There are many people who suffer deep trials in their lives, which they are apparently undeserving of. We also see this in the lives of people in the Bible. Yet, we also see a call go out for those hard done by to sing out for joy. There is a true comfort in God for those who mourn, and a real solution to the evils of the world we live in.

1. The Barren Sing for Joy

Isaiah 54 calls for the barren to sing with joy.

Isaiah 54:1: 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. WEB

This call was given in the final declining years of Judah, leading to the Babylonian captivity. The nation could well be considered barren. It was a small and weak nation in an area dominated by the likes of Assyria, Egypt and Babylon. But here we see that the call should go out to rejoice.

James 2:14: What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? 15. And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, 16. and one of you tells them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled;" and yet you didn't give them the things the body needs, what good is it? WEB

Isaiah 54 calls for the barren to sing, which is somewhat analogous to a call to be “warmed and filled”. In isolation, there's a danger that it could be a call to be joyous, but yet without any substance to actually have joy in. Indeed, at the time, the people of Israel didn't see an immediate relief from the collapse of their nation.

This leads us to the question of what the barrenness was, what the joy should be for, and whether it was justified.

Hannah

The mother of Samuel, Hannah, is an example of a woman who suffered at the hands of barrenness. Much to her disappointment and shame, she was not able to have children. She was loved greatly by her husband, and well looked after, but felt a natural incompleteness.

1 Samuel 1:4: When the day came that Elkanah sacrificed, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions: 5. but to Hannah he gave a double portion; for he loved Hannah, but Yahweh had shut up her womb. 6. Her rival provoked her sore, to make her fret, because Yahweh had shut up her womb. 7. as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of Yahweh, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat. WEB

She would have wondered just what God's plan was for her, and why she hadn't received that joy that the women around her had. She was sad, because she didn't know if this blessing of completeness was to be in her life.

However, there was a change in her mood after Eli spoke to her. After her prayer to God, and the blessing of Eli, she seems to have taken on a confidence that God would bless her in time.

1 Samuel 1:17: Then Eli answered, Go in peace; and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of him. 18. She said, Let your handmaid find favor in your sight. So the woman went her way, and ate; and her facial expression wasn't sad any more. WEB

Then, after the birth of Samuel, we see in 1 Sam 2, a prayer of joy and confidence in God.

At this same time, the nations around Israel were the national rivals, and they were busy provoking Israel about her barrenness and apparent lack of husband. The people of Israel were given to feel shame because they didn't have the type of king before them that other nations did.

Just as in the case of Peninnah and Hannah though, things weren't quite as they seemed. Israel was indeed barren, but not for lack of a king. They had their God, and not only that, but also a promise of fruitfulness.

Ruth

Just as Israel was barren due to her widowhood, so too was Ruth the Moabitess. She had joined into God's people in marrying her husband, but he had died, leaving her potentially destitute.

The situation would have felt desperate to Ruth, to the point that her mother-in-law recommended she return to her people for some form of social security support. Growing older in a land without husband, children or relatives was an uncertain future. Being a Moabitess, she didn't even have the promise of being one of God's people.

It's against this context of the hope of the Gentiles, that by nature there simply isn't a promise or assurance.

Ephesians 2:11: Therefore remember that once you , the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "uncircumcision" by that which is called "circumcision," (in the flesh, made by hands); 12 that you were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off are made near in the blood of Christ. WEB

So at that time, Ruth was in a hopeless position. She was without husband, and without hope.

However, the record in the book of Ruth reveals how the hopeless situation was turned around when Boaz redeemed her. She put her trust in him and his God, and as a result could participate in his inheritance. She became his wife, and joy eventually flowed out of the uncertainty and sadness.

This experience at a personal level mirrors the account of Isaiah. God's action at a national level with his people is an offer to bring them from a state of barren despair, to one of being redeemed,

Isaiah 54:4: Don't be afraid; for you shall not be ashamed: neither be confounded; for you shall not be disappointed: for you shall forget the shame of your youth; and the reproach of your widowhood shall you remember no more. 5. For your Maker is your husband; Yahweh of Hosts is his name: and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; the God of the whole earth shall he be called. WEB

Faithful

Literal barrenness is recorded of several of the women through the Bible. In many cases it was a temporary stage, before a much greater glory.

In these cases, the barren did indeed sing, when God's plan had come to fruition.

2. Israel's Husband of Choice

Although the nation of Israel was barren, they had married themselves to a husband. They had placed themselves in the care and protection that their modern world provided. One part of this was the line of human kings they had as their rulers. This started with the institution of Saul as king hundreds of years earlier.

During the time of Samuel, the nation of Israel was becoming established in the promised land, and leaving behind the earlier nomadic existance of the wilderness wanderings for a more established and mature civilisation. As part of this, they started to rely more and more on the power that existance gave them. God responded to this through Samuel, with a call to place their reliance on God and trust in him for their deliverance.

