By Christina M Wilson
… chapter by chapter for context clues continued
Recap: Descriptors of Faithful Israel
The purpose of the last several posts is to determine from previous context in Isaiah who the “barren” woman of Isaiah 54:1 might be.
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: (Isaiah 54:1 Septuagint)
We have determined that this desolate one can be neither Gentiles (Devotional 2.56) nor apostate (faithless) Israel (Devotional 2.55). The thesis of these posts is that God in Isaiah distinguishes between the faithful and the unfaithful. His promises will be fulfilled in the faithful.
Septuagint Isaiah chapter 44 begins to pull various strands together. Recall that chapter 43 closed on a note of chastisement. Chapter 44 opens with comfort and encouragement. God in the middle portion of chapter 44 again condemns idolaters. Finally, the chapter closes with joy, encouragement, and specific mention of Cyrus. God will bless Cyrus with wisdom and use him to accomplish his plans.
I. Terms of Love
Chapter 44 abounds with declarations of God’s love for Jacob, Israel, and Jerusalem. There is no reason to think that these are not all one and the same entity. A few examples follow.
- … hear, Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen. (verse 1, LXE)
- … fear not, my servant Jacob; and beloved Israel, whom I have chosen. (verse 2, LXE)
- … who says to Jerusalem, You shall be inhabited; and to the cities of Idumea, You shall be built (verse 26, LXE)
II. Promises of Blessing with Qualifiers
God promises amazing things to his servant Jacob, his beloved and chosen Israel, and to Jerusalem. In verse 2, God states that Jacob and Israel will “yet be helped.” But verse 3 appears to qualify with a specific statement those to whom the help will come.
3 For I will give water to the thirsty that walk in a dry land: I will put my Spirit upon your seed, and my blessings upon your children: (LXE)
In verse 3, God specifies that the water he gives will go “to the thirsty.” And he describes these as they who “walk in a dry land.” This language begins to resemble Isaiah 54:1, “the desolate.” Similar descriptive terms also appeared in the prior chapter in Isaiah 43:19.
19 Behold, I will do new things, which shall presently spring forth, and you shall know them: and I will make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the dry land. (LXE)
The word “seed” in verse 3 is singular. In an ambiguous sense, this could perhaps refer to God’s Servant. Or, the word could simply apply to a group of Israel’s offspring. One cannot ignore the metaphorical overtones of the imagery. Spirit added to images of water and rivers of water anticipate Messiah’s use of these terms as metaphors for God’s pouring out his Holy Spirit (John 4:10, 14; 7:37-39).
III. A Further Qualifier
Verse 22 further describes the manner in which God will bestow his blessing upon Jacob and Israel. This verse contains three actions. God performs the first. He calls on Israel and Jacob to perform the second. And God performs the third.
22 For behold, I have blotted out as a cloud your transgressions, and your sin as darkness: turn to me, and I will redeem you. (LXE)
The three actions God specifies are these.
- God cancels Israel’s sin.
- He commands Israel, “Turn to me.“
- God will redeem them.
The word “redeem” means “to release on receipt of ransom” (Thayer). Those who read Isaiah, and especially Septuagint Isaiah, with open hearts begin to discover where much of New Testament theology has its origin. The Septuagint Scripture is the Scripture the disciples of Jesus and Paul the apostle read.
IV. Israel Is Israel
As mentioned previously, Septuagint Isaiah 44 breaks into three sections. In the first, God pronounces his blessing upon Israel and Jacob (verses 1-6). In the second, he denounces “all” idolaters without distinguishing where they live (verses 7-20). That is, these idolaters could go by the name of Israel, or they could be pagan (Septuagint Isaiah 44:9, 10, 11). In the third section, God again blesses Israel and Jacob (verses 21-24, 26-28). In verse 25, which falls in the middle of the section of blessing, God again reminds idolaters that he will frustrate their activities.
44:25 Who else will frustrate the tokens of those that have divining spirits, and prophecies from the heart of man? turning the wise back, and making their counsel foolishness; 26 and confirming the word of his servant, and verifying the counsel of his messengers: who says to Jerusalem, You shall be inhabited; and to the cities of Idumea, You shall be built, and her desert places shall spring forth. 27 Who says to the deep, You shall be dried up, and I will dry up the rivers. 28 Who bids Cyrus be wise, and he shall perform all my will: who says to Jerusalem, You shall be built, and I will lay the foundation of my holy house. (LXE)
Clearly, God does not include in his blessing those who practice false spiritism and prophesy falsely. Yet, even though some of these may be ethnic Israelites from Jerusalem and Judah, God does not forsake the names “Israel,” “Jerusalem,” and “Judah.” God distinguishes among different kinds of people, yes. But readers begin to see that God reserves the names of Jacob, Israel, Jerusalem, and Judah for the faithful. These are they who thirst (verse 3), repent (verse 22), and follow the words of God’s true messengers verse 26).
The Christian “church” presents a current parallel. Followers of Christ are called “the church.” Nevertheless, some who attend church and call themselves Christian are false teachers and even heretics. But the church does not cease being called the church for this reason. Likewise, God in chapter 44 calls his faithful followers Jacob, or Israel, or Jerusalem, or Judah. This does not mean that God blesses everyone who applies these names to themselves. Readers know this because over and over in this and previous chapters, God calls out and condemns those who walk disobediently away from him and his precepts.
V. God’s Promise to the Barren and Desolate
The vocabulary Isaiah uses in 44:23, 26, and 28 resembles the vocabulary of 54:1.
44:23 Rejoice, you heavens; for God has had mercy upon Israel: sound the trumpet, you foundations of the earth: you mountains, shout with joy, you hills, and all the trees therein: for God has redeemed Jacob, and Israel shall be glorified. (LXE)
44:26 … who says to Jerusalem, You shall be inhabited; and to the cities of Idumea, You shall be built, and her desert places shall spring forth… 28 Who bids Cyrus be wise, and he shall perform all my will: who says to Jerusalem, You shall be built, and I will lay the foundation of my holy house. (LXE)
54:1 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… (LXE)
The text of Isaiah 44 resembles the text of Isaiah 54:1 in several important ways.
1. Chapter 54 immediately follows the lengthy Fourth Servant Song of Septuagint Isaiah 52:13-53:12. And, chapter 44 closes with mention of Cyrus. Undoubtedly, verse 44:28 speaks to Israel’s local situation of exile in Babylonia. Additionally however, in Isaiah’s broader context, Cyrus becomes a type of God’s Servant. In both chapters 44 and 54, God’s Servant is he through whom God’s blessings flow.
2. Both texts contain commandments to “Rejoice!”
3. The proclamations in verses 44:26 and 28 that Jerusalem shall be “inhabited” and “built” imply that currently she is not inhabited and not built. Verse 28 indicates that God’s holy house does not even have a foundation. Likewise, the text of 54:1 describes the one whom the prophet commands to rejoice with the words, “barren,” who “bears not,” “you that do not travail,” and “desolate.”
4. The Greek phrase “children of the desolate” in 54:1 means literally “children of the desert.” This imagery corresponds with the earlier imagery of Isaiah 44:3-4.
44:3 For I will give water to the thirsty that walk in a dry land: I will put my Spirit upon your seed, and my blessings upon your children: 4 and they shall spring up as grass between brooks, and as willows on the banks of running water. (LXE)
54:1 … more are the children of the desolate [children of the desert] (LXE)
First, the context that Septuagint Isaiah 44 provides indicates that the barren, childless woman of Septuagint Isaiah 54:1 is faithful Jerusalem. God chose Jerusalem to house his temple. In chapter 44 he promises to rebuild the city and the temple. Definitely, chapter 44 speaks literally, to a physical city and a physical temple. Yet, 54:1 speaks with metaphor. The eyes of faith enable readers (both in Isaiah’s day and now) to perceive that chapter 44 also contains spiritual dimensions beyond the literal prophecy.
Second, the text amply demonstrates in chapter 44 and previous chapters that God does separate peoples. He distinguishes between those who receive the true words of his genuine prophets and those who follow the false narratives of their own hearts. In other words, God recognizes those who repent in truth (turn back to him, verse 22) against those who continue in their own ways with their backs turned away from God.
Finally, God calls his faithful by the names Israel and Jerusalem.