Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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How to Have Peace in Trials (Isaiah 54)

Dannah Gresh: Have you ever known someone who showed an amazing sense of joy in the middle of a crisis? Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth explains how you could be that person!

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: The reason the people of God can rejoice, even in the midst of their barrenness, is that the ultimate outcome will be different than their current situation.

Leslie Basham: This is the Revive Our Hearts podcast with Nancy DeMoss Wolglemuth, along with Dannah Gresh, for September 19, 2019.

Dannah: I believe it’s no accident that you’re listening right now. This entire month we’ve been studying the mysteries of God’s providence. I know that today, in His providence, God has something that you need to hear.

If you have a Bible handy, you might go ahead and turn to Isaiah chapter 54. Let’s listen in as Nancy opens God’s Word to show us how to have peace in painful trials. Here’s Nancy in this month’s series, “You Can Trust God to Write Your Story.”

Nancy: Over the last several weeks, as we were finishing up the work on You Can Trust God to Write Your Story, and as I was working on this series, I was also in my quiet time reading and journaling through the book of Isaiah. 

Usually wherever I’m reading and meditating in my quiet time, it somehow makes its way into my teaching, because that’s what I’m thinking about a lot at that time. I have loved the way that Isaiah . . . (Which I just finished working through yesterday; well, not finished! I’ll be doing it the rest of my life. It’s an amazing book!)

But it beautifully illustrates this message of trusting God to write your story. I want to talk about a particular chapter today. If you have your Bible, you can turn to Isaiah chapter 54, or scroll there. But let me just give you some context. “Isaiah,” by the way, name means, “the Lord is salvation.” That’s a great name to know—that He is salvation, if you’re trusting Him to write your story. 

Isaiah was a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah during the reign of four kings, a ministry that extended over half-a-century, over fifty years. This is about 739 to 686 BC, if you’re one who likes to see where it fits into history.

Isaiah spoke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to the backslidden idolatrous condition of God’s people. There were so many things wrong in this nation! 

  • Their religion had become a sham. 
  • There was injustice. 
  • They were mistreating each other. 
  • There was oppression. 
  • There was immorality greed, pride, and selfishness.

In the early parts of Isaiah, he just says, “Sick, sick, sick—from the head to the toe, the whole body is sick!” (see Isaiah 1:6). This is the people of God he’s talking about. And in the course of the book, particularly in the first thirty-nine chapters, he foretells as a prophet the coming judgment of God.

The Jewish nation, the people of Judah, were going to be sent into exile into the Babylonian captivity, which would last for seventy years. And God enabled Isaiah to look ahead and to see this coming judgment . . . which wasn’t going to happen until decades later. The Babylonians weren’t at the door when Isaiah was writing, but God gave him this vision of what was going to happen. He prophesied this. He said, “There’s going to be an exile.” 

Judgment is intended to be a warning from God: “Repent, so I don’t have to send judgment!” So he told about the judgment, and then God enabled him to look further past the judgment—beyond the seventy-year exile—to see the day years later when the exiles would return to Jerusalem, to Zion, long after Isaiah’s lifetime, to see, hundreds of years beyond that, the coming of Messiah, God’s Suffering Servant, who would take on Himself the sins of his people so that they might be redeemed. 

And not only that, but far beyond that, God let Isaiah have a glimpse of the coming reign and rule of Christ—not this time God’s Suffering Servant, but this time God’s Exalted Servant who would bring a new heavens and a new earth.

So you have this whole span. We’ve talked in this series about the story of the Bible and about the span of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation—the consummation of God’s plan. Well, Isaiah saw the whole thing! Now, not all the details. It was hazy to him.

In fact, some of the believers in later days who would read this, some Jews who would read this in Jesus’ time, they’d get confused between the parts about the Suffering Servant and the parts about the Exalted Servant. They’d think, when Jesus came to earth, “If He’s the Messiah, He’s going to get rid of the Romans. He’s going to throw off our oppression.”

They were conflating all of this. They didn’t see that there were distinct periods and seasons—that God’s people were in this current condition, that they would be exiled for seventy years, they would come back to the land. Hundreds of years later the Messiah would come to this earth—God in the flesh—to suffer and to die for the sins of mankind. He would go back to heaven and then He would come, long after that, back to this earth to reign and to rule and to preside over the new heavens and the new earth. 

All of this, you can see told in kind of an ethereal, foggy sort of fashion. You don’t see clear details. In fact, commentators debate: “Is this about the millenium? Is this about ‘this’ or ‘that?’” It’s not always clear, but you do get the big picture. 

You get the whole sense that heaven rules and that God wins! I don’t think there’s any Old Testament book that gives a greater sense of the span—the scope—of the story that God is writing for His people, the span of God’s great eternal story to rescue fallen mankind and to redeem the world from sin. 

I’ll give you a little clue here as you read Isaiah. It’s helpful to read it with the last book of the Bible, Revelation, open also. There are a lot of parallels between Isaiah and Revelation. There are actually verses in Isaiah that are quoted in Revelation and things that are promised in Isaiah that are fulfilled in the book of Revelation. In Revelation, we see the climax of God’s grand story, the fulfillment of all His promises. All things made new! 

Now, that’s context for Isaiah. So come back to Isaiah chapter 54. I don’t think I’ve heard this passage taught on, and I’m not going to do it full justice, but I want to just give you an overview, a sense of what we experience in this chapter and how it captures the theme that those who belong to God can trust Him to write their story.

So as we walk through this chapter (which we could do in other parts of Isaiah as well, chapter 62 is another one where you can see many of these same themes), I’m just praying. I’m hopeful, that you will get a sense of God’s bigger picture and that you can trust Him to write your story.

So look at the first word in Isaiah 54, at least in my translation. I’m using, by the way, The Christian Standard Bible for this teaching. I usually teach out of the ESV, but because I’ve been journaling through the CSB, that’s where my notes and my journaling came from.

So the first word in the translation I was using is, “Rejoice!” (Isa. 54:1). Now, in the ESV, the first word is, “Sing!” Sing, rejoice, whichever. But what follows that first word seems to be anything but a cause for joy!

Rejoice, childless one, who did not give birth; burst into song and shout, you who have not been in labor! 

Now, pause there. Can you imagine looking at woman who is struggling with infertility—maybe years of it!—a woman who has longed to have children but has never been able to have them. Perhaps she’s been able to get pregnant, but she’s never been able to carry a child to term. Maybe she’s had multiple miscarriages. Can you imagine looking at that woman and saying to her, “Rejoice! Burst into song! Shout!” Doesn’t that seem insensitive, uncaring . . . maybe even cruel? For sure, it seems impossible! 

How can this woman who’s longed to have a child and never been able to give birth sing? How can she sing, how can she rejoice? How can she burst into song when her pain is so great?! Now, that may not be your pain; it may be. Your pain may be very different, but the question is the same. 

How can you rejoice, how can you burst into song when you live with long-term, unfulfilled longings, pain, and disappointment? The reason the people of God can rejoice, even in the midst of their barrenness, is because the ultimate outcome will be different than their current situation!

So when they rejoice, when they burst into song, they do it by faith . . . not what they can see, but what they know by faith God has promised to them. There’s an astonishing promise in this verse, as it continues, that this barren woman will in the future be given a reason to sing. Her longing will be fulfilled.

Look at the next part of this verse: “‘For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of the married woman,’ says the Lord.” So Israel is urged, as we are, to walk and live by faith in the promises of God., to make room for the promises of God to be fulfilled, to live now as if we know they will be fulfilled!

Not to walk by sight, what we can see in this moment, but to walk by faith. Look at verse 2. To this barren woman, He says: “Enlarge the site of your tent.  . .” Get a bigger house! Get more bedrooms! That’s my paraphrase. “. . . and let your tent curtains be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your ropes, and drive your pegs deep.” Plan to have a large family!  

That’s what He’s saying to this woman who has never been able to have children. That’s what He’s saying to people of God who are hopeless and in despair and feel that their story has a hopeless ending. He’s saying, “No, live by faith as if this really were going to change!”

Verse 3: “For you will spread out to the right and to the left, and your descendants will dispossess nations and inhabit the desolate cities.” He’s saying to this barren, childless woman—a picture of Israel, Judah at this point—that, “You will become fruitful, prosperous, a multitude!” Now, that is going to take a miracle! And that’s exactly what’s God going to do.

This is going to be supernatural. This is not something humans can make happen; this is something God is going to make happen. He is going to turn the tide for His chosen ones. Though they had been barren, childless, they will bear a multitude of children! They will spread throughout the earth and their descendants will be triumphant and productive. That’s what verses 1–3 tell us.

The situation that God’s people find themselves in now will be transformed! It won’t always be that way. Look at verse 4:

Do not be afraid, for you will not be put to shame; don’t be humiliated, for you will not be disgraced. For you will forget the shame of your youth, and you will no longer remember the disgrace of your widowhood.

Now, the metaphor changes here a little bit. Israel’s present plight is likened first to an infertile woman, now to a destitute widow, and just ahead, we’re going to see that she’s likened to a rejected wife. No woman wants to be in any of those three positions! They all seem desperate. (That “rejected wife” part is in verse 6; we’ll come to that in just a moment.)

So you see these terms that describe what Israel is going through now: “desolate, afraid, put to shame, humiliated, disgraced, deserted, wounded, rejected,” and later in the chapter, “storm-tossed, not comforted, oppressed, terrorized.” It’s a horrible set of circumstances to be in right now! But . . . God. Everything looks different when you bring Him into the picture. 

And so, verse 5 says, “Indeed, your husband is your Maker” (capital “M”). The shame and disgrace of their widowhood will be removed for, “Your husband is your Maker.” God is a faithful Husband even when His Bride is unfaithful . . . which is why she was likened to a widow, because she’s been unfaithful to her God.

God is saying, “It’s your sins that have caused this, this condition you’re in! But God is a faithful Maker and He is your faithful Husband.

His name is the Lord of Armies—and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of the whole earth (v. 5). 

Wow!

The people of God are in serious trouble, but God doesn’t tell them to look to themselves; He tells them to look to Him. He tells them, “You may feel deserted, but you’re not. I am your Husband; I am your Maker—the Lord of Armies, the Holy One of Israel, your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth!” And He cares for His people. He is not insensitive to their plight.

Verse 6: “‘For the Lord has called you, like a wife deserted and wounded in spiri t. . .’” This is the rejected-woman picture here, “‘. . . a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,’ says your God.” “The Lord has called you”—this barren woman, this destitute widow, this rejected wife—“the Lord has called you.”

Israel’s sins have caused her to go into captivity and exile, but the Lord doesn’t rub their noses in their failure. He points it out. He wants them to acknowledge it, admit it, repent of it, but He also promises (in order to motivate them to repentance) that His grace and His mercy will restore them and will utterly change the whole trajectory of their future. 

He says this collectively, corporately to His people, but what He says to them, I think, can be applied in many respects to our own lives. At those points when our lives are falling apart, whether it’s our sin or the sins of others, God says, “I want to give you hope. There’s a future, and it’s not like your present.” God says in verse 7, “I deserted you for a brief moment, but I will take you back with abundant compassion.” Look at that word “compassion,” because it’s going to come back several times in this passage, which is all the more amazing in light of the way God has described the sinfulness, the rebellion, the spiritual adultery of His people . . . the idolatry!

They have forsaken Him, but He says, “I will take you back with abundant compassion. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment.” That “moment” was the seventy-year captivity that hadn’t even yet happened! And before it happens, God is saying, “Here’s what I’m going to do after that.” 

“‘I hid my face from you for a moment but I will have compassion on you with everlasting love,’ says the Lord your Redeemer.” That phrase “everlasting love,” by the way, is the Hebrew word hesed—"the covenant-keeping, loyal, faithful love of God." He can never not be that way toward you. “‘I will have compassion on you with everlasting love,’ says the Lord your Redeemer.” 

By the way, the end of verse 6 says “your God.” The end of verse 8 says, “the Lord your Redeemer.” The end of verse 10 says, “your compassionate Lord.” That says to me, when you’re in trouble, listen to what God says! Don’t listen to what your circumstances are telling you, but listen to what God says, and look at what kind of God He is—compassionate, redeeming.

Though God has seemingly deserted His people and has hidden His face from them in discipline, His anger is but “for a brief moment” in verse 7, and verse 8, “for a moment.” What will last forever is not His anger, not His discipline, not His chastening, but His compassion. His covenant love, His hesed.

Though they have sinned against Him and rightly deserve His wrath, He will have mercy on them. Why? Because they deserve it? No, they don’t deserve it! It's because this is His character. This is “your compassionate Lord,” verse 10 tells us.

And speaking of His covenant, His character, verse 9: “For this is like the days of Noah to me” God says, “when I swore that the water of Noah would never flood the earth again.” Noah was a judgment era. He’s going back to talking about that period of judgment.

“I swore that . . . [it] would never flood the earth again, so I have sworn [“now,” God’s covenant] that I will not be angry with you or rebuke you.” Then verse 10, one of the most amazing verses in all of Scripture!

“Though the mountains move and the hills shake, my love [my hesed, my eternal, everlasting, covenant-keeping love] will not be removed from you and my covenant of peace will not be shaken," says your compassionate Lord.

Listen, this is why we need to counsel our hearts according to God’s truth. When everything looks like the mountains are moving and the hills are shaking, we need to counsel our hearts about what kind of God we have and the promises He’s made and the covenant He has with His people.

Their love for Him has been fickle; they have left Him for other gods. But His love is steadfast and unchanging! No matter what they do, He will keep His promises to them. His love will not be removed from them, and nothing they can do or nothing anyone else can do will ever shake, threaten, or nullify His covenant of peace! 

So he’s used these word pictures, three of them—the analogies of a childless/barren woman, a destitute widow, and a rejected wife—to describe His people. And now, as we go on to verse 11, He talks about the condition of Jerusalem, the capital city, the place where the people came to worship the Lord.

Jerusalem is often used as a symbol, a picture, of the people of God coming to the presence of God. So He uses it as a picture, this capital city. This city has been under siege. It’s been ransacked by enemies, and He says, “This, too, is going to change” when the Messiah brings His kingdom to earth, because of His compassion.

So God says in verse 11: “Poor Jerusalem, storm-tossed, and not comforted.” Now, that’s a picture of the judgment yet to come, when the Babylonians would come and they would place Jerusalem under siege. They would ransack Jerusalem; they would ransack the temple. It would be widespread havoc and destruction,this holy place where God met with His people.

And the people would grieve the loss. They should have grieved the loss before they sinned so greatly against God, before they pursued other gods. But God was wanting to discipline them so they would return to Him. His discipline of His people is not punitive, it is restorative. Now, if you’re not a child of God, ultimately God’s judgment will be catastrophic, cataclysmic, and eternal.

But if you’re a child of God, His discipline is but for a brief moment. You say, “Well, seventy years doesn’t sound very brief!” It’s brief in light of eternity. God has purposes in His discipline, so Jerusalem’s going to be storm-tossed and not comforted. The people are going to have to leave their land and the capital city is going to be left basically in ruins.

But look at the promise. It’s not going to stay that way . . . the next phrase of verse 11: “I will set your stones [O Jerusalem, poor Jerusalem] in black mortar, and lay your foundations in lapis lazuli. I will make your fortifications out of rubies, your gates out of sparkling stones, and all your walls out of precious stones” (vv. 11–12). Does that sound like the tables are being turned?

The city that has been ravaged and plundered will be rebuilt in exquisite fashion out of precious gems, from foundation to gates and walls! Does that remind you of something you read in the book of Revelation chapter 21, where you see this vision that was given to John of the New Jerusalem, the holy city coming down out of heaven from God. Its foundations, its stones, its walls precious brilliant gems and jewels!

Now, the Old Testament temple would be restored, but you remember when the foundations of the new temple were laid? After the people came back from exile? Scripture says the older men wept because they remembered how much more glorious the first temple was than the new, rebuilt one.

Sometimes when you remodel something, it’s just like not the same. And that’s kind of how it was in the Old Testament. But this is a picture, not just of the rebuilt temple in the Old Testament, but of the New Jerusalem, the holy city of God that will be perfect and flawless and filled with the glory of God. There was no need of sun or moon there, because of the glory of God on His throne and the Lamb Himself will be the light who will light this holy city. Magnificent! Beautiful! Perfect! Pure! (see Rev. 21:23). God says, “That’s what I’m going to make out of My people.”

It seems impossible right now, doesn’t it? Look at your life, maybe in shambles. Look at your family, maybe storm-tossed, not comforted. Look at your church. You think, Oh, man! We’ve got so many problems.” You look at the people of God in this country and around the world. You look at social media and you see Christians screaming at each other on Twitter. I mean, it’s like so intense, so vitriolic, so angry! It’s one thing for people of the world to act that way, that isn’t really surprising to me, but it’s heartbreaking when I see Christians lobbing insults and accusations at each other and being so abusive in their language.

You say, “How could this ever be beautiful? How could the church ever be really beautiful? How could my life, my family . . . how could it ever be sparkling stones, precious stones?” Only God, right?

Verse 13: “Then all your children will be taught by the Lord, their prosperity will be great and you will be established on a foundation of righteousness.” Their future is bright. That’s the promise of God; that’s what gives you hope and courage and faith to keep going in this messed-up situation that you’re in right now to know that God will be the Protector and the Defender of His people. Look at the rest of verse 14:

You will be far from oppression, you will certainly not be afraid; you will be far from terror, it will certainly not come near you. If anyone attacks you, it is not from me; whoever attacks you will fall before you. No weapon formed against you will succeed, and you will refute any accusation raised against you in court (vv. 14–17).

Now, that’s not the present moment. I mean God does protect His people, He defends His people, but He’s saying there’s a day coming when every cause for fear or alarm will be removed. He will deal with all of the attackers of His people.

No weapon or accusation against them will succeed, and we’re reminded in this Old Testament glimpse of what’s to come that Jesus Christ is our advocate against the Accuser. He says, “I will protect you! I will defend you!” And then the end of verse 17:

This is the heritage of the Lord’s servants, and their vindication [their “righteousness” some of your translations say] is from me. This is the Lord’s declaration. 

What’s He saying? You can trust God to write your story! You may not be able to see all that’s going to unfold, but Isaiah has given us a picture that we can cling to, that we can trust.

The promises of God will be fulfilled. And, yes, there will be seasons of discipline, seasons of decline, seasons of devastation perhaps. But beyond them, God will bring His people back; He will restore. He is making all things new. He is redeeming this broken, fallen world. There will be a new heaven and a new earth.

And that’s what we cling to; we hold to the promises of God and we say, “God, though I cannot see right now, yet I choose to trust—I will trust!—that you are writing Your story and You are writing my story.” Can you say to Him, “Lord, I trust You to write my story? And thank You, Lord, that You are writing Your story . . . so, so good.” Amen!

Dannah: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been showing us how to experience true peace, even in the middle of a storm. I wonder if you found something that she shared especially helpful? If you have, I would love for you to share it with the world. Go ahead and get on social media right now; tell us your story. Use #TrustGodToWriteYourStory.

In their book by the same title, You Can Trust God to Write Your Story, Robert and Nancy Wolgemuth share the stories of many people. There are individuals who learned to trust God in all sorts of scenarios, and many of them are still alive today. But they also looked at the stories of some characters in the Bible.

They talk about Ruth and Naomi, Joseph—who was sold into slavery by his brothers—and the earthly parents of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. All of them had chapters in their stories that they never would have written if they were in charge of writing their stories. But God had a better plan! 

So when you explore these stories with Robert and Nancy, you’ll be prepared to keep your eyes on Jesus and to trust Him when your story takes a difficult turn. Robert and Nancy’s book is available this month as our way of saying "thank you" for making a gift in any size to Revive Our Hearts.

“How do you give a gift?” you ask. Well, that’s easy! Just visit ReviveOurHearts.com, find where it says “donate” and follow the prompts. Or if you’d like, you can make your gift by calling us at 1–800–569–5959. 

One of God’s promises we heard about in Isaiah 54 today is where God tells widows, “Your Maker is your Husband.” I hope that was comforting to you if you’ve lost a husband. Tomorrow we’re going to hear from a widow whose husband and two of her daughters were suddenly ushered into eternity.

We’ll hear how Kerry Tittle is learning to trust God to write her story, even with such a painful chapter! I hope you’ll join us. I’m Dannah Gresh, inviting you back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help inspire your songs in the barren times. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries. 

All Scripture is taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

About the Speaker

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love …

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