O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Isaiah 40:9-11
The way out of spiritual Babylon to the holy city Jerusalem is fraught with dangers and discouragements.
Left to ourselves, we would never make it.
But, thankfully, where God calls us to walk, He also leads. When He calls us to make a pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem, He leads us there like a Shepherd.
In our weakness and sinfulness God’s Word to us is, “Behold your God!” In Him is all of our salvation.
Every one of God’s children faces trials and hardships. Some of the obstacles and spiritual battles we face may seem insurmountable. Often we respond in discouragement: “How in the world can good come out of this? What’s the point of even trying? It’s all hopeless.” Relationship problems, financial strain, health issues, work circumstances, grief over the loss of loved ones, feelings of inadequacy, besetting sins, guilt, the devil, and the world all conspire against us to turn us out of the way.
What message does God send to encourage us? “Behold your God!”
When Judah faced the prospect of captivity in Babylon, they would no doubt be tempted to question God’s faithfulness. “What will happen to His promises of an everlasting inheritance? Has God forgotten His Word? Has He forgotten to be gracious? Does He still love us? Will our sins make His Word void?” Judah would be tempted to look at God’s chastisement and conclude the worst.
When God chastises us we might have the same sentiments. We conclude that He hates us or has deserted us. In our difficulties, we imagine that He has turned against us. We forget that chastening “yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb. 12:11b).
Our focus and attention is on ourselves and our circumstances rather than on God and His unfailing love. Like Peter, we look only at the wind and waves around us, so that our hearts sink within us and our minds are filled with dread and despair.
Then God’s Word to us is, “Behold your God!”
The church must serve as the instrument to bring these good tidings. This is her calling. Like a messenger who comes fresh from the battlefield, the church must run to the cities of Judah with the good news of success. Of course, the messenger does not change the truth of the matter. But, the good tidings affect the hearers. The message brings peace and joy to the hearts of God’s people.
So important are these good tidings that the messenger must make every effort to proclaim them far and wide. He must go up on a high mountain so that his voice can carry as far as possible. He must lift up his voice with strength, having no fear.
What is the substance of this that demands our utmost attention?
Certainly not, “Behold your enemies!” We can get wrapped up in the enemies that plague us. We see their strength and ferocity and call out like Elisha’s servant, “Alas…, how shall we do?” (II Kings 6:15). We remember how they have so often wounded us. Our spiritual hands become weak and our knees feeble. When we look only at our enemies, we neglect the fact that God fights for us.
Nor is the message to God’s people, “Behold yourselves!” Captive Judah must not imagine that coming into and enjoying their inheritance is all up to them. The good news is not that we have it in ourselves to fight against Satan, the world, and our old sinful flesh. The good news is not the message that we hear from the world: “Have faith in yourself!” That is not good news at all. That leaves us in our misery.
Nor is the message to God’s people, “Behold yourselves and God!”—as if our salvation was some kind of cooperative effort, where we do our part and then God does His part; as if we had to meet certain conditions before God is able to save us.
Rather, the message is the simple proclamation of the gospel: Behold God! Behold the Mighty One. Behold Him who is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, in whose sight the creature is of no account. Behold Him who needs no counselor to teach Him. Behold Him before whom the nations are as a drop in the bucket and as dust of the balance. Behold the incomparably great God who accomplishes all His will and for whom nothing is too hard. If we want comfort in our pilgrimage from Babylon to Jerusalem, we must not behold our enemies or ourselves; we must behold God.
More than “Behold God!” the church must proclaim “Behold your God!” God is not a cold, abstract reality; He is our God, our faithful covenant God. To be sure, He also rules over the heathen; but God is not their God. He has not committed Himself to them in any way. But, our God has taken us into covenant fellowship with Himself. He is our God, not because we loved Him and chose Him, but because He first loved us and chose us to be His precious possession. “Your God” is a shortened form of the covenant formula found throughout Scripture: “Ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.” (cf., Ezek. 37:27; Rev. 21:3).
When the outcome of our labors appears to be in vain, when we are tempted to give up on the good fight, God’s Word comes to us, “Behold your God!” When we get caught up in the here and now, looking at our sins, our failings, our weaknesses, and our difficult circumstances, we need to be reminded, “Stop beholding these things, and behold your God! Look to Him for grace. Trust in Him to continue His work of salvation.”
All by itself, “Behold your God!” proclaims the gospel of grace to Judah and to us. But, the prophet expands on the content of the message in the next verse with a twofold expansion: “Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.”
‘God’ (Elohim) in the previous verse is now referred to as ‘the Lord GOD’ (Adonai Jehovah). ‘Lord’ speaks of His sovereign rule especially over His people. ‘GOD’ is the great I AM, who keeps His promise of mercy to thousands of generations of His people.
Our sovereign, covenant God “will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him.” Behold, He comes quickly (cf. Rev. 22:12). Just as He led Israel out of Egypt with a strong hand, so He will come again with strong hand. He will not leave us in Babylon, but will gather us to Himself. For that to happen, Jesus Christ would come with a stretched out arm and fight the battle against sin, and Satan, and death. God’s fury would be poured out upon Christ for our sins. He would ascend into heaven and take up His rule for the sake of Zion, His church. Nothing will stop our Shepherd-King from accomplishing His own purposes.
Of course, God’s sovereignty in salvation must not make us passive. Just the opposite; it urges us onward in the work. Knowing that Christ gathers His people through the preaching, the church seeks to be faithful in her calling. Knowing that God uses means to accomplish His purposes in our personal lives, we make diligent use of the means of grace. Knowing that God’s Word is a light to our path and a lamp to our feet, we seek to hide that Word in our hearts that we might not sin against Him. And yet, the truth remains: Jesus Christ will certainly gather, defend, and preserve His church.
God would also have us know that the salvation Jesus Christ has purchased for us will certainly be accomplished in us: “His reward is with Him, and His work before Him.” ‘Reward’ literally refers to wages. When Jesus Christ comes, He will cause all wages to be paid according as each person deserves.
On the one hand, the wicked will be cast into outer darkness because the wages of sin is death. What a horror for those who face the Lord GOD on the Judgment Day to receive the wages of their sin!
On the other hand, Jesus Christ will also pay out the wages that He Himself has earned for His people. He earned His wages through His obedience and suffering. He became sin for us that He might give us His righteousness. He became poor so that we might enjoy His riches. He accomplished the work to redeem us so that He might give us His gracious wages. As He rules in heaven, His wages are ever with Him. The reward of His work, salvation for Zion, is set before Him to dispense to His people.
In light of His great labor and the reward that is with our Savior, Isaiah finishes this comforting message by reassuring us that our God cares for us as a shepherd cares for his sheep.
Like Asaph in Psalm 73, we question God’s care for us: “Why so much trouble and turmoil if He truly cares?” The answer lies in the depth of His love that will stop at nothing to bless us with full salvation. Christ’s care for us is expressed in verse 11: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”
On the way from Babylon to Jerusalem, we have a faithful Shepherd who cares deeply for each of His sheep. The journey is full of difficulties and dangers. The anti-Christian world presses in upon us. The devil walks about seeking whom he may devour. Our sinful flesh is prone to wander. In ourselves, we are defenseless sheep.
But, our faithful Shepherd will lose none of His sheep. He brings us to pasture. He protects us from danger. He constantly nourishes and cherishes us. When we turn toward Babylon, He chastises us and brings us back into the way. None can snatch us from His hand. When the lambs are threatened by danger, He gathers them with His arm. When they are too weak to go on by themselves, He carries them in His bosom with great affection.
The Shepherd gives exactly the care that each of us needs. Young or old, joyful or discouraged, ignorant or knowledgeable, humble or proud, the Shepherd knows exactly how to care for us. When we need to be chastised, He knows exactly the measure to use. He is able and willing to accomplish our salvation.
This is the God we are to behold. Our faithful covenant God who is able and willing to lead us out of Babylon all the way to the new Jerusalem. He who has begun a good work in us will surely carry it through to completion.
Behold your God!
Believe in Him and rejoice in His care.