By Christina M Wilson
Septuagint Isaiah 54 speaks joy and comfort to God’s people, Jerusalem.
Septuagint Isaiah 54 presents God’s assurances of joy and comfort to his beleaguered people, Sion (whom God also addresses as Jerusalem.) Over the course of several chapters, Isaiah narrows the term “Sion” to refer to those faithful few in Israel who “follow after righteousness” and “seek the Lord” (God’s Faithful: Devotional 2.66). These are the “remnant” of Volume 1 (Isaiah 4:3). Nowhere in this chapter (chapter 54) or previous chapters does Isaiah indicate that God’s promise is to the nation of Israel as a whole. God speaks consistently of joylessness and sorrow for those of Israel who rebel against him by refusing to follow his precepts. These prefer instead to worship idols.
Isaiah 48:18 And if you had listened to my commandments, then would your peace have been like a river, and your righteousness as a wave of the sea. 19 Your seed also would have been as the sand, and the offspring of your belly as the dust of the ground: neither now shall you by any means be utterly destroyed [there will be a remnant], neither shall your name perish before me… 22 There is no joy, says the Lord, to the ungodly. (LXE) (See also Isaiah 57:20-21 in its context.)
Isaiah 50:11 Behold, you all kindle a fire, and feed a flame: walk in the light of your fire, and in the flame which you have kindled. This [the exile] has happened to you for my sake; you shall lie down in sorrow. (LXE)
Chapter 54 immediately follows the Fourth Servant Song. The Fourth Servant Song establishes the context for chapter 54. The Fourth Song reveals God’s Servant in his fullness: his glory (52:13-15), his passion (53:2-9), and his reward (53:10-12). Within the context of the sacrifice accomplished by God’s Servant, chapter 54 echoes and extends the opening verses of Chapter 40. Parallels exist between Chapter 54 and Chapter 40. Joy breaks forth.
Parallels Between Chapters 54 and 40:1-11
Isaiah chapter 40:1-11 and Isaiah chapter 54 present the same message from different points of view. Isaiah 49:1-11 looks forward to the Advent of God’s Servant. Isaiah 54 reflects on the consequences for Sion of the Servant’s already having come.
Synopsis of Chapter 40
In chapter 40:1-11, God comforts Sion. The text uses the word “Jerusalem.” God tells the priests to speak to the “heart of Jerusalem.” Jerusalem is equivalent to “my people.”
1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, says God. 2 Speak, you priests, to the heart of Jerusalem; comfort her, for her humiliation is accomplished, her sin is put away: for she has received of the Lord’s hand double the amount of her sins.
According to Isaiah’s vantage in chapter 40, Israel resides in exile in Babylon. God through Isaiah tells his people that he sent them there because of their sins against God. The remainder of this chapter and following chapters develop in detail the theme of Sion’s sin. But in these verses, God prophesies to Jerusalem that his punishment of their sins is finished.
Verses 3 through 11 describe the Advent of Messiah, God’s Servant (Devotional 2.2). Readers can note that Isaiah does not introduce the word “Servant” in this section. In this section, those “who bring glad tidings to Zion” should announce that “the Lord is coming” (verse 10). Verse 10 describes the Lord’s power, strength, and reward. Verse 11 describes his gentle care of God’s lambs, as a shepherd. The Servant, Jesus Christ, fulfilled all these descriptors in his first Advent. These verses give readers (and listeners) of Isaiah a preview of this Advent.
The MAIN POINT of this section is that God has finished punishing his people. Something new is about to happen. He is sending “the Lord” with blessings of strength, power, and love for the people. He will be like a Shepherd to them.
Synopsis of Chapter 54
While chapter 40 looks forward to the Servant’s Advent, chapter 54 looks back to the Advent. Chapter 53 describes in detail how God punishes his Servant for the sins of his people (Septuagint Isaiah 53:8-10). God states in these verses that the punishment upon the Servant is sufficient for all time (verse 8). He will show his people everlasting mercy. There will be an inflow of “strangers” sent by God who will “sojourn” with them and “run” to them for “refuge” (footnote 1). They will need to increase the size of their tent to accommodate all the new people God will send to live with them. God describes the glory of Sion’s dwelling by naming precious stones with which he will build her. Finally, God closes the chapter with a promise of righteousness.
