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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Isaiah 49

Overview main part 2.2 – Isaiah 49-57

The Gospel of the Servant of the LORD

The second part of the second main part (Isaiah 40-66) contains Isaiah 49-57 and can be divided as follows:
1. The servant of the LORD and the restoration of Israel (Isaiah 49:1-26).
2. Israel’s sin and the obedience of the Servant (Isaiah 50:1-11)
3. Listen! Awake! (Isaiah 51:1-23)
4. Depart! (Isaiah 52:1-52:12)
5. The Man of Sorrows and His Justification (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)
6. God’s glorious future for Jerusalem (Isaiah 54:1-17)
7. Effectiveness of God’s Word of grace (Isaiah 55:1-13)
8. Salvation extended to the wronged (Isaiah 56:1-8)
9. God’s message for the wicked (Isaiah 56:9-57:21)

Introduction on Isaiah 49

The purpose of the second main part of Isaiah (Isaiah 40-66) is the work of God in the heart of His people to work conversion. Only then God can cause the remnant to return and redeem them.

In the first part (Isaiah 40-48) of this second main part the contrast between God and the idols is extensively painted. This will effect a total condemnation of idolatry in the hearts of the remnant, especially with regard to the idolatry that will become public under the antichrist in the time of the great tribulation.

In the second part (Isaiah 49-57), the eyes of the remnant, like the eyes of Saul of Tarsus, are opened to the suffering of Christ, Whom they persecuted and rejected. They will look on Him Whom they have pierced (Zec 12:10; Rev 1:7). This, as with Saul, will bring about a total turn. They will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only son (Zec 12:10b). They will humble themselves.

Just like the brothers of Joseph who recognize and acknowledge their ‘brother’ as viceroy of Egypt, they will accept Christ. We will recognize this in the coming chapters, with Isaiah 53 as the climax. After the restoration of Israel we then see the blessings for Israel (Isaiah 54), and then hear how the nations are called to join Israel to share in the blessings of the kingdom (Isaiah 55-57).

We have in this chapter, Isaiah 49, the second of four prophecies or songs about the Servant of the LORD. The previous prophecy (Isaiah 42) is about the Servant as the Chosen One. Here it is about Him as the Rejected One.

This chapter has two subjects: the testimony of the Servant of the LORD, Who He is (Isa 49:1-13), and the comforting promise for the desperate Zion (Isa 49:14-26). There is a renewed connection of Israel as the servant of the LORD with Christ as the perfect Servant of the LORD. Israel cannot be in that relationship as the servant of the LORD apart from the identification with the true Servant Christ as their Messiah because of His atoning and redeeming work on Calvary.

The need for repentance before restoration is possible, even after 2,000 years, shows that sin never expires. Likewise, after so many years, Joseph’s brothers had to repent before the blessings could come and their relationship with their rejected brother, who was now viceroy, could be restored. This repentance only became apparent at the moment that for them the feelings of their father were more important than their own well-being.

So it is with the people of Israel now. Before the promised blessings of God for these people can be given by Him, they must first come to terms with God regarding the sin that they have rejected Christ. They also need to see what that sin means to God. Then all of a sudden they will discover that Christ on the cross blotted out their sins, just as Joseph’s brothers discovered that through their rejection of him, God used him and sent him to save a great people (Gen 45:5; Gen 50:20).

Verses 1-7

The Servant of the LORD


This section is about the good news, not primarily for Israel, but for the nations (Isa 49:1; Isa 49:6). They are called to listen with the call “listen to Me” (Isa 49:1; cf. Isa 46:3; 12). It is the task of the people of Israel as the servant of the LORD to bring the salvation of God to the nations in the distance. Israel is called (Isa 51:2) as the servant of the LORD to proclaim His praise (Isa 43:21) to the nations (Rom 2:17-20). In this, however, Israel has failed miserably (Rom 2:24). The LORD calls out about this servant: “Who is blind but My servant, or so deaf as My messenger whom I send? (Isa 42:19a).

Like Adam, the first man, Israel failed as a son, servant and vine. But then God sends the Lord Jesus. He is the last Adam and the second Man (1Cor 15:45-47), the true Son whom He called out of Egypt (Mt 2:15), the true Servant (Isa 42:1; Isa 49:3; 5; 6; 7; Isa 50:10; Isa 53:11) and the true Vine (Jn 15:1).

The Calling One here is the true Servant of the LORD, the Messiah, Who with Divine authority calls the nations to hear. The Called One in the second part of Isa 49:1 also refers to the Lord Jesus, the true Servant, Who has come in the place of Israel. Here we see the wonder of His Person which we do not understand. He is truly God and truly Man. He is God from eternity, Who in the time determined by God has become Man.

His Name is called by the LORD “from the womb”. His Name is not mentioned here, but only just before and just after He is conceived. Then it is said to both Joseph and Mary that the Son Who is to be born must be given the name Jesus (Mt 1:21; Lk 1:35).

Christ is called to bring salvation for His people and also for the nations. He does this by using the sword of the Word of God (Eph 6:17; Mt 10:34). His mouth is a sharp sword that is inconspicuous, but always ready to use to judge anything that is contrary to the will of God. The Pharisees and Sadducees have experienced the sharpness of His words. He grew up in the shadow of God’s hand, under His protection. Like a selected arrow, God has hidden Him in His quiver. The time to defeat His enemies had not yet come.

The identification of Christ with Israel appears in Isa 49:3. The LORD will glorify Himself in Christ as the true Israel (cf. Jn 13:31-32). The true Servant takes the place of the failing Israel and gives the Israel of God its true meaning. It is the same with Israel that failed as a vine (Isa 5:1-7), for which the Lord Jesus became the true vine instead (Jn 15:1). Israel as a vine has given in Him his true fruit to God.

In view of the bitter experiences that will precede the time of glory for Israel, the time when God will glorify Himself in Christ in His people, Isa 49:4 expresses what resembles great dejection. Here the rejection of Christ is foretold (Jn 1:11). For a moment it looks as if this Servant too has been toiling in vain. Yet it is not an expression of unbelief or despair, for the heart immediately expresses the certainty of the truth that all justice is in God’s hand (cf. Mt 11:20-24; Mt 11:25-30).

The service we do often seems to have little or no result. To the fruitlessness are added extremely difficult circumstances and trials that can weigh down our hearts as an enormous burden. If satan could carry out his intention, he would use everything to throw us down in desperation to make us stop doing our work. Then we have here a section that is meant by the Spirit to lead us to consider all circumstances in the light of all God’s wise counsels.

The result will be that in the midst of the battle we will be encouraged to share in what He has in mind. We will then know that our justice is with Him. If we are aware of that, we may, like the Lord Jesus, entrust everything “to Him who judges righteously” (1Pet 2:23b). Then we may trust that with Him is the reward for our seemingly fruitless work.

The language of Isa 49:5 and what follows is clearly that of the Messiah, Who here gives testimony of the purpose for which He is Servant of the LORD. It is clear that the servant here is not Israel, for the servant’s task here is precisely to restore Jacob, the failing servant (Rom 15:8; Mt 15:24). Only Christ can do the work of bringing back and gathering to Him. This work is particularly pleasing to the Father Who honors Him for it. He did not receive that honor from the people.

There is also a purpose that goes even further. This is written in Isa 49:6. The joyful heart of the LORD looks forward to a worldwide blessing. When Israel has rejected the Servant, He will receive much more, while also the blessing for Israel is not definitively lost, but will come. The bringing back of Jacob will happen by delivering the people from Babylon and by what will happen in the end time. The raising up of “the tribes of Jacob” means the restoration of all twelve tribes in the land. In the end time this also means the restoration of the ten tribes realm after the great tribulation.

“And to restore the preserved ones of Israel” means that the remnant of the two tribes, the Jews, will repent. They have rejected Christ and they will take the first place in the restoration. We see that in picture in the history of Joseph with Judah, who took a prominent place both in the rejection of Joseph and in the restoration of relations with Joseph (Gen 37:26-27; Gen 44:18-34).

Isa 49:6 also applies to the work of the gospel to be preached by the command of the Lord throughout the world, to the ends of the earth. Thus Paul applies this verse for today (Acts 13:46-47). Grace cannot be stopped, nor can running water. That water, if stopped, will take a different course and go somewhere else.

Thus the grace of God, rejected by Israel, now flows to the nations. The full fulfillment will happen in the realm of peace through Christ Who will be “A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Lk 2:32). By being a light to the nations, the Servant will fulfill the task of Israel to be a blessing in this world.

In Isa 49:7 we are reminded again of the time of humiliation of the Servant. The LORD speaks a word directly to Him. His humiliation is the necessary basis to bring about the work of saving grace. That is why He is called “the despised One” (cf. Isa 53:3). The people have abhorred Him and treated Him like that. As “the Servant of rulers” the Lord Jesus has identified Himself with His people because that people are also subject to foreign rulers as a servant (Neh 9:36-37). There is a difference, however, because they are subject because of their unfaithfulness to their God, while Christ has subjected Himself voluntarily.

Thus, in the days of His flesh, Christ subjected Himself to the Roman rulers and religious rulers and surrendered Himself to their will. He seems to be the great Loser, but the result of all this will be seen in the coming glory. Then rulers will “see and arise” and “bow down” before Him Who once made Himself their Servant. They will discover Who it is Who they have brought to the cross. Isa 49:7 is a preparation for what we will encounter in the third and fourth prophecy about the servant of the LORD.

Verses 8-13

Delivered and on Their Way to Their Land


Isa 49:8 tells how the LORD has answered the prayer of His Servant when He is in humility among His people and He has offered up to Him “both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears” (Heb 5:7). When God raises Him from the dead, it is “a favorable time”. This word is applied by Paul to the believers (2Cor 6:1-2), through which we perceive here in veiled terms the relationship between Christ and His church, who may share in the blessings of the new covenant. Those who share His rejection may draw comfort from this promise of a favorable time while living in a time of rejection.

Because Christ has identified Himself with Israel, these words will also become true for the people who, in their restored state, are in fellowship with Him. The fact that Christ has been made “a covenant of the people” points to the new covenant that will soon be made with Israel. That covenant is new and better because it is based on the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross and rests on the power of His shed blood, the blood of the new covenant.

“The desolate heritages” point to the devastation that Israel will endure as a result of the invasion of the king of the North, or the alliance of Arab nations. That which has been destroyed will be restored, they will “inherit” it again. Each tribe of the people will regain its hereditary possession (Lev 25:8-13; Eze 47:13-14; Eze 48:29). Prisoners in exile will be delivered and restored to their land. There they will manifest themselves as His people (Isa 49:9a).

The verses that follow give a wonderful description of the consequences of the second coming of Christ. These consequences go far beyond anything that takes place at the return to the land under the command of Cyrus. The people are painted as a herd returning home and finding pasture on the way (Isa 49:9b). They will have enough food on their journey home without having to go far to find food. They will not be hungry or thirsty and will not suffer from the heat (Isa 49:10). All this is because the LORD is “He who has compassion” Who will lead them in Person.

On their return from all parts of the world, their journeys will be marked by the fact that they will not encounter insurmountable obstacles and difficulties (Isa 49:11). The LORD speaks emphatically of “My mountains” and “My ways”. They are His creation and therefore He can make a change in them in a way that everything will favor the return of His people and make them prosperous.

We can also apply this to our current experiences. The mountains of difficulties we face on our pilgrim path can become heights of fellowship with God and of joyful fellowship with His people. This will be so if we trust the Lord with all our heart and entrust our whole being to Him for the fulfillment of His will.

In the coming day Israel will meet from all parts of the world to the earthly center assigned to them (Isa 49:12). By “the west” can be meant Western Europe and the United States of America as well as areas in Africa. “These from the land of Sinim” are believed to be inhabitants of China. This prospect of such a vast and general gathering causes a call to shout for joy (Isa 49:13). Everything and everyone, heaven, earth and mountains, must come to an outburst of joy over what the LORD has done for His people.

Verses 14-16

The LORD Does Not Forget His People


It seems as if the people can’t believe all this. They complain that the LORD forsook them in the time of tribulation that precedes the return described above. The lengthy period of suffering has given the people that feeling (Isa 49:14). The tribulation is just, their complaint is not. To comfort them the complaint is followed by an exposition and assurance of God’s love. That love is not only as great as a mother’s love for her child, but goes far beyond that (Isa 49:15). That a mother forgets her nursing child is hard to imagine; that the LORD forgets His people is completely unimaginable.

Far from forgetting Zion – i.e. her inhabitants – He has them inseparably attached to Himself and, by His actions, He guarantees them (Isa 49:16). The Jews had a habit of putting the mark of the city and the temple in their hands or somewhere else as a sign of their devotion and as a constant reminder. God takes over this picture in His grace to give them security. He engraved them in the palms of His hands.

With one hand He founded the earth (Isa 48:13), but He surrounded His beloved people with both His hands (cf. Jn 10:28-29). It speaks both of absolute certainty, safety and security and of the fact that He is constantly at work for them. Those hands were once pierced for us when He was crucified. It speaks of perfect love. We may think of that every time He shows us His hands (Jn 20:19-29).

In ancient times it was customary to engrave the name of the master in the hand of his slaves. The slave was thereby inseparable connected to his master. Here it is the other way around. God inextricably connected Himself to them. He thinks of them incessantly and is always busy for them. They should not think that things are getting out of hand with Him, because they are always in His hand. The walls of Zion, no matter how destroyed they are by the enemy, He always sees before Him in their perfect, future state.

Being engraved in the palm of the hand presupposes the closest union with Him Himself. It indicates His unchanging love and His constant thinking of us in everything He feels and does. Engraving in the palm of the hand is also an extremely painful thing. He endured the pain on the cross to unite us with Himself in this way.

In all His actions He thinks of each and every one of His own. In our unbelief and forgetfulness, we often lose sight of how precious we are to Him in Christ. God’s love finds its fullness in the love of Christ. We hear that love when He opens His heart about this to His disciples. He says to them: “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love” (Jn 15:9).

Verses 17-21

Amazement


These verses reaffirm the promise of the final gathering together of the scattered rejected ones of the people back in their land. A change of population takes place. The original population enters the land with hurry, and those who have conquered and destroyed the land depart (Isa 49:17). The children of whom Zion thought they were lost come back in crowds (Isa 49:18). They will be like a decoration for the land, in the same way as a bride is decorated for her husband.

The reason, indicated by “for” (Isa 49:19), that the devourers are driven far away is that there will not be enough room for all its inhabitants. There will be so many people that room must be made for them (Isa 49:20). The people of Zion have gone into exile, the city has been deserted and left alone (Isa 49:21). Now she is surrounded by a crowd of her children. With the “exiled” children the two tribes are meant, and with the “wandering” children the ten tribes. Amazed, she wonders where they have been and where they come from. The answer is given in the following verses.

Sometimes the Lord does not reveal the intention of His actions. He tests our faith in this and makes us wait until the time determined by Him has come to make His actions and their meaning known. The joy is much greater when the unfolding comes, than when there would not have been dark circumstances. The glory of His grace will also be much greater.

Verses 22-23

Those Who Hopefully Wait for the LORD


From Isa 49:22 to the end of the chapter the LORD answers the astonished questions of Zion which arose in the preceding verse. He shows how the crowds of scattered Israelites will be delivered from their exile and from those who oppressed them, and how He will bring them into their land. This cannot be about the return of a small remnant from the Babylonian exile. Also, it is not only about an outward return to the land, but also about an inner reversal to the LORD through faith in the Redeemer. What is described here will take place in the end time.

The LORD will use heathen nations to participate in carrying out this gathering of His people. For this purpose He will lift up His hand (Isa 49:22). The lifting up of His hand presupposes a certain sign through which the nations know what to do. The lifting up of a banner is more common in Isaiah (Isa 5:26; Isa 11:10; 12; Isa 18:3; Isa 62:10). It has to do with battle. When He lifts up His banner, it is about a battle with which He has to deal and at the same time the outcome is certain.

The nations will bring back the sons and daughters in their arms and on their shoulders. Kings and princesses will devote themselves to the care of God’s people (Isa 49:23). Those who are themselves objects of honor will pay homage to these people. They will not act as generous benefactors, but will subject themselves to this people to the dust, which will be a total reversal of the situation. They will be forced into this service of cleansing the feet. For us, we follow the example of the washing of the feet by the Lord Jesus and wash each other’s feet as He did with His disciples (Jn 13:1-17). It means that we will serve each other in humility.

The rulers of the world used to humiliate these people to the dust, but now they are humiliated to the dust (Mic 7:17). So deep the enemies will bow down before the Messiah (Psa 72:9), revealing again how much the people are connected to their Messiah. Israel should have been a blessing for the nations. When they eventually will be, the nations will be used by the LORD to bless Israel.

In all this Zion will acknowledge the LORD and His ways. They will discover the great comfort that those who hopefully wait for the LORD will not be ashamed. This is more negative, while Isaiah 40 is more positive, where ‘strength’ is connected to waiting (Isa 40:31). This is the exercise of patience, perseverance in the midst of difficulties and opposition, until the time of the LORD to deliver has come.

For now we expect it from Him in prayer. We wait for Him for the future. In doing so, we may be confident that the present circumstances of trial and sorrow will change into joy and will be characterized by peace. This change can only take place through the direct and public intervention of the Lord Himself.

Verses 24-26

The LORD: Their Savior and Redeemer


These verses are about the tyrants with all their power and evil intentions. The rhetorical question in Isa 49:24 has two parts. The first part, the deprivation of the booty from the strong, is not only about Babylon, but also applies in the future to the Assyrian, the king of the North, and to the two beasts of Revelation 13 (Rev 13:1-10; 11-18).

The second part, the rescue of the captives, is not about lawful prisoners, but about those who belong to the LORD and will in the future be torn out of the hand of the antichrist, who, under the influence of satan, is out to kill the faithful. They are also those who are the remnant of the lost ten tribes and who will then be given back by the nations.

The certainty is given that the LORD Himself will take care of this (Isa 49:25). This will happen when the Lord Jesus appears for the second time. Then the entire world will discover and acknowledge that the LORD is the “Savior” and “Redeemer” of Israel, “the Mighty One of Jacob” (Isa 49:26).

All attempts of the United Nations to establish peace and security on earth, no matter how good the intentions, are doomed to fail. The last great battle in the world, in which the Jewish question will be the central issue, will make the fulfillment of the Scriptures clear. That fulfillment is that righteousness can only be established on earth through the personal coming of Christ in judgment on God’s enemies and in the deliverance of His people.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Isaiah 49". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/isaiah-49.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.