Tuesdays are for the Old Testament
Luther, Martin, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, translated by Herbert J.A. Bowman) Luther’s Works, Vol. 17, Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 40-66.St. Louis: Concordia, 1972. Logos Electronic Edition.
“Isaiah Chapter 64” pp. 363-374.
Luther comments on the kind of prayers which God’s people make. When under pressure from the ungodly, they ask God for deliverance. As they see God’s deliverance, “a strong desire bursts forth into prayer and into a longing for God. Nothing is more grievous for the godly man than to see the enemies so very smug and so confidently despising the Word of God with great presumption and certainty” (LW 17, 363). Therefore, when the prophet sees God’s intervention begin, he prays that God would bring vengeance against His enemies. In the end, this is how God will deal with his steadfast enemies. They will be utterly destroyed. Luther is clear that the text, in verse two, says the vengeance is against God’s enemies. It is for the sake of God, not based on the desire of the prophet. Although God’s people were in distress, the deliverance God brings is, according to verse three, not one they had looked for. God helps his people, not in the way they expect, but in the way God desires. Luther uses his own struggles with the work of the Gospel as an example. He never expected to be rescued from the pope, but the Lord protected him nonetheless (LW 17, 364). Therefore, Luther concludes, the person at prayer doesn’t confess to know how God will bring deliverance, but does confess that God’s holy name is able to accomplish his desire. “We are beset with various trials. Various cases in which we are set free come up, and yet the cases are such that they cannot be perceived by human reason and thought. Then visible things will come out of invisible, and things that are seen out of things that are not seen” (LW 17, 366). Luther goes on to speak of comments of Jerome. “Jerome is wrong when he accuses Paul of misusing [this] Scripture since he is presumably at odds with the original passage” (LW 17, 366). Luther objects, saying that Paul is using the Scripture very correctly by taking general statements such as this and applying them to his situations (LW 17, 367).
The prophet prays more fervently and specifically beginning in verse five. Luther notes that he is considering all the evils in the world and calling on God for help. He notes the specifics of history, remembers God’s works of glory, and celebrates the fact that God has intervened in history at many times in the past (LW 17, 367-368). The ungodly actions of some have brought trouble on many. God then intervened in the world and brought his deliverance. In this context, Luther affirms that even the godly are sinners who are in need of forgiveness. “Our righteousness cannot obtain the grace of God, because, however many there are even of the very righteous, they are unclean nevertheless” (LW 17, 369). The text points to the idea of all people as sinners, dressed in polluted garments, dying like leaves in autumn. “If our sins are looked at, and even our righteousness, we are snatched away into hell” (LW 17, 370). To say otherwise is to reject God’s Word. However, as Paul interprets this passage in Romans chapter three, it is our sin which makes us aware of our need for forgiveness. We realize that our sin separates us from God. We then can find God’s face of forgiveness.
In the final analysis, then, the godly person turns to God as the father, the one who has made promises and will remain faithful to his word (LW 17, 371). God is pictured here, as in Jeremiah 18, as the potter who will re-fashion us into what is productive in this world. For this reason, the prophet calls upon God to remember his people and the land which has been left desolate. By the presence of God in his Word, that which was desolate becomes a holy and beautiful place, no matter the temporary destruction (LW 17, 373). Will God remain angry forever? Luther reminds his readers, as Isaiah does, that God chastens his people as a good father (LW 17, 374).