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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Isaiah Chapter 54

Isaiah 54:1

isa 54:1

After the "Servant of God" has expiated the sin of His people by the sacrifice of Himself, and Israel has acknowledged its fault in connection with the rejected One, and entered into the possession and enjoyment of the salvation procured by Him, the glory of the church, which has thus become a partaker of salvation through repentance and faith, is quite ready to burst forth. Hence the prophet can now exclaim, Isa 54:1 : "Exult, O barren one, thou that didst not bear; break forth into exulting, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for there are more children of the solitary one than children of the married wife, saith Jehovah." The words are addressed to Jerusalem, which was a counterpart of Sarah in her barrenness at first, and her fruitfulness afterwards (Isa 41:1-3). She is not תלד לא עקרה (Job 24:21), but ילדה לא עקרה (Jdg 13:2); not indeed that she had never had any children, but during her captivity and exile she had been robbed of her children, and as a holy city had given birth to no more (Isa 49:21). She was shōmēmâh, rendered solitary (Sa2 13:20; the allusion is to her depopulation as a city), whereas formerly she was בּעוּלה, i.e., enjoyed the fellowship of Jehovah her husband (ba‛al). But this condition would not last (for Jehovah had not given her a divorce): she was therefore to exult and shout, since the number of children which she would now have, as one desolate and solitary, would be greater than the number of those which she had as a married wife.

Isaiah 54:2

isa 54:2

With this prospect before her, even her dwelling-place would need enlarging. "Enlarge the space of thy tent, and let them stretch out the curtains of thy habitations; forbid not! lengthen thy cords, and fasten thy plugs." She is to widen out the space inside her tent, and they (יטּוּ has no definite subject, which is often the case where some subordinate servant is to be thought of) are to spread out far and wide the coverings of the framework of her dwelling, which is called mishkenōth (in the plural) on account of its roominess and magnificence: she is not to forbid it, thinking in her weakness of faith, "It is good enough as it is; it would be too large." The cords which hold up the walls, she is to lengthen; and the plugs, to which the cords are fastened, she is to ram fast into the earth: the former because the tent (i.e., the holy city, Jer 31:38-40, and the dwelling-place of the church generally, Isa 26:15) has to receive a large number of inhabitants; the latter because it will not be broken up so soon again (Isa 33:20).

Isaiah 54:3

isa 54:3

The reason why the tent is to be so large and strong is given in Isa 54:3 : "For thou wilt break forth on the right and on the left; and thy seed will take possession of nations, and they will people desolate cities." "On the right and on the left" is equivalent to "on the south and north" (Psa 89:13, the speaker being supposed to have his face turned towards the east: compare the Sanscrit apân, situated at the back, i.e., towards the west). We must supply both west and east, since the promises contained in such passages as Gen 15:18-21 remained unfulfilled even in the age of David and Solomon. Jerusalem will now spread out, and break through all her former bounds (pârats is used in the same sense in Gen 28:14); and her seed (i.e., the seed acquired by the Servant of Jehovah, the dead yet eternally living One, the σπέρμα, whose σπέρμα He Himself is) will take possession of nations (yârash, yârēsh, capessere, occupare; more especially κληρονομεῖν, syn. nâchal); and they (i.e., the children born to her) will people desolate cities (hōshı̄bh, the causative of yâshabh, to be inhabited, Isa 14:20). Thus will the promise be fulfilled, that "the meek shall inherit the earth," - a promise not confined to the Preacher on the mount, but found also in Psa 37:9-11, and uttered by our own prophet in Isa 60:21; Isa 65:9.

Isaiah 54:4

isa 54:4

The encouraging promise is continued in Isa 54:4 : "Fear not, for thou wilt not be put to shame; and bid defiance to reproach, for thou wilt not blush: no, thou wilt forget the shame of thy youth, and wilt no more remember the reproach of thy widowhood." Now that redemption was before the door, Israel was not to fear any more, or to be overcome (as the niphal nikhlam implies) by a felling of the shame consequent upon her state of punishment, or so to behave herself as to leave no room for hope. For a state of things was about to commence, in which she would have no need to be ashamed (on bōsh and châphēr or hechpı̄r), but which, on the contrary (כּי, imo, as in Isa 10:7; Isa 55:9), would be so glorious that she would forget the shame of her youth, i.e., of the Egyptian bondage, in which the national community of Israel was still but like a virgin (‛almâh), who entered into a betrothal when redeemed by Jehovah, and became His youthful wife through a covenant of love (ehe = berı̄th) when the law was given at Sinai (Jer 2:2; Eze 16:60); so glorious indeed, that she would never again remember the shame of her widowhood, i.e., of the Babylonian captivity, in which she, the wife whom Jehovah had taken to Himself, was like a widow whose husband had died.

Isaiah 54:5

isa 54:5

It was no real widowhood, however, but only an apparent one (Jer 51:5), for the husband of Jerusalem was living still, "For thy husband is thy Creator; Jehovah of hosts is His name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; God of the whole earth is He called." The plurals בעליך and עשׂיך (see at Isa 22:11) are to be explained from the plural 'Elōhı̄m, which is connected with plural attributes in Jos 24:19; Sa1 17:26, Ps. 58:12 (compare מרימיו in Isa 10:15), and with plural predicates in Gen 20:13; Gen 35:7, and Sa2 7:23. By such expressions as these, which represent all the plurality of the divine nature as inherent in the One, the religion of revelation, both Israelitish and Christian, exhibits itself as embodying all that is true in polytheism. He who has entered into the relation of husband to Jerusalem (בעליך, not בעליך, Isa 1:3) is the very same through whom she first came into existence, the God whose bidding the heavenly hosts obey; and the Redeemer of Jerusalem, the Holy One of Israel, is called the God of the whole earth, and therefore has both the power and the means to help her, as prompted by the relation of love which exists between them.

Isaiah 54:6

isa 54:6

And this relation He now renews. "For Jehovah calleth thee as a wife forsaken and burdened with sorrow, and as a wife of youth, when once she is despised, saith thy God." The verb קרא, which is the one commonly used in these prophecies to denote the call of grace, on the ground of the election of grace, is used here to signify the call into that relation, which did indeed exist before, but had apparently been dissolved. קראך is used here out of pause (cf., Isa 60:9); it stands, however, quite irregularly for the form in ēkh, which is the one commonly employed (Jdg 4:20; Eze 27:26). "And as a wife:" ואשׁת is equivalent to וּכאשׁת. The hypothetical תמּאס כּי belongs to the figure. Jehovah calls His church back to Himself, as a husband takes back the wife he loved in his youth, even though he may once have been angry with her. It is with intention that the word נמאסה is not used. The future (imperfect) indicates what partially happens, but does not become an accomplished or completed fact: He is displeased with her, but He has not cherished aversion or hatred towards her.

Isaiah 54:7

isa 54:7

Thus does Jehovah's displeasure towards Jerusalem pass quickly away; and all the more intense is the manifestation of love which follows His merely momentary anger. "For a small moment have I forsaken thee, and with great mercy will I gather thee. In an effusion of anger I hid my face from thee for a moment, and with everlasting grace I have compassion upon thee, saith Jehovah thy Redeemer." "For a small moment" carries us to the time of the captivity, which was a small moment in comparison with the duration of the tender and merciful love, with which Jehovah once more received the church into His fellowship in the person of its members. רגע in Isa 54:8 is not an adverb, meaning momentarily, as in Isa 47:9, but an accusative of duration, signifying a single moment long. Ketseph signifies wrath regarded as an outburst (fragor), like the violence of a storm or a clap of thunder; shetseph, which rhymes with it, is explained by A. Schultens, after the Arabic, as signifying durum et asperum esse: and hence the rendering adopted by Hitzig, "in hard harshness." But this yields no antithesis to "everlasting kindness," which requires that shetseph should be rendered in some way that expresses the idea of something transitory or of short duration. The earlier translators felt this, when like the lxx for example, they adopted the rendering ἐν θυμῷ μικρῷ, and others of a similar kind; and Ibn Labrt, in his writing against Menahem b. Zerk, who gives chŏrı̄, burning heat, as a gloss to shetseph, explains it by מעט (as Kimchi and others did afterwards). But, as Jakob Tam correctly observes, "this makes the sense purely tautological." In all probability, shâtsaph is a form allied to shâtaph, as nâshabh (Isa 40:7) is to nâshaph (Isa 40:24), and qâmat (Job 16:8) to qâmats, which stand in the same relation to one another, so far as the sense is concerned, as bubbling over to flowing over: so that the proper rendering would not be "in the overflowing of glowing heat," as Umbreit thinks, which would require קצף בּשׁטף (Pro 27:4), but in the gushing up of displeasure, the overflowing of indignation (Meier). The ketseph is only a shetseph, a vanishing moment (Jer. in momento indignationis), when compared with the true feeling of Jehovah towards Jerusalem, which is chesed ‛ōlâm, everlasting kindness.

Isaiah 54:9

isa 54:9

The ground of this "everlasting kindness" is given in Isa 54:9 : "For it is now as at the waters of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah should not overflow the earth any more; so have I sworn not to be wroth with thee, and not to threaten thee." The commencement of this v. has been a fluctuating one from the earliest times. The Sept. reading is ממּי; that of the Targ., S., Jerome, Syriac, and Saad., כּימי; and even the Codd. read sometimes כּי־מי, sometimes כּימי (compare Mat 24:37, ὥσπερ αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ Νῶε οὕτως κ.τ.λ - a passage which appears to derive its shape from the one before us, with the reading כימי, and which is expounded in Luk 17:26). If we read כימי, the word זאת must refer to the present, as the turning-point between wrath and mercy; but if we read כי־מי, זאת denotes the pouring out of wrath in connection with the captivity. Both readings are admissible; and as even the Septuagint, with its ἀπὸ τοῦ ὕδατος (from the water), gives an indirect support to the reading כּימי as one word, this may probably merit the preference, as the one best sustained. אשׁר is ubi, quum, as in Num 20:13; Psa 95:9, etc., although it might also be taken as the correlate of the kēn which follows, as in Jer 33:22 (cf., Isa 48:8); and in accordance with the accents, we prefer the former. The present turning-point resembles, in Jehovah's esteem, the days of Noah - those days in which He swore that a flood should not any more come upon the earth (min as in Isa 5:6 and many other passages): for so does He now confirm with an oath His fixed purpose that no such judgment of wrath as that which has just been endured shall ever fall upon Jerusalem again (גּער denotes threatening with a judicial word, which passes at once into effect, as in Isa 51:20). Hendewerk has the following quibbling remark here: "What the comparison with the flood is worth, we may gather from the alter history, which shows how soon the new Jerusalem and the renovated state succumbed to the judicial wrath of God again." To this we reply: (1.) That the prophecy refers to the converted Israel of the last days, whose Jerusalem will never be destroyed again. These last days appear to the prophet, according to the general character of all prophecy, as though linked on to the close of the captivity. For throughout all prophecy, along with the far-sightedness imparted by the Spirit, there was also a short-sightedness which the Spirit did not remove; that is to say, the directly divine element of insight into the future was associated with a human element of hope, which was nevertheless also indirectly divine, inasmuch as it subserved the divine plan of salvation; and this hope brought, as it were, the far distant future into the closest proximity with the troubled present. If, the, we keep this in mind, we shall see that it was quite in order for the prophet to behold the final future on the very edge of the present, and not to see the long and undulating way between. (2.) The Israel which has been plunged by the Romans into the present exile of a thousand years is that part of the nation (Rom 11:25), which has thrust away the eternal mercy and the unchangeable covenant of peace; but this rejection has simply postponed, and not prevented, the full realization of the salvation promised to Israel as a people. The covenant still exists, primarily indeed as an offer on the part of Jehovah, so that it rests with Israel whether it shall continued one-sided or not; but all that is wanted on the part of Israel is faith, to enable it to exchange the shifting soil of its present exile for the rocky foundation of that covenant of peace which has encircled the ages since the captivity (see Hag 2:9), as the covenant with Noah encircled those after the flood with the covenant sign of the rainbow in the cloud.

