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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 49


In this series (chapters 49-60) of the later prophecies, the Spirit of God carries the prophet beyond the captivity and the times of Cyrus the main subjects of the former series to the coming of the promised Immanuel and the times of the Gospel. The main subject here is, “the sufferings of Christ (vicarious) and the glory that should follow,” ranging from the birth of our Lord to the final redemption of Zion, when he will be the glory of his people Israel. Birks. SECOND SERIES, chaps. 49-60. First Trilogy.

1 . Messiah’s Voice to the Heathen, chap. 49.

2 . Messiah’s Voice to Israel, chap. Isaiah 50:1 to Isaiah 52:10.

3 . Messiah and the Gospel, Isaiah 52:11 to Isaiah 55:13.

Second Trilogy.

4 . Woe on Idolaters, chap. 56-57.

5 . Sentence on Formalism, chap. 58.

6 . Rebuke and Promise to Israel, chap. 59.


7 . Zion’s Final Glory, chap. 60.

The refutation of idolatry being completed, the deliverance from Babylon declared as coming to pass, the power, wisdom, and prescience of God being thoroughly exhibited, the prophet in this section presents the character and office of the Messiah, declares the extent of his commission, and shows that from the world of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews, is to be gathered the members of the Messiah’s kingdom. In a general way these have been already touched upon in the preceding chapters; the discussion is now to be more specific.

Verse 1

1. Listen An earnest call-word, because something of importance is to be communicated.

O isles Literally, coastlands; islands and maritime regions, generally westward from the scene of the speaker.

From far Gentile nations as far away as their geographic location could then have been known.

Hath called me With evangelical expositors this pronoun “me” is the Messiah, distinctly and indisputably. Grotius, Gesenius, and the schools following them, wrench the sense into a reference to the prophet Isaiah. This sense is truly improbable, if only because the prophet has never in this wise so brought himself into the foreground before. He is the medium only of the word of God. The nearest to his being or assuming more than this, is in semblance of phraseology in chap. Isaiah 48:16, (where see note,) in which the decision is radically diverse to such an idea. There is no doubt at all entertained as to the speaker here being the Messiah by those who believe the Old Testament recognises its all-ruling divinity, Jehovah, to be divinity identical with the incarnate Logos of the New Testament.

The circumstantiality of the description in the context also bears out this view. See Matthew 1:20-21; Luke 1:35. In a passage parallel to this, (Jeremiah 1:5,) the reference is plainly to Jeremiah; and in another, (Isaiah 44:2,) as plainly to Israel. But what the speaker here says is so unique, so glorious withal, that the reference reaches far beyond the vocation or action of any single prophet or any individual man, subject to the limitations of human life or human strength. Delitzsch. As in Isaiah 42:1, so here, the ideal speaker is the Messiah considered as the head of his people, and as forming with them one complex person. At the present stage of the study of Christology, it is not certain that the prophet conceived the future Church and the Head of the Church as separately individualized entities. At one time it is the spiritual Israel, or the Church, that is prominent: at another, it is the Church on its anointed mission to the Gentiles, condensed into the conception of a single person as the divine agent, or outflow of salvation to all the nations. The latter, under the legitimate designation of Messiah, seems the proper view to take here.

Verse 2

2. My mouth That is, my words, cutting, penetrating, because they pierce and cause pain to guilty souls: represented in Hebrews 4:12, as “sharper than any two-edged sword,” and in Revelation 1:16, as “a sharp two-edged sword” going “out of his mouth.”

In the shadow of his hand hath he hid me Ages were required to prepare mankind for the complete coming of the Christ; meanwhile the process of development was the “shading of God’s hand;” rendering obscure the full expression of Messiah’s meaning till the intelligible “fulness of times” should come; when his words became not merely a cutting sword at both edges, but a polished shaft or dart from Jehovah’s quiver, piercing into men’s hearts.

