“For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us,” Isaiah 33:22.
I first read this verse on 5th January 1965. It was my first day as a student for the gospel ministry of the Free Presbyterian Church. Dr Paisley was conducting class. He had however an appointment elsewhere and so he flicked through a Bible and chose this verse and said: “Give me an introduction, three points and a conclusion. I will be back shortly and I will see what you produced.”
There were three other students there that day. James McClelland was in his third and final year. James Beggs and William Beattie had been attending evening classes. All were therefore somewhat acquainted with the requirements of sermon preparation and immediately got down to examining the verse.
I looked at the verse in utter consternation for in truth, being only nine months a Christian, I had no idea what the verse was referring to. I had little or no understanding of the ministry of Isaiah or the character of the days he preached in or the message he was charged with delivering to Judah.
I really cannot recall what I put down on paper by way of ‘an introduction, three points and a conclusion’. I do know that it was not worth remembering. Dr Paisley returned in about an hour and as ‘fate’ would have it, he first asked me for my ‘production’. I will not tell you what his response was but I will say that I felt as never before my ignorance of God’s Word.
James McClelland, being James, jumped in to my defence and none too gently reminded Dr Paisley that it was my first day etc, and that he was being too hard on me. I will not give you a ‘word for word’ account of James’ intervention, though it is engraved in my memory, but it did have an impact on Dr Paisley. There was revealed to me for the first time that his bark was worse than his bite. He took up my scribbles again and said: ‘That’s not too bad at all. You could develop that alright!’
I am not ashamed to say that my lip was trembling most ominously but Dr Paisley’s latter response cheered me up somewhat!
So began a lifetime of learning God’s Word. Today, I am returning to this verse for the first time since that day long ago. I never did feel inclined to preach this verse, but today (Thursday, 1st June) in my daily I read it yet again, accompanied by the memories of that ‘dramatic’ start to my studies. I immediately felt that I would like to set down something of what I now understand the verse to mean. As I do so, I am very aware of the journey the Lord has led me on and the ‘tutors’ who helped on that journey and under God’s merciful blessing, were to me as Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:24-26), not least of which was my wife, Ann, in my early days, aye, and still so today.
Let me examine now that old verse which sits like a milestone in my memory.
I believe that this chapter deals with God’s visitation upon the tormentors of His people. However, there is a latter day prophetic emphasis as well as an application to the days following the Babylonian captivity which ended after the return of a Jewish remnant, the circumstances of which are recorded for us first in the book of Ezra and then in the book of Nehemiah. Some ninety years separated these two narratives. Ezra’s record began about 536 BC while Nehemiah’s began about 446BC.
The book of Isaiah deals very much with the warnings God gave of the judgment that was coming to His erring people at the hands of the Babylonian nation. The opening verses of the book give us a memorable account of God’s view of the nation’s sins.
“Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint,” Isaiah 1:2-5.
But the Lord mingles His threatenings of judgment with wonderful promises of restoration.
“Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies: And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin: And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness,” Isaiah 1:24-27.
The Lord also reveals to His people the instrument He plans to use to chasten and correct their wickedness. That instrument was the nation of Babylon.
“For the LORD will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land: and the strangers shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob. And the people shall take them, and bring them to their place: and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of the LORD for servants and handmaids: and they shall take them captives, whose captives they were; and they shall rule over their oppressors. And it shall come to pass in the day that the LORD shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve, That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased! The LORD hath broken the staff of the wicked, and the sceptre of the rulers,” Isaiah 14:1-5.
Dear Christian, the Lord often uses, indeed, invariably uses the ungodly to accomplish His purpose in correcting His people. Of course, the ungodly, presented with this ‘door of opportunity’ to vent their anger upon a people they hate, do so to an excess. For this the Lord will in turn deal with them when they have ‘unknowingly’ carried out His will in chastening and humbling His people and causing them to seek His face in repentance.
The prophetic parallel between the actions of Babylon toward God’s people some two and a half millennia ago and in turn, the fall of Babylon under God’s judgment and the events at the end of this age when the same national identities will feature again in the affairs of God, is too extensive for me to deal with now but suffice to say that the book of Isaiah speaks not only of those days in and around the eighth century BC, but also the days at the end of this age when there will be a wonderful repeating of the circumstances and the major events that took place in the days of the destruction of Jerusalem circa BC 587/6, only this time the ‘king of Babylon’ will be the Antichrist!
The opening verses of chapter 33 of Isaiah have an application to past times when the end of the Babylonian captivity drew near and to future times, when Israel will be brought to cry once again to the God they have so long spurned and rebelled against by the chastening through which God will bring them. That time of chastening is referred to by the Lord Jesus as a time of “great tribulation”, Matthew 24:21, which will last for three and a half years and will be followed immediately by those events which will herald the return of Christ. “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory,” Matthew 24:29-30.
At the return of Christ, the wonderful conversion of the remnant of the Jews who have survived the ‘great tribulation’, will take place.
“And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the LORD, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God,” Zechariah 13:8-9.
The prophet Zechariah speaks very specifically of God’s future mercy to His ancient people in chapters 12:10-13:1.
“And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon. And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart; The family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of Shimei apart, and their wives apart; All the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart. In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.”
