Isaiah 63-64: The Cry of the Watchmen
Updated: Dec 16, 2021
Isaiah 63 and 64 seem a sort of synopsis of all Isaiah has said before. And that’s a good thing. It’s been one long study. I’ve been joyful and sad, frustrated and surprised as I’ve struggled through these 64 chapters. I may have to go back and amend some things because of what I’ve learned along the way; I’m so glad I published a blog instead of a book!
The last ten chapters celebrated the glory of God that’s waiting at the end of all things; these two remind us that some things need to happen before the fullness of that glory can be revealed.
Remember Edom? Edom was the nation that sprung up from the seed of Jacob’s estranged brother Esau. And though Esau had, in a measure, reconciled with Jacob, his nation remained Israel’s nemesis. When the children of Israel marched out of Egypt toward their new home, Edom wouldn’t let them pass through. They later joined Babylon in the plunder of Jerusalem. Since their beginning, they have been a thorn in Israel’s side and will be through to the end. So in this—the foretelling of God’s final vengeance—Edom is a symbol of all nations stubbornly refusing to repent.
The chapter begins with the watchmen on the wall (Isaiah 62:6) asking the One coming just what in the world he’s been up to:
Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson? Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward in the greatness of his strength? (verse 1)
And the Anointed One answers:
“It is I, proclaiming victory, mighty to save” (verse 2).
” Why do you look such a mess?” they ask. Because, he answers, vengeance has to be exacted before victory is complete (verses 1-6). It’s not a pretty picture. Yet even in garments stained with blood, he is seen as “majestic in His apparel.” A strong victor, not just a survivor.
He points out that he fought this battle alone. He was appalled, he said, that no one came to help. Commentators say he was not appalled that no one would help him but that no one could. No one else was qualified. Though we know now that he knew this before he stepped onto the scene, there is still this sense of disappointment that God’s people fell short of their destiny before entering His Kingdom.
Once again, we are reminded that there is just a day of vengeance but a year of redemption. A” day” is a quickly accomplished event; a” year” is an extended season. The math of minutes, days, and years is irrelevant; the day of vengeance will be swallowed up by the year of redemption. When the Anointed One “poured their blood on the ground (verse 6),” he was signifying his vengeance was finished (John 19:30), but His goodness and mercy will go on forever. (Exodus 34:6 and more)
The only reasonable response from the watchmen? Praise!
I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us— yes, the many good things he has done for Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses. (verse 7)
They recall the faithfulness of God. That it began when he became Savior of the world before the world was created. That it became evident when Yahweh led His people out of Egypt. That it remained evident as, although the children of Israel never ceased to be a pain, His presence continued to bring them out of trouble. That in His kindness and compassion, He protected and fed them, and when it was their time to enter the promised land, He made them a way through the river to their rest on the other side (verses 9-14).
Except they didn’t. They wore themselves out being something He never called them to be. Possessive. Aggressive. Self-reliant. So?
He turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them. (verse 10)
And that’s where they are when this prophecy is given. Outside of God’s will. Outside of God’s plan. Outside of the land He had given them. In another land of bondage—in Babylon.
So the watchmen—the pray-ers—begin to pray. Their recollections become reminders to the Lord: Remember who You’ve been. Our Warrior. Our Deliverer. Our Redeemer. Our Father.
Their cry? “Return!” Their why? “We are Your inheritance.”
We are yours from of old; but we are like those you have never ruled, like those never called. (verse 19 NIV, alternate reading)
“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!” they cry out. (Isaiah 64:1)
Israel is a land of rich oral tradition. Stories like Moses and the burning bush or the presence of God on the fiery mountain were rehearsed daily, drawing vivid pictures in listeners’ minds. Stories were passed down from generation to generation, and in each generation, they became their own.
Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. (verses 4-5)
Yet eyes everywhere, including the eyes of Israel, seemed to dart here and there looking for gods to act on their behalf. None were found. No deliverers were seen or heard of except little Israel’s big god Yahweh. So why would those who’d seen His acts set His reputation aside, hoping their idols would answer instead?
Fear? Misunderstanding? A poor example provided by God’s people, perhaps?
Because even in the middle of God’s mighty acts, God’s people became like the idolators around them. Their selfish, self-centered, self-directed efforts had gained them nothing. Their disregard for God had resulted in the destruction of their temple (v. 10-11). Their prideful claims lay like broken pottery amid their devastated homeland. Their faithlessness hid them from the face of God (verses 5-7).
And so the watchmen on the walls cry out, confessing their nation’s unrighteousness and the truth about their Maker.
Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. (verse 8)
They’ve remembered whose they are, and now they are reminding Him. They have accepted His anger; now they appeal to His mercy (verses 9, 12).
Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look on us, we pray, for we are all your people.
After all this, Lord, will you hold yourself back? Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?
His answer, of course, will be “no.” That’s no surprise for us; we know our Father and His Son, the Anointed One, are faithful, forever.