Isaiah (Part 77): Zion's Realization (Ch 60a)
Chapters 60 through 62 discuss Zion, each from different perspectives. But before we identify the perspectives, we need to know what God means when he speaks of Zion. The old city of Jerusalem (old, as in when David first captured it and made it his capital) was built on a ridge rising from the Hinnom valley on the south, the Kidron valley on the east, and a lesser (not so deep) Tyropoeon valley on the west. By the time of Christ, Jerusalem had expanded to the west through the Tyropoeon valley and up the ridge to what became known as “upper Jerusalem,” the location of Caiaphas’s house and also the upper room of the last supper. However, in David’s time, the city was confined to the hill sloping up between Tyropoeon and Kidron. At the top of this hill was first the peak of Zion followed, along the ridge, immediately by the peak of Moriah. Moriah, you will recall, is where Abraham would have sacrificed Isaac without God’s intervention. Moriah is also the peak on which Solomon’s temple was constructed. The expansion of the second temple courtyard during Herod the Great’s reign connected the twin peaks into one temple mount. (Note: Josephus identified the mount just to the west of the old city of David as Mt. Zion and many have considered it to be the Mt. Zion of biblical reference since then. However, that mount (upon which “upper” Jerusalem was built) would have been outside the ancient city, making it difficult to be synonymous with Jerusalem. Further, Psalm 48 mentions Zion being on the north side of Jerusalem, which would not match that western hill.)
This mountain slope, then, on which Jerusalem was originally built was the south slope of Mt. Zion. Thus, its first mention in the Bible concerns David capturing “the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David” (2 Samuel 5:7). Zion was the mountain. The word Zion, from the Arabic, means fortress. Therefore, when God refers to Jerusalem as Zion, he is emphasizing something about his covenant relationship with his people. It was in Jerusalem where he “dwelled” with his people—with the ark in the tabernacle and later temple. But in that relationship, as always in God’s covenant relationships with his image bearers, God’s covenant obligation is to provide care and his people’s covenant obligation is to trust in God for care. That caregiving by God is often described (especially in the Psalms) in terms of rock, mountain, and fortress. Thus, by calling out to Zion, God brings to mind not so much the people themselves as the people’s covenant relationship. With Zion, God emphasizes purpose and relationship in caregiving symbolism.
In Isaiah 60-62, God speaks to Zion. But he is not merely speaking to the Jews or to the covenant people of any age. God is personifying the covenant relationship and speaking to and of that. In this whole section, Zion should be understood as God’s Immanuel (God with us) purpose. If we read of Zion being bereft of children, we understand it to be God’s covenant purpose not being fulfilled. If Zion receives sons and daughters, we understand it to be God’s covenant purpose being fulfilled.
In Isaiah 60, we see Zion’s realization. In Isaiah 61, we hear from Zion’s rescuer. In Isaiah 60, we learn of Zion’s restorer. Of course, we may think of Zion’s Rescuer and Restorer as the same, and indeed they are, but they also have distinction. God is the one who restores. God is the one who rescues. But God has appointed his servant—the fully God, fully human Jesus—to accomplish that rescue. Therefore, we see in these three chapters a backwards progression of what we have seen in the second half of Isaiah. Remember that in chapters 40-48, the emphasis was on God being in control. Next, in chapters 49-55, we learned of the work of the Servant. Finally, in chapters 56-59, we read of entering the Sabbath rest. In 60-62, the reverse order is given. In chapter 60 we read of that restored relationship (Zion’s Realization). In 61, we find the one who made it possible to have restored relationship (Zion’s Rescuer). And in 62, we read of God, the designer and power behind the whole plan (Zion’s Restorer).
Chapter 60 begins with a call to arise and shine. God is speaking, and he is speaking to Zion—the covenant purpose. God is not urging or exhorting Zion to shine, he is rather stating that the time for shining has arrived. The glory of the Lord is resting on Zion. In other words, Zion—the covenant purpose—is now being fulfilled. Note that in verse 2, we learn that although the Zion purpose is being satisfied, the rest of the earth is still cloaked in darkness. This paradox of light and dark is the description of our current age in which the Messiah has accomplished salvation and, by faith, he is gaining sons and daughters to his kingdom even though the world still exists in its corrupted curse of death. But, as verse 3 notes, nations are coming to the light.
