The text uses a form of the miraculous birth theme found so often in the Bible. God can provide children when none are expected--because of age (Sarah, Genesis 17:17-19), barrenness (Hannah, 1 Samuel 1:1-20), or even virginity (Mary, Luke 1:26-37). And here, God can provide children even without the expected pain and duration of labor (overturning one of the consequences of sin in Genesis 3:16!).
This is one of several texts in the latter part of Isaiah that use female imagery for God (see Theological Themes). God will comfort the people like a mother comforts her child (v. 13). Perhaps these female images were a way to give new hope to a people who had lost everything. Simply to repeat the promises in the old way may have seemed unconvincing. But the prophet gets people's attention by picturing God in new ways. The established institutions have been destroyed in the battles of history, but a mother's tender care survives even in catastrophe.
With the return to the theme of "comfort," this text at the end of Isaiah forms an inclusio with the announcement of God's coming deliverance at the beginning of Second Isaiah. "Comfort, O comfort my people," God had said (40:1); and now God--like a mother--brings that same comfort.
7 Before she was in labour
she gave birth;
before her pain came upon her
she delivered a son.
8 Who has heard of such a thing?
Who has seen such things?
Shall a land be born in one day?
Shall a nation be delivered in one moment?
Yet as soon as Zion was in labour
she delivered her children.
9 Shall I open the womb and not deliver?
says the Lord;
shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb?
says your God.
10 Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,
all you who love her;
rejoice with her in joy,
all you who mourn over her
11 that you may nurse and be satisfied
from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
from her glorious bosom.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011