Studies in Isaiah 54: 9. Security
Isa 54:14,15 Terror will be far removed; it will not come near you. If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing; whoever attacks you will surrender to you.
A Problem: There is a problem that immediately confronts us as we look at these verses: when could this have applied, or be applied in the present or future? For example, if we try applying this to Israel in Isaiah’s day and in subsequent years, we find that this was patently untrue. The time of the Exile shows this with great clarity. Terror came near, they were attacked and they were taken away and God clearly declared many times, through both Jeremiah and through Ezekiel, that this was the work of His hands. And Nebuchadnezzar certainly did not surrender to them.
New Jerusalem? The cynical skeptic will simply say, well Isaiah obviously got it wrong, but that is not the only solution. When we considered the ‘afflicted city’ being rebuilt in v.11 we suggested a strong likelihood that this referred to the New Jerusalem spoken of in Revelation. The description that we find ourselves with here, therefore, neatly fits the description of that future Jerusalem, where it says of God, He “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Rev 21:4) Yet there is still a problem: the picture of the New Jerusalem suggests total peace with no threats but this suggests a world where there are still threats although not coming against God’s people.
Other Possibilities? So, the possibilities so far: Isaiah got it wrong – not likely. It refers to a time in eternity – not likely. So what does that leave us with? Well, we have been struggling to fit it into physical time-space history, so how about ‘spiritual history’? i.e. within the kingdom of God? We’ll come to that in a moment, but there are other ‘physical solutions’. One might be that this yet applies to some yet future time in the economy of God when Israel stand strong and secure. Perhaps. Yet there is a further solution that is more appealing and that is that this is God’s promise IF Israel are faithful and true – which, unfortunately, they never were. i.e. it is a possibility. I do believe that sometimes the Lord lays before us ‘possibilities’, a vision of what could be. It is not a guarantee of what will be but is the Lord’s heart of what He longs to come about, and yet which still relies on our obedient responses.
A Spiritual Conclusion: Various commentators have opted for this solution, that what is being said here applies to the realities of life ‘in Christ’, life in the New Covenant kingdom of God. It is certainly a valid possibility. In Christ terror will be far removed; it will not come near you. In Christ we are told to “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) Again and again when the apostle Paul wrote he started off, “Grace and peace to you,” implying that God’s resources (grace) and God’s environment (peace) are to be two prime elements of life ‘in Christ’.
But death? The worst the enemy can do is kill the body; our soul and spirit have a guaranteed future in eternity with Christ. Jesus taught, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt 10:28) I wonder how many of us have this perspective, whereby we hold life lightly because we have an absolute certainty of an eternal future? Life in the early church was often uncertain in the face of persecution. Acts tells us that Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7), James was beheaded (Acts 12) and although Peter was spared at that time, he and nine others of the original twelve, history tells us, died as martyrs (Judas having committed suicide, and John died of old age). So we may have many assurances in Christ but being saved from death under persecution is not one of them.
Three Assurances: There are three assurances that follow. The intent of these verses, even though we cannot ascertain just when they apply, or in what form they apply, must be to bring reassurance. Perhaps we need to recap a little and see the context: “All your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace. In righteousness you will be established: Tyranny will be far from you; you will have nothing to fear,” (vb.13,14) to which we might add, “from within,” for ‘tyranny’ comes from within. ‘Terror’ comes from outside. the context shows that Isaiah is portraying a future city that is secure from within and without. Can we imply, I wonder, that, “If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing; whoever attacks you will surrender to you,” refers to the internal workings of this ‘city’, this future habitation of God’s people, a place of peace and order, free from internal rumblings? This is the first assurance.
But then, second, there comes a further, almost strange assurance: “See, it is I who created the blacksmith who fans the coals into flame and forges a weapon fit for its work. And it is I who have created the destroyer to wreak havoc.” (v.16) There are times within the Old Testament history when it is clear that an invader bringing the judgmental discipline of the Lord, is coming at His bidding. Perhaps it is simply that He lifts off His hands of restraint and allows them access to Israel, sometimes perhaps he allows Satan to stir up Israel’s enemies against them (see Job 1 & 2), all for the purpose of disciplining Israel and drawing them back to Himself. It is almost as if He is saying here, in this new city, no such things will ever be needed and so you will be able live securely and at peace in it, free from any fears of judgment. But it is a twofold security, against physical attack and against verbal attack: “no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.” (v.17a) Neither people nor words (which usually precede wars) will undermine you in this city.
But then come the closing words: “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord.” (v.17b) We might put it, this peace and security is the inheritance of all who serve me, and this decree is what can set their minds at peace in the future. And there again we find this suggestion that all that is being spoken of here is yet future. Trying to rationalize it and work out the ‘when’ of all this might be confusing but the aim is quite clear – to bring assurance to the present inhabitants of the land and of Jerusalem: there is coming a future time of rebuilding, of creating a new city and when it comes it will herald a time of unparalleled peace and security. Perhaps to see that more clearly, we need just one more study in this chapter to create an overview of the entire chapter and catch something more of the wonder of it. Stay with me.