The joy that ever follows faith in the atoning sufferings of Christ.
How 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!How 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 with law.
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 bounds.
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,Jehovah 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.
Thus 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.
So much 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.
We will 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).
But 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?"
In 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."
Who 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!
Marvelous 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?"
1 The 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. 30:5).
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.