William Kelly Major Works Commentary
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.Isaiah Chapter 54
How beautifully seasonable is the voice of the Spirit calling on Jerusalem to sing after His own clear and full prediction of Messiah rejected of Israel and bruised of Jehovah in atonement! Indeed the last section of the prophecy gave us a most striking and instructive rehearsal or dialogue between God and His people about Messiah, His sufferings, and the glories that should follow. Fitly therefore follows the invitation to her who had sorrowed so long and so justly now to rejoice because of her new blessing in His grace.
"Exult, thou barren, [that] didst not bear; break forth into singing, and shout aloud, thou [that] didst not travail with child: for more [are] the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith Jehovah" (v. 1). Never ought it to have been a question who is meant. The reference undoubtedly is to the heavenly and not to the earthly Jerusalem. As usual however, the commentators have confused what is plain, and agreed in scarce anything but departure from the true sense and aim. The occasion of stumbling they have in general found, partly by their habit of excluding the Jews from the prophets and so judaising the Christians (limiting themselves to the past and present without taking in the Suture), partly from a misunderstanding of Galatians 4:27 through mixing it up with the "allegory" of Sarah and Hagar. But who does not see that the citation of the prophet connects itself rather with Jerusalem which is above, in contrast with Jerusalem which then was? When the prophecy is fulfilled in the millennial day, God will count those who now believe to be Jerusalem's children, as well as the race to come in that day. Doubly thus it will be verified that more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife. For what fruit of the most flourishing times, say under David or Solomon, could compare with the gathering-in of the Christian saints since the Jews lost their place as the recognised witness and wife of Jehovah; or, again, with the vast progeny which Jehovah will give her after her long desolation, when His reign shall be displayed over the earth? (Consult Isaiah 49:13-23; Isaiah 60:8; Isa 60:20-22).
It is important to see, on the one hand, that though it is according to scripture to regard Christians mystically as the children of desolate Jerusalem far outnumbering those of her married estate of old, the church, on the other hand, is not yet presented by God's word as being in the relationship of the wife, either desolate or married. The marriage is future and on high. The bride, the Lamb's wife, will not have made herself ready till she has been caught up to heaven glorified, and the harlot Babylon, the anti church, has been judged of Jehovah God. The real position of the church meanwhile is that of one espoused; her responsibility is to keep herself as a chaste virgin for Christ. The marriage will be in heaven, just before the Lord and His glorified saints appear for the destruction of the Antichrist and all his allies. (Compare Rev. 19)
On the other hand, it is undeniable that the Jews, or Zion if you will, had the place of nearness to Jehovah which is represented under the figure of the marriage-tie, that she had been faithless and played the whore with many lovers (even the idols of the Gentiles), and that in consequence she was divorced, becoming a widow and desolate under the righteous dealing of God. Adultery was her sin, rather than fornication. No one in the least familiar with the prophets can have failed to notice this and more said of Israel. Then it was she became barren and did not bear. Praise is still silent for God in Zion; but the vow shall yet be performed to Him (Psalm 65:1); and the barren one shall sing and be no more barren but bear, astonished to find during those days of literal barrenness such an abundant offspring in the saints glorified on high, whom grace has been the while actively bringing in.
Nor is this all. "Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thy habitations; spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall possess nations, and make desolate cities to be inhabited" (vv. 2, 3). The land, the earth, must be filled with a suited seed; for Jehovah shall be king over all the earth; in that day shall there be one Jehovah and His name one. Yea, Jehovah deigns to be the husband of Zion, not now a mere testimony and display of responsibility of man under law, but in the efficacy of grace when glorying is no more in the flesh but in Jehovah. "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. For thy Maker [is] thy husband: Jehovah of hosts [is] His name, and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth shall he be called. For Jehovah hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when rejected, saith thy God" (vv. 4 6).
Thus, and thus only, our chapter flows in its own proper channel: the exclusion of Israel by-and-by and the appropriation of it to the church as its intended scope produce nothing but violence and confusion by that interpretation. It is not true that God has forsaken the church even for a small moment, nor that in a little wrath He hides His face for an instant from the Christian: such and so great is the efficacy of redemption. Of the Jew as such it is precisely the present fact: as surely will He yet gather in His mercy His ancient people for ever. "For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In overflowing wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith Jehovah thy Redeemer. For this [is as] the waters of Noah unto me; since I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I will no more be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall my covenant of peace be removed, saith Jehovah that hath mercy on thee" (vv. 7-10).
No doubt the application to the Maccabean epoch falls incomparably short of the terms of blessing, and such views cast no small slight on the character of the word of God. But this is the fault, not of scripture, but of its misreaders. A people are in question who, having once stood in full favour and near relationship to Jehovah, forfeited it for a season, and finally are restored more than ever and for ever. There is but one such people: impossible that God should fail to have mercy on Israel. Guilty Christendom is doomed to destruction, and has no promise of restoration. Strong is the Lord God Who is to judge the Babylon that is now, worse and guiltier far than her of old (Rev. 17 - 18).
