By Christina M Wilson.
The prior post (Link) discusses why the “barren” or “barren woman” of Isaiah 54:1 is most likely not apostate Israel. This post discusses why the barren does not refer to Gentiles.
The Barren Woman–Negatives
Isaiah does not address Gentiles in his command to “you barren that bear not.”
1 Rejoice, you barren that bear not; break forth and cry, you that do not travail: for more are the children of the desolate than of her that has a husband: for the Lord has said, 2 Enlarge the place of your tent, and of your curtains: fix the pins, spare not, lengthen your cords, and strengthen your pins; 3 spread forth your tent yet to the right and the left: for your seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and you shall make the desolate cities to be inhabited. (Isaiah 54:1-3 LXE)
Are the Gentiles Barren?
Yes, they are. At this point in biblical history, Gentiles as a group have been excluded from God’s people. From time to time, God uses Gentiles for his purposes, both to do good and to do bad. God’s law had always provided for Gentile proselytes, or those who convert to Judaism. But overall, in the sense of their spiritual relationship with God, Gentiles have been barren up to this point in the biblical timeline.
Will the Gentiles Be Coming In?
Yes, the Gentiles will be joining the barren one’s tent. Isaiah 54:3 Septuagint specifically states, “your seed shall inherit the Gentiles.” God commands the barren one to expand her tent to make room for the newcomers. But, are these newcomers the “barren” whom God addresses? No, they are not.
WHY DOES THE “BARREN” NOT REFER TO GENTILES?
The Septuagint grammar indicates that Isaiah speaks 54:1 and God begins speaking in 54:2. God continues speaking throughout the remainder of chapter 54. Neither does the addressee change throughout the chapter. The “you” of verse 1 is the same “you” of verse 17.
The Major Reason
The major reason the “barren” woman does not refer to Gentiles is that God does not address Gentiles directly up to this point in Isaiah. Consider the following examples from the Septuagint.
2 For in the last days the mountain of the Lord shall be glorious, and the house of God shall be on the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall come to it. 3 And many nations shall go and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will tell us his way, and we will walk in it: for out of Sion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord out of Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:2-3 LXE)
10 And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall arise to rule over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust, and his rest shall be glorious. (Isaiah 11:10 LXE)
6 And the Lord of hosts shall make a feast for all the nations: on this mount they shall drink gladness, they shall drink wine: 7 they shall anoint themselves with ointment in this mountain. Impart you all these things to the nations; for this is God’s counsel upon all the nations. (Isaiah 25:6-7 LXE)
4 He shall shine out, and shall not be discouraged, until he have set judgment on the earth: and in his name shall the Gentiles trust. (Isaiah 42:4 LXE)
6 And he said to me, It is a great thing for you to be called my servant, to establish the tribes of Jacob, and to recover the dispersion of Israel: behold, I have given you for the covenant of a race, for a light of the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the end of the earth… 8 Thus says the Lord, In an acceptable time have I heard you, and in a day of salvation have I succored you: and I have formed you, and given you for a covenant of the nations, to establish the earth, and to cause to inherit the desert heritages: (Isaiah 49:6, 8 LXE)
4 Hear me, hear me, my people; and you kings, listen to me: for a law shall proceed from me, and my judgment shall be for a light of the nations. 5 My righteousness speedily draws near, and my salvation shall go forth as light, and on my arm shall the Gentiles trust: the isles shall wait for me, and on my arm shall they trust. (Isaiah 51:4-5 LXE)
All the previous examples contain text that speak about God’s plan of salvation for the Gentiles. Yet in none of these texts does God speak directly to the Gentiles.
AN OBVIOUS REASON
The content of the first three verses argues against the “barren” of verse 1 as addressee. What this means is that verse 3 labels the children of verse 1 as Gentiles.
1 Rejoice, you barren that bear not; break forth and cry, you that do not travail: for more are the children of the desolate than of her that has a husband… 3 … for your seed shall inherit the Gentiles (Isaiah 54:1, 3 LXE)
In plain, ordinary speech it does not make sense to say that someone inherits themselves. If the “barren” means Gentiles, then verse 3 indicates that the children (“seed”) of the Gentiles “shall inherit the Gentiles.”
The extended context through chapter 55 provides strong support that God continues speaking to the same “you” that Isaiah addresses in 54:1. We find the following in 55:4-5.
4 Behold I have made him a testimony among the Gentiles, a prince and commander to the Gentiles. 5 Nations which know you not, shall call upon you, and peoples which are not acquainted with you, shall flee to you for refuge, for the sake of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel; for he has glorified you. (Isaiah 55:4-5 LXE)
As in the previous several examples, the speaker refers to the Gentiles in speech about them, but not to them.
Therefore, by using evidence that the book of Isaiah itself supplies, readers can feel confident that the “barren” woman of Isaiah 54:1 does not refer to Gentiles.
The next post, Lord willing, will consider positive evidence concerning who the “barren” woman most likely is.