The opening verses of Isaiah 26 present glimpses of the Kingdom to come, along with prayer for divine intervention to hasten the fall of tyrannical rulers and the deliverance of saints. Isaiah 26:16–21 continues these thoughts with the feelings of despair, expressed in a “whispered prayer”. These feelings are alleviated by the hope of resurrec­tion and the call from God to His people to come and find protection in Him, while the inhabitants of the earth are punished for “their iniquity”.

Isaiah 26:16–21 A Reverie: A Prayer for Deliverance in View of Impossible Odds Faced. The Alleviation from Suffering and Death is Provided in a Dramatic Description of the Resurrection.

Verse 16 –18

Yahweh, in trouble have they [ie the saints] visited [ʻsoughtʼ ROTH, RSV] thee, they poured out a prayer [ʻwhispered prayerʼ ROTH] when thy chastening was upon them.

“Like as a woman with child, that draweth near the time of her delivery, is in pain, and crieth out in her pangs; so have we been in thy sight, O Yahweh.

“We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were brought forth wind; we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth [ʻsalvation we could not accomplish for the earthʼ ROTH]; neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen.”

The circumstances described in these verses accurately depict those of saints during the times of the Gentiles. Given the responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel in all the world their testimony has been met with opposition and persecution. This is in exact accord with the warnings of the Lord. As he had been treated and opposed, so would they be, for “the servant is not greater than his Lord” (John 15:18–21). But they were to rejoice in persecution for his nameʼs sake, knowing that great would be their reward in heaven (Matt 5:10–12). They also knew that false teachers would soon emerge bringing corruption in doctrine and in practice. So great an apostasy would emerge that the Truth would almost be totally eclipsed and the true believers would be persecuted and slain for their witness to the Word of God (2 Thess 2; Rev 13, 17 etc).

It is in this framework that these remarkable, prophetic words of Isaiah are cast.

Verse 16 predicts the ʻtroubleʼ faithful saints would experience at the hands of false teachers and the forces of Babylon the Great, the Roman Catholic Harlot System. As the Lord was heard “in trouble” (John 12:27-28; Psa 91:15), and Yahweh encourages saints to “call upon him in the day of trouble” (Psa 50:15), so here we find those oppressed for His Nameʼs sake seeking Him and pouring out their whispered prayers.

Verse 17

“Like as a woman with child … crieth out … so have we been in thy sight”

This is a graphic verse and depicts the dire extremities saints have endured for the Truthʼs sake. We know of the awful persecutions our brethren have suffered in the past at the hands of ruthless dictators and an apostate priesthood: they have been fed to wild beasts, made into human torches, put to the sword, burnt at the stake and subjected to every torture the depraved human mind can imagine. We have been spared in our days such butchery, yet we can imagine the anguish of mind they suffered and understand how that “in trouble” they turned to Yahweh seeking deliverance.

It has already been mentioned that Jesus forewarned his disciples that their preaching would not be met with unmingled success, but rather the opposite, persecution and death for his nameʼs sake. In his final words before his sacrifice he picks up these thoughts and in a clear reference to the words of verse 17 says,

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.

“A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.

“And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you” (John 16:20–22).

The following citation from The Ministry of the Prophets: Isaiah by Brother CC Walker, echoes this interpretation: “The figure of a woman in travail which the prophet uses here to express the troubled condition of Godʼs people before the reappearance of Christ is appropriated by the Lord himself in his parting conversation with the disciples [John 16:21-22]. He associates the end of the travail with his coming again: ʻYe now therefore have sorrow, but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from youʼ. In that great day the labours of the servants of God will no longer apparently be abortive—they will ʻwork deliverance in the earthʼ, and ʻthe inhabitants of the world will fall before themʼ” (page 432).

Verse 18

“We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were brought forth wind; we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth; neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen.”

This verse describes the ʻfailureʼ of saints to bring the salvation of the world, that though armed with the greatest message of all time involving Godʼs love, the witness of His beloved Son, and the hope of eternal life and glory in his coming Kingdom, it has been spurned by the vast bulk of humanity! As Rotherham translates, “salvation we could not accomplish for the earth”, and not only so but the saints have been trodden down and the inhabitants of the earth have continued and “not fallen”. Alas, the time will come when God will intervene and “punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity” and they shall “fall”. So whilst saints have felt despair—“we have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were brought forth wind”—and all their labours have appeared abortive, there will be a reward, a wonderful finality as the following exciting verse proclaims!

Verse 19

“Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out her dead [Heb rephaim].

This is a glorious verse, dispelling the sorrows and troubles of the past. Here is the consolation of the saints. Their prayers have been heard, and though the answer has been delayed in order to accommodate the overall purpose of God, they have not been forgotten and their hopes will be answered through the resurrection “at the last day” (John 6). Compare these thoughts with those slain during the period of the Fifth Seal, the Diocletian persecution (AD 303–311) as recorded in Revelation 6:9–11.

It is notable too, that the true hope beyond the grave is not immediate and does not involve immortal souls going to heaven at death! This is the apostasyʼs teaching which has obscured the Truth!

The first sudden statement in the verse meets the cry of the saints and is a strong affirmation and assurance: “Thy dead shall live”. This is joined by Isaiah himself, it would appear, “together with my dead body shall they arise”. Some have considered his later statement to be from the mouth of Messiah, of whom Isaiah is a type (cp 8:18 and Heb 2:13). If this is so we have a linkage between Messiahʼs resurrection and that of the saints. A number of scriptures make an affirmative statement to that effect!

  • Matthew 27:53 Sleeping saints came forth from their graves after Christʼs resurrection and appeared to many in Jerusalem.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:20 “But now is Christ risen … and become the first fruits of them that slept.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:14 “For if we believe that Christ died and rose again, even them also that sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.”