Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.1–3. The call and equipment of the Servant by Jehovah. The nations of the world are addressed, because the great announcement that the speaker has to make (Isaiah 49:6) concerns them. Although Jeremiah had already been conscious of being a “prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5), the self-consciousness here attributed to the Servant is too great to be that of any private individual, whether prophet or teacher.
O isles] see on ch. Isaiah 41:1. For people render peoples (R.V.).
the Lord hath called me (Isaiah 42:6 &c.) from the womb] Cf. ch. Isaiah 44:2; Isaiah 44:24, Isaiah 46:3, where the same metaphor is used of the beginning of the nation’s history. made mention of my name] Cf. Isaiah 43:1.
1–6. The Servant’s address to the nations. The passage forms the natural sequel to ch. Isaiah 42:1-4, and adds some fresh features to the portrait there presented. (1) The Servant, speaking now in his own name, expresses his consciousness of the mission entrusted to him by Jehovah (Isaiah 49:1-3). (2) He records his failure in the past, and the sense of disappointment caused in him by the apparent fruitlessness of his labour; yet his faith in his mission remains constant (Isaiah 49:4). (3) But now his doubts have been removed by a revelation of the great purpose for which Jehovah has raised him up; viz., to be the organ of His salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:5-6).
It still remains the most probable view that Israel is here spoken of under the name of the Servant of Jehovah; although two objections are raised in addition to those suggested by Isaiah 42:1-4. (a) The Servant is described as one who has a history and an experience behind him, as well as a mission to fulfil. Now this experience is not that of the nation, which was conscious of no unique religious mission, and therefore had no such sense of defeat as is described in Isaiah 49:4. And if we say that it is not the actual but the ideal Israel that is meant, we are asked to explain how an ideal can have a history, or when the ideal Israel was born, or before whom Jehovah mentioned its name (Duhm). (b) Another difficulty is created by the fact that the Servant is here expressly distinguished from Israel when it is said that the restoration of the nation is to be effected by his activity. These objections are perhaps sufficiently met by the consideration that the ideal represented by the Servant is one that has been partially realised in the experience of the best part of the nation. Since the beginning of prophecy there had been a section of the people that had laboured for the conversion of Israel, and there were doubtless many among the exiles whose feelings of disappointment are truthfully reflected by the language put into the mouth of the Servant. There is nothing unnatural in the supposition that this party should be regarded as embodying the true genius of Israel, or that their experience should be transferred to the ideal figure by which the prophet sets forth his inspired interpretation of Israel’s history. Nor is there any great difficulty in the further thought that the ideal Servant, as represented by this minority, laboured for the reunion and upbuilding of the future Israel. This also corresponds to a fact of history, for nothing is more certain than that but for the influence of the prophetic teaching the Israelitish nationality would have perished during the Captivity. The prophet’s conception of Israel’s unique position is singularly profound as well as elevated; but it does not appear that any feature thus far introduced into the portrait of Jehovah’s Servant violates the conditions of a natural personification. (See further Introduction, pp. xxxiii f.; and Appendix, Note I.)
Ch. Isaiah 49:1-13. The Servant of Jehovah: His Fidelity amidst Discouragements, and the ultimate Success of His Mission
The beginning of ch. 49 seems to mark a distinct advance in the development of the prophet’s conceptions. “The controversial tone, the repeated comparisons between Jehovah and the idols, with the arguments based upon them, disappear; the prophet feels that, as regards these points, he has made his position sufficiently secure. For the same reason, allusions to Cyrus and his conquest of Babylon cease also; that, likewise, is now taken for granted” (Driver, Isaiah 2, pp. 148 f.). In the remaining discourses (ch. 49–55) the author concentrates his attention almost exclusively on his central message of consolation, and the glorious future in store for Israel. His treatment of this theme moves along two lines, which alternate with each other as the manner of the writer is. The first is represented by the idea of the Servant of the Lord, the second by the figure of Zion, both being personifications, although in very different senses, of the people of Israel (see on ch. Isaiah 40:1). The Servant represents the ideal Israel as Jehovah’s instrument, first, in restoring the unity and prosperity of the nation, and second, in extending the knowledge of God to the nations of the world. Zion, on the other hand, is the representative of Israel in its passive aspect, as deserted and humbled in the present, but at the same time the recipient of the blessings which accrue from the work and sufferings of the Lord’s Servant.
