Oh That The LORD's Salvation Were Out Of Zion Come

by Keith Macnaughtan

The words of our title are but a poetic echo of the cry of the Psalmist: "Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When the Lord turneth the captivity of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad." (Psalm 14:7)

Whatever may be conveyed by these words, they certainly indicate that, for the Israel nation, a time of distress was yet to be experienced. The Psalm speaks of "the captivity" of the Lord's people. Moreover, it refers to "all the workers of iniquity ... who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the Lord" and who would "put to shame the counsel of the poor." (14:4,6)

This the Psalmist foresaw. Yet the future was not all dark and despairing, "for God is with the righteous generation … the Lord is his refuge." (14:5) And however black the intervening period, some day, some happy day to be, "the salvation of Israel" would "come out of Zion" and the Lord would turn "the captivity of his people." (Quotations from the translation of the Jewish Publication Society of America)

Messiah's Coming and Kingdom

All who believe that David wrote these words by inspiration of the Lord, and who look to the future for their ultimate fulfilment, relate them to the coming of Israel's Messiah.

The return from Babylonian exile was limited to only a few thousand Hebrews, and, alas, it was engulfed some six centuries later by the more awful tragedy of the destruction of the Second Temple and the dispersion of Israel.

Surely there is yet to be a greater and permanent turning of Israel's captivity when her salvation comes out of Zion. Pious believers, whether Jewish or Gentile, who love Israel and the Scriptures, believe this will be so.

And this is everywhere associated with the coming of the Messiah. We may select one out of many Scriptures, very rich in detailed promise, from the prophet Isaiah. Upon one who is "a shoot out of the stock of Jesse" , "a twig out of his roots" , the Spirit of the Lord is to rest. He comes to judge, but "he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither decide after the hearing of his ears, but with righteousness shall he judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the land." (11:1,3,4)

His Presence, Promise, and Peace

Not only does he judge with justice, but he also administers punishments which are proper to each case. "He shall smite the land with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked."

Universal harmony and peace, such as have not been known in this troubled world since our guilty first parents were expelled from the bliss of Eden, will then encircle the earth.

Jerusalem , the city of peace, which for so long has known so little peace and so many grievous wars, will at last enjoy unbroken tranquility, for "they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (11:9)

What said David the Psalmist? "When the Lord turneth the captivity of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad." And Isaiah the prophet? "The Lord will set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people ... and he will set up an ensign for the nations and will assemble the dispersed of Israel and gather together the scattered of Judah from the four corners of the earth ..." (11:11,12)

Truly the Scriptures promise rich blessing for the future when Messiah reigns. "And it shall come to pass in that day that the root of Jesse, that standeth for an ensign of the peoples, unto him shall the nations seek; and his resting place shall be glorious." (11:10) The hope and expectancy of believers gather round the Coming King, the Messiah of Israel, mighty in majesty, righteous in rulership, just in his judgements.

Contrast Without Contradiction

Yet the Scriptures paint another picture of that blessed one, but now with colours sombre and dark. Of one whom the Lord calls "my servant" and of whom it is said that he would "prosper" , "be exalted" and "lifted up" and "be very high" , we yet read: "According as many were appalled at thee ... so marred was his visage unlike that of a man, and his form unlike that of the sons of men." (Isaiah 52:13,14)

Who is this exalted Servant of the Lord who yet would suffer such appalling disfigurement? Is he not the one of whom the prophet proceeds to speak, one with "no form nor comeliness that we should look upon him, nor beauty that we should delight in him" , one "despised and forsaken of men, a man of pains and acquainted with disease, and as one from whom men hide their face: he was despised, and we esteemed him not" ? (53:2,3)

We must bear in mind that in both instances it is the same one in view: in both instances it is "the Lord's Servant". We note the contrast: "Behold, MY SERVANT shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up and shall be very high" (52:13) and "Of the travail of his soul he shall see to the full, even MY SERVANT, who by his knowledge did justify the Righteous One to the many and their iniquities he did bear." (53:11)

Who is that "Servant" , the Lord's "Servant" , who is to be exalted and lifted up and yet to come so low in travail and in bearing the iniquities of others?

Sinless Sufferer Our Substitute

How low indeed he was to be brought! Ponder what the prophet foretold: "Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried; whereas we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But he was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with with his stripes we are healed ... and the Lord hath made to light on him the iniquity of us all." (53:4-6)

What an enigma is this! The Lord's Servant to be made so high yet to be brought so low! For "he was oppressed ... by oppression and judgement he was taken away ... for he was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due ... although he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth." (53:7-9)

Nor were these dreadful afflictions to be merely the expression of man's malice and hatred. The Lord himself, whose Servant he was, would inflict them! For "THE LORD hath made to light on him the iniquity of us all" ; "it pleased THE LORD to crush him by disease." (53:6,10)

God's Servant Smitten

These are not the only Scriptures in which there is set before us one who, faithful in all things to the will of God, would yet be submerged in sorrows and engulfed in grief. Does not God himself declare: "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is near unto me, saith the Lord of hosts. Smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered …" (Zechariah 13:7)?

Who can God's "shepherd" be if not the Messiah? Yet God himself calls for a sword to "awake" against his shepherd and to "smite" him!

