Isaiah 63 Commentary

God’s holy anger (63:1-6)

When Babylon made its last attack on Jerusalem (587 BC), Edom joined in, taking wicked delight in helping to destroy the Israelite nation. God’s messengers announced his judgment on Edom for this (Ps 137:7; Obad 1,10-14; cf. Mal 1:4-5), though in the denunciation in the present chapter, Edom may be a symbol for all God’s enemies. (Compare the picture that follows with Revelation 14:18-20; 19:13-16.)

On seeing a person clothed in red approaching him from Edom, the prophet asks who it is. The person replies that he is the Lord, who punishes his enemies but saves his people (63:1). The prophet asks why his clothes are red (2), and receives the reply that they are red with the blood of slaughtered enemies. When God acts in his righteous anger, the blood of sinners runs freely over the earth, in much the same way as juice runs out of grapes when workers tread them in a winepress. Since God alone is all-holy and all-powerful, he alone can carry out this judgment (3-6).

A prayer for Israel (63:7-64:12)

The prophet’s prayer for God’s suffering people begins by recalling God’s great acts of love in the past (7). Because Israel was his people, God saved them from slavery in Egypt, though when they rebelled against him, they were punished (8-10). Nevertheless, God forgave them. Therefore, asks the prophet, could not this God of mercy and love, who has done such great things for Israel in the past, also save his people from captivity in Babylon now (11-14)?


It seems as if God has withdrawn into his heavenly dwelling place, for there is no evidence of his mercy upon his people. The prophet realizes that if Abraham and Jacob, Israel’s earthly fathers, saw their descendants in captivity, they would be ashamed of them and want to have nothing to do with them. But he prays that God, their true Father, will not cast them off (15-16). It seems, however, as if he has. He has allowed the Babylonians to destroy their temple and take them to a foreign land, where there is no evidence that Yahweh is their God or that they are his people (17-19).

God has revealed himself and saved his people with supernatural acts in the past, and the prophet longs that he might do so again. The enemies of God would then be overthrown (64:1-3). By contrast, those whose chief pleasure is to please God know that God helps them in the most unexpected ways (4- 5a). They also know that, despite their desire to please God, they are still self-willed sinners. Even their best deeds are polluted by sin. They often forget God and have only themselves to blame for the troubles that result (5b-7).

Although they have failed miserably, the people know that God is still their Father. He may punish them, but he still loves them (8-9). Therefore, asks the prophet, is not the destruction he has sent upon Judah sufficient punishment? Can God not see the desolation of Jerusalem and take pity on the ruined city? Will he not now forgive his people and bring them back to their land (10-12)?

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