Where we are:
|Part 1: Judgment||Part 2: Historical Interlude||Part 3: Salvation|
|Chapters 1-35||Chapters 36-39||Chapters 40-66|
When this takes place:
Chapter 49 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile and ultimate glory.
Isa. 49:6 – He [the Lord] says, “It is not enough for you to be My servant raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the protected ones of Israel. I will also make you a light for the nations, to be My salvation to the ends of the earth.”
In this chapter and the next, Isaiah prophesies about the Servant of the Lord (the Messiah), His mission, and His obedience to God (the Father). Rejected by His own people (v. 4; John 1:11), the Messiah will restore Israel to the Lord and bring salvation to the Gentiles (vv. 5-6). His mouth is likened to a sharpened sword, a reference to His speaking ministry (v. 2; Rev. 1:16). The name Israel is applied here to the Messiah as the One who fulfills Yahweh’s expectations for His people (v. 3). Verses 15-16 feature one of the strongest statements in Scripture of God’s faithfulness to His people.
In verse 1 the Servant declares, “The Lord called me before I was born. He named me while I was in my mother’s womb.” This Messianic passage speaks both to the deity and humanity of God’s Servant and strikes a common chord between Jesus and others who have been sent to proclaim salvation to mankind. Jeremiah is chosen of God in his mother’s womb (Jer. 1:5), as is John the Baptist (Luke 1:15) and the apostle Paul (Gal. 1:15). The key difference here, as we learn from other Old Testament and New Testament passages, is that Messiah is the eternal Son of God, the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). He existed long before John the Baptist, Jeremiah or even Abraham (John 8:58). Still, He added to his deity sinless humanity so that He would be “a merciful and faithful high priest” (Heb. 2:17).
The Second “Servant Song” (Isa. 49:1-13)
God’s Servant, the Messiah, is the speaker in verses 1-5. He calls not only Israel to hear His voice, but the coastlands (islands) and distant peoples because His message is for all mankind. His words are like a sharpened sword – truth that defends the righteous and destroys the rebellious. Often in Scripture God’s words are likened to a sword (Isa. 1:20; Heb. 4:12; Rev. 1:16, 19:15). They pierce to the very heart, discerning our thoughts and intents, bringing conviction and judgment. For those who repent, God’s word is a comfort and a mighty protector, but to those who rebel, His word is the ultimate destroyer.
Why is the Servant called “Israel” is verse 3? “This cannot refer to the nation because the Servant is to draw that nation back to God. The Messiah is called Israel because He fulfills what Israel should have done. In His person and work He epitomizes the nation” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1103).
In verse 6 Yahweh tells the Servant that He will do more than restore the nation of Israel; He will be “a light for the nations” and “My salvation to the ends of the earth.” The Servant will be “despised” and “abhorred” by people, but ultimately “[k]ings will see and stand up, and princes will bow down” to Him (verse 7). This prophecy is expanded in Isa. 53 where, in verse 6, Isaiah writes, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like one people turned away from; He was despised, and we didn’t value Him.” The Messiah will be rejected by His own people in His first coming (John 1:10-11), but one day all people will acknowledge Him (Phil. 2:10-11). This does not imply that all people will be saved, for the Scripture is clear that those who go to their graves rejecting Christ have chosen to spend eternity apart from Him (Rev. 20:11-15).
Warren Wiersbe adds this observation: “Our Lord could not minister to the Gentiles until first He ministered to the Jews (vv. 5–6). Read carefully Matthew 10:5–6; 15:24; Luke 24:44–49; Acts 3:25–26; 13:46–47; and Romans 1:16. When our Lord returned to heaven, He left behind a believing remnant of Jews that carried on His work. We must never forget that ‘salvation is of the Jews’ (John 4:22). The Bible is a Jewish book, the first believers and missionaries were Jews, and the Gentiles would not have heard the Gospel had it not been brought to them by Jews. Messiah was despised by both Jews and Gentiles (Isa. 49:7), but He did God’s work and was glorified” (Be Comforted, S. Is 49:1).
