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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–5
Verses 1–5

Here, I. The petition is that God would appear wonderfully for them now, Isa. 63:1, 2. Their case was represented in the close of the foregoing chapter as very sad and very hard, and in this case it was time to cry, “Help, Lord; O that God would manifest his zeal and his strength!” They had prayed (Isa. 63:15) that God would look down from heaven; here they pray that he would come down to deliver them, as he had said, Exod. 3:8. 1. They desire that God would in his providence manifest himself both to them and for them. When God works some extraordinary deliverance for his people he is said to shine forth, to show himself strong; so, here, they pray that he would rend the heavens and come down, as when he delivered David he is said to bow the heavens, and come down (Ps. 18:9), to display his power, and justice, and goodness, in an extraordinary manner, so that all may take notice of them and acknowledge them. This God’s people desire and pray for, that they themselves having the satisfaction of seeing him though his way be in the sea, others may be made to see him when his way is in the clouds. This is applicable to the second coming of Christ, when the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly. 2. They desire that he would vanquish all opposition and that it might be made to give way before him: That the mountains might flow down at thy presence, that the fire of thy wrath may burn so fiercely against thy enemies as even to dissolve the rockiest mountains and melt them down before it, as metal in the furnace, which is made liquid and cast into what shape the operator pleases; so the melting fire burns, Isa. 63:2. Let things be put into a ferment, in order to a glorious revolution in favour of the church: As the fire causes the waters to boil. There is an allusion here, some think, to the volcanoes, or burning mountains, which sometimes send forth such sulphureous streams as make the adjacent rivers and seas to boil, which, perhaps, are left as sensible intimations of the power of God’s wrath and warning—pieces of the final conflagration. 3. They desire that this may tend very much to the glory and honour of God, may make his name known, not only to his friends (they knew it before, and trusted in his power), but to his adversaries likewise, that they may know it and tremble at his presence, and may say, with the men of Bethshemesh, Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? Who knows the power of his anger? Note, Sooner or later God will make his name known to his adversaries and force those to tremble at his presence that would not come and worship in his presence. God’s name, if it be not a stronghold for us, into which we may run and be safe, will be a strong-hold against us, out of the reach of which we cannot run and be safe. The day will come when nations shall be made to tremble at the presence of God, though they be ever so numerous and strong.

II. The plea is that God had appeared wonderfully for his people formerly; and thou hast, therefore thou wilt, is good arguing at the throne of grace, Ps. 10:17.

1. They plead what he had done for his people Israel in particular when he brought them out of Egypt, Isa. 63:3. He then did terrible things in the plagues of Egypt, which they looked not for; they despaired of deliverance, so far were they from any thought of being delivered with such a high hand and outstretched arm. Then he came down upon Mount Sinai in such terror as made that and the adjacent mountains to flow down at his presence, to skip like rams (Ps. 114:4), to tremble, so that they were scattered and the perpetual hills were made to bow, Hab. 3:6. In the many great salvations God wrought for that people he did terrible things which they looked not for, made great men, that seemed as stately and strong as mountains, to fall before him, and great opposition to give way. See Jdg. 5:4, 5; Ps. 68:7, 8. Some refer this to the defeat of Sennacherib’s powerful army, which was as surprising an instance of the divine power as the melting down of rocks and mountains would be.

2. They plead what God had been used to do, and had declared his gracious purpose to do, for his people in general. The provision he has made for the safety and happiness of his people, even of all those that seek him, and serve him, and trust in him, is very rich and very ready, so that they need not fear being either disappointed of it, for it is sure, or disappointed in it, for it is sufficient.

(1.) It is very rich, Isa. 63:4. Men have not heard nor seen what God has prepared for those that wait for him. Observe the character of God’s people; they are such as wait for him in the way of duty, wait for the salvation he has promised and designed for them. Observe where the happiness of this people is bound up; it is what God has prepared for them, what he has designed for them in his counsel and is in his providence and grace preparing for them and preparing them for, what he has done or will do, so it may be read. Some of the Jewish doctors have understood this of the blessings reserved for the days of the Messiah, and to them the apostle applies these words; and others extend them to the glories of the world to come. It is all that goodness which God has laid up for those that fear him, and wrought for those that trust in him, Ps. 31:19. Of this it is here said that since the beginning of the world, in the most prying and inquisitive ages of it, men have not, either by hearing or seeing, the two learning senses, come to the full knowledge of it. None have seen, nor heard, nor can understand, but God himself, what the provision is that is made for the present and future felicity of holy souls. For, [1.] Much of it was concealed in former ages; they knew it not, because the unsearchable riches of Christ were hidden in God, were hidden from the wise and prudent; but in latter ages they were revealed by the gospel; so the apostle applies this (1 Cor. 2:9), for it follows (Isa. 63:10), But God has revealed them unto us by his Spirit; compare Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:9. That which men had not heard since the beginning of the world they should hear before the end of it, and at the end of it should see, when the veil shall be rent to introduce the glory that is yet to be revealed. God himself knew what he had in store for believers, but none knew besides him. [2.] It cannot be fully comprehended by the human understanding, no, not when it is revealed; it is spiritual, and refined from those ideas which our minds are most apt to receive in this world of sense; it is very great, and will far outdo the utmost of our expectations. Even the present peace of believers, much more their future bliss, is such as surpasses all conception and expression, Phil. 4:7. None can comprehend it but God himself, whose understanding is infinite. Some give another reading of these words, referring the transcendency, not so much to the work itself as to the author of it: Neither has the eye seen a god besides thee, who doth so (or has done or can do so) for him that waits for him. We must infer from God’s works of wonderous grace, as well as from his works of wondrous power, from the kind things, as well as from the great things, he does, that there is no god like him, nor any among the sons of the mighty to be compared with him.

(2.) It is very ready (Isa. 63:5): “Thou meetest him that rejoices and works righteousness, meetest him with that good which thou hast prepared for him (Isa. 63:4), and dost not forget those that remember thee in thy ways.” See here what communion there is between a gracious God and a gracious soul. [1.] What God expects from us, in order to our having communion with him. First, We must make conscience of doing our duty in every thing, we must work righteousness, must do that which is good and which the Lord our God requires of us, and must do it well. Secondly, We must be cheerful in doing our duty, we must rejoice and work righteousness, must delight ourselves in God and in his law, must be cheerful in his service and sing at our work. God loves a cheerful giver, a cheerful worshipper. We must serve the Lord with gladness. Thirdly, We must conform ourselves to all the methods of his providence concerning us and be suitably affected with them, must remember him in his ways, in all the ways wherein he walks, whether he walks towards us or walks contrary to us. We must mind him and make mention of him with thanksgiving when his ways are ways of mercy (in a day of prosperity be joyful), with patience and submission when he contends with us. In the way of thy judgments we have waited for thee; for in a day of adversity we must consider. [2.] We are here told what we may expect from God if we thus attend him in the way of duty: Thou meetest him. This intimates the friendship, fellowship, and familiarity to which God admits his people; he meets them, to converse with them, to manifest himself to them, and to receive their addresses, Exod. 20:24; 29:43. It likewise intimates his freeness and forwardness in doing them good; he will anticipate them with the blessings of his goodness, will rejoice to do good to those that rejoice in working righteousness, and wait to be gracious to those that wait for him. He meets his penitent people with a pardon, as the father of the prodigal met his returning son, Luke 15:20. He meets his praying people with an answer of peace, while they are yet speaking, Isa. 65:24.

3. They plead the unchangeableness of God’s favour and the stability of his promise, notwithstanding the sins of his people and his displeasure against them for their sins: “Behold, thou hast many a time been wroth with us because we have sinned, and we have been under the tokens of thy wrath; but in those, those ways of thine, the ways of mercy in which we have remembered thee, in those is continuance,” or “in those thou art ever” (his mercy endures for ever), “and therefore we shall at last be saved, though thou art wroth, and we have sinned.” This agrees with the tenour of God’s covenant, that, if we forsake the law, he will visit our transgression with a rod, but his loving kindness he will not utterly take away, his covenant he will not break (Ps. 89:30), and by this his people have been many a time saved from ruin when they were just upon the brink of it; see Ps. 78:38. And by this continuance of the covenant we hope to be saved, for its being an everlasting covenant is all our salvation. Though God has been angry with us for our sins, and justly, yet his anger has endured but for a moment and has been soon over; but in his favour is life, because in it is continuance; in the ways of his favour he proceeds and perseveres, and on that we depend for our salvation, see Isa. 54:7, 8. It is well for us that our hopes of salvation are built not upon any merit or sufficiency of our own (for in that there is no certainty, even Adam in innocency did not abide), but upon God’s mercies and promises, for in those, we are sure, is continuance.