“Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head; they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.”
A word of comfort to the abject mourners in the captivity!
Repeatedly the Lord through the prophet calls attention in the context which awaits them. No less than three times in the immediate context we hear the refrain: Hearken unto me! Directed, you understand, unto His peculiar people, who follow after righteousness because they of all people only know wherein that righteousness consists. Reminding them of the covenant promise made to Abraham their father and therefore also to them who constitute the seed of Abraham: the promise which shall be realized in the new heavens and new earth where righteousness shall dwell.
In response to this the prophet calls to the arm of the Lord to awaken!
“Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?”
The arm of Jehovah alone shall bring all this blessedness to pass!
The mourners are reminded of the strength of that arm which cut Rahab (Egypt) in pieces, and wounded the dragon (the devil personified in Pharaoh, king of Egypt). By that arm a way was made through the sea, in order that the ransomed might pass over into the land which floweth with milk and honey. The abjects in Babylon had evidently believed that this arm of Jehovah had fallen asleep, and that apparently there was no deliverer. But as in the time when He made a dry path in the deep, a way for His ransomed to pass over, so He will arise to lift up the bowed mourners, dry up all their tears, and make their faces to glisten with joy when He makes His redeemed to return and come with singing to Zion.
Only the redeemed shall have this joy!
Redeemed and ransomed!
Both of these terms refer to the freedom they attain through the payment of a price, but with this difference: the latter looks more at the act of redemption itself, while the former looks at the completed action. The redeemed, therefore, are those who have been cut loose from the bondage of slavery, are emancipated and set free; and so completely that no shackles of bondage shall ever again enslave them.
The redeemed of Jehovah!
Not only do they belong to Him as His possession. That, too, of course. For it is only the people of Jehovah that are redeemed; and only the redeemed are His people, His particular inheritance. But the meaning is still richer.
They are redeemed by Jehovah! In themselves they would still be in bondage: for they had no strength to deliver themselves, and they had no price to pay the ransom. But Jehovah redeems them. He remembers His covenant, although they broke it and were righteously cast into bondage. Because He remains Jehovah their faithful God, He remembers His covenant and redeems them. His covenant friendship may not fail.
He redeems them by a price—the sacrifice of His Only Begotten Son; Who in the way of His perfect obedience must lay down His life, shed the blood of atonement. Not through the blood of bulls and goats could the ransom be paid, but by the blood of the Son of God, of which animal blood was only a prefigurement. A ransom paid not to the devil, but to the living God Who had been offended on account of their sins, and Whose justice must be satisfied. Their Redeemer must be not only a real righteous man, able to represent them; but at the same time very God to be able to endure the divine wrath over against their guilt. Such is the nature and the power of their redemption.
Note: the prophet says: The redeemed of the Lord shall return! But how can the prophet say this when as yet the promised Redeemer had not come? Several centuries would pass before He would make His appearance in the flesh. The answer is twofold. In the first place, the redeemed refer to those captives in Babylon who would return again after seventy years of captivity to Zion in literal Jerusalem; and they are the redeemed, therefore, typically, while they looked in hope to the Redeemer Who was to come. In the second place, the redeemed refer spiritually to all those who are justified in the blood of Christ and are ultimately returned unto Zion which is above, having been justified by faith.
And their joy rests in their redemption! While in captivity all is sorrow and grief. This was true when they were in the bondage of Egypt. Then they were depressed with grief and groaned under the cruel whip-lashes of Pharaoh and cried for deliverance. This was also true when they were in captivity in Babylon. Then they hanged their harps upon the willows. Then were they afflicted and drunken but not with wine. The dregs in the cup of trembling were bitter. Their wound was sore. And this is true also in the spiritual sense of the word, of all the redeemed who by nature are bound in the prison house of sin and death. But from this bondage the redeemed of the Lord shall return.
With singing they shall come to Zion!
Beauteous Zion! Of Zion’s beauty how often we sing:
Zion, founded on the mountains,
God, thy Maker, loves thee well;
He has chosen thee, most precious,
He delights in thee to dwell;
God’s own city, who can all thy glory tell?
