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Isaiah 54:1-17 | Werner Bible Commentary

Isaiah 54:1-17

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54:1. Masoretic Text: Shout [joyfully], O barren [woman] who did not give birth. Break forth into a [joyful] shout and cry aloud, the one not having labor pains, because more [are] the sons of the desolate [woman] than the sons of the one having a husband, says YHWH.

Septuagint: Rejoice, barren [woman], the one not giving birth. Break forth [in jubilation] and cry aloud, the one not having labor pains, because more [are] the children of the desolate [woman] than of the one having the husband, for the Lord said [it].

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) the conjunction “and” links the adjective “barren” with the words about not giving birth. The conjunction “and” is also included after the expression rendered “cry aloud.”

The Targum of Isaiah appears to interpret the desolated state of Jerusalem to apply after the Roman armies destroyed the city in 70 CE. It says that the sons of desolated Jerusalem would come to be more than the sons of inhabited Rome.

Commentary

Jerusalem is here personified as a woman. When lying in ruins without any inhabitants, she proved to be barren, a woman who had not given birth to any sons or children during the entire time. Rejected by God on account of the unfaithfulness of the people, she was like a woman without her husband. Prior to this pathetic condition, Jerusalem had enjoyed the status of a mother with sons, bound as a wife to YHWH by reason of the law covenant. In view of the end of her desolate state, she is prophetically called upon to become jubilant. The number of “sons” would come to be greater than had been the case during the former time when Jerusalem had a “husband.” (Compare Zechariah 2:1-5; 8:3-8.) This began to be fulfilled when the Israelites were released from Babylonian exile and were able to return to their own land. The once desolated and depopulated city began to be rebuilt and reinhabited.

In the letter to the Galatians, the words of Isaiah are applied to the true Israelites who become citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. After the arrival of Jesus, the promised Messiah, the heavenly Jerusalem that once appeared as having no human children came to have an ever-increasing number of sons or children. (Galatians 4:26, 27)

54:2. Masoretic Text: Widen the place of your tent, and let the tent curtains of your dwellings be stretched out. Do not hold back. Lengthen your cords and strengthen your pegs.

Septuagint: Widen the place of your tent and of your curtains. Fasten [securely]; do not hold back. Lengthen your cords and strengthen your pegs.

In its interpretation, the Targum of Isaiah refers to causing the cities to be inhabited, increasing the people of the camps, and strengthening the governors. There is no mention of cords, pegs, or other features relating to a tent.

Commentary

Personified Jerusalem is directed to prepare for a growing population as if the people are to be accommodated in a large rectangular tent. She would need to increase the size of the tent, adding new sections of material. The tent curtains of the dwellings (probably meaning the compartments inside the tent) would need to be stretched out over the supporting poles. Jerusalem is directed not to hold back in her efforts to expand the tent. She would need to lengthen the cords that were tied to the pegs, move the location of the pegs and add new pegs, and then make sure that all the pegs were securely pounded into the ground.

54:3. Masoretic Text: For to the right and to the left, you will spread out, and your seed will inherit nations and will populate desolated cities.

Septuagint: Yet to the right and to the left, you must spread out. And your seed will inherit nations, and you will inhabit desolated cities.

Commentary

When one faces east, the right is on the south side and the left on the north side; this fits the geography of the land of Israel. The Mediterranean Sea forms the western border and the Jordan River the eastern border. The more extensive land areas are situated north and south of Jerusalem. Accordingly, personified Jerusalem is portrayed as spreading out to the right and to the left. Her seed, offspring, or the populace would not, as in former times, be subjected to the oppression of foreign powers. The Israelites would inherit or take possession of nations, which would include territory where peoples of other nations came to dwell during the period of the exile. Cities that had been reduced to ruins would be rebuilt and repopulated.

In relation to the reigning Messiah and the heavenly Jerusalem, people of the nations would become willing subjects.

54:4. Masoretic Text: Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; and do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced. For you will forget the shame of your youth, and you will no more remember the reproach of your widowhood.

Septuagint: Fear not because you were put to shame nor be ashamed because you were reproached. For the eternal shame you will forget, and the reproach of your widowhood you will by no means remember.

