Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off. The scatterer has come up against you. Man the ramparts; watch the road; dress for battle; collect all your strength. For the LORD is restoring the majesty of Jacob as the majesty of Israel, for plunderers have plundered them and ruined their branches.
You will note that the second half of verse 1 is addressed to Judah. They are being told to prepare for their restoration. This raises another interesting point, something which is spoken of prominently among all American Christians who are saddened by the moral and spiritual decline of our nation. Much talk is abroad about national restoration and it is spoken of as if it were in man’s hands if he could only get the right man in office. But Scripture uniformly portrays restoration, especially spiritual restoration, which is the only restoration of interest to the people of God, as undertaken first and foremost by God. Once God begins the great work, then man is moved by the Spirit to partake of the grace of what is efficaciously already at work. Neither does the extent of the damage sustained by God’s people present a problem to him. One needs only to look at the history of Israel and the spiritual degradation of the nation during the time of the Judges. Think for instance of the story, the vile, despicable, deplorable story recorded in Judges 19 of the Levite and his concubine. This story has all the obscene, horrid iniquity and profane behavior one would expect to read in the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet this story takes place in Israel. Compare this deplorable state of affairs with the latter history of Israel during the reign of King David. Those of us were familiar with church history will also know how deplorable the state of the United Kingdom was, as well as the American colonies around the time of the First Great Awakening. This knowledge should because rejoicing among those of us who, as I said earlier, are troubled by the devastation we see at work in the church. The church is God’s peculiar people and whenever he deigns to restore and revive her, no amount of devastation is too much for God’s power to overcome.
The Northern Kingdom had been chastised by God with the Assyrian rod, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah had been repeatedly threatened by them. If God had chastised Israel, favored by Him as they were (Psalm 47:4), how much more would God fatally punish Nineveh, an idolatrous, bloodthirsty heathen people?
Now we to ask where this prophecy, and the events it foretells, fits into the history of redemption. We spent some time on this point last week. Paul takes 1:15 as part of the complex of OT passages that foretell God’s faithfulness to His promise to Abraham to include Gentiles in the Covenant of Grace.
To begin to answer this we need to first consider what the promise of the Covenant of Grace is. Primarily the narrative of Scripture is: God saves His people from their enemies. We have this theme even before the Exodus, just not as dramatic. We have it in the crossing of the Jordan. We have it repeated cyclically in Judges. The story of Judges is more about God’s faithfulness to His covenant than it is about Israel’s faithlessness. Judah’s deliverance from Sennacherib and their subsequent return from their Babylonian Exile are repetitions of this theme. This is the whole message of the NT. What is fascinating to me is that Paul considers this theme of God saving His people to run concurrent with the promise to Abraham to bring Gentiles into the Covenant of Grace.
So when the language is repeated in Isaiah 52:7, it becomes clear that even in the OT, Israel’s plight (problems with Egypt, Assyria and Babylon) was seen as typical of spiritual truths about the deliverance of God’s covenant people from sin and God’s wrath against it. Comparing Nahum 1:15 with Isaiah 52:7 we see something very interesting. Isaiah’s typical “good news” is the return of God’s people from their Babylonian exile. Nahum’s “good news” is the destruction of Nineveh, which relieved God’s people from the fear of Assyrian oppression. What is fascinating about these passages is the (1) Babylon rises to world prominence only after the “good news” Nahum predicts of Nineveh’s downfall. (2) Isaiah was written first. (3) Both are viewed by the New Testament as typical of God’s deliverance of His people from their sins by the Atonement. The Exodus of Israel from Egypt, the fall of Nineveh, the return of the exiles from Babylon are all literally true factual, historical events; yet they are not ends in themselves: they point to a deeper, yet equally true spiritual meaning about God’s salvation of His people. So what if God merely provides temporal, sociological salvation from political enemies? Eternal salvation from sin and the wrath of God is what we truly need. These ‘salvations,’ while completely factually real, are intended to point our attention and hope forward to the true deliverance God has worked for His people in Christ.