Open the Gates
As Isaiah continued to gaze into the far future, he saw a strong city that stood in contrast to the ruined city he had seen in his previous vision.
For you have made the city a heap,
the fortified city a ruin;
the palace of foreigners is a city no more;
it will never be rebuilt.
… On that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;Isaiah 25:2, 26:1 (NRSV)
he sets up walls and bulwarks as a safeguard.
The redeemed remnant will continue to break out in exultant song as they behold the magnificent city God builds, supernaturally safe and secure. In fact, this city is so well-protected the gates can be thrown wide open, welcoming all who want to enter into life with God forever.
Open the gates,Isaiah 2:2 (NRSV)
so that the righteous nation that maintains faithfulness
may enter in.
“Righteous,” in this case, simply means all those whose hearts are turned towards God, who welcome the Lord as Savior.
As long as there was a temple on Mount Zion, the righteous would travel from far and wide to stream through Jerusalem’s gates for three annual festivals, beginning with
- the Feast of Passover, celebrating God’s deliverance in Egypt,
- then the Feast of Pentecost, commemorating the giving of God’s Law,
- and finally the Feast of Booths, celebrating God’s provision in the wilderness.
Traditionally, as people journeyed to Jerusalem, they would sing Psalms of praise, the Hillel Psalms. Now they would sing a new song, the song of the redeemed.
A Steadfast Mind
Isaiah now wrote of a new perception that would reorient how God’s people would view their world.
Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace,Isaiah 26:3-4 (NRSV)
in peace because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
for in the Lord God
you have an everlasting rock.
This is the same peace Messiah would promise nearly a thousand years later.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
“I have said this to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution, but take courage: I have conquered the world!”John 14:27, 16:33 (NRSV)
A peace not as the world gives, which, after all, is not secure and will decay, but rather as God gives, a peace that will last for all eternity, that has the strength of God in it, the power of God, and is given into our inward beings by the Spirit of God.
It is the promise of steadfast strength that God had given Moses in the distant past.
“The Lord, the Lord,God to Moses, Exodus 34:6-7 (NRSV)
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
yet by no means clearing the guilty,
but visiting the iniquity of the parents
upon the children
and the children’s children
to the third and the fourth generation.”
Anchored in Eternity
So long as our minds and hearts are anchored in this truth, we will experience this steady, strong peace, even as the storms crash against us, and the waves tower over us, even as our boat seems to be cracking up all around us, that anchor is going to keep us in peace.
I use this metaphor mindfully, thinking of two passages in the Greek scriptures. The first is the story of the apostle Paul’s shipwreck that landed him and everyone on board safely on the shores of Malta. Their ship was in fact destroyed, the storm took everything from them and would have also taken their lives, but Paul’s mind, soul, body, and spirit were anchored in Christ, and through the power and authority God granted him, not only was everyone saved but everything they had lost was restored plus even more.
The other passage is found in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
We who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to seize the hope set before us.
We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain.Hebrews 6:18-19 (NRSV)
Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension has anchored every redeemed person to God in eternity. These truths come in fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision, and the words given him by inspiration of the Lord’s Spirit to write down. We are indeed made steadfast and given supernatural peace when we are willing to let go of our old perspective—that the world is a dangerous place we might not survive—to the new perception that regardless of what threatens us and even regardless of what we might or indeed do lose, God is greater, God is more, and in God we will not only survive but thrive.
By contrast, and in words of reassurance, Isaiah described the “lofty city,” all the strongholds and fearsome foes that before had threatened God’s people would now be brought low, would be trampled underfoot in a complete reversal of what had been. The poor and needy will now be the powerful and nourished, and their would-be tormentors castigated.
As Isaiah pondered what the Lord was revealing to him, he saw two paths come into focus. One of them was the way of the righteous, made level and straight, cleared personally by God for the redeemed to walk unhindered. Isaiah realized this is what we put our hope in, the Lord and the path God guides us on.
The God-Cleared Path
In the path of your judgments,Isaiah 26:8-9 (NRSV)
O Lord, we have placed hope;
your name and your renown
are the soul’s desire.
My soul yearns for you in the night;
my spirit within me earnestly seeks you.
For when your judgments are in the earth,
the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.
How often have I woken up in the dark hours of night, wondering why I am awake rather than deeply asleep. And just as I am posing that question to the Lord, God calls to mind what I am to pray for, right then, right there. Every spirit earnestly seeking after God, every soul yearning for the Lord, has experienced this phenomenon. In the night, when all else is still, God has our full attention.
The Corrupted Path
There is an alternative way, a path Isaiah lamented. To Isaiah’s eyes, God’s kindness and favor toward those who rejected God, God’s patience with them, God’s revelation of God’s Own Person, of truth and goodness, was completely lost on the “wicked.” Not only did they not see God’s majesty, and did not learn righteousness, they “corrupt the upright.”
Would it not be better, Isaiah posed, for the wicked to see God’s zeal for God’s people, for perhaps that would shame them. Would it not be better if God’s fire rained down on the heads of God’s adversaries.
Thankfully, the Gospel, the good news of salvation, is not delivered in the way Isaiah suggested, but rather, as the apostle Paul exclaimed,
Do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?Apostle Paul, Romans 2:4 (NRSV)
Nevertheless, though God’s patience is forbearing and long, there will be an endpoint.