The rendering “by no means” preserves the emphatic sense of the two Greek words for “not.”

Commentary

Whereas the literal city of Jerusalem was completely destroyed in 70 CE, the “Jerusalem above” has continued to flourish with an increasing population. For many years, however, the restored Jerusalem did not have to fear having to experience the shame of being reduced to a desolated and uninhabited city. There was no reason for her to feel humiliated, for the disgrace of her former pathetic condition would come to be a thing of the distant past. As having occurred long ago, the shame is one that could be spoken of as relating to her “youth.” The expression “eternal shame” (LXX) may be understood to mean a shame of long ago. In her restored state, Jerusalem would cease to have a painful memory of the reproach to which she had been subjected as a destroyed and depopulated city, a city whose condition had been like that of a childless widow.

54:5. Masoretic Text: For the one owning you [as a wife] [is] the one making you. YHWH of hosts [is] his name. And the one redeeming you [is] the Holy One of Israel. The God of all the earth he will be called.

Septuagint: For the Lord [is] the one making you, the Lord Sabaoth [is] his name. And the one delivering you, he [is] the God of Israel. All the earth will call [him God].

“Sabaoth” is a transliteration of the Hebrew expression meaning “armies” or “hosts.”

Commentary

By reason of the covenant relationship of the people of Israel with YHWH, Jerusalem is spoken of as having him as her husband or being owned by him as a wife. As representing the people, Jerusalem owed her existence to him. YHWH was the former of his people, making it possible for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to become a nation. He continues to be active in the development of his people, and so may be regarded as not having ceased in involvement with the “making” process.

With YHWH as the husband under whose protection and care Jerusalem (or all that Jerusalem represents) finds herself, she had no reason to be afraid. He is YHWH, the God with hosts of angels in her service and before whom all who would oppose his will are as nothing. His activity of delivering or redeeming is not merely something that only occurred in the past. He continues to act as the redeemer or deliverer of all who turn to him. Those who are attached to the “Jerusalem above” because of having put faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah or Christ and what he accomplished for them by means of his death continue to experience God’s aid in their time of distress and need.

As the Holy One of Israel, or the God of his people, he is pure in the all respects. His word will never fail to be fulfilled. Especially in view of what he does for his people, he will be acknowledged as God of all the earth.

54:6. Masoretic Text: For YHWH has called you like a wife forsaken and pained [in] spirit, and a wife of youth when she is rejected, says your God.

Septuagint: Not like a forsaken and disheartened wife has the Lord called you nor like a wife hated from youth, your God has said.

The Greek adjective translated “disheartened” is oligópsychos, a compound consisting of the word for “little” and “soul.” It is descriptive of a discouraged or downcast state.

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah concludes with the words, “says YHWH your God.”

Commentary

Without YHWH’s protective care, Jerusalem fell before enemy invaders, was reduced to ruins, and her inhabitants either perished or were taken into exile. She could then be likened to an abandoned wife and deeply distressed in spirit, or in despair, in a state of hopelessness, discouraged, or disheartened. Her pathetic condition was comparable to that of a young woman or wife who had been rejected and so had no prospect of having a home with a husband and children. YHWH is represented as calling Jerusalem while in this sad situation, bringing an end to her suffering like an abandoned wife.

The Septuagint rendering suggests that, when his call was directed to Jerusalem, God did not do so as if he viewed her as a forsaken, disheartened, or hated wife, but as one restored to his favor.

54:7. Masoretic Text: For a brief moment I forsook you, and I will gather you with great compassion.

Septuagint: For a brief time I forsook you, and I will be merciful to you with great mercy.

The Targum of Isaiah indicates that YHWH would reveal his great mercies by bringing the exiles of Jerusalem near.

Commentary

From the perspective of the entire historical period, YHWH’s abandonment of Jerusalem, permitting the city to be destroyed and its surviving inhabitants to be exiled, lasted a comparatively short time. Through his prophet, he assured Jerusalem (his people whom she represented) of being gathered. This signified that, upon their returning repentantly to him after experiencing calamity, he, in his great compassion, would make it possible for them to return to their land and to rebuild Jerusalem.

54:8. Masoretic Text: In an overflowing of wrath, I hid my face from you for a moment; and with enduring love [chésed] to limitless time, I will have compassion on you, the one redeeming you, YHWH, says.

Septuagint: In a little wrath, I turned my face away from you; and in eternal mercy, I will be merciful to you, said the one redeeming you, the Lord.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the letter yod (Y) is joined to chésed, and the expression may be rendered “my enduring love.” Usually, chésed signifies graciousness, enduring loyalty, steadfast love, and mercy. It is a compassionate care and loving concern that expresses itself in action. In the Septuagint, chésed (as in this case) is often translated éleos, meaning “mercy,” “pity,” or “compassion.”

Commentary

The literal expression “overflowing of wrath” may refer to a burst of anger. YHWH expressed his indignation against Jerusalem, or the unfaithful inhabitants, when he allowed the city to be reduced to ruins and the survivors to be taken into exile. At that time, he could be spoken of as hiding his face, for he did not come to the rescue of his people. His favorable attention was completely concealed from them. This situation would last for a comparatively short time. Soon he would show his compassionate care and concern for his repentant people. The enduring love or compassion for his people would continue for limitless time. In expression of his abundant mercy, YHWH repeatedly redeemed and will continue to redeem his people, delivering them from their distress.

54:9. Masoretic Text: Like the waters of Noah, this [is] to me: As I swore that the waters of Noah should pass over the earth no more, so I have sworn not to be angry with you and not to rebuke you.

Septuagint: From [the time of] the water upon Noah, this is to me: Just as I swore to him at that time not to be wrathful with the earth because of you still nor [to be] in [a state of] threat to you …

The inclusion of the word for “still” in the Septuagint has the support of the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah. In the case of the Septuagint, the sentence continues in the next verse.

Commentary

After the deluge, according to Genesis 9:11-16, YHWH assured Noah and his family that there would never again be the kind of flood that resulted in the mass destruction of human and animal life. He backed this promise with his oath, and the rainbow was designated as the sure sign that this would never happen again. Likewise, YHWH gave his oath not to be angry with Jerusalem (as representing his repentant people) nor to express a rebuke as an expression of disapproval.

The flood affected the earth or land, and the Septuagint rendering indicates that God’s wrath would not be directed against the land. In the Septuagint, however, the thought is elliptical, for the pronoun “you” is singular and, in the context, applies to Jerusalem and so to her inhabitants, or the people. Accordingly, a devastation of the land on account of the repentant people was not to occur. God would not react with a threat that would result in destruction or devastation.

54:10. Masoretic Text: For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my enduring love will not depart from you, and the covenant of my peace will not be removed, says the one having compassion on you, YHWH.

Septuagint: to remove mountains, nor will your hills be moved away, so the mercy to you from me will not cease nor by any means will the covenant of your peace be taken away, for the Lord [who is] gracious to you has said [it].

The rendering “nor by any means” serves to preserve the emphatic sense of the two Greek words for “not.”

Commentary

Mountains and hills are regarded as being the stable and enduring features of the land. Although they were to disappear from the earthly scene (an unlikely occurrence), this would never happen to God’s compassionate care and concern for his people (represented by Jerusalem). As in verse 8, the Hebrew word rendered “enduring love” is chésed and signifies graciousness, enduring loyalty, steadfast love, or “mercy” (LXX).

God’s people, as here represented by Jersusalem, enjoyed a relationship of peace or friendship with him. This was based on YHWH’s having concluded a covenant with them that assured them of his blessing and aid, provided they remained faithful to him. Probably, on account of the “peace” or well-being that would result from the covenant relationship with YHWH, the reference here is to the “covenant of my peace.” The Hebrew “my peace” identifies YHWH as its source, whereas the Septuagint rendering “your peace” denotes the peace or well-being the people (as represented by Jerusalem) would enjoy. This covenant and its accompanying blessings would not be removed, for YHWH, the God who had compassion for his people, gave the assurance that it would continue.

54:11. Masoretic Text: O afflicted one, buffeted, not comforted, look! I will set your stones in antimony [puk] and lay your foundations with sapphires.