The opening section consists of:—
i. A new description of the mission and experience of the Servant of Jehovah (cf. ch. Isaiah 42:1-4) in the form of an address by the Servant to the nations (Isaiah 49:1-6). These verses form the second of the four “Servant-passages” which occur in the book.
ii. A promise of speedy restoration to Israel, obviously based on the preceding description (Isaiah 49:7-12).
iii. A hymn of gratitude to Jehovah, called forth as usual by the prospect of deliverance (Isaiah 49:13).
And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me;2. The Servant is described as one prepared in secret for his great work. He compares himself to a weapon fashioned by Jehovah for His own use, but kept in reserve till the fulness of time. As the ideal prophet, he speaks of his mouth, the organ of prophetic utterance (see Jeremiah 1:9; Isaiah 6:7), as made like a sharp sword in virtue of the “word” which Jehovah puts in it (ch. Isaiah 51:16; cf. Hebrews 4:12).
in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me] (ch. Isaiah 51:16). The metaphor perhaps denotes protection rather than secrecy.
a polished arrow] see Jeremiah 51:16.
There is nothing in the verse inconsistent with the idea that the speaker is Israel personified. The fundamental thought, translated into modern language, would be that prophecy is the highest expression of the genius of Israel; and the idealised nation is naturally identified with what is best and most characteristic in its history, and invested with the character of the ideal prophet. And again, Jehovah’s hiding of His Servant may express the truth that Israel had been providentially preserved through long ages for the sake of the spiritual endowments which made it the mouthpiece of revelation. The further idea that the real mission of Israel was concealed both from the world and from the nation itself is no doubt true, but is perhaps hardly contained in the figure.
And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.3. The word Israel may be read either as a vocative or as a continuation of the predicate: “(Thou art) Israel &c.” (see R.V.). On either view it presents insuperable difficulties to those who hold that the Servant is an individual. To say that as the supreme personage of Israel’s history he receives the name “Israel” is an arbitrary explanation, which is not to be justified by the observation that the name originally belonged to an individual. Since, however, the most important idea of the verse is contained in the words my servant, to which the clause in whom I will be glorified (better: glorify myself) naturally attaches itself, it is possible that Israel may be a gloss, and for that reason no great stress can be laid on the word as an argument for the national interpretation of the passage.
Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the LORD, and my work with my God.4. Although cast down for a moment by his want of success, he does not yield to despondency (cf. Isaiah 42:4), but leaves his cause in the hands of God.
Then I said] R.V. But I said (with a certain emphasis on the “I”).
my judgment] i.e. “my right,” as in ch. Isaiah 40:27. my work should be my recompence (R.V.); see ch. Isaiah 40:10.
And now, saith the LORD that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, and my God shall be my strength.5, 6. The Servant’s faith is rewarded by the revelation of a loftier mission than he had heretofore been conscious of.
though Israel be not gathered] R.V. “and that Israel be gathered unto him.” We have here the same confusion between lô’ (not) and lô (to him) as in ch. Isaiah 9:3. The verb for “gather,” however, is used in two senses, either “to gather in” or “to take away,” “gather off” (e.g. Ezekiel 34:29, R.V. marg.); by adopting the latter we might retain the negative particle as in the consonantal text: and that Israel be not swept away. The clause, at all events, being parallel to the preceding, must express a similar idea; the rendering of A.V. proceeds on a wrong view of the construction.
yet shall I be glorious] Rather: and I shall be (or am) honourable (a different root from that used in Isaiah 49:3). This second half of the verse seems somewhat out of place in its present context (hence it is marked by R.V. as a parenthesis). Its original position may have been (as Duhm thinks) at the end of Isaiah 49:3, reading: “and so I was honourable in the eyes of Jehovah, and my God was my strength.”
And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.6. And he said] resuming the sentence begun in Isaiah 49:5. R.V. “Yea, he saith.”
It is a light thing &c.] Better as R.V. It is too light a thing &c. But the literal translation probably is, “It is too light for thy being a servant to me that thou shouldst raise up” &c., i.e. “To restore Israel is the least part of thy vocation as my servant.” The sense is not affected, and the rendering of R.V. might be defended by the analogy of Ezekiel 8:17. raise up here means “re-establish,” just as “build” frequently means “rebuild” (Psalm 122:3 &c.).
the preserved of Israel] those who survive the destruction of the state (Ezekiel 6:12, R.V. marg.).
