FAITH IN THE ROCK OF AGES IS FORTIFIED BY VALUABLE LESSONS FROM GOD’S RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENTS
INTRODUCTION: A Mighty Fortress is our God
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
“In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:”
“The hills are alive with the sound of music” – God’s people should be in a singing mood
Young: The song of praise agrees with 25:9 and goes back to 24:23. At the same time it forms a contrast to what was said about Moab and its destruction in what immediately preceded.
I. (:1-6) CELEBRATION OF FAITH – BLESSINGS AND MOTIVATIONS
A. (:1-3) Blessings of Faith
1. (:1b) Faith Brings Strength and Protection and Security
“We have a strong city;
He sets up walls and ramparts for security.”
City of God contrasted with city of Man
Cf. Christian armor of Ephesians 6
We need to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might
2. (:2) Faith Brings Victory and Access
“Open the gates, that the righteous nation may enter,
The one that remains faithful.”
After all we have learned about Israel’s sinfulness and unfaithfulness … how can these words be of any comfort? The Lord’s righteousness is imputed by grace to those who trust in Him.
Without faith it is impossible to please God – faith works itself out in obedience to His commands
Psalm 15 – who is worthy to enter in? Who are the citizens of this great city?
3. (:3) Faith Brings Peace and Assurance
“The steadfast of mind Thou wilt keep in perfect peace,
Because he trusts in Thee.”
“Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace”
1. Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious, in its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day,
Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.
Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.
2. Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.
3. Every joy or trial falleth from above,
Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love;
We may trust Him fully all for us to do;
They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.
Contrast James 1:5-8 who talks about the double-minded man who is unstable and lacks wisdom and is full of envy and jealousy and strife instead of peace (or Jesus warning against serving two masters – Matt. 6:24)
Young: the human heart by nature is not stable. It is a mind that wavers and changes with every shifting wind of doctrine, for it has no firm foundation upon which to rest. When it reposes upon the Lord, however, it abides firm and constant, preserved in His perfect peace, for it rests, not upon the changing sands of human opinion, but upon God, the rock eternal and unchangeable. . .
All the storms and vicissitudes of time cannot change Him, for He stands sure and eternal.
Constable: The Lord keeps in true peace the mind-set that consistently trusts in Him (cf. Matt. 6:24; Phil. 4:7; James 1:6-8). Here believers are viewed corporately, but the same truth applies individually (cf. Ps. 112:7-8).
Motyer: Lit. “peace, peace,” [idiom of duplication]. Here it is true peace, as compared with pseudo-peace, and total, as excluding every disturbing element.
B. (:4A) Key Command
“Trust in the LORD forever,”
Not a one-moment-in-time decision to trust the Lord but an eternity of a life characterized by trusting in the Lord
Constable: Isaiah urged everyone to trust in the Lord as a way of life, not just in a saving act of faith, because Yahweh, even Yahweh, is the very essence of what an everlasting rock should be (cf. 17:10; 30:29; 44:8; Exod. 33:21; Deut. 32:4; 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 22:2, 32; Ps. 18:2; 19:14; 61:2; 1 Cor. 10:4). His presence is an unmoving place of refuge and protection from the elements and from all enemies.
C. (:4b-6) Motivations for Faith – Two Contrasting Outcomes
1. (:4b) Everlasting Security – for those who Trust in the Lord
“For in God the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock.”
This is where we get the expression “Rock of Ages”
Interesting association: life with rock – nothing more inanimate than a rock
Build your life on the solid foundation of the Rock who is Jesus Christ
Parunak: The first motive for our trust is that the Lord protects those who do so trust in him. He is the strong city; cf. Pro 18:10. . . “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe.”
The second motive for our trust is that he will humble those who do not trust in him. We are back to the fundamental promise of 2:11-12 . . . [proud will be abased]
2. (:5) Evaporating Security – for those who Trust in the Flesh
“For He has brought low those who dwell on high, the unassailable city;
He lays it low, He lays it low to the ground, He casts it to the dust.”