Septuagint: O humbled and unsteady one, you have not been comforted. Look! I am making your stone coal [ánthrax] for you and your foundations sapphire.

Commentary

Jerusalem came to be afflicted or humbled, buffeted as by a storm and, hence, unsteady or tottering upon being conquered and devastated. As a city in ruins and the survivors of the military campaign in exile, Jerusalem was like a woman bereaved of everything and with no one to console her. YHWH promised to change her sad circumstances.

The common meaning of puk is “antimony,” a black mineral powder. In this context, puk may denote a dark mortar. The dark color would make the precious stones stand out more prominently. In the Septuagint, puk appears to have been rendered ánthrax, which is the common designation for “coal” or “charcoal.” In this case, however, the word may be understood to designate a precious dark-red stone, possibly a ruby. The Hebrew and Greek terms for “sapphire” designate a transparent or translucent precious stone, probably a variety of corundum that is a deep blue in color. YHWH is represented as making Jerusalem grander than it had been prior to its destruction. With Jerusalem representing his people as a whole, this would also point to the dignity they would come to have as fully restored and divinely approved persons.

54:12. Masoretic Text: And I will make your battlements [plural of shémesh] of rubies [kadkód] and your gates of stones of beryl [’eqdách] and all your border of delightsome stones.

Septuagint: And I will make your battlements of jasper and your gates of stones of crystal and your enclosing wall of choice stones.

Commentary

YHWH is here represented as promising to use precious stones for the architectural features of Jerusalem. These architectural features would include the battlements, the gates, and the entire encompassing wall.

In this context, “battlements” is commonly thought to be the significance of the plural form of the Hebrew word shémesh, which meaning has the support of the Septuagint rendering. This, however, is not certain, especially since shémesh is the Hebrew word for “sun.” Assyrian reliefs depicting the seige of the Judean city Lachish indicate that round shields were positioned on the towers and along the city wall. Some have conjectured that such shields are designated as “suns.” For a portrayal of the siege of Lachich based on Assyrian reliefs and which depiction clearly shows the shields, see Lachish.

The Hebrew word kadkód designates a precious stone, possibly the ruby. The Septuagint rendering is íaspis (“jasper”). For some correspondency with “ruby,” one may regard the reference to be to “red jasper.”

There is uncertainty about the gem stone that is called ’eqdách in Hebrew. It may be beryl, which can be green, bluish green, or yellow in color. The Septuagint rendering is “stones of crystal.” Other suggested meanings for the Hebrew word are “carbuncle,” “sparkling jewel,” and “firestone.”

“Delightsome stones” or precious stones would form the encircling wall around the city.

54:13. Masoretic Text: And all your sons will be instructed by YHWH, and great [will be] the peace of your sons.

Septuagint: And all your sons [will be] instructed by God, and in abundant peace [will] your children [be].

The Targum of Isaiah indicates being taught by YHWH to apply to learning his law.

Commentary

Jerusalem represents God’s people as a whole. Individually, all of them are sons to YHWH. For them to be taught ones of YHWH would mean that they would be both familiar with his will and commands and desirous of living in harmony with his ways. They would enjoy “great peace” or a state of well-being because of having benefited from and acted in agreement with YHWH’s teaching.

54:14. Masoretic Text: In righteousness, you will be established. Come to be far from oppression, for you will not fear. And [you will be far] from terror, for it will not come near you.

Septuagint: And in righteousness, you will be built. Hold yourself far from injustice, and you will not fear and trembling will not come near you.

Commentary

In the past, the lawlessness and injustices of the people led to the devastation of Jerusalem. Therefore, in righteousness, which would be evident from the upright conduct of the repentant people, the city would be “built” (LXX) or firmly established as a secure place. With justice prevailing everywhere, Jerusalem would be assured of YHWH’s aid and protection, banishing all reason for anyone to fear having to face any kind of oppression. Nothing of a terror-inducing nature would even come near. According to the Septuagint, Jerusalem’s freedom from fear and trembling required that the people stay far away from unjust dealing.

54:15. If attacking, they will attack, [it is] not from me. Whoever attacks you will fall because of you.

