Isaiah 49:1-7 - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Isaiah 49:1-7


The Servant of the LORD gives his Testimony

In the last few chapters Isaiah has been our attention concentrating upon Cyrus. While his role was significant for the life of the nation of Israel Cyrus could only ever be a political deliverer and nothing more. He might well free the nation of Israel from their exile in Babylon but there would still be no peace for the wicked – another deliverer was needed who would be able to resolve the problem of the human heart. And so the focus now shifts and Isaiah looks even further into the future with the coming of Jesus Christ, the Servant of the LORD, now his major theme.

Back in Is.42 Isaiah has already introduced us to this Servant of the Lord in what is known as the first of the Servant Songs. There he told us a certain number of things about this Servant:

  • He was chosen by the LORD and then sent and upheld by him.

  • He was endued with the Spirit of the LORD and so enabled to minister

  • He ministered humbly and gently yet with steely determination to get his job done

  • His task involved bringing justice and salvation to the nations

Here in ch.49 we discover more about this Servant and the mission he had to accomplish and we have it in autobiographical form.

The Servant Speaks (vv.1-6) – unique testimony.
Before we get to the explicit content of the Servant's testimony there are a couple of things which we shouldn't pass over without comment.

  • "Listen to me" – this little opener seems so ordinary doesn't it? But the way it is used by the prophet Isaiah is anything but!

Wherever else Isaiah employs this exact phrase we find that the speaker is God and God alone. It is a formula that Isaiah only ever uses with reference to God. The very clear implication then is that here Isaiah is attributing divine status to the Servant!

With our NT understanding of the person of Christ we are, or should be, alerted to the fact that Isaiah is writing about the incarnate Jesus!

  • In harmony with the use of a phrase restricted to deity is the scope of the audience that is being addressed. The Servant is calling upon the entire world to pay heed to what he has to say and it is very rare to find such a world wide address being made in the prophets. There is a glimpse here of what will be developed more fully later that this Servant has a dual ministry: not only does he have a ministry to accomplish with regards to Israel he also will do something for the nations.

His appointment v.1
v.1b "The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name."

This Servant was no self-appointed volunteer but one who had been chosen by God from before his birth. The Servant was conscious of the fact that he had been called and was well aware that indeed his whole life was governed by this call to act as the LORD's spokesman.

However in speaking as he does the Servant draws attention now to another aspect of his being. If he speaks with a divine voice he is also to be understood as being fully human and he underscores the fact of his humanity by making references to his birth.

The Servant of this song is very special indeed.

But how can one and the same person be both human and divine?  I wonder what Isaiah made of it all. Well, Isaiah and his contemporaries may not have been able to formulate a very clear answer to such a question but the NT church certainly was. Confronted with the person of the Lord Jesus Christ (his authority, his power, his words and his deeds) the church had to think very seriously about just who this man was. As they reflected upon all the relevant data the church was forced to the conclusion that he was indeed the God-man – one person with two natures he was both human and divine!

And when we accept this teaching as we turn to the NT and consider the person of our Saviour, we find that so many seemingly small and insignificant details also fall into place. For example when the OT refers to the coming Messiah it often includes a reference to his mother – why should this be the case especially in such a male dominated society? Well the NT makes it clear when it records that Jesus was born of a virgin with no male intervention and suddenly everything fits.

Now I don't want to make a big thing of this but simply to point out that this is just one more mark of authenticity about the entire Christian faith – it has the ring of truth about it. If you are a Christian you can sure that your faith is securely founded upon the truth. If you are not a Christian you are not merely choosing one lifestyle over another you are rejecting truth!

His ministry v.2
v.2 "He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away."

Not only was the Servant call and appointed to his task he was prepared for it as well. That task is described here as being that of a preacher/teacher – the Servant would have to function as the mouthpiece, the spokesman of the LORD.

The Servant refers to the instrument of speech – the mouth and compares it to two pieces of military equipment. In the light of what is explained a few verses later we can say that there are two pieces because there is a dual aspect to the ministry to be accomplished by this Servant. He will exercise his ministry on behalf of Israel v.5 but he will also serve the well-being of the nations too, the Gentiles v.6. Perhaps it is not too fanciful to suggest that the sword being a weapon used in close proximity relates to Israel whereas the arrow, which is used for those further away, relates to the far flung Gentile nations.

The fact that weapons are used to describe the Servant's ministry tells us that his ministry would not be readily accepted but rather that it would meet with opposition and hostility even though he was about the LORD's business of doing good to the world.

Both weapons are well-prepared: the sword is sharp and the arrow is well-polished. A sharp sword cuts easily and effectively and is used in the NT to describe the very Word of God:

Heb.4:12 "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two–edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."

A well-polished arrow is one that has a clean shaft and will fly without deviation towards its intended target:

Ps.64:7 speaks of how God frustrates the plans of the wicked with his arrows:

"But God shoots his arrow at them; they are wounded suddenly."

Earlier in the history of Israel King Ahab had been killed by an arrow. Ahab had tried to disguise himself in the battle but an enemy soldier just fired off an arrow at random and it struck home between the joints of Ahab's armour and he died. An arrow is very effective when guided by God's hand.

This Servant was well-prepared: what about the state of our weapons?

His identity v.3

v.3 "And he said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.""

The Servant now identifies himself as being Israel – what are we to make of this? Who exactly is this Servant declaring himself to be? Is this the nation of Israel that is in view or is this someone else?

Looking down just a couple of verses to v.5 that part of the task of this Servant is to serve the well-being of Jacob/Israel – the nation cannot serve itself here so we must find the identity of the Servant elsewhere.

The second half of v. 3 gives us a clue:

"the one in whom the LORD God declares that he will be glorified."

God choose Abraham to head up his chosen people through whom the nations of the world were to be blessed as part of God's plan. Yet as we read through the history of God's people we read a history of failure and there seems to be a progressive narrowing down from Israel the nation as a whole, to the remnant - that Israel within Israel – until finally we meet with one individual, the Servant of the Lord, the very epitome of all that Israel was meant to be, the one in whom God could finally be fully pleased and fully glorified. (This idea is referred to as Delitzsch's pyramid.)

Jesus was and is everything that God wanted of his people – he and he alone matches up – he is indeed the true Israel. Jesus in fact made this very clear in the NT when taking one of the terms that was used in OT times to describe the nation of God's people he applied it to himself in a unique way. This is what he said:

Jn.15:1 "I am the true vine"

Jesus when he came identified fully with God's people and his identification was so great that he took upon himself the very sins that disqualified men and women from being used to display God's glory! In the accomplishment of his mission he would secure the full and complete approval of his Father!

To return to the idea of the pyramid once more – as God's searched narrowed until Jesus alone was found to be acceptable so with the accomplishment of his mission so the pyramid once more expands as many flood into the kingdom benefiting from the grace of God in Jesus Christ – the many would include both Jew and Gentile as this passage goes on to explain.

His despondency/discouragement and how he dealt with it v.4

v.4 But I said, "I have laboured in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God.""

We are on holy ground and need to tread with care but this verse suggests to us that in the exercise of his ministry that Jesus was tempted to become discouraged. Now being tempted is a very different thing to giving way and wallowing in sinful discouragement. We know that Jesus never failed in anything that he ever did and so did not sin here either. And yet we are not to imagine that that made everything life easy for him and do we not catch glimpses of disappointment as he met with the sinful shortcomings of others of whom he hoped so much more?

Do you remember when Jesus healed the man with a withered hand one Sabbath day in the synagogue? Those there were looking for a reason to accuse him and no-one would answer him as to whether it was lawful or not to do good on the Sabbath. This is how Jesus reacted:

Mk.3:5 "And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored."

Does this not suggest that he was hoping for a different, better response from those present and that he was disappointed by what he saw?

Or again when approaching Jerusalem and he lamented over it:

Mt.23:37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!"

Isn't the pain of disappointment present?

Or when he met with Nicodemus? Isn't a certain measure of disappointment to be found in his question to Nicodemus:

Jn.3:10 "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?"

Immediately after his Transfiguration Jesus was met with by an unhappy scene – some of his disciples were at the centre of it all, they had failed to heal a sick boy and his father was desperate. What are we to make of Jesus' words?

Mt.17:17 "And Jesus answered, "O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.""

Perhaps throughout his ministry Jesus was exposed to such temptations – after all here was the finest teacher who had ever walked upon the face of the earth and the results were apparently not commensurate with his abilities. Perhaps the enemy whispered to him that he simply wasn't cutting it – how discouraging that can be. Yes, it can be discouraging if we take our eyes off the LORD and focus on what we can see and on what we think we understand – but that is NOT what this Servant did! If we would avoid the perils of undue disappointment and despondency then we have the example of Jesus to imitate!

He trusted, and maintained his trust, in the LORD!

Put simply that means here that he did what he had to do and left the rest with the LORD who was well able to do what was right!

His victory vv.5-6

vv.5-6 "And now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him – for I am honoured in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength – he says: "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.""

The Servant is still the one speaking and he reminds himself just who the LORD is and what he has done as he speaks to us. The Servant's confidence is in the LORD – he knows what the LORD has called him to and relies upon the LORD in order to carry out his mission successfully. His confidence is not in what he sees working out but in the promises of God and what wonderful promises they turn out to be.

In his mission to serve and to save Israel the Servant had encountered the temptation to give way to discouragement as results were slow to come if they came at all. But the LORD did not regard his Servant's work as a failure no, not in the slightest! Indeed so pleased was the LORD with his Servant that he is rewarded tremendously – to serve and to save Israel alone was far too small a thing for this magnificent Servant! He would be made a light to the nations – he would be made the Saviour of the world! Indeed the Servant himself is the salvation that will go out to the ends of the earth.

And we today are beneficiaries! We don't have some bare salvation but we have Jesus who is himself both the Saviour and the Salvation we need!

What an encouragement this should be to us – firstly to rejoice that God's estimate of Jesus is so very high – how this guarantees our eternal safety! And secondly, if this is the reward for looking to the LORD and not trusting in our own understanding of what is being accomplished then surely we will want to fight against any temptation to focus upon what we might think is being achieved as we seek to serve him!

The LORD responds to his Servant's testimony Part I v.7
The Servant has finished his testimony and now the LORD responds to what has been said:

v.7 "Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: "Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.""

In fact this is the first of a two part response - we'll have to come back to the second part vv.8-13 if the LORD permits us.
We're told here that the task laid out before the Servant is far from being an easy one or a soft option. The Servant will be despised and abhorred – in short he will be hated as he goes about his ministry. How we see this worked out in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ! He came unto his own and his own would not receive him. From the earliest days of his public ministry the leaders turned against him seeking to find a way to have done with him. Those who initially responded positively towards him began to find some of what he had to say too tough and abandoned him. In spite of going around and doing good he was delivered into the hands of wicked men who treated him oh so badly before they finally put him to death.

And yet this did not signify failure – it didn't indicate that the Servant had made a mistake and had misunderstood his calling – no, none of that. The LORD reaffirms that he had been the One who had chosen this Servant and would vindicate the faith that his Servant had placed in him. The ministry of the Servant in favour of the nations would prove to be a success!

When we turn to the NT we find scattered across its pages evidence of blessing coming to Gentiles – Matthew in particular highlights this for us. And since then down through the centuries countless thousands of Gentiles have prostrated themselves before this Servant who is truly the Saviour of the World.


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