3 (4) This verse and the first bicolon of v. 4 (Eng. 5) are a reflection on the preceding verse. What have God’s actions over the years taught the people about their God? They have taught them that there is no God like him. He is in a class by himself. No one has heard of such a God, or seen one. The emphasis here is on experience. The prophet has no interest in the great myths with otherworldly settings. Those narratives are meaningless for him. He wants to know what human experience sequentially considered can tell us about the one in whom reality resides. This is precisely what the Christian Gospels are about, as 1 John 1:1–4 succinctly explains. The apostles had “heard” and “seen” and “touched” Life. The sum total of all that experience for Isaiah is that nothing else in the universe has a right to be called God except the one God, the Holy One of Israel.
But what one thing is it that puts the Holy One beyond compare? Is it the power to split the heavens and smash the rocks (cf. Ps. 18:8–16 [Eng. 7–15])? No, for Baal could do that, or at least such things could be attributed to him. What truly distinguishes God from the gods in the prophet’s eyes is that he is the Savior. With perfect confidence Isaiah asserts that the evidence proves that Israel’s God is the only one who can be trusted. He is the only one who will act on behalf of those who wait for him. This expression is not merely used because of the occurrence of the parallel term in the final colon of the preceding verse. In many ways, it is at the heart of what the book is about. Biblically speaking, “to wait” is to manifest the kind of trust that is willing to commit itself to God over the long haul. It is to continue to believe and expect when all others have given up. It is to believe that it is better for something to happen in God’s time than for it to happen on my initiative in my time. As was just said, waiting for God is, in many ways, what Isaiah is about. The book is about waiting for a God whose face is hidden to reveal himself to his people (8:17); waiting for the restoration of a people from long before they were even exiled; waiting for a Servant to deal a death blow to sin; waiting for a Messiah to establish his kingdom forever. But as Isaiah and his people wait, they know one thing: unlike all the gods, God will act on behalf of those who wait for him (cf. esp. 25:9; 30:18; 33:2; 40:31; 49:23).
64:4 Paul cites this verse with some changes in 1 Cor. 2:9. Nor … seen any God besides You: For similar ideas see 43:11; Deut. 4:35.
64:4 — For since the beginning of the world men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, nor has the eye seen any God besides You, who acts for the one who waits for Him.
We cannot imagine how God will move on our behalf—He does “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20)—but we confidently expect that He will act when we wait for Him in faith.
64:4 ear … eye. God’s judgmental manifestations are unique. No one has witnessed the likes of His awesome works on behalf of His own. Paul adapts words from this verse to speak of direct revelation of God imparted to His apostles and prophets and pertaining to mysteries hidden from mankind before the birth of the church (1Co 2:9).
64:4 a God besides you. Essential to Isaiah’s message is the uniqueness of Israel’s God (cf. 43:11; 44:6; 45:5–6, 18, 21–22; 46:9; 47:8, 10). who acts. Unlike the idols, the God of Israel intervenes (cf. Ps. 135:5–18; Isa. 31:1–9; 37:14–38). He never fails to meet those with true faith. who wait. See note on 40:31.
64:4 no eye has seen a God except you A central part of Isaiah’s message is asserting the total sovereignty and uniqueness of Yahweh, the only true God (see Isa 43:11; 44:6; 45:5–6). Yahweh has proven Himself through action to be the only God (see note on 41:21).
64:4 The hearing and seeing refer to knowledge of God through His works. The Holy Spirit is the One who unfolds God’s revelation to man: (1) Man is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), and God has a particular and unique plan for each individual (cf. Ps. 139:13–16, note; Eph. 2:10). (2) God made provision for man’s reconciliation with his Creator. (3) The way of salvation is carefully taught in Scripture. (4) The millennial kingdom in which God’s people will be fellow citizens is promised. The apostle Paul refers to this verse in a free paraphrase (cf. 1 Cor. 2:9). Man cannot help being astonished at the wonder of the works of God.
4. From of old they have not heard. This verse confirms what has been already said, that believers do not here ask anything strange or uncommon, but only that God may shew himself to be to them what he formerly shewed himself to be to the fathers, and that he may continue to exercise his kindness, and that, since he has been wont to assist his people, and to give them undoubted tokens of his presence, he may not cease in future to cause his strength and power to shine forth more and more brightly. He represents believers as praying to God in such a manner that they strengthen themselves by the remembrance of the past, and betake themselves with greater courage to God’s assistance.
Eye hath not seen a God besides thee. The Prophet’s design unquestionably is, to celebrate God’s immense goodness, by relating the numerous benefits which he bestowed upon his people in ancient times; and this kind of praise is highly magnificent, when, rising to rapturous admiration of them, he exclaims that there is no God besides him, and that those things which the Lord has carried into effect for the sake of his people are unheard-of and uncommon. But there are two ways in which these words may be read, for אלהים (ĕlōhīm) may either be in the accusative or in the vocative case. “O Lord, no one hath seen besides thee what thou doest for them that wait for thee.” But another reading is more generally approved, “No one hath ever seen or ever heard of such a God.” Yet in this reading we must supply the particle of comparison, as; for otherwise the sentence would be incomplete. The verb יעשה (yăgnăsĕh) is put absolutely, “No ear hath heard, and no eye hath seen, such a God as doeth such things.” And thus God is distinguished from idols, from which superstitious men imagine that they obtain all good things; for they are the mere inventions of men, and can do neither good nor harm, seeing that God bestows on his worshippers benefits of every kind.
