Tuesdays with Isaiah (Chapter 26)

The opening phrase, “In that day” links chapter 26 to the previous two (24:21; 25:9).  Isaiah speaks of the Day of the Lord—the time He judges the nations and inhabitants of the earth, redeems and refines his people, and sets up an everlasting kingdom on Mount Zion.  As chapter 26 begins, we hear singing: “In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: ‘We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks” (1).  The Lord has established his city of salvation and he invites “the righteous nation that keeps faith” to enter in (2).  Here is the picture of God’s people rescued, redeemed and righteous.

Knowing this vision of the future, Isaiah draws an abiding application in verse 3: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you.”  This truth elicits an invitation and exhortation in verse 4: “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.”  Those who trust God’s character and promise, fixing their minds on his promised future by faith, experience His perfect peace (shalom). 

Flowing out of verse 4, the next two verses (5 and 6) anticipate the outcome of the coming Day of the Lord: “For he has humbled the inhabitants of the height, the lofty city.  He lays it low, lays it low to the ground, casts it to the dust.  The foot tramples it, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy.”  It seems Isaiah sees the end before it happens and counts it as good as done.  He speaks of the future in the past tense, showing His trust that God will make good on His word.

Those who by faith keep faith walk on level ground—their footing is solid because the Lord makes “level the way of the righteous” (7).  As a result, those who “trust in the Lord” (3, 4) are willing to wait: “In the path of your judgments, O Lord, we wait of you” (8).  This waiting involves a yearning for God, His renown and ultimate triumph.  Isaiah, speaking for others who join in trusting the Lord, says, “Your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul” (8). 

Adding a personal note, Isaiah describes his own soul as yearning for God and His mighty intervention in human affairs (9). Isaiah knows that when God judges the earth, the people of the earth will “learn righteousness” in a way they refuse to learn when God shows kindness (10).  Sadly, the patient favour of God occasions increased human corruption: “If favor is shown to the wicked, he does not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness he deals corruptly and does not see the majesty of the Lord” (10). 

Verses 11-13 convey Isaiah’s earnest appeal, honest affirmation and renewed allegiance; each of these verses begins with “O Lord.”  In verse 11, Isaiah appeals to the Lord to reveal His zeal for his people by consuming (like fire) Judah’s wicked adversaries.  Isaiah can see God’s hand raised in judgment, though the wicked are oblivious. Isaiah entreats the Lord to let his fiery judgment “consume them.”  Verse 12 affirms that any victory taking place is God’s doing, not Israel’s: “Or Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works.”  I like the NIV’s rendering: “all that we have accomplished you have done for us.”  In verse 13, Isaiah expresses the nation’s renewed allegiance to the Lord: “O Lord our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us, but your name alone we bring to remembrance.”  Chastened by their unfaithfulness, Isaiah pictures the nation realizing and returning to the one, true God.

This renewed allegiance is only fitting as the Lord has destroyed all other gods and lords (14). He has also accomplished deliverance for His people, increasing the nation (repeated twice in verse 15).  He has graciously and powerfully “enlarged all the borders of the land” (15).

Isaiah looks back to the deliverance of the nation, once again confessing to the Lord (“O Lord”—16) their complete inability to accomplish their own salvation.  He pictures Israel as a woman in labour, writhing in pain and only able to “whisper” a prayer for help.  Unable to deliver (an effective play on words), Israel has no strength to bring salvation: “We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth, and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen” (18).  Here is a humble acknowledgement that Israel was unable to change their own situation or bring change to the wider world.  Only God can deliver.  As verse 12 states, He accomplishes our works for us (and sometimes through us).

The chapter ends (19-21) with a glorious hope of rebirth.  Speaking of the nation of Israel that has seen God’s deliverance, Isaiah says, “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise” (19).  The nation will not stay dead and desolate; renewal, rebirth and resurrection will come.

But for now, Isaiah calls God’s people to duck and hide: “Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you.”  Like the Israelites in Egypt on Passover night, they are to wait in secret for God’s “fury” to pass by (20).  The Lord stands ready to step out “from his place” in order to “punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity” (21).  The injustices of the past (including the bloodshed which has been covered up) will be disclosed.  God’s justice and judgment will sweep across the world and punish its inhabitants for their iniquity.

Behold Your God

The Lord alone brings about deliverance and peace for His people.  Isaiah speaks of the glorious day when God’s shalom is the strong city in which His people dwell.  Israel cannot accomplish this deliverance for themselves (18).  God ordains it and makes it a reality: “O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works” (12).  This truth moves us to trust in Him (3-4), wait for Him (8) and yearn for Him (9).

The Lord keeps us in perfect peace as we keep our focus and our faith centered on Him.  Isaiah 26 speaks of a glorious future (1-2) and furious present (20-21) for God’s people.  Things will be peaceful one day (12) but that day comes on the far side of judgment for the earth (20-21).  Until it comes, we can still be peaceful as we fix our minds and focus our faith on our God.

The Lord will bring a resurrection to new life to His people.  Isaiah speaks of the dead coming to life with songs of joy.  Here is a picture that fits the storyline of God’s people Israel.  It also fits the individual believer.  Though we die, we will live again by God’s great power and goodness.

Here Am I

While I wait for God’s final deliverance, I must keep my focus and faith centered on Him.  There is much upheaval in our world that I am unable to fix (18).  If I want to enjoy His shalom now, I must keep my mind stayed (fixed, focused) on His great name (3, 8). I must “trust in the Lord forever”; today is part of forever, so I must trust Him today.  This is the path to peace.

My efforts can’t accomplish God’s work, but He uses my small works in His larger plans.  Isaiah is clear that God’s people can’t bring about their own deliverance or effect needed changes in the world (18).  He also affirms that God is the One who accomplishes our works: “for you have indeed done for us all our works” (12).  The NIV renders this phrase, “all we have accomplished you have done for us.”  Our accomplishments are enabled by God’s purposes and power.  So, we work, trusting Him to do His work in and through us.  He gets the glory!

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