What answer shall be given to the envoys of that nation? “The Lord has established Zion, and in her his afflicted people will find refuge” (NIV).
The last three months have been unsettling, to say the least that could be said. We live in desperate times, and not only because of Covid-19 and the many lives that have been lost to it. Most people are rightly cautious about getting too close physically to others that they do not know, or even those they do know. The economy is shaking, and now our nation is correctly reeling over the protests against oppression that has been too long ignored. Who knows where this will end? I make no pretensions to being a prophet and I shrink from making predictions.
This could unsettle us, if we should fail to think and to act Biblically. However, the Christian knows that mankind has been part of a war between God and the forces of evil since the day when Adam rebelled against the Lord God. Since that time malevolent beings (Satan and the other evil spirits, and people who gladly walk in their ways) have been seeking human destruction. In the immediate context of our text, we can see two peoples that actively sought the destruction of God’s people in Old Testament times: Assyria and the Philistines. Yet God brought both down, as he will bring down all the enemies of his people whom he loves.
The living God wants us to know is that he has established a place of shelter for his afflicted people. There is a safe haven, a place of refuge, and all those who are in saving union with the risen Christ are part of that shelter. Let us think about this together.
In our text, Zion is called the place where God’s people will find refuge. What is Zion? At the time this text was written, the days of the old covenant shadows, it was the earthly Jerusalem.
- In one sense, Jerusalem was the joy of the whole earth. It was the place where God revealed his glory, met with his people, and protected them (Psalms 48:1-14; 87:1-3).
- In another sense, it was a place of bondage, since Jerusalem was under the law covenant (Galatians 4:24-25). Now the law was holy, righteous and good (Romans 7:12). But since the law and its sacrifices could never cleanse the conscience (Hebrews 9:9-10), the people could not freely approach God. The laws with its rules and rituals allowed them to have come in their midst, but the people could not come near. The law demanded holiness, separateness. Exodus 19 provides good teaching on this point.
In the days of the new covenant reality, the time in which we live, Zion is the heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:18-24).
In the fullest sense, we still look for this city (Revelation 21:1-22:6). We are “scattered exiles” (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11) on a journey through this world to the heavenly city. Here we have no city with foundations (Hebrews 11:10). We wish that there were such a city now! But that city is impossible in a world of frustration and bondage to decay (Romans 8:20-21). Hopefully, now that we live in desperate times, we will realize that our hope is not in this world.
Yet in another sense, we are part of this city that is from above, and we are starting to enjoy its benefits now (Ephesians 2:19-22; Philippians 3:20; 1 Peter 2:4-10). And so we are caught in this tension between the “now” and the “not yet”.
Christians tend to polarize in regard to this tension. Some want to act as if the “not yet” had already occurred. The Corinthians were an example of this (1 Corinthians 4:8). Others act as if nearly all of the blessings of the new covenant are “not yet”, and so fail to experience joy and peace in believing.
Every follower of Jesus Christ and every local church should strive to reflect as much of God’s glory in the blessings that we now can experience and of the hope that is set before us. People should be able to say, “These Christians know what true joy is. They are filled with joy!” And people should also say, “And what a confident expectation flows out of these Christians. They are people who clearly have a living hope (1 Peter 1:3-9)!”
Grace and peace,