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Deeper Commentary

Isaiah 54:1 Sing, barren, you who didn’t bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you who did not travail with child- The allusion is to Sarah, to whom the exiles had earlier been bidden to "look" for inspiration (Is. 51:2). Sarah in her time of child-birth is likened to us all as we enter the Kingdom, full of joy (Is. 54:1-4); and yet at that time she was eaten up with pride and joy that she could now triumph over her rival; see on Gen. 21:10. And yet Sarah at that time is seen from a righteous perspective, counted as righteous, in that she is a type of us as we enter the Kingdom. God's mercy to Sarah and Abraham is repeated to us daily.

It could also be that what is in view here are spiritual children. The Divine hope was that the lack of spiritual 'children' amongst the exiles, repentant converts to the prophetic message, was going to be replaced by such "children" from among the Gentiles.


For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, says Yahweh- The two women represent Zion past and present. When she had been married to Yahweh she was barren; but the paradox is that now she was "desolate" she was going to have children, and she would do so without going through "travail" for them (Gal. 4:27). Gal. 4:27 confirms this interpretation and develops it, connecting unbelieving Israel with the barren woman and the largely Gentile church with the fruitful one.

The idea of God being destroyed in the destruction of His people (see on Jer. 6:26) may be the basis of the descriptions of Zion as being left widowed (Lam. 1:1; Is. 54:1-8). We ask the question- if she was a widow, who died? Her husband, God, was as it were dead. The very idea of the death of God is awful and obnoxious. But this was and is the depth of God’s feelings at His peoples’ destruction.

Isaiah 54:2 Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of your habitations; don’t spare: lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes-
They would need more space for all the children- the Gentile converts who would be made seeing that the Jews were unresponsive (:1). This extension of her tents meant enlarging the boundaries of the land (:3). The implication could even be that the further they lengthened their tent cords, the more Gentile converts would come in. "The place" of the tent, the territory where it was pitched, had to be expanded. God's redeemed family was to be extended beyond the limits of the eretz promised to Abraham.

Isaiah so often uses the idea of ‘stretching out’ the Heavens with reference to His creation of His new Kingdom (Isaiah 40:22; Is. 42:5; 44:24; 45:15; 51:13; 65:17,18). Zechariah 1:6 cp. 12:1 show that to stretch out Jerusalem is parallel with stretching out the ‘heavens’. The ‘singing’ of the heavens refers to Judah’s intended joy at the restoration (Isaiah 49:13 cp. 48:20). Israel were being told to peg out their tent as wide and far as they could; because this would be the extent of their Kingdom. The Kingdom would be as ‘large’ for them as they had vision for in this life.

Isaiah 54:3 For you shall spread out on the right hand and on the left; and your seed shall possess the nations-
See on :2.
GNB "You will extend your boundaries on all sides; your people will get back the land that the other nations now occupy". The idea is that Israel would possess all the nations within the eretz promised to Abraham, and yet expand those borders. The Abrahamic promise was that the seed would possess the gate of their enemies- the nations on the edges of and bordering on the eretz (Gen. 22:17; 24:60). 

And make the desolate cities to be inhabited- At the restoration the temple still lay “waste” (Hag. 1:4,9) just as it had lain “desolate” [s.w. Jer. 33:10,12] after the Babylonian destruction. The ‘restoration’ was in fact not really a restoration at all, in God’s eyes. Thus Ezra sat down desolate [AV “astonied”] at the news of Judah’s apostasy in marrying the surrounding women; using the very same word as frequently used to describe the ‘desolate’ Jerusalem that was to be rebuilt (Ezra 9:3 cp. Is. 49:8,19; 54:3; 61:4). He tore his priestly garment (Ezra 9:3), as if he realized that all Ezekiel’s prophesies about those priestly garments now couldn’t come true (s.w. Ez. 42:14; 44:17,19). Is. 58:12,13 prophesied that the acceptable rebuilding of Zion was dependent upon Judah keeping the Sabbath acceptably; and yet Nehemiah’s record makes clear their tragic abuse of the Sabbath at the time of the restoration; and this therefore meant that the rebuilding of the temple and city were not going to fulfill the Messianic prophecies about them which existed.

Isaiah 54:4 Don’t be afraid; for you shall not be ashamed: neither be confounded; for you shall not be disappointed-
Harmonizing with the second half of the verse, LXX has "Fear not, because thou has been put to shame, neither be confounded, because thou was reproached". The shame of the Babylonian captivity was strong in their reasoning; they feared leaving Babylon lest such shame be repeated. It was to be the makers of idols who were "confounded" (s.w. Is. 41:11; 45:16) and only the true Israel would not be "confounded" (Is. 45:17; 54:4). The sinners in Israel had refused to be confounded or ashamed of their sins (Jer. 3:3 s.w.) and so they would be shamed in condemnation. Repentance involves an imagination of ourselves coming to judgment day and being condemned, and feeling shame for that; that is how we shall not be ashamed. And it is the servant alone who shall not be ashamed / confounded because of His righteousness (Is. 50:7). Our identity with Him removes that shame. If we condemn ourselves, we shall not be condemned (1 Cor. 11:31). The enemies of Israel would perish alongside the apostate within Israel, in the same judgment.

Yahweh had promised support for them if they returned to the land; He would preserve them on the way. Consider Is. 50:10: “Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice [s.w. Ezra 1:1 re the proclamation of Cyrus] of his servant [i.e. Cyrus, Is. 45:1], that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God”. Yet Ezra was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers to guard them on the journey only because he had earlier told the king that Yahweh would be with them (Ezra 8:22), as if he really did want the support but was ashamed to ask for it. He disallowed Isaiah’s prophesy that the restored Israel would never be ashamed [s.w. Ezra 8:22; 9:6] nor confounded (Is. 45:17; 49:23; 54:4). Nehemiah accepted such support when he came up from Babylon (Neh. 2:9).

For you shall forget the shame of your youth; and the reproach of your widowhood you shall remember no more- Their widowhood implied their husband Yahweh had as it were died; see on :1.

Isaiah 54:5 For your Maker is your husband; Yahweh of Armies is His name: and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; the God of the whole earth shall He be called-
As explained on :2,3, the entire eretz promised to Abraham would convert to Yahweh. LXX "He that delivered thee, He is the God of Israel, and shall be called so by the whole earth".  And this could have potentially happened had the exiles returned in faith and repentance. 
"The Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth"- a phrase used in Zechariah regarding the Angel co-ordinating the restoration.

Israel is so often set up as the bride of God (Is. 54:5; 61:10; 62:4,5; Jer. 2:2; 3:14; Hos. 2:19,20). This is why any infidelity of theirs to God is spoken of as adultery (Mal. 2:11; Lev. 17:7; 20:5,6; Dt. 31:16; Jud. 2:17; 8:27,33; Hos. 9:1). The very language of Israel 'selling themselves to do iniquity' uses the image of prostitution. This is how God feels our even temporary and fleeting acts and thoughts of unfaithfulness. This is why God is jealous for Israel (Ex. 20:15; 34:14; Dt. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15)- because His undivided love for them is so exclusive. He expects them to be totally His

Isaiah 54:6 For Yahweh has called you as a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even a wife of youth, when she is cast off, says your God
- see on Zech. 11:10,11. God speaks as if He died, and therefore Israel was left as a widow (Is. 54:4,6); see on :1. "Cast off" is the term found later in the prophets: “My God will cast them away” (Hos. 9:17; Is. 54:6); the same Hebrew word occurs when God says He would “reject” Israel (Hos. 4:6). But even when Israel were to be in the land of their enemies as punishment for their sins, “I will not cast them away” [s.w.] (Lev. 26:44). God will not cast away Israel (Is. 41:9). Only if Heaven can be measured will God cast away Israel (Jer. 31:37). God has not cast away His people (Rom. 11:2). We see here the deep tension within God's mind as He considers His status and position toward His unfaithful people. He here compares Himself to a young man hopelessly in love with a woman (Israel) who was really no good, a man who took the blame when it was undoubtedly her fault (Is. 54:6,7), grieving that she wouldn't return to Him (Am. 4:8 etc.). "I am broken with their whorish heart... I am crushed" (Ez. 6:9; Jer. 8:21 NIV). God likens Himself to a broken man because of Israel's fickleness. He went through the pain of the man who knows He has been forgotten by the woman he still desperately remembers (Hos. 2:13).

Isaiah 54:7 For a small moment have I forsaken you; but with great mercies will I gather you-
But even in this small moment [intended to be 70 years], He was watering them and caring for them. He is involved "every moment" in the life of His people; Job, presented as the suffering exiles, came to realize this (Is. 27:3 cp. Job 7:18 s.w.).

The sufferings of Christ on the cross have connections with the punishments for Israel's sins (e.g. being offered gall to drink = Jer. 8:14; Lam. 3:5). Israel were temporarily forsaken by God because of their sins (Is. 49:14; 54:7), and therefore so was the Lord. He too was chastened with the rod of men "and with the stripes of the children of men", i.e. Israel (Is. 53:5; 1 Pet. 2:24; Mic. 5:1), in His death on the cross.

The deathless love of Hosea for Gomer, the very intensity and height of it, in itself highlights the tragedy of God. That His love, yes, the passion and longing of God Himself, was rejected by His people. There are some reasons to think that the book of Hosea was rewritten (under inspiration) during the captivity. Isaiah had explained here that although God and Israel had departed from each other, they would come together again by Israel being regathered- i.e. by their return from Babylon to the land. And perhaps Hosea was rewritten at the same time, as an appeal for the Jews to ‘return’ to their God, i.e. to return to Judah. And yet, so tragically, whilst they all avowed their allegiance to Yahweh, generously supported the few who did return… the majority of the Jews didn’t return to their God. They chose the soft life in Babylon, where they remained. It’s why the close of the book of Esther is so sad- the Jews are there in prosperity and popularity in Babylon, no longer weeping by the rivers of Babylon.

Isaiah 54:8 In overflowing wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; but with everlasting loving kindness will I have mercy on you-
We read of the anger of God "for a moment" (Ps. 30:5; Is. 54:7,8), and of His wrath coming and going, leaving Him "calm" and no longer angry (Ez. 16:42). When we sin, we provoke God to anger- i.e. at a point in time, God sees our sin, and becomes angry. This is attested many times in Scripture. But it's meaningless if God is somehow outside of our time and emotions. The very use of the terms 'remembering' and 'forgetting' suggest God is so fully willing to enter into our kind of time; for a Being cannot forget and remember simultaneously, an element of time is involved. Likewise at times we read of God being slow to anger (Ex. 34:6), at others, of Him not restraining His anger, or restraining it (Ps. 78:38; Is. 48:9; Lam. 2:8; Ez. 20:22), and holding His peace (Is. 57:11; Ps. 50:21), and being provoked to anger by the bad behaviour of His covenant people (Dt. 32:21; Ps. 78:58; Is. 65:3; Jer. 8:19). God clearly has emotions of a kind which are not unrelated to the emotions we experience, as beings made in His image. But those emotions involve a time factor in order to be emotions.

The prophets spoke of the amazing grace and eternal love of God for Israel, how His wrath endured but for a moment (Is. 54:8; 57:16); and yet Israel asked: “Will He be angry for ever?” (Jer. 3:5). It was more than frustrating for the prophets; they shared God’s feelings of having poured out so great a love, to see it ignored and disregarded, no time to look at it, too busy sowing my seeds, weeding my garden, having coffee…

Says Yahweh your Redeemer- As Hosea ‘redeemed’ Gomer in His attempt to force through His fantasy for her (Hos. 3:1), so Yahweh is repeatedly described in Isaiah as Israel’s go’el , redeemer (Is. 41:14; Is. 43:14; Is. 44:6,24; Is. 47:4; Is. 48:17; Is. 49:7,26; Is. 54:5,8). The redeemer could redeem a close relative from slavery or repurchase property lost during hard times (Lev. 25:25,26, 47-55; Ruth 2:20; Ruth 3:9,12). The redeemer was also the avenger of blood (Num. 35:9-28; Josh. 20:3,9). All these ideas were relevant to Yahweh’s relationship to Judah in captivity. But the promised freedom didn’t come- even under Nehemiah, Judah was still a province within the Persian empire. And those who returned complained: “We are slaves this day in the land you gave…” (Neh. 9:36). The wonderful prophecies of freedom and redemption from slavery weren’t realized in practice, because of the selfishness of the more wealthy Jews. And how often is it that the freedom potentially enabled for those redeemed in Christ is in practice denied them by their autocratic and abusive brethren

Isaiah 54:9 For this is like the waters of Noah to Me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah shall no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I will not be angry with you, nor rebuke you-
LXX offers "From the time of the water of Noe this is my purpose". The idea is that out of judgment comes a new creation, where the wrath of God doesn't figure because it has as it were been dealt with through the judgments. What is in view is a time when His judgments shall never again need to be revealed upon His people. This could have happened at the restoration but it evidently didn't, and all this is therefore reapplied to the time of the Lord's return.

Isaiah 54:10 For the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed; but My loving kindness shall not depart from you-
The departure of the mountains may refer to the huge geological changes at the time of the flood, but the mountains also figuratively refer to the nations and kingdoms which would be subsumed beneath the mountain of Yahweh's Kingdom- which could have come when the little stone of the exiles were cut out of the mountain of Babylon / Persia and returned to the land. But another, longer term fulfilment of the image prophecy of Dan. 2 had to come into play. As discussed there, the metals of the image initially represented "kings", and the application to "kingdoms" was brought about by the refusal of the exiles to repent and act as the little stone destroying the image of Babylon.

Neither shall My covenant of peace be removed, says Yahweh who has mercy on you- Every Israelite was intended to be a priest; they were to be "a Kingdom of priests". The "covenant of my peace" was with both Israel (Is. 54:10) and the priesthood (Mal. 2:5). The same is true of spiritual Israel; "a spiritual house, an holy priesthood" (1 Pet. 2:5). But the covenant in view was likely the new covenant of peace with God which the exiles could have accepted (Ez. 20; Jer. 31).

Isaiah 54:11 You afflicted-
This is the word usually translated "poor" in the material sense. It was the poor who were to enthuse about the reestablishment of Zion (Is. 14:32; 41:17; 66:2 s.w.). The book of Esther makes clear that there were many wealthy Jews in Babylon / Persia. It was the simple pull of materialism which kept many of them from responding to the Gospel of quitting all that for the sake of the restored Kingdom of God. And it is the same today where "to the poor the Gospel is preached" with most response.

Tossed with storms- The usual word for "whirlwind", the symbol of God's judgment which had scattered them in exile. It is also the term used for Jonah's experience in the storm (Jonah 1:11,13); and he is to be read as representative of a disbelieving Israel.

And not comforted- The "comfort" of Is. 40 had been offered to them, but they had refused. But here God as it were feels sorry for them even in their "not comforted" position, which was due to their refusal of His comfort. Such is His grace and His earnest  desire to as it were force through, as far as legitimate, His saving purpose with His people.

Behold, I will set your stones in beautiful colours, and lay your foundations with sapphires- The “stones” were laid (Nehemiah 4:2 s.w.), but not with colours, as could have been (Is. 54:11-14). And neither were the foundation stones gemstones, as could have been. This prophecy was therefore reapplied in Revelation to the things of the Kingdom to be established at the Lord’s return.

Isaiah 54:12 I will make your pinnacles of rubies, and your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones-
LXX "and thy gates crystal"; GNB "and the wall around you with jewels"; see on :11. This is all alluded to in the description of the new Jerusalem in Rev. 21,22. It could've come true at the time of the exiles, had they repented; but is deferred to the second coming of the Lord Jesus.

Isaiah 54:13 All your children shall be taught of Yahweh; and great shall be the peace of your children-
Their children were not taught of Yahweh, because the priests were lazy to do so (Mal. 2). And so Yahweh Himself (who is speaking here) will teach them; hence GNB "I myself will teach your people". Teaching was envisaged as going forth from the restored Zion (Is. 2:2-4). But many of the exiles preferred to remain in exile because they likely excused themselves with the argument that remaining would be better for their children.

Isaiah 54:14 In righteousness you shall be established: you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not be afraid; and from terror, for it shall not come near you-
This could be an appeal for the exiles to act rightly and justly so that the Kingdom could come about. Hence LXX "abstain from injustice, and thou shalt not fear; and trembling shall not come nigh thee".

Isaiah 54:15 Behold, they may gather together, but not by Me: whoever shall gather together against you shall fall because of you-
The idea may be that whoever now attacks Judah, would not be doing so under God's direction as had previously been the case. And they would therefore face His wrath and destruction (:17). LXX "Behold, strangers shall come to thee by me, and shall sojourn with thee, and shall run to thee for refuge".

Isaiah 54:16 Behold, I have created the smith who blows the fire of coals, and brings forth a weapon for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy-
This leads on to the statement in :17 that the forming of any weapon against Israel is doomed. The creators were themselves created, by God- including those who had been created to destroy God's people in judgment. Both evil and good were from God (Is. 45:5-7). These who were created by God to destroy contrast with the category noted in :15, who were not sent by God in this mission.

Isaiah 54:17 No weapon that is formed against you will prevail-
The "weapon" is that of :16. The exiles imagined all manner of opposition if they were to accept the prophetic call to quit Babylon / Persia and return to Judah. But God's promise was that they would leave in peace, be led by His visible presence and have the natural creation bursting into applause on the way (see on Is. 55:12). But they doubted that, focusing upon all the human devices ["weapons"] which they imagined might stand in the way. So many today likewise resist the call of the Gospel of the restored Kingdom of God for the same reasons. The word for "prevail" is used four times in the record of Rebekah's journey from the east (where the exiles were) to the land of promise; it was indeed made prosperous (Gen. 24:21,40,42,56). And their journey to the land of the Kingdom likewise would have been made prosperous, and no opposition to it could have prospered with God on their side. The prophetic word of the restoration was to prosper and achieve their return and revival (Is. 55:11).

And you will condemn every tongue that rises against you in judgement- See on Is. 51:1,6,7. As explained on Is. 50:8, we need not fear insults nor false accusation from men because we shall ultimately be justified, and even now have righteousness imputed to us. And the exiles were invited to believe that, as they imagined all the verbal opposition they might encounter by returning to Judah.

This is the heritage of the servants of Yahweh, and their righteousness which is of Me, says Yahweh- This again refers to what Paul would term imputed righteousness, counting right those who believe in God's grace. LXX "ye shall be righteous before me".