It should be pointed out that these nations are not coming as nations. Salvation—covenant relationship—is not assigned to an entire country or ethnic group at once. People come individually. God’s point in specifying nations is not to express how people are saved, but rather that people from all over the world (not just from one nation—Israel) are coming to covenant relationship with God. So Zion is encouraged in verse 4 to raise its eyes, understand, realize that children (fulfillment) to God’s purpose draws from God’s image bearers of the whole earth.
Notice also that in this figurative language, God is making symbolic use of light (60:1-3), sons and daughters (60:4), and riches and wealth (60:5) all to picture covenant fulfillment.
In the next section, verses 6-7, the fulfillment idea continues as the world brings material and spiritual blessing to Zion. In these two verses, five names/peoples are mentioned. All five are mentioned in Genesis 25. Midian was the son of Abraham by his wife Keturah. Ephah was the son of Midian. Sheba was the son of Jokshan, another of Abraham’s sons by Keturah. And both Kedar and Nebaioth were sons of Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar. With these names, God is drawing on the imagery of Jacob’s line as opposed to other descendants of Abraham. They were all Abraham’s descendants, but Jacob’s line is distinguished as the covenant people of God. Again, remember to whom God is speaking. He is not speaking to the Jews. If he were, then the picture would be of other nations giving gifts to the Jews, while those other nations themselves remain outside the covenant people of God. But God is speaking, not to Jews, but rather to the covenant purpose itself. And thus, when these other nations present gifts and offerings, they are being presented not to a people, but rather to the covenant. This important picture is of these other nations—who had been outside the covenant people of God—who are now becoming part of the covenant people, not just sending gifts to them.
In verses 8 and 9, the thought of verses 6 and 7 is extended beyond the non-Israelite descendants of Abraham to the farthest reaches of the world. The mention of islands denotes faraway lands. Tarshish, in Spain, was at the far end of the Mediterranean world. Yet all these are drawn fully and purposefully (like clouds and doves) to fulfill the covenant purpose.
Verses 10 and 11 provide two important points. First, they highlight the importance of amillennial understanding of Zion as God’s Immanuel purpose. Premillennialists regard the conversation of this chapter as God speaking to the Jews—the nation of Israel. The foreigners building the walls of verse 10 are Gentiles serving Israel in a future kingdom. God saying “I struck you” refers, according to the PreM, to Israel’s previous captivity and/or the putting them aside during the “Church Age.” But if this is so, the whole focus of verse 11, as well as the rest of the chapter, is the glory of Israel. God, however, never establishes glory for Israel, or anyone else, apart from his covenant relationship in which God is the first focus of glory. God has commanded the glory in chapters 40-48. God has showered the glory on Christ for the Servant’s part in rescuing toward renewed covenant in chapters 56-59. Are we now to presume that these necessary points of glory focus are laid aside in favor of a glory for Israel over other nations regardless of those who have entered into covenant relationship with God from those other nations and simply because God had struck them before? Neither the flow of the book nor God’s overall purpose seems to allow for this.
Further, the PostM claim that this chapter shows the conquest of the world toward Christianized interrelationships removes the intended buildup of the previous chapters toward focus on our relationship with God rather than our relationship with each other. If the chapter is to maintain the integrity of its placement in the prophetic direction and flow of the book, understanding Zion as God’s Immanuel purpose is necessary to both focus glory on God and on our relationship with him.
The second interesting point of these two verses relate to the depiction of the city. Foreigners are seen building the walls. The point of a city’s walls are to defend against something. But verse 11 tells us that the gates will never be shut. Were this a real city, the ideas would seem incompatible. But this imagery. God figuratively describes his care and protection with the walls imagery as he communicates his embrace of all those of faith in the open gate imagery.
Verse 12, the central point of chapter 60, explains that the people of covenant relationship, gathered through this age, will be the only people—the only nation, the only kingdom—that will remain.