Judah Sings a Great Song of Jehovah’s Perfect Peace
Forty years ago Paul Simon recorded a song called I Am a Rock. The title would suggest that he saw himself as a rock — strong, invincible and enduring. But actually the song says exactly the opposite. It’s about a man who has been hurt so often and so deeply by those that he loves that he just wants to be alone and hide from everyone and everything that might injure him. Part of the song goes like this:
I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship;
Friendship causes pain.
Its laughter and its loving I disdain.
I am a rock, I am an island.
And the song ends with these words:
And a rock can feel no pain;
And an island never cries.
Most of us have probably felt like this at one time or another. The prophet Jeremiah did. Although God had told him at the very beginning of his ministry that the Jews would reject his message, their mistreatment of them scarred him deeply. He even felt as though God had forsaken him. He wrote, O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me. For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the LORD was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name (Jer. 20:7–9). Thankfully, the prophet soon abandoned these thoughts and continued in his ministry.
Isaiah could have written much the same thing, for he prophesied about the days in which Jeremiah would live. But instead he wrote the words of our text. He not only spoke of better days to come, but of one who is our “Rock of Ages.” This is the rock to whom we must flee when the storms of life assail us and there is no other hope.
Isaiah message begins, In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah. The day that the prophet wrote about was still future from his perspective, and it seems that Judah’s song would not be sung until that day. That’s because the intervening days were dark, dreary and hopeless.
But what is all of this about? To answer this we have to look at what Isaiah wrote in chapters 24 and 25. If you’ve read this section recently, you might have noticed that the prophet said a lot about the earth, a city or cities, and kings, but did not identify exactly what people he had in mind. Only Moab is mentioned briefly at the end of chapter 25. While this may seem odd, there is a good reason for it. These chapters are not about any specific nation or people, but about all nations and peoples. It’s a summary of all the judgments mentioned in the preceding ten chapters. We might say that it’s a universal judgment. The nations of the earth have broken God’s covenant.
That this is so can be seen in several of the prophet’s statements. For example, look at the first verse of chapter 24. Isaiah wrote, Behold, the LORD maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof. Note also versus 19 through 23 in the same chapter: The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth. And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited. Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the LORD of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously.
Even Judah would not be spared in this great devastation. Its kings and its priests would be taken away, and its cities laid waste. Judah, you see, had also dealt most treacherously with the Lord, since the Lord had shown her many special favors. Some of her kings (Manasseh in particular) were so evil that the Lord visited the entire kingdom with his wrath. Even the godly reforms that took place under Josiah could not assuage the Lord’s displeasure (II Kings 23:26).
But the good news is that there would come a day in which the people of God would sing a song of great praise to the Lord God once again. Most of chapter 26 tells us what that song is. Due to time limitations we will consider only the first four verses, but I would encourage you throughout the coming week to meditate on the entire chapter. It is one of the most glorious passages in all of Isaiah, if not in all of Scripture.
Walls, Bulwarks and Gates
Judah’s song celebrates a well protected and fortified city, i.e., a city that stands in stark contrast to the nations of the earth that lie under God’s judgment. This city is a strong city, according to verse one. It resists the onslaught of every evil.
The description of the city reminds us of Jerusalem. Psalm 46, which describes Jerusalem in David’s day, says, There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early (vv. 4–5). Yet, although the language here is similar, Isaiah must have had another city in mind. Isaiah’s city does not have stone walls to protect it or high bulwarks to serve as barriers against enemy attacks. Instead, God has established that his salvation would be the walls and the bulwarks of the city. In other words, the city is a spiritual city — the city of the redeemed. This is especially clear in verse 2, where we read that only the righteous nation that keeps the truth enters into it. It is the church of God’s people.
The church’s song begins in verse one with these words: We have a strong city. Here I am emphasizing that the city belongs to God’s people. We have it. Have you ever thought about what a blessing it is to have this city? In some ways, the city summarizes the entire scope of God’s redemptive plan. In the Bible, God is constantly moving his church toward the city. The Bible begins with man in a garden. After he sinned, God cast him out into an unknown and dangerous wilderness. The patriarchs remained in the wilderness until the Lord in his mercy put them under the care of the king of Egypt. They returned to the wilderness under Moses. Under Joshua they entered the promised land and became an agrarian society, i.e., most country folk. It was not until David conquered most of the warring occupiers of the land that we start to see a shift to a city. At this point, Jerusalem becomes prominent. But even then, the city did not enjoy complete deliverance, for Jerusalem continued to be a city of bloodshed and, in fact, remains so to this day. Jesus, likewise, began his ministry in the wilderness with John’s baptism and the temptation. Then he preached mostly in small towns and villages, until he ended his ministry in the city of Jerusalem. And in the book of Acts, the cities, beginning with Jerusalem, become the focal point of apostolic ministry.
