“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
Explanation and Commentary of Isaiah 64:6
Isaiah received his commission from God in a powerful and dramatic way (Isa 6:1-8). Having seen God on his throne, Isaiah was undone by the disparity between the perfection and holiness of God, and his own sinfulness, and that of his people. Isaiah believed in that moment that God would take his life because of his impurity in the face of a holy, awesome, and righteous God. But God did not take his life. He also did not correct Isaiah’s assumptions about his uncleanness. He simply purified Isaiah by his own righteousness by a ceremonial act, fitting Isaiah to be there and to be sent by God to speak for him to his people.
Having experienced this, Isaiah was well aware that the human condition is to be unclean. In this state, even “our righteous acts are like filthy rags,” because they are tainted by our sinful motives. The result is to die. The wages of sin is death (Ro 6:23). The promise to Adam was death for disobedience (Gen 2:17) and the poetic language here of a shriveled-up leaf swept away by our sins as the wind is an apt and terrifying picture of that.
But God, because he is rich in mercy (Eph 2:4) has sent his Son to do for us what we could not do. All of his “righteous acts” were completely pure and holy. Then he accepted the wrath of God for our own sins into his body and died on the cross so that our whole being would be washed clean, redeemed, forgiven. We are new creations in him (2 Cor 5:17) and instead of our sins shriveling us up, his Spirit brings us into more and more abundant life. Only God could accomplish this for us.
Breaking Down the Key Parts of Isaiah 64:6
#1 “All of us…”
There is no one who is not born in Adam, and who is not dying. This is the curse of sin.
#2 “…have become like one who is unclean,”
The image here is of a leper, unclean, excluded from ritual worship, a pariah in society. Our sin has this effect spiritually if not physically.
#3 “and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;”
When we are in sin, we are able to do good things, but our motives make even good things into unrighteous acts. Doing good deeds will not save, only faith in Christ will save.
#4 “we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
We are dying from the day we are born because of sin. Jesus came that we would have everlasting life. Those of us living in this age will experience the death of our bodies if Jesus does not return first, but we will be resurrected for eternity by the Spirit of God at the return of Christ.
Expert Overview of Isaiah 40-66
Biblical Translations of Isaiah 64:6
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
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.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Masters Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.