Bible Commentary: Isaiah 54-55

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Isaiah 54-55

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"For Your Maker Is Your Husband"

Paul uses verse 1 of Isaiah 54 in his allegory of Sarah and Hagar (Galatians 4:22-31). The barren woman, he says, is like Sarah with the prophecies given her about having many descendants. According to Paul, she represents the New Covenant marriage, to which no children were yet spiritually born—referred to by Paul as "Jerusalem above, the mother of us all." This New Covenant is actually mentioned in Isaiah 54, as will be explained in a moment.

The "married woman" signified the Old Covenant marriage that already was—physical Israel with its millions of children. This was parallel to Hagar, who bore a son to Abraham while Sarah was yet barren. Yet the child of Hagar was produced apart from faith. God promised that Sarah, though barren, would produce a child through whom His promised blessings would come. The Church will give birth to its children at the return of Jesus Christ. And eventually, as more and more become part of, and are eventually born of, the New Covenant, the children of the woman who was barren will eventually outnumber those of her rival who are those born of the flesh in ancient Israel. For people of all nations will be made part of spiritual Israel.

Isaiah himself goes on to say that the physical Israelites will no longer be forsaken in their marriage to God, will be accepted of God and will grow to fill the earth—when they, too, are joined to Him and brought forth according to the New Covenant (verses 4-8), which will be accomplished through the Holy Spirit, as we learn in chapter 55. Indeed, in verses 2-3 of Isaiah 54 we see reference to Israel's expansion, earlier prophesied in Genesis 28:14. Yet, while physical on one level, the subject of the previous verse in Isaiah seems to make it primarily a reference to the expansion of spiritual Israel, the family of God—parallel to Christ's assurance that in His Father's house are many dwellings (see John 14:2).

Verses 11-12 of Isaiah 54 are reminiscent of the description of the New Jerusalem recorded by the apostle John in Revelation 21:18-21. The eternal dwelling of the Church of God, the wife of Christ (see Ephesians 5:22-33), the New Jerusalem is itself referred to as the bride (Revelation 21:9-10)—again showing "Jerusalem above" to be synonymous with the Church.

The New Covenant is specifically mentioned in Isaiah 54:10, where God calls it "My covenant of peace" and relates it to His mercy. "This expression is also found in Ezek. 34:25-31. It is linked with the New Covenant of Jer. 31, for its benefits become possible only after the Messiah forgives the sins of God's people and makes them righteous. Some of the benefits overlap: God will Himself teach the people, and they will be established in righteousness (cf. Jer. 31:31-34). Yet the focus of this covenant [here] is on security. God throws a protective covering over His people so that they will be safe" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on Isaiah 54:10). In verse 9, God equates the surety of His covenant of peace with Israel to that of His covenant with Noah that He would never again flood the whole earth (see Genesis 9:8-17).

In John 6:45, Jesus referred to Isaiah 54:13, showing that when the Father decides to teach someone His way, they will understand Jesus' role in His plan of salvation. And eventually, all will be taught that way. The last verse in Isaiah 54 gives us a most important factor in this regard. God explains that the righteousness of His servants comes not from themselves but from Him. It is God who draws us to Himself. It is He who actually grants us repentance. It is He who then forgives us and imputes us as righteous through the atoning blood of Christ. It is He who then lives in us through the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to actually live in righteousness—that is, in obedience to His law. Of course, this does require our participation. If we ultimately refuse God's work in us, then He will not redeem us.

"Come to the Waters"

Chapter 55 begins with the analogy cited by Jesus in the New Testament of the water of life—the Holy Spirit (see John 4:10-14; 7:37-38; Revelation 21:6; 22:1, 17). This ties back to earlier references in Isaiah, such as 12:3 and 44:3. We are told to buy even though we have no money. It is a totally free gift—albeit a gift with conditions. God requires only true repentance accompanied by faith and then baptism (see Acts 2:38; Hebrews 11:6). Of course, what many do not understand is that repentance is more than just being sorry for past sins. It also involves a lifelong commitment to obeying God.

"Wine and milk [in Isaiah 55:1] are symbols of complete satisfaction (v. 2). Not only does God's salvation supply what is necessary for life, but it also provides what brings joy" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 1). As Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10)—meaning now and on into eternity beyond. "Abundance" is directly mentioned in verse 2 of Isaiah 55. Notice also that the invitation to "eat" and "delight" in abundance can be likened to a banquet. Jesus gave parables that picture salvation as partaking of a banquet (see Matthew 8:11; Luke 14:15-24). Isaiah 55:2 mentions the bread analogy used by Jesus as well (see John 6:48-58).

Verse 3 of Isaiah 55 mentions the "sure mercies of David." Paul explained in his speech at Antioch of Pisidia in Acts 13:34 that this referred to Jesus being raised from the dead, and he goes on to cite Psalm 16 of David, which is full of many promises of future inheritance, blessings and pleasures. These "sure mercies" are also described here as an "everlasting covenant" that God is willing to make with all who "thirst" and come to God. And David was a witness of these promises (Isaiah 55:4). Indeed, there may also be a reference here to the Davidic covenant itself—wherein God promised David an eternal offspring, throne and kingdom. This, of course, is ultimately fulfilled in Christ—who was destined to inherit the throne of David. Yet this promise is for us as well—since Jesus said that His followers would share His throne with Him (see Revelation 3:21; compare Romans 8:17).

Isaiah 55 goes on to say that even the wicked may seek and find God if they forsake their wrong way and "return" to Him—the Old Testament term for repent. God says He will have mercy, immediately followed by a statement that His thoughts and ways are higher than our thoughts and ways. In its note on verses 6-7, The Bible Reader's Companion states: "It is in the free pardon that God offers the wicked that the sharpest difference between God's thoughts and our thoughts are seen. We feel anger and outrage and call for revenge. God feels compassion and love and extends mercy. Thus God's word is gentle and life-giving; in Isaiah's analogy, like the gentle rain that waters the earth and causes life to spring up. What a warm and wonderful view of God (v. 10)."

The chapter ends with God's people leaving their exile. Again, this should be understood as having multiple applications: the Jews leaving Babylonian captivity; Israel and Judah leaving their end-time captivity; spiritual Israel receiving its deliverance through Christ today; the ultimate deliverance of spiritual Israel in its glorification at Christ's return; the spiritual deliverance of physical Israel and all mankind when they are joined to spiritual Israel through Christ; and finally their ultimate deliverance when they are glorified as well. Commentators explain this chapter as being the last one addressed to the people in captivity. The remaining chapters of Isaiah are claimed by many to be addressed to a post-exilic audience.