On that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel. Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgement and by a spirit of burning. Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed, over all the glory there will be a canopy. It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.
For anyone who has ever sung Handel’s “Messiah” it is hard to read much of the book of Isaiah without wanting to burst into song, or at least immediately reading into what Isaiah has to say prophecies about the birth of Jesus. Isaiah is talking about how God will rescue his people, so of course for those of us who trust in Jesus we read into Isaiah’s words promises that we believe are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
But we shouldn’t rush past and miss some of the wonderful imagery in Isaiah’s words, where he describes God’s care for his people.
The people can take heart, because in the future the Lord is going to turn the whole of Mount Zion into a beacon of his love and care. There will be a cloud by day and fire by night – just as there was leading God’s people through the wilderness in the time of Moses – and over that beacon there will be a canopy, giving God’s people shade from the sun and shelter from the storm.
The psychologist Maslow tell us what we already know – that the need for safety is only trumped in the hierarchy of needs by physiological demands – air, food and water. God knows that people need to know they are safe. This was true for the people to whom Isaiah first spoke, and is just as true today – as I write this, in Aleppo, but by the time it is read, perhaps in another place. It is good to be reminded by Isaiah that God knows our need and will fulfil it, but we are then left with the question ‘when?’.
The answer may depend on those followers of Jesus who see themselves as agents for God’s kingdom, where all needs will be met. The promise of God’s future should not make us complacent, but stir us to action.
How long, O Lord,
Until all know the safety of your canopy,
all see the beacon of your hope?
Perhaps for just as long as it takes people to grasp
that Jesus came to bring all into your Kingdom
and we must not rest until it comes in all its fullness.
Until then, we pray for grace to continue to hope
that your future will one day come.
Fill us with that hope and courage, we pray.
The Rev’d Ruth Whitehead is the Moderator of the South Western Synod.