The setting of our text may be seen in verse 5 of this chapter. “The LORD is exalted; for he dwelleth on high: he hath filled Zion with judgment and righteousness.”
The Lord has returned to Zion, the Zion He had so long forsaken because of her rebellion. In response to the prayers of verse 2, the Lord has responded. “Now will I rise, saith the LORD; now will I be exalted; now will I lift up myself,” 10. As a result of the Lord’s intervention Zion is transformed and that in a most permanent manner. “Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken,” verse 20.
This then is the setting of our text.
I. HERE IS THE RELATIONSHIP THAT EXISTS BETWEEN THE LORD AND THE CONVERTED SINNER.
“For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king.”
For a long time in the days of Isaiah, the Jewish people could not, nor did they desire to speak thus: “the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king”. They rejected the Lord back then and so it is with them today, ever since those days in which they publicly rejected the Lord before Pilate in those most dreadful words: “Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar,” John 19:15.
1. Of course, the state of the unconverted ‘Gentile’ is exactly the same. Paul told the Ephesians that they, before their conversion were: “at that time . . . . without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world,” Ephesians 2:12.
The isolation from God of the Jew is no more absolute than that of the Gentile. ALL sinners are ‘strangers to grace and to God’. “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies, ” Psalm 58:3.
2. Note the three-fold relationship we have with Jehovah. He is Judge, Lawgiver and King.
(1). Judge. That means that the Saviour will judge his people, right their wrongs, and avenge their injuries. The judges in Israel and the duties they performed picture what the Saviour, as our Judge, does for us. “Nevertheless the LORD raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them,” Judges 2:16.
What would become of us if the Lord did not defend us! The hatred of the world toward the child of God is implacable and unceasing. I have often thought of a particular verse when considering the relentless aggression today of Sinn Fein in its pursuit of a victory over Protestant Ulster. “And the Philistines came up yet again,” 2 Samuel 5:22. The same incessant hatred that was found in the Philistine is found in the hearts of Irish Republicans. They will never cease in their attempts to trample Protestantism in the dust. In this they are aided by the devil.
How good it is that every Christian can all upon their ‘Judge’ for help and deliverance. It is Christ and not political parties or political chicanery and duplicity which will preserve the truth of God and the people of God in this land.
(2). Lawgiver. The Hebrew word is linked to ‘engraving, cutting and inscribing’. This is emphasised in Jeremiah 31:33. “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The word ‘write’ also carries the inference of ‘engraving’.
That being so, see how God has so placed His Law within us that it is etched on our being, deeply embedded in our very being. The Law of God will not be, cannot be ignored by the true believer.
(3). King. Christ executes the office of a king, in chiefly subduing us to himself, that is, bringing us into submission to His holy will and granting to us the spirit of obedience. Paul speaks of God “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ,” 2 Corinthians 10:5. As a territory is invaded and all resistance subdued and it is taken over and administered by the conqueror, so it is with the sinner brought into submission to Christ by the power of God. He becomes Christ’s property.
“What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s,” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.
II. THE OUTCOME OF THIS RELATIONSHIP.
Being our Judge, our Lawgiver and our King, he will deliver, preserve and avenge us — “he will save us”!
1. Salvation is a ‘past experience’ for the child of God. The phrase “are saved” appears often in the New Testament, the most familiar of which is : “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)” Ephesians 2:5.
We ‘are saved’ from the eternal consequences of sin. Christ said: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” John 3:16. Our eternal happiness in glory was secured for us at the cross. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him,” Romans 5:8-9.
2. But there is an ‘ongoing experience’ of the saving grace of God. The Christian is yet in their sin. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us,” 1 John 1:8-10. Overcoming the inbuilt tendency to sin is something we can only achieve by the power of Christ. We look to the Shorter Catechism for help in explaining this.
“Question 32: What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life?
Answer: They that are effectually called in this life do partake of justification, adoption, and sanctification, and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them.”
Sanctification is one of the ‘benefits’ we effectually partake of in this life’. That means that a true believer will show the marks of sanctification. If there are no such signs then there is no saving work in the life of that person!
The Catechism goes on:
“Question 35: What is sanctification?
Answer: Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”
Sanctification entails a constant transformation, a renewing in the likeness of God, a dying daily unto sin and a living victorious in righteousness. The verses supporting this asserting are clear. “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit,” 2 Thessalonians 2:13. “And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,” Ephesians 4:24. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit,” Romans 8:1.
Thus we see that daily we can see that the Lord ‘will save us’ from the ongoing troubles that life in this body and life in this world bring us.
3. The final stage of our ‘deliverance’ will be at the moment of the Saviour’s return in great power and glory. Remember what Philippians 3:20-21 says: “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.”
This change will be wrought in those who have died for they shall be raised from the grave, something the saints of old longed for. “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness,” Psalm 17:15. It will also happen for those who “are alive” for they together with the resurrected saints “shall be caught up together . . . in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord,” 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
At that point there will be an entering into a glorious relationship with the Lord, the full and final stage of our redemption by Him.
“And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: and they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever,” Revelation 22:1-5.
That verse which due to my ignorance back in 1965, yielded so little to me, provides me now with “a feast of fat things” and points me to even greater refreshment of which I will partake one day.
May you dear readers, enjoy something of the fruits yielded by this verse.
Rev Ivan Foster (Rtd)
June 2nd 2023