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Commentary on Isaiah 49-55.
Chapter 49. The New Servant And The Deliverance of Israel.
Up to this point the Servant has been seen as potentially all the seed of Abraham. In Abraham his seed had entered the land and God’s purpose was that through him, and them, all the nations of the world would be blessed. Israel was summed up in Abraham. They were seen as the extension of what he was. They were seen as the Servant because they flowed from him. They were the extension of Abraham. Potentially therefore all Israel could be seen as the Servant.
But this is not all the truth, for as we saw in 42.1-4 the Servant was also seen having the Spirit on him, as bringing justice to the Gentiles, as establishing justice in the earth and as having the isles/coastlands waiting for His Instruction. Here we have the true king as described in the words of Moses, who treasures Yahweh’s word and holds it in his heart so that he is fully obedient to Yahweh (Deuteronomy 17.18-19), never turning aside from it, but rather requiring his people to walk in it. The Servant is in a real sense both priest and prophet, leading forward his people so that they too can serve Yahweh.
The ideal hope expressed here was of an Israel who under their prophet king would be a witness for Yahweh to the Gentiles.
But the practicality was different. For now it is made clear that the actual Servant does not include all who would call themselves sons of Abraham. For the Servant is seen in this chapter as having a ministry to carry out on behalf of the whole of Israel (verse 5). Israel as a whole have failed on their part and excluded themselves from being a part of the Servant. This comes out in that here the Servant speaks, and in a striking declaration declares that Yahweh has designated him as the true Israel (verse 3) who is to bring back the light of salvation to the remainder of Jacob/Israel, raising them up and restoring them, in addition to his work of reaching out with it the Gentiles (verse 6).
Thus the Servant is now comprised of the true seed of Abraham only, the godly who have remained faithful to Him, those who obey Him. Professed outward connection is one thing, but it is only those who are obedient to the covenant who are to be seen as truly His. Disobedience is seen as resulting in amputation from the head.
Being ‘Israel’ was a fluid concept. It was open to all who would come and submit themselves to Yahweh and His covenant. Any man could enter Israel by being circumcised and submitting to Yahweh and the covenant, even though he was previously a resident alien (Exodus 12.48-49). In the same way an Israelite could be blotted out from among Israel for gross sin (Exodus 32.33). One way in which this was represented in the Law was by the phrase ‘cut off from among the people’ (Genesis 17.14). There were a number of offences for which this was the penalty, including ‘presumptious sin’ (Numbers 15.30).
There were specially heinous crimes for which there was the death penalty for the same reason. When, for example, a man or woman ‘dishonoured’ father and mother, or flagrantly went against them, or sought to bring them under a curse, that man or woman was to be put to death. Such were to be cut off from among the people, for they were rejecting God’s appointed authority. It was a choice that they had made for themselves. By their act they had deliberately excluded themselves from obedience to covenant authority. And this applied to the dishonouring of any ‘father’, the father of a household, the father of a clan, the father of a sub-tribe, right up to the tribal father. Another way of looking at this was that any man who dishonoured any of these was thus seen as ‘cursed’ (Deuteronomy 27.16) under the covenant.
The same applied to anyone guilty of idolatry. Such a person also must be put to death (Exodus 22.20). They were to be cut off from among the people. They too were ‘cursed’ (Deuteronomy 27.15). But in Yahweh’s eyes a person was also ‘cursed’, and therefore to be cut off from among the people, for not confirming the words of the covenant (Deuteronomy 27.26). True Israel was the Israel who obeyed God from the heart, and submitted to His covenant. While outwardly none may know the true situation, if a man did not in his heart confirm the words of the covenant he was to be seen as cut off from among the people. He was ‘cursed’.
The idea of ‘God’s people’ is therefore always in tension. Outwardly it is those who appear to profess obedience to the covenant. But that was often nominal, and as we have just seen many of them were under the curse of Yahweh for their secret sins and were thus not in His eyes His people. Many were idolatrous and openly disobedient. Many did not confirm the words of His covenant in their hearts. As He could say to Elijah, ‘Yet will I leave me seven thousand in Israel who have not bowed the knee to Baal’ (1 Kings 19.18). Yahweh always knew those who were His.
In modern times we may call such people ‘spiritual Israel’, but that would not have been a concept appreciated then. They did, however have a similar idea. In the end they knew that for Yahweh Israel was made up of those who had not ‘cut themselves off’ from Israel by their behaviour. Those who had not subjected themselves to the final ‘curse’. Those who had not been ‘blotted out’ of His book. In Isaiah’s term the true Israel was ‘the holy seed’ (6.13)
So when we learn here that the Servant is the one who will bring Jacob again to Him, and gather Israel to Him, who will raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the preserved of Israel (49.7), we know that he cannot be seen as representing Israel as a whole. The Servant is now to be seen as representing at the very most an inner circle in Israel, the faithful in Israel, who still honoured His covenant. Yet he is still described as ‘Israel’ (verse 3) because in Yahweh’s eyes he alone represents the true Israel. He represents the faithful core of Israel, being made up of the coming Messiah Immanuel, of Isaiah himself and of all who were faithful to His covenant and sought to bring Israel back to God. These were the Israel not blotted out in God’s eyes, not ‘cut off from Israel’. These were His Servant.
We have here a similar idea to that later enunciated by Paul (Romans 11.16-24). Here is the olive tree, which is the equivalent of the Servant. The fruitful branches remain in the olive tree, but the useless branches are cut off from the olive tree. However, if they cease to be useless they can be grafted in again. And others also can be grafted in, for He is not only to restore Israel but He is to be a light to the Gentiles (49.6). We can also compare Jesus as the true vine and His true people as the branches. While they are abiding in Him they are living branches, but once they cease abiding in Him and become fruitless they are to be cut off and burned (John 15.1-6). These words are in fact especially significant, for the vine was regularly used as a picture of Israel (Isaiah 5.1-7). Thus His claim to be the ‘true vine’ signified that He represented in Himself the true Israel, with those who were His branches also making up the true Israel. It is a very similar idea to the Servant.
So the true people of God are always in God’s eyes those who are responding in faithfulness, and they alone. That is why those who do not ‘confirm all of the words of the Law to do them’ are under His curse (Deuteronomy 27.26). They are no longer His people. (The same is true of the church. There is an outward church to which men outwardly belong, but His true church consists only of those who truly believe in Him and are responsive to His word in their hearts).
The Servant is also to be seen in another way, for he is not only to be given as a light to the Gentiles (42.6; 49.6), but is also to be given as ‘a covenant to the people’ (49.8). Just as He brought light to the Gentiles, so would He bring the covenant to His people. Now there is only one who, in this section from 40-55, is stated to be connected with the everlasting covenant given to the people, and is to be a witness given to the peoples, and a leader and commander to the peoples, and that is the coming ‘David’ (55.3). He is the one who represents the covenant to all who wish to respond to it. Thus the servant is here closely aligned with the coming ‘David’ (for this use of ‘David’ as signifying also his seed compare 1 Kings 12.16), the one who will establish Yahweh’s everlasting covenant with His people.
Furthermore much else about the Servant demands such a royal figure. In 42.4 he is to set ‘judgment’ in the earth, and the coastlands/isles are to wait for His Torah (law, instruction) in a context where he is similarly given as a covenant to the people (42.6). He is to have jurisdiction over the world. It does not matter whether we see ‘judgment’ as signifying ‘right religion’ or as meaning ‘the application of God’s law’, for both were the same to Israel. They were seen as a people bound by the Law, and the king was seen as the one who above all was to keep that Law and was to administer it and face them up with it (Deuteronomy 17.18-19).
It is to the Servant that Israel are to gather (49.5). It is he who will raise them up and restore them. Kings will arise at his presence and princes pay homage (49.7). He will be exalted, and lifted up and be very high (52.13). All this fits in with the idea of the coming king who is to be an ensign to the people (11.10), who is to rule the everlasting kingdom (9.7), who is have the Spirit upon him and is to rule in righteousness and judge and reprove all for whom he is responsible (11.1-4), and who is to be the highest of the kings of the earth (Psalm 89.27).
He is, however, also to be the prince of peace (9.6 compare 42.2-3), in whose day the wolf will dwell with the lamb (11.6). So while he will have supreme power there is to be nothing martial or overbearing about him. His final aim is to establish all creation in harmony.
Indeed if we take the book as one whole, (and it is one whole whatever its antecedents might be), this must be so. It is inconceivable that this great figure should not be connected with the equally great prince of peace who is coming. Later Israel would not connect the two, but that was mainly because they turned the prince of peace into the great man of war who would rise up and give them a special status above all others. Their general idea of peace was that everyone else was to be subdued to them. On the whole they did not want a suffering martyr but a great hero (although there were, of course, always exceptions). The peace they sought was their own. But there can be no doubt really that the Servant in 42.1-4 and here reflects echoes of the Spirit-filled king who will judge the poor with righteousness and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth. So both king and faithful people were involved in the Servant, who is a corporate figure similar to the ‘son of man’ in Daniel 7 who is at one point the king coming to God on behalf of his people (Daniel 7.13-14), and on the other represents the people as a whole, who are seen as ‘human’ as compared with the wild beast empires.
In ancient times king and people were seen as bound up in each other. Regularly the king could represent the people in religious ceremonies, acting as their representative, and even as their substitute, before the gods. And this representative status was certainly true of the Davidic king. When the king did what was right in the eyes of Yahweh, the nation was blessed. When he did what was evil in the eyes of Yahweh the nation was punished. (That is the principle behind the books of Kings). He was ever seen as representing Israel. He was their very life (Lamentations 4.20). They felt bound up in him. In a very real sense therefore he would be seen by Israel as being in his own person ‘Israel’. So they would certainly have conceived of him as being addressed as ‘Israel’.
It is in fact impossible to avoid the idea that in certain places in the Servant passages the Servant has in the end very much the attributes of the coming king. We can indeed go further. We can in such places say that he is the expected king, the great representative of Israel who speaks in Israel’s name and by whose activity Israel will be judged. But he is a king uniquely in Israel’s image. He is the studier and dispenser of the word (42.1-4; Deuteronomy 17.18-20). His purpose is to bring Yahweh’s word home to the people. And he is not seen as alone, for a king is never alone, he represents his obedient people. Others too assist him in his task. Thus king and faithful people are seen as acting together as one in the Servant, but with the king taking a prominent role.
Abraham was originally the type of the coming king and pointed towards His coming. He too was one and yet many (51.2). His tribe and his later seed were all seen as bound up in him. That is why on a careless reading of Genesis we can think of Abraham as a solitary nomad travelling around with his family and a few sheep. But to the writer, and to the discerning reader, ‘Abraham’ is seen as including the thousands of his ‘household’ who travelled with him. They were ‘Abraham’.
The very idea of a king is that he is king over his people. When the idea is at its best king and people go together. A king without a people is like an army without men. It is meaningless. When Abraham travelled around Palestine he was not alone. We may get that impression when we first start reading the narrative but we soon discover that it was not so. He was accompanied by his family tribe. Where he went they went. Often when we read ‘Abraham’ we must read ‘Abraham and his people’. It was simply assumed. Abraham summed them all up in himself. When ‘David’ smote the Philistines, it is immediately pointed out that it is David and his men (2 Samuel 5.20-21). When Sennacherib came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them (36.1), and claimed, ‘forty six cities of Judah I besieged and took’ was he to be seen as alone? Of course not. It was assumed that his people came with him. The one represented the whole. Every one responded to his command. All were spearheaded in the king.
We are certainly therefore to see here that the Servant here is both the coming king and those who were faithful in Israel, just as the ‘son of man’ in Daniel 7 represented both the prince (verses 13-14) and his people (verse 27). Wherever the king goes his faithful people go with him. Whatever the king does his faithful people do with him. So when God speaks to ‘Israel’ here He is speaking to the king. He is also speaking to his faithful followers. Concentration and emphasis is on the one who represents the many.
To many of us this idea is, to quite an extent, foreign. We start as individualists. We think individually. We strike out individually. We opt out individually. And no one thinks the worse of us for it. We start with ourselves and work up and outwards, opting in and out as we choose. We are individuals who are part of a larger group, but we do not always submit to the group. We consider that we have a right to be ‘ourselves’. But in ancient days men saw things differently. They saw themselves as part of a larger unit to which they were irrevocably bound and committed in a way that we would not admit today. They did not see themselves as individuals. They saw themselves as part of a family, which was part of a sub-tribe, which was part of a tribe, which was part of a nation over which was a king. And they were an essential part of that group. Thus the meanest man saw himself in a very real sense as being bound up in the king, like a little finger is part of the body. They did not question that commitment, they accepted it fully. The king represented them totally. He was their very breath. And this was especially so as he was ‘the anointed of Yahweh’ (Lamentations 4.20). They were bound up in all he did. The little finger did what the head said and was part of the whole, for attention was focused on the king. But in return he was what they were.
(Of course individualism would out. Men did rebel. It was in the nature of man. But woe betide him if the rebellion failed. He was seen as having broken the unity. He was utterly to be condemned. No one would have questioned the fact. He must be cut off. The only way to survive in such circumstances was to be successful and form a new unity in which all were bound).
So potentially the Servant, because he is Abraham, is all ‘the seed of Abraham’, and that includes the kings who came from his loins. But in reality he is the faithful seed of Abraham, for they alone are his true seed, the rest are cut off because disobedient, and above all he is the faithful king. In essence he is the one to whom that seed pointed. In the end the seed of Abraham comes to prime fulfilment in the coming King Who alone fulfils Abraham’s destiny. He replaces Abraham as the focal point. We could call him the new Abraham who is greater than Abraham. It began with Abraham, it will end with the prince who is the mighty God, the everlasting father, the prince of peace (9.6), the Abraham beyond Abraham. He will have fulfilled Abraham’s destiny. The faithful are God’s Servant, and have their part to play in His service, but in the end there is only One Who really fulfils that service, the one to whom all points, the only One who was ever truly obedient. All in the end flow from Him.
Note on the Servant Songs.
‘The Servant Songs’ is the name usually given to the songs in 42.1-4; 49.1-6; 50.4-9; 52.13-53.12. These are seen by the majority of scholars as originally standing on their own, and regularly seen as indicating a unique individual. They are then seen as later incorporated into the larger text of Isaiah 40-55.
We have no quarrel with that idea, and indeed there is much to be said for it. It seems to us very conceivable that in his ‘retirement’ and contemplation Isaiah received the vision of the coming Servant, based on the king of whom he had already written in 7-11, but with a new recognition that the way for the king was not to be easy.
We may see him as first writing poems about the accession and triumph of the coming king, establishing justice and taking Yahweh’s Instruction to the world, and taking Yahweh’s light to the Gentiles (42.1-4; 49.1-6; 11.1-9; 9.2). But even in this he recognises the important part that was to be played by the words from his mouth (49.1-6; compare 42.3).
Then, remembering Moses’ description of the true Yahweh-approved king in Deuteronomy 17.18-19, he saw that such a king could, in the light of the present condition of Israel, only reach his throne after having seen off the many who despised Yahweh’s Instruction, as a result of Yahweh’s action on his behalf (50.4-9), and he foresaw that this would inevitably result in humiliation before his final vindication.
He would know that as a uniquely born prince (7.14), not directly born through the earthly seed of the king, Immanuel was never going to be in a position of simple accession. It would be clear that his accession could only come about through God’s working. This conception of the new prince as coming with Yahweh’s instruction and being for a time rejected for it may well have caused him to write 50.4-9, for in these days at the court of the evil king Manasseh he no doubt saw much evidence of the humiliation of those who were faithful to Yahweh in the court of the king. There may indeed have been one particular incident that sparked off his thinking.
As he contemplated further, this apparently then, as a result of his deep sense of sin (6.5; 64.6), led on to his recognition that there had to be one who was Israel’s representative, one who could therefore be addressed as ‘Israel’ (49.3), and who could in himself bear the sins of Israel. He would wholly fulfil his position by himself bearing the sins of Israel through suffering and initial rejection (53.2-9; Psalm 22), followed by death as a guilt offering, and then by resurrection (53.10-13; 25.8), the latter vindicating first himself and then those of his people who were responsive to Yahweh’s covenant (53.10-13; 26.19) so that he could finally rule over the everlasting kingdom (42.1-4; 49.1-6; 11.1-9; 2.3-4; 4.5-6; 26.1-4; 27.2-6; 32.1-7; 33.20-21; 55.3, 9-13; 65.17-25). And he would know that he could do this because he would be no ordinary man, but would be Yahweh’s ‘sole man’ (50.2), the ‘one’ who was coming, ‘the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father’ (9.6).
Then afterwards, inspired by God as he contemplated further, Isaiah recognised in all that was happening that Yahweh would fulfil His work promised through Abraham His servant (41.8), and incorporated these songs into his wider view of the Servant in the way in which we now have it. This incorporation of the one into the other explains both the connection of the two ideas, and the tension that arises between them.
End of note.
The Words of The Servant (49.1-6).
These are the first words represented as being by the Servant. Compare 41.1. There the coastlands/isles were to witness the rise of the Servant. And it was followed by ‘beholding the Servant’ (42.1). But they had also witnessed that Israel did not live up to being the Servant. So now, having seen the failure of that Servant, they are spoken to by the new Servant. And he has a new task. He is to be concerned with the restoration of Israel, as well as with the purpose of fulfilling the destiny of the Servant towards the nations. He is to take on himself the whole world.
So in these words he speaks to the wider world. The ‘coastlands/isles’ are the world across the sea, while the ‘peoples from afar’ are all the nations not closely associated with Israel. The message is for the whole world because all have an interest in it.
Firstly he identifies himself. He was called from the womb and mention was made of his name by God even from the inner parts (bowels) of his mother, so closely was his destiny connected with God and His will. In Isaiah there is only one of whom this is true, ‘an ‘almah will be with child and will bear a son, and his name will be called Immanuel’ (7.14). He was named even before he was in the womb. There was only One other Who was accorded this privilege, ‘you shall call His name Jesus, for he will save His people from their sins’ (Matthew 1.21), and Matthew links Him with this prophecy of Immanuel. In contrast Maher-shalal-hashbaz was named after he had left the womb, for he was but a sign to Israel (8.3).
