God “Opens Up”
Current news stories often use the phrase, so-and-so “opens up” about something. To “open up” about something often means to tell one’s subjective feelings about a current or prior experience. In this last cycle of repetition in the book of Isaiah (see Devotional 2.87), God seems to be “opening up” about everything that’s gone before in Israel’s history.
Clearly, chapters 63-66 of Septuagint Isaiah are the last chapters in the book. They form the conclusion to the whole. But not only do these chapters conclude the book of Isaiah, they also perform the function of summarizing God’s entire history with his people. In a sense, they summarize the Old Testament. At times the prophet uses his own voice to review this history (Isaiah 63:7-14; 64:10-11). In other portions of the text, God speaks out, revealing the pain in his heart in a most remarkable way (Isaiah 65:2-7, 11-13) (1).
God also announces “new things” (Isaiah 43:19). He is about to take an enormous turn, a leap into a future realm that will be completely different from what has gone before.
65:1 I became manifest to them that asked not for me; I was found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold, I am here, to a nation, who called not on my name. (Septuagint Isaiah 65:1, see also Isaiah 65:1 ESV)
So, in this last packet God “opens up” and explains himself fully, not that he hasn’t already done so several times throughout all the previous chapters. But this packet gives an overview of the whole, accompanied by a preview of future changes.
The last packet of the book (the final cycle of repetition) opens with a vision. Isaiah the prophet, as though he were a watchman upon a wall, announces in Isaiah 63:1 the approach of a figure dressed in bright red clothing (verses 1-2). The observer recognizes the great power of this figure and asks who this is. The Lord replies in first person.
1 [the watchman asks] Who is this that is come from Edom, with red garments from Bosor? thus fair in his apparel, with mighty strength? [the figure replies] I speak of righteousness and saving judgment. (Isaiah 63:1, LXE; see also Isaiah 63:1, ESV)
Although Isaiah never names the figure in red, the words themselves of verses 1-6 indicate that this is the Lord. Only God has the authority and power to speak and do what the text describes. The figure is divine. Yet because the text provides a physical description of the figure, it seems reasonable to conclude that the divine figure is not God Almighty, who has never been seen. There is no other divine being in Isaiah other than God’s Servant from chapter 53 and elsewhere. It is true that occasionally the Spirit of God is also mentioned, but this figure is not God’s Spirit. The words and voice of the figure’s speech belong to Yahweh, Israel’s God of the Old Testament.
The watchman next asks the figure to explain why his clothes are bright red, as one who treads in a winepress (Isaiah 63:2). The figure’s answer shocks with the force of its violence.
3 I am full of trodden grape, and of the nations there is not a man with me; and I trampled them in my fury, and dashed them to pieces as earth, and brought down their blood to the earth. (LXE)
In the subsequent verse the Lord speaks of condemnation and salvation in the same breath.
4 For the day of recompence has come upon them, and the year of redemption is at hand. (LXE)
For some there is condemnation, and for others, salvation.
- Verse 1 specifies Edom and Bozrah as recipients of God’s anger. In verse 6, the Septuagint translation simply writes “them.” The Masoretic text, on the other hand, uses a Hebrew word that can mean either “people, peoples, nation, tribe, non-Israelites,” depending on context. I believe it is safe to describe those in both verses as the enemies of Israel.
- God, however, saves his own people.
Verse 5 expands the two statements of verse 4–both the recompense and the redemption.
5 And I looked, and there was no helper; and I observed, and none upheld: therefore my arm delivered them, and my anger drew near. (LXE)
Verse 6, as previously discussed, closes this section of God’s expressed anger against those who harm his people.
6 And I trampled them in my anger, and brought down their blood to the earth. (LXE) (2)
When Do These Things Happen?
Isaiah at times uses prophetic present and past tenses to indicate future occurrences. Examples occur in Septuagint Isaiah 9:6 and Isaiah 53:1-8. But do all Isaiah’s visions refer to the future? Although some might disagree, I propose that the vision of Septuagint Isaiah 63:1-6 refers to what has already occurred in Israel’s past. The remainder of chapters 63-66 support this conjecture.
First, the words of verse 7, the very next verse, look to the past.
Isaiah 63:7 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)
The prophet in verse 7 states that he remembers. Remembering indicates past events. Then, following verse 7, verses 8-14 recount the history of God and his people. Chapter 64 also recounts past events. Therefore, grouping the first six verses as introductory to the subsequent eight verses makes good sense. In all his past actions, God has recompensed Israel’s enemies and shown mercy to his own people.
