The Lord Is Compassionate

Explore the Bible Series

April 26, 2009



Background Passage: Isaiah 54:1-17

Lesson Passage: Isaiah 54:1-10


Introduction: This section of the Prophecy of Isaiah has a wonderful coherence and progression of thought.  One chapter builds on the other to construct an encouraging and gracious message.  Chapter Fifty-three is a marvelous prediction of the sacrifice of the Servant for the sins of his people.  It pleased the Lord to send his Son into the world in the form of a humble servant, without form or comeliness. Furthermore, the Father laid the iniquity of us all on the Servant and struck him with the scourge of wrath, all for our iniquities.  The Servant bore these sufferings without complaint or defense. The anguish of the Servant, however, will bear great fruit, and, in due time, he will see his seed and justify many.  God was satisfied with the sacrifice of his soul. Most importantly, the Lord pledged to exalt the Suffering Servant and grant him a portion with the great.  This chapter portrays the Lord Jesus as glorious Priest and King. 


Chapter Fifty-Four builds on the message concerning the Suffering Servant; that is, it describes the effects of the Servant’s death and intercession for his people.  Isaiah compared Israel to a forsaken woman: sinful, barren, shamed, and grieved.  Nevertheless, Jehovah will pursue the desperate woman and take her for his beloved wife.  He promised to restore and provide for her, and his love, he said, would never depart from her.  In a sense, this chapter is a kind of love poem, intended to reassure Judah and reaffirm the Lord’s love for his people.


Please recall that Isaiah wrote these words about the Babylonian Captivity more than a century before Nebuchadnezzar’s armies sacked Judah (586 B.C.); yet, the prophet wrote these chapters (Forty through Sixty-Six) as if these events had already occurred.  He anticipated that Judah would feel abandoned, forsaken by her husband, Jehovah.  She had been unfaithful to her wedding covenant, and her groom turned his back for a season.  This poem recalls the story of Hosea and his adulterous wife, Gomer.  The images do not correspond perfectly (for instance, Gomer was not barren), but the stories have several similarities.


In the ancient world, childlessness was regarded as a terrible cause of shame.  The Old Testament records many stories of the struggle of barren women: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Manoah’s wife, and Hannah.  Contemporary readers may flinch a bit at this ancient cultural perspective, but this historical understanding of barrenness is undeniable.  Isaiah compared Judah to a barren woman, stricken with shame at her plight.  In this case, the “barrenness” imagery centers our attention on the absence of the husband from his wife.  Judah remained barren because her unfaithfulness had driven away her husband.  It was, therefore, a self-imposed barrenness.  Nevertheless, her shame will, in time, come to end, and she will become fruitful and joyous.  Her husband, Jehovah, will return and expand the edges of her tent to afford room for all of her offspring.


Outline of the Background Passage:


I.                    A call to joyous worship (vv. 1-8): Isaiah compared Israel to an abandoned, barren woman. In the ancient Near East, societies viewed childlessness as a great disgrace.  The family of Judah, decimated by the Captivity, bore the disgrace of a barren household. However, in his boundless mercy, God invited the forsaken “woman” to rejoice.  He pledged to remove Judah’s shame by multiplying their numbers.  He told her to expand the curtains of her tent to make room for the blessings of Jehovah.  Furthermore, God will be her husband, and he will give her offspring the nations for an inheritance.  She will bear the name of Jehovah, and he will give to her everlasting kindness. Note the images Isaiah employed to reflect God’s attitude toward Judah.

A.     “your Maker is your husband” (v. 5a): Of course, we must not press the imagery too far.  Isaiah mixes his analogies here when he points out that God is both father and husband to his people.  We must not, obviously, contort these analogies into grotesque images (incest); rather, we should understand them as analogies that reflect God’s tenderness toward his beloved people. 

B.     the Lord of Hosts is his name” (v. 5b): Judah will be known by her husband’s name.  She will share in his identity and heritage.

C.     the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer” (v. 5c): Like Boaz, God will redeem his people from their desperation (See the Book of Ruth). Redemption is a powerful, common image of salvation, in the Old and New Testaments. Isaiah affirms the Lord’s compassion and everlasting love for his bride, Judah (See vv. 7-8).


II.                 The analogy of God’s Covenant with Noah (vv. 9-10): As you recall, God made a covenant with Noah that the earth would never experience another judgment by flood (See Genesis 8: 20-22).  Here, the prophet compared Noah’s Covenant with the commitment of God to treat his people with merciful kindness.  This covenant will last longer than the mountains and the hills.  Just so, Isaiah compares the God’s marital covenant to his agreement with Noah.  The point, I think, centers on God’s unbending faithfulness to his promise.

III.               God’s promise to comfort and protect his children (vv. 11-17):  The prophet acknowledged the desperate condition of the people (See v. 11), but he also promised the establishment and security of the Lord’s elect.

A.     The blessing of God will rest on Judah and her descendants (vv. 11-13): The Lord promised to resettle his people in the beauty and dignity of Zion.  Again, we should probably not press these images (sapphires, agate crystal, etc.); rather, the passage reflects the beauty and glory of the presence of Jehovah as he dwells with his bride. Furthermore, Judah’s children will be taught by the Lord, and he will establish peace among the people (See vv. 13-14).

B.     God will protect his children from their enemies (vv. 14-17):  These verses contain some of the most precious promises in the Word of God.  God’s people have many enemies.  Some of these adversaries seem obvious; others, however, come disguised as angels of light.  Whatever the case, God will protect his elect, and they shall remain secure in his watch care. God promised to forge weapons against the enemies of his people, and no weapon formed against them would prosper.  In time, God promised to thoroughly vindicate his people.