Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 54. The Future Felicity of Zion, reunited to Jehovah in an Everlasting Covenant
The chapter continues the series of oracles of consolation which commences at Isaiah 49:14, and is broken by the two passages on the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 50:4-11 and Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12. The direct influence of the latter passage on ch. 54 is less obvious than might have been expected from the singularly profound conceptions there unfolded of the work of Jehovah’s Servant. The points of contact adduced by some commentators are few and unessential, and they fall into insignificance by the side of the fact that “it cannot be shown that any of the characteristic ideas of ch. 53 are clearly referred to in ch. 54.” (Cheyne.) Yet the supposition that this chapter was originally the sequel to Isaiah 52:12 and that the intervening prophecy was inserted by an afterthought is neither necessary nor altogether natural. The summons to depart from Babylon (Isaiah 52:11-12) marks a pause in the development of the prophet’s thought, and (just as after the similar apostrophe in Isaiah 48:20-22) a fresh point of departure is found in the idea of the Servant of the Lord. Moreover, although it may not be possible to trace the direct dependence of ch. 54 on ch. 53, we may nevertheless suppose a real connexion between the two in the prophet’s mind. The two chapters deal with the same subject from two distinct standpoints. Whatever view be held as to the Servant’s personality, there is no doubt that his exaltation implies the restoration of Israel, and that his work is the indispensable condition of that restoration being accomplished. Thus while ch. 54 describes the inward process of conversion by which the nation is made righteous, ch. 53 describes the outward deliverance which is the result; and the impression is probably correct that the glowing hopes here uttered are sustained in the last resort by the contemplation of the Servant’s mission as described in ch. 53.
The chapter consists of two sections:—
i. Isaiah 54:1-10. (1) Zion, addressed as a barren and desolate woman, is comforted with the assurance that her children are more numerous than those she formerly had as the “married wife” of Jehovah. She is bidden to extend her tent so as to receive them, for they shall spread abroad on every side, peopling the deserted cities and taking possession of the territory of the Gentiles (Isaiah 54:1-3). (2) The shame of her youth and the reproach of widowhood are wiped out by her reconciliation to Jehovah, her Husband and her Maker (Isaiah 54:4-6). (3) It will be seen that her rejection was but a brief withdrawal of Jehovah’s favour for her; her restoration now is final, resting on a covenant as unchangeable as the oath to Noah, or the everlasting mountains (Isaiah 54:7-10).
ii. Isaiah 54:11-17. Jerusalem shall be rebuilt in lavish magnificence (Isaiah 54:11-12); her citizens, being all disciples of Jehovah, shall enjoy perfect peace, undisturbed by the thought of oppression (13, 14); her enemies shall be confounded, and no weapon forged against her shall prosper (15–17).
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, saith the LORD.1–3. The ideal Zion is called upon to rejoice in the multitude of her children. As in ch. Isaiah 49:21, the children are conceived as already born, and waiting to be acknowledged by their mother.
more are the children of the desolate (2 Samuel 13:20) &c.] The contrast is not between Zion and other cities, but between Zion’s present and her past: even now in her widowhood and barrenness she has more children than she had before her separation from her Husband.
the married wife] Cf. ch. Isaiah 62:4; Genesis 20:3; Deuteronomy 22:22. The image of the verse is applied by St Paul to the contrast between the spiritual and the earthly Jerusalem; i.e. the church of Christ and the Jewish community (Galatians 4:27).
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;2. The idea of the verse is expressed in Isaiah 49:20-21; for the figure of the tent (in an opposite sense) cf. Jeremiah 10:20.
The curtains are the tent-hangings (Jeremiah 49:29; Habakkuk 3:7), the stakes, the tent-pegs (ch. Isaiah 33:20).
The words spare not should, according to the accents, be joined to the preceding clause.
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.3. The tent must be larger than of old, for the new community shall spread abroad (cf. Genesis 28:14; Genesis 30:30; Genesis 30:43) on the right hand and on the left, i.e. in all directions.
inherit the Gentiles] take possession of nations (cf. Genesis 22:17; Genesis 24:60). The reference is not to be limited to the heathen who had occupied the soil of Palestine; although the desolate cities in the parallel clause are no doubt primarily those of the holy land.
