RPM, Volume 15, Number 43, October 20 to October 26, 2013

The Canopy of Glory

Isaiah 4:2-6

By D. Marion Clark


Have you ever gotten a letter or even been told verbally either a number of things that were wrong with you or were going to be done to you? "And here's something else you need to hear…" "And another thing young man…" That's what Isaiah has been doing. There is a day to come when the Lord will be exalted and man's pride brought low (2:11); that day man's arrogance will be brought low (2:17); in that day no one will want to be a leader (3:7); in that day the finery of the women will be snatched away (3:18); in that day women will humiliate themselves seeking husbands.

Isaiah is ready to continue that list: In that day… But just when we expect another pronouncement of doom, we are told of great blessing. Has Isaiah moved to another topic? Let's see.

The Branch of the Lord

2 In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel.

What or who is the Branch? Is it Judah or Jerusalem? Is it the land? It seems to be the Messiah. And this would be the first reference to him. This makes the most sense when seen in light of references by Isaiah.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him… (11:1,2a).

Jeremiah and Zechariah explicitly refer to the Branch as the Messiah.
5 "The days are coming," declares the LORD,
"when I will raise up to David
a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
6 In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The LORD Our Righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:5-6).

12 Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says: "Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD. 13 It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne (Zechariah 6:12-3).

What then is the fruit? Is it literal fruit? Is it a way of saying that the land will prosper? I think it too refers to the Messiah. Isaiah, who is writing poetically, is using a technique known as parallelism. Two lines act as synonyms of one another:
the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious,
the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory.

The two terms — Branch of the Lord and fruit of the land — complement one another in defining the Messiah. He is the Branch of the Lord, coming forth from the nature of God. But he is also the fruit of the land of Israel, coming forth from the nature, not only of man, but of the people of the covenant. He belongs to the Lord and to the covenant people.

The Branch of the Lord will be both beautiful and glorious. It is evident here that Isaiah is speaking of his second coming. At his first coming, the comment made was that it was beauty that was lacking.

2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him (Isaiah 53:2).

I mention this because I heard a Jewish rabbi contend that Jesus did not fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah. Therefore, the Christian church came up with the doctrine of the second coming to explain the failures of the first. But Isaiah himself presents two scenarios, which only can be fulfilled at different times.

Anyhow, in the Messiah we will find true beauty and glory, not the gaudy beauty of the women or the deluded glory of the men. And whereas before, the people took pride in their deluded sense of glory, they now take proper pride in the Messiah's glory. I am reminded of Paul's statement to the Corinthians about Jesus.

30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:30-1).

Isaiah then refers to the survivors, or remnant: the survivors in Israel. 3 Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem. It seems we are given the image of only a few who survive a great disaster. But that is not really his intent. He's not saying only a few barely made it through the destruction. Rather he is making clear that the destruction, which did come, was a winnowing out of the unredeemed from the redeemed. God's judgment was not a blanket act that doomed everyone. Remember back in 3:10 the promise:
10 Tell the righteous it will be well with them,
for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds.

And it is not a mere case of them surviving. They will be greatly rewarded. For one, they will behold the beauty and glory of their Messiah. Furthermore, they will be called holy. They will be declared holy because of their Savior, and, indeed, will be made holy on that final day. Why will all this happen to them? Because they are written in the book of life. They are the ones who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. Isaiah doesn't mean that the Lord recorded those who were still living, but rather they are living because their names have already been recorded as those who are granted life.

I had asked the question at the beginning about whether Isaiah "that day" which Isaiah is speaking of is the same as the day of judgment that is presented in the previous chapters. The answer is yes, and verse 4 makes this clear.
4 The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire.

The judgment to come is not simply a matter of God getting angry and punishing the bad people. It is judgment — an act of justice that punishes the wicked and also removes them and their wickedness from God's righteous kingdom. On that day, God will wash away the wicked and their wicked stains, so that he may have a Jerusalem that is clean and holy. Note the similarity of these verses with Revelation 21:26-7:
26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.

The point is that Christ's return means both salvation and judgment. "That day" will be a day of joy for the redeemed, and a day of mourning for the unredeemed. The redeemed will inherit the kingdom, the New Jerusalem; the unredeemed will be cast out and their pollution of the land washed away.

Verse 5 presents with rich imagery the state of the New Jerusalem, referred to here by the name Mount Zion. 5 Then the LORD will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over all the glory will be a canopy.

The Lord will create, the same word used in Genesis 1. What he creates will be over all his kingdom and the people who dwell in it. He will create a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night. Isaiah is clearly using the imagery of the Exodus. 21 By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people (Exodus 13:21-2).

This is the Shekinah glory, the presence of God. 34 Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34). 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush (Exodus 3:4). We see it again in the gospels on the mountain of Jesus' transfiguration. 34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him" (Luke 9:34-5).

It is a way of saying that God will be among his people. The phrase — over all the glory will be a canopy — speaks of the special relationship he will have with them. A canopy projects an image of a bridegroom and his bride standing under a wedding canopy. Jewish couples still stand under a canopy in a wedding service. Isaiah is indicating that a marriage is taking place. Listen again to the vision in Revelation 21:1-4:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

Under this canopy, God's people will dwell in safety and comfort. 6 It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.


Christians today like to know what they can get out of a Bible passage like this right now. I suppose I could talk about how God is our refuge from the storms of life; how we are called to be holy and should be living righteous lives now. But the message we are to receive is the same message Isaiah was giving to his people — place your hope on "that day." That day of judgment and salvation will come. Then, and only then, will all wickedness be removed and we will dwell in comfort and security. Then, and only then, will the beauty and glory of the Lord be fully revealed.

The Unitarian church I pass by had this sermon title on its outside sign, "Heaven on Earth." I don't know what the sermon is really about, but we do need to get it in our heads somehow that heaven will never be on this earth. We will never make heaven on earth. Never. Joan Baez sang the song, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," making a slight but significant change in. She changed the line, "There's a better home awaiting, in the sky, Lord, in the sky," to "if we try, Lord, if we try." We can try as much as we like, and we might make the world somewhat better, but we will never make heaven here.

Yes, Christians are "pie-in-the-sky" believers. It's the best pie of all! And it is the hope of "that day" when our Lord Jesus returns, which gives us joy in the midst of our trials and drives us to live for his glory now. That day will come. And the canopy of glory will be established over us forever.

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