By Jeff Pulse –
The Old Testament text for this Sunday, December 3, 2017, is from the book of the prophet Isaiah. The text is Isaiah 64:1-9. As we enter the Advent season, there may be no better Old Testament text to point to the longing and anticipation for the coming Messiah. This pericope is a portion of a longer section, often called “Isaiah’s Lament” (63:7-64:12). There is a change in the character of the lament that marks the beginning of our text. The first section (63:7-19a) focuses on complaint, but in 63:19b-64:12 the tone and language are that of petition. Historically, it is interesting to know that 64:1 (English) was a verse consistently used by the Jews during the Holocaust. “Oh that Thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down” was lamented in the midst of the persecutions and atrocities. They understood that only the LORD could save them, and he had promised to do so by coming into the world. For Christians, we find this same sentiment and understanding in the pages of the Revelation of St. John (Rev. 22:20); “Come LORD Jesus!”
It is important to note that the English versions follow the Vulgate versification, not the Masoretic text. Thus, 64:1 in the English versions is 63:19b in the Hebrew. I would also like to give credit to R. Lessing and his work in the Concordia Commentary Series on Isaiah 56-66.
63:19b (64:1 Eng) Qarata—root: qara “to tear open; rend”
Nazolu—root: zalal—niphil: “to shake; tremor; quake”
The language indicates that while this was an expected reality in the future, the people were petitioning the LORD to bring it to past sooner.
64:1 (64:2 Eng) Qadoach—root: qadach “to kindle; set fire to”
Tiveh—root: baah “to bring to a boil; cause to boil”
Lehodiya—root: yada—hiphil infinitive construct: “to cause to make known”
64:2 (64:3 Eng) Noraoth—root: yarah—niphal feminie participle: “fearsome; awesome things”
Neqaweh—root: quah—piel: “to hope; await; look eagerly for”
64:3 (64:4 Eng) Heeziynu—root: azan—hiphil: “to use one’s ears; listen; hear”
Limchakeh—root: chakah—piel: “to wait for; long for”
The waiting ones are the believers, the people of faith.
64:4 (64:5 Eng) Pagati—root: paga “to encounter; find; meet”
Patsaphta—root: patsaph “to be angry; furious”
Weniwashea—root: yasha—niphal (in this context we take this as a modal) “but can we be saved?”
64:5 (64:6 Eng) Tame—“unclean”
Wukeveged yidim—“menstrual garments; menstrual rags”
Yidim is a hapax legomenon
The understanding is that the blood of menstruation represents death and renders the woman unclean or impure. It is more than “filthy or dirty.” This uncleanness separates her from God, as do all of our deeds that we carry out with the idea of making ourselves acceptable in His eyes. Indeed, the effect is the opposite of what is hoped for.
64:6 (64:7 Eng) Mitharer—root: awar—hithpolel participle: “to pull oneself up” “one who pulls himself up (rouses himself)”
Histarta—root: satar—hiphil: “to hide; cause to be hidden”
When God hides His face, it is a sign of rejection, ultimately resulting in death. So, in the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6, God shines His face on His people.
64:7 (64:8 Eng) Gemalanu—root: gamal “to do: show; deal out to”
Kerachamaw—“feeling of love; compassion; mercy”
64:8 (64:9 Eng) Yeshaqeru—root: shaqar—piel: “to break faith; deal falsely”