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.4. the reproach of thy widowhood clearly refers to the period of the Exile when Zion regarded herself as cast off by Jehovah. The sense of the shame of thy youth is less obvious. Since the conception has some affinities with the striking allegory in Ezekiel 16 it is probable that the reference goes back to the origin of the nation (cf. Ezekiel 16:4-8); the reference being to the Egyptian oppression.
4–6. Zion shall forget her former shame in the joy of reconciliation to her God.
For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called.5. thy Maker is thine husband] Rather, thy husband is thy Maker: He who has entered into this closest and tenderest of relations is none other than He who made thee. “Husband” in the original is a partic.; lit. “he who marries thee”; and both nouns are in the plural after the analogy of words like ǎdônîm (= lord, the so-called plural of majesty).
thy redeemer] See on Isaiah 41:14.
shall he be called] Perhaps, is he called, parallel to “is his name.” The ground of comfort lies in the thought that He who acknowledges Zion as His wife is the God of the whole earth, the ruler of all the forces of the universe.
For the LORD hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God.6. Although Zion is temporarily estranged from Jehovah, she is yet a “wife of youth” holding a permanent place in her husband’s affections.
For the Lord hath called thee] i.e. “calls thee” now (Cheyne, “hath recalled thee”). The reference is not to the first espousals of the nation at the exodus, but to the renewal of conjugal intercourse in the restoration from exile.
as a wife (R.V.) forsaken and grieved in spirit] neglected by her husband, and left to her own bitter reflexions, but not cast off. Cf. Hosea 3:3.
and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused] R.V. “even a wife of youth, when she is cast off.” The clause is difficult. Probably it is an exclamation: and a wife of youth—can she be rejected? (so Cheyne, after Ewald); it is impossible that she should be finally disowned.
a wife of youth] one who has been wooed and won in youth; Proverbs 5:18; Malachi 2:14 f.
For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.7, 8. Jehovah’s anger was but a momentary interruption of His kindness to Israel; His mercy is everlasting. Comp. Psalm 30:5.
will I gather thee] can hardly mean “draw thee to myself”; it denotes the gathering together of the scattered children of Zion.
In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer.8. In a little wrath] In an outbreak of wrath (Heb. shéçeph qéçeph). The word shéçeph is probably another form (chosen for the sake of assonance) of shéṭeph which occurs in Proverbs 27:4.
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 wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee.9, 10. The permanence of the new covenant relation is illustrated first by the promise made to Noah, of which the rainbow is the perpetual token, and then by the steadfastness of the unchanging hills.
For this is as the waters of Noah unto me] Or, according to the reading of several MSS. and the ancient versions (though not the LXX.), As the days of Noah is this (i.e. the present juncture) to me (see R.V. marg.). The difference of reading is very slight, consisting merely in the conjunction of two words which the received text separates (כימי for כי מי). The second alternative is better.
for as I have sworn &c.] as I have sworn &c. (omitting “for”). Comp. Genesis 8:21 f., Isaiah 9:11-17. The absence of any mention of an oath in the narrative is immaterial.
For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the LORD that hath mercy on thee.10. Comp. Psalm 46:2 f.; Habakkuk 3:6.
The first sentence may be rendered concessively: Though the mountains should remove and the hills be shaken, yet &c.
my covenant of peace] (R.V.) Ezekiel 34:25; Ezekiel 37:26; Malachi 2:5. that hath compassion] as Isaiah 49:10.
O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.11, 12. The outward splendour of the new Jerusalem described in highly figurative language; comp. Tob 13:16-17; Revelation 21:18-21.
I will lay thy stones with fair colours] lit. in antimony (R.V. marg.). Antimony (pûkh) was used by Oriental females as an eye-powder to blacken the edges of the eyelids and enhance the lustre of the eyes (2 Kings 9:30; Jeremiah 4:30; comp. the name of Job’s third daughter, Keren-hap-pukh, ‘horn of eye-powder,’ Job 42:14. see further Lane, Manners and Customs, &c. ed. 1890, pp. 29 ff.). In the figure the antimony would represent the costly mortar used to set off the brilliancy of the still more costly stones. The ἄνθρακα of the LXX. seems to stand for נפך (instead of פוך), a kind of precious stone; see Exodus 28:18 &c. In 1 Chronicles 29:2, where we read of “stones of pûkh” (R.V. “stones for inlaid work”) prepared for the Temple, the idea must be different; but whether that passage has any connexion with the present image is doubtful.
I will lay thy foundations (lit. “I will found thee”) with sapphires] Exodus 24:10; Ezekiel 1:26.
