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Lowell Brueckner

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The Song of the Barren


49. An expository study of Isaiah, chapter 54

In chapter 53, we studied a message that Israel largely rejected and in this chapter, we see Israel as the incapable messenger, the broken tool, the light that is snuffed out. Of course, unbelief lies at the root of her problem and fosters idolatry and sin. It is likened to a childless woman, a most disgraceful state in Bible times. It is particularly addressed to a desolate Israel in Babylonian exile, but as we have observed already a good number of times, the prophecy projects into the last days. It also serves as an example of the heavenly Jerusalem, from which the true church is born (Gal.4:27). These all prove the divine principle that involves a naturally incapable people, empowered by God. 

Unfaithful and desolate, she is converted, God forgives her and takes her back. We see her repenting first under the ministry of John the Baptist, and then, believing and following Christ. As the book of Acts begins, they come by the thousands, Jews from many different parts of the world. As we read on, we learn of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the conversion of Cornelius, and then a movement throughout the Middle East and into Europe among non-Jewish people.

Faith is substance

“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor!” It is a command, primarily to Israel, to rejoice and sing. It is a challenge to a people, who have no natural reason for joy. It is not different from Paul’s command to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice,” (Phil.4:4) because we learn from his second letter to the Corinthians that the churches in Macedonia, Philippi being one of them, were “in a severe test of affliction” and “extreme poverty” (2 Co.8:1). He gave himself as their example of being “brought low… In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil.4:12,13).

It is the theme of the whole Bible to bring people to trust in the living God and His word, regardless of earthly circumstances. From the world’s viewpoint, the call to live and act by faith is irrational, but looking down from the superior vantage point of heaven, it is totally logical. There is nothing in the universe that is more trustworthy than the word of God. 

When the apostle James writes about works, we should understand that he is teaching about an active faith… a faith that becomes visible, because of what it does.  “I will show you my faith by my works,” he said (Jas.2:18). The Lord makes a promise: “The children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married” (v.1). The word of God is spirit and life and His promise is surer than the barren womb. Therefore, Israel and all those, who are spiritually sterile, sing. “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes” (v.2).

All this movement takes place before children are born. The enlargement of the Jewish church provided the groundwork for the missionary movement among the Gentiles. We see a similar movement today, as Jews are coming from around the world and are establishing the nation of Israel after centuries of desolation and persecution. It is the preparation for a final, glorious move of God.

The promise of the prophecy continues: “You will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities” (v.3). Once again this refers physically to the remnant that returns from captivity and repopulates the land. There they live, when Christ comes to earth, and then a spiritual movement occurs, as described in the book of Acts, which we have already seen. Jesus referred frequently to the time of His second coming, Paul pointed the church in that direction, and all Scripture leads us on to the culmination of the purpose of God upon the earth. Isaiah takes us there again.

There will come a move of God, with such powerful dimensions, that will cause Israel to “forget the shame of your youth”… the slavery of Egypt. She will not remember “the reproach of your widowhood”… the Babylonian captivity (v.4). Her sin and idolatry will be buried in the Sea of Forgetfulness. Even the dispersion of 70 A.D. and the seven-year tribulation will be driven from their mind, due to the direct presence and work of the heavenly Husband, as never before seen in their history.  

He will manifest Himself to them as the Creator, the Maker, the Lord of Hosts unleashing His armies, and the Holy One of Israel hallowing His name, doing His will and building His kingdom throughout the earth (v.5). To perform this purpose in Israel, the Lord will call to them in a time, when they are weakest: “Like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off” (v.6).

The many years of affliction, persecution and desertion will seem brief, because of His overwhelming glory, which will shine upon them. Those times of suffering will fade, when He will draw them by His embrace to Himself with wonderful compassion. It will be a work of love. “With great compassion I will gather you” (v.7).

Affliction and glory

I am reminded of Paul’s statement, which fits this situation so well: “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Co.4:17). Verses 7 and 8 describe heavenly principle, the outflow of God’s nature, in dealing with His people, whether Jew or Gentile. “In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer.” The affliction is horrible, but momentary; the glory is forever. He brings them, and us, into a Millennium of love, which will continue eternally in the new heavens and earth.  

We are thinking specifically of Israel, but Paul’s letter to the Corinthians proves that this chapter applies spiritually to the church and every individual in it. We are not studying a unique care for Israel, but we are studying the revealed nature of God. Both the temporal discipline and the eternal promise are ours, as well. “He cannot deny himself” (2 Ti.2:13); this is who He is and this is the treatment we can expect from the God, who does not change and is no respecter of person (Ac.10:34). Know this certainly that our heavenly Father has no pleasure in administering the necessary discipline. He feels the pain acutely: “This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you” (v.9).