Paul appears to explain this passage differently, and to torture it to a different purpose, and even quotes it in different words, that is, because he followed the Greek version. (1 Cor. 2:9.) In this respect the Apostles were not squeamish; for they paid more attention to the matter than to the words, and reckoned it enough to draw the attention of the reader to a passage of Scripture, from which might be obtained what they taught. As to the addition which Paul appears to have made of his own accord, “Nor hath entered into the heart of man what God hath prepared for them that love him,” he did so for the purpose of explanation; for he added nothing that does not fully agree with the Prophet’s doctrine.
That we may understand better how thoroughly he agrees with the Prophet, we must understand his design. In that passage he treats of the doctrine of the Gospel, which he demonstrates to surpass the capacity of the human understanding; for it contains knowledge that is widely different and far removed from the perception of our flesh, and, in short, is “hidden wisdom,” so that Paul is justly led to view it with astonishment. And as the Prophet, when he takes into consideration the wonderful acts of God’s kindness, exclaims, like one who is lost in amazement, that nothing like this was ever heard of; so, in the most excellent of all benefits, namely, that in which Christ is offered to us by the Gospel, we may exclaim in the same manner, “O Lord, what thou bestowest on thy people exceeds all the capacity of the human mind: no eye, no ear, no senses, no mind can reach such loftiness.” Thus Paul applies this passage admirably to his reasoning, and does not make an improper use of the statement made by the Prophet when he elevates above the world that peculiar grace which God bestows on his Church.
There remains but one difficulty, namely, that Paul applies to spiritual blessings what the Prophet here says about blessings of a temporal nature. But we may say that Isaiah here looks merely at the cause of God’s benefits, though he has in his eye the condition of the present life; for all the benefits that we receive from God, for the sake of food and nourishment, are proofs of his fatherly kindness toward us; and it is the peculiar excellence of faith, to rise from visible favours to those which are invisible. Although therefore the Prophet appears to speak of external deliverance and other benefits of this life, yet he rises higher, and looks chiefly at those things which belonged especially to the people of God. What stupidity would it be, if, while we enjoy God’s benefits, we did not consider the fountain itself, that is, his fatherly kindness! Ordinary favours are enjoyed indiscriminately by the good and the bad; but that favour with which he embraces us belongs especially to citizens. The consequence is, that we do not merely observe those things which fall under the senses of men, but contemplate the cause itself. Although therefore neither eyes nor ears reach so far as to comprehend the grace of adoption, by which the Lord testifies that he is our Father, yet he reveals it by the testimony of his Spirit.
It is even probable that the Prophet, when he spoke of a particular instance of God’s kindness, was elevated, by means of it, to a general reflection; for, in considering God’s works, it was frequent and customary for good men to pass from a single instance to the whole class. In that way might this single but remarkable instance of the divine goodness raise the mind of the Prophet to so high a pitch as to meditate on that infinite abundance of blessings which is laid up for believers in heaven. We even see clearly that this commendation includes the gracious covenant by which God adopted the children of Abraham into the hope of eternal life. (Gen. 17:7.) What has been said amounts to this: “Seeing that the goodness and power of God are so great, we have no reason to distrust him; but we ought to place our confidence in him, so as to hope that he will assuredly assist us.” And such is the design of those excellent benefits which are here mentioned by the Prophet.
4. perceived by the ear—Paul (1 Co 2:9) has for this, “nor have entered into the heart of man”; the virtual sense, sanctioned by his inspired authority; men might hear with the outward ear, but they could only by the Spirit “perceive” with the “heart” the spiritual significancy of God’s acts, both those in relation to Israel, primarily referred to here, and those relating to the Gospel secondarily, which Paul refers to.
O God … what he … prepared—rather, “nor hath eye seen a god beside thee who doeth such things.” They refer to God’s past marvellous acts in behalf of Israel as a plea for His now interposing for His people; but the Spirit, as Paul by inspiration shows, contemplated further God’s revelation in the Gospel, which abounds in marvellous paradoxes never before heard of by carnal ear, not to be understood by mere human sagacity, and when foretold by the prophets not fully perceived or credited; and even after the manifestation of Christ not to be understood save through the inward teaching of the Holy Ghost. These are partly past and present, and partly future; therefore Paul substitutes “prepared” for “doeth,” though his context shows he includes all three. For “waiteth” he has “love Him”; godly waiting on Him must flow from love, and not mere fear.
 Oswalt, J. N. (1998). The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66 (pp. 622–623). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 872). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
 Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Is 64:4). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Is 64:4). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (pp. 1356–1357). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
 Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Is 64:4). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
 Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Is 64:4). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (Vol. 4, pp. 363–366). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 1, p. 501). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.