There are two theories for the origin of the idiom ‘a clean slate’, which means to be given a fresh start, an opportunity to begin again with no strikes against you. The first refers to a time when slates were used to tabulate orders when a party came into a tavern for food and drinks. It was subsequently and literally ‘wiped clean’ when the patrons paid their bill in full.
The second theory is something I’m quite familiar with. When I was young, our school blackboards (made of stone, i.e. slate) were cursorily erased but still dusty and smudged throughout the week. But, by Monday morning, we came to class to find they had all been wiped clean – shiny and like new.
My year began with a clear message from Isaiah 54:1, ‘Sing, O barren one!’ Not only did it set the tone for my year, little did I know that this chapter would keep coming back to me like a ping pong ball these many months – through sermons, prophesies as well as the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
A few days ago, God again led me to Isaiah 54 as a question reverberated inside me: What chapter does this follow? I knew instantly. This is the chapter graphically portraying our crucified Saviour, ‘smitten by God, and afflicted’, bearing our griefs and being wounded for us. Then I heard the Lord say, “The riches I have for you in Isaiah 54 are unearthed because of Isaiah 53.”
To fully appreciate what it took for a barren woman to sing, let us consider how worthless a childless woman felt in ancient times.
She harboured rejection, imagining herself cursed and socially marooned. Take Sarah as an example. In her pain, she suggested the unimaginable – “Abraham, go in to my maid!”
Oh, how she regretted such a brainless decision when Hagar ridiculed and despised her following the birth of Ishmael.
As the ‘barren woman’ in Isaiah is told to ‘enlarge the place of her tent’ to make room for the children she will soon raise, God makes it clear he intends to restore more than just her womb.
The bruises and stripes of the Man of Sorrows, Himself despised (Isaiah 53:5,3), are applied to deeper scars:
‘Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed;
Neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame;
For you will forget the shame of your youth,
And will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore.’
Oh, the ocean of mercy contained in this one verse! The Holy Spirit shows that He understands every excruciating emotion infertility causes. He knows the fears. He knows the disgrace and public humiliation, the sense of alienation and abandonment.
The Hebrew here is rich, using three distinct words for shame to describe the crippling impact it has on the human heart. Every one of them is completely healed, once and for all.
As I studied and meditated on this verse, I was undone for a time. As I considered the scourging, the crimson-thorned brow, the penetration of spikes crushing the bones of His feet, I could only worship.
Beloved, survey this scene with me! Let the wonder of what our Lover and Lord has done for us sink in like the nails that day. Lift afresh the bread and cup of Communion.
In the shadow of Calvary’s bloodied beams, all fears, contempt, mocking, and shame in all its forms – all the pain we have carried unwittingly in our barrenness –is, like those old tavern slates, wiped completely clean. Paid in full.
It’s time to break forth into song!