Isaiah 64:1-12

64:1(63:19). Masoretic Text: O that you would rend the heavens; come down that the mountains might quake before your face, …

Septuagint: If you should open the heaven, trembling from you would seize mountains, and they would melt like wax melts from a fire.

After the word for “heavens,” the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) has the conjunction “and.”

In the Septuagint, the words “like wax melts from a fire” are part of the next verse but have been included here to complete the sentence. This phrase will not be repeated for verse 2(1).

In the Hebrew text also, the sentence continues in the next verse.

The Targum of Isaiah alludes to YHWH’s giving the law to the Isralites at Mount Sinai, saying that it was not for the people of the nations that he bent the heavens, revealing himself to them.


It appeared to the Israelites that YHWH had concealed himself from them, not responding with help in their time of distress. Therefore, the prophet pleaded that this would cease to be the case. He wanted YHWH to tear open the heavens and to come down from his lofty place of dwelling, revealing himself as the savior of his people. The prophet envisioned the manifestation of YHWH’s presence as causing the mountains to quake or tremble as at the time when the Israelites received the law at Mount Sinai. (Exodus 19:18)

The Septuagint reference to the melting of mountains could refer to erosion and mud slides that occur on account of heavy downpours. It then appears that the mountain slopes are melting as does wax when near a flame.

64:2(1). Masoretic Text: when fire kindles brushwood [and] fire causes water to boil, [in order] to make known your name to your foes, [that] nations might tremble before your face.

Septuagint: And fire will consume [your] foes, and the name of the Lord will be manifest among [your] foes. Before your face, nations will be set in commotion.

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) contains additional words after the phrase regarding water (“to your foes to make known your name, to your foes before your face”).

The Targum of Isaiah appears to refer to the drying up of the Red Sea when the Israelites left Egypt. “When you sent forth your anger in fire, the sea was dissolved [and] the fire licked up the waters, to make your name known to the enemies of your people.”


The manifestation of YHWH’s presence appears to be likened to a fire that consumes brushwood and boils water. That manifestation would lead to a punitive judgment against all who defiantly resist God’s will. These foes would come to know God’s name when forced to recognize his just judgment against them. Nations would then tremble in fear. According to the Septuagint, people of the nations would be set in commotion. They would sense an alarming inner upheaval in anticipation of what might befall them.

64:3(2). Masoretic Text: When you did fearsome things for which we did not look, you came down. At your presence [literally, “face”], the mountains quaked.

Septuagint: When you do glorious things, trembling from you will seize mountains.

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) omits “not” (“we did look”).


The reference to coming down applies to YHWH’s turning his attention to his people, and this is accompanied by fearsome, awe-inspiring, or astonishing deeds. If understood to apply in a general way to past events, these could include the ten plagues that came upon Egypt and the resulting deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian enslavement, the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of the Egyptian military force when the miraculously opened passage through the sea closed, and the miraculous provisions of manna and water in the wilderness. The Israelites could not have imagined any of these amazing manifestations of YHWH’s astonishing power beforehand. The revelation of his presence was of such a nature that even the stable mountains could be spoken of as being shaken thereby.

Translations commonly render the verse to apply in a general sense to past events. “When you came down long ago, you did awesome things beyond our highest expectations. And oh, how the mountains quaked!” (NLT) “There was a time when you came and did terrifying things that we did not expect; the mountains saw you and shook with fear.” (GNT, Second Edition) “You have done amazing things we did not expect. You came down, and the mountains trembled before you.” (NCV) “Your fearsome deeds have completely amazed us; even the mountains shake when you come down.” (CEV)

The mention of the quaking of mountains, however, could more specifically allude to events at Mount Sinai when the Israelites received the law, and possibly the expressions of the entire verse relate to this. On that occasion, YHWH is represented as coming down, and the fearsome phenomena included a dense cloud upon the mountain, thunder and lightning flashes, the sound of a horn that continued to increase in volume, smoke rising from the mountain, and the quaking of the mountain. (Exodus 19:16-19) Although the Israelites had been informed that YHWH would be revealing himself and had been instructed to prepare themselves for this event, they would not have expected the phenomena that filled them with great fear. (Exodus 19:10, 11; 20:18, 19)

According to the rendering of the Septuagint, YHWH’s performing his glorious or wondrous acts would reflect such matchless power as to cause the mountains to tremble.

64:4(3). Masoretic Text: And since [past] limitless time, none have heard nor perceived by ear; no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those waiting for him.

Septuagint: Since the [past] age, we have not heard nor have our eyes seen a God besides you, and your works, which you will do for those who wait for [your] mercy.

Like the Septuagint, the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) does not include the conjunction “and” at the beginning of this verse. In this scroll, the conjunction “and” precedes the phrases about not perceiving by ear and no eye seeing.

The Targum of Isaiah indicates that no eye had seen what God’s people had seen, including the Shekinah of YHWH’s glory.


From the days of the ancient past, no one has ever heard or seen a God like YHWH. “Seeing” does not here signify actually beholding him but denotes perceiving his presence from clearly discernible manifestations.

