Isaiah (Part 24): Remnant Rejoice – Song of Judah (Ch 26a)
Chapter 25 introduced us to the remnant perspective. Judgment was still in view, but our perspective (Isaiah’s actually) shifted from that of the judged to that of those who, though living amid judgment, had their trust in the caregiver God. That chapter ended with a contrast of those dependent on God and those claiming independence. It was especially noteworthy that the independent were represented by Moab, a nation who was depicted to have clear revelation from God, but who rejected that revelation and his care in favor of their autonomy.
Chapter 26, then, turns attention back again to the praise and satisfaction of those who are dependent on God. This song begins with the imagery already introduced in both Isaiah 24 and 25—the city of God. This city represents God’s care of his people in a community of his security and provision. Notice that the walls of the city are salvation (26:1). They provide the boundary for God’s care. But the gates are open (26:2) so that the city may receive all those who are righteous—defined as those who have faith in God.
This city imagery pops up again and again through both the old and the new testaments. Of special note is Paul’s description in Ephesians of the structure: “So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone” (Eph 2:19-20, emphasis added). The language of the city and building imagery is clear here. But it is impressed even more clearly as John writes of his vision: “Then one of the seven angels, who had held the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues, came and spoke with me: ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb’” (Rev 21:9). Readers will certainly understand that the angel was to show John the bride—the Church—the redeemed of God. John continues: “He then carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, arrayed with God’s glory” (Rev 21:10). So here in Revelation, John equates the people of God with the city—the new Jerusalem. (Note that even the foundation is as Paul described—“the Lamb’s 12 apostles were on the foundations” (Rev 21:14). This is not some physical place in which we literally stroll down streets of solid gold (despite what we may have believed and devotedly sung about previously). This new Jerusalem describes the care in security and provision given to us, God’s people. Note the wall in Revelation 21:12 (the wall of salvation in Isaiah 26:1) and the gates open to all the nations (as the righteous come through the gates in Isaiah 26:2).
I am emphasizing the proper interpretation of the city of God that we find in Isaiah and throughout the Bible so that we may properly hang on to the value that the image teaches. Our citizenship now and our hope for eternity is not simply that we walk on gold streets and pass through gates of pearl. If that were the only picture of our blessed hope, it would seem rather self-serving. The beauty and value of the gold and pearls represent far more than their literal physicality. They represent the care of God. So when we think of eternity with God, the notion of gold and pearl value and beauty should flood our senses as we recognize the security and provision given by God to us all in community of love and praise, embracing the very essence of God. That’s the glory of our hope.
Back in Isaiah 26, verse 3 states plainly what we have been reading throughout the book so far. Those who belong to God—his people, the remnant, the righteous, the faithful—are those who recognize the necessity of dependence on God. These are they who will be at peace—content, satisfied—in the security and provision that God gives.
It is interesting that verse 1 tells us this chapter is a song to be sung in the land of Judah. In chapter 25, the emphasis was on the remnant from other nations coming to God. In this chapter already we have seen the gates open wide to allow the faithful of other nations to come in. So why is this called the song of Judah? We must remember that the land of Judah is not the land of the Jews. What that means is we must not get so wrapped up in the image that we lose the sense of the reality being depicted.
Judah is a name that means “praise.” It is no mistake that God had Christ come from the line of Judah or that those of the 12 tribes who would represent God’s people would be predominantly from the tribe of Judah and be called Jews. God’s people are those who praise God. Therefore, their representation should be those people who are named Praise (Judah). Paul even does a play on this meaning as he explains the inheritance to all people of God regardless of nationality. “For a person is not a Jew [one of praise] who is one outwardly [of that nationality], and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. On the contrary, a person is a Jew [one of praise] who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart—by the Spirit, not the letter. That man’s praise is not from men but from God” (Romans 2:28-29, emphasis added).
This song to be sung in the land of Judah is a song to be sung by all those who praise God, finding security and provision in his caregiving.
The next few verses again work on the contrast of God’s city and the city of man. God is the everlasting rock (26:4), but the high, lofty places established by humanity will crumble and be brought low. But why would the city of man be described as lofty and inaccessible? Selfish pursuits always eventually divide down to the pride of the individual. As people divide to fight against God or to separate themselves (the presumed superior) from others (the inferior), they may for a time band together. But once that enemy or inferior group is no longer a threat, the presumed superior group will find means to divide among themselves. George Orwell’s Animal Farm or Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy provide good illustration of this. That division continues all the way to a single individual’s pride. Thus, humanity left to its own care will constantly create division through hierarchy according to presumed worth. That’s what we read in Isaiah 26: 5. But God will level that hierarchy, and we will all, as the creation ideal relationship among humanity taught, receive each other as truly equal in being and worth.
Verse 8 tells us that God’s people wait in the path. The path is the life we walk in faithfulness to God. God’s judgment may be falling all around, affecting even us. But we walk that path in faithfulness while holding to the hope in dependence on him. We are faithful in our walk. We hope for God’s blessing. We love in our relationship with each other. That’s Christianity. That’s Kingdom living on this earth—faith, hope, and love.
The second half of verse 8, along with the first half of verse 9 show a strong, soul-felt longing of the God-dependent. It begins in verse 8: “Our desire is for Your name and renown” (26:8b). To desire God’s name means to desire what that name represents. The desire is for who God is—his very essence of truth, goodness, and beauty. Even the word “renown” gives this same idea, and gives it better than other translations that translate it as “memory.” The Hebrew inserts a poetic element to emphasize the continuation of this longing. Verse 9 actually begins in the Hebrew, repeating the word/phrase of the end of verse 8. We could read it this way: “For your name and renown is the desire of my soul. With my soul, I long for you in the night” (emphasis added).
The idea continues in the next phrase of verse 9, although it is not translated well in the HCSB. In the HCSB we read: “my spirit within me diligently seeks You.” In the NIV we read: “in the morning my spirit longs for you.” In the KJV we read: “yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early.” Both the NIV and the KJV speak of early in the day or morning contrasted with the “night” of the first phrase in the verse. HCSB merely translates the word as “diligently.” The Hebrew does not give the word for morning or early, but the NIV and KJV do provide a better translation of the intent. The Hebrew here does give the sense of being diligent for something by rising early in the morning to do it. It is the same idea as that behind the saying, “The early bird catches the worm.” Diligence is seen in rising early to accomplish something rather than being lazy and sleeping in. So we can retranslate verse 8 through 9a as follows:
“For your name and renown is the desire of my soul. With my soul, I long for you in the night, and with the dawn, I diligently follow you.”