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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Chapter 55
 
 
 
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ISAIAH 54

In this chapter, our sacred author turns from the atoning sufferings and death of the Son of God which won at awful and agonizing cost the hope of eternal life for the sinful race of Adam, giving every man ever born the possibility of renewing the lost fellowship with the Creator that was lost in the disaster in Eden; from all this, so magnificently presented in the previous chapter, he here turns to give us a glance of the future glories of God's kingdom under Messiah.

This chapter is not a dissertation on God's remarriage to the old whore Racial Israel, as some have vainly supposed, but an outline of the marvelous blessings in the Kingdom of Heaven, under the rule of Messiah. Kelley alleged that, "An appropriate title for this section would be `the return of the prodigal wife.' In language strongly reminiscent of Hosea, the prophet describes the restoration of Israel to God's favor."F1 Many people simply need to read the Book of Hosea again. Gomer was indeed brought back home, but no longer as the wife of Hosea. At the time of her return, her husband said to Gomer, "Thou shalt not be wife to any man, and so will I also be toward thee" (Hosea 3:3). The declaration of this passage is that "Never again shall racial Israel be the "wife" of Jehovah. Four times the Word of God emphatically declares that there is "No distinction" between Jews and Gentiles. Race has no significance whatever in God's holy religion. Despite this, the commentaries are full of the very type of inaccuracy and misunderstanding just cited.

As Barnes noted:

"This chapter contains a promise of the enlargement, moral renovation, and the future glory of the kingdom of God, especially under the Messiah. Although designed to give comfort to the captives in Babylon, it was a consolation to be derived from what would occur in distant times under the Messiah ... The design of the whole chapter is consolatory, and is a promise of what would certainly result from God's purpose of sending the Messiah into the world."F2

"All attempts to interpret this chapter as a prophecy of the exiles' return from Babylon and the rebuilding of physical Israel as a nation and of physical Jerusalem as a city are extremely weak. Rather, the subject here is the glorious results of the Servant's sacrificial work in redeeming a spiritual people."F3

The interpretation given by Hailey, above, harmonizes perfectly with all of the Old Testament prophecies, with all of the teachings of Jesus Christ and his apostles, and with all of the facts of human history. The church was in God's plans from the beginning, "before the world was," being definitely a part of "God's eternal purpose"; and it is no accident, makeshift, or accommodation to the rebellions and iniquities of men (Ephesians 3:9-11). Therefore the Church is prophesied in Isaiah, this very chapter being an instance of such prophecies.

The contrast that looms in this chapter "is not the state of the Gentile world contrasted with that of the Jews."F4 It is a contrast between the status of Racial Israel throughout her history as slaves in Egypt, captives in Babylon, depicted in Isa. 52 as a wretched drunken woman with none to help her, neglected, forsaken, divorced, cast out and abandoned, a contrast between all of that and the glorious estate of the New Israel, a legitimate child of the Old Israel, now married to the Son of God Himself in the Kingdom of the Messiah.

For extensive discussion of the marriage state of the two Israel's, the Old, and the New, see our studies in the Book of Hosea, Vol. 2, in our series of commentaries on the minor prophets, pp. 53-67.

Isa. 54:1-3

THE GREAT GROWTH OF GOD'S KINGDOM UNDER MESSIAH


 
Verses 1-3
Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith Jehovah. Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thy habitations; spare not: lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes. For thou shalt spread aboard on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall possess the nations, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.

Fortunately, we do not need to rely upon merely human opinion as to what is meant here. The inspired apostle Paul quoted this passage (Galatians 4:26,27) and applied it to the Church of Jesus Christ. The Jerusalem in view here is not literal Jerusalem at all, but "The Jerusalem that is above, which is free, which is our mother."

Thus, the metaphor of enlarging the dwelling places and of "spreading abroad" in all directions is a reference to the great growth and prosperity of the Christian faith. "Thy seed shall possess the nations" is a promise that the great heart of all the Gentile nations shall accept the principles of Christianity; and thus, in the sense of the value-judgments and guiding principles that shall control those nations, these shall be derived from the Judaic faith, as interpreted and extended in Christianity.


 
Verses 4-8
Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth; and the reproach of thy widowhood shalt thou remember no more. For thy Maker is thy husband; Jehovah of hosts is his name: and the Holy One of Israel is thy Redeemer; the God of the whole earth shall he be called. For Jehovah hath called thee as a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even a wife of youth, when she is cast off, saith thy God. For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In overflowing wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting lovingkindness will I have mercy on thee, saith Jehovah thy Redeemer.

The false understanding of this passage as a remarriage between God and the old Racial Israel which never in any sense whatever repented and which even rebelled against God's command to return to Judah, preferring to remain in Babylon, derives from a failure to see that it was only the "righteous remnant" who would receive this consolation, believe it, and return to Judah when God commanded it. The marriage of God here would not be with the old crowd at all but with the new group "the righteous remnant" so prominent in Isaiah; and from those "Israelites Indeed," who made up the nucleus of Those who followed Christ, and from whom the New Bride of Jesus Christ would be formed.

The thing that confuses some is that the glorious promises such as these, occurring throughout the prophecy are addressed to Israel, usually understood as the physical, fleshly, racial Israel; because, indeed, those who received these promises and honored them were racial Israelites; but as McGuiggan observed, "All such promises, while addressed to the nation at large, are the heritage only of those who commit themselves to God (Isa. 54:17; Isa. 55:6,7 and Isa. 57:13)."F5 However, in all of God's promises, there is an implied condition, whether specifically stated or not, and that is the condition "provided that, those receiving the promises continue in the way of God." Thus, the Israelites who would not return to Judah, as well as all of them who would not accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, lost forever all rights and privileges of a saving relationship with God.

But Jews are racial descendents of Abraham! So what! So were the murderers of Jesus Christ (John 8); but Jesus called them the "sons of the devil," and stated categorically that, "If ye were Abraham's seed, ye would love me" (John 8:31-42).


 
Verses 9, 10
For this is [as] the waters of Noah unto me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah shall no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I will not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed; but my lovingkindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall my covenant of peace be removed, saith Jehovah that hath mercy on thee.

What is this? It is God's promise that the New Covenant, of which Christ is the Mediator, shall never be taken away, and as Jesus said, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:18-20).

"Words of comfort like this are not to be taken as a blanket promise that all Jews, penitent sinners and impenitent rogues alike, are to be forgiven, The glorious descriptions such as we find here (and in the final paragraph) assume penitence and obedience on the part of the people to be blessed."F6

The glorious promises here certainly include the Divine Pledge that God's people will never again go into captivity; and some have complained that God did not keep this promise because Israel was destroyed, 1,000,000 of them murdered, and 30,000 of them sold into slavery in Egypt at the conclusion of the war in 70 A.D.; but God is faithful, and like all of his other promises, he has kept this one also. As Rawlinson explained:

"Much as the Christian Church has suffered from the world, it has never been with them like it was with captive Jews in Babylon. Here the prophet views the Jewish Church as absorbed and continued in the Christian Church, into which all the better and more spiritual members passed at the first preaching of the gospel."F7

This alleged "failure" of God to keep his promise to the Jews, indicates that merely racial Jews were no longer "heirs of the promises" to Abraham, but that all of those precious promises were henceforth the inheritance of the saved "in Christ Jesus," a fact that Paul stated categorically in Gal. 3:29.


 
Verses 11-17
O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will set thy stones in fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy pinnacles of rubies, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy border of precious stones. And all thy children shall be taught of Jehovah; and great shall be the peace of thy children. In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression, for thou shalt not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near thee. Behold, they may gather together, but not by me: whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall because of thee. Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the fire of coals, and bringeth forth a weapon for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy. No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of Jehovah, and their righteousness which is of me, saith Jehovah.

Isa. 54:11-12, here describe "the external beauty of the kingdom of God."F8 Of course, the language is wholly metaphorical, much like the magnificent description of the "New Jerusalem," coming down out of heaven from God in Rev. 21--22. Men, many of them, at least, do not view God's church in such extravagantly magnificent colors; but this is God's view, the correct view. The Church is the most beautiful, sublime, glorious, and magnificent entity upon the planet earth. Her head is in heaven itself; and there's no other organization known among men that is worthy even to be compared with the Church.

Isa. 54:13 is a glimpse of the inner, spiritual glory and beauty of the Church. "All thy children shall be taught of God"! Membership in the Jewish nation was via natural birth and the circumcision that followed (in the case of males) some eight days later. Thus, unless such individuals were carefully instructed and reared in their faith, they remained as persons who had no knowledge whatever of God. The words here show that a new system was being followed during the reign of Messiah. Just as Jeremiah had foretold:

"For they shall all know me (in the days of the New Covenant), from the least of them to the greatest of them, saith Jehovah: for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more" (Jeremiah 35:1-35).

The simple meaning of this is that infants and children before accountability "cannot belong" to the Christian Church, for they do not "know the Lord," the presumptuous acceptance of infant church membership by some churches to the contrary, notwithstanding. One must "know the Lord" before he can become a member.

The balance of these verses speak of the peace, tranquillity, security, safety, and absence of fear among God's people in the Church.

In times past God had brought powerful enemies against his people, but never again. There indeed may arise powerful and determined enemies, but the Lord will not be with them (Isaiah 54:15). God's people shall be established in righteousness (Isaiah 54:14); but that righteousness shall not be of themselves, but of Jehovah (Isaiah 54:17).

A further word about that "righteousness" is in order. The righteousness that redeems and establishes the people of God is genuine, not imputed, or faked; it is the real thing. It is the righteousness achieved and wrought by Jehovah through Christ, the righteousness of Jesus Christ being in fact the only actual righteousness ever known on earth. Now without that righteousness, no one shall ever see God or be saved. How, then does one acquire it? Oh, it is imputed to man upon the basis of faith, some say. Ah no! That would be altogether a phony righteousness. How then, does one possess it? God's way of saving stinking sinners is not by shooting righteousness into stinking sinners, but by requiring that sinners deny themselves, confess Christ, repent and be baptized "into Christ" who 1 Sam. righteous, that is, by transferring sinners "into Christ." Thus, no man who ever lived can be saved except as he is identified with Christ, as Christ, and in Christ; and then, he is not saved as John Smith or Joe Bloke, but "as Christ."


Footnotes for Isaiah 54
1: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), p. 346.
2: Albert Barnes' Commentary, Vol. II, p. 287.
3: Homer Hailey, p. 444.
4: E. Henderson, p. 407.
5: Jim McGuiggan, p. 273.
6: Ibid., p. 274.
7: Pulpit Commentary, Vol. II, p. 315.
8: Homer Hailey, p. 449.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 54". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=isa&chapter=054>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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