THE LORD HATH FOUNDED ZION
Reading: Isaiah chs. 13 and 14
When we read in the Scriptures of exhortation we think at once of an address which includes entreaty, rebuke, encouragement and so on. But in many cases the Word is speaking of comfort and consolation, and it is as much the duty of the exhorting brother to comfort as it is to chide; and the only true source of exhortation, whether it be of rebuke or of consolation, is the Word of God. That Word of God has a quality and an appeal all its own, so that in many cases the mere quotation of a scriptural passage is all-sufficient for the purpose of exhortation. We may at times find it necessary to add a comment in order to assist a faulty or an inadequate translation, but there are very many instances where any attempt at elucidation by the speaking brother serves only to obscure the real power and beauty of that Word. We cannot 'gild the lily'; we had best leave it in all its natural glory.
In the book of Isaiah which we are now reading there are many 'lilies'. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful of the books of the Bible. Its language has an authority which cannot be mistaken. It has a grandeur which is unmatched. There are many verses in this book which flow from the page most poetically and yet which are rich in meaning and can be very deeply moving. Those passages have a power unique in themselves. They cannot be improved, they cannot be embellished, and as we read through this book of Isaiah during the next seven weeks or so let us be alert to notice, if we can, those lovely expressions of the Divine mind given through the prophet. Let us try if possible to memorise at least some of them so that we can store them in our hearts and minds for that quiet moment of meditation, which will allow us to let those lines run through our thoughts as music on the inner ear, and we shall find them full of comfort, full of consolation as well as of entreaty.
We shall probably have already noticed in the thirteen chapters we have read this year that there are two particular themes which have an outstanding place in this book. They comprise the things concerning the Kingdom of God and the things which concern the Name of Jesus Christ. This book brings continually to our notice the city of Jerusalem, and it is a book which invites us many times to consider the Lord Jesus Christ. "Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth." In a number of different ways the Lord Jesus Christ is brought before us in this book of Isaiah; indeed we read yesterday the closing chapter of a complete section which has become known as the book of Immanuel, a section which includes the sign which was given to the whole house of Israel: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel," and which includes, too, the promise that "There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots"; and this section reaches a glorious climax in chapter 12 which we read yesterday: "With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation . . . Sing unto the Lord; for he hath done excellent things: this is known in all the earth. Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee."
Yes, Christ is here linked with the beloved city of Zion, and these two themes converge many times in this prophecy. Clearly chapter 12 is prophetic of that future day when the Son of David takes his throne to reign, and we earnestly look for the day when "the government shall be upon his shoulder... Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this." That day is fixed and certain. What comfort, what consolation there is in that knowledge! And how grateful we should be that that Prophet appeared in Galilee of the nations, and that we, the people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light, and they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
But if this 12th chapter is prophetic of the future, so also are chapters 13 and 14 which we have read today. We have read of the fall of Babylon, that apparently impregnable city of old. The prophets must have had tremendous faith and courage to speak as they did concerning this great city and empire which to all those ancient nations must have seemed destined to stand for ever; but it came to ruin just as the Almighty had foretold. And with the fall of Babylon came the restoration of God's people and land. This great Babylon which Nebuchadnezzar had built and boasted of came to a complete and utter end.
The prophecies concerning Babylon given by both Isaiah and Jeremiah were a declaration to the whole world of the certainty of the Divine purpose. The scope of these prophecies is wide indeed, so wide that they invite the unbeliever to challenge them if he can. Babylon was to become like Sodom and Gomorrah, completely lost to view. It was. It was never to be inhabited again. It never has been.
Nobody would ever pitch tent there. The Arabs never will, even to this day. There were to be no sheepfolds there. There never have been. Desert creatures would for ever infest her ruins. They do. Her stones would not be removed for other construction projects. They have not been. The ancient city would not be frequently visited by travellers. Few people ever go there. The site was to be perpetually covered by swamps. It was found to be below the water table and still is. Its ruin is complete. For 2% thousand years the prophecies concerning Babylon have stood the test. Babylon has gone for ever.
And so the prophet Isaiah asks the question in chapter 14.32: "What shall one then answer the messengers of the nation?" And the answer is simply this: "That the Lord hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it." The point has been made by one writer that there were in those far-off times a number of cities which were not only political centres but were religious centres too, centres of worship for various cults and religions. Babylon was pre-eminently so. There was also Thebes in Egypt, there was Nineveh in Assyria, there was Jerusalem, and there were others. But where are the others now? Only Jerusalem remains. Where are the gods of those cities? They were no gods. But the God of Israel is He who has founded Zion and His people can therefore put their trust in her. That city will never perish, for it is the city where Yahweh has said He will place His Name for ever.
Jerusalem is the city which has been dear to the hearts of all God's servants. Abraham had contact with it through Melchizedek, King of Salem, later Jeru-salem, and Abraham doubtless knew that later it would be in that city that the promise would be fulfilled: "Thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies," for Abraham "looked for a city whose builder and maker is God." David likewise cherished the hope that his Son would one day sit on his throne in that very city. Likewise all the faithful among the prophets, Daniel, Ezekiel, Haggai, Zechariah and so on, have all expressed their ardent faith in that city; that is, they have expressed their faith through the Divine promises made concerning that city. Truly, "The Lord hath established Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it," or as the R.V. puts it:". . . and in her shall the afflicted of his people take refuge."
The deliverance of Jerusalem under Cyrus was decreed ofYahweh, just as is the future deliverance from Russia in our own times; and here in Isaiah 14.24-27 is the absolute certainty, the guarantee of God's promise: "The Lord of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand: that I will break the Assyrian in my land, and upon my mountains tread him under foot: then shall his yoke depart from off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulders. This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth: and this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations. For the Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?" What man would ever attempt to make an assertion as bold as that? None would dare, surely, but how comforting it is to us to know in our days that the words of the Lord are still true: "As I have purposed, so shall it stand. . . this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations." His hand is stretched out; who shall turn it back? With the whole world tottering on the brink of disaster, we can surely find refuge and comfort in that assurance.
