The Prince and his Princes

The Prince and his Princes January 19, 2016

The restoration of Judah involves a restoration of the Davidic kingship, the coronation and elevation of a Davidic king. Yahweh promises to send a new Davidic king who will rule with justice (Isaiah 32:1; cf. 9:1-7; 11:1-10). This addresses the complaints that Isaiah has brought against Judah from the beginning of his prophecy. Yahweh wields the rod of the Assyrians against Judah because the land is filled with violence, oppression, innocent blood, the abuse of the poor and needy. Judah has become an Egypt preying on the weak; Judah has become a Sodom that rapes rather shows hospitality to the stranger and orphan. But Yahweh’s king is going to change all that. Those who are currently holding authority exercise it abusively, but Yahweh will install a king who will reign righteously.

He will not rule alone. This king will be surrounded by princes who also rule justly. The hope is not just in a just ruler, but in a collection of just rulers. These rulers are not in competition with Yahweh as king over His people. Instead, they are agents and instruments for Yahweh to exercise His rule.

Yahweh is a refuge for His people; He is the rock of refuge, a refuge from the storm (Isaiah 17:10; 25:4). Yahweh is a shelter from the storm. His tabernacle is the hiding place for His people (Psalm 27:5), His presence a shelter (Psalm 31:20; 32:7), and His hovering wings a place of safety (Psalm 61:4). But one day, Isaiah says, there will be Yahweh-like princes over Israel who are a refuge from the wind and storm and heightened spirits of their enemies. One day, there will be princes with a Davidic king who do what Yahweh does – who keep the people of God sheltered in a storm.

Yahweh gives streams of refreshing and life-giving water. Yahweh is the River that provides life-giving, refreshing, cooling, nourishing water to His people. Yahweh is the River that makes glad Zion, the city of God. But Yahweh spreads out the water of His Spirit through the king and his princes, who become streams of water in a dry country, just as Yahweh as for Israel in the wilderness. There is a play on the word “Zion” in verse 2: the word for “dry country” is Zayon, which has the same consonants as “Zion.” The word “Zion” in fact means “parched place,” and Zion is an inhabitable city only because of the Lord’s presence, His watery presence which turns the wilderness into a pool of water. And again, just princes are like Yahweh in that they provide water in Zion, water in a dry place, fruitfulness and plenty and life in a place of death.

Yahweh is Israel’s Rock, the shade for his people in a dry land. Yahweh is a Rock of Glory, the Glory-Rock that led Israel through the wilderness and followed as their rear guard. As Yahweh provided water from Himself, the Rock, and provided shade and protection under the shelter of His glory, as He spread out the wing of His glory-robe over Israel as His bride, so the princes will do the same. When the sun of adversity or the heat of enemies bears down on the people of Zion, the princes will be there to shield them.

Because the princes will rule justly, and be a refuge and shelter, and provide water and shade, Judah will be restored. Yahweh’s restoration will take place through human rulers that He sets up in authority over them. Through just rulers, Yahweh will restore the body of His people, giving them ears to listen, minds to discern truth, tongues to speak (32:3-4). This is Yahweh’s own work. He is the one who can give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb. But human rulers are going to accomplish this task, the king and his princes.

This is what rightly exercised authority does in a community – a home, a church, a city, a nation.

The faithful exercise of authority is a protection from the storms and winds and tempests that assail us in life. Authority is not just negative, though. It is not just a wall and a ceiling that keeps the wind and rain at bay. Authority is also water. Authority is life-giving, refreshing. When authority is exercised well, it makes the land fruitful – wives become fruitful vines by the side of the house, children like olive plants around the table, the land flows with milk and honey, and is green with wheat and barley and vineyards. When authority is exercised well, then what is spoken is heard, and tongues are given speech and can speak the truth with clarity. This is how Yahweh rules His people; this is the effect of His authority over Israel. And it should be the effect of a Yahweh-like prince.

There will be another effect we well. Judah is turned upside down. Fools are thought of as noblemen, rogues and criminals are considered generous. But the Lord is going to turn that right side up. Fools will no longer be mistaken for the wise. Wise men will be nobles.

In Scripture, wisdom is a royal virtue (1 Kings 3:1-15; Proverbs 8:15), and when Yahweh establishes His just king and princes, He will overthrow folly and establish wisdom (Isaiah 32:5-8). Wisdom and justice always go together, as do folly and injustice. Fools speak nonsense (v. 5), and they also pursue injustice: They keep the needy needy, plot against the noble, and slander the afflicted (vv. 6-8). Folly is a plague on a community, but when Yahweh establishes His king and princes, then wisdom will displace folly, and that means that the injustices that the fool establishes will be undone.

Ultimately, of course, Isaiah is talking about Jesus. Jesus is the true King of Justice, Zion’s King who provides a refuge from the storm, shelter from the tempest, water to the thirsty, shade to those who are afflicted with the sun. The promise of a Wise King who rules with Justice is fulfilled in Him.

But this is not Jesus alone. Jesus is this King; but Jesus too is surrounded by princes. That is Isaiah’s hope and expectation, and it is what Jesus fulfills. He comes announcing the kingdom, and that means that there is a change at the top. God is taking control through Jesus; the God of Israel at long last is exerting His authority to rule.

Jesus surrounds Himself with disciples who receive authority as apostles, and carry on precisely they ministry that Jesus does. Jesus preaches; the apostles preach. Jesus heals; the apostles heal. Jesus casts out demons and raises the dead, and so do the disciples. And Jesus says that when everything is finally renewed, in the regeneration of all things, in the new creation that He establishes, then the twelve apostles will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus is the Davidic King, but He gathers princes around Him to be shelters, to be water, to be shade at noonday.

Jesus is still king, and He still gathers princes. He died, in fact, to make us a kingdom, to establish us as kings and queens, princes and princesses. That means that He gathers us to exercise His kingship along with Him. We are all seated on thrones, all called to shelter and protect, to water and shade. We are all called to carve out a fruitful place in the desert.

Of course we cannot. We are parched land ourselves. We are not fruitful. Our hearts are hard as rocks. How can we flow with water? We are scorched by the sun, how can we provide shade?

Judah too is desolated. Even though the Lord promises to rescue Zion and Jerusalem, the daughters of Judah, the towns that surround the mother city. Earlier, Isaiah followed up a prophetic assault on the male rulers of Judah with a satire of the fine women of Zion (Isaiah 3:1-26). He does the same here. Foolish men oppress, and their women exercise influence unjustly, complacent in the face of need.

Because of that, Yahweh threatens to bring a famine and sent the women into captivity to be stripped and clothed in sackcloth (32:9-12). Cities are feminine in Scripture, and the women are symbolically the towns of Judah that will be captured and decimated by Assyria’s invasion (cf. 32:14). In place of fruitful vineyards, Judah will be filled with thorns and briers (32:12-13). The land will be emptied, a haunt for wild donkeys (v. 14).

But it will not remain so forever. The wilderness will not remain wilderness, the briers and thorns will not remain briers and thorns. Everything is going to turn around, everything will change. The wilderness will become fertile, and the fertile field will explode into a forest. Where injustice and oppression reign, righteousness will spring up and the fruit of righteousness will be peace, security, quietness and confidence. Instead of wild donkeys, the land will be full of herds of cattle and domestic beasts of burden.

The turning point for Judah will occur when the Spirit is poured out like rain from heaven (32:15). When the Spirit comes, then everything changes: Wilderness is transformed to orchard, righteousness grows in place of the briers of injustice, and Judah will enjoy genuine peace and confidence and security (32:16-18).

The Spirit has already been promised. Yahweh has said that the branch from David will be endowed with a sevenfold Spirit, the spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear, the Spirit of the Lord, a fourfold Spirit that is also a sevenfold Spirit, a Spirit that fills all space and every moment of time. But that Spirit doesn’t remain on the Branch. The Spirit that equips the Branch is also the Spirit that fills the princes so that they can carry on His work of restoration and renewal.

King Jesus restores justice, and by His Spirit He equips the princes who turn the land back into Eden.

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