I wonder if Isaiah’s oracles felt like a rollercoaster of images and impressions. There were the heights of glory and the depths of horror, the Day of the Lord described as a new paradise where there is peace and life, but also as global disaster where all is left in ruins, and the people shellshocked by the devastation.
Now, after having described the near-future invasion of Assyrian armies, and the exile by Babylon a while later, Isaiah picked back up the thread of hope he had mentioned earlier.
Isaiah brought in a few contrasts in this passage.
The Beautiful Branch
Looking back, Isaiah portrayed the cedars of Lebanon and the oaks of Bashan, the lofty mountains and uplifted hills all being brought down.
For the Lord of hosts has a dayIsaiah 2:12-14 (NRSV)
against all that is proud and lofty,
against all that is lifted up and high;
against all the cedars of Lebanon,
lofty and lifted up;
and against all the oaks of Bashan;
against all the high mountains,
and against all the lofty hills;
But here a little Branch will brought up and established on God’s holy mountain.
On that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious,Isaiah 4:2 (NRSV)
The Bountiful Land
Isaiah vividly pictured the famine and drought that would come in that great and terrible day.
For now the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts,Isaiah 3:1 (NRSV)
is taking away from Jerusalem and from Judah
support and staff—
all support of bread,
and all support of water—
But here amidst the devastation of the land, there is now fruit of the land
and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.Isaiah 4:2 (NRSV)
Beaming with Pride
In contrast to the people’s misplaced pride in themselves, their own accomplishments, the work of their hands, and most specifically their pride in their idols, this Branch will be beautiful and glorious, the pride and honor of all the survivors of God’s judgement.
In contrast to fleeing from the terrible majesty of God and hiding under whatever rock or in whatever cave was available, the Lord provides welcoming refuge, both protection and shelter.
Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem,Isaiah 4:3 (NRSV)
From Burning to Brilliance
In contrast to all that the Lord had taken away, all the idols that the people had put their trust in instead of God, now God would create something new over the whole site.
Once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning.
Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed over all the glory there will be a canopy.Isaiah 4:4-5 (NRSV)
The “daughters” of Zion do not refer to Israelite women.
Satellite towns and villages to a central city were often referred to as daughters, and we sometimes use this turn of phrase today. For example, my engineer husband tells me an auxiliary card that is used to supplement a main electronics card is called a “daughter card.” The “daughter card” is attached to the main card and communicates with it, rather than with the world at large.
In the same way, the cities of Judah, all attached in some way to the central capital city of Jerusalem set on Zion, were attached to and supplemented the life of Zion.
So, just as God cleansed the Cities of the Plain through judgment and literal fire and brimstone,
Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and [the Lord] overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.Genesis 19:24-25 (NRSV)
. . . now God would cleanse all the cities of Judah—the Daughters of Zion and Jerusalem itself.
There would be rubble and ruin for a space of seventy years, during the time of Judah’s exile. But, when they returned, through the sweat of their brows, and the work of their hands, but also by God’s mighty wonder-working power, resources would flow, edicts would be delivered by new emperors, and up from that rubble would rise the very glory of God, and a new temple, symbolized by God’s Shekinah,
Bride of God
In contrast to their erstwhile wicked leaders, the Branch would be perfect and good
In contrast to seven women desperately clinging to one man, God’s Shekinah would be as a wedding canopy—the meaning of the Hebrew word translated as canopy—over God’s people. Beauty, glory, purity, and holiness go over and around the bride of God.
It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.Isaiah 4:6 (NRSV)
Who would be this Branch that will bring about such a stunning and incredible salvation?
All those who have put their faith in Him know the Branch as the Messiah, the shoot springing up from what seemed like the dead stump of King David’s line.
The genealogy in Matthew 1 gives even further information concerning His identity: Jesus Christ, the Son of David, God the Son. He is both the Branch, and the fruit of the land, born of a woman. He is the one who forgives and cleanses sin, and He is the judge who cleanses by fire. Those who submit to that refining fire will be changed, as Isaiah prophesied, Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy
God’s glory which had before seemed terrifying will now be the very embodiment of love and warmth, now a cloud of smoke by day and fire by night, the wedding canopy to signify the wedded bliss we, the Bride of God, the Bride of Christ, will enjoy with the Lord for all eternity.
Blessings Spiritual and Physical
It is a glorious scene.
But how can we be sure it will really happen?
Are we to understand Isaiah’s prophecy as metaphor for spiritual reality? Or as a physical prediction?
These questions continue to fuel a robust conversation among scholars and theologians, because this short chapter concerning the Branch comes side-by-side with prophecies that were fulfilled near to Isaiah’s time. Typically, prophecies fulfilled near-time in concrete ways acted as validation of the oracles the seer had given for far future events.
A hundred years ago, this debate seemed in many ways almost purely theoretical. Most theologians argued that this future would never happen because Israel had not been a nation for two millennia, and had even been driven from the land itself. What had once been the temple mount was (and remains) a disputed site, and the temple lay for thousands of years in utter ruins.
But now, many theologians point out, against all odds, Israel is once again a nation and though internationally contested, in 1980 Israel declared Jerusalem its capital.
So how do we navigate between spiritual fulfillment and physical fulfillment?
The Branch has come in fulfillment of many prophecies, and He has given us His promise to return.
Anticipation of the future affects how we live today
Dreading and looking forward both cause us to prepare now, it just depends on our perspective. You and I will live differently now depending on what we anticipate in the future.