It's been a hard couple of months. I finished up Isaiah 53 - looking at Christ the suffering Servant and I sort of "tanked" for a period. God is in the midst of some house-cleaning with me. After working my way through Matthew 4 - due to the devil's own schemes against me and then through Romans 6-8 - due to my personal need to flee to Christ in the midst of my trial, I now find myself back on track and picking up with the next chapter of Isaiah. Chapter 54. It's actually quite providential.
Isaiah 53 shows us the humiliated Christ. Isaiah 54 shows us the humiliated body of Christ - His people, His church. The humiliated bride. That's been me and still is to a lesser degree.Clearly, He's not yet finished with the refining process where I'm concerned. With the sure knowledge of that, Isaiah 54 begins with these words:
"Shout for joy, O barren one." I have definitely been somewhat barren recently - in the spiritual sense yet God has been pleased to lift up my head and in agreement with the prophet's words I do shout for joy in this dry and thirsty land. Why? How can we 'break forth in joyful shouting and cry aloud" when things are just so stinking hard? I think the remainder of Isaiah 54 answers that for us.
Why do we shout for joy? How can we shout for joy? Because of the promises of God to His people. I have found so much comfort in God's covenant these past few weeks. Often I can NOT see any semblance of the mark of the covenant on my life. The baptismal waters have dried up from my point of view - but not from God's! He has made promises to His people and He is faithful to keep His promises. It is impossible for Him to lie!
Several of those precious promises are recorded in these verses. First, God promises that "the desolate one will be more numerous." God restores the days, the weeks, the months, the years, the decades that the locust eat. For the covenant child even that which appears to be desolate comes with great purpose. God at times has to burn the field in order to make it more productive. God has saved us, by grace through faith, to be His workmanship. We "were created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10). He will do what is necessary to make us fruitful for His glory and His kingdom's good. Do you feel desolate this day? Trust Him to work what He must to make you numerous.
Second, God promises to "enlarge the place of your tent. stretch out the curtains of your dwelling...; lengthen your cords, and strengthen your pegs." This is a promise to His church, which we as individuals are a part of. God is about the work of expanding His holy empire. It shall increase. It shall grow. The gospel will penetrate and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. As we pray that God would send His Spirit in reviving power, must we not expect that He would begin the work in the hearts of His people. Do you long to see society transformed by the renewing, redeeming, reforming power of Christ? I know I do. I've begged Him to pour out His reviving blessings for the past 10 years. I pray that even this current barren place is a step in that direction in my own life. He has promised to spread His church abroad to the right and to the left. He has promised to take His people's descendants, the covenant seed, and have them posess the nations, and resettle desolate cities. In the midst of seeming ecclesiastical barrenness, do we trust His expanding promise?
Third, God promises that His people will not be disgraced therefore we are not to fear! "Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; neither feel humiliated for you will not be disgraced." Here is Israel, God's chosen people, barren, small, desolate, ashamed, and outwardly humiliated. However, outward appearances can be deceiving - very deceiving. Sometimes the very thing that is so humiliating is the exact thing that God in His ever perfect economy is using to life up our head to higher heights! Pruning produces greater fruit. Refining produces purer gold. Do we trust God with our current fires? Do we trust Him with the scalpel that He is using on our souls? We should trust Him because He is our Maker, our Husband, our Redeemer, and the Holy One of Israel. Will not He who loves us most assuredly do what is right and best for us?
Matthew Henry writes, "Fear not because of your relation to God. Jesus is the church's Maker, Husband and Redeemer. He formed her into a people. He brought her out of captivity to the bondage of sin. He called her His beloved."
He is our God, we are His people. He has made an everlasting covenant with us and He will do what He has promised. David writes, "In Thee our fathers trusted; they trusted, and Thou didst deliver them. To Thee they cried out, and were delivered; in Thee they trusted and were not disappointed" (Ps 22). Only a few chapters back Isaiah wrote, "For the LORD God helps me, therefore I am not disgraced; therefore, I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed. He who vindicates me is near; who will contend with me? Let us stand up to each other; who has a case against me? Let him draw near to me. Behold the LORD God helps me; who is he who condemns me?" Oh, how that echos the words of Paul in his letter to the Romans Christians: "What shall we say say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delieverd Him up for us all, how will He not freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yet, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us?"
Dear believer, we will not be ashamed. God will not cast us down. No, "in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; in the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock. And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me; and I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing, yes, i will sing praises to the LORD." (Ps 27:5-6). Trust Him to lift you up in due time, O humiliated one!
Finally, in these first 8 verses, Isaiah points out the flat out honest reality of how things "feel" to the people of God at the moment. They "feel" forsaken and in a "feeling" sense they have been. There are times when God, in His infinite wisdom, withdraws the light of His countenance for a season. The Westminster Confession, in its chapter on Assurance of Grace and Salvation, says this:
"True believers may have the assurance of their salvation in divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God's withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light; yet are they never utterly destitue of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ, and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which by the operation of the Spirit,this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and be the which, in the mean time, they are supported from utter despair."
We see that playing out before our eyes here in Isaiah 54. "For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In an outburst of anger I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you," says the LORD your Redeemer. "Even those that are epsoused to God may yet seem to be forsaken."Oftentimes when God is pleased to leave us in a difficult situation we tend to view Him as asleep or unconcerned. We assume that He has bailed on us, if He was ever truly there at all. God is NOT like us. He is NOT like those who have turned their backs on us. He is NOT like those who have said one thing and meant another. "God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?" (Num 23:19). "For the LORD will not abandon His people, Nor will He forsake his inheritance" (Ps 94:14). "For my father and mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me up" (Ps 27:10).
Here Isaiah reminds us that though God, for a brief moment, may have to deal with us in righteous anger and in Fatherly discipline He will ALWAYS do so with "great compassion." Just "as He is slow to anger, so He is swift to show mercy."
What are you facing right now? Are you barren? Desolate? Humiliated? Look not to your circumstances. Look not to your own heart's assessment of your circumstances. Look to your Husband, your Maker, your Redeemer. The compassionate Carver of every path that we find ourselves on. In the light of eternity, this is but a "brief moment". It is but a vapor and a disintigrating mist. But His lovingkindness is everlasting and He will have compassion on you, His beloved.
Thankful for the brevity, yearning for the eternal,