1 Sam 7:3: Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, If you do return to Yahweh with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you, and direct your hearts to Yahweh, and serve him only; and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. WEB

But this wasn't enough for the people of Israel, and they called for a human king to rule over them. This would be a symbol of guidance over them. Someone to lead and protect them in the world of nations.

1 Sam 7:19: But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; and they said, No: but we will have a king over us, 20. that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles. WEB

Although there was God himself to fight their battles, they really wanted to be like the other nations around them. There could be a pride in standing up among the nations around and being successful on their terms.

In the case of Israel, they chose the way of humanity to be their husband. God relented, and gave them their desire

1 Samuel 10:17: Samuel called the people together to Yahweh to Mizpah; 18. and he said to the children of Israel, Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel, I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all the kingdoms that oppressed you: 19. but you have this day rejected your God, who himself saves you out of all your calamities and your distresses; and you have said to him, No, but set a king over us. Now therefore present yourselves before Yahweh by your tribes, and by your thousands. WEB

However, the worldly husband, with a chain of human kings as their leader, proved to be a fickle one. They were soon to find themselves a barren widow in need of redemption.

Our Husband

In the 11th century BC, for a nation, a king provided security along with a figurehead and example to live to. It gave a sense of stability and identity. 3000 years later, as an individual, our natural instincts look in a different direction for our security and measure of success.

Monetary wealth forms one example. It can provide that sense of security in assuring provision of needs in life. It is exemplified by the big barns of superannuation. In a traditional society, a woman would look to a husband as being this source of security. So we can turn to our financial security and human position

Once the basic needs of life are met, people look for some other essentials that are less tangible. There is a sense of companionship and belonging. A woman may rightfully have a sense of pride and maintain position among her peers on account of her husband. Israel wanted a king like their neighbours had so that he could go out before them and give them a sense of pride among their neighbours. We too, can latch onto this, and seek a husband/king like our neighbours have, so that we can retain pride in their eyes. This can be taking on their activities, ambitions and values. These are the cares of this world that keep us up with the Joneses of the world.

It's about having the new car, the new house, the new boat in order to retain status. It's about seeing the movies, going to the concerts and playing the sport in order to be accepted as part of that world.

Israel's Widowhood

Israel were given their King to lead them, and the nation rose to a level of greatness, but it didn't bear the real fruit. Looking through the history of Israel, one could say they were barren. It didn't bring about the conditions needed for the fullness of the promises to Abraham to be fulfilled.

Malachi 2:11: Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the holiness of Yahweh which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12. Yahweh will cut off, to the man who does this, him who wakes and him who answers, out of the tents of Jacob, ... 14. Yet you say, `Why?' Because Yahweh has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion, and the wife of your covenant. WEB

3. Rejoice Now

Despite Israel's flirting with other husbands and ignorance of God, she was still promised a way out of her barren state,

Isaiah 54:1: Sing, barren, you who didn't bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you who did not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, says Yahweh. WEB

Isaiah 54 uses present tense in the call to sing, “Sing, O barren”. Although tense is subject to poetic license in Isaiah, this suggests that the joy may have been something they should have even in the time of barrenness. Perhaps this joy should be at even just the prospect of the prosperous future.

Foundations Laid

Back in Isaiah 28, God spoke of people making an alternate covenant to a different husband. They were choosing to joy in a more temporary experience, but God showed the more permanent approach.

Isaiah 28:14: Why hear the word of Yahweh, you scoffers, that rule this people that is in Jerusalem: 15. Because you have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come to us; for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves 16. therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone of sure foundation: he who believes shall not be in haste. ... 18. Your covenant with death shall be annulled, and your agreement with Sheol shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then you shall be trodden down by it. WEB

God was to lay that corner stone, which would mark out his promise, and demonstrate the reality of it. People would be able to see the foundation laid, and rejoice because the it showed the building as a reality. An example of this was with the laying of the foundation of the temple after the return from the Babylonian captivity,

Ezra 3:10: When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of Yahweh, they set the priests in their clothing with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise Yahweh, after the order of David king of Israel. 11. They sang one to another in praising and giving thanks to Yahweh, saying, For he is good, for his loving kindness endures forever toward Israel. All the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised Yahweh, because the foundation of the house of Yahweh was laid. WEB

Outside the Promise

As people outside of the original promise of God, we rely on an adoption into God's household though Jesus. In Ephesians, we see this as being part of the structure on God's foundation.

