Isaiah 63:16 (ESV) … “For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.”
There is a clue here to Isaiah’s message. The Hebrew words translated “are held back” reappear in 64:12, the last verse in the passage, as “restrain yourself.” The same Hebrew word lies behind the two English translations. This prayer begins with Isaiah agonizing over the way God is withholding his compassion from his people, and it ends with Isaiah asking God to stop restraining his love and power. The whole prayer is for God to visit us without holding himself back at all. There he is in his holy and beautiful heavenly palace, as it were. We’re down here in our mediocrity. What’s the answer? Not more of us. The only answer is more of God.
Look how Isaiah describes God: “… the stirring of your inner parts.” Does God have inner parts? Not literally. But God does have deep feelings for us. The Jerusalem Bible translates this, “the yearning of your inmost heart.” Or it could be translated, “the turmoil of your inner being.”
What God feels for us he feels deeply, not superficially or sporadically. But sometimes he withholds from us the experience of his love, and at other times he pours out an experience of his love. God is committed to us. The work of Christ on the cross is finished. The Holy Spirit has come. The Triune God never changes. But our experience of him does change, and he is the one who changes it. That’s why we should pray.
There is a difference between doing church in our own power and entering into the presence of God. You can pray about that. God wants you to. He’s teaching you to. This is a good prayer. God himself gave it to us. Isaiah isn’t attacking God by his questioning here. He isn’t doubting God. He’s asking God, “Where are your passion and your power in our experience down here? Where are your zeal and your might being demonstrated here in our generation? The love you do feel so deeply within yourself you’re withholding from us. Come down!”
For you are our Father,
though Abraham does not know us,
and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O Lord, are our Father,
our Redeemer from of old is your name. (Isaiah 63:16)
If the ancient patriarchs could get into a time machine, hit the fast-forward button, and reappear among the people of God at Isaiah’s time, Abraham and Israel would look at them and say, “Who are you?” The people of God have drifted. They’ve become less than they used to be. They need renewal. Every generation does. Every generation needs to rediscover afresh in its own experience what Christ is worth and what it means to live flat-out for him. If the Reformers appeared today and toured the Protestant churches of our nation, would they identify with us? Or would they turn away in bewilderment? What then do we need? Not the patriarchs. Not the Reformers. They’re all dead. But God is our Father and our Redeemer. However far we’ve drifted, and we have, he still identifies with us and loves us more than the patriarchs or Reformers ever could, by an infinite degree.