Isaiah 60: Rise and Shine
Photo by Kyle Cottrell at Upslash!
Finally! A chapter with all good news! Chapter 60, in my opinion, is the most magnificent chapter in all of the Bible. It was delivered to the children of Israel at their darkest hour, promising them an eternity of light. And while it may have served to bring hope to those held captive in Babylon, there’s no doubt these words were given to the whole earth as an assurance of restoration when the Savior of the world appears.
Isaiah begins by declaring that the glory of God will shine through His people and that all the nations will see. All who are wise will come there to worship, making their way in the darkness as their light is revealed.
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. (verses 1-3)
These verses have been used as a rallying cry for Christians everywhere, calling them to reflect the light of Christ in the here and now. Rightfully so, but the entrance of God’s people into Zion is the capstone of His kingdom, and that will happen only when Israel recognizes that Jesus is their King.
But, oh, when they do!
Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. (verses 4-5)
Imagine! Israel, with her long history of rebellion and bondage, scattering and persecution, small among the nations and squeezed by the pressures around her, will be the place of assembly for the whole world! Like a magnet, the Lord in His majesty will draw all nations to their city—the city of the great King—to Zion, the place of His favor. The brilliance of that city will be the brilliance of its King. Isaiah has made that clear:
Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.” (Isaiah 2:3-4) Kings shall see and arise, Princes also shall worship, Because of the Lord who is faithful, The Holy One of Israel; And He has chosen You. (Isaiah 49:7) Surely you shall call a nation you do not know, And nations who do not know you shall run to you, Because of the Lord your God, And the Holy One of Israel; For He has glorified you. (Isaiah 55:5)
While facing a future without a home, Israel was promised her sons and daughters will return to their land and that the Gentiles will come bringing gifts. As the magi from the East gathered around Jesus in Jerusalem (Matthew 2), world leaders will come bearing gold and incense, but no myrrh. Gold and incense were traditional gifts for kings and priests, but the death prefigured by the magis’ myrrh has already been swallowed up by life (1 Corinthians 15:54; 2 Corinthians 5:4). Future kings will come proclaiming their praises to the God of wonder, God of might, who won’t be lying in a manger but seated on a throne.
Now, on to the harder stuff. The whole book of Isaiah is filled with metaphors and symbols that Israelites may have understood, but they often lose me in the middle. For example, since I live in a world of motorized transportation and cash, stocks and bonds, for me, verses 6 through 9 are hard to decipher.
The lands mentioned in verses 6 and 7 (Midian, Ephah, Sheba, Kedar and Nebaioth) and the islands referred to in verse 9 represent all the nations. Their herds and flocks represent the wealth they will bring, not as sacrifices to pay for sin but as offerings to commemorate Christ’s work on the cross. Verse 8 is clearly symbolic, and I didn’t find much agreement among scholars of what flying clouds and homing doves mean. Some of their suggestions? Fast-moving clouds represent the hurried arrival of the Gentiles and the doves are the huge ships and planes that bring them. Or maybe the clouds are the ships, and the doves are those who, like homing pigeons, instinctively know where to rest.
Regardless, all are coming to Zion for “the honor of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you (Zion) with splendor (verse 9).”
This time, the nations are coming to rebuild the walls, not destroy them, and kings are coming to serve, not to conquer. They will enter without fear of divine retribution because they’ve discovered the nature of God as they’ve witnessed His dealings with Zion: His anger is superseded by His love. (verse 10)
The promise of His presence is the promise of security, and the gates Israel used to hide behind will become the gates that welcome the nations in. The masses will bring wealth and their kings will pay homage (verse 11). Those who previously despised Israel will recognize whose she is (verse 14), and those who refuse to honor her will be left outside for destruction (verse 12).
As Lebanon’s finest was used for building Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 5:6), so only choice resources will be brought in to build the eternal city. Verses 13 and 17 are reminiscent of the why and how:
“The glory of Lebanon will come to you, the juniper, the fir and the cypress together, to adorn my sanctuary; (verse 13a-c)
Instead of bronze I will bring you gold, and silver in place of iron. Instead of wood I will bring you bronze, and iron in place of stones. (verse 17a-d).
And it will happen for the very same reason:
The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart. Year after year, everyone who came brought a gift—articles of silver and gold, robes, weapons and spices, and horses and mules… The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills. (I Kings 10:23-27)
As in the days of Solomon, the King’s wisdom will be the draw for the nations and they’ll bring their wealth with them to build a great city for Him. It will be ”the place of God’s feet”—His footstool—where the transcendent God touches earth:
His resting place will be where nations bow down when they recognize that Israel’s God alone is holy (verse 14) and Mount Zion is the place of His favor (verse 15).
The metaphor in verse 16 is odd and uncomfortable for me, but its meaning isn’t hard to understand: Israel, once forsaken and hated, will now have the loving care and nourishment of the nations.
Such a turnabout can only be the work of God! As a result, Israel will recognize Him for who He is—their Savior and Redeemer, the Mighty One in their midst—and the entire atmosphere of their dwelling place will change:
I will make peace your governor and well-being your ruler. No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders. (verse 18)
Every force of disorder will be abolished and peace and righteousness will be established. Rather than walls of defense, Zion’s salvation will be her security. Rather than barred gates to keep intruders out, the praise in the city will invite the seeker in.
The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. (verses 19-20)
Now, because I love the sunrise and the sunset and the moon in all its phases, I hope these verses, made symbolic to illustrate the greater truth—that the Everlasting Light of the world will outdo the physical sources of the earth’s light; that unlike our sun and moon, He never moves, never changes; that He is always present in His fullness—won’t change what He created at the start. Though the city will have no need for the sun or moon, I hope the solar system will still be seen there, simply for its beauty.
So, with all her days of sorrow ended, her land reclaimed and her people declared righteous, Zion will be awake, arisen, and shining. But don’t forget: these promises are not for the children of Israel alone. Along with Isaiah, the writer of New Covenant Hebrews reassures us that all who come to the King will be the glory of Zion.
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:18-24)
The children of Israel won’t hold a higher place, but a special place, in the kingdom of God. When God chose His forerunner children, He chose a little strip of land in the Middle East and the descendants of a former Babylonian to prepare the earth for the His glory (verses 21). But He gave Abraham his “spiritual seed” as well, so: “If you belong to Christ, you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). We will be a part of it all, seated with Jesus in the center of His city.
Old Covenant promises or New Covenant promises, our great God’s reputation rests on His word:
I am the Lord, and when the time comes, I will quickly do all this.