Isaiah 26:1-11 In the City of the King
Updated: May 5
Can you imagine a world without selfishness? Kind of hard, isn’t it? What would it be like to live in a place where those who aren’t like us are still valued? Or where people we meet on the street won't wear masks, visible or invisible?
There is a place like that, Isaiah says. It’s the city of a God who gives freely and looks with love on all He’s created. There’s an atmosphere of incredible joy.
Isaiah 26 begins—
In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah—
The obvious question is, “What day?” If we back up, back to chapter 25, we read that it’s the day God brings His people out of darkness and wipes their tears away. It’s the day when He lays out a feast for all people and the day when all people recognize that He really is LORD of all.
In that day, in that place, the righteous will be singing a song. In other writings, Isaiah calls this place by several names—Mount Zion, the mountain of God, the city of God. But here he calls it “the land of Judah”—the land of thanksgiving and praise. And so it is.
When reading through the Psalms you may have noticed that more than a few—15 to be exact—are labeled “A song of ascents.” These are the songs worshippers sang as they made their way up to Mount Zion. They used their time walking to the feasts as a time to prepare their hearts. This song is a song like that.
“We have a strong city; God makes salvation its walls and ramparts.“
The city they are entering is a strong city, a glorious city, a safe city, but a city nonetheless. I’ve always imagined the Kingdom of God in a rural setting: I’m sitting there, alone on a hill with a view of the valley below or in the midst of a lush, green forest. Peaceful—not a city. In a city there are crazy drivers and loud sirens and not-so-pleasant smells. But this city won’t be anything like that. Because men will be changed—unselfish, not in a hurry; no one will need to get to the hospital, and everything in the city will be alive. It will be like Minneapolis or San Francisco or Portland without the stress but with all the great food and beautiful people, and there will be easy access to the quiet places where I can go to worship God in silence. It will be a happy place and people won’t be flaky and best of all, it will be ruled by a King I can trust.
Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith.
Now, regarding those on the way: Isaiah calls them ”righteous” before they even enter. Obviously “righteous” doesn’t mean perfect. You and I are called righteous and we're not perfect. Not me, anyway. So the basis for entering the Kingdom of God in that day is the same as it is right now: simple faith in the One who can save us and a willingness to learn His ways. (Knowing that will be important a little further down the page.)
You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.
Trust = a steadfast mind = perfect peace. Simple equation, right? Well, not always. Not for me. My thoughts can be unruly things. Sometimes they run wild and I have to lasso them, drag them back, and remind myself of God’s promises again. I remind myself how good He is, how patient, how kind, how He delights in those who fear him and put their trust in Him.
There is that other side of Him, though:
He humbles those who dwell on high, he lays the lofty city low; he levels it to the ground and casts it down to the dust.
He shows that side to a city that is proud and proud of it. The rebellious city. Babel reincarnated. The city of man, where power and prestige are built on the backs of the weak and the poor. That city has to come down. So on the way to the City of God, He goes before the righteous, reducing the city of man to dust, making a way through for those who trust in Him. (verses 5-6)
And as a result:
The path of the righteous is level; you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth.
Have you noticed that? That when you live a good life, your life is easy? Me neither. So where is this God who makes the way of the righteous smooth? Maybe, perhaps, a better question would be, “where are we?” He didn’t move. The righteous on the path to the City are like the pilgrims of Psalm 84: “As they pass through the Valley of Baka (the valley of weeping), they make it a place of springs.” It’s their response to hard times that changes things. They take life’s lemons and make lemonade. (Corny, I know. But it works.)
“Life’s path is one of the ways in which the Lord shares his nature with us.” — J. Alec Motyer
When we act in justice and righteousness—following Your laws—we wait for You. We are eager to hear Your holy name and remember Your ways.
We are like children who have just cleaned our rooms and are sitting on our bed, just waiting for Mom to walk by.
There’s an interesting shift in the song in verse 9: “We” and “ours” changes to “I” and “my.” The song gets personal. Earlier in the book of Isaiah we saw how God tended to look at Israel corporately. Blessing and cursing came to the whole nation in response to the actions of the influencers. But in this place, each one sings their own song of love:
At night I long for You with all that is in Me. When morning comes, I seek You with all my heart.
When Your justice is done on earth then everyone in the world will learn righteousness.
Everyone will learn righteousness? You mean those outside can become like those inside?
Isaiah says yes. He says God will make His judgments known and that the world will learn righteousness. When the filters of sin are removed, His judgments will be revealed as discipline, not punishment; for training, not for vengeance. Paul once told Timothy that God desires for everyone to be saved and know the truth. (I Timothy 2:4)
If grace is extended to those who do wrong, the perpetrators never learn what is right.
Even when surrounded by upright people, they gravitate to evil and never even notice the awesome beauty of the Eternal.
O Eternal One, even when Your hand is raised against them, they do not see it. When they finally do see how passionately
You act on the people’s behalf, they will be ashamed. Ah, let the fire that consumes Your enemies consume them.
So which one is it? Do they learn or don’t they?
Here’s what I think:
God’s hand of grace is in all that He does. Yet, His grace requires a response. No matter how available His righteousness, some will be drawn to evil. No matter how overwhelming His goodness, some will remain bitter. No matter how awesome His beauty, some will not see it. In an atmosphere of grace, some still demand the law.
So I think this is as good a time as any to review with you my understanding of the Millennial Kingdom.
At the end of this age, whenever that is, the Kingdom of God will be established on this earth. It will be set up in the midst of the rundown, messy world we live in. It will be the model for the world of a world unstained by sin.
I’m walking on the edge of what some would call heresy. “Some” being those who walk around with tracts that say, “If you died tonight, do you know where you would go? Straight to hell to burn forever. So just pray this prayer…” I don’t believe that. For lots of reasons. But here’s the cat I’ll let out of the bag today:
I believe there is a difference between those who don’t know God and those who refuse to know Him. I believe there’s a difference between the wicked—those who shut their eyes and ears to God’s truth—and those who haven’t heard or seen the His goodness rightly presented. I don’t believe a righteous God would punish them for our failure. I believe that when He is revealed, those who could not see Him will see and be allowed to enter, but those who would not see Him will stay outside. I believe The LORD will make a distinction between those who are blind and those who cover their eyes.
I believe, and I believe the book of Isaiah bears it out, that in the midst of the evil camped outside the walls there are those who desire to find the truth. From that place in the dark, they can run to the gates and the gatekeepers will let them in. I think that’s what the 1,000 years of God’s Kingdom on earth are all about.
There’s a whole ‘nother series of events that will take place between the 1,000-year reign of Christ on the earth and God’s creation of the new one, but that’s beyond the scope of this blog and the understanding of its writer. So I’ll just leave you with this:
It ain’t over until it’s over. A lot can happen in 1,000 years.
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” —I Timothy 2:4