You have been a refuge for the poor,
a refuge for the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the storm
and a shade from the heat. (Isaiah 25:4a)
This chapter from Isaiah’s prophecy speaks to the restoration God will bring for His people even as “ruthless nations” rise up against them. Isaiah speaks of both a future restoration as well as a present help from God that is rooted within God’s “perfect faithfulness” (vs 1) and sovereignty (“wonderful things planned long ago” – vs 1). We see here that the overriding vision of God gripping Isaiah’s heart and mind transforms his outlook on the present circumstances. Let’s consider again the phrases Isaiah uses to describe God in verse 4:
- “a refuge for the poor”
- “a refuge for the needy”
- “a shelter from the storm”
- “a shade from the heat”
Isaiah reminds us that in a wide variety of circumstances, both natural and social, God protects and keeps His people. It is not a question—”will God do this?”—but an expected certainty—”God will do this.” At the same time, notice what Isaiah does not tell us here. He does not say, “Because you trust in God you will never face distress, meager times, storms, or heat.” Isaiah is not so unrealistic in his faith as that. He has weathered his own storms, and is facing some when writing these words. Instead, he reminds us that when stormy times come upon us, God is with us and available to us as a trustworthy refuge, shelter, and shade.
Isaiah continues his prophecy with images of restoration that we later encounter in the final book of the New Testament (Isaiah 25:6-8; Revelation 21:1-5). John drew upon Isaiah’s words in the closing chapters of Revelation, and so they are familiar to many of us. These images depict darkness’ removal like the lifting of a shroud, death decisively swallowed up, tears wiped away, and disgrace eliminated. Such beautiful imagery grabs our hearts and fills our imagination with hope. When our present circumstances resonate more with darkness, tears, death, and disgrace, it is good to read again words filled with such ebullient hope. Isaiah speaks with prophetic power that our dark circumstances are not the end of the story, whether our story or that of the broader world. God is still at work.
The critical calling in all of this for us is to trust God. “In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him” (Isaiah 25:9). As it did for Isaiah, what characterizes God’s people in distress, storms, and heat is their overriding vision of God that shapes their outlook through trust in God. In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are easily overcome by anxieties about what will come, confusion about how to live in the present, and paralysis about what to do and what not to do. Every day the news changes, leaving us like a boat cast upon rough and stormy waters. This is the natural reality of being human with all our limitations.
However, the question that each of us must answer is what we will do when these anxieties surround us. Will we let them overwhelm us so that our outlook is shaped more by our circumstances and the anxieties that so readily result from them? When it comes down to it, what will shape our vision and outlook in life?
In a sense, we have entered into the moment of our faith’s testing. Although it may sound simplistic, do we trust only what we can see or do we trust the Living God? “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Certainly faith also sees what gathers around, but that is not all the eyes of faith sees. When our overriding vision is of God and not just our circumstances, we know we can bring our anxieties and fears to God in prayer. That movement of faith to reach out to God enables us to encounter God as our refuge, shelter, and shade. We move forward driven by faith—active trust in God—and not by fear—agitated anxiety about our circumstances. In these days all of us need that reminder again and again. I believe this is at least part of what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote from prison to the Philippian church:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
We have entered into a time of deep distress that will mark our lives in many ways. But take heart, my friends, our God is with us as “a shelter from the storm.”