The Lord is exalted, for He dwells on high; He has filled Zion with justice and righteousness.
And He will be the stability of your times, a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge.
The fear of the Lord is his treasure. - Isaiah 33:5-6
As you grow older, time seems to pass more quickly. You almost get dizzy with the rapidity of day turning to night and night into day! As Job puts it, “My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle…” (Job 7:6) A weaver’s shuttle is a stream-lined piece of wood to which a thread is attached and weavers send it quickly back and forth between the strands to produce their fabric, whether of wool or cotton or other material. They often do this at great speed, hence the metaphor of time passing quickly. Scientists have researched the way our sense of time’s speed changes with age and it turns out that there is some physiological basis for it and it is not just that we are slowing down and accomplishing less during the passage of the day! Well that’s a comfort anyway.
Another phenomenon of increasing age (and there are all too many of them!) is that it does seem as though the world is growing worse. The book of Ecclesiastes comments on this and cautions us against drawing the wrong conclusion: “Do not say, ‘Why is it that the former days were better than these?’
for it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.” (7:10) We do see a lot of problems in the world today and many of them seem intractable. But we also forget about the problems that used to plague the human family until not that long ago, at least in developed countries and increasinglyso in many which are still relatively under-developed. Water purification, modern sewage systems, vaccines, anti-biotics and other improvements have led to an overall decrease in mortality and increase in average life-spans. Education used to be the privilege of the few but now it has become the expectation of the masses. As for information, broadcast, cable and print media, but especially cell phones and the internet, have made us vastly more informed, or at least capable of becoming informed, about events in the world than our ancestors of even a generation ago. We can feed vastly more people today than was possible in the past. Of course, moral standards do seem to be in decline. But even in this regard it is not a decline in all ways. While, sadly, slavery is still practiced it is nowhere legal in the world as it once was universally. Saudi Arabia was the last country that, until recently, legally allowed it. Yes, one’s estimate of moral decline will vary depending on which moral value you are measuring.
The one thing that has definitely changed is the speed at which change is happening. “The times they are a-changing” Dylan sang in the 60’s but they’ve changed a whole lot more and more quickly in the decades since. Bringing this down to the personal level, everyone, as they grow older, will find that the problems of life tend to increase over time. Yes, the teen years have their share of angst but they may seem like heaven itself when babies arrive and bills pile up. Even becoming an “empty nester” does not mean freedom from worry. The problems faced by children and grandchildren can easily weigh upon the mind and engage one’s attention. And then there are the new aches and pains and health issues of growing older. So the question is, what can serve to anchor one’s soul for the increasing storms of life?
In Isaiah 33:5-6, we have the answer beautifully presented to us. God is exalted and dwells on high. That is good news indeed. Have you ever wanted “friends in high places” who could fix a problem for you? Well you’ve got a friend in the Lord who occupies the highest possible place! And what is more wonderful still is that the Lord is one of us! Yes, we have just celebrated this very fact. “Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’”. (Isaiah 7:14) Yes, the “Word” who was “with God” and “was God… became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1, 14) After living a life of service, performing miracles and teaching us the will of God, He offered up His life as the atoning sacrifice for our sins and rose again, victorious over sin, death, hell and the devil! And then He ascended into heaven where, at the Father’s right hand, He has been given “all authority, in heaven and on earth…” (Matthew 28:18) There, His precious blood pleads for us before the Father and in consequence we receive copious outflows of God’s gracious Spirit, the very water of life! Yes, the God who dwells on high also knows, first-hand, what it is like to live in a sin-cursed and fallen world. As the author of the book of Hebrews says, “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” (2:18)
The One who dwells on high has “filled Zion with justice and righteousness.” Zion is a name for the people of God, the Church. The author of the book of Hebrews, speaking to believers says, “[Y]ou have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven...” (12:22-23) Even though he is speaking about heaven, the home of believers on high, he is also referring to the Church, whether its members are on earth or in heaven. Zion is therefore the Church and we have become members of it by faith in Jesus Christ. God has filled the Church with justice and righteousness. That means he treats us as though we have never sinned and always done His will. It also means He gives us power to do His will, even in trying circumstances such as He Himself faced on earth.
This right relationship with God opens up to us the treasures of heaven – and what treasures they are: “salvation, wisdom and knowledge”. We are saved from an eternity of being fast-bound to our selfishness and pride. Sin is its own punishment and to be left in sin is to be left in misery. From that terrible fate God has saved us. And it is not just salvation from suffering in sin; it is also salvation unto joy: I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation. Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.” (Isaiah 12:2-3)
Besides salvation we also have wisdom and knowledge. We know the meaning of life. We know the nature of God and the world. We know who we are and where we are going. We have wisdom from on high by which to order our lives in peace and contentment. Hallelujah! And we have the treasure of “the fear of the Lord.” This is not a craven, guilty fear but a liberating fear that is actually a feeling of profound gratitude to Him. We know how terrible it would be to be without God, in fact, how terrible it was before we knew Him. But now, through God’s gracious gift of His Son, we no longer fear this as an outcome but tremble at the thought of what it would have meant. We therefore serve God out of gratitude for His mercy and love to us in Christ.
And so God has become for us the “stability” of our times. No matter what difficult changes we must pass through, whether now or in the future, we can feel under our feet the firm foundation of God’s love for us in Christ. As you begin the new year, please read Romans 8:18-39 and let the stability of God’s love for you fill your heart with His peace and joy.