The joy that ever follows faith in the atoning sufferings of Christ.
The harmony between heaven and earth. The one city composed
of street and wall. The old limits of Jerusalem must be extended.
The everlasting strength and tenderness of Jehovah's love for Israel.
fitting it is that the very first word that we hear, whether it be in
the original Hebrew or in our translation of it, is "Sing."
Dispensations may change, a heavenly calling may replace an earthly,
but wherever the gospel is heard and in heart accepted, there is, and
ever will be, "great joy in that city" (Acts 8:8), and joy finds its
expression in song.
1: Sing, O thou barren, thou who didst bear not!
Break forth into singing, with joy cry aloud,
O thou who with child didst not travail!
For more are the children of her who was widowed,
Than of her who was married, Jehovah doth say.
2: Enlarge the place of thy tent!
The curtains that make up thy dwelling
Let them outstretch!
Hinder it not!
Lengthen thy cords!
Strengthen thy stakes!
3: For thou shalt break forth on right hand and left,
Thy seed, of the Gentiles, shall take full possession,
And cause to be filled with their dwellers
4: Fear not, O fear not; thou shalt not be ashamed;
Set reproach at defiance, for ne'er shalt thou blush!
The shame of thy youth thou shalt no more remember,
Reproach of thy widowhood shalt thou forget.
5: Thy Maker's thy husband,
Jehovah His name, Jehovah of Hosts,
The Holy One of Israel,
The God of the whole of the earth
Shall He be called!
6: For as a wife who has been forsaken,
Her spirit burdened with sorrow,
So Jehovah hath called thee;
Aye, as a wife in youth wedded,
Yet who has since been despised,
Saith thy God!
7: Short has the moment been that I've forsaken thee,
Great the compassions in which I'll regather thee.
8: In quick burst of anger My face I hid from thee,
With kindness unending shall mercy be on thee,
Saith thy Redeemer, Jehovah!
9: For this is to Me as the waters of Noah!
For as I have sworn that the waters of Noah
Shall nevermore cover the earth,
So have I sworn that I nevermore
Will be angry with thee,
Never again will rebuke thee!
10: For mountains may go, and hills be removed,
But My lovingkindness from thee shall go—never!
Nor shall My cov'nant of peace be removed,
So saith Jehovah who loves thee!
fitting, let me say again, is that first word "Sing!" coming directly
after the atoning work of the Lord Jesus, for joy in this scene of
sorrow is one of the very best testimonies to the efficacy of that
work. Here then, that efficacy is first applied to Jerusalem, the city
that is destined to be the joy of the whole earth (Ps. 48:2), but no
one can communicate joy who is not himself filled with it, so Jerusalem
must begin the psalmody. This earth is here the sphere of this singing,
not anywhere above or below it, for there are surely no "nations" as
such, anywhere else than on the earth. Neither national nor sectarian
distinctions can exist in heaven. Its very atmosphere slays separation,
cherishes unity. But whilst this is undeniable, it would appear equally
so that this singing on earth is in full harmony with similar singing
in heaven, and that there is such accord between the saints on earth
and those in heaven, that their notes at this time make one perfect
melody. Are we not distinctly told that? Does not the book of
Revelation (chap. 14) reveal to us a scene in heaven in which
twenty-four elders offer the prayers of the saints on earth (Rev. 5:8),
and later we see "harpers," and hear them "harping with their harps"?
But that is not all; the song that they sing is learned and sung by
144,000—that mystic number that stands for the remnant of Israel's
tribes on the earth; and on earth none but that 144,000 can sing that
heavenly song, for none but they have gone through the experiences that
alone give it birth. So the song begins in heaven; but on Mount Zion,
which is on earth, another part of that one orchestra stands, as it
swells even the melody of heaven. So here in our prophet, it is
Jerusalem on the earth that is bidden to sing; but so closely
identified is the heavenly Jerusalem with that on earth during that
millennial day, of which this speaks, that together they make up one
city; and thus the same Spirit who spoke through Isaiah, spoke through
Paul, and applies these very words to the saints of the present day, or
"Jerusalem which is above" (Gal. 4:21-31).
We must not press this so
far as to take the whole prophecy away from the Jew altogether, and
apply it solely to the Church, leaving Israel cast away
permanently—that all Scripture clearly forbids. Nor, indeed, can this
whole prophecy be applied to the Church; for, as in Christ, God never
hides His face from her "in a little wrath";1 nor is the
figure of a married wife applied to the Church, but that of a "chaste
virgin" (2 Cor. 11:2); so that the whole scope of Scripture demands
that this address be seen as directed primarily to the penitent
remnant, representing the redeemed nation.
Here we have a
widespread difficulty: how is it that the apostle—and, we may say, God
the Holy Spirit—applies this verse in Gal. 4 to the heavenly Jerusalem?
We have thought that the Old Testament prophets knew nothing of that.
How then could it be so applied? This has not only perplexed many, but
has been misused to obliterate all distinction between the calling of
Israel to blessings on the earth and that of the Church to blessings in
the heavens. In all such difficulties it is vitally important to
consider the peculiar needs and dangers of those who are addressed. The
Galatians were being attracted away, by certain false brethren, from
"the grace of Christ," to "works of the law" as the basis of acceptance
with God. The question then is as to which of the two covenants that
had been made with Israel. Promise or Law, Grace or Legality, were they
to be attached? Will they adopt the bondwoman Hagar to be their mother,
or the free-woman Sarah? The former represented the Jerusalem that "now
is" (note, it is not said "on earth," for there is still to be one on
earth, of the free-woman), and is in bondage with all her children. The
latter represents Jerusalem above which is as free as was Abraham's
wife. It is the great conflict of all the ages; on which principle are
we accepted—by law or grace? In that respect, there is literal unity
between the Jerusalem that shall be the metropolis of the millennial
earth and the Jerusalem above. As far as the basis of their eternal
blessedness is concerned, they are a unit, and both may and will "sing"
of perfect acceptance on one and the same principle of free grace; that
free grace is far more productive of fruit to God than the marriage
Verse 2 shows that the old limits of the city shall be
so extended as to be figured by lengthening of the cords that hold a
tent with the forcing of the stakes down deeper. Nor must she,
Jerusalem, hinder the workman in doing this, as if it were unnecessary,
for on all sides shall she grow.
But will there not linger, as a
sad memory, all her past sorrow and shame? Will not the thought of
Babylon, and the shame of her captivity there, bring a blush to her
cheek? Never! For her God bids her forget it all, or only think of it
as a cause of fresh joy and singing at the contrast with her present
condition. Just as a poor sinful one today may well remember the
shameful past, but as a stimulus to, and not a check on his present
joy; not to throw the shadow of a question on the value of the Blood of
Christ, nor of his own perfect and never-to-be-broken acceptance with
God, as based on that value.
Rationalistic criticism delights to
speak of Jehovah as the "tribal deity of the Jews." How different is
the grand claim of verse 3! He is indeed the Redeemer of Israel, but of
all "hosts" is He Lord whether in heaven or earth, and a God whose
claims, as far as this earth is concerned, are only limited by its
What a delightful term is that by which He next speaks of
His people, "A wife of youth," when affections are freshest, and most
tender; and though there has intervened a long period of apparent
estrangement, Jehovah's first love has never cooled, and now He calls
her to His heart again, compassionating her desolation, even though it
be due to her own sin.
Yes, He was compelled to forsake her, in
the day of her forsaking Him; but now that penitent tears well from her
eyes, His arms are wide-stretched, and as a father gathers to his bosom
the child he has been compelled to chastise, with a joy that far
exceeds that of the one thus restored, so does Jehovah as He cries: "It
is meet that we make merry and be glad, for it was but in a temporary
burst of anger in which I hid My Face, for a moment, but with
never-ending lovingkindness will I cherish My beloved earthly people."
This surely applies no less to His poor people in Christ, who have
nothing on earth to rival Him. It is a loving-kindness, He assures us,
which is as eternal as that covenant of which the bow in the cloud was,
and is: the token that never again should waters destroy the earth, so
never again shall waters of sorrow overwhelm Israel: more sure is this
than the stability of the everlasting mountains.
In the second
part of this section, we hear, as in so many second's of Scripture, of
a foe to God's people, Israel, and in view of that opponent, their
representative city, Jerusalem, is addressed, as being their mother,
11: O thou afflicted, storm-tossed and comfortless,
Fair are the colors I'll place in thy stones;
Thy very foundations I'll make to be sapphires;
12: Thy minarets all, with rubies shall shine,
Thy gates with glistening jewelry;
Lovely the stones that shall mark out thy borders.
13: Thy children shall all be taught of the Lord:
Yes, perfect the peace of thy children!
14: In righteousness shall thy foundations be sunken:
From anxiety far, naught shalt thou fear!
From terror removed, it shall not come a-nigh thee!
15: Lo, armies are leaguing, 'tis not of My will,
Who leagues against thee, by thee shall they fall.
16: Behold, it is I who've created the smith,
Who blows up the coals into fire,
And by his skill formeth a weapon.
'Tis I who've created the one who destroys,2
That he should go forth and lay waste.
17: But never a weapon that's formed against thee,
Shall ever have aught of success:
And every tongue that riseth 'gainst thee
In judgment thou shalt condemn.
