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.…
There are three things here —
I. THE CITY. No doubt the prophet was thinking of the literal Jerusalem, but the city is ideal, as is shown by the bulwarks which defend, and by the qualifications which permit entrance. And so we must pass beyond the literalities of Palestine, and must not apply the symbol to any visible institution or organisation if we are to come to the depth and greatness of the meaning of these words. No Church which is organised amongst men can be the New Testament representation of this strong city. And if the explanation is to be looked for in that direction at all, it can only be the invisible aggregate of ransomed souls which is regarded as being the Zion of the prophecy. But, perhaps, even that is too definite and hard. And we are rather to think of the unseen but existent order of things or polity to which men here on earth may belong, and which will one day, after shocks and convulsions that shatter all which is merely institutional and human, be manifested still more gloriously. The central thought that was moving in the prophet's mind is of the indestructible vitality of the true Israel, and the order which it represented, of which Jerusalem on its rock was but to him a symbol. And thus for us the lesson is that, apart altogether from the existing and visible order of things in which we dwell, there is a polity to which we may belong, for "ye are come unto Mount Zion, the city of the living God," and that order is indestructible. There is a lesson for us, in times of fluctuation, of change of opinion, of shaking of institutions, and of new social, economical, and political questions, threatening day by day to reorganise society. "We have a strong city"; and whatever may come — and much destructive will come, and much that is venerable and antique, rooted in men's prejudices, and having survived through and oppressed the centuries, will have to go, but God's polity, His form of human society, of which the perfect ideal and antitype, so to speak, lies concealed in the heavens, is everlasting. And for Christian men in revolutionary epochs the only worthy temper is the calm, triumphant expectation that through all the dust, contradiction, and distraction the fair city of God will be brought nearer and made more manifest to man. To this city — existent, immortal, and waiting to be revealed — you and I may belong today.
II. THE DEFENCES. "Salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks." This "evangelical prophet" is distinguished by the fulness and depth which he attaches to that word "salvation." He all but anticipates the New Testament completeness and fulness of meaning, and lifts it from all merely material associations of earthly or transitory deliverance into the sphere in which we are accustomed to regard it as especially moving. By "salvation" he means, and we mean, not only negative but positive blessings. Negatively, it includes the removal of every conceivable or endurable evil, whether they be evils of sin or evils of sorrow; and positively, the investiture with every possible good that humanity is capable of, whether it be good of goodness or good of happiness. This is what the prophet tells us is the wall and bulwark of his ideal. real city. Mark the eloquent omission of the name of the builder of the wall. "God" is a supplement. Salvation "will He appoint for walls and bulwarks." No need to say who it is that flings such a fortification around the city. There is only one hand that can trace the lines of such walls; only one hand that can pile their stones; only one that can lay them, as the walls of Jericho were laid, in the blood of His first-born Son. "Salvation will He appoint for walls and bulwarks," i.e.d., in a highly imaginative and picturesque form, that the defence of the city is God Himself. The fact of salvation is the wall and the bulwark. And the consciousness of the fact is for our poor hearts one of our best defences against both the evil of sin and the evil of sorrow. So, let us walk by the faith that is always confident, though it depends on an unseen hand. "Salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks," and if we realise, as we ought to do, His purpose and His power to keep us safe, and the actual operation of His hand keeping us safe at every moment, we shall not ask that these defences shall be supplemented by the poor feeble earthworks that sense can throw up.
III. THE CITIZENS. Our text is part of a "song," and is not to be interpreted in the cold-blooded fashion that might suit prose. A voice, coming from whom we know not, breaks in upon the first strain with a command, addressed to whom we know not. "Open ye the gates" — the city thus far being supposed to be empty, — "that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in." The central idea there is just this, "Thy people shall be all righteous." The one qualification for entrance into the city is absolute purity. Now, that is true in regard of our present imperfect denizenship within the city; and it is true in regard to men's passing into it, in its perfect and final form. They used to say that Venice glass was so made that any poison poured into it shivered the vessel. Any drop of sin poured into your cup of communion with God shatters the cup and spills the wine. Whosoever thinks himself a citizen of that great city, if he falls into transgression, and soils the cleanness of his hands, and ruffles the calm of his pure heart by self-willed sinfulness, will wake to find himself not within the battlements, but lying wounded, robbed, solitary, in the pitiless desert. "The nation which keepeth the truth," — that does not mean adherence to any revelation, or true creed, or the like. The word which is employed means, not truth of thought, but truth of character; and might, perhaps, be better represented by the more familiar word in such a connection, "faithfulness" A man who is true to God, that keeps up a faithful relation to Him who is faithful to us, he, and only he, will tread and abide in the city.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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.