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 63” pp. 352-362.
Isaiah chapter 63 can be interpreted in a variety of ways. The symbolism may well apply to several things. Luther concludes, “The prophet adds some threats for those who despise the Word, so that those who did not want to obey the promises must hear threats, for such is the custom of the prophets after they have taught, instructed, and exhorted. Thus this chapter is nothing but a very harsh threat, in which the prophet by means of personification sets the angry person of God before them” (LW 17, 352). Luther does then apply the text to Christ and his warnings to those who do not believe. The warning is against destruction. “Edom,” which refers to “red” in the Scripture, is used elsewhere as symbolic of destruction and bloodshed. God, then, promises to raise up one who would walk among his enemies, with glorious appearance, set on bloodshed to vindicate his holiness (LW 17, 353). The symbolism in verses 2-4 is that of grapes being equated with bloodshed. Luther ties this not to the Passion, but to the Apocalypse. The anger of God is shed, in the last day, against all who will not believe in the work of Christ. They will have no mercy (LW 17, 354). The text does, however refer clearly to the Christ. Verse 5 speaks of the disgrace of the crucifixion and the victory of the resurrection. Luther sees, however, that the result is not simply peace and joy, but the right to vengeance by Christ against those who have despised him (LW 17, 354).
Isaiah 63:7 changes the topic, to talk about God’s love and his promises. Luther considers this more appropriately the start of a new chapter (LW 17, 355). “In all of Scripture...it is customary for all the saints and prophets to console themselves in times of trial by recalling past benefits” (LW 17, 355). This is what Isaiah does here. Consideration of God’s blessings brings us strength in times of trial. Likewise, we do well to remember troubles in times of happiness. Chief among God’s blessings is seen in verse 8. He has called Israel His people (LW 17, 356). They are the people he will guard and spare. Luther acknowledges that the trials which come upon us are serious. Yet they need to be seen through the eyes of good theology. “When I feel death, shame, and affliction, I must believe that God is the life-giver and the one who gives favorable testimony” (LW 17, 357). Verses 10 and following speak of God’s anger, which is real, but which doesn’t last forever. He uses his anger to chastize his people and call them back to his loving provision (LW 17, 358).
The prophet continues with a reflection of God’s greatness and majesty. He is the one who shows his glory, provides for his people, and guards his kingdom, defending his zeal. Luther ties this directly to the petitions of the Lord’s prayer 360). As God’s people seek his name and his holiness, they find that he is their guardian. It is, then, for the sake of God’s people that we pray for him to show the mercy and grace which is characteristic of his nature (LW 17, 361).