Ephesians 2:19: So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, 20. being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone; 21. in whom the whole building, fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord; WEB

This temple is a new creation built through the power and word of God. The word had come through the prophets in the past, but then it came through the Son, and the apostles. They all form the foundations of this building, but it is Jesus who is the chief cornerstone. This is a present building that is testament to the relationship with God

A Building of the Faithful

In Hebrews 11, we see a listing of many of the faithful through the years, who each form part of this living building that is being built up. In the following chapter, we are urged to respond to this in the way that we see our lives,

Hebrews 12:1: Therefore let us also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2. looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. WEB

This is an attitude of joy and enthusiasm because we can see everything in place for the promise to be revealed and the time of our God's glory to come. We can feel the wedding is about to happen, because we can see the reception hall being fitted out.

When we look at the sure prospect, there is a joy in the sure redemption that overtakes the present barrenness. David's prophetic prayer in Psalm 16, reveals how the future prospect translates to a present confidence,

Psalm 16:8: I have set Yahweh always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. 9. Therefore my heart is glad, and my tongue rejoices. My body shall also dwell in safety. 10. For you will not leave my soul in Sheol, Neither will you allow your holy one to see corruption. 11. You will show me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy. In your right hand there are pleasures forevermore. A Prayer by David. WEB

In 1 Peter, we see how baptism into Jesus puts us as part of a living hope,

1 Peter 1:3: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy became our father again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, WEB

When something in the future is certain, we can in some way consider it has already happened, and a living event. We can share an everyday joy that God has prevailed and redeemed, because of the certainty of it happening.

4. The Promise

The central promise of Isaiah 54 is that God would take on the part of a husband and redeemer for the people of Israel. As with Ruth, this was the defining element that would break the barrenness.

Isaiah 54:4: Don't be afraid; for you shall not be ashamed: neither be confounded; for you shall not be disappointed: for you shall forget the shame of your youth; and the reproach of your widowhood shall you remember no more. 5. For your Maker is your husband; Yahweh of Hosts is his name: and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; the God of the whole earth shall he be called. WEB

We too, as followers of Christ, look forward to the same promise. We see the believers in Christ becoming his bride,

2 Corinthians 11:1: I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness, but indeed you do bear with me. 2. For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy. For I married you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ. WEB

This is a promise that goes far beyond the enlargement of tents. In a loving marriage, the relationship with the spouse becomes more important than possessions and personal glory.

So, for Israel, this promise of God as husband and redeemer promised joy in seeing the glory of God throughout the earth. It is as much about the position of God in the earth as it is about the redemption of the individual.

Habakkuk 2:14: For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Yahweh, as the waters cover the sea. WEB

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, the example prayer he gave bears out this importance. Before any mention of personal life needs, there is emphasis in praising God for his greatness, and seeing satisfaction in God's will being done. These are the things on the mind of the redeemed bride.

Luke 11:2: And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. KJV

The primary importance of the return of Jesus to the earth to set up God's Kingdom isn't so much for the hope of eternal life, as it is so much for the God to be glorified throughout the earth.

Kindness Shall not Depart

The promise was that this was to be an eternal relationship, and not one subject to the limitations we expect in this world,

Isaiah 54:10: For the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed; but my loving kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall my covenant of peace be removed, says Yahweh who has mercy on you. 11. you afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in beautiful colors, and lay your foundations with sapphires. 12. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, and your gates of emeralds, and all your border of precious stones. WEB

God has demonstrated that his relationship persists regardless of what else we see happen in the world. We put trust in human relationships, which are fallible, and so much the more we should value this relationship with God which is eternal.

Not only is the barrenness done away with, but also the fruit is above and beyond what we naturally hope for. Not only are there children, but they are children who relate to God. Not only does the nation and people exist, but oppression is done away with. They are things that the alternatives we flirt with can't hope to offer.

Isaiah 54:13: All your children shall be taught of Yahweh; and great shall be the peace of your children. 14. In righteousness shall you be established: you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not be afraid; and from terror, for it shall not come near you. WEB

The righteousness casts out fear.

God's Strength to Deliver

There are two things necessary for a promise to be of value,

God has clearly offered a very desirable promise. It is the difference between death and life. It is the difference between barrenness and being in God's family.

To the people of Israel though, there was the question of whether God was going to deliver on this promise, and have the power to be the redeemer. To this, God has a clear answer,

Isaiah 54:15: Behold, they may gather together, but not by me: whoever shall gather together against you shall fall because of you. 16. Behold, I have created the smith who blows the fire of coals, and brings forth a weapon for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy. 17. No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of Yahweh, and their righteousness which is of me, says Yahweh. WEB

The people were worried about the weapons of the enemy countries. They were worried that the enemy craftsmen could create weapons of destruction. However, God was the creator of the very people who created these weapons.

The Choice

God has given us an offer of marriage. He has sent his son to be our redeemer, to take us from this world and joined to him in an engagement. With that comes the promise that we will turn from a people barren to a people rejoicing.

We are left with three options: