For the seventh time Isaiah refers to “that Day” and what will occur. How powerful and incredible must have been his vision to leave such a profound impression on the prophet’s mind. Here he summarizes what has come before, introducing by name in v. 2 the One whose mission is to provide hope for the believing remnant. Again the remnant is in view and Isaiah clarifies who it is who will remain in Zion and how it is that they will come to be there. Through the prophet God’s purpose is identified in vv. 3-4: he intends to purify the culture and sanctify the remnant. The covenant Lord also guarantees the security of the new glorified Zion (v.5) by means of his overshadowing presence (v.6).
While there is only one meaning to our text, it is capable of progressive fulfillment; Isaiah’s primary focus is on that day when God’s purpose with respect to Zion will be completed, when all those who remain in Zion and Jerusalem will be rightly called holy. Yet he speaks of a Branch or Sprout of the Lord ( Isa. 4:2 ) which will grow from the stump of Jesse, a branch which will bear fruit ( Isa. 11:1 ). Through prophetic revelation, more detail is gradually given regarding the Branch in Jer. 23:5 Jer. 33:15 Zec. 3:8 Zec. 6:12 where we learn he is a Branch of David who will rule as a righteous king, the man whose name is Branch who will build the Lord’s temple. Clearly a unique individual, an image emerges of one who is divine yet human; the Branch of the Lord and also the fruit of the earth. We know him as the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord Jesus.
Perhaps Zechariah in Zec. 3:8 was by inspiration of the Holy Spirit synthesizing two pieces of information provided in Isaiah when he quoted God referring to “My servant, the Branch”, drawing together a picture of irony as the Branch who would be “beautiful and glorious”, “excellent and appealing”s in the eyes of the remnant would also be “despised and rejected of men” Isa. 53:3. This should come as no surprise to us since we know both from personal experience and the apostle Paul’s teaching in 2 Cor. 2:16 that God’s truth being lived out is a “scent of death” to some, a “scent of life” to others.
A. Zion beautified vv. 2, 4
In that day after God has visited his people in judgment there will be a beauty, a glory in Zion that is excellent and appealing. This will not be a natural or inherent beauty nor will it be according to man’s standards and invention. It is the Branch who will be the ornament of Zion, God who will be the source of beauty to the remnant.
When God arrives on the scene, he shatters man’s conceptions of what is good and beautiful that he has made with his own hands. When we experience a prize-winning rose in real life, we realize just how lackluster painted roses are; when we experience God himself, we will likewise recognize how pathetic painted people are.
In order to make Zion fit for his presence, God had to strip away all they thought was of beauty in order to reveal the true person underneath the mask. Remember, those who are in Jerusalem at this point are those who have escaped, the remnant who has been preserved through the time of judgment. Those whom God has redeemed are truly beautiful, displaying as Peter described it ( 1 Peter 3:4 ) the “hidden person of the heart, with th eincurruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit which is very precious in the sight of God”.
There is much hope for the future expressed in this one verse. Jerusalem, and by extension Israel, at this juncture is like a tree which has been cut down; but the prophet shows how the stump still has life as evidenced by the Branch which comes up as a sprout from that stump. In anticipation of the devastation of the land promised in chapter 5, the prophet here declares that the time will come when the land will be fruitful once again, bringing forth that which will be both excellent and appealing.
Isaiah could have in view only the person of the Messiah; however, since the language used is poetic and to some degree figurative, he could also be describing the results of Messiah’s rule. He previously declared in Isa. 2:1-4 that what was promised to take place in Zion would have far-reaching effects, ultimately affecting the entire world. The propagation of the Gospel and spread of Christ’s kingdom to all men beginning at Jerusalem and Judea would truly be a source of delight to “those of Israel who have escaped”.
Most telling is the promise that the Branch will be observed by a remnant, those who have escaped God’s judgment, the survivors whom he has preserved. They will consider him to be beautiful and glorious; it is the Branch who will bring honor to Jerusalem and to those who remain there. Isaiah again declares his message of hope, that not all Israel will be consumed by God’s righteous judgment. There will be those left for whom God has a further purpose, whom God intends shall be rightly called “holy”.
B. Zion purified vv. 3-4
It should not surprise us that the concept of personal holiness is prominent in Isaiah’s thoughts and writings. He had a great love for the one whom he called the “Holy One of Israel”, the one he had seen attended by seraphim and lauded as thrice-Holy. Isaiah had also experienced a spine-tingling ritual of personal purification at the time of his call to ministry and which served to fit him for service. Isaiah knew from personal experience the value, the joy that had come to him as a result of God’s cleansing; he was given insight to discern a similar purpose and outcome for God’s people as a result of the national events he has previously described.
In these two verses, Isaiah’s attention is riveted on the things which God has accomplished in the remnant. His emphasis, apparent from the original sentence structure, is on individual holiness – “And it will come to pass, whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem, holy will he be called, all who are written down for life in Jerusalem.” – with a secondary emphasis on God’s sovereign election. In stark contrast with Zion’s previous condition, especially the state of the “daughters of Zion”, the Holy City will be cleansed of its impurities to the degree that all those left within its gates will be characterized by holiness of character and life.
While this was fulfilled to a small degree when 42,000 Jews with a heart for rebuilding the temple returned to Jerusalem for that express purpose in the time of Cyrus. That they had a heart for God and not merely a building project was evidenced by their erecting the altar and re-starting the practice of daily sacrifice. They did this in a city with no defenses, on the ground of the previous temple but with no protection from local people who wished them harm. Ezra 3:1-6 The true Church under the rule of Christ is similarly characterized by individual holiness and the prophecy will reach its ultimate fulfillment when Christ returns in final judgment. At that time, bloodshed will cease and Christ’s peaceable kingdom will come in its fulness as he rules in righteousness and justice over his creation.
Isaiah describes the inhabitants of the city as those who have “been recorded for life” in Jerusalem. Those who will be called holy are those whose names have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, penned there by God himself. Having written their names in his book before creation, God also purposed in that first covenant of redemption to do all that would be required to make his people fit for eternal life. Here it is Adonai, the Master, who washes away the uncleanness and purges the stains from his people.
Isaiah uses strong words to identify that which must be purged in order for the people to be rightly called holy – Tsow’ah which is elsewhere rendered vomit or excrement, and Dam or blood. The daughters of Zion had prided themselves in their outward appearance, their finery, and their sophisticated ways. Yet in God’s view, such a display was in reality disgusting filth indicative of the moral pollution hidden beneath the surface. God was determined to purge away both – the real pollution of sin and its outward manifestations.
The Master, the Ruler of all creation will accomplish his purpose by means of the fire of his judgment, a fire which has two very different results. For those who are hardened in their sin and sinful ways, determined to resist God’s correction and rebel against his lawful rule, the fire of his judgment will consume them. On the other hand, the same fire will have a different effect on those recorded for life – they will be purified by the heat of God’s fire as he “burn up and consume the dross which is in the church, and in the minds and hearts of men, and inflames the souls of believers with love to God, and zeal for his glory.” Matthew Poole
C. Zion glorified v. 5a
Zion will be glorious by virtue of the Branch being found there. This principle reminds us of John’s vision of the Son of Man walking among the candlesticks, the risen and exalted Christ present among his church. But, in addition to that, we have the promise of a fresh manifestation of Yahweh’s presence as he divinely and miraculously creates a perpetual cloud and fire over the entire area of Mount Zion. It, too, will extend from Zion to cover all assemblies where the people of God meet to worship him.
Throughout the Bible a cloud often signified the immediate presence of God – the pillar of cloud that showed the way through the wilderness; the cloud that covered the top of Mount Sinai when Moses met there with Yahweh; the cloud that covered the tent of meeting after its construction; the cloud that filled the temple after Solomon had dedicated it. In each of these instances (referenced 7 times) the glory of the Lord is associated with the cloud. When the cloud was present, so also was the Lord’s glory in such profusion, such magnificence, such overwhelming power that none could approach it.
As with other manifestations of God’s presence, the glory bestowed on Zion was not temporary; as signified by the cloud and the fire, God could be seen in Zion around the clock, without any interruption. It is God who is the glory of the church; it is not the edifice itself, the pipe organ or the talented artist who plays it, the view from the steeple, the eloquence of the preacher, but God himself present with his people who is their glory and the glory of Zion. Regardless of the beauty of building or congregation, when God has departed from it so, too, will his glory followed by the awful sentence, “Ichabod, the glory has departed”. That will never be said of the true church, the Zion of God.
D. Zion secured vv. 5b-6
Just as God’s presence will be found in Zion, so his protection is established over it to serve as a canopy or covering over the glory he will create there. Just as God protected ancient Israel with the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire, providing darkness to the Egyptians and protection to the Jews, so God is committed to protecting his Church from her enemies. Even though the cloud and fire provided guidance to Israel in her wanderings in the desert, so God’s presence accompanied by his word continues to give guidance to the Church during her pilgrimage in the world. Cloud and smoke by day, flaming fire by night, canopy over all are a continual reminder of God’s protecting presence securing the safety of his people.
God’s protection will be found in Zion as well as over Zion – a shade, a refuge, and a shelter. We not only can expect security with respect to life in general and our eternal destiny, we can also expect that God will watch over and protect us in everyday life. Isaiah describes first the tabernacle, or more accurately “booth”, in which the shepherd could find relief from the oppressive noontime sun. The booth was a temporary shelter, erected to serve a specific purpose in the field or as a reminder during the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths). God’s people can expect him to provide shelter for them from the heat of oppression as well as concealment fromenemies who surround and try to overcome them.
God further is committed to sheltering his people from the storms of life, the wind and rain and floods which threaten to overwhelm them on their pilgrimage. The evils and troubles which dog our steps are no match for the sheltering refuge which God by his presence affords his children.
All of these promises of shelter and protection have a limit, though. We must not overlook the detail that God’s protecting, sustaining, and comforting presence is found in and over Zion, that is, the Church. True, God does not abandon his children “in the world”; but they will not experience his presence and protecton “in the world” in the same measure as they will “in the church”. Why “in the church”? Because that is where God has concentrated specific resources intended for the benefit of his people. It is there we find the means of grace, particularly preaching and the sacraments or ordinances. It is in Zion we find other believers, members of the body of Christ, equipped to encourage and edify one another.
The Church is the object of God’s love second only to his Son. The Church is the trophy the Father has given the Son because he won the battle against sin and death; the Church is the gift the Son will present to the Father when he has finally conquered and subdued all his enemies. The love the Son has for the Church is the model husbands are expected to follow with regard to loving their wives. Should we not expect to find the most impressive and intimate manifestations of God’s presence in Zion? More importantly, why would we look anywhere else to be near God and experience him?
True, the fulness of this experience awaits the Consummation, the end of this age when Christ returns to execute final judgment. However, we can experience it in some measure in this age, and it shouldn’t take a crisis to drive us to the Church and God’s people. Whether your lot this day is bounty or hardship, joy or sorrow, good or ill, be sure you are dwelling in Zion under God’s protective canopy.