By Christina M Wilson
… chapter by chapter context clues continued. This post will demonstrate that the barren woman is Sion.
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 continued
Chapter 49 builds a foundation for the barren woman of chapter 54.
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.
In chapter 53, the narrator, possibly representing the congregation at the time of the Servant’s presence with them, describes the Servant’s suffering, death, and resurrection. Verse 54:1 opens in this same voice (1). The Lord, however, speaks verse 2. The narrator introduces him with the words that close verse 54:1, “… for the Lord has said, 2 Enlarge… “
Notice the excitement in these three verses. “Rejoice, you barren that bear not… .” “Enlarge… fix… spare not… lengthen… strengthen… spread forth your tent… for your seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and you shall make the desolate cities to be inhabited.” This excitement reaches all the way back to Isaiah 49:13, “13 Rejoice, you heavens; and let the earth be glad: let the mountains break forth with joy; for the Lard has had mercy on his people, and has comforted the lowly ones of his people” (Septuagint, LXE).
The speaker of 54:1 describes the addressee with these words:
1) you barren [feminine],
2) that bear not [who does not give birth],
3) break forth [to rend, burst, break through (Thayer)],
4) and cry,
5) you that does not travail [to feel the pains of childbirth (Thayer)].
Clearly, the barren one is a woman who has no children. The Greek words for “barren” and “desolate” are respectively, “sterile” and “of the wilderness, the desert, uninhabited.”
Yet the barren woman is about to give birth. Verses 2 and 3a (see above) indicate that she will bear lots of children. Therefore, she has need to expand her home (her tent). Verse 3 further reveals that her own children (“your seed”) will “inherit the Gentiles” (τὸ σπέρμα σου ἔθνη κληρονομήσει). These offspring who inherit the Gentiles “will inhabit the cities that have become desolate” (2). The Greek word for “desolate” is related to the word that verse 1 uses in the phrase, “the children of the desolate.” It means “made desolate, laid waste” (Thayer).
Christian, think. Isn’t this exactly what happened to the Jewish people, as recorded in the gospels and Acts? The first followers of the Servant were few in number. These were Jewish men and women. They were the “seed,” the offspring, of Israel. Then after the Servant announced the Great Commission to evangelize the entire world in Matthew 28:19, the day of Pentecost arrived. The Holy Spirit came. Peter preached out of doors to a multitude of Jewish people from all nations who had gathered in Jerusalem. Three thousand offspring of Israel were added to the believers that day (Acts 2:5, 41). Eventually, Peter, Philip, and a bit later the Apostle Paul preached to the Gentiles. These Gentiles joined themselves to the Servant, Christ, whose God is the God of Israel. The number of Gentile believers in Israel’s God and his Servant exploded, until we have what we see today. In this manner, the “offspring” of the “barren” “inherit[ed] the Gentiles.” History has fulfilled Isaiah’s words.
So Who Is the Barren Woman?
According to Isaiah 49, she is Sion (or Zion). This is an affectionate term God uses for Israel.
49:14 But Sion said, The Lord has forsaken me, and, The Lord has forgotten me. (LXE)
1. Sion’s condition in exile at the time of Isaiah’s writing appeared to the people of Israel as though God had forsaken, abandoned, and forgotten them. God replies to their charge against him this way:
17 And you shall soon be built by those by whom you were destroyed, and they that made you desolate shall go forth of you. (LXE)
The Gentile nation of Babylonia destroyed Sion and made her “desolate.” The Greek word for “desolate” is a different tense of the identical Greek verb that 54:3 uses. It basically means to lay waste a place, so as to make it like a desert. Verse 17 states that those who destroyed Sion–the Gentiles–shall not only rebuild her but shall also “go forth” from her, as one who travels from a place that had been their home (Thayer). The prophecy and vocabulary of Septuagint Isaiah 49:17 strongly resembles that of 54:1-3.
2. Septuagint Isaiah 49:18-19 makes similar statements, using the same vocabulary as 54:1-3.
49:18 Lift up your eyes round about, and look on them all; behold, they are gathered together, and are come to you. As I live, says the Lord, you shall clothe yourself with them all as with an ornament, and put them on as a bride her attire. 19 For your desert and marred and ruined places shall now be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants, and they that devoured you shall be removed far from you.
3. Verse 20 of the same chapter provides reasons why God commands the barren woman of 54:1-3 to enlarge her home. She will have many sons and her current tent is too small. In chapter 49 she expresses her astonishment.
49:20 For your sons whom you have lost shall say in your ears, The place is too narrow for me: make room for me that I may dwell. 21 And you shall say in your heart, Who has begotten me these? whereas I was childless, and a widow; but who has brought up these for me? and I was left alone; but whence came these to me? (LXE, 49)
The Sion of chapter 49 expresses astonishment, because her condition is the same as that of the barren woman who is about to give birth in chapter 54. They are the same woman.
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. (LXE, 54)
And, in both chapter 49 and chapter 54, the children proceed from the same source. The Lord calls the nations of Gentiles to come to Sion with their children to live there.
49:22 Thus says the Lord, even the Lord, Behold, I lift up my hand to the nations, and I will lift up my signal to the islands: and they shall bring your sons in their bosom, and shall bear your daughters on their shoulders. (LXE, 49)
54:3 … for your seed shall inherit the Gentiles… (LXE, 54)
The vocabulary, context, and statements of Septuagint Isaiah 49 demonstrate that Sion is the barren woman.
Will the context of chapters 50-53 indicate that she is faithful Israel exclusively?
… to be continued
1 See Isaiah Devotional 2.47 under the sub-section “Speaker.”
2 A New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS), translated by Moíses Silva, available at http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/33-esaias-nets.pdf.