Restoring a Broken World (Far From Home #5)

Restoring a Broken World (Far From Home #5)

In this next instalment form our series Far from Home we continue to wrestle with different aspects of the experience of exile. The following quotation picks up on the idea that the Babylonian exile is a metaphor for our human experience.

We all long for Eden, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of exile.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

This world is not our true home – we are citizens of another place and we experience a sense of longing for it. We are soaked with the sense of exile. Last time we were in Isaiah chapters 40-55 under the title Comfort for the Exiles. In this post I want to turn my attentions to chapters 56-66 and specifically the three beautiful poems which lie at the heart of it. As a whole the theme of this section is about how God’s Servants will inherit the Kingdom of God. The book of Isaiah therefore concludes with a grand vision of the fulfilment of all of God’s covenant promises for His people.

Today, our theme is about Restoring, Renewing and Rebuilding which are significant themes in the prophets. It seems that Isaiah wrote the latter part of his book for a time significantly later than the period in which he lived. He lived in Judah during the reigns of King Uzziah, King Jotham, King Ahaz and King Hezekiah. But the latter section of Isaiah addresses a people who are already in exile. The events of 2 Chronicles 36 have already taken place and therefore the Promised Land lay in ruins. Nebuchadnezzar had set fire to the temple and palaces, broken down the city wall & destroyed everything of value. Their world was broken, and they too were a broken people. With God’s people in exile, the Prophets wrote words of comfort about a day when there would be restoration. They also wrote some great promises about all that God was going to do for them in the future. Being away from the Promised Land was a big deal for God’s people and their hopes rested on God bringing them back but God’s plan went much further as we shall see today.

Before we get into the detail it is important to talk about what scholar Chris Wright calls the three horizons of fulfilment of Old Testament Prophecy. Firstly, prophecy is good news for the exiles. There is a clear fulfilment of prophecy in the immediate context. In terms of the exile, we are talking about the physical return to the Promised Land. Secondly, prophecy is good news in Christ. There is an element of Old Testament prophecy which can only be fulfilled though the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and the era of His Church. Thirdly, prophecy is good news for the world. Old Testament prophecy looks forward to a fulfilment that will only be realised when Jesus returns. We must keep all three horizons in mind as we seek to understand these exciting chapters. They will help us understand how Isaiah’s prophecy will have huge significance for all of God’s people here and now.

Photo by David Wirzba on Unsplash

1. The Glory of God’s Kingdom (Isaiah 60): Tables Turned

The theme of Isaiah 60 is the Glory of God’s Kingdom. In a striking contrast from the darkness of 59:9-10 we see that their light is coming, and the glory of the Lord is rising upon them. Their is a call to gather and there is an encouragement that their sons would come from afar. Both Kings and their nations alike will be drawn to this light and we soon see a great throng of people, treasures and wealth being drawn into the Kingdom of God.

10 “Foreigners will rebuild your walls, and their kings will serve you. Though in anger I struck you, in favour I will show you compassion. 11 Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night, so that people may bring you the wealth of the nations—their kings led in triumphal procession. 12 For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish; it will be utterly ruined

Isaiah 60:10-12

There is a significant turning of the tables seen in these verses. There is talk of the work of rebuilding which shockingly will be done by foreigners. In anger God had struck them, but now He would show them compassion. There would be a stream of people flowing into the city of Jerusalem – a city whose gates would never be shut. The children of their oppressors are seen bowing down before them. Rather than being forsaken, hated and deserted, God is making them the everlasting pride and joy of all generations. No more will they hear the sound of violence and destruction, but they will call their walls Salvation and their gates praise. Their days of sorrow would end, and they would possess the land forever. In words similar to those in Revelation 21:3-5 God Himself would now be their everlasting light.

21 Then all your people will be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendour. 22 The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation. I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly.”

Isaiah 60:21-22

These final words are particularly encouraging. God says that they will be the shoot He had planted and the work of His hands. Isaiah says that it will be for the display of my splendour (v21b). God is growing new shoots and says they are for the display of His splendour. The chapter concludes in v22 with an astounding promise that the least will become a thousand and the smallest a mighty nation. I love how this promise assures us of how God can multiply our impact. Elsewhere God says that because He loves them He will give people in exchange for our lives (Isaiah 43:4). Even the smallest can become a might nation…

2. The Ministry in God’s Kingdom (Isaiah 61): Getting Alongside

The theme of Isaiah 61 is the ministry in God’s Kingdom. This chapter feels like the real heart of these three chapters and the focus is on Jesus and the ministry He would have in and through others. The chapter begins with words that Jesus read from a scroll in Luke 4:16-22. Jesus told those in the Synagogue who had listened that: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing (v21).” These words in Lue come soon after Jesus had spent 40 days being tested in the wilderness. It really seems as if Jesus is announcing the beginning of His public ministry and He boldly claims that these words are talking about Jesus.

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

Isaiah 61:1-3

These words in Isaiah 61 speak of a ministry that is focused on drawing alongside others to proclaim the good news, heal people, restore sight, and release captives/prisoners. There is a beautiful contrast here in the transformation foreseen by Isaiah and often expressed through the word instead. The words distinguish between how things are and how things would be as a result of His ministry. There is comfort for the mourner, provision for those who grieve, a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

3…They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. Strangers will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God…

Isaiah 60:3b-7a

After that God’s people are pictured as strong, enduring and beautiful trees – Oaks of righteousness. They will be a planting of the Lord. People will see that such people have been planted for the display of His splendour. We see similar phrases in 60:21 and 62:3. These are incredible words to describe the kind of people God is transforming us to be but there is more because we now read about the kind of things that God’s people will do. Again, we have this language of rebuilding ancient ruins, restoring devastated places and renewing ruined cities. Ministry in God’s Kingdom is pictured in terms of building, shepherding and labouring in the fields/vineyards. They will be called priests and ministers of our God. This is familiar language we often see in the New Testament (e.g. 1 Peter 2, 2 Cor 5) that speak about getting alongside others to build, grow, shepherd and encourage. This is what life in the Kingdom of God is all about and it is so motivating to all that we do.

Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.” 10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

Isaiah 61:9-11

The final verses speak of God’s promise to make an everlasting covenant with His people. This covenant is accompanied by blessing – God’s people would be known among the nations and known as a people the LORD has blessed. In v10 Isaiah declares how he delights greatly in the LORD. Why? He illustrates with a picture of being clothed with garments of salvation and being arrayed in a robe of righteousness. What a wonderous thought to think that God covers over our filthy rags with robes of righteousness. This is the gospel – when God looks at us, rather than seeing our filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) God sees the perfection of Jesus represented here by these garments of Salvation. The chapter concludes with another picture of how God the sprout comes up and the seeds in the garden grow. Likewise, God promises that righteousness and praise will spring up before all nations. God’s Kingdom grows and cannot be orchestrated or manufactured – what a joy that we get to be a part of this as we draw alongside others and see what God will do!

3. The Future of God’s Kingdom (Isaiah 62): New Name

The final chapter is all about the future of God’s Kingdom. Isaiah foresees a time when Jerusalem will see both vindication and salvation. At that time he says that she will be a crown of splendour in the LORD’s hand (v3). Having seen themselves as forsaken, deserted and desolate, she would now have a new name. She would be called Hephzibah (meaning my delight is in her) and Beulah (meaning married). Just as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride so God will rejoice over His people. There is a picture here of God’s marriage to His people akin to the picture we have in Revelation 19:7 of the wedding of the lamb.

You will be a crown of splendour in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married.

Isaiah 62:3-4

Isaiah uses the language of protection and he says that watchmen will be posted on the walls and will give God no rest until (1) the restoration of Jerusalem has been completed and (2) she has been made the praise of the earth. Finally, Isaiah calls upon the people of God to prepare the way and build up the highway. They are to get rid of all obstacles to the coming of God’s Salvation. Their Saviour is coming, and He is bringing His rewards with him. Interestingly this verse is quoted right at the end of the Bible in Revelation 22:12 in the context of Jesus’ second coming. The chapter ends with a declaration about the Kingdom of God and how they would be holy, redeemed and called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted.

11 The Lord has made proclamation to the ends of the earth: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your Saviour comes! See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.’” 12 They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted.

Isaiah 62:11-12

The Promises of God

So, we’ve seen that Isaiah finishes with the grand vision of the fulfilment of all of God’s Covenant promises. But I wonder how confident you feel about the promises of God? The image above includes a selection of many of the Bible’s incredible promises. Notice in particular the verse at the centre where Paul declares:

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.”

2 Corinthians 1:20

God’s promises to Isaiah have meaning for us because their fulfilment extends to the New Covenant era inaugurated by the ministry of Jesus and to all that He is yet to do in the New Heavens and the New Earth. God’s promises are dependable, and they are always Yes in Christ. God has made us oaks of righteousness and a planting of the LORD for the display of His splendour. He delights in each of us and is working in us to bring about growth. He has made us priests and ministers to those around us. He wants to use us in restoring the brokenness around us. He wants to take us and multiply our life. These are some of the promises God is working out in us and through us. What a privilege. What an encouragement. What a blessing.

See other posts in this series: Far From Home

  1. Living in Exile
  2. Refusing to Compromise
  3. Making a Home for ourselves
  4. Comfort for the Exiles
  5. Restoring a Broken World
  6. Where is God in Exile?
  7. Sanctuary for the Exiles
  8. Prayer and the Purposes of God

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