Isaiah 54:1
Sing, O barren, you that did not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you that did not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, said the LORD.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
LIV.

(1) Sing, O barren . . .—The words seem to carry on the jubilant strain of Isaiah 51, Isaiah 52:1-12, leaving the section Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12, as a mysterious episode. inserted, it may be, by the prophet to show how it was that the restoration of Israel and the victory of righteousness had become possible. We note, as bearing on Isaiah’s studies, the parallelism with 1Samuel 2:5. The “children of the desolate” are primarily the returning exiles, ultimately all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem.

Isaiah 54:1. Sing, O barren — The prophet, having largely discoursed of the sufferings of Christ, and of the blessed fruits thereof, among which one particularly promised was, that he should have a numerous seed that should believe on him; and here, foreseeing the accomplishment of this glorious promise, he breaks forth into this song of triumph, addressing his speech to the church, or spouse of God, or Christ, as is manifest from the following words, and especially from Isaiah 54:5, and from Galatians 4:27, where it is so expounded. Some, indeed, understand this chapter of the flourishing condition of the Jewish Church and state after their return from Babylon; but the magnificent promises here following do so vastly exceed their condition at that time, that it must necessarily be referred to the times of the gospel, in which all that is here said was, or will be, remarkably fulfilled. And therefore, as the foregoing chapter directly and literally speaks of Christ: so doth this of the church of Christ, or of the kingdom of the Messiah, of whom the ancient Hebrew doctors understood it. Now this church, consisting at first of the Jews, and afterward of the Gentiles, incorporated with them into the same body, he calls barren, because she had been so, comparatively speaking, before and until the coming of Christ; few sincere converts having been brought forth to God by her ministry, either of Jewish or Gentile race. For more are the children of the desolate, &c. — The Gentile world, or the church of the Gentiles, which in the times of the Old Testament was desolate, having neither husband nor children, doth now, under the gospel, bring forth unto God a far more numerous progeny than the church of the Jews, which had been married to God for many ages, until, by her apostacy from him, and from her Messiah, she provoked him to put her away.54:1-5 Observe the low state of religion in the world, for a long time before Christianity was brought in. But by preaching the gospel, multitudes were converted from idols to the living God. This is matter of great rejoicing to the church. The bounds of the church were extended. Though its state on earth is but mean and movable, like a tent or tabernacle, it is sometimes a growing state, and must be enlarged as the family increases. But the more numerous the church grows, the more she must fortify herself against errors and corruptions. Thy Maker is thy Husband. Christ is the Holy One of Israel, the Mediator of the covenant made with the Old Testament church. Long he had been called the God of Israel; but now he shall be called the God of the whole earth. And he will cleanse from sin, and cause every true believer to rejoice in this sacred union. We never can enough admire this mercy, or duly value this privilege.Sing, O barren - That is, shout for joy, lift up the voice of exultation and praise. The 'barren' here denotes the church of God under the Old Testament, confined within the narrow limits of the Jewish nation, and still more so in respect to the very small number of true believers, and which seemed sometimes to be deserted of God, her husband (Lowth). It is here represented under the image of a female who had been destitute of children, and who now has occasion to rejoice on the reconciliation of her husband (Isaiah 54:6; Lowth), and on the accession of the Gentiles to her family. The Chaldee renders it, 'Rejoice, O Jerusalem, who hast been as a sterile woman that did not bear.' The church is often in the Bible compared to a female, and the connection between God and his people is often compared with that between husband and wife (compare Isaiah 62:5; Ezekiel 16; Revelation 21:2-9; Revelation 22:17).

Thou that didst not bear - Either referring to the fact that the church was confined within the narrow limits of Judea; or that there had been in it a small number of true believers; or addressed to it in Babylon when it was oppressed, and perhaps constantly diminishing in number. I think it probable that it refers to the latter; and that the idea is, that she saw her sons destroyed in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, and that she was not augmented by any accessions while in Babylon, but would have great occasion for rejoicing on her return, and in her future increase under the Messiah by the accession of the Gentiles.

