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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 50

Chapter 50 The Call For A Man And The Reply Of The Servant.

Chapter 49 ended with the idea of the return of the exiles around the world which had made the bewildered Zion look around unable to believe her eyes. In chapter 11 the same idea of the return followed the rise of the Spirit filled son of Jesse. So now the cry is, ‘is there no man?’ If the exiles are to return, where is the one who can deal with the situation and act for them before God? The answer is given here. He is the Servant. But first He will be rejected and falsely accused.

Verses 1-3

Is There No One To Answer When Yahweh Has The Power and the Will To Deliver? (Isaiah 50:1-3 ).

Yahweh now rebukes His people. He points out that their failure to enjoy His blessings cannot be laid at His door. He has not turned away from them and divorced them. He has not sold them off as a creditor sells off his children. Their present position and condition is entirely due to their own fault.

Indeed His power is not diminished at all. He is still powerful enough to dry up the sea with a rebuke, as He did in Egypt, and make the rivers a wilderness as He did to the Assyrian forces around Jerusalem, and will do to Assyria and Babylon. Note how this is the very opposite of what He has promised for His people. Such language refers as much to blessing and judgment, as it does to natural events. Overflowing water means blessing, drought means judgment.

The problem is rather that there is no one on whom He can call who will respond to His words. There is no one on whom He can rely, through whom He can deliver them. God is looking for a man to stand in the gap.

Isaiah 50:1

‘Thus says Yahweh,

“Where is the bill of your mother’s divorce with which I put her away,

Or which of my creditors is it to which I have sold you?

Look, because of you iniquities you were sold,

And because of your transgressions your mother was put away.”’

God now points out that it is not He who has divorced them, it is they who have gone away from Him as a result of their sins, through their iniquities and transgressions. It is not He Who has sold them in order to pay off His debts, it is they who have sold themselves to sin.

Here the thought in Isaiah 49:14 is now being dealt with, the suggestion that Yahweh had forgotten Zion and treated her badly. Yahweh stresses that firstly He has not divorced the children of Jacob’s mother, the stem of Jacob. They have simply been separated from Him for a while. The covenant has not been finally cancelled, only suspended. And secondly that His children have not been sold off to pay His creditors. A creditor had rights against a debtor to obtain payment by the sale of a man’s children. But Yahweh has no creditors. He has no need to sell off His children. Any suggestion therefore that He has been unfair or blameworthy is false. The reason why they were ‘sold’ into enemy hands was rather because of their iniquities (the wickedness of the inner heart), and their mother was put away because of her sins, her transgressions (outward disobedience and rebellion). All the blame lies with them.

Isaiah 50:2

“Why when I came was there no man?

When I called was there no one to answer?

Is my hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem,

Or have I no power to deliver?”

Indeed the opposite situation pertains. When He came and sought for a man to assist Him, there was no man. And when He called for response there was no answer. It was they who had forgotten Him. He had wanted to save and deliver. He had wanted to buy them back. He had the means to do so. His hand was not too short (see Numbers 11:23), His power was not so limited. But what was lacking was a man, the right man. There had been no man willing to facilitate the task. That was the reason that things were as they are. (There may here be the thought that Ahaz and Hezekiah had proved themselves not worthy, as had all the other sons of David).

The idea of God calling for a man takes us back to man’s beginnings when God walked in the Garden and called to a man. Then there was an answer, but it was, alas, the wrong one. There was no right answer. There was no one to say, ‘Here I am’. And that is the point here, that God was looking for the right answer. But, alas, there was no answer.

It is significant that in the same way, when the same situation was earlier put to idolaters there was no response from them also (Isaiah 41:28 to Isaiah 42:4), then too there was no man, in that case it was also followed by the coming of the Servant, as here. Each call for a man is therefore followed up with a description of the Servant, God’s man to fill the breach.

It is significant also that Isaiah does not see himself as possibly being that man. He knows that God is talking about Immanuel, Who alone can fill the role.

Isaiah 50:2-3

“Behold at my rebuke I dry up the sea.

I make the rivers a wilderness.

Their fish smell because there is no water, and they die of thirst.

I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering.”

God then reminds them that there was no reason to doubt that He had the power. His power to redeem and deliver had been revealed in the past, when He dried up the sea for Israel to pass through at the Exodus (Exodus 14:21). When He makes the rivers a wilderness all the fish stink and die (Exodus 7:18; Exodus 7:21). This was true in Egypt, it will also be true for Assyria and especially Babylon. In Egypt the heavens became pitch black so that a man could not see his fellow (Exodus 10:22-23), and they were covered as with sackcloth because of what was happening. There is possibly in this last the reminder of the death of the firstborn. But the same is true throughout history. He makes the heavens black with judgment, or not, as He wishes.

The idea is probably intended to go beyond the Exodus as a reminder that Yahweh has life and death in His hands at all times, of which Egypt was but an example. For if rivers dry up it is not only fish that die, but men also. And sackcloth is also a sign of continual mourning. So this could be seen as the heavens in mourning because of what Yahweh’s judgments would do. This being so, Yahweh has shown that He is well able to deliver, and to deal with the hostility of the most powerful foes.

Verses 4-9

But There is One who Will Answer, the Servant of Yahweh (Isaiah 50:4-9 ).

But then there is an answer. There is a man who speaks up answers, but it is not quite as expected. Instead of the Spirit-filled King who will stride forward like a mighty warrior and exact justice (Isaiah 11:1-4), it is the voice of a humble Teacher, of One despised and ill-treated, One who is being falsely accused. For Israel are so sinful that they have even rejected God’s Man. He is not seen as Israel’s champion, He is treated as Israel’s reject. The King thus comes as a humiliated Servant.

We can compare with this how, when Immanuel comes, times will be hard (Isaiah 7:15 with 21-22, 23-25). He will come in humble surroundings. He will not immediately take His throne.

The Servant describes three gifts that ‘the Lord Yahweh’ has given Him. The tongue of those who are taught, the opening of the ear in obedience, and Yahweh’s own powerful assistance. In other words, the ability to sustain others by His teaching, the ability to obey in the face of reproach and humiliation, and the ability to stand firm in the face of false accusations, resulting in final vindication. That one individual is in mind here comes out vividly. The suffering He faces is very much individual. And this is ‘the man’ who alone responds (contrast Isaiah 50:2). There is only One Who can go through what this one has to go through, God’s anointed. It is not without significance that in Isaiah 61:1-2, God’s anointed is depicted as a prophet.

Isaiah 50:4

“The Lord Yahweh has given me the tongue of those who have been taught,

That I should know how to sustain with words him who is weary.

He awakens morning by morning,

He wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.”

The Servant (Isaiah 50:10) speaks up humbly. He acknowledges that He is but a disciple, a learner at the feet of the Lord Yahweh. The sovereign Lord, Yahweh, has given Him a tongue trained by Him, the tongue of one whom He has taught. For morning by morning He has awoken Him so that He may learn from Him. He is sharpening His sword, and polishing His arrow (Isaiah 49:2).

And the aim of the teaching is that He may be able to sustain the weary with words. The difficulties of the way for believers is stressed. Note the heavy stress on the use of words and teaching. There is no thought of force. The thought is of the power of the word. We remember how Jesus used to rise a great while before day in order to speak with His Father (Mark 1:35) and insisted that He spoke nothing of Himself but only what He heard the Father speak (John 7:16; John 8:26; John 8:38). He was echoing the life and words of the Servant.

When Jesus said, ‘Come to me all you who labour wearily and are heavy laden and I will give you rest,’ (Matthew 11:28) He probably had this verse in mind.

Isaiah 50:5-6

“The Lord Yahweh has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious,

Nor did I turn away backward,

I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who plucked off the hair.

I did not hide my face from shame and spitting.”

It was Yahweh Who had given to Him His message. It was He Who opened His ear. And He did not rebel. He did not turn backward. Although He knew what it would mean for Him the Servant went resolutely on, for He knew the truth about those who claimed to be God’s people. He knew that One Who showed them the truth about themselves would not be popular. He yielded His back to the smiters, His cheeks to those who plucked out the hairs, His face to those who spat on Him and treated Him shamefully. He was flogged, He was ill-treated, and He was scorned, and it was not for anything that He had done, but because He had taken to them the word of God for the weary. In the words of Jesus, ‘the Son of Man must suffer many things -- and they will mock Him, and will spit on Him, and will scourge Him’ (Mark 8:31; Mark 10:34). The personal nature of the treatment indicates that here we are speaking of one man, the One Who has answered God’s call for ‘a man’.

This vicious and uncalled for treatment is basically a new, unexpected thought. In Isaiah 49:7 we learned that He would be despised and hated for a time, but there was nothing there to suggest this personal, physical pain and humiliation. But it serves to bring out the sinfulness of those to whom He is speaking. This was why Israel had been put away, and sold off. Because she treated God’s messengers like this. How could she complain when she behaved in this way towards His servants?

The parallel with the treatment of Jesus is clear. He too was scourged, mocked at, treated shamefully. Such was the destiny of the Servant of Yahweh.

This shameful treatment is in direct contrast with the sufferings of Israel. Here it is made clear that, while they had received only what they deserved, this One receives what is undeserved. This is exacted on One Who when brought to court will be fully vindicated. It is in direct contrast with Isaiah 42:24; Isaiah 43:28; Isaiah 47:6 b; Isaiah 48:9; Isaiah 51:17, where we have described the deserved suffering of Israel.

Isaiah 50:7

‘Because the Lord Yahweh will help me,

That is the reason that I have not been confounded.

That is why I have set my face like a flint,

And I know that I will not be ashamed.’

He is firm in His resolution because it comes from God. It is because the sovereign Lord, Yahweh, helps Him that He is not dismayed and despairing, and that is why they will not be able to declare Him guilty. That is why He sets His face like a flint (compare Ezekiel 3:9; Luke 9:51). And He is confident that finally He will not be put to shame, because God will stand up for Him. His whole trust is in God.

Isaiah 50:8

“He is near who declares me in the right.

Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together.

Who is my adversary? Let him approach me.”

He recognises that men will put Him on trial. But His confidence is in the fact that One is near Who will declare Him to be in the right. Whatever men may say God will justify Him. Thus He is not afraid of anyone. Who would contend with Him? Let them face Him as man to man. Who would be His adversary? Let him approach. The language is that of a court of law. He is ready to defend Himself against all comers, for God stands at His side and has already declared the verdict (compare Isaiah 41:11-12). We can contrast his confidence with Isaiah’s ‘woe is me for I am undone’ (Isaiah 6:5), Isaiah’s recognition that he could not defend himself, and his constant identification of himself as being included among the sinful. But a greater than Isaiah is here. He can declare Himself to be without sin.

Isaiah 50:9

“Behold, the Lord Yahweh will help me.

Who is he who will condemn me?

Behold they will all grow old like a garment,

The moth will consume them.”

Because He knows that God is on His side He can face up to anything. Who can possibly condemn Him when He has such a helper? (Compare Isaiah 41:13). For the One Who stands with Him is the Judge of all, and He knows the truth. Thus those who try to condemn Him will simply become worn out like old clothing and will be eaten up by moths, for they will go uselessly on and on until they are no more.

Notice here the two ‘beholds’. On the one hand, Behold, Yahweh will help Him. On the other, Behold, His enemies will grow old and be consumed by moths.

So we have here the description of One Who is humble, willing to hear, submissive, yielding and not rebellious, determined to follow God’s way, and Who obeys at all costs. He is the exact opposite of faithless Israel. And He is confident in God’s support and verdict on Himself. He knows that He is in the right, for what He has taught is what God has taught Him. He is certainly not the kind of helper that Israel was looking for. But God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts not our thoughts.

There was only One in history Who could be seen as fulfilling these words, Jesus of Nazareth, Immanuel, Who could say, ‘which of you can convict me of sin?’ (John 8:46). And the suffering described here is unquestionably mirrored in His own suffering.

Verse 10

Isaiah’s Appeal For Men To Hear Him.

Isaiah 50:10

‘Who is among you who fears Yahweh,

Who obeys the voice of his servant?

He who walks in darkness and has no light,

Let him trust in the name of Yahweh, and stay upon his God.’

Isaiah now makes his appeal to those who fear Yahweh and obey the voice of His Servant. They walk in darkness, the way seems dark before them, everything is black before them, there seems to be no light. (This is not the same as the idea of walking in spiritual darkness. This is the darkness which God uses to test our willingness to serve Him ‘in the dark’, when all is not clear). But they must trust God in the dark. They must trust in the name of Yahweh and stay themselves on God. So even those who fear Yahweh are in a kind of darkness and need to receive light from the Servant. Those who walk in such darkness are described in Isaiah 42:16, and they are promised that they will find light as they walk in the way with God. The secret of deliverance is to hear the voice of Yahweh’s Servant and to trust in Yahweh Himself (John 5:24). For His way is not easy, and we must walk with Him in it.

Note that a clear distinction is made here between the Servant and those who generally fear God. They must hear the voice of His Servant. He has now become the One to Whom believing Israel must look.

Verse 11

‘Behold all you who kindle a fire,

Who gird yourselves about with firebrands,

Walk in the flame of your fire,

And among the brands that you have kindled.

This is what you will have from my hand,

You will lie down in sorrow.’

But there are those who kindle a false light. The way is dark and so they seek to stir up flames and clothe themselves with firebrands, that they may see. This is their way of dealing with life. But there is no answer in the flames. Flames are destructive not constructive. They clothe themselves with false fire, anything rather than trusting in God. Then there grow up among them the product of such fires, fiery men, men of violence, men of deceit, and men of destruction. And they will walk in the midst of what they have kindled. And they will have from God’s hand a sorrowful end, an end in torment. The judgment of God will come upon them.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 50". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.