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64. Praise and Prayer

Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence, 2As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence! 3When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence. 4For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him. 5Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those is continuance, and we shall be saved. 6But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. 7And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. 8But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.

9Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember iniquity for ever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people. 10Thy holy cities are a wilderness, Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. 11Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things are laid waste. 12Wilt thou refrain thyself for these things, O Lord? wilt thou hold thy peace, and afflict us very sore?

6. We have all been as the unclean. The believers go on in their complaint; for they deplore their condition, because God appears to take no account of them. Hebrew writers are not agreed as to the meaning of the words בגד עדים (beged gniddim.) 190190     “Vitringa and Gessenius dwell with great zest and fullness on the strict sense of בגר עדים (beged gniddim.) Some understand the comparison with withered leaves as a part of the description of their sin, while others apply it to their punishment. The first hypothesis is favored by the difference of the tenses; the last by the parallelism of the clauses. It is probable, however, that here, as in chap. 1:4, the two things run together in the writer’s mind, and that no refined distinction as to this point was intended.” — Alexander. Yet it is certain that it denotes something which is vile and worthless, and which, on account of its filthiness, stinks in the noses of men. But here two things ought to be observed; first, that believers confess their guilt, and are justly punished for it; and, secondly, that they nevertheless complain of the severity of the punishments which they endure, not to blame God, but to move him to compassion; just as a culprit, when he endeavors to mitigate the severity of a judge, lays before him his own distresses and calamities. Some commentators torture this passage, by alleging that the Prophet, when he speaks of the pollutions of sins, describes all Jews without exception, though there still remained some of them who were sincere worshippers of God. But there are no good grounds for this; for the Prophet does not speak of individuals, but of the whole body, which, being trodden under foot by all men, and subjected to the utmost indignity, he compares to a filthy garment.

There are some who frequently quote this passage, in order to prove that so far are our works from having any merit in them, that they are rotten and loathsome in the sight of God. But this appears to me to be at variance with the Prophet’s meaning, who does not speak of the whole human race, but describes the complaint of those who, having been led into captivity, experienced the wrath of the Lord against them, and therefore, acknowledged that they and their righteousnesses were like a filthy garment. And first, he exhorts them to a confession of their sin, that they may acknowledge their guilt; and next, that they should nevertheless ask pardon from God, the manner of obtaining which is, that, while we complain that we are wretched and distressed, we at the same time acknowledge that we are justly punished for our sins.

And we all fade as a leaf. This is a very beautiful comparison, which shews that men utterly fade and decay when they feel that God is angry with them; as is admirably described in Psalm 90:6; 103:16 191191     Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 3, p. 210. Justly, therefore, are we compared to leaves; for “our iniquities, like the wind, carry us away.”


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