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KD Old Testament Lesson 40: Isaiah 54-56, 63-65

Posted by Karl D. on October 17, 2010

Gospel Doctrine
Lesson: Isaiah (#40)
Reading: Isaiah 54-56, 63-65

PDF Version of Notes

1 Approach

These represent the notes I made during my reading of the scriptural text for this lesson. It is not a lesson outline or a lesson plan but really notes about issues and questions that struck me as interesting during my reading. Consequently, the notes do not have a conclusion and very little mention of application. I like to let those things arise while I teach.

2 Introduction: Lesson 40 and lesson 39

The reading for lesson 39 was Isaiah 50-53. This week the reading covers Isaiah 54-56 and 63-65.

  • How are these two reading blocks related to each other (particularly the relation between 50-53 and 54-56)?
  • Is there continuity between the two chapters?
  • The role of the servant was certainly important in the last reading. My notes highlighted the servant song found in Isaiah 50 but Isaiah 53 contains the most famous of the servant songs. Does the servant theme continue in chapter 53?
  • How about the theme of the restoration of Israel both on a physical and spiritual (covenant renewal) level?

3 Links Between 53 and 54

Read Isaiah 53:4-6

4 Surely he hath borne our griefs,
and carried our sorrows:

yet we did esteem him stricken,
smitten of God, and afflicted.

5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities:

the chastisement of our peace was upon him;
and with his stripes we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;

and the Lord hath laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

This last servant song and the death of the servant are followed immediately by a poem in chapter 54 (verses 1-10). The themes and messages of chapter 54:1-10 do not seem the same as those found in chapter 53. I wonder, though, if an important question to ask is whether the themes and messages of chapter 54 are even possible without what happens in 53?

Let’s read the first four verses of the poem (Isaiah 54:1-5):

1 Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear;
break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail
with child:

for more are the children of the desolate
than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord.

2 Enlarge the place of thy tent,
and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations:

spare not, lengthen thy cords,
and strengthen thy stakes;

3 For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left;
and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles,
and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.

4 Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed:
neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame:

for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth,
and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.

5 For thy Maker is thine husband;
the Lord of hosts is his name;

and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel;
The God of the whole earth shall he be called.

Clearly we, as Mormons, use the metaphor involving the tent to describe the development of the church (the expansion of Zion). I think it is important to explore this imagery in relation to the expansion of Zion. However, at least initially, I want to ask some questions that may be unrelated to our modern employment of the metaphor.

  • What is the message of the poem? What are the major themes that are developed in these verses?

3.1 A Barren Women

  • What is the first metaphor mentioned in theses verses? How is it related to the theme of the restoration of Jerusalem and Israel?
  • Metaphors of Israel as certain kinds or types of women are common in the prophetic books. Hosea paints Israel as a promiscuous woman and Isaiah employs a metaphor of Zion (or at least the remnant of Zion) as a daughter (see Isaiah 1:8-9). Isaiah also employs (here and elsewhere) the metaphor of Israel as a barren woman. What do you think of the metaphor? What does it bring to your mind?
  • Does it makes sense to think of Jerusalem as a barren women up until this point? Should we understand barren as a spiritual description or as something else?
  • What about the connection between Isaiah 53 and the metaphor of the barren woman? Are there connections with the barrenness and the messages of hope and rejoicing expressed in these verses?
  • Does the barren woman metaphor remind you of the stories of Sarah, Rebekkah, Rachael, Hannah, etc? Coggins, in the Oxford Bible Commentary, notes that the underlying Hebrew for “barren one” is not found anywhere else in the prophetic books but is used to describe all of the previously mentioned women.1 Does that strengthen the case that Isaiah wants us to think of these women when we read these verses? Why might Isaiah want us to remember the stories of these women?
  • Is it fair to say that to some degree barrenness is a source of shame and angst throughout the Old Testament? Is that shame and angst an important part of the metaphor here in these verses?
  • John Oswalt, in the New International Commentary on Isaiah discusses the metaphor as follows:2

