Beholding God: Isaiah 4:2-6

Friends, Here is the continuation of my series from Isaiah’s Gospel. I think this is part 5 or 6. Anyhow, what governs these verses is the short almost formulaic phrase ‘in that day.’ This was first mentioned back in chapter 2 and ‘that day’ has not always had overtones of happiness for those who do not belong to God. Here, in this fourth chapter (a chapter that is closely related to the short chapter 2:1-5) is like an interjection of hope in the midst of great calamity. The prophet here continues speaking to the people of God and not the population in general. I have reserved my comments in this sermon for the congregation–as an encouragement to them of what we have to hope for. Surprisingly, however, our hope is not ‘that day’ or ‘that place’ or anything like ‘that.’ Our hope, ‘that day,’ is Jesus Christ. It is Jesus we hope for. He is our reward. He is our Pride, our Glory, our Beauty, and our Gloriousness. (Also, you will note that I happen to think that this chapter is very closely related to Revelation 21-22. And, I’ll be posting the audio sometime next week if I get my laptop back from the shop.)–jerry

Isaiah 4:2-6
Beholding God: When God is All in All


2In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth will be the pride and the adornment of the survivors of Israel. 3It will come about that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy–everyone who is recorded for life in Jerusalem. 4When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and purged the bloodshed of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning, 5then the LORD will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy. 6There will be a shelter to give shade from the heat by day, and refuge and protection from the storm and the rain.

In his sermon, The Weight of Glory, CS Lewis writes:

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

The key to understanding these verses, I believe, is found in the beginning of verse 2: “In that day…”

You will no doubt recall that ‘in that day’ has been a phrase that has marked Isaiah’s gospel since chapter 2.2: “In the last days…” Then we learned that God had something planned…planned for his people, planned for the world. God has a day in mind…and now Isaiah continues that thought here in chapter 4.1: “In that day…” In that day, something is going to happen. But what we have read a lot about in these verses is judgment, destruction, the humbling of the arrogant, the stripping away of pride, the lowering of the haughty. In that day…in that Day…The Branch of YHWH will be beautiful and glorious. In that day things that we have yet to imagine will be happening. In that day, says the prophet, those things we have settled for, those mud-pies, those things we settle for because of weak desires, will all be overthrown, replaced, re-imagined, re-created, purified and inhabited by the presence of God.

So let’s look at the passage from Isaiah-a passage I am certain inspires hope and vision and stokes the imagination of what that day will mean for those righteous to whom God announced ‘it will go well with them.’ If the last chapter spoke little about what will be in store for the righteous, this chapter speaks to no one but the righteous. I’d like to encourage you with 5 images of what will take place on that day.

You know there is a lot that we consider glorious and beautiful. The evidence of this was seen at the end of chapter three: “The women of Zion are haughty…with ornaments jingling on their ankles.” Man has a conception of what is good and beautiful; God has his. Ours is woeful and inadequate, it is incomplete because all it seeks to do is adorn the flesh and magnify the creature. Our conceptions of beauty and gloriousness do not inspire hope, but encourage vanity. But Isaiah says God’s conception of beauty and glory are entirely different: “In that day the Lord Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath, for the remnant of his people.” (28:5)

God’s conception of beauty is the presence of himself. The women of Israel adorned themselves, as do we. The people of Israel took pride in their sin, so do we. The people of Israel rebelled against the Lord’s glorious presence, so do we. But what does he say: “In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the Fruit of the Land will be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.” These are parallel, if the Branch of the Lord is talking about the Messiah, then so is the Fruit of the Land talking about the Messiah. I think Isaiah here is talking about the two-natured Messiah-Son of God, Son of Man; fully God, fully man; Branch of God, Fruit of the Land. He himself will be our pride and glory, True beauty and gloriousness.

EJ Young wrote, “The actual Israel looked for her glory and ornament among foreigners and strangers; she neglected her true inheritance. The Israel of the future, however, will not judge with the eyes of flesh but will understand that her true glory and ornament are found in her real inheritance, the long promised seed of Abraham through whom the blessing was to come.” (178)

In that day, there will be true beauty. Also in that day there will be a holy people. Those who are left, those who remain, will be called holy; all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. This means that there will be no place for unrighteousness or unrighteous people in this Holy place.

