Reflections on Isaiah 63:7-64:12

Finding our place in the story…

Sometimes life doesn’t match our expectations.  That’s not a particularly unique insight — but when we have a sense of how God works, and thus, how the world should work, when it doesn’t unfold like that, it can shake us.

In this section of Isaiah which spans almost two chapters, we again notice that the speaker and perspective have changed.  From the almost apocalyptic sounding language in the first verses of chapter 63, we see a shift to recounting the big story of Israel – the story which other books of the Bible unfold.

“I will recount the gracious deeds of the LORD,
the praiseworthy acts of the LORD,
because of all that the LORD has done for us,
and the great favor to the house of Israel
that he has shown them according to his mercy,
according to the abundance of his steadfast love.”

Throughout the history of Israel, God has saved them, has personally intervened and taken an interest in them.  Even though God would oppose them when they rebelled, God still led the people of Israel through the desert like a shepherd, giving them rest and provision.

The speaker in Isaiah asks a more pointed question: Where is that God?

No longer sensing that God is near, personally involved, the speaker asks a distant God to look down from heaven and see how the people are suffering.  Indeed, the speaker accuses God of being the very cause of their sin: “Why, O LORD, do you make us stray from your ways and harden our heart, so that we do not fear you?”

It’s important to realize, as we’re reading scripture and hearing someone’s lament or prayer, that it’s not necessarily an endorsement of that person’s perspective or theology.   Which is a great gift, actually – because like Job, like the Psalms and elsewhere, we find our questions and struggles and emotions valid ground in which to wrestle with our faith and encounter the living God.   The person speaking here in Isaiah 63-64 may be off-base, accusing God of making us flawed and then punishing us for those flaws; but that question is incredibly important – not just is there a God, but is God good?  What a gift that the people in the Bible itself pose the question back then as it gets asked still today, and creates the space in which to listen for and receive God’s reply.

What do you notice the speaker asking for, longing for in these passages?

The speaker remembers, insists that the God (of Israel, revealed in scripture) is different, unique — why?

When you read this passage in light of the broader story — what would you say to the speaker in response to their argument that God seems distant and inactive in the midst of their trouble?

What kind of answer does the rest of the Bible make to the question of whether God is absent?