Mediating translations: Isaiah 63:9

Isaiah 63:9

In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them.
Through all that they suffered, he suffered too. The messenger sent from his very presence delivered them.
In all their suffering, He suffered, and the Angel of His Presence saved them. 


In all their troubles, it was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them.
in their every affliction.  It was not a messenger or an angel, but he himself who saved them.

Merry Christmas!
I’m looking at Isaiah 63:7-9 in preparation for this Sunday’s Christmas 1A message and found v.9 to be in much dispute.  The difference in interpretation is huge because the resulting differences in

In the NIV, CSB, NET (and ESV/RSV), the meaning offers a comforting message.  God declares his love for his people because it illustrates how when we are burdened, that God also bears a burden and sorrow along with us.  God feels the suffering of God’s people. However, in the NJB, NAB (and NRSV), the rendering does not show God suffering.

Another resulting consequence is that in the [NIV, ESV, CSB] the “angel of his presence” was there to save them, but in the [NJB, NAB] it is not a messenger or angel that saved them, but rather, his own presence.

Given this whole passage from vv.7-14 is actually about the crossing of the Red Sea, and that the “Angel of his Presence” alludes to the angel’s role at the time of the Red Sea crossing (see Exodus 14:19), I think NIV, CSB, NET offers the most intelligible rendering of Isaiah 63:9.

And not that it’s of any significance, but this interpretation also happens to go nicely with the theme of God’s ability to identify with humanity in the N.T. reading of Hebrews 2:10-18 (Year A, Christmas 1).  But for technical reasons, I’m compelled to go with the NIV, CSB, NET rendering on this one.

5 thoughts on “Mediating translations: Isaiah 63:9

  1. Hi Theo, sorry for my extremely lapsed reply. Thanks so much for your excellent points regarding De. 4:37. I was leaning with the NET rendering but your point on Deut. 4:37 has got me even more stumped than before. This is why biblical issues in translation can be so intriguing–there’s no solution!


  2. The problem with the citation to Exodus 4:19 is that a stronger passage, Deuteronomy 4:37, unequivocally asserts that “He [God] Himself, in His great might, led you out of Egypt.”


  3. There are multiple problems with this verse. One is the issue of verse division — the MT reads 6:8 and 6:9 as two different verses, while the LXX combines 8b and 9a: καὶ ἐγένετο αὐτοῖς εἰς σωτηρίαν 9 ἐκ πάσης θλίψεως. οὐ πρέσβυς οὐδὲ ἄγγελος, ἀλλʼ αὐτὸς = “and he became their salvation from every affliction / it was no messenger and no angel, but the Lord himself who saved them.” To get this reading, one must make several changes in the pointing of the MT: reading צִר (= “messenger”) for צָר (= “afflicted”) and following the kethib reading לֹא as the negative particle instead of the qere reading (= to him).

    The situation is further complicated because the Dead Sea Scroll 1Q Isa a appears to agree with the LXX reading here.

    No easy solution — perhaps the best solution is to select one alternative and then print the other in the textual footnotes, like the NRSV, NJPS, NET, etc.


  4. Rich, thanks for your thoughts on this. The GW does seem to have a unique rendering on this because it says that God is “the Messenger who saved them” rather than the angel. You make a good point about Isaiah’s clarification that it was God’s salvation. It’s still on the interpretative side but there are times when it has to be interpreted.


  5. Howdy. Of course, it could be that there is a parallelism that heightens the effect:

    In all their affliction he was afflicted,
    and the angel of his presence saved them;
    in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

    The “angel of his presence” could be expected as a continuation of deliverance seen in the Pentateuch. But then, Isaiah clarifies, “he redeemed them” (referring to God himself) and then extends it “he lifted… and carried them.” Both suggest the carrying of burdens, which would then match with the first line: “he was afflicted.”

    Maybe GW handles this well, although it misses on the building allusion:

    In all their troubles he was troubled,
    and he was the Messenger who saved them.
    In his love and compassion he reclaimed them.
    He always held them and carried them in the past.

    Just some thoughts.



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