Israel laments over her sins and their consequences (Isaiah 64:5-7). Yahweh is angry because of Israel’s persistence in sin (v. 5), and as a result Israel becomes unclean and withered.

Verse 6 uses a series of comparisons (using the particle k- four times) that stress the universality of Israel’s predicament (kol, “all,” is used three times):

*All have become as an unclean one

*All righteousness is as filthy garment

*All wither like a leaf

*Iniquities/guilt carry us away like wind.

The references to garments, leaves, and wind (ruach, also “spirit”) puts us in the garden. Israel has become a new Adam, whose garments do not cover in the presence of the “Spirit” of the day (Genesis 3).

There seems to be a progression in the comparison. From admitting that she has become as unclean, Israel intensifies the comparison by comparing her righteousness (apparently, the Hebrew terms are rare) to a menstrual cloth. The result of uncleanness is withering; as the unclean people, Israel is drained of life. And, drained of life, she is like a dried leaf, like chaff that is blown away.

The final comparison, though, is surprising. Israel herself (“all of us”) is like a leaf, but what blows the dried leaf away is not the breath of the Spirit but the wind of Israel’s own guilt: “Our iniquities, like the wind, bear us away.” Verse 7 further stresses the power of Israel’s sin: Yahweh delivered Israel “in the hand of our guilt/iniquities.” Guilt/iniquity is portrayed here as a spiritual power, personified with breath and hand, a dominating tyrant over the people Israel. No wonder she asks plaintively, “Shall we be saved?” (v. 5).

Paul says something similar in Romans 1, stressing that the Lord delivered humanity over to the power of its own sin. And Isaiah anticipates Paul’s plea at the end of Romans 7: Who shall save us from the body of this death? 

Flesh cannot; the law cannot, neutralized through flesh; only the ruach of Yahweh has the power to regather what the ruach of iniquity scatters. Only the hand of the potter whose hands made His people can deliver from the powerful hand of guilt (v. 8).

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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