“Sing, barren woman who has never had a child! Burst into song, shout for joy, you who have never been in labor! For the deserted wife will have more children than the woman who is living with her husband,” says ADONAI (The Lord Jehovah). 2 Enlarge the space for your tent, extend the curtains of your dwelling; do not hold back, lengthen your cords, strengthen your tent pegs. 3 For you will spread out to the right and the left, your descendants will possess the nations and inhabit the desolated cities.” (TCJB)
A Historical and Biblical Context of Isaiah 54:1-3 (What it Meant Then)
[Verse 1] Sing, barren woman who has never had a child! Burst into song, shout for joy, you who have never been in labor! For the deserted wife will have more children than the woman who is living with her husband,” says ADONAI (The Lord Jehovah).
God is speaking to Jerusalem and her people through the voice of the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah 49:14–26, the prophet referred to Jerusalem as a childless woman, because her children had been taken away into exile. Here in 54:1-3, the metaphor has changed. Jerusalem is described as childless woman not because she has never had any children, but because her womb has become barren and her relationship with God/Yahweh (her husband), has been troubled and filled with rebellion and infidelity. However, the message from God is that things are about to change for her (Jerusalem). God instructs the prophet to exhort… Jerusalem, you are like a woman who has never had children—but now shout with joy! You are like a woman who has never gone through the pains of childbirth—but now sing aloud!”
After not bearing any children, she will bear so many children that the city will soon become so crowded that it will not be large enough to contain its abundant and multiplied offspring. This figurative language signifies that the abandoned city of Jerusalem will have a rapidly expanding population. So God instructs Isaiah to exhort barren Jerusalem to sing for joy, to shout with a resounding yell because a divine transformation of her (Jerusalem) situation will take place in the future. This transformation will be staggering, a miraculous change, and a marvelous act of God. Now, even before the promise is fulfilled, the prophet encourages Jerusalem to respond in faith and in anticipation of God’s great and loving actions. She can rejoice because of what God will do. Since this is such a dramatic reversal of present reality, at the end of this verse God assures the audience that what is promised in this communication is indeed what God has said.
[Verse 2] Enlarge the space for your tent, extend the curtains of your dwelling; do not hold back, lengthen your cords, strengthen your tent pegs.
In order to visualize this transformation in family terms that everyone in the ancient Near Eastern world would understand, God exhorts Jerusalem with five imperative verbs.
One – Enlarge the space for your tent.
Two – Stretch out your curtains.
[Note] In the ancient middle-eastern world this was common practice when a family had more children or when a man added more staff and servants. If a family wanted to expand their living space all they had to do was enlarge the support structure, sew additional goatskins together to make the roof larger and then add a curtain or two for privacy (side panels). The initial imperatives encourage the listener to be optimistic in the expansion of the tent. “Make it wide” and “stretch it out” encourage the woman to not be shortsighted or pessimistic about how many children will be added and how much space will be needed. She is not to hold back her imagination in dreaming just how big the tent might need to be.
Three – Do not hold back.
Four – Lengthen your ropes.
Five – Strengthen your tent stakes.
Expanding in this way requires that additional stakes be driven into the ground to hold up the new addition to the tent and since the tent support structure is now broader the ropes/cords that are used to tie down the tent have to be stronger to withstand the additional wind pressure on the surface and expanse of the tent. These final prophetic instructions from Isaiah encourage people to believe that God has a significant purpose and plan for the expansion. This needs to be a strong tent that will last and not be destroyed by any external force or internal conflict or resistance. This imagery should not be allegorically interpreted as the pegs or stakes are only the prophets and apostles; instead, the general imagery of expanding a tent should be inclusively applied to the picture of preparing for a rapid expansion of additional people in Jerusalem/Zion.
[Verse 3] For you will spread out to the right and the left, your descendants will possess the nations and inhabit the desolated cities.
The tent metaphor is more descriptively explained in this verse as a place for an increasing number of descendants to live. They will “spread out” far and wide in all directions in fulfillment of God’s ancient promise to the patriarchs in Genesis 28:14. In that covenant promise God told Jacob that his seed would spread out to the east, north, and south. The phrase “to the right and to the left” in Isaiah 54:3 is a similar expression that means that the children of Israel will live in the greatly expanded city of Jerusalem, which will explode “in all directions.” There will be so many children that they will end up taking possession of property in other nations.
Although this might suggest to some that there will be wars in which the Israelites will defeat and dispossess people living in other nations, there is no reference to war in this verse. It is probably better to understand this passage to be describing the peaceful settlement of these additional believers in abandoned cities where no one lives. These images depict an explosive expansion of the people of God, thus assuring the prophet’s audience that God cares for them. There is no claim that the Israelites will live in any other specific nation, but if Egyptians, Assyrians, and people from many other nations become believers when God sets up his kingdom, one can understand how the people of God will exponentially increase beyond anything that one can imagine. Barrenness and hopelessness will not be a problem, for there will be so many people that there will be no place to put them all.
Contextualizing and Personalizing Isaiah 54:1-3
(What it Means Now)
Enlarge the Place of your Tent Reunion Church / Steve Isaac
Stretch out the Curtains of your Dwelling Reunion Church / Steve Isaac
Don’t Hold Back Reunion Church / Steve Isaac
Lengthen your Cords Reunion Church / Steve Isaac
Strengthen your Stakes Reunion Church / Steve Isaac
Translators need to be very careful if they decide to replace the tent imagery Isaiah with other figures of speech, or to spell out each time what the imagery represents. If translators abandon the tent metaphor here, you run the risk of the minimizing the command of God thereby marginalizing faith, limiting vision, and doubting the promises and purposes of God. The command is not to build higher walls – the command is to expand and push the walls out further, wider, deeper – beyond. Beyond what we can control and micro-manage. We need to fully hear something from God today.
God is not simply in control. God is in command, God is in charge, and in Christ He has placed an order and authority over all things. But, control is not what He wants. No, He wants something better and more valuable, something more powerful and meaningful for us and His Kingdom. He calls us to surrender our control, submit to His plans and purpose, and He will take you and I to places and people we have never dreamed possible.
God is saying to The Reunion Church; “Enlarge [the area of] your house! Move your walls further out and do not hold back; extend your foundations and make them stronger.”
SING and Shout Out for Joy Reunion!