Isaiah 54:10

isa 54:10

"For the mountains may depart, and the hills may shake; my grace will not depart from thee, and my covenant of peace will not shake, saith Jehovah who hath compassion on thee." Jehovah's grace and covenant of peace (cf., Num 25:12) stand as firm as the mountains of God (Psa 36:7), without departing from Jerusalem (מאתּך instead of the usual מאתּך) and without shaking; and they will be fulfilled. This fulfilment will not take place either by force or by enchantment; but the church which is to be glorified must pass through sufferings, until it has attained the form which answers to the glory promised to it on oath. And this will also take place; for the old Jerusalem will come forth as a new one out of the furnace of affliction.

Isaiah 54:11

isa 54:11

"O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, not comforted, behold, I lay thy stones in stibium, and lay thy foundations with sapphires; and make thy minarets of ruby, and thy gates into carbuncles, and all thy boundary into jewels." At the present time the church, of which Jerusalem is the metropolis, is sunk in misery, driven with tempest like chaff of the threshing-floor (Hos 13:3), without comfort; because till now it has waited in vain for any act of consolation on the part of God, and has been scorned rather than comforted by man (סערה is a part. kal, not pual; and נחמה 3rd pers. praet. like נעזבה, Isa 62:12, and רחמה, Hos 1:6; Hos 2:3). But this will be altered; Jerusalem will rise again from the dust, like a glorious building of God. Jerome makes the following apt remark on Isa 54:11: "in stibio, i.e., in the likeness of an elegant woman, who paints her eyes with stibium; referring to the beauty of the city." Pūkh is eye-black (kohl, cf., kâchal, Eze 23:40), i.e., a sooty compound, the chief component of which was powdered antimony, or else manganese or lead, and with which oriental women coloured their eyebrows, and more particularly the eyelids both above and below the eyes, that the beauty of the latter might be all the more conspicuous (Kg2 9:30). The classic φῦκος, fucus, has a meaning foreign to the Hebrew word, viz., that of rouge for the cheeks. If, then, stibium (antimony), or any blackening collyrium generally, served the purpose of mortar in the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the stones of its walls (not its foundation-stones, אדניך, which is the reading adopted by Ewald, but, on the contrary, the visible stones of its towering walls) would look like the eyes of a woman shining forth from the black framework of their painted lids, i.e., they would stand out in splendour from their dark ground. The Beth in bassappı̄rı̄m indicates the means employed. Sapphires serve as foundation-stones, for the foundation of Jerusalem stands as immoveably firm as the covenant of God. The sapphire blue is the colour of the heaven, of revelation, and of the covenant. The shemâshōth, however, i.e., the minarets which stand out like rays of the sun, and also the gates, have a red appearance. Red is the colour of blood, and hence of life and of imperishableness; also the colour of fire and of lightning, and hence of wrath and victory. Jehovah makes the minarets of "ruby." The Sept. and Jerome adopt the rendering iaspidem (a jasper); at any rate, כּדכד (which is the proper way of writing the word: Ewald, 48, c)

(Note: The first כ is dagessatum, the second raphatum: see Norzi. The word forms one of the eighteen which have a dagesh after a word ending with a vowel sound (בלא מבטל בתר יה וא דגשין): see Masora Magna on Dan 5:11, and Heidenheim's הטעמים משפטי, 41a. The object is to secure greater euphony, as in ככרכמישׁ (הלא), Isa 10:9, which is one of the eighteen words.)

is a red sparkling jewel (from kidkēd; cf., kı̄dōd, scintilla). The arches of the gates He forms of אקדּח אבני, stones of fiery splendour (from qâdach, to burn: hence qaddachath, πυρετός), that is to say, or carbuncle stones (from carbunculus, a small red-hot coal), like ruby, garnet, etc. Jerome has adopted the false rendering lapides sculptos, after Symm. λίθοι γλυφῆς (from קדח = קדד, findere?). The accusative of the predicate כדכד is interchanged with עקדח לבני, and then with לאבני־חפץ, to denote the materia ex qua. The whole territory (precinct) of Jerusalem is turned by Jehovah into precious stones, that is to say, it appears to be paved with such stones, just as in Tobit 13:17 the streets are said to be "paved with beryl, and carbuncle, and stones of Ophir," i.e., to be covered with a mosaic formed of precious stones. It is upon the passage before us that Tobit 13:16, 17, and Rev 21:18-21, are founded. The motley colours of the precious stones, with which the new Jerusalem is adorned, are something more than a mere childish fancy. Whence, then, do the precious stones derive their charm? The ultimate ground of this charm is the fact, that in universal nature everything presses to the light, and that in the mineral world the jewels represent the highest stage of this ascending process. It is the self-unfolding process of the divine glory itself, which is reflected typologically in the several gradations of the manifold play of colours and the transparency of the precious stones. For this reason, the high priest wore a breastplate with twelve precious stones, upon which were the names of the twelve tribes of Israel; and for this same reason, the author of the Apocalypse carries out into detail in chapter 21 the picture of the new Jerusalem, which is here sketched by the prophet of the Old Testament (without distinguishing time from eternity), adding crystals and pearls to the precious stones which he there mentions one by one. How can all this be explained, except on the ground that even the mineral world reflects the glory of those eternal lights from which God is called the "Father of lights," or except on the assumption that the saints in light will one day be able to translate these stony types into the words of God, out of which they have their being?

Isaiah 54:13

isa 54:13

The outward glory of the city is only the manifestation, which strikes the senses, of the spiritual glory of the church dwelling therein. "And all thy children will be the learned of Jehovah; and great the peace of thy children." We translate both halves of the v. as substantive clauses, although they might be accusatives of both the object and predicate, dependent upon שׂמתּי. ה למּוּדי are disciples of Jehovah, but, as in Isa 50:4, with the subordinate idea of both docility and learning. The children of Jerusalem will need no instruction from man, but carry within them the teaching of heaven, as those who are "taught of God" (διδακτοὶ Θεοῦ, Joh 6:45; θεοδίδακτοι, Th1 4:9). Essentially the same promise is given in Joe 3:1-2, and Jer 31:34; and represented in Jo1 2:20 ("Ye have the anointing of the Holy One, and know all things") as already fulfilled. In the place of the former inward and outward distress, there has no entered shâlōm, perfect inward and outward peace, complete salvation, and blessedness as its result. רב is an adjective, for this form cannot be shown to have existed as a syncopated third pers. praet., like שׁח, חי (= חיי). The v. closes palindromically.

