Isaiah 64:9-12 (ESV)
and remember not iniquity forever.
Behold, please look, we are all your people.
Your holy cities have become a wilderness;
Zion has become a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation.
Our holy and beautiful house,
where our fathers praised you,
has been burned by fire,
and all our pleasant places have become ruins.
Will you restrain yourself at these things, O LORD?
Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly?
Isaiah 64 begins by calling for God to return. It reflects on the expressions and revelations of God that Israel experienced in the past. It focuses particularly on their experiences at Mt. Sinai where Moses received the Law. There is no god like God. The chapter then goes on to acknowledge the sin of God’s people. “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Is 64:6).
Why would an unclean people want God to return? Wouldn’t they expect that he would return with judgment against them? The answer is found in their acknowledgement of their sin. Those trying to cover up sin would never want God to return. Those blinded to their sin might want God to return, but will be sorely surprised when he does. Those acknowledging their sin can expect him to return with mercy.
Verse 7 admits that they have not even been seeking God. Verse 8 changes everything. “But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Is 64:8). Verse 8 recognizes that God has the right to do whatever he desires. “We are the clay, and you are our potter.” In yielding to him they acknowledge that God has the right judge them, or to make them into a thing of beauty. They then cry out, “Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people” (Is 64:9). Their expression of confession, submission, and pleading for mercy will not go unheard.
Isn’t that the gospel? We are not accepted by God, because we have turned over a new leaf. We are not forgiven of our sin because we really didn’t mean to be so bad. We are not saved, and promised eternal life because we promise to be good. We are saved when we acknowledge our sin, admit that God has the right to do whatever he wishes with us (His judgment against us is well deserved), and cast ourselves on the mercy of God. Salvation, forgiveness, acceptance, and eternal life are received as a gift, not as something we deserve or earn.
Why would an unclean people want God to return? Primarily because they have admitted that they are an unclean people, and recognize that their only hope lies in God’s mercy and grace. We are an unclean people. Our church services must sometimes be a stench in God’s nostrils. Our good Christian living must sometimes make God weep. Yet we can plead for his return, not because the world is so evil and we righteous folk want to escape it, but because we sinners know that our only hope is the return of Righteous God who has the right to do with us as he will. We trust in his mercy and grace.
After all the warnings of Revelation, the Apostle John concludes with these words, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev 22:20-21). After all the devastation the Israelites will face because of their disobedience, still they continue to sin. Yet Isaiah, admitting their sin, cries out, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down” (Is 64:1). John and Isaiah both understand that their hope is in the great God of mercy. Amen! Come Lord Jesus. Father, we do not deserve to see your face, but we believe that you will receive us because of Jesus. Come Lord Jesus!