Thus we can safely assume that some distinction has been made between those who are and those are not holy; there has been some change made to some people and they have become holy. Whatever it is, there will be no unholy people in this place. This place, that day, will be marked by the sort of people whom God has destined to live there: The Holy ones, the Righteous ones, those who belong to God by virtue of his grace and their faith.

He said, “Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Rev 20.6) There is, unfortunately, no room for unholy people in that day. It will be entirely up to YHWH to make that distinction, but it is a distinction that he will make

Use your imagination for a moment and think of a day-we’re not necessarily talking of a place-think of a day when everyone’s character will be defined by the Holiness that is God. Think of a day when there is no fear, no worry, no cares-because all are marked by holiness. In that day there will be a great purging, a perfecting of the Land as well. It’s not enough to perfection the people, but sin must be removed. So those who are filled and covered with ‘filth’ will be washed, the bloodstains that cover the city of Jerusalem will also be cleansed. So we read:

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Revelation 21)

The holy city will be filled with holy people. This will be a placed and a time untouched by the stains of human sin and unrighteousness. The place will be cleansed, purged, washed clean. A spirit of judgment and of fire. Terry Briley makes this astute observation:

Isaiah’s alternation of messages of judgment and salvation reflects the truth that in a sinful world, these two are inseparably linked. God’s purpose cannot be accomplished apart from either the conversion or the destruction of those committed to evil.” (78)

Fourth, in that day there will be a new creation. The word ‘create’ here is the same word used in Genesis 1 to describe what God initially did. According to one commentator I consulted, this word is always used with reference to divine action. Isaiah begins hinting here in chapter 4 what he will flesh out later in chapters 65-66, what John will flesh out in his Gospel, and what John will finish fleshing out in the book of Revelation.

This is what Jesus came to do! To inaugurate the new creation, to set in motion God’s redemption of everything. This new creation will be marked by one specific idea: God’s presence. This will be a time when there will be no rebelling against the glorious presence of God. God’s presence will be the defining characteristic of that day: there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night. This is exactly the language used to describe God’s accompanying presence as Israel left Egypt. Wrote Terry Briley:

The Cloud there is closely connected to the tabernacle and thus to God’s presence in the midst of his people. The people are portrayed as following God’s guidance precisely, taking no steps unless God leads them. This image is fitting therefore, of a future in which the purification of Israel allows God to dwell in their midst again and the people are responsive to God.” (78)

Again, we listen to the Apostle who wrote: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

And finally, in that day there will be a better tabernacle. This new tabernacle, I say tabernacle because the world ‘shelter’ here is the same word used for the little temporary shelters the Israelites would build during the feast of tabernacles. It was a temporary shelter. But look at this new tabernacle: It will be the glory of God. It will protect from the heat of the day, the storm and the rain. It will be a refuge, a hiding place, a place of protection. In that day God will make this place for his people: He will be their shelter and their shield.

So what does this mean? I think it means that there will be nothing more standing in the way of fellowship with God. All will be removed. Sin and guilt will be purged, paving the way for his presence. People will be holy entering into his presence. He will be the beauty and glory and pride and gloriousness of Israel. But nothing will stand in the way. I think now we have managed to create all sorts of reasons to avoid God’s presence. I think we have managed to created all sorts of excuses for why we must avoid his presence. But those things will be no excuse in that day: Sin, the weather, the heat, the rain-he will shelter and protect us and guide us; but he will also create such a place that there is nothing prohibiting our enjoyment of his presence, and his enjoyment of us.

That day has been made possible only for one reason and his name is Jesus. We are talking about glory: “14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” That day is not an end in and of itself. That day is leading to something that we have already begun to experience because of Jesus Christ. He will be our God and we will be his people. That day, that Day when the Branch and the Fruit will be glorious and beautiful among us. I hope you will not be disappointed that that day we are looking forward to is a day that is all about Jesus.

“No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. 6The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.” (Revelation 22)

In that day: the Lord will be beautiful and glorious; the people will be holy; the Lord will purify people and the city; the Lord will create anew; the Lord will be presence; the Lord will be our shelter. In that day…

2 thoughts on “Beholding God: Isaiah 4:2-6

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