Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and of thy glory; where is thy zeal and thy strength, the sounding of thy bowels and of thy mercies towards me? Are they restrained? Doubtless thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O Lord, art our Father, our Redeemer; thy name is from everlasting. Isaiah 63:15-16
As we have gone through this section, we have taken notice of certain things about God. We have seen the love of God, the wrath of God, the lovingkindness of God, and the sympathy of God for His people. And there are many other things implied about God, such as His wisdom and power. This passage is a rich field wherein we find many attributes scattered throughout it.
Yet, this passage is a passage that has a specific theme; we have seen Isaiah acting as a Remembrancer of God, that is, one who reminds God, even as God had told His people to do. He is reminding the Lord of the past so as to remind Him of His promises toward His people for the future. And as He prayed, He could not help speaking of the nature of God.
There is something here about prayer and getting to know God. John Bunyan said, “The truths that I know best I have learned on my knees. I never know a thing well, till it is burned into my heart by prayer.” D. M. Lloyd-Jones said, “The ultimate test of my understanding of the scriptural teaching is the amount of time I spend in prayer. As theology is ultimately the knowledge of God, the more theology I know, the more it should drive me to seek to know God. Not to know ‘about’ Him but to know Him! The whole object of salvation is to bring me to knowledge of God… If all my knowledge does not lead me to prayer there is something wrong somewhere.”
This entire section proves that statements reflect a biblical truth. We really know God when we really pray unto Him. It is not a mere intellectual knowledge, but an experimental knowledge. This passage teaches us, therefore, something about God and about true prayer. For this reason, let us consider,
Praying to God as Father
There are two specific ways that Isaiah addresses God. Both speak of the intimate relationship that God has with His people. On one hand, Isaiah addresses Him as the Father of His people. Though this relationship was revealed under the Old Covenant (Isa. 64:8; Deut. 32:6; 1 Chron. 29:10; Jer. 3:4). It was practically realized only upon the rarest of occasions. Speaking on this, one man wrote:
Only fifteen times was God referred to as the Father in the Old Testament. Where it does occur, it is used of the nation Israel or to the king of Israel. Never was God called the Father of an individual or of human beings in general (though isolated instances occur in second temple Judaism, Sir. 51:10). In the New Testament numerous references to God as Father can be found (Mark L. Bailey, “A Biblical Theology of Paul’s Pastoral Epistles,” in A Biblical Theology of the New Testament, p. 342).
One of Jesus’ unique emphases was that His disciples should think of God as their heavenly Father. It was not characteristic of believers to address God as their Father until Jesus taught them to do so. Amid their trials, this is now the ground of their appeal. As their Father, surely He must love them, be ready to listen to them, eager to provide for them, and zealous to defend them.
We as Christians address God as our Father. Now how can we do that? On what basis? Well, we may address Him as our Father because He is the author of our spiritual life. By His Spirit He quickens, regenerates, and imparts His own nature and image (2 Pet. 1:4; Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:23-24). Also, we may address Him as our Father because He has adopted us into His family, sending His Spirit into our heart, whereby we cry out, “Abba, Father.” And this has practical implications, seeing that it is natural for a son to seek his Father’s society and to tell Him all his wishes and all his wants. In this way, the sons of God come to Him in supplication and prayer, even as our Lord taught us (Matt. 6:6)!
Now, what does a Father do? And this is important for us to ask. The way we think of God as we pray to Him is very important. Some modern individuals advocate thinking of God as our Mother. However this runs contrary to what Jesus taught and to the thousands of references to God that God has given us in the masculine gender in both Testaments. God is not a sexual being. Nevertheless He is more like a father to us than a mother. Thinking of Him primarily as a mother will result in some distortion in our concept of God. It will also result in some confusion in our thinking about how God relates to us and how we should relate to Him. Thinking of God as our Father will also remind us of our privileged access into His presence and of our need to treat Him respectfully.
First, He secures our instruction. By His works, Word, Spirit, He leads us into all truth. “For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him” (Isaiah 28:26). “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye” (Psalm 32:8). This is certainly the emphasis of Isaiah in verses 11-14: “Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? where is he that put his holy Spirit within him? That led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make himself an everlasting name? That led them through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble? As a beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the LORD caused him to rest: so didst thou lead thy people, to make thyself a glorious name.”
Second, He supplies all our need. His supplies are suited to our needs; they are abundant, satisfying, and inexhaustible. Even this passage of Isaiah speaks of this in verse 9: “and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.” Our Lord said, “Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things” (Matt. 6:32).
Third, He protects us. Exposed to innumerable perils and evils, He is our shield, buckler, pavilion, and strong tower. Look at Isaiah 63:8, and you will see this intimated: “The angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them.”
