Trust....and Double Peace
I just had to follow a similar titling as the January 27th blog post "Trees...and Perfect Peace" (https://www.isaiahfortoday.com/post/trees-and-perfect-peace). Isaiah 26 just lends itself so well to "trust" and "peace" being key descriptors.
The entire chapter is a song of praise and every verse is packed full of depth and power, lifting our gaze and incorporating concepts such as the city of God, pride and humility, the elevation of the oppressed, the paths of the righteous, the righteous judgments of God, death and resurrection.
Multiple verses reference peace, and we're going to home in on this. Because, it's not just peace that's discussed. It's peace peace. Double peace. Double shalom!
Verse 3 says,
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in you.
The English "perfect peace" is translated from "shalom shalom." Shalom is something that we all want--and not just individuals, but families, friends, and countries. It's not simply peace as in the absence of conflict--it's complete well-being. It's physical, spiritual, emotional well-being. You can have shalom with self, shalom with others, shalom with God. Even today, saying "Shalom," to someone in Israel means that you are saying, "may you be full of well-being" (https://firm.org.il/learn/the-meaning-of-shalom/).
I treated myself to a new thin leather-bound Bible this past Christmas, NRSV translation, and it depicts the double peace very well:
Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace--in peace because they trust in you.
I could spend this whole post reflecting on peace (and don't we need it, right?!). But, there is a stipulation to this verse and to the subsequent verses in the chapter. Only some are to be the recipients of this peace. Who are they? "Those of steadfast mind." The King James Translation puts it this way,
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.
In any of the translations, the peace is for someone whose mind is steadfast, whose mind is "stayed" on God, who trusts in God.
Whether the translation is "stayed" or "steadfast" the Hebrew root word is the same: Samak, which means to lean, lay on, or rest.
I am so very happy to see this in the Old Testament, because it is completely consistent with the New Testament writers and later Christians' descriptions of faith. Different Christian groups sometimes talk about faith in rather varied ways. Some seem to only use it to refer to saving faith. Others emphasize faith in everyday life as we battle in spiritual warfare. We quote the Hebrews 11:1 opening to the "faith chapter": "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." However, when we are talking about faith in Christ, modern evangelical Christians seem to make faith a purely intellectual assent. As in, "I believe that Christ exists, that He died, and resurrected." All good and well, but a far cry from the full-bodied Shalom that we just discussed. Sometimes the English translations lose the more holistic emphases that are seen in the Greek or Hebrew words. This is also a very limited definition of faith, encompassing only mind and no other aspects of self.
Faith and trust go hand-in-hand, and Isaiah 26 can show us the way for what it actually looks like to have faith in God.
To have a mind steadfastly on God means we are trusting in Him, leaning on Him, and resting in Him, just as the word samak indicates. While it is also important to seek and find-- and anyone reading this is hopefully on a spiritual journey of continuous discovery of God--the final steps are actually not very herculean on our part. It's surrender. It's dependency. It's falling over and resting on the One who can actually do it--who can actually save us. Otherwise, it's our belief that saves us and not actually Him.
We do this type of surrender one big time in our lives (this is giving our lives to Christ) and frequently on a smaller-scale afterward. It's amazing how easily our hearts and minds move toward seeing ourselves as our own Saviors, and recommitting to Christ in our hearts is often a necessary practice--daily surrender. John Calvin rightly pointed out that "the human heart is a perpetual idol factory."
Some of my favorite Christian writers and thinkers get this so very right! And, they base their points directly on Scripture. Let's dive right in. First up, though, speaking of setting hearts and minds on Christ gets one of my favorite songs from my favorite Beatle running in my head: "Got My Mind Set on You." So, for your viewing pleasure......the cheesy 80s video version rather than the bizarre singing stuffed animals in the cabin version...!
Ahem. Anyway, back to Scripture and great Christian minds...
John 3 is one of the most favorite passages of Scripture, with the verse that every Christian child memorizes in Sunday School:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (3:16).
Awesome verse! The context is Nicodemus' nightly visit to Jesus, where Jesus pulls out all the stops to give him a power-packed sermon on faith. Immediately before verse 3:16 is a passage that is not quite so familiar to many:
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Many must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life (3:15)
This is referencing the book of Numbers, which tells of the Israelites escaping Egypt who experience a plague of snakes biting them and afflicting them. The snakes are apparently venomous and lethal. God tells Moses what the cure is: set up a bronze serpent (hmmm...seems a bit risky for a group that still occasionally likes to worship objects made of precious metals). Anyone who looked up at the bronze snake was healed and survived.
It's a passage that troubles some people--why a bronze snake? What is going on with that?
But Jesus directly references it as part of His definition of what it means to have faith in Him. While we see the English word "believe" in 3:15, the "just as" means we need to recall the original story that Jesus is referencing. What faith act was required of the Israelites in the desert? They simply had to lift their gaze up to what God had provided. Instead of looking at what was afflicting them, they were to look at God's symbol of deliverance. This silly serpent is apparently a foreshadowing of Christ being lifted up. Christ is the ultimate symbol of deliverance...and more than that, is the actual Deliverer. But the method is the same--look up at Him.
In the book, "The Pursuit of God," A.W. Tozer (if you haven't read him yet, just do it!) wrote:
In the New Testament this important bit of history is interpreted for us by no less an authority than our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He is explaining to His hearers how they may be saved. He tells them that it is by believing. Then to make it clear He refers to this incident in the book of Numbers. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.." Our plain man, in reading this would make an important discovery. He would notice that look and believe are synonymous terms. "Looking" on the Old Testament serpent is identical with "believing" on the New Testament Christ. That is, the looking and the believing are the same thing. And he would understand that, while Israel looked with their external eyes, believing is done with the heart. I think he would conclude that faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.
There it is! Samak! We rest our eyes upon Christ. This is faith. This is what Christ references before launching into John 3:16 and so we must connect the belief that he describes there to the immediately preceding verse. Belief is more than an intellectual assent. It is a person gazing on their Savior, who has been lifted up to save the world.
Other concur. Simone Weil (if you haven't read her, do!), is about as far a person as one can imagine from A.W Tozer. She puts it this way in Waiting for God:
One of the capital truths of Christianity, almost unknown to anyone today, is that the look is what saves. The bronze serpent was lifted up so that people lying mutilated in the depths of degradation would look upon it and be saved...There are those people who try to elevate their souls like someone who continually jumps from a standing position in the hope that forcing oneself to jump all day — and higher every day — they would no longer fall back down, but rise to heaven. Thus occupied, they no longer look to heaven. We cannot even take one step toward heaven. The vertical direction is forbidden to us. But if we look to heaven long-term, God descends and lifts us up.
We look to Christ for saving faith and we look to Him daily for ongoing sustenance. And Isaiah 26 tells us what the result will be if we do so: Shalom Shalom!