The evocation of the barrenness/fertility theme that lies at the root of the very existence of Israel suggests that behind the exile are the same questions that lie behind the Egyptian bondage. God made sweeping promises to Israel through Abraham about land, progeny, and blessing to the world (Gen 12:1-3). But is he really able to keep those promises given geopolitical realities and the more horrid reality of human sin? That is the question that the Egyptian bondage raised, and it is the same question that the exile raises. The answer, as given here, is a resounding yes! Just as God could make a barren Sarah more fruitful than a fertile Hagar, so he can take those who are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1, AV) and use them to bring abundant blessing to the entire world. As Westermann comments, it is cruel to ask a barren woman to sing unless you are able to offer her the only thing that will make her happy. And that is the very thing God offers his people. Humanly speaking they are finished, but in the power of God they will influence the world long after mighty Babylon is a pile of sand.

  • Do you agree with Oswalt? Totally? In part? Which thoughts or parts capture the essence of the metaphor and the language of these verses in Isaiah?
  • Sheppard, in the HarperCollins Bible Commentary, adds that “[t]he imagery of a grieving, barren woman who suddenly shouts for joy is no less shocking than is the servant, beaten to death by his persecutors, who is to be exalted as an agent of God’s mercy, healing and forgiveness.”3 Do you agree with Sheppard? Do you think this is an important link between Isaiah 53 and 54?

3.2 The Tent

  • Does the first metaphor (the woman) inform how we should understand the second metaphor (the tent)? Does it make sense that a formerly barren woman would have to expand a tent?
  • If the idea is that a barren woman is building or enlarging her tent after the Lord informs here that she will no longer be barren, then is the enlargement of her tent an act of faith?
  • Do you think that the tent imagery is meant to remind the reader of the Exodus (a significant time where the Israelites did dwell in tents)?
  • Do you see connections with the way we employ the metaphor in the modern church relative to the way an 5th century Israelite may have understood the metaphor?

3.3 The Rest

  • How is hope expressed via this metaphor? Who is responsible for Israel’s hope?
  • Some commentators suggest that the major theme of this poem is the “wonder of God’s love for his people.”4 Do you agree and if so why? What parts of these verses express that God’s love is a wonder?
  • Verse 4 remarks that the time or period of shame is over for Israel. This clearly connects to the metaphor of the barren woman since barrenness was seen as shameful in the ancient world.5 However, what is Israel’s source of shame and why and how has that shame been removed?
  • Does verse 5 (really verses 5-8) help answer why Israel should no longer feel shame and how the shame was removed?

5 For thy Maker is thine husband;
the Lord of hosts is his name;

and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel;
The God of the whole earth shall he be called.

6 For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit,

and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused,
saith thy God.

7 For a small moment have I forsaken thee;
but with great mercies will I gather thee.

8 In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment;
but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.

4 Bread and Water

Let’s move ahead to chapter 55 and once again ask the question of whether the material in this chapter builds on the servant song in Isaiah 53? Specifically, let’s look at the poem that occupies verses 1-13 and keep the preceding question in mind.

Read Isaiah 55:1-5

1 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters,
and he that hath no money;
come ye, buy, and eat;

yea, come, buy wine and milk without money
and without price.

2 Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread?
and your labour for that which satisfieth not?

hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good,
and let your soul delight itself in fatness.

3 Incline your ear, and come unto me:
hear, and your soul shall live;

and I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
even the sure mercies of David.

4 Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people,
a leader and commander to the people.

5 Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not,
and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee

because of the Lord thy God,
and for the Holy One of Israel;
for he hath glorified thee.

  • What is the metaphor involving food and drink about? Is it being used in the same way as Jesus used it in the New Testament?
  • Is the invitation in verse 1 a universal invitation or an invitation to only Israel?
  • What is wonderful about the covenant offered by the Lord according to theses verses?
  • Is the paradoxical command to buy something without price important? How does that language affect you differently than a command to simply come and partake of the wine and milk freely? Why the language of “markets?” Is the language of markets, prices, and scarcity used to suggest that the food is free because someone has already paid for the food?6
  • Verse 2 indicates that the people are spending their money on things which are not bread? In an ancient Israelite context what might they be spending their money on? How about in our modern context?
  • David is mentioned in these verses. Why bring up David here in these verses?
  • What is meant by the “sure mercies of David?” In the NRSV the phrase is translated as “my steadfast, sure love for David.” How does that affect your understanding of verse 3?
  • Why does the parallelism connect the “sure mercies of David” with an “everlasting covenant?” Is the important link the idea that the covenant is eternal?
  • Why might Isaiah mention David rather than Moses or Abraham when speaking of a “covenant?”
  • Is it important here that David was an “anointed” king? Is that part of the backdrop here?