Septuagint: Look! Proselytes will come to you because of me, and to you they will flee for refuge.

The wording of the Hebrew text is obscure, and the Targum of Isaiah interprets it as relating to the returning exiles. This Targum says that the exiles of the people would at last be gathered together to Jerusalem and that the kings that gather together to oppress Jerusalem would be cast down in her midst.

In this verse, the Hebrew verb gur, here rendered “attack,” usually means “sojourn” or “reside as an alien.” In Israel, a resident alien could become a proselyte or convert. The Hebrew word for “resident alien” is ger, a noun that is often translated prosélytos (proselyte) in the Septuagint. This explains the reason for the rendering “proselytes,” and a Greek text that represents proselytes as coming to Jerusalem on account of YHWH, or wanting to be attached to him, and finding refuge there among his people.

The uncertainty about the significance of the Hebrew verb gur has resulted in a variety of renderings. “If anyone stirs up strife, it is not from me; whoever stirs up strife with you shall fall because of you.” (NRSV) “Should anyone attack you, it will not be my doing; for his attempt the aggressor will perish.” (REB) “Surely no harm can be done without my consent: Whoever would harm you shall fall because of you.” (Tanakh) “Indeed they shall surely assemble, but not because of Me. Whoever assembles against you shall fall for your sake.” (NKJV) “Behold, gathering they shall gather, but not from Me. Who has gathered against you? By you he shall fall.” (J. P. Green)

Commentary

The Hebrew text is probably to be understood as relating to an action that is contemplated against Jerusalem and so would not be something that YHWH would countenance or originate. Any such action would fail, for the restored Jerusalem would be under God’s protection and care. So it would be on account of the divinely safeguarded Jerusalem that any form of assault would come to nothingness. Attackers would fall to their ruin.

54:16. Masoretic Text: Look! I have created the metal worker, the one blowing on the fire of the charcoal and making an implement for his work. And I have created the one ruining to destroy.

Septuagint: Look! I create you, not like a metal worker blowing on coals and producing an implement for work. But I have created you not for destruction, to corrupt every corruptible implement.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the conjunction “and” is missing from the concluding phrase.

The Greek words that are here rendered “every corruptible implement” are part of the next verse in Rahlfs’ printed text but are included here to complete the sentence. They will not be repeated for verse 17.

Commentary

YHWH is the Creator, signifying that all those working at various tasks are his handiwork. Accordingly, no metal worker who keeps a fire burning in order to forge an implement could possibly produce a weapon that could even remotely match the unparalleled power of the Creator. To YHWH, all man-made weapons amount to nothing. The one ruining so as to destroy could either designate the one who wrecks what the metal worker has made or is a warrior who engages in a campaign of conquest and devastation.

The Septuagint rendering represents Jerusalem as YHWH’s creation. His creative work is not like that of a metal worker in the process of making an implement that fulfills a temporary purpose. The restored Jerusalem, more particularly God’s approved people who are represented by Jerusalem, did not come into existence in order to be destroyed or to function in the destructive role of ruining everything that can be ruined.

54:17. Masoretic Text: Every implement formed against you will not succeed, and every tongue rising against you in judgment you will declare guilty. This is the inheritance of the servants of YHWH, and their righteousness [is] from me, says YHWH.

Septuagint: I will not grant [anyone] success against you. And [as for] every voice that will be raised against you in judgment, you will defeat all of them. But the ones answerable to you will be in it [the judgment]. It is the inheritance of those serving the Lord, and you will be righteous to me, says the Lord.

Commentary

YHWH will not permit any implement or weapon that may be formed to launch an attack against Jerusalem (meaning his devoted people) to succeed. Expressions that any tongue might utter to obtain an adverse judgment would come to be condemned, exposed as having no validity or being false. According to the Septuagint, those who would be answerable to Jerusalem for certain words or actions would be the ones having to face judgment.

The “inheritance” or portion that would be in possession of YHWH’s servants is his aid and protective care, making it impossible for any weapon that might be directed against them to inflict lasting harm. Their “righteousness” or their vindication as persons in the right comes from YHWH. According to his estimate of them, they are “righteous,” upright, or approved.