"O afflicted, tossed with tempest, not comforted! behold I will set thy stones in antimony, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy pinnacles of rubies, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy border of pleasant stones. And all thy children [shall be] taught of Jehovah; and great [shall be] the peace of thy children. 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. Behold, they shall surely gather together, [but] not by me: whosoever gathereth together against thee shall fall because of thee. 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. No weapon that is prepared against thee shall prosper; and every tongue [that] riseth against thee in judgement thou shalt condemn. This [is] the heritage of the servants of Jehovah, and their righteousness [is] of me, saith Jehovah" (vv. 11-17). Thus the prophecy is not only of everlasting mercy reinstating the ancient people, but along with it are images of beauty and glory with which Jehovah will adorn them. Truth will be theirs, for they all shall be taught of Jehovah; peace too, great peace, will be enjoyed; and, established in righteousness, they shall be far from oppression and fear, though not from hostile intention (as we know from Ezek. 38 - 39 at the beginning of the millennium, and from Revelation 20:7-9 at its end). But Israel will have hoped in Jehovah, and not in vain: for with Jehovah is mercy, and with Him plenteous redemption.
See on the two sides the frightful perversion to which all are exposed who allegorize the prophecies, as is the popular fashion of so-called high church and low church and no church; for it is hard to say who is most guilty in this path, ruinous to all faith and practice characteristic of Christianity. "To take an example" (said the late Matthew Arnold) "which will come home to all Protestants, Dr. Newman, in one of those charming Essays which he has of late rescued for us, quotes from the 54th chapter of Isaiah the passage beginning, I will lay thy stones with fair colours and thy foundations with sapphires, as a prophecy and authorisation of the sumptuosities of the Church of Rome. This is evidently to use the passage in the way of application. Protestants will say that it is a wrong use of it; but to Dr. Newman their similar use of passages about the beast, and the scarlet woman, and Antichrist, will seem equally wrong. But as to the historical substratum, the primary sense of the passage which Dr. Newman quotes, what dissension can there be? Who can deny that in the first instance, however we may apply them afterwards, and whether this after-application be right or wrong, the prophet's words apply to the restored Zion?"
Now, without profitless wrangling on primary or secondary application, it is certain to faith that the Romanists have corrupted God's word to justify the lusts, vanities, and pomps claimed as her due by the great harlot of Rome, through the same insubjection to scripture which leads others at the opposite pole to make the best of both worlds; whose judgement is alike just. For they are verily inexcusable. The Christian, the church, is called to set the mind on things above, not on things on the earth, where we are called to walk by faith, not by sight, and to suffer both for righteousness' sake and for Christ's, in view of the heavenly glory into which He is gone before, while we await His coming to enjoy it with Him. For Israel it is altogether different. When brought into known relationship with Him, it is in earthly honour and glory; and nothing in nature will be too precious for the adornment of Zion. Beyond doubt they too will be born anew; but the days of the kingdom displayed in power (no longer in patience during the prevalence of evil) account for the radical and evident difference. Then will be the days of restored Zion, as much denied by the rationalist as by the superstitious who both look to man and present things. And thus is God's word made of none effect through man's traditions.
Without faith it is impossible to please God; and there is no real faith where God's great object of faith, the Lord Jesus does not arrest, command, and satisfy the heart. We speak now of those to whom He has been announced by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, rather than of the saints who waited for redemption before His first advent. We must not be deceived by or about such as find an entrancing interest, literary or even moral, in the scriptures, without faith in Christ or the gospel. For this may be in the vilest of mankind where intellectual and aesthetic force is strong. Take another instance, to which we are referred in the same page of Mr. Arnold. "Admirably true are these words of Goethe, so constant a reader of the Bible that his free-thinking friends reproach him for wasting his time over it: 'I am convinced that the Bible becomes even more beautiful the more one understands it; that is, the more one gets insight to see that every word which we take generally and make special application of to our own wants, has had, in connection with certain circumstances, with certain relations of time and place, a particular, directly individual, reference of its own.'" Sadly true in its measure, say we; for God dealing with the soul, and hence with the life, by the truth in Christ, and meeting the sin-convicted with the fullness of His grace, was distasteful yea, despised and hated. He, who was never weary of talking about "the good of evil" (a sentiment worthy of Mephistopheles) had God in none of his thoughts, and was as far as possible from the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ.
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;
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.
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.
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.
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.
For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.
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.
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.
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.
O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.
And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.
And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children.
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.
Behold, they shall surely gather together, but not by me: whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake.
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.
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.