We say that the fall of Babylon was prophetic. This is obvious from the manner in which the very words of Isaiah's prophecy have been lifted straight out of that book for quotation in the book of Revelation. There the scene is the destruction of Mystery, Babylon the Great, Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the earth. The very words of Isaiah are used to foretell the coming end of that evil system. There is no need for us to spend time identifying Babylon the Great. It is Rome and her apostate system that is here in the vision seen by John, Rome the great rival city to Zion; but "the Lord hath founded Zion."
The Lord has founded Zion, but how does Rome respond to that claim? The fact is, they deny it. In Paul's letter to Timothy he warned him against a developing apostasy. He told the Thessalonians that "the mystery of iniquity" was already at work even then, and he spoke to Timothy again of this apostasy and gave a hint, it would appear, of the later practice of Rome in insisting on a celibate clergy. Paul's exhortation to Timothy in the context of this warning—and therefore the warning given to us—is "Give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine." "Take heed , . . unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee."
Yes, take heed to the doctrine, the teaching. We are familiar with what to us has now become the famous quotation from Gibbon that tells how the belief in the millennial reign of Christ on earth was at first the cardinal teaching of the early church, but that it was later dropped and finally rejected as a heresy, and Rome grew out of the apostasy thus developed. Just think of it—that the Apostasy declares it to be heresy for a man to believe and to put his faith in those exceeding great and precious promises which God made to Abraham and to David, promises in which all His faithful servants have put their trust—heresy to believe it! To so regard the Word of the Almighty is sheer blasphemy of the worst kind. So we need to take the exhortation to ourselves, to take heed to the doctrine and to arm ourselves with the necessary knowledge and understanding to combat the evil teaching of Rome and her daughters.
Rome has shown the same disregard for the Divine promise in her treatment of the Jews down the centuries. During the Middle Ages the Romish clergy subjected the Jews of Europe to the most severe trials. Many times the clergy stirred up persecution against those scattered people of Israel, and today that man of sin who visits the world's cities with such pomp and ceremony, refuses to recognise the State of Israel but is instead, it appears, prepared to give some degree of support to the Arab cause. But his end and the end of the wicked system he represents is to be as complete and utter as that of ancient Babylon. "The Lord hath founded Zion," and we put our trust in those things concerning the Kingdom of God and the things concerning the Name of Jesus Christ.
The Kingdom of God, its capital in Jerusalem; the things concerning the Name of Jesus Christ. These two come together very beautifully in this book. "The Lord hath founded Zion," and Isaiah tells us just how in chapter 28.16: "Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: and he that believeth shall not be confounded." We are invited to behold God's servant, and Peter, commenting upon this passage which we have quoted—a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation—says: "To you that believe he is precious." He is a tried stone. He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. The work and sacrifice of Jesus Christ has made sure the foundation of that city Jerusalem. Jesus said: ". . .1 overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne."
If Jesus had failed in his service there would be no city of Zion for us to put our faith in. So we think of the Lord Jesus Christ as portrayed to us through the prophet Isaiah. "Behold my servant. . . mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth. ... He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth." "He did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; when he was reviled, he reviled not again." The prophet goes on: "I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles." The wine, said Jesus, "is the new covenant in my blood." The prophet tells us that his commission was to "open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house."
How grateful we can be that the Lord Jesus Christ has been given as a light to us Gentiles, to open our eyes and to turn our gaze towards Zion! The prophet goes on: "I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the ends of the earth." Then some more beautiful words from chapter 52.7, which are very true of the Lord Jesus Christ: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace." Verse 13: "Behold, my servant shall deal prudently (that is, shall prosper), he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high." God has "given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow," and yet "his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men." "He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. . . But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed,"
"He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth." "Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death." But when we behold God's righteous servant in all his per¬fection and beauty, are we not bound to say with the prophet Isaiah: "I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts."
Yes, we feel very unworthy, very cast down when we compare ourselves with the great example of our Lord Jesus Christ. But then we can find comfort once again in those lovely words to be found in chapter 55.6: "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." Surely there is tremendous comfort and consolation here. "A bruised reed shall he not quench." There is mercy in the one in whom we trust.
The call of the prophet is: "Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you." With our own shortcomings and weaknesses so painfully manifest, we need reassur¬ance, and when we look around and behold the wicked "like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt", we may well find our hands weak and our knees feeble, but let us not be afraid. It is the Lord's hand that is stretched out upon all the nations. He hath purposed, and none can disannul it, and He says to us through His servant Isaiah: "Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity."
Let us then take refuge in God's promises and look with the prophet to the future. "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead." And then again: "In this mountain (Jerusalem) shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God shall wipe away tears from off all faces; and ... it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation."
What a wonderful prospect the prophet Isaiah holds out to us! Concerning that time which is yet future, the day for which we hope and long, the prophet says: "In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks. Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in."
We trust that we each may be counted worthy to enter in through the gates into the city. "Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken." And "a highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but. . . the redeemed shall walk there: and the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." Truly, the Lord has founded Zion, and the poor of His people can put their trust in her,
So as we continue the reading of this prophecy of Isaiah during the next few weeks let us try to enjoy the reading of it. Let us endeavour to ponder its message, drink in the depth and the beauty of that message, enjoy those lovely phrases we shall find there. They will encourage, they will comfort and console us and we shall be the better able to grasp the things concerning the Kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ; and they will help us the more to appreciate the work, the sufferings and the coming glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom we now remember:—D. Harrison