The first two Servant Songs are followed by confirmation of the Servant’s tasks and assurances of success (42:5–9; 49:7–13). The third and fourth are followed by invitations to respond and partake of the benefits resulting from his labours (50:10; 54–55). The connection between the fourth song (52:13–53:12), and what follows is evident, for the Servant has laid the foundation for the blessings enumerated in chapter 54; he has removed sin, established righteousness (53:11), and created a family (53:10–11). This has paved the way for the responses called for; to sing about what has been achieved (54:1), and to celebrate a feast which is the consequence of another’s work (55:1)!

The last two chapters of the Servant prophecies are climactic, bringing to a conclusion the whole panorama in the opening verse, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God” (40:1). In the finality the Servant’s work has and will embrace the whole world, not just “the preserved [survivors] of Israel” (49:6). Chapter 54 graphically illustrates how Zion, Yahweh’s wife and the mother of His children, will be comforted through the imagery of a gathering family (v1–3; cp 49:18) and a restored city (v11–12; 49:16–17).

Isaiah 54

54:1–3 Barren Zion is comforted with the assurance of more children than those lost

In these verses there are two commands, “Sing … Enlarge …”, and each rests on an explanation, “for more are the children …” (v1), and “for thou shalt break forth …” (v3).

54:1 “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife [roth ‘her that had the husband’].”

This is a call for unrestrained rejoicing. Barrenness is the cause of inconsolable grief, but here the sorrows are dissipated by an astounding revelation, the barren one is to have more children than the married wife!? This paradox will be explained in verse 5. The background and basis for this picture is to be found in the life of Abraham, where Sarah, who “was barren; she had no child” (Gen 11:30) was “strengthened” by God to conceive (Heb 11:11). She became the mother of a family more numerous than the stars.

The Apostle Paul in Galatians 4 tells us that these events in the lives of Sarah and Abraham are an allegory. He explains that Abraham had two sons, the one, Ishmael, by a bondmaid, Hagar; and the other, Isaac, by a free woman, Sarah. Ishmael was born in the normal human way, “after the flesh”, but Isaac was conceived by the Spirit, being the seed of promise. Hagar represents the Mosaic covenant, Mt Sinai and bondage; but Sarah, the new covenant in Christ (42:6; 54:10), Zion and freedom. Tragically in the apostle’s day “Jerusalem” was “in bondage [to the Law] with her children”. This is contrasted with “Jerusalem which is above”, and her children who are baptised into Christ and partakers of the fruits of the new covenant (Matt 26:28; Jer 31:31). Having said this he cites as proof Isaiah 54:1, “For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren …” There are other parallels brought out by Paul and present in this record:

  1. Like Hagar, “Zion” had been cast out (v6; Gen 21:19; Gal 4:30)
  2. Like Sarah, Zion’s oppressors and mockers were to cease (v4; Gen 21:9–10; Gal 4:30).

54:2–3 “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes [roth, tent pins; mlb tent pegs].

For thou shalt break forth on the right hand, and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.” (roth ‘and thy seed shall of the nations take possession, and forsaken cities shall they cause to be inhabited’; rsv ‘and your descendants will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities’; mlb ‘until your descendants shall possess the nations and populate desolate cities’.)

In verse 2 there is an urgent call to Zion to vastly extend her tent to provide for a sudden influx of children. Curtains, cords and tent pegs need to be stretched out, lengthened and strengthened to accommodate the hugely augmented family that will claim her to be their mother (Psa 87).

Verse 3 provides the reason, “For …”. On every side her children will come to her. In Isaiah 49:18–20 this gladsome day is portrayed with Gentiles converging upon Zion: “Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold: all these gather themselves together, and come to thee.” They are likened to beautiful garments with which she shall be clothed, and an ornament such as a bride might wear (v18). As in 54:2, she is told that her waste and desolate places will scarcely cope with the multitudes! Zion is perplexed, not knowing, in the imagery, the origin and source of these children, and how she is their mother! (v20). But in chapter 53 the mystery is explained, for the Servant’s work has satisfied the righteousness of God: “by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many … he bare the sin of many” (v11,12). These now seek refuge under her wings.

“thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles” Notice the various translations of this phrase. It appears from the context that the breaking forth on every hand of Zion’s habitation will result in the incorporation, the annexation of all nations! Like the “little stone” of Daniel that “became a great mountain, and filled the earth”, so the Kingdom of God shall grow, “it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Dan 2:35, 44). In reality the Kingdom will embrace all nations and countries, and all peoples, all the Gentiles, will submit and worship (Isa 60:12; 2:3–4).

So the second command in verse 2 calls for expansion in expectation of growth: preparation for extension and possession.

54:4–5 Zion, the wife Yahweh forsook, shall forget her shame in the joy of reconciliation to her Husband

Verse 4 “Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.”

This is now the third imperative in this chapter, the command to “Fear not” (cp v1 “sing” and v2 “enlarge”), and as with the first two, the reason is given, “For thy Maker … ” (v5). This is the overriding reason. But you will notice that three times after being told to “Fear not”, the word “for” occurs, giving the absolute assurance that all the past, historical reasons for fear will have been eclipsed, from youth (Egyptian bondage?) to widowhood (Babylonian captivity and dispersion?). The shame, the disgrace, the humiliation will be out of sight, out of mind, the slate and the memory will have been wiped clean!

Verse 5 “For thy Maker is thine husband; Yahweh of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called.”

All that has been affirmed in verses 1–4 will come to pass, guaranteed by God Himself, the Father of Jesus Christ, both Son and Servant. All is predicated upon the Servant having completed the work given him to do, his devotion to God’s will culminating in obedience even to his sacrifice, the death of the cross. It is this that Isaiah 54 foretells. It is the basis for Zion’s change of fortune, and the great Architect, Yahweh of hosts, is undergirding and superintending the drama. He is ultimately responsible for the salvation in Jesus Christ: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Cor 5:19). He has therefore performed the role of Maker and Husband for Zion. Without His intervention and purpose in Jesus Christ, Zion’s fate would have been oblivion and obscurity like all other nations. So this remarkable verse which brings together the awesome, august, fearful name and titles of the Creator, makes us contemplate His incomparable power and eternity, which enables Him to rule in man’s kingdom and bring to pass His will.

Briefly then, Zion’s future glory depends on Yahweh; He is her Maker (cp Deut 32:15 “then he forsook God which made him”; Psa 100:3 “it is he that hath made us, and not we … ”; Isa 43:7 “ I have created him for my glory, I have formed him”; Eph 2:8–10).

“husband” As “husband” He stresses His relationship to her, the Father of her children, the One Who provides, protects in an eternal relationship.

“Redeemer” (Heb goel) looks back to the deliverance from Egyptian slavery; but particularly from sin, the freedom now available as a result of the work of His Son (John 8:31–36; Rom 6:6–8, 22).

“Yahweh of Hosts” is the “militant” title and emphasises His power and might to defend and vanquish all who would challenge Him.

By “the Holy One of Israel,” we understand He has a unique relationship with Israel and that He is separate and demands the holiness that distinguishes Him, from His people too (cp Lev 10:3; 1 Pet 1:15; Hab 1:12–13; Deut 32:3–4).

“The God of the whole earth shall he be called” While He is this in reality now, as in the past, it has not been acknowledged by His Creation! But it shall be, the redemptive work of the Servant guaranteeing it when he comes with mighty power to establish the Name and praise of his Father (42:4; Zech 14:9).

54:6–10 The permanence of the new relationship illustrated by the fact that it rests on a covenant as unchangeable as the oath to Noah, and as enduring as the everlasting mountains

Verse 6 tells us of the broken mariage being restored, and this is followed by reassurances. Notice the structure of the verses: “for”s are followed by “but”s to emphasise the strength of the bonds.

54:6 “For Yahweh hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused [rv cast off; rsv when she is cast out; mlb, niv, rejected], saith thy God.”

The “For” links verses 6–10 with verses 1–5, explaining and elaborating the Lord’s role as husband. The tumultuous relationship and breakdown in the past (50:1–3) is to change in the most favourable way, and this is a consequence of the completed work of the Servant (ch 53).

“as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit” It was not that she was forsaken by an uncaring, irresponsible husband. The verb “forsaken” simply means “left” and allows context to determine the cause; and in view of the background of 50:1–3 Zion was the guilty party and had therefore been justly put away; but she had subsequently been “grieved in spirit”.

a wife of youth, when thou wast refused” There were reasons given under the Law for putting away (Deut 24:1; 22:13–21). Abraham “cast out” the bond woman, Hagar, and her son (Gen 21:10). Is there linkage with this incident, seeing Hagar is in view in 54:1 as “the married wife” (cp Gal 4:24, 30)?

“a wife of youth” This term implies the devotion of a young married couple full of prospect and hopes. This is how Yahweh’s relationship with Israel is portrayed in the figures used by the prophets and as such His love is undying and able to be revived (cp Jer 2:2; Hos 2:2, 19–20; 11:8–9).

“saith thy God” This is a final assurance. The “call” of her husband, Yahweh, has in it the implication of unchanging love.

Verses 7, 8 “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies [Heb rachamim] will I gather thee.

In a little wrath [mlb in an outburst of indignation] I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness [Heb chesed] will I have mercy [Heb racham] on thee, saith Yahweh, thy Redeemer.”

These two verses are linked by the word “moment”; brief estrangement is contrasted with wondrous reconciliation. The sins for which Zion had been forsaken or ‘left’ are not mentioned. The ground of her restoration lies in the husband, Yahweh’s great mercies [Heb rachamim, compassion, as of a parent for a child] which overflow. We must not forget that this reconciliation is founded upon the forgiveness of sins intrinsic in the new covenant in Jesus Christ (Jer 31:31, 34; Matt 26:28): it is the direct result of the Servant’s work (53:5,12).

In verse 8 an outburst of anger is contrasted with everlasting kindness (Heb chesed, steadfast love, as also in v10). It is hard to imagine a more compelling assurance of unfailing love. In its outworking it has at its core the great love the Father revealed to the world in giving His only Son to die for our sins (John 3:16; Rom 8:32; 5:8–9; 1 John 4:7–9).

“thy Redeemer” This title is appropriate for the Husband has met his wife’s needs, that is, our needs. In reaching out in His love, and at the cost of His beloved Son, He has provided the conditions for our reconciliation to Him.

Verse 9 “For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wrath with thee, nor rebuke thee.”

Reference to the Flood underlines the reality, seriousness and universality of God’s wrath, but the main thrust of this verse is on the permanence of the decree and settlement God made. His justice satisfied by the universal deluge, He set His bow in the cloud as a token of the covenant between Him and the earth (Gen 9:13).

In the case of Zion and her sons, judgment on Sin has been accomplished (Rom 8:3) in the death of the Servant and we, the benefactors, enjoy peace with God. Indeed “the chastisement of our peace was upon him” (53:5).

Verse 10 “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness [Heb chesed] shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith Yahweh that hath mercy [Heb racham] on thee.”

The word “For” begins the final illustration of the permanency of the new relationship, and sets the scene for the contrast, “but my kindness …”

The mountains may have disappeared under the waters of judgment in Noah’s day, but they reappeared upon their recession, permanent and eternal. But here even their removal and departure is contemplated! The likelihood of that happening is greater than Yahweh’s kindness departing or His “covenant of peace” being nullified! To add force to the words, “saith Yahweh” is interposed, and the reason given, because He “hath mercy [Heb racham] on thee”.