Sing O barren woman, you will never bore at a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you were never in labour; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband, says the Lord.
This chapter is a sequel to chapter 53 where the restoration of a right relationship between God and man is achieved through the suffering of the Servant. The chapter opens with the exhortation to ‘burst into song’ and to ‘shout for joy’. It is a celebration of the goodness of God. In fact, the whole of chapter 54 is about the amazing love of God and all that he has done for his people.
The historical context is the release of the covenant people of God from slavery in Babylon. The spiritual interpretation is the release of those who believe in God from the bondage of sin. Running right through this section of Isaiah is the contrast between Babylon and Jerusalem. Paul takes this metaphor a step farther when he looks to the new heavenly Jerusalem and the true home of the people of God who have been set free from slavery to sin through Christ. He says, ‘the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother’ (Galatians 4:26).
Paul then quotes this verse (Isaiah 54:1) as part of his contrast between the children of Hagar and Sarah. The barren woman who bears a child through the gracious intervention of God is a much-loved story in the Bible. From Abraham and Sarah to Zechariah and Elizabeth it reminds us that God is the giver of life and he delights to please his children by answered prayer.
In biblical times it was considered a disgrace for a woman to be childless and this was usually ascribed to God deliberately withholding his blessing. Both Sarah and Hannah believed this. When Hannah’s prayer was answered and she gave birth to Samuel she prayed one of the great prayers of Scripture (1 Samuel 2). In her prayer she praises God for changing the fortunes of those who put their trust in God, ‘he raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap’ (1 Samuel 2:8), and in verse 5 she says, ‘she who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pins away.’
That is the thought behind this opening verse of Isaiah 54. The barren woman is told to burst into song and to shout for joy. It would be cruel in the extreme to tell her to rejoice if her desire for children was not to be fulfilled. But here, the barren woman is Israel, the people of God released from slavery in Babylon. The message is that God has heeded their prayer and the barren years of exile were now being turned into fertile and fruitful years. In fact, they would find that they would be more abundantly blessed than any of their neighbours who had not been through the agonies of exile.
God awaits the right moment to fulfil his promises and to bring abundant blessings to every believer. Those who feel lonely, barren and deserted, will be amazed at what God will do. Their mourning will be turned into songs of praise and shouts of joy. Such is the experience of those who put their trust in the Lord.
Prayer. Lord, banish everything that is a hindrance to faith and make this a day of rejoicing and praise.
This is taken from Isaiah Vol 3. The full daily reading series is available from the Resources at Moggerhanger.
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