Isaiah 49

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning,
that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4

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A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2007 James Melough

49:1.  “Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.”


The call is to the whole world, and the speaker is the Lord Jesus Christ whose obedience, even unto death, has resulted in the Father’s giving Him “a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” Philippians 2:9-11.  “... from the womb” is the reminder that His name was given even before He was born, it being written, “And thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins,” Matthew 1:21.


49:2.  “And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me;”


The Lord himself is described as “the Word,” see John 1:14, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us ....”, and of that same Word it is written that it is “quick (living) and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart,” Hebrews 4:12.  Christ was the Word personified, the propriety of the metaphor being demonstrated in the ability of His words to pierce the minds and hearts of the Jewish leaders, and expose their hypocrisy with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel.


His being made “a polished shaft,” i.e., a well-balanced arrow, speaks of His ability to pierce all pretense, and expose hypocrisy; and His being hidden in the shadow of God’s hand may refer to the fact that He was protected from death until the time appointed by His Father.


49:3.  “And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”


Israel means he shall be prince of God; God commands, and the reference here is not to literal Israel, but to the Lord Jesus Christ who was God’s Prince, obedient to every command of His Father, even unto death, see John 17:4-5, “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.  And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.”


49:4.  “Then I said, I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.”


The speaker is Isaiah expressing weariness, and disappointment at the seeming futility of his work, but in spite of much to discourage him he was satisfied to leave the ultimate judgment of his service with the Lord, as should every disheartened servant, remembering that the Lord holds us responsible, not for the results, but for the faithful performance of the work He has assigned us.  It is ours to obey, to sow, and to leave the results with Him, see 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch  as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”


Judged from a mere human viewpoint, and in the light of His ignominious death, all the Lord’s labor was in vain; but from the Divine perspective it is the most glorious work ever accomplished, the greatest victory ever won.


49:5.  “And now, saith the Lord that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength.”


“... formed me from the womb to be his servant” means that before Isaiah was born God had appointed him to be His prophet.  This may not be taken to mean that the events of Isaiah’s life were predestinated, but that God, Who is omniscient, foreknew all the events of his life, as He does those of every man, even while leaving each individual to make his own free-willed decisions, and I use the term “decisions” rather than “choices,” for clearly there are many things relative to which the individual has no choice.


Again, we should note the distinction between Jacob, the name associated with the flesh, as Israel is with the Spirit.  The natural man, Jacob-like must first be brought to God in faith before he can become a part of spiritual “Israel,” the aggregate of all who believe in Christ as Savior.  That vast believing multitude of all the ages will be gathered together eternally in heaven.  But Christ must have the preeminence in all things: He is now glorified, but the glorification of believers is still future.  And as God the Father was Christ’s sustaining Strength, so is He to be ours also.


49:6.  “And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.”


The latter part of this verse is quoted in Acts 13:47 in reference to Christ.


It was not enough that Isaiah should be God’s servant simply to Israel: he was to carry that same message of salvation to the Gentiles also. 


We have been given the same commission, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,” Mark 16:15.


49:7.  “Thus saith the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the Lord that is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he shall choose thee.”


The speaker is God the Father, the Holy One who is the Redeemer of Israel, and the One addressed is the Lord Jesus Christ given by the Father to be the Redeemer of Israel and of the whole world, but Who is nevertheless despised and hated by that same nation, and by all unconverted men, as it is written, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted,” Isaiah 53:3-4. 


He humbled Himself and became the servant, not only of rulers, but of all men; but “God hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” Philippians 2:9-11. 


As men today stand up to honor someone, so will kings and princes yet stand up in the presence of Christ whom the Father has chosen, raised from the dead, and exalted to the pinnacle of eternal glory.


49:8. “Thus saith the Lord, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages;”


This continues the Father’s assurance to His Son, and while what Christ suffered at Calvary may seem to contradict this promise, we have to remember that what the Lord endured there was because He had voluntarily taken my guilty place and yours in order to expiate our sin, and lay a basis of perfect righteousness that enables God to pardon us and bestow His gift of eternal life.  And with that great work completed, which only Christ could do, the Father signified His pleasure, and acceptance of that sin-atoning sacrifice, by raising Him again from the dead, and promoting Him to the acme of glory at His own right hand in heaven.


Christ’s being given “for a covenant” means simply that His vicarious death makes available to every believer the assurance of a full pardon for all sin, and of dwelling forever in heaven with His Savior.  It is also the assurance to the believing remnant of Israel that the land given her by God, and that has for so long lain desolate under the heel of the Gentile oppressor, will yet be restored to her in the Millennium when it will “blossom as the rose,” Isaiah 35:1, and be abundantly fruitful.


49:9.  “That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves.  They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.”


Those who preach the gospel can assure every sinner that faith in Christ will bring deliverance from the bondage to sin and Satan in which every  man is held by natural birth, the new birth bringing complete emancipation from that imprisonment, every believer being delivered from the power of darkness into the kingdom of Christ, as it is written Colossians 1:13-14, “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.”


While the principal idea related to “show yourselves”, i.e., “come forth into the light,” is for every sinner to save himself by trusting Christ as Savior, we may not dismiss the further thought of the need for believers to bear a fearless witness to our changed state.


Moffatt’s translation of the latter part of this verse reads, “On the road home, food shall never fail them, they shall find pasture even upon bare hills.”  Every believer has the assurance of God’s presence, protection, and provision all the way home to heaven, as it is written, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” Hebrews 13:5, and “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,” Matthew 28:20.


“... their pastures shall be in all high places,” means that they shall find pasture even on bare hills where usually little pasture is found.


49:10. “They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.”


The bubbling springs are pictures of the written Word in its ability to refresh and cleanse the souls of obedient believers, but it is emphasized that it is endowed with that capacity only for those who obey it.


49:11.  “And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted.”


The NEB translation of this verse reads, “I will make every hill a path, and build embankments for my highways.”  It means simply that those who obey God will find that He uses every circumstance of life - even the seeming adversities - for their blessing. 


The embankment of the highways speaks of His protecting care through all the vicissitudes of life.  He transmutes seeming misfortune into ultimate blessing for those who obey Him, as it is written, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, “Romans 8:28, those who love Him being those who obey Him, as the Lord Himself declared, “If ye love me, keep my commandments ... He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” John 14:15-21.


49:12.  “Behold, these shall come from far: and, lo, these from the north and from the west; and from the land of Sinim.”


While Sinim is taken by some to be a reference to China, many understand it to be the Aswan region of Egypt, i.e., in the south, and it is ominously significant that the east is not mentioned as a place from which the people return to God, for in Scripture the east is invariably associated with sin and departure from Him.


This regathering is generally understood to be that of Israel after the completion of the judgments of the Great Tribulation.


49:13.  “Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.”


The description continues to be of the universal blessing that will be in the Millennium


49:14. “But Zion (Jerusalem) said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.”


This describes Israel’s lament in the Great Tribulation.  In the midst of those judgments she will imagine that God has forgotten her, failing to realize that those trials are designed to bring her to repentant obedience and blessing.  How often we make the same mistake in the midst of chastisement resulting from our disobedience, forgetting that it is written, “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.  If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?  But if he be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” It is much wiser, instead of rebelling against chastisement, to seek to find out why it is being sent.


49:15.  “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.”


She is indeed a rare mother who cares nothing about her infant, but even should there be such a woman, God will never forget His children, the price He paid to redeem them being the death of His only beloved Son, that incalculable price being the proof of their value to Him, see Hebrews 13:5, “... for he hath said, I will never leave the, nor forsake thee,” and 1 Peter 1:18, “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold .... but with the precious blood of Christ ....”


49:16.  “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.”


This was addressed metaphorically to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but how much more applicable is it to us literally!  See John 20:27, “Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither they hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.”


49:17.  “Thy children shall make haste; thy destroyers and they that made thee waste shall go forth of thee.”


Other renderings of this verse are, “Already your builders make haste, while those who destroyed you and laid you waste go forth from you,” AAT; “Men are making haste to build you; those who ravaged you, those who ruined, now withdraw from you,” MOFFATT; “Your builders outstrip your destroyers, and those who laid you waste go forth from you,” RSV.


This describes the restoration and blessing of Israel in the Millennium.


49:18.  “Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold: all these gather themselves together, and come to thee.  As I live, saith the Lord, thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all, as with an ornament, and bind them on thee, as a bride doeth.”


The millennial blessing and glorification of Israel continues to be described here, the subjection of the gentiles to her rule bringing her honor and glory that will be the antithesis of the mockery and hatred she has suffered at their hands for so many weary centuries.  As a woman in her wedding garments is the center of attraction and admiration, so will Israel be in the Millennium.


49:19.  “For thy waste and desolate places, and the land of thy destruction, shall even now be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants, and they that swallowed thee up shall be far away.”


Israel’s land, that until 1938 had lain a virtual desolate waste for centuries, will be transformed in the Millennium as described in Isaiah 35:1, “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.”  The people too will be multiplied so that the land will be filled with them, while their former persecutors will be scattered to the ends of the earth.


49:20.  “The children which thou shalt have, after thou hast lost the others, shall say again in thine ears, The place is too strait for me: give place to me that I may dwell.”


God will yet give Israel multitudes of other children in place of those she has lost - and she has lost many as a result of her rebellion against Him.


49:21.  “Then shalt thou say in thine heart, Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children, and am desolate, a captive, and removing to and fro? And who hath brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; these where had they been?”


After centuries of scattering and diminution, millennial Israel,  multiplied and blessed, will praise God for her preservation and multiplication.


49:22.  “Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.”


In the Millennium God will exercise the hearts of the Gentiles to assist in bringing the scattered Israelites back to Palestine from every corner of the earth, one of the signs of the immanence of that glorious era being her continued regathering there since 1938.


49:23.  “And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.”


The description continues to be of Israel’s supremacy over the nations in the Millennium, and the assurance that He will never disappoint those who trust Him.


49:24.  “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered?”


The question is rhetorical, and is added simply to confirm the certainty of God’s promotion of Israel in the Millennium.  None will be able to deliver out of her hand those whom He places under her dominion.  The same promise, but in far fuller measure, is given us, for in a day now near, we shall reign with Him, see 2 Timothy 2:12, “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him ....”


49:25.  “But thus saith the Lord, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children.”


In the present context the ultimate application is to Satan “the mighty, the terrible, the contender”, and God has already contended with him successfully at Calvary, Christ’s great victory over him there being announced in His triumphant cry, “It is finished,” John 19:30.  Those who by natural birth are the bond slaves of Satan, are delivered from his cruel thraldom the moment they trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, their faith in Him making them the children of God.


49:26.  “And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine: and all flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Savior and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob.”


This is generally taken to mean that God would cause Israel’s enemies to destroy themselves through internecine strife, His promise to her being, “Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine,” Isaiah 43:1; “I have loved thee with an everlasting love,” Jeremiah 31:3; and, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” Hebrews 13:5. 


These same promises apply also to us; and since Jacob is the name that is associated with the weakness of the flesh, we are reminded that they apply to us in spite of all our inherent weakness as those still in bodies of flesh.  We too are upheld by an omnipotent Redeemer.

[Isaiah 50]

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