The proud and haughty brought low
Motyer: victory is solely the Lord’s work (5) and his people’s part is to enter upon what he has accomplished. Here they do not fight but simply trample the dust left by the divine overthrow.
3. (:6) Reversal of Fortunes — Faith Transforms the Oppressed to the Conqueror
“The foot will trample it, The feet of the afflicted, the steps of the helpless.”
II. (:7-19) INSTRUCTION IN RIGHTEOUSNESS – VIA GOD’S RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENTS – IMPACT ON THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WICKED
A. (:7-9, 12) Impact on the Righteous
1. (:7) Pathway of Righteousness = Smooth, Straight, Level – No Obstructions
“The way of the righteous is smooth; O Upright One,
make the path of the righteous level.”
Young: “straight is the path of the righteous.” The emphasis falls not upon the path but upon “straight,” for Isaiah does not wish to place attention upon the path on which the righteous must travel but rather upon the blessedness that comes to the righteous who travel this path.
Quoting Calvin: But for this, they would easily fall or give way through exhaustion, and would hardly ever make way amidst so many thorns and briars, steep roads, intricate windings, and rough places, did not the Lord lead out and deliver them.
Oswalt: in a land where roadways went up and down with grueling regularity, the most delightful thought was of a road which was level and straight. It was that way because of the character of the One who formed it (Isa 40:3-5).
Parunak: God smooths out our path, removing stumbling blocks, so that we can conduct ourselves in righteousness. He does what we request in the prayer our Lord taught us (Matt 6:13), “Lead us not into temptation.”
2. (:8-9a) Pursuit of the Upright One
“Indeed, while following the way of Thy judgments, O LORD,
We have waited for Thee eagerly;
Thy name, even Thy memory, is the desire of our souls.
At night my soul longs for Thee,
Indeed, my spirit within me seeks Thee diligently;”
Pursuit of Holiness — Tozer
Very active activity – yet involves waiting patiently in humility and faith for the Lord to act
Oswalt: Waiting is very difficult for most people, for it is an admission that there is nothing we can do at the moment to achieve our ends. Yet that admission is the first requirement for spiritual blessing. Until we have admitted that we cannot save ourselves, God cannot save us.
3. (:9b) Pedagogical (Educational) Tool = Righteous Judgments of God
“For when the earth experiences Thy judgments,
The inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.”
Young: When His judgments are withheld and men seem to prosper, they tend to forget God. On the other hand, when times of adversity come and the judgments of God are felt, at that time men do learn God’s righteousness. Thus, the punishing hand of god may serve a beneficent purpose, in that it leads a sinner to repentance.
Beall: V9b seems to indicate that the prophet’s specific yearning here is for the Lord’s presence in judgment, because it is only when the Lord’s judgments (same word as in v. 8a) are seen in the earth that the world’s inhabitants may ultimately learn righteousness (the hard way–through judgment). v. 10 makes plain that the wicked (parallel to the “inhabitants of the world” in v. 9b) will not learn righteousness if grace is shown to them (and indeed, this seems to have been the case throughout Israel’s history–note especially the period of the judges); even in a land of uprightness they will do evil, and will not see the Lord’s majesty. This was true in the time of the Exodus from Egypt when the multitude murmured against Moses and the Lord; it was undoubtedly true of many in Isaiah’s own day; it was true in Christ’s time as many saw the Lord’s majesty and did not believe; it is true in our time, as many who have seen the Lord’s graciousness in this land have refused to acknowledge Him; and it will be true in the end time as well.
Parunak: It is not just the Jews, but all the “inhabitants of the world,” who must learn righteousness in the school of suffering. We have numerous examples of this principle in Scripture:
Pharaoh: Exo 9:14 For I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth.[cf. 12:32, where after the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh sends them off to sacrifice, and says,“bless me also”].
The Philistines: 1Sa 5:6-7 But the hand of the LORD was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the coasts thereof. 7 And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god.
The Rich Man: Luk 16:23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
4. (:12) Final Destiny = Peace by God’s Grace
“LORD, Thou wilt establish peace for us,
Since Thou hast also performed for us all our works.”
Switch to future tense
God makes us will and do of His good pleasure
Rom. 5:1 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”
B. (:10-11) Impact on the Wicked
1. (:10a) Spurning God’s Grace
“Though the wicked is shown favor, He does not learn righteousness;”
Common grace is shown to the wicked in abundance – no failure on God’s part to reveal His righteousness and His harvest law
Deficiency is on the part of the student – fails to learn
Pro 30:7-9 “Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die: Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.”
2. (:10b) Mistreating God’s People“He deals unjustly in the land of uprightness,”
Connection between doctrine and practice
3. (:10c) Ignoring God’s Glory
“And does not perceive the majesty of the LORD.”
Root problem is blindness regarding the majesty of the Lord – the wicked thinks that they are high and lifted up and in control of things
4. (:11) Final Destiny: Receiving God’s Wrath
“O LORD, Thy hand is lifted up yet they do not see it.
They see Thy zeal for the people and are put to shame;
Indeed, fire will devour Thine enemies.”
Ps. 89:13; Deut. 32:27
Young: God’s zeal for His people is His determination to carry out His purposes of salvation and to procure for Himself a redeemed people. That this may be accomplished, however, the wicked must be punished; and this punishment or judgment itself is an evidence of God’s zeal on behalf of His own.
Constable: Even though the unrighteous do not recognize God’s messages to them now, they will one day understand, when He brings these enemies of His into judgment.
C. (:13-19) 3 Illustrations of God’s Righteous Judgment Elevating Israel
Parunak: Now Isaiah gives three examples of how the Lord’s judgments have actually led to their deliverance. The first and last concern Israel, while the central one concerns the Gentiles. Thus this section unfolds the Jew-Gentile sequence from vv. 8-11.
1. (:13-14) Imagery of Subjugation — Israel Delivered from Oppressive Rulers
“O LORD our God, other masters besides Thee have ruled us; But through Thee alone we confess Thy name. The dead will not live, the departed spirits will not rise; Therefore Thou hast punished and destroyed them, And Thou hast wiped out all remembrance of them.”
Third verse in a row beginning with name of God
Not teaching doctrine of annihilation – there will still be judgment; but they will never rise up again to put Israel under bondage (nations of Egypt and Assyria and Babylonia)
No legacy for them, despite how much they longed to be immortalized – cf. the Pyramids
Young: There is a contrast between the making mention of God’s name, in verse 13, and the obliteration of all remembrance of the name of the enemies.
2. (:15-16) Imagery of Expansion — Israel Expanded by Grafting in of the Gentiles
“Thou hast increased the nation, O LORD, Thou hast increased the nation, Thou art glorified; Thou hast extended all the borders of the land. O LORD, they sought Thee in distress; They could only whisper a prayer, Thy chastening was upon them.”
Past Tense – prophetic certitude by describing future events as if they are already past;
Rom. 11 – all Israel will be saved; Israel will become an enormous nation; repeated over and over in Isaiah
Young: This outpouring, however, had taken place only in whispers. When Hannah prayed, her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. It was, therefore, a scarcely audible prayer, merely a whisper. Those who thus prayed were characterized by great fervency of spirit. The intensity of their being was so great that they truly spoke to God form the heart, with the result that their prayer appeared to be only a whisper.
Constable: Rather than Israel dying out as a nation, the Lord had increased her, as He promised Abraham (Gen. 15:5). This was not Israel’s doing; the Lord had increased her borders and so gained great glory for Himself. During the reigns of David and Solomon the Israelites experienced numerical growth and geographical expansion. God would do the same for them in the future.
Grogan: It is worth remembering that the land promised to Israel in Exodus 23:31 was never fully occupied, even in the days of David and Solomon, but that the bounds of the messianic kingdom are to be wider still (cf. Ps 72:8).
3.(:17-19) Imagery of Suffering in Child Birth and Resurrection –
Israel Delivered from Self Reliance – Doctrine of Resurrection of the Body
“As the pregnant woman approaches the time to give birth, She writhes and cries out in her labor pains, Thus were we before Thee, O LORD. We were pregnant, we writhed in labor, We gave birth, as it were, only to wind. We could not accomplish deliverance for the earth. Nor were inhabitants of the world born. Your dead will live; Their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, For your dew is as the dew of the dawn, And the earth will give birth to the departed spirits.”
All of the sufferings experienced by Jews down through the ages have not accomplished the deliverance of the world
Young: chiastic arrangement of the words:
there will live (A)
thy dead ones (B)
and my corpse (B1)
they will arise (A1)
Parunak: First the people confess the painful futility of their own efforts. He compares their condition with an expectant woman:
• The increase that should come through them is like the blessed expectation of a baby.
• But, like childbirth, it is accompanied with great pain and suffering.
• And for too long, it appears to be a false pregnancy, yielding only wind.
Isaiah is not talking about literal childbearing. The nation’s fruitless labor is a metaphor for the suffering she has endured by relying on her own strength, yet achieving no results.
As so often in Isaiah, the interpretation follows the metaphor. God expected two results from Israel with regard to the Gentiles. Both are set forth in Deut 20:10-14. She has failed in both regards.
Beall: Since the word “corpse” is specifically used, and the next verb speaks of awaking, it seems clear that a physical, bodily resurrection of God’s saints is meant by the prophet. This is in line with the teaching of Dan 12:2, and there is no reason to ascribe this concept (as the liberals do) to a latter, Maccabean time. Indeed, one chapter earlier in Isaiah, the prophet spoke of the Lord swallowing up death forever (25:8), thus paving the way for the teaching of this verse. The Lord revealed the truth of the bodily resurrection to Isaiah, just as He did later to Daniel, though fuller expression of the doctrine comes only in the NT.
Job 19:25-26 – My Redeemer lives and I will see Him
(:20-21) APPLICATION: ESCAPING THE DAY OF THE LORD’S WRATH
A. Refuge from Wrath
“Come, my people, enter into your rooms, And close your doors behind you;
Hide for a little while, Until indignation runs its course.”
Motyer: The call to “open the gates’ with which the poem began (2) is matched here by shut the doors. Security in peace (1-4) is matched by security from wrath. The wording Go . . . shut recalls Genesis 7:1, 16 and the safety of the Noahic community in the flood. The picture of going indoors recalls Exodus 12:22-23 and the safety of the Passover community while judgment was in process. Passed by is the Passover verb, abar (Ex. 12:12, 23).
The ultimate Armageddon is coming; only believers who hide will escape; God will protect them from AntiChrist and from Satan
B. Retribution of Wrath
“For behold, the LORD is about to come out from His place
To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity;”
A whole bunch of themes in this one verse that modern preachers like to gloss over – afraid of offending people with the harsh side of God’s justice and judgment
C. Revelation of Wrath
“And the earth will reveal her bloodshed,
And will no longer cover her slain.”
God will show where all the bloodshed took place and who was killed – cf. all the martyrs in this generation in China and Sudan, etc.
Young: Turning from contemplation of the complete deliverance and resurrection to come upon the people of God, the prophet in a practical manner addresses that people. The period of oppression and suffering has not yet ended; the future glory which he has just described is not yet actually a reality. It is not to be brought about, however, by means of human might and power, but only through quiet waiting and expectation as God works out His wondrous purposes of redemption.
Constable: Before the restoration of Israel, however, God’s people would experience hard times (in the Tribulation, cf. Rev. 12). Before God opened the gates of the new city to the redeemed (v. 2), they would need to shut their doors against their foes (cf. Gen. 7:1, 16; Exod. 12:22-23). Shutting the doors suggests both safety from danger and separation from others, in this case, pagans.
Yahweh would come out of His heavenly place of quiet to punish earthdwellers during the Tribulation for their secret sins. The earth itself, with the forces of nature, would assist the Lord, metaphorically, by exposing sins that lay hidden (cf. v. 12).
Rock of Ages, Cleft for me
1. Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.
2. Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law’s commands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.
3. Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.
4. While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyes shall close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown,
see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee.