Isaiah 54-55: Enlarge your tent.
Updated: Oct 19
In the ancient Middle East, a barren woman lived in shame. A couple’s inability to have children was attributed to her and she was considered cursed by God. Society believed that in his displeasure, God had closed her womb.
The narrative of Scripture identifies six barren women: Sarah (Genesis 11:30), Rebekah (Genesis 25:21), Rachel (Genesis 29:31), Manoah’s wife (Judges 13:2), Hannah (I Samuel 1:2), and Elizabeth (Luke 1:7). In each case the woman cried out to God for a child and in each case he answered with a son. In every case, a son birthed from tears became a man of renown: Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Sampson, Samuel, and John the Baptist. All were born because a mother cried out, and all were significant in the history of Zion.
It’s probably significant, then, that at this point in Isaiah’s prophecy a seventh barren woman is introduced: the daughter of Zion. In the word and works of God, the number seven has huge significance: it means complete. (Think the seventh day of creation, seven pairs of clean animals loaded on the ark, seven trumpets played by seven priests for seven days to bring down the walls of Jericho, etc., etc.) And that is just what Isaiah 54 announces. The chastisement of the daughter of Zion is complete and there will be no more barrenness in the tents of Israel. So, the Lord says: “It’s time to sing!”
“Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord.
“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.”
In real-time, remember, Israel is still on the outs with God. She hasn’t been released from Babylon; she hasn’t even gotten there yet. She’s still hiding behind Jerusalem’s walls, waiting for rescue from Assyria. But, God says, sing. Sing for something you think is impossible. Sing for something you can’t yet see. Sing because my prophet and I say it’s going to happen. All who have given up on bearing children are going to bear children, and it won’t be just a few. So get ready, he says; make room. Something supernatural and unexpected is going down. Not only will the daughter of Zion come out of her captivity, but her land will be full of her children. (Genesis 26:24).
Israel’s first go at building a nation didn’t go well. Though they drove out seven nations before them and began to fill the land, their flirting with the neighbors was disastrous, and before they were able to make Israel a great nation under God, they had lost their inheritance to their enemies. They became captives far from home and their land was left desolate.
However, things are about to (prophetically speaking) change for you, daughter of Zion. All the disgrace and humiliation of the past is past, and you’ll forget the shame of your youth. The Creator, the LORD Almighty, your Redeemer and the God of all the earth, has made an everlasting covenant with you (verses 4 and 5).
“For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back.”
His anger had been real and it was justified, but as in the days of Noah, it didn’t last very long (verse 9-10). His endless love had overtaken his anger, and in his compassion, he sent his Servant to buy her back.
The place where she’ll live will no longer be a warzone but will be rebuilt into a place of beauty (verses 11-12). (Scholars can tell you what each of the stones and jewels represents; all I know is that they cost a lot.) Her Husband will spare no expense to prepare the place for her and there, “all (her) children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace.”
There will be no rebellion inside and no assault from the outside. God had raised up enemies to chastise her in the past, but her enemies are now his enemies, and their enemies haven’t a chance (verse 15-16).
No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord.
With the chapter break, there’s a slight shift in focus. While chapter 54 urged the daughter of Zion to enlarge her tents, chapter 55 tells her why: because the Lord is issuing an invitation.
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Notice, he’s no longer speaking to just the daughter of Zion; now He’s speaking to “all.” That’s a lot.
Hundreds of years later, while Jesus was talking to a woman at a Samaritan well (John 4), he made it clear that you don’t have to be Jewish, or married, or even righteous to drink the living water he offers; all you have to be is thirsty. Wherever living water is served there is enough for everyone, and everyone is welcome to drink. Not only is there water there to sustain your life, there’s an abundance of milk and wine to enjoy.
Back in chapter 25, we read about the fantastic feast He's prepared for all; now, in chapter 55, he's asking for a response.
“Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Who wouldn’t want the richest of fare? Maybe those who are busy eating something else?
I like a McDonald’s cheeseburger as much as the next person, but the more McDonald’s cheeseburgers I eat, the more McDonald’s cheeseburgers I want. Hey—no groceries, no time, no dishwashing necessary! Easy-peasy, but not a good idea. Cheeseburger after cheeseburger might keep me full, but it won’t keep me healthy.
So what am I supposed to eat?
I used to think the Bible kind of eating meant reading God’s word. I still think that, but I think there’s much, much more. He starts his answer with, “Listen, listen.” J. Alec Motyer tells us, “Listen, listen is an infinitive absolute construction meaning ‘listen persistently.’” (Gosh, Alec, ‘listen persistently’ would have been enough for me.) So anyway, listen persistently. And then he says, “listen and eat.“ He doesn’t say, ”eat,” he says, “listen and eat.” That means I won’t eat unless I listen. For me, that means meditating on whatever I’ve read and then letting him speak to me about it; listening and listening and then listening some more, with ears open all day long.
Nowadays, I read less and listen more. I don’t try to cram his words in by the shovelful. Unlike cheeseburgers. (Kidding.) I take smaller bites, chew more slowly, digest all day long, and then hopefully use the nourishment I’ve gained to do what he’s asked me to do. That, for me, is the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.
There’s also more to living than listening; there’s coming. Hunger and thirst will lead us to the door of the tent (Isaiah 54:1) where the Host will tell us, “You are invited to the party because of the promise I made to David (2 Samuel 7) and the blood signature of my Son. Because of them, you can come in.”
And now that we’re in, he asks us to see:
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Him who? I think we all know the answer, but I happened to look back at Isaiah 16, verse 5, and here’s what I found: “In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it—one from the tent of David—one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness.”
He now turns to the witness/ruler/commander—the Servant King—and says:
“Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you,
The daughter of Zion is going to need a larger tent.
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.”
And now, to whom it may concern:
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
And now to everyone, everywhere:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.”
So, distill the beautiful words of Isaiah 55, and this is what you get: Come. Listen. See. Come close to Jesus, the Servant King, and you’ll hear words full of life and see words filled with power, and everything he’s said, he will do (verses 10-11).
“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace.”
Then just watch what happens. The land will sing. All that’s on it will rejoice. What was dry and easily broken will be filled with everlasting life (verses 12-13).
Hard to imagine? Hey, God has intentions far beyond the human imagination. You are about to enjoy a new life in a new world.
Sing joyfully, like a new mom in a new house.
“This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.”