Isaiah Chapter 54:1-10 Sunday School Notes

These are some of my notes for Sunday, April 26, 2009 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible series

Books referenced in these notes are:

1.)Brevard Childs, Isaiah, Westminster John Knox Press, 2000

2.) IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament by Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas

3.) The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary by Alec Motyer

Is 54:1
Isaiah speaks of Zion metaphorically as a mother. The three descriptors are effectively the same:”barren one”, “who did not give birth”, “who have not been in labor”. So the childless woman is told in parallel to the descriptors to “rejoice” , “burst into song”, and “shout”. He reason for this display of joy is given in the second part of the verse: she will gain more children than a natural mother ever could.(Childs)

It is important to remember that this chapter immediately follows the Suffering Servant song of Is 53. Thus one can see that Zion’s new children, which she is given rather than has birthed, come from the “seed” of the Servant in Is 53:11. The background to the image presented here is almost certainly the story of Sarah in Genesis, who also cannot naturally have children, yet is promised descendants as numerous as the stars (Gen 11:30, 13:16, 15:4-5, 17:16-17, 18:10-14, 21:1-7). Both then are acts of God, and they both point in the end to the Christian church. (Motyer)

Is 54:2
enlarge your tent: Here the metaphor continues by using the image of a tent, the standard living quarters of desert dwelling nomads, such as the Biblical patriarchs. Because the family of Israelites is to grow, Isaiah calls for the tent to be enlarged, which was a fairly simple process. These sorts of tents were made using handwoven strips of dark goats’ hair, to which extra strips could simply be added. You would also need longer ropes connecting the inner and outer poles, and upon which one hung the curtains that created “rooms” within the tents. “Do not hold back” and “drive your pegs deep” indicate the surety of the enlargement, and the need to go all out in preparation for a greater than could be expected growth/blessing.(BBCOT)

Is 54:3
“Spread out to the right and to the left” recalls God’s words to Jacob in Gen 28:14, and right and left are often considered metaphoric language for east and west, the rising and setting of the sun, thus the wide world.

“Dispossess nations” is spoken of in Exodus accounts (Ex 34:24, Deu 9:1, 11:23; Josh 23:9), and it is appropriate to note that the Exodus period was a time of God’s reclaiming His people for Himself, and their living as nomads in tents. (Motyer)

Is 54:4
Verse 6 helps us understand the language here. A primary point of marriage was to create a family, and in the ANE a woman without children was effectively not a proper wife, and liable to be abandoned, legally termed a “widow” even though her former husband was still alive. Such a widow would have been considered a poor prospect for another marriage, because children were believed to come from deity, and thus a barren woman was thought being rebuked by deity. She was considered a “youth” because she had bore no children, and her shame was not only that deity had rejected her, but she subsequently had the support of a husband or children to provide for her.(BBCOT)

Verse 4 focuses on comforting this abandoned wife, Zion, telling her not to be afraid, for she will not be shamed, humiliated, or disgraced anymore. Her status as a “youth”, a childless woman and her widowhood as an abandoned wife would be completely forgotten.(Childs)

On the other hand, one can see “youth” as a reference to Israel’s early days, in the Exodus, as it is used in Jer chp 2, Hos chp 11, and Ezk 16. Likewise “widowhood” might be a reference to the Babylonian exile.(Motyer)

Is 54:5
This verse tells who will do this for the woman: her husband, who is also her Maker, the LORD of Hosts, the Holy One of Israel, her Redeemer, the God of all the earth.

His name: This refers to God’s revelation of Himself, his nature, in human language and terms.

LORD (Yahweh) invokes the God of the Exodus, who redeemed Israel long before.

Of Hosts points to His infinite power, the ruler of countless stars, the commander of unnumbered angels.

Holy is a termed hard to pin down. It seems to connote both brightness (unable to be clearly seen or approached closely) and separateness (uniqueness). In the Bible it carries both the sense of divine power, but also purity, morality.

Redeemer comes from the Hebrew term go’el. This person was the next of kin who could intercede on the behalf of a helpless relative.(Lev 25:25, Num 5:8). This redemption is apparently a matter of choice, however (Ruth 4:4-6), and thus shows God’s willingness to aid even those who have wronged Him.

God of all the earth speaks of God’s control over all the world and all nations.(Motyer)

Is 54:6
This verse explains what God has done for the woman: he has called her back, like a husband calling back an abandoned wife. “A wife of one’s youth” speaks of the early joy of marriage. “Wounded in spirit” speaks of the harm the abandonment has done, as Israel is doubtless hurt numerically and spiritually by the Exile. “Says your God” is a reassurance that the message is true.

Is 54:7
The prophet speaks the words of God here, telling Zion that God deserted her but for a moment, but now plans to take her back with great compassion, a much greater motive than that behind the desertion.

Is 54:8
This verse repeats the form of verse 7, speaking of a surge of anger for a moment, but a compassion based on everlasting love.

Is 54:9
The prophet quotes God as viewing this situation of abandonment as resembling the story of Noah, when God’s wrath flooded the earth and left only a remnant of people, Noah’ family, with whom God made an eternal covenant never to flood the earth again. So now only a remnant of Zion remains, but God likewise has sworn not to be angry or rebuke the wife, Zion, again.

The difference between “for the waters of” and “like the days of” is between reading very similar letters in Hebrew as two word or one. The modern preference for “like the days of” is based on that version’s superior attestation in most ancient versions and one DSS version of Isaiah. The sense is not noticeably changed.

Is 54:10
Another repetition, this time promising that the resolution made in verse 9 will remain in force, though mountains and hills disappear.

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