By Christina M Wilson
Isaiah prays one of the longest intercessory prayers recorded in Scripture. It stretches from Isaiah 63:7-64:12. In this prayer of intercession, Isaiah acknowledges the relationship between God and Israel–as it was, as it is, and as he pleads it will be.
As It Was
As Isaiah prays, he recalls to God his relationship with Israel as it once was. Isaiah 63:7 opens when Isaiah remembers the praise and adoration due the Lord.
7 I remembered the mercy of the Lord, the praises of the Lord in all things wherein he recompenses us. The Lord is a good judge to the house of Israel; he deals with us according to his mercy, and according to the abundance of his righteousness. (LXE, Septuagint Isaiah 63:7)
Isaiah remembers the “ancient days.” He remembers Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit, and the glory the nation of Israel and foreigners gave to God’s name (verses 11-14). But Isaiah also confesses for the people, as he remembers their rebellion and disobedience (vs 10).
As It Is
Verse 15 opens the portion that describes the current status of Israel’s relationship with God. Isaiah prays these words.
15 Turn from heaven, and look from your holy habitation and from your glory: where is your zeal and your strength? where is the abundance of your mercy and of your compassions, that you have withholden yourself from us? (LXE, Septuagint Isaiah 63:15)
The prophet perceives that the heavenly God of glory has turned away from his people. Not only does he not work compassionately and mercifully on their behalf, God has withheld himself. There is no fellowship of communion currently with the Lord. As the prayer continues, Isaiah’s words cut through to the core issue: God is sovereign. God’s will underlies everything that happens to the people (verse 17). “Religion” is of no avail. Without God himself among them, Israel may as well be a pagan nation.
16 For you are our Father; for though Abraham knew us not, and Israel did not acknowledge us, yet do you, O Lord, our Father, deliver us: your name has been upon us from the beginning. 17 Why have you caused us to err, O Lord, from your way? and has hardened our hearts, that we should not fear you? Return for your servants’ sake, for the sake of the tribes of your inheritance, 18 that we may inherit a small part of your holy mountain. 19 We are become as at the beginning, when you did not rule over us, and your name was not called upon us. (LXE, Septuagint Isaiah 63:16-19)
As He Pleads It Will Be
As chapter 64 opens, Isaiah prays how he hopes it will be.
1 If you would open the heaven, trembling will take hold upon the mountains from you, and they shall melt, 2 as wax melts before the fire; and fire shall burn up the enemies, and your name shall be manifest among the adversaries: at your presence the nations shall be troubled, 3 whenever you shall work gloriously; trembling from you shall take hold upon the mountains. 4 From of old we have not heard, neither have our eyes seen a God beside you, and your works which you will perform to them that wait for mercy. (LXE, Septuagint Isaiah 64:1-4)
Isaiah shows that he understands the conditions under which God would bless the people. God blesses those who practice righteousness and reverence toward him.
5a For these blessings shall happen to them that work righteousness, and they shall remember your ways…
Unfortunately, God’s people practice neither righteousness nor reverence. In the next few verses, Isaiah confesses Israel’s sin, as though he were part of it.
5b… behold, you were angry and we have sinned; therefore we have erred, 6 and we are all become as unclean, and all our righteousness as a filthy rag: and we have fallen as leaves because of our iniquities; thus the wind shall carry us away. 7 And there is none that calls upon your name, or that remembers to take hold on you: for you have turned your face away from us, and have delivered us up because of our sins. (LXE, Septuagint Isaiah 64:5-7)
After confessing Israel’s sin, Isaiah pleads for mercy from the Lord.
8 And now, O Lord, you are our Father, and we are clay, all of us the work of your hands. 9 Be not very angry with us, and remember not our sins for ever; but now look on us, for we are all your people. 10 The city of your holiness has become desolate, Sion has become as a wilderness, Jerusalem a curse. 11 The house, our sanctuary, and the glory which our fathers blessed, has been burnt with fire: and all our glorious things have gone to ruin. 12 And for all these things you, O Lord, has withholden, yourself, and been silent, and have brought us very low. (LXE, Septuagint Isaiah 64:8-12)
As Isaiah prays this final section, he returns to the main points with which he began. He reviews again Israel’s position relative to God, and vice versa. The people are as clay, created beings in the hands of an almighty, sovereign God. “We are all your people,” he says in verse 9.
As the prophet reviews the current situation as it is, he places God at the center. Sion, with its sanctuary, once reflected the glory of God. Men praised God because of it. It is God’s glory in Sion that lies burnt and ruined. Isaiah repeats the sentiment he expressed in verse 15: God has withheld himself. That is the core of the current problem, as well as the key to its solution. Basically, Isaiah prays for the people, “We’re sorry, Lord. We sinned. Please come back.”
Isaiah Makes No Promises
Interestingly, Isaiah makes no promises. The repentance he expresses does not include vows of future good behavior on the part of Israel. Isaiah’s plea rests entirely upon the mercy of God. It is for God’s glory that he prays. If God wants to soften their hearts unto obedience, he will do so. Without God, the people have no strength for good works at all. God’s presence among them is what he longs for.
1 If you would open the heaven, trembling will take hold upon the mountains from you, and they shall melt, 2 as wax melts before the fire; and fire shall burn up the enemies, and your name shall be manifest among the adversaries: at your presence the nations shall be troubled, 3 whenever you shall work gloriously; trembling from you shall take hold upon the mountains. (LXE, Septuagint Isaiah 64:1-3)
The answer lies with God, and God alone.
A Peek Ahead
God answers Isaiah’s prayer in chapter 65. Perhaps, it is not what Isaiah would have liked. Nevertheless, God’s reply to Isaiah’s plea contradicts nothing he has already said.
…next post–God´s reply