64:1 (63:19b) If only you would tear apart the sky and come down!
The mountains would tremble before you!
64:2 (64:1) As when fire ignites dry wood,
or fire makes water boil,
let your adversaries know who you are,
and may the nations shake at your presence!
If only you would tear apart the sky and come down! – This dramatic expression conveys the idea of God’s powerful intervention in a time of revival. This verse emphasises the uselessness of human effort to produce revival; what is needed is a manifestation of divine power, as pictured by an opening of the heavens.
‘The language of the prophet’s prayer highlights the utter futility of human effort to produce revival apart from the mighty manifestation of divine power. When the heavens are shut, divine displeasure is indicated – an open heaven is a token of divine favour.’ (Egerton, Flame of God, 16)
64:3 When you performed awesome deeds that took us by surprise,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
64:4 Since ancient times no one has heard or perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who intervenes for those who wait for him.
64:5 You assist those who delight in doing what is right,
who observe your commandments.
Look, you were angry because we violated them continually.
How then can we be saved?
64:6 We are all like one who is unclean,
all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight.
We all wither like a leaf;
our sins carry us away like the wind.
All our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight – often translated as ‘filthy rags’. But the expression was meant to shock.
‘This passage can easily be misunderstood. It does not mean that God will reject us if we come to him in faith, nor does it mean that he despises our efforts to please him. It means that if we come to him demanding acceptance on the basis of our “good” conduct, God will point out that our righteousness is nothing compared to his infinite righteousness. Sin makes us unclean so that we cannot approach God (Romans 3:23) any more than a beggar in rotten rags could dine at a king’s table. Our best efforts are still infected with sin. Our only hope, therefore, is faith in Jesus Christ, who can cleanse us and bring us into God’s presence.’ (HBA)