In verse 8 the terms “time of favor” and “day of salvation” may be a reference to the Millennium, when Messiah sits on the throne of David and fulfills all remaining covenant promises to Israel. Prisoners are told to “come out” and those in darkness are commanded to “[s]how yourselves” (v. 9). The release of Judah from Babylonian captivity will foreshadow that day when God’s kingdom comes in fullness and God’s people are freed from physical suffering and their struggle with sin. The apostle John’s allusion to verse 10 in Rev. 7:17 – “He will guide them to springs of living waters” – may indicate that many Gentiles will join their Jewish brothers and sisters in making Israel their homeland. In fact, the rest of this section tells us that “many will come from far away, from the north and from the west, and from the land of Sinim,” which, according to some scholars, could be a reference to Persia or China (v. 12).
It’s important to remember that the extension of God’s grace to the Gentiles requires the fulfillment of His promises to the Jews. If the Jews are not returned to their homeland, how will Messiah be born in Bethlehem? How will the temple, with its sacrifices that foreshadow the Christ, be built? How will Nazareth be the place He grows up, or Jerusalem be the scene of His teaching, trials, crucifixion and resurrection? All that Yahweh does for the Jews He does with an eye toward all humanity.
Comfort for Jerusalem (Isa. 49:14-23)
This section begins with Zion lamenting, “The Lord has abandoned me” (v. 14). It continues with some of Yahweh’s most tender assurances that He will rescue and exalt His people (vv. 14-23a). And it concludes with God stating His purpose: “Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who put their hope in Me will not be put to shame” (v. 23b). The Lord compares His love for Israel to a mother’s love for her children. Isaiah depicts Israel as a nursing child, completely dependent on the Lord who will never forsake or forget them. “Look, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands,” the Lord says in verse 16. Warren Wiersbe comments: “The high priest bore the names of the tribes of Israel on his shoulders and over his heart (Ex. 28:6–9), engraved on jewels; but God has engraved His children’s names on His hands. The word ‘engraved’ means ‘to cut into,’ signifying its permanence. God can never forget Zion or Zion’s children” (Be Comforted, S. Is 49:1).
Although dark days loom on the horizon for Jerusalem, the Lord assures the people that the best days are yet to come. “As I live,” the Lord declares, “you will wear all your children as jewelry, and put them on as a bride does” (v. 18). Zion may seem like a forgotten mother, but one day her children – the returning inhabitants of Israel – will adorn her like bridal ornaments. In fact, the land will not be large enough to hold them. We know that the exiles who return from Babylon after King Cyrus’ decree are relatively small in number, so the return mentioned in verses 19-21 probably is a reference to Israel’s return at the beginning of the millennium.
In the future, when Israel returns to the land, the Gentiles will worship God, honor the Jews and even help transport them to their homeland. What a startling turn of events from the anti-Semitism that has marred so much of human history. The Lord says the Gentiles “will bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters will be carried on their shoulders” (v. 22). Even more amazing, the world’s leaders will pay homage to God’s people: “Kings will be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. They will bow down to you with their faces to the ground, and lick the dust at your feet” (v. 23). What is the purpose of all this? So the Jews “will know that I am the Lord” (v. 23).
Comfort for the Captives (Isa. 49:24-26)
Isaiah closes the chapter with two poignant questions for the citizens of Judah: Can the prey be taken from the mighty? Can the captives of the tyrant be delivered? After all that Isaiah has said and all that the Lord has declared and done, some of the Jews still lament that their situation is hopeless and their future is bleak. But the Lord clearly is in command, even of the world’s most powerful rulers. Notice how the Lord responds:
- “Even the captives of a mighty man will be taken, and the prey of a tyrant will be delivered” (v. 25). No power on earth will thwart God’s plan for Israel. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus makes it clear that no power in the heavens will stop Him, either. He comes into the world to invade Satan’s kingdom and to bind the strong man (Satan), thus plundering his goods by leading lost sinners into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 12:25-29).
- “I will contend with the one who contends with you, and I will save your children” (v. 25). The Assyrians will be defeated on the hills surrounding Jerusalem – 185,000 in a single night. What’s more, the emerging Babylonians will only succeed for a while in conquering God’s people and then will be brought low. In the last days, the antichrist and his followers who oppose Israel will be cut down by the returning King of kings and Lord of Lords. The best allies of God are allies of God’s people, and the worst enemies of God are the enemies of the Jews.
- “I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh, and they will be drunk with their own blood as with sweet wine” (v. 26). The reference to eating their own flesh could be symbolic of internal strife among the enemies of God’s people (see Isa. 9:20). Drinking their own blood is just retribution for shedding the blood of God’s servants. Sweet wine is fresh and new; a great deal is required to intoxicate someone. Therefore it is an appropriate image of the large quantities of blood that would be required of God’s enemies (see Rev. 14:10, 20; 16:6).
- Finally, Yahweh reminds the people they should be confident in their future deliverance: “Then all flesh will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob” (v. 26).
Matthew Henry comments: “See what will be the effect of Babylon’s ruin: All flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Saviour. God will make it to appear, to the conviction of all the world, that, though Israel seem lost and cast off, they have a Redeemer, and, though they are made a prey to the mighty, Jacob has a mighty One, who is able to deal with all his enemies. God intends, by the deliverances of his church, both to notify and to magnify his own name” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 49:24).
Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips
Where we are:
|Part 1: Judgment||Part 2: Historical Interlude||Part 3: Salvation|
|Chapters 1-35||Chapters 36-39||Chapters 40-66|
When this takes place:
Chapter 45 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile.
Isa. 45:12-13 – “I made the earth, and created man on it. It was My hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host. I have raised him [Cyrus] up in righteousness, and will level all roads for him. He will rebuild My city, and set My exiles free, not for a price or a bribe,” says the Lord of Hosts.
Isaiah prophesies that Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire, will be God’s chosen servant to free the Jewish exiles from Babylonian captivity and restore them to their homeland. The Lord, who “made the earth, and created man on it” (v. 12), will empower Cyrus to crush the Gentile nations for the benefit of Israel and the glory of God.
That the Lord controls human history is evident from His many declarations in this chapter, among them:
- “I will go before you and level the uneven places” (v. 2).
- “I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches from secret places” (v.3).
- “I call you by your name” (v. 4).
- “I will strengthen you, though you do not know me” (v. 5).
- “I make success and create disaster” (v. 7).
- “Woe to the one who argues with his Maker” (v. 9).
- “It was My hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host” (v. 12).
- “Israel will be saved by the Lord” (v. 17).
- “Every knee will bow to Me, every tongue will swear allegiance” (v. 23).
So All May Know (Isa. 45:1-13)
In chapter 44, the Lord names the Persian king who will free the Jews from Babylonian captivity and return them to their homeland – 150 years before this king is born. Cyrus is called “My shepherd” in chapter 44 and now “His anointed” in chapter 45. The word “anointed” refers to the relationship between the Lord and Israel’s first two kings, Saul and David (1 Sam. 10:1, 16:6). Since Israel will have no king in exile, Cyrus will function in this role to bring about God’s blessings. “Like the Messiah (lit. ‘the Anointed One’) who would come after him, Cyrus would have a twofold mission: to free the people, and to bring God’s judgment on unbelievers” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1099).
Cyrus will conquer other nations with God’s help and fill his coffers with their treasures. His defeat of Lydia and Babylon are two examples. All of this is for the sake of God’s people and despite the fact that Cyrus does not acknowledge the Lord as the true God. This is an important lesson in history and contemporary culture. The Lord is sovereign over His creatures and is moving human history to its climax in the “glorious appearing” of Messiah. If He can enable Sampson to use the jawbone of a donkey to smite the Philistines (Judges 15:14-16), empower a donkey to prophesy (Num. 22:22-31) and write with His invisible hand on the wall of a king’s palace (Dan. 5:5), He can use a pagan king to rescue His people and restore them to their homeland. Never think that the success of the wicked is due to a twisted sense of justice on God’s part or His lack of interest in the affairs of mankind. The Lord is omniscient and omnipresent; nothing escapes His attention.
Verses 5-7 emphasize the uniqueness of God, a theme repeated often in chapters 43-46. The Lord is not universally recognized in Cyrus’ day, but the day is coming when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11). The words “light” and “darkness,” “success” and “disaster” in verse 7 are Hebrew expressions of opposites suggesting all that is. Every event in human history comes from the Lord – not that He is the author of evil (James 1:13), but that He is able to turn mankind’s wicked deeds into ultimate good (Gen. 50:20). No one may trick God, or thwart His purposes.
Verse 8 provides a graphic glimpse of the Lord’s ministry during the millennium. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck write, “When the millennial kingdom is established on the earth the heavens, figuratively speaking, will rain down righteousness (God’s standards will be followed). And salvation, like a great harvest, will spring up. That is, people everywhere will know the Lord (cf. v. 6; 11:9; Hab. 2:14)” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1100)
In verses 9-13 it is clear that those who question the Lord’s sovereignty invite His woes. A potsherd, a broken and discarded piece of pottery, has no right to question the potter. Neither does a child have the right to question why her parents brought her into the world. In the same way, Israel has no justification for challenging God’s decision to raise up Cyrus as His “shepherd” and “anointed one” to deliver the Jews from Babylonian bondage. The people may inquire of God and seek to understand His ways, but they must never question His authority, as Maker, to direct human history. The Lord later reminds the Jews, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways…. For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9).
Turn to Me and be Saved (Isa. 45:14-25)
In the millennium, the nations will realize that Israel’s God is the only true God, and they will acknowledge Him. People from Egypt and Cush – and even the Sabeans, known as majestic men of stature – will be subservient to the Jews and declare “there is no other God” (v. 14). Although Isaiah admits that the Lord, at times, seems to hide Himself, He is without a doubt the Savior of Israel. While those who worship false gods will be ashamed because their gods cannot save them, the Jews will never be ashamed because they will enjoy God’s presence throughout eternity. During their coming days in captivity in Babylon, God’s people can count on Him to send Cyrus to deliver them. The Lord offers two proofs. First, He is the Creator of heaven and earth, in complete control of kings and kingdoms. Second, He is truth (see also John 14:6); whatever He speaks is right. God’s people are assured of their redemption because God has determined it and has spoken truthfully that it will come to pass.
The Lord invites the Gentiles who will escape Cyrus’ sword to present their case before Him. The futility of praying to hand-made wooden gods will be exposed, and any case the pagans can muster in favor of idol worship will fall on the deaf ears of gods who “cannot save” and “have no knowledge” (v. 20). Which of the idols can name the Jews’ deliverer a century before his birth? And which of the carved wooden statues can save a nation from exile? Only the God who “announced it from ancient times.” He declares, “There is no God but Me, a righteous God and Savior; there is no one except Me” (v. 21).
The final verses of this chapter mark God’s gracious call to all the world’s inhabitants to repent and be saved. The Lord affirms once again that He is the only true God and, as such, the only means of salvation. “Every knee will bow to Me, every tongue will swear allegiance,” He states in verse 23. The New Testament boldly applies this passage to Christ, directly in Phil. 2:10-11 and indirectly in Rom. 14:9, 11:
- “… so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow – of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11).
- “Christ died and came to life for this: that He might rule over both the dead and the living. But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written: As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to Me, and every tongue will give praise to God” (Rom. 14:9-11).
Even so, many people will continue to rebel against God. And while the Lord allows them to wallow in their sins for a while, ultimately they will be “put to shame” (v. 24). The apostle Paul warns unbelievers that one day they will stand before God “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). The apostle John provides more graphic details of the final judgment of the wicked: “And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15).
However, the redeemed of Israel will rejoice in being justified, or made righteous in the Lord. While this passage is a message of hope to the Jews under siege by the Assyrians, and facing future exile at the hands of the Babylonians, we are not to conclude that all Jews will receive eternal life just because of their nationality. Rather, Isaiah is speaking of a nation of redeemed Jews who have turned from unbelief and embraced their Lord and Savior. By the same token, we are not to assume that only Jews will be saved, for the Lord invites all the nations to turn to Him, and the apostle Paul makes much of the fact that Jews and Gentiles alike are grafted together to make up the people of God (Rom. 11:11-24). John confirms this in Rev. 5:9: “You redeemed [people] for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
Matthew Henry writes: “All true Christians, that depend upon Christ for strength and righteousness, in him shall be justified and shall glory in that. Observe, First, All believers are the seed of Israel, an upright praying seed. Secondly, The great privilege they enjoy by Jesus Christ is that in him, and for his sake, they are justified before God, Christ being made of God to them righteousness…. Thirdly, The great duty believers owe to Christ is to glory in him, and to make their boast of him” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 45:20).
Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips