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In Isaiah 54 the prophet uses the parable/metaphor of a husband and wife to describe the relationship between God and Israel.

  • Israel is called a "barren wife" without child (Isaiah 54:1)

  • God is described as being her husband (Isaiah 54:5)

  • Gentiles are described as being a "desolate" unmarried woman (Isaiah 54:1)

It describe how God temporarily abandons Israel his wife for periods due to her misdeeds/imoral behaviour in her youth forcing her to go through significant hardship before her Husband Gods welcomes her back with compassion. (Isaiah 54:6-7)

For the LORD has called you back, like a wife deserted and wounded in spirit, like the rejected wife of one’s youth,” says your God. “For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will bring you back

The symbology of this is easily understood and quite similar to that used in Hosea. In Isaiah 54:4 however in the english translation the symbology changes somewhat as it actually describes Israel as a "widow".

You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.

This is quite different from other descriptions were she is described as being "abandoned". Not that her husband had died. I'm curious is "widowhood" actually the best or correct understanding of the translation of this word from the original Hebrew ? (almenutayich https://biblehub.com/hebrew/almenutayich_491.htm)

If so are you able to explain in what way Israel could be considered a widow ?

Alternatively is this potentially just a "bad translation". Is the original Hebrew word (almenutayich) used here simply denoting a wife who has been disowned / divorced by her husband - rather then a woman whos husband has died ?

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  • I think you have replied your question. Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 10:44
  • Meaning the word is a bad translation ? It didn't seem clear from looking at Strong's hebrew
    – Marshall
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 12:08

2 Answers 2

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Genesis 38:

6 Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death.

Tamar's first husband died.

8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” 9But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. 10What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.

Tamar's second husband also died.

11 Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow [H490] in your father’s household until my son Shelah grows up.” For he thought, “He may die too, just like his brothers.” So Tamar went to live in her father’s household.

as a widow
אַלְמָנָ֣ה (’al·mā·nāh)
Noun - feminine singular
Strong's 490: A widow, a desolate place

H490 here refers to a technical widow, meaning her husband had died. Two verses later:

13When Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,” 14a she took off her widow’s [H491] clothes

her widow’s
אַלְמְנוּתָ֜הּ (’al·mə·nū·ṯāh)
Noun - feminine singular construct | third person feminine singular
Strong's 491: A widow, widowhood

Now, this Hebrew word is slightly different from the earlier one. It refers to the state of being a widow.

2 Samuel 20:

3 When David returned to his palace in Jerusalem, he took the ten concubines he had left to take care of the palace and put them in a house under guard. He provided for them but had no sexual relations with them. They were kept in confinement till the day of their death, living as widows [H491].

as widows.
אַלְמְנ֥וּת (’al·mə·nūṯ)
Noun - feminine singular construct
Strong's 491: A widow, widowhood

David was still alive. These women were technically not widows. So most Bibles translate this Hebrew word to "as widows", referring to the state of widowhood.

The same H491 appears in Isaiah 54:

4“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.

OP: I'm curious is "widowhood" actually the best or correct understanding of the translation of this word from the original Hebrew ?

My paraphrase:

remember no more the reproach of your livelihood as a widowhood.

5For your Maker is your husband
the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.

God was Israel's husband. He didn't die. "Widowhood" here means the livelihood of a widow or the state of widowhood. The rest of the context bears this out:

6 The Lord will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
only to be rejected,” says your God.
7“For a brief moment I abandoned you,

Israel lived like a widow for a while because she was treated like an abandoned wife by her husband/God.

Is the original Hebrew word (almenutayich) used here simply denoting a wife who has been disowned / divorced by her husband - rather then a woman whos husband has died ?

The original Hebrew word means the state of being a widow or widowhood. It could be used literally to mean her husband has died or metaphorically to mean her husband has not died but has abandoned her.

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In Isaiah 54:4, we can read:

Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more. (KJV)

And in hebrew:

אַל־תִּֽירְאִי֙ כִּי־לֹ֣א תֵב֔וֹשִׁי וְאַל־תִּכָּֽלְמִ֖י כִּ֣י לֹ֣א תַחְפִּ֑ירִי כִּ֣י בֹ֤שֶׁת עֲלוּמַ֙יִךְ֙ תִּשְׁכָּ֔חִי וְחֶרְפַּ֥ת אַלְמְנוּתַ֖יִךְ לֹ֥א תִזְכְּרִי־עֽוֹד׃

And we can see in Jeremiah 51:5 the following:

For Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the Lord Almighty, though their land is full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel. (NIV)

However, when we consult the dictionary, we know that אַלְמָ֨ן which is the translation for has been forsaken, which just means to abandon. Then, as we could imagine, it's not even possible to have a divorce, as we can see in the seventh commandment.

Just as a complement, the word for divorce is the same as send away, as we can see in Deuteronomy 24:1:

כִּֽי־יִקַּ֥ח אִ֛ישׁ אִשָּׁ֖ה וּבְעָלָ֑הּ וְהָיָ֞ה אִם־לֹ֧א תִמְצָא־חֵ֣ן בְּעֵינָ֗יו כִּי־מָ֤צָא בָהּ֙ עֶרְוַ֣ת דָּבָ֔ר וְכָ֨תַב לָ֜הּ סֵ֤פֶר כְּרִיתֻת֙ וְנָתַ֣ן בְּיָדָ֔הּ וְשִׁלְּחָ֖הּ מִבֵּיתֽוֹ׃

וְשִׁלְּחָ֖הּ is the word for divorce, and it's evident that once divorced a woman, one can't marry this woman again as it's written in the law (Deuteronomy 24:4):

Then the first husband who divorced her shall not take her to wife again, since she has been defiled — for that would be abhorrent to the LORD. You must not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a heritage.

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  • Perfect thankyou!
    – Marshall
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 13:04

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