Rev. Miersma is pastor of the Loveland Protestant Reformed Church in Loveland, Colorado.
What shall one then answer the messengers of the nation? That the LORD hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it.
In order to understand the comfort given to God’s people in this text, we must understand a little bit of the background of these words from the mouth of the prophet Isaiah.
First, beginning with verse 4 there is the proverb that God’s people take up and sing about the destruction of Babylon. Babylon at the time was small, but the prophecy looks ahead to the time when it becomes a world power.
Secondly, there is the announcement of judgment that God shall accomplish upon Assyria. Their might would be broken upon the mountains of Israel (vv. 24-27). This was literally fulfilled under Sennacherib and Rabshakeh.
Finally, there is the judgment against the Philistines (vv. 29-30). Palestina sometimes refers to the whole land, but here it refers to the land of Philistia. In this light we can understand the rod that smote her, referring to David, Judah, and Jerusalem. Under Ahaz that rod was broken. Later that rod was again strengthened in the days of Hezekiah. These victories of Judah ultimately point to Christ, who overcomes the world through His suffering and death and presently shall judge all the enemies of His people.
However, there is still another judgment upon the Philistines (v. 31). From the north shall come a mighty army—first Assyria, then Babylon, followed by the Medes and Persians, the Greeks, and finally Rome. What will become of Philistia? It will be completely trampled by its enemies.
But now the real question, in light of this, that concerns God’s people. What will happen to Jerusalem, which dwells in the same land? What do you answer these messengers? The answer is, “Jehovah has founded Zion, that the poor of the people may trust in it.” This answer may be applied to us as well when it becomes dark in the world, when God’s judgments come upon the ungodly world. We may well ask, what will become of us, Zion, in the midst of that world?
The answer is in that the church is Zion. It is the church as a whole as she exists from the time of Adam to and including eternity. It is the peculiar treasure that God has chosen in His eternal counsel. This Zion was manifested in different forms throughout the ages. In the old dispensation it pointed, first of all, to the holy mountain in Jerusalem upon which was built the temple of the Lord. It was a sign of God’s presence as He dwelt among His people and a sign of the covenant of God as He had fellowship with His people. Upon this same mount was built the palace of the king, from which God typically ruled His people through an earthly king. This mountain was the heart of the city of God, Jerusalem, and therefore often included the idea of the whole city as well as the residents of the kingdom of Judah.
In the new dispensation Zion is the church of God as the body of Christ. No longer is it limited to one nation, but now includes both Jew and Gentile from all nations, tongues, and tribes. God’s presence and power are now represented in one Person, His only begotten Son, who is the head of the church, King and Priest forever after the order of Melchisedec.
Finally, there is the Zion of heaven. “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels” (Heb. 12:22). Here God eternally tabernacles with His people in Christ.
This Zion is our safe refuge. It is where one puts his trust for one’s safekeeping. Stronger yet, it is an actual dwelling in that place of trust. Hence, one dwells in peace and quiet, perfectly assured of his safety.
A refuge from what? At the time of the prophecy it was safety from the world powers, Babylon, Assyria, and Philistia. Judgments are announced against them. These were prophetic of the final judgment. Zion is God’s church, a church that is in the midst of a world that comes under God’s judgment. In general, all are under the curse because of sin. More specifically, these judgments are seen in the flood and in the destruction of Sodom, Gomorrah, and Jerusalem. In addition, there are wars and plagues. All are forerunners of the final judgment of the entire world power and the destruction of all things. But Judah is safe because they receive the comforting answer that “Jehovah hath founded Zion; there the poor of His people shall be safe.”
How can this possibly be? Because she is founded by Jehovah! The I AM THAT I AM is the Almighty Builder, apart from whom no creature has any power. Zion’s power was of God. He was her Defender. “For the LORD of hosts hath purposed it, and who shall disannul it? And his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?” (v. 27). As the unchangeable One, He neither increases nor decreases. Therefore His work is a reflection of Himself. A work is no stronger than its builder. Therefore the work is eternal, the foundation of Zion shall never be destroyed, the sons of Jacob shall never be consumed (Mal. 3:6).
All this is rooted in God’s eternal counsel, for God chose Zion to be a foundation. “For the LORD hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation” (Ps. 132:13). From this we see that Zion is the work of God alone. He laid the foundation, in which is the strength of the building. Zion has a foundation that can weather the storms of all ages. Instead of being destroyed by judgment, Zion is saved through judgment. All the storms and judgment are sent for the glory of God’s Zion.
By now you can surmise that the foundation is Christ, a foundation that was first of all laid in eternity. God chose and ordained Him to be such. From that point of view, the foundation is firm, strong, solid, unchangeable, unmovable, because He is the eternal Son of God.
This foundation was also laid in time, when the triune covenant God sent His Son in the flesh to be a foundation. In order to save us, Christ had to assume our human nature, be born of a woman, under the law. God so formed and fashioned Him for a foundation of His righteousness in His death. God is just, and the punishment of sin has to be satisfied. Christ died in order that we might live.
God formed Him for a foundation in the resurrection, ascension, and glorification. Christ imparts His life to us as the resurrected Lord of life. There is no salvation possible outside of Christ. Through the bond of faith by grace flow the benefits of salvation.
And now the Word as preached by the apostles and prophets is the foundation of which Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone. We, the church, are built upon that foundation unto a holy habitation of God. Not even the gates of hell can prevail against it.
It is clear that there is no salvation in that which has no foundation and is ultimately destroyed. God’s people do not trust in or seek refuge in the things of this world. Nor do they seek it in human wisdom or in the powers of the world. The people of the Lord seek refuge in Zion, in that which has its foundations made by God and defended by Him.
This was true of Judah in the old dispensation. Zion was a citadel and stronghold, surrounded by high walls, towers, and deep ravines. Of it the psalmist wrote, “They that trust in the LORD shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever. As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the LORD is round about his people from henceforth even for ever” (Ps. 125:1, 2).
This is true also of the church in the new dispensation. Salvation is not possible outside of the church. Christ saves us. The church is the living body of Christ, who is its head. Only in the church does Christ work with His Word and Spirit. God only calls and delivers through the Word in the church.
And finally this is true of the church in eternity. The redeemed shall live on Mt. Zion under the protection of the Lamb of God. All nations shall have been subjected under His feet.
This is not for everybody. No, it is for the poor of His people. This is not to be understood in the sense of earthly, material poverty, although this also may be true. By poor is meant oppressed—oppressed by the world, for they have no place here on earth. They are pilgrims and strangers. They are pursued and persecuted because of their righteousness. Oppressed are they also by sin, by which they increase their guilt day by day. They are conceived and born in guilt and in unrighteousness. They are still of the earth earthy. Sin works in them. They will not what they do; and they do not what they will. Being so oppressed they cry out for final redemption in the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Zion is a refuge for them. The oppressed flee there with their guilt, sin, and death, with respect to the power of the enemy and to the judgment over the whole world. Here they find safety and refuge over against the attacks of the wicked world. Here is preservation in the midst of judgments.
People of God, this is our comfort, for our God is a gracious God who will not forsake the work of His hands. We will be preserved through all dangers. “So shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight for Zion, and for the hill thereof. As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it” (Is. 31:4, 5). We will be saved by the judgment of God against the wicked, not destroyed. God is a covenant God who is faithful to His promise.
What shall one then answer? “The LORD hath founded Zion.” Therefore it is a safe refuge for all God’s oppressed people. Zion shall stand forever!