Verse 3

3. Thou art my servant, O Israel Already has it been seen, (Isaiah 42:1,) that Israel as a nation formed with our prophet a basis idea contained in the terms, servant of Jehovah; then, true to his calling and faithful to Jehovah, Israel became the central idea in that term; and, lastly, Israel, as God’s personal servant, is found in the idea of the true Israel’s highest headship, the Messiah. In this last sense is the word servant of Jehovah, or the Church and its Head in one, to be taken here.

In whom I will be glorified “Glorified” through his instrumentality the consecrated Church and its Head in saving the world. The innermost holy Israel as an agency is personified in the term “servant.” A like example of appealing to a representative quality is in Matthew 16:18, “Thou art Peter;” representing the Peter, on the one hand, a rock-like man confessing Christ as Son of the living God, and on the other hand, Christ, the eternal One confessed; and both together concreted into one term, namely, Confession, the ROCK on which the God’s Church is built.

Verse 4

4. This innermost holy Israel coming to an ideal personality, the Messiah, has wrought long and wearily with little apparent result. The world seems no better for his labours.

Yet surely my judgment is with the Lord Or, my reward, (margin.) The judgment in the case is in my favour my labour shall not be for naught. All is with God, and he will not permit it to be in vain.

Verse 5

5. And now, saith the Lord What he says is in the next verse. The words which follow are parenthetical, and explanatory of Jehovah, who now speaks.

That formed me from the womb Who appointed me Messiah before my incarnation.

To bring Jacob Not Jews, as such only, back to the worship of Jehovah. To these he was first to appear; yet, though they still reject Messiah, he is to be glorious in meeting with better success among the Gentiles. This is the import of what he was to say.

Verse 6

6. It is a light thing Or, too light; great as it was to bring back only Israel in its entirety as they claimed to be their exclusive right yet it was a greater thing to bring also the Gentile world, vast numbers of whom were to be ranked by conversion as members of Messiah’s kingdom equally with the preserved of Israel. Isaiah 11:12; Acts 13:46-47; Acts 26:16-17. These references in Acts have their application and fulfilment in the facts of St. Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles.

Verse 7

7. Till now the Servant of God, the Messiah, has spoken; but in these verses his words seem lost in those of Jehovah, who, though unchanged in nature with that of Messiah, enters on the function of another personality, that of the first Person in the divine Trinity. It seems otherwise difficult to account for these varied interactions, except it be to conceive Jehovah here as the Eternal Divinity of Christ addressing Messiah in his apparently human, lowly, condition of absolute subjection to his work during his period of humiliation. This view may best explain the difficulty. The words here used may, too, be but the prelude to those soon to be heard in Isaiah 53:3.

Redeemer He who has, as Jehovah, always served Israel.

Holy One The Holy God adored by Israel.

Whom man despiseth The Hebrew is, לבזה נפשׁ , ( libhzoh nephesh,) to the one hated from the soul; that is, one who is heartily contemned; “who is (chapter liii) despised and rejected.” Messiah is one who submits to this condition for the time being. But the promise is: Before such a one, though now rejected by the Jews, princes of the Gentiles shall yet bow to him, shall yield to him as ruler, as King of kings; because God who chose him is faithful. His covenant with Abraham and Israel reached in intent to all that the name and outcome of Israel imported.

Verses 8-10

8-10. In an acceptable time Better, in a time of favour; that is, in the far future times, when Providence shall guide to changes in favour of men’s hearing, pondering, and accepting the Gospel. The same idea is in the parallel expression, in a day of salvation. Then God is the infinite helper; then he restores to infinite honour for the endured humiliation.

Covenant of the people In Isaiah 49:7 Israel has the name goi, as if Gentiles not in God’s covenant; here the Church, though composed mainly of Gentiles, has the name am, people, usually given to Israel. Gentiles, once not a people, are to become the people of God. Romans 9:24-26; 1 Peter 2:10. Messiah is to seal his covenant with this new people.

Desolate Explained in the next verse. This verse shows that the “desolate” places are not waste places in Judea, but the moral wastes of the heathen world. Isaiah 43:6-7.

In a day of salvation it shall avail for God’s Anointed to say to all feeling themselves captives:

Go forth From your prison house; come out from your darkness. Feed in all fresh pastures, in valleys, and on every height. Easy will it be, as the Shepherd of souls, for Messiah to gather to his fold every one hitherto straying, and bare hills shall then afford abundant pasturage. Spiritual manna and living waters shall be everywhere at hand, together with protection from all heat and cold. The figures here so common with our prophet furnish a full storehouse of illustrations in the New Testament (see especially Revelation 7:16-17) as applied to practical religion. The promises of Psalms 23:0 are here made universal to Christian believers.

Verse 11

11. Mountains… highways Ordinances in the Christian Church conspicuously illustrate exalted privileges under Messiah. But there is implied by a change of figure here, that the disciples of Messiah become now, instead of quietly enjoying the luxuries of quiet and plenty, moving hosts or great caravans, over mountain passes entirely smoothed of ruggedness by their great Leader.

Verse 12

12. From far He brings them from every quarter on their way to the heavenly Jerusalem. With fair reason these words are supposed to mean, from the South symbolized in the queen of Sheba; from the north and west Asia Minor and Europe, the chief nursery, for long ages, of the Christian Church.

And these from the land of Sinim Was this the name of any country east? Very difficult to answer. The Septuagint renders it Persia γη περσιων a good authority against the Vulgate, which renders it “south.” This is scarcely probable, unless by the “south” is meant the southern parts of the great eastern regions. Without detailing the argument by Gesenius that China us intended in the word סינימ , Sinim, a conclusion adopted by Alexander also after a thorough sifting of the subject, also by other distinguished scholars Ewald excepted we may likewise here rest (?) till other more learned philology shall differently determine the case. “Sinim,” hence, is China; at least its westernmost borders, or a name given to the eastern-most parts of the world known to Semitic people in Isaiah’s times, perhaps as far back as 800 B.C.

Verse 13

13. On this coming of disciples to Messiah from every quarter, the whole creation is poetically summoned to shout a paean of triumph. The subject of the song is, Comfort. The past and the future are joined in the promise, and those to be comforted are tenderly called his people. The blessings of the Messianic ages are summed up in the promise from first to last.

Verses 14-21

14-21. But Zion Probably the literal Zion, after such a paean or shout of praise that the Gentile world is seen rushing from every quarter into the number of the true Israel, or spiritual Zion. The literal Zion at Jerusalem (or the old faithless representatives of the covenant) says,

The Lord hath forsaken me The complaint is altogether unjust. It is not Jehovah’s fault at all. Faithless Zion is the one at fault. She had broken covenant and driven Jehovah from her, yet not so but he still yearns for her. He desires Zion to repent and return to him.

Verse 15

15. Can a woman forget, etc. The Lord’s yearning over his children is far greater than a human mother’s for her own offspring: impossible, therefore, is it for him to forget the people he covenanted to save, if they also would keep covenant with him.

Verse 16

16. I have graven thee upon… my hands God’s interest for Zion never dies out. The proof is, that the name of Zion is etched, or tattooed as a picture, on the palms of his hands, so is ever before his eyes. The figure maybe derived from the ancient practice of branding the wrist, or other part of the hand, with the name of a slave’s master. Under pressure of great temptation things often look this way, in all ages, to God’s people, when they have been unfaithful to their covenant obligations. But God never forgets them till they utterly drive him from them. Zion’s walls may be demolished, adversity may befall the Church in the majority of its members, yet evermore, for the sake of a faithful remnant, God’s yearning interest to the few is not lost, and he awaits the return of the whole body to him.

Verses 17-18

17, 18. Thy children shall make haste, etc. The glorious renewal of Zion, by the return of her children to God and his worship, bursts on the prophet’s vision, filling him with gladness, while her enemies flee with as much of haste as repentant Israel returns.