I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles] ch. Isaiah 42:6.
that thou mayest be my salvation &c.] Rather: that my salvation may be &c. Comp. the N.T. application in Acts 13:47. The verse evidently describes an enlargement of the Servant’s conception of his vocation. Previously, he had been conscious only of a mission to Israel, and in that mission the significance of the title “Servant of Jehovah” had seemed to be exhausted (Isaiah 49:5). Now it is revealed to him that the name includes a higher function, that, namely, of being the mediator of salvation to all mankind. And since the greater destiny contains the less, the acceptance of this new commission delivers him from the sense of failure by which he had been oppressed (Isaiah 49:4). Whatever view be taken of the Servant’s personality, he speaks as the exponent of the religion of revelation; and the fact here represented is the expansion of that religion from being a national to be a universal religion. The ideal was realised only in the New Testament dispensation, so that in this as in many other respects the portrait of the Servant is an indirect prophecy of Christ. Cf. Luke 2:32.
Thus saith the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the LORD that is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he shall choose thee.7. Israel shall be raised from the deepest degradation to the highest honour. The verse is remarkable as anticipating the main idea of ch. Isa 52:13–53:15.
to him whom man despiseth] Lit. to the despised of soul; i.e. “to one who is heartily despised,” the “soul” being the seat of emotion. Comp. Psalm 17:9 (“my deadly enemies,” = “they that hate me in the soul,”). In the parallel phrase to the abhorred of people, “people” seems to be used of men in general (the German Leute) as in Genesis 20:4 (“righteous folk”). The words for “despised” and “abhorred” are both peculiar in form.
a servant of rulers] of tyrants (ch. Isaiah 14:5).
kings shall see (the exaltation of Israel) and arise] in amazement and reverence (cf. ch. Isaiah 52:15). princes also shall worship] princes (sc. shall arise) and do homage (see R.V.).
and he shall choose thee] Better, as R.V. who hath chosen thee (strictly, “and he hath chosen thee”; see Driver’s Tenses, § 76a).
7–12. The Servant’s account of his calling forms the basis of a series of promises; Isaiah 49:7 referring to his influence on the nations, and Isaiah 49:8-12 to the narrower sphere of his activity, the restoration of Israel.
Thus saith the LORD, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages;8. In an acceptable time] Better: in a season of favour. Cf. ch. Isaiah 41:2, and the citation in 2 Corinthians 6:2.
for a covenant of the people] See on ch. Isaiah 42:6.
to establish the earth &c.] Render: to restore (see Isaiah 49:6) the land (of Israel), to allot (Deuteronomy 21:16) the desolate heritages. It may be difficult to decide whether Jehovah Himself or His Servant is the implicit subject of these verbs, the Heb. construction being ambiguous. The latter sense is certainly the more natural; although it is only in a figure that the repeopling &c. of the land can be attributed to the agency of the ideal Israel: “what is done for the sake of the Servant, is done by him” (Dillmann).
8–12. A picture of the emancipation and return of the exiles.
That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.9. That thou mayest say] Rather, Saying (R.V.) or possibly (continuing the previous infs.) “To say.”
the prisoners … them that are in darkness] i.e. the exiles; cf. Isaiah 42:7. The second half of the verse introduces a new figure, that of the flock, (see ch. Isaiah 40:11) led by Jehovah, the Good Shepherd.
they shall feed in the ways] Or perhaps as LXX., in all the ways, wherein they go.
high places] bare heights; ch. Isaiah 41:18.
They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.10. neither shall the heat … smite them] The word for heat should probably be rendered the hot wind (Sirocco; LXX., καύσων). It is often taken to denote the mirage (see on ch. Isaiah 35:7), but that meaning is unsuitable here on account of the verb “smite.”
And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted.11. The expression my mountains is difficult. An allusion to the mere fact of creation is not natural, and to understand it of the mountains of Palestine (as in ch. Isaiah 14:25) would limit the image to the last stage of the return journey. Possibly the text should be amended so as to read “mountains” simply. Cf. LXX. (πᾶν ὄρος).
my highways] See on ch. Isaiah 40:4.
