There is a stream near my place of residence whose name means “many bends”—named so by Native Americans because of the twists and turns it takes as it makes its way through mountains and farmlands. We could apply that name to the book of Isaiah as it takes many bends. From dealing with judgement on the wicked to hope for the righteous to the promises of a coming Saviour—and many other sub-themes that the author switches to in the middle of a chapter. As we work through the prophecy of Isaiah, we soon discover that there is no strict continuity to the message.
Our present study in chapter 26 contains a song that, according to verse 1, will be sung in the land of Judah. The fact that it will be sung indicates that it is futuristic and points to the everlasting city of God. The people receiving this message will be under the heavy hand of judgement. They would be ruled by foreign and heathen kings (Vs. 13), oppressed by wicked and unfaithful men (Vs. 10), and would see unrealised hope of a prosperous nation that had every opportunity to bring forth fruits of righteousness but produced nothing in the end (Vs. 18).
The declaration of verse 1 is majestic. “We have a strong city; He sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks.” This statement resonates with that of Hebrews 12:22: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering…”. Oh, sinner, we have a city—a strong city of refuge—to run to where we will be admitted freely. There, we find a pardoning God who opens the gates to receive the righteous nation—His own elect from every kindred, tribe, and tongue.
Oh, sinner, we have a city to run to where we will be admitted freely
Matthew Henry comments: “We must meet God with our thanksgivings when He is coming towards us with His mercies.” It is to be observed that nobody comes from the city but must enter. And only those qualified as righteous can enter. This foreshadows the heavenly Jerusalem described in Revelation 21. “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God… But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Vv. 10-11, 27).
The vision John received is further expanded in chapter 22. And it declares the blessedness of those who enter the gates of the city as opposed to those excluded from it. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Vv. 14-15). That is why it is of utmost urgency to consider the condition of our own heart, reader. Realise that, if there is no desire to meet God here on His terms, we will not meet Him in eternity on our terms.
Back in Isaiah 26, we glimpse the environment of the everlasting city in verses 3-4 and verse 12. “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock. O Lord, You will ordain peace for us, for You have indeed done for us all our works.”
Alexander Maclaren comments: “The only way to get and keep fixedness of temper and spirit amid change and earthquake is to hold on to God, and then we may be stable with stability derived from the foundations of His throne to which we cling.” The world is in great turmoil. Uncertainty hangs over every nation. The foundations upon which they trusted are now crumbling beneath their feet. By contrast, those living within the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem should be marked by quietness and confidence. In one word: peace.
Notice that, in verse 4, God is described as an everlasting Rock. John Calvin put it like this: “God continues always to be like Himself.” Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (John 14:27)”.
If there is no desire to meet God here on His terms, we will not meet Him in eternity on our terms
Not only is the world in upheaval but those of us who confess to being evangelical Christians must take a serious look at ourselves. Church growth has occurred more from dissatisfied believers going from one church to another in the spirit of unrest and division. The prayer in the centre of this song teaches us an appropriate frame of heart to remedy this lack of peace. “In the path of Your judgments, O Lord, we wait for You; Your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul. My soul yearns for You in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks You. For when Your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:8-9). These verses help identify what is wrong with our hearts when we lack peace or contentment and are irritated or frustrated. What is the desire of our souls? What do we long for? What, in life, do we seek diligently?
I want to conclude this study with the triumphant declaration in verse 19. “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.” The clarity of the teaching on the physical resurrection from the grave cannot be more profound in the Old Testament. Notice it says that their corpses will rise. The spirit is already in heaven and will be reunited to the body laid in the earth. Jesus has taken death by the throat, thrown it to the ground, and now stands with His own pierced foot upon its neck. O death, where is thy victory? O grave, where is thy sting?
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