|Series Theme: Studies in Isaiah: CHAPTER 54|
Studies in Isaiah 54: Contents:
Studies in Isaiah 54: 1. Introduction
Isa 54:1 “Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labour; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord.”
Why? I have been reading passages of scripture out loud as part of my morning devotions, and as much as I have been blessed by reading it out loud, it has left me with a “More!” feeling. I don't think I've ever done verse by verse through these chapters before, so here goes. I believe in this chapter 54 we will see amazing things that, yes, were originally spoken to Israel, but also have a wider amazing application for us individually today. I'm starting with Isa 54 which I suspect may take nearly two weeks. (We may go on at a later date to subsequent chapters but for now we will identify this mini-series as in Chapter 54 only).
A Difficulty: Over the years war has raged over the canon of Scripture, or over specific books, and the prophets have had their fair share of attacks. Now we have to be honest and acknowledge that a book like Isaiah naturally becomes a target for the questioners. Different commentators may make their own assumptions of the validity of the book and a primary assumption is that this book is in the order it is because that was how Isaiah (and some say more than one ‘Isaiah') wrote it. But then it gets difficult: how much was spoken or written at one time? Do we have a series of notes that Isaiah (assuming one person) wrote down when he felt inspired in one direction? Did the Lord inspire him and pepper him with a whole series of different vantage points or do they follow in neat chronological order so that one passage is linked to the previous one?
A Starting Point: The backdrop we need to consider to start with, I think, is Isa 53 which is the big chapter of the suffering servant. That starts with, “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (53:1) and finishes with, “For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors,” (53:12c) and in between are many facets of the Redeemer . It is difficult to see any direct link between 53:12 and 54:1 and we have to wait until 54:5 until we read, “For your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is his name— the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer .” The barren woman of v.1 (Israel) is linked to God the Creator as her husband; He is thus the means of removing her barrenness, He who is ‘the LORD Almighty', He who is also called ‘the Holy One of Israel', He who is referred to as their Redeemer.
A Redeemer? Everything in that previous chapter points to the work of Christ on the Cross and of course it is that which legitimizes or makes possible the work of God, whether it be in respect of redeeming Israel or redeeming us. It is only because their sins – and ours – are covered by the work of Christ on the Cross that when we repent, He is able to forgive us because justice has been satisfied. Thus we read, “the punishment that brought us peace was on him,” (53:5) and, “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all,” (53:6b) and, “f or the transgression of my people he was punished.” (53:8c) and, “ my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities .” (53:11c) All this is redemption language, Christ buying back Israel and Christ buying us back from the devil and sin. All the good that can follow, follows because of the Cross.
A Barren Woman? So we ought to go back to the beginning of the chapter: “Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labour.” Note the threefold emphasis there. We need to go back in Scripture to see what the Lord's original intent had been for Israel. Consider: “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Gen 12:3), and, “You will be the father of many nations .” (Gen 17:3) See also Gen 18:17,18, 22:15-18, 26:2-4, 28:13,14 as this is reiterated to the Patriarchs. But then as the Exodus progresses, it is to be something that impacts the rest of the world (see Ex 15:14-16, Num 14:13-17, Deut 2:24,25)
And so it continues on – God's dealings with Israel having an impact on the rest of the world until eventually the psalmist is able to write: “ May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth .” (Psa 67:1-4) It is clearly the intent of the Lord that the world will see Him through Israel and thus turn to Him. This comes to a head with Solomon (see 1 Kings 4:29-34, 8:41-43, 8:59-61) which concludes with the amazing testimony of the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:1-10) But beyond this, had it happened? Largely no. Israel had not brought to birth other nations who followed the Lord.
A Wider Application? But now apply this to human beings in general. The glory of the Lord can be seen through His creation: “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Rom 1:20,21) But it wasn't only Israel; we collectively failed to produce the fruits of righteousness, we failed to return to God and bear forth fruit of godliness, we too were barren.
And So: Whether or not chapter 54 is a direct link on from chapter 53, the point is well taken that the redemption that is bought in chapter 53 is what enables the realities that are spoken about in chapter 54 to come about. The Cross is at the heart of all the blessing that God is able to bring to us, to bring life and life transformation to each of us who will receive it. Praise, thank and worship Him for the wonder of the Cross and its impact on us. Amen.
Studies in Isaiah 54: 2. Barren Women
Isa 54:1 “Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labour; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord.”
Ohhhhhh!: How easy it is to pass over words of Scripture and not let them impact you. The analogy here, of Israel (or perhaps Jerusalem), is one of a disheartened, broken woman. Few of us can understand the heartache of being childless, of the yearning to have that sense of fulfilment as a child-bearing woman but who has never yet conceived. But the Bible seems full of such women, key women in the plans and purposes of God, and so perhaps we need to note them to take in the awfulness of the picture that Isaiah now presents to us.
The Women of Anguish: The first of these is Sarai : “Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive.” (Gen 11:30) When she seems unable to conceive, despite the number of times the Lord had promised a family that would grow into a multitude, she gave her servant girl to Abram, who promptly conceives; it is obvious the problem lies with her and not with Abram. (Gen 16:3,4) When God turned up and reiterated the promise that Sarah (as she now was) would conceive, she laughed, but it was laughter of unbelief, of derision, and the Lord pulled her up on it (Gen 18:10-15). When she does eventually conceive she laughs again but now it is of joy (Gen 21:6)
It almost seemed to run in the family. Isaac, Abraham's promised son, marries Rebekah but she too remains childless for twenty years (Gen 25:21). We aren't told what Rebekah felt but in the next generation the same thing happens to Jacob's favourite wife, Rachel : “When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I'll die!” (Gen 30:1) Perhaps this is seen most clearly in Hannah who became the mother of Samuel the judge-cum-first prophet: “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord , weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “ Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son.” (1 Sam 1:10,11)
Assessment: Children in the Hebrew culture (and in many others) were seen as a sign of God's blessing: “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Psa 127:3-5) Thus the absence of children would have acted as a question mark over the spirituality of the wife if not the couple.
The declaration of this barrenness that hung prophetically over Israel, as now declared by Isaiah, says six things: First it proclaims that bearing offspring was considered what was natural, what the Lord intended. Second, the absence of offspring was something to anguish over. Third, there must have been a reason for it. Fourth, transformation was seen as only possible by the blessing of God, and that comes again later in Isa 66:7-11. Fifth, there is given an interesting comparison with others who are not barren but not blessed, which we will see shortly and, sixth, the end of their barrenness is expanded to reveal a much wider blessing on them.
Hannah's Blessing: When Hannah conceived, prayed and sang, she declared, “She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away.” (1 Sam 2:5) Whether she waited until years later to pray and sing, or whether she was declaring her anticipation of what would come, is unclear, but what is clear is the extent of her blessing, seven children, joy, and a sense of being loved (implied by the way her adversary now pined away). The releasing from barrenness in the present passage is similarly indicated in the same way that Hannah had prayed: “ because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord.” (Isa 54:1)
Now Get Ready to Expand: She, Israel, now has (or is about to have) more children than other nations (whose husbands were idols, we might suggest), and is thus told to get ready to expand. (v. 1-3) Expansion in abundance and enlargement is what is coming. Previously, “you were ruined and made desolate and your land laid waste,” (49:19a) but now the land, with the Lord's blessing, “will be too small for your people, and those who devoured you will be far away.” (Isa 49:19)
Forgetting the Past: As He now says in the present prophecy, “You will forget the shame of your youth.” (54:4) The history of Israel, right from the start of the Exodus, was never glorious, filled with grumblings and disobedience and as the years unfolded in the Land, in the period of the Judges, it never improved. But the good news is that although the Lord requires us to confront the present, He does not hold the failures of the past over us; He is more concerned that we repent (Ezek 18:23,32, 2 Pet 3:9). Now the past will be forgotten in the light of the present blessings and, as we saw yesterday, those blessings can come to us because of the work of Christ on the Cross.
New Application: Under the New Covenant the apostle Paul took this present passage and applied it to the present reality. (See Gal 4:24-27) So, Sarah was the barren woman who, though technically was Abraham's wife, never had been previously able to fulfil the full outworking of marriage – bear children – and was replaced by Hagar. Yet we know that the desolate woman, Sarah, was enabled by God to bear Isaac, the child of promise. Paul applies all this to the Law and to slavery because although Hagar (representing the Law) had children naturally with Abraham, she was still a slave.
As the message version puts those first verses: “The two births represent two ways of being in relationship with God. One is ….a slave life, producing slaves as offspring. This is the way of Hagar. In contrast to that, there is an invisible Jerusalem, a free Jerusalem, and she is our mother—this is the way of Sarah.” Through new birth, from heaven, from the city of God in heaven, the ‘invisible Jerusalem', which acts as our mother, we are children of promise born to be free. The ‘mother' of the old covenant was the Law but all those who sought to follow it found themselves slaves to failure and guilt. Born from above, we are now free, children born by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, who will one day return to our home – heaven. Hallelujah!
Studies in Isaiah 54: 3. Expand!
Isa 54:2,3 “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.”
Wow! As I said yesterday, how easy it is to just skim read scripture and fail to let the Lord speak through it. I have a list of seven expressions of unbelief in the Christian life and shallow reading of Scripture expecting nothing of it, is one of them. these present verses leave me pondering: “Think big”. I wonder how many of us never think big, how many of us, just settle for normality, ordinariness, no change, and have no vision for the future. Take these verses with verse one, “ barren woman, you who never bore a child…. you who were never in labour … desolate woman,” and you have an amazing picture.
Hope: It's like Isaiah says, “I know you are barren; I know all the hopes and dreams have come to nought, of you becoming a nation that would impact and change the world as it revealed the goodness and glory of the Lord to the world; I know that the wonder and excitement of that one time when the Queen of Sheba came to Solomon with such promise, has now evaporated so that much of the time the glory of the Lord is unseen through you; I know that is how it is, but get ready, God is about to change all that so that you will have plenty of ‘children', plenty of those who will come into the family of God, many who will encounter Him, know Him, be called His children – because of you.
The Big Tent: When you are a childless couple you need very little accommodation and, in their time, a small tent, and so when he talks of enlarging your tent, lengthening cords, driving in bigger stakes, it is conveying a picture of an expanding family, it is the picture of growth & blessing, it is a picture of utter transformation. That is what this is all about. Now there are two things about this, as we read these verses: first , how we respond to them and, second , what do they actually mean, how were they fulfilled?
Our Responses: I asked earlier how many of us never think big, how many of us never have a vision for growth and change in the future? The trouble is that when ‘barrenness' is all you have ever known, it is very difficult to have a change of thinking. In our changeable climate in the UK, I have watched in the past when days have stretched into weeks when the sky is grey and it continues to rain – and it is summer! It becomes almost impossible to believe that tomorrow the sun might shine; we settle into a ‘more rain' mentality.
I've also noticed it in respect of the neighbours when overtures of friendship have been rebuffed time and again, and so we now have little expectation of any possible change with them. But I remember one couple for whom this was true and the years went by with the ‘woman next door' always looking grumpy, never responding to a cheery, ‘Good morning!', never giving any indication of wanting to make contact with anyone, let alone you. But then suddenly, one day, with no warning at all, she simply stopped and started talking over the fence and everything changed. I can remember people who have appeared totally hard against the Lord for years, and then suddenly, again with no warning whatsoever, suddenly they turned, started asking questions and then came to the Lord.
But how do you respond when God speaks – whether it is through the preacher on Sunday morning or through someone bringing you ‘a word'. Is the response, “Oh, that's nice” or is it, “Wow, God has spoken to me!” With Isaiah, I wonder how people responded to this? “Oh well, at least it's not one of his ‘gloom and doom' prophecies.” You bet it's not, it's an incredible hope-inspiring word, a bit like a word that comes early morning, “Get up, the sun is about to rise!” What do we do? Get up, get out there and watch the sky changing until that red fire gradually appears over the horizon and transforms the dark landscape. Do we watch the people around us in life, for signs of the Lord moving and speaking to them, preparing them for you to speak to? If God says, “You will have a child,” do you prepare a nursery? When He speaks words of vision about extending your home, do you start drawing up the plans? When He says “enlarge the place of your tent,” do you start thinking big and asking, “What do I need to do, Lord?”