Behold, these shall come from far: and, lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim.12. The return of exiles from the most distant parts of the earth.
these from the land of Sinim (the Sinites)] The last word is a hopeless enigma. As the only proper name in the verse the writer must have had some special reason for mentioning it; and the only reason that can be plausibly imagined is that Sinim lay on the utmost limit of his geographical horizon. This would exclude two suggested identifications: (1) the Canaanite Sinites of Genesis 10:17, and (2) Sin (Pelusium) on the nearest border of Egypt. Again, from the fact that “north” and “west” have been already mentioned we may reasonably infer that the Sinim must be looked for either in the far East or the far South. The former is the view of most commentators, who find in Sinim the name China (properly “the Chinese”). If the prophecy had been written four or five centuries later this hypothesis would be more plausible than it is. The word might be the same as the Arabic and Syriac name for China (צין), although there is a difference in the first consonant which would excite misgivings. But it is generally considered that this name is derived from that of the Tsin-dynasty, which dates from 255 b.c.; it could not therefore have reached the West in the time of the Exile. The numerous attempts to find an older Chinese origin of the word are merely wasted ingenuity. Moreover, it is inconceivable that Jewish captives had been transported to China at so early a period; and speculations about the possibility of intercourse between the Chinese and Western Asia hardly touch the question. The Sinim are located in the South by the Targ. and Vulg., which render “a Southern land”; also by Cheyne, who, in his latest work, revives a suggestion of J. D. Michaelis that Syene is meant (reading סְוֵנִים for סינים).
Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.13. The lyrical conclusion of the passage on the Servant, partly resembling ch. Isaiah 44:23.
his afflicted] See on Isaiah 41:17.
But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.14. But Zion said] Zion is the city of Jerusalem personified (cf. Isaiah 49:16) and, by a common O.T. figure, conceived as the mother of the citizens (see further on Isaiah 49:21). This is no doubt the primary reference of the figure, but since the city derives its religious significance from its being the centre of the national life, Zion really represents the nation of Israel, as in ch. Isaiah 40:2. Hence the complaint of this verse is the same as was previously heard from the lips of Israel (ch. Isaiah 40:27).
my Lord] Better, as R.V. the Lord. The word when pointed, as here (’Adônâi), is always equivalent to Jehovah. The suggestion that it may be used in the sense of “husband” (as Genesis 18:12) would demand a different vocalisation (’Ădônî). But although the idea of Jehovah as the husband of Zion was undoubtedly present to the prophet’s mind (Isaiah 50:1, Isaiah 54:6) it does not emerge in this verse.
Ch. Isaiah 49:14 to Isaiah 50:3. The Consolation of Zion
(i) Isaiah 49:14-21. In an apostrophe to Jerusalem the prophet announces the speedy return of her population and the rebuilding of her waste places. The poetry of the passage is singularly beautiful, and charged with tender emotion. Zion, the idealised city, is the wife of Jehovah, and the mother of her inhabitants. Although she now thinks of herself as rejected and barren (Isaiah 49:14), she is assured of the unchanging love of her God (Isaiah 49:15-16) which will soon be manifested in her restoration to the joy of motherhood (17–20). The ecstasy of amazement and delight with which she recognises and welcomes her children (Isaiah 49:21) is finely opposed to the opening picture of her desolation and despondency. Note also the contrast between the whole conception and the fate of the “virgin daughter of Babylon” (Isaiah 47:8-9).
(ii) Ch. Isaiah 49:22 to Isaiah 50:3. Three oracles, confirming the promise to Zion.
(1) Isaiah 49:22-23. On a signal from Jehovah the nations shall bring home the scattered children of Zion; nay, their kings and queens shall esteem it an honour to foster the newly-formed community.
(2) Isaiah 49:24-26. No earthly power can interpose between Jehovah and the deliverance of His people; Israel is His lawful prey, and none shall pluck them from Him (see the notes below). In thus representing the deliverance as effected by force, the prophet no doubt has in view the one nation that would not obey the signal of Isaiah 49:22.
-3Isaiah 50:1-3. Lastly, there exists no legal impediment to the redemption of Israel; Jehovah has issued no sentence of formal rejection against His people, nor has anyone acquired the rights of a creditor over them (Isaiah 49:1). He therefore expresses surprise that there is so little response to the promise of salvation, so little faith in His almighty power.
Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.15. Jehovah’s remembrance of Zion is more enduring than the strongest human affection. Even a mother’s pity for an infant may fail. yea, they may forget] Or, should even these forget (Cheyne).
yet will I not forget thee] See on ch. Isaiah 44:21.
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.16. I have graven thee] Not the name merely but the picture of the city, as the next clause shews. Thy walls may refer to the ruined walls with their mute appeal to Jehovah’s compassion, or to the plan of the new walls, which reminds Him of His purpose to rebuild them. The latter is more likely.
upon the palms of my hands] upon both hands.