Fourth, He loves us, pities us and has compassion on us. Again, we see all of these in verse 8. As Calvin said, “He enlarges on the goodness of God toward his people, and shews that he was kind to the fathers, so long as they permitted themselves to be governed by him, and was so careful about them that he himself bore their distresses and afflictions. By speaking in this manner, he declares the incomparable love which God bears toward his people. In order to move us more powerfully and draw us to himself, the Lord accommodates himself to the manner of men, by attributing to himself all the affection, love, and (συμπαθεία) compassion which a father can have.”
Notice the words, “In all their affliction he was afflicted.” As the Geneva Annotations state, “He bore their afflictions and griefs as though they had been his own.” Indeed, as the Psalmist says, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him” (Psalm 103:13). On this last verse, Matthew Henry wrote,
The father pitieth his children that are weak in knowledge, and instructs them; pities them when they are froward, and bears with them; pities them when they are sick, and comforts them; when they are fallen, and helps them up again; when they have offended, and upon their submission, forgives them; when they are wronged, and rights them. Thus “the Lord pitieth them that fear him.”
Fifth, He gives us a glorious and everlasting portion. A kingdom, a crown, and bliss indescribable and eternal. Our Lord says in Luke 12:32: “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” It pleases the Father to give us the kingdom. Adam Clark says, “Our Lord intimated, God has already given you that kingdom which consists in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, and has undertaken to protect and save you to the uttermost; therefore, fear not; the smallness of your number cannot hurt you, for omnipotence itself has undertaken your cause.”
Now, put all of these matters together. God is your Father, if are born again and adopted. Such a relation cannot fail to be a source of unspeakable comfort to the people of God amid all their trials. Such a Father, ever living, ever loving, ever compassionate, and ever providing our needs!
Though their earthly fathers could provide them no assistance, and though these fathers seem to have ceased to feel any interest in them, the children of God have confidence in the constancy of their heavenly Father’s compassion (Jer. 31:20). This is the ever deepening conviction of God’s people everywhere. Gourds may grow and wither, but our heavenly Father’s love neither grows nor withers—it is unchanging; it holds on and holds out, needing no sustenance from without, except that supplied by our need of it; it endures through all our unfaithfulness.
Having noted his prayer to God as a Father, let us also note,
Praying to God As Redeemer
On the other hand, Isaiah prays to God as the Redeemer of His people. The word used here is ga’al, which means that the Lord is the Kinsman-Redeemer. There is again an emphasis here on the relationship that God has to His people. On man wrote:
The primary meaning of this root is to do the part of a kinsman and thus to redeem his kin from difficulty or danger, It is used with its derivatives 118 times. One difference between this root and the very similar root pada “redeem,” is that there is usually an emphasis in ga’al on the redemption being the privilege or duty of a near relative. . . . Finally, there is the very common usage prominent in the Psalms and prophets that God is Israel’s Redeemer who will stand up for his people and vindicate them. There may be a hint of the Father’s near kinship or ownership in the use of this word. A redemption price is not usually cited, though the idea of judgment on Israel’s oppressors as a ransom is included in Isa. 43:1-3. God, as it were, redeems his sons from a bondage worse than slavery (R. L. Harrison).
Now, the emphasis here is on the relationship that He has to us. It is an everlasting relationship that He has to us. The AV puts it like this: “Thy name is from eternity,” by which it is meant that this name of His, “Our Redeemer.” John Trapp states, “Some read the text thus: Our Redeemer is from of old thy name. Our redemption was not of yesterday, but verily foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20). In other words, Isaiah is calling upon the Lord to fulfill His eternal plan. It is always good to pray according to the will of God. “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us” (1 Jn. 5:14).
But there is another side to this. Now let us remember that Isaiah is giving a second basis for appealing for help. This time it is that Lord has been Israel’s Redeemer in the past as well as her Father (cf. Isa. 63:12, 14); in fact, He is their eternal kinsman-Redeemer. While Fathers characteristically feel affection and compassion for their children (v. 15), and the kinsman-redeemer normally demonstrate zeal and performs mighty deeds for his relatives. That is why Isaiah pleads in verse 15:
Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and of thy glory: where is thy zeal and thy strength, the sounding of thy bowels and of thy mercies toward me? are they restrained?
Now, this is the type of praying that avails with God. It is the prayer that comes to God, truly understanding Him and our relationship to Him. You can find this type of prayer throughout the Bible. I think that the prayers of Daniel are an example of this. Likewise, David’s prayers demonstrate that he understood prayer in this regard. We can provide many and various examples of this, but let me provide an illustration from the life of Luther. One of Melanchthon’s correspondents writes of Luther’s praying:
I cannot enough admire the extraordinary cheerfulness, constancy, faith, and hope of the man in these trying and vexatious times. He constantly feeds these gracious affections by a very diligent study of the Word of God. Then not a day passes in which he does not employ in prayer at least three of his very best hours. Once I happened to hear him at prayer. Gracious God! What spirit and what faith is there in his expressions! He petitions God with as much reverence as if he were in the Divine presence, and yet with as firm a hope and confidence as he would address a father or a friend. ‘I know,’ said he, ‘Thou art our Father and our God; and therefore I am sure Thou wilt bring to naught the persecutors of Thy children. For shouldest Thou fail to do this, Thine own cause, being connected with ours, would be endangered. It is entirely Thine own concern. We, by Thy providence, have been compelled to take a part. Thou therefore wilt be our defence.’
