“Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by.” – Isaiah 26:20
In reading this verse alone it probably seems eerily familiar to the coronavirus quarantine. Is this a warning, a command, a promise? What should we make of this verse today and how can we apply it? Let’s start by looking at the full passage. The chapter title in Isaiah 26 is: ‘A Song of Praise’ in the NIV and ‘You Keep Him in Perfect Peace’ in the ESV.
“In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city; God makes salvation its walls and ramparts. Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith. You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal. He humbles those who dwell on high, he lays the lofty city low; he levels it to the ground and casts it down to the dust. Feet trample it down— the feet of the oppressed, the footsteps of the poor. The path of the righteous is level; you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth. Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness. But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the LORD.
LORD, your hand is lifted high, but they do not see it. Let them see your zeal for your people and be put to shame; let the fire reserved for your enemies consume them. LORD, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us. LORD our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us, but your name alone do we honor. They are now dead, they live no more; their spirits do not rise. You punished them and brought them to ruin; you wiped out all memory of them. You have enlarged the nation, LORD; you have enlarged the nation. You have gained glory for yourself; you have extended all the borders of the land.
LORD, they came to you in their distress; when you disciplined them, they could barely whisper a prayer. As a pregnant woman about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pain, so were we in your presence, LORD. We were with child, we writhed in labor, but we gave birth to wind. We have not brought salvation to the earth, and the people of the world have not come to life. But your dead will live, LORD; their bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy— your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead. Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by. See, the LORD is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. The earth will disclose the blood shed on it; the earth will conceal its slain no longer.” – Isaiah 26:1-21, NIV
What Do We Know about the Book of Isaiah?
Who Is Isaiah and Did He Actually Write the Book?
Befre we talk about Isaiah the prophet, what is a prophesy? The NIV Study Bible states, “A prophecy is a God-given message that speaks to people about their condition, urges change, and may describe future events as a means to motivate the people to faithfulness.”
Isaiah (‘the LORD saves’ or ‘Yahweh saves’) was a prophet in the 8th Century BC, a contemporary of Amos, Hosea, Micah, and Jonah. His messages were delivered between 739 and 701 BC. Isaiah is named as the son of Amoz (not to be confused with Amos); the Bible says nothing more about Amoz, but the ESV Study Bible quotes Jewish tradition as claiming Amoz to be brother to Amaziah, king of Judah, which would put Isaiah into the royal family. What we do know about Isaiah is that he was married with a family in Jerusalem and he took up the call to be God’s prophet.
Isaiah is the only author listed in the book. Though some scholars question if he is the author of chapters 40-66 due to a change in style and vocabulary; however, the traditional view is that Isaiah authored the entire book. One probable cause of the difference in style is that Isaiah switches from talking about his current time to talking about a distant future; another explanation is that a number of years may have lapsed between the sections. And lastly, even if a disciple of Isaiah wrote the last section, he would have used Isaiah’s ideas from the Holy Spirit’s inspiration.
Related Video on who Isaiah was from Emmanuel Bible Church.
What Kind of Literature / Genre Is the Book of Isaiah?
Isaiah is a prophetic book that contains historical narrative and messages of judgment; his writing includes (a lot of) poetry, imagery, and prophetic details. Isaiah records God’s message for the people of Israel and Judah as well as prophecies for the future, which point to the Messiah. In fact, the last third of Isaiah contains prophecies for the future. But it’s not just prophecies—Isaiah seeks to assure God’s people of their place in His redemptive plan for the world.
The book holds rich theological truths pointing out God’s presence from creation to redemption. The NIV Study Bible relays,
“These genres are mixed together in often bewildering ways. This variety supports the conclusion that Isaiah may have originally delivered many of the individual units independently from each other and later combined them in their present form.”
The ESV Study Bible seconds this notion,
“A book this large, and lacking a narrative line, must be viewed as an anthology or collection of individual compositions. It is often futile to look for a smooth flow from one unit to the next. The book swings bac and forth between oracles of judgment and oracles of salvation.”
What Is the Main Theme / Purpose of Isaiah?
Isaiah is set in the midst of an ongoing political crisis due to dominating Mesopotamian powers. Israel was under an incorrect impression that as long as they just went through the motions that God would spare their cities and temple from harm. They learned a hard lesson when Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC, followed by Babylon’s destruction and exile of the southern kingdom of Judah in 586 BC. Isaiah responds to questions and doubts from Israel about who God is and if He is for them.
His message is to point the people of God to the only refuge they can trust in, their God. He is faithful and no matter what happens and no matter where they go, He remains their God. Yahweh is to be trusted over human power, and the people are called not to make alliances with these foreign powers though it is tempting in order to save their current way of life. Isaiah also covers theological questions about God’s desire to deliver His people from exile. Later chapters cover Israel’s return from exile and what it means theologically to exist as God’s people returned from exile without a king or an army. God requires righteous behavior and Isaiah assures the people that though they cannot keep the covenant on their own, God is sending One who can keep it for them—the Messiah who will destroy the real enemy: sin.
What Is the Meaning of Isaiah 26:20?
Chapter 26 is all about praising God for his sovereign care over His people. The ESV Study Bible points out the prophetic nature of Isaiah’s words that “the time perspective in ch. 26 shifts between the past, present, and future.” It is a song of confidence in God, for He achieves the final victory on our behalf.
Ligonier Ministries shares, “The song in chapter 26 prophesies the deliverance of the Jewish people from captivity. When they initially were led into captivity, they undoubtedly would have despaired had they not been encouraged with such promises. Isaiah composed this song for the people, even before the calamity occurred, to help bolster them in their resolve. Thus, they might be better prepared to endure it and might hope for better things. On the basis of the song, they could rest assured that Jerusalem would be fully restored and the city of God would rise above the terrible city of man.”
Verse 20 “…shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by.” (ESV) creates a contrast to the “open the gates” idea in verse 2 of the chapter. The ESV Study Bible also relays that Isaiah is referencing Genesis 7:16 when God shut Noah into the ark so that he would be safe during God’s judgment. Chapter 26 is speaking of God’s judgment past, present, and future and how He keeps His people safe, hidden in Himself as their refuge. God will protect us in life and in death.
The NIV Study Bible comments that this section Isaiah 26:1-27:13 reflects the meaning of the victory in the previous chapters; there is a longing for God’s judgment because with His judgment comes rescue and peace for His people. The song in chapter 26 is one of salvation, and in response, the people renew their trust in the Lord. Yahweh is the “Rock eternal” (v. 4) he can be trusted over all else. In vv. 9-11 there is a plea for God’s judgment, and v. 20 answers that plea with a command to wait with quiet faith, confident in God’s plan, assured of God’s promise.
How Should We Apply Isaiah 26:20 Today?
Just as the people of God learned in the Book of Isaiah simply being a person of God or doing the right things does not mean you will be spared from earthly harm, illness, or suffering. This fallen world is filled with illness and suffering, and we can often find ourselves in the midst of harm. In Psalm 53, David says:
“Be merciful to me, my God, for my enemies are in hot pursuit; all day long they press their attack. My adversaries pursue me all day long; in their pride many are attacking me. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid.”
Some days may feel like this, being afflicted all day long… by whatever is happening or going on. What does David do? He puts his trust in God and does not fear because he knows that no matter what happens God will be his refuge. God will show mercy to His people and He will protect you for eternity whether in this life or through death—you will be kept safe in the arms of God. Do not look at this life as all there is, for there is goodness and glory beyond comprehension awaiting us in eternity.
James 4:13-15 reminds us that we are not in control,
“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”
Isaiah 40:7-14 and Is. 40:27-31 is part of a longer passage but well worth the read for the reminder and comfort it brings. The passage is reminiscent of Job, as well, who faced a multitude of suffering all at once. He came to the same conclusion – who is God that we would question His purpose even in the hard things of life?
“’The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.’ You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’ See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? Who can fathom the Spirit of the LORD, or instruct the LORD as his counselor? Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?” (Is. 40:7-24)
“Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Is. 40:27-31)
This promise is everything. It should mean everything to God’s children … what is most important in life is trusting God through all things—knowing there is something infinitely better waiting for us at the end of this earthly race. So let’s run it well, let’s run it with peace in our hearts, and let’s run it with our eyes on the One true God. He is our Heavenly Father, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace, Savior of the World, and Everlasting Spirit. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—He is your God and mine. Greatly is He to be praised in all circumstances at all times. Let us be grateful for each day we are given no matter the hardship, for His grace and mercy cover us in all things.
Related: Are Christians to Be Free from Sickness and Disease?
How Should We Act in the Midst of Uncertainty?
Being grateful in the midst of trials does not mean that Christians are to be some sort of stoic never showing emotion or pain; it means when you are in pain, when you are down, when you are ill and when you are suffering you can go to Him in prayer, you can put your trust in His ultimate healing (whether on this earth or in death), you can find peace in His refuge because your soul is safe in His hands. It means you can call on your church and friends to pray with you and help you, it means in all things look to God and be comforted because He is in control. Quiet faith does not mean we stop working for God’s kingdom. God will still provide opportunities in this quarantine from the coronavirus. Ask God to allow you to help people in this time, whether through prayer, a phone call, volunteering to get groceries for an older couple in your church etc.
You can still share the gospel with others from home; share your hardship and share how God is with you every step of the way. Let them know that it’s not easy, sometimes we fail to remember God’s promises, sometimes we fail to enjoy God’s presence—but there’s grace, abounding grace, because of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. His life covers all our misdeeds, our doubts, our caved temptations—through the helper He left us with. Through God the Holy Spirit, we are being sanctified each day for our good and God’s glory.
We are being made holy each day, through our failures and through our gratitude, the Lord is making us new each day. Do not be discouraged at what life brings or about personal failures because God is with us through it all. Jesus died while we were yet sinners—that means we don’t have it all together, we can never have it altogether without Jesus who grants us His perfect life record, paying the penalty for sin and death, granting us eternal life now and to come. Cling to the hope and promise that you belong to God and no one and nothing can remove you from His protection.
“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” – John 10:28
Related: Prayers for the Coronavirus Pandemic.