Isaiah 49:1. Listen, O isles, &c. — “Hitherto the subject of the prophecy has been chiefly confined to the redemption from the captivity of Babylon, with strong intimations of a more important deliverance sometimes thrown in; to the refutation of idolatry, and the demonstration of the infinite power, wisdom, and foreknowledge of God. The character and office of the Messiah were exhibited in general terms, at the beginning of chap. 42., but here he is introduced in person, declaring the full extent of his commission; which is not only to restore the Israelites, and reconcile them to their Lord and Father, from whom they had so often revolted, but to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, to call them to the knowledge and obedience of the true God, and to bring them to be one church, together with the Israelites, and to partake with them of the same common salvation procured for all, by the great Redeemer and Reconciler of man to God.” — Bishop Lowth. By the isles here, and the people from far, the Gentiles are meant, who are frequently addressed by the appellation of isles, and who, in general, lived in countries far remote from Judea, now the only place of God’s special presence and worship. The person who addresses them is the Messiah, as evidently appears from Isaiah 49:6, and several other passages of this chapter. If the character here exhibited can, in any sense, as some think it may, belong to the prophet, “yet, in some parts,” as Bishop Lowth justly observes, “it must belong exclusively to Christ; and in all parts to him in a much fuller and more proper sense.” God having, in the last words of the preceding chapter, intimated by his prophet, that many of the Jews, notwithstanding the glorious deliverance from Babylon vouchsafed them, would be wicked, and foreknowing that he would cast them off for their wickedness, the Messiah here addresses his speech to the Gentiles, and invites them to hearken to those counsels and doctrines which he foresaw the Jews would reject. The Lord hath called me from the womb — This, or the like expression, is used of Jeremiah 1:5, and of Paul, Galatians 1:15; but it was far more eminently true of Christ, who, as he was chosen to this great office of redemption from eternity, so he was separated and called to it before he was born, being both conceived and sanctified by the Holy Ghost in his mother’s womb, and sent into the world upon this errand.
Isaiah 49:2-3. He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword — As he hath made me the great Teacher of his church and of the world, so he hath assisted me by his Spirit, and made my word or doctrine quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, killing men’s lusts, convincing, humbling, and converting their souls, and mighty to pull down strong holds, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. In the shadow of his hand hath he hid me — He will protect me by his power from all mine enemies, until I have finished the work for which he sent me. And made me a polished shaft — Like an arrow, whose point is bright and polished, and therefore pierces deeper. And said, Thou art my servant, O Israel — The person who is here called Israel, cannot, in any sense, be Isaiah. But, as the name of David is sometimes given to his successors, and particularly to Christ, Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23; Hosea 3:5, and the name of Isaac is given to his posterity, Amos 7:9; so here the name of Israel may not unfitly be given to Christ, not only because he descended from his loins, but also, because he was the true and the great Israel, who, in a more eminent manner, prevailed with God, as that name signifies; of whom Jacob, who was first called Israel, was but a type. And as the name of Christ, the head, is sometimes given to his body, the church, as 1 Corinthians 12:12, so it is not strange if, on the contrary, the name of Israel, which properly belongs to the church, be given to Christ, the head of it. The words, however, may be rendered, Thou art my servant, unto, in, or for Israel, that is, to bring them back unto me, from whom they have revolted; or Israel is he in whom I will be glorified by thee.
Isaiah 49:4. Then I said — By way of objection; I have laboured in vain — Lord, thou sayest thou wilt be glorified by my ministry; but I find it otherwise. I have spent my strength for naught — Without any considerable fruit of my word and works. “The words,” says Vitringa, “contain the complaint of the Son of God, concerning the small fruit of his mission to the Jews, and the small hope of establishing and successfully propagating his kingdom among them; like that which is attributed to the same great Teacher and his apostles, Isaiah 53:1. But at the same time he supports himself with the hope, that he should obtain a glorious and abundant fruit of his divine mission in the world; for that his judgment, or right, was with God, and the reward of his work laid up with him; who would take good care, according to his wisdom and justice, that the proper and full recompense of his labour should be paid him.” According to this just exposition of the passage, the latter clause of the verse agrees with the former, and the sense of both is briefly this: Though I see little or no fruit of my labour among the Jews, and meet with nothing but contempt, and reproach, and ill usage from them; yet God sees my fidelity and diligence in my work, and he will give judgment for me, and amply reward me in due time.
Isaiah 49:5-6. And now, saith the Lord — These are the words of the Father, addressing his Son, now become incarnate for the redemption of mankind; that formed me from the womb — This refers to the human nature of Christ formed in the womb of the Virgin by the Holy Ghost; to bring Jacob again to him — To convert the wicked and apostate Israelites. Though Israel be not gathered — Be not brought to God by my ministry: or, according to the reading of the margin, that Israel may be gathered to him, and I may be glorious, &c. The word יאסŠ, be gathered, implies that the Israelites were scattered from God, and divided among themselves, as they were, in a high degree, when Christ came into the world, having, as is said Isaiah 53:6, turned every one to his own way, and therefore they needed to be gathered. It seems to be a metaphor taken from wandering sheep, which the good shepherd diligently seeks and brings home to the fold. Yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord — According to this reading, preferred by our translators, the sense is, Though Israel, God’s own, and, at present, his only people, reject me, which will be a cause of great wonder and scandal, yet God will not despise me for the unsuccessfulness of my labours among them, but will honour and glorify me, both with himself and in the face of the world, in crowning my endeavours with glorious success among other people. And my God shall be my strength — To support me under this and all other discouragements and difficulties in the discharge of my office. And he — The Lord; said, It is a light thing — A small matter in comparison of what follows; that thou shouldest raise up the tribes of Jacob — That remnant of them which shall survive all their calamities and desolations. I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles — I will make thy labour effectual for the illumination, conversion, and salvation of the Gentiles in all parts of the world. This could not be said of Isaiah with any colour of truth, and therefore must be understood of Christ, by whom it was literally and fully accomplished. The words, That thou mayest be my salvation, mean, that the Messiah should be the revealer, procurer, and giver of eternal salvation to the believing Gentiles.
Isaiah 49:7. To him whom man despiseth — To Christ, to whom, in the days of his flesh, this description most truly and fully agreed, being the same in effect with that Isaiah 53:3, for men, both Jews and Gentiles, among whom he lived, did despise him from their hearts; and the nation, of which he was a member, abhorred both his person and his doctrine; and he was so far from being a temporal monarch that he came in the form of a servant, and was a servant of rulers, professing subjection, and paying tribute unto Cesar, and being treated by the rulers, both of the Jews and Romans, like a servant, being despitefully used and crucified, which was then a kind of punishment inflicted only on slaves or servants. Kings shall see — Though for a time thou shalt be despised, yet after a while thou shalt be advanced to such glory, that kings shall look upon thee with reverence: and arise — From their seats to worship thee. Because the Lord that is faithful — Because God shall make good his promises to thee. And he shall choose thee — And although thou shalt be rejected by thine own people, yet God will manifest to the world that thou, and thou only, art the person whom he hath chosen to be the Redeemer of mankind. The words imply the wonderful progress of the gospel from small beginnings; and show that the Author of it, from being the contempt of the great men of the world, should come to be the object of their adoration.
Isaiah 49:8. Thus saith the Lord — God the Father unto Christ; In an acceptable time — Hebrew, רצון בעת, in the season of acceptance, as Bishop Lowth renders it, or, in a time of good-will, according to others: in that time when God shall, in a special manner, manifest his good-will to the sons of men; in the day of his grace and man’s salvation, that is, in the time of the gospel, which was, and is, the time of God’s peculiar good-will toward men, Luke 2:14. In the days of thy flesh, when thou shalt offer up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, Hebrews 5:7; have I heard — Or, will I hear, thee — Though not so as to deliver thee from death, yet so as to support thee under thy sufferings, to give a blessed success to thy labours, and to crown thee with glory and honour. And in a day of salvation — In the time which I have appointed for the effecting man’s redemption; have I helped — Or, will I help, thee — Namely, upon earth, till thy work be finished; and preserve thee — Unto that eternal kingdom and glory which is prepared for thee. And give thee for a covenant of the people — To be the Mediator and Surety of that covenant which is made between me and all my people, that is, all penitent and believing persons, whether Jews or Gentiles. To establish the earth — To settle the church upon firm foundations, and compose the great differences in the world between God and man, Jews and Gentiles, Ephesians 2:13-16; as also to establish truth and righteousness upon earth, and subdue those lusts and passions which are the great disturbers of human society: to do which things was the great design of God in sending his Son into the world. To cause to inherit desolate heritages — That desolate places may be repaired and possessed: or to bring the heathen, who are in a desolate and forlorn condition, to be Christ’s inheritance, according to Psalms 2:8.
Isaiah 49:9-11. That thou mayest say — Namely, with power and effect, as when God said, Let there be light; to the prisoners — To the Gentiles, who are fast bound by the cords of their sins, and taken captive by the devil at his will. Go forth — Come forth to the light, receive divine illumination. They shall feed, &c. — They shall have abundant provision in all places, yea, even in those which commonly are unfruitful, as are both common roads and high grounds. They shall not hunger, &c. — They shall be supplied with all good and necessary things, and preserved from all evil occurrences and annoyances, as the Israelites were in the wilderness, by the manna and other provision afforded them, and the pillar of the cloud and fire, a token of the divine presence and protection. For he that hath mercy on them shall lead them — God, who hath magnified his mercy to them, will conduct them with safety and comfort. And I will make all mountains a way — I will remove all hinderances, and prepare the way for them, by levelling high grounds, and raising the low.
Isaiah 49:12-13. Behold, these shall come from far — My people shall be gathered from the most remote parts of the earth. He speaks here, and in many other places, of the conversion of the Gentiles, with allusion to that work of gathering and bringing back the Jews from all parts where they were dispersed, into their own land. And these from the land of Sinim — Either of the Sinites, as they are called, Genesis 10:17, who dwelt about the wilderness; or of Sin, a famous city of Egypt, which may be put for all Egypt, and that for all southern parts. And so he here mentions the several quarters of the world where the generality of the Jews were dispersed; the north, which is everywhere named as the chief place of their banishment and dispersion, as Jeremiah 16:15; and Jeremiah 31:8, and elsewhere; the west, the western countries and islands; and the south. Sing, O heavens, &c. — See note on Isaiah 44:23. For the Lord hath comforted his people — God hath now sent the long-desired consolation of Israel.
Isaiah 49:14. But Zion said, &c. — This is an objection against all these glorious predictions and promises. How can these things be true when the condition of God’s church is now so sad and desperate? Most commentators understand by Zion here, the Jewish Church, and suppose that the complaint which she is here represented as uttering, refers either to her desolate state when in Babylon, or to the time of her long dispersion and desolation in the days of the Messiah. But Vitringa is of opinion that the Christian Church is rather intended, and that the time referred to is that of her cruel persecution under the Romans. Be it which it may, God here declares that he will show her mercy, and destroy her mighty oppressors, Isaiah 49:24-26.
Isaiah 49:15-16. Can a woman forget her sucking child — God is often represented as bearing a fatherly affection toward his people, but here the comparison is raised higher, and he speaks of himself as having a tenderness for them, similar to that which a mother hath toward the fruit of her womb. “The image is common and frequent; yet it is wrought up with so much grace, embellished with so much elegance, and expressed in such pathetic terms, that nothing can exceed it in beauty and force; nothing can convey a stronger idea of the maternal, the more than maternal regard, which God hath for his people.” Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee — The turn in this clause is more expressive than a volume. As if he had said, Earthly parents sometimes are so unnatural and monstrous; but do not entertain such unworthy thoughts of me. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms, &c. — Mine eye and heart are constantly upon thee. “This is certainly an allusion,” says Bishop Lowth, “to some practice, common among the Jews at that time, of making marks on their hands or arms by punctures on the skin, rendered indelible by fire or staining, with some sort of sign, or representation of the city or temple, to show their affection and zeal for it. It is well known that the pilgrims at the holy sepulchre get themselves marked in this manner with what are called the ensigns of Jerusalem. Maundrell, p. 75; where he tells us how it is performed: and this art is practised by travelling Jews all over the world at this day.” See also Vitringa and Michaelis’s notes. Or the allusion may be merely to the common practice of men, who use to put signs upon their hands or fingers, of such things as they especially wish to remember. Thy walls are continually before me — The ruins and desolations of my church are always in my thoughts, nor shall I forget or neglect to repair them, and grant her deliverance from her enemies, and protection at the proper time.
Isaiah 49:17. Thy children — Or, as some, with equal propriety, render בנין, thy builders; which rendering is favoured by the next clause, where the destroyers are opposed to them, but the following verse favours the former interpretation: the sense, however, is the same, for the church’s children are her builders; shall make haste — To repair thy ruins and desolations, and build thee up. Thy destroyers, &c., shall go forth of thee — Shall be separated and driven from thee, and so shall neither hinder nor annoy thee. But this rendering, shall go forth of thee, says Bishop Lowth, “is very flat, after their zeal had been expressed by their being her builders: and as the opposition is kept up in one part of the sentence, one has reason to expect it in the other.” He, therefore, renders ממן יצאו, shall proceed, spring, or issue, from thee; namely, as thy children, and reads the whole verse thus: They that destroy thee shall soon become thy builders; and they that laid thee waste shall become thine offspring: the accession of the Gentiles to the church of God being properly considered as an addition made to the number of the family and children of Zion.
Isaiah 49:18. Lift up thine eyes round about — And behold numbers flocking unto thee from all quarters. All these shall gather themselves unto thee, &c. — Namely, the Gentiles. Thy church, O Zion, shall not only be restored and established, but vastly enlarged and adorned by an accession of converts from various nations; and come unto thee — To receive instruction from thee, and to be incorporated with thee into one and the same church. Thou shalt clothe thee with them, &c. — Instead of being a disgrace, or a snare and occasion of sin to thee, (as the Gentiles formerly were, when they mixed themselves with the Jews,) they shall be an honour and ornament, in respect of those excellent gifts and graces wherewith they shall enrich and adorn thy community. The addition of such numbers to the church shall complete her clothing, and make her appear comely and considerable. And bind them on thee as a bride doth — The LXX. read, περιθησεις αυτους ως κοσμον νυμφη, Thou shalt put them on thee as a bride her attire; supplying, as Bishop Lowth thinks, a word that appears to be wanting to complete the sense. “Zion clothes herself with her children as a bride clothes herself — with what? with some other thing, certainly;” namely, her ornaments, jewels, or rich dress.
Isaiah 49:19-21. For thy waste and desolate places, &c. — He alludes to the land of Judea lying waste during the Babylonish captivity. Thus the church of God was in a waste, desolate, and barren state, till the coming of the Messiah, the introduction of the gospel, and the conversion of the Gentiles; and the land of thy destruction — Or, thy land of destruction. He still alludes to Judea, thus characterized, because it was devoted, and should be exposed to destruction, first by the Chaldeans, and again by the Romans, a lively emblem of the ruined state of their church; shall even now be too narrow — To contain the multitude of converts that shall be made. The middle wall of partition that separated the Jews from the Gentiles shall be broken down, and the pale of the church shall be enlarged. The children which thou shalt have, &c. — Hebrew, בני שׁכלין, The children of thy orbity, or, barren and childless state. Those children which thou shalt have when thou art past the ordinary age and state of childbearing, as Sarah in her old age was made the mother of a most numerous posterity; to which he seems to allude: those children which shall be begotten to thee by the gospel when thou shalt be deprived of thine own natural children, or when thou shalt become barren as to the conversion of natural Jews; when the generality of the Jews shall cut themselves off from God and his true church, by their apostacy from him, and by their unbelief and rejection of their Messiah; shall say again — Or rather, shall yet say, though for the present it be far otherwise, The place is too strait for me, &c. — This is figuratively spoken, merely to signify the great enlargement of the church by the accession of the Gentiles. See Isaiah 54:1. Then shalt thou say in thy heart — Not without admiration, Who hath begotten me these — Whence, or by whom, have I this numerous issue? Seeing I have lost my children — Seeing it is not long since that I was in a manner childless? And am desolate — Without a husband, being forsaken of God, who formerly owned himself for my husband, Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 31:32; a captive, and removing to and fro — In an unsettled condition, and not likely to bear and bring up children for God or myself. Who hath brought up these? — The same thing is repeated in these words to express the miraculousness of this work, and the great surprise of the Jews at it: which shows that he speaks of the conversion of the Gentiles.
Isaiah 49:22-23. I will lift up my hand to the Gentiles — I will call them to me; and set up my standard to the people — As generals do, to gather their forces together. And they shall bring thy sons — Those who shall be thine by adoption, who shall own God for their Father, and Jerusalem for their mother; in their arms — With great care and tenderness, as nurses carry young infants: the sense is, Even the heathen shall contribute to the increase and preservation of those children which shall be begotten to thee. And thy daughters shall be carried, &c. — As sick or infirm persons used to be carried. And kings shall be thy nursing fathers — Kings and queens shall have a sincere affection and tender regard unto thee and thy children. Which was in some sort fulfilled by Cyrus, Ahasuerus, and some few others of the Persian kings or queens; but much more truly and fully by those many kings and emperors of the Gentile world who, after the time of Christ, did both themselves embrace the true religion, and also provide for the reception and establishment of it in their dominions. They shall bow down to thee, &c. — They shall highly reverence and honour thee, and shall most humbly and readily submit themselves unto thee. This was not verified in any of the Persian kings, but only in those kings or emperors who were converted to the Christian faith and church. And lick up the dust of thy feet — These expressions are borrowed from the manners of the eastern people in their prostrations and adorations, who bowed so low as to touch and kiss the ground. For they shall not be ashamed that wait for me — Their expectations shall not be disappointed, but abundantly satisfied.
Isaiah 49:24-26. Shall the prey be taken from the mighty — Here an objection is started against the forementioned promises, probably, 1st, Against the promise of the release of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon, suggesting that it was a thing not to be expected: for, Isaiah 49:24, they were a prey in the hands of the mighty, of such as were then the greatest potentates of the earth; and, therefore, it was not likely they should be rescued by force; yet that was not all, they were lawful captives. By the law of God, having offended, they were justly delivered into captivity. And by the law of nations, being taken in war, they were justly detained in captivity till they should be ransomed or exchanged. So here was a double, or rather, treble impediment to their deliverance; the great power of the enemy, which kept them in bondage, and the justice of God, and the usage of nations, which pleaded against them. And yet their deliverance, however improbable, was effected by the mercy and power of God. But this passage, as appears from the context, has a further reference: it respects the deliverance of God’s church and people from their spiritual as well as temporal enemies. “God had promised very great and excellent things to his church; but to a person seriously considering the state thereof, and comparing it with the power of his enemies, and particularly its chief enemy, Satan, who held the nations in the darkness of ignorance and superstition, a doubt would naturally arise, whether it could possibly be that this prey, so long possessed by Satan, could be rescued from him, so that he might be driven from his strong fort, and the rulers of the world, held in subjection by him, might be delivered from their servitude. Isaiah resolves this doubt of the church, and teaches that it should certainly come to pass that Satan, this mighty one, should be driven from his fort, his captives delivered, (Isaiah 49:25,) and the adversaries of the church perish by their mutual slaughter of each other.” Thus Vitringa, who observes that Isaiah 49:26, I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh, &c., is to be “understood metaphorically, and refers to the intestine wars, by which princes and people, armed to their mutual destruction, plunge their destroying swords in each other’s bowels, and, as it were, feed upon each other’s flesh and blood.” See Isaiah 9:20; Zechariah 11:9; Revelation 16:6. They shall be drunken with their own blood as with new wine — I will make thine enemies destroy one another, and that greedily, and with delight. This prophecy was remarkably fulfilled in the time of the Roman emperor, Dioclesian, to which it is thought by some particularly to refer.
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 49". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany