Reflections on Isaiah 54

To everything:  turn, turn, turn,
there is a season: turn, turn, turn 
and a time for every purpose under heaven

In Isaiah 52, we heard a call for the exiles to awake and put on their strength, and again we find in Isaiah 54 an invitation for the people to live in light of a new season and relationship with God.

At the beginning of Isaiah we find a people filled with pride and violence and selfishness, using God-language and rituals to assure themselves of their favored status and protection while rejecting the kind of life which God had shown them is integral to their identity as God’s people: faith, compassion, trust.

And so God’s protection was withdrawn, and their pride and arrogance were shattered.  Those who survived to be taken into exile in Babylon did so while struggling with questions of identity and purpose.  They wondered what their relationship with the God of Abraham would or could be going forward.

Have you ever messed up in such a way that you wonder how you could ever move forward from it?

Chapter 54 is the message God speaks to the returning exiles of Israel and to those of us who have been there.

Notice the pattern of commands and promises that speak of who God is and how God will respond to the people in their brokenness.  ( items in brackets are my summarization of the text)

  • Sing…break into song… for [the one who was childless will be mother to many]
  • Enlarge your house…for soon you will be bursting at the seams!  [Like God’s promise to Abraham!]
  • Fear not…don’t be afraid …  you will no longer live in shame, or remember the shame of your youth.

All of this in light of who God is: Creator, the LORD of heaven’s armies, the Holy One, Redeemer, God of the whole earth, who declares a new season:

From shame and disgrace, from feeling forsaken and cast off, abandoned and the subject of wrath — to being redeemed, regathered, with the everlasting ‘hesed (the compassionate, faithful and strong love of God).  This is the identity God calls on the remnant to take on and remember and live in light of.  The words repeat again and again: compassion, ‘hesed (steadfast love), covenant of peace.

Side note: Notice how God describes the fulfillment of the promise of restoration among the Exiles as they rebuild Jerusalem from rubble in Isaiah 54:11-12.  Compare that language of precious stones being the walls and gates of the restored city with Revelation 21:1-2, and especially 21:15-21.    What threads and connections of God’s work and promises do you notice here?

In light of God’s work, there will be abundant blessings for the people:

  • All your children shall be taught by the LORD
  • great shall be the prosperity/peace (Shalom) of your children
  • In righteousness you shall be established
  • you shall not fear oppression or terror or strife

For God provides a heritage and vindication for the servants of the LORD

In all of this, God is speaking words of hope and a future to a people who were close to being convinced that the mistakes of their past (and of their ancestors’ pasts) had closed off and crushed their future.  This is not so.  The experiences of God’s anger and wrath are not because God *is* anger or wrath, or because they have no future – but represent the ‘no’ to that which stands against the good God purposes for us and for all humanity.

The question being: will we trust this?  Will we lean into the present presence of God and the unfolding hope we have in God?  Will we dare to ‘enlarge our tents’ in anticipation of what God will do?