Get decked out
We dress differently for different occasions. The same person who dresses in shorts and a T-shirt for a softball game Saturday morning may dress in slacks and a sport coat for an outing Saturday night. Different attire is appropriate for different occasions. Who youre with, and how you think about them, and how they think about you, affects your appearance as well. Even if dont change your clothes, you change your countenance.
Who are you with? Who is close to you? Who is far from you? How does it affect the way you dress? How does it affect your countenance? If we are closer to sin than we are to God, it will have a negative affect on our appearance. Conversely, if were closer to God than we are to sin, it will have a positive affect on our appearance.
Jerusalem, which stands as a metaphor for the people of God, is commanded in Isaiah 52:1-10 to get decked out, because she has been redeemed from sin and God is returning to her. We too, in a sense, are commanded to get decked out in clothes of strength and beauty. God redeems us that we might be strong and beautiful and that he might come home to us.
A new set of clothes (52:1-2)
Isaiah commands Jerusalem to "awake" after having drunk from the cup of the Lords anger and the chalice of reeling (51:17). These cups are evocative of the Babylonian exile, but now the Lord has taken out of Israels hand the "cup of reeling" and "the chalice of my anger" (Isaiah 51:22). The Lords purposes in the exile have been accomplished, and now its time for his people to awake from their drunken stupor, so to speak. The people, accustomed to exile, need to awaken spiritually to recognize that the Lord is doing something new.
The prophet wants Jerusalem, also referred to as Zion, to clothe herself in two ways: "in your strength" and "in your beautiful garments." Isaiah, earlier speaking for the people, asked the Lord to "awake, awake, put on strength" in order to act as in days of old (Isaiah 51:9). The people thought the Lord was asleep, inattentive to their needs, but in reality it was the people who needed rousing, who needed to awake to the reality of the Lord and take action. To clothe oneself in strength was to get oneself ready for action. The strength of the people of God comes from God himself (Isaiah 40:28-31). The beautiful garments are evocative of priestly garb (Exodus 28:2), inasmuch as Jerusalem is referred to as the "holy city" and priests were to be "holy to the Lord" (Exodus 28:36, 39:30). They are also evocative of royal garb, inasmuch as Jerusalem was to reign, as we shall see in verse 2.
Israel is to be what it is supposed to bea people strong in the Lord and a "kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:6), functioning both as kings, reigning over the earth, and as priests, interceding for the world. Israel is to awaken from its spiritual sleep to find these clothes laid out for her by the Lord.
Jerusalem had been ravaged by the uncircumcised and unclean Babylonians, but now those who are opposed to the Lord and his people will come into her no more. Isaiah is saying that Jerusalem, in a sense, has been raped, and you dont wear your beautiful clothes for someone whos raped you. Holiness means separation. What is envisioned here for Jerusalem, the holy city, is a final separation from the world. Isaiah, then, must be referring to a different kind of Jerusalem, for the earthly Jerusalem was ravaged again by the uncircumcised and the unclean, by the Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 B.C. and by the Titus in 70 A.D. Hes talking about the people of God whose home is, and who comprise, a spiritual, heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26, Hebrews 12:22).
In addition to rousing herself, Jerusalem, held captive by Babylon, is to shake herself from the dust. Shes been beaten down, humiliated, but she is to rise up and, literally "dwell," or "sit." Its the same word thats used of sitting as a king, and is applied to the Lords sitting as king (Psalm 2:4, 9:8, 29:10). An amazing turnaround is envisioned: the prisoner becomes the king! Babylon, as it turns out, will be the one to "sit in the dust" and "sit on the ground without a throne" (Isaiah 47:1). Perhaps to her own surprise, the "captive daughter of Zion" will find that she will be able to loose the chains of captivity from around her neck and assume the place of honor.
We, the church of Jesus Christ, comprise Jerusalem. The Lord commands us to awake. Perhaps we thought it was the Lord who was asleep, inattentive to our needs, but perhaps it is we ourselves who are asleep, trapped in sin, disconnected from his reality.