Ironically, the patriarchs, who still lived in the wilderness period of Old Testament history, understood the importance of the city better than we do. Living in one of the richest areas of the entire world, we are not as impressed by the city. But Hebrews 11:9–10 reports that Abraham embraced the land of promise as if it were a foreign country because he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
Now, what could this city possibly be? Again, the book of Hebrews, which says that Abraham looked for a city, tells us what that city was. It was the heavenly Jerusalem. The earthly Jerusalem was never more than faint representation of the heavenly Jerusalem. The heavenly Jerusalem is the real thing! But what is the heavenly Jerusalem? Hebrews 12:22 says, 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. Here the heavenly Jerusalem is where we already are. This verse clearly says that we have come to this city. It’s already a reality in the lives of God’s people. But that’s not all that Hebrews says. Hebrews 13:14 says, For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. Apparently, what we experience of the heavenly Jerusalem now is only a foretaste, a down payment or an earnest of things to come. In the final analysis, the heavenly Jerusalem is the church in glory. It is nothing less than the complete salvation that we have in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And, you see, that’s why we ought to be clamoring to get into it and to enjoy more and more of its blessings. In verse 2 of our text, the people cry out, Open ye the gates! They wanted in. They wanted the city’s blessings.
Do you cry out for God to open the gates? Do you plead with him to give you more and more of the grace of the Holy Spirit? Do you beg him to open your eyes daily to greater insights from his Word and for a more faithful application of his commandments to your lives? If you do not and yet consider yourselves a part of the righteous nation that keeps the truth of God, then you need to do so. And if you already do so, then you must rest in the great comfort and reassurance found in the rest of Judah’s song.
Jehovah’s Perfect Peace
Verse 3 is a wonderful promise to the residents of God’s city: Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. This is a very simple promise. God says that he will give perfect peace to those whose minds are fixed on him.
But what is this perfect peace? Does it mean that we will never have any problems? Or that there will never be any fluctuations in our lives — no bad times to balance out the good times?
Actually, perfect peace is a very interesting phrase. In the original text, there is no word that corresponds to our word perfect. What we find instead is that the word peace is doubled. The Lord will give his people peace multiplied by peace or shalom squared. In other words, God will give us a peace that is literally beyond anything that we can imagine. It’s the peace that Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Philippians, And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7).
There are two things about this peace you should know in order to enjoy its fulness. First, it is a peace that is the Lord gives only to his people. It’s not that the wicked have less peace than believers; they have no peace at all. They think they have peace. They talk a lot about world peace and inner peace, and every other kind of peace. But Isaiah wrote, The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked (Isa. 57:20–21). And second, the reason that the wicked can have no peace is that they do not have peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Isaiah consistently connects true peace with the coming Messiah. Isaiah 9:6, a verse often read at Christmas, predicted that one of the Messiah’s names would be Prince of Peace. Two chapters later he described the Messiah’s kingdom as a kingdom of peace, where the wolf and the lamb will dwell together in perfect harmony (Isa. 11:1–11). In fact, the verse immediately preceding Isaiah’s declaration that the wicked have no peace says, I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the LORD; and I will heal him (Isa. 57:19). Paul alludes to this verse in Ephesians 2 (cf. v. 14–22), and affirms that Jesus Christ alone is our peace.
This peace, as you can see, is amazing and wonderful in itself. It’s an abundant peace that is the fruit of Christ’s work in our behalf. But that’s not all. God promises specifically to keep us in this peace. The word translated keep here literally means to guard or to protect. In the ancient world, it would have described the work of watchmen, i.e., those who sat in the towers, watching over the city. When the watchmen saw an enemy coming, they would sound the alarm and summon the people to battle. Of course, it’s very comforting to be told that God watches over his us and is prepared to protect us in his peace. This is a defensive strategy. But when Paul picks up on the same idea in Philippians 4, he makes an even bolder statement. There the word translated keep means to station a garrison around. In that case the protection is already in place. The apostle wants us to be fully assured that there is not even the slightest chance that an enemy can break through the line. That’s how well the Lord Jesus Christ guards and protects the perfect peace that he gives to his people.
Specifically, God gives his perfect peace to those who have their minds stayed or fixed on him. This is obviously a description of believers, but what exactly does it convey? What does this mean to fix our minds on the Lord? How do we fix our minds on him?
It seems to me that the answer to these questions is given at the end of verse 3. We fix our minds on the Lord by trusting in him. Psalm 112:7 says something similar: He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD. Trusting in the Lord means that we put ourselves completely under his government, believing that it is to our advantage to do so. It means that we find our whole salvation in Jesus Christ and nowhere else. It means that we must maintain our confidence in Christ at all times and under all circumstances — sorrow as well as joy.
Anyone who has been a Christian for more than a few hours understands that this is not always easy. It’s not easy to trust the Lord when unbelievers mock you for your faith. It’s not easy to trust the Lord when loved ones forsake you. It’s not easy to trust the Lord when your life starts to look like Job’s and you question your own ability to withstand the pressure. And yet this is precisely where we find God’s perfect peace. The fact that this peace needs to be guarded either by a watchman (as in Isaiah) or by a garrison of soldiers (in Philippians) means that it’s under attack. The Lord gives you the gift of faith and he requires that you exercise it, especially when under fire.
A Call to Trust the Lord
In the last verse of today’s text, the singers of Judah turn their song to the world. That is, they become evangelistic. You see, the truth of God, if it really and truly grips the soul, will also inflame the heart with evangelistic fervor for the lost. How can it be otherwise, since we know that one of the most basic teachings of Scripture is that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23)?
Biblical evangelism summons sinners to the same trust in God that the evangelist has. It calls the sinner to renounce all that he is and has, and give himself wholeheartedly to the Lord Jesus Christ, who heals, renews, strengthens and gives peace.
In our text, the prophet highlights one particular aspect of the trust that men must have, viz., that sinners must trust the Lord forever. It’s not good enough to summon sinners to an occasional trust in God or to a seasonal commitment to Christ, as if the gospel were only for the good and happy times in our lives. Rather, we call sinners to trust the Lord always and unconditionally. There is no time when we can allow them to do otherwise or excuse them for not doing so.
And the reason for this is simple: the Lord himself never changes. In the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength, wrote Isaiah. Note that your translations of verse 4 show that the sacred name of God is recorded twice. Just as the double peace in the previous verse emphasizes its greatness and incomprehensibility, so the double name of God highlights the highest degree of God’s unchanging power and love toward those who turn to him in faith. Isaiah 12:2 also uses the double name of Jehovah and accentuates again God’s perfect faithfulness. It says, Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation. The storms of life that do their best to drag us under the current cannot touch the God whom we serve.
And so we don’t miss the point Isaiah also says that our God is everlasting strength. Although you cannot see it in our English translations, these two words were the inspiration behind Augustus Toplady’s great hymn, Rock of Ages. In the Hebrew, the word translated strength (צוּר) literally means a huge rock or boulder, like the Rock of Gibraltar or the rock in Morro Bay, and the word translated everlasting (עוֹלָמִים) means ancient or old or enduring through the ages.
So, here we have a second strong affirmation of the unchangeableness and faithfulness of our God. He is not just the Lord Jehovah, the always faithful one, but he is also the Rock of Ages. After all, this is really what our text is about. The city is strong, its walls are secure and we have perfect peace because the Lord Jehovah is our Rock Of Ages. All of these things rest upon the faithfulness of his character. He is the God who has covenanted with us to be our God forever!
Paul Simon’s idea of a rock is not very flattering to rocks. He sees rocks only as pretend things that are hard, cold and unfeeling. He makes himself a rock only to hide from the harshness of life in a hard world, knowing full well that he cannot really do so.
Isaiah had no such mistaken ideas. His rock was not pretend. Nor was it a sinner attempting to rebel against God’s providential appointments or judgments. His rock was God himself. In that rock he trusted. He foretold the day when the people of Judah — the church — would sing a song of praise to that rock. It filled his soul with joy to know that they would also call others to repentance and faith in the same rock.
Every man, woman and child has to face that one rock. To those who believe, the Lord Jesus Christ is a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. But to those who do not believe, he is a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence (I Pet. 2:6, 8).
Where do you stand in regard to this rock? Is Jesus Christ the one in whom you trust when the storms of life assail? Is he your salvation and strength day by day? Is he the one whose love for you moves you toward an ever increasing obedience to his Word? Is he the one who fills your heart with a perfect peace that passes all understanding?
May the Lord give each of us the grace to sing Judah’s great song of perfect peace today and every day as we worship and serve the Rock of Ages — the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior and our King! Amen.