Fulfilment? We said the second thing to consider is just how this word was fulfilled. Well there was little sign of it in the following centuries; in fact, life got worse in Israel and eventually came the Exile, after which the spiritual life of Israel still seemed to do little to impact the wider world. If was only when Jesus came and left and then the Holy Spirit was poured out that suddenly there were new children of God in abundance – and it did come through the family of Israel, for all the first Christians were Jews. Since that time the kingdom of God has continued to expand, the family of God has continued to grow, mostly through the Gentiles. Yet there are indications in Scripture that at the end the Jews will be used to bring a further harvest and truly their ‘household' will require a ‘bigger tent'.
Overcomers: But there is another dimension to this transformation that goes far beyond mere growth. Look: “ For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.” (54:3) There are many verses in the prophetic scriptures that indicate that God's intentions for Israel are that, instead of being the underdogs they will be the overcomers.
In fact it was right back there in the Law: “I f you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. …. (Deut 28:1) … “enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.” (v.7) “Dispossess nations” has echoes or reminders of the taking of Canaan at the original Exodus. God did it for them then, He can do it again in the future. “Settle in their desolate cities” suggests that when the ways of the Gentiles fail, Israel will step in and show God's alternative way.
Surely within these things, for us in the present, there is the suggestion that we who are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph 1:20, 2:6) while he rules in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1) are to know the same enabling in the Lord whereby we conquer sin and, working with Christ, triumph over his enemies that he will one day put under his feet completely (1 Cor 15:25). Our enemies are not physical but spiritual or moral or ethical. His enemies (1 Cor 15:25) are anything that is contrary to, in rebellion against, or detracting from, the will of God. His intent is that ‘in Christ' we reign over such things. Dare we believe that? Dare we work for that? May it be so.
Studies in Isaiah 54: 4. Fear Not!
Isa 54:4 “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”
It's about Redemption: History can be a curse. Guilt so often hangs over us. Shame follows us. We wonder if the past will mar the present and blight the future. In the following verse there is an amazing statement: “ the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer.” A year ago I found myself writing a series on ‘redemption'. Mostly we think of redemption as something the Lord does just when we come to Him but the truth is that every day of our lives, He is redeeming us. There are three things about redemption we should note.
1. An Ongoing Process: Very well, the first is that it is a process, an ongoing process. It started when we first turn to Christ and it will only be completed when we stand before him in heaven. It involved us being forgiven, our guilt being removed (i.e. us being justified), us being adopted into God's family, and being empowered by His Holy Spirit to live new lives.
2. Change: But then next, second, it is a process whereby Christ is working to change us; it is a process with a purpose. This process seeks to deal with our past in such a way that as much as possible the past will not inhibit who Christ is seeking to make us become today. Yes, often the memory of past failure remains but Christ uses it in the transforming process as both a reminder of what not to do again, and as a deterrent to keep from that particular failure. However, once we see the whole picture that we are laying out here, although it should humble us, that failure will no longer act as a weight that limits us today.
The Goal of Perfection: Very often we see this process of change as about moral or ethical behaviour but it is very much greater than that. Jesus once declared, “ Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) When something is perfect is cannot be improved upon, it lacks nothing. That is God and that is what He wants to work into our lives. There is nothing He thinks, says or does that can be improved upon. Is that true of you and me? Right! That is why we need Him to work this process out in us.
My Lacks: Let's consider how we fall short of perfection and so need to make it a goal to which we let Him draw us. First, my lack of knowledge; there is so much I don't know (about you, for example, and if I did know more it would mean I would have a better attitude towards you!) I need Him to teach me, inform me, bring me knowledge and understanding. Second, there is strength, mental, physical and spiritual. I need constant replenishing and refreshing and rest. Even when I am fully charged and refreshed, third, I need more grace, more wisdom, more insight, more everything else to cope with you, others, circumstances, difficulties, etc. etc. than I have got.
Therefore there are times, when running on my own resources, which may be good at times, that I still get it wrong and may react defensively, or with hostility. I may be unsure of myself and may therefore feel bad (guilty) about how I handle life, or maybe I allow myself to be hurt by your dealings with me. I need constant help to remind me of the truths of God's love and provision. We could expand these things considerably but they provide some starting thoughts for the idea of our lives being a process of change.
3. The Cross: Now we are considering three things, we said, about redemption and the third thing is that redemption is all about the Cross . Through his work on the Cross, Christ paid the price for our sin. His death, for all the wrongdoings of my entire life, satisfies justice and so I am freed from the Judge's sentence of death that such a life of sin deserves. He has bought my freedom by taking my punishment; the guilt has been dealt with. That is what redemption means – buying us back from the guilt and the sentence of death.
Now that act of redemption is applied to my life the moment I turn to Christ in surrender and repentance. From that second on, I am freed and as far as God is concerned from that second on I am His justified son. But the reality is that I still have free will – He never takes that from us – and so as I work my way through life, I make decisions and, even as we noted above, sometimes, because I am not yet perfect and am inadequate for the task of living blameless in this fallen world, I get it wrong. The apostle John understood this: “ My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins .” (1 Jn 2:1,2) The goal is that I don't sin, but if there are occasions when I trip over my feet and blow it, the moment I acknowledge my failure and confess it, seeking His forgiveness, it is there for me – because of what Christ has done on the Cross.
Back to the start: Very well, let's apply all this to our starting verse: “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.” We said that the past can be a curse if we let it, and so for Israel, just as with us, there is the memory of the past lurking there, of their failures and standing before them, so to speak, is Almighty Holy God. They need serious reassurance.
Reassurance: Is God going to smack us for our past? No! Is He going to hold up our failure for display to the whole world? No! Is He going to humiliate them for their failures? No! Instead He is going to so move that the blessing they will experience will completely over-shadow and obliterate all the past. That is what is so incredible about redemption: God never changes in His determination to do whatever needs to be done to draw us back onto the right course, to draw us back to Him, to heal up the past, bless us in the present, and present hope for the future. That is as much true for us today as it was for them then. We could add various caveats about the time He sometimes takes to work these things through, but let's just stick for the moment with the basics: God IS in the process of redeeming you and me and so we don't need to worry about all the negative aspects of this verse – no fear, no shame, no disgrace, no humiliation – all we need do is rejoice in the wonder of what He is doing in us – working us towards the perfection that will be ours in heaven, a life of ongoing change that is getting better all the time. Yes? May it be so! Hallelujah!
Studies in Isaiah 54: 5. The Big Picture
Isa 54:6 “The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit— a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God.
Two Approaches: As we look at this verse it appears that there can be two approaches to it. There is the approach that sees it in the context of the history of Israel and then the approach that sees it in the context of the history of the world. Put most simply we have a picture that portrays a wife who has been rejected, deserted and distressed, which can be either Israel or the world (and we will look at both) whom the Lord calls back to Himself. What follows in the ongoing verses is simply an expansion of that.
Israel, the wife: This has to be the primary meaning within a prophecy that comes from a Hebrew prophet to Israel in their time-space history. We must note the words in verse 6, “as if you were ”. It is a picture, an analogy, to describe what they are like. The implication is that the Lord is like their husband. He had called them - through Abram and then later through Moses – to become a uniquely identifiable people with a uniquely distinct relationship with Him, a relationship likened to that of a husband and wife.
When? Now there is always a problem with prophecy: it may be spoken out of time, about a future time, a future time that is not yet identifiable, and it may be fulfilled more than once! So the Lord speaks of a time when He had apparently given them up: “For a brief moment I abandoned you,” (v.7a) and, “In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment.” (v.8a) Now in Isa 36 we have an historical insert: “In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah's reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. Then the king of Assyria sent his field commander with a large army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem .” (Isa 36:1,2)
It was one of those numerous times when the Lord would discipline Israel – to bring them back to Himself – by using an enemy invader. The reality is that it happened so many times – the book of Judges is full of it – that it is difficult to suggest from our perspective when the Lord was referring to. The fact that Isaiah refers to Cyrus, who later becomes an instrument in the Lord's hand for getting Israel back to the Land after the Exile, suggests it could be that this prophecy is yet to be also used for encouraging Israel in that later time as well as in the present when Isaiah is actually speaking out these words.
A Changed People: The point of this word – in the present at least – is to reassure Israel that they were not utterly cast away. Now the truth is that the Lord does not just shrug his shoulders and pretend that sin has not happened; He always deals with it. The Exile, possibly many years later, was a time of purging Israel of their idolatry and of creating a new faithful heart in them. Thus when the remnant eventually started returning after some forty years, they came back with changed hearts. We need to realise this, that when the Lord speaks of restoring Israel after a time of disciplining, it is a purged people He will be restoring, a changed people. He's not going to just turn the clock back so that the old sinful attitudes are still there and He is doing nothing about it, He is going to change them. Previously, if He appeared to be doing nothing, it was simply that He was staying His hand of judgment to give them time to repent, and if they did not, then the judgment came to discipline them: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)
So when we try to understand the ways of the Lord, we should always understand that even though discipline comes, it comes with the purpose of changing us and the end result is to be a restored and changed people, a people who have been cleansed by the judgment (discipline) and had their hearts changed and transformed. Perhaps we should also note the tense at the beginning of verse 6: “The Lord will call you back…” There is a future sense to this. It is the Lord declaring His intention of what is yet to come, but that is how it is so often with prophecy; it is not merely stating God's will for the moment, it also so often declares it for the future.
The World: But the second approach we said above is about the world. The big picture of salvation after the Fall is perhaps portrayed here. This is the big picture of God's plans and purposes for the whole world. At the Fall we were cast away. His relationship with mankind – Adam and Eve – was fractured by sin. When I first studied this judgment of being cast out of the Garden, I marvelled that this was not the end of the ‘God + Mankind' equation. God did not totally abandon us, He gave us what we wanted, what Adam and Eve had revealed, autonomy, the freedom to live our lives as we will – with all the repercussions! We would learn, we had a need, of someone to save us from the mess that we all make of life. And thus it was that it was like He hovered in the background. It was clear that He spoke with Cain and Abel, had dealings with various others in the ensuing years, and eventually called Abram into relationship with Him.
The Anger of the Lord: The words of these verses that we are considering could equally be applied to the Fall and what followed it: “The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit— a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God.” (v.6) They had a relationship with the Lord to start with, but their sin meant that, “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment.“ (v.7,8) The folly of sin evokes righteous anger; it is a right response to wrong. In our defensiveness we so often fail to see this, perhaps only made clear when one of our children do wrong and provoke anger within us. Anger is a rising of indignation, a rising of displeasure at what has happened. The thing should not have happened, it was pure folly for it to happen - and of course that is true of all sin, we should know better, but there seems to be this blindness that is part of sin, so that we don't see the folly and so proceed with the sin. It is stupid and so any onlooker with an unbiased mind would feel a sense of anger that it ever happened. If we could see clearly we would feel it; God does see clearly and so feels it.
The Compassion of the Lord: “I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord your Redeemer.” We may settle in anger and fume; God never does. It may be right to respond with anger at our folly but God never leaves it there. He looks upon us and anger is tempered by compassion. He is love (1 Jn 4:8,16, Ex 34:6,7) and love always looks for the best in everyone else. Anger is appropriate but it is overwhelmed by compassion and out of that God acts to redeem us.
There is a mystery here that C.S.Lewis sought to address, that God appears to stand outside of history, like He looks down on history, as seen as a road below that He can see from beginning to end, but also He steps into history and acts as if everything is new. So although the Scriptures are clear that the Godhead planned salvation, seeing the effect of free-will, even before they made anything, when the Fall took place God's response to the moment was anger followed by compassion, and it was that compassion that moves Him to continue to interact with mankind. Never say God doesn't care for us, He does. He may discipline us, “for a little while” (Heb 12:10) but it is that “Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace.” (Heb 12:11) . Thus in these verses we also have the wonder of our salvation. Whenever we fail the Lord and come under His discipline, always remember it is but for a moment and the compassion of God will be there to restore us to Him: “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1) God's constant intent is to redeem us and that is what the whole of the Bible is all about. See it and rejoice in it. Hallelujah!
Studies in Isaiah 54: 6. Reassurance
Isa 54:9 “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again.
Seeking Understanding: Something I have observed in recent days is that in some quarters there is a tendency to explain away some of the Old Testament that seems difficult to understand. More often than not it is to do with the judgments of God but I have written about this extensively elsewhere, so I will not cover it now. Another area is to do with prophecy, as we now have here. We look at a passage and take what we read, failing to get understanding, and get confused. The truth is that when we study the Bible we need to go through several stages to get the most out of it. Stage 1 is seeing what it says. Yes, it is that simple. What does this passage actually say? Stage 2 is seeking for understanding of it. What is the bigger picture, how does it fit and, especially with prophecy, how does it seem to fit in history and how was it – or has it been – fulfilled? The third stage is seeking to see how the lessons or principles revealed can be applied to us today. Now I say all of this here, because what is being said is so enormous that we have to ask, when does the Lord want this applied?
Context: As we so often point out, context is important, so how do these present two verses fit into the chapter. Well, the chapter started with an analogy of Israel being like an abandoned wife – the Lord being her husband (v.1). The picture encourages this ‘abandoned woman' saying she will have many children and should therefore enlarge her home (v.2,3). He went on to say forget the past (v.4) for the Lord is a redeemer (v.5) who, although He had previously cast her aside (v.6-8), He will bring her back (v.7). It is possible that when Israel heard this prophecy, they might doubt it, and what now comes is the Lord's way of reassuring them. Perhaps a parallel illustration of this is found in the case of Gideon. “When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judg 6:12) There was the message of reassurance, but observe Gideon's response: “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?' But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Judg 6:13) Although the words came through an angel, the prevailing circumstances seemed to negate them. He needed further reassurance.
The Reassurance: So now we can look at our present verses. To reassure Israel the Lord parallels what He is now saying with what happened at the Flood: “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.” (v.9a) To understand this we need to go back to that account. The Lord had called Noah who had been obedient and so had come through the Flood with his family. The other side of the flood we read, “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.” (Gen 8:20) i.e. Noah's response to the flood was to worship God; he held onto a right attitude towards Him. He did not grumble about the flood and all that happened about his home and his past being wiped out, but responded with a right attitude and worshipped. It was in response to this that we find, “The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” (Gen 8:21) I don't know if you can see the enormity of this, but it is the Lord showing us that we can move His heart and thus reveal a completely different possibility for mankind.
Law and Grace: I have, when writing elsewhere about the judgments of the Lord (see ‘Judgments of a Loving God'), suggested that essentially the Bible reveals two sorts of judgment: disciplinary judgments that are designed (where the Lord sees it is possible) to change the hearts of men, and what I have called terminal judgments or ‘judgments of the last resort', i.e. people die because the Lord sees that is the only way to save the situation. (We always need to see this in the light of His words in Ezek 18:23,32, 33:11, 2 Pet 3:9 – the Lord never wants to bring terminal judgments but they are sometimes necessary if the Lord sees that repentance will not be forthcoming).
Thus the awfulness of the state of mankind just prior to the Flood (see Gen 6) was so terrible that it was only the righteousness of Noah that prevented complete extinction. So, back to our picture of Noah and the Flood, the Flood was God's demonstration of His power to bring judgment on evil as seen in Gen 6, indeed justice would demand such a thing but when the Lord sees the response of Noah (to worship) He sees the possibilities for mankind and He is moved in compassion to provide an alternative way of appeasing justice (the Cross). Now we have commented on this before, that the Lord appears to act both as God outside of space-time history and thus plans redemption through the Cross before Creation AND as God in history who responds to the present. Thus the Flood was a legitimate response to the call of justice, meeting the demands of ‘the Law' if you like, but out of it was revealed the genuine possibility of a good response from human beings, which opens up in turn the Lord's willingness to offer grace. But does He just turn a blind eye to our sin? Definitely not! Our Sin (and sins) are covered by the work of Christ on the Cross. His death acted as the sentence that satisfies justice and that is what applies here and now for Israel.
The Covenant of Peace: This same compassion comes through in these words: “So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord , who has compassion on you.” The covenant of peace is ultimately the Cross which covers all sin of all people through all time. The seriousness of sin was revealed through the Flood, but then also, as we've seen, the grace and mercy that can follow.
Application: So having spoken in picture language about a relationship to be restored, the Lord reassures Israel that this is possible because of the covenant that He instituted from before the foundation of the world through Christ. That covenant applied to Israel's present situation as much as t did after Noah. Noah is the means of reassurance that He brings to them now. There is more to be seen in these verses but we will see that in the next study.
Studies in Isaiah 54: 7. Loved
Isa 54: 10 “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord , who has compassion on you.
Grace Prevailing over Justice: In the previous study we saw how the Lord was using the analogy of Noah and the Flood to explain His faithfulness, we should say, in respect of Israel. Even as Noah had moved His heart and brought a promise of grace prevailing over justice, so that same grace would prevail today so that, although He had indeed cast them away for a moment because of their disobedience, now He would come to them and restore that previous relationship. We did go into verse 10 as we mentioned the covenant of peace, but there is something even more wonderful there that we must take hold of.
In a Shaken World: The first phrase of this present verse may be skimmed over by many (me included often) but it is highly significant: “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills removed.” In other words it doesn't matter how disastrous the world seems, God's love is going to be there. Now don't take this casually because very often (along with Chicken Licken) we feel the sky is falling down as things around us seem to deteriorate. At the time I write, the political landscapes of the UK and USA have been transformed and in the UK in particular (although some in the USA say they feel the same) chaos seems to ensue. For many this has created a world-weariness, almost a mental and emotional exhaustion that is only helped by turning off and ignoring the news.
But it is more than just than the political landscape. Older generations feel lost in a world that has been utterly transformed in their lifetime. The world has been shaken for them by technology. Younger generations complain that because of the self-centred carelessness of older generations they have been put into a situation where financially they are disadvantaged; their world has been shaken. But this ‘shaking' can be much more personal; when illness strikes or downsizing comes to your workplace and the job you have held for thirty years is suddenly gone, it comes like an earth-shattering loss. In many ways it feels like the earth is being shaken and things we have taken for granted for so long (the hills) are removed from our lives, and it makes us feel very vulnerable.
Need of Security: It is at such times that we desperately feel we need security. When the ‘ground is shaking' and when ‘the hills are being removed' we suddenly start thinking about these things. While everything was going along fine, we just took life for granted. There was food on the table, the sun shone and day followed day without a worry or care in sight. And then the ground shook. We felt it but it would pass quickly. But then it continued shaking and then ‘the hills were removed' and suddenly everything was different. It happens all the time in the Fallen World, especially this modern world where change is the name of the game every day it seems. It can be highly disconcerting but such shaking can wake us up to the realities of our life – we have taken so much for granted, we had become complacent with our relationship with the Lord, almost superficial if we are honest. Then comes the shaking – usually a loss, of a job, of health or of a loved one – and we start praying, we start crying out, “Are you there?” Of course He is but we had become things-focussed instead of God-focussed and so lost that sense.
The Word Comes: Then comes the word of the Lord: “my unfailing love for you will not be shaken.” The psalmist says the same thing: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” (Psa 46:1,2) He doesn't mention the word ‘love' there but that is what it is all about and why he does not need to fear. The earth may be shaken but God's love will not be shaken. David knew this same love: “save me because of your unfailing love.” (Psa 6:4) Whatever else might change, God's love would not. All other resources might run out, but God's love will never fail, will never be exhausted. Jeremiah was prophesying against the same thing when he declared, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jer 2:13) Not only had the people turned away from God who was an everlasting source of life and love, but they had tried to manufacture their own forms of provision and security and those always failed! No, God's love is unfailing, that is why He is so often referred to as ‘faithful' because He is unchanging.
Beware Appearances: I often teach on the fact that Jesus is seated at the Father's right hand ruling in the midst of his enemies, and will continue to reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet, and it is at such times that I sense that readers or listeners have the same query as Gideon had that we considered in the previous study. It is so common we need to repeat it here: if God is around, why are all these things happening? In another context recently I wrote the following:
Point One: we live in a Fallen World where, because of sin, things go wrong and people say and do nasty things because they have free will.
Point Two: God does not override our free will and so permits the world to proceed as it does with things going wrong and people acting badly BUT He does expect us, His children, to act as His representatives and to be salt and light in it.
Point Three: He a) expects us to change the circumstances and b) be changed by the circumstances. We are to be one of His means of bringing change in this world while being changed into Jesus' likeness as we do it.
That is the ‘big picture' that we need to remember. Jesus IS ruling but he doesn't do it with a heavy hand; he uses us (yes, he does sometimes move sovereignly without us as well) and sometimes waits for us to catch on to that, but the Father's love IS always there, it is unfailing and it does not change because we are slow to understand or slow to act. It is still there despite whatever we do. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) the apostle John declared. Hold that truth firmly, never let it go, despite the appearances of what is going on around you. He IS there for us at all times, every day. Hold that, rejoice in it and be at peace in whatever is going on.
Studies in Isaiah 54: 8. A Glorious Restored City
Isa 54:11 “Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will rebuild you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with lapis lazuli.
The Lashed City: In the opening verse of the chapter, Israel is compared to a barren, desolate woman. Now she is being described as having been lashed by the storms of life and, again, not comforted. Yet it is now a description of a city – “I will rebuild you…. foundations…. battlements….. gates….walls,” (v11,12) therefore a city that has been beaten (lashed) and is still smarting because of it – not comforted. It is reasonable to suggest that the city is Jerusalem, not merely the land, for Jerusalem was so often the focus of attack when enemies invaded and Jerusalem was the heart of Israel with the temple, the dwelling place of God, in its midst. Every time it happened – and it happened more than once – it was because the Lord lifted off His hand of protection from them because of their sin, and an enemy invader came against their unprotected state. Often, they were beaten and invariably depleted, ravished by those enemies, chastened, humbled, brought low, and until the Lord came and restored them, ‘not comforted'. Only He could bring that comfort that they needed, a reassurance of His loving presence that brought blessing with it. They are in one of those times, waiting for the comfort that only He could bring, smarting under the lashes of an enemy, with broken down walls, damaged gates, a ravished and tattered city. This was how it was certainly after the Exile, a city burned to the ground, a heap of ruins. Lashed? Understatement! But watch what follows.
A Rebuilt City: Her current state, that Isaiah speaks to, is beaten, lashed, broken down, but now the Lord says He will rebuild it: “I will rebuild you with stones of turquoise.” Wow, that's interesting. There is a footnote that the word is uncertain but it seems to be of a decorative if not a precious stone. This is not just a common building stone, this is something special! See how he goes on: “your foundations with lapis lazuli. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones.” (v.11,12) The picture he conveys is of a truly beautiful, outstanding, wonderful city, unlike anything else we know! We could speculate about the meaning of the individual stones but instead let's not lose the wonder of the overall picture: this is going to be an amazing city! It is perhaps but a glimmer of the New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven and revealed in Revelation 21. There it is revealed as ‘a bride' the people of encounter with the bridegroom, the people of God united eternally with their Saviour. (Rev 21:2). It is also the place of God's dwelling (Rev 21:3) i.e. the people of God are the dwelling place for God Himself, (true already in a measure in that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.)
A Taught People of Peace: But it is not only the structure if the city that is described, but also the life that follows the rebuilding: “All your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace.” (v.13). The talk of children speaks of the future, the next generation who will be restored to the Lord. They will come into such a relationship with Him that He will teach them. They – and we – need teaching; we need God to show us the way, the way to live, the way ahead. And what comes with this relationship? Peace. Indeed, “great will be their peace.” This has a sense of strength about it, this is an assured, strong peace, a peace that is not fragile but enduring. That is what it is like with the Lord. Yes, this is our inheritance and through the affairs of the world we can temporarily lose this peace, but the apostle Paul exhorts us, “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.” (Phil 4:6,7) There is the answer: reclaim your relationship in prayer and let His presence restore the peace that is rightly ours in Christ.
Fearless Righteousness: “In righteousness you will be established: Tyranny will be far from you; you will have nothing to fear. Terror will be far removed; it will not come near you.” (v.14) The truth is that righteousness means right living before God and as the Lord restores this ‘city', this people, drawing the next generation into relationship with Him, and teaches them, they will respond rightly and live rightly. That is God's objective for them. That is His desire for us if we could only see it. It is not to be religious but to live rightly according to God's will, God's design as revealed through His word and led by His Spirit. When we do that, we will know peace, we will know order, we will know blessing. With His hand upon us, His Spirit guiding us, we will know the goodness of life that God intends for us. I like the way the Living Bible puts this verse: “You will live under a government that is just and fair. Your enemies will stay far away; you will live in peace. Terror shall not come near.” When God's blessing is upon His people, this is the security we will have: good governance, protection.
National Failure: The trouble is that in today's age, as nations we are not the people of God, not living under His blessing and His protection because, as nations , we have turned asway from the Lord and live godlessly and unrighteously. Thus our governance is often questionable and we fear attacks from others and so often, therefore, talk about deterrents, and so on. But merely because a nation, as a whole, lives like this, it is does not mean that we as individuals have to and, as we seek to be godly and righteous, we may expect to know His blessing, His peace and His protection. Remember Jesus taught us to pray, ”lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” It is His intent that we know that deliverance from evil, that protection from the enemy. Now there is more to say on this but as it flows in the following verses we will pick it up in the next study.
To Recap: But before we leave this one, let's pick up the things we have seen here. Not only does the prophet bring us a picture of a distraught barren woman, he now also brings us a picture of a distressed city, one that had been lashed and beaten down but which now will be restored. But this is not casual, make-piece, making good some broken bits, this is a wholesale, total restoration using incredibly beautiful stones, to create an incredibly beautiful city like has never been known before. Such a city has never been built and so we must assume it is the city yet to come, the city the saints of old yearned for (see Heb 11:13-16). It is a vision to be held onto, a glorious future that the Lord promises His people. Whatever disasters we may know in this world in the present, there will come a time, a place, and experience that exceeds our wildest dreams, a place of such blessing that our present existence appears as a mere grey, drab existence in comparison. This is what we have to look forward to. Never let go of that.
Studies in Isaiah 54: 9. Security
Isa 54:14,15 Terror will be far removed; it will not come near you. If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing; whoever attacks you will surrender to you.
A Problem: There is a problem that immediately confronts us as we look at these verses: when could this have applied, or be applied in the present or future? For example, if we try applying this to Israel in Isaiah's day and in subsequent years, we find that this was patently untrue. The time of the Exile shows this with great clarity. Terror came near, they were attacked and they were taken away and God clearly declared many times, through both Jeremiah and through Ezekiel, that this was the work of His hands. And Nebuchadnezzar certainly did not surrender to them.
New Jerusalem? The cynical sceptic will simply say, well Isaiah obviously got it wrong, but that is not the only solution. When we considered the ‘afflicted city' being rebuilt in v.11 we suggested a strong likelihood that this referred to the New Jerusalem spoken of in Revelation. The description that we find ourselves with here, therefore, neatly fits the description of that future Jerusalem, where it says of God, He “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Rev 21:4) Yet there is still a problem: the picture of the New Jerusalem suggests total peace with no threats but this suggests a world where there are still threats although not coming against God's people.
Other Possibilities? So, the possibilities so far: Isaiah got it wrong – not likely. It refers to a time in eternity – not likely. So what does that leave us with? Well, we have been struggling to fit it into physical time-space history, so how about ‘spiritual history'? i.e. within the kingdom of God? We'll come to that in a moment, but there are other ‘physical solutions'. One might be that this yet applies to some yet future time in the economy of God when Israel stand strong and secure. Perhaps. Yet there is a further solution that is more appealing and that is that this is God's promise IF Israel are faithful and true – which, unfortunately, they never were. i.e. it is a possibility. I do believe that sometimes the Lord lays before us ‘possibilities', a vision of what could be. It is not a guarantee of what will be but is the Lord's heart of what He longs to come about, and yet which still relies on our obedient responses.
A Spiritual Conclusion: Various commentators have opted for this solution, that what is being said here applies to the realities of life ‘in Christ', life in the New Covenant kingdom of God. It is certainly a valid possibility. In Christ terror will be far removed; it will not come near you. In Christ we are told to “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.” (Phil 4:6,7) Again and again when the apostle Paul wrote he started off, “Grace and peace to you,” implying that God's resources (grace) and God's environment (peace) are to be two prime elements of life ‘in Christ'.
But death? The worst the enemy can do is kill the body; our soul and spirit have a guaranteed future in eternity with Christ. Jesus taught, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt 10:28) I wonder how many of us have this perspective, whereby we hold life lightly because we have an absolute certainty of an eternal future? Life in the early church was often uncertain in the face of persecution. Acts tells us that Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7), James was beheaded (Acts 12) and although Peter was spared at that time, he and nine others of the original twelve, history tells us, died as martyrs (Judas having committed suicide, and John died of old age). So we may have many assurances in Christ but being saved from death under persecution is not one of them.
Three Assurances: There are three assurances that follow. The intent of these verses, even though we cannot ascertain just when they apply, or in what form they apply, must be to bring reassurance. Perhaps we need to recap a little and see the context: “ All your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace. In righteousness you will be established: Tyranny will be far from you; you will have nothing to fear,” (vb.13,14) to which we might add, “from within,” for ‘tyranny' comes from within. ‘Terror' comes from outside. the context shows that Isaiah is portraying a future city that is secure from within and without. Can we imply, I wonder, that, “If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing; whoever attacks you will surrender to you,” refers to the internal workings of this ‘city', this future habitation of God's people, a place of peace and order, free from internal rumblings? This is the first assurance.
But then, second, there comes a further, almost strange assurance: “See, it is I who created the blacksmith who fans the coals into flame and forges a weapon fit for its work. And it is I who have created the destroyer to wreak havoc.” (v.16) There are times within the Old Testament history when it is clear that an invader bringing the judgmental discipline of the Lord, is coming at His bidding. Perhaps it is simply that He lifts off His hands of restraint and allows them access to Israel, sometimes perhaps he allows Satan to stir up Israel's enemies against them (see Job 1 & 2), all for the purpose of disciplining Israel and drawing them back to Himself. It is almost as if He is saying here, in this new city, no such things will ever be needed and so you will be able live securely and at peace in it, free from any fears of judgment. But it is a twofold security, against physical attack and against verbal attack: “no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.” (v.17a) Neither people nor words (which usually precede wars) will undermine you in this city.
But then come the closing words: “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord.” (v.17b) We might put it, this peace and security is the inheritance of all who serve me, and this decree is what can set their minds at peace in the future. And there again we find this suggestion that all that is being spoken of here is yet future. Trying to rationalise it and work out the ‘when' of all this might be confusing but the aim is quite clear – to bring assurance to the present inhabitants of the land and of Jerusalem: there is coming a future time of rebuilding, of creating a new city and when it comes it will herald a time of unparalleled peace and security. Perhaps to see that more clearly, we need just one more study in this chapter to create an overview of the entire chapter and catch something more of the wonder of it. Stay with me.
Studies in Isaiah 54: 10. Review
Isa 54:1,11 “Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child …. “Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will rebuild you with stones of turquoise.
Outline: As we review this chapter we may suggest the following structure:
The Present Anguishes: Isaiah presents us with two picture of Israel (or Jerusalem). The first is of a childness woman, who should have been a mother but never was. (v.1) The second is of a storm lashed city that has not been comforted (v.11a) Both pictures are of a people in desperate need of comfort and reassurance.
The Comfort Brought: Now when you look at the chapter, very little of it is spent in laying out these anguishes; the bulk of it is spent in bringing comfort to this barren woman, this beaten down city. The objective of this chapter is to comfort God's people who are feeling they are barren, who feel they are beaten down.
Comfort by Transformation: The call to the barren woman is to, “ burst into song, shout for joy.” Why? Because, “more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” (v.1) or, as the Message version puts it, “You're ending up with far more children than all those childbearing women.” It's a promise of what is yet to come, a flourishing family. Indeed, to cope with this enlarging family, make preparations it: “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes..” (v.2) Why? “For you will spread out to the right and to the left.” (v.3a) A picture of extensive growth, and yet it doesn't stop there for it will be growth that rises up above others and vanquishes enemies: “your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.” (v.3b)
Reassurance over the past: But, as if that is not enough, the Lord continues to reassure His people: “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.” i.e. it's all right, you don't have to fear the future, indeed, “You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.” (v.4) It's just ‘past history' we might say.
Reassurance about God: It's always important to remember who the Lord is. Four things in v.5! First, “For your Maker is your husband.” The one who brought you into existence is to be seen in a loving relationship context, not merely a distant all-powerful figure. Second, “the Lord Almighty is his name.” This One who speaks of relationship with you is God who is all-mighty and nothing is beyond His abilities. Third, “the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer.” He is the One who is at the heart of Israel's life and we should always remember, He is a Redeemer, He constantly works to get us back on track. Moreover, fourth, “he is called the God of all the earth.” He's not just God of Israel but of the whole earth, and yet He has chosen you to be a special people. The whole earth may be under His watchful eye, but His eyes are upon you in particular because He has chosen to enter into covenant with YOU. All this shouts, He's YOUR God and you are HIS cherished possession.
Disciplined only for a while: The past may have brought judgment, but with God that is never the end: “The Lord will call you back,” (v.6a) and so, “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back,” (v.7) and so – and note this is a threefold assurance – “I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” (v.8) The past involved judgment, the future is about restoration.
as an example: Now a further encouragement and reassurance.
The Flood had been a terrible judgment and yet Noah's response afterwards,
to worship God, had moved the Lord's heart never to repeat such a judgment.
Thus the Lord can now say that, although judgments may have come in the
past, “yet my unfailing love for you
will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” (v.10)
The Second Illustration: If a barren woman was the first illustration, he next uses a beaten down city as the next illustration: “Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted.” (v.11) But this city will be rebuilt with beautiful stones (v.11,12). Nothing like it has ever been seen before, which makes us suggest that it is the city of God of Revelation 21. It will be a place where the future generations will enter into a new, close relationship with God, characterised by peace (v.13) and righteousness (v.14). Because of that, internal upsets they knew in the past, and fears of invaders, likewise known in the past, will be just that, things of the past (v.14), and the Lord will ensure security for them (v.15). The truth is that God is the one who raises up agents of judgment (v.16) but that will never again, in this new city, be their experience. (v.17)
And So? Thus the prophet brings us two negative pictures of Israel, revealing their experiences of the past, but with them (and they are only briefly mentioned) comes a chapter full of encouraging reassurances about the future. She (Israel) may have appeared as a barren woman in the past, but she will appear as a mother of a large family in the future. She may have appeared as a broken down and chastised city in the past, but her future destiny is of a rebuilt city unlike anything known beforehand. This all says, turn away from the past and look to a new and glorious future, for that is what the Lord intends for you. Of course this is all about ‘the people of God', for that is what the ‘woman' and the ‘city' represented, seen as Israel in the past, but the whole Church (including believing Israel) in the future. Isaiah thus has a glimpse of a future that we only truly see with the help of John's Revelation. It is a picture and story of redemption, as the Lord reminds us, He is the Redeemer of His people. That, of course, is who we are even today, the redeemed people of God with a glorious future in front of us. Hallelujah!