LISTEN: Isaiah 54 – I Will Take You Back (mp3)
Where we are:
|Part 1: Judgment||Part 2: Historical Interlude||Part 3: Salvation|
|Chapters 1-35||Chapters 36-39||Chapters 40-66|
When this takes place:
Chapter 54 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile and ultimate glory.
Isa. 54:7-8 – “I deserted you for a brief moment, but I will take you back with great compassion. In a surge of anger I hid Myself from you for a moment, but I will have compassion on you with everlasting love,” says the Lord your Redeemer.
Israel is encouraged to burst into song because her punishment is over and the Lord, like a loving husband, is taking back His wayward bride and showering her with blessings. Her exile in Babylon was necessary because of her grievous sin, but it was only a temporary banishment because the Lord is faithful to His promises. Just as God honored His covenant with Noah, He will honor His “covenant of peace” with Israel. These verses await their complete fulfillment in the messianic kingdom.
The imagery throughout this chapter is that of Yahweh, the faithful husband, forgiving Israel, the unfaithful wife, restoring her to her home and bestowing her with undeserved blessings. Warren Wiersbe comments: “Isaiah has used the marriage image before (50:1–3) and will use it again (62:4). Jeremiah also used it (Jer. 3:8), and it is an important theme in both Hosea (chap. 2) and Ezekiel (chaps. 16 and 23). The nation was ‘married’ to Jehovah at Mt. Sinai, but she committed adultery by turning to other gods; and the Lord had to abandon her temporarily. However, the prophets promise that Israel will be restored when Messiah comes and establishes His kingdom” (Be Comforted, S. Is 54:1).
Israel’s Numerical Growth (Isa. 54:1-3)
Israel is likened to a barren woman who experiences the shame of childlessness and knows full well the void it brings to her life. But the Lord promises that days of gladness lie ahead and that her tents will be expanded to accommodate the children who will be born to her. The image of expanding the tent reminds the people of God’s covenant with Abraham, who dwelled in tents and was called outside to count the stars as a sign of the Lord’s promise of offspring. In similar fashion, this ragtag band of post-exilic Jews will re-inhabit the Promised Land and fill it. God will do for them what He did for Abraham and Sarah (Isa. 49:18-21; 51:1-3).
“Jerusalem, once desolate and mourning (Lam. 1:1-5), will be revitalized and teeming with people. Also like a nomad who has so many children he has to enlarge his tent to accommodate them all, Israel’s descendants will increase and even settle in the cities of foreign nations because there will not be enough room for them in their homeland” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1109). The complete fulfillment of this prophecy awaits the messianic kingdom.
Paul quotes Isa. 54:1 in Gal. 4:27 and applies the spiritual principle to the church. As God blesses Sarah and the Jewish remnant with children, He will bless His church, even though at present it is only a small company of faithful followers in a wayward world.
Israel’s Regathering (Isa. 54:4-8)
The Lord promises Israel He will take her back the way a gracious husband takes back an unfaithful wife. The people are urged not to fear for they will not be put to shame, and not to be humiliated for they will not suffer disgrace. While deserving of such consequences for their spiritual adultery, the Israelites will be welcomed into the arms of a faithful and forgiving Husband. And who is this Husband? Their “Maker – His name is Yahweh of Hosts … the Holy One of Israel … Redeemer … the God of all the earth” (v. 5).
Yahweh will not destroy the people He has created for His own glory. “He is their Redeemer and cannot sell them into the hands of the enemy. He is their Husband and will not break His covenant promises. As an unfaithful wife, Israel had forsaken her Husband; but He had not permanently abandoned her. He only gave her opportunity to see what it was like to live in a land where people worshiped false gods. God would call her back and woo her to Himself (Hosea 2:14–23), and she would no longer be ‘a wife deserted’ (Isa. 54:6, NIV). She felt forsaken (49:14), but God did not give her up” (Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Comforted, S. Is 54:1).
The husband / wife analogy is used frequently in Scripture to describe God’s relationship with Israel. Israel is the unfaithful wife who runs after pagan deities. In anger, God abandons Israel, but only for a time (see Jer. 31:31-34). He is faithful and compassionate. He will remain true to His promises. He will restore His people. In much the same way the New Testament writers refer to Christ as the bridegroom and the church as His bride. Unlike Israel, the church is not yet married to Christ. Rather, she is espoused, or engaged, and is expected to remain chaste and pure until the Bridegroom comes for Her. The apostle Paul, as a friend of the groom, urges his fellow believers to resist false teachings so they will not be enticed to embrace “another Jesus” and thus commit spiritual adultery (2 Cor. 11:4). Ultimately, a great day is in store for Christ and His church when they sit down together at the marriage feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9).
