Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
- On Bozrah, a city of Edom, see on ch. Isaiah 34:6.
with dyed garments] Better, with bright coloured garments. The word for “dyed” means literally “sharp,” “piercing.”
The mention of Edom as the scene of a judgement which is obviously universal (see Isaiah 63:3; Isaiah 63:6), including all the enemies of Jehovah and Israel, is a feature common to this prophecy and that of ch. 34. It is partly accounted for by the embittered relations between the two peoples, of which traces are found in post-exilic writings (see the note on ch. 34); and partly perhaps by the ancient conception that Jehovah marches from Edom to the succour of His people (Jdg 5:4). There can hardly be a reference to anticipated resistance on the part of the Edomites to the re-establishment of the Jewish State, for the judgement is not on Edom alone but on all nations; and moreover the prophecy in all probability belongs to a date subsequent to the first return of the exiles from Babylon.
glorious in his apparel] The word for glorious is lit. “swelling,” being identical with that which is wrongly rendered “crooked” in ch. Isaiah 45:2 (see the note). It is doubtful what is the exact sense of the expression “swelling in his raiment.” Duhm’s suggestion of loose robes inflated by the wind seems a little fanciful. On the other hand “glorious” or “splendid” (LXX. ὡραῖος) conveys an impression hardly consistent with the image, since the garments of the divine champion are said to be “defiled” by the blood of His enemies (Isaiah 63:3).
travelling] R.V. marching; Vulg. gradiens. This however may represent a variant reading (çô‘çd, cf. Jdg 5:4) which is perhaps preferable to the Massoretic text (çô‘eh). The Hebr. word occurs in the difficult passage Isaiah 51:14 with the sense of “crouching.” Those who retain it here explain it in various ways with the help of the Arabic as a “gesture of proud self-consciousness” (Del.); “swaying to and fro”; “with head thrown back,” &c.
I that speak in righteousness &c.] i.e. “speak righteously” (cf. Isaiah 45:19). Jehovah declares Himself to be true in speech, faithfully fulfilling His prophecies, and powerful in deed (mighty to save).
Verses 1-6. – A JUDGMENT ON IDUMAEA. Isaiah had already, in the first portion of his prophecy, announced” a great slaughter in the land of Idumaea” as resolved on in the counsels of God (Isaiah 34:5-10). He now recurs to the subject, and represents Jehovah as a warrior with blood-stained garments, fresh from the field of battle in Edom, where he has trodden down his foes and taken a fierce vengeance on them. The Idumaeans probably represent the world-power; and the “day of vengeance” may be one still future, in which the enemies of God will feel the weight of his hand. The description stands by itself, neither connected with what goes before nor with what follows. It has the appearance of a separate poem, which accident has placed in its present position. In form it is “a lyrico-dramatic dialogue between the prophet as a bystander and a victorious warrior (i.e. Jehovah) returning from battle in Idumaea” (Cheyne). Verse 1. – Who is this? The prophet opens the dialogue with an inquiry, “Who is it that presents himself before him suddenly in a strange guise?” He comes from Edom, from Bozrah – a principal Edomite city (see the comment on Isaiah 34:6) – with dyed garments; or, rather, with blood-red garments-garments incarnadined with gore. “Who is this,” again he asks, “that is glorious (or, splendid) in his apparel” – the blood-stained vesture of the conqueror was a glory to him (Nahum 2:3; Revelation 19:13)- “as he travels” (or, “bends forward” ) in the greatness of his strength – exhibiting in his movements a mighty indomitable strength? Who is it? The reply is immediate – I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save; i.e. I, whose every word is “holy, just, and true,” who alone am able to “save to the uttermost all that come to me” (Hebrews 7:25). The answer unmistakably indicates that the figure which has appeared to the prophet is that of Jehovah. Isaiah 63:1
MIGHTY TO SAVE
We have here a singularly vivid and dramatic prophecy, thrown into the form of a dialogue between the prophet and a stranger whom he sees from afar striding along from the mountains of Edom, with elastic step, and dyed garments. The prophet does not recognise him, and asks who he is. The Unknown answers, ‘I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.’ Another question follows, seeking explanation of the splashed crimson garments of the stranger, and its answer tells of a tremendous act of retributive destruction which he has recently launched at the nations hostile to ‘My redeemed.’
Now we note that this prophecy follows, both in the order of the book and in the evolution of events, on those in Isaiah 61:1 – Isaiah 61:11, which referred to our Lord’s work on earth, and inIsaiah 62:1 – Isaiah 62:12, which has for part of its theme His intercession in heaven. And we are entitled to take the view that the place as well as the substance of this prophecy referred to the solemn act of final Judgment in which the returning Lord will manifest Himself. Very significant is it that the prophet does not recognise in this Conqueror, with blood-bespattered robes, the meek sufferer of Isaiah 53:1 – Isaiah 53:12, or Him who in Isaiah 62:1 – Isaiah 62:12 came to bind up the broken-hearted. And very instructive is it that the title in our text comes from the stranger’s own lips, as relevant to the tremendous act of judgment from which He is seen returning. The title might seem rather to look back to the former manifestation of Him as bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows. It does indeed, thank God, look back to that never-to-be-forgotten miracle of mercy and power, but it also brings within the sweep of His saving might the judgment still to come.
I. The mighty Saviour as made known in the past and present.
We think much of the meek and gentle side of Christ’s character. Perhaps we do not think enough of the strength of it. We trace His great sacrifice to His love, and we can never sufficiently adore that incomparable manifestation of a love deeper than our plummets can fathom. But probably we do not sufficiently realise what gigantic strength went to the completion of that sacrifice. We know the solemn imagining of a great artist who has painted a colossal Death overbearing the weak resistance of a puny Love; but here love is the giant, and his sovereign command brings Death obedient to it, to do his work. Yes, that weak man hanging on the Cross is therein revealed as ‘the power of God.’ Strange clothing of weakness which yet cannot hide the mighty limbs that wear it!
And if we think of our Lord’s life we see the same combination of gentleness and power. His very name rings with memories of the captain whose one commanded duty was to ‘be strong and of a good courage.’
In Him was all strength of manhood-inflexible, iron will, unchanging purpose, strength from consecration, strength from righteousness. In Him was the heroism of prophets and martyrs in supreme degree.
In Him was the strength of indwelling Divinity. He fought and conquered all man’s enemies, routed sin, and triumphed over Death.
In the Cross we see divine power in operation in its noblest form, in its intensest energy, in its widest sweep, in its most magnificent result. He is able to save, to save all, to save any.
He is mighty to save, and is able to save unto the uttermost, because He lives for ever, and His power is eternal as Himself.
II. The mighty Saviour as to be manifested in the future.
Clearly the imagery of the context describes a tremendous act of judgment. And as clearly the Apocalyptic Seer understood this prophecy as not only pointing to Christ, but as to be fulfilled in the final act of judgment. He quotes its words when he paints his magnificent vision of the Conqueror riding forth on his white horse, with garments sprinkled with blood and treading the ‘winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.’ And the vision is interpreted unmistakably when we read that, though this Conqueror had a name unknown to any but Himself, ‘His name is called the Word of God.’ So the unity of person in the Word made flesh who dwelt among us, full of grace and of this Mighty One girt for battle, is taught.
Keeping fast hold of this clue, the contrast between the characteristics of the historical Jesus and of the rider on the white horse becomes solemn and full of warning. And the contrast between the errand of the historical Jesus and that of the Conqueror bids us ponder on the possibilities that may sleep in perfect love. We have to widen our conceptions, if we have thought of our Jesus only as love, and have thought of love as shallow, as most men do. We are sometimes told that these two pictures, that of the Christ of the Gospels and that of the Christ of the Apocalypse, are incapable of being fused together in one original. But they can be stereoscoped, if we may say so. And they must be, if we are ever to understand the greatness of His love or the terribleness of His judgments. ‘The wrath of the Lamb’ sounds an impossibility, but if we ponder it, we shall find depths of graciousness as well as of awe in it.
Let us learn that the righteous Judge is logically and chronologically the completion of the picture of the merciful Saviour. In this age there is a tendency to treat sin with too much pity and too little condemnation. And there is not a sufficiently firm grasp of the truth that divine love must be in irreconcilable antagonism with human sin, and can do nothing but chastise and smite it.
III. The saving purpose of even that destructive might.
Through the whole Old Testament runs the longing that God would ‘awake’ to smite evil.
The tragedy of the drowned hosts in the Red Sea, and Miriam and her maidens standing with their timbrels and shrill song of triumph on the bank, is a prophecy of what shall be. ‘Ye shall have a song as in the night a holy feast is kept, and gladness of heart as when one goeth with a pipe to come unto the mountain of the Lord.’ And at the thought of that solemn act of judgment they who love the Judge, and have long known Him, ‘may lift up their heads’ in the confidence that ‘their redemption draweth nigh.’ That is the last, and in some sense the mightiest, greatest act by which He shows Himself ‘mighty to save His redeemed.’
So we may, like the prophet, see that swift form striding nearer and nearer, but, unlike the prophet, we need not to ask, ‘Who is this that cometh?’ for we have known Him from of old, and we remember the voice that said, ‘This same Jesus shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.’ ‘Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness before Him in the day of judgment.’
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible
Who is this – The language of the people who see Yahweh returning as a triumphant conqueror from Idumea. Struck with his stately bearing as a warrior; with his gorgeous apparel; and with the blood on his raiment, they ask who he could be? This is a striking instance of the bold and abrupt manner of Isaiah. He does not describe him as going forth to war nor the preparation for battle; nor the battle itself, nor the conquests of cities and armies; but he introduces at once the returning conqueror having gained the victory – here represented as a solitary warrior, moving along with majestic gait from Idumea to his own capital, Jerusalem. Yahweh is not unfrequently represented as a warrior (see the notes at Isaiah 42:13).
From Edom – On the situation of Edom, and for the reasons of the animosity between that country and Judea, see the Aanlysis to Isaiah 34.
With dyed garments – That is, with garments dyed in blood. The word rendered here ‘dyed’ ( חמוּץ châmûts), is derived from חמץ châmats, to be sharp and pungent, and is usually applied to anything that is sharp or sour. It is applied to color that is bright or dazzling, in the same manner as the Greeks use the phrase χρῶμα ὀξύ chrōma oxu – a sharp color – applied to purple or scarlet. Thus the phrase πορφύραι ὀξύταται porphurai oxutatai means a brilliant, bright purple (see Bochart, Hieroz. i. 2. 7). It is applied to the military cloak which was worn by a warrior, and may denote here either that it was originally dyed of a scarlet color, or more probably that it was made red by the blood that had been sprinkled on it. Thus in Revelation 19:13, the Son of God is represented as clothed in a similar manner: ‘And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood.’ In Isaiah 63:3, the answer of Yahweh to the inquiry why his raiment was red, shows that the color was to be attributed to blood.
From Bozrah – On the situation of Bozrah, see the notes at Isaiah 34:6. It was for a time the principal city of Idumea, though properly lying within the boundaries of Moab. In Isaiah 34:6, Yahweh is represented as having ‘a great sacrifice in Bozrah;’ here he is seen as having come from it with his garments red with blood.
This that is glorious in his apparel – Margin, ‘Decked.’ The Hebrew word (הדוּר hâdûr) means “adorned, honorable, or glorious.” The idea is, that his military apparel was gorgeous and magnificent – the apparel of an ancient warrior of high rank.
Traveling in the greatness of his strength – Noyes renders this, ‘Proud in the greatness of his strength,’ in accordance with the signification given by Gesenius. The word used here (צעה tsâ‛âh) means properly “to turn to one side, to incline, to be bent, bowed down as a captive in bonds” Isaiah 51:14; then “to bend or toss back the head as an indication of pride” (Gesenius). According to Taylor (Concord.) the word has ‘relation to the actions, the superb mien or manner of a triumphant warrior returning from battle, in which he has got a complete victory over his enemies. And it may include the pomp and high spirit with which he drives before him the prisoners which he has taken.’ It occurs only in this place and in Isaiah 51:14; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 48:12. The Septuagint omits it in their translation. The sense is doubtless that Yahweh is seen returning with the tread of a triumphant conqueror, flushed with victor, and entirely successful in having destroyed his foes. There is no evidence, however, as Taylor supposes, that he is driving his prisoners before him, for he is seen alone, having destroyed all his foes.
I that speak in righteousness – The answer of the advancing conqueror. The sense is, ‘It is I, Yahweh, who have promised to deliver my people and to destroy their enemies, and who have now returned from accomplishing my purpose.’ The assurance that he speaks in righteousness, refers here to the promises which he had made that be would rescue and save them.
Mighty to save – The sentiment is, that the fact that he destroys the foes of his people is an argument that he can save those who put their trust in him. The same power that destroys a sinner may save a saint; and the destruction of a sinner may be the means of the salvation of his own people.