"A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood, Of mortal ills prevailing." With these majestic words, Martin Luther began his great Reformation hymn. He wrote the hymn as a meditation on Psalm 46, which begins, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea." His strength is a place of safety and security for us.
Isaiah (and indeed the entire Bible) presents the strength of the Lord in two basic ways. The first is the strength of the Lord to destroy His enemies, and the second is the strength of the Lord to protect and preserve His people. The destruction of Babylon reminds us that whatever enemies arise against God and His people in human history, they cannot resist the power of God. God spoke against Babylon, "Behold the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it ... 'And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans' pride, will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It will never be inhabited'" (Isa. 13:9, 19-20a). God fulfilled those words. He always will deal this way with His enemies—either in history or at the Last Judgment.
The second and more important expression of God’s strength is in protecting His people. God promises to gather His people and restore them to fellowship with Him. “It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left…He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (Isa. 11:11-12).
God will renew His people in this way through the Branch from the stem of Jesse (Isa. 11:1), who will also be a blessing to the Gentiles. This prophecy points us with amazing clarity to Jesus, great David's greater Son, and to His saving work. In Jesus, Jew and Gentile find the ultimate expression of the strength of God to save and protect His people.
"Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for Yahweh, the LORD, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation." (Isa. 12:2). What a comfort!
First published in Tabletalk, March 1999.
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