Tuesdays with Isaiah (Chapter 4)

Chapter 4 is not only the shortest chapter in the book, it’s one of the brightest.  Paired with the description of the Lord’s exaltation (2:1-6), this vision of Israel’s coming beauty and glory gives a hopeful picture of the future God promises for His people.  Coming immediately after the dire picture of devastation on the nation (2:6-4:1), chapter 4 previews a coming day (“in that day”) when Judah will be a beautiful, fruitful branch (1).  It pictures the time when Judah and its people (those left in Zion—2) will be cleansed, holy and protected by God (3-6).

The chapter opens with a description of Israel as a “branch” (2). This metaphor of God’s people as a grapevine plant or branch anticipates God’s words in chapter 5:1-7.  There we learn that God sees His people as a vineyard, carefully planted, protected and tended.  However, instead of producing good fruit, God’s vineyard went wild, leading to God’s great displeasure and their ultimate devastation.  But before we get to that sad story, Isaiah gives us a picture of glory.  One day (“in that day”—2), Israel will be the vineyard and the grapevine God intended.

This will only happen after God cleanses His people (“washed away the filth”—4) through a “spirit of judgment” and “a spirit of burning/purging” (4).  The remnant that survives (“he who is left in Zion”) will be “called holy” (3).  The “daughters of Zion” who had been pampered, materialistic and haughty (3:16-23) will have their filth washed off.  The leaders who had blood on their hands from abusing their power (3:14-15) will have their “bloodstains” cleansed away by the Lord’s spirit of judgment and burning (4).  Those who are left in Zion after this purging are “recorded for life in Jerusalem” (3); their names are enrolled in God’s book of life (see Psalm 69:28; Luke 10:20; Heb. 12:23).

Only “then” (5) will the Lord dwell with His people in a glorious way.  Only “then” will he “create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies” a cloud by day and shining flame by night (5).  As in the wilderness when God sheltered His people with a pillar of cloud and fire (Exodus 13:21), so again the Lord will dwell over and among His people.  His presence will be a canopy that shields them from the heat of the day and the storms of the night (6).  It’s significant that the word for “booth” in verse 6 (“booth for shade by day”) is the same one used in chapter 1 (“Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard”—8). Although Jerusalem was currently like a “hut” left in a lonely field; one day God’s presence would make Jerusalem the abode of His glory.  Here is a picture of Israel dwelling in safety, with the Lord over them and in their midst.

Behold Your God

The Lord’s holiness is a fire that both purges and protects.  Twice in this chapter the Lord is likened to a fire.  First, a fire that judges wickedness and purges sin (“a spirit of burning”—4).  In the following verse, the Lord is pictured as the “shining of a flaming fire” that serves as a protective canopy for His redeemed, purified people (5).  God does not change. He is ever holy, but that holiness is experienced differently based on the condition of our hearts and lives.

The Lord will purify a people for His possession.  Though Judah was presently in a state of moral filth and degradation, the Lord purposed to purge, purify, and protect them.  There would be a day when His people would be “beautiful and glorious” (2).  There would be a day when their land would be “the pride and honour of the survivors of Israel” (2).  The present was bleak; the future would ultimately be bright.  As Titus 2:14 says, the Lord plans to “purify a people for his own possession.”

Here Am I

I must be cleansed to enjoy the glorious future God has planned.  Only those who are “called holy” will be included in God’s glorious future plans for His people (3).  Being part of this “remnant” (“he who . . . remains”—3), requires purification through God’s “spirit of judgment” and “spirit of burning”—4).  While this purging includes what happens to God’s people, Isaiah will later explain that it also is possible because of what happens for God’s people.  In chapter 53 we read of the Lord’s servant who is crushed and pierced for the iniquity of God’s people.  The New Testament goes on to reveal that this Servant of the Lord, who carries our sins and sorrows, is the Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him, I can be cleansed and made holy.

I must hold tight to God’s promises when times are turbulent.  God’s promises regarding the future for His people are meant to stabilize us when life seems frightening and overwhelming.  Judah was soon to go through the fires of trial, part of God’s judgment and burning/purging.  In the midst of the tumult, those who know God and believe His promises, have a reason to hold on to hope and persevere in patience.

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