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Synthesis and Outline of Isaiah 64:1-11

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Summary: The prophet confesses Israel’s sinfulness and petitions for Yahweh’s mercy considering that Israel is Yahweh’s people, and that he has saved them many times before.


I. The prophet calls upon Yahweh to intervene in such a way to glorify his name among the nations (64:1)
II. The prophet makes an appeal in light of Yahweh’s ways and actions in the past (64:2-4)

a. Yahweh has done mighty and unexpected things in the past (64:2)
b. No one can ever fully know Yahweh’s mysteries except God himself (64:3)
c. Yahweh comes to the help of those who continuously abide in his ways of justice and salvation (64:4)

A. Those who do and keep doing righteous acts according to God’s ways are aided by him (64:4a)
B. Yahweh was angry with Israel for sinning constantly, but their deliverance still only comes from Yahweh’s ways of salvation (64:4b)

III. The prophet confesses to God in behalf of Israel that because of their sins, they are not worthy in God’s eyes, but instead have provoked his anger (64:5-6)

a. Good deeds or righteous acts could not live up to God’s standard (64:5a)
b. Their own sins have somehow wasted away the people of Israel (64:5b)
c. No one voluntarily sought after God or remembered his ways (64:6a)
d. Israel has lost her strength because Yahweh turned his back on her as punishment for sin (64:6b)

IV. The prophet pleads for Yahweh’s mercy and implores God not to be extremely angry because Israel is Yahweh’s creation (64:7-8)

a. Upon pleading, the prophet reminds Yahweh that Israel has been formed by God’s hand (64:7)
b. The prophet implores God to be merciful in light of the fact that Israel is Yahweh’s people (64:8)

V. The prophet calls upon Yahweh to intervene in behalf of God’s land which the prophet foresees has been destroyed (64:9-10)

a. The prophet sees the holy cities, especially Jerusalem, in ruins (64:9)
b. The prophet sees the Temple destroyed (64:10)

VI. The prophet asks Yahweh not to punish the people to the extreme, considering their current state (64:11)

Exposition of the Text

In chapters 62 and 63, the prophet Isaiah tells of how Yahweh came to the aid of Israel, delivered his people from their enemies, and finally led them into the land prepared for them.
But after narrating how Israel has rebelled and sinned against God, the prophet speaks of a coming judgment. He saw in his vision the results of those punishments, making him break out in prayer for mercy that starts in 63:17 and all through the entire chapter 64.

The prophet comes to Yahweh, acknowledging his sovereignty and complete authority over whatever may happen to Israel, his people. The prophet recognizes how Yahweh’s acts become a witness to his might, that Yahweh has prepared a plan of deliverance but man can never fully know it, that the people have sinned against him, and that because of these sins Israel will be punished. Finally, the prophet pleads for Yahweh’s mercy to deliver Israel from an unending retribution deserving of their sins.

The Plea for Mercy (64:1)

The first verse of this chapter in English Bible translations is actually part of 63:19 in the original Hebrew Bible divisions. The prophet appeals to Yahweh to directly intervene into the current circumstances concerning Israel. The actual chapter 64 starts off with the prophet making a cry to Yahweh to come down in an extraordinary and conspicuous manner, the purpose of which is to “make thy name known to thine adversaries,” using the phrase “the melting fire burneth” in reference to the verse before wherein mountains are described to flow down at the presence of God. The melting fire that burns refers to the burning of brush-wood, as fire is often being used by the prophet to describe Yahweh’s judgment or a sign of his divine intervention (cf. 1:31; 10:17; 65:5).

This verse and the one preceding it have been attributed to the second coming of Christ, proclaiming vengeance upon his enemies and deliverance for his people. As the event mentioned is marked by fire that burns the waters and mountains that will flow down, so will the judgmental coming of Christ bring upon such display of power that “the nations may tremble” at his presence (cf. Rev 16:20). Another recorded event in the days of Elijah the prophet speaks about supernatural fire that comes down from heaven (2 Kgs 1:10-14), which is then attributed to the fire that causes waters to boil and makes the mountains flow—as the fire that burned Mount Sinai when the Lord descended on it—and which accompanies the second coming of Christ.

Still, the verse has also been interpreted as pertaining to the first coming of the Messiah to restore peace and bring salvation to Israel, which is more appropriate to the overall theme of the book of Isaiah—a prophecy about the coming of Christ as God’s plan of redemption for his people. The first thirty-nine chapters of the book generally speak of man’s great need for salvation, while chapters 40 to 66 talk about Yahweh’s provision of salvation in Christ. This concept becomes more evident in the next verses.

