Isaiah 4: Zion’s Future Glory

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Download chart: Kings of Judah and Key Events During Isaiah’s Ministry (pdf)


Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment

Part 2: Historical Interlude

Part 3: Salvation

Chapters 1-35

Chapters 36-39

Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

Chapters 2-12 likely were written during the reign of King Uzziah.

Key verse:

Isa. 4:2: On that day the branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of Israel’s survivors.

Quick summary:

Israel’s present pride and God’s pending judgment will not defeat the Lord’s ultimate plan to establish His future kingdom on earth.

Take note:

The name Zion is used three times in consecutive verses:

  • “Whoever remains in Zion … will be called holy” (v. 3).
  • “When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion” (v. 4)
  • “Then the Lord will create a cloud of smoke by day and a glowing flame of fire by night over the entire site of Mount Zion” (v. 5).

The word Zion is a Hebrew word whose precise meaning may not be known. It may mean citadel or fortress, but generally it refers to aspects of Jerusalem. The terms Zion, Jerusalem, and City of David often are used synonymously in the Old Testament. The Temple Mount is referred to as Zion as well. Zion is called “His holy mountain” (Ps. 48:1). Zion is used as a metaphor for security and protection (Ps. 125). The New Testament continues this imagery, using the term “heavenly Jerusalem” or Zion in reference to the church (Heb. 12:22), the gospel message (1 Peter 2:6), and the place of God’s dwelling (Rev. 14:1).

The branch of the Lord (Isa. 4:2)

Isaiah closes out this lengthy message (Isa. 2:1 – 4:6) by returning to the same positive themes with which he opened it (Isa. 2:1-5). Both the beginning and the end of Isaiah’s prophecy describe what will happen in the last days when God gathers His special people to Zion. Unlike the beginning, however, which focuses on the coming of the Gentile nations to learn from God, these closing words describe God’s work of purifying His holy remnant in Jerusalem.

Commentators differ in opinion as to whether the term “branch” is a reference to the “fruit of the land” or to the Messiah. The Aramaic Targum, which translates or paraphrases Old Testament passages into Aramaic, translates this verse as “Messiah of the Lord,” indicating that early Jewish interpreters thought this was a messianic passage. In addition, Isaiah later uses a different Hebrew word but says of the Messiah, “a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse” and “the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples” (Isa. 11:1, 10). Jeremiah refers to the “righteous branch of David” (Jer. 23:5; see also 33:15), and Zechariah uses the term “Branch” with connections to the Messiah (Zech. 3:8; 6:12).

Gary V. Smith suggests that Isaiah’s reference to “branch” in 4:2 refers to two parallel acts of God that will transform Zion: “God will (a) cause his messianic Branch to spring forth, and also (b) bring marvelous fertility to the produce of the field. This interpretation shows how God will reverse the situation in 2:6 – 4:1. He will (a) replace the proud leaders of his people and give them a new leader, the Branch of the Lord, and (b) replace the ruin, devastation, and shame of the destroyed land with lush crops that will have great fertility” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 156).

Isaiah’s frequent use of the term “on that day” (or “in that day”) in chapters 2-4 illustrates that God’s work of punishing His people for their sins and establishing His kingdom for His glory are complementary acts of carrying out His covenant promise to Israel. Purification involves intense heat and pressure to burn off the dross and perfect the precious metal. In the end the purged metal radiates with beauty and testifies to the skillful hand of the refiner. Verses 2-6 stand in stark contrast to Isa. 2:6 – 4:1.

A cloud by day and a flaming fire by night (Isa. 4:3-6)

God will cleanse those left in Zion of their sin and transform them into a holy people. The word holy (qados) is a reminder of God’s original plan to make Israel His “own possession,” “kingdom of priests” and “holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6). The emphasis here is on what God will do, not on anything His people will do to merit God’s favor. Holiness means being set apart for God alone. The holiness God will give this remnant makes them fit for His kingdom and it stands in stark contrast to the sinfulness of the present generation in Zion (2:6 – 4:1).

In verse 4, Isaiah uses a different metaphor than in 1:25 to describe the purifying work of God. Instead of purification through smelting, God will “wash away” filth and “cleanse” bloodguilt; this is more of a reference to sacrificial work than to refining. The prophet also refers to “a spirit of judgment and a spirit of burning” as the means by which cleansing is accomplished. This seems to describe God’s purification of Zion by destroying the remaining wicked people of the city. But it also could describe the work of the Holy Spirit in cleansing the human heart. Matthew Henry comments: “By the judgment of God’s providence, sinners were destroyed and consumed; but by the Spirit of grace they are reformed and converted. The Spirit herein acts as a Spirit of judgment, enlightening the mind, convincing the conscience; also as a Spirit of burning, quickening and strengthening the affections, and making men zealously affected in a good work” Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 4:4).

After Zion is purified, God will “create” something new. The word “create” (bara) is a divine activity of making something new, either by transforming something that already exists or by bringing into existence something new. What is God going to create? A “cloud of smoke by day and a glowing flame of fire by night.” This appears to be a reference to God’s special act of re-creating the new heaven and the new earth (Isa. 65:17; 66:22). God’s glorious presence will be the central feature of this new kingdom. The cloud by day and fire by night are drawn from the Exodus tradition, in which God’s presence in the cloud and fire led the Israelites out of Egypt and ultimately resided in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle (Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19, 24; 40:34; Deut. 1:33; 31:15; 1 Kings 8:10-11). This divine presence demonstrates God’s acceptance of His holy people. “The surprising difference is that God’s presence will not be limited to a temple building; it will be like a canopy over the whole of Zion (cf. 60:1-2; 62:2; Ezek. 39:25-29), because all of Zion and its people will be holy” (Gary V. Smith, The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 158).

Closing thought

It is clear from Isaiah’s writings that God is at the center of all promises regarding the future of Israel and the world. Gary V. Smith comments: “God will wash away sin and make it possible for people to be holy. God is the one who writes people’s names in his book (4:3-4). God will create a new world order over Mt. Zion, and his glorious presence there will bring protection for his people. He will make the messianic Branch beautiful and he will increase the productivity of the earth. God is the one people can trust and he is the one to exalt. The future of this world is completely dependent on God” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 159).

Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips