Isaiah 54:1-17 - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Isaiah 54:1-17

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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-a-block with reasons why the people of God should be full of joy!

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.1-4) - Zion Repopulated
Isaiah doesn't pretend that things haven't been (and still were) bad but the victory of the servant of the LORD provides us with a whole new perspective with which to view life. Because the servant triumphs the future is positive, very positive indeed, for God's people! So they should sing:

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) - Zion restored
There are various pictures that are used in the Bible to describe God's relationship to his people:

  • 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:

vv.7-8 "but with great compassion I will gather you. 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."

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.11-17) – Zion Resplendent
The final section of the chapter again begins with a recognition of the fact that God's people has not always enjoyed a trouble-free existence – there is a consistent reality check in the writings of Isaiah – Bible readers are not encouraged to live in some kind of never-never fantasy world! However the problems of the past do not not provide the norm for the church in the future. The future experience of the church will be one of great beauty and security.

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:

Rev.21: 9-27 "Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, "Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed–– on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare; its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass. And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day––and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life."

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,"

Or again:

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:

Gal.4:8-9 "Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?"

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.2:13-14 "I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning."

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:

  • righteousness

  • 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.


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