Yahweh’s Mighty Acts and Ways of Salvation (64:2-4)

The terrible and unexpected things (yare’) done by Yahweh refer to mighty acts in the past that caused the people to fear or hold him in honor.1 Yahweh has promised these very same marvels which he will do unto Israel—and witnessed by other nations—during the days of Moses (Ex 34:10). The prophet speaks of these acts of God that visibly signify Yahweh’s direct intervention wherein the “mountains flowed down” at his presence (cf. Ex 4:21; 15:11; Jos 3:5; Ps 77:14; Da 4:3). More specifically, this (v. 2) would refer to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, marked by extraordinary events like the Ten Plagues, the Pillar of Fire, and the Crossing of the Red Sea, culminating to an event wherein God’s presence descended on Mount Sinai in fire (Ex 19:1-18).

Verses 3-4 speak of Yahweh’s ways and plans of justice and salvation which he has prepared since the beginning of time beyond the knowledge of men.

A Plan that has Been Hidden (64:3)

The two verbs used to describe hearing “not heard, nor perceived” are the same verbs used in the beginning of the book (1:2). The idea of hearing or perceiving God refers to acknowledging his existence or presence through his acts. Basically, the prophet’s words are attributed to recognizing a God who works for those who wait for him. For this reason, the NIV phrase in verse 4, along with perhaps many other modern English translations, is being written as “no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” This implies an unseen and unique God who plans and works for those who are waiting for him—delivers them, comes to their defense, and blesses them (cf. Ps 113:7; 115:13).

This verse is an affirmation of faith on the Israelites’ part regarding the uniqueness of Yahweh as a real God, as during those times in the OT, worship for stone idols and manmade gods is very rampant. This uniqueness in power of Yahweh was even more recognized when Israel was brought out of Egypt, stamping the entire act of deliverance as a work of Yahweh alone through miracles and supernatural wonders. A paraphrase of the entire verse is: Since before time began, no one has ever imagined, no ear heard, no eye has seen, a God like you who works for those who wait for him. What no one has perceived or seen is a God like Yahweh.

The KJV, along with a few other translations, interprets the verse as a plan or mystery of Yahweh that he has prepared since time began for those who love him. This plan was hidden until after the coming of Christ, when the Holy Spirit finally revealed God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. What no one has perceived, seen, or heard, is that which Yahweh has prepared: his plan, his goodness, which he has laid up for those who love him (cf. Ps 31:19).
The apostle Paul recognized this concept and wrote about it in his letter to the Corinthians, quoting the verse from the book of Isaiah, although not giving specific reference (1 Cor 2:6-10).

The apostle expounds the idea, stating God’s foreordained plan or “hidden wisdom” that no one understood until the time the apostle recognized as the coming of the Messiah—Jesus Christ—and the Spirit of God revealed these truths unto those who have the Spirit.

Some have interpreted this verse (v. 3) as pertaining to the age to come after the second coming of Christ when God culminates his plans for the righteous—the thousand-year reign with Christ and eternal blessedness of his people (cf. Rev 20:6; 22:5). Described in the book of Revelations are different ways wherein God’s glory will be openly displayed unto the world. From plagues not unlike that of Egypt which will punish the wicked, to the descent of the holy city itself—New Jerusalem—unto the earth.

All these are mysteries which men have not “perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen”—it is not yet given unto men to fully understand these things which God has planned, hence all the different interpretations by different denominations regarding the end times. Those who wait on the Lord will only come to fully know the things Yahweh has prepared for them when Christ himself comes to earth for the second time and makes God’s fame known unto all nations (v.1).

However, the prophet Isaiah wrote this chapter when he foresaw the desolation of Jerusalem (vv. 10-11) during the coming reign of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. The prophet then pleads for mercy to Yahweh to come and help Israel after that time of destruction. The chapter therefore pertains to a post-exilic intervention from Yahweh—the birth, not the second coming, of the Messiah, this being the basis of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:9.

Justice and Salvation (64:4)

Verse 4 in the original Hebrew Bible (verse 5 in English Bibles) speaks of the character of Yahweh as both just and merciful. “Thou meetest” is a verb that implies meeting, and helping someone. This phrase would then pertain to Yahweh’s mercy that voluntarily helps those who “worketh righteousness.” Redefining the words “waiteth for” (v. 3), working righteousness becomes an additional quality to the idea of waiting. It is not mere idle waiting for the Lord with nothing but the future in mind, but a waiting that involves actively seeking out and doing righteousness—or good deeds—while Yahweh still has not revealed himself. Not just doing good deeds, either, but gladly doing them.

The prophet here pleads for Yahweh’s salvation or direct intervention all throughout the chapter. As the book of Isaiah is an evangelical book, it speaks a lot about the prophecies concerning the messianic coming of Christ. Because this salvation is through faith and not deeds (cf. 64:5; Eph 2:8-9), the good deeds spoken of in verse 4 must be done by one who remembers and does things according to Yahweh’s ways.

The prophet confesses Israel’s sinfulness and acknowledges divine wrath as punishment for it—this, also, is part of Yahweh’s ways: sinfulness must be punished as Yahweh is just (cf. Dt 32:4). But then the prophet recognizes that salvation still only comes from Yahweh, in ways that include both justice and mercy. It was those ways that delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt and punished Pharaoh along with his soldiers. By those acts, Yahweh will be remembered because Yahweh’s ways, or dealings with his people, are eternal and salvation comes from Yahweh alone—“in those is continuance, and we shall be saved.”

Confession of Unworthiness (64:5-8)

“Unclean” (tame’) is a technical term describing legal impurity (cf. Lev 5:2) and is being used here by the prophet to describe the people’s current state because they have all fallen short of God’s standard. Because of sin, anything the Israelites do, even if it seems righteous, would only defile them before God’s holiness—good deeds are as filthy rags. Fading as a leaf and being swept away are both figurative ideas of Jerusalem losing her strength and gradually wasting away as a nation. It can also mean losing one’s vitality and strength because of constant sin, guilt, and punishment.

“None that calleth upon thy name” is an emphasis to verse 4: the people, who are either doing evil or being self-righteous (i.e., sinning), which is the same as a filthy rag (cf. Phil 3:9) have somehow forgotten God and been prayerless, no one voluntarily brings himself to God. The people have been complacent, even indifferent of God (cf. Am 6:1 NIV). “Consumed” is literally melting away. It is a restatement of verse 5 that means Israel has lost her strength and vitality as a nation because of iniquities. For this reason, Yahweh hid his face from his people.

Hiding of Yahweh’s face from his people does not mean total abandonment. All throughout the OT, when God punishes Israel for her sins, he always leaves hope and a way for reconciliation back to him (cf. 1 Kgs 8:56). This is also in reference to Yahweh’s mercy which he has in store for those who come to him (v. 3). “Thou hast hid they face from us” means Yahweh has punished the people and can no longer listen to their prayers because of the sins they keep on doing (cf. Mic 3:4). The Living Bible translates the phrase as “you have turned away from us and turned us over to our sins.” Yahweh turns his face away on account of sin. God spoke of his people worshipping other gods and sinning against him which is why he will become angry and hide his face from them (Dt 31:17-18).

The next verse (v. 7) opens with the words “But now, o Lord”—the prophet begins his plea for mercy on behalf of Israel with a change in thought. Despite their sinfulness, Israel acknowledges that Yahweh alone is the source of salvation. On this thought, the prophet appeals to Yahweh by reminding him that they are the work of God’s hand and that they are his children still—whatever blessings and punishments they get come from Yahweh (cf. Jer 18:6-7). Israel is represented as the pliable clay formed by God, represented as the potter. More than just a creation, Israel is Yahweh’s child. The prophet petitions for Yahweh’s mercy on basis of this fact.

Comparing Israel to clay and God the potter is recognition of Yahweh’s absolute authority over his people. Being the potter, Yahweh can form the clay into whatever he wills, and the clay cannot question the potter (cf. Rom 9:20-21). The word “potter” could also be translated “the one who formed us,” giving Israel no right to complain or talk back against their maker (cf. 29:16; 45:9).

The prophet again seeks Yahweh’s mercy on the succeeding verse, reminding him yet again that Israel is his people. “Very sore” means “to the extreme.” The prophet is asking Yahweh not to be very angry or not to the full extent of his anger. The people deserve God’s wrath because of sins, but the prophet pleads God not to completely obliterate his people with divine anger.

After punishment has been dealt, the prophet asks Yahweh not to remember their sins forever, or keep being angry at Israel for the rest of their days. “Neither remember iniquity forever” is an acceptance of just judgment coming from God, and a plea for mercy that the punishment be not for eternity, but instead, salvation be given soon.

Mercy for Zion in Desolation (64:9-11)

After begging for mercy on the basis of being God’s creation, the prophet then proceeds on the basis of Yahweh’s land. Written on verses 9-10 are foresightings of things to come, they have not actually happened yet during Isaiah’s time. Instead, they refer to an event years after the prophet’s time—the actual destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of God during the reign of king Nebuchadnezzar (cf. Jer 52:13). Through the gift of foresight, the prophet saw the desolation of Israel in the near future and is now pleading Yahweh on the basis of the results of that future event.

The verses progress from the destruction of surrounding cities, then to Jerusalem, to the burning of the Temple, and lastly, the destruction of “pleasant things.” This may refer to material things that the people delight in or desire. It may even be family or loved ones (cf. Ezek 24:21). The desolation not only refers to the land but to the state of the people as well. They have sunk into a state of ruin along with the places they live in (cf. La 5:18).

