Isaiah 54
Pulpit Commentary
Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the LORD.
Verses 1-10. - A PROMISE TO ISRAEL OF GREAT INCREASE, AND OF GOD'S PERSISTENT PROTECTION. There is no close connection between this chapter and the last, or even between this section and the preceding. Vers. 1-5 take up the thought of Isaiah 49:19-21, and expand it. Israel is assured of a great enlargement of her numbers, and bidden to rejoice thereat. She is then further comforted with a promise that she shall never be forsaken (vers. 6-10). Verse 1. - Sing, O barren. Israel in captivity is addressed as "barren," because, in the time of suffering, her numbers rather diminished than increased. Still, she is bidden to "sing" on account of the prospect that is opening upon her. She that is now desolate and solitary will soon have more children than she formerly had, when she was a married wife, enjoying the fellowship of Jehovah, her Husband (ver. 5). The "children" spoken of are in part those who gathered themselves together in Jerusalem and the adjacent territory after the issue of the decree of Cyrus (1 Chronicles 9:2-34; Ezra 2:1-65; Ezra 8:1-20; Nehemiah 7:6-72; Nehemiah 11:3-36), but mainly such as flocked in from the Gentiles, both before and after Christ's coming (see ver. 3).
Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes;
Verse 2. - Enlarge the place of thy tent (comp. Isaiah 33:20 and Jeremiah 10:20). The memory of the old nomadic life caused the "tent" to be the symbol and representative of the dwelling-place (comp. 1 Kings 12:16). Israel will have so many more children that her "tent" will need enlarging. The curtains; i.e. the tent-cloth (comp. Exodus 26 and 36, where the word used occurs repeatedly). Thy cords... thy stakes (comp. Exodus 35:18; Exodus 39:40, etc.). The ropes and tent-pegs, which kept the tent-cloth in place, are intended. The enlargement of the tent would make longer ropes and larger pegs necessary.
For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.
Verse 3. - For thou shalt break forth; or, thou shalt increase (see Genesis 30:30, 43; Exodus 1:12). An overflow, like that of the bursting out of water, is pointed at. On the right hand and on the left; i.e. "on all sides" (comp. Genesis 28:14). Thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles. The Christian Church is viewed as a continuation of the Jewish Church; and the conversion of nation after nation to the gospel is regarded as the extension of Jewish dominion over fresh lands. The cities of these lands - desolate hitherto, i.e. without godly inhabitants - will under these circumstances come to be inhabited; i.e. will be peopled by faithful men.
Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.
Verse 4. - Thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth; rather, of thy maidenhood; i.e. of the time when thou wert a maiden, before by the covenant of Sinai Jehowth became thy Husband (ver. 5). The "shame" of this period was 'the Egyptian bondage. Israel's later condition would be such that the very recollection of this bondage would fade away and cease. The reproach of thy widowhood. Israel became a "widow" when Jehovah withdrew his presence from her, when the Shechinah disappeared from the temple, and the temple itself was destroyed, and Jerusalem was a desolation, and the people captives in a far land. The special "reproach of her widowhood" was the Babylonian captivity, with the sins that had brought it about. This too would be forgotten in the good time to come, amid the glories of the Messianic kingdom.
For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called.
Verse 5. - For thy Maker is thine Husband; rather, for thy Husband is thy Maker. The verse is exegetical of the terms, "married with" in ver. 1, and "widowhood" in ver. 4. "I," says the prophet, "have called thee married and widowed, thereby yoking thee to a husband, for thou hast a Husband, namely, thy Maker." (The Hebrew has both words in the plural, to accord with the following Elohim.) This relationship of God to his Church is often asserted by the prophets (Jeremiah 3:14; Jeremiah 31:32; Hosea 2:19; Song of Solomon 1:4, etc.), and lies at the root of the oft-recurring metaphor by which idolatry is called "lewdness," "adultery," or "playing the whore." Thy Redeemer the Holy One; rather, thy Redeemer is the Holy One. (On the title itself, see the comment on Isaiah 1:4.) The God of the whole earth (comp. Psalm 24:1; Psalm 47:2, 7; Psalm 133:18, etc.). Materially, he was always this. Now, from this time, he will be "God of the whole earth" morally; not God of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles (see Romans 3:29).
For the LORD hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God.
Verse 6. - For the Lord hath called thee; i.e. recalled thee to himself - summoned thee to return, and once more resume the office of a wife. As a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit; i.e. as one whom her husband has cast off, and whose spirit is grieved by the repudiation. No doubt a large number of the captives had the same spirit of penitence as Daniel (Daniel 9:5-19). A wife of youth. One wooed and won in youth, therefore more dearly loved, more regretfully repudiated, more joyfully restored when seen to be penitent. When thou wast refused; rather, when she has been cast off. Jehovah takes back Israel into the old relationship, as a man takes back "the wife of his youth," when she has been for a long time "cast off."
For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.
Verses 7, 8. - For a small moment have I forsaken thee. The sixty or seventy years of the Captivity were but as a moment of time compared with the long ages during which God had tenderly watched over and protected his Church, and, still more, compared with the eternity during which he was now about to show himself her constant Guardian and Protector. There had been a little wrath; or rather, one burst of wrath; and then Mercy had resumed her sway. The face hid for a moment had been allowed once more to shine upon the afflicted people; and the momentary indignation would be followed by, and swallowed up in, ever-lasting kindness (compare above, Isaiah 26:20 and Psalm 30:5, "His anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning").
In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer.
For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee.
Verse 9. - This is as the waters of Noah unto me. The existing calamity - Israel submerged in the flood of Babylonian captivity-is as it were a repetition of the calamity of the Deluge in God's eyes. Its object is to purify his Church, as the object of the Flood was to purify the world. A righteous household survived in the one case; a righteous remnant would go forth in the other. And as God bound himself in Noah's time not to repeat the calamity of the Deluge, so now he binds himself not again to submerge his Church in a captivity like the Babylonian. It has been said that the promise was not kept, since the Jewish Church was, in A.D. , carried captive by the Romans. But the prophet views the Jewish Church as continued in the Christian, into which all its better and more spiritual members passed at the first preaching of the gospel; and the promise here made is thus parallel to that of our Lord, "Upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). Much as the Christian Church has suffered from the world, it has never been in like cases with the Jewish Church in Babylon, and, as God is faithful, never will be reduced to such extremity. As I have sworn; i.e. "pledged myself." It does not appear from Genesis 8:20-22 or Genesis 9:8-17 that God actually bound himself by oath. So have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. That is to say, not to the same extent, not so as to visit her with the same punishment.
For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the LORD that hath mercy on thee.
Verse 10. - The mountains shall depart... but my kindness shall not depart (comp. Matthew 24:35, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away"). Everything material may fail, depart, perish; but God's promises remain firm and secure for ever. The covenant of my peace; or, my covenant of peace - any promise which God makes to his creatures for their advantage (comp. Numbers 25:12; Ezekiel 34:25; Ezekiel 37:26; Malachi 2:5). Here there is a special allusion to the promise just made and confirmed by oath (ver. 9).
O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.
Verses 11-17. - THE GLORY OF THE NEW JERUSALEM, AND THE HAPPINESS OF ITS INHABITANTS. Hitherto Israel has been addressed; now the direct object of address is Jerusalem. The eye of the prophet passes, however, with a glance, from the actual present to the far-distant future, and sees the Zion of God in her heavenly setting, all bedecked with precious stones, as she was seen by the exile of Patmos more than seven centuries later (Revelation 21:16-21). After briefly describing the heavenly city, he passes to her inhabitants, and promises them peace, protection, and righteousness. Verse 11. - O thou afflicted (comp. Isaiah 49:14-17). Jerusalem is seen as she was during the Captivity - "afflicted" by God's hand, vexed with all his storms, and not yet comforted (Comp. Isaiah 64:10, 11). Then a fresh vision obliterates the mournful sight. I will lay thy stones with fair colours; literally, I will lay thy stones in antimony; i.e. I will give them a setting and adornment like that which beautiful women were in the habit of giving to their eyes when they wished to attract admiration (see 2 Kings 9:30). Puk, or antimony, was used to stain both the upper and the under eyelid, in order to increase the apparent lustre of the eye, and so impart to it greater beauty. The passage is not to be understood as implying that coloured marbles were ever really set in antimony. And lay thy foundations with sapphires; or, make thy foundations of sapphires. In Revelation the first foundation is "jasper," the second "sapphire" (Revelation 21:19). Sapphire was the foundation on which the throne of God appeared to be set, when it was seen by Moses, Aaron, and the seventy elders (Exodus 24:10). The throne itself had the appearance of sapphire, as seen by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:26; Ezekiel 10:1). Sapphire is the hue of heaven.
And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.
Verse 12. - I will make thy windows of agates. Most moderns translate, "I will make thy battlements," or "thy pinnacles of rubies." The exact meaning is very doubtful. Thy gates of carbuncles. In the Revelation of St. John the gates are each of them composed of one pearl (Revelation 21:21) - the pearl betokening purity, the carbuncle the glow of devotional feeling. We must not expect consistency in descriptions which are entirely allegorical. All thy borders of pleasant stones; or, all thy boundaries. An enclosing wall seems to be meant (comp. Revelation 21:17).
And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children.
Verse 13. - All thy children shall be taught of the Lord (comp. Isaiah 44:3; Jeremiah 31:33, 34; Ezekiel 11:19; Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17, 18, etc.). Christians are all of them "taught of God" (John 6:45 1 Thessalonians 4:9). The "anointing," which they have from the Holy Ghost, "teaches them, and is truth, and is no lie" (1 John 2:27), and causes them to "know all things" (1 John 2:20). And great shall be the peace of thy children. Messiah was to be "the Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6). His birth heralded the coming of "peace on earth" (Luke 2:14). So far forth as men are true Christians, does peace reign in the conscience and show itself in the life. Externally there may be persecution, tumult, wars, fightings; but internally, in each heart, there will be a "peace that passes all understanding" (Philippians 4:7). God "keeps in perfect peace" those" whose minds are stayed on him" (Isaiah 26:3).
In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee.
Verse 14. - In righteousness shalt thou be established; rather, through righteousness. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked" (Isaiah 48:22); and conversely, where righteousness abounds, peace prevails, and the nation "is established." Thou shalt be far from oppression; rather, be thou far from anxiety (Delitzsch). Thou shalt not fear; rather, thou needest not fear. There is no danger - nothing to be afraid cf. "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain" (Isaiah 11:9). So long as thou art "established through righteousness," there shall no harm happen unto thee.
Behold, they shall surely gather together, but not by me: whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake.
Verse 15. - Behold, they shall surely gather together, etc.; rather, behold, should they gather themselves together; i.e. should enemies collect and threaten thee with harm, be assured that the attack is not by me - not my doing - and that, therefore, it will come to nought. All those who gather together against thee shall fall - i.e. stumble and be overthrown - through striking against thee. The rendering of the Authorized Version, "for thy sake," is quite indefensible.
Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy.
Verse 16. - Behold, I have created, etc. The Church is encouraged to fear no danger by being reminded that all power to do hurt is from God. Whether it be the smith that forges a weapon, or the waster that destroys and lays waste whole countries, or any other worker of woe to man, all are equally brought into being, and sustained in life, by God. None can do a hurt that God does not allow. The smith that bloweth the coals. In ancient times the smith worked his metal into shape by the help of a blow-pipe, which he blew himself (see Rosellini, 'Monumenti Civili,' pl. 51, fig 4, and pl. 52, fig. 4). For his work; or, for its work: i.e. destruction. The waster; i.e. the conquering king, such as Tiglath-Pileser, Sargon, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus.
No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD.
Verse 17. - No weapon... every tongue. Whether weapons are used against Israel, or whether she is attacked, as in Sennacherib's time, by "the tongue that speaketh proud things" (Isaiah 36:4-20; Isaiah 37:10-13), the result will he the same. She will triumph over her enemies, and condemn them or put them to shame. Her security is her righteousness, which she derives from Jehovah (comp. Isaiah 45:24, 25).

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