Sing, barren woman, who has never had a baby. Fill the air with song, you who’ve never experienced childbirth! You’re ending up with far more children than all those childbearing women: God says so!
Clear lots of ground for your tents! Make your tents large. Spread out! Think big!
Use plenty of rope, drive the tent pegs deep. You’re going to need lots of elbow room
for your growing family. You’re going to take over whole nations; you’re going to resettle abandoned cities.
Don’t be afraid—you’re not going to be embarrassed. Don’t hold back—you’re not going to come up short. You’ll forget all about the humiliations of your youth, and the indignities of being a widow will fade from memory. For your Maker is your bridegroom, his name is God-of-the-Angel-Armies! Your Redeemer is The Holy One of Israel, known as God of the whole earth.
Isaiah 54 v1-5, The Message
Here’s a favourite Scripture! We usually start reading this chapter at verse 2 because it is such a beautiful encouragement – a challenge to bigger vision and preparation for growth. In the more familiar translation it declares, ‘Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes…’ And the whole chapter then goes on to elucidate how great it’s going to be when God turns everything around as only He can – brings restoration and redemption, pours out His blessing and abundance. No more embarrassment, no more humiliation, just fruitfulness and ‘taking over nations’ – being the ‘head not the tail’. Of course we like that stuff! It is hope and faith and dreams coming true: we’re going to look and feel really good in the end!
The point of the amazing promise is that it starts in verse 1 – with a barren woman. And that barren woman is told to SING in faith that this impossible promise is going to be accomplished for her by the Lord of the whole earth and God-of-the-Angel-Armies (Peterson’s translation of ‘Lord of Hosts’.) He is the only one who can do such a miracle – and she is commanded to believe that He will do it for her and start rejoicing ahead of time!
That is quite a hard thing for a barren woman to do: that is real faith! That is knowing you have heard the Lord and that He always does what He says He will. That is being able to put aside the pain that a woman who cannot conceive feels – that mixture of heartache, frustration, yearning, disappointment, shame… in order to look up and rejoice in a future she cannot yet see. I have known a few childless women and I know that is asking a lot. Although many of them have prayed and prayed, tried IVF, done all that is medically possible, they still have not had their own children; some have found fulfilment through adoption, some have amazingly become pregnant in the end… but there are no guarantees. It is a journey of suffering and loss as deep as any other, so how can she rejoice unless she is SURE she has heard the Lord? If a man came and told you you were going to have a baby after trying for years, wouldn’t you laugh too? (Genesis 18v12-15). It’s not surprising that prophesying the birth of babies is one thing we are told never to do these days!
But of course, Scripture is full of examples of God bringing children of promise out of barren women – that’s how so many of the significant and anointed sons were born in the Old Testament stories: Sarah’s Isaac, Rebekah’s Esau and Jacob, Rachel’s Joseph and Benjamin, Manoah’s wife’s Samson, Hannah’s Samuel – and in the New Testament, Elizabeth’s John. Apart from the personal pain of not being able to have children the stigma attached to it in that early culture – and still in some cultures today – was huge: when God stepped in and removed it that was even bigger! He birthed supernatural babies because He wanted to show it was by His power – just as He makes us children of God now through Jesus’ supernatural intervention: ‘to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.’ So let’s not miss off the first verse of chapter 54 – it makes the promise even better! Because this is not just one natural child the prophet is talking about – the barren woman is Israel herself and this is about a whole nation that explodes into life!
I have had babies – I had 2, without tooooo much difficulty; these pictures are all within 2 weeks of Rebecca’s birth in 1984 🙂 So what can I know about barrenness? Ah – there’s the rub. It’s hard to explain this – but tomorrow is my 54th birthday and that’s why I am thinking about Isaiah 54! It is my birthday, not one of my children’s birthdays – yet I am thinking about being a mother, about birth, fruitfulness and barrenness… I am thinking about my identity, my life and journey in prayer over recent years as I have been moved by the Spirit to cry out to God over the barrenness in this nation of ours and the lack of spiritual fruit/children in our islands. And yes, my own 2 lovely children have had their share of suffering over the last 10 years and it seems to me the battle over their lives is a miniature version of what is happening to so many young people in our land – so I do feel the pain of that barrenness in my own family and I am living the mother’s cry. If Isaiah 54 applies to our country – and many pray and prophesy that it does – we are going to end up with more spiritual children than we can imagine. Perhaps we should start singing about that, rejoicing in our faithful Bridegroom, expecting and preparing for supernatural multiplication… 🙂 But it is hard when you feel the pain and yearning – and I am sure that is what Mother God feels over so many of Her children too, ‘longing to gather them as a hen gathers her chicks’ (Luke 13v34).
So on the eve of my birthday, I am a mother who longs to see more – fruitful and yet barren. I am still crying out for more for my own children, but more than that for our islands to see a new generation of children who know life and love. I am still wanting to invest and re-invest in those who are younger, to see them ‘reproduce’ in their turn and ‘resettle abandoned cities’. This is not just personal stuff, but community, nation and kingdom stuff – and it is what I was born for ‘for such a time as this’. I wonder what my own mother would have said about that 54 years ago.
I cannot ignore verse 1: I know that in and despite and maybe even because of our barrenness there is a call to sing over the land and welcome God’s promises. To celebrate my anniversaire I will be off touring in Europe with Martin for the next 2 weeks – and singing in Italy with my choir! This is certainly a sign of ‘enlarging the place of my tent’ beyond the UK – going to the continent, driving through 4 or 5, potentially 7 or 8, western European nations – and being allowed to sing my favourite Puccini aria as a solo in the concert in Florence: wow. As I raise my voice in that ancient city I’ll be releasing the sound of faith over our continent – and metaphorically picking a big bunch of grapes to bring back!
Back to blogging in August, another year older and wiser 😉 See you then.