This terrible scene bursts upon us almost with the suddenness of the Day of Judgment itself. Yet, it is exactly what we should be expecting at this point, for it is simply the obverse side of the reality that the previous chapter directed us towards – the final coming of God’s kingdom. Nor have the previous chapters failed to warn us that this would have a dark side to it. This chapter repeats, with greater intensity, the substance of 59:15b-20: it is Isaiah’s description of the “day of vengeance of our God” whose arrival was anticipated in 61:2.
In common usage, vengeance is a word which has connotations of deliberately harbored malice and personal vindictiveness. It is the opposite of love. And yet the Bible insists that there is a proper time and place for vengeance, for without it a host of evils would never be righted and there would be no moral government in the universe. It is the final calling to account of those who have oppressed others and apparently got away with it. Vengeance is punishment, but punishment with a particularly sharp edge. The wrongdoer is confronted in a very personal way with the wrong he has done and is made to pay for it. In vengeance the tables are finally turned.
Here in Isaiah a lone avenger comes from Edom. His garments are splendid, but they are also dreadful, covered in crimson stains. Isaiah wonders who he is, and what terrible work he has been doing. The questions are natural ones and are answered almost before they have left Isaiah’s lips. The avenger is God Himself, and the stains on His garments are blood. He has trodden the nations in the winepress of His wrath. But there is another, even more pressing question which is implicit in the other two. Not just “Who?” and “What?” but “Why?” And this question brings us to the very heart of the passage, for the answer is given in terms of God’s special relationship with His people. The key is in verse 4. The day of vengeance is the year of His “redeemed” (His people), and He has long had this day in His heart (in His plans and purposes) precisely because of His deep commitment to them. Saul of Tarsus was later to learn that the Lord and His people are one; he could not persecute the one without clashing with the other. This passage teaches that people everywhere are destined, one day, to learn the same lesson. The judgment in view is final and universal (v. 6), but the reference to Edom in particular gives the passage a special emphasis (v. 1). It is the nations as persecutors of His people which will be the special objects of God’s fury on the final day. They will meet God as the powerful avenger of His people.
God’s people are the special objects of the world’s hatred, and it may often seem to us that those who reject the Lord mock us with complete impunity and that there is no redress available to us. But it is not so! This passage assures us that nothing we suffer goes unnoticed, and that every wrong done to us will be repaid in full. It answers our cry for just redress, but takes the responsibility for achieving it out of our hands and places it where it properly belongs. The Lord Himself is our Avenger.
Isaiah 63:1-6 Reflection Questions:
Why should we leave vengeance to God?
What should you do when you want to take revenge yourself?
What does Jesus say about this subject?
Where in the gospels does Saul of Tarsus learn his valuable lesson?