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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Isaiah 50

God’s remembrance of Zion 49:14-50:3

This pericope focuses on God’s salvation of the Israelites through the future ministry of the Servant. Isaiah used the figure of Zion being the wife of Yahweh to present the Lord’s relationship with His chosen people.

"The Lord assures them of His love by comparing Himself to a compassionate mother (Isaiah 49:14-23), a courageous warrior (Isaiah 49:24-26), and a constant lover (Isaiah 50:1-3)." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 55.]

Verse 1

The Lord continued to speak through His prophet. He addressed again Zion’s charge that God had forsaken and forgotten His people (Isaiah 49:14). He had not issued Israel a certificate of divorce (cf. Deuteronomy 24:1-4); He had not stopped desiring to have her for Himself (cf. Isaiah 49:14-18; Judges 2:14; Judges 3:8; Judges 4:2; Judges 10:7). [Note: See Joe M. Sprinkle, "Old Testament Perspectives on Divorce and Remarriage," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40:4 (December 1997):541, and Richard D. Patterson, "Metaphors of Marriage as Expressions of Divine-Human Relations," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51:4 (December 2008):689-702.] Neither had He sold the Israelites to one of His creditors, since He had none; no one had forced Him to send them into captivity (cf. Isaiah 49:22-26). No, He had temporarily sold the Israelites into captivity because of their own sins (as had been the case with Samaria, cf. Jeremiah 3:8).

Verses 1-3

God’s will and power to deliver 50:1-3

The Lord turned from addressing His "wife" to her children. Both figures describe Israel, collectively and particularly. This pericope is transitional, but it is more of a conclusion to what has preceded than an introduction to what follows. God has both the desire and the ability to save the Israelites from their sin.

Verse 2

The Lord asked two more questions of His people that amount to one. Note the prominence of questions as a teaching device in this chapter (Isaiah 50:1-2; Isaiah 50:8-11). Why had they not responded to His calls for repentance and faith (which came through the prophets)? Had they done so, He implied, He would not have sold them into captivity. Was His lack of deliverance when they called to Him for help the result of His inability to save them? No, He could reach them, and He was strong enough to save them. The figure of God’s hand saving shows that God Himself saves. This is the first of several references to the Lord’s hand or arm in Isaiah, a common figure in the Old Testament for strength (cf. Isaiah 51:5; Isaiah 51:9; Isaiah 52:10; Isaiah 53:1). As Isaiah would reveal, the Lord’s power was great enough not only to rescue the Israelites from captivity, but to provide salvation from sin.

Verses 2-3

The proof of God’s strength is His control over nature. The nature miracles of Jesus proved His deity (cf. Matthew 8:27; Matthew 14:33). In spite of the vast amount of water in the sea, God can dry up the sea. Even though the sky above is apparently limitless, He can make it dark. The images here recall the Creation and the Exodus (cf. Exodus 15:16; Deuteronomy 26:8, Psalms 77:15), but the point is that God has the power to change anything as He chooses.

Verse 4

The "Sovereign Lord" (used four times in this passage, Isaiah 50:5; Isaiah 50:7; Isaiah 50:9) had given (appointed) the Servant the ability to speak as a disciple, namely, as one who had learned from intimate association with the Lord what He should say.

"The title [translated Sovereign Lord] indicates the truth that God is the owner of each member of the human family, and that he consequently claims the unrestricted obedience of all." [Note: Robert B. Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, p. 34.]

His words were to benefit people (cf. John 3:17); they were not for Him simply to enjoy knowing personally.

". . . the Messiah would speak as one to whom God has taught his true message of comfort for those who are weary of sin." [Note: Archer, p. 645.]

Watts identified this servant as Zerubbabel, the post-exilic leader in Jerusalem who was responsible for rebuilding the temple. [Note: Watts, Isaiah 34-66, p. 201.]

"Nothing indicates a tongue befitting the disciples of God, so much as the gift of administering consolation . . ." [Note: Delitzsch, 2:277.]

The Servant’s words had come to Him through daily, direct interaction with the Lord as an obedient disciple (cf. Genesis 3:8; Mark 1:35; Hebrews 5:8).

"The tongue filled with the appropriate word for ministry is the product of the ear filled with the word of God. . . . The morning by morning appointment is not a special provision or demand related to the perfect Servant but is the standard curriculum for all disciples." [Note: Motyer, p. 399. Cf. Wiersbe, p. 56.]

Verses 4-9

The Servant’s confidence 50:4-9

This is the third Servant Song (cf. Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 49:1-6; Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12). Like the second song, this one is autobiographical, but unlike the first and second songs it contains no reference to the Servant. That it is the Servant who is speaking becomes unmistakable in Isaiah 50:10-11, the "tailpiece" of this song. But what the Servant says, even without that specific identification, leaves little doubt that it is He who is speaking. The obedient and faithful Servant, though deeply troubled, expresses confidence in His calling to proclaim the Lord’s Word and in His ultimate vindication. The reason for the Servant’s uneasiness becomes clearer in this passage. It is because obedience to God would lead to physical and emotional suffering (Isaiah 50:5-6). The extent of this suffering comes out most clearly in the fourth song. [Note: See also, F. Duane Lindsey, "The Commitment of the Servant in Isaiah 50:4-11," Bibliotheca Sacra 139:555 (July-September 1982):216-27.]