After you wake up, what do you do? You put on some clothes. What kind of clothes? The Lord wants us to put on new clothes. Clothe yourself in strength: Prepare yourself for actionprepare yourself to serve as a king and a priest (1 Peter 2:9). "Be strong in the Lord" and "put on the full armor of God" (Ephesians 6:10-11). Clothe yourself in beauty: Understand that you are a king and a priest, full of dignity and beauty, and that you are part of a community of kings and priests, who have authority and power in the spiritual realm and who serve God by sacrificing their lives and interceding for others. Be strong, and assume your position of dignity and beauty.
But maybe you think yourself unworthy to put on these new clothes. You dont feel like a person of dignity and beauty, so you cannot find the strength to put them on. Youve been beaten down by sin, and you feel that you have no right to wear beautiful clothes. And besides that, the old clothes of slavery are familiar. Slavery to sin is comfortable. You know how to live in the clothes of slaves. But those clothes are dirty and worn out, ill befitting a child of God. Perhaps you feel humiliated, residing in the dust of slavery, trapped in ugly patterns of thought and deed.
The new clothes have been laid out for you by the Lord. Shake the dust off yourself, rise up, loosen the chains, put on the new clothes and sit down on your throne. Start being who you area strong and beautiful child of God, one of his kings, one of his priests. Put off the old self, and put on the new self (Ephesians 4:22-24).
You are Cinderella. Take off those old rags. Heres your beautiful gown. Your Royal Suitor has been looking for you all his life. Youve been invited to the Big Dance.
The Lords act of redemption (52:3-6)
Verses 3 through 6, beginning with the word "for," explain how Jerusalem can realize this new status.
The Lord tells Jerusalem that she was "sold for nothing" and will be "redeemed without money." The Lord, in a sense, sold Jerusalem to the Babylonians, but in that he asked for no price and Babylon paid none, Jerusalem still belongs to the Lord. In saying that Jerusalem was sold for nothing, the Lord is saying that her captivity is temporary condition. Because no money exchanged hands in the first transaction, no money changes hands when the Lord buys the people back.
Beginning with the word "for," the Lord in verse 4 explains the validity of his promise based on the Israels history as an oppressed people. Israel went to Egypt to "reside" there as protected aliens (Genesis 45:16-20), but Egypt enslaved her. Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. In each case, then, the oppressing power had no righteous reason for its actions and paid no price for oppressing Gods people. The Lord sees the same thing happening with Babylon, which has taken away his people "without cause"literally, "for nothing." Babylon had no righteous reason to oppress Gods people, and it paid no price to do so. The rulers of Babylon "howl," mocking Israel, the slave who would be queen, and blaspheme the name of their God, who seems impotent to do anything about their condition.
The word "therefore" in verse 6 indicates that the Lords actions spoken of there are predicated on his observations that his people have been oppressed without cause and without payment, that they are in misery and that his name is being smeared. The Lord acts, then, because he cannot tolerate the misery of his people and because his reputation is at stake, being attached to the welfare of his people.
The Lord will act so that his people may know his name. To know someones name meant more than simply knowing its pronunciation; it meant knowing someones inner character. This conjures up the exodus, when the Lord told the people that they would discover the meaning of his name, Yahweh (Exodus 6:3), when he redeemed them from Egypt. He will tell the people, "Here I am." The Lord will be present with his people, and he will let them know of his presence. The words "here I am" are words that people use to make themselves available to the Lord (Genesis 22:11). Isaiah himself used these words when the Lord approached him (Isaiah 6:8). Now the Lord humbles himself and makes himself available to his people, telling them that he will do what they need him to do. That, in essence, is the meaning of the name Yahweh, commonly translated "the Lord," when other descriptives are added to it: God does what his people need him to do, thus revealing himself to them (Exodus 3:14-15, Genesis 22:14, Judges 6:24).
In applying verses 1 and 2, we shake off slavery to sin and assume our status as kings and priests of the Lord. In verses 3 through 6, we find out what allows us to assume that status. We may feel like slaves to sin, trapped in the same destructive patterns, but we belong to the Lord. Sin paid no price for you. The Lord has paid no money to win you back to him, but he has paid a price. It doesnt cost the Lord any money; it costs the Lord everything. It costs him his Son. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ redeems us from slavery to sin and gives us a new set of clothes to wear, free of charge. The Lord pays this inestimable price because he cant stand our misery, and he cant stand that our misery besmirches his reputation. This tells us that we belong to God, not to sin, and recognizing that goes a long way toward helping us assume our status as kings and priests.