17 … There is an inheritance to them that serve the Lord, and you shall be righteous before me, says the Lord. ( Septuagint Isaiah 54:17).
Various readers interpret this passage differently from one another.
I. CONCRETE-PHYSICAL OR METAPHORIC?
The first point of basic difference is one of hermeneutics. Is chapter 54 concrete-physical or metaphoric?
1. First, previous posts in this blog have sought to demonstrate that Isaiah slowly shifts from concrete-physical prophetic statements concerning return from exile in Babylon to the larger, more future context of the Servant’s sacrifice for the sins of his people. Many of the blessings the Servant brings, such as the healing from sin that his sacrifice provides, are spiritual in nature. That is, God’s forgiveness of our sin is a spiritual reality (spiritual-literal), not a physical-literal reality. As another example, when God accomplishes righteousness for his people through his Servant, that righteousness is a spiritual-literal reality, not a physical-literal reality. (See Isaiah 53:4, 5, 6, 11, and 12.)
2. Second, posts in this blog have traced the context of chapter 54 all the way back to chapter 40. We have paid attention to verbal tags (labels) to determine whom the Lord addresses as the chapters progress. These context studies demonstrate that between chapters 40 and 54, God narrows the audience whom he addresses as “Sion,” “Jerusalem,” and “my people.” By the time the reader arrives at Septuagint Isaiah 51, the conclusion seems established that these names refer to God’s faithful few who seek to please him and follow his will (see, for example, Devotional 2.66). Because the congregation of “those who seek after righteousness” is more a spiritual-literal entity than a physical-literal entity, readers might expect that prophesies concerning this group would be of like kind.
3. Third, more than a dozen of the previous posts have explored past context to discover whom God through Isaiah addresses by the names “the barren” and “the desolate” (Septuagint Isaiah 54:1). The final conclusion is that these names refer to the remnant of faithful Israel. These are the ones who “seek after righteousness,” and worship God, just as Abraham and Sarah did (Septuagint Isaiah 51:1-3). God repeatedly states throughout the chapters that he will call Gentiles to join this group. Paul quotes Septuagint Isaiah 54:1 in Galatians 4:27. Paul’s use of this verse builds on Isaiah’s meaning in its context. Paul quotes Isaiah’s verse to indicate the church of the Servant (Messiah Christ) who believe as Abraham believed. These believers, teaches Paul, are not bound to obey the Mosaic law. Rather, they obey the law of the Spirit, which is the love of Christ.
4. Therefore, by the time the text and reader arrive at Septuagint Isaiah 54:1, the “barren,” “desolate” woman (whom God names as Sion and Jerusalem elsewhere) appears to be a metaphor for those in Israel who exercise the faith of Abraham. This group cannot be delineated by physical boundaries. They are not those who live in Jerusalem in a physical-literal sense. They are those who dwell in the “heart of Jerusalem” in a spiritual-literal sense.
5. In conclusion, it appears likely that God uses the images of precious stones and jewels from which he will make the city (2) as metaphors that indicate the great love he bears for the people who choose to receive the Servant and his sacrifice for their sins. In support of this conclusion, consider that the text states that God makes the city. God, who is Spirit, does not build concrete-physical cities. People do that. God does, however, build a spiritual-literal city. And to this spiritual-literal city, God will call Gentiles to come (54:3). Verse 15 states, “Behold, strangers shall come to you by me, and shall sojourn with you, and shall run to you for refuge” (Septuagint Isaiah 54:15). This is why Paul proclaims in Galatians, “But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother” (Galatians 4:26, 25-27).
6. In confirmation of the conclusion just presented, God states in verse 16, “Behold, I have created you, not as the coppersmith blowing coals, and bringing out a vessel fit for work; but I have created you…” God in verse 16 plainly states that he created the city of Jerusalem, the “barren” woman, not in a concrete-physical way, as a coppersmith blowing coals. A coppersmith blowing coals is physical-literal. God declares that he created his people, the city, the woman, not in this concrete-physical way. Nevertheless, “I have created you,” God says.
God’s Prophecies Never Fail
This next portion is extremely sad for me to write. I shudder, and I tremble.
Chapter 54 brings joy, comfort, and great promise from God to… the church. The church are those whom God gathers from faithful Israel (our mother, says Paul, in Galatians 4:26) and believing Gentiles (3).
If the prophecies of chapter 54 are read concrete-literally, that is physically, then these prophecies have failed. But before we go there, let’s establish that chapter 54 contains no time markers. Nothing in the chapter would indicate that the time-frame is after the Servant’s second advent and even beyond that, into eternity. Isaiah nowhere up to this point establishes a second advent. Following as it does immediately after chapter 53, there is no indication that the subject or people have changed. Chapter 53 firmly describes the First Advent of God’s Servant and the missionary activity of its aftermath. Isaiah in chapter 53 offers no hints that anything having to do with a Second Advent might be in view. It does, however, describe very well what happened immediately after the Servant’s Ascension and continues to happen today. That is, the growth of the Servant’s congregation (his synagogue), the church.
Please follow. If chapter 54 refers to a physical Jerusalem, the “now” Jerusalem as the Greek of Galatians 4:25 phrases it, then the prophecy failed. God speaks boldly in chapter 54.
8… with everlasting mercy will I have compassion upon you… 9… I will no more be angry with you… 10… so neither shall my mercy fail you, nor shall the covenant of your peace be at all removed: for the Lord who is gracious to you has spoken it… 13 And I will cause all your sons to be taught of God, and your children to be in great peace… 14… you shall not fear; and trembling shall not come near you. 15 Behold, strangers shall come to you by me, and shall sojourn with you, and shall run to you for refuge. 16… I have created you, not for ruin, that I should destroy you. 17 I will not suffer any weapon formed against you to prosper; and every voice that shall rise up against you for judgment, you shall vanquish them all; and your adversaries shall be condemned thereby.
In the year 70 CE, pretty much everything that God in Isaiah 54 said would not happen to Jerusalem happened. The Romans came and sacked Jerusalem. They threw down all the stones of the temple. The temple has not been rebuilt. Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (Matthew 23:37-24:2). But, the spiritual-literal Jerusalem still stands, even after 2,000 years. This is the Jerusalem above, “our mother,” says Paul in Galatians 4:26.
And, in chapter 55, God continues to speak to his redeemed people with words of spiritual-literal comfort and joy. Spiritual-literal blessings are blessings that are very, very real, yet they are spiritual in nature. With these chapters, the Gospel of Isaiah leaves the confines of the concrete physicality of Old Testament physical-literalism and steps boldly into the realm of Spirit which Christ the Servant inaugurates in the New. And, within the realm of the Spirit, there is great joy and comfort.
… stay tuned for Chapter 55…
1 The Septuagint of 54:3 and 15 read very differently than the Masoretic. The Septuagint is true to the context concerning Gentiles that Isaiah builds throughout several previous chapters. Consistently in the chapters building to chapter 54, God welcomes Gentiles to partake of the blessings he provides through his Servant. Septuagint chapter 54 continues this tradition.
2 “54:5 For it is the Lord that made you; the Lord of hosts is his name: and he that delivered you, he is the God of Israel… 11… behold, I will prepare carbuncle for your stones, and sapphire for your foundations; 12 and I will make your buttresses jasper, and your gates crystal, and your border precious stones” (Septuagint Isaiah 54:5, 12).
3 The church does not replace Israel; the church is Israel, all grown up and married. There is one olive tree, a “Jewish” olive tree, into which Gentiles have been grafted (Romans 11:13-18). And even though some of the branches have been grafted in, nevertheless, the synagogue (Old Testament), or the congregation (New Testament), of the Servant of the “God of Israel” (Septuagint Isaiah 49:7; 52:12; 54:5) is one olive tree.