Isaiah 54:1 Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. (ESV)

At the time of Isaiah's writing, did he still consider Israel to be married to the Lord in a covenant relationship? Or is this a House of Israel, House of Judah, North/South issue since Jeremiah proclaimed Israel to be divorced in Jeremiah 3:8, but Judah was still the married one?

Also this ties with Isaiah 54:4-6 where the marriage theme comes up again. The desolate one would seem to be the wife that was cast off and is being taken back.

The position of this section always seemed odd to me, coming right behind chapter 53. The rest of 54 fits with messianic, end times hope, but why this comparison to her who is married? Especially if the married one is Judah and the passage is speaking to the barren one.

Who is the barren and desolate one and who is the one who is married?

Would prefer to examine it at a grammatical level in Hebrew, not tied to any single English translation.

Edit: After studying more on my own, I have come to the conclusion that Isaiah 49:18-26 is key to understanding this. It expands upon how the desolate and barren one somehow has many children.

Isaiah 49:19 “Surely your waste and your desolate places and your devastated land— surely now you will be too narrow for your inhabitants, and those who swallowed you up will be far away.

Isaiah 49:21 Then you will say in your heart: ‘Who has borne me these? I was bereaved and barren, exiled and put away, but who has brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; from where have these come?’”

I still have not received an answer that is at least fully explained and internally consistent. Regardless of whether I agree with its conclusions, a complete answer is needed.

  • Which translation is the quote from?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 7:10
  • I believe I quoted the ESV version, but I'm not tied to any one translation.I'd prefer to get down to the Hebrew, which is not an area of knowledge for me.
    – Joshua
    Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 10:46

8 Answers 8


In Ezekiel 23 and Jeremiah 31:31-32 God said he was married to two sisters, Aholah, [Samaria] the house of Israel and Abolibah, [Jerusalem] the house of Judah. The child that was born to the married woman would be the Messiah. The Messiah was to come through the house of Judah, so Aholah, the house of Israel, Samaria, would be the barren one, the one who did not travail with child. This chapter is written to this barren one.
Jeremiah 3:8 tells us God divorced the house of Israel, but remained married to her sister Judah. The house of Israel, Aholah, would be the wife of youth who was refused, [divorced].
If you read Hosea 1:4-11 carefully it seems he is talking about the house of Israel and the house of Judah as different people. The word "house” is left out in some Bibles. Verses 4-6, and 8-10 are to the house of Israel, verse 7, the house of Judah, verse 11, to both. Verse 10 says, in spite of God having the house of Israel taken away and having no mercy on them, the number of their children shall be as the sand of the sea.

Hosea 1:9-11 (KJV) Then said God, Call his name Lo-ammi: for ye are not my people and I will not be your God 10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God. 11 Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land: for great shall be the day of Jezreel.

Once the house of Israel was carried away by the Assyrians, the house of Judah would be the only visible portion of God’s people left, for a while.

Jeremiah 3:6-8 is telling us how Judah was following Israel’s bad example. Now in verses 12-20 he will proclaim, prophesize, to the north, where the house of Israel was before the Assyrians carried them away. As in Hosea, Judah and Israel are not the same country. Here they are also referred to as sisters. Verse 12 has, Will not be angry forever. Verse 14, I am married to you. Verse 15, I will give you pastors to feed you with knowledge and understanding. "Will give" is in the future.

Jeremiah 3:16 (KJV) 16 And it shall come to pass, when ye be multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, saith the LORD, they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the LORD: neither shall it come to mind: neither shall they remember it; neither shall they visit it; neither shall that be done any more.

The house of Judah has never forgotten the Ark of the Covenant.

What reason does the house of Israel have to break forth into singing? Deuteronomy 24:1-4 says a divorced woman who becomes another man’s wife, even after the second husband dies, can never remarry her first husband again because she is defiled, even if she wants to return. But if Paul is correct about Hebrew law in Romans 7:1-4, there is hope.

Romans 7:1-4 (KJV) 1 Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? 2 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. 4 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.

Because God sent the house of Israel away with a writ of divorce and her continued idolatry, she would always be an adulteress in Gods eyes. That was until God, her first husband, died. After Isaiah 53 she was now free, as free as the rest of the world to be married to the resurrected Christ.

  • A useful collection of verses on the subject.
    – user558840
    Commented Mar 15, 2021 at 8:27

The prophets frequently compare the relationship of God and Israel as one similar to husband and wife. Song of Songs' erotic imagry embraces the mutual love of the two. Hosea, taking lessons from his own life story, sees Israel as the wayward wife who God is willing to accept back should she repent her sins. Isaiah uses similar imagry asking at 50:1 whether God has given Israel its divorce decree, and here he focuses on the analogy of Israel being the spouse whose husband has left her (at least temporarily).

Jewish commentary to this verse starts with the assumption that the previous chapter's subject -- the long-suffering servant -- actually describes Israel a people who have had their very good times and their very bad times throughout history, but are destined for glory. See e.g. Rashi's commentary to Isaiah 53:3 where he cites some other verses in Isaiah that describe Israel as "My servant."

The Suffering Servant analogy beautifully sets up the prophecy in Isaiah 54:1-17 of Israel's return to God's good graces and ultimate glory in the Messianic Era.

Verse 1 says: "For more numerous are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife" Rashi points out that the "desolate" refers to Jerusalem before the ultimate redemption, and the "married wife" refers to Edom (i.e. Rome). Rabbi David Kimhi, the Radak, views Jerusalem here in terms of a wife who has been abandoned by her husband, so here and in the next two verses, this prophecy, along with other of Isaiah's prophecies gives us the good news that when the time comes for the ingathering of the Exiles in the Messianic Era, Jerusalem's Jewish population will have already expanded greatly.

  • Thank you, but where is the connection to Edom (and the following connection to Rome) coming from? And how do the promises of 54:2-3 make sense with this interpretation? They possess the nations and people the desolate cities?
    – Joshua
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 2:33
  • @Bruce James Rashi clear states that the desolate one is the 'daughter of Edom', NOT Israel.
    – Ted O
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 16:58

Chapter 54 is considered by many scholars to be part of the work (Isaiah chapters 44-55) of an anonymous scribe, now known as Second Isaiah, or Deutero-Isaiah, writing during the Babylonian Exile. Second Isaiah (and, later, Third Isaiah) probably wrote a separate book, which was only added some time later to the Book of Isaiah, which was of course written (most of chapters 1-43) by Isaiah, son of Amoz.

The reference to the barren one is a reference to Judah, who is barren because of her defeat and Exile. Her children are the Jews in exile. During the time of Isaiah, son of Amoz, God was (symbolically) married to Judah, but in the theology of the times had cast her off because of her sins. We see this in verses 54:5,7, where the maker is your (Judah's) husband who forsook you for a short time, but will rescue you:

54:5,7 (KJV): 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 ... For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee."

Chapter 54 being written near the end of the Exile, possibly after the Persian conquest, reflects the expectation of liberation and reunion with their God. The joy in chapter 55 reflects the knowledge that the Jews are free and will be allowed to return.

  • Who then, is the married one that Judah is being compared to according to this understanding? Also I think you meant 54 not 44?
    – Joshua
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 2:40
  • @Joshua Bigbee Thanks for the correction, which I have fixed. I am not aware of a particular married couple that God and Judah are being compared to, moreover at that time any such comparison would probably have been considered blasphemous. Apart from latter-day speculation, all I think we can say is that the later biblical authors often compared the relationship between God and Judah to that of a married couple. Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 3:26
  • I understand that which is why it was confusing that the desolate one was being compared to the married one. If the barren one is also the desolate one then why do they have more children than this "married one"? The question is the identity of both and how it connects to "barren one" and the following passage.
    – Joshua
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 12:04
  • In my opinion, 'desolate one' is just a figure of speech - children are harder to bear if you are desolate. As for the 'barren one', latter-day speculation comes into play, but we can not say there were more Jews in Exile than had been in Judah beforehand. The barrenness could be spiritual, rather than children: still speaking to the barren one, the author says (54:3) "thy seed shall inherit the gentiles," so we should not see barrenness in this sense. Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 20:21
  • The theme of 54:3 would agree with 49:22-23 where the nations will foster their descendents (sons and daughters). I think the barren and desolate one of 49 is the same as here in 54. That may help in identifying them more specifically. Also, still no comment on who the married one is who will now have less children than the barren one?
    – Joshua
    Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 4:19

From the Holy Spirit:

The barren one (who is also the desolate one) is Israel, the Jews - who at the moment, for a while more still, are generally not accepting Jesus. Right now we (gentiles) are being grafted in (and multiplying), while they wait "barren".

Yet, we the gentile Christian are the children - we are numerous - and hence, the "barren one" (Jews) has more children than the "married one" (Gentiles). We are married to Christ already now, we accept Him as our Lord, our husband, our Savior - but we (though plentiful too) have less children than the barren one does.

Once Gentiles are full in number, the Jews will no longer be in shame - of any sort - and they will be back, seeing that they were "barren" but no longer are barren at all.

From ROMANS 11 (NIV):

25I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:

“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
27 And this is[f] my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”[g]

28As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

And from ROMANS 10 (NIV):

11Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!

13I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry 14in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

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  • Honestly, I think you have it backwards. The Jews are married, they had their ceremony at Sinai. The church is a bride awaiting the coming of The groom, Christ
    – Joshua
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 5:08

Jacob dispersed and multiplied among the nations. There are billions of descendants of Jacob. Every person with the smallest amount of Hebrew blood is Jacob. Jacob is being gathered together with an outflowing of messianic understanding and returning to the covenant. Jacob will inhabit the desolate cities and inherit the nations in the millennial era.

  • Hi Bruce! Welcome to Hermeneutics.SE. You might take the tour if you have not already to get an idea of what constitutes a thorough answer. Can you show from the text that this refers to Jacob?
    – colboynik
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 3:39

I agree with you the connection of Isaiah 54:1 (actually 54:1-8) and Isaiah 49:19-21 (actually 49:8-23). The barren woman was the old Jerusalem, the desolated one, whom the Lord married when she was young. 'For a brief moment I abandoned you' (Isaiah 54:7a - refer to the destruction of Jerusalem), 'but with deep compassion I will bring you back' (Isaiah 54:7b - refer to a revived Jerusalem - an allusion to the Church in present day).

Focus on the interpretation of Isaiah 54:1

“Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord.

The barren woman who never bore a child - an allusion of the old Jerusalem who couldn't bear fruits for the Lord, that led to her desolation.

But with deep compassion of the Lord, Isaiah 49:14-16 read

14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.”

15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!

16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. (NIV)

Then we see the revival of the Jerusalem, the Lord said (Isaiah 49:18-19)

18 Lift up your eyes and look around; all your children gather and come to you. As surely as I live,” declares the Lord, “you will wear them all as ornaments; you will put them on, like a bride.

19 “Though you were ruined and made desolate and your land laid waste, now you will be too small for your people, and those who devoured you will be far away. (NIV)

These children of Jerusalem were not from Jerusalem, they came from far away, who were called by the Lord, an allusion of the Church comprised Jews and Gentiles, mostly Gentiles.

Then the barren woman pondered (Isaiah 49:21);

21 Then you (the barren woman, Jerusalem) will say in your heart, ‘Who bore me these? I was bereaved and barren; I was exiled and rejected. Who brought these up? I was left all alone, but these—where have they come from?’” (NIV)

Isaiah 49:21 explains the 2nd half of Isaiah 54:1, though Jerusalem had once been desolated, in future, she has more children than a woman can bear, for her children are going to come from far away, the children of the gentiles.


Your answer began at Isaiah 53:8.' Who shall declare his generation ? that of the suffering servant and verse 11 which speaks of the travail of his soul which allude to Hannah in her barrenness. The desolate is the nations of gentiles, the married wife is the Jews.

Read Paul treatise to the Romans especially Romans 2:28,29. 54:6,7 refer to the gentiles who Maker is also thine Husband. The God of the WHOLE EARTH should he be called. Romans states 'To the Jews first, and also to the Gentile '. Also note that a barren wife producing fruit is a natural impossibility regardless of the husband prowess or strength. It is God that opens the womb , so 54:1 is only supernaturally and spiritually possible. Anyway, Isaiah 54 speaks of the children that will be begat by the Father thru the Suffering Servant, the Son, the Messiah, Christ the Lord. '...What is born of flesh is flesh...what is born of the Spirit is spirit'

Verse 3 is parallel to verse 1, the gentiles or nations and desolate cities which will become fruitful thru the Servant and of God's supernatural works or begetting from the barren womb of the earth or outside of Israel, who was never refused betrothal.

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    Simply stated the desolate is the gentiles and the married wife is Isreal Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 19:55

The desolate woman is Tamar, she represents the LAND of Israel. God restores the desolate land in specific ways. Also beauty for ashes is for Tamar. There is something here. As a victim of rape I recognize it as murder. It’s a murder of the most sacred place of the soul. Yet one must live, Shame and desolation follow. I have begged God not to leave me desolate like Tamar and have raised Him that the blessing of the desolate woman is better than that of the married one. Israel was a desolate wasteland, first water was restored then life and fruitfulness. So much to learn.

  • How do you know that it is Tamar? Please edit this to explain.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 22:50
  • Hi Rhonda, welcome to BH.SE - thanks for this contribution. As dannii has requested, it would be great to see this expanded to give a better justification for how you've arrived at that conclusion from the text of scripture. Please do take the Site Tour to learn more about the site and how it all works here.
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    Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 16:45

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