A. W. Tozer’s comments on verse 10 are wonderful and have been a personal comfort to me for years: No unsuspected weakness in our characters can come to light to turn God away from us, since He knew us utterly before we knew Him and called us to Himself in the full knowledge of everything that was against us. “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed.”

Our Father in heaven knows our frame and remembers that we are dust. He knew our inborn treachery, and for His own sake engaged to save us. His only begotten Son, when He walked among us, felt our pains in their naked intensity of anguish. His knowledge of our afflictions and adversities is more than theoretic; it is personal, warm, and compassionate. Whatever may befall us, God knows and cares. Mountains give a sense of permanence. The landscape may change, cities fall into ruins, forests can be removed, but mountains remain over the millennia. Yet, we cannot compare them to the everlasting presence and supreme care of God.

“O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of agate, your gates of carbuncles, and all your wall of precious stones” (v.11-12). This is incomparable passion overflowing from the love of the heavenly Father. If we have heard the passion of earthly creatures, then we ought to be able to hear and feel, as He pours His grace into our hearts. He is the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Co.1:3).

Having applied these words to our hearts, we do not forget that He is speaking to Israel in the first place. The principle of temporary affliction and eternal glory continues. However deep the wounds of tribulation and the wrinkles of grief may be, the eternal future is adorned with jewels and precious stones. In these two verses, the prophecy is for Jerusalem, the center of the eternal, heavenly kingdom. See John’s description in Revelation 21:11-21.

Taught and Kept by the Lord

“All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children” (v.13). Jesus quoted the first part of this verse and applied it to His day. He added, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (Jn.6:45). This has been a favorite of mine, because it shows the necessity, from the very beginning of the Christian walk, of God taking an individual by the hand and leading Him to Christ. I never tire of emphasizing that truth. Paul showed that “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God… Together they have become worthless…” (Ro.3:11,12). If we are ever to know the way to Christ, the Father must lead us. 

We cannot learn the ways of God in the schools of men. The men of God in the Bible were called aside to be taught. Great men in the church learned first-hand from the Holy Spirit. Dr. A. W. Tozer received an honorary doctorate, only finishing eight years of grade school. The great theologian, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, was a medical doctor, turned preacher, who did not attend Bible school or seminary. The prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon, was a small-town preacher, with an accent to match, who thought it was a mistake, when he was first invited to preach in London. My own father, a missionary pastor for 35-40 years, had a total of six years of primary education. A man, whose example had been one of my greatest inspirations, was Herman Williams, from the Navajo tribe, who didn’t learn English until he was 20 years old. He learned to read and write after he became a Christian. Taught of God! There is no substitute. Mary chose the good portion that would not be taken away from her (Lk.10:42). She chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and learn from Him.

Jesus of Nazareth will be Israel’s teacher in the millennial education system. Secular society has attempted to shut him out of public places completely. His name is not to be mentioned within their halls (unless, of course, it is used blasphemously), His book is kept out of their libraries, as well as the classroom. However, true and living theology will be the major subject in the Millennium, and the students will be established in righteousness. Arab children are taught to hate in their public schools, but in the government of the King of Kings, there will be peace: “You shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you” (v.14). Oppression, fear, and terror will be part of a distant past.

It may come as a surprise that during the course of the Millennium there will be lawbreakers and, as it states in verse 15, those who “stir up strife”. However, every act of disobedience will be justly punished and none will go unpunished. There will be those who rise up against Israel, but from the beginning of this chapter, the Lord calls His people to trust in Him. Not only does He defeat the one who wields the sword, but He is Creator of the smith, who produces the sword: “I have created the smith who blows the fire of coals and produces a weapon for its purpose” (v.16). He stops every attempt against His people right from the beginning.

God leads the Department of Defense for those who are under His care. This is His promise: “No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord” (v.17). Where God is in charge of our protection, no harmful plot can ever be carried out. Nothing of hell’s inventions are effective in the life of the one, who trusts in God. As to legal means contrived against His servants, He has given us a defense attorney, a Paraclete, as our heritage. His divine expertise will silence every tongue. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died…more than that, who was raised… who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Ro.8:32-34)

We need God, that is for sure! We have a message to proclaim that natural man cannot receive. It is already settled that we are a people, who are not capable in our own strength or wisdom of producing anything that will advance the Kingdom of God. What can we do, but put our trust in Him? We must give His word and promises their proper place over all situations and circumstances and honor Him by acting upon it.  


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