IN HIS SONG OF PRAISE, ISAIAH celebrates the Lord's impending triumph and demonstrates what it means to wait for him to act (Isaiah 26). The opening verses offer anticipatory praise (Isa. 26:1-6), offered to the God who makes the ultimate Jerusalem the rampart of security (Isa. 26:2) and preserves in peace the minds of all the individuals within it---all who trust in the living God (Isa. 26:3-4).
Most of the chapter is devoted to reflections on what it means to wait for that ultimate triumph (Isa. 26:7-21). "Yes, LORD," Isaiah writes, "walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts" (Isa. 26:8). But while the righteous yearn for the living God (Isa. 26:9a), the shocking reality is that the people who do not know him never learn anything from the grace that God shows them (Isa. 26:9b-10). And so eventually the people of God cry out that God might come and impose his righteousness (Isa. 26:11)---very much as in Revelation 6:10.
Meanwhile, the faithful remnant live with ambiguity and disappointment (Isa. 26:12-18). Idolatry flourishes in the land where the living God established peace (Isa. 26:12-13). The remnant remains faithful while the culture succumbs (Isa. 26:13). What is described in the next verses is almost the cyclical pattern of Israel's history. God responds to the infidelity with judgment. In due course he returns with grace, enlarges the nation, and extends his own glory. And yet, when all is said and done, what is the outcome? The nation is like a woman writhing in the pains of childbirth---and when she finally brings forth her offspring, all she has produced is wind (Isa. 26:18). "We have not brought salvation to the earth; we have not given birth to people of the world" (Isa. 26:18). Where is the great hope bound up with Israel's identity, with the promise to the patriarch that in Israel's seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12)?
Yet the chapter ends with hope. There is even hope for those who have died during the wearisome cycles of frustration, failure, futility, and judgment: they neither waited nor died in vain, for they will rise from the dead and share in the joy of victory (Isa. 26:19)---a promise of life briefly glimpsed in Isaiah 25:8, demonstrated in the resurrection of Jesus, and ultimately fulfilled at the end (1 Cor. 15; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). Meanwhile, those who are still alive must wait in patience for the wrath of God to pass (Isa. 26:20-21). More clearly than Isaiah, we know that "our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (2 Cor. 4:17-18; cf. Rom. 8:18).