Seven times in the course of relating this vision Isaiah refers to “that Day” and what will take place, a powerful indication of how profound an impression it left on the prophet’s mind. Here he approaches the conclusion of his vision and introduces by name in v. 2 the One whose mission is to provide hope for the believing remnant. Isaiah identifies God’s purpose 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).
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, 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 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 reality 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.
There is much hope for the future expressed in this one verse. Jerusalem, and by extension Israel, at this point in the prophecy is like a tree which has been cut down; but the prophet shows how the stump still has life; that vigor is seen in the Branch who comes up as a sprout from that stump.
Isaiah has in view the person of the Messiah, the one who is at the same time the “Branch of the Lord” and “the fruit of the earth”. This one who would be the source of hope for the remnant is none other than the God-man, the beautiful and glorious second Person of the Trinity and son of the Virgin Mary born on a cold night in Bethlehem more than 2000 years ago.
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 excellent and appealing; it is the Branch who will bring honor to Jerusalem and to those who remain there. Not all Israel will be consumed by God’s righteous judgment; those will remain for whom God has a further purpose, whom God intends shall be rightly called “holy”.
B. Zion purified vv. 3-4
It is not surprising that the principle of personal holiness is prominent in Isaiah’s thoughts and writings. He loved the one he called the “Holy One of Israel” with all his heart; Isaiah had seen the Holy One at the time of his call to ministry and purification which made him for God’s service. Isaiah knew from personal experience the value, the joy that had come to him as a result of God’s cleansing; he recognized a similar purpose and outcome for the people of God as a result of the tragic events he has previously described.
In these two verses, Isaiah’s attention is riveted on what God has accomplished in the remnant. His emphasis 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.” 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 so that all who are left within it will be holy in both character and action.
Isaiah describes the residents of the city as those who have “been recorded for life (ESV)” 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. 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 cleansed away so the people will be rightly called holy – Tsow’ah which elsewhere refers to 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, their outward display was really disgusting filth indicating the moral pollution hidden beneath the surface.
God was determined to purge away both – the real pollution of sin and its outward manifestations – with the fire of his judgment. The same fire which would consume those determined to resist God’s correction and rebel against his lawful rule would purify those recorded for life. Like Isaiah their souls would be inflamed with love for God and zeal for his glory.
C. Zion glorified v. 5a
Remember God’s promise given through Haggai to those of Ezra’s day? “The glory of this house shall be greater than the former.” (Hag. 2:9) Zion and the Temple would be glorious because the Branch would be present there. The one who “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14) would give a glory like no other to the church of God. This is the same Son of Man walking among the candlesticks whom John later saw, the risen and exalted Christ present among his church.
God also promised a fresh manifestation of his presence as he divinely and miraculously creates a perpetual cloud and fire over the entire area of Mount Zion. The cloud of protection 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 (Ex. 19:18-19; 20:18); the cloud that covered the tent of meeting after its construction (Ex. 40:34-35); the cloud that filled the temple after Solomon had dedicated it (2 Chron. 5:13-14). In each of these instances the glory of the Lord is associated with the cloud. When the cloud was present, so was the Lord’s glory, at times in such profusion, such magnificence, such overwhelming power that none could approach it.
Unlike other manifestations of God’s presence, the glory bestowed on Zion would not be temporary; the cloud and the fire meant 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 building itself, 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. Building or congregation are only glorious so long as God is present; when God has departed from it so, too, will his glory followed by the awful sentence, “Ichabod, the glory has departed”. May that never be said of us.
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. The cloud and fire provided guidance to Israel in her wanderings in the desert; God’s presence accompanied by his word gives 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 our eternal destiny, we can also count on God to watch over and protect us in everyday life. Isaiah compares God’s covering to the “booth” in which the shepherd or field-worker would find relief from the oppressive noontime sun or sudden cloudburst.
God’s people can expect him to provide shelter for them from the heat of oppression as well as concealment from enemies who surround and try to overcome them. God is further 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 fact that God’s protecting, sustaining, and comforting presence is found in and over Zion, that is, the Church. 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” – that is, in the family, among the people of God? 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 – preaching and the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Table. It is in the church we find other believers, members of the body of Christ, equipped to encourage and build one another up.
The Church is the object of God’s love and 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 (Isa. 53:11-12, Eph. 4:8); the Church is the gift the Son will present to the Father when he has finally conquered and subdued all his enemies (1 Cor. 15:24). Should we not expect to find the most impressive and intimate manifestations of God’s presence in the Church? More importantly, why would we look anywhere else to be near God and experience him?
It really shouldn’t take a 9-11 or a personal crisis to drive us to the Church and God’s people; yet that is the means God often uses to draw us to him. If that is your experience, thank God for his grace in drawing you to himself and fellowship within his church. 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. May God by his “own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone” and by Christ’s “all sufficient merit raise us to [his] glorious throne”.