Isaiah 63-64 • The God of Israel & the Israel of God
Admittedly it is sometimes difficult to understand how the decision was made as to where to place the chapter and verse markings in Scripture. It’s absolutely essential to help us navigate, but we sometimes treat chapters as barriers rather than realizing a single teaching crosses between them. In these chapters a single teaching is communicated about the difference between the God of Israel and the Israel of God. We are presented with a view of how God works and how that work is supposed to be received. Chapter 64 is actually a reinforcement and extension of what is presented in chapter 63. And although what is provided has a spiritual application for believers of all ages, it has a literal meaning yet to come exclusively for the nation of Israel.
Q: How are these verses organized? What is their overall structure?
A: They ask a couple of specific questions and follow each up with their respective answers.
Q: What is the first question in v.1?
A: It is asking who is the conqueror of Edom, someone who is described from Israel’s point of view as a great warrior now coming towards Israel.
Q: What is the significance of specifically referring to the Edomite city of Bozrah?
A: Literally meaning “fortification”, it was a well-fortified city regarded at the time as impossible to conquer because it was protected by cliffs on three sides. Its location enabled it to control traffic along the King’s Highway, a very important trade route which the Bible also associates as an eventual very important spiritual route by which many nations will come to worship the Messiah.
Q: Who is this warrior dressed as a king?
A: The Messiah.
Q: What is the significance of His “garments of glowing colors from Bozrah”?
A: It is answered in v.2-3. This is a picture of the Messiah the King dressed as a warrior, the colors actually being the blood stains of Edom whom He has just rendered judgment on.
Q: If this is describing the Messiah as a warrior dressed like a king, how do these verses describe the results of His actions?
A: He is the victor. He utterly destroys His enemies in “the wine press” a repeated biblical metaphor for the wrath of God’s final judgment.
Q: Why is it significant that he “speaks in righteousness”?
A: This is how final judgment deals with non-believers. The application of God’s perfect righteousness is in v.6:
“I trod down the people in My anger…”
“…made them drunk in My wrath…”
“…I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.”
Point: This is the picture of Christ’s Second Coming for all those who reject Him. Where they are concerned He is coming exclusively to execute the wrath of God according to His righteousness.
Q: What immediately tells us that these verses speak of something completely different from the previous verses?
A: Whereas in the previous verses the Messiah “speaks in righteousness”, here He speaks of…
“…the lovingkindnesses of the Lord…”
:…the praises of the Lord…”
“…the great goodness toward the house of Israel.”
Q: What is the difference in how the Messiah is characterized here with the previous section?
A: Whereas He was previously pictured as a warrior dressed as a conquering King, here he is “their Savior” (v.8) expressing “His love and mercy”. (v.9)
Q: With whom is He now dealing with?
A: It specifically states “My people”.
Q: So how is this a picture of Christ’s Second Coming where His people are concerned? How is this different from the previous section?
A: Whereas Christ’s Second Coming is the wrath of God for those rejecting Him, it is salvation and redemption for those embracing Him.
Q: Do God’s people earn this because of something they did?
A: This is a clear picture of the working of God’s grace. He grants it “according to His compassion”. (v.7)
All signs and wonders have a dual purpose where believers and non-believers are concerned, and the Second Coming is no exception. For non-believers they are the inevitable conclusion of a lifetime of rejection of God’s Word and ways, signaling that time has run out; for believers they are a confirmation of living by faith according to His Word and ways and no other. What is the ultimate benefit to believers at Christ’s Second Coming is the ultimate consequence for non-believers.
Q: Whereas the previous sections discussed the God of Israel, who is the focus of the discussion going forward?
A: God’s people.
Q: What is their defining characteristic and what is the consequence?
A: They rebelled so He had to punish them to get them to see the error of their ways.
Point: Some people believe it’s enough to raise your hand and “vote” for Jesus. Biblically what is required after acknowledging Him is to live forever changed going forward according to His Word and ways. The Bible characterizes people who acknowledge Him but don’t live like Him as “rebellious”.
Q: How did God’s people respond to His punishment for their rebelliousness?
A: They “remembered the days of old”. (v.11) In other words, God’s past faithfulness served as a testimony and assurance of His faithfulness to come. Their primary response might be characterized as “reflection”.
Q: What are the specific things they reminded themselves of?
“…He brought them up out of the sea…” (v.11) The crossing of the Red Sea is symbolic of baptism. Going under represents death, coming up and out represents resurrection and new life.
“…He put His Holy Spirit in the midst of them…” (v.11) Whether there is a visible outward display or an invisible inner working, baptism for a believer is followed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
“…divided the waters before them…led them through…” (v.12) From the initial salvation experience expressed by baptism and the filling of the Holy Spirit, from that point forward believers are led through life personally by God, no longer following their own path or desires.
Point: Just as God was faithful to lead the nation Israel out of the old life in Egypt and deliver them to His promised new life in the Promised Land, so the same total work of salvation is at work in all believers’ lives.
Q: How do the references to “the horse” and “the cattle” in v.13 & 14 relate to what is being taught here?
A: “Wilderness” can also be translated as “a plain”. It is comparing God’s working of salvation as being no more difficult or dangerous for His people than it is for a horse to walk across the plain or for cattle to walk down a hill into a fertile valley.
Application: After we are saved we find that life is a “wilderness” between the old life of Egypt and the one to come in heaven represented by the Promised Land, and God’s leading easily overcomes all the potential obstacles in the wilderness. In Israel’s case there was never a single physical need that went unaddressed. So too in for all believer’s where this life is concerned.
Read 63:15-16 & 64:5-8
Q: After the rebellious took the time to properly reflect, what is it that they finally realized in v.15-16?
A: That although they have not lived in the manner they know they should (“though Abraham does not know us”), God is not just “our Redeemer” but “our Father”.
Point: For non-believers God is always at work as a righteous King and ultimate Judge; for believers He is at work as Father and Redeemer. The same situation may be judgment for those rejecting Him ending in final destruction, but for His people it is correction and discipline to reconcile them back to Him.
Q: In v.5-7, what is their next realization?
A: “You…have delivered us into the power of our iniquities”. (v.7) What they are experiencing is not actually the result of earthly enemies but the consequences for their own actions.
Q: What is important about the specific use of the term” iniquities” instead of “sins”?
A: The word translated into English as “iniquities” literally means “lawlessnesses” in Hebrew. Whereas any person regardless of their relationship to God can “sin” or “miss the mark”, “iniquities” can only be committed by someone who is supposed to be in a right relationship with God at one time but later chooses to rebel and go their own way.
Q: But what do they even further realize where they have, at times, lived according to God’s Word and ways?
A: “And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment”. (v.6)
Application: Sporadic faithfulness does not make up for times of unfaithfulness. What we’ve done in the past is rendered ineffective to address present unfaithfulness.
Q: So what is their ultimate realization?
A: “…We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand”. (v.8)
Application: The work of the Father, even in the course of disciplining us for our iniquities, is to be formed according to His original plan of salvation.
Read 63:17-19 & 64:1-4
Q: Whereas God’s people rebelled, reflected, and subsequently had realizations concerning their standing and status before God, what “R” describes what they are doing in these verses?
A: They are making requests.
Q: How would you summarize and characterize the request in v.17-19 from that in v.1-4?
A: In v.17-19 they are requesting God to return and save them from their enemies. It’s a request for physical rescue. In v.1-4 they are requesting corresponding spiritual rescue.
Q: When spiritual revival comes to God’s people, what is supposed to be the main effect on the non-believers around them?
A: “To make Your name known”. (v.2) Christ’s working within believers is supposed to testify that no “eye has seen a God besides You, who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him”. (v.4) Therefore seeing Christ’s work in God’s people, non-believers see the benefits of becoming one of His people.
Application: How well do we realize that repentance and faithfulness aren’t just a requirement for our own personal relationship with Christ, but that it has a direct effect on all those around us who do not have such a relationship? How well do we understand that our failure to achieve spiritual reconciliation may actually be hindering the acceptance of the Gospel for many others around us?
Q: How does this final request apply to believers in general?
A: It’s a picture of someone who has reached rock bottom and finally turns back to God. Whereas such a situation might be permanent and unaddressable for non-believers who never come to such a realization, for believers God is always able to bring them back. Think of the example of Job from whom everything was taken but ultimately restored.
Q: How does this final request apply to literal Israel specifically?
A: The real sign of the Last Days is not merely the physical return to the land of Israel, but the spiritual return of Jews to their Messiah. God’s repeated promise throughout Scripture is that when they return to Him from the heart and only from the heart will He completely restore the physical things such as the Temple, Jerusalem, and the nation. God is not through with literal Israel yet.
In terms of the Second Coming, the same work of the God of Israel is going to work differently for believers versus non-believers. For one it is destruction and final judgment, for the other it is reward and salvation.
For the Israel of God, that is those who are properly and exclusively devoted to His Word and ways alone, the events of this life are intended to change them from intrinsically rebellious to consistently faithful. In this way they are properly prepared when the dual-edged sword of His Second Coming arrives. And in the mean time it serves to draw non-believers to Him as they witness what He does through us.