This event has also been spoken in advance by God (Mic 3:12) because of the people’s pride and sin. Nevertheless, as the prophet is reminding Yahweh that Israel is his creation, the land itself is also a subject for his mercy and the prophet appeals for it. The city of Jerusalem is Yahweh’s creation as well as the people, the land being given unto them as a gift (cf. Gen 12:7). Mercy is being asked of Yahweh to come to the aid of his creation—both people and land.

The entire chapter has become a prayer to Yahweh, an appeal addressed directly to God, the answer of which is in the final two chapters of the prophet’s book. The prayer concludes by asking Yahweh if, despite everything the prophet has pointed out—Israel is wasting away because of sin; they have been turned over to their enemies; and their lands are in ruins—Yahweh will still hold himself back, prevent himself from coming to the aid of his people. Yahweh is acknowledged and remembered through his works in the past (vv. 1-2). Salvation and justice are his alone (vv. 3-4). But what Yahweh has created now lies in desolation according to the prophet’s vision. Will Yahweh still hold his peace and be silent? This is the prophet’s question as a way to plead for mercy, the same prayer in Psalms 83:1. It implies humility on the people’s part as they acknowledge that their deliverance will come from Yahweh alone.

“Afflict us very sore” means to judge to the extreme. The prophet asks Yahweh one last time if he will still keep punishing his people “beyond measure” (NIV). The passage started off with adoration for God’s works. It then went to acknowledging his authority as also an expression of gratitude. Then sins were confessed. Finally, it ended with a supplication—a plea for mercy that comes from Yahweh.

Theological Significance

Isaiah 64:1-11 is a petition for mercy based on what God has done (vv. 1-2), what he will do (v. 3), who he is (v. 4), and on what he has promised . It is a reminder that though punishment for sins is delivered by God because he is just, salvation still comes from him alone because he is also merciful. He gives and takes away (cf. Job 1:21). Isaiah prays in behalf of Israel. He acknowledges Yahweh for all the mighty acts he did to deliver Israel’s ancestors (cf. Ex 7-12; 14) and asks for him to once again help them in like fashion—to glorify the name of God among nations (cf. Ps 115:1).

Isaiah confesses to Yahweh the sinfulness of Israel and recognizes God’s justice in punishing them for those transgressions. The prophet foresaw the destruction that Yahweh will bring about as punishment (cf. Jer 52:13) and saw in his vision the desolate state of the people. He then pleads for mercy and appeals to Yahweh to refrain from the full extent of his anger that would utterly destroy Israel. The passage is an affirmation of God’s character of being both just and merciful.

This has become the main theme of the NT wherein God declared his justice by clearly proclaiming the ever-present penalty for sin (Rom 6:23), and at the same time revealed what “he has prepared for those who wait on him”—a proclamation of mercy, pardon for sins, through his Son Jesus Christ (Jn 3:16). The passage also affirms God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises. Israel may have been deserving of total destruction, but because of what God has promised, he will leave a remnant from the people and will never destroy them all (cf. 65:8-10).


Isaiah 64 teaches submission and humility. When living a godly life becomes a struggle, as it often does, God is still present, as he always is, and waiting for us to just submit ourselves to his plans. More often than not, Christian life becomes hard if we try to work at it on our own—trying our best to live by example, attend to our church duties because it is expected of us, or we even become too busy trying to show others how “spiritually mature” we have become. But God said he already has plans laid up for those who wait on him. He wants us to just submit ourselves to those plans and stop running our lives by our own effort.

God also knows that we are never perfect. As long as we are still living, sin will always find its way into our lives. Like Isaiah, we should not forget that a humble heart asking for mercy and forgiveness before God is all it takes to start afresh.

The passage also reminds us of God’s sovereignty. He gives his children blessings, but sometimes he permits difficulties to come to their lives, too. It is very easy for a Christian to feel resentment in these situations. We become too attached to visible or tangible blessings that we fail to see that it is not really about what good things we have accumulated, what godly things we have done, or even how many souls we have helped in the name of Christ. But it is all about who we are in God’s eyes—and that is his will in these hard times: to build up our character by drawing us closer to him. He will use our circumstances to further strengthen our relationship with him. Hard times are no time to be sorry, but a good time to pray.

The Holy Bible. New International Version. Colorado Springs, CO: International Bible Society, 1984.

The Holy Bible. New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985.

The Living Bible. KNT Charitable Trust, 1971.

The Message. Paraphrased by E. H. Peterson. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress Publishing Group, 2003.

Gill, John. The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible. <http://www.searchgodsword.org/com/geb/view.cgi?book=isa&chapter=064&verse=001>. Internet. April 2007.

Hindson, Edward E. In The KJV Parallel Bible Commentary. Edited by E. E. Hindson and W. M. Kroll. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1994.

Keathley, J. Hampton III. Concise Old Testament Survey. Biblical Studies Press, 1999.

The Thompson Chain Reference Bible. NIV. 2nd ed. (improved). The B. B. Krikbride Bible Company, Inc., 1999.

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