We see a shift here in Isaiah; Isaiah 41-48 deals with the problem of physical exile, promising that God will
bring His children home to the land promised to their forefather Abraham. God will deal with the foreign
nations who oppressed and enslaved His people. But there’s still a problem, isn’t there? You see, Israel’s
problem wasn’t just Assyria or Babylon or even exile - they were their own worst enemy. Their problem was
their sin. And so Isaiah 49-55 focuses on how God’s servant will deal with their sin and bring them out of
their spiritual exile.
Isaiah 49:1-13 is the second of four servant songs (Isaiah 42:1-13, 49:1-13, 50:4-11, 53:13-53:12). Who is
this servant? While we don’t yet know, we see that he is called and anointed by God for the ministry of
reconciliation (Isaiah 49:1). Often in the Old Testament, Israel is called God’s servant - but we’ve also seen
Israel fail repeatedly this regard. But this servant will fulfill all that Israel lacked. Israel failed to obey and
failed to be a light to the nations, but this perfect servant will fearlessly declare God’s word and bring
salvation to many (Isaiah 49:2).
What will this salvation look like? Future servant songs will shed more light on this, but we see several
images of salvation in Isaiah 49:8-10. This servant will bring God’s people home. He will bring deliverance
to prisoners and sight to the blind. He will guide them gently and they will no longer “hunger or thirst,
neither shall scorching wind or sun strike them” (Isaiah 49:10).
Who will receive this salvation? Notice the audience here - this servant isn’t just focused on Israel! He
begins his song by speaking to the coastlands and “you peoples from afar” (Isaiah 49:1). This servant’s work
will deal with more than just ethnic Israel; the servant will “bring Jacob back to him” (Isaiah 49:5), yes, but
he will also be “a light for the nations” (Isaiah 49:6). Israel was always meant to be a blessing to the nations
(Genesis 12:3); the Israelites failed to be a blessing to the nations, but through this servant, God’s “salvation may reach the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).
Isaiah’s immediate audience didn’t know the identity of this servant or how He would break into time and
space and history in a manger in Bethlehem. They didn’t see this hope made sight yet. But as they waited,
Isaiah commanded them to rejoice (Isaiah 49:13). God would keep His promises to His people, to comfort
them and to have compassion on them. He would send them a deliverer to save them from themselves. In
many ways, we are in need of the same deliverer to save us from ourselves, aren’t we? We find ourselves
broken in our sin, in need of someone to bring us back to God. Praise God for Christ, who took on the form
of a servant, became obedient to the point of death on a cross, and was raised to life, that we might know
Him and confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).
Isaiah 49:1-13 (ESV):
1 Listen to me, O coastlands,
and give attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called me from the womb,
from the body of my mother he named my name.
2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
in his quiver he hid me away.
3 And he said to me, "You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified."
4 But I said, "I have labored in vain;
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my right is with the Lord,
and my recompense with my God."
5 And now the Lord says,
he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
6 he says:
"It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."
7 Thus says the Lord,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation,
the servant of rulers:
"Kings shall see and arise;
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you."
8 Thus says the Lord:
"In a time of favor I have answered you;
in a day of salvation I have helped you;
I will keep you and give you
as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
to apportion the desolate heritages,
9 saying to the prisoners, 'Come out,'
to those who are in darkness, 'Appear.'
They shall feed along the ways;
on all bare heights shall be their pasture;
10 they shall not hunger or thirst,
neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
and by springs of water will guide them.
11 And I will make all my mountains a road,
and my highways shall be raised up.
12 Behold, these shall come from afar,
and behold, these from the north and from the west,
and these from the land of Syene."
13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted.