Studies in Isaiah 54: 1. Isaiah’s Desolate Woman
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, “for 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.