As usual, on Wednesday, before posting my devotion, I started to write my draft. I had been studying the passage since Saturday, asking the Lord to use it in my sanctification, before attempting to craft anything useful for you. Since the passage pictures God as a mother caring for her child, Israel, my mind wandered, and I found myself reading blog posts by one of my favorite authors for World Magazine, Andree Seu Peterson. One blog post is about her list-making, a trait that she shares with her mother. I can relate. My mother was organized, if nothing else. She writes, “My mother was not warm (as I learned only as an adult from comparing notes with friends), but she made lists! Which put me in good standing for adulthood. If I had to choose only one… trait(s) in a person raising me, I would be hard-pressed to forfeit the trait of organization for a little extra warmth. I turned out alright. … Didn’t I?” (1) But at the end of her post, she says, “I like the short list Evan Roberts went around Wales exhorting Welshmen to in the 1904 Revival: ‘Confess all known sin; get rid of everything doubtful; obey the Spirit immediately; proclaim Christ publicly.’ Hard to improve on a list like that.” (2) The is the mothering Spirit that we have, we who have Christ. I hope I am like Peterson, with a view toward the list of gospel blessings more than any list of Christmas to-dos or presents to buy. After all, spiritual peace does not come from purchases, getting things done, or sending a card. Maybe meditating on Isaiah 66:12-13 will help us all to have a little more peace. “For thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
God’s love for Israel is motherly, comforting, peaceful, and glorious. The Lord invited his children then and us now to draw near to him for comfort when the world tries to pull us away from him. Like us who wait for Christ’s return, Israel was promised a glorious future peace. “For thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream…” (12a) Not only will Israel find peace at the end of their exile, but God’s glory and blessings will flow out from his people. John Gill brings this application to the verse: “As the river Euphrates or as the Nile, which overflowed Egypt, and made it fruitful; or as any flowing river, large and spreading, continuing to flow, and brings blessings with it where it comes; and so denotes the abundance of this peace, the perpetuity of it, and its blessed effects…Christ the peacemaker came and made peace by his blood, and went and preached peace to Jews and Gentiles, and many enjoyed spiritual peace in believing, flowing from his blood and righteousness…since the Gentiles had formerly lived luxuriously, and had enjoyed a vast abundance of everything desirable, he affirms that all riches, and everything that belongs to a happy life, shall be possessed by believers, as the rivers run into the sea….By ‘constant flowing’ he denotes continuance…God is an inexhaustible fountain, his peace differs widely from the peace of the world, which quickly passes away and is dried up.” (2)
As a baby sucks on the breasts of his mother, so we can enjoy the comfort of rest, peace, and security in our Lord. Because God is sovereignly providential, we may have this comfort not only in our homes but out in our hectic, materialistic, narcissistic, success-driven world. Remembering that the prophets spoke for their “today,” their future, and ours, we find comfort their words from the Lord. “You shall suck the milk of nations; you shall nurse at the breast of kings; and you shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” (Isaiah 60:16) “The powerful people of this world will no longer trample on God’s people but will care for them. This poetic imagery pictures the people of God as infants and pictures other nations—even leaders of nations—as caring for them…God will move his people from their cynical unbelief…to a wondering acknowledgment of him.” (3) Is this not the peace we have in Christ? Every Christmas we celebrate the birth of our Savior just as we celebrate his death in communion, to remember his atoning, reconciling sacrifice—the reason for his incarnation. In chapter 66 Isaiah declares, “…and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees.” (v. 12b) “When he takes pleasure in us as infants, and not as men of mature age, we ought to acknowledge our condition, that we may be satisfied with such consolations. And indeed it is a token of remarkable condescension that he thus bears with our weakness. The Lord wishes to be to us in the room of a mother, that, instead of the annoyances, reproaches, distresses, and anxieties, which we have endured, he may treat us gently, and, as it were, fondle us in his bosom.” (4) We don’t need more stuff, more food, or more parties; what we need is the comfort of Christ’s peace and security—less world, more God.
“The final section of Isaiah consists of oracles and teaching addressed to those who lived in Judah shortly after the exile, towards the end of the sixth century B.C…to those who lived in a period of instability and hardship, and who were aware that many of God’s promises remained as yet unfulfilled, this note was vital. The book thus ends by offering both exhortation and inspiration: a discouraging today is to be lived in the light of a glorious tomorrow…[Isaiah 66] verses 7–16 revert to an earlier theme, the future well-being of Jerusalem, depicted in terms of a mother and her offspring.” (5) In Isaiah 66:13, comfort is mentioned three times: “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” “It is wonderful that the Prophet…dwells on [comfort] so largely. But, because he can neither express the greatness and warmth of the love which God bears toward us, nor satisfy himself with speaking about it, for that reason he mentions and repeats it frequently.” (6) Perhaps this is the reason we enjoy singing lovely Christmas songs and hymns, to try to grasp the idea of the great comfort we have in Christ. Maybe this is why we have such a strong tendency toward sentimentality this season, longing for forgotten traditions. Our souls yearn for the deep comfort that we only find in God. But like Israel, we are afflicted people by our sins and temptations. We drive ourselves into exile rather than deny the flesh of its desires. Like Israel, we need to be reminded continually of the acceptance, mercy, and forgiveness we have in God.
Do you have God’s peace to extend to others like an overflowing stream? If not, how can you obtain Christ’s glorious peace, and then when can you share it with others? For what might you need comfort, that you generally try to avoid? Will you turn to the Lord for your comfort instead of looking for the solution in the world or from people who are also looking for comfort? Do you have a peaceful, comforting home or a stressful, challenging one? How can your home become a place of peace and rest, your Jerusalem, where God dwells? “I, I am he who comforts you…” (Isaiah 51:12a)
(1) Peterson, Andree Sue, “On Making Lists,” World Magazine, https://world.wng.org/2019/09/on_making_lists
(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Isaiah 66:12, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/isaiah-66.html
(3) “English Standard Version Study Bible Notes,” Isaiah 60:16, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
(4) Calvin, John, “Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible,” Isaiah 66:12, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/isaiah-66.html
(5) “Zondervan Bible Commentary,” F. F. Bruce General Editor, Isaiah 60-66 Summary, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition
(6) Calvin, John, “Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible,” Isaiah 66:13, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/isaiah-66.html
December 5, 2019