"Never has ear heard or eye seen
Any other god taking part of
Those who wait for him.
Thou dost welcome him who rejoices to do what is right,
Who remembers thee in thy ways,
Though thou wast angry, yet we sinned,
In spite of it we have done evil from of old,
We all became like a man who is unclean
And all our righteous deeds like a filthy rag;
We have all withered like leaves
And our iniquities sweep us away like the wind."
Isaiah 64: 4-6.
I see this Isaiah verse get quoted a lot, in terms of a blanket statement on humanity. We all have, at any point in time or history, righteous deeds like a filthy rag. No ifs, ands, or buts. It applies to everyone, even today. If you're unsaved, then all your deeds are filthy rags.
But does the verse itself support that blanket statement, or is it speaking about a point in time? And all deeds done filthy rags, regardless of the deeds themselves?
It seems more that the verse is speaking of a particular point in time. I'm no expert on the book of Isaiah, and I believe scholars say that it contains more than one author that was all eventually grouped under one name. I also believe that portions of Isaiah were written in a time of huge conflict, with Israel either attacked or overrun by invaders. Such an occurrence would most likely be interpreted as no longer being in God’s favor, and so wouldn't the Israelites start examining their own behavior? Wouldn't such examination produce verses such as these?
As for all deeds as filthy -- let's say a non-Christian helps the widow, the orphan, feeds the poor and so forth. There are quite a few Bible verses that say such actions are just and righteous. So it can't be every single deed across the board.
However, the verse itself seems to narrow the kinds of deeds. First, the people are doing what is evil in God's sight. Evil acts would be ignoring the helpless, for starters. Or chasing after false gods, or indulging in gluttony, or just living a non-good life. So wouldn't there be a natural connection between someone doing evil, and thus the deeds becoming like filthy rags? Not only that, but if the deeds truly are as filthy rags, then the deeds can no longer count towards any sort of righteousness. The verse almost reads as sarcasm. If the deeds are in fact filthy, then they cannot also be righteous. The two words contradict one another by their very definition. Rather, the speaker of the verse seems to demonstrate a realization that the deeds performed are not in fact righteous. Which means the deeds cannot be those like helping the helpless.
So does anything in this verse support the idea that all deeds of any unsaved people are filthy? Or does the verse focus more on specifics, as to why the deeds are filthy?