And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.12. thy windows] Rather as R.V. pinnacles. The word is derived from that for “sun,” and appears to denote those parts of the building which glitter in the sun’s rays. (Comp. the Arab. “minaret,” used primarily of a lantern or a lighthouse.)
agates] (Ezekiel 27:16) “sparkling” stone, perhaps rubies (so R.V.).
carbuncles] (only here) “fiery” stones; although the LXX. renders “stones of crystal.”
all thy borders] R.V. border, perhaps the outer wall (the περίτειχος, see on ch. Isaiah 26:1).
And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children.13, 14. The righteousness, peace and security of the inhabitants.
taught of the Lord] lit. disciples of Jehovah, initiated in the true knowledge of God, and obedient to His will. Cf. Jeremiah 31:34; John 6:45. The expression is probably suggested by what the Servant of Jehovah says of himself in ch. Isaiah 50:4; the idea being that the citizens of the new Jerusalem shall be the spiritual seed of the servant.
In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee.14. In righteousness shalt thou be established] (lit. shalt thou establish thyself) cf. Proverbs 24:3. “Righteousness” may describe the character of the citizens, but more probably it means that the position of the commonwealth is unassailable because based on right—on conformity to the divine order (see Isaiah 54:17).
thou shalt be far from oppression] lit. be thou far from oppression (R.V. marg.), i.e. let it be far from thy thoughts. Here it is obvious from the context that “oppression” is not wrong perpetrated within the city, but external oppression which might be inflicted by its enemies.
thou shalt not fear] i.e. hast no cause to fear.
terror] or destruction.
Behold, they shall surely gather together, but not by me: whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake.15. The verse is somewhat difficult. The rendering “gather together” can hardly be defended, and moreover it does not suit the construction (“against,” in the second line, is really “with”). The verb is perhaps best explained as a by-form of a root meaning to “stir up” (strife) or pick a quarrel (Proverbs 15:18). The sense would be: If (any) should stir up strife (it is) not of me; whosoever stirs up strife with thee shall fall &c. (see R.V. and marg.)
fall because of thee] or perhaps “fall upon thee” to his own ruin (cf. ch. Isaiah 8:14 f.). R.V. marg. suggests “fall away to thee,” i.e. go over to thy side, which is the sense given by some of the ancient versions. The phrase has this meaning in Jeremiah 21:9; Jeremiah 37:14 (“fall away to the Chaldæans”), but it is little appropriate in this verse.
Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy.16, 17. No weapon formed against Zion shall prosper, because both the makers of weapons and those who use them are alike created by Jehovah, and all their activity is under His control.
the smith that bloweth the fire of coals (R.V.)] Cf. ch. Isaiah 44:12.
an instrument for his work] rather for its work, or perhaps “according to its work,” adapted to the particular work for which it is intended,—a scythe for reaping, a sword for slaughter, and so on. The smith will turn out anything, amongst other things deadly weapons, but all by the permission of Jehovah who has made him.
the waster to destroy] Not “to destroy the weapon that the smith has made”; the “waster” is the one for whose use the weapon is made; he also is the creature of Jehovah.
No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD.17. Israel therefore has no cause to fear any material weapon, and even the Satanic weapon of false accusations, which assail her righteous standing before God, she shall be able to foil.
every tongue … thou shalt condemn] i.e. shew to be in the wrong (cf. ch. Isaiah 50:8 f.).
This is the heritage &c.] A concluding summary. “This,” viz., all the blessings just enumerated, peace, righteousness, security, triumph over opposition.
of the servants of the Lord] The title “servants of Jehovah” (in the plural) has not hitherto been used in the prophecy (with the doubtful exception of ch. Isaiah 44:26, where it denotes the prophets). It is possible that its occurrence here forms a link of connexion between this chapter and the last. The ideal represented by the Servant of Jehovah is now reproduced in each individual member of the new Israel; they are all of the spiritual seed which was promised to him, and the salvation they enjoy is the fruit of the travail of his soul (Isaiah 53:10-11). It is noteworthy, at all events, that while from this point the Israelites are spoken of as servants of Jehovah, the ideal Servant is never again mentioned.
and their righteousness is of me] Rather, and (this is) their righteousness from me. The righteousness, or justification, bestowed on them by Jehovah (cf. Psalm 24:5) is manifested in such blessedness as has just been spoken of.