[This post revises the original post.]
… chapter by chapter context clues continued. This post demonstrates how God’s Faithful in Sion are identical to the “barren” woman of 54:1.
Recap: Descriptors of Faithful Israel
The purpose of the last several posts is to determine from previous context in Isaiah who the “barren” woman of Isaiah 54:1 might be.
1 Rejoice, you barren that bear not; break forth and cry, you that do not travail: for more are the children of the desolate than of her that has a husband: (Isaiah 54:1 Septuagint)
Chapter 49 reveals that the barren woman is Sion. (See Septuagint Isaiah Devotional 2.64.) Chapter 50 opens with part two of God’s reply to those of Sion who claim he has abandoned them (50:1-3). It then moves on to the Third Servant Song in 50:4-9. Then, verses 10 and 11 address two different sets of people. Verse 10 speaks to those who fear the Lord. Verse 11 speaks to those who worship idols (Septuagint Isaiah 44:13-20) (and see Septuagint Isaiah Devotional 2.65). Sion contains both kinds of people.
51:1 Listen to me, you that follow after righteousness, and seek the Lord: look to the solid rock, which you have hewn, and to the hole of the pit which you have dug. 2 Look to Abraam your father, and to Sarrha that bore you: for he was alone when I called him, and blessed him, and loved him, and multiplied him. 3 And now I will comfort you, O Sion: and I have comforted all her desert places; and I will make her desert places as a garden, and her western places as the garden of the Lord; they shall find in her gladness and exultation, thanksgiving and the voice of praise.
The text of Isaiah chapter 51:1-3 uses several speech tags to identify whom God, the speaker, addresses. These labels eliminate the people of Sion who worship idols (50:11), because they specifically name certain attributes.
- you that follow after righteousness
- and [you that] seek the Lord
- Abraam your father
- Sarrha that bore you
- you, O Sion
God claims that “you that follow after righteousness and seek the Lord” have “Abraam” as their father and “Sarrha” as their mother. He spells out that these people are “you, O Sion.” In other words, God uses the name “Sion” in a narrower sense than he did in the previous chapter. Verse 2 further implies that this group of faithful Sion whom God now addresses is small.
2 Look to Abraam your father, and to Sarrha that bore you: for he was alone when I called him, and blessed him, and loved him, and multiplied him.
God appears to be saying that just as Abraham was “alone” (the word “one” in Greek), the group that “follows after righteousness” is likewise small. What God did for Abraham, he will do for them.
3 And now I will comfort you, O Sion: and I have comforted all her desert places; and I will make her desert places as a garden, and her western places as the garden of the Lord; they shall find in her gladness and exultation, thanksgiving and the voice of praise.
The Lord called, blessed, loved, and multiplied Abraham (verse 2 above). And now, God will comfort Sion in her desert places. Her desert places will be as a garden of the Lord. There will be gladness, exultation, thanksgiving, and the voice of praise. The phrase “desert places” in the Greek Septuagint is a different grammatical form of the same word the text of Septuagint 54:1 uses for “the desolate.” The referents, therefore, are most likely the same group. The “barren” woman is none other than those people of Sion who follow after righteousness, seek the Lord, and can claim Abraham and Sarah as their forebears.
USE OF METAPHOR
But, at this point in Isaiah, God speaks entirely in metaphor.
- Sion in 51:1-2a refers to people.
- Sion in 3b forward is a place.
- The totality of the metaphor indicates a kingdom of people who follow the Lord.
God will bless the people whom these metaphorical images of Sion represent in a way similar to how he blessed Abraham. The people and where they live will prosper abundantly. But there is a difference. Abraham and Sarah were people whom God blessed with numerous progeny (verse 2). The phrase concrete-physical can describe Abraham and Sarah’s blessings. Their children existed in the physical world. Sion’s blessings appear to be a mix of concrete-physical and spiritual.
WHEN WILL THESE BLESSINGS TO SION OCCUR?
If readers examine the text for labels that might indicate when God’s promises of comfort to Sion will occur, they will find no simple, direct tags. Verses 4 and 5, however, clearly refer to God’s blessing upon Gentiles.