Verse 5

The Servant claimed to have always responded obediently to whatever God had spoken (cf. John 8:29). Clearly, the Servant could not be Israel or any mere human person or group of people. Opening the ear is something that God had done for Him; He had given the Servant the ability and the desire to hear and respond obediently to the Word of God. On the other hand, the Servant had not turned back from it once He had heard it (cf. Exodus 4:13; Jonah 1:3; Jeremiah 20:9; Jeremiah 20:14).

Verse 6

Disdain and abuse are the inevitable consequences of obeying God consistently by declaring His messages. All the true servants of the Lord experience this to some extent (2 Timothy 3:12). This is only the second reference to the Servant as a sufferer (cf. Isaiah 49:7). This theme receives major exposition in the fourth Servant Song. The Servant said He gave Himself over to this type of treatment. It is one thing to endure such treatment, but it is quite another to gladly submit to it without defending oneself. These descriptions picture persecution that Jesus Christ endured literally (cf. Matthew 26:67; Matthew 27:30; Mark 14:65; Mark 15:16-20; Luke 22:63). If we did not have the fulfillment of this prophecy in the life of the Lord Jesus, it would be easy to interpret this verse as only a figurative, poetic description of suffering. The literal fulfillment of this and other first advent prophecies should encourage us to expect the literal fulfillment of second advent prophecies. Jesus laid down His life on His own initiative (John 10:17-18).

"It would be impossible for any sinful human being, no matter how fine a person he was, to undergo the sufferings herein described without a spirit of rebellion welling up within him. And if a spirit of revenge took hold of him, we might well understand. Even Jeremiah complained at the way he was being used (cf. Jeremiah 20:9; Jeremiah 20:14 ff., and note Job 3). Only one who was entirely without sin could undergo such suffering without a rebellious spirit [cf. 1 Peter 2:22-23]." [Note: Young, 3:301.]

Verse 7

The Servant counted on the help of Almighty God and so refused to feel disgraced; He knew that God would vindicate Him for being faithful to His calling. He had not suffered because He was guilty, as submitting to public humiliation meekly might suggest to observers, but in spite of His innocence. Earlier in this book, Isaiah instructed the Israelites to trust God, rather than the nations, when faced with attack by a hostile enemy (chs. 7-39). The Servant modeled that trust for God’s servant Israel and for all God’s servants. The belief that God would not allow Him to be disgraced in the end, emboldened the Servant to remain committed to fulfilling the Lord’s will (cf. Luke 9:51). God would eventually show that the Servant had not taken a foolish course of action.

Verses 8-9

The Servant could, if He chose to do so, stand up in court and declare His righteousness. No one, such as a prosecuting attorney, could condemn Him by showing Him to be wicked (cf. John 18:38). God would stand near Him as His defense attorney and would vindicate Him (cf. 1 John 2:1-2). The beginning of Jesus’ vindication was His resurrection (cf. Acts 2:23-24; Acts 3:15; Acts 13:29-30).

The end of those who falsely accused the Servant, would be a slow but inevitable wasting away and disintegration, rather than cataclysmic destruction. God did not vindicate Messiah by judging His accusers immediately, in some dramatic way that resulted in people connecting their judgment with their antagonism toward Messiah. Rather, He allowed them to continue to live but to experience a decline in their fortunes (cf. Pilate, Herod, the Jewish leaders, the Gentiles).

"The setting of Isaiah 50:8-9 is clearly forensic, and the trials of Jesus in the Gospels make this peculiarly appropriate." [Note: Grogan, p. 290.]

Obedience to the Servant 50:10-51:8

The following section is a call to listen to the Servant, to follow His example, and so experience God’s salvation. Failure to do so will result in sharing the fate of His opponents (cf. Isaiah 50:9; Isaiah 51:8).

Verse 10

The Lord (Isaiah 50:11) now addressed the Israelites through Isaiah again (cf. Isaiah 50:1). He picked up the "whos" from Isaiah 50:8-9 and asked who among His people feared the Lord and obeyed the instruction of the Servant. Fearing the Lord and obeying the Servant are synonymous. The Israelites too, like the Servant, were walking in darkness, not the darkness of sin but the darkness of being called by God to a mission that involved suffering and misunderstanding (cf. Isaiah 50:6; Isaiah 42:6; Exodus 19:4). Such a people should trust in the reputation and character of the Lord, and rely on Him, like the Servant (cf. Isaiah 50:7-9; Colossians 2:4-7).

Verses 10-11

Walking in light or darkness 50:10-11

This short pericope is another transition. It connects with the third Servant Song, but it introduces a new speaker and develops a different topic. The new subject is the importance of listening to the Servant and the Lord.

Verse 11

The Lord contrasted the way of sorrow, in this verse, with the way of trust, in Isaiah 50:10. The Israelites who refused to trust God and obey the Servant in their dark mission, and instead tried to escape the dark by lighting their own fires, would experience torment. They would encounter this if they refused to trust God for deliverance from the Babylonians, and they would encounter it in their larger relationship with God. The Lord would send them torment, not vindication (cf. Isaiah 50:8-9). The Lord may have been using the figure of a person binding a flaming torch to himself so he could keep his hands free while working his way out of darkness. In such a case, it would have been only too common for people to set their own clothes on fire accidentally. The prophet used fire here to describe human wickedness, not divine wrath.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 50". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.