Break forth into singing - (Compare Isaiah 14:7; Isaiah 44:23; Isaiah 49:13).

For more are the children of the desolate - The 'desolate' here refers to Jerusalem, or the church. By the 'married woman,' Rosenmuller supposes the prophet means other nations which flourished and increased like a married woman. Grotius supposes that he means other cities which were inhabited, and that Jerusalem would surpass them all in her prosperity and in numbers. But the phrase seems to have somewhat of a proverbial cast, and probably the idea is that there would be a great increase, a much greater increase than she had any reason to apprehend. As if a promise was made to a barren female that she should have more children than those who were married usually had, so Jerusalem and the church would be greatly enlarged, far beyond what usually occurred among nations. The fulfillment of this is to be looked for in the accession of the Gentiles Isaiah 54:3. 'The conversion of the Gentiles is all along considered by the prophet as a new accession of adopted children, admitted into the original church of God, and united with it' (Lowth). See the same idea presented at greater length in Isaiah 49:20-22.

CHAPTER 54

Isa 54:1-17. The Fruit of Messiah's Sufferings, and of Israel's Final Penitence at Her Past Unbelief (Isa 53:6): Her Joyful Restoration and Enlargement by Jehovah, Whose Wrath Was Momentary, but His Kindness Everlasting.

Israel converted is compared to a wife (Isa 54:5; Isa 62:5) put away for unfaithfulness, but now forgiven and taken home again. The converted Gentiles are represented as a new progeny of the long-forsaken but now restored wife. The pre-eminence of the Hebrew Church as the mother Church of Christendom is the leading idea; the conversion of the Gentiles is mentioned only as part of her felicity [Horsley].

1. Sing—for joy (Zep 3:14).

barren—the Jewish Church once forsaken by God, and therefore during that time destitute of spiritual children (Isa 54:6).

didst not bear—during the Babylonian exile primarily. Secondarily, and chiefly, during Israel's present dispersion.

the children—the Gentiles adopted by special grace into the original Church (Isa 54:3; Isa 49:20, 21).

than … married wife—than were her spiritual children, when Israel was still a married wife (under the law, before the Babylonian exile), before God put her away [Maurer]. So Paul contrasts the universal Church of the New Testament with the Church of the Old Testament legal dispensation, quoting this very passage (Ga 4:27). But the full accomplishment of it is yet future.The blessings and fulness of the gospel church, Isaiah 54:1-3; the Gentiles becoming Christ’s spouse; to whom his love is everlasting, Isaiah 54:4-10. Her glories, Isaiah 54:11,12. The gifts of the Holy Ghost, Isaiah 54:13. Her sure preservation, Isaiah 54:14-17.

Sing, O barren. The prophet having largely discoursed of the sufferings of Christ, and of the blessed fruits or effects thereof, among which one is, that he should have a numerous seed that should believe on him, and that when the Jews rejected him, the Gentiles should gladly receive him, and here foreseeing by the Spirit of God that glorious state of the church, he rejoiced in it, as Abraham did upon the like occasion, John 8:56, and breaks forth into this song of triumph. He turneth his speech to the church and spouse of God, or of Christ, as is manifest from the following words, and especially from Isaiah 54:5, and from Galatians 4:27, where it is so expounded. And although this chapter is by some understood of the flourishing condition of the Jewish church and state after their return from Babylon, yet the magnificent and glorious promises here following do so vastly exceed their condition at that time, which was full of uncertainties, and distractions, and troubles, as all the histories of those times assure us, and far from that glory and lasting tranquillity which is here assured to her, that it must necessarily be referred to the times of the gospel, in which all that is here said was or will be remarkably fulfilled. And therefore as the foregoing chapter doth directly and literally speak of Christ, so doth this literally speak of the church of Christ, or of the kingdom of the Messiah, of whom the ancient Hebrew doctors understood it. And this church, consisting at first of the Jews, and afterwards of the Gentiles, who were incorporated with them into the same body, he calleth barren, not because it now was so, but because before and until the coming of Christ it had been so; as Simon is called the leper, Matthew 26:6, after he was cured. Now this church of the Jews might well be called, and had been, barren, because the sincere converts brought forth to God by her ministry had been but few among the Jews comparatively, and simply few among the Gentiles.

More are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife: the church or congregation of the Gentiles, which in the times of the Old Testament was desolate, having neither husband nor children, doth now under the gospel bring forth unto God a far more numerous posterity than the church of the Jews, which had been married to God for many ages, until by her apostacy from God, and from her Messiah, she provoked God to put her away, He alludeth here either to the history of Sarah, who was long and naturally barren, but by the supernatural power of God was enabled to bring forth a numberless issue; or to that remarkable passage of God’s providence concerning Hannah and Peninnah, 1 Samuel 2:5, The barren hath born seven, and she that hath many children is waxed feeble.

Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear,.... The Targum interprets this of Jerusalem, paraphrasing the words thus,

"sing praise, O Jerusalem, which was as a barren woman that bears not;''

and so the apostle applies the words of the text to the Jerusalem above, the mother of us all, the then present Gospel church, Galatians 4:26, which, at the first setting of it up, in the times of Christ, during his life and at the time of his death, and before the day of Pentecost, was like a barren woman; the number of converts were very small; few believed the report of the Gospel, professed Christ, and submitted to his ordinances; the names of the disciples were but a hundred and twenty. Though some understand this of the Jewish church, under the Old Testament dispensation, whose members were not many, and whose proselytes from the Gentiles were but few; and others of the Gentile world, before the coming of Christ, and the preaching of the Gospel in it; but the former sense is to be preferred, having the suffrage of the apostle:

break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child; among whom there were few instances of conversion, scarce any begotten and born again of incorruptible seed by the word of God, and no signs thereof; but now it being otherwise, and multitudes being converted both in Judea and in the Gentile world, the church and its members are called upon to express their joy aloud in songs of praise, setting forth the glory of efficacious grace, in the regeneration of men; for as this is matter of joy to the angels of heaven, so to the saints on earth:

for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord; more souls were born again, and added to the church after the death of Christ, when she was in a desolate condition, like a woman deprived of her husband, and in a widowhood state, then there were while Christ was here on earth, personally present with his people, and preaching the Gospel himself unto men; three thousand were converted under one sermon, and great numbers afterwards were added, so that the church at Jerusalem was in a much more flourishing condition after the death of Christ than before; more fruitful when it was become like a widow than when the bridegroom was with her; and the church of Christ still increased yet more and more afterwards, as the following verses predict. The Targum is,

"more shall be the children of Jerusalem than the children of the habitable city.''

The edition of it, in the king of Spain's Bible, has it,

"than the children of Rome;''

and so it is quoted by R. Elias (h), and by Buxtorf (i). The Jews understand this prophecy of their deliverance from their present condition by the Messiah; and of the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the prosperity of it.

(h) In Tishbi, p. 227. (i) Lexic. Talmud. col. 996, 2229.

Sing, O {a} 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 {b} desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the LORD.

(a) After he has declared the death of Christ, he speaks to the Church, because it would feel the fruit of the same, and calls her barren, because in the captivity she was a widow without hope to have any children.

(b) The Church in this her affliction and captivity will bring forth more children, than when she was free, or this may be spoken by admiration, considering the great number that would come from her. Her deliverance under Cyrus was as her childhood, and therefore this was accomplished when she came of age, which was under the gospel.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1–3. The ideal Zion is called upon to rejoice in the multitude of her children. As in ch. Isaiah 49:21, the children are conceived as already born, and waiting to be acknowledged by their mother.

more are the children of the desolate (2 Samuel 13:20) &c.] The contrast is not between Zion and other cities, but between Zion’s present and her past: even now in her widowhood and barrenness she has more children than she had before her separation from her Husband.

the married wife] Cf. ch. Isaiah 62:4; Genesis 20:3; Deuteronomy 22:22. The image of the verse is applied by St Paul to the contrast between the spiritual and the earthly Jerusalem; i.e. the church of Christ and the Jewish community (Galatians 4:27).Verses 1-10. - A PROMISE TO ISRAEL OF GREAT INCREASE, AND OF GOD'S PERSISTENT PROTECTION. There is no close connection between this chapter and the last, or even between this section and the preceding. Vers. 1-5 take up the thought of Isaiah 49:19-21, and expand it. Israel is assured of a great enlargement of her numbers, and bidden to rejoice thereat. She is then further comforted with a promise that she shall never be forsaken (vers. 6-10). Verse 1. - Sing, O barren. Israel in captivity is addressed as "barren," because, in the time of suffering, her numbers rather diminished than increased. Still, she is bidden to "sing" on account of the prospect that is opening upon her. She that is now desolate and solitary will soon have more children than she formerly had, when she was a married wife, enjoying the fellowship of Jehovah, her Husband (ver. 5). The "children" spoken of are in part those who gathered themselves together in Jerusalem and the adjacent territory after the issue of the decree of Cyrus (1 Chronicles 9:2-34; Ezra 2:1-65; Ezra 8:1-20; Nehemiah 7:6-72; Nehemiah 11:3-36), but mainly such as flocked in from the Gentiles, both before and after Christ's coming (see ver. 3). The fourth turn describes how He suffered and died and was buried. "He was ill treated; whilst He suffered willingly, and opened not His mouth, like the sheep that is led to the slaughter-bench, and like a lamb that is dumb before its shearers, and opened not His mouth." The third pers. niphal stands first in a passive sense: He has been hard pressed (1 Samuel 13:6): He is driven, or hunted (1 Samuel 14:24), treated tyrannically and unsparingly; in a word, plagued (vexatus; compare the niphal in a reciprocal sense in Isaiah 3:5, and according to the reading נגשׂ in Isaiah 29:13 in a reflective sense, to torment one's self). Hitzig renders the next clause, "and although tormented, He opened not His mouth." But although an explanatory subordinate clause may precede the principal clause which it more fully explains, not example can be found of such a clause with (a retrospective) והוּא explaining what follows; for in Job 2:8 the circumstantial clause, "sitting down among the ashes," belongs to the principal fact which stands before. And so here, where נענה (from which comes the participle נענה, usually met with in circumstantial clauses) has not a passive, but a reflective meaning, as in Exodus 10:3 : "He was ill treated, whilst He bowed Himself ( equals suffered voluntarily), and opened not His mouth" (the regular leap from the participle to the finite). The voluntary endurance is then explained by the simile "like a sheep that is led to the slaughter" (an attributive clause, like Jeremiah 11:19); and the submissive quiet bearing, by the simile "like a lamb that is dumb before its shearers." The commentators regard נאלמה as a participle; but this would have the tone upon the last syllable (see Isaiah 1:21, Isaiah 1:26; Nahum 3:11; cf., Comm. on Job, at Job 20:27, note). The tone shows it to be the pausal form for נאלרמה, and so we have rendered it; and, indeed, as the interchange of the perfect with the future in the attributive clause must be intentional, not quae obmutescit, but obmutuit. The following words, פּיו יפתּח ולא, do not form part of the simile, which would require tiphtach, for nothing but absolute necessity would warrant us in assuming that it points back beyond רחל to שׂה, as Rashi and others suppose. The palindromical repetition also favours the unity of the subject with that of the previous יפתח and the correctness of the delicate accentuation, with which the rendering in the lxx and Acts 8:32 coincides. All the references in the New Testament to the Lamb of God (with which the corresponding allusions to the passover are interwoven) spring from this passage in the book of Isaiah.
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