Israel’s Security (Isa. 54:9-10)
The Lord reminds Israel that His love, mercy and covenant promises remain even though the stinging memory of exile is fresh in the people’s minds. Yahweh has kept His word not to destroy the earth by flood again (Gen. 9:11-17), so His people may count on Him to faithfully carry out His promises of future national blessing. “Though the mountains move and the hills shake, My love will not be removed from you and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,” He assures them (v. 10). This does not mean the Lord will withhold future discipline from Israel, for we see the temple destroyed again in 70 A.D. and the Jews dispersed among the nations as a result of their rejection of Jesus as Messiah. But even then, the Lord has preserved a believing remnant, restored the Jews to their homeland (in 1948) and will bring about a spiritual revival in the land when the people He has chosen finally trust in Jesus as His Son and their Savior.
Israel’s Peaceful Future (Isa. 54:11-17)
Throughout the centuries, Jerusalem has experienced many sorrows, prompting the Lord to call her “storm-tossed, and not comforted” (v. 11). However, in coming days the Lord will build up the city with stones made of precious gems as a symbol of her great value. This also may be seen as foreshadowing the New Jerusalem, which comes down from heaven and is beautifully adorned with precious jewels (Rev. 21:9-27). The children will be taught by the Lord, experience great prosperity and stand securely on a foundation of righteousness. The people no longer will fear oppression from without or corruption from within, for the Lord will protect them.
No doubt this is a preview of the Millennium, during which time no nation will be allowed to defeat Israel. “If anyone attacks you, it is not from Me,” says Yahweh in verse 15, contrasting God’s use of Assyria to punish the northern kingdom (722 B.C.) and Babylon to discipline the southern kingdom (587 B.C.). Further, the Lord assures His people that “whoever attacks you will fall before you.” He continues in verse 17: “No weapon formed against you will succeed, and you will refute any accusation raised against you in court. This is the heritage of the Lord’s servants, and their righteousness is from Me.” It is always the righteousness of God that saves, not man’s own “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). We see this stated plainly and illustrated beautifully in the New Testament. In Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet (Matt. 22:1-14), an invited guest is bound hand and foot and cast into outer darkness because he has refused to wear the wedding garment providing by the king. This shows that no one’s own righteousness merits entrance into the kingdom, only the righteousness of Christ. And in Rev. 7:9-17, an innumerable host of people, robed in white, stands before the throne and the Lamb. Their robes are white because “they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
D.A. Carson writes that “the righteousness of v 14 and the impregnability of vs 15–17 are deep rooted in personal discipleship, which is one of the marks of the new covenant. This is the true strength of God’s city, which is promised not immunity from attack but the unanswerable weapon of truth” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 54:11).
Lawrence O. Richards comments about the covenant of peace in verse 10: “[T]he focus of this covenant is on security. God throws a protective covering over His people so that they will be safe. While this is an eschatological covenant, it has present application to you and me. God’s protective covering has been thrown over us as well. God the Holy Spirit is Himself ‘a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession’ (Eph. 1:14). Because we are God’s own we are safe and secure” (The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., Logos Research Systems, S. 440).
Where we are:
|Part 1: Judgment||Part 2: Historical Interlude||Part 3: Salvation|
|Chapters 1-35||Chapters 36-39||Chapters 40-66|
When this takes place:
Chapter 47 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile.
Isa. 47:3-4 – “Your nakedness will be uncovered, and your shame will be exposed. I will take vengeance; I will spare no one. The Holy One of Israel is our Redeemer; the Lord of Hosts is His name.”
Babylon’s destruction is foretold. This prophecy is fulfilled in 539 B.C. when Persian King Cyrus captures the city. Babylon’s failure is exposed in verse 6. The Lord has disciplined the Jews, placing them under Babylon’s control, but the captors went beyond reasonable punishment and “showed them no mercy.” Now under God’s judgment, Babylon is challenged to turn to its sorcerers, who must try to do the impossible – to prevent disaster at the hands of the Persians. They will fail because the Lord says, “I will take vengeance; I will spare no one” (v. 3).
Twice, Babylon is called “Daughter Chaldea” (vv. 1, 5) and throughout the chapter she is depicted as a pouting mistress. Once “pampered and spoiled,” she must now grind meal with a millstone, remove her veil and bare her thigh as she wades through rivers. She will sit in silence and go into darkness, no longer a “mistress of the kingdoms” (v. 5). Once a lover of luxury who never considered the consequences of her actions, she now experiences loss of children and widowhood in a single day. In the last days, Babylon is depicted in a similar way, indulging in idolatry, immorality and excessive materialism. Like Babylon in Old Testament times, the kingdom in the last days is utterly destroyed and the world grieves her loss, but the judgment comes from God (Rev. 18).
The Shame of Babylon (Isa. 47:1-4)
Proud Babylon will be conquered and its people will become humbled servants, sitting in the dust as a sign of mourning (see Jonah 3:6). The words “Virgin Daughter” depict the people of the city as young and innocent women, possibly meaning the city’s walls have never been breached, or the people have never been captured. The people no longer will be delicate like virgins. Rather, they will endure hardships, grinding meal with millstones, unconcerned about their clothing or modesty. Some no doubt will be abused and raped. Warren Wiersbe writes, “Babylon, the proud queen, is now a humbled slave. ‘I will continue forever—the eternal queen!’ she boasted (v. 7, NIV). But in a moment, the judgment for her sins caught up with her; and she became a widow” (Be Comforted, S. Is 45:1).