The Israelites did hear God’s commands at Mount Sinai. With their ears, they perceived the words that were directed to them. They also saw physical manifestations whereby his presence was revealed to them. (Exodus 20:1, 18, 19; Deuteronomy 4:32-36)

In the case of the Israelites, YHWH revealed himself to be a God who comes to the aid of those who patiently wait for him to act as their helper and savior. According to the rendering of the Septuagint, he will perform works that manifest his compassion for those who wait for him to respond mercifully to them in their time of need or distress.

64:5(4). Masoretic Text: You meet the one being joyful and working righteousness; those who remember you in your ways. Look! You were angry, and we sinned; in them — limitless time, and shall we be saved?

Septuagint: For he will meet the ones working righteousness, and your ways will be remembered. Look! You have been angered, and we sinned. On account of this we strayed.

According to the interpretation of the Targum of Isaiah, YHWH delivered the Israelites on account of the righteous deeds of their forefathers. “Set before you are the deeds of our righteous fathers who rejoiced to do your will in truth and in righteousness; in the way of your goodness and your mercy they were mindful of your fear, yes, whensoever there was anger from before you against us in that we transgressed, we were delivered by the deeds of our righteous fathers who are from of old.”


Joyful ones would be persons who found delight in doing what is right. YHWH’s meeting them would refer to his coming to their aid. These godly ones would remember his ways, which would be evident from their willing obedience to his commands.

The prophet spoke representatively of the people, acknowledging that they had sinned. YHWH was angry on account of their wayward conduct. The words “we sinned” could either mean that God’s wrath resulted from their sinning or that, despite his wrath, they kept on sinning.

According to the Masoretic punctuation, the expression here rendered “in them” starts a new phrase. Certain translators have concluded that the reference is to sins. “In our sins we have been a long time.” (ESV) The Hebrew plural pronominal suffix, however, is masculine gender, and the Hebrew word for “sins” is feminine gender.

Based on the grammar, the masculine gender antecedent is the Hebrew word for “ways.” When the Masoretic punctuation is followed and the pronoun “them” is considered to apply to “ways,” the text could mean that, in the adherence to God’s ways, there is limitless time or eternity. Those who conform to God’s ways are assured of a continuance of life. (Compare Proverbs 3:1, 2; 4:10, 13, 20-22; 9:10, 11.) The phrase that follows could then be understood to indicate that those who persist in God’s ways would be saved or delivered from distress or peril. If regarded as a question, the words would imply that those who continued in sin could not hope to be saved and to enjoy a continuance of life.

A number of translations have represented the Hebrew text to convey a positive significance, suggesting that the people had abandoned their previous sinful course, determined to follow YHWH’s ways, and would be saved. “But we have sinned, and You were angry; we will remain in Your ways and be saved.” (HCSB) “Yes, you have been angry and we have been sinners; now we persist in your ways and we shall be saved.” (NJB) These renderings do not seem to fit a context that is focused on the unfaithfulness of the people.

If the Masoretic punctuation is disregarded and the words “in them for limitless time” are directly linked to the sinning of the Israelites, the meaning of the text could be that the people had sinned against YHWH’s ways for a very long time. In view of this, could they expect to be saved or delivered from distress or oppression?

The Septuagint rendering may be understood to mean that, because the Israelites sinned, they went astray from God’s ways.

64:6(5). Masoretic Text: And all of us have become like someone unclean. And like a garment [defiled] from menstruation [are] all of [our] righteous deeds. And all of us wither like a leaf. And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

Septuagint: And all of us have become as unclean ones. Like a rag of one sitting apart [of a menstruating woman] [is] all our righteousness. And we have dropped like leaves because of our transgressions. Thus a wind will take us away.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll), the conjunction “and” does not precede the phrase about a defiled garment.


On account of the sins of the people, they were unclean before YHWH. According to the law, a garment or anything on which a menstruating woman might seat herself or lie down upon would become unclean. (Leviticus 15:19-23) In view of the sins of the people, even their doing what was right would be unclean like something defiled from menstruation. (Compare Haggai 2:14.)

Withering like a leaf could refer to the result from sin, coming to be like a dried-up leaf that amounted to nothing more that something the wind would blow away. According to the Septuagint rendering, the people “dropped like leaves” on account of their transgressions, suggesting that they did not merit to be preserved. They would be swept away, just as a wind blows away leaves that have dropped from a tree. The Hebrew text indicates that their iniquities take the people away like the wind. Their being swept away is thus revealed to be the direct consequence of their lawlessness.

64:7(6). Masoretic Text: And [there is] no one calling upon your name, arousing himself to take hold of you, for you have hidden your face from us and melted us into the hand of our iniquity.

Septuagint: And [there] is no one calling upon your name and remembering to take hold of you, for you have turned your face away from us and delivered us up because of our sins.

According to the Targum of Isaiah, none were willing to lay hold of the fear of YHWH, or manifest reverential regard for him.


