As we would expect from our experience of Isaiah 40 onwards, this closing chapter of the book is once again using the future hope of the exiles returning to Jerusalem to speak of much greater realities much further off in the future including the wonder of the multi-ethnic Church of Jesus Christ.
The opening two verses see God declare that he cannot be contained in buildings made by human hands, something acknowledged by Solomon (1 Kings 8:27) and Stephen (Acts 7:48). Where previously the people of Jerusalem saw their impressive temple as grounds for pride, God would have those looking to return from exile know that they need to be careful not to allow any new temple to become the focus of their identity; God is interested in true devotion to him rather than reverence of a stone structure, however impressive it might be!
This theme of being preoccupied with the externals of religious life sees God assert in verses 3 and 4 his hatred of the temple sacrifice system when it simply comprises religious ritual rather than an expression of a live of devotion and obedience, something condemned in 1:11-15. The unfaithful in Israel stand condemned before God for their rebellion which is what will lead to their exile and, if it continues on their return from exile, judgment will come again. It is instructive to consider that the Roman occupation of Israel during Jesus’ time was understandably seen by some of the people of that time as another example of God’s sovereign use of another superpower to express judgment upon his people.
In verses 5 and 6 the focus is on those amongst God’s people who are faithful to him. In contrast to those who merely go through the motions of temple worship, but whose hearts and not truly devoted to God, these faithful ones within Israel are assured that God will judge those who mock their trust in him; indeed a time is coming when these rebellious mockers will face the ominous judgment of God.
In verses 7 to 13 we have a vision of Jerusalem as a mother. First, she is said to give birth to “a son” before the normal birth pains kick-in properly and then by way of a rhetorical question it appears that she is said to give birth to a “country in a day” (verse 8)! What is this all about? Well, on one level it would seem to speak of the promise of remarkable blessing from God for the exiles upon their return from Babylon in terms of a renewed community, but it also seems to point ahead to something greater – the advent of Jesus and the birth of the New Covenant people of God: he is the “son” who is born in the most remarkable way, far more remarkable than a woman not having birth pains, and we, the Church of Jesus Christ, can be said to be this new “nation” that dramatically and wonderfully has been constituted as the gospel spread! But, as verse 12 depicts, not only will the exiles be honoured by way of tribute and gifts from other nations, supremely this is a picture of the multi-ethnic people of God that is the Church, what can be said to be a truly international nation of people!
In the aftermath of the truly dreadful killing of George Floyd at the hands of white police officers in America and the exposure once again of the massive fault-line of racism blighting both sides of the Atlantic, let’s recognise that the biblical vision for God’s people is to be a community comprising those from any and every ethnic background. Let’s pray that the Church in America and the UK stands tall as an example of communities where the barriers of race are overcome and there is true love and acceptance of each other, for this is our high calling!
Prayer: Remind yourself of Galatians 3 (below). Pray for the church in the UK and USA for the barriers between believers to be broken down in the name of Jesus Christ, that the church will be a beacon of hope and unity. Pray that old prejudices would be swept away as Holy Spirit brings revelation and challenge and that Jesus’ multi-racial, multi-faceted, uniquely diverse Church would be seen here on earth, to the glory of God.
Song: With one voice