I am reading in the Old Testament (NIV) from the book of Isaiah chapter 63:17 where it is written,

Isaiah 63:17

Why,O Lord do you make us wander from your ways

and harden our hearts so that we do not revere you?

Return for the sake of your servants,

the tribes that are your inheritance.

The scripture appears to be saying that when one is "walking in the way of the Lord," that God will take away "free will," which would cause one to "wander from the Lords' way."

Is Isaiah really saying that humans, only have a certain amount of free will ?

  • I agree the meaning of the text is relevant to the theological discussion of free will. But what do you mean by "free will," since there are not only the two broad definitions of compatibilist and libertarian, but even "compatibilists offer very different definitions of what free will even means," besides other views on it. Such complexities in theological discussions is why this site is cautious about how much theology is allowed.
    – ScottS
    Feb 20, 2015 at 13:38
  • @ScottS- It is the first two lines in the above text that is of interest Re: free will.I have tried to stay away from a theological discussion by asking my question according to a comment from caleb-hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/14168/…
    – Bagpipes
    Feb 20, 2015 at 15:00
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    You cannot "stay away from theological discussion" when you use a term like "free will" (that is my point). You have to define what you mean by "free will" in order to make the question intelligible and answerable. What do you mean by "God will take away 'free will'"? Compatibilist versions of free will already tend to argue people "only have a certain amount of free will," so God would not necessarily be taking away any aspect of "free will" by His determined limitation. It seems you are using "free will" in a more libertarian sense, but that is what I am trying to get you to clarify.
    – ScottS
    Feb 20, 2015 at 16:58
  • This question is being closed at the request of the OP (below answer). See also comments under question regarding the difficulties with this question.
    – Susan
    Feb 21, 2015 at 20:02

1 Answer 1


The consensus of scholars is that the Book of Isaiah can be divided into three distinct sections, which were probably originally three separate books.

  • Chapters 1 to 39 were written during the late eighth and early seventh centuries BCE by Isaiah, son of Amoz, apart from numerous additions from a later period. For ease of reference, Isaiah is often referred to as First Isaiah, or proto-Isaiah.
  • Chapters 40 to 55 were written by a prophet living in exile during the latter part of the Babylonian Exile. This author is referred to as Second Isaiah or Deutero-Isaiah.
  • A third source, now known as Third Isaiah, or Trito-Isaiah, wrote chapters 56 to 66 during the period following the Return from Exile. This chapter, chapter 63 was therefore written after the Return from Exile.

In this chapter, the author reminisces on the history of Israel; how God led the people in good times and punished them when they strayed. Isaiah 63:17-18 says:

17 Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage.

18 Why have the wicked invaded your holy place, why have our enemies trampled your sanctuary?

The references to 'holy place' and 'sanctuary' in verse 18 are to the Babylonian destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. This is not at all about limits to free will, but seeking answers why God lets the Jews stray, only to punish them. If anything, Third Isaiah is regretting that the Jews have too much free will.

  • It is this scripture quote from the NIV "Why,O Lord DO YOU MAKE US WANDER from your ways,and HARDEN OUR HEARTS so that we do not revere you? That is a different translation to the scripture you use as reference.Most of the other translations use the same wording as the NIV.I agree that the text is speaking about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem,but it is also speaking about the way God deals with all of mankind.According to the NIV- God "hardens Hearts, and makes people wander from his ways." Is this not taking away "free will"?
    – Bagpipes
    Feb 20, 2015 at 8:53
  • blueletterbible.org/…
    – Bagpipes
    Feb 20, 2015 at 9:53
  • @Bagpipes Hi, I used a different version for convenience not to confuse (I generally use one Protestant (KJV) and one Catholic Bible, plus if necessary for complex OT the Jewish Bible with Rashi commentary. In spite of minor differences, the translations are identical here. Feb 20, 2015 at 19:37
  • @Bagpipes The first thing in hermeneutics is to see what the author intended, which we agree was the destruction of the temple. Having done that, it is fine to place the secondary meaning on it that you suggest. I have seen some OT passages that have had three or four different meanings placed on them, depending on the needs of the moment for each interpreter. Everything is valid if it is supportable. Feb 20, 2015 at 19:41
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    I think @Bagpipes is referring to the difference between “let us wander” and “make us wander,” which seems to be a legitimate question. (HALOT (esp. “d" there) and BDB (see the far right column “hiph...3.")
    – Susan
    Feb 21, 2015 at 6:09

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