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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Isaiah 54

 

 

Verse 1

The theme of the barrenness of human strength and the bounty that the Lord can provide supernaturally is common in both Testaments (e.g, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, Elizabeth, et al.). Here we have another instance of rejoicing because God would miraculously bless those who, because of unbelief, were formerly spiritually barren and unproductive (cf. Isaiah 51:1-3; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Galatians 4:27). They would become more fruitful than those who enjoy blessings apart from a relationship with God. It would be cruel to ask a barren woman to sing for joy unless you gave her what would make her happy. But that is precisely what Isaiah did because of what the Lord would do.

"Just as God could make a barren Sarah more fruitful than a fertile Hagar, so he can take those who are "dead in trespasses and sins" ( Ephesians 2:1, AV) and use them to bring abundant blessings to the entire world." [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66 , p416.]


Verses 1-10

The restored wife54:1-10

The prophet emphasized the gracious character of Yahweh as the source of restoration for His people. Returning to the metaphor of the Lord"s people as his wife ( Isaiah 51:17-20), Isaiah presented the joyful prospect of reconciliation due to the Servant"s work. Significantly, the name "Zion," which has been prominent in Isaiah 49:14 to Isaiah 52:8, does not appear again until Isaiah 59:20. Zion is the personification of Israel. In the present passage, however, the absence of the name "Zion" suggests that a larger field of God"s people is in view here, not just Israel but all the redeemed. However, the many allusions to Israel in this passage focus on a future for Israel. [Note: See J. Martin, pp1109-10 , for an exposition that limits the people of God to Israel.] If the people of God are only Israel here, are they only Israel in Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12? Did the Servant die only for Israel? Obviously He did not.

"The only appropriate response to a great work of God is joyous praise, which is exactly what we find here, not for the first time (cf. e.g, Isaiah 12:5; Isaiah 26:1; Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 42:10-11), nor for the last (cf. Isaiah 61:10-11)." [Note: Grogan, p308.]


Verse 2

Women were responsible to erect and maintain the family tents in the ancient Near East, so it was appropriate for the Lord to call this formerly barren woman to enlarge her tent. She should prepare for a larger family with urgency and exuberance (cf. Jeremiah 10:20). The figure is an old one reaching back into the patriarchal period of Israel"s history and the wilderness wanderings. Most Israelites did not live in tents in Isaiah"s day. This type of living recalls, therefore, the Lord"s faithfulness to the patriarchs in fulfilling His promises to them, and to the Israelites, in bringing them into the Promised Land.


Verse 3

The number of God"s people would increase, as God promised Abraham ( Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 12:7; Genesis 28:14). Future generations, from Isaiah"s perspective, would dispossess the nations (cf. the conquest of the land, Deuteronomy 9:1; Deuteronomy 11:23; Deuteronomy 12:2; Deuteronomy 31:3). Believers would take over what had belonged to unbelievers (cf. Matthew 5:5).

"Many Gentiles will undoubtedly be surprised and even chagrined to find that Israel is to have the leading place in the earth." [Note: A. Martin, Isaiah . . ., p102.]


Verse 4

God"s third command (cf. Isaiah 54:1-2) was not to fear. These were not idle promises; God would stand behind them and bring them to pass. Sarah initially felt ashamed because she did not believe the Lord would give her a child ( Genesis 18:12-14; cf. Genesis 16:4; 1 Samuel 1:6; 1 Samuel 1:25; Luke 1:25). Nevertheless, God stood by His promise, gave her a child, and she had no reason to feel ashamed. The relative barrenness of God"s people throughout their lifetime would end, and their reproach would pass away. Israel"s youth included Egyptian slavery (cf. Jeremiah 2:2-3), and her widowhood involved Babylonian captivity.


Verse 5

The cause of this reversal of fortunes is the husband of this woman, God. He created her and redeemed her. Since He made her, He could remake her. He took up the role of the kinsman-redeemer to provide children for this barren wife (cf. Boaz). He is the Almighty Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel (the transcendent yet immanent God), the God over the whole earth.


Verse 6

The Lord called His people back to Himself, even though they had been unfaithful to Him (cf. Hosea). He would transform their attitude from that of an abandoned and brokenhearted wife, because her sins had separated her from her God, to that of a new bride whose relationship with her husband was unstained.


Verse 7

The Lord"s brief separation from His people, because of their sins, was short compared to the long relationship of intimacy that lay ahead for them (due to the salvation that the Servant provided).


Verse 8

God did not lose control of Himself when His people sinned, but He became very angry because sin destroys people and breaks the fellowship that He desires to have with them. He had to turn away from sinners (hide His face from them) because He is holy. But that separation was short-lived compared with the everlasting compassion that His loyal love (Heb. hesed) requires. Hesed is "the unfailing love that is ever loyal to its pledge, love as a settled disposition ..." [Note: Motyer, p448.] The Lord would buy His bride back to Himself.

"When God "spanks" His erring children, He may hurt them, but He never harms them." [Note: Wiersbe, p63.]


Verse 9

Yahweh"s restoration of His people to Himself would be permanent; they would never again experience estrangement from Him. As the Lord kept His promise to spare humanity from another universal flood, so He would keep His promise to spare humankind the judgment of separation from Him again. He would neither flood them with His anger nor rebuke His people. This looks toward an eternal change in the relationship between the Lord and His people. One covenant premillennialist wrote the following.

"Since the Jews actually were driven into exile again after their revolt against the Romans in A.D135 , this can only mean that God accounts the Christian Church as true Israel." [Note: Archer, p648.]

Covenant premillennialists, like amillennialists, believe the church will fulfill God"s promises to Israel. But unlike amillennialists, covenant premillennialists believe in an earthly millennial reign of Christ. Dispensational premillennialists believe that Israel will fulfill God"s promises to Israel.


Verse 10

Even the most substantial and immovable of things do not compare with the firmness of God"s promise. The Lord will again reshape the surface of the earth, as He did with the Flood, only the next time it will be with a great earthquake (cf. Revelation 16:17-21). Even global changes would not alter this promise to preserve His people in intimate relationship with Himself. This promise is so firm and formal that it constitutes a covenant, a covenant guaranteeing peace with them and for them (Heb. shalom, wholeness of divine blessing). This is probably a reference to the New Covenant (cf. Jeremiah 31:31; Jeremiah 32:40; Ezekiel 37:26; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 8:8-12). [Note: See J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come, pp164-77.] Young, 3:368 , interpreted it as a reference to the theological covenant of grace. [Note: Young, 3:368.] Another scholar claimed that the covenant of peace was an ancient Near Eastern motif in primeval myth. [Note: Bernard F. Batto, "The Covenant of Peace: A Neglected ancient Near Eastern Motif," Catholic Biblical Quarterly49 (1987):187-211.] Yahweh would renovate the earth because He has compassion on His people; He desires to bless them.

"How was it possible for God to enter into the Sinai Covenant with his people? They had to be delivered from Egypt by "Moses, my servant" (e.g, Numbers 12:7). How is it possible for God to enter into a (new) covenant of peace with Israel and all the nations of the world? It is possible through the deliverance brought about by the self-sacrifice of "my Servant," who is the expression of the eternal love of God. "Break forth with a shout!"" [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66 , p424.]

"Just as the Noahic settlement was formalized into a perpetual covenant, so the work of the Servant leads to a covenant pledging peace in perpetuity." [Note: Motyer, p449.]

Throughout this passage more than just the deliverance of Israel from the exile is in view. More than the deliverance of Israel from sin is in view. The deliverance of all humanity from sin by the Servant is in view. However, Israel is the primary focus of the prophecy.


Verse 11-12

Presently God"s people were wretched, but they would be redeemed. They were bereft of support, without stability, and in despair, all of which God in His compassion noted. They would enjoy richness, abundance, completeness, and variety. Antimony was a black powder that masons added to mortar that held stones in place. It set off the beauty of the stones by providing a dark edging for them. Women also used this powder as mascara to color their eyes (cf. 2 Kings 9:30). Foundations of sapphires (lapis lazuli, a prized dark blue stone) would be foundations of the highest quality and greatest beauty. The battlements Isaiah saw were bright red rubies. The gates were clear crystal, and the walls were a mosaic of other precious stones. This description recalls the picture of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:9 to Revelation 22:5. Is that just a poetic description of an ideal city, like this one, or is it a literal description of a specific city? Probably it, too, is a poetic description of the ideal residence of the redeemed throughout eternity, but the New Jerusalem is nonetheless a real place (cf. John 14:1-2). This picture, of wealth, stability, and confidence, contrasts strongly with the conditions of poverty, insecurity, and despair in Isaiah 54:11. The key is God, who will effect the change: "I will."


Verses 11-17

The rebuilt city54:11-17

Isaiah changed his illustration from a restored wife to a rebuilt city, but the point remains the same. The contrast between the city of man and the city of God is one that Isaiah developed quite fully (cf. Isaiah 1:26-27; Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 4:2-6; Isaiah 12:1-6; Isaiah 24:10; Isaiah 25:1-9; Isaiah 26:1-6; Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 47:1; Isaiah 52:1; Isaiah 66:10-14). The people of God can anticipate a glorious future. The prophet was not describing the rebuilding of Jerusalem following the Jews" return from exile. He was using the image of rebuilding a city to convey the joy and security that lay in the future for all God"s people, particularly Israel.


Verse 13

All the spiritual descendants of the redeemed in that era would be disciples of the Lord. They would follow Him faithfully, and they would enjoy the highest quality of spiritual life (cf. Isaiah 1:26). Jesus saw a foreview of this condition during His earthly ministry ( John 6:45).


Verse 14

The righteous would be secure in the love and plans of God. Oppression and terror would not come anywhere near them, so they would not fear (cf. Isaiah 32:17).


Verse 15

Whatever trouble might come to them would not come from God as discipline, as in former times. Moreover, God"s people would be able to overcome all their opponents. This indicates that conditions for the redeemed will not be completely placid at this time, as they will be in the eternal state where nothing offensive will assail God"s people. Isaiah rather described conditions during the first part of the renovation of all things, the Millennium. It seems that assault by enemies is not just a theoretical possibility that Isaiah raised to stress the security of believers, but a real possibility for two reasons. First, the prophet spoke of this hostility at some length ( Isaiah 54:15-17). Second, he already said enough about the security of the redeemed, so raising the theoretical possibility of opposition is unnecessary and disturbing.


Verse 16

Whatever happens to the redeemed in that era would be by the will of God, who not only raises up destroyers to destroy, and provides the weapons that they use, but creates the blacksmiths who make the weapons. All that the people of God would experience would be part of God"s good intention and design for them.

"This verse is very instructive for the study of divine providence. It teaches that nothing occurs, not even the destroying acts of the enemies of God"s people, apart from God Himself. At the same time we are not to blame Him for the evil that men do (cf. the express statement of the previous verse), but in His secret providence God governs the efforts and actions of men and employs them as the instruments of His anger." [Note: Young, 3:372.]


Verse 17

Even though opponents might arise, they would be ineffective against God"s invincible people. Hard steel or a hot tongue, two forms of antagonism that represent all forms of it, would not prosper. Yahweh"s vindication of His people would be the heritage of His servants in that peaceful era. That heritage would include restoration to intimacy with God (cf. Isaiah 54:1-10), and, for Israel, fulfillment of the promises in the Abrahamic Covenant ( Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 12:7).

"Beginning here and throughout the rest of the book, Israel is referred to as servants (pl.), and the Servant who restores his people to the covenant and brings justice to the nations is not referred to again as such [contrary to the AV]....

"The purpose then in the shift to the plural at this point seems to be to finalize the distinction between the "servant" of the Lord, who receives benefits, and the "Servant" of the Lord, who makes those benefits possible." [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66 , pp431 , 432.]

The historical setting for the fulfillment of this prophecy is the time following the Servant"s full redemption of His people. This full redemption will take place at His second advent. Even though Jesus Christ died for our sins and defeated Satan during His first advent, He has not yet destroyed the effects of sin in the creation, including humanity, or punished Satan. He will do this at His second advent. Thus, the joy Isaiah described in this chapter will come to fruition during the Millennium, and thereafter, throughout eternity.

"If all the future blessings promised in Scripture to the nation of Israel are to be fulfilled spiritually in the church, as many allege, why are not those same interpreters willing to take upon themselves all the curses pronounced against Israel? Scarcely anyone is willing to do this." [Note: A. Martin, Christ in . . ., part2 , p22.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 54:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/isaiah-54.html. 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, August 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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