Isaiah 54:14

isa 54:14

In perfect keeping with this grace through righteousness, Jerusalem will then stand firm and impregnable. "Through righteousness wilt thou be fortified: be far from anxiety, for thou hast nothing to fear; and from terror, for it will not come near thee. Behold, men crowd together in crowds; my will is not there. Who crowd together against thee? - he shall fall by thee." Both the thought and action of Jerusalem will be righteousness then, and it will thereby acquire strength; תּכּונני is a pausal future hithpalel, with the ת of the reflective opening syllable assimilated (Ges. 53, 2, b). With this reciprocal influence of its moral character and imparted glory, it can, and is to keep far away from all thought of oppression and terror; for, through divine grace and a corresponding divine nature, it has nothing to fear. הן (Isa 54:15), when pointing to any transaction as possible (as, for example, in Job 12:14; Job 23:8), acquires almost the significance of a conditional particle (Ewald, 103, g). The equally hypothetical parallel clause is clothed in the form of an interrogative. For the verb gūr, the meaning "to gather together" (related to אגר), more especially to join together with hostile intention (cf., συνάγεσθαι, Rev 19:19; Rev 20:8), is sustained by Psa 56:7; Psa 59:4; and with גּרה, lacessere, it has nothing to do (Hitzig and Ewald). אתּך has the force of contra te, as in the case of verbs of combat. The first apodosis is this: "but it takes place entirely away from me," i.e., without and against my will; מאותי = מאתּי (as in Isa 59:21), and אותם = אתּם, are no sure signs of a later usage; for this alternation of the two forms of את is met with as early as Jos 14:12. The second apodosis is, "he will fall upon (or against) thee," or, as we should say, "founder," or "be wrecked." It is far more likely that this is the meaning of the words, than that they mean "he will fall to thy lot" (על נפל, like ל נפל elsewhere, to fall to a person); for the context here is a totally different one from Isa 45:14, and we look for nothing more than a declaration of the utter failure and ruin of the undertaking.

Isaiah 54:16

isa 54:16

Jerusalem will be thus invincible, because Jehovah, the Almighty One, is its protector. "Behold, I have created the smith who bloweth the coal-fire, and brings to the light a weapon according to his trade; and I have created the destroyer to destroy. Every weapon formed against thee has no success, and every tongue that cometh before the judgment with thee thou wilt condemn. This the inheritance of the servants of Jehovah; and their righteousness from me, saith Jehovah." If Jehovah has created the armourer, who forges a weapon למעסהוּ (i.e., according to his trade, or according to the thing he has to finish, whether an arrow, or a sword, or a spear; not "for his own use," as Kimchi supposes), to be used in the hostile army against Jerusalem, He has also created a destroyer (לחבּל) to destroy. The very same creative might, to which the origin of the weapon is to be traced as its primary cause, has opposed to it beforehand a defender of Jerusalem. And as every hostile weapon fails, Jerusalem, in the consciousness of its divine right, will convict every accusing tongue as guilty and deserving of utter condemnation (הרשׁיע as in Isa 50:9, cf., Sa1 14:47, where it denotes the punishment of the guilty). The epiphonem in Isa 54:17, with the retrospective זאת and the words "saith the Lord," which confirm the certainty of the fulfilment, forms an unmistakeable close to the prophecy. This is the position in which Jehovah has placed His servants as heirs of the future salvation; and this the righteousness which they have received as His gift, and which makes them strong within and victorious without. The individual idea of the church, which we find elsewhere personified as "the servant of Jehovah," equivalent to "the people in whose heart is my law" (Isa 51:7), or "my people that have sought me" (Isa 65:10), is here expanded into "the servants of Jehovah" (as in Isa 65:8-9; compare Isa 59:21 with Isa 51:16). But totally different colours are employed in Isa 52:13 to Isa 53:1-12 to depict the exaltation of the one "Servant of Jehovah," from those used here to paint the glory of the church of the "servants of Jehovah," a proof that the ideas do not cover one another. That which is the reward of suffering in the case of the former, is the experience of divine mercy in that of the latter: it becomes a partaker of the salvation purchased by the other. The one "Servant of Jehovah" is the heart of the church, in which the crisis which bursts forth into life is passing; the righteousness of the "servants of Jehovah" is the fruit of the sufferings of this one "Servant of Jehovah," who is Himself צדיק and מצידק. He is the Mediator of all the salvation of the church. He is not only its "head," but its "fulness" (πλήρωμα) also.

Next: Isaiah Chapter 55