Pray for a God’s-eye perspective: that we might rise above our day-to-day worries.
A song of praise
26 In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;
God makes salvation
its walls and ramparts.
2 Open the gates
that the righteous nation may enter,
the nation that keeps faith.
3 You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.
4 Trust in the Lord for ever,
for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
5 He humbles those who dwell on high,
he lays the lofty city low;
he levels it to the ground
and casts it down to the dust.
6 Feet trample it down –
the feet of the oppressed,
the footsteps of the poor.
7 The path of the righteous is level;
you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth.
8 Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws,
we wait for you;
your name and renown
are the desire of our hearts.
9 My soul yearns for you in the night;
in the morning my spirit longs for you.
When your judgments come upon the earth,
the people of the world learn righteousness.
10 But when grace is shown to the wicked,
they do not learn righteousness;
even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil
and do not regard the majesty of the Lord.
11 Lord, your hand is lifted high,
but they do not see it.
Let them see your zeal for your people and be put to shame;
let the fire reserved for your enemies consume them.
12 Lord, you establish peace for us;
all that we have accomplished you have done for us.
13 Lord our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us,
but your name alone do we honour.
14 They are now dead, they live no more;
their spirits do not rise.
You punished them and brought them to ruin;
you wiped out all memory of them.
15 You have enlarged the nation, Lord;
you have enlarged the nation.
You have gained glory for yourself;
you have extended all the borders of the land.
16 Lord, they came to you in their distress;
when you disciplined them,
they could barely whisper a prayer.
17 As a pregnant woman about to give birth
writhes and cries out in her pain,
so were we in your presence, Lord.
18 We were with child, we writhed in labour,
but we gave birth to wind.
We have not brought salvation to the earth,
and the people of the world have not come to life.
19 But your dead will live, Lord;
their bodies will rise –
let those who dwell in the dust
wake up and shout for joy –
your dew is like the dew of the morning;
the earth will give birth to her dead.
20 Go, my people, enter your rooms
and shut the doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
until his wrath has passed by.
21 See, the Lord is coming out of his dwelling
to punish the people of the earth for their sins.
The earth will disclose the blood shed on it;
the earth will conceal its slain no longer.
At points this chapter feels just like a psalm giving glory to God (eg v 9); at others (eg vs 20,21) we receive the full blast of God’s power and wrath. Again, we modern Christians are reminded that the same God can be at once terrifying and our trusted friend. Notice how frequently the material world is stirred in with the spiritual realm. Whether these gates, cities, footsteps and pathways are literal or symbolic is surely not the most important thing. However, a key in grasping the significance for us of these verses is the lead-in phrase: ‘In that day’. Isaiah has in mind a time – or, perhaps more accurately, an eternal reality. In that day, the Lord will have finally resolved all the struggles of both ancient Israel and the twenty-first century.
We can glean remarkable details here about God’s coming and for ever kingdom. It is strong, yes, but why? Because of his salvation! The city is at peace, because those who dwell there have minds fixed for ever on the Lord. Isaiah is a realist. As many harrowing images show us, he is fully engaged with the pain and turmoil of the times in which he lives. He is also a godly prophet: he can readily envisage the ultimate victory for which he waits. And so, his mind is steadfast (v 3).
Verse 8 describes people waiting for God: ‘we wait for you’. Set aside some time to do this yourself.
Deeper Bible study
Imagine this: ‘… the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive … will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord’.1
The first house we ever bought was a terrace house in West Philadelphia. It had been abandoned for a time and needed a lot of work. The neighbourhood was run down and crime was an ever-present reality. The church we attended was falling apart too, with a dwindling congregation, but we loved worshipping there because listening to God’s Word and singing about the great truths of faith each week became our refuge. That’s like what’s happening in this chapter. Isaiah is keenly aware that the people of the earth, including God’s people, are holding on during a difficult situation. He knows they’ve sinned and are enduring the consequences of their actions (vs 20,21). And yet, he sings. Why?
The answer is in verses 16–19: Isaiah realises that the difficulties were in fact the discipline of a loving God. Even better, Isaiah was confident of a truth that Jesus taught centuries later: that God would respond powerfully, even to the faintest expression of faith (v 16).2 Notice that the gateway to God’s presence and deliverance is something we work hard to avoid: distress (v 16). Read Psalm 107, noting the phrase, ‘Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress’.3
The great truth that emerges from this chapter is that God can transform the worst-case scenarios in our lives into a best-case opportunity for deepening our relationship with him. Wholehearted worship during the time of trial is often the vehicle God uses to accomplish this. As Isaiah continues singing, he is moved to consider the ultimate worst-case scenario, death (v 19). By faith, he envisioned a resurrection in the Lord. Today we can celebrate the empty tomb and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s why we sing.
Have you ever been so overwhelmed you could ‘barely whisper a prayer’ (v 16)? Remember and thank God for times when he helped you in your distress.
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Ezekiel 42,43; 1 John 2
Pray for Scripture Union
With Christmas drawing ever closer, please pray for children playing the Guardians of Ancora game and encountering the stories of the birth of Jesus, perhaps for the first time. May they be intrigued and motivated to discover more about Jesus.