It matters what God is truly like. The image we carry of God shapes the way we relate to God and it shapes the unfolding of our lives, for better or for ill.
If we say that God is loving and good – we are on the right track. Yet if we mistake love for shallow sentimentality, or goodness as meaning “liking whatever we’re doing”, we may well quickly find that God’s love and goodness opposes us when we act and live in ways destructive of others and of ourselves and the world and responsibilities God gives us.
The message of God throughout Isaiah reinforces this: no matter who we are or where we’re from, God cares about how we treat those around us, particularly the vulnerable. Where there is violence, oppression, callousness, idolatry (giving ultimate worth to anything that is not God), the love and goodness of God speaks out against it, and will act against it. Put another way, the healthy boundaries a good parent establishes with a child are there so that the child may flourish and grow.
Early in God’s story among the people of Israel, the LORD appeared before Moses on Mt. Sinai, and in Exodus 34:6-7, we read the LORD declaring to Moses what kind of God is making this covenant with the people:
“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation [or thousands], forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
To fully unpack that (and the question about why the iniquity of the parents would pass on to the fourth generation), would be a different conversation — but for today, what draws my attention is the contrast: slow to anger, but abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. There may be hardship for four generations because of sin, but forgiveness and hesed (steadfast love) for thousands of generations. God’s loving opposition to that which harms and destroys is real; and at the same time, God’s character is still and ultimately loving.
And this shines through in Isaiah 60 today. It is a message about God’s purpose to bless and restore and provide the people of Israel a future.
Specifically, the first section of Isaiah 60 is an address to the city of Jerusalem (the pronoun ‘you / your’ used in the Hebrew text in verses 1-7 are feminine, second person singular), reinforced with the references to the altar and house of the LORD. In an immediate context, John Watts sees this as a reference to the imperial Persian support of Jerusalem as a holy city, encouraging the continuation of its rebuilding and restoration, to which the surrounding nations (also under Persia) would be expected to contribute.
What descriptions of a reversal of fortune do you find in this passage?
In verse 16, we find a glimpse of why this is to come about — it is not a disconnected or singular event, but it is the outworking of God’s commitment to the covenant: to act as the Savior and Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. God has a purpose, and has made a promise — and even though sin and rebellion interrupt it; they will not overcome it.
Significantly, God’s blessings and these reversals don’t mean that everything just goes back to the way it was before — the life of God’s Jerusalem is marked by radically different qualities than we had seen earlier in its history.
- Instead of violence, God appoints Peace as their overseer
- Instead of everyone seeking their own gain at the expense of others, Righteousness will be their ruler.
- There will be no more violence, devastation or destruction.
- Salvation and Praise become the images of their protection which secures their identity as a wall in ancient times defined the safety and self-image of a city.
- And over this city, the light to see by will come from God. No matter how dependable the sun and moon; God is greater still…
In all of this, the days of mourning have ended, and the people are established in righteousness and in the land forever — they have a home that will not be taken away.
And it’s God’s work – for God’s glory; in other words, this gracious and abundant blessing points to the goodness and abounding love of God; it draws our focus to gratitude and thanksgiving.
In all of this, we see strong echoes of the vision given to John in the book of Revelation, particularly in chapter 21. (I’d recommend reading the whole chapter, but a couple excerpts here: )
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
– Revelation 21:2-4
…I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
– Revelation 21: 22-27
The connections remind us of a deeper fulfillment of God’s promise through Isaiah yet to come — just as God was faithful in the days of the exile and in the midst of the hardship of rebuilding, God’s purposes to forgive, to heal, to transform and redeem; they endure and will be fulfilled.