Earlier Israel as the Servant had been ‘formed from the womb’ (44.2, 24) and had from the womb been ‘borne’ by Yahweh (46.3) but they were not described as ‘called’ from the womb or ‘named’ in the womb. God had a purpose for them from the beginning, but they were not called or named while in the womb. Here then is someone very special who has a special destiny, he is ‘called’ from the womb’, and significantly ‘named’ while in the womb prior to his birth because of his destiny. In Isaiah there is only one such, Immanuel (7.14; 9.6-7). For Immanuel was to come forth from his mother as one already named by God. Immanuel was not just a name given to him after he was born, it was a name intended to be pregnant with significance in his very birth, a significance which proved that Yahweh had uniquely set him apart. Indeed a direct contrast is made with Israel, for they were ‘called a transgressor from the womb’ (48.8), whereas He from the womb was called ‘God with us’ (immanu el). We are immediately therefore taken back to the coming greater David.
This interpretation is supported by the reference to His mother. Israel is never described as being born from a mother but ‘formed from the womb’, with the one who did the bearing being indefinite. In their case it means ‘each from his very beginning, as part of the whole’. But the birth of God’s chosen one is regularly connected specifically to His mother (7.14; Genesis 3.15; Psalm 22.9), and surely here has 7.14 especially in mind. Such a reference stresses the individual nature of the Servant here, even though he incorporates in himself his people. Ultimately the Servant is Immanuel.
His mouth is His powerful weapon, a sharp sword with which He is able to smite men with His words and discern their inner thoughts (compare Revelation 1.16; 19.15; Hebrews 4.12; Ephesians 6.17). He needs no earthly sword. He will win with words. This is no ordinary king. He does not require weapons of iron, He uses powerful words.
‘In the shadow of His hand He has hidden me.’ ‘In the shadow of His hand’ parallels ‘in his quiver has He kept me’. The latter speaks of the quiver as enclosing the arrow, and the former must therefore be connected with the sword. It is telling us that the sword, which is His mouth, is sheathed in the shadow of God’s hand. There it is completely preserved and when it comes forth, it comes forth from God’s hand. It is evidence that His words come from God. He does not speak of Himself, but what Yahweh would say, that He will speak (see 50.4 and compare John 7.16-18). But it is not only the sword which is in that scabbard, He too is in that scabbard. He too therefore is the preserved of God and revealed as God’s weapon.
A polished shaft/arrowhead is one that has been made deadly accurate. It will not swerve from its main course. Thus is He set to move forward with accuracy and speed, He is kept safe and close and polished in the Almighty’s quiver. He is powerfully armed with all that God has provided for Him, and He does not just use the weaponry, He is the weaponry.
49.3 ‘And he said to me, “You are my servant Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’
The Servant is now addressed as ‘My Servant Israel’. The one who stands here has taken over the mantle of Israel. Israel had proved faithless. Thus they had to be replaced by one who would restore Israel. This one has been selected out to represent Israel and fulfil Israel’s destiny as the Servant so as to bring glory to God. He stands in the place of Israel. He is the ‘Israel’ who acts in Israel’s name. As Immanuel He has been chosen so that He may restore Israel, and more, be a light to the Gentiles. And He will do it along with those who are His faithful people. Typical of His true people will be that they cry, ‘Glory to the Righteous One’ (24.16). He sums up Israel in Himself, and the true Israel follow His bidding. By this God will be glorified.
‘In whom I will be glorified.’ The purpose of the Servant is that he might bring glory to God by the carrying forward of His purposes. God was not glorified in Israel. Israel had brought shame on His name. And so He appoints one to act in Israel’s name, to do what Israel has failed to do.
When Jesus came He laid great stress on this, and on His own responsibility to fulfil Israel’s destiny. He spoke of Himself as ‘the true Vine’ (John 15.1). He summed up Israel in Himself. He declared of Himself ‘I have glorified You on earth, I have finished the work that you gave me to do’ (John 17.4). He saw Himself as the Servant, Who had come ‘to serve and to give His life a ransom for many’ (Mark 10.45), and He saw Himself as having satisfactorily completed that task. But He also told His disciples that they must let their lights shine before men that they may see their good works and glorify their Father Who is in heaven (Matthew 5.16). They too were to be the Servant (compare Acts 13.47).
Here He identifies Himself with the Servant in the past. He looks back at the past efforts of the Servant. The Servant had achieved little. Even Isaiah’s words have been in vain up to this point (6.9-13). Almost nothing has been achieved. But it cannot continue so, for Yahweh passes judgment in His favour, and His God will recompense Him for His efforts. Thus He knows that as the Servant He will have a powerful and effective future.
He both identifies Himself with the Servant mentioned previously, ‘formed from the womb’ (44.2, 24; 46.3), and distinguishes Himself by His task. Israel/Jacob were formed from the womb that they might be mightily blessed and be witnesses to the nations (44.1-4; 43.10). But they had failed miserably. The first task of the new Servant is to fulfil the Servant’s task and bring Jacob back to Him again, and gather Israel to Him. This is a question of restoring the disobedient to obedience. The whole of Jacob has been in rebellion, categorised as transgressors (46.8; 48.8). They must be sought with a view to bringing them back to God. It is puerile just to see this as a question of restoring exiles, unless we include in it that they are repentant exiles. God is not seeking to people a land, but to establish a witness to the nations. He has the whole of Israel/Jacob in mind. They have to be brought back to Yahweh, to be restored to Him, and must be if they are to fulfil the Servant’s task.
And He can do this because unlike Jacob/Israel He is honourable in Yahweh’s eyes, and His God is His strength. This stresses the dishonourable and weak state of Jacob/Israel. It is also questionable whether to Isaiah a prophet would be spoken of in these terms. Isaiah had seen himself in the light of the holiness of God and had been appalled. He was therefore unlikely to describe a prophet as honourable. But it would be different with the miraculously born child (7.14) Whom God would raise up Whose destiny was to be the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father (9.6). He was truly honourable.
The strict reading in MT is ‘but Israel is not (lo’) gathered’. An alternative reading is ‘And that Israel be gathered to him (low)’ , an ancient correction (qere). The point in the strict MT reading would signify that while it is His task, it is not yet accomplished, but the whole context points to the correction as being correct.
49.6 ‘Yes, he says,
‘Raise up the tribes of Jacob’ is in parallel with being ‘a light to the Gentiles’ which confirms its moral significance. It is not just a matter of restoring exiles to the homeland, but of bringing them back to the light. ‘Restoring the preserved of Israel’, also has the same significance. Yahweh has preserved some of His people so that they might be restored to Him by the Servant (they will then again become part of the Servant). They are those remaining after God’s judgments (1.9; 6.13), even though at present in rebellion against God and battered down. They need to be raised up and restored. This is His first task.
But in view of Whom He is this is but a light task. It is too small. He is therefore also set to be ‘a light to the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation to the end of the earth.’ He will bring light to the nations who are in darkness, illuminating their minds and revealing the truth about Yahweh. Thus He will not only deliver Israel, but also the ends of the world, bringing them too into the everlasting kingdom, He Himself being their salvation (see Isaiah 53).
Note the parallel ‘you should be my servant’ with ‘that you may be my salvation’. He is to be both the Servant and the Deliverance. The deliverance is wrapped up in His person. He is to be the Saviour of the nations. He is thus more than a king, He is more than a prophet, He is the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (9.6).
The Triumph of the Servant Out of Humiliation (49.7-13).
49.7 ‘Thus says Yahweh, the redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
The Servant is now put in true perspective (compare verse 4). Initially he will despised by men, he will be hated by nations, he will be a servant of rulers. This depicts both the humiliation of Israel and the humiliation of the coming One as described in 53.1-4. But such humiliation only came on Israel when they sought to serve Yahweh only. It was their very distinctiveness that marked them out for such treatment, just as it would be the uniqueness of the Servant in chapter 53 which would bring on Him ignominy and shame. While they joined with others in their idolatry Israel would be welcomed. They would simply blend in with others. But once they turned from idols and put forward God’s Instruction, all would change. The world would turn on them because of their ‘peculiarity’, just as the Servant in chapter 53 would be treated in the same way because of His unique message and way of living. His life would be an offence because men had turned into their own way.
So Yahweh, the Redeemer of Israel, is the One Who has raised up this Servant to carry out His task of redemption. And it is the One Who is still Israel’s Holy One, will Who now speak to Him Who is despised by men (compare 53.3; 50.5-6) and abhorred by the nation (50.5-6), a servant of rulers (in a position where He has to submit to earthly rulers because He has not yet attained the authority which should be His).
Note the contrast between the Holy One and the despised One, One is in heaven and the other on the earth, One is set apart in holiness and glory, the other is walking in humility as a hated One and a mere servant. It is the Servant of the Holy One Who walks in humility and humiliation (compare Philippians 2.5-11). Men will despise Him because He seems so unimportant, (53.3 - and because He will be a despised Galilean), the nation will abhor Him because they feel uneasy at Him and dislike His message. Rulers will see Him as a common servant, to be treated as such because they reject His authority. Note also again the contrast. He is the exalted Servant of Yahweh, but rulers will see Him as but a common servant.
But Yahweh will turn the tables for Him. In the end kings will arise in His honour, princes will pay Him homage. And this will all be because of Yahweh’s faithfulness to Him, He Who as the Holy One of Israel has chosen Him. This anticipates 53.12, but also keeps in mind verse 23, and 60.3, 14-16.
Here again then we have blended King and people. Every nation saw itself as honoured when its king was honoured, that was also why they were to blame for his behaviour. It was why when the king was evil in the sight of Yahweh the people shared his ignominy. He could not do it unless they were willing. And when the king did what was right in the eyes of Yahweh, the effect passed on to the people. But the major impact came first through the behaviour of the king.
The reference of these verses to the ministry of Jesus and then to His resurrection glory is apparent. Beginning in humility and ending in glory He too would reveal Himself as the triumphant Servant (52.13-53.12).
What must now also be seen as significant is that although up to this point the use of the designation ‘Israel’ has been prolific in almost every chapter from chapter 40 onwards, the contrast here in verses 3, 5 and 6 are the last mention of Israel as such in this section up to chapter 66. It is henceforth only used genitivally, as for example when describing God as ‘the Holy One of Israel’. The people will from now on be referred to as ‘Zion’ and Jerusalem, or as ‘Jacob’. This must be seen as significant and surely has the purpose of preventing the too close identification of the One now spoken of as ‘Israel’ with the failing people of God. Israel has reached its ultimate in this distinctive Servant. The term can no longer therefore be applied in this context to the failing people. For from now on we have the contrast between God’s failing people and God’s humiliated but triumphant Servant.
The seeming exception in 63.16 is not really an exception because there Israel the Patriarch is in mind. (See on that passage). So all this may be seen as confirming that once ‘Israel’ had come to its culmination in the One Who represented it as only He could, and once He was called ‘Israel’, Isaiah was determined not to use it for any other, lest He Who is the only true representative of Israel be in some way diminished.
49.8-9a ‘Thus says Yahweh,
Yahweh now speaks to the Servant again. When the acceptable time comes, the time of God’s favour, when the day of salvation is about to dawn, Yahweh will answer Him and help Him. He will preserve Him and give Him for a covenant of the people. That is, He will cause Him to stand before the people as a guarantee of Yahweh’s covenant with them, the everlasting covenant, the sure mercies of David (55.3). And the purpose of this will be so that He might raise up the land and cause them to inherit desolate heritages. The land will be restored and He will make ‘a way in the wilderness’ (43.19-20). The heritage of each family will cease being desolate, and they will walk in well-watered ways. The Servant is acting for God on behalf of the people. He is doing the work of God. The result is that the land that they had inherited would become fruitful again. Out of their despair would come full restoration at His hands. And the ones who are to inherit will be called out of bondage and out of the darkness of prison houses, and told to go out and show themselves so that all might see that they have been delivered. It is a picture of triumphant salvation by the One of the many. The whole picture is of an ideal future.
To a certain extent some of this was fulfilled by men like Nehemiah and Ezra, Zerubbabel and Joshua, Haggai and Zechariah. They caused His returning people to inherit. But none of them became a light to the Gentiles, and for His salvation to the ends of the earth. That awaited the coming of Jesus, Who came into the world and restored those of His people who would hear the new covenant, releasing those who were bound by sin or in darkness, and easing the way for all to prosper under God. He came as a light into the world that men might not walk in darkness but might have the light of life (John 8.12). And in the end it was He alone Who could be for salvation to the ends of the earth, although we must include within His ministry His Apostles whom He appointed. They too were the Servant. If we ask which of the people of Israel alive in 1st century AD fulfilled these promises there can only be one answer. It the world was initially turned upside down by Jews, and those Jews were Jesus Himself, and the Apostles and their followers, and it was with a salvation centred on what Jesus had done. This is not just an interpretation, it is a unique fact of history. These were the first century fulfilment of the Servant.
This is now followed by a glorious picture of the new Exodus as God’s people travel home to Him.
The exiles of Israel will come from all parts of the world to have their part in this glorious salvation. It is for Israel both near and far. But note that this is not people returning in unbelief. They are responding to the call of the Servant. And God will be with them and will make the way pleasant for them. The mountains of the world belong to Him, and all its highways. And His mountains will all provide passage for His people, none will be insuperable, and they will walk in exalted highways, not those walked by unbelievers.
While it is a new worldwide Exodus, they will not this time have to come through a wilderness but across land abundant with food and pasture. There will be no hunger and thirst. No heatstroke or sun will smite them. For the One Who has mercy on them will be the One Who leads them, and He will guide them by springs of water. The way through the mountains will be made easy, and the lowly highways will be raised up. No up and down experiences for these. And they will come from far, from north and west and from the land of Sinim. Sinim is to us unidentified, (although connection with a tribal area of China has been suggested), but it is noteworthy that none were to come from the east. Babylon and the east are not mentioned, perhaps because Babylon was now seen as having been destroyed (47). These are the worldwide exiles which have resulted from the continual ravages of Assyria.
The later early returning exiles from Babylon would have opened their eyes at these words as they struggled back along the weary way, constantly searching for water, as would many who returned from other exiles. But that is not really the point behind the description. It rather speaks of spiritual welfare and blessing, and the help of God in whatever way they walk. And it was all a preparation, a foundation for what God would do in the future. The point being made is that God’s salvation will be made available wherever they are. The journey is really the journey back to Him. But of course it had to result in a return of the faithful to Jerusalem, for it was from there that His word had to go out to the nations (2.1-4).
It was therefore no mere coincidence when Luke pointed out that there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews from every nation under heaven (Acts 2.5). The exiles had returned. And it was from those of them who responded to Jesus Christ that God’s salvation was to be taken out to the ends of the earth. But the message was helped on by Jews of the Dispersion who came to Christ in many countries around the world, as well, of course, as by the new Israel of God. Thus His people came back to Him in all parts of the world. And the idealistic final picture behind all this is of all God’s people coming to the everlasting kingdom through the work of the Servant, and being provided for and helped on the way (35.10).
Once again the whole of creation is called on to declare its joy at what God has done for His people, and to wonder at His goodness and compassion on those who through affliction (48.10) have been brought back to Him. Both the heavens and the mountains, the exalted parts of creation, are to sing, and especially the mountains, for it is from them that the Good News is to be declared, while the whole earth is to be filled with joy. For Yahweh has brought about what He promised in 40.1, and has revealed His great mercy on them.
The book of Isaiah began with Yahweh calling on the heaven and earth as witnesses in 1.2. There they were to witness the failure and disobedience of Israel. In 44.23 heaven and earth then rejoiced at Yahweh’s offer of forgiveness of sins, and His potential blotting out of their transgressions, and the redemption of those who were truly His people. Now the same occurs again because of the Servant’s work on behalf of His people, restoring them and giving them hope.
The Despair of the People And Their Final Hope (49.14-26).
The picture now reverts. Yahweh’s call to them was to be His Servant, but instead they are sitting moaning on the ground. Here the picture is of Jerusalem in despair because of her present state and because so many of her children are so far from her in exile in different parts of the world, taken their by various invaders or having fled there for refuge. But God assures her of His love for her and that her children will return. And she is given the picture of her children returning in droves and reaching out and possessing the land. The picture is one of full restoration to the nation of their dreams, a guarantee that one day all will be put right in the everlasting kingdom. And that will be in the new heaven and the new earth (65.17).
We should note here that this is not the picture of a totally deserted Jerusalem needing to be inhabited. It is a picture of an inhabited and walled Jerusalem seeking to be delivered from her oppressors and longing for the return of its exiles, which fits Isaiah’s period perfectly.
49.14 ‘But Zion said, “Yahweh has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.” ’
Notice the change of description of God’s people to ‘Zion’. It is vivid. The picture is of Zion/Jerusalem sitting pathetically ringing her hands and looking round at her desolation. She is deserted and forsaken. She considers that she has no future. In 41.27 Zion had been addressed and had been told to behold Yahweh’s words through Isaiah. Now their failure to do so is made apparent.
So, in contrast with the greatness of the Servant, is the plaintiveness of the people as a whole, now no longer the wondrous vision of ‘Israel’, the strong Servant, but the sad picture of ‘Zion’ the self-pitying, the petulant (compare 40.27). You might get the impression here from what she says that Zion was totally without blame and that God had behaved dreadfully. They may even have felt that. In spite of all that they had done in forsaking Yahweh they were still unwilling to accept the truth about their own sinfulness and what they deserved. They had forsaken Him and forgotten Him, pushing Him to one side. And now they claimed that it was all His fault. Once we start to blame God it is a sign that we are totally wrapped up in ourselves and in our sin.
Isaiah has gradually been building up to this use of ‘Zion’. Previously it has mainly been ‘the daughters of Zion’ because Zion was seen as their abode, but as in 40.9; 41.27 Zion has gradually been personalised to represent its people. Zechariah will even use it of His people in far off countries (Zechariah 2.7). The use now fluctuates between meaning the people and meaning the place.
Their complaint is seen to be folly. Yahweh is the great covenant God, the One Who could say, ‘I am the One Who is there’ (Exodus 3.14), Who had proved His faithfulness through the generations, and Who mightily delivered them from Sennacherib. And yet they say that He has forsaken them, overlooking the fact that it is they who have failed to fulfil their part in the covenant, and it is they who have forsaken Him. They are like a man who deserts his wife and home for a good time, and, finding himself alone in a bedsit, having broken his marriage vows, blames is wife for letting him down. Then they add, ‘the Sovereign Lord has forgotten me.’ This is an equally foolish statement. They were claiming that He was so high and mighty that He had no time for them, when it was they who had had no time for Him. Their present state was all their own fault.
Yahweh’s reply is magnificent. Would a nursing mother forget her child, her own born son? Yes, that is even possible. It has happened. But on no account will Yahweh forget the people of Jerusalem. For Jerusalem is His daughter (1.8). She is engraved on the palms of His hands so that its walls are continually before Him. Note the implication that the walls are still standing. He has not forgotten Jerusalem. He had already proved it by His treatment of Sennacherib and Assyria.
