Has there ever been a poet-prophet to compare with Isaiah? He is to the Scriptures what Shakespeare is to English literature. And how amazing that these inspired revelations and profound warnings to the ancient nation of Israel were not confined to his own generation but extend to embrace the whole span of human history! Gifted with insights far down the road into Israel’s future – right into our own timescale and even beyond, Isaiah caught glimpses of the new heavens and the new earth, painting verbal pictures in chapter 66:17-25 that prefigure John’s exquisite visions in the final chapters of Revelation.
I felt led to look the other day at chapters 33-35. Chapter 35 represents the climax of a long series of poetic oracles that then give way to an account of the critical threat that Israel faced from Assyria, and the astonishing deliverance that came about when prophet and king came together in faith and prayer that saw Jerusalem saved from being completely wiped out at the hands of Sennacherib’s lethal invading force.
It is a chapter that describes the utterly sublime and intimate fellowship the Lord intended that Israel should experience, and the confidence He waned them to enjoy, if only they would take care to live in the good of the fear of Him, the only sure foundation and stability for all and every time. (Is. 33:5-6)
The unnamed and unseen ones (vv 1, 2, and 8) are the ransomed and redeemed of the Lord, as the final two verses of the chapter make clear. (9-10) These are they who are the recipients of God’s blessing and provision, the bearer of their burdens; those whose sins have been paid for by Him, the Kinsman Redeemer of all who are truly, rightfully His. (cf Ps. 55:22) He is the One who originally initiated, and who continues to initiate, all that is good and lasting in our relationship with Him.
It may well be, however, indeed for many of us it will be, that we only reach the high way that Isaiah is describing via extended times in the desert, just as we saw David himself being obliged to do in the series we devoted to that subject. The prophetic word here is that the time will come when the barren wastes of the wilderness will break free from their bondage to decay, and break forth into glad rejoicing. it reminds me of those tales we must surely all have heard of how seeds that had been lying concealed in the desert soil which, for all the world appeared incapable of sustaining life, suddenly burst into glorious technicolour bloom when the all-important rains come – even after many years in some instances!
Just as Moses persisted in seeking the One who is invisible to the naked eye, and was greatly applauded and rewarded in Heaven and held up as an example of faith for all time, even so will those who look to the Lord and His strength reach the place where His glory is finally made manifest. (Heb. 11:27, Ps. 105:4) Yes, there are any number of huge boulders and daunting obstacles to navigate one’s way around, just as there have always been, but there will one day come the glories of the heavenly kingdom that Isaiah glimpses here, when the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unblocked, and where the parched ground will give way to pools of water.
I love that there was a brief moment after Jesus had driven out the moneychangers from the temple, when that building fulfilled its God-intended purpose as the place where the blind and the lame could come to Him and be healed. (Matt. 21:14) This is the highway, the high way, that the redeemed will walk along, where happiness and rejoicing will, as it were, ‘ambush’ and overtake them.
The remarkable thing here is how definite and clearly stated these statements are, by comparison with the ‘terms and conditions’ that so often, rightly, hedge around such promises. The redeemed of the Lord will reach this place with no mights or maybes to cloud the view of that glorious place. It is sorrow and sighing that will be left behind, as God’s own people enter into the blissful and beautiful kingdom where they and we alike are destined to dwell for all eternity.
First however, and present on every hand, we see Earth languishing and mourning. (33:9) The infrastructure of Israel at the time of Isaiah is seen to be in a physical decay that matches and mirrors its spiritual decline. Praise God that the Lord is never defeated; never has to sit around scratching His head, or wondering what He is going to have to do about this or that setback!