Verse 4 predicts the response of the Jews, who will rejoice at the devastating work of God’s hand on their oppressors. They will praise God, realizing that their redemption comes from His direct and divine intervention in human history. “The Holy One of Israel is our Redeemer,” they proclaim. “The Lord of Hosts is His name.” Matthew Henry reminds us, “God can make those sit silently that used to make the greatest noise in the world, and send those into darkness that used to make the greatest figure. Let him that glories, therefore, glory in a God that changes not, and not in any worldly wealth, pleasure, or honour, which are subject to change” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 47:1).
The Sins of Babylon (Isa. 47:6-8, 10)
Babylon has conquered Judah only because God has allowed it. More to the point, God chose this proud and pagan nation as His rod of discipline against the unrepentant Jews, a fact that should cause the Babylonians to place their victory in proper perspective. But they see things differently. They treat their captives with impunity, utterly destroying Judah’s capital city and place of worship. Although Yahweh places the Jews under the Babylonians’ control, they show no mercy and make life exceptionally difficult even for the elderly (v. 6). The Babylonians never entertain the thought that their rule is temporary. Brashly, the nation boasts, “I will be the mistress forever” (v. 7). Instead of seeing their triumph as an opportunity to serve the true and living God, they “did not take these things to heart or think about their outcome” (v. 7).
What’s more, the Babylonians think they can never be defeated. Enjoying the spoils of victory, sitting in the lap of luxury, resting in the security an undefeated army provides, the women declare they will never be widowed or know the loss of children (v. 8). But they are led astray by their “knowledge” and their “wisdom” (v. 10). “Their policy and craft, which they called their wisdom, were their confidence. They thought they could outwit all mankind, and therefore might set all their enemies at defiance. But their wisdom and knowledge perverted them, and turned them out of the way, made them forget themselves, and the preparation necessary to be made for hereafter” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, S. Is 47:7). Those who trust in their wealth, their wisdom and their wickedness will find these false comforts in the end to be their ruin.
The Suffering of Babylon (Isa. 47:5, 9, 11-15)
Babylon is considered nearly impregnable, yet because of her sins the Lord says she will “sit in silence” (the posture of mourning), “go into darkness” (the state of misery) and “no longer be called mistress (queen) of kingdoms” (v. 5). Disaster and devastation are coming suddenly and unexpectedly. The once-invincible Babylonians will be unable to anticipate, avert or escape the calamity. The Babylonians prided themselves in their sorcerers, who supposedly foretold future events and cast spells to exert influence over others. Such alleged knowledge would be of no value in the coming days, for the sorcerers would not be able to see destruction coming or cast spells to make their conquerors go away.
In verses 12-15 the Lord mockingly urges the Babylonians to continue their sorceries and spells. Like Elijah jeering the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18), Yahweh pokes fun at Babylon’s inept spiritual leaders. “Let them stand and save you – the astrologers who observe the stars … they are like stubble; fire burns them up…. They cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame … each wanders his own way; no one can save you.” Matthew Henry remarks: “Witchcraft is a sin in its own nature exceedingly heinous; it is giving that honour to the devil which is due to God only, making God’s enemy our guide and the father of lies our oracle. In Babylon it was a national sin, and had the protection and countenance of the government; conjurors, for aught that appears, were their privy counsellors [sic] and prime ministers of state. And shall not God visit for these things?” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, S. Is 47:7).
Babylon and Chaldea are especially well known for their astrologers. In Chaldea the astrologers form a particular caste, in which knowledge is passed from father to son. They teach that the universe is eternal and that the movements of the celestial bodies are directed by a council of the gods. Their long and careful study of the heavens makes them more able than others to calculate the movements and influence of the stars. To assist them in their calculations, the astrologers divide the heavens into 12 equal parts, our houses – six above the horizon and six below – “and the various subjects that affect the happiness of human beings, such as fortune, marriage, life, death, religion, etc., were distributed among them. From the position of the stars in these houses the calculations were made…. And from the varied appearances of the heavens they foretold events that not only affected lands and nations, but also brought happiness or unhappiness to kings and common people” (James M. Freeman, Manners & Customs of the Bible. [Rev. ed.], S. 364).
No matter. Yahweh is direct and precise in His judgment that all the labors of the astrologers will come to naught, for He has determined that their season of sin is about to come to an end: “Look, they are like stubble; fire burns them up. They cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame” (v. 14).
D.A. Carson comments: “It is Babylon’s proper fate: there can be no mercy, for she has shown none….Yet the description is not without pity. We are watching the triumph of justice, but equally the tragedy of the sinner. Dust and toil, nakedness and shame, silence and darkness – these symbols of damnation have an added bitterness by the glimpse of the arrogant gaiety which they quench for ever. We can enter into her sinking of heart as the trusted expedients fail (the magic spells, sorceries and horoscopes of vs 12–14), and the old associates drift prudently away, ‘each in his own direction’ (15,), like the fair-weather friends that they are” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 47:1).
Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips