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 41 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance and the worldwide impact on the coming of Messiah. This chapter may have been written late in the prophet’s life.
Isa. 41:11-13 –Be sure that all who are enraged against you will be ashamed and disgraced; those who contend with you will become as nothing and will perish. You will look for those who contend with you, but you will not find them. Those who war against you will become absolutely nothing. For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand and say to you: Do not fear, I will help you.
Isaiah foretells the coming of the Persian king Cyrus as God’s instrument of judgment against Babylon. He encourages God’s people, who will be captives of Babylon when this prophecy is fulfilled, not to fear this warrior from the east because the Lord will use him to defeat Israel’s enemies and restore the nation to its former glory.
Throughout Isaiah, both the nation of Israel and the coming Messiah are called God’s “servant.” The context helps us determine which “servant” is intended. In Isa. 41:8-9, it is the nation of Israel (see also Isa. 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; 48:20; 49:3). In other passages, the Messiah clearly is in view. For example, Isa. 42:1-9 announces the coming of the Lord’s “Chosen One” who will bring justice to the nations. And in Isa. 52:13 – 53:12 we encounter the Suffering Servant who will be “pierced because of our transgressions” and ultimately exalted – a prophecy wonderfully fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, who died for our sins, rose from the grave and ascended into heaven, where today He is seated at the right hand of the Father awaiting His triumphant return to earth.
Source and Strength (Isa. 41:1-7)
This chapter opens with a courtroom scene. The Lord calls Israel and all the nations before Him to “come together for the trial” (v. 1). The Old Testament is replete with courtroom settings in which the Lord presents His case against the wicked and pronounces judgment. Here, the Lord announces the rise of the Persian king Cyrus, whom God will use to judge the Babylonians, and He calls the idols of the nations to testify (vv. 21-24).
This powerful Persian leader “subdues kings” … “makes [them] like dust [with] his sword” and “like wind-driven stubble [with] his bow” (v. 2). However, it is clear that the Jews are not to fear this conquering king because the Lord has given him his strength and will use him to accomplish His purposes. “The Lord hands nations over to him,” Isaiah declares (v. 2). And if there’s any doubt about God’s sovereignty over human affairs, the Lord challenges His listeners: “Who has performed and done [this], calling the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord …” (v. 4). “A great truth is emphasized here. God controls the course of history and the rise and fall of nations. Even the pagan serves God’s purposes, even though unwittingly. However, you and I have the greatest privilege of all. We can serve God knowingly and gladly” (Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 431).
If there is any doubt about the sovereignty of God, He assures His people in verse 4, “I, the Lord, am the first, and with the last – I am He.” His declaration of eternal power and presence is repeated in Isa. 44:6 and Rev. 1:8 and is echoed by Jesus’ claims to deity in Rev. 1:17 and 22:13. Those who argue that Jesus is a lesser god, a created being or only a man who existed for a scant three decades face strong opposition from the Son of God Himself in these and other New Testament passages. To cite but a few other examples, Jesus claims to be eternal and uncreated (John 8:58; 17:5); divine (Mark 14:61-62; John 8:24, 58); and co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 11:25-27; 12:28; Luke 4:18; 23:34, 46; John 8:16-19, 42; 15:26; 16:13-15).
Closing out this section, Isaiah mocks the nations that rush to one another for protection against Cyrus. They delve deeper into their idolatrous practices rather than turn to the Lord of Hosts who directs the Persian army for his own glorious purposes. The craftsman and metalworker who wield their tools, using solder and nails to fasten their idols will not be able to keep them from falling beneath the mighty hand of God.
The Consolation of Israel (Isa. 41:8-24)
The Lord now turns His attention back to Israel, whom He calls “My servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham, My friend” (v. 8). Even though God is raising the rod of discipline against His chosen ones, He will not forget them or His covenant promises to them. Soon to be exiled in Babylon, they are assured nonetheless that the Lord has chosen them. Like a loving father disciplining an unruly child, He reminds them of His faithful love: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand” (v. 10).
From the endearing title of “servant,” Judah is then called a “worm” (v. 14). “My servant” is an honorable title given to great leaders like Moses (Num. 12:7), David (2 Sam. 3:18) and the Messiah (Isa. 42:1). So why would the Lord refer to His chosen people using such a degrading word as “worm?” Warren Wiersbe observes: “‘Servant’ defined what they were by God’s grace and calling, but ‘worm’ described what they were in themselves. Imagine a worm getting teeth and threshing mountains into dust like chaff! As the nation marched ahead by faith, every mountain and hill would be made low (40:4); and the Lord would turn mountains into molehills!” (Be Comforted, S. Is 41:1). “See,” the Lord says, “I will make you into a sharp threshing board, new, with many teeth. You will thresh mountains and pulverize [them], and make hills like chaff” (v. 15). And when that day comes, what will be the people’s response? “[Y]ou will rejoice in the Lord; you will boast in the Holy One of Israel” (v. 16).
In verses 17-20 the scene changes to a desert being transformed into a garden. This harkens back to the days of wandering in the wilderness and God’s provision for the people’s every need. Six times in these verses the Lord uses the personal pronoun “I” to assure His people that He will act on their behalf: “I, the Lord, will answer them; I, the God of Israel, do not forsake them. I will open rivers on the barren heights, and springs in the middle of the plains. I will turn the desert into a pool of water and dry land into springs of water. I will plant cedars in the desert, acacias, myrtles, and olive trees. I will put cypress trees in the desert, elms and box trees together …” (vv. 17-19). The reason for God’s action is clear: “so that all may see and know, consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it” (v. 20).
Now the scene changes once again, this time to a courtroom. God challenges the nations’ idols to plead their case before His holy bench. Have any of their predictions come true? What do they know about the future? Are they even able to do anything good or evil to prove their power? Of course not. “Look,” the Lord says, “you are nothing and your work is worthless. Anyone who chooses you is detestable” (v. 24).
The Conquests of Cyrus (Isa. 41:25-29)
Verses 25-29 go back over the ground of verses 2-4 but add detail. The north and east are mentioned together, defining Cyrus’ conquests, which will overarch the Babylonian Empire from the Persian Gulf to the Caspian and Black Seas. North and east also describe Cyrus’ lineage and leadership. His father is a Mede and his mother is a Persian. His army consists of Medes, whose country lay north, and Persians, whose country lay east, from Babylon. The one “who invokes My name” (v. 25) is Cyrus, who credits the God of heaven with his victories (Ezra 1:2-3). This does not necessarily prove that Cyrus is a true believer, for in other inscriptions he diplomatically credits the gods of conquered peoples for his triumphs, among them Marduk in Babylon and Sin (the moon god) in Ur.
In contrast with the idols of verses 21-24, God can and does predict the future. Besides describing Cyrus and his conquests long before his birth, the Lord informs the people that a messenger will come, heralding the news that the Jews will be released from captivity and returned to their homeland. The idols, however, “are a delusion; their works are nonexistent; their images are wind and emptiness” (v. 29).
Matthew Henry comments: “When we are freed from that which hindered our joy, and are blessed with that which is the matter of it, we ought to remember that God is our exceeding joy and in him all our joys must terminate. When we rejoice over our enemies we must rejoice in the Lord, for to him alone we owe our liberties and victories” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 41:10).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips