Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field. The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. Though hail flattens the forest and the city is levelled completely, how blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, and letting your cattle and donkeys range free. Isaiah 32.16-20.
It is tempting always to see passages like this as pictures of the age to come, the life everlasting, when there are new heavens and a new earth and Jesus has put all enemies under his feet and reigns in glory and majesty. There are, however, two things that compel me to give these words a present application on at least one level. First, there will be no hail flattening forests and no levelling of cities in the age to come, and secondly, if I go back a verse, these words are a description of how it will be for God’s people when “the Spirit is poured upon us from on high” (Isaiah 32.15) — something that happened on the Day of Pentecost two thousand years ago.
So what is God saying in this passage? Firstly, that justice is not readily obtained. It seems to me that the reference to the desert signifies that the justice we look for — and the Hebrew really means “verdicts” — is hard to come by in human terms; it has been driven out into the wilderness. But secondly, there is righteousness, alive and well, where God’s people are … in the “fertile field”. The “fertile field” is the field is the one in the last verse of today’s passage where God’s people sow their seed and let their donkeys roam free.
And what is righteousness? It is a right standing with God, certainly, and a right standing with those around us; but in the Old Testament writings it has a different emphasis to that. It is specifically God’s vindication of the wronged and the helpless. Psalm 72 gives a description of the righteousness that God will bring to his people through his “royal son” (Psalm 72.1). “He will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight” (Psalm 72.12-14).
The righteousness of God then is essentially the vindication of his people (which, in the New Testament, finds its full expression in the cross and resurrection and the salvation that flows from them), and the fruit of knowing God’s vindication is, says this morning’s passage, “peace”. It is “quietness and confidence”. It is the ability to dwell in “undisturbed places of rest” deep within our souls where the hail cannot flatten us whatever it might be doing to the forest.
Reading these verses, I get the picture of two worlds side by side — one where furious storms are raging and there is war and conflict, and another of green pastures and quiet waters and sheep and cattle grazing peacefully all around. The one is the kingdom of this world, the other is the kingdom of heaven; and God’s people, who understand God’s righteousness and embrace it, are enabled to live in the kingdom of heaven while outwardly still belonging to the kingdom of this world. Our home is in “a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12.28).
In this lies the fruit of righteousness, my peace … that “if God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8.31).