This is another amazing chapter in Isaiah, and another prophecy intermingling historical with eschatological imagery. Isaiah declares woes on the destroyer, i.e. Assyria, and that they will be destroyed; however, judgment will come. Those who were haughty in their sin and pride will be terrified, and Isaiah tells us why:
14 The sinners in Zion are terrified;
trembling grips the godless:
“Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire?
Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?”
He answers the questions he puts in their mouths, but when sinners finally see clearly that their sin deserves judgment, there will be no arrogance, only abject fear. I’m reminded of my father who often said he’d “talk to my Jesus” when he got to heaven about this and that, but when he was on his deathbed the last words I ever heard him say were, “I don’t want to die.” He wasn’t so tough when he was about to pay the wages of sin. Everyone, from the most hardened sinner, to the most pious and outwardly moral person will respond like Isiah did (chapter 6) when confronted with the perfect holiness of Almighty God:
5 And I said: “Woe is me!For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
But the Lord atones for his sins, and he survives to serve the Lord. This speaks to Isiah’s answer to the above questions:
15 Those who walk righteously
and speak what is right,
who reject gain from extortion
and keep their hands from accepting bribes,
who stop their ears against plots of murder
and shut their eyes against contemplating evil—
16 they are the ones who will dwell on the heights,
whose refuge will be the mountain fortress.
Their bread will be supplied,
and water will not fail them.
He seems to be saying if you just live a moral life, God will bless you and you won’t be in danger of the consuming and everlasting burning. This points to the historical versus eschatological perspectives in the chapter (and throughout Isaiah). If God’s people in Zion live an upright life, they will be blessed, but as we know they can never quite pull it off, which is the moral of the story.
In Verse 17 Isaiah speaks of their eyes seeing a “king in his beauty,” which in history is Hezekiah, but ultimately is Christ. We know this because we get a vision of prosperity and peace that will come upon the land, and Isaiah tells us why:
22 For the Lord is our judge,
the Lord is our lawgiver,
the Lord is our king;
it is he who will save us.
No earthly king can pull it off! So yes, the Lord will give them some semblance of peace and prosperity after he brings judgment in the form of the Assyrians, but ultimately only the Lord himself can rule in Zion. And should there be any doubt this points to eternity, we read these last words of the chapter:
24 No one living in Zion will say, “I am ill”;
and the sins of those who dwell there will be forgiven.
Everything rides on our sins being forgiven! Jesus’ ministry starts and ends with this declaration of forgiveness, and thus tells us what Christianity is ultimately all about (it’s not all about us being more moral–that is the fruit, not the tree). In Matthew 1, an angel of the Lord tells Joseph in a dream:
21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua which means “the Lord saves.” So according to Isaiah Jesus is our judge, our lawgiver, our king, and the one “who will save us.” And after Jesus is raised from the dead, he tells his disciples in Luke 24:
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
And notice those who will be forgiven: those who repent, that is those whose hearts are changed, who grieve for there sin, never those who ignore or glory in it. In other words, the Christian life is a life of repentance because we can never fully escaped sin in this life while in these bodies. Thus God has provided a way for sinners to be forgiven so that they can dwell in Zion, meaning with God. We don’t have to react to our wrong doing like Adam and Eve who hid from the Lord God as he was walking in the Garden in the cool of the day. Instead of going away, we can rush toward the Lord God in Christ, to the cross and claim the forgiveness our just God has declared is ours in him. What an amazing way to solve the dilemma of a holy God and sinful human beings. And we go there because of what Isaiah tells us earlier in the chapter:
5 The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
he will fill Zion with his justice and righteousness.
6 He will be the sure foundation for your times,
a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.
Man, I could meditate on these verses for days. There is no limit to what Paul calls in his doxology at the end of Romans 11:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
This after 11 chapter of explaining the meaning of redemptive history. We have access to the mind of the creator of reality! Historically, this speaks to Hezekiah’s reign, but now it speaks to the reign of King Jesus, and we have access to an endless reservoir “of salvation and wisdom and knowledge.” This means our lives don’t have to be a confusing mess of sin and guilt and frustration, wandering in darkness, stubbing our toes, running into things, and wondering what the heck is going on. We have everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him! And it starts with salvation, the forgiveness of sins. Praise the Lord!