11/18/2015

See the King in His Beauty (Isaiah 33:17-24)

"Your eyes will see the King in His beauty; you will see a vast land" [a land that stretches afar] (Isa 33:17, HCSB).

33:17-24 concludes Isaiah 32-33 by stressing the beauty of the divinely provided leader (Isa 33:17). He is the opposite of their drunken, blind, and confused leaders who secretly oppose God's intention (Isa 28:7; 29:10, 15; 30:1). This King is the gracious promise for which they long and wait (Isa 33:2). This promise was fulfilled in multiple ways (in at least four different historical settings) throughout Israel's history.

  • It was immediately fulfilled in Isaiah's own day when godly Hezekiah, the anointed king, trusted God for deliverance and in so doing led his people into a wonderful experience of God's power and trustworthiness.
  • It was fulfilled later when God delivered his people from Babylonian captivity and restored them to their own land; this was completed during the time of Nehemiah, Ezra and Malachi.
  • It was fulfilled in the more distant future when God revealed his Messiah in Christ. It is what we can experience today since God's Messiah has been fully revealed by His Spirit.
  • It will finally be fulfilled in the last days, in the consummation of all things, when the Messiah rules the earth and there will be no rival to God's kingdom.
Who is this King? Isa 32:1-8 depicts a realm in which humans are active. On the other hand the king described in the context of Isaiah 33 can be none other than the Lord--but he is the Lord who somehow fulfills the role previously filled by humans: judge, lawgiver, king (Isa 33:22). He is the One to whom Hezekiah goes in humble submission (Isa 37:16-20), and who thereby removes the Assyrian siege "towers" and tribute (revenue) officials from Jerusalem (Isa 33:18). This divine king makes it so that the alien Assyrian speech is not heard in Judah for a long time (Isa 33:19; 28:11; 29:14). Now there is "peaceful [secure]" Zion, a place whose festivals will no longer be disgusting to God (Isa 33:20; 29:1-2). In a sense all of our human habitations are as fragile as a "tent" (Isa 33:20b), and always will be, no matter how many security measures we may try to implement in order to protect ourselves. But if those tents are given over to God, he can make them more secure than the mightiest fortress that is only dependent on human power for its survival (Isa 54:2).

From the metaphor of the tent, Isaiah moves to water imagery (Isa 33:20-21). The city will have peaceful "rivers and streams" flowing through it. As in Psalm 46, a river is a symbol of peace and abundance (Isa 48:18; 66:12; Ps 46:4). The waves of the sea crash and roar destructively. But a river flows quietly along, providing water for all sorts of constructive uses. Isaiah underscores the peaceful nature of God's supply when he says no vessel of war (galley) will sail on the rivers of Zion (Isa 33:21b). Why?

It is because of the righteous character of the Lord, who is Israel's "judge," "lawgiver" and "king" (Isa 33:22). He is Samuel, Moses and David all rolled together in one. With One like that in charge, peace and prosperity are assured--even better, salvation. Such a One can deliver us from any situation of life, whether it be aggression from enemies, or a broken law, or a world of disorder.

The final promise for the Zion ruled by the Messiah is that it will be a place of health, both physical and spiritual (Isa 33:24). All the effects of sin will be done away with, and creation will be seen again in the manner in which it was first intended.

The first Christian creed is "Jesus is Lord" (Rom 10:9). It recognizes Jesus as the God-Man. He is the God who rules both on earth and in heaven. He does not rule from heaven as an absentee ruler, nor does he rule on earth as a limited and finite human. He is both the human Messiah and the divine King. [In Mal 3:1, the "messenger of the covenant" will come, but then it is said that the Lord himself is the Coming One. Which is it, the messenger of the Lord or the Lord himself? It is both.]

From this passage, Christ the King offers us beauty and wide opportunity (Isa 33:17), security (Isa 33:18-20), deliverance (Isa 33:22) and health in its most comprehensive form (Isa 33:24). God created man to appreciate beauty (Gen 2:9). Indeed, when we look at creation we see an abundance of things beautiful (Rom 1:20a). Why is beauty a characteristic of this heavenly-earthly King? Among the factors that make for beauty are:
  • harmony,
  • symmetry,
  • rhythm,
  • balance.
When Christ become the King of our lives, these are some of the things he brings to us. He is in perfect harmony with the Father as he lives out a life of rhythmic giving and receiving. He is never off-balance, attempting to secure his own will. In the quiet confidence of the Father's provision, there is a serenity and a wholeness that shines out of him. He offers this same beauty to us.

In Christ there are endless opportunities (Isa 32:17b). He does not press us into a mold in order to produce robots who will serve him. Rather, he calls us friends (Jn 15:15), allowing each of us to achieve the maximum of what we were designed for. He allows each of us to develop in our own way because he, our King, delights to serve us. In such a relationship and with all the power of heaven at our disposal, even the most restrictive of earth's situations offers endless openings.

In Christ there is complete security (Isa 33:18-20). When we know that even in our darkest hour we were loved by him, we know that there is nothing we can do to make him stop loving us. Nothing can wrench us out of his hand (Jn 10:28). Could a day come when we demand that he let us go? Yes, that possibility exists. But until such a time, we are held in an unfailing grip. Inside that shelter we dare anything, knowing that in even the most tragic failure, we are his and he is ours.

In Christ there is health (Isa 33:24). Like beauty, there is both outer health and inner health, and the two are closely connected. When our sins are forgiven and our future is assured, and when we have the confidence of full provision for our needs, we can rest in him. In a rest like that, there is a soul health that will have an impact on our physical health. And even if the "earthly temple" is falling into that inevitable decay that is the fate of all until Christ returns, our inner life may radiate health and wholeness through Christ.