Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan.
“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
Isaiah 57:15God with man! God dwelling with man. The infinite, Almighty, Holy One dwelling with finite, weak, sinners. So amazing! So wonderful! Yet so often taken for granted!
Let us constantly strive to be in awe at the wonder that God would dwell with man. Any time we take this gracious relationship for granted we are walking in pride—horrible pride.
Consider the striking fact that God does not dwell with those who are proud. The proud can be the reprobate wicked, who in their folly say that there is no God. The proud can be those who believe that they are something in the eyes of God or of man because of what they have done or who they are. The proud can be those who presume their relationship with God or who do not repent or who live as if they do not need God.
Anyone who has the fantastic privilege of having the Almighty, Holy God dwell with him will be humble! And grateful—eternally so!
Isaiah is continuing to write words of warning to Judah. He warns of judgment and captivity. What characterized the nation as a whole was pride. They believed that God would never send the sons of Abraham into captivity. They saw themselves as God’s special people. In their pride they refused to humble themselves. They refused to repent. Therefore God speaks from His throne to this indifferent people, a people who presumed upon their relationship to God, a people who were often without God in their thoughts and hearts.
God presents Himself first. He is first. We must always have Him to be first. He reveals Himself as the “high and lofty One,” the One who “inhabiteth eternity,” and the One whose “name is Holy.”
That God is the “high and lofty One” means that He is and lives in majesty. He is great—so great that He cannot be contained in any place. Dignity and grandeur so clothe Him (Ps. 93:1) that even the thought of Him inspires awe and reverence. The greatness of God is so surpassing that it is a sin to compare Him to anyone or anything else (Is. 40:25). “Who is like unto the Lord our God, who dwelleth on high, who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth!” (Ps. 113:5, 6). We believe it, but we find it hard to understand that God would even have to humble Himself just to see the things in heaven!
The “high and lofty One” is sovereign. He is sovereign in His creating all things out of nothing simply by speaking. He is sovereign in His upholding and governing all things in all the universe unto His determined end. He is sovereign as the Lawgiver, establishing the standard for right and wrong for every rational creature. And He is sovereign as the Judge of all, determining whether His standard was met and executing rewards and punishments accordingly.
The high and lofty One “inhabiteth eternity.” One immediately gets the idea that the truth behind these words is greater than the words. Eternity is one of God’s own attributes, yet the prophet is inspired to write that God inhabits or dwells in eternity. Eternity cannot be understood by any creature. Every creature has a beginning, but not eternity. It is without a beginning and without an ending. We have difficulty understanding eternity also because as creatures we are so bound in time that we only understand time. And when we try to describe eternity the words we use are derived from time. Eternity is endless ages, a continuing forever. Also we cannot speak of eternity in positive language—we have to use negative terms, e.g., “incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away” (I Pet. 1:4).
The eternal dwelling of the redeemed is a creation. But where God dwells is absolutely unapproachable by any creature. Even Adam, before his fall into sin, could not approach it. The triune, majestic One dwells in eternity.
And His “name is Holy.” This name means that God is always separated from anything dark (evil, sinful, wicked, or corrupt). He is separated even from that which is a shadow. And the Holy One is positively dedicated only, exclusively, and eternally to that which is good, perfectly good, namely, Himself. As the Holy One, God seeks Himself in everything He says, does, and thinks. As the Holy One, God loves Himself exclusively and eternally. As the Holy One He loves good and hates evil.
With Whom He Dwells
The absolutely amazingly wonderful thing is that this high and lofty, eternal, and holy God dwells with humans!
God announces that He dwells with humans. He who inhabits eternity has created for Himself a place where He is pleased to be with humans in the midst of His creation. The One who dwells in eternity has reserved for Himself a place on earth. This place is called the “high and holy place.” This is obviously a place well known to the people of Judah, who received this word of God through Isaiah. The high and holy place was a clear reference to Mount Zion, the site of the temple. In the old dispensation God made His presence known in the temple. And that is where He dwelt in the midst of His people. The height of Mount Zion was a type of God’s greatness. The holiness of the temple was well known to every Israelite, as only the Levites were allowed to work in it.
The high and holy place of the temple was where the Infinite God made His presence known among His people. This is where He showed His glory, namely, that He is “Jehovah God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will be no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and upon the children’s children unto the third and to the fourth generation” (Ex. 33:18; Ex. 34:6, 7).
Over and over in the Scriptures is God’s promise to be with His people. It is amazing how simple is the language: God with man. But how tremendously profound! This is the covenant, the relationship of friendship and fellowship. God taking man alongside Himself to be his sovereign Friend!
While the temple was the typical place where God dwelt with man, the ultimate fulfillment, of course, is Jesus. His very name is Immanuel—God with us (Is. 7:14; Matt. 1:23). In the likeness of our sinful flesh He came, and thus God dwelt among us! And His promise at the time of His ascension was, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt. 28:20).
Not only is Jesus the perfect fulfillment of God dwelling with man, but He is also the reason why it is possible. God cannot dwell with sinners, but He can dwell with sinners who have been forgiven and made righteous. Jesus, in His substitutionary life, death, and resurrection realized forgiveness and righteousness for those given to Him.
God does dwell with man, but not with all men. From the viewpoint of objective, dogmatic truth, God dwells only with the elect. However, the word of God in our text speaks from the real life, experiential perspective of God’s elect people as they live and walk on the earth. God dwells with him “that is of a contrite and humble spirit.”
God does not dwell with the proud. Not with the proud reprobate. Nor experientially with the elect when they are walking in pride. Humility ought to characterize the elect always. Anyone who is the conscious recipient of the undeserved favor and love of God—grace—is humble. God not only requires that His child “walk humbly with thy God” (Mic. 6:8), but also that His children, when standing before Him, know of no other posture than that of humility. They live in the awareness that they deserve only wrath and eternal judgment. And they know that their having been chosen to belong to God’s family and to the Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, was not because they made themselves worthy of being chosen. It was divine grace. It was and is only grace, always grace. The continued presence of their sinfulness and their continued sinning is a constant reminder of the tremendous power and unde-servedness of grace. They are humbled to receive grace.
Those with whom God dwells are described as the “contrite and humble.” A contrite spirit is literally one of the dust, i.e., broken, sad, and sorrowful. A humble spirit is literally one that is low. The organic connection every human has with Adam means that man’s spirit is naturally proud and arrogant. Man does not like to be a creature, but wants to be independent of and above God. It is powerful and irresistible regenerating grace that crushes man’s spirit and makes it see what it really is from God’s perspective. Whenever the light of God’s Word comes to such a spirit, it reveals God as eternal majesty and perfect holiness. Then this spirit is humbled. When God reveals Himself to our broken heart, then we experience our smallness and insignificance, our vanity, but also our filthiness. This is the spirit of him who sincerely declares himself to be the chief sinner (I Tim. 1:15).
God is not put off by such a humble spirit. We are inclined to back away from those in the dust, but not God. He “dwells” with the contrite and humble. This is the place which He prepares for Himself, where He is comfortable. The holy God dwells, not with those sinners who are unrepentant (filled with excuses), but with those who acknowledge their sin. Such a spirit agrees with God about the horrible nature of sin. Such a spirit cries out its need for God’s forgiveness.
Unto What Purpose He Dwells
God’s purpose for dwelling with the contrite and humble spirit is “to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” To revive is to renew or to continue life. A reviving implies that there was life before. The previous life is regeneration, which evidences itself in humility and contriteness. God’s first work of grace in His children is that He humbles them. He shows us His great majesty and our sin.
Then reviving is needed. The picture is that of someone who is sick, discouraged, or faint. As a withered flower is revived by water, so God’s very presence is sufficient to revive or renew the spirit of the brokenhearted. The heart oppressed by the knowledge that it has sinned against God has no greater blessing than that the very God it has sinned against comes consciously near to be with it.
God’s dwelling with us revives us. This shows that when God humbles us He does not squash or destroy us, but gives us real life. Real life for man is to stretch out toward God, just as a flower does toward the sun. When God comes near to the humble and contrite He expresses agreement with their judgment of their sin and sinfulness (they first agreed with Him), and He proclaims His forgiveness and righteousness. The humble spirit hears God’s voice in Christ, and opens to Him. Then God promises, “I come in to him and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). And He promises that He will not leave us nor forsake us. He will be with us.
God with us! That is sweet communion for the humble spirit. To know that God is with us revives the spirit. It gives relief. It gives joy. It gives confidence. There is nothing like it. “Whom have I in heaven, but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee” (Ps. 73:25).
In sweet communion, Lord, with Thee
I constantly abide;
My hand Thou holdest in Thy own
To keep me near Thy side.
Tho’ flesh and heart should faint and fail,
The Lord will ever be
The strength and portion of my heart,
My God eternally.
Be humble before the high and lofty One, whose name is Holy! Then experience true spiritual revival in knowing that He is with you always. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Listen, “Fear not: for I am with thee” (Is. 43:5).