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Reasons to be Cheerful
Back in 1979 Ian Drury and the Blockheads released a single called "Reasons to Be Cheerful (Part 3)" The title of their song provides us with an appropriate title for this particular chapter in Isaiah's Book of prophecy because ch.54 is chock-
While much of the message that Isaiah had to pass on to the people of his day was stern they must not be allowed to think that there was no hope. Indeed the people of God are assured of a very bright future indeed and Isaiah turns to consider that future here.
In ch.53 Isaiah had recorded the victorious triumphs of the Servant of the LORD and it was precisely those triumphs that secured the dramatic changes in the fortunes of the people of God which are described here in ch.54. In the light of the servant's victories Isaiah calls for certain responses – he maintains, as he argues and reasons throughout the chapter, that these responses are entirely justifiable. We are not to imagine that our Christian faith is merely some emotional or irrational response of the human heart – true biblical faith is presented to us as consistent with the most rigorous thinking possible.
So in ch.54 Isaiah calls for certain types of action – for example in the opening verses he calls upon his hearers:
to sing v.1,
to enlarge the place of their tents by lengthening their cords v.2,
to not be afraid v.4
There are times when others might simply tell us to cheer up but their advice amounts to nothing more than telling us to whistle in the dark, because they give us no solid reason why we should do as they say. Isaiah doesn't do that instead he gives us a series of reasons why we should act in the way he instructs us. 12 times over in this chapter Isaiah uses the word for to reason with us. It is not Biblical faith that is unreasonable; it is unbelief that is illogical!!
Opening Exhortations (vv.1-
v.1 "Sing, O barren one…"
Why? Because the OT church (God's wife is the picture that will be developed) is going to become very fruitful indeed and greatly grow in numbers – the final realisation of God's purposes for his people will come to fruition through the church as described in the NT (Gal.6:16). This growth is so certain that preparations are necessary ahead of schedule:
v.2 "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."
In other words Isaiah tells us to get ready for growth!
And the reasons are spelled out:
v. 3 "For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities."
There will be need of more room as God prospers his people – they will increase in all directions – places that looked hopeless will thrive and expansion will spill over national borders to influence the entire world (this international aspect of the church Isaiah will take up and develop more fully in ch.55ff).
v.4 "Fear not… be not confounded…"
Isaiah again recognises the reality of past suffering and shame but as he looks to the future he is so confident of better things that he tells God's people that they will even forget the troubles of the past. Restoration will occur and so no wonder they can be urged to go forward fearlessly.
But will this really be so? That question may present itself to us. When things are bleak it might be pleasing to imagine some rosy future but is this really any more substantial than a pipe dream, is it based on anything solid?
Isaiah is convinced that it is – it is all based upon the LORD and the relationship that he has with his people!
A New Picture of God (vv.5–10) -
as a master to his servant
as a shepherd to his sheep
as a father to his son
Isaiah presents us with a new picture (one which will be taken up in the NT and applied to Christ's relationship to the church):
as a husband to his wife
How striking it is!
v.5 "For your Maker is your husband,
the LORD of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called."
Earlier in the Book Isaiah had alluded to this relationship when he asked questions about a "certificate of divorce" back in ch.50. There the LORD was insistent that he had not ended the marriage relationship which he had entered into with his people. His people's problems were all down to their walking away from him!
Now here in ch.54 the fact of the LORD's irrevocable commitment to his "bride" is brought to the fore. The LORD makes it clear that he will call his wandering wife back to himself so that she might enjoy marital bliss with him again. What is this marital bliss like? Well one explanation I came across put it like this:
"When a couple experiences marital bliss, it does not mean that they do not have problems; they simply know how to resolve them and get back to loving each other."
Isaiah knows that there have been problems in the LORD's marriage to his people. Isaiah knew that when God's people turned from him a coldness was introduced into the relationship – the divine husband simply could not simply carry on as though nothing had happened!
And so, for a time, the divine husband responded his wife by leaving her to her own devices. That meant that she was allowed to go on without the natural and normal enjoyment of her husband's affections. Viewed from the wife's perspective she might have felt as though she had been abandoned! How ready sinners are to try to pass the buck and blame God for the mess for which they themselves are responsible! But the husband's call would finally break through and bring her back into the fold as it were.
A word about the translation in v.7:
"For a brief moment I deserted you"
The word "desertion" seems to throw the blame upon the husband for the breakdown of the marriage but it is too strong a word the original meaning only "left" without giving any explanation of the sins that caused this separation. When we compare with v.8 the idea of being deserted or of being left is paralleled by the phrase "I hid my face".
The LORD remains true to his commitments (how could this be otherwise?) but our enjoyment of a relationship with him may be forfeited for a time as a disciplinary process – as he hides his face from us. But discipline is never the end of the matter! Discipline is not an end in itself but a means to an end. Our LORD disciplines out of love in order to restore to a full enjoyment of his love:
And what assurances are given concerning the wonderfully sure and reliable love of God for his people:
v.10 "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," says the LORD, who has compassion on you."
Glorious Prospects for the People of God (vv.11-
The language of building/rebuilding a city with precious stones is, of course, one that is taken up by the apostle John in the last book of the Bible where the dwelling place of God and the glories are heaven are described in just such terms:
Every member of this church will have a personal experience of the Lord – they will all be taught by him and they will all enjoy a great peace – in the NT these blessings come from the Lord Jesus Christ:
Jn.10:14 "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,"
Jn.17:3 "And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."
Paul writing in the gospel era declared the same:
And Paul wanted to know more and more:
Phil.3:10 "that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,"
John is his first letter referred frequently to an experiential knowledge that Christians have and enjoy:
1Jn.4:16 "So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him."
Jesus gave to his followers peace:
Jn.14:27 "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."
Describing this peace that proceeds from the gospel Paul could write that coming from God it was a peace:
Phil.4:7 "which surpasses all understanding, (and which) will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
While knowledge of God and peace are very real and valuable blessings to be able to enjoy they are by no means the only blessings that belong to the church, the bride of Christ:
Isaiah writes too of:
freedom from oppression and freedom form fear
If the church experiences opposition it will not be because God is opposing her rather he will make sure that nothing brought against the church will succeed in destroying her.
What a terrific future is thus foreseen by Isaiah! And it is all to be attributed to the success of the Servant of the LORD! He has born our sins and our iniquities – and by knowing him we have been declared to be righteous for his righteousness has been credited by grace to our account!
May the greatness of this salvation grab hold of us and thrill us! And may God so work that many others throughout the world and also here in Kent come to see just how wonderful the salvation is that he offers so freely to sinners yet which cost him so dearly with the death of his Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
And to God be the Glory.