Such statements as this built up the myth of the inviolability of Jerusalem. But while God would never forget Jerusalem, with all that it symbolised as the centre of His people’s worship, (a centre later transferred to heaven along with the resurrected Jesus, to the Jerusalem which is above - Galatians 4.26), it did not mean that He would not allow it to be taught a vivid lesson.
49.17 ‘Your children hurry, your destroyers and those who made you waste will go forth from you.’
She need not be concerned. Her children who have been exiled around the world are in a hurry to return, and they will hurry to her, while those who ravage her will depart. She will be left secure. The promise is a general one, it covers any who seek to lay her waste. All her enemies without exception will depart and leave her alone, for when her children return it will be to the everlasting kingdom. For ‘laid waste’ see verse 19. It is speaking of the lands around which are part of Jerusalem. It need not refer to the actual destruction of the city.
Some MS and versions have ‘your builders’ instead of ‘your children’ but verse 18 refers back to it and supports ‘children’.
Zion is to cease moaning with her eyes cast down and is to look up, and look around. And then she will behold. Then she will see her children gathering to her. And if only she will believe (‘see’) she will be able to take them all and wear them as an ornament, and decorate herself with them like a bride decorates herself with jewels. All that was needed was the eyes of men and women with faith in Yahweh who would recognise what God could do.
This could refer to any period when invaders had come in and ravaged the land. It would happen again and again. But she need not fear. For when her children return they will be so many that they will spread abroad and inhabit the land. The small amount she now possesses will be too restricted. And no one will be able to prevent it because those who ‘swallowed her up’ and so restricted her will be far away. Final triumph is guaranteed. The Assyrians had for a while left Judah with only a small area around Jerusalem. But Yahweh would expand it and ensure that it was inhabited.
She feels that she has been bereaved of her children, but those very children will yet return, and they will be so many that they will complain that there is not enough room and will require more space, filling the land to overflowing, and inhabiting it. And in amazement she will ask where these children have come from, even doubting that they can be her own. Note the sad description of her state, alone, without anything worthwhile and wandering helplessly and aimlessly about. And now she complains about her children having left her. When she was left alone, where were they? Thus when she does see her multiplicity of children she is pictured as being resentful. The idea is of a dissatisfied and discontented woman so as to bring out Judah’s present state.
The picture is one of hope out of despair. Who could have believed that stricken Jerusalem and its immediate environs would grow until it would contain almost the whole land of Israel. And yet that was what happened in later centuries. But even more astounding was the growth of ‘Zion’ when it began to take in the multitude of Gentile Christian converts to form the new congregation (ecclesia) of Israel, the ecclesia which we translate as ‘church’. And the growth will be greater still when the multitude that no man can number are gathered to the new Jerusalem.
49.22-23 ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh,
Yahweh’s response is positive. Here God depicts the return of exiles from all over the world, as described in verses 20-21, as a triumphant march in response to God’s beckoning with the hand and the raising of His banner (compare 11.11-12). It is in total contrast with the flight from Babylon of lovers of Babylon depicted in 48.20. These return in triumph. The nations respond by bearing God’s people in their hearts and on their shoulders, kings and queens care for them and nurture them, and all fall down before them and lick the dust of their feet. This is not of course to be taken literally. It is a picture of triumphant progress towards the everlasting kingdom. The licking of the dust is a sign of defeat for their enemies, the bowing down a recognition that they are God’s chosen. They bow down to them because their King reigns supreme. The action of the kings and queens evidence, firstly, that God’s people are superior to all royalty except the son of David, and secondly, that all authority is subject to them and will take the greatest care of them (see 14.2).
Then they will have learned that Yahweh is indeed the One Who is, the Lord of history, and that those who wait in expectancy on Him will never be put to shame.
The idea is, of course of the final triumph of the people of God. God’s people can be sure that whatever their present tribulations in the world one day it is they who will be honoured because of the Servant’s work on their behalf. One day they will enjoy the honour of all.
The question comes back in astonishment. Shall the prey be taken from the mighty? Shall those rightfully captive be delivered? Is this possible? They deserve to be captives, as what Isaiah has said previously has demonstrated, and their captors are mighty. They have no deserving, nothing to their credit, and they are weak. Will then God deliver even such as these?
49.25-26 ‘And thus says Yahweh,
Yahweh comes back with His reply. He will indeed fight for them, for He is the Mighty One, not only of princely Israel but of lowly Jacob. He will take away the captives from the mighty, He will deliver the prey of the terrible, He will contend with their contenders, and save their children. He will deliver them from all evil. Indeed the mighty and the terrible will rather fight each other, ‘eating each others flesh’, a vivid way of saying slaughtering each other, ‘drinking their own blood’, that is, satiating themselves with their bloodthirsty activities with each other. (Note how this gives a background to the meaning of ‘eating flesh and drinking wine’ in John 6 as signifying the slaying of Jesus).
It need hardly be pointed out that this partially ‘contradicts’ verse 23, which suggested a bloodless coup, but not really, for none are to be taken literally. They are varying pictures of God’s saving activity and God’s judgment through time.
Then not only Israel will know (verse 23) but all flesh will know that their Deliverer and Redeemer is Yahweh. And that He is the people of Jacob’s Champion. He is ‘The Mighty One of Jacob’ (compare 60.16; Genesis 49.24), the Mighty Warrior Who fights on their behalf. Note that ‘Jacob’ is used and not ‘Israel’. After the naming of the Servant as ‘Israel’, that name as used for the people is being avoided.
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.
Is There No One To Answer When Yahweh Has The Power and the Will To Deliver? (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.
50.1 ‘Thus says Yahweh,
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 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.
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 (41.28-42.4), 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.
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, 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.
But There is One who Will Answer, the Servant of Yahweh (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 (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 (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 verse 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.
The Servant (verse 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 (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; 8.26, 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.
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; 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 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 42.24; 43.28; 47.6b; 48.9; 51.17, where we have described the deserved suffering of Israel.
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.
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 41.11-12). We can contrast his confidence with Isaiah’s ‘woe is me for I am undone’ (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.
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 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.
Isaiah’s Appeal For Men To Hear Him.
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 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.
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.
Chapter 51 Exhortations To The People To Respond To God.
We now have here three remarkable calls to faithful Israel, ‘listen’ (verse 1) - ‘attend’ (verse 4) - ‘listen’ (verse 7). They have heard the voice of the Servant (50.10), now it is open to them to respond. And how are they to appreciate the truth about the Servant? They are to look back to Abraham, and to recognise how when he was but one God blessed him and made him many, and then they are to recognise in this new Servant someone who is similar to Abraham, for in His purposes Yahweh is planning to make His people fruitful and bring His blessing on them too, and all this will be through the One who will become many.
Indeed His instruction will go out to the nations, along with His saving purposes, and the isles/coastlands will wait for Him and trust in His arm. The heaven will disappear like a waft of smoke, and the earth will grow old and become worn out, but His salvation will be for ever, and His righteous deliverance will not be done away with.
So those who know His word must stand firm and not be afraid. They must be ready to face the reproach of men without fear or dismay, for while the rebellious against God will be eaten up as by moths, those who experience His righteousness and salvation will endure for ever.
Here Isaiah makes clear that he recognises that earth and heaven will pass away, but that God’s people will go on for ever within His righteous, saving activity. Thus in each case those who do hear and listen can look forward to the everlasting kingdom.
In the passage a clear distinction is made between faithful Israel and the Servant. It is in the Servant that Yahweh’s saving work goes on, and the people receive it at His hands. They are to trust and not be afraid as they behold His powerful activity.
The call then goes up to Yahweh to awaken and reveal His mighty power. He who destroyed Egypt and all that it stood for, can equally make a way for his people to go forward in triumph. All will be joy and gladness, and all sorrow and sighing will flee away. And then the ransomed of Yahweh will return to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads.
The chapter then finishes with a description of Jerusalem that reveals its present state, but even this ends with the assurance of God’s deliverance .
God’s Call To His True People To Consider Abraham (51.1-3).
The first call goes out to ‘listen’. They are to hear His voice as He reminds them about Abraham, the man of faith, who is the father of all who have faith. He was blessed because of his faith (Genesis 15.6). Those who would be blessed must be blessed because of their connection with, and likeness to, faithful Abraham. And all has come from the one man to whom God had promised that he would become many.
Isaiah now speaks to the believers in Israel, the faithful, those who follow after righteousness and seek Yahweh. To ‘seek’ does not mean try to find Him, but to seek to enter into all His fullness. They know Him and they want to enjoy Him more fully. He tells them to look to Abraham, their father, and to Sarah who bore them. They are now all seen as descendants of Abraham by faith, and within the line of promise through Sarah. He is the rock from which they were hewn, and if they look back they can see the hole in the quarry from which they were dug. They were dug out of him. Thus their position and privilege stems from Abraham.
This ‘descent’ was of course a descent through faith. The majority of them were not literally descended from Abraham. But they had all become linked in one way or anther with the family tribe of Abraham and the covenant with Yahweh. All who truly believe in Yahweh are thus sons of Abraham.
Coming in the midst of the Servant narratives this confirms our application of 41.2-4, 25; 46.11 to Abraham. He was the one who came from the east and called on Yahweh and was blessed and made mighty. It was from him that they came. They were of his ‘stuff’, coming from Abraham who loved Him. Without the background there these words would have been of limited significance. It was because Isaiah has previously outlined his greatness and association with God that these words are so significant.
Both 41.8 and this verse gain significantly from the background of Abraham’s call and activity. They are the many coming from the one, and associated with him as God’s Servant. They had entered the land in him. It was in him that they were called. It was in him that they were to be blessed. It was because Abraham, with Sarah their ‘mother’, was the called one who came and triumphed and defeated and trod down the enemy and divided the spoil (like a bird of prey) that he was so important. The land has become his through his descendants. The mention of Sarah is important because it limits the application of the illustration. It was only given to the spiritual ‘descendants’ of Abraham/Sarah, the children of promise.
It seems to us inconceivable that Isaiah would have introduced Abraham at these two vital points if he had not already provided us with a background to look to. He would not just assume that all Israel would recognise the greatness of Abraham without any reminder about it at all. His points are powerful exactly because he has previously portrayed that greatness. Without it Abraham is just introduced with no background.
But the stress on Abraham’s ‘oneness’ gives special significance to the previous reference to ‘the one’, the unique One, absent in 50.2. Just as Abraham was called as one and became many, so the Servant is to be called as One and will be made many. God’s pattern is repeating itself. From the One will come the many.
Abraham was of course never literally ‘but one’. He came with his wife and his servants, and his herds and flocks. But he was ‘but one’ with regard to his position with God. Then all the others were irrelevant. It was one man and his God. It was from that relationship that the many were blessed. And thus is it to be with the Servant. From One Man and His God will come the promised blessing and the manifold seed and the division of the spoil (53.10, 12), as with Abraham. So let them look back to Abraham to whom they trace their antecedents, and see that all that was promised in Abraham is now to be fulfilled in Yahweh’s greater Servant who is coming, the great Seed of Abraham.
The blessing of Abraham is here described in the blessing of his seed, as though it were already accomplished. His being blessed was not just the blessing of having many seed, but of what that seed would enjoy. This is the ‘comfort’ to which 40.1 referred. When God has completed His work all her wilderness and waste places will become like Eden, a new Paradise. The effects of the curse will have been removed. It will be made like the Garden of Yahweh. It will be filled with singing. And it is offered to ‘Zion’, God’s wayward people as symbolised by Jerusalem. If only they will they can respond and enjoy His blessing. The devastations of the past will be forgotten. The wilderness will become Paradise, and her people full of gladness and praise and song.
That this is not all intended literally again comes out in the application. It is not really a city which is to be blessed, but a people, and those people of widespread nature. For never again could they all join together in a literal Jerusalem. There would not be room for so many. It would have to be a new Jerusalem of vast proportions, a heavenly Jerusalem as the New Testament declares (Galatians 4.26; Hebrews 12.22; Revelation 3.12), just as God would visit His people with a heavenly Temple (Ezekiel 40-48). It is a picture of the sublime. This is even more exemplified in the next summons.
Note that we find here an echo of Isaiah’s previous promises in the first part of his book. Compare 12.3; 33.20-21; 35.10 (quoted in 51.11); see also 11.5-10; 49.10.
God’s Or The Servant’s Call To His True People To Consider His Everlasting Salvation (51.4-6).
His people are not just to listen, they must also pay heed. They must ‘pay attention’ to His instruction which will come through His Servant as a light to the peoples (compare 42.6; 49.6; and see 2.2-4). They must respond to the salvation that He brings, which is both for Israel and for the Gentiles.
The difficulty here is to know whether these are the words of Yahweh or the words of the Servant. If the words are Yahweh’s then here God refers to the work that His Servant will do as if it were His own (which of course it is). If the words are the Servant’s then they outline His coming activity. His own people and nation are to see and consider. His Instruction will go forth (compare 2.3; 42.4), and His righteous teaching and requirements, revealed in His jurisdiction over them, will ‘rest’ for a light to the peoples (42.4; 49.6). It is to be their permanent experience.
All are to learn from Him. For His righteous activity is about to happen (is ‘near’ in God’s timing) and His deliverance has, as far as He is concerned, already gone forth (compare 45.8; 46.13; 56.1; 59.16). It is on offer if men will but receive it. Then His arms will judge the peoples, bringing about justice and righteousness (they will be ruled under His mighty arm). He will Himself rule over them with power. The distant isles and coastlands will wait for Him in ready obedience (42.4; 60.9) and they will rely on His power, His mighty arm. The tenor behind this is reminiscent of previous words to the Servant (42.4; 49.6), thus linking Him with the promises in 2.1-4. We can now be in no doubt that the message of the Servant is for all nations, and that He will ensure that it reaches them.
The plural ‘arms’ is indicative of the many ways in which God will protect and care for His people (compare 30.30; 33.2; 40.11; ), the singular ‘arm’ stresses His mighty power on their behalf (40.10; 62.8).
The description above can only apply to an eternal kingdom, for here earth and heaven are to pass away. In a dying world, death is to be the lot of all men, but His people are to enjoy everlasting deliverance and permanent righteous rule. Compare 26.19. So Isaiah is making clear that all His promises have been pointing towards that which is above.
The call is to consider both heavens and earth. Smoke in the heavens was regularly seen when armies invaded, when stubble was burned or when there were fires in forests and bushland. But always the smoke eventually faded and disappeared. So will the heavens disappear in days to come, rapidly like thinning, wispy smoke. Similarly the earth will age like old clothing ages, to be thrown away. The thought, in parallel to what happens to the heavens, is that it too will come to an end. What is more all earth dwellers will die ‘in the same way’, that is, like old, tossed aside clothing (compare 50.9; 51.8).
‘But my deliverance will be for ever, and my righteousness will not be abolished.’ In contrast this is promising life, continuing existence in glory, in contrast with the wispy smoke and the death just described, confirming that this is the everlasting kingdom, and it is after earth and heaven have passed away. The thought is not analysed and expanded on but the thought is clear. It strongly confirms that Isaiah’s many pictures of the future state do have what we would call ‘Heaven’ in mind. Compare here 25.8.
God’s Call To His People Not To Fear Men Or Their Reproaches Because They Will Fade Away While God’s People Will Go On For Ever (51.7-8).
Again, for the third time, He stresses the importance of ‘listening’. They are to observe His instruction from their hearts. For those who have His instruction in their hearts need fear nothing, because they are not living in the light of this world, but of eternity. The world will pass away, but His word and His salvation will never pass away.
The fact that there are three calls emphasise the threefold completeness of the message. All are concerned with righteousness. In the first they are people who follow after righteousness and seek Yahweh (verse 1). In the second His righteousness is near to come (verse 5). Here in the third the hearers ‘know’ righteousness. Thus His faithful people are in mind.
In the second His instruction went out to the nations to enlighten them, here He speaks to those in whose heart is His instruction. It may be that we are to see a progression from the people who look back to Abraham their father, to the nations who receive His instruction and light and come under His righteous jurisdiction, moving forward to a combination of these two as one people, conveying the idea of the reproach that they will face, and the triumph that will be theirs.
If that be so He addresses all His own as a people who know righteousness, they have heard it spoken of, they have come to an understanding of it, and they live it out in their experience. And through it they know the Righteous One. (To follow after righteousness is to seek Yahweh - verse 1). For His instruction is within their hearts. They love His Law.
The command to them is then not to regard the reproaches of men (’enosh - weak and frail man), or their insults and vile words, for they are to recognise that the destiny of such people is to wear away, for like old clothing they will be eaten by moths and devoured by worms. In contrast the faithful will enjoy God’s everlasting righteous deliverance, and a salvation that goes on and on and on. They will enjoy the everlasting kingdom.
Note again the similarities with 50. 6, 9. But while for the Servant in chapter 50 it was the present endurance that was in mind, here it is the reception of His word and of His instruction, and the future glory of His own, both Israel and the nations, that is emphasised. The work of the Servant has resulted in Israel turning to God and the nations receiving His light (49.6). His task is seen as fulfilled.
Yahweh Is Called On To Awake and Reveal His Power and Israel Are To Awake To The Power And Holiness Of Their Redeeming God (51.9-52.12).
God having given to His faithful people the commands to ‘listen -- attend -- listen’ the prophet now calls on Yahweh also to awaken on behalf of His people, for Him too there is a plea that He listen to the call of His people. It is then followed by a call to all His people to awake. Thus there is a threefold call to ‘awake, awake’, in 51.9; 51.17 and 52.1, firstly to Yahweh and then to His people. The tension is now mounting. Note the constant use of repetition. ‘Awake, awake’ (three times). ‘Depart, depart’ (52.11). There is a sense of urgency. This will then be followed by the depiction of the cost of the salvation that is being offered to them in 52.13-53.12, as the Servant’s destiny is described in full. The culmination of their deliverance is near.
The First Call to Awake - Spoken To The Arm Of Yahweh (51.9-16).
Note that each call to awake is followed by Yahweh speaking to His people. It is a cry for Yahweh to awaken and act on behalf of His people.
Isaiah )or the remnant of Israel) reply to Yahweh’s wakening call and in turn call on the arm of Yahweh to awake and put on its strength (compare 40.10; 52.10; 62.8). It is a cry for God to reveal His power as He has done in the past. To once more act as He did of old. For it was then that His mighty arm cut Rahab in pieces and pierced the monster. Here Egypt is vividly described in terms of a mythical monster as defeated by Yahweh (compare 30.7; Psalm 89.10), but contained within it is the thought that no gods can stand before Yahweh. Then He dried up the sea, the mighty deep, and made a way for His redeemed people to pass through. (The excessive description of the Reed Sea comes from the myths which surrounded Rahab. He was seen as a monster of the deep). Now the cry is that He might do it again. He redeemed them then, so let Him now enable His redeemed people to return to Him and come with singing to Zion. This includes all His people who are redeemed, not just those in exile. All are to unite in returning to Him and coming to Zion (compare 35). The whole idea is of coming into His presence and becoming one with Him.
‘And everlasting joy will be on their heads. They will obtain gladness and joy. Sorrow and sighing will flee away.’ These words are cited almost exactly from 35.10. The same words are here repeated emphasising the fulfilment of his prophecy soon to come. This is more than the earthly Zion, for here they will find everlasting joy. All will be gladness and joy. There will be no more sorrow and sighing, it will simply take to its heels and flee. It is the Paradise of verse 3, the place of everlasting deliverance (verse 6).
Yahweh then responds to the plea, speaking to His faithful ones in their weakness and fear.
Note the strength behind the reply. ‘I, I’ parallels the repetition in ‘awake, awake’. God wants them to recognise, that His reply is consonant with their concern.
The change from masculine to feminine and back again is puzzling under any explanation. It may arise from the fact that ‘who are you that you are afraid of man who will die’ was a well known saying and has been quoted verbatim without changing the ‘person’, with Isaiah knowing that it will be recognised, or it may be asking, ‘why are you behaving like a lot of women before frail man?’ Some see it as referring to Zion, Yahweh’s daughter, but why then is it followed by a masculine?
Whichever way it is the basic question is why they are terrified of frail mortal man (’enosh), the son of man who will wither and perish like the grass.
So Yahweh’s reply is that He is indeed there as the One Who will comfort them all, that is Who will act on their behalf with His strength, and will protect them. Why then is each one so afraid? They are not such as should fear man who keeps on dying and has been appointed to wither like grass. But they do fear because they have forgotten Yahweh Who made them, the same One Who by His mighty power stretched out the heavens and laid the foundation of the earth.
‘Yahweh your Maker, who stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundation of the earth.’ The contrast is powerful; weak, frail man who is like grass and Yahweh, the great Creator Who made the world, the grass, man and all that is in it.
So how foolish they are to fear the oppressor continually all the day because of his fury and intention to destroy. For where is his fury? From now on it will be as nothing, because Yahweh is at work.
So those who fear should not fear, for as they cower in their fear they will be set free (and should not therefore be cowering). Not for them to go down into the grave. They are awaiting God’s great deliverance. Indeed even their bread will not fail. For God is with them. This may have in mind the faithful among the exiles around the world, or it may simply indicate His people’s position as being like prisoners cowering in their cells, afraid and under the authority of outsiders, fearful of death or of not receiving sufficient food. The assurance is not that no one will suffer in the near future, but that all may recognise that in the final outcome they will prosper. We must keep in mind here 25.6; 26.19; 53.10-12.
And the reason why they need not fear is because Yahweh is their God, and it is He Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar. It was He Who stirred up the sea when they were redeemed from Egypt, and made the waves roar against their enemy. And He still has the same power, so that it is clear that they need fear no one. He is Master of the waves.
This continues the thought of verses 9-10. He is the Master of the deep as revealed by His victory over Rahab/Egypt, but here the thought is not so much of His redeemed walking through the sea, but of Him as making the waves roar to defeat their enemies. For He is Yahweh of hosts, the God of battle.
‘And I have put my words in your mouth, and have covered you in the shadow of my hand.’ As His true and redeemed people they too will assist in the fulfilling of the Servant’s task. For God will put His words in their mouth (the tense indicating that it is already seen as certain and complete) and has brought them under His protection so that they might carry His words everywhere (2.2-4).
The shadow of His hand parallels the Servant’s protection in 49.2. There it was connected with His sword. So here ‘my words in your mouth’ are probably to be seen as the equivalent of their receiving their sword with the protecting hand of Yahweh over them. It will be like the shadow of a tree protecting from the sun, although much more effective and substantial, protecting from all that can harm. They share the Servant’s weapons.
‘That I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say to Zion, ‘You are my people’.’ Thereby He will plant the heavens, lay the foundations of the earth, and be able to claim Zion finally as His true people. The new heavens and the new earth and the new Jerusalem are already envisaged (64.17-18), brought in by the activity of His Servant. ‘Plant’ and ‘lay the foundations’ are both indications of beginning a new thing. Note how Zion is no longer Jerusalem but represents His people.
We saw in verse 6 that the heavens were to disappear in a similar way in which smoke disperses, and that the earth would grow old and worn, and that all in it would die. But here we have the consequence for the true people of God. New heavens will be planted, a new earth will be founded. And then His people will have full recognition for what they are. All this is the literal truth.
The Second Call To Awake - Spoken to Distressed Jerusalem (51.17-23).
These words are spoken in view of Yahweh’s previous ‘awaking’ (verse 9) and are to stir up Israel to respond, having drunk sufficiently of God’s anger against their sins. Again it is followed by a word of assurance and promise from Yahweh. He will remove that which is causing her distress and her dreadful condition, and will pass it over to her enemies.
Their position is first stated. They (represented as Jerusalem) had been under His wrath and made to drink of the cup of His fury, the cup that had rendered them helpless and unable to cope for themselves, so that they have staggered and collapsed. But now they have drunk it and drunk it to the full, so that His anger against their sin is over. The cup represents all the historical events that have come on them leaving them destitute and helpless, the consequence of God’s anger over the continual sin and rebellion that had finally become too much. ‘The cup of staggering’ does not just refer to being drunk, but to having come to such a drunken state that is impossible to recover. They have reached the final stages of delirium.
We can contrast the Lady Babylon on her throne, who was dragged down to her dreadful state (chapter 47) without hope, with this drunken helpless woman who is to be dragged up from her dreadful state by God’s rescue mission. When Babylon drags men and women down, God can lift them up again. God’s power works both ways.
So now they are to ‘stand up’. Note that while Yahweh’s arm was to ‘put on strength’ on awakening (verse 9), all that is required of Jerusalem is that they ‘stand up’, that they stagger to their feet. All that is required is that they stand and see the salvation of Yahweh. Yahweh will do the rest.
The picture is vivid, Jerusalem slumped like a dishevelled woman by the wayside, drunk, prone and helpless, and now being exhorted to pull themselves together and stand up because God is about to act. For without God her situation is hopeless as we will now see.
But what hope is there for her if she stands up? There is no one to take her by the hand and lead her. She has had many sons, the people of Jerusalem and Judah, those who had claimed that they were the people of God, but they cannot help her. For they themselves have fainted away, having become hopeless drunkards, and having collapsed at the road heads, unable to get home. They are like an antelope caught in a net, thrashing about and not free to do anything, a permanent victim with no hope of recovery. For they too are under the heavy hand of Yahweh because of their sins, they are still surfeited with Yahweh’s fury, God’s rebuke.
And she has faced two things, desolation and destruction in terms of dire famine and sword (no mention of exile). This is what has actually caused her state, continual bouts of famine and invasion. But there is none to bemoan her for they are all taken up with their own deep problems. With her sons in the condition that they are, how is God to comfort her?
The aim is to demonstrate how totally helpless she is, so that from an earthly point of view God can find her no comfort. Her position is totally hopeless. What on earth can she do? The answer is, nothing.
However, there is an answer, and God will provide it. But before that answer is produced the truth must be out.
51.21 “Therefore hear now this, you afflicted and drunken, but not with wine.”
Here is the truth of the matter. Her drunkenness is not due to wine, it is due to that which has brought on them God’s wrath and rebuke, His fierce anger (verse 20). It is due to sin. It is due to an oversurfeit of wickedness and rebellion against God. And it results in their not being aware of Yahweh’s words (29.9-10). This is why no one can help her, for her sins are too deep-dyed.
Indeed her full humiliation is now described. As a drunken woman in the street those who had afflicted her had taunted her and told her to lie there while they walked all over her, and she had done as she was bidden. She had become the lowest of the low, the drunken plaything of drunkards. Everyone walked over her. This scene of a misused, drunken woman is played out in many drinking places around the world. It is a sign of the world’s sinfulness.
But now Yahweh steps in, the One Who makes the plea for the cause of His people, their judge. He will take the cup from her hand, the cup that is causing her all the trouble, and give it to those who afflict her. She will be released from her problem, and it will be laid on others. She has Yahweh’s promise that she will be made free. It remains for the next verses to reveal how this will come about.
‘The Lord Yahweh.’ Unusually, in this phrase ‘Lord’ is in the plural. Perhaps the idea is to bring out that He is not only her Sovereign Lord, but also her ‘lord’ as her husband or parent (54.5) He is acknowledging responsibility for her. Or it may be placing great stress on Lord, a plural of intensity.
We note here a typical Isaianic reversal. In verse 17 it was ‘the cup of His fury -- the bowl of the cup of staggering’, here it is ‘the cup of staggering -- the bowl of the cup of His fury.’ Fury begins and ends the situation, resulting in the staggering.
‘You will no more drink it again.’ Isaiah thus has the final everlasting kingdom in mind. The cup will then be given to those who take part in the final judgment.
Who then is Jerusalem in this sad picture? As with all illustrations we must not press too closely. In one sense it is all Israel, for all will be welcomed if they come. Certainly they are all drunk and have drunk of the cup of His fury. But in the finality it is those who will respond and will come to Yahweh, and listen to the voice of His Servant. It is only they who can be sure that the cup of Yahweh’s fury has been taken from them. It is only they who can stand rightly and recover to walk again. And certainly it is they who are spoken of in the next verses. It is the holy seed who come from the remnant who are left (6.13).
Chapter 52 The Call To Jerusalem - The Rise of the Servant.
The Third Call to Awake - Spoken To Zion/Jerusalem As The Redeemed Woman (52.1-12).
Yahweh Will Redeem His People (52.1-6)
The drunken woman is no more. Now the new Zion, rising out of the old, is to put on her beautiful garments. She must clothe herself with the righteousness and salvation which has been provided by God. For it is He Who will provide her with the garments of salvation and cover her with the robe of righteousness as He welcomes her as the equivalent of His Bride (61.10; 62.5; 54.5; Ephesians 5.25-27). What she must do is put them on by responding to Him.
Note the double intensities. ‘Awake, awake, -- put on, -- put on.’ There is a sense of urgency here. Having had her cup of staggering taken from her hand she can now take the next step. She can arise, shake herself free of the dust, take off her chains, the chains of Assyria (verse 4) and all others who will have come against her, and reclothe herself. She can be freed from her chains. For she is promised that none shall enter her again who is not within the covenant, and none who would defile God’s holy city. But she is to do it in righteousness. God will never accept an unrighteous bride.
Here we have described for us the pure city that can never be defiled. It is the city where nothing impure can enter in (Revelation 21.27). It is the everlasting city. In the ‘garments of beauty’ we are probably to see the high priestly garments of Exodus 28.2, ‘garments made for glory and for beauty’. She is probably here to be seen as not only reinstated but as becoming the holy nation, the kingdom of priests of Exodus 19.5-6.
‘There will no more come to you the uncircumcised and the unclean.’ Certainly the mention of circumcised refers to participation in God’s covenant. Only those who are ‘circumcised’ may enter. But to the prophets circumcision had in mind not only the physical act but the circumcision of the heart. What mattered was that the heart was made right, that God’s covenant was within their hearts and that they walked in His ways (Deuteronomy 10.16; 30.6; Jeremiah 4.4; 6.10; 9.26; Ezekiel 44.7, 9). Being clean meant being free from anything that could contaminate and make them unworthy to approach God. Thus the idea is that only those can enter who are true to the covenant and pure and undefiled. It is the prophet’s idea of spiritual perfection.
Note therefore the indication that all the Gentiles who flock to her will be circumcised, that is, bound by the covenant. That is why Paul stresses that all true Christians are circumcised with the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2.11-13).
This picture of Jerusalem rising from the dust counteracts 51.23, and is in direct contrast to the experience of proud Babylon. God’s enemy, Babylon, went from her throne into degradation, Jerusalem is raised from degradation to her throne. For in the end Babylon and all her beauty (13.19), and all that its stands for must go into the dust, and in the end God’s true people will all arise from the dust (26.19) to give Him glory and be made glorious.
There is no reason at all for to thinking that here Isaiah has the future Babylonian captivity in mind. It does not figure in his thinking for he is not aware of the full details of what is to come. He knows only of the captivity under Assyria, ruling Judah from Babylon, of a future invasion by Babylon to strip Jerusalem of all its treasures and its future kings, of the future punishment of Babylon for what it is, and then of the restoration of Jerusalem to full holiness (4.3), and final triumph.
The picture here is thus of Jerusalem, and of Jerusalem where she was, and what she will finally be. His final picture here is not of some particular time in history but of God’s saving action in the end when He will restore His own. We may certainly see it as accompanying and following the action of Cyrus (44.28-45.13), and the rebuilding of the city and the Temple, for that is the first stage in her reinstatement, but no historical environment is specifically described there or here. And Isaiah is now looking beyond that to the final triumph. A Jerusalem into which no one who is literally uncircumcised can enter is hardly an earthly reality, and in no way can we see Isaiah as saying that all who are circumcised will enter it. It is quite clear that the circumcision of the heart is what is in mind, as Paul so clearly saw (Romans 2.25-29). The picture is in terms of 4.3. So there is a sense in which the arising and dressing of Jerusalem takes us in Isaiah’s eyes to the end of time. For this is restored and purified Jerusalem, it is ideal Jerusalem, the holy city, now clothed in beautiful clothing with all chains removed, the place where only those united with God by covenant can come, where all that is impure is excluded. It is the final Paradise, God’s final intention for His people (Revelation 21.10-22.5).
But unknown to Isaiah her clothing in beautiful garments will take a long time. It will commence not long after his time, it will advance at the first coming of Christ, and it will continue on through two thousand years and more. Once the king has come it will go on through the centuries. But at last she will be ready, clothed in the righteousnesses of the saints, as the bride of Christ, ready for the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19.7-8).
Note the connecting ‘for’. Jerusalem can be raised from the dust precisely because Yahweh has acted to redeem her.
There could be no clearer indication that Isaiah see Jerusalem’s two great enemies as having been Egypt, and as being at this time Assyria. He does not go beyond Assyria. (Overall rule by Babylon is simply not in mind). These are the nations to whom Israel was ‘sold’. But His people had not been dealt with fairly. They had only gone to Egypt to sojourn there. The Assyrians had had no cause to oppress them. Why then had they been taken into bondage? There had been nothing right about either bondage. They had been ‘sold for nothing’, for they had been ‘taken’. No price had been paid. It was theft. Neither Egypt nor Assyria had any rights over them. So Yahweh feels quite justified in redeeming her for nothing.
The fact that Yahweh used both Egypt and Assyria as His means of chastening His people does not alter the position. Yahweh may do what He will. But that provides no excuse for Egypt and Assyria. They did what they did because of their sinfulness, not because they were obeying Yahweh. We note again the two nations who are seen as oppressors at this stage.
And now the position is that those who rule over her ‘howl’. The verb usually indicates mourning and weeping and distress. However in Hosea 7.14 it probably indicates a howling of self-pleasing and self-gratification, possibly sexual. That may be the meaning here. They howl because they take advantage of them, because they get their enjoyment by misusing them. It is a howl of glee, of rapaciousness. Thus is calumny brought on the name of Yahweh for allowing His people to be treated in this way. Furthermore the thought may include that some of His people had joined in with the wild behaviour and had themselves blasphemed Yahweh in their enjoyment of it. All are guilty.
‘You will be redeemed without money.’ This must be taken strictly. Redemption demands a payment, but as she was bought without money she will be redeemed without money. Yahweh is too powerful to submit to demands for ransom. Yet she has to be redeemed, so if not by money, how? The question is left in suspense for it will be answered later (see chapter 53). For the freeness of their redemption compare 55.1-2; 35.10; 51.11 (where her current oppressors are to be dealt with in the same way as Egypt was).
The result of Yahweh’s redemption of them will be that His people will ‘know His name’ that is, thoroughly know and understand Who and What He is. And they will know Who has spoken to them, saying ‘Behold me.’ For they will see Him as He is. And from His saving action they will know that He is truly the faithful Kinsman Redeemer of His people, willing to pay any price for those on whom He has set His love.
The Proclamation of the Good News of Yahweh’s Deliverance; The Message Is To Be Taken To The World (52.7-12).
Isaiah is so confident that God will deliver His people, that he already visualises God’s Servant (the Messiah and His true followers) going out onto the mountains of the world to take good news to the ‘Zion’ among the peoples (compare 49.11), telling them that God reigns.
The parallels between these verses and 2.2-4 should be noted. Here he is explaining in more detail how 2.2-4 will come about. In 2.2 the mountain of Yahweh’s house will be established as the highest of the mountains. Here the Servant will be exalted, lifted up and be very high (verse 13). In 2.2 the mountains represent the nations. Here the Good News is taken out into the mountains of the nations. In 2.2 God’s Instruction goes out from Zion, and Yahweh’s word from Jerusalem, here those who go out ‘from thence’ (i.e. Jerusalem - verse 11 with verse 9) are to go out as His pure people bearing the vessels of Yahweh (verse 11) so that they may sprinkle the nations (verse 15) with God’s means of purification (Numbers 19.17-18), so that all the ends of the earth might see the salvation of God (verse 10) because Yahweh has bared His holy arm before all nations in His redeeming work through His Servant (52.13-53.12; compare 40.10, ‘His arm will rule for Him’). And yet it is to happen in such a way that who could have seen in this the arm of Yahweh? - 53.1).
As we have already seen the mountains represent the nations (2.2). The feet that bring good tidings are always beautiful, in whatever state they may be. Men will kiss such feet. But this man is not seen as running from anywhere. He is coming from God. The mountains are the mountains of the world (49.11). The comparison simply brings out how glorious is the bearer of good news. Even his dusty, tired feet are beautiful because of the wonderful new that he bears. “The Kingly Rule of God is at hand” (compare Matthew 4.17 and parallels). ‘Your God reigns.’
This can only be speaking of the Servant. He is the One Who comes to bring good news of good to the poor and afflicted (61.1; compare 40.9, ‘good tidings -- good things’), to publish peace (49.6), to bring good news of good (42.6-7; 49.9-10), who publishes salvation (49.6b, 8), who declares ‘The Kingly Rule of God is at hand’ (42.1, 4; Mark 1.15). And along with Him will be His servants who will also go with the Good News to the world. They too will be part of the corporate Servant of which He is the main constituent. The promise to Abraham (41.8) will be fulfilled through his seed.
The commentary on these verses is found in the Gospels, as the Bearer of Good News came over the mountains of Israel declaring that ‘the Kingly Rule of God is at hand’ (Mark 1.15), and then went on over the mountains of the world until the message reached Rome (Acts 28.31). Israel would yet wait a long time for their Bearer of Good News to come, but it would be well worth waiting for, for His message would be for the whole world, a light to lighten the Gentiles (42.6; 49.6; 51.4) and to be the gory of His people Israel (Luke 2.32).
‘Your God reigns.’ Compare Psalm 22.28; 47.8; 93.1; 97.1; 99.1. This became a central theme of Israel’s worship, indeed probably was already among the faithful. It became more and more their hope once the Davidic kinship had failed. Yahweh would reign in His everlasting kingdom, with the coming David, His servant, as His regent king (Jeremiah 30.9; Ezekiel 37.24-28). Compare 40.9 where this proclamation is initially to the cities of Judah. As is apparent all the way through the chapter Jerusalem and Judah are the context of these words.
All the watchmen will rejoice when they see God accomplishing His deliverance. The celebration is of the return of Yahweh to Zion, which He had deserted when He handed them over to the nations. He had ceased to be with His people. (It has nothing to do with exile here. The people are still in Jerusalem. It is Yahweh Who has gone). That is why He would allow Jerusalem and the Temple to be laid waste (43.28; 44.28). But now in the coming of the Servant they see the return of Yahweh. And all the watchmen in Jerusalem will cry out and sing, all seeing eye to eye. One eye will look into another and there will be full mental contact (compare Jeremiah 32.4) and each will be aware of what the other is thinking. There will no longer be disunity, no longer two nations, no longer rival factions. They will all be one under the Servant.
Note the emphasis on the watchmen. There were many who watched for the coming of Jesus. But they were not the sentries, they were mainly the meek and the lowly (Luke 2.25, 38), including initially of course the prophets. And when they heard of His coming they rejoiced.
The waste places of Jerusalem, that is, both broken down houses and what had once been surrounding fields which have gone to waste under siege (compare 39.30-31), will break forth into joy and sing together, for all will be united when Yahweh comes, and the song will be of Yahweh’s redemption of Israel, and of the comfort and strength He has brought to His people. But the emphasis is not on physical restoration. That is but the symbol of Israel’s state. Isaiah constantly uses physical descriptions with deeper truths in mind. He is a prophet not a recorder. Jerusalem’s problem was that its heart was laid waste, that its morals were wanting. It was filled with weeds. It desperately needed restoration. And now Yahweh has come to restore (compare 40.3 where it all begins with a voice from the wilderness - compare Matthew 3.3; Luke 3.4-6).
‘For Yahweh has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem.’ Thus are fulfilled the many promises in Isaiah of comfort (40.1; 49.13; 51.3, 12) and redemption (see 1.27; 29.22; 35.9; 41.14; 43.1, 4, 14; 44.6, 22-24; 47.4; 48.17, 20; 49.7, 26; 50.2; 51.11; 52.3). And it is all through the Servant (53.1-12).
But the message is not only to His people. All the nations will see what Yahweh has done, they will see the delivering power of God. Thus will be fulfilled the promise of 2.2-4, and the nations will flock to Yahweh (2.2-4; compare 42.6; 49.6, 23; 52-13-15; 60.4-14), and His instruction and word will go out from Jerusalem into all the world (verse 10; 2.3-4; 11.9). The Servant will have restored His people to Him, and given His light to the Gentiles and been their salvation (49.6-7; Matthew 12.17-21).
To Isaiah this was all one vision. It was not for Him to know the long (from earth’s point of view) and complicated process that would bring it all about.
‘Laid bare His holy arm.’ The picture is delightful. All strong men like to bare their arms to reveal their muscles, and here Yahweh reveals His muscles to all men. They are permitted to see His power in action. This arm is the arm of the Mighty One in 40.10. But as 53.1 reveals it is exerted in a way beyond the understanding of men.
Now that the messenger has come with the Good News there is an immediate response. The Good News must be passed on, and immediate preparations are to be made for the departure of messengers to the world. (2.3 - There is absolutely no reason at all to see here any reference to Babylon. We are still in a context of Assyria and Egypt - 52.4; And Jerusalem is redeemed not re-inhabited - 52.9. There is not an exile in sight).
‘Depart, depart, go out -- go out.’ All is hustle the message is so vital (for ‘go out’ compare 55.12). Now at last true Israel is to fulfil its calling as the holy nation, the kingdom of priests (Exodus 19.5-6). They will become those who truly ‘bear the vessels of Yahweh’. They will take to the nations God’s instruction and call them to the true sacrifice, seen in Isaiah’s terms as the taking out of the waters of purification with which to sprinkle the nations (verse 15; Numbers 19.17-18; Ezekiel 36.25-28). They are to stream out from Jerusalem to the world (2.3), ensuring that they themselves keep ‘pure’ and have nothing to do with what defiles. They are to proclaim the One Who will ‘sprinkle’ many nations (52.15). The verb is not the usual one for being ‘clean’ when related to priestly functions. It is the word used of the ‘polished’ arrow of the Servant in 49.2. Thus the thought is very much of spiritual fitness for the task that lies ahead, the task of the Servant, for they must remember that they are crucially those whose responsibility it is to bear the vessels of Yahweh to the nations, that is, they are to be the means of God’s blessing and deliverance to the nations.
‘Be clean.’ This looks back to verse 1. The ideal Jerusalem was now the city of the ‘clean. So as these men of cleanness go out with the vessels of Yahweh they are to avoid all that is unclean. They are to retain their ‘Jerusalem cleanness’. Uncleanness in one way or another is a theme of Isaia, see 6.5; 35.8; 52.1; 61.6.
The vessels of Yahweh.’ These are a symbol of all that the Temple meant, of all the Temple paraphernalia. They are the means by which the sacrifices were applied, by which the ordinances were fulfilled. All that was holy to Yahweh was carried in these vessels (compare 66.20). They are the means of conveying holy things (66.20). The idea here is that they will carry the benefits of the self-sacrifice of the Servant (53.1-12) out to the world. To be a ‘bearer of the vessels of Yahweh’ is to be one who is greatly privileged, one who carries out the priestly functions. That had always been God’s purpose for faithful Israel (Exodus 19.5-6; compare 66.21) And one of the duties of such was to explain God’s word to those who would receive it.
So they bear to the world the news of God’s provision for men that they might be reconciled to Him, and call on them to participate and have their part in Him. They take God’s deliverance to the world (see 51.4-5). This unusual use here conjoined with 52.13-53.12 cannot be accidental. For we are now to read of a sacrifice that replaces all sacrifices. The sacrificial offering of the Servant. This will be applied by His ‘sprinkling many nations (52.15), presumably with the waters of purification which have as it were received His ashes (Numbers 19.17), and contained in the vessels of Yahweh.
We can compare here also how the Gentiles who restore God’s exiles to Himself are seen as bearing the vessels of Yahweh, the litters that carry His true people because they are holy (66.20). So the vessels of Yahweh are what carry holy things.
And they will not go with haste and flee as they did from Egypt, and as men fled from Babylon (48.20). This is not an escape from the world of nations, that is something that is now behind them. This is a triumphant and glorious departure from Zion (‘from there’). We can compare 55.12 where the same verb ‘go out’ is used. See also 2.3. It is a going forward to the nations with God in attendance with them. They will go forward firmly and deliberately, triumphantly and gloriously, and Yahweh will go before them and protect them from behind (Exodus 14.19), as He did in their time of need. They will enjoy His full protection and presence. Compare here 58.8, ‘your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of Yahweh will be your rearward’ where it is to be the result of their ‘good living’. This privilege was given to them at the Exodus, how much more so now that the exodus is reversed as they go out from Jerusalem to the world with the message of God’s salvation.
NOTE on ‘You who bear the vessels of Yahweh’ (compare Numbers 1.50-51 where the same verb and noun are used) .
In 52.1 Zion is to put on the ‘garments of beauty’ of the priesthood (Exodus 28.2), and in 52.14 the Servant ‘sprinkles’ many nations. Again a responsibility of the priests. It is clear therefore that priestly functions are very much in mind in this section. ‘Israel’, the new refined Israel (49.3), are to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19.5-6), going out with the Instruction of Yahweh (2.3), and taking the water of purification to the peoples (52.15; Ezekiel 36.25-28).
Thus this phrase ties in with these references. It may not necessarily be saying that the literal vessels are actually taken to the nations. The vessels may well be metaphorical (compare 66.20) and to be seen as bearing the message that they take. Or it may simply be defining the status of those going out, that they are ‘the bearers of the vessels of Yahweh’, i.e. ‘God’s priests’. But if the Servant is to ‘sprinkle many nations’ (52.15) He must in some way be ‘bearing a vessel of Yahweh’, at least symbolically, for that is how sprinkling took place. Of course the sprinkling is equally as symbolic as the vessels. We can compare Ezekiel 36.25 where the sprinkling is of ‘clean’ water, that is the water of purification (Numbers 8.7) or separation (Numbers 19.9, 13, 20, 21) but as symbolising the pouring out of the Spirit. That would then make the vessels of Yahweh symbolic. But either way it would seem that the idea is that the benefits of His sacrifice (53.10) are to be taken out and offered to the whole world. This would tie in with 2.2-3 where the nations come to the mount of Yahweh, while the instruction goes out from Jerusalem to the world.
While we cannot suggest here that Isaiah in any way has in mind ‘the cup of blessing’ which in multiplied form (1 Corinthians 10.16) would be taken out from Jerusalem to the world, as the new congregation of Israel was being formed by the establishment of Christ’s ‘congregation’ around the world, and would partake of the cup of the Lord (1 Corinthians 10.21). But the idea is the same. Zion, having drunk of the cup of God’s anger (51.17), now takes out from Jerusalem the vessels of blessing for all the world, and Jesus may well have had these verses in mind.
The attribution of these verses to the return from Babylon is extremely unlikely. There is nothing in this section remotely connected with that. Why then should such a reference be introduced so oddly here? All the emphasis is on the preparation of Zion in order that she might be the Servant of Yahweh, so that the Servant might be seen by the world and experience His priestly activity (52.15). And the departure mentioned here bears no resemblance to the earlier description of the departure of people from Babylon in 48.20 (whatever that means). To bring Babylon in here is totally to ignore the context. There men were called on to flee. Here they will specifically not flee.
End of note.
The Servant of Yahweh Revealed (52.13-15).
In 50.9 we left the Servant preparing for His court battle where He expected, after his period of humiliation and ill-treatment, to meet up with His adversaries and be vindicated by Yahweh. Here we find the conclusion of the case. The Servant is humiliated, tried and finally vindicated and lifted up to the throne of Yahweh. For ‘high’ and ‘lifted up’ compare 6.1. This can only have in mind the One Who was the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (9.6) for He alone was worthy to be raised to the throne of Yahweh.
So following as it does the command to Zion to go out to the nations with God’s word we are justified in seeing in these verses the content of that word, the exaltation of the coming Davidic king Who would be born into a background of poverty and need (7.14-16), but His exaltation would only come after facing deep humiliation for the sins of many.
The continuation of the song in chapter 53 makes it quite clear that the Servant here is primarily not Isaiah and Israel, for in chapter 53 Isaiah speaks of ‘we’ in contra-position to the Servant and ‘we’ regularly denotes, in Isaiah, the prophet as conjoining himself with Israel.
‘Behold, my servant.’ Compare 42.1. In 42.1 He was upheld. Here He is uplifted. But here also He first ‘deals wisely’, which summarises 42.1a-4 and 49.2-3. He will be upheld in His service and will carry out His appointed task of bringing righteousness to the world with wisdom and forethought, and bring it to a satisfactory end, and then He will be uplifted.
We may also see the ‘behold’ as following the ‘listen -- attend -- listen -- awake -- awake -- awake’ of 51.1, 4, 7, 9, 17; 52.1). Thus the message to His people is, ‘Listen, awake, behold.’
‘He will be exalted and lifted up and be very high.’ The first two verbs both indicate being lifted up. There is probably intended to be a progression. We could translate ‘raised and lifted up and made very high’. He will be raised from among men, then He will be lifted up further, then He will be set ‘very high’. Elsewhere in Isaiah it is Yahweh Who is ‘raised and lifted up’ (6.1; 57.15 - same verbs - compare 33.10). Earlier we have seen the Davidic king described as the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father (9.6), which again were God-like titles, indicating also His lifting up. The two are surely therefore to be seen as parallels. This exactly describes a similar idea to that in the New Testament where we read that Jesus, having been raised from the dead, was set at the right hand of God (Acts 7.55; Romans 8.34; Colossians 3.1; Hebrews 1.3; 10.12). Nothing could be higher than that.
But this exaltation is to follow a period of humiliation (compare 49.7; 50.6), when men will be astonished at Him because His face and appearance will be so marred, and His body will be so wasted, that men could not have believed it if they had not seen it. The thought here is of bearing the consequences of sin as in 1.5-6 (compare Jeremiah 5.3), so that He is like a sick and wasted man (compare 1.5), so dreadful to the sight that men cannot look at Him, and they say of Him, is this really a human being? (His form more than the sons of men’). The intention is to bring out the extreme depths of His suffering (compare 50.3-8). That this would be the appearance of Jesus on the cross is unquestionable. The sight of the crucifixion of a bloodstained maltreated victim was excruciating. Under the justice of those days the transition from a healthy man to a crumpled, broken, wasted wreck did not take long. And Jesus was not only bearing that but was also engaged in a battle with the forces of darkness that tore at His inner soul.
‘Many were astonished (appalled) at you.’ That is, because of the awfulness of what He suffered. The use of ‘many’ in this way is restricted to this section from 52.13-53.12 in Isaiah. It is in contrast with ‘the One’ being referred to. In the end ‘the many’ refers to the faithful among the rebellious people of God, those who respond to Him having recognised that they have gone astray (53.6). It is those who are justified through what the Servant accomplishes and whose sins He bears (53.11-12), thus bringing out His uniqueness as separate from them and acting on their behalf.
‘So will He sprinkle many nations.’ The verb would normally signify ‘sprinkle’ (cause to spurt) although, on the basis of the Arabic, ‘startle’ (cause to leap’) has been suggested as an alternative, but even in the Arabic it is not really used in this sense. The meaning ‘sprinkle’ is thus paramount in the Old Testament. The connection must then be - ‘as many were astonished at Him -- so will He sprinkle many nations, kings will shut their mouths at Him.’ They were astonished at His appearance, they were even more astonished when He sprinkled many nations. The movement from sacrificed offering to atoning priest, from Lamb of God to great High Priest took all by surprise.
In the sprinkling of many nations we see the priestly work of the Servant hinted at, as in 52.1. 11-12. Here it is ‘the priest’ Himself (the High Priest) Who is at work. His followers will then take what He has done, in making atonement and establishing the new covenant, out to the world in ‘the vessels of Yahweh’. Sprinkling was the means of application of the sacrificial blood to the people in establishing the covenant (Exodus 24.6-8), and of the water of purification with which God would sprinkle His people to thoroughly cleanse them from all their iniquity and give them a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36.25; Numbers 8.7). There too ‘the vessels of Yahweh’ (compare Exodus 24.6; Numbers 19.17) were used to apply the sacrificial blood and the purifying ‘water of purification’ that contained the ashes of a heifer (which Ezekiel uses as a symbol of the Holy Spirit - Ezekiel 36.25). So the Servant is both king and priest, bringing the nations into the covenant through the offering of blood and purifying and revivifying them.
‘Kings will shut their mouths at him, for that which has not been told them will they see, and that which they have not heard they will understand.’ That kings will shut their mouths at Him stresses His own royalty. It is fellow-kings about whom kings receive reports. And they will be astounded because they will see something outside what has been reported to them, and understand what has not been told to them. They will see through the reports to the remarkable account of His deep humiliation followed by His rise to supreme glory and royalty, and learn what this Servant of Yahweh has done, not only for His own people but also for the world.
Chapter 53 The Demise And Rising Again of the Servant.
The chapter that follows overflows with examples of all the extremes of suffering and condemnation that could be poured out on someone. Commentators regularly try to select one aspect or another as being the overriding factor, but by doing so fail to recognise the point that the writer is making, which is that He suffered all that could possibly be laid on or experienced by someone of all the ills of the world. He piles word upon word in order to ensure that we recognise that here was One Who took on Himself the totality of all men’s miseries, namely, the miseries which accrued to them because of sin. To put it simply and profoundly in the words of Paul, ‘He was made sin for us’, and thus bore in Himself the consequences of that sin.
This is neatly brought out in the description of His burial. He would be buried both with the wicked, the criminal, the outcast, and with the rich man, the equally wicked but outwardly respected. In Him was summed up man’s total sinfulness. While we may certainly consider the meaning of the parts, we fail to understand the writer’s purpose if we do not recognise that the suffering and consequences described are the lot of all men as summed up on only One. Such a unique situation could only apply to Someone Who was totally unique.
The blank astonishment of Isaiah, Israel and the world is here clearly expressed. To attribute what will happen to this One, by the arm of Yahweh, seems beyond belief. It will go against all that men had expected of the Davidic king and Servant. But note carefully this reference to the ‘arm of Yahweh’. The arm of Yahweh usually refers to Yahweh acting in power to bring about His purposes. And then men expected thunder, and lightning, and extraordinary happenings, not this trail of humiliation and death. And yet was ever greater power revealed than this? For this One Who comes is the Arm of Yahweh being expressed in all His power. None who stood before the cross could even have faintly conceived what was being accomplished there. It has been studied for over two thousand years, and yet we only have a faint conception of it. What happened there was so immense that no one can grasp it. All we can understand are the outskirts of His ways.
Note the use of ‘we’, constantly used with its equivalents through to verse 6. It is applying all that is said to man’s situation. It includes Isaiah, it includes all who respond to the Servant, thus it may include the kings in 52.13, and in the end the nations who respond.
In 51.12 ‘the arm of Yahweh’ had been called on to awake and put on strength, to smite Rahab, but what is happening here appears to be the very opposite. Who could possibly have foreseen that such a One Who was to be so humiliated could shake the world to its very foundations as the Arm of Yahweh, and smite a greater than Rahab? But He did.
In His growing up this supreme Servant will not be the kind of king expected. He will not follow man’s pattern. He will be like a plant growing out of dry land, wispy, struggling, fighting for life, a tender plant indeed, not growing in surroundings of wealth and opulence, but in surroundings where everything has to be worked for and struggled for, in times when life is hard (compare 7.15 with 7.21-22). In the words of 7.14-16, He will eat butter and wild honey, the diet of the poor.
‘A root out of dry ground.’ And therefore He will be struggling to survive. Can this be the root of Jesse? (11.10), it may be asked. Is Jesse to be brought down to this? Yes, comes the reply, for the ‘sons of Jesse’ (and of David) had proved unfaithful, unbelieving. Yet although the ground was dry, the root grew, for God was there..
And there will be nothing of the ‘beauty’ of a king about Him. No splendid physique, no well trimmed comeliness, no splendid clothing, no gorgeous apparel. No one will watch Him go by with admiration for His outward appearance. He will be a son of toil, complete with blisters and hardened hands. Surely this cannot be the Arm of Yahweh? Can any good thing come out of tiny Nazareth? (John 7.41-42). Can a prophet come from despised Galilee? (John 7.52). This verse says, ‘yes, He can’. Is not this the carpenter’s son? The reply comes, yes, He is.
He will not only be unattractive humanly speaking, but also despised and rejected. When He reveals Himself men will laugh and deride (compare the use of the root of ‘despised’ in 37.22), they will sneer at Him, they will dismiss His words and His claims. He will be written off by ‘those who know’ as a charlatan.
‘Rejected by men.’ The verb translated ‘rejected’ means transient, fleeting, lacking, and therefore not up to standard in men’s eyes.
‘A man of sorrows, and humiliated by grief.’ He will walk sorrowfully and in grief. For He bears in Himself the knowledge that men are rejecting His Father, and the means of their own salvation. He will grieve at the hardness of men’s hearts (Mark 3.5). He will carry the burden of the world (Mark 8.12). The verb yatha‘ (‘to know’) can also mean ‘to be humiliated’ as witnessed at Ugarit.
The reference is not to a gloomy person by nature, but to One Who faces a world of gloom. It is intended to be in contrast with the idea of royalty as pleasure seekers and hedonists. Not so this One, for He has come to deal with the needs of the world and He sees them as they are, and bears their burden on His shoulders.
‘And as one from whom men hide their face, He was despised and we esteemed Him not.’ Literally ‘there was as it were a hiding of face from Him’. Men will be ashamed to be aligned with Him, they will keep away from His company for fear of what the world might say (John 6.66; 7.13; 12.42. Even Nicodemus came by night - John 3.2). Thus was He despised and not given the esteem that was His due. And besides He did not fit the expected pattern (John 7.12, 27, 35).
So He will come from a poor background, He will not be striking to look at, He will not wear clothes of majesty, He will not be highly esteemed, He will not be a pleasure seeker but serious minded, He will not fit into men’s preconceptions. All this is a condemnation of how men think, and illustrates their false sense of values. For those who knew Him and gave Him a fair hearing recognised His worth, and listened, and humbled themselves before Him. And that was how God saw Him. Man looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16.7).
It was from this that Satan would tempt Him to free Himself (Matthew 4.1-11). If He were but to say the word He could be lifted out from it in a moment. He could instead receive the kingdoms of the world. Had he not come to receive a Kingdom? Yes, but it was to be received through humiliation.
There are always two ways of looking at things. Men will esteem Him as stricken, smitten by God and afflicted, considering that it must be because He was paying for His own sins. But God will see Him as bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows, as wounded for our transgressions, our overt outward behaviour, and bruised for our iniquities, our deepest inward sins. For that was the question at the cross, ‘why was He there by God and man forsaken?’ And here was God’s answer, and man’s.
‘Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.’ ‘Surely.’ It was a matter of complete certainty (see 40.7). It was part of the king’s acknowledged responsibility to bear the burden of his people. But he did not do it as personally and realistically as this. For this One will bear the sufferings and griefs of His people on His own shoulders. And as the thought expands we are made to recognise that He bears what we deserve to bear. He shoulders it Himself. And that is why our own suffering is not as devastating as it might have been.
The word for ‘griefs’ might also be rendered ‘sicknesses’ as it regularly is. Bearing someone’s sicknesses means bearing the guilt of their sin which resulted in the sicknesses. As the idea of this comes in the following verses, perhaps ‘griefs’ is the better translation.
Suffering is in the end a consequence of sin, not individually but in total. And He had come to shoulder that suffering and sorrow, so that He might alleviate it and help others to bear it. We do not know what the world’s suffering would have been if He had not come, but it would have been multiplied compared with what it is. For He stood between the world and God’s own natural antipathy against sin, giving the world chance to repent. And in a secondary way He was helped to relieve men’s sufferings as the Servant by the fact that central to the Christian message through the ages has been the alleviation of pain and suffering, and none have contributed so much to it as God’s people.
‘Yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.’ The general view would be that the Servant was suffering because He was especially sinful. They would consider that He had reaped the consequences of His false claims, and they would therefore have little sympathy. ‘Stricken’ was often applied to men afflicted with severe skin disease, but here refers to all the most dreadful things that come on men (see its use in Psalm 73.14), seen as coming from the hand of God because of a man’s deserts (see John 9.1-2). ‘Smitten of God’ becomes even more specific. God Himself has taken note of this man’s evil and blasphemy and has smitten him. ‘Afflicted’ refers to the man’s experience of the smiting. He finds himself suffering the blows of God. So this is how men would account of the Servant’s sufferings. But God would see otherwise.
In 1.5 Israel was depicted in her sinfulness as being like a dreadfully sick person, ‘stricken’, with the head ‘sick’ and the heart faint, with no soundness from head to foot, covered in wounds and ‘bruises’ (= ‘stripes’) and festering sores. She was bearing her sin. And now this One Who in Himself is ‘Israel’ (49.15), He too is ‘stricken’, He is bearing their ‘sickness’ and carrying their diseases. He is bearing their sin and its penalty. The depicting of the Servant as a sick man is precisely because He is standing in for sinful Israel. By His ‘bruises’ they will be healed of their ‘bruises’.
‘But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was on Him, and with His stripes we are healed.’ Note the piling up of verbs to cover the suffering He faced. Wounded, bruised, chastised, scourged. It is the ultimate in punishment. And here there is a moving on from sorrow and suffering to its cause, sin and transgression. This is the root of the matter. Here was total representation, the One suffering for the many, and total substitution, by the One in place of the many, with a complete satisfaction thus being made possible. His wounds were for our transgressions, His being bruised was for our iniquities, all that militated against our deepest wellbeing was put on Him, and by the scourging He bore, ‘being made whole’ was made available to us. Have we transgressed? He bore the wounds of it. Do we sin deeply in our inner hearts? He was bruised because of it. Do we lack peace and well being because of our sin? He was chastised that we might be restored to peace with God and a sense of wellbeing in His presence. It involves the removal of ‘wickedness’, for there really is no peace to the wicked, they cannot know peace (48.22). Do we need to be healed, restored, delivered, made whole? Then because He was scourged and wounded we can be. It is the One in contrast to the many, and the One has taken all and suffered all for the many. It is a picture of One Who was abused in every possible way.
While any one of these statements might metaphorically have been applied to a prophet or to the faithful in Israel, the gathering together of them all to depict the total and deepest need of mankind, borne and paid for, goes far beyond that. No prophet or group of faithful men could bear this load, or be thought of as doing so. Even Isaiah could only look on and wonder. It could only be done by One Who was the Arm of Yahweh, and He could only do it because He was unique and like no other man, because He was the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father (9.6), and had no sins of His own to suffer for.
As we read these words it becomes crystal clear that One would come into the world Who would uniquely bear the sins of the world and, as we learn later, make full atonement for them and meet the deepest needs of mankind. As we meditate on it, it should truly fill us with awe.
But it is all only potential as far as man is concerned. The benefit to man is not automatic. If we are to really benefit we must come and receive it. We must look to Him and trust Him for it. And then it will be ours.
‘Wounded.’ Compare Psalm 109.22 where it means wounds of the innermost being. The word can mean ‘polluted’ (e.g. Zephaniah 3.4) or ‘profaned’ (e.g. Amos 2.7; Malachi 2.10-11) or ‘pierced’ (Job 26.13) or ‘cut in pieces’ (51.9). It represents wounds of the deepest kind.
‘Bruised.’ This too is a strong word. In Job 5.4; Lamentations 3.34 it is rendered ‘crushed’, in Psalm 72.4; 89.10; 94.5 ‘broken in pieces’, in Psalm 143.3 ‘smitten down to the ground’. It thus represents a heavy battering.
Here we have stress laid on each individual. It is not just the group that have failed, it is all the group including each individual. And they are described in total as ‘we’, thus including Isaiah, Israel and all men in contra-position to the One. The picture is of sheep-headedness, wandering aimlessly, heedless of instruction, going their own way without thought of what they should do, except to do what they wanted to do. Thus have they left the control of the shepherd, they have turned away from God. He might well have put it as ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3.23).
‘Yahweh has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ The verb ‘laid on’ means ‘caused to arrive on, made to meet on’. Again he could have put it thus, ‘He was made sin for us, He Who knew no sin’ (2 Corinthians 5.21). And it is Yahweh Who has done it. He has as it were gathered the sins and iniquities of ‘us all’ and placed them inexorably on Him. The same idea is present in Leviticus 16.21 so that we now expectantly await some reference to sacrifice. We will not be disappointed.
Note that the verse begins with ‘all we’ and ends with ‘us all’. None are excluded. But again it is potential. It only in the end applies to those who respond.
In seeking to expound this passage commentators regularly seize on one aspect of the picture presented. Some see it as portraying a plague-ridden man, others as a victim, and so on, but the whole point of the picture is that He was all this and more. Every possible indignity that a human being could face looking from all aspects met upon Him. He was the One Who suffered beyond anything that anyone has ever suffered. Thus to apply it to a contemporary of Isaiah or some unknown prophet who suffered is to miss the point. This One suffered as no one ever had or would again. He alone was not one of the ‘we’.
A fuller explanation is now given of how the Servant would suffer. Not only would He face the woes of this world, He would face oppression from the authorities. The word ‘oppression’ has behind it the sense of taskmasters and of pressure. He will be treated roughly by the authorities. Yet He would ‘humble’ Himself, He would allow Himself to be afflicted. And He would make no complaint. He would humbly allow them to lead Him off to the slaughter like a lamb, without complaint He would allow them to shear Him like a sheep. That is, whatever He was to face, He would submit to it without argument or protest. He would knowingly submit to the will of Yahweh. ‘Lo, I come to do your will, O my God’ (Hebrews 10.7, 9)
Here was an essential part of the atonement. This was why no animal sacrifice could finally avail for sin. For such sacrifice was involuntary on the part of the victim. But this was to be a voluntary sacrifice, made by One Who knew what was coming and voluntarily went forward to His death. He went forward in obedience (Hebrews 5.8), saying ‘Lo I come to do your will, O my God’ (Hebrews 10.4-10) thus becoming the perfect sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 5.9; 10.10).
But the purpose of His oppressors was that ‘He might be cut off out of the land of the living’. No more vivid description of death could be given. He would yield His life to death. It is quite clear from Isaiah’s emphasis on all this that he too recognised why in the end animal sacrifices could not suffice except as a temporary expedient. They lacked the necessary constituent of the voluntary will.
‘By (or ‘from’) oppression and judgment He was taken away.’ The idea behind ‘otser (oppression) is forcible enclosure and restraint. Thus in Proverbs 30.16 the womb is ‘enclosed’ or ‘restrained’ and therefore barren. Compare Genesis 16.2. But the verbal root means to hold back, hinder and therefore detain, imprison, retain, shut up, forcibly restrain. Combined with ‘judgment’, which probably has in mind the place of judgment, or those who judge, or the due process of law, it clearly indicates forcible legal restraint of one form or another with a view to trial. In Proverbs 24 11 ‘taken away’ means taken away to death (compare Ezekiel 33.4) and this is probably the meaning here especially when related to ‘cut off out of the land of the living’. So the Servant will run foul of the authorities sufficient for them to decide to sentence Him to death.
‘And as for His generation, who among them considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living. For the transgression of my people was He stricken.’ ‘His generation’ here is probably to be taken in the sense of His contemporaries (see Genesis 6.9b). To the majority of them His death would not be looked on as important. They would move on to another day. Injustice was not uncommon, and it did not directly affect them. But says Isaiah, it did affect them because He was stricken because of the transgressions of these very people (literally ‘because of the transgressions of my people the plague to him.’) The word ‘stricken’ is read in. But to be stricken with something plague-like outwardly suggests God’s anger against the subject. Here the point is that God’s antipathy to sin was averted from His people by being directed at the Servant.
All this adds further significance to the ‘lamb led to the slaughter’. While those words did not directly refer to sacrifice that meaning is beginning to be imported. If He was stricken for the transgressions of His people (compare verse 5), and all their sins were made to meet on Him (verse 6), He is beginning very much to look like a sacrificial offering (see verse 10). Furthermore, in Israel any lamb slaughtered within the vicinity of Jerusalem had to be brought as an offering to the Temple.
The wicked and the rich are often looked at synonymously (compare Psalm 52.7). The rich tended to behave wickedly, and especially dishonestly and deceitfully (Micah 6.12). That is regularly how they became and stayed rich (compare Proverbs 18.23; 28.6, 20; Jeremiah 17.11). Thus the idea here is that although He would be non-violent and without deceit He would be treated as though He was guilty of both violence and deceit by being placed in His grave alongside wicked people. Indeed it would include being in the grave of ‘a rich man’, possibly signifying here someone excessively wicked. As it would not seemingly be possible for someone both to have his grave with the wicked, and also with a rich man, (the emphasised ideas being slightly different), what is primarily intended is that He will be numbered among all that is sinful. His burial will be of One Who is seen as summing up in Himself every kind of wickedness.
Thus He would be identified with both the most outwardly and openly sinful of men and with the most deceitful and blameworthy, the rich, in His death, and He Who had been characterised by poverty, such an idea containing some idea of virtue, would find Himself placed in His death with ‘a rich man’, because even that amount of virtue was denied Him. The rich man would be honoured by his fellows but hated by the majority. So this added to His shame. That God actually arranged that He was laid in a godly rich man’s grave was one of those unexpected extra fulfilments of prophecy that so often occur.
This connecting of the twin ideas of being laid both with the extremely wicked and with the rich, both of whom would be despised by the majority and seen as deserving of God’s retribution (compare Jesus’ story of ‘the rich man’ which also applies to the term rich the idea of one deserving of judgment - Luke 16.19), is a further example of the way in which the writer is determined to apply to the One described here the totality of the miseries and condemnations that could be applied, thus drawing on all possible ways of describing His suffering and humiliation
The plural for deaths may be emphasising the fact of His death, He really died. Or that it was an extreme and dreadful death. Or it may be distinguishing His death as something special. But plurals of this nature with some special kind of significance are quite common.
So the verdict of the court was ‘wicked and deceitful’. The verdict of God was, ‘He had done no violence neither was any deceit found in His mouth’. The latter phrase gains deeply in significance when we remember that Isaiah was very conscious of the deceitfulness of his own mouth (6.5). And Jesus Himself saw sins of the mouth as so heinous that He said all judgment would be based on them (Matthew 12.37). So we are justified in seeing here the suggestion that the Servant was sinless.
Now the situation is made quite plain. All that has happened to the Servant has happened in the will of God. It was not just allowed to happen, it happened at His pleasure. He chose to crush Him. He chose to put Him to suffering. Not because He was angry at Him or because the Servant deserved it, or because He did not love Him, but because He was making His soul a guilt offering, ‘an offering for sin’ (see Leviticus 5.6-19; 6.6, 17; 7.1-7). Note the stress here on the fact that suffering was necessary. Once again this sacrifice outclasses the ancient sacrifices. The victim was voluntary, and the victim truly suffered.
The guilt offering was a substitutionary offering. It covered a wide range of sins including not giving witness when adjured to do so, making rash oaths, doing anything that Yahweh has commanded not to be done, defrauding people, lying or sinning in holy matters. Indeed it covered anything that made a man guilty before God. And above all it was a voluntary offering. A man chose of his own free will to offer his guilt offering. The stress here then is on the removal of guilt for sins committed in an offering made by voluntary choice. It will be noted that sins of the mouth come in here specifically (compare verse 9), together with religious sins and disobedience. Its purpose was to make atonement, to ‘cover’ sins, to remove guilt and includes where appropriate restitution. It thus makes total satisfaction for sin. The result was forgiveness (Leviticus 5.16) and total reconciliation with God and man. The offerer has ‘borne his iniquity’, because the offering has borne it in his stead (Leviticus 5.17). It results in his guilt before God being removed.
So here the Servant is being offered as a guilt offering, which He makes freely, which covers all men. In that sense it is more like the sin offering which was offered for the whole of Israel, but with the added aspect that it meets the particular sin and need of each one. The reason for using the guilt offering is in fact to stress that each person must take advantage of it individually for his own guilt. For the guilt offering was very individual. This was no blanket atonement but one offered on behalf of each one who must himself come in order to benefit by it. It was personal to his own sin. Each must therefore appropriate this guilt offering to themselves.
And the result will be that He will have ‘seed’, His days will be ‘prolonged’, which can only mean that He will be resurrected, and He will personally carry out the will of Yahweh which will prosper in His hand. The implication is that His offering will result in ‘children’ made guiltless through His blood, that He will have endless life and that He will carry out in His resurrected state the work that God has for Him to do. ‘In His hand’ stresses His direct part in it. But the promises are put in such a way as to tie in with the longings of godly men. Having children and length of days and doing the will and pleasure of Yahweh, indicated all that the godly sought and anticipated. Thus this is demonstrating God’s satisfaction with what has been done. The Servant too will, after His suffering, enjoy these in abundant measure, evidence of God’s delight in Him.
The promise of seed connects this directly with the promises given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel (compare 41.8; 43.5; 44.3; 48.19). While the Servant is in this chapter revealed as an individual, His coming forth from Abraham is not forgotten. ‘He will see His seed.’ This was also what had in a sense been promised to Abraham (Genesis 15.5; 22.17-18). But in this case from His death He will lead many sons to glory.
‘He will prolong His days.’ His resurrection has been anticipated in 26.19; 25.8. Through His death this resurrection will now become a reality in Him, and for His people in the future. Note that He prolongs His own days. He has power to lay down His life, and He has power to raise it again (John 10.17-18).
‘And the pleasure of Yahweh will prosper in His hand.’ In all this His desire has been to do the will of Yahweh. And that is what He has accomplished. ‘Lo I come to do your will, O my God’ (Psalm 40.6-8; Hebrews 10.5-10). He is stricken that Yahweh’s will and pleasure might reach its fulfilment. For in bruising this One Whom He had sent He is bringing about His own purposes, the salvation of His chosen ones. The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world (1 John 4.14).
‘When You make His soul an offering for sin.’ This ‘you’ refers to God’s action. God is specifically, personally and directly involved in what is happening. It is He Who offers the Servant up as an offering.
Note that we have from this point on a change in tense. No longer the complete (perfect) tense which speaks of what is done and complete whether in the past or the future, but the incomplete tense which expresses something continual. Having accomplished His perfect work of offering Himself for the sins of many, His continual work goes on.
This is summarising what has gone before in the last verse, and reminding us of the great travail through which the Servant must go. The travail of His soul is described in 52.14; 53.3-5, 7, 8. He will be in great travail, but from that travail He will see success (or fruit) as described and will be satisfied. And this will result because through His humiliation (a significance of yatha‘ found at Ugarit) God’s righteous Servant will make many to be accounted righteous (‘cause to be righteous in the eyes of the Law and of the Judge’). Here ‘many’ unquestionably means the ‘saved’. And they will be accounted righteous before God because He has borne their iniquities. Here then at last is the means by which the faithful in Israel, and world believers, can get right with God and be provided with sufficient righteousness before a holy God. It is what all has been leading up to. He has undergone His suffering so that this might be possible.
If we translate ‘by His knowledge’ rather than ‘by His humiliation’ we must see it as indicating that He acts on the basis of what He knows are God’s requirements. But ‘by His humiliation’ is well authenticated.
‘From the travail of His soul He shall see, and shall be satisfied .’ From the midst of His sufferings the Servant will look forward and ‘see’. But what will He see? Clearly we could put in ‘what results’, and as He is satisfied by it we could expand it to, ‘a satisfactory conclusion resulting from His sufferings’. He will have accomplished what He came to do. His work will have been completely successful, and with deep satisfaction He will see what He has accomplished and rejoice in it. (We should note that the Hebrew really demands the translation ‘from the travail of His soul --.’ ‘of the travail of His soul’ is incorrect as a translation).
However, after ‘He shall see’ the noun ‘light’ is found , not only in LXX and Qa, but also in Qb (MSS at Qumran) which is in most respects almost identical with MT. These make a strong combination textually speaking and may even suggest that ‘light’ has dropped out of the text. On the other hand copyists knew the text by heart so that we need to be wary of adding in what is not there. But it is certainly strong evidence of what future generations saw as needing to be supplied. Either way, as some idea needs to be added to give significant meaning, ‘light’ is a reasonable surmise, for the constant promise of Isaiah is that through the darkness ahead, light is coming. The point then is still that from the midst of His soul-travail the Servant will see a satisfactory result, He will see ‘the light of Yahweh’ (2.5), He will see the light which was to result from His coming and was to be made available to the world (9.2). He would be satisfied that the light for which His people were seeking would now shine on them (42.16; 60.1), the light which would shine on the Gentiles through Him (42.6; 49.6). When men now looked towards God through the Servant, instead of the darkness of His anger because of sin, they would see the light of His pardon and forgiveness made available through the Servant’s work. He would make many to be accounted righteous. So we can reasonably see it in this way whether we put the noun ‘light’ in or not. For the coming of that light alone could satisfy Him. The reading ‘light’ would indicate that He will see hope ahead at the end of the dark tunnel through which He is going, the glorious light of the fulfilment of God’s purposes dawning on His soul. At the end of His darkness will come light, the light of life.
‘By His humiliation shall my righteous servant make many to be accounted righteous, and He will bear their iniquities.’ We can compare here ‘being accounted righteous freely by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 3.24). This is the message of the Gospel. Through what He has undergone He has borne their iniquities, and therefore those who believe can now be counted as righteous before God through His sacrifice of Himself, all their guilt can now be removed. The ‘many’ in this passage are those who see Him and respond to Him (52.14; 53.12 (twice); compare 2.3). The idea appears a number of times in the New Testament (see especially Matthew 20.28; Mark 10.45; Romans 5.15, 19; Hebrews 9.28; see also Matthew 8.11; 26.28; Luke 1.14; John 7.31; 8.30; 10.42; 12.11; Acts 17.12; 19.18; 28.23; 1 Corinthians 10.17; Hebrews 2.10).
And because of what He has achieved He will come alive again and be given the spoils of victory. The intention here is in order to stress that He will now no longer be the humiliated teacher, but the Mighty God (9.6) receiving His ‘portion’, His inheritance.
It may be seen as signifying that He will rank among the greatest and most powerful on earth, having His portion divided to Him among the great ones of the earth, and sharing in the spoil of those who are strong and powerful. For the strong only divide their spoils with those whom they see as at least their equals, thus they are seen as acknowledging His right. He will be numbered among the mighty. The point being emphasised is not so much the spoils, as the status now occupied by God’s Servant. He will be even greater than Abraham who did not share the spoils lest it denigrate Yahweh (Genesis 14.23).
But the problem with this interpretation, while partly conveying truth, is that in fact the Servant is to be above all (42.1-4; 49.7; 52.13-15 compare 49.23). He is not just to be one among a number, but the One Who is exalted above all. It is thus difficult to see how He could only receive one portion among a number when Yahweh makes His division. This is confirmed in Psalm 89.27 where He is to be ‘higher than the kings of the earth’. It would seem strange that He should therefore here merely be seen as on an equal level with others, although the purpose might be in order to emphasise that He was numbered among the transgressors. The fact is that if we do interpret along these lines we must probably see it as indicating that He will receive His portion from Yahweh as a result of His triumph which He will then divide among the great and the strong as He chooses, because they are His servants. The stress being seen to be on His newly established greatness, and His overall sovereignty.
Alternately if we translate ‘the many’ (as in verse 11) then the thought is that He will receive His portion from Yahweh as His anointed, and will share it with ‘the many’ whom He has delivered, and He will share His spoils with those made strong by Yahweh (26.4; 30.15; 35.4; 40.29, 31; 41.10; 45.24; 49.5; 52.1). Overall this might be seen as fitting the context better.
Either way He will be exalted and lifted high (52.13), calling the strong to Him that He might divide the spoil with them. And this will be because He was willing ‘to pour out His soul to death’ and be numbered among the transgressors, that is, among those who have transgressed against God, as He offered Himself for them. It was by being numbered among them that He was able to bear their sin. Had He not humbled Himself to death, He could not have achieved His object. This stresses the representative nature of His death. He dies on behalf of all, from the highest to the lowest. This found a special significance in that He was crucified between the two brigands (Mark 15.28 compare Luke 22.37), stressing His oneness with even the worst of humanity.
Note the emphasis again on the voluntary nature of the sacrifice. ‘He poured out His soul to death.’ That is, He laid down His life of Himself (John 10.18). No one took it from Him. It was of His free choice. This is central to the idea of the replacement of the old sacrificial system. Because it is voluntary it is a sacrifice such as no other could be (see the emphasis in Hebrew 10.5-14).
‘Yet He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.’ With these words the chapter comes to an end. The Servant has borne the sin of many and makes intercession for those whose sins He has borne. To intercede is to stand between as a Mediator. This is not so much praying for them, as accomplishing the work of the mediator, bringing about the reconciliation. But it does include a kind of prayer. He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him because He makes intercession for them (Hebrews 7.25). So the Servant acts as the Mediator between God and man on the basis of His saving work (1 Timothy 2.5). The way to salvation is open for all through what the Servant has done.
Chapter 54 A New Dawn For God’s People.
As a result of the work of the Servant there is to be a new dawn for God’s people. He will see His seed and His portion will be given to the many. They are now addressed as a wife forsaken by her husband who is to be restored and will be exceedingly fruitful, having many children. This is not directed to Zion/Jerusalem who are not mentioned again in this section, but to faithful Israel as a whole, for the only identification is through the title ‘the Holy One of Israel’ (54.5). This will result in God’s covenant of peace, and His everlasting covenant love.
The Restoration of God’s Erring Wife (54.1-10).
In this chapter we have the gradual unfolding of the work of the Servant. God will prosper His true people in the future so that they will multiply and expand. And they must go forward in confidence with God as their Maker, experiencing His everlasting mercy until that final day when they will enjoy being with Him for ever to experience His everlasting mercy to the full.
She Who Was Barren will Become Fruitful And Enjoy His Everlasting Mercy (54.1-10).
The work of the Servant will result in singing and rejoicing, for as a result of His work barren Israel will produce many children. The wording ‘sing O barren, you who did not bear’ is reminiscent of Genesis 11.30. So just as it was from the barren Sarah that the old Israel came, now from His barren people will come the new Israel. But there is also a great difference, for the new barren one is not a deserving married wife but one desolate because of her past sins. And yet in God’s grace she who is least deserving will bear more children even than Sarah who produced Abraham’s seed through Isaac and his descendants. The new Israel will far outnumber the old. And she who had not undergone the pain of childbirth (another has borne it for her) will produce children so profusely that they will be more than could be borne by a married wife. These will be the seed of the Servant (53.10). Once again the Servant is linked with Abraham.
For as the Servant’s seed go out from Jerusalem (2.2-3; 52.11-12), and as they depart with God’s instruction (the Law) to the world, together with what they have heard concerning the Servant, they will find that the nations will respond and they will be fruitful, thus producing many ‘children’. And as they go out they themselves go out as the Servant, in the Servant’s name, to produce His seed, fulfilling God’s promises to ‘Abraham His servant’, of seed like the sand of the seashore.
So great will be their seed that they will need a larger tent, and to have a larger tent is an indication of increased status. They must therefore enlarge their tents and spread them wide, sparing no material, lengthening the cords and strengthening the stakes, so that there will be room for all to dwell in. The tent is symbolic of the ideal time in the wilderness (Jeremiah 2.2-3) when they were faithful to Yahweh and did His will. David ideally ruled from His tent (16.5) and the ideal Jerusalem will be an everlasting tent (33.20). Furthermore in Amos 9.11-12, as cited in Acts 15.15-18, it is the tent of David which has fallen down that has to be re-established, so that the residue of men may seek after the Lord, and the Gentiles on whom His name is called. That ideal time is now being reproduced.
They themselves will produce a multiplicity of children, for they will ‘spread abroad’ on both sides, having an abundance of children, and they will possess the nations (see Deuteronomy 9.1; 11.23) and rebuild their desolate cities, in order to inhabit them. Because her desolation (verse 1) has been removed, her desolate cities can be restored. The picture is one of growth and expansion benefiting both themselves and the world. These cities will not be like Babylon. They will be cities of the redeemed. And they will all be the seed of the Servant as a result of His offering for sin (53.10).
The main idea behind the producing of children in this section is that of establishing the new Israel through the spreading of the message of the Servant. But parallel with it we may also see a profusion of naturally born children, a sign of God’s blessing on His faithful people. It will be a sign that all is now right between them and God.
The possession of the nations was always seen as an ultimate goal of Israel in their roles as a kingdom of priests and it is to be fulfilled through the Davidic king (Psalm 2.8)
Through the work of the Servant the reconciliation to God of His true people will now be completed. Their Maker will once more be their husband. So they will no longer need to feel confounded or be ashamed, or be treated shamefully because of their status. They will be able to forget the shame of their youth, their first sins; and the reproach of their widowhood, their period of separation from Him. Their whole past will be forgotten (43.25; 44.21-22). For they will now be fully restored. They will be reunited with Him Who created them, Yahweh of hosts, the Holy One of Israel their Redeemer, Who will now be called the God of the whole earth.
That her ‘Maker is her husband’ removes from the simile of husband any fear of it degrading Yahweh. It is as her Creator that He is her husband, and she is His helpmeet (compare and contrast Hosea 1-2), not through some mystical ceremony.
Note the descriptions. He is the Creator, and especially their Maker, He is Yahweh over the hosts of heaven and earth, He is the unique and holy Holy One of Israel, He is their Redeemer, and He will now be acknowledged as God of the whole earth for the nations are coming under His sway. In a sense history is summarised here. Creator of the world and Maker of man, Lord of heaven and earth, Chooser and unique One of Israel, and now God of the whole earth, so that her children are seen as covering the whole earth. And the restoration is due to the work of the Servant.
It is now stressed that their period of darkness will be over. They had been like a young wife who had sinned grievously and as a result had been ‘cast off’ and left with her family, who now regrets bitterly what she has done. The picture is vivid for the state of such a wife was unenviable. Her life has been ruined. No one else of worth will want her. She will have no children. She must while away her life in shame and grief.
But then she finds that her Husband, having put aside His anger at her sin, comes for her again and with great compassion and mercy and love, gathers her to Himself and showers kindness on her.
Thus will God do for the repentant of undeserving Israel. After her short period of forsakenness He will gather her with great mercies, revealing His undeserved goodness towards her, and will shower on her everlasting kindness. Her everlasting future will be one of bliss because of His unfailing grace. Once again the everlastingness of His benefits is stressed. This is the eternal kingdom. The word for kindness is chesed, ‘covenant love’. It is the kindness that results from His having set His love on her as confirmed in the covenant.
Note the contrast between the smallness of the moment and the greatness of the mercies, and the hiding of His face ‘for a moment’ compared with His ‘everlasting’ kindness. What has been lost is as nothing compared with what she will receive. But note also that His anger cannot be described as small, for her sins were great. So the overflowing nature of His wrath (it was no small sin of which they were guilty) is also stressed, lest she overlook how guilty she was.
However, that overflowing wrath, which has been borne by the Servant in chapter 53, is now replaced with His everlasting kindness resulting from His mercy. And finally it is stressed that He does this as her Redeemer. He has delivered her from her sad state through the exercise of His power and the willing offering in sacrifice of His Servant. She has been bought with a price, and set free from those who enslaved her.
The word for ‘overflowing’ (shetseph), which is used to produce an assonance with ‘wrath’ (qetseph), appears only here. It is usually connected with sheteph (a flood, overflowing) a term more regularly used by Isaiah, the more unusual word being used to produce the assonance.
His overflowing wrath is now compared with the waters of Noah, which overflowed the world as a result of His anger against sin previously (Genesis 6.6-7). And just as He swore then that He would never again flood the earth, so now He swears that He will not be angry with them nor rebuke them again for ever. For though the mountains depart and the hills be removed, His covenant love will never depart from them and His covenant of peace will never be removed from them. The mountains and hills were always looked on as the surest and firmest thing in the world, but they are not as sure and firm as His future kindness and the certainty of His covenant of peace which will last for ever. And this is all due to God’s mercy.
So just as He previously made an everlasting covenant that such a great flood would never happen again (Genesis 9.16), now He makes a similar covenant that His wrath and rebuke will never again overflow them. This must refer to the everlasting kingdom where all is perfection. It is the result of the actions of the Servant. Those who are His are bound in a covenant which cannot be broken.
Note the recognition that the earth must finally come to an end so that the mountains and hills will be removed. There is no denial in this passage of God’s final judgment. The earth must finally be destroyed. But the point is that His own will survive all that is coming, sailing through it in the ark of His kindness and in His covenant of peace, knowing that for them His wrath has been removed, in so far as it affects them, for ever (compare 9.7; 26.12; 32.17-18; 52.7; and see 1 Peter 3.20-22).
The implications here are enormous. The only reason that God can guarantee no further anger or wrath must lie in His certainty that once finally redeemed, His people will be faithful to His covenant with them and will serve Him faithfully for ever. They will not only be accounted righteous, they will be made righteous (4.3; 26.2; 27.6; 32.3-4). And the second implication, stated as a fact, is that the world will pass away, to be replaced, as we learn later, by a new heaven and a new earth.
‘Nor will my covenant of peace be removed.’ Now we know why the Servant was earlier called the Prince of Peace (9.6). It is through Him that the covenant of peace has been sealed. He has enabled peace, as the mediator (making atonement and intercession - 53.10-12) between God in His antipathy against sin, and man in His sinfulness. And He has done it through the sacrifice of Himself, by bearing their sin on Himself, where God had ‘made it to meet’ on Him (53.6), so that they might become guiltless. So, as is always stressed, their salvation is as a result of the direct activity of God. The covenant is God’s covenant, made by His undeserved grace and favour; and the offering up of His Servant is the means by which it was sealed and accomplished. Here is the blood of the new covenant which was shed for us and for many for the remission of sins (Matthew 26.28; Mark 14.24) which has resulted in peace from God and peace with God. The chastisement of our peace was on Him (53.5). And it is all at the word of Yahweh.
Some read ‘as the days of Noah’ rather than ‘as the waters of Noah’, making a slight amendment, but the change is not necessary. The repetition of the phrase ‘waters of Noah’ adds to the power of the statement and lays stress on the instrument of judgment. His wrath and reproach were as the waters of Noah, and like the waters of Noah will in future be restrained. And this is possible because His wrath and reproach has been borne by another.
The Continuing and Final Establishment of His People (54.11-17).
Isaiah’s prophecies of Israel’s future have a number of facets, for he is preparing them for the whole future. The prophecies found a partial fulfilment in Israel’s being built up again with returning exiles and the establishment of the land. God’s graciousness to them was revealed in different ways. Prophets came among them and taught them. The Scriptures grew. They had periods of independence and plenty. They were a witness to God’s truth among the nations. We must never forget the faithful who were awaiting the coming of God’s chosen One and continued His witness as His Servant.
Then after the coming of Jesus Christ the new Israel grew and expanded around the world. They too preached and prospered. The Scriptures were further built up. There were always enemies, but they knew that with God as their God they need not fear.
And all awaited the final day when God would establish His everlasting kingdom and bring all to conclusion. So in Isaiah’s teaching we must expect to find aspects of all three for he was proclaiming the future of the people of God.
Though they are afflicted and storm torn, and not yet comforted (40.1), His people will be built by Yahweh into a city of glorious beauty. It is a new city, a city of beauty and splendour, a city worthy of God (compare 26.1-4), a city of righteousness, a faithful city (1.25-26). A city like no other (compare Revelation 21). It is the new Jerusalem putting on its beautiful garments and excluding all uncleanness and all that is not within His covenant (52.1), and deliberately not identified except as representing God’s people.
The stones are set in eye paint for beauty, the foundations are laid in a vivid blue stone, its pinnacles (literally ‘suns’, possibly the topmost parts which glisten in the sun) are of fiery red stones, its gates are of ‘fiery’ stones, and its border is of ‘stones which bring pleasure’. The whole picture is one of glorious beauty. It has become the most desirable of cities, like that in Revelation 21.
The basic idea here is of a building up of the people of God, at first imperfect and lacking the fullness that would come later, but ever glorious and looking towards the final completion when God would be all in all. For His people are His building (1 Corinthians 3.9-16; Ephesians 2.20-22), God’s temple (2 Corinthians 6.16; 1 Peter 2.5; 1 Corinthians 6.19), a city set on a hill that could not be hidden (Matthew 5.14; Hebrews 12.22). And one day that city will be revealed in all its glory (Revelation 21).
The practical side is now emphasised. All who are of this city will be taught by Yahweh, they will have great peace (wellbeing) and be established in righteousness. And all oppression of any kind, so common in earthly society, and all that is fearful and terrifying externally, will be far away so that there is nothing to disturb their hearts or their security.
In the final analysis this can only refer to the everlasting kingdom under the Davidic king (compare Jeremiah 23.5-6; Ezekiel 37.24-28) in the new heaven and earth. In the final analysis all will be well under His rule. But a secondary application may be made to those on the journey, for the principles are set firm. It is not for nothing that they are seen as dwelling in tents (verse 2), but are to be established as a city. Those who travel will also discover the truth of these words (1 Peter 2.11; Hebrews 11.13). All who are His will be taught by Him (Jeremiah 31.33-34;1 Corinthians 2.9-16), just as the Servant was (50.4-5), although not to the same extent; all may enjoy great peace (26.3; Philippians 4.7). They are to be established in righteousness (Romans 1.16-17; 1 Corinthians 1.30; 2 Corinthians 5.21), and while they are not safe from oppression and terrors they need not fear them. They are preparing for that final day.
In the growth of God’s true people through time there will be many enemies who will gather against God’s people. But the time of God’s using them as an instrument against His people will have gone. Such enemies will not gather under His command, and indeed He will make them fall. God’s protection for His people will ever be guaranteed.
He now wants His people to recognise that all is finally under His control. Are weapons being made? He created their maker. Are people engaged in wasting and destroying in the world? God created the waster. He is sovereign over all. So His people need not be concerned, for they are under special protection. In the final analysis no weapon can hurt the people of God, although it may not seem so for a time, and no tongue will progress with its accusations, without finally being condemned.
For this is His people’s inheritance. Note that Israel as ‘the Servant’ have now become ‘the servants of Yahweh’. Once the ultimate Servant was reached the term no longer applied generally, except by expansion. What they have and are now comes to them through the ultimate Servant. Thus the portion of the Servant becomes the inheritance of the servants of Yahweh, whose inheritance it is to enjoy all He has obtained for them. And when they are accounted righteous, and become righteous, it is of Yahweh. For He and the Servant work as One. All their righteousness essentially comes from Him.
Chapter 55 A Call To Respond To The Witness of the Servant And The Certainty Of Its Success.
God (or the Servant) now sends out a call to Israel and the nations to respond to what is on offer through the Servant. They must come and eat and drink, and enjoy the portion that He has obtained (53.12) and offers to share with all. It is guaranteed by an everlasting covenant (verse 3), and in the presentation of the work and splendour of the Servant through Whom it is obtained (verse 4-5). And its success is guaranteed (verse 5). Let men then seek Yahweh, turning from sin and coming to Him (verses 6-7), and they will find mercy and abundant pardon.
And in the end the success of what He has done will not depend on man. His word will go out and be effective and fulfil all His will because of its intrinsic power as His word (verse 9-13) revealing the everlasting greatness of Yahweh (verse 13).
The Call To Respond (55.1-3).
What follows must not be isolated from the context. This appeal is possible because of the work of the Servant. Now salvation is freely open to all.
The cry is possibly modelled on that of a water-seller or a street vendor as he goes through the streets with his wares. Good drinkable water was not a cheap commodity, and the water-seller had plenty of trade. But here one comes offering a different water, it is the water of life. And we may see the offerer as God, or as the Servant.
This water has been described in 44.3-5. It is life-giving water, the water of the Spirit, the water of Yahweh’s blessing. And it produces fruit and brings men in submission to Yahweh. And it is on offer to all who will receive it. And it is water that will satisfy their thirst (compare John 4.14).
And because of the Servant’s work all may come for this water. There is no limit. There is no cost. Even those who have no money are welcome, for it is without price. And there is not only water, but wine and milk and food. God’s abundant provision is for all who will come. They are invited to God’s feast (compare 25.6), and it is a feast of mercy and abundant pardon (verse 7). It is a call to receive righteousness.
In Proverbs 9.5 it is wisdom that calls men to, ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of my wine’. Here the Servant offers even more. They may eat and drink of what He has done for them, and receive life through the Spirit.
The challenge then goes out as to why men spend money on that which is not bread, that which does not really feed and fill them, and why they work so hard to obtain what does not satisfy. For that is what life is for many, working hard and spending money. But they are no better off for it. They are still unsatisfied. They are concentrating their efforts on the wrong thing. They do not find life, and peace and joy. And yet, if they would only listen, God’s Servant is offering them what is good, what will feed and satisfy them to the full. It is something that, if they hear and respond to it, will bring life deep within them.
And what is this wonderful offer? It is to respond to God, to respond to His word and covenant. It is to recognise the work of the Servant. It is to come and be declared righteous through His sacrifice. It is to eat the food of forgiveness, and to drink of God’s mercy and receive new life. It can all be summarised in 1.16-19, with the added fact of what the Servant has accomplished.
Here is the essence of it. If His people seek Him truly God will enter into a new covenant with them, an everlasting covenant. This must include the covenant of peace (54.10), which comes from His everlasting covenant love (54.8), whereby they are made right with God and are brought to be at peace with Him, but it also includes the sure promises made to David, the certainty of His worldwide rule under God.
This covenant of peace was sealed through the Servant. It is He Who has enabled peace, and, as the mediator (making intercession and atonement - 53.10-12) between God in His antipathy against sin, and man in His sinfulness, has, through the sacrifice of Himself, bearing their sin on Himself where God ‘made it to meet’ (53.6), made it possible for them to become guiltless before God and partake in His resurrection (53.10; 26.19; 25.8).
But it is more. It is a covenant which includes the sure mercies of David, the promise that God will establish David’s seed for ever on the throne which will be established for ever (2 Samuel 7.16) and that He will give Him the nations for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession (Psalm 2.8). It is a promise of worldwide blessing (Genesis 12.3) and worldwide rule, under the Kingly Rule of God. What began with a promise to Abraham has resulted in this glorious fulfilment through the One Who is the Seed of Abraham.
So the covenant that the Servant makes includes the Davidic covenant, and the Servant proves to be in the Davidic line. And this covenant involves His being called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace (9.6), established by God and given worldwide dominion for ever (9.7) as He divides the spoil of what He has accomplished to all in the nations who respond to Him (53.12).
Much of what this covenant meant for Israel has already been considered. See 11.1-9; 32.1-2, 15-17; 33.17, 20-24. But now the cost of it has been revealed (52.13-53.12) as well as its worldwide success (compare 9.7; 42.6; 49.6).
The Witness to The Peoples (55.4-5).
In 11.10 the seed of Jesse was given as an ensign, a banner, to the peoples, to which the nations would seek. Here He is, as the Servant, given as a witness to the peoples, with the result that He becomes their prince (nagid - God-appointed leader) and commander. God’s purpose originally for His Servant was that he should be a witness to the peoples (43.10, 12), but in his Israel/Jacob form that witness failed. Now, however, the Servant in His form as the suffering Servant and Davidic king, has become that witness, and as a result receives leadership and command over them under God. The Servant and the Davidic king have become revealed as One, and His kingship will be accomplished by His witness, and not by force.
This may be intended as referring to the Servant, the leader and commander of the peoples. Not only will Israel be called back to God by Him, but other nations too will experience the call of God, just as Israel had at Sinai. They too will become His chosen (see 49.6-7). And that response is due to the fact that God Himself has glorified His Servant. The singular ‘nation’ may be intended to cover all nations outside Israel. Compare Psalm 18.43 where a similar thing is said of the Davidic king.
Psalm 18.43 suggests that ‘a people whom I have not known shall serve me’ is a way of expressing supremacy and overlordship, and the almost instantaneous speed with which that supremacy will be obtained, ‘as soon as they hear of me they will obey me’ (Psalm 18.44). It indicates one who is ‘the head of the nations’ and to whom each nation will speedily and gladly come in order to learn of Yahweh (compare 1 Kings 8.41-42).
Thus here the idea seems to be that this ruler of the nations will find that as ‘unknown’ nations are first contacted at the edge of His world (the Ancient Near Eastern world), so will they immediately respond to His witness, thus expressing the speed at which the Servant’s message will spread and its total supremacy (compare Zechariah 8.21-23). And this will occur because Yahweh is with Him, and the Holy One of Israel glorifies Him and reveals His splendour.
The general idea does not alter if we see ‘you’ as faithful Israel, for they go out in the authority of God and of the Servant as His representative.
The Command to Seek Yahweh (55.6-7).
And now as a result of the triumph of the Servant and of the Davidic King the call of mercy can go out to all.
Now all are called on to seek Yahweh in this time of opportunity, and to call on Him. Emphasis is laid on the importance of responding while there is yet time. God has brought His Servant into the world and the opportunity of knowing God has been opened up, but it should not be missed for its time is limited.
‘Seeking’ does not involve ‘searching for’. The point is that He has been presented through His Servant and men must now respond to Him and seek His face and call on Him (see Deuteronomy 12.5). The ‘being near’ of God is a comparatively rare expression. It is usually man who comes near to God. It can have in mind His coming near in judgment (Malachi 3.5), but in Deuteronomy 4.7 the nearness of God is a distinguishing feature that reveals the difference between Israel and the nations, He is near whenever they call on Him. In Psalm 34.18 God is near to those who call on Him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and in Psalm 75.1 His name is near when His wondrous works are revealed, while in Psalm 145.18 He is near to all those who call on Him in truth. It is probably the idea in Psalm 75.1 that is in mind, combined with the thoughts in Isaiah 51.5; 56.1 where His righteousness and His salvation are seen as near, for the nearness is seen as something that will at some stage come to an end, when God will cease to be approachable. The thought, however, may be that He is near as a near Kinsman (see Leviticus 25.25; Ruth 2.20; 3.12; 4.4), and the opportunity must be taken while it is there.
So let the wicked, those who are guilty of breaking God’s instruction, turn from their sinful own way (53.6) into the way of Yahweh, the way of holiness (35.8). ‘The way’ is a permanent set of mind resulting in a continuing walk. And let the unrighteous man turn from his thoughts. The Biblical emphasis on the importance of the thoughts of men comes out strongly here. Among the ten commandments one concentrated on men’s thoughts, “You shall not covet”. It matters not only what a man does but what he thinks (compare Matthew 5.28). The word ‘unrighteous’ often contains within it the thought of one who causes trouble, ‘doers of unrighteousness’, thus the unrighteous man is always planning how he can cause trouble and mischief, which is why his thoughts must be forsaken. It can also refer to false worship.
Then let them turn, or return, (shub can include both), to Yahweh and there, through what the Servant has done, they will find mercy and abundant pardon. Thus there is involved a seeking, a turning from and a turning to (1 Thessalonians 1.9). For turning or returning to Yahweh compare 44.22. See also 1.27; 7.3; 35.10; 51.11; 59.20.
‘Mercy -- pardon.’ Mercy (compassion) is God’s overflowing love and compassion revealed to the unworthy (54.7-8). Pardon or forgiveness is the act of God whereby He removes the barrier between Himself and those who have offended against Him, and the word is used only of God’s forgiveness. It is possible here because Another has borne their sin (53.4-6, 8, 11).
The Certain Fulfilment of What Yahweh Has Purposed Through The Power Of His Word (55.8-13).
Isaiah now concludes this section from 40.1 onwards by a final statement of the triumph of God’s powerful word as it goes forward to do His will bringing new birth to creation and finally establishing victory to His people, bringing glory to His name.
Thus will His purposes triumph. Beginning with the call of Abraham (chapter 41) and advancing through to the victory of God’s Davidic King and Servant and the triumph of His people (52.13-55.5), His word has been effective throughout.
These words summarise all that has gone before. Strange as it may seem to man God is working through His Servant, from the first triumphal entry into the land by His servant Abraham (41.1-8), through His Servant faithful Israel (41.8 and often), right through to the Suffering and disfigured Servant (52.13-53.12) Who is finally glorified and established as world ruler (55.4-5), and it is through that work that He will finally be exalted. For God does not work as man works. He does not think as man thinks. His ways are not man’s ways. They are above and beyond all that man can conceive.
Who would have thought that the coming into Canaan of a small tribal leader uniquely called by God; that the establishing in that land of a small, struggling nation as His witness, which sadly proved itself mainly unworthy but produced its spiritual heroes; and that the final coming of One Who would end His life in great suffering, followed by resurrection; all scarcely noticed while the tide of history flowed on, could have achieved the new birth of the world and the establishing of God’s final purposes? But it will. And that is Isaiah’s glorious message.
Such is beyond men’s thoughts. Such would not be man’s ways. But they are God’s thoughts and God’s ways. The same idea is to be found in the temptation of Jesus. Satan came with man’s thoughts and man’s ways, bribery, worldly power, religious manifestations, Jesus countered with God’s thoughts and God’s ways, obedience, submission, humility, response to His word. And it was Jesus Who finally triumphed.
Note carefully the connection with the following verses. The first part of what follows could be seen as describing man’s ways, although even there its source comes from God, from heaven, the second part reveals God’s ways without any intervention by man, although coming to man. But even in the first part man is seen as on the whole the recipient. All is provided by God, man simply uses it to produce food and enjoy it, which he can only do because of God’s provision of rain (firmly reflecting conditions in Palestine).
The illustration brings out man’s dependence on God for everything. He is dependent on the God-given rain, he is dependent on the God-given earth, he is dependent on the God-given process, and then he uses and eats what is provided. His part is so small. He comes as it were at the very tail end, having a small part in the whole, and continually receives God’s blessings.
Then God declares that His powerful word works like the God-given rain and snow, and it is all under His control. Just as the rain goes forth and does not immediately return, so it is with His word. It continues its work day by day, season by season, it waters and feeds, it brings about new birth, it produces, first buds, and then full grain, which reproduce themselves both to provide further grain and to feed men’s bodies, and it will finally result in a forested, evergreen, thorn-free world that bears testimony to its Creator (verse 13). (The trees are pictures of permanence). This is also what God’s word accomplishes. It too brings about His will and prospers in His purposes. And the Paradise that will result will be all His work
Here as elsewhere in the Scripture the word of God is seen as a powerful and living, almost personal, force that goes forth to accomplish what it wants to do. As in the account of creation, God speaks, and His purpose is fulfilled. This is the Creator again in action. That is one reason why Jesus was called ‘the Word’.
Note that the hiphil ‘bring to birth, cause to be born’ is rarely used elsewhere of anything but human birth. Behind this verse therefore lies the idea of the new birth that is so prominent in the New Testament (John 3.1-6; James 1.18), the result of God at work in the world.
So God’s world is an orderly world, superbly planned to provide for man’s continued existence and prosperity, and dependent on God’s gift of rain. And it should be noted that the illustration is one that would readily spring to the mind of someone writing in Palestine, where all depended on rain, but not so in Babylon where he would have spoken of irrigation channels and rivers, and snow would have been very unlikely.
But the word that goes out from God does not just produce a semi-automatic response like nature does in its response to rain, it is living and active, it does what He pleases, it accomplishes what He wills. It is positive and powerful and subject always to His purposes and His control. But it does bring men spiritually to birth and it does feed men’s lives. And it does bring about all His will. And nothing can thwart it. And its process has been especially described from chapter 41 to this present chapter. The Servant is uniquely God’s word going forth.
And the result will be joy and peace and rejoicing. We note here that ideally man both goes forth and is led forth. On the one hand he is in control of his activity, he is free, but on the other he is subject to control, he is led. And the wise men, as these are, ensure that when they are led they are led by God. The verb ‘go forth’, as used also in verse 11, is neutral. It simply means ‘go’. It has no necessary exilic connections. The going forth is of God’s people through all eternity just as that into which they go forth also symbolises the heavenly Paradise.
Here the thought is of godly men. As they ‘go forth’ they will be filled with joy, and they will be led forth in peace. These are the two great blessings of redeemed man. Joy is the expression of what he has received, peace is its core. It is to peace that we have been brought, peace with God, peace from God, the peace of God; reconciled to Him, at one with Him, inwardly enjoying what He is to us and what He has given us, and all through the work of the Servant (53.5; 54.10). These blessings all come to us through His covenant of peace (54.10). Peace is an Isaianic key word and is central to the coming everlasting glory (9.6, 7; 26.3, 12; 27.5; 32.17, 18; 45.7; 48.18, 22; 52.7; 53.5; 54.10, 13; 57.2, 19, 21; 59.8; 66.12).
It is in this context that we are to work out our own salvation with greatest care, because it is God Who is at work in us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.12-13). And it will come to its glorious final fulfilment when we are presented before Him, holy, unblameable and unreproveable in His sight (Colossians 1.22).
And as they are led forth by God they will finally sing. Yes, even the mountains and hills will break out in singing, and the fields will accompany it with the clapping of hands. It will be like one great festival. And the curse of Eden will be reversed. The briars and the thorns will be replaced by glorious evergreen trees, and the whole transformation of creation will fully enhance God’s reputation, it will be to Him for a name, and it will be an everlasting sign, a symbol of His triumph similar to the monuments of the great kings, that in His case will not be cut off or toppled. Here is something that will last for ever bringing great glory to God. So is the work of the Servant fulfilled.
Note carefully the everlastingness of it all. Everlastingness is constantly in Isaiah’s mind and vocabulary. Not for him some temporary future state, but a state that lasts for all eternity.
Such promises as we find here, and in for example 41.19; 35.1-2, and such calling on creation to sing as we find in 44.23; 49.13; 52.9, arise from the consciousness, which was common to both prophets and apostles, that those who truly know their God will joy with joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 1.8), and that one day the whole creation will share in the liberty of the glory of the children of God (Romans 8.21). They describe both the continual blessing which the redeemed will experience as they enjoy eternal life in this life (John 5.24; 10.10; 1 John 5.13), and above all as they enjoy the wonderful perfection of eternity.
Final note on the Servant.
To us is the privilege of a full understanding of Who the Servant is and what His ministry and function would be. But the genius of Isaiah lies in the fact that his words could be an encouragement to his people even before the Servant came. They could still hear the call and encouragement of Yahweh to be His Servant in their time. They could still look forward with joy and hope towards the coming King. Through the centuries before Christ came his ideas were a continual encouragement to His people. They were the seed of Abraham His friend. But now for us who have seen the glorious fulfilment it is a joy beyond all measure. God having provided some better thing for us, that without us they could not have been made perfect (Hebrews 11.40). For we are the seed of His even Greater Friend. ‘I will no longer call you servants, I will call you friends’ (John 15.15). End of note.
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