A Corporate Confession

1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
    that the mountains might quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
    and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
    and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
    you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From of old no one has heard
    or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
    who acts for those who wait for him.
You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
    those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
    in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
We have all become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
    and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls upon your name,
    who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
    and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. Isaiah 64:1-7 ESV

Isaiah continues his passionate prayer to God, temporarily abdicating his role as God’s messenger in order to speak to God on behalf of his people. In a sense, Isaiah reversed his role and became an emissary for Judah to God, pleading with the Almighty to leave heaven and invade their circumstance with His divine presence and power. He wanted God to show up on the scene and prove to the stubborn and sin-blinded people of Judah that He was real and that His promises to save them could be trusted.

Isaiah’s graphic description of how he envisioned God showing up on the scene reflects his understanding of how God had appeared to the people of Israel in the past. When God first appeared to the Israelites at Mount Sinai in the wilderness, Moses had used similar terminology to describe the scene.

On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled. Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. – Exodus 19:16-19 NLT

Isaiah longed to see the very same thing because he knew that his rebellious friends and neighbors would have a hard time ignoring a God who revealed Himself in such a dramatic and undeniable way. With that kind of entrance, even the most jaded among the people of Judah would have to sit up and take notice. They would have no excuse to ignore God anymore. In essence, Isaiah is asking that God move from being transcendent to immanent. It is not that God is one or the other at any given time. He exists outside of time and space and is only knowable by men when He chooses to reveal Himself to them. But God has done just that. As Paul states in his letter to the believers in Rome, “what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20 NLT).

Over the centuries, God had revealed Himself to men in a variety of ways. On several occasions, God appeared to Abraham and spoke with Him. He appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush. In the wilderness, He revealed Himself to the people of Israel in the form of a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. Later on, Moses would make a request of God: “show me your glorious presence” (Exodus 33:18 NLT). And, in response, God gave Moses the following instructions:

“Look, stand near me on this rock. As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.”  – Exodus 33:21-23 NLT

Isaiah longed for a similar experience. He had obviously talked with God, but now he expressed His desire to see God with his own eyes. And this yearning was driven by a longing to see God intervene on behalf of His people so that the nations would know that the God of Judah was truly powerful. Not only did Isaiah want the people of Judah to see their God for who He really was, but he also wanted their enemies to shake in their boots at the sight of God Almighty. So, he begged God, “to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!” (Isaiah 64:2 ESV).

Isaiah knew that God stood alone. He had no competitors and there were no other gods who could be compared with Him. But he was looking for tangible, palpable proof. He wanted to see God in action with his own two eyes, and he wanted to see Him do “awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations” (Isaiah 64:3 NLT).

But Isaiah knew there was a problem. God was holy and they were not. There were certain requirements that God had placed upon His chosen people. And Isaiah articulated them.

You welcome those who gladly do good,
    who follow godly ways. – Issaiah 64:5 NLT

God demanded righteousness. He expected holiness. He had chosen the people of Israel and set them apart for His glory. They were to live their lives according to His laws and they were to reflect His holy character to a lost world. Even back in Midian,  when God appeared to Moses in the form of the burning bush, He had warned him, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5 NLT). Later on, when God allowed Moses to see His glory, He denied Moses the right to see His face. God is holy and He expected His chosen people to live holy lives. But Isaiah knew that was a major problem. 

But you have been very angry with us,
    for we are not godly.
We are constant sinners;
how can people like us be saved? – Isaiah 64:5 NLT

Here we have Isaiah aligning himself with the people of Judah and asking as their corporate representative. He includes himself as one of the guilty, describing their state as sinners who deserve no salvation from God. And Isaiah doesn’t attempt to minimize the depth of their sinful state. He lays it out in graphic terms that reveal his understanding of their corporate culpability and well-deserved condemnation.

We are all infected and impure with sin.
    When we display our righteous deeds,
    they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

This was not a new recognition by Isaiah of the guilt of he and his fellow Judahites. From the day God had called him, he had expressed his realization that they all stood condemned before a holy God. In fact, he had clearly stated, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips” (Isaiah 6:5 NLT). But it’s essential that we notice what prompted this incredible confession from Isaiah. Chapter six opens up with the words, “It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple” (Isaiah 6:1 NLT). Isaiah had seen God. He had been given a vision of God. In that vision, Isaiah had seen the seraphim surrounding the throne of God and had heard them proclaiming: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” (Isaiah 6:2 NLT).

And the immediate impact of that vision on Isaiah was a recognition of his own unholiness. Standing before the perfectly holy God, Isaiah was fully and painfully aware of his own unrighteousness and undeservedness. He had no right to be in the presence of God. He was guilty of sin and unclean as a result. And he knew that the only thing he deserved from God was condemnation and death. Yet, God had sent one of the seraphim with a burning coal from the altar to touch the lips of Isaiah. And the next thing Isaiah heard was the incredible news, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven” (Isaiah 6:7 NLT).

That experience had left Isaiah a changed man. He would never be the same again. And now, years later, he was pleading with God to reveal His holiness to the people of Judah. Why? Because he longed for them to have the same life-changing experience that had transformed him from guilty to forgiven.

Yet, in spite of their undeniable sin and guilt, Isaiah is shocked to admit that “no one calls on your name or pleads with you for mercy” (Isaiah 64:7 NLT). There was no one willing to confess, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips.” And, as a result, Isaiah sadly acknowledges the state of affairs in Judah.

Therefore, you have turned away from us
    and turned us over to our sins. – Isaiah 64:7 NLT

Isaiah was the only one willing to admit the obvious. They were sinners and deserved every ounce of judgment God was bringing upon them. They were a people of unclean lips, but because they refused to admit it, there would be no burning coal to cleanse them and provide forgiveness. Instead, they would face the loving discipline of God. Because they refused to repent of their rebellion against Him, he would punish them for it. But Isaiah was not going to give up. His prayer was not quite finished. He knew what it was like to stand before the holy, righteous God of the universe, and have his life radically altered. And he would not be content until he had interceded with God on behalf of his people.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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