There have been plenty of incentives for intercession since the beginning of chapter 62, not least the promise of decisive intervention by God in the vision we have just been considering. But so far, intercession has been talked about rather than actually done. Now, however, we move from declarations of intent and exhortation to prayer itself. And what a prayer! There are many fine intercessory prayers in Scripture, the greatest of all, of course, is our Lord’s high-priestly prayer (see John 17) in which He interceded for us all. The present prayer is less well known, but has the same stamp of greatness on it.
The voice we hear in 63:7 is Isaiah himself. He stands in the prophetic tradition of intercessory prayer which goes right back to Moses. And like Jesus he prays with prophetic vision, not just for himself and his own generation, but for future generations as well. Intercession glorifies God because it is an expression of utter dependence upon Him. It recognizes that we need to be delivered as much from ourselves as from our enemies, and that deliverance of this radical kind can be found only in God. It is His gift, not our achievement.
The prayer begins as all prayer should, with an acknowledgment of the sheer goodness of God (63:7-9). Isaiah recalls the days of old, the acts of God that called Israel into existence, and sees that they were marked by grace from the beginning to end. God felt their distress, saved them from the perils of the way, lifted them up and carried them when they were weak, and rightly expected that they would return His love by being true to Him. But sadly it was not so. They rebelled against Him, and grieved His Holy Spirit (v. 10a). So in order to preserve His holiness, the Father had to become an Enemy and judge those He loved (v. 10b). The days of old were days of immense grace on the Lord’s part, and immense ingratitude on the part of His people.
The second part of the prayer (63:11-14) is about how “recalling the days of old” has been central to the relationship between God and His people from generation to generation. The memory of former things has brought assurance of God’s power and faithfulness, but also of their own deeply ingrained sinfulness, and has raised painful uncertainties in their minds. True prayer, however, must rise above such thoughts. It is not enough to look back or look within. The intercessor must look up, for all true intercession is founded on the conviction that, however we feel, God is sovereign, and deliverance can be found in Him alone. That truth had been embedded deeply in Isaiah’s soul by the vision of God that had inaugurated his ministry. Now it injects fresh confidence into his praying. He lifts his eyes to the God whose throne is lofty…holy and glorious (63:15), and calls on Him to intervene (64:1).
Isaiah has become so identified with those for whom he prays that, as far as his language is concerned, there is no difference between him and them. Their Father is his Father, their sins are his sins, and so are their doubts and perplexities and hard questions. By his praying he brings them to the Father when they are too weak or proud to come themselves. He acts as a true intercessor. It is likely that later generations of Israelites used this very prayer to lament the destruction of the temple and seek God’s forgiveness. If so, it did double duty; it lived on after Isaiah himself had died, and became the prayer of the very ones for whom he had interceded. It gave them voice in one of the darkest moments of their history.
Isaiah 63:7-64:12 Reflection Questions:
What are some other intercessory prayers found in Scripture?
Do you see yourself like Isaiah, as a true intercessor?
Where do you look when you pray?