This is their lot, Jehovah who serve,
And their righteousness cometh from Me,
has not been ignorant of Jerusalem's sorrows—not a tear has escaped His
attention; not a sigh that He has not heard; and now that she is fully
restored, He will let His affection be told by the beauties that He
puts on her. The very cement used in her walls shall be itself a
beauty. But there must be a worthier and deeper reason than a mere
literal reading can give in the recital of this adornment of Jerusalem
with precious stones. For instance, her foundations are to be
sapphires, and to press this into literalness would be to destroy the
intent of the Scripture, for the foundation of a city is not even
visible. But the deep spiritual truth told by that stone is nothing
less than divine, as we may see.
Take the garments of the High
Priest. We know well that the breastplate which glistened in the Light
of God, told out, in the varied beauties of its stones, the glories of
that Light which was itself invisible. For God is Light; and Him no man
hath seen nor can see, nor could any single stone possibly express all
the loveliness that dwells in Him; but all have been told out by that
only begotten Son, who is "in the bosom of the Father, and hath
declared Him" (John 1:18).
As we know, light itself is a trinity
and every flame may be distinguished into three parts; the invisible in
the centre; then the visible or light-giving, and that in its turn is
surrounded by an invisible bordering of chemical or actinic rays, which
effect actual changes in that to which they are applied. Apply the
simple parable.3 God, in His essential Deity, is the
invisible Centre of all; and is only declared by the visible
Light-giving Son; but this revelation is only made effective to men by
the operation of the unseen Spirit, corresponding with that part of the
flame that tells of changes wrought by the divine Spirit in those
subject to His leading, changes far beyond all earthly chemistry.
too we all know that there are three primary colors: Yellow (or
Golden), Red and Blue, again telling precisely the same truth as to the
divine Trinity. The Golden speaks of His essential Deity; the human
color, Red, expresses the second Person who became Man; whilst the Blue
speaks eloquently enough of that heavenly Spirit, who is leading us,
His people, back to the heaven whence He came.
But further: What
makes our sky to be blue? Take a balloon and ascend some miles, and all
the blue disappears; we have only starlit darkness above us. Nor is
such an ascent needed. Let the sun sink from sight and almost at once
the blue has gone and the canopy over us is black. Again, how precious
is this parable of nature! It is the sun's rays, coming down to our
atmosphere, that make the heavens to be blue. So it is Christ coming
from God—the very brightness of His glory—into this earth, who gives us
to discern the grace, mercy, and peace, of which the "blue" ever
speaks, in God as our Father.
Let us then return to the city's
foundations, "sapphires." Their color speaks of what we should learn.
God has painted the ceiling of man's dwelling, this earth, with this
lovely tint, which, whenever he looks upward shall speak to him of the
grace that no storm that sweeps across life's sky can forever hide.
Clouds may veil the "blue" for a time, but the clouds are swept away,
and there is still the sapphire-blue unchanged and unaffected. Precious
truth! Well it is for us to remember that as Jerusalem's foundations
are in sapphires, so are we to be rooted and grounded in that
unchanging love whereof the sapphire speaks.
The word rendered in
the Authorized Version "agates," which, with the Revised Version, I
have translated by "rubies," is still somewhat uncertain; but there can
at least be no question as to its being such a jewel as made every
minaret, pinnacle, and battlement sparkle as with the flashing of
rubies; and with this the gates are in accord with their "stones as of
fire" telling out her royal glories in all directions.
for the externals; but what of the internal condition? Every single
dweller therein (ver. 13) shall be in very truth a child of God. No
longer are they the children of Hagar, the bondwoman, but of Sarah, the
free. Abraham is himself a figure of faith, and when human faith is
united with divine grace, the result is children that are the source of
joy to God, as the name Isaac (laughter) surely implies.
not be envious of our brethren on the earth in that future day, but
rejoice that our God shall have there one people that shall ever be
delightful to Him, and give Him the laughter of Isaac. But neither will
we refrain from extracting some delight from these precious stones
being even put upon us. For if we are walking in the Spirit, then a
string of jewels (Gal. 5:22, 23) adorns us, and Jerusalem will never
show greater glories, when seen in a divine light, than may we. We must
not be occupied with that, however, for it led to that crashing
downfall of Lucifer, whose "heart was lifted up because of his beauty"
(Ezek. 28:17). No; the Spirit of God never occupies us with our own
spiritual graces, or beauty, but with that of our Lord; and in
occupation with Him alone are we changed into the same image from glory
to glory (2 Cor. 3:18). It is this sorrowful self-occupation that makes
that change so very slow in some of us; but when actually in the glory
of heaven, we shall be delivered from that altogether, as was the "man
in Christ" who was caught up to "the third heaven" (2 Cor. 12); so free
was he from self-intrusion there, that he actually did not know whether
he was in the body or out of it! So, dear fellow-learner in the school
of God, do we grow up from "little children," through the grade of
"young men," till that gracious, patient Teacher brings us to the last
grade here of "fathers," which is attained when we really "know Him
that is from the beginning." We can never get beyond that. There is no
advance from the knowledge of Christ, and great is the peace of all
those who have experimentally learned that they have come to their end
in the Cross, and Christ—the living, risen, all-satisfying Christ—is
their ALL. Do we not re-echo that cry: "O that I may know Him!" It is
this that gives peace, perfect peace, and by it the Lord's words are
carried out: "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me: for I am meek and
lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matt. 11:29).
to return: That much-besieged city may again have gatherings against
it, but let her not think that it is a repetition of the day when the
armies of Babylon encompassed her. The past was for her chastening; the
future shall be for their destruction. Neither at that day nor in the
one that even then shall be far in the future (Rev. 20:9) must they
think that their Lord has any part in such hostility. Far from that, He
then shall be not against, but for her, and if her enemies dash against
her, it shall be for them as when an earthen pitcher strikes a rock.
Can we too not say, "If God be for us, who can be against us?"
the last two verses Jehovah says: "Do not think of your adversaries,
however powerful they may be, as being beyond My control. For as the
smith makes a weapon, and another takes that weapon and uses it, it is
I who am behind the smith, and I never lose My control of the weapon he
makes. So remember that it is I who have created the destroyer, whoever
he may be; whether hostile man or still more hostile spirit, he is but
a creature; I am his Creator, and hold him ever in leash."
can fail to discern here an allusion, and by no means an obscure one,
to the great "destroyer" (Abaddon or Apollyon) of our race? If there
should be any question of this, look at the next verse, 17. We too have
foes innumerable, armed with weapons that they know well how best to
use, sometimes throwing a fiery dart, and again seeking our overthrow
with subtle wile. Let us appropriate the comfort here given to the
earthly people, for we, who are through grace in Christ, surely have
title to these exceeding great and precious promises, and no weapon,
whether dart or wile, formed against the feeblest in Christ shall ever
be permitted to destroy them. Nay, more; the picture changes from a
battlefield to a court of justice; and there is Apollyon again in other
guise. Now, in apparent zeal for the righteousness of God's Throne,
that he was, as the cherub appointed, to cover, or shield from taint
(Ezek. 28), he accuses us day and night, nor does he ever accuse of
what is false. Those whom he accuses are not innocent people; they are
guilty of all that he brings against them. Yet it is he, and not they
who shall be justly condemned in that High Court of Divine Justice!
secret! But, God be praised, we have learned it, for it is our accuser
who is found guilty of denying the unassailable righteousness that has
taken full note of all our sins—aye, of the very nature that is
sin—that has not winked at the slightest lapse, but has exacted a full
penalty, without any modification. Since that penalty has been fully
paid, it is righteousness itself that now demands our complete
justification, and unrighteousness that would deny it. Something very
striking follows from this: when one accuses another falsely, the
accuser becomes as guilty as the accused would have been, had the
accusation been justified. Nor is it difficult to see the justice of
this. If, for instance, I accuse a man of murder, the penalty of which
is death, then do I aim at his death, and if there be no just ground
for the accusation, I become the murderer. That is the principle here.
So perfectly freed are the redeemed, so thoroughly is justice satisfied
by the full penalty having been borne, and not a vestige of guilt left,
that the accuser, ignoring this, is himself guilty. To use a legal
phrase, his case is thrown out of court; and we may go still further,
and see him thrown out too! (Rev. 12).
This freedom from all
condemnation is the inheritance of all who, deriving their life from,
also share the lot of that Servant, and so are themselves, as here,
servants. Putting this truth into New Testament language, they are
"heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ." As such, they may all take
up the triumph-cry: "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's
elect? It is God who justifieth" by having wrought such a perfect
righteousness for them that they can look even that keen-eyed enemy in
the face as they ask, "Who is he that condemneth?"
Hebrew again has the rhyming so characteristic of Isaiah, b'shetzeph
quetzeph, which together signify a burst of wrath like a thunderclap,
but of short duration. Compare, "His anger is but for a moment" (Ps.
2 I have been tempted to render this by the
Greek Apollyon, for that is found in the Septuagint, and it takes our
thoughts to the greatest of destroyers.
3 The tri-unities of the universe are elaborated in The Secret of the Universe, by Dr. Nathan Wood—a remarkable book.