But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away. (Isaiah 64:6-7, N.K.J.V.)
The Hebrew adjective translated as “unclean” in our text passage is tame. This word is used 89 times in the Old Testament. In particular, it is frequently used in the book of Leviticus. For example, the word’s first usage comes in Leviticus 5:2 where it is used in reference to a person touching a carcass and thereby becoming ceremonially unclean in regards to worship. Therefore, Isaiah’s point was that his people of Judah had become so sinful that they were no longer qualified or even eligible to worship God.
Furthermore, the rot of the lives of the citizens of Judah wasn’t merely borne out in their worst behavior; it was even borne out in their best behavior. As Isaiah went on to say, their righteousnesses were like “filthy rags.” The word “filthy” translates the Hebrew word ed, a word that referred to a set period of time, most specifically a woman’s menstrual period. By using that highly illustrative adjective, Isaiah was saying that in God’s holy eyes the supposed “good” deeds done by the people of Judah were like the cloths women used and disposed of during such times. Talk about graphic language!
The hard, cold truth is that once a nation gets that far gone spiritually, all that is left for it is further alienation from God. Isaiah likens this to a leaf becoming faded, brown, and brittle and getting blown even further away from the tree that was once its source. Whereas God had once been the people of Judah’s source, with each passing day they were drifting further away from Him.
I could be wrong, but I think this entire process has begun in earnest here in America. Frankly, I just don’t see a national revival on our horizon. I don’t see a nation primed and poised to return to God. I don’t see authentic repentance on a wholesale scale in our future.
To the contrary, I think we are right now experiencing the kind of judgment that Paul talked about in Romans 1:18-32, the kind wherein God gives us up to commit whatever sins our wicked hearts prompt us to commit. As I see it, all that is left for our nation — and our world, for that matter — is God’s program of prophecy that is laid out in scripture. That, of course, is a program wherein He pours out His judgment and wrath upon this wicked world.
Let it be known, though, that you as an individual don’t have to succumb to the culture of sin in which you live. In verse 8, the verse that is found just below our text passage, Isaiah says something interesting about God. He says:
But now, O Lord, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand. (N.K.J.V.)
Whatever else might be said about Isaiah’s description of God as a potter, it at least means that if you will voluntarily place yourself in God’s hands, He will mold and shape you into a vessel fit for His service. That will allow you to walk above the muck and the mire of what now passes for normal behavior among the masses. Isaiah himself was living proof of this. Even though he, in his role as a prophet, freely identified himself with his nation (i.e., his use of the word “all”), he really wasn’t a typical citizen of that nation. Likewise, you don’t have to be a typical citizen of your nation even as that nation itself barrels headlong toward the great cataclysms that God’s prophetic word promises are coming. Think about this, and choose to become clay in the Potter’s hands.