Clothe thee with them all, as with an ornament Behold! from all around backsliding members are returning! and, God’s oath for it, they all of them shall be as “an ornament,” or as beautiful clothing, which Zion shall put on in token of her reconciliation and her joy. So is the Church always, when pure, spiritually bedecked.

Verse 19

19. In the import of Isaiah 49:16-18 our Version and the Hebrew quite accurately coincide, though the Hebrew is occasionally broken; as for example:

Thy waste and thy desolate places More literally, Thy wastes and thy desolations, and the land of thy wasteness.

Shall even now be too narrow So great should be the number of her converts, here termed inhabitants, that not only the more attractive parts of the land, but even the “waste places” should overflow with people. Not the newly built-up city alone, but all the land around, so long lying waste, shall be renewed in beauty, both of holy citizens and their substance and productiveness, just as in her former palmiest days when God was sole theocratic king: only no more hovering enemies shall, as of old, be around. They shall be far away.

Verse 20

20. The place is too strait So full of happy dwellers this place shall be, that thy children, as they come to thee with sympathy on occasion of some lost one, shall say over and over in thy hearing, to one and another, “Give me room, too crowded is this place.” Zion overhears this language, not of complaint, but of inconvenience for lack of space.

Verse 21

21. Thou Zion.

Shalt… say Namely, to herself, in absolute wonderment.

Who hath begotten me these The bereft, wondering captive has become the spiritual mother of a vast throng, and she inquires in ecstasy, Where had they been? This paraphrase is not fanciful, but touches the text at every point. It well describes the astonishment of the hitherto desolate Zion.

Verse 22

22. Thus saith the Lord God In answer to the inquiry just put. Alexander renders the Lord’s reply as follows: “Behold, I will lift up to the nations my hand, and I will set up to the peoples my standard, (or, signal,) and they will bring thy sons in the bosom, (or, arms,) and thy daughters on the shoulders shall be carried.” The figures here are much the same as in chapter Isaiah 13:2, namely, raising and waving or shaking the hand to the nations far off and near, raising a pole as a signal, summoning to help in Zion’s cause. The gospel is inscribed upon said signal. The nations understand; they rush to it; they bring back Zion’s children, not merely backslidden Israel, but multitudes of wanderers besides.

In their arms… upon their shoulders Such figures are well understood in oriental life, expressing the tender care lavished on children by parents or by nurses.

Verse 23

23. Kings shall be thy nursing fathers… queens thy nursing mothers This verse teaches that the principles of Messiah’s reign shall take hold of all the highest and the lowest. Affection for Zion shall be the profoundest conceivable. Monarchs, with their subjects, shall bow to Messiah; the former shall become foster fathers, and queens and princesses foster mothers, to the weak, poor, and lowly. The foster father or mother was, and yet is, to great houses throughout the East, a no inconsiderable person. But in last results of the rule of the great Anointed, the heads themselves of houses and nations take earnestly to this service. The divine will is the tie that consentaneously holds all.

Verses 24-26

24-26. Shall the prey be taken from the mighty An objection is logically started, but in the interest of Zion, and to remove the last ground of fear. Through the prophet, God has promised the most marvellous things. From an earthly view they seem impossible. Can it be possible, it is asked, to take captives out of the clutches of mighty ones and bring them to Zion?

Terrible Literally, giants in oppression and tyranny; the “terrible” of the text. Already almighty Jehovah has arranged this. Every contender with him in respect to Zion will but overdo his case. “Terrible” he may think himself, and so seem to men of weak faith; but he shall be as the “terrible” one of Assyria, (chap. xiv,) overwhelmed with revilings in sheol the underworld on the walls whereof only the weak shadow of his giantship could be found. Contenders of such sort, terrible and cruel, and permitted to be unconquerable for a mere day, are sent by Jehovah to their doom of discords and internal strifes, wherein they gorge on each other’s flesh and blood, and by the law of retribution precipitate themselves to inevitable self ruin. Such seems to be the meaning of Isaiah 49:25-26.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 49". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.