Interpretations which see a future fulfillment of this passage cut out and separate the first six verses of chapter 63 from the multitude of verses which follow in the remainder of chapters 63 and chapter 64. While treating the vision of the figure in red as a separate, isolated passage, some interpreters say that these verses describe a situation following the far, far distant “great tribulation” and the Lord’s return to set up a millennial kingdom.
All such ideas are imported from interpretations of biblical passages elsewhere in Scripture. Nothing in Isaiah itself provides any time marker to indicate that the prophet speaks of tremendously future events, or even any future event. By “tremendously future,” I mean events that would jump over and beyond the most significant happening in all of human history–the advent of Christ, the birthing, life, death, and resurrection of very God of very in the flesh. No vision of any “millennial kingdom” will ever surpass this event in awesome wonder and glory.
A Summary of Isaiah’s Closing Chapters
The vision of the Figure in red presents the image of God as a vengeful warrior protecting his favored child from their enemies (Isaiah 63:1-6). The next three verses present the image of God rescuing his children. On the one hand, God destroys Israel’s enemies. On the other hand, but at the same time, God rescues those children.
63:8 The Lord said, “These are my people. My children will not lie to me.” So the Lord saved them. (ICB)
Then, in verse 10, the prophet becomes a narrator. He relates how the children turned against the Lord and his Holy Spirit, bringing him grief. So, the Lord himself contended against them (v 10). Eventually, the people remembered their first exodus from Egypt with Moses, by the hand of the Lord, when his name became wonderful to them (vv 11-14). Upon this remembrance, the prophet/narrator shifts to intercession (v 15). His intercession continues from Isaiah 63:15 through the end of the next chapter in Isaiah 64:12.
At this point, after such heart-felt confession and pleading for yet another salvation (Isaiah 63:15-64:12), the reader might reasonably expect the Lord to relent. It would not be out of his character, the character he consistently displayed for nearly two thousand years. The reader might expect the Lord to say, [in paraphrase] “Okay, yes, I hear you. I will forgive you once again and bear you in my arms for deliverance from your enemies one more time. I will behave in the same manner I did when I trod down in my wrath the grapes of the nations who sought to annihilate you (Isaiah 63:1-6). I will come through for you and rescue you yet again.”
But, that is not what the Lord says in reply to Isaiah’s intercession on behalf of the Lord’s people. Rather, he announces a sharp turn in history. The Lord answers Isaiah’s importunate pleadings with this paraphrase, “No. Not again. This time, I’m turning to the Gentiles.” (For corroboration from the parables of Jesus, see footnote 3.)
Isaiah 65:1 I became manifest to them that asked not for me; I was found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold, I am here, to a nation, who called not on my name. (Septuagint version)
The Lord then rehearses his many grievances against his people (65:2-7). This is not the first time in Isaiah that the Lord has plainly shared the faults he finds with those he blesses so ardently throughout the many long centuries of their history (see Isaiah 1:2-14; 5:1-14; 57:1-13).
But yet, in spite of all his wrath, God does respond positively to Isaiah’s intercession in Isaiah 65:8-9. He will save a faithful remnant (grapes with juice in them). He describes their blessings (Isaiah 65:8-10). Then, from Isaiah 65:11-16, the Lord describes the punishment he will give to the unfaithful of his own people. He doesn’t speak of their enemies this time, as he did in Isaiah 63:1-6, but of they themselves. He contrasts these punishments with the reward he will give his faithful remnant. These contrasts continue through to the end of the book. We will end the detailed paraphrase here.
A Five Sentence Paraphrase
The following five sentences summarize the closing four chapters of Septuagint Isaiah.
It used to be like this with Israel. It will soon be this other way. Nevertheless, I will redeem and bless my faithful remnant. And, I will extend my blessings and redemption to Gentiles (Isaiah 65:1). The world is about to change.
1 Since the God who speaks is Yahweh, then yes, God does feel pain. (He is passible.) Yahweh is the God of Old Testament Israel who manifests himself in remarkably human-relatable ways. This same Yahweh is he who incarnates in the New Testament, where he cries out from the cross, “I thirst!” (John 19:28).
2 Isaiah 6:1-13 provides another example of a visually expressive vision. Note that this vision occurs near the beginning of the book, while the vision of the figure in red occurs near the end. The vision in Isaiah 6 is also an overview of Israel’s entire history up until return from the exile. But where the vision in chapter 6 looks forward, the vision in Isaiah 63 looks backward.
3 In his parables, Jesus/Servant/Messiah often taught the same message as the prophet Isaiah. See, for example, the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-15), the Parable of the Vineyard (Luke 20:9-20), the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9), and the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:16-31).