In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.
It seems best to take this as the picture of an ideal spiritual state.
I. THE IMPREGNABLE CITY. Its walls and outworks are "salvation." A great word - negatively hinting deliverance from the enemy and the oppressor; positively including all the contents of sacred peace, prosperity, and happiness. But salvation is nothing without a Savior; it is the loving presence of Jehovah who girds about Jerusalem as a wall. In Zechariah 2:9 he is spoken of as a "wall of fire." In another magnificent image, "Round about are the everlasting arms." The idea of the Eden-garden may be compared with that of this fenced city. A "garden walled around, a chosen and peculiar ground," may represent the mystical Church here, the celestial state hereafter. The city is created and fortified by the Eternal.
II. THE CELESTIAL CRY. The command is heard from heaven, "Open ye the gates!" As in Isaiah 40:1, from the same quarter, sounds the gracious word, "Comfort ye my people!" The righteous nation that keepeth faithfulness may enter the Divine city. The emphatic thought is that this city is to be the scene of righteousness, a contrast to the state of "this world which passeth away." "Open to me," exclaims the psalmist, "the gates of righteousness: I will go into them and praise Jehovah; the gate of Jehovah into which the righteous shall enter" (Psalm 118:19, 20). And again, in another sublime passage, "Who shall ascend into the hill of Jehovah? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart" (Psalm 24:3, 4). This righteousness of mind and heart is the gift of the Divine grace. Purity in the human spirit is at once the reflection of God's nature and the condition of "beholding" him. If men are good and faithful, it is because their souls have kept walk and converse with the truthful God (Psalm 31:24). And this they have only learned to do as the result of chastisement and the experience of the evil of other ways. "The Church was always like a barn (Matthew 3:12), in which the chaff is mingled with the wheat, or the wheat overpowered by the chaff'" When the Jews came back from captivity, it was with purified hearts; a large portion of the filth of idolatry had been swept away. And so universally; it is "out of much tribulation," much sifting on life's floor, that we must enter the kingdom - that the pure wheat of chastened character must be gathered into the celestial barn.
III. THE ATTRIBUTES OF JEHOVAH.
1. The firmness of his purpose. The words in ver. 3 are differently rendered: "a steadfast mind thou keepest in;" "firm is the hope thou wilt form;" "a purpose established thou purposest." And this purpose is one of peace. He "thinks the thought of peace" (Jeremiah 29:11). Hence the attitude of the believer is one of fearless and fixed repose; "He shall not be moved forever... shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in Jehovah" (Psalm 112:6, 7). This being of ours, in itself frail, anxious, feverish, needs steadying, staying; and its only sufficient prop must be "Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, in truth' (Isaiah 10:20). The essential thing in faith is habitual dependence; the result, ineffable peace. "Peace, peace," are the prophet's emphatic words. "He refrains from epithets; such peace is indescribable." So in Isaiah 57:19, "Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near." And the Christian apostle takes up the thought of the profundity and unutterableness of this bliss of the soul, "The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7).
2. The constancy of Ms being. Jah Jehovah is a Rock of ages, and may be trusted in forever. One of the four places where our translators have retained the original name Jehovah, of which Jab is the abridged form (Exodus 6:3; Psalm 83:18; Isaiah 12:2). The doubled name is used for emphasis, as in "Peace, peace," above; it expresses the perfection of his majesty, wisdom, holiness, which should reflect the utmost reverence and the most absolute trust in the mind of the believers. And" Rock, Rock of Israel," etc., is another of the sacred names of the Divine Being (Isaiah 30:29; see Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, 80, 31, etc.). Actively, to protect, to throw the cool shade of his protection upon the suffering of his people; passively, to resist the utmost shock and assault of his foes. The noble image of one of our poets, too lofty to be applied to mortal, may be applied to him -
"As some tall cliff that lifts its awful form,
Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm,
Tho' round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
Eternal sunshine settles on its head." Let us contemplate the nature of God; no other nature yields a lasting satisfaction anti repose to the beholder. "As soon as we turn aside from beholding it, nothing is seen but what is fleeting, and then we immediately faint. Thus ought faith to rise above the world by continual advances; for neither the truth, nor the justice, nor the goodness of God is temporary and fading, but God continues to be always like himself."
3. His irresistible power. He brings down the lofty and the proud. Bulwarks, armed hosts, enormous wealth, are of no avail against "moral influence." And when we thus speak, we mean nothing less than the just will, the fixed purpose, of the Eternal. No Babylon, no Rome, no empire built on force and fraud, need be a terror to the faithful. They, at the day of doom, must "melt like snow at the glance of the Lord," or be abased even to the dust. "We live amidst closing histories and amid falling institutions; there is an axe laid at the root of many trees; foundations of fabrics have been long giving way, and the visible tottering commences. 'The earth quakes and the heavens do tremble.' The sounds of great downfalls and great disruptions come from different quarters; old combinations start asunder; a great crash is heard; and it is some vast mass that has just broken off from the rock, and gone down into the chasm below. A great volume of time is now shattering, the roll is folded up for the registry, and we must open another. Never again - never, though ages pass away - never any more under the heavens shall be seen forms and fabrics, and structures and combinations that we have seen. The world is evidently at the end of one era and is entering upon another;" but the" Rock of ages" will remain, and the Church which rests upon him, "to enlighten ignorance, to fight with sin, and to conduct man to eternity" (Mozley).
4. His just dealings. A plain or straight path is made for the righteous - one free from obstacles and opposition, even as the path of the Eternal himself to the fulfillment of his purposes (cf. Proverbs 3:6; Proverbs 11:5; Proverbs 15:19). He is even said to make their path "plain with a level," i.e. to a nicety. It could not have seemed so to the Jews in captivity; and often it must seem, in the midst of perplexity and distress, far otherwise to the children of God now. Yet what seems to be a "roundabout" path in a mountainous country may actually be the shortest from point to point. So with the ways by which the Lord our God leads his children to the end. The direct line which haste and impatience would take is not really the "straight path" in the world of spirit. Here, when we seem to be turning back, we may be really moving forward; we may seem to be "fetching a compass," none the less certainly may be advancing by the safest and most direct road.
IV. SONG OF THE CHURCH. A meditation on the ways of God, and the relation of the believing soul to him. Waiting for God. They had watched, as it were, for Jehovah to advance along the great way of judgment by which he was to proceed to open the Messianic kingdom. Longing for the revelation of him. Oh that his Name and memorial (two expressions for one idea) might be known! The Name of God is God revealed, "the side of the Divine Being turned towards man" (Psalm 20:1; cf. Psalm 30:27; 63:9). (For the meaning of "memorial," cf. Exodus 3:15; Psalm 30:4; Psalm 135:13; Hosea 12:5.) The Messianic hope. The judgments of God, the thought is, must prepare for the new kingdom, for the reign of righteousness in the world. Calamities are symptomatic of evils needing to be cleansed away, if significant of the hand of Jehovah at work in reformation, and so prophetic of a new era. The reign on Mount Zion will be ushered in by a series of judgments on the unbelievers and the unrighteous, i.e. the heathen as opposed to the worshippers of Jehovah. Those judgments are a necessity. Righteousness is not learned, the need of it, the beauty of it, are not experienced, except in the school of suffering, of Divine chastisement. The effect of wealth and honor and success is not to lead men to God, and to the paths of rectitude and religion. Neither the Divine mercy, nor the bright example of others, nor the general tone of moral society, have sufficient influence to attract the inveterate sinner to belier things. In vain the light is poured upon the morally blind, upon those who "will not behold the majesty of Jehovah." In vain his hand is lifted up in judgment; their insensibility prevents them from perceiving it, though they are acute enough in their observation of the trifling interests of the sensuous life. There is but one way of dealing with such insensibility. Those judgments will be effective. They shall see the jealousy of Jehovah for his people (cf. Psalm 69:9), for fire shall devour his adversaries. His jealousy is like fire (Psalm 79:5; Zephaniah 1:18). In consuming it purifies, in purifying it consumes (cf. Deuteronomy 32:22; Job 20:26; Job 22:20). Remorse, shame, envy, indignation, - those fires within the bosom reflect the judgment of God; resistance, rebellion, impenitence, make them unquenchable. Peace and deliverance for the chosen. The past supplies arguments of hope for the future. A work has been accomplished by the Church, but this is Jehovah's work in it and by it. The deliverance from a foreign yoke was his work also. They had been enslaved to other lords (cf. Isaiah 63:18), and they had done as they pleased with Israel. But they have been swept away into the kingdom of the shades, and are forgotten. "From past events and benefits received, we should reason to God's future kindness, and infer that he will care for us for the future. God is not like man, to be capable of weariness in doing good, or exhausted in giving largely; therefore the more numerous the benefits with which he has loaded us, so much the more ought our faith to be strengthened and increased" (Calvin); cf. Psalm 138:8; Genesis 32:10, 12; Philippians 1:6. "Thee only." Under the dominion of Jehovah alone is peace, blessedness, liberty, to be found.
"He is a freeman whom the truth makes free,
And all are slaves beside." J.
Parallel VersesKJV: In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.