Thy children shall make haste; thy destroyers and they that made thee waste shall go forth of thee.17, 18. Already in vision the prophet sees the return of the exiles and calls on Zion to welcome her sons.
Instead of Thy children the chief ancient Versions, and the important Babylonian Codex have “Thy builders” (בֹּנַיִךְ for בָּנַיךְ), a sense which is recommended both by the antithesis to “thy destroyers” &c., and the connexion with the previous verse. Yet it is doubtful if the reading on the whole is preferable to that of the received text. The latter at least is true to the fundamental image of the passage, which appears again in Isaiah 49:20 f.
For shall make haste read in the present tense (as R.V.) make haste.
thy destroyers &c.] The expressions almost suggest that Jerusalem was still occupied by Chaldæan troops.
Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold: all these gather themselves together, and come to thee. As I live, saith the LORD, thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all, as with an ornament, and bind them on thee, as a bride doeth.18. As I live, saith the Lord] Jehovah’s oath by Himself, ch. Isaiah 45:23. It introduces a new, though closely related, conception; the inhabitants being compared to the bridal attire with which Zion replaces the signs of her widowhood.
bind them on thee] Strictly gird them on. The verb is connected with the word for “girdle” in ch. Isaiah 3:20 (qishshûrîm, A.V. “headbands”). It was evidently an ornamental girdle, possibly a part of the bridal costume (cf. Jeremiah 2:32, “can … a bride forget her girdle”).
For thy waste and thy desolate places, and the land of thy destruction, shall even now be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants, and they that swallowed thee up shall be far away.19. For as for thy waste and thy desolate places and thy land that hath been destroyed, surely now shalt thou be too strait for the inhabitants, &c.] So R.V. But there appears to be some textual disorder, the subjects in the first half of the verse having no predicate. The R.V. gets over the difficulty by taking “thy waste places” &c. as a sort of casus pendens, resumed in the “thou” of the last clause; but this is a forced construction. The most probable solution is that the original conclusion of the first clause has been lost in copying (Duhm); the second would then commence with the words For now.
the land of thy destruction] lit. “thy land of destruction,” i.e., as R.V., thy land that hath been destroyed.
19, 20. In place of her present solitude, the ideal Zion shall yet look down on a densely peopled city, whose inhabitants are embarrassed for want of room.
The children which thou shalt have, after thou hast lost the other, shall say again in thine ears, The place is too strait for me: give place to me that I may dwell.20. The children … other] Lit. the sons of thy bereavement, i.e. those born to thee in the time of thy bereavement (see Isaiah 49:21).
shall yet say in thine ears] The mother overhears the talk of her vigorous and enterprising offspring.
the place is too strait for me] Cf. 2 Kings 6:1.
Give place to me] This peculiar sense of the verb (usually “draw near”) finds an exact parallel in Genesis 19:9. Comp. Isaiah 65:5, “draw near to thyself” = “stand off,”—a different, but synonymous verb.
Then shalt thou say in thine heart, Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children, and am desolate, a captive, and removing to and fro? and who hath brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; these, where had they been?21. Zion is bewildered at finding herself once more “a joyful mother of children” (Psalm 113:9).
Who hath begotten] Rather, Who hath borne (in spite of the masculine gender of the verb). The peculiar figure is probably to be explained by the custom illustrated in Genesis 16:1 ff; Genesis 30:1 ff., &c. The exile was the time of Zion’s barrenness; the generation of Israelites that had grown up in a foreign land are regarded as not her natural children, although legally they belong to her, having been borne for her by a stranger.
seeing I have lost &c.] seeing I am childless and unfruitful. The clause immediately following (which must be rendered exiled and put away) introduces a conception alien to the image of the verse. Zion herself was not “exiled” but “left alone,” when her children were taken from her. The words are wanting in the LXX. and may be a gloss.
these, where had they been?] If this were the sense intended, the verb “had been” (or “were”) would probably require to have been expressed. But the question that Zion broods over is not where her children had been, but how she comes to have children at all, who are strangers to her. Render, therefore (with Dillmann), these, how (is it) with them? of what description are they? (cf. Jdg 8:18).
Thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.22, 23. The first of the three short oracles describes the restoration of the exiles as a spontaneous act of homage on the part of the Gentiles. The conception is intermediate between that of ch. Isaiah 45:14 ff., where the nations acknowledge the divinity of Jehovah and the religious supremacy of Israel, and that of ch. Isaiah 60:4; Isaiah 60:8, Isaiah 66:20; cf. ch. Isaiah 11:11-12. For Gentiles read nations, and for people, peoples, as R.V.
set up my standard] as a signal; see on ch. Isaiah 5:26.
they shall bring thy sons in the bosom] of the garment (sinus) where little children were carried (Numbers 11:12). The word belongs to late Hebrew (Nehemiah 5:13 [E.V. lap]; Psalm 129:7).
And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.23. thy nursing fathers] thy guardians; i.e. of course, the guardians of her children (in spite of ch. Isaiah 60:16); see Numbers 11:12; 2 Kings 10:1; Esther 2:7 &c. The figure appears to express the permanent relation of the kingdoms of the world to the glorified people of God.
lick up the dust of thy feet] An extravagant, but thoroughly Oriental, metaphor for abject self-humiliation (cf. Micah 7:17; Psalm 72:9). Gesenius quotes from a Persian poem the following sentiment of a prince to his conqueror: “When I shall have the good fortune to kiss the dust of thy feet, then I shall believe that fortune flatters me,” &c. Comp. ch. Isaiah 45:14, Isaiah 60:14.
for they shall not be ashamed &c.] Strictly a relative sentence, “they that wait on Whom shall not be ashamed”; which is perhaps hardly English. Render as R.V. and they that wait for me shall not be ashamed.
Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered?24. from the mighty] from a hero. the lawful captive] lit. the captivity (= captives) of a righteous one. This is the only sense that the phrase will properly bear; all the attempts to construe it otherwise are futile. Many authorities, however, adopt the reading of the Pesh. and Vulg. (עריץ instead of צדיק, as Isaiah 49:25), and render: “captives of a terrible one.” (1) The verse has generally been considered to be a new utterance of despair on the part of the Israelites, “Can the tyrant be made to disgorge his prey?” (Cheyne),—to which Isaiah 49:25 gives an affirmative answer. On this view (which is certainly the one that first suggests itself) the substitution of ‘ârîc̣ (terrible) for çaddîq (righteous) seems imperative, since the latter expression could not possibly be applied to the Chaldæans. To suppose that by the “hero” and the “righteous one” Cyrus is meant is at variance with the whole tenor of the prophecy (Isaiah 41:25, Isaiah 44:28, Isaiah 45:1 ff.). (2) Dillmann on the other hand holds that the reference in Isaiah 49:24 is to Jehovah, who Himself asks if any power can deprive Him of His lawful captives, the Israelites. The answer to be supplied is, “No”; and this is confirmed by Isaiah 49:25 : “For even the captives of a (human) hero may be delivered, yet will I (the Almighty) contend with” &c. This is not altogether natural; the antithesis of the divine hero in Isaiah 49:24 and a human hero in Isaiah 49:25 being indicated by nothing in the words. (3) A simpler view is that question and answer are related as in Isaiah 49:14; the question stating a supposition in the highest degree improbable (though still conceivable), and the answer conceding the possibility in order the more strongly to assert that the idea cannot be entertained with regard to Jehovah. The sense might be paraphrased as follows: “Can the captives of a mighty man be rescued from his grasp? Yes, the captives of the mighty may be delivered, but I will (victoriously) maintain thy cause against thy enemies” &c. (so, apparently, Duhm). In this case also it is better to read ‘ârîç, which may be used in a neutral sense as in Jeremiah 20:11 (of Jehovah). The image of Israel as the prey of Jehovah has a certain resemblance to that of the lion and his prey in ch. Isaiah 31:4.
24–26. The emancipation of Israel is here regarded as having to be effected by force, and Jehovah pledges His omnipotence to the task. The bright picture of Isaiah 49:22 does not touch the gravest difficulty of the situation, the formidable power and settled hostility of Babylon.
But thus saith the LORD, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children.25. Read For instead of But, and later in the verse but instead of for.
And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine: and all flesh shall know that I the LORD am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob.26. I will feed them that? &c.] Better: I will cause thine oppressors (the Chaldæans) to eat their own flesh (cf. ch. Isaiah 9:20; Zechariah 11:9). The enemies of Zion shall be consumed by internecine war—a common eschatological representation (Ezekiel 38:21; Haggai 2:22; Zechariah 14:13).
and all flesh shall know] Comp. “And thou shalt know” at the end of the previous oracle (Isaiah 49:23).
the mighty One of Jacob] See on ch. Isaiah 1:24, and cf. Isaiah 60:16.