God's Servant - Isaiah 49
The Scope of His Service:
“Listen to Me, O islands, and pay attention, you peoples from afar” (49:1). Here the future Messiah addresses the entire world and commands obedience, for everyone is accountable to Him. “From the body of My mother He named Me” (49:1). Before His birth He had been appointed for a divine mission, and His name had been given long before His birth (Matthew 1:21; Isaiah 7:14). “He has made My mouth like a sharp sword”: His message, the gospel will penetrate the hearts of men like no other message (John 7:46). Let us remember that other philosophies and religions may attract more people than the gospel, but the attraction is often one of convenience or personal preference. The gospel actually changes people!
God’s Select Arrow:
“He has also made Me a select arrow; He has hidden Me in His quiver” (49:2). Jesus would remain hidden and unrevealed, like an arrow in God’s quiver until the right time (Galatians 4:4). Jesus is God’s main arrow, His most powerful weapon against evil. All sorts of incentives to change cannot match the change that happens when one encounters Christ. People left everything, not for hope of money, conquest or fame, to follow Him (Matthew 9:9). Every generation is filled with the names of individuals who drastically changed their entire lives for the better because of this one individual. “He said to Me, ‘You are My Servant, Israel, in Whom I will show My glory” (49:3): There is some question as to why the Messiah is called “Israel” in this verse. First of all, clearly the chapter is speaking of the Messiah, for Paul applies Isaiah 49:6 specifically to Christ (Acts 13:47). “The Messiah is called Israel because He fulfills what Israel should have done. In His person and work He epitomizes the nation” (Isaiah, Wayne Jackson, p. 97). “The use of Israel as a personal name should present no problem, for it was first given to Jacob (Genesis 32:28), the father of the twelve-tribe nation, and later passed to the nation itself. The name signifies conquest by faith, one who wrestles or strives and prevails, but both the first Israel (Jacob) and the nation that carried his name had failed to strive and prevail” (Isaiah, Hailey pp. 407-408).
“But I said, ‘I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity” (49:4). Here the Messiah expresses disappointment with the results of His work. He will come to His own nation and they will reject Him (John 1:11), yet in spite of the awareness that He will be rejected and crucified (Isaiah 53), He came anyway! Thus rejection or meager results is never an excuse not to serve God or do the right thing. “Yet surely the justice due to Me is with the Lord, and My reward is with My God” (49:4). The Messiah knows that in the final outcome He will prevail, He will leave justice and the rewards to the Father and He will not look for the reward in this life. “God will determine the measure of defeat or victory, justify and vindicate the Servant, give the increase and accomplish the desired end” (Hailey p. 408).
Gathering Israel and the Nations
“To bring Jacob back to him, in order that Israel might be gathered to Him” (49:5). Observe that this gathering is not back to the land of Palestine, rather it is a spiritual gathering, a gathering “to Him”. “It is strange that the Jews did not understand (and have not yet understood) that the Servant’s mission included the Gentiles (‘a light to the nations’ 49:6)” (Hailey p. 409). “I will also make You a light of the nations, so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (49:6). The first verse in this chapter reveals how Jews and Gentiles will be gathered to God, the promise is for those who “listen” to His message. This promise found the beginning of its fulfillment in the first century with the preaching of the gospel to Jews and Gentiles. Paul actually cites this verse as authorizing his preaching to Gentiles (Acts 13:47).
Rejected Yet Exalted
“To the despised One, to the One abhorred by the nation, to the Servant of rulers” (49:7). The historical reality predicted is that most men would reject this Servant and His own nation would reject Him. Though He would be God in the flesh, His mission would require of Him submission to various rulers, yet the end of the verse teaches that the tables will be reversed and that rulers in the future will be required to bow down to Him (Philippians 2:9-11).
The Favorable Time, the Day of Salvation
“In a favorable time I have answered You, and in a day of salvation I have helped You” (49:8). God will come to the aid of His Servant, He will do so at an acceptable time, that is, a time of His choosing, one that is in accordance with His pleasure and His will. In 2 Corinthians 6:2 Paul quotes this passage and then adds, “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation”. “And I will keep You and give You for a covenant of the people” (49:8). “This suggests that Christ will be the means through which men can be brought into harmony with God” (Jackson p. 98). His blood would establish the new covenant.
The Results of His Work
“Saying to those who are bound, ‘Go forth’” (49:9). Men previously bound by sin, tradition, superstition, worry, or guilt are released. “To those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves’” (49:9). People who have been sitting in spiritual darkness are commanded to come forth and “show themselves”, that is, “declare yourselves to be on God’s side—take your stand” (Hailey p. 410). There are obligations that come with deliverance, and one obligation is to tell others what God has done for you (1 Peter 2:9; Luke 8:39 “Return to your house and describe what great things God has done for you”). We need more of this today. As unbelievers ridicule the gospel, former sinners need to stand up and proclaim the bondage of their past life and the reality of their present change and deliverance. One of the best arguments against the concept that certain sins are genetic or inborn is the transformed drug addict, fornicator, angry person or homosexual. “They will not hunger or thirst, neither will the scorching heat or sun strike them down; for He who has compassion on them will lead them, and will guide them to springs of water” (49:10). Here is the picture of the Messiah being the good Shepherd and caring for His sheep. The picture is one of sheep whose needs are all provided. “And I will make all My mountains a road, and My highways will be raised up” (49:11). The idea here is of easy access, a situation in which all the obstacles have been removed. One application is that once a person decides to surrender to God, all the things that formerly prevented them from changing are removed. It is amazing how a simple attitude change, such as humility instead of arrogance, gratitude instead of a feeling of entitlement or self-pity, opens the way for so much change. As long as we hold onto arrogance, ingratitude or selfish anger, change will be agonizingly slow.
“But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me’. Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget” (49:14-15). Here is the common and oft-occurring complaint given by Israel and so often echoed through the ages, that God has forsaken us. Yet it is a false complaint. God never forgets His people; they are always before His mind (49:16); they are written on His hands (49:16).
The Huge Influx
“Surely now you will be too cramped for the inhabitants” (49:19). “The children of whom you were bereaved will yet say in your ears, the place is too cramped for me; make room for me that I may live here. Then you will say in your heart, ‘Who has begotten these for me…Behold I was left alone; from where did these come’” (49:20-21). In times past many Israelites had fallen away from the faith and the faithful had become few. Yet in the future spiritual Zion will find herself amazed at how many believers have arrived, these believers will include multitudes of believing Gentiles (49:6,22). One application is that apostates are replaced by believers. In the Old Testament, many in Israel did not want to serve God, they were replaced by believing Gentiles who wanted to serve Him. Even if family members fall away or never want to convert, the good news is that others will replace them (Mark 10:28-31). Christians are never wanting for friends, father and mother figures, or young people they might spiritually “adopt” in a congregation.
God is Able
“Can the prey be taken from the mighty man, or the captives of a tyrant be rescued? Surely, thus says the Lord, ‘Even the captives of the mighty man will be taken away, and the prey of the tyrant will be rescued; for I will contend with the one who contends with you’” (49:24-25). Yes, in response to the skeptical question, “Can the prey be taken”, there is an empathic “yes”! God can deliver anyone who desires to be delivered, no matter how “strong” the bondage or tyrant is. Anyone who attempts to hinder this deliverance is not contending with man, but is going up against God Himself. The result is inevitable---God will win!