“My People” and Gentiles Together in One Tent
Septuagint Isaiah 52:15 introduces what Septuagint Isaiah 54:1-3 completes. Namely, God intends to include Gentiles in Israel’s own tent of habitation. Most importantly, however, the Servant dominates the prophesies of these several chapters. It is by means of his Servant that God accomplishes all he intends for his own people and for Gentiles.
I. God’s Servant
The person of the Servant dominates from 52:13 through at least 55:5.
A. THE SERVANT’S EXALTATION
First, God glorifies his Servant.
Behold, my servant shall understand, and be exalted, and glorified exceedingly. (Isaiah 52:13 LXE)
B. REJECTION AND SUFFERING
Second, verse 52:14 and the bulk of Isaiah 53 delineate the Servant’s rejection and suffering at the hands of the “sons of men” (vs 14).
As many shall be amazed at you, so shall your face be without glory from men, and your glory shall not be honored by the sons of men. (Isaiah 52:14 LXE)
C. GLORIFIED AGAIN
Finally, the Servant shall be glorified again.
54:5b for he has glorified you… 12a Therefore he shall inherit many, and he shall divide the spoils of the mighty; (Isaiah 55:5, 12a Septuagint)
Beginning in Isaiah 52:11, God addresses his own people directly. He continues interacting with his people up to and including chapter 54. God specifically names his people in Isaiah 53:8, “… because of the iniquities of my people he was led to death.” When chapter 54 opens, God still addresses his people. When he tells them in Isaiah 54:2-3 to “enlarge the place of your tent… for you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,” he clearly means the tent of his own people.
Readers have no doubt that in spite of the reprehensible way his people treated his Servant, God intends to bless them. The text speaks about God’s own people. This is so strongly stated, it’s not even debatable.
But then, God brings Gentiles into the Servant’s realm. Specific mention of Gentile inclusion occurs both at the beginning and ending of the “Fourth Servant Song.”
GENTILES AT THE BEGINNING
52:15 Thus shall many nations wonder at him; and kings shall keep their mouths shut: for they to whom no report was brought concerning him, shall see; and they who have not heard, shall consider. (Isaiah 52:15 Septuagint)
GENTILES AT THE ENDING
The text includes Gentiles again immediately after the end of the Fourth Servant Song.
54:1 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: for the Lord has said, 2 Enlarge the place of your tent, and of your curtains: fix the pins, spare not, lengthen your cords, and strengthen your pins; 3 spread forth your tent yet to the right and the left: for your seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and you shall make the desolate cities to be inhabited. (Isaiah 54:1-3 Septuagint)
Without the New Testament, it might be difficult to verify that the children of 54:1 refers to Gentiles. But Paul quotes this verse in Galatians 4:27.
In Paul’s context, Sarah, wife of Abraham, is “the desolate one.” Her children he calls “children of promise,” born by the “Jerusalem above.” He refers of course, to the inclusion of believing Gentiles among Abraham’s extended progeny.
Whatever clarity of identification Isaiah’s verse 1 lacks, however, verse 3 supplies by name. The “children of the desolate” (the children of the barren woman) are Gentiles.
WHOSE “SEED SHALL INHERIT THE GENTILES”?
Who is the one whose seed inherits the Gentiles? Who is this “desolate” or “barren woman”? The Septuagint text of Isaiah 54:3 (LXE) states, “Your seed shall inherit the Gentiles.” The verb “shall inherit” is active (verb indicative future active third person singular.) The word “your” in the phrase “your seed” refers back to the “barren” woman of verse 1. The particular form of the verb “to inherit” implies an object, which the word “Gentiles” supplies. So, the seed of the barren woman will inherit the Gentiles.
But who is this barren woman? Although the Septuagint text itself does not specifically indicate Sarah or Israel as the barren woman, Isaiah’s context strongly indicates Israel. Additionally, Paul indicates Isaac, born of Sarah, as the son of “promise” in Galatians 4:23. He adds to this that Isaiah’s children born to the barren woman refers to Gentile believers (Galatians 4:27.) This is the verse where he quotes Isaiah 54:3. Combining all these evidences, it seems likely that Isaiah addresses Israel directly in 54:1-3 Septuagint. And although it would be difficult to prove, it is at least possible that Isaiah himself looks back to Sarah as the “barren woman.” It remains clear, however, that the barren, or desolate woman, is the one whom Isaiah commands to “Rejoice!”
