By Christina M Wilson
… chapter by chapter context clues continued. In this post, Sion complains, and Isaiah presents God’s response.
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. Chapter 44 begins to indicate that the “barren” woman of 54:1 is faithful Jerusalem (Devotional 2.61). Chapter 48 (Devotional 2.62) develops the theme of God’s delivering Israel. He will rescue a remnant of all Israel. Nevertheless, the chapter divides into two sections. God speaks to rebellious hearts in the first, and to those whom he loves in the second.
Chapter 49 opens with the Lord God announcing to Gentiles the arrival of God’s Servant. More and more as the book progresses, references to Gentile inclusion accompany Isaiah’s prophecies of the Servant’s arrival. The section concerning the Servant begins in 48:15, “I have spoken, I have called, I have brought him, and made his way prosperous” (Septuagint). “Him” refers to God’s special Servant. Readers can know this for three reasons.
1. Isaiah’s theme in the second portion of the book (chapter 40 forward) is the comfort God will bring Israel through his Servant.
2. The text refers frequently to the Servant throughout these chapters.
3. The Servant, so very blessed by God and so pleasing to him, becomes a major character in the second volume.
4. The Servant’s words in the very next verse, verse 16, indicate that he could not possibly be Cyrus the Persian.
48:16 Draw near to me, and hear you these words; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning: when it took place, there was I, and now the Lord, even the Lord, and his Spirit, has sent me (Septuagint–LXE).
Cyrus was not present with God “from the beginning.” (See Proverbs 8:22-31.) For those with ears to hear and receive, it also stands possible that the “he” of verse 21 also refers to the Servant (LXE).
THE SERVANT SPEAKS: GENTILE INCLUSION
The section of Isaiah 49:1-6 is popularly known as the Second Servant Song. God’s Servant speaks all of the words it contains. Interestingly, except for a brief pause in verses 4-5, the entirety of this passage is a call to Gentiles to come and be blessed along with “the tribes of Jacob and… the dispersion of Israel” (LXE). (See Isaiah Devotional 2.26.)
The “God of Israel” in verse 7 commands the people to sanctify (to set aside for God’s use and treat as holy) the Servant. The Servant is “him that despises his life” (Septuagint). As Paul explains to the Philippians, he (Christ) became nothing and willingly submitted to death on the cross (Philippians 2:6-8; see also Hebrews 12:2).
From verses 8-12, God explains to the Servant his mission to Gentiles. God’s words to his Servant in Isaiah are the forerunner of the Great Commission that Jesus the Christ the Servant passes on to his followers before he ascends into heaven at the end of his incarnation on earth (Matthew 28:18-20). The Servant shall speak to Gentiles and Israel. God the Lord tells his Servant to say “to them that are in bonds” to go forth, to leave the darkness and “be fed in all the ways.” The text mentions the word “pasture” twice in three verses. It uses “shepherd” language. Christ (the Servant) said, “I am the good Shepherd” (John 10:11, 14).
The entire shepherd passage in John 10:2-18 matches God’s intention in Isaiah 49 Septuagint perfectly. The “sheep that are not of this pen” (John 10:16) whom Christ says he must also bring, are the Gentile “nations” of Isaiah 49:1,6, and 8 Septuagint.
Verse 13 concludes the section that begins in Isaiah 48:16 with a very fitting command to rejoice.
13 Rejoice, you heavens; and let the earth be glad: let the mountains break forth with joy; for the Lord has had mercy on his people, and has comforted the lowly ones of his people. (LXE)
But just then, after this wonderful scenario of health and well-being that God will bring to the entire earth through his Shepherd, Sion complains. “Sion” here is a term of intimacy. The elder son’s moping response to the inclusion of his wayward younger brother into his father’s family once again (Jesus’s Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:25-32) resembles so much Sion’s response to the wonderful news of God’s magnificent provision, as explained in the previous paragraphs.
14 But Sion said, The Lord has forsaken me, and, The Lord has forgotten me. (LXE)
God’s reply to the “moping” Sion makes two points. Together, these stretch into chapter 50.
I. “I will not forget you” (Septuagint Isaiah 49:15-26).
A. God proclaims that he loves Sion more than a mother loves her own child (49:15-16).
B. He does have plans for her. She will be rebuilt (49:17).
C. Sion’s own sons will return (49:18-21).
D. God will include Gentiles in the building up of Sion (49:22-23). The children of the nations will value the heritage of Israel and not let fall a speck of dust be lost or wasted.
E. The Lord will deliver Jacob from the Babylonians that afflicted them (49:24-26)
II. You Brought This on Yourselves (Septuagint Isaiah 50:1-3).
God replies with his second argument to Sion, paraphrased: You say that I abandoned you. What are the charges on your mother’s document of divorce? “Behold, you are sold for your sins, and for your iniquities have I put your mother away” (50:1). I did come, and there was no one to meet me. I called, and there was no one to listen (50:2). Don’t think that I have no power. I have plenty of power. And before this whole story is over, you will see me clothe the sky with darkness and make its covering as sackcloth (50:2-3).
RETURN TO THE SERVANT IN THE THIRD SERVANT SONG
God in chapter 49 has been presenting the glories of his Servant to his people and to the nations. Sion interrupts in 49:14 to complain by bringing false charges against God (see above). God answers their complaint in 49:15-50:3. Then immediately, in the very next verse, God returns to the topic at hand, which is his Servant. The Third Servant Song begins in Isaiah 50:4. There, the Servant speaks. (We will continue the Servant’s Song in a future post.) But first, what about the context of chapter 49 as it relates to the barren woman?
THE “BARREN” WOMAN OF 54:1
Chapter 49 builds a foundation for the barren woman of chapter 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: 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.
… to be continued