As the redeemed captives of Babylon saw it, and the psalmist sings of it, it was the temple hill in Jerusalem, where typically God dwelled in the midst of His people. But the antitype is in heaven, where all the redeemed shall ultimately come. And of this they begin to sing even now;
When the Lord shall count the nations,
Sons and daughters He shall see,
Born to endless life in Zion,
And their joyful song shall be,
“Blessed Zion, all our fountains are in thee.”
O, yes, singing they come to Zion! Their voices are vibrant with joy. But their joy is not complete until they enter Zion.
In Zion their joy shall be absolute!
Sorrow and sighing are fled away! Sorrow, all the anguish of the soul that is brought on by affliction, and which results in groaning and sighing, are left behind. And in Zion these can no longer be found. There they obtain gladness and joy.
Joy that is everlasting!
Now their joy, as they march to Zion, is so often interrupted. Though in principle redeemed, they are still in the world. Because of this they rejoice and mourn—mourn and rejoice. They rejoice when they pass through the cooling streams of divine grace. They mourn again when the afflictions of this present time descend upon them.
But in Zion everlasting joy is upon their heads! Their joy shall never cease. Nothing shall interrupt it. No one and nothing shall take it away—from them. As certain as their salvation is eternal, so shall their joy be. As a crown that joy shall rest upon their heads.
There shall in no wise enter into Zion any who love and make the lie. All the wicked shall be excluded from the place and state of eternal joy. For the wicked there is no peace. This joy is only for the redeemed of Jehovah—beloved and chosen of God—redeemed in and through Christ Jesus—glorified with heavenly glory.
As we said at the beginning that it is the divine intention of this Word of God that it should bring comfort to the mourners in Babylon, so we must see that it is only through the Word of God that this comfort is given.
It is the common experience of God’s people that His Word speaks to their heart more at one time than another. In times of distress and darkness it makes a deeper impression on them than in days when their way is plain. And how often these days occur in the life and experience of the child of God, when unrighteousness seems to have the upper hand, when we suffer rebuff and persecution at the hand of the wicked, when suffering in body and soul makes our way dark. It is then when the Word of God infrequently shines in its glorious light for the eye of faith. Although a period of darkness may precede, when faith appears at a low ebb and is almost dormant, when the soul mourns and complains that the way of the Lord is not right. Then God comes to drive away the darkness. And we hear His Word as never before. Truths, comforts come up out of the riches of that Word before our soul’s eye which before we never understood. It is then that that Word appears to have been written just for you and me.
This phenomenon has its own spiritual—mystical cause. In the first place, the Word of God is in itself a light and lamp for our feet. It is your guide, leading you through the way of suffering to eternal glory: When we get to heaven by and by, we won’t need that Word anymore as we now possess it. But now it must bring us to heaven. And therefore, it speaks so directly to us when the way is dark. Secondly, we must remember that it is the Spirit of God in Christ Who applies that Word to the heart of the believer in times of darkness. Word and Spirit are inseparable. Never does the one operate without the other. The Word alone would have no comfort unless it were applied by the Holy Spirit to the individual need of the child of God.
Such is, indeed, the intention of the Word of God in our text!
The comfort of those to whom this word is directed rests, first of all, in the assurance of complete victory. O, indeed, if they to whom this assurance is given would for a moment doubt this, they might be like Israel in the wilderness. They doubted the promise of God to bring them into Canaan, desiring to turn back. And with many of them God was highly displeased and their carcasses fell on the sand of the desert. That assurance comes to them through the Word of God upon which they lay hold by a true and living faith. When they take God at His Word, they embrace the promise He gives that the redeemed shall enter Zion, and that they shall have everlasting joy.
Their comfort, in the second place, rests on the knowledge of the strength of Jehovah’s arm, which is the revelation of His strength to redeem them and bring them into that everlasting joy. Never can they obtain comfort in looking to an arm of flesh to deliver them. Those who follow the Arminian gospel which insists that the redemption and glorification of man is to be realized through Jehovah with the help of man have a comfortless gospel, and can never come to the solid comfort of the one who rests on the arm of Jehovah alone. That arm of Jehovah which already in principle has vanquished all our foes, has overcome sin, the devil, and his whole dominion, he understands is able also to finish the work it has begun even unto perfection.
This comfort will dry up the tears of the captives of Babylon, and it will bring everlasting joy to all the redeemed in the church of all ages.