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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Isaiah 49

Verse 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.

Messiah, as the ideal Israel (Isaiah 49:3), states the object of His mission, His want of success for a time, yet His certainty of ultimate success.

Listen, O isles, unto me. Messiah is here regarded as having been rejected by the Jews (Isaiah 49:4-5), and as now turning to the Gentiles, to whom the Father hath given Him 'for a light and salvation.' "Isles" mean all regions beyond sea.

The Lord hath called me from the womb - (Isaiah 44:2; Luke 1:31; John 10:36.)

From the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name - His name "Jesus" (i:e., God-Saviour) was designated by God before His birth (Matthew 1:21).

Verse 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;

He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword (Isaiah 11:4; Revelation 19:15.) The double office of the Word of God-saving and damnatory-is implied (Isaiah 50:4; John 12:48; Hebrews 4:12).

A polished shaft - (Psalms 45:5.) "Polished" - i:e., free from all rust-implies His unsullied purity, which gives such keenness and power to His words, whether of grace or of condemnation.

In his quiver hath he hid me. Like a sword in its scabbard, or a shaft in the quiver, Messiah, before His appearing, was hid with God, ready to be drawn forth at the moment God saw fit (Hengstenberg): also, always protected by God, as the arrow by the quiver (Isaiah 51:16).

Verse 3

And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.

Thou art my servant, O Israel - applied to Messiah, according to the true import of the name, the Prince who had power with God in wrestling in behalf of man, and who prevails (Genesis 32:28; Hosea 12:3-4). He is also the ideal Israel, the representative-man of the nation (cf. Matthew 2:15 with Hosea 11:1).

In whom I will be glorified - (John 14:13; John 17:1-5.)

Verse 4

Then I said, I have laboured 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.

Then I said. "I" - Messiah.

Laboured in vain - comparatively, in the case of the greater number of His own countrymen, and of His own 'relatives.' "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not" (Isaiah 53:1-3; Luke 19:14; John 1:11; John 7:5). Only one hundred and twenty disciples met in the upper room after His personal ministry was ended (Acts 1:15). Five hundred are mentioned as having at one time seen Him after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:6).

(Yet) surely my judgment (is) with the Lord, and my work with my God - ultimately God will do justice to my cause, and reward (margin for work, cf. Isaiah 40:10; Isaiah 62:11) my labours and sufferings. He was never 'discouraged' (Isaiah 42:4; Isaiah 50:7; Isaiah 50:10). He calmly, in spite of seeming ill success for the time, left the result with God, confident of final triumph (Isaiah 53:10-12; 1 Peter 2:23). So the ministers of Christ (1 Corinthians 4:1-5; 1 Peter 4:19).

Verse 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. Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord. This gives the reason why He was confident that His work would be accepted and rewarded (Isaiah 49:4) - namely, because He is 'glorious in the eyes of Yahweh,' etc.

Though Israel be not gathered - metaphor from a scattered flock, which the shepherd gathers together again. Or, a hen and her chickens (Matthew 23:37). Instead of the text, "not" [ lo' (H3808), the Qeri' has the similar Hebrew word low (H3807a)], 'to Him,' which the parallelism favours. In that case translate, 'And that Israel may be gathered to Him. So five manuscripts read. Also the Septuagint, Chaldaic, Arabic, and Syriac. But the Vulgate supports the English version reading, "not." This, as being the more difficult reading, is less likely to be due to emendation of transcribers.

Yet. Maurer takes it parenthetically, 'for I am glorious, etc., and my God is my strength.' Then (Isaiah 49:6), resuming the words from the beginning of Isaiah 49:5, 'He saith' (I repeat), 'It is a light thing,' etc. Horsley explains, 'notwithstanding the incredulity of the Jews, Messiah shall be glorified in the conversion of the Gentiles,' and ultimately also 'He will be glorified in Israel' (Isaiah 49:3), reading as the English version; but if the Qeri' be read, 'Israel shall at one time or other be gathered, notwithstanding (Isaiah 49:4) their incredulity during Messiah's sojourn on earth.' The English version, as explained by Horsley with the Ketib reading, is the best.

Verse 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.

It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob ... I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles - `It is too little that thou shouldest,' etc. (Hengstenberg) - i:e., It is not enough honour to thee to raise up Jacob and Israel, but I design for thee more-namely, that thou shouldest be the means of enlightening the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6-7; Isaiah 60:3).