Melanchthon notes, “Whilst I was listening to Luther praying in this manner, at a distance, my soul seemed on fire within me, to hear the man address God so like a friend, yet with so much gravity and reverence; and also to hear him, in the course of his prayer, insisting on the promises contained in the Psalms, as if he were sure his petitions would be granted.” In essence, Melanchthon was saying is that here was a man who knew God, knew His promises, and was one who had intercourse with God on that basis. Now, this is what I am seeking to communicate; that is the very way of prayer that Isaiah engages in.
As we come to a conclusion on this, let us do two things. First, let us examine our relationship to God. Do you and I have any basis to call Him your Father and Redeemer? Do you know anything about Him as your Father and your Redeemer? If we know nothing of this, then we are unable to pray rightly. As Calvin says,
Whenever we engage in prayer, there are two things to be considered, both that we may have access to God, and that we may rely on Him with full and unshaken confidence: his fatherly love toward us, and his boundless power. Let us therefore entertain no doubt, that God is willing to receive us graciously, that he is ready to listen to our prayers, — in a word, that of Himself he is disposed to aid us. Father is the appellation given to him; and under this title Christ supplies us with sufficiently copious materials for confidence.
The man or woman who cannot call God Father is in a dangerous position. The state of their soul is in serious peril, and they should not expect to receive anything from God. You begin to prayer, “Our Father,” even as our Lord taught, but then you must stop; you must ask, “Is He my father, and am I His son.” Unless that is answered, true prayer is impossible. “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord” (James 1:6, 7). Charles Simeon rightly preached,
Before you can say with truth, Doubtless, thou art our Father, and our Redeemer,” you must have experienced the regenerating influences of the Holy Spirit; and must have fled to Christ for refuge, as your only hope. Others, indeed, may not have noticed in you this change, so as fully to recognise you under your new character: but you must be deeply conscious of the secret exercises of your soul before God; and must be able to appeal to the heart-searching God, that you have thus sought mercy at his hands. Tell me then, Brethren, whether you can thus appeal to God? And, if your conscience testify against you, that you are yet unregenerate, and without an interest in Christ, let your trials be regarded by you as messengers from the Most High, to call you into a state of reconciliation with him, and to save you from the troubles that shall never end.
Second, let us ask ourselves if we know anything about this method of pleading with God. I am sure that we are all inconsistent here, exercising some knowledge of this more thoroughly than at other times. That is true of all of us. While we know God as our Father and Redeemer, we do not always know it thoroughly and feel it keenly as we ought. The Lord repeatedly corrected His disciples on this, and He would have our thinking continually corrected on this. Take the sixth chapter of Matthew, and you will see this. There is a repeated emphasis upon walking our life in this awareness. We must have a firm confidence that our heavenly Father cares for us, that He will defend us, and that He will guide us.
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (Mat 6:25-34)
Let me summarize all of this in this way: prayer and the knowledge of God go hand-in-hand. We will plead with God to the degree that we know Him and understand Him. “And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee” (Psalm 9:10). John Trapp said, “They can do no otherwise who savingly know God’s sweet attributes, and noble acts for his people. We never trust a man till we know him, and bad men are better known than trusted. Not so the Lord; for where his name is ointment poured forth, the virgins love him, fear him, rejoice in him, and repose upon him.” John Ball commented:
They that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for, thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.” The mother of unbelief is ignorance of God, his faithfulness, mercy, and power. They that know thee, will trust in thee. This confirmed Paul, Abraham, Sarah, in the faith. “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” 2 Timothy 1:12. “He is faithful that promised,” and “able also to perform.” Hebrews 10:23, and 11:11; Romans 4:21. The free promises of the Lord are all certain, his commandments right and good, the recompense of reward inestimably to be valued above thousands of gold and silver; trust therefore in the Lord, O my soul, and follow hard after him. Thou hast his free promise, who never failed, who hath promised more than possibly thou couldst ask or think, who hath done more for thee than ever he promised, who is good and bountiful to the wicked and ungodly; thou doest his work, who is able and assuredly will bear thee out. There is a crown of glory proposed to thee above all conceit of merit; stick fast unto his word, and suffer nothing to divide thee from it. Rest upon his promises though he seem to kill thee; cleave unto his statutes though the flesh lust, the world allure, the devil tempt, by flatteries or threatenings to the contrary.