Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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.LIV.
(1) Sing, O barren . . .—The words seem to carry on the jubilant strain of Isaiah 51, Isaiah 52:1-12, leaving the section Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12, as a mysterious episode. inserted, it may be, by the prophet to show how it was that the restoration of Israel and the victory of righteousness had become possible. We note, as bearing on Isaiah’s studies, the parallelism with 1Samuel 2:5. The “children of the desolate” are primarily the returning exiles, ultimately all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem.
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) Enlarge the place of thy tent.—Interesting parallels are found in Isaiah 33:20; Jeremiah 10:20.
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) On the right hand and on the left.—Comp. Genesis 28:14. Strictly speaking, the words indicate specially the north and the south, in relation to one who stands looking towards the East. Here, of course, they mean “on every side.” The words that follow have, like others, a lower or material and a higher or spiritual meaning.
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) Thou shalt forget.—The “shame of thy youth,” was the Egyptian bondage, from which Jehovah chose Israel to be His bride (Jeremiah 3:1-11; Ezekiel 16:1-14). The “reproach of widowhood” was the captivity in Babylon.
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) The Lord of Hosts . . . the Holy One of Israel.—We note the combination of the two names so prominent in 1 Isaiah. The “Redeemer” in this context suggests the idea of the next of kin (such, e.g., as Boaz was to Ruth), taking on himself the kinsman’s duty of protection (Ruth 4:4-6).
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) For the Lord hath called thee.—The words find their explanation, perhaps their starting-point, in the history of Hosea and Gomer (Hosea 1-3). The husband has punished the faithless wife by what seemed a divorce, but his heart yearns after her, and he takes her back again.
When thou wast refused.—Some critics render Can she be rejected . . .? with the implied answer. “No, that is impossible,” but the Authorised version is tenable, and gives an adequate meaning.
For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.(7) For a small moment.—Historically the words point to the seventy years of exile, as being but a transient interruption of the manifestation of the everlasting mercies. Spiritually they have wider and manifold fulfilments in the history of individuals, of the Church, of mankind.
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.—The Hebrew has the rhetorical emphasis of rhyme, bĕshetsheph, guetseph, literally, in a gush or burst, of wrath, which, however terrible at the time, endured but for a moment.
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) This is as the waters of Noah.—Interesting (1) as showing the writer’s knowledge of the book of Genesis (see Isaiah 51:2); (2) as one of the few references to the Deluge, outside that book, in the Old Testament. Strictly speaking, Genesis 9:11 speaks of a “covenant,” not an “oath,” but it would be idle to find a difficulty in the use of words which, as referring to a Divine act, are almost or altogether interchangeable. It is obvious that the words have found their fulfilment not in any earthly city but in the heavenly Jerusalem.
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) For the mountains shall depart.—Better, “may depart.” The same bold hyperbole is found in Psalm 46:3; Jeremiah 31:36; Matthew 24:35.
The covenant of my peace.—The phrase is taken from Numbers 25:12, and re-appears in Ezekiel 34:25; Ezekiel 37:26. “Peace,” as elsewhere in the Old Testament, includes well-nigh all that is wrapped up in the “salvation” of the New.
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) I will lay thy stones with fair colours.—The first germ of the idealising symbolism of the new Jerusalem. The language of Tobit 13:16-17, shows the impression which it made on the Jews of the captivity. It takes its highest form, excluding all thoughts of a literal fulfilment, in Revelation 21:19-21. The Hebrew word for “fair colours” indicates the kohl, the black powder of antimony, or manganese, used by women in the East on eyelids and eyebrows, so as to enhance the brilliancy of the eyes. (2Kings 9:30, 1Chronicles 29:2, Jeremiah 4:30.) Here, apparently, it is used in the same way as the setting of the sapphires and other gems. For “windows” read pinnacles.
Sapphires . . .—As with the choice of the twelve gems for the High Priest’s breast-plate, it is probable that each stone, over and above its visible beauty, had a symbolical significance. Sapphire, e.g., represented the azure of the firmament, as the “sapphire throne” of the Eternal (Exodus 24:10, Ezekiel 1:26; Ezekiel 10:1), and the rubies (not “agates”) and carbuncles may, in like manner, have answered to the fiery glow of the Divine love and the Divine wrath.
And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children.(13) All thy children shall be taught of the Lord . . .—More accurately, shall be the disciples of Jehovah; quoted by our Lord as fulfilled in His disciples (John 6:45).
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) Thou shalt be far from oppression . . .—On the assumption of Isaiah’s authorship the words stand out in contrast with his own experience of the “oppression” of Ahaz, of the “fear” and “terror” caused by Sargon and Sennacherib.
Behold, they shall surely gather together, but not by me: whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake.(15) But not by me . . .—Another contrast with Isaiah’s experience. The power of Sargon and Sennacherib rested on the fact that they were instruments in God’s hands (Isaiah 10:15; Isaiah 37:26). Against the new Jerusalem no command would be given such as had been given to them.
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) Behold, I have created the smith . . .—The words assert the same thought. The “axe,” the “hammer,” the “sword,” of the great ravagers of the earth are formed by the great Work-Master, and He would fashion no such weapon against the new Jerusalem.
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) Every tongue that shall rise . . .—The thought implied is that war comes as the punishment of guilt, and that it is preceded by the “cry” of accusation. Many such cries had risen up against the old Jerusalem (Isaiah 5:7). There should be none such heard against the new.
This is the heritage.—The solemn asseveration indicates the close of a distinct section.