At that very moment, when everything is beginning to look about as bad as it can get, the Lord declares that He Himself will rise up and be exalted. It is a reminder of that occasion when the Lord was dismayed to find nobody willing to take up the baton to intercede, and therefore took it upon Himself therefore to stride into action. (59:16) And while it will spread fear into the hearts of the half-hearted and the hypocrites, it is a prospect that spells joy for those who are eager to ‘walk righteously and speak uprightly. (33:10-14) These are the ones who will see the King in His beauty and behold the exquisite land that beckons beyond the portals of this life. (15-17)
Who is He speaking to? Those who are part of His eternal kingdom. Us in other words! What does He want us to know? His mighty warrior strength. Because we do not see Him as He really is, and in the low-level light in which most of us work out our discipleship, who rarely feel either the full outpouring of either His strong restraint or His magnificent deliverance, we forget how strong He really is. It is those who seek Him with every pore of their being who will be able to cope with the devouring fire and difficulties of those days. (33:14)
It is good for the soul to learn from those who have been given greater insight into the unimaginable beauties of Heaven, and to muse on such themes, not least concerning what we won’t see there, as Godfrey Birtil poignantly reminds us in his song When I look at the blood. There there will be none of the traits that mar the circumstances of our lives in this world, and which often intrude so sharply into our fellowship with other believers. Here we will find no envy or wrong ambition, no proud or arrogant spirits. (33:19) Neither will we find any of the outrages and traumas that leave us so fearful and horrified in the present dispensation. (33:18)
Rather in the beautiful land that stretches far, with the Majestic Lord at our side, we will be in a place of delightful rivers and streams – the very essence of Paradise in other words. Here we will be free to enjoy the fulness of His presence, because we belong to Jesus and have come to the Jerusalem that is above. These are the hallmarks of life on the fire-redeemed Earth at God’s appointed time when Yeshua returns to rule over the nations as Judge, Lawgiver and King. (33:22) How wonderful that sins will be forgiven there, and that there will be no sickness! (33:24)
This is the fulness of the salvation that Yahweh has obtained for us through the ministry of His Son, the salvation in which there is perfect peace and utter security – even if they feel somewhat elusive in the experience of our senses at times. It is His presence that will be our supreme joy, for we belong to Him and we have come to His holy city. (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22-24; Rev. 21:10). Now God Himself is fully satisfied, and we, who would otherwise have been condemned for our sins and unbelief, find the gates open wide to usher us into His amazing presence. All this has been made possible by the cross of Christ, which removed the stain and the penalty for our sins forever. No wonder the book of Isaiah has so often been referred to as the fifth gospel!
Between the vision and its fulfilment falls the shadow
Before we reach the glories and vindication that we read of in chapter 33 and 35 though, we must make our way through the much harder read of chapter 33, where we find many references to the overthrow of Sennacherib, and chapter 34, where we learn of the final overthrow of world powers, as symbolised by Edom, in all their hostility to God’s rule.
For in the last resort, Scripture makes it plain that there can be no great era of peace and triumph until those who oppose the Lord and His people are banished and overcome. All this occurs at the time when the Lord finally runs out of patience with the wayward nations and summons them to inform them that His indignation is against every nation – and their armies – which will be handed over to destruction. (34:2)
These are passages to read in conjunction with the similarly far-reaching oracles of chapter 24. For so long has the Lord God held back – but even His patience can be exceeded and His rage burst forth. (34:2) This is the end time outpouring of His wrath which takes us into the catchment zone of the vials of wrath of Revelation, and which will affect even the heavens themselves: the Lord’s long delayed day of vengeance. (34:4, 8)
Most of us balk at reading chapters like this, because we are reluctant to immerse ourselves in passages which major on divine wrath and judgement. But there are many such raw outpourings of God’s heart to be found in the writings of the prophets. He is not mealy mouthed or sentimental when He announces His judgements. Some of us will have experienced the effects of this in our own lives at both a personal and a corporate level, and know that it is very real – though even then usually carried out in such a way as to be, in the long run, ‘a severe mercy.’
But if the Lord has declared some specific judgement, it is really important that we don’t beat about the bush and obfuscate the matter by watering it down in a bid to make it more acceptable. Isaiah no more does that than Jesus held back from declaring the absolute reality of Gehenna. (Matt. 25:46; cf Rev. 20:12-15)
Most of us do not fully share the prophet’s passion and burden to see a spiritual breakthrough, though we might sing of the heavens parting and revival power coming down. Neither are we as grieved and as broken as we could be on behalf of those who are not redeemed and therefore not spared. The bottom line, as Paul spells out most graphically, is that the wages of sin is death, which is the irrevocable outcome for those who choose to live only for themselves. Even for those of us who believe, there will still come a time when each one of us has to stand before the judgement seat of Christ. (2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:12)
How we praise God for the multitudes who will be ‘of that number’ when the saints come marching home! But how sad that there will be multitudes who do not qualify to pass from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light because, for whatever reason, they are unwilling to turn their lives unconditionally over to the Lord Jesus.
The really horrible thought is that amongst them will be those who we love and care for, and perhaps some we have sought to win for Christ.
For [the Lord] says, “In a favourable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. Seek the LORD while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. (2 Cor: 6:2; Is. 55:6)
This choice that the Lord presents us with is not one to dismiss or take lightly. We must choose life over death, and faith over unbelief. (Deut. 30:15-16; John 3:18)
For those who choose life, and to live by the Spirit rather than in the flesh – our eternal home is reserved for us, and as sure and certain as if we were already there. (John 6:63, 14:3; Eph. 2:4-6; cf Acts 5:32) Those who will not submit to Jesus in the fear of the Lord will experience a very different ‘home.’ Pray, pray, pray for people not to turn their back on the Lord, nor to trust only in either themselves, or in some other rival cause or god. Pray they will renounce and walk away from everything that is or ever could be, a block between the Lord and themselves.
It is the greatest privilege to be a ransomed and redeemed pilgrim on our way to the glories to come. We will be greeted with the most euphoric welcome, and embark on an eternity of happiness and a fullness beyond words that will never fade with the passing of aeons.