Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. (Isa. 12:6)
Why is God called the Holy One of Israel? The ways of God can never become human ways. God works upon human beings, gives himself to them, and still remains the Holy and Exalted One who cannot be made impure by the sinfulness of his people. Those who cannot become still in heart and spirit and renounce all worldly and fleeting things in order to consecrate their whole being to God will not be able to see, hear, or understand anything of God’s works. Such people imagine that there are no such works, that it is all lies. They cannot hear or understand any of it, for God is holy.
This holiness of God is portrayed in the story of Israel as a holy wisdom by which God can speak to and work upon the sinner without revealing himself in any way. God remains holy in word and deed, and even the record of his words and deeds in Scripture, which anyone can read, is something holy. People can grope around on the periphery of holy writings, they can mock and laugh, but they are unable to touch that holiness which they vaguely sense. They can become irritated about it if they like, but they cannot harm it; it is out of their reach.
Learning to See Where God Is Active
God’s kingdom can easily be in our midst – and we human beings still fail to see it. In that case, it will not help us to grumble: “How long will you keep us in suspense? Tell us plainly!” (John 10:24) If we want to see anything of God’s working, we must allow ourselves to be drawn away from the ordinary materialistic life. The whole desire of our heart must be to enter the sphere of holy things; we must become holy as God is holy. Otherwise we will fail to see or hear anything. That is the “narrow gate” and the “hard way” of which the Lord speaks. Those who balk at going through this gate, believing they can experience divine things on the wide road of the world, are deceived. God does not cast himself into the dirt of the world; he remains the Holy One of Israel.
Accordingly, God’s deeds will remain doubtful phenomena to those who do not allow themselves to be drawn into that holiness in which God speaks and acts. So it is, for example, with the resurrection of Christ. It was made known, preached about, and testified to. Yet the resurrection holds no meaning for the person who does not seek what is from above, giving up all earthly matters.
The coming of Jesus was the most holy manifestation of God – his coming in the flesh. For a moment everybody looked up. But then the manifestation went away again, and a year later people could say to each other: “Do you still think of those remarkable happenings?” “Oh,” comes the reply, “I don’t believe it anymore; it must have been an illusion.” What remains as the years pass is a superficial acquaintance with stories about God – like the legends which pagans have of their gods.
Even our Bible study can often fail to lead us to God. Despite signs and miracles all around us, we may notice nothing and understand nothing. When we become aware of this, it should drive us to deep repentance. We should come in tears to God for our sins and our guilt so that we can be born again and become people who can see and experience God’s kingdom.
What then is Zion, and who are her inhabitants who are meant to shout and sing for joy? At times there has been only one inhabitant of Zion who could shout and sing for joy in the living God. At other times there have been more, a whole community of thousands or even millions of people. However many there are, they must be ready to give themselves, body and soul, when the light and life of God flares up. They must want God to be the only treasure of their hearts, cost what it may.
These people are bound together as though with a rope. They can be thrown into fire or water, yet the rope always pulls them out again. In the midst of a world filled with the seeds of destruction, they are the people who are safe in God, people of life. Once they have seen and heard and tasted the goodness of the future world, they cannot forget it. Day and night they are consumed by a hunger and thirst for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, for the revelation of God in truth and justice.
This is no human party, no community of merely religious teachings and forms. These people have no special skill or strength of character which makes them unusually significant. Their strength is in God alone; the weaker they themselves become, the more they shout and sing for joy when they experience his presence. Without God, they can do nothing. When the rope breaks, when God draws away from them, they are the most miserable of people.
That is how people are who have once tasted holy things; they are bound to what is holy. When they no longer let themselves be seduced by worldly pleasures and natural things, they enter into increasingly closer union with God. Then Paul’s words are fulfilled in them: “If God is for us, who is against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulations, or distress, or persecution...?” (Rom. 8:31, 35) These people are the inhabitants of Zion.
This Zion, with its inhabitants, is God’s instrument in the world. For this reason he calls himself the Holy One of Israel; the Holy One of those who are bound to him. God is to be brought into the world, and whenever something of this comes about, secretly or openly, Zion rejoices because her Lord becomes great. Then Zion’s inhabitants will shout and sing for joy because they have learned again to fear God.
At the same time, we might call Zion the mother – a mother among the peoples, like Sarah, a princess of God. As a mother, she must weep for her children. Tears are not spared her. She gives birth to God in pain, waiting with grieving and sighs until the goal of God’s revelation is reached. In this way, she is connected with the whole of sorrowing humanity.
Even in suffering, however, in spirit Zion continues to rejoice. As Mary said, even though the sword went through her soul, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46) So it is with the inhabitants of Zion.
The Redemption of All Creation
We must become people of truth and justice so that everything we do accords with God’s will: not only in what is “spiritual”, such as our prayers and devotional practices, but also in our daily life. We should not be ruled by human traditions and customs, nor by our desires, but by the clear will of God, the Holy One. Then we will be able to distinguish between right and wrong, between flesh and spirit, between God and the world, between God’s kingdom and earthly institutions. That is what we should long for.
It can happen again and again that Zion loses God’s revelation by her own guilt. That is why she must weep continuously until she feels God’s presence again. To this weeping Zion, grieving for God and his kingdom, the prophet says, “You shall also laugh; dry your tears, shout and sing for joy, for great in your midst is the Holy One.” (cf. Isa. 12:6) And Christ says: “You who are poor in spirit because the world cannot satisfy your hunger for God’s righteousness, be comforted! The kingdom of heaven will come to you in your poverty.” (cf. Matt. 5:3-10)
Let us, for now, be satisfied with tears. The people of God must keep on grieving for God. If we bear this grief in the right way, we will finally experience God. Then will come the last and greatest experience of the glory of God, and this will be revealed to all flesh (Isa. 40:5). How great will be the joy of the inhabitants of Zion when her Holy One receives all glory and praise, when the victorious fruits of her battle appear in God’s hand for the redemption of the whole creation!
For more Blumhardt Bible Studies, visit our Bible Studies page.
From Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt: Sterbet, so wird Jesus leben: 1888 – 1896, (Zurich: Rotapfel Verlag, 1925), no. 21, trans. Jörg Barth and Renate Barth, © 2013 The Plough Publishing House. Photograph by Evgeniy Isaev. Artwork by Bastel Huessy.