Isaiah 64-66 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment

From Isaiah 64-66

23 Isaiah kneelingIsrael had sinned badly. Isaiah recognised the best they had done, was awful in the LORD’s sight. The passage today considers public confession of a nation’s sin. Have you ever seen a prominent person confess the sin of a whole nation? Isaiah does it. So do a few other prophets in the Old Testament. Corporate sin however, finds corporate forgiveness in the gospel.

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comments

In today’s passage Isaiah owns up to Israel’s sins. Strangely at first he wishes the LORD would come down and take on his enemies.

64 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence—

2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! (Is 64.1-2)

The words and imagery Isaiah uses describe world shaking events.

Earthquakes and fire. When kingdoms clash and whole nations are upheaved. This is the language of war. When the LORD comes down nations will be conquered, he will take on his adversaries and put them down.

3 When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

4 From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. (Is 64.3-4)

Isaiah remembers what the LORD has done in the past.

God “came down” on Sinai in the sight of all the people (Exod. 19:11, 20). David saw him in vision “bow the heavens and come down; and there was darkness under his feet” (Ps. 18:9). (Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1910). Isaiah (Vol. 2, p. 459). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.)

Unexpected events that cannot be reproduced by any powers of this world. Only the LORD has such power.

He acts for those who wait for him. What does it mean to wait for the LORD?

5 You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? (Is 64.5)

Isaiah expects the people of the LORD to joyfully work righteousness. These people remember the LORD and what he has done.

It feels good to do something right and remember what the LORD has done.

But Israel had sinned for a long time and the LORD had punished them. The people of Israel are in exile. They are in captivity. They wonder if they will be saved from it.

They were in a poor state. Dirty and unclean, they deserved the punishment the LORD dished out.

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.

7 There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. (Is 64.6-7)

Isaiah admits their guilt. They are unclean before the LORD. The LORD will not accept the unclean into his presence.

Earlier Isaiah described the person the LORD meets. Him who ‘joyfully works righteousness’ and ‘remembers the LORD in his ways’.

Here, he says their righteous deeds are like a ‘polluted garment’ (cf. Lam 1.17). Literally a menstruous garment. Which carries the additional implication of ritual impurity (Lev 15.19-24).

There are times when our best is really awful in the LORD’s sight.

Because of their sin. Israel ‘fades’. They are blown away. They ‘melt’. No one calls out to the LORD or seeks him. The LORD hides his face from them. No one sees him.

8 But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

9 Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people. (Is 64.8-9)

23 potter clay

Isaiah calls on the LORD to remember they are under his control. He has every right to punish them and wipe them out. Because they are his creation. Like clay in the hands of a potter the LORD can do with them what he wills. Israel has sinned against the LORD. They are not the most cooperative of materials to work with.

But like most craftsmen, the LORD wants to make something beautiful out of his chosen people.

10 Your holy cities have become a wilderness; Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.

11 Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised you, has been burned by fire, and all our pleasant places have become ruins.

12 Will you restrain yourself at these things, O LORD? Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly? (Is 64.10-12)

Isaiah prays to the LORD and asks him to look to Zion and Jerusalem again. They have been burned. He asks if he will sit still and allow this state to continue. The answer he hopes for is that the LORD will forgive and restore Israel.

Story of Israel

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

Individuals or groups of people can admit to their sin. Genuine repentance and confession herald divine forgiveness.

Confession of sin leads to divine forgiveness. Under the old covenant, part of the ritual of the Day of Atonement involved the high priest confessing the sins of the nation, while laying his hands on the head of a sacrificial goat (Lev 26:40–42; 1 Ki 8:33–36; 1 Ki 8:46–52; Ps 32:3–5).

In the OT there have been prominent examples of people confessing sin on behalf of the nation. Daniel, Nehemiah, and Ezra (Dan 9.4-14; Neh 1.5-7; Ezra 9.5-15) are all examples of God’s people confessing the sins of Israel on their behalf.

Isaiah in our passage does the same.

The time would come when the LORD would send a saviour and forgive his people.

Story of Jesus

All too often we think forgiveness is only applied individually. This is not true. Forgiveness is applied corporately as well.

Isaiah recognised the people of Israel sinned. They had become unclean and were suffering for it. He hoped for the time when the LORD would restore Israel. In the gospel Zechariah prophesied of the salvation and forgiveness the people of the LORD would receive.

He is speaking about Jesus.

67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,

70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; 

72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us 

74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,

78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. (Lk 1:67–80)

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