Isaiah 64:6 – What Does It Mean?

“All Of Our Righteous Deeds Are As A Filthy Rag”

In the above article (regarding Mark Driscoll) we highlighted the fact the Word of God in some places and in some contexts makes use of direct terms, earthly expressions of reality to drive certain theological or doctrinal points. However, we may rest assured that in the cultural context and Sitz im Leben of the Ancient Near East they would not sound as crude as such an illustrated meaning may in modern Western society. (As any missionary in the Third World knows, many taboos are culturally and geographically relevant and are often defined by local tribal custom).

In one well-known example of such down to earth terminology found in Scripture, to hammer a point, the Holy Spirit inspired Isaiah to describe our good deeds as “a bloody menstrual cloth” or possibly “seminally stained garment” by etymological implication in the original Hebrew text of Isaiah 64:6. (It is actually verse 5 in the original Hebrew canon) . When we as believers quote the phrase from Isaiah, “All of our righteous deeds are as filthy rags”, it serves us well to understand the full dimension of what is entailed.

The term for “righteous deeds” is “odim” . It is not a mere good work, a per se mitveh or keeping a command of the Torah. It is rather a term for “ornament” or “ornamental dress”; that is, we try to dress ourselves up to look good (which we are not). The text reads : ‘U-C- Beged Kulanu C-tawma‘ ; literally – ‘ and as a garment that is polluted we are all polluted.

A menstrual woman was “niddah” meaning “separated” (e.g., Lamentations 1:17). Menstrual blood according to Torah was ritually unclean as was anyone or anything stained by it such as a garment or cloth which became “tawma”, that is “polluted” (Leviticus 15: 19-25).

Thus Isaiah is saying that if we, as those who are defiled, try to deal with our defiled state by decorating ourselves with our own righteousness to masquerade our true state of defilement, the ornamental garments (analogous to our deeds performed to make us “look good” in a religious sense) with which we do so itself defiles us because it is itself defiled. We must rather have what Isaiah calls “the garments of salvation” (Isaiah 61:10). These of course are typified by the white linen robes worn as vestments by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement after a ritual washing and sacrifice that included seven lambs in Numbers 29 before the scape goats were brought into.

In light of the New Testament we understand this to be garments not defiled by our mere blood but washed in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14), which we know to be the Blood of Jesus/Yeshua who is our High Priest foreshadowed by the Aaronic high priest. Life is in the blood and we are as blood guilty as Cain with the same fallen nature. Our blood defiles; it is rather the Blood of Christ that gives life.

When we grasp this concept of “niddah” we understand what actually transpired with the woman who suffered gynecologically from an apparent endometrial condition for 12 years in Matthew 9:20. Under Levitical Law she was ritually defiled, excluded from temple worship, and socially ostracized in addition to her painful medical condition. But she put her disease and its defilement on Jesus and was healed. He took our infirmities (although absolute total healing is not received until the Rapture /Resurrection) in accordance with the prophecy of Isaiah 53: 5. As a result He was ostracized and excluded from God’s presence on our behalf. She no longer suffered the pain of trying to deal with what caused her defilement (described as “the pain of many physicians” which in those day would have included excruciating attempts to seal the hemorrhaging tissue with a hot iron internally). Now Jesus would take the pain as well as the ostracization and exclusion from God’s presence in her place.

She could wear a nice dress, but underneath and inside this poor young woman was defiled and the nice dress would become automatically defiled and then itself defiling. Fallen man can also struggle to cover up the defilement that is in our very blood with garments of our own righteousness. But it likewise only makes matters worse. When we try to cover what we really are with religiosity and our own deeds it is a hopeless mess that defiles us further in God’s sight. Our deeds themselves become defiled like the blood soiled garment of Isaiah.

However it was not only a female discharge that rendered one “niddah” nor only vaginal blood that polluted. Co-equally and first of all, a male seminal emission in Leviticus 15 had the precise same implications ritually. A garment so stained with male seminal emission is likewise polluted. Man is fallen. That which comes from the:’seed of man” is conceived in sin and born fallen (e.g., Psalm 51:5). Hence there must be a Second Birth from a “seed” that was not corrupted by sin. This too points to Christ.

Fathers who raise their children in a righteousness based on religion from generation to generation with a corrupted seed (semen) decorate the fallen state the children inherited with an ornamental righteousness that are not the true robes of righteousness, which are again called “garments of salvation” by Isaiah and illustrated by a wedding garment in Matthew 22. It is again an unclean garment that further insults God and only serves to compound the problem it tries in futility to address.

Be it orthodox Jews, Roman Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons or otherwise – religion cannot save. It only pollutes us more and further infuriates God who does not want us to decorate ourselves in a false cleansing with our own righteousness, but who wants to truly purify us with His righteousness ; Hu Tzidkatenu – He is our righteousness!

While the blood and blood guilt of mankind are symbolically demonstrated in Scripture through the female in the Tenak’s (Old Testament) foreshadowing of the New Covenant, the sinful nature of mankind itself is demonstrated through the male (e.g., “the sin of Adam”). So too however, are the heirs to salvation represented in the male (e.g., “the seed of Abraham”). Thus men and women are both co-equally fallen and both are used to reflect that fallen state in Scripture by Leviticus and Isaiah illuminated by the New Testament just as the Tenak in turn illuminates the full meaning of the New Testament Gospel.

Indeed, human efforts of our own not only fail to redress the internal mess our sins have made of us underneath, but such efforts are but ornamental religious dress that also gets polluted and pollutes whoever comes into contact with it. More seriously, it moreover offends God who has the genuine article purchased with His own Son’s blood.

The meaning of Isaiah 64:6 is literally visible even today. It is for instance no coincidence that Mormons wear their religious dress of black trousers and white shirts with their ornament name plate while Joseph Smith was a swindler and Brigham Young a philandering polygammist and Olympic Committee members were promised scholarships to Brigham Young University if the winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City; that Hassidic Jews love their black suits, kippahs and shedals, but deny the religious freedom in Israel to other Jews that they themselves were denied in the Diaspora; that Muslims love their knit caps, yet 68% of Muslims believe such things as the September 11th Islamic terrorist attacks were justified. Roman Catholics love their vestments (the amice, alb, cincture, stole, maniple, and chasssable – all copied from pagan Rome), while nearly every Roman Catholic Diocese and Bishop has been found culpable in court for protecting pedophile priests and nuns instead of the children these wicked animals victimize. Sikhs love their turbans and Buddhist monks love their red shroud. They all get dressed up with no place to go but hell unless they put on the right garments instead. They all get dressed up to camouflage what they really are and to hide what they really are not with an outwardly ornamental garb of religious righteousness. It only disguises the sick joke they really are in the eyes of man and amplifies the sad joke they really are in the eyes of God.

Apart from the grace of God in Christ, we would be no better or no different.

May The Lord Jesus save these deluded souls just as He saved us. Indeed:

“ALL OF OUR RIGHTEOUS DEEDS ARE AS A POLLUTED GARMENT”.

Jacob Prasch
Moriel Ministries

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