Isaiah (Part 81): Israel’s (Image Bearers’) Cry – Part 1 (Ch 63b)
From verse 8 of chapter 63 on through verse 14, the speaker contrasts God’s former care in rescue from Egypt with God’s seeming lack of care in their current situation. When his people were in Egypt, God felt their suffering; he suffered with them. Manuscripts actually carry a negative in this verse that has caused some translations to read that God does not suffer with them. But the negative here should be read as God not being their foe or enemy. Thus, though they suffered, God was not their enemy or the cause of their suffering. And the Angel of His Presence (possible reference to Christ) saved them. But even after this care and rescue by God, the people rebelled (10). As a result, God withdrew from them (which then actually did make him their oppressor). This is the typical movement of God in the revelation-response pattern as held by faith electionism. God reveals; people respond. If the response is of faith, God moves toward them with greater revelation and greater blessing. If the response is lack of faith, God moves away (as shown in Romans 1).
Verses 11 through 14 look for God’s response. Of course, sin was acknowledged in verse 10. But the anticipation is that God will act, not merely according to offended sensibility, but rather according to his infinite love. And so the speaker cries out, “Where is He?” (11b). Note that verse 11 begins saying, “Then He remembered the days of the past.” A few manuscripts (and the Septuagint) have “they” rather than “He.” I think the “they” is more in line with the thought of the passage. The people in bondage remembered the past—the similar situation of Moses and the children of Israel in bondage. God helped them then. So, now, where is he? Why does he not help now, like then, since they are in similar captivity? Again, this is a call of desperation.
The desperation heightens to the point at which the speaker turns from mere third-person recounting to second-person imploring. In 14b, the speaker cries out to God. Notice, however, that what the speaker says is not accusation. The speaker is not angry with God, rebuking him for not helping. Rather (and like the urging of 62:7), the speaker is calling to God for his gracious help.
An interesting concept arises in verse 17. The speaker wonders why God makes them stray and why God hardens their hearts. But notice that these statements of seeming activity by God are coupled with a call for God to return to them. How can they understand God as being away from them (wanting him to return) while at the same time wondering why God is there tormenting them? Can he be away and there at the same time?
Again, this fits with the revelation-response process of faith electionism. How does God harden their hearts? How did God harden Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus 9:12? We cannot accuse God of causing sin. God does not sin; that he could is not only blasphemously wrong, it is incoherent. God cannot will to violate his will. So, then, how should we understand this? Faith electionism provides a consistent answer. God reveals; we respond. Based on the response, God moves toward us or away from us. Considering that God is the source of truth, goodness, and beauty, if he moves away, truth, goodness, and beauty necessarily is lessened. Thus, a hardening of the heart—or a choosing for that which is not true, good, or beautiful—is a necessary consequence of God moving away without any active or coercive manipulation on his part. And we see this in the very words of Isaiah 63:17. In this verse, we find that God hardens. Why? The verse cries for a return of God, thus letting us know that the hardening occurred because of the movement away by God.
Verse 18 tells us the sanctuary is trampled. This is language carried through the Bible all the way to Revelation when we read in Rev 11 that the world (the earth-dwellers, the unsaved, the self-serving, the beast followers, the antichristic element) trample the outer courts of the temple. There is a literal reality here being used in figurative construct to teach the separation of God’s people from all others.