5 Foreigners and Eunuchs

5.1 Keep my Sabbaths

Finally, let’s move one chapter ahead. Typically, Isaiah 56 is considered the beginning of a new part of Isaiah (Trito-Isaiah). However, some commentators see chapters 54-57 as a section in Isaiah. For example, Sheppard sees these chapters as preoccupied with the Hebrew term shalom (“peace”, “wholeness”, “safety”). 7 Given the assigned reading for this lesson, let’s think about 54-57 as a section and think about how chapter 56 connects to the previous chapters. Let’s first take a look at Isaiah 56:3-5

3 Neither let the son of the stranger,
that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying,

The Lord hath utterly separated me from his people:
neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.

4 For thus saith the Lord
unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths,

and choose the things that please me,
and take hold of my covenant;

5 Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name
better than of sons and of daughters:

I will give them an everlasting name,
that shall not be cut off.

  • Stranger refers to a foreigner. Specifically, we are talking about foreign converts. Thus the verses deal with two groups of people: convert foreigners and Eunuchs.
  • Why might the Lord speak to both the foreign converts and Eunuchs?
  • Is Deut 23:1-4 an important backdrop for these verses in Isaiah?

1 He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord. 2 A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord. 3 An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever: 4 Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee.

  • How are foreigners and eunuchs connected?
  • Why mention the Eunuchs? Is it just a literal designation? Do these two groups represent something important?
  • Is the Lord making a change to the law of Moses? How should we understand the message of these verses in Isaiah?
  • Is the Lord preparing the people for a universalizing of the covenant?
  • Are these verses meant to change how Israel understands their covenant with the Lord?
  • What are the foreigners and the eunuch’s promised?

5.2 Are Eunuchs and Foreigners Promised Full Membership?

Read Isaiah 56:6-8:

6 Also the sons of the stranger,
that join themselves to the Lord, to serve him,

and to love the name of the Lord,
to be his servants,

every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it,
and taketh hold of my covenant;

7 Even them will I bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer:

their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar;
for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.

8 The Lord God which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith,
Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.

  • Are these verses meant to change how Israel understands their covenant with the Lord?
  • Should we reread chapter 55 in light of the message of this pericope?
  • What is required of foreigners and eunuchs? What is mentioned most prominently?
  • Why is keeping the Sabbath mentioned so prominently? Do the first two verses of this chapter help explain the importance of the Sabbath as a sign of the covenant?

1 Thus saith the Lord,
Keep ye judgment, and do justice:

for my salvation is near to come,
and my righteousness to be revealed.

2 Blessed is the man that doeth this,
and the son of man that layeth hold on it;

that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it,
and keepeth his hand from doing any evil.

  • Do these verses tell us something about the importance of the Sabbath? Why does Isaiah and the Lord emphasize it so much?


1 Coggins, R., 2001, “Isaiah” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, Oxford University Press, 478.

2 Oswalt John N., 1998, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66, Eerdmans, 416.

3 Sheppard, Gerald T., 2000, “Isaiah” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, Harper & Row, 527.

4 Oswalt John N., 1998, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66, Eerdmans, 320.

5 Coggins, R., 2001, “Isaiah” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, Oxford University Press, 478.

6 Oswalt John N., 1998, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66, Eerdmans, 416.

7 Sheppard, Gerald T., 2000, “Isaiah” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, Harper & Row, 528.

4 Responses to “KD Old Testament Lesson 40: Isaiah 54-56, 63-65”

  1. Andrew said

    Brilliant analysis and questions.
    Thank you

  2. Derek said

    Wonderful analysis! I found your site on the second page of Google while searching for Isaiah 54. The questions you pose and sources you quote greatly enhanced my study. Please keep it up!

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