Among the Israelites in general, none called on YHWH’s name, or sincerely directed their appeals to YHWH (the person whom the name represented). None of them aroused themselves to lay hold of YHWH as the God to whom they desired to cling and to whom they looked for aid and protection. The reason for this appears to be that they did not see any evidence of YHWH’s having taken any perceivable action for their benefit. This seems to have caused them to think that it was useless to pray. YHWH’s face was hidden, not manifesting any favorable turning of attention to his people. Instead, YHWH had “melted” them into the hand or power of their iniquities. According to the reading of the Septuagint, they had been delivered up to their sins or been allowed to experience the distressing circumstances to which their lawless acts had led. Possibly the reference to “melting” in the Hebrew text refers to being deprived of strength to resist wrongdoing and thus coming under the full control of iniquity as persons enslaved to sin. Because YHWH permitted this to happen, it is attributed to him.

64:8(7). Masoretic Text: And now, O YHWH, you [are] our Father. We [are] the clay, and you are our potter, and all of us the work of your hand.

Septuagint: And now, O Lord, you [are] our Father, but we are clay, all [of us] the work of your hands.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll), the opening expression may be rendered, “and as for you, O YHWH.” The conjunction “and” precedes the phrase about the “clay,” and “clay” appears without the definite article. Whereas the Masoretic Text has the singular “hand,” the word in the scroll is the plural “hands.”

The Targum of Isaiah, with a focus on mercy, interpretively expands on the meaning of YHWH’s relationship to the Israelites. “O YHWH, you whose mercies toward us are greater than those of a father toward his children, we are the clay and you are our maker, and we are all the work of your might.”


The prophet spoke representatively of the people, appealing to YHWH to give compassionate attention to them. Even though the Israelites had been disobedient, YHWH was still their Father. They were but clay in his hands, his work, for he had made it possible for the nation to come into existence.

64:9(8). Masoretic Text: Be not exceedingly angry, O YHWH, and do not forever remember iniquity. Look, consider please: We [are] all your people.

Septuagint: Be not exceedingly angry with us and do not for a [long] time remember our sins. And now look upon [us], for we [are] all your people.

Instead of the expression in the Masoretic Text that is here rendered “forever,” the wording in the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) may be translated “for a long time.”

For the rendering of the Septuagint, the addition of “long” is interpretive. The Greek expression en kairo basically means “in season” or “at an appointed time.”


Pleading representatively for the Israelites, the prophet petitioned YHWH to mitigate his anger against them, restraining himself from expressing it to the fullest extent. For YHWH not to remember their iniquity would mean to grant forgiveness, not recalling their wrongdoing in order to mete out severe punishment. The prophet concluded with the appeal for YHWH to consider that all of the Israelites were his people. With this expression, he made his supplication for YHWH to show mercy to them on the basis of their relationship to him. They were his people, and he was their God.

64:10(9). Masoretic Text: Your holy cities have become a wilderness. Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.

Septuagint: Your holy city has become a wilderness. Zion has become like a wilderness, Jerusalem [is made] into a curse.

As in the case of the Septuagint, the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) includes an expression for “like” (“Zion has become like a wilderness”).


The cities may be called “holy” because they were located in the land of God’s people. According to the Septuagint rendering, the noun “city” is singular and applies to Jerusalem, the “holy city” or YHWH’s representative place of dwelling because his temple was located there.

Years before the Babylonian armies desolated Jerusalem and destroyed the temple, the Assyrians had devastated the territory of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel and the two-tribe kingdom of Judah. Jerusalem had not been reduced to ruins at that time, but military reversals had robbed the city of its former splendor. (2 Kings 17:5, 6; 18:9-16)

The words of the prophet represent cities, including Zion or Jerusalem, reduced to the state of a desolate wilderness. As a “curse” (according to the rendering of the Septuagint), Jerusalem came to be like a city subjected to a ban of annihilation.

64:11(10). Masoretic Text: Our holy house (and our splendor), where our fathers praised you, has become for burning with fire, and all our precious places have become [literally, “has become”] a ruin.

Septuagint: The house, our holy one, and the glory, which our fathers praised, has become for burning by fire, and all the glorious places have collapsed.

The singular verbs in the Masoretic Text are plural in the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll).


As the structure where the Israelites praised YHWH, the “house” was their “holy place” or sanctuary. Architecturally, the temple was strikingly beautiful, and so it could also be designated as the “glory” (LXX) or the people’s splendor — their magnificent or beautiful building. Yet it had become a structure consigned to flames. The precious, desirable, or glorious places may have been other impressive edifices, and these were likewise reduced to ruins.

64:12(11). Masoretic Text: For these things, will you cease [from taking action], O YHWH? Will you remain silent and humble us exceedingly?

Septuagint: And for all these things, you ceased [from taking action], O Lord, and remained silent and humbled us exceedingly.

In the Targum of Isaiah, the question about YHWH’s holding back from taking action includes the thought that he had granted a reprieve to the wicked and to those who severely oppressed his people.


The temple and other structures had been wrecked, and the Israelites had experienced great suffering. These developments prompted the prophet to ask whether YHWH would continue to tolerate this, restraining himself from taking action against the enemies of his people. For YHWH to remain silent would mean for him to hold back from expressing his judgment. Because he had permitted the foes of his people to afflict them, the severe humiliation of the Israelites is attributed to him.