Although the above paragraphs may appear circular, the context of Isaiah 54:1-3 LXE allows readers to first determine that Gentile believers are the ones whom the barren woman will inherit. Knowing this fact allows readers to determine from Isaiah and Paul in Galatians that the barren woman is Israel, and more specifically, Sarah. It is Sarah to whom the “son of promise” is born. The progeny (seed) of this one, according to Paul, includes all believers, both Gentile and Israelite. “Your seed shall inherit the Gentiles” (Isaiah 54:3 LXE).
DIFFERENCE IN TEXT–SEPTUAGINT VERSUS MASORETIC
Here is a difference between the Septuagint text and the Masoretic. As presented above, the Septuagint states that “the seed” of the barren woman (the seed of Sarah, according to Paul) “shall inherit the Gentiles.” Translations based upon the Masoretic text, however, use words with a different nuance. For example, the ESV writes, “Your offspring will possess the nations.” NET Bible interprets the word possess as “conquer.” “Your descendants will conquer nations.” The NIV writes, “Your descendants will dispossess the nations.” Thankfully, the older KJV lines up with the Septuagint. It translates the Hebrew as, “Thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles.”
POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE FOR GENTILES?
The point of all this is that the Septuagint text calls for great rejoicing. The synopsis of the plot is that Israel, God’s people, will reject their Messiah, the chosen Servant of the Lord. He will suffer and die at their hands, as he bears their sin and shame (Isaiah 53:12). Then, Isaiah performs a sudden about face and opens chapter 54 with “Rejoice!” (verse 1). He follows with the birth announcement of a vast number of children. This calls for celebration! For children are a blessing in this culture.
2 Enlarge the place of your tent, and of your curtains: fix the pins, spare not, lengthen your cords, and strengthen your pins; 3a spread forth your tent yet to the right and the left: (Isaiah 54:2-3a LXE)
These extra children are Gentile believers in God’s Servant (Isaiah 54:3b LXE). What happens to these Gentiles? In the Septuagint and the KJV, they join God’s people inside Israel’s own enlarged tent. They live with God’s people. Isaiah here describes one tent, in which both Israel and Gentiles dwell together. And Isaiah says to Israel, “REJOICE!” This is not a conquering, a subjugation, or a setting aside of nations, as in the NET; this is inclusion–an adoption. Paul spells this out extremely clearly in Ephesians 2:11-21.
There Is No “Parenthesis”
Some commentators insist that the “church” is a “parenthesis.” This kind of statement is so not true. Throughout all of Isaiah and especially here, God demonstrates that his heart has always been for both Israel and Gentiles. “For God so loved the world…” Because God chose to work through a particular race at the beginning of his calling a people to himself, does not mean that he ever intended for that race exclusively to be his own child in a special way unique to themselves.
Yes, Israel came first in point of time and will ever remain so. But that timing does not make Israel privileged above all the rest. In fact, God has only one, unique and particular, special child. That individual is God’s Servant, his only-begotten. He is the “firstborn” of God (Colossians 1:15, 18; Revelation 1:5). He alone is superior and more blessed than everyone else (John 1:1-18). He is the one who receives God’s inheritance. And this one, God’s Servant, shares his inheritance in God freely with Israel first, then Gentiles–the whole world of believers gathered in one tent.
The Point of Isaiah’s Text
The point of Isaiah’s text in chapters 52-54:3 is to announce his blessing upon all people through his Servant. God includes both believing Israel and believing Gentiles in his blessing. God through his Servant blesses both together, as one. They will live in one tent.
Isaiah rejoices over this. God rejoices. God and Isaiah intend for us, God’s original family and extended family to rejoice also. Like the father of the prodigal son, God through his prophet calls for joyful celebration and song. We rejoice because God’s family has grown. His provision through his Servant is abundantly sufficient for everyone together.
Dear reader, let none of us commit the grievous error of the prodigal’s elder brother (Luke 15:11-32). This one went about moping and sulking because he was no longer “special.” He behaved jealously in response to his father’s open welcome of a lost sinner into the fold. Let us not be like this elder brother. We are one family in Christ. Let us rejoice in God and his Servant together.