Last Sabbath, the gentleman who gave the sermon went to a chapter that discusses a perpetual covenant of peace but is not a well-known or well-understood passage . In looking at the parts of the passage that the speaker did not comment, I was struck by the fact that this passage deals rather honestly and intensely with a variety of concerns that I have written about with regards to other passages , and that the promises of this verse are promises that I wish to claim very personally for myself. In looking at what this chapter of the Bible has to say, I am sure that there are plenty of other people who can read this chapter and wish its promises for themselves. In light of the fact that this particular chapter is surpassing in beauty as well as obscure, I thought it would be a fit subject for one of my own biblical posts. It is in that light that I seek to share it, along with some comments, to all of you who read this.
In reading this passage, it is important to remember a few things. For one, this passage is speaking to Israel as the bride of the one who would become Christ, in language that relates to a large number of other passages in the Bible . This passage, additionally, deals with a lot of painful matters that a lot of people can relate to, things like barrenness, widowhood, shame, grief, and rejection. Although it is written to Israel as to a female, this is a passage that speaks of matters more than a few men are able to relate to as well in the longing for safety as well as a legacy to pass on. Despite the somewhat dark matters that this passage deals with, it is ultimately full of redemption and restoration, a reminder that the suffering and trouble of this life is but a temporary affair compared to the eternal glory that will be enjoyed by God’s people.
Isaiah 54:1-3 begins this passage with the theme of barrenness contrasted with fecundity and fertility: ““Sing, O barren, you who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you who have not labored with child! For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married woman,” says the Lord. “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; do not spare; lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes. For you shall expand to the right and to the left, and your descendants will inherit the nations, and make the desolate cities inhabited.””
Let us understand a few parts of this passage. For one, this passage is one of a few (Psalm 113, 1 Samuel 2, among others) that deals with the reversal of the barren and the fertile woman. As is the case in our present age, the longing for children was a major aspect of biblical history, driving women (and men) to desperate measures in order to have children to carry on the family line. Here, God gives a promise to Israel through Isaiah that those who are barren and without children, who have survived exile and slavery (and have likely been damaged by the experience) will have enough children to fill up the desolate and barren cities they have returned to. Rather than facing sterility and death, they will be the vessels through which the earth will live again and be filled with people under the rule of Jesus Christ. Rather than lonely tents there will be overflowing tabernacles. We see therefore this passage begins with the promise of fullness and family, which is a fitting place to begin.
Isaiah 54:4-8 gives us a glimpse into the surprising graciousness of Jesus Christ while courting Israel (in what has to count as a dysfunctional courtship even by my harrowing standards) treating a faithless and treacherous bride in the Israel of God with surprising tenderness and kindness that ought to be a model of how men deal with compassion and understanding towards the women in their lives: ““Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore. For your Maker is your husband, The Lord of hosts is His name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; He is called the God of the whole earth. For the Lord has called you like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a youthful wife when you were refused,” says your God. “For a mere moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercies I will gather you. With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer.”
For those men who wish to use Ephesians 5 as a justification of their leadership of families, this passage gives a concise but pointed glimpse as to what it means to love their wives as Christ loved Israel/the Church. Christ is telling the people of Israel here that their many sins against God will be forgiven and not held against them. They will not be embarrassed for being immature and foolish, but they will even be blessed with forgetfulness so that they will no longer remember the horrors they have faced. Oh, that we could all be so fortunate! Rather than dealing with rejection or the lonely widowhood of having their husband die to redeem them from their sins, they are able to be restored as a beloved wife to the Lord and Creator of heaven and earth. Despite all of the drama and grief that Israel caused God, Jesus Christ here is not pictured as vengeful or spiteful, but rather as gentle and comforting to the grief of his beloved bride. Even in His anger, God did not abuse Israel the way someone would abuse their wife, but rather hid His face, so that she would not have to face His wrath. There are times when we must all struggle with anger in our relationships, but to hide our face rather than to punch the face of others is a wise move of restraint that we would do well to emulate. Both in the positive action of tender and gentle affection and in the negative action of avoiding abuse, Jesus Christ here is pictured as a model husband to a very imperfect wife, with the brief troubles of the past overcome by an eternity of bliss, a happily ever after story of love and romance if there ever was one.
In Isaiah 54:9-10, we see the seriousness of the eternal oath that God made with Israel, one that we ought to take extremely seriously in context: ““For this is like the waters of Noah to Me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has mercy on you.”
Given the fact that the rainbow (however much the symbol has been perverted in our own times) was established as a sign that the world would never again be destroyed by a flood, the fact that the same promise is made here suggests an irrevocable nature to the promises of redemption. Although Israel (and the Church) have certainly been punished here and now in limited and temporal ways, it is comforting to know that once redemption comes there is no going back, and that discipline and anger and rebuke that we feel comes from God as a result of our sins is not something that we have to face ever again. It is telling that mountains and hills are often symbolic of authorities, and this passage suggests that those rulers who oppress the people and are the agents of God’s punishment of a disobedient Israel/Church will be removed for good (something we can all look forward to) but God’s kindness and blessing of peace will never depart. That is a promise we can all take to heart.
Isaiah 54:11-15 gives us a picture of Israel that looks remarkably like the New Jerusalem, probably intentionally: “O you afflicted one, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of crystal, and all your walls of precious stones. All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children. In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you. Indeed they shall surely assemble, but not because of Me. Whoever assembles against you shall fall for your sake.”
The image that these verses begins with is familiar to American audience as forming part of the moving poem on the platform for the statue of liberty . Many of us are tempest-tossed refugees seeking a home, and can easily relate to this particular promise that will be glorious and beautiful elements of a city of breathtaking beauty in the same city that Abraham waited for all of his days as a vagabond in land promised to his descendents . Yet let us remember that not only does this promise that believers will be a part of the New Jerusalem, whose builder is God Himself, but also that believers will be free from fear and terror and oppression, all horrors that have to face in our contemporary lives and that have been problems on this earth for the people of God from time immemorial. May the day soon come when believers no longer have to be afraid of the evil intentions of others or of their own dark imaginations.
Isaiah 54:16-17 closes with a blessing that many of us are looking forward to enjoying someday: “”Behold, I have created the blacksmith
Who blows the coals in the fire, who brings forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the spoiler to destroy. No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is from Me,” says the Lord.”
After all of the other blessings promised earlier in this chapter, it is with two immense blessings that God closes with. He promises that the heritage of believers (whose righteousness does not spring from themselves, but through the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit) is in safety from the weapons of iron and steel as well as the weapons of accusations and condemnation. There is a lot that is appealing about the way that God deals with both the threat of physical violence against believers as well as against the omnipresent problem of gossip and vindictive judgment from evildoers. First, God promises that with His own forge He will fashion a destroyer to deal with those who threaten violence against His people. Second, God promises that those who have suffered condemnation from the wicked will be able to condemn then in turn, presumably at the Great White Throne Judgment, for those who have failed to repent of their sins and seek forgiveness for the sins of their tongues. It would be so much better if people did repent, for destruction is such a waste when one has the potential to enjoy such a beautiful covenant of peace that this chapter represents. Don’t you agree?
 See, for example:
Matthew Henry, who seems to entirely miss the point, viewing this passage as a way of limiting the universality of salvation in the Hebrew Scriptures: http://www.christnotes.org/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=23&c=54
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The poem reads:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”