Partner with as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Isaiah 50

Verse 1

This remarkable chapter contains the beginning of what is called "The Third Servant Song," although the word "servant" does not appear in it. Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 49:1-6; and Isaiah 52:13-53:12, are reckoned as the three, along with what is written here. "The first two songs emphasized the Servant's mission; the third one, however, treats of his obedience, and of his steadfast endurance under persecution. Because of the song's description of the growing hostility toward the Servant, North entitled it: `The Gethsemane of the Servant.'"[1]

Some, of course, dispute the fact that the chapter is principally a reference to Our Saviour's patience under shameful persecutions and trials; but Barnes has listed the following reasons why the passage could not possibly refer to anyone else except Jesus Christ:

"(1) The words of Isaiah 50:6 cannot be applied to anyone else except Christ. (2) The Messianic meaning of the chapter has almost unanimously been upheld throughout the centuries by the Christian Church. (3) All that is here said of humiliation, submission, patience, and trust in God applies eminently to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to no other one. (4) The closing part which promises terrible vengeance upon his foes cannot be applied to anyone except our Lord. (5) In Luke 18:31,32, our Lord specifically mentioned prophecies recorded in this chapter, flatly declaring that `all these things shall be accomplished unto the Son of man.'"[2]

The reason listed by Barnes as the fifth in the above list is alone sufficient to justify the conclusion that this chapter is Messianic.

The chapter naturally divides into two parts, Isaiah 49:1-3 and Isaiah 49:4-11.

Isaiah 50:1-3

"Thus saith Jehovah, Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement, wherewith I have put her away? of which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities were ye sold, and for transgressions was your mother put away. Wherefore, when I came was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? Behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness; their fish stink, because there is no water, and die for thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness, and make sackcloth their covering."

It is acutely distressing to this student that many respected commentators use this passage to declare that God never divorced the Southern Israel, namely Judah, whereas the passage teaches the opposite. Of course, God divorced Israel, as absolutely proved by the prophet Hosea in his symbolical marriage with adulterous Gomer. Read my exposition of Hosea in Vol. 2 of my series on the minor prophets; and there is utterly no way to restrict the application of the divorce that put away Gomer to the Northern Israel alone. Yes, Hosea mentioned God's triple betrothal to Jezreel, but that referred to the New Israel of the Church of God, and not to the old adulterous nation of Israel.

We are glad indeed that Kelley discerned the truth on this passage. See footnote 3.

"Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement ...?" (Isaiah 50:1). "This does not mean, however, that no divorce occurred. Israel was indeed sent away (Malachi 2:16)."[3] By the same token, the passage does not mean that Israel was not sold; what is meant by both of these metaphors is that "The bill of Israel's divorcement showed that Israel's shameful wickedness was the reason behind it, and not some capricious action on the part of God; and that Israel was indeed sold for iniquities! They sold themselves! The first part of Isaiah 50:1 is the equivalent of God's merely asking Israel to "look at the record!" Note what the latter half of Isaiah 50:1 emphatically states as fact:

"Behold, for your iniquities were ye sold, and for your transgressions was your mother put away (divorced)."

The plain thrust of this passage is, as stated by Jamieson, "God is saying, It was not from any caprice of mine, but through your own fault that your mother was put away, and that you were sold."[4]

Of course, in the case of Gomer in Hosea, her husband did indeed buy her back from a life of adultery and slavery. He brought her back home indeed, but not as a wife. See Hosea 3:3.

We agree with Cheyne that these first three verses appear to be another echo of the question raised in the previous chapter (Isaiah 49:14), in which the people were critical of God Himself and inclined to blame the Lord with their troubles. "This looks like a second reply on God's part to that complaint."[5]

"Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? ..." (Isaiah 50:2). "The Messiah is the speaker here and in the following verses; he complains of the inattention and unbelief of the Jewish people."[6] Cheyne believed that, "`When I came' can be a reference only to Jehovah,"[7] because of the power claimed by the speaker in the same verse; but we believe that the problem is solved in the truth that Christ the Messiah is indeed God come in the flesh. Therefore, we have here a prophecy of the Incarnation, that indeed being the only occasion when God "came" to men in the person of his Son; and this, of course, is an implied prophecy of the Virgin Birth as well, that being the only means by which God could indeed have become a man. The Incarnation and the Virgin Birth are interdependent twin wonders, neither of them being possible without the other. No unbeliever has ever suggested that God could have entered our earth life as a man by any other device whatever except by the Virgin Birth. That is the reason, apparently, for God's mentioning both together in Isaiah 7:14: "Behold THE VIRGIN shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (God with us)."

The wonders God mentioned in Isaiah 50:2,3 may suggest some of the great wonders performed in the Exodus; but evidently far greater powers are in view here. In Revelation 6:12 reveals that on the occasion of the final judgment the sun will become black as sackcloth. "The Egyptian plague of darkness (Exodus 10:21,22) is not adequate to the expressions used here. God means to assert his power to have all nature in total darkness if he so chooses, a power necessarily belonging to him who said, `Let there be light; and there was light.'"[8]

The concluding eight verses of the chapter are often referred to as, "A soliloquy of the Servant of Jehovah,"[9] the Messiah. We shall look at these verses one at a time.

Verse 4

"The Lord Jehovah hath given me the tongue of them that are taught, that I may know how to sustain with words him that is weary: he waketh morning by morning, he waketh mine ear to hear as they that are taught."

This explains the supernatural wisdom of Jesus Christ. The Father from above supernaturally endowed him with intelligence, knowledge, and wisdom beyond everything ever known by mere mortal men. Many of God's prophets received revelations from God, but only of Messiah was it declared that "God's Spirit rested upon him" (Isaiah 42:1). "God held immediate and constant communication with the Servant, not enlightening him only occasionally, as with other prophets ... `Morning by morning' is not to be limited to the bare literal meaning but should be taken in the sense of `uninterruptedly.'"[10]

Verse 5

"The Lord Jehovah hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward."

There is great solemnity of the sacred language. Note that the double name of Jehovah ([~'Adonay] [~Yahweh]) appears four times in Isaiah 50:4,5,7,9. The mission to which Christ was called involved the ultimate in hardship, rejection, hatred, persecution, torture and death; but unlike many prophets before Christ, our Lord was not rebellious, as was Jonah; he did not complain, as did Jeremiah; nor did he even shrink from the task, as did Moses. Christ delivered not his own message, but the message of the Father (John 7:16; 8:28b, and 12:49). Only Christ ever did anything like that. Today we are challenged to hear because: some Pope has delivered an encyclical, a bishop has spoken, the General Synod has issued a statement, or the Conference has decided something! If one wishes to know what Almighty God has declared, he shall find it in the sayings of Jesus and nowhere else.

Verse 6

"I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting."

Luke 18:31,32 records Jesus' quotation of things mentioned in this verse, declaring that all these things would be accomplished unto the Son of Man; and the gospels faithfully relate how practically all of the things mentioned here were actually done unto Jesus. Cheyne pointed out that plucking the hair off the cheeks is not specifically reported in the gospels as something endured by Jesus, and supposed that the expression was figurative.[11] The very fact, however, that such indignities were often inflicted by such men as mocked the Christ is the only proof needed that this too was fulfilled upon the Lord. Besides that, our prophecy states that he gave his cheeks to the men who did such things; and that Jesus most certainly did. Furthermore, Christ stated in Luke 18:31 that "all the things" written in the prophets concerning him would be accomplished; and we cannot believe the plucking of the hair off the cheeks was omitted. This is another instance where the whole truth is discovered only by taking into account both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Another instance is that of the piercing of Jesus' feet in the crucifixion.

Verse 7

"For the Lord Jehovah will help me; therefore have I not been confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame."

Cheyne compared Jesus and Job, noting that, "Whereas Job, the type of a righteous man, shrinks in terror from the issue (of terrible suffering), the Servant, human and yet superhuman in nature, has no doubt as to a favorable result."[12] He set his face like a flint to do God's will. Luke, especially, was impressed with this trait in our Lord's personality. See Luke 9:51.

Verse 8

"He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? let us stand up together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me."

The one who was near to Jesus and who would surely justify him was God the Father. He justified Jesus when he raised him from the dead. "By the resurrection, God acquitted Christ of the charge of blasphemy upon which he had been condemned, and by that resurrection proclaimed him to be, `holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners.'"[13] (See Hebrews 7:26).

Verse 9

"Behold, the Lord Jehovah will help me; who is he that shall condemn me? behold, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up."

These words are strongly suggestive of Paul's words in Romans 8:31, "If God be for us, who can be against us!"

"They all shall wax old as a garment ..." This is also declared to be true of the heavens themselves (Hebrews 1:10-12). If Christ shall indeed survive to see the end of the sidereal universe, infinitely less would be the chances that any of his earthly foes could outlast the Lord!

"The idea here is that Messiah would survive all their attacks; his cause, his truth, and his reputation would live, while all the power, influence and reputation of his adversaries would vanish just like a garment that is worn out and thrown away."[14]

Verse 10

"Who is among you that feareth Jehovah, that obeyeth the voice of his Servant? he that walketh in darkness and hath no light, let him trust in the name of Jehovah, and rely upon his God."

This is an address to faithful believers in God of all generations, and especially to the church of our own times. We like what Jamieson said about this.

"God never had a son who was not sometimes in the dark, for Christ himself cried, `My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' A godly man's way may be dark, but his end shall be peace and light. A wicked man's way may be bright, but his end shall be utter darkness."[15]

Verse 11

"Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that gird yourselves about with firebrands; walk ye in the flame of your fire, and among the brands that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of my hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow."

Wardle summarized the meaning of Isaiah 50:10,11 thus:

"Let the pious Jew hear the Servant's voice, and despite his pitiful plight trust in Jehovah. Those who kindle the flames of persecution and strife shall become the victims of their own fire, and by his doom shall lie in a place of flame (Gehenna may be meant)."[16]

If Wardle's interpretation of Isaiah 50:11 is correct (as in Footnote No. 16, above), then the most remarkable fulfillment of it took place when the nation of the Jews stirred up the Roman government against the Christians and enlisted their support against the Church, with the result that Rome indeed tried to stamp out Christianity; but Rome soon learned that Christianity was indeed a true derivative of Judaism; and armed with that information, they decided to stamp out Judaism as well. The resulting Jewish war culminated in the utter destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. bythe armies of Vespasian and Titus. Thus the apostate, hardened, and rejected Israel perished in the flames they themselves had kindled.

This may not be the only application of the passage, because it is always true that people who stir up troubles for others sometimes entrap themselves, as did Haman who perished upon the very gallows he had erected for the purpose of hanging Mordecai (Esther 5:14-7:10).

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 50". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.