Restore the preserved of Israel - namely, those remaining after the judgments of God as the nation-the elect remnant of Israel reserved for mercy. Lowth, with a slight but needless change of the Hebrew, translates for "tribes" ( shibTeey (H7626)) and "preserved" [ nªtsuwreey (H5336), Qeri'; but Kethibh, uwntsireey: the Qeri' is a participle; the Kethibh a form of the adjective, the scions-the branches uwntsuwreey (H5336)]. The Hebrew is from naatsar (H5341), to preserve.

Verse 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.

Thus saith the Lord, the Reedemer of Israel ... to him whom man despiseth - Hebrew, the despised of soul; i:e., by every soul, by all men (Isaiah 52:14-15; Isaiah 53:3; Isaiah 50:6-9; Psalms 22:6). Lowth translates, 'whose person is despised.'

To him whom the nation abhorreth - literally, who is an abomination to the nation (Luke 23:18-23). The Jews contemptuously call Him always Tolvi, 'the crucified.' I prefer, on account of Goi, the Hebrew term for nation, being usually applied to the Gentiles, and that for people to the Jews (Hosea 1:9; so the Greek terms respectively also Laos and Ethne, Romans 9:25), to take "nation" here collectively for the Gentile world, which also spurned him (Psalms 2:1-3; Acts 4:25-27).

To a servant of rulers. He paid the customary tribute for the support of religion (Matthew 17:27). He would not exert His power against the rulers (Matthew 26:52-53).

Kings shall see - namely, the fulfillment of God's promises (Isaiah 49:3; Isaiah 49:6), when He shall be a light to the Gentiles.

And arise - to reverence thee (Psalms 72:10-11; Philippians 2:10).

Princes also - rather, for the parallelism, supply the ellipsis, thus, 'princes shall see and shall worship.'

Because of the Lord that is faithful - namely, to His promises.

And he shall choose thee - as God's elect (Isaiah 42:1).

Verse 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;

Thus saith the Lord, In an acceptable time have I heard thee. Messiah is represented as having asked for the grace of God in behalf of sinners: this verse contains God the Father's favourable answer.

An acceptable time - `In a time of grace' (Hengstenberg): Hebrew, bª`eet (H6256) raatsown (H7522): in the time of God's goodwill. A limited time (Isaiah 61:2; 2 Corinthians 6:2). The time judged by God to be the best fitted for effecting the purposes of His grace by Messiah.

Have I heard thee - (Psalms 2:7-8; Hebrews 5:7.)

In a day of salvation - when "the fullness of time" (Galatians 4:4) shall have come. The day of salvation is "today" (Hebrews 4:7).

Have I helped thee - given thee the help needed to enable thee, as man, to accomplish man's salvation.

I will preserve thee - from the assaults and efforts of Satan to divert thee from thy voluntary death to save man.

Covenant of the people - (note, Isaiah 42:6.) "The people," in the singular (Hebrew, `am (H5971)), is always applied exclusively to Israel.

To establish the earth - rather, 'to restore the land,' namely, Canaan, to Israel. Spiritually, the restoration of the Church (the spiritual Israel) to the heavenly land forfeited by man's sin is also included.

To cause to inherit the desolate heritages - image from the desolate state of Judea during the Babylonian captivity. Spiritually, the Gentile world, a moral waste, shall become a garden of the Lord. Literally, Judea, lying desolate for ages, shall he possessed again by Israel (cf. Isaiah 61:7, "in their land they shall possess the double"). Jesus, the antitype of, and bearing the same name as, Joshua (Hebrews 4:8), shall, like him, divide the land among its true heirs (Isaiah 54:3; Isaiah 61:4).

Verse 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.

That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth - (Isaiah 42:7; Zechariah 9:12.)

Prisoners - the Jews bound in legal bondage.

To them that (are) in darkness - the Gentiles having no light as to the one true God (Vitringa).

Show yourselves - not only see, but be seen by others (Matthew 5:16; Mark 5:19). Come forth from the darkness of your prison into the light of the Sun of righteousness, in order that others may be attracted to walk in the light of the Lord.

They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places. In a desert there are no "ways," nor "high places," with "pastures;" thus the sense is: They shall have their pastures, not in deserts, but in cultivated and inhabited places. Laying aside the figure, the churches of Christ at the first shall be gathered, not in obscure and unknown regions, but in the most populous parts of the Roman empire-Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, etc. (Vitringa.) Another sense, probably, is the ultimate one meant-Israel, on its way back to the Holy Land, shall not have to turn aside to devious paths in search of necessaries, but shall find them in all places wherever their route lies. So Rosenmuller, God will supply them as if He should make the grass grow in the trodden ways and on the barren high places.

Verse 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.

They shall not hunger nor thirst. Messiah will abundantly satisfy all the wants both of literal Israel on their way to Palestine, and of the spiritual on their way to heaven, as their Shepherd (Isaiah 65:13; Matthew 5:6); also in heaven (Revelation 7:16-17).

Verse 11

And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted.

My - all things are God's.

Mountains a way - I will remove all obstructions out of the way (Isaiah 40:4).

Highways shall be exalted - i:e., cast up (Isaiah 57:14; Isaiah 62:10); for instance, over valleys. Vitringa explains "mountains" as great kingdoms-Egypt, Syria, etc.-subjected to Rome to facilitate the spreading of the Gospel: "highways," the Christian doctrine wherein those who join the Church walk, and which, at the time of Constantine, was to be raised into prominence before all, and publicly protected (Isaiah 35:8-9).

Verse 12

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

Behold, these shall come from far ... and these from the land of Sinim. The Arabians and other Asiatics called China Sin, or Tchin: the Chinese had no special name for themselves, but either adopted that of the reigning dynasty or some high-sounding titles. This view of "Sinim" suits the context, which requires a people to be meant "from far," and distinct, from those "from the north and from the west" (Gesenius).

Verse 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.

So Revelation 12:12.

For the Lord ... will have mercy upon his afflicted - God will have mercy on the afflicted, because of His compassion on afflicted, because of His covenant.

Verse 14

But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.

But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me - The literal Israel's complaint, as if God had forsaken her in the Babylonian captivity; also in their dispersion previous to their future restoration (Isaiah 40:27). Thereby God's mercy, shall be called forth (Isaiah 63:15-19; Psalms 77:9-10; Psalms 102:17).

Verse 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.

Can a woman forgot her sucking child? - (Isaiah 44:21; Psalms 103:13; Matthew 7:11.)

Verse 16

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

Graven thee upon the palms of (my) hands - alluding to the Jews' custom (perhaps drawn from Exodus 13:9) of puncturing on their hands a representation of their city and temple, in token of zeal for them (Lowth). (Song of Solomon 8:6.)

Verse 17

Thy children shall make haste; thy destroyers and they that made thee waste shall go forth of thee.

Thy children shall make haste. "Thy children" - Israel's (Isaiah 49:20-21; Isaiah 43:6) (Jerome). The Septuagint and Chaldaic read, for "Thy children" ( baanaayik (H1121)), 'Thy builders' ( bonayik (H1129)): they that destroyed thee shall hasten to build thee.

Haste - to rebuild thy desolate capital.

Thy destroyers ... shall go forth - thy destroyers shall leave Judea to Israel in undisturbed possession.

Verse 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.

Lift up thine eyes ... all these gather themselves together ... thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all, as with an ornament. As Zion is often compared to a bride (Isaiah 54:5), so the accession of converts is like bridal ornaments ("jewels," Isaiah 62:3; Malachi 3:17). Her literal children are, however, more immediately meant as the context refers to their restoration, and only secondarily to her spiritual children by conversion to Christ. Israel shall be the means of the final complete conversion of the nations (Micah 5:7; Romans 11:12; Romans 11:15).

And bind them (on thee) as a bride (doeth) - namely, binds on her ornaments.

Verse 19

For thy waste and thy 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.

The land of thy destruction - thy land, once the scene of destruction.

Shall even now be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants - (Isaiah 54:1-2; Zechariah 10:10.)

Verse 20

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

The children which thou shall have, after thou hast lost the other - literally, The children of thy bereavements (cf. Isaiah 54:1). Maurer explains, the children of whom thou hast been bereft during their dispersion in other lands (note, Isaiah 47:8) (Maurer).

Shall say again - rather, yet.

Give place to me that I may dwell - Hebrew, gªshaah (H5066) liy (H3807a) wª'eesheebaah (H3427). Horsley and Maurer translate, stand close to me-namely, in order that we may be the more able to dwell in the narrow place. But Gesenius supports the English version, in favour of which cf. Genesis 19:9. The Septuagint, Vulgate, Chaldaic, Arabic, and Syriac translate also, make room for me-withdraw from me, that I may have space wherein to dwell. Compare, as to Israel's spiritual children, and the extension of the Gospel sphere (Romans 15:19; Romans 15:24; 2 Corinthians 10:14-16). But Isaiah 49:22 (cf. Isaiah 66:20) shows that her literal children are primarily meant.

Verse 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?

Then shalt thou say in thine heart, Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children? - Zion's joyful wonder at the unexpected restoration of the Ten tribes. Secondarily, the accession of spiritual Israelites to the mother-church of Jerusalem from the Gentiles is meant. This created surprise at first (Acts 10:45; Acts 14:27; Acts 15:3-4).

And am desolate, a captive, and removing to and fro - or, 'and removed;' i:e., put away, wªcuwraah (H5493); pual participle, meaning the same as the Hophal (Maurer). She had been 'put away' by Yahweh, her husband (Isaiah 50:1); hence, her wonder at the children begotten to her.

Verse 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.

Lift up mine hand - i:e., beckon to them (note, Isaiah 13:2).

Set up my standard (Isaiah 11:12 ) ... they shall bring thy sons in (their) arms - the Gentiles shall aid in restoring Israel to its own land (Isaiah 60:4; Isaiah 66:20). Children able to support themselves are carried on the shoulders in the East; but infants, in the arms, or astride on one haunch (Isaiah 66:12). "Thy sons" must be distinct from "the Gentiles," who carry them; and therefore cannot primarily refer to converts among the Gentiles.

Verse 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.

And kings ... shall ... lick up the dust of thy feet - i:e., kiss thy feet in token of humbled submission.

For they shall not be ashamed that wait for me. The restoration of Israel shall be in answer to their prayerful waiting on the Lord (Isaiah 30:18-19; Psalms 102:16-17; Zechariah 12:10; Zechariah 14:3).

Verse 24

Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered?

Shall the prey - Israel, long a prey to mighty Gentile nations, whose oppression of her shall reach its highest point under Antichrist (Daniel 11:36-37; Daniel 11:41; Daniel 11:45).

Be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered - i:e., be delivered; the Jews justly consigned for their sins (Isaiah 1:1) as captives the foe. Secondarily, Satan and Death are "the mighty" conquerors of man, upon whom his sin gives them their "lawful" claim. Christ, the Go'el, or Redeemer, answers that claim for the sinners, and so the captive is set free (Job 19:25; Job 14:14; Matthew 12:29; Hosea 6:2, where Isaiah 49:4 and Isaiah 5:14-15 show the primary reference is to Israel's restoration, to which the resurrection corresponds; Isaiah 26:19; Ephesians 4:8; Hebrews 2:14-15). Maurer, not so well, translates, 'the captives taken from among the just (i:e., the godly Israelites) - literally, as margin, the captivity of the just.

Verse 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.

But thus saith the Lord, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away - (Isaiah 53:12; Psalms 68:18; Colossians 2:15).

The prey of the terrible shall be delivered - in answer to the question, Isaiah 49:24 'Shall the lawful captive be delivered?' Death is "terrible," because it has man's 'sin' as its 'sting;' and "the strength of sin is the Law" whereby man has become Death's "lawful captive" (1 Corinthians 15:56).

For I will contend with him that contendeth with thee - (Isaiah 54:17.)

Verse 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 Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob.

I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh - a phrase for internal strifes (Isaiah 9:20).

They shall be drunken with their own blood - a just retribution for their having shed the blood of God's servants (Revelation 16:6).

As with sweet wine - i:e., must, or new wine, the pure juice which flows from the heap of grapes before they are pressed; the ancients could preserve it for a long time, so as to retain its flavour. It was so mild that it required a large quantity to intoxicate; thus the idea here is that very much blood would be shed (Revelation 14:10; Revelation 14:20).

All flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Saviour - the effect on the world of God's judgments (Isaiah 66:15-16; Isaiah 66:18-19; Revelation 15:3-4).

Remarks: The word which proceedeth out of the mouth of the Son of God, is "like a sharp sword" with two edges, opening a passage for the saving entrance of the truth into some, and cutting asunder those who perversely reject the offer of salvation. "From the womb" Messiah was designated by "name" to be the Saviour. He was sent forth, by the Father as a "polished shaft," heretofore 'hid in his quiver,' but now manifested in due time. God is "glorified" in Jesus, who is the true "Israel," the Prince with God who prevails in His conflict for man's salvation by His inherent righteousness. Many were the discouragements which He had to encounter; and often He seemed to 'spend His strength for sought, and in vain;' but His invincible faith assures Him that His cause was in the hands of His God, and therefore must ultimately triumph.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Isaiah 49". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.