Ok, I admit it, I’m a sci-fi/fantasy geek. When I read this text, I immediately thought of a scene from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The good king, Aragorn and his companions fight to defend the innocent men, women, and children in Helm’s Deep. Just when it seems they will fall to Saruman’s evil army of Uruk-Hai, they look to the horizon and see the good wizard, Gandalf. (“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger…”) Behind Gandalf come to the rescue two thousand Riders of the Rohirrim. (“For you shall not go out in haste, and you shall not go in flight; for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rearguard.”)
This scene in Isaiah is a grand victory for a lost and broken people. The Lord has set them free. They need not flee and scatter. The Lord goes with them before and behind, protecting their journey, and returning them to their home. Of all the images of God, this is one of my favorite – a vision of a God that loves God’s people so fiercely, the Lord can (and does) single-handedly rescue and restore people who are utterly incapable of saving themselves.
put on your strength, O Zion!
Put on your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city;
for the uncircumcised and the unclean
shall enter you no more.
Shake yourself from the dust, rise up,
O captive Jerusalem;
loose the bonds from your neck,
O captive daughter Zion!
For thus says the Lord: You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money. For thus says the Lord God: Long ago, my people went down into Egypt to reside there as aliens; the Assyrian, too, has oppressed them without cause. Now therefore, what am I doing here, says the Lord, seeing that my people are taken away without cause? Their rulers howl, says the Lord, and continually, all day long, my name is despised. Therefore my people shall know my name; therefore on that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I.
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.
Depart, depart, go out from there!
Touch no unclean thing;
go out from the midst of it, purify yourselves,
you who carry the vessels of the Lord.
For you shall not go out in haste,
and you shall not go in flight;
for the Lord will go before you,
and the God of Israel will be your rearguard.