“O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works.” (Isaiah 26:12) We don’t use the word ‘ordain’ in our everyday language unless we are referring to someone given authority in a religious context. There are many formal words that we don’t use today, as our society has become more casual “jargonized.” But I love words, so when I landed on this passage that contains historical language, I wanted to understand God’s intention. The basic definition I can find for ‘ordain’ other than a religious reference as in a legal, historical context. “In the constitution of the United States, the preamble declares that the people ‘do ordain and establish this constitution of the United States of America.’ The 3rd article of the same constitution declares, that ‘the judicial power shall be vested in one supreme court, and in such inferior courts as the congress may from time to time ordain and establish.’” (1) In the thesaurus the synonyms for ‘ordain’ consist mainly of ‘establish,’ ‘decree,’ ‘command,’ and ‘approve.’ In the constitution, the writers ordained the laws set forth, but felt it necessary to extend ‘ordain’ with “establish.” I may have the ability to decreeing something to be done without establishing it as a real practice. By contrast, judges and lawyers are in a unique position to create or alter laws that govern our behavior. I appreciate the power given to our constitution and judges a little more today than yesterday. But I appreciate even more God’s sovereign power to decree and establish his statutes, as he does peace for believers.
Christ’s works are the basis for our peace. With this view in mind, we can enjoy the peace that we have through Christ’s works, not having to establish it ourselves, done in us and for us. So then, why does Isaiah 26:12 refer to God doing “our works?” The Bible in Basic English states, “Lord, you will give us peace: for all our works are the outcome of your purpose.” I rarely consult and don’t usually use the BBE translation, but here I think we have a simple explanation: our peace and works are the fruit of God’s purposes. Since the Lord always accomplishes that which he resolves to do, our peace is guaranteed. If we are in Christ, live through and for Christ, and have our hope for eternity resting on him, we have the peace we need to get through this life. In spite of high school shootings, presidential impeachments, family traumas, and health crises, we have peace. “The work of grace upon the heart is peculiarly the work which God works in his people…this is God’s work, and not man’s; and it is an internal one, something wrought in the heart, and which, being begun, will be performed…it includes other [works], and from whence all good works done by good men spring…and the fruit of this is peace.” (2) Have you considered how much more peace you have now than you had years ago, as a new Christian? It takes time to learn how to leave old ways behind, especially how to stop reacting to life’s challenges as if our hope is in this life and this world. The more we recognize the success of our sanctification, the more peace we have; the Lord doesn’t leave us as immature Christians. He calls us to maturity for the sake of our witness and fruit for the kingdom.
The Old Testament picture of Israel in the wilderness is one of stubborn independence, dissatisfaction with their circumstances, and rejection of God’s supreme commands, which he ordained for their peace. Even after many years in the Promised Land, where they had considerable external peace, God’s people were thankless and rebellious. They refused to give up their worthless idols. So the Lord exiled them to hostile territories where their spiritual peace was dependent upon putting their hope in God alone, who had abandoned them to their worldly values and priorities. He never gave up on his people. “But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, declares the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 8:11) The Lord doesn’t expect us to make peace by worldly methods of submitting to abusive authorities, fighting as those who must conquer our adversaries, or aggressively trying to destroy our critics. We no longer live as we used to, before we knew Christ, trusting in our own power, ideas, goals, and worldly trends. God’s people are called to obey him for the promised blessings of his covenant because we have peace by his works, which are now our works through Christ. We are forgiven, accepted, approved, and blessed.
James Boice’s background commentary on Zechariah 8 helps us to relate that period of history to our lives today. “The temple was now halfway to completion. Seeing this, a delegation from the outlying town of Bethel had come to Jerusalem to ask the priests and prophets whether it was proper for them to continue a fast marking the destruction of the temple that they and their fathers had been observing since the fall of Jerusalem seventy years before. Unfortunately, the people of Bethel had failed to see that in God’s sight the matter was far more important than simply whether or not a traditional fast should be celebrated. This fast (and the others like it) had been perverted into what was by this time merely an empty and superstitious formalism, just as had happened earlier in Israel’s history and has happened since in many religious communions. The reply of God was to move the people away from mere formalism toward seeking God.” (3) How often do we reduce God’s grace and Christ’s sacrificial work to religious rules or Sunday worship? We waste the peace that Christ has decreed and established for us by our lack of appreciation, worldly perspectives, and minimizing God’s influence in our day-to-day lives.
Thankfully, God didn’t leave Israel as they were, and our faithful Lord doesn’t leave us in our immature floundering. He reminds, teaches, convicts, and confronts us with his own faithfulness. “For there shall be a sowing of peace. The vine shall give its fruit, and the ground shall give its produce, and the heavens shall give their dew. And I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things.” (Zechariah 8:12) Agricultural fruit, produce, and the dew represent all the blessings of a life that is productive. The peace that God sows is always productive unless we squander it. Unfortunately, we often do negate God’s grace and mercy with our fears, anger, hurts, doubts, self-pity, and wrong desires. Christ decrees, sows, cultivates, harvests, and gives peace to us. So, let’s ask ourselves: Do we doubt the effectiveness of Christ’s work on our behalf? Is he not perfectly faithful and supreme? What disturbs our peace? Does your past haunt you? If God has forgiven you, maybe the issue is that you have not forgiven others. What fruit do you demonstrate as evidence that God has sown his peace in your heart? Will you ask God to help you cultivate even more peace and more fruit for the benefit of those whom you influence and love? God has brought us out of our modern-day Egypt. “I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not” (Haggai 2:4-5)
(1) Bouvier, John, “A Law Dictionary,” https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/ordain
(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Isaiah 26:12, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/isaiah -26.html
(3) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Zechariah 8, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
November 15, 2019