4 Hear me, hear me, my people; and you kings, listen to me: for a law shall proceed from me, and my judgment shall be for a light of the nations. 5 My righteousness speedily draws near, and my salvation shall go forth as light, and on my arm shall the Gentiles trust: the isles shall wait for me, and on my arm shall they trust. (Septuagint in English, LXE)
Recall that the Third Servant Song occurs just a few verses back in Isaiah 50:4-9. In this context, God exhorts those who fear the Lord to listen to the voice of his Servant (50:10). He also calls out and foretells sorrow upon those who follow idols (50:11). Immediately after verse 11, God again exhorts those who follow after righteousness to listen. He tells them to listen and exercise the faith of Abraham and Sarah, their founding ancestors. But once again, as so frequently in the past several chapters, God expresses his intention to call, summon, and bless Gentiles along with Israel (verses 4 and 5 above).
In terms of timing, all of the promises above find their fulfillment in the first Advent of Christ, the Servant. After his ascension, the Gentiles flocked to join the congregation of the God of Israel’s Servant. That’s the physical-concrete portion that corresponds to Isaiah’s prophecy. But Jesus also taught that his kingdom was “not of this world” (John 18:36). He indicated in plain speech to the Samaritan (Gentile) woman at the well a change from an old economy to a new. The new manner of worshiping Israel’s God would be spiritual, rather than concrete-physical (John 4:12-14, 20-24). Jesus the Servant also revealed to one of Israel’s leading rabbis (Nicodemus) that he must be “born” again of the Spirit (John 3:1-10).
A Retrospective Look
In retrospect, then, the text of Isaiah 51 leads in the direction of spiritual blessings of well-being God will bestow upon a physical-concrete multitude of progeny. He describes these as those of Sion who “follow after righteousness and seek the Lord” (Septuagint Isaiah 51:1). In other words, they exercise faith. Their parents are Abraham, the man of faith, and Sarah. God will call a vast number of Gentiles to join them.
Is the change from concrete-physical to spiritual difficult to find and grasp in the text of Isaiah? Yes, for me it is. But I am not alone. Jesus the Servant’s disciples experienced similarly thick ears. Jesus, however, gave them his divine permission to go back and reconsider Old Testament prophecy through the lens of his incarnation–life, death, and resurrection (Luke 24:13-27, 44-49). Isaiah and Jesus the Servant speak of the same things.
More Time Tags
Up to this point in 51:5, everything that God through Isaiah promises to those in Sion who seek after righteousness finds its fulfillment in the Advent of Christ, God’s Servant, and the period of time after his ascension. But a long time has passed since Christ spoke the words of his Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Septuagint Isaiah 51:6-8 describes this long period of time and even beyond.
6 Lift up your eyes to the sky, and look on the earth beneath: for the sky was darkened like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and the inhabitants shall die in like manner: but my righteousness shall not fail. 7 Hear me, you that know judgment, the people in whose heart is my law: fear not the reproach of men, and be not overcome by their contempt. 8 For as a garment will be devoured by time, and as wool will be devoured by a moth, so shall they be consumed; but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation for all generations.
Verse 6 indicates that the righteousness promised the remnant of Sion and Gentiles together shall not fail. In other words, the kingdom of God’s Servant is a lasting kingdom. Verse 7 implies that God’s faithful people will experience opposition from others: reproach and contempt. But verse 8 indicates that those who oppose God’s people will grow old and die, but God’s righteousness will continue forever. He will extend his salvation continuously to all generations.
The text of Isaiah at this point contains no tags or markers that would indicate a “millennial” kingdom. Nor does it mention the Servant’s return. On the other hand, these verses describe very well the current era. This era extends all the way forward from the Great Commission to the present day.
Chapter 51:1-8 completes what chapters 49-50 and previous chapters began. By the end of verse 8, readers can conclude that the reference to the “barren” woman in 54:1 looks back to the references in God’s speech to a faithful Sion. In chapter 51, these are God’s people who follow after righteousness and seek the Lord. Consistent with many prior chapters, God again makes clear that Gentiles will be intimately woven into Israel’s future blessings of comfort and prosperity.
… to be continued