In Gods redemption of us, we know his namewe know who he is and what he is like. In Jesus, we discover the meaning of Gods name, "Yahweh." The name Jesus means "Yahweh saves" (Matthew 1:21). Another name for Jesus, Immanuel, means "God with us" (Matthew 1:23). God is a savior, and God dwells with us. In Jesus, the Lord tells us, "Here I am." In Jesus, God humbles himself and makes himself available to us in a way you wouldnt believe. In Jesus, he does what we need him to doto save us from sin and to be present with us. In Jesus, he makes himself known, and he allows us to know him. We know the Lord in and through Jesus. Intimacy with God through Jesus Christ also goes a long way toward helping us assume our status and kings and priests.
God comes home (52:7-10)
Isaiah pictures the reaction to a military victory. A messenger bounds over the mountains to tell the waiting city news of the war. The watchmen on the walls first hear the news of a great victory and celebrate. Finally, the people of the city join in the celebration.
Feet, which collected dirt, were considered the lowliest part of the body. So great is the news that the runner bears that his feet are considered "lovely." The runner brings good news, further described as good news of happiness, and he announces peace, further described as salvation. What this all means for Zion is this: "Your God reigns." Peace, which is not just absence of war but encompasses human wholeness, has been achieved through the victory the Lord has won. Salvation means that the Lords people have been freed from their oppressors. This great victory proves that the Lord, the God of Israel, is sovereign over the oppressing powers. He has always reigned, of course, but now that reign is seen in its full expression, as he defeats his enemies and establishes his rule. The Lord reigns from Zion (Isaiah 37:16). So this means that the Lord, who abandoned Jerusalem because the people abandoned him (Ezekiel 10:19, 11:23), will be returning as king to dwell among his people.
Seemingly, this is a description, in advance, of the Lords defeat of Babylon, which will allow the exiles to come home. But in reality, Zion traded one oppressor for another. The Lord conquered Babylon through Medes and Persians, who allowed for the restoration of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple, but they remained in power. If a foreign nation remained in power, then the Lord had not yet begun to fully express his reign. Isaiah, then, is envisioning a greater victory against a greater enemy.
The command to listen in verse 8 is directed to Jerusalem. The city is to listen to her watchmen on the walls, who are lifting up their voices to shout joyfully in unison of the victory reported by the runner. Jerusalem is to awake (Isaiah 50:1) and listen, just like the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 50:4), who embodies the Lords design for Israel. They rejoice not only because of what they hear with their ears but what they see with their eyes. They will see when the Lord restores Zion, or when the Lord returns to Zion. What is likely envisioned is the glory of the Lord, his visible manifestation, returning to Jerusalem to dwell there. The return of the Lord restores Zion.
The "waste places of Jerusalem" are now commanded to break forth and join in the joyful shouting. Its as if something deep within them is dying to be set free. Jerusalem was laid waste by Babylon, at the prompting of the Lord, because of her sin. The people, the tiny remnant which suffered and waited and hoped, felt like a waste place. The Lord said he would restore the land and that the "desolate heritages" would be inhabited again (Isaiah 49:8). The waste places are to rejoice, specifically, because the Lord has comforted his people by redeeming Jerusalem, fulfilling his promise in verse 3 to liberate the people that they might re-establish their relationship with him.
In this redemption, the Lord "bared his holy arm," rolling up his sleeve, as it were, just as he did in the exodus (Exodus 6:6, 15:6). The Lord bares his arm for two purposes: first, to work, and second, to show the world that he is working. His redemption of Jerusalem is carried out "in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God." The salvation announced by the messenger in verse 7 and seen by the watchmen of Jerusalem in verse 8 is also seen by the nations.
The New Testament concept of the "gospel," or "good news" (euangelion), has its roots in this passage. Paul uses Isaiah 52:7 in speaking of the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10:15). The gospel, in the Isaiah passage, is the proclamation that God reigns, having won a great victory. His people can now enjoy peace and salvation. It is the same in the New Testament. The enemy is Satan. God went to war against Satan and won a great victory on the cross (John 12:31, Colossians 2:15). In defeating Satan on the cross and in raising Jesus from the dead, the Lord establishes his rule. Our God reigns. The most definitive New Testament gospel proclamation is, "Jesus is Lord" (Acts 10:36; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Romans 10:9, 14:9; Philippians 2:11). Thus, we enjoy peace and salvationdeliverance from destruction, deliverance to human wholeness.
Where does God reign from? After triumphing over Satan on the cross, he comes home to Zion. Where is Zion? Zion is where his people dwell. He dwells right here, among us (2 Corinthians 6:16). More than that, he dwells in each one of us (1 Corinthians 6:19) . When God comes home, he comes to us; he comes home to you. The full gospel announcement is that Jesus is Lord and he wants to reign in you.
In the New Testament, the gospel is first announced by angels. They are the messengers who convey the good news. The New Testament word for "angel" actually means "messenger." The angels run from heaven to earth to announce the birth of Christ the King. In Luke 2:10, an angel says to some shepherds, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." The first watchmen were people such as Simeon and Anna, part of the remnant who were waiting for the return of the Lord (Luke 2:25-38).
In the person of Jesus, the Lord returned, quite literally, to Zion, to the earthly Jerusalem (Matthew 21:4-9), but Jerusalem had him crucified outside its walls. After Jesus rose from the dead, he came to the true Jerusalem, the apostles and other followers.
The apostles, then, begin where the angels left off, and they become the messengers. They saw the glory of the Lord with their own eyes, and they spread the news (John 1:14, 1 John 1:3, 2 Corinthians 4:6), first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. Their message has been carried to the ends of the earth.
Perhaps you first heard the good news from a modern-day messenger, or perhaps you heard the modern-day watchmen worshipping and were attracted to joy that you had only heard rumors of before. They gave eye-witness accounts of what the Lord had done in their lives. You began to believe their report, and the waste places in your life that had been devastated by sin and overrun by neglect experienced restoration. Something within you that was dying to get out was now free to break forth. You joined the chorus sung by the watchmen. The Lord came home to you to reign from the center of your heart.
Now you go out with the message. Youre prepared to tell people that God has won a great victory, that Jesus is Lord, that he wants to come home to them. And know that when you do so, the message you carry is so great that it makes you beautiful, for even your feet are called lovely. As you move out from Zion, youll probably run into a few watchmen from other cities who are waiting for the message you bring. Simeon was "looking for the consolation of Israel." God has prepared some to listen to you. You also join the community of watchmen of Zion, and shout joyfully together with them. Together, we worship the Lord with joy, and that is a powerful witness to the nations. As we go out as messengers from Zion, and as we worship as watchmen in Zion, the world hears what the Lord has done for us, and all the ends of the earth see the salvation of our God. Presented with the evidence, theyre forced to make a decision whether they will submit themselves to Gods rule and let him come home to them.
Billy Joel sings a song that he wrote for his wife called "Youre My Home":
Home can be a Pennsylvania Turnpike
Indianas early morning too
High up in the hills of California
Home is just another word for you (1)
Thats what God is telling you. Hes saying, "Home is just another word for you."
Put your good clothes on
The uncircumcised and the unclean will no longer come into Jerusalem. But who does come into Jerusalem? The Lord does. Take off the rags of sin. Put your good clothes on! Clothe yourself in strength and beauty. God is coming home.
If youve never embraced the message, youre hearing it today, and youve heard the watchmen of Zion rejoice today. Perhaps it resonates with you. Perhaps there are waste places in your life that long for restoration. Maybe theres something within you that longs to break forth and shout for joy. You understand that God has won a great victory. You understand that Jesus is Lord. You understand that he wants to come home, and that his home is you. Let him in!
(1) Billy Joel. "Youre My Home," © 1973 and 1974 Blackwood Music Inc. and Joelsongs (BMI).
Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ("NASB"). © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. Where indicated, Scripture quotations were also taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ("NIV"). © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
July 9, 2000
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