I’ve been spending a lot of time in the prophets lately. Partially because that is the class I’m taking in seminary this semester and partially because one of my writing projects called for a deep dive in those books. As the world feels like it melts around me, I’ve found the prophets a comfort. Yes, a lot of it is judgment couched in language that isn’t obvious on its face, but they also carry, by contrast, striking messages of hope and encouragement to people either about to go through the most difficult time of their lives, in the midst of it, or fresh on the far side of it unsure how to rebuild.
I’ve seen that verse from Isaiah 26 making its way around the internet these days about God keeping in perfect peace those whose minds are on him because they trust him and it brings a new smile on my face after studying in depth the context. Isaiah is explaining to God’s people what their return to their land will look like after they are exiled. He tells them that things will get worse before they get better but that their hardship will indeed have an end. He vividly portrays what future peace and stability will mean for their homes and their cities and their land.
In chapter 26, he tells them of the song they will sing in the future on their return, “In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah.” Within those lyrics we get the line in verse 3, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” This isn’t prescriptive nor is it aspirational. On its face this passage isn’t telling us what to do or even what we should hope to one day be possible for ourselves. This is a testimony from the far side of a life disrupted beyond imagination. This is the spiritual of those who lived under the rule of their enemies and were forced from the regular routines of a comfortable life in their home to life in a foreign land full of unknowns. These lives had seen sorrow upon sorrow, knew exasperation, and, as a community, had been displaced for 70 years.
“You will keep in perfect peace” is the witness of the returned and, it breaks from its surrounding third person references to God to address God himself. This line was intimately and assuredly sung when they’d made it through. This was their cry of confidence in their Lord to their Lord.
I think about the songs we sing today. The songs of lament for a life where normal looks more like chaos than calm and is full of unknowns. The next line of the Isaiah 26 song is an exhortation based on their experience: ““Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.”
It has always been the case that we didn’t know what tomorrow would bring, but perhaps we’re more convinced of that now than ever. There is however something we can be sure of: God is trustworthy. He can be trusted with our future and with orchestrating a deliverance as unimaginable to us as our current trial.
This is not to say all will be well so just praise God. Isaiah didn’t say that either. He said things would be dire and they’d be desperate—times would call for lament—but when they would one day look back on the exile and sing of whatever peace they’d known in its midst, that peace would be hitched to their trust in God and minds steadfast on him and not on their circumstances. Let us sing of our deliverer even now in the midst of the chaos “O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works.” (Isa 26:12)