Or hear the prophet Micah: " ... they smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek" (4:14 or 5:1 in the A.V.) Is there not One -- Messiah himself – who is supremely "the judge of Israel" ? Yet he was to suffer the indignity of being smitten upon the cheek with a rod!

So the prophecies multiply concerning a Messiah who was to suffer at the hands of men. Yet this was not to be for sins of his own but rather to fulfil some deep purpose which God himself had in his suffering.

It was obedience to the Lord's will which would bring about his afflictions: "The Lord God hath opened mine ears and I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward," he says. "I gave my back to the smiters and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting." (Isaiah 50:6)

Or agan, in Psalm 69: " ... for THY sake I have borne reproach; confusion hath covered my face … Because zeal for thy house hath eaten me up, and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me." Note that again this Suffering One is called "thy Servant" , God's Servant, and we have already seen from Isaiah that there is only one, the Messiah of Israel, who is supremely the "Servant" of the Lord.

Yet so deeply does he suffer that he cries: " ... hide not thy face from thy servant ... Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am sore sick; and I looked for some to show compassion, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none ..." (69:17,20)

The Prophetic Paradox

In Psalm 69:27 we read a paradox: "THEY persecute him whom THOU God hast smitten"! The persecution of the Suffering One is by men, yet he is being smitten by God, and it is God who is "wounding" him! And this is not because of crimes he had done, for he claims: " ... For THY sake I have borne reproach; confusion hath covered my face" and " ... the reproaches of them that reproach THEE are fallen upon me."

And what of that dread experience detailed in Psalm 22? Here is one brought to inconceivable depths of suffering, sorrow and shame; one who cries: "I am a worm and no man; a reproach of men and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn."

True, in heartrending appeals he cries to God for help: "Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help ... But thou, O Lord, be not far off; O thou my strength hasten to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword, my only one from the power of the dog."

Yet the Suffering One, though pleading for help, admits no guilt before God and does not plead for pardon. And here again we have what we have already seen in Psalm 69 and elsewhere: that strange combination of causes in the affliction of the Sufferer: it is from men, yet it is of God!

He suffers at the hands of men: "they open wide their mouth against me, as a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is become like wax; it is melted in my inward parts ..." (Psalm 22:14,15). Yet in another and deeper sense, his suffering is even from GOD, for he says: "THOU layest me in the dust of death."

Can This Be The Coming One?

One question remains: is this poignant psalm written of the Messiah? Who can doubt it? Who else could say, as does the Suffering One: "I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee; 'Ye that fear the Lord, praise Him ... for he hath not despised nor abhorred the lowliness of the poor ... but when he cried unto him, he heard'" ? Who else but Messiah could say: "From thee cometh my praise in the great congregation" ?

So Pslam 22, in common with other Scriptures, reveals a Messiah of suffering; a Messiah who suffered at the hands of men but whose sufferings were yet, in some deeper way, laid upon him by the hand of the Lord; a Messiah who is both afflicted by the Lord yet delivered by Him!

And we see the Scriptures paint two pictures, in striking contrast, of Messiah. In one we see him as a glorious Conqueror and King: in the other we behold him as grievously afflicted and oppressed, but not for sin of his own. And his sufferings, whilst related to an outburst of human hatred against him, are, in some deeper, awful sense, at the hand of God.

One Messiah, Two Portraits

What is the explanation of this paradox? Are there, as some have concluded, two Messiahs, one to suffer, the other to reign?

If we were to take pictures of a city from a tall building with a telephoto lens, buildings in the immediate vicinity would reproduce with clarity. We would also see the areas in the middle distance, from say eight to fifteen miles distant, while in silhouette we would see the profiles of mountains, say sixty miles away, quite clearly. But small river valleys lying between would not be seen in the photographs. Even so, there are a number of pictures of the one Messiah seen under inspiration of the prophets -- by David and Isaiah, by Micah and Zechariah for example.

Yet it was the one Messiah they pictured. They saw him come to suffer, to endure affliction and reproach, and to die. Then the telephoto lens of inspired prophecy saw also his coming in glory, his coming in power, his coming to reign. And the prophets wrote: "Behold the King, glorious in majesty and might."

Two Messiahs? Ah, no. But two advents? Yes! One coming to suffer for human sin, to bear the stroke of Divine justice which should have fallen on us, so that the righteous wrath of God against sinners might be vindicated and satisfied! Then another coming, a second coming, a coming again, to put down all opposition to God, to rescue and raise redeemed Israel to its long appointed place among the nations, and to sit upon the throne of his glory, King of kings, and Lord of lords.

The Unseen Centuries Between

But in between the two comings, unseen and unrecorded by the telephoto lens of ancient prophecy, lie long extended centuries. Men have said, "If Yeshua was indeed the Messiah, why did not the blessing promised for Messiah's advent follow his birth so long ago?" The answer lies in his own teaching to his disciples following his resurrection when, "beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." He said, "Ought not Messiah to have SUFFERED these things, and to enter into his GLORY?" (Luke 24:26,27)

Suffering before glory; cross before crown; sorrows before supremacy; humiliation before exaltation; partial rejection before recognition and reign!

May that longed-for day of glory soon dawn! May our devout desire be "Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion!"

"Oh that the Lord's salvation were out of Zion come!" May every earnest heart answer: "Amen and Amen!"