or in a negative meaning "you have attacked." This ambiguity of meaning is intentional) him who rejoiced in doing righteousntes, (these people) who remembered you, on your ways ("you" and "your ways" refer to God and to His ways). But you, you were angry, and we sinned. By these (interventions); however, we will always be saved."

The JPSOA footnote suggests an emendation, "Because You have hidden Yourself we have offended." It gives Isa. 63:17 as a place the same thought is expressed (also note Isa. 1:15; 8:17; 45:15; 57:17; 59;2).

64:6-7 Notice the consequences of sin.

  1. all of us ‒ scope of the problem (cf. Rom. 3:9-18,23; 11:32; Gal. 3:22)
  2. unclean (BDB 379)
  3. our righteousness is a polluted garment (cloth of menstruation, BDB 723, cf. Lev. 15:19-24)
  4. wither (BDB 614, KB 663, Qal imperfect, cf. Isa. 1:30; 34:4) like a leaf
  5. the wind takes us away
  6. none call on the name of the Lord (i.e., worship)

YHWH reacts to this tragedy of a sinful covenant people, meant to promote and clarify His own character.

  1. He hid His face (cf. Isa. 1:15; 54:8; Deut. 31:18)
  2. He delivered us (MT "melted," BDB 556, KB 555, Qal imperfect with waw, but DSS emends to "You have made us excellent," which does not fit the context) into the power (i.e., consequences) of our iniquities (this is theologically parallel to Rom. 1:24,26,28!)

These verses serve as a petition of confession. There is no reason why YHWH should forgive/forget, but He does (cf. Isa. 55:6-7)! The new covenant is in view here (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-36). YHWH will deal with them (i.e., Israel) and with all humans in a new way based on His character, His acts, His purposes, and through His Son and Spirit!

Special Topic: Effective Prayer

Special Topic: Characteristics of Israel's God (OT)

Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan

8But now, O Lord, You are our Father,
We are the clay, and You our potter;
And all of us are the work of Your hand.
9Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord,
Nor remember iniquity forever;
Behold, look now, all of us are Your people.
10Your holy cities have become a wilderness,
Zion has become a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation.
11Our holy and beautiful house,
Where our fathers praised You,
Has been burned by fire;
And all our precious things have become a ruin.
12Will You restrain Yourself at these things, O Lord?
Will You keep silent and afflict us beyond measure?

64:8-12 This is a prayer of hope for YHWH to remember His covenant and not His children's sin.

  1. You are our Father (see Special Topic: Fatherhood of God)
  2. You are the potter
  3. we are the work of Your hand (cf. Isa. 29:16; 45:9; Special Topic: God Described As Human)

64:9 There is a series of commands in the sense of prayer requests.

  1. do not be angry beyond measure ‒ Qal imperfect (BDB 893, KB 1124) used in a jussive sense, cf. Isa. 54:7-8
  2. do not remember iniquity forever ‒ Qal imperfect (BDB 269, KB 269) used in a jussive sense, cf. Isa. 43:25
  3. look, all of us are Your people ‒ Hiphil imperative (BDB 613, KB 661)

All of these are similar to Isa. 57:16-17; Ps. 103:8-14.

64:10-11 All of the verbs are perfects ("become" used four times). They describe the complete destruction of YHWH's wrath.

  1. the cities of Palestine are a wilderness
  2. Jerusalem is desolate
  3. the temple burnt with fire (i.e., Babylon in 586 b.c. and Titus in 70 a.d.)
  4. all Israel's precious things are in ruin

64:12